When dating began

That is a blatantly clickbait-and-switch post title. Anyone expecting to read about the origins of romantic outings involving two people will have to look elsewhere. What this post is about is how the idea of assigning consecutive numbers to the years originated.

We now routinely assign a numbered year to events in recorded history, so that I can write that Bishop Ussher’s year of the creation of the Earth was 4004 BCE or that the American revolution was in 1776 CE. This sequential numbering of the years enables us to immediately fix an event in relation to other events. The system seems so natural that one feels that it must have always been in place and did not have to be invented at all, let alone have a definite beginning. But classicist Paul J. Kosmin says that there was a time when this system of numbered years did not exist and that events were placed in a historical sequence using various circumlocutions that had only local validity.
[Read more…]

Why was no penalty called?

Australian rules football is noted for the fact that there are few rules (there is no offside rule, for example) and as a result the game is fast moving with few interruptions, unlike the snooze-fest that is American football where in a game that lasts for over three hours, there is usually only about ten minutes of actual action.

But this minimalist attitude was tested when during a recent amateur game in Melbourne, a two-year old child wandered on to the field. Surely one of the sides should have been penalized for having an extra player?

Renewed violence in Sri Lanka

Curfews have been reintroduced in Sri Lanka as a result of violence aimed at Muslims presumably in retaliation for the deadly Easter Sunday attacks by Islamists that killed 253 people and injured hundreds more.

Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide curfew for the second night in a row after a wave of anti-Muslim violence in the wake of the Easter bombings.

A Muslim man was stabbed to death while rioters torched Muslim-owned shops and vandalised mosques during Monday’s attacks.

Police have arrested 60 people, including the leader of a far-right Buddhist group.

The United Nations has called for calm and a “rejection of hate”.

A nationwide curfew, declared for the second night running, will come into effect at 21:00 (15:30 GMT) on Tuesday.

The country’s North-Western province, where the worst violence flared, will be shut down for longer, police said.

This kind of retaliatory violence against innocent people that leads to increased tensions between communities is of course exactly what the bombers want. They want to destabilize societies by inflaming sectarian passions and those who are behind these new attacks are playing right into their hands.

Watch the propaganda for war with Iran unfold

CBS News correspondent David Martin sent out this alarming tweet.

Notice how he starts out as if stating an incontrovertible fact “Iran or Iranian-backed proxies used explosives to blow holes in four ships — two Saudi oil tankers and two others — near the Strait of Hormuz” before adding a bit of information that undermines the whole thing: “according to an initial assessment of the U.S. team sent to investigate.” In other words, this is what the US government, that has been demonizing Iran as a prelude to war, has simply asserted via anonymous sources with no supporting evidence. He ends by saying he “confirms” it. But what has he confirmed? That Iran was behind a bombing? Or that anonymous US government sources say so? There is a big difference between the two.
[Read more…]

The smearing of Bernie Sanders ramps up

The field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 election have embraced many of the ideas that Bernie Sanders ran on back in 2016, even though back then those same plans were denounced by the party establishment as too radical and unrealistic for voters, as part of their strategy to have neoliberal Hillary Clinton be the nominee. We know the result. Clinton lost to possibly the worst presidential candidate in the last century. And now we are being told that Joe Biden, who is pretty much Clinton 2.0 (or Clinton 3.0 if you consider Bill Clinton to be version 1.0) as the ‘moderate centrist’ who can win over Trump voters. Yes, they are running the same old losing playbook that they ran last time.
[Read more…]

Doris Day (1922-2019)

The actress and singer died today at the age of 97. I have seen many of her films and they were easy to enjoy. Her three romantic comedies with Rock Hudson were great fun. There was something very appealing about her but while she turned in some good dramatic performances in some films, her enduring image of the wholesome girl next door stuck to her, aided by her rejection of some great roles.

She turned down the Sound of Music, declaring herself too American to play a nun from Salzburg. But nor was she ready to change her image and embrace the times: rejecting the role of Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. She said she found the script to be “vulgar and offensive”.

After she retired in 1975, she devoted her life to animal welfare.

Here is an appreciation of her life and career.

Anti-choice laws running rampant

State after state, including Ohio, are passing extremely restrictive laws on abortion, hoping that at least one of them will lead to the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Here is what Georgia’s law says .

The law, which bans abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy—or just a week or two after a woman discovers her period is late, let alone that she is pregnant—was enacted Tuesday by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and will surely be challenged in court.

Calling it a “draconian bill,” Oliver explained that the legislation gives a fetus “natural person” status, allowing it to be entitled to child support, claimed as a dependent on tax returns, and included in Georgia’s population. And the only exceptions to the bill—or the only cases where people would be allowed to have abortions—are due to fatal deformity, if the mother’s life is in jeopardy, or cases of rape and incest (corroborated by police report).

John Oliver brings us up to date on these developments. (If you can’t see the embedded video, click on the above link.)

Why and how birds fly in V-formations

We have all seen migrating birds traveling in a V-formation. It has long been speculated that this pattern is chosen because it reduces the energy required for flight in the birds that are at the back. But so much fine-tuning of positions was required to save energy by this method that some researchers doubted that this could be the reason and suggested alternatives, such as that the better navigators were in the front for others to follow or that this formation reduced the risk from predators.

But scientists were able to attach devices to a flock of birds and noticed that the birds were not just locating themselves precisely with respect to the lead birds as predicted by the aerodynamics of fixed wing aircraft, but that they were even synchronizing the flapping of their wings to achieve maximum energy savings.
[Read more…]

The law must be free for everyone

Nations are, or at least should be, governed by laws and people are expected to follow those laws. That assumes that people have free access to the laws so that they know what is expected of them. But there arose a weird situation in the US where some laws were copyrighted and others who had to follow the laws were expected to pay to find out what the laws were that they were bound by.

How could this happen? It originated in Georgia, a state notorious for its utterly reactionary attitudes. What they did was declare that the annotations to its laws could be copyrighted because they were created by a private party. Cory Doctorow explains what this is all about.
[Read more…]

Great moments in union busting

The compensation for the CEO of Delta airlines is $22 million but for some its employees, such as those who work to load and unload baggage, can be as low as $9 per hour. So naturally employees are considering forming a union. But in an effort to thwart those moves, Delta has put out posters telling workers that they would do better to use their union dues to purchase video games and alcohol.

In its latest offensive to beat back unionization, Delta Air Lines displays total contempt for labor unions and an astonishing ignorance about what unions have accomplished to lift American workers.

Delta has a new anti-union poster that tells employees, “A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.” Another Delta poster estimates that union dues cost $700 a year and says, “Nothing’s more enjoyable than a night out watching football with your buddies. All those union dues you pay every year could buy a few rounds.”
[Read more…]