In case you think no one ever learns, allow me to prove you wrong: The U.K. Seti Research Network is conducting a public survey about contacting alien species and they’re not throwing it wide open by asking what we should say if we get a chance to talk with alien life forms. They’re channeling the responses by asking whether people think it’s a good idea that we broadcast signals into space, what source they’d believe if it told them that humans had made contact with another species, and that sort of thing. Controllable questions, in other words. Except for that box where it says, “Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?” Yes, it’s going to get strange inside that box, but they can throw out any answers that say, “I was kidnapped by supermarket oranges in space-going juice squeezers.” The public never has to know about them.
Why does that mean humans are capable of learning? Polls consulting the British public on important questions have, at best, an uneven track record. Oddly enough, I’m not talking about Brexit, I’m talking about the Boaty McBoatface poll.
Archeologists working in Leicestershire found a 2,500-year-old bark shield. Or maybe it was only 2,300 years old. The sell-by date was illegible, so accounts differ. Either way, it was made during the Iron Age and had been preserved in waterlogged soil. It’s the first of its kind found in Europe, although the Aboriginal people of Australia made bark shields up until the nineteenth century.
Is a bark shield any more useful than (to use a Britishism) a chocolate teapot? The team that found it fooled around until it re-created one, using alder and willow, and it turned out to be plenty tough but incredibly light. Highly recommended for your next sword battle.
Please note: I don’t get any money for recommending bark shields, but even so you only want to trust me just so far on this. I’m taking someone else’s word on their effectiveness instead of testing one in battle myself.
Sorry. The village has been quiet since we stopped trying to put together a Neighborhood Development Plan. If we’d kept on, I could’ve tested that shield.
More archeology: Back in 2003, archeologists in Essex were surveying a site where a road was going to be widened and found a burial chamber from what historians no longer call the Dark Ages.
We’ll come back to the burial chamber, but first, why don’t they call it the Dark Ages? Because the sun came up every damn morning, and even back then it was bright. Also because humans had known about fire for eons. They’d been lighting fires, cooking food with fires, keeping themselves warm with fires, and setting their roofs on fire with fires. So no, calling it the Dark Ages doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
Unfortunately, I’m attached to the label because when I first read about the period in my junior high school textbook I asked my teacher what happened back then, since the textbook said something along the lines of, “And then the Dark Ages happened. Now we’ll move on.”
“Nothing,” she said.
It’s not that I didn’t believe her, but I spent a lot of time wondering how nothing could happen and what that would’ve been like. I’ve wanted to know about it ever since. I wonder if telling kids there’s nothing to know wouldn’t create a generation of self-motivated learners.
If you’ve read my tale of junior high and the Dark Ages before, apologies. I do repeat myself. Not everyone’s been around as long as you have, the lucky souls.
So this burial chamber was from the period formerly known as the Dark Ages, but before we get to that, let’s take another detour, because this is Britain, where roads and detours are inextricably linked.
Archeology and construction are also closely linked, because anywhere you put a shovel in British ground, you stand a good chance of unearthing some bit of history, and that means assorted laws and regulations protect–or try to protect–Britain’s archeological heritage from destruction. It makes archeology and the construction industry uneasy partners, but it means that amazing stuff is found by accident. Before the bulldozers level everything, archeologists get a chance to look and, if necessary, sift. Let’s not go into how the decisions get made about where they turn up and where they don’t. The world should have some mysteries left. They turned up on this road-widening project and found wonders.
The Prittlewell burial chamber really was a chamber–a square room that was originally furnished with a folding stool, cups, a lyre, a sword, a candelabrum, a gaming board, a gigantic cauldron, a silver spoon, a gold-foil cross, and a painted box. Oh, and a coffin. Personally, I prefer a couch, but then I’m not dead yet. When I am, I promise not to object if I’m not buried with a couch.
The room also had hooks so that a good part of this lovely stuff could hang on the walls and no one would trip on it, even though the room’s only occupant was well past tripping on things.
The chamber was clearly built for someone both rich and important, and the mix of the cross and the grave goods indicates a person (or a community) with one foot in each of two religions–Christianity, judging by the cross, and pre-Christian, judging by the grave goods. Either he or they were hedging their bets.
You can read more about it here.
A pair of storks have built a nest in an oak tree and become the first wild pair breeding in England in 600 years. The last breeding pair are believed to have nested on St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1416. Unless, as it’s also claimed, storks were run out of England during the Reformation. The idea of running storks out of a country on, I assume, religious grounds is bizarre, since last I heard storks don’t have any religion–or at least no human religion–so I asked Lord Google for further information. He claimed to know nothing on the subject. If anyone can fill me in, I’ll not only be grateful, you’ll get bragging rights for being a step ahead of Lord G.
How wild is this wild pair? Quite. They were lured in by storks with clipped wings who’d been brought over from European sanctuaries. The hand-reared ones will be released over the next few years to create a colony large enough to sustain itself.
One stork from the colony, however, released itself, despite its clipped wings, and went wherever it wanted. Not on foot, I assume.
As of late May, the wild pair were brooding three eggs. So far, there are no reports of the storks having delivered human babies but stay tuned.
It turns out that those gizmos that track your sleep so you can live a well-rested, perfectly balanced, digitally documented life are giving people insomnia. They’re not giving it to every user but to enough that it’s worth a mention.
The news traces back to Guy Leschziner, a sleep disorders specialist at Guy’s Hospital in London. And no, despite the name overlap, it’s not his hospital. It’s just a guy thing.
It’s hard to talk patients into deleting their sleep apps, he said, probably because his approach to figuring out if you’re getting enough sleep is deeply stone age: “If you wake up feeling tired . . . then you know you’ve got a problem. If you wake up . . . and feel refreshed . . . then you’re probably getting enough sleep.”
Well, who in their right mind wants to listen to that?
On a personal note, since we’re talking about insomnia, Fast Eddie came in at four the other night, carrying something that squeaked.
I should probably say, in case it’s not clear, that Fast Eddie is the cat.
The squeaking activated the dog, Moose. So now we have four (or three, since the moose is–well, I guess you’d say virtual) animals bumping around in the bedroom. Plus me, a squeamish vegetarian in a nightshirt, trying to pretend I’m Switzerland, a neutral country, while hiding in my mountainous bed and feeling guilty about choosing that role instead of trying to rescue the (presumed) mouse. My partner, who’s not a vegetarian and is only squeamish about the things I’m not squeamish about, can sleep through village sword battles and the excavation of massive damn burial chambers. She got a full and unfair night’s sleep. Switzerland didn’t wake her up, and neither did I.
Eventually everyone settled down and the cat jumped on the bed. I turned on the light and searched him for mice but didn’t find any. I’ve been suspicious of him ever since the time he upchucked a second-hand mouse all over the quilt.
He went to sleep. I strapped my sleep-tracking gizmo to his wrist and when I checked it the next morning it said that, with a brief interruption around 4, I got as good a night’s sleep as any creature with no conscience can. For some reason, though, I felt tired.
I’m not sure what happened to the mouse.
Last year, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump planted an oak to symbolize–oh, I don’t know. How much the two countries love each other. How well their leaders get along. How much hope there is for the world, in spite of everything we know.
In June, the tree died.
If you follow the link just above, you can wince at a photo of the two presidents playing at tree planting while wearing expensive suits and wielding gold-colored shovels. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I wear when I’m working in the garden.
But before I go on any more about the photo, let’s talk about the tree planting ceremony. As soon as it was over and the photographers had packed up their cameras and left, the real tree people came along and uprooted the sucker. Why? Because it came from France and had to be quarantined. They promised to re-plant it as soon as it was declared disease free and had learned enough English to pass the citizenship exam.
It never made it out of quarantine.
Can we have a moment of regret, please?
Thanks. Now let’s go back to the photo. You can, if you like, wince a bit more at the wives of the presidents looking even more absurd than their husbands as they waft around the lawn, keeping discreetly to the background while wearing high heels and stockings.
Have you ever tried walking on grass in high heels? If you haven’t, do try it once, especially if you’re male. You’ll understand sexual (or gender, or whatever the hell) politics better afterwards. I don’t have much experience with heels, but I did mix them with turf once. In my defense, I was young and those were very different times. We kind of had to wear them sometimes back then, or we thought we did. The heels punched into the earth and when I shifted my weight forward, which is what you do when you walk, they didn’t come with me. I caught my balance just before I brought a friend’s wedding to a screaming, swearing halt.
A–I guess you’d have to call it a biblical theme park in Kentucky is suing its insurer for not covering the full cost of damages caused by a heavy rainstorm that didn’t exactly wreck the ark but did wreck the access road leading tourists to it.
The ark, theme park spokesfolks say, was built to the specifications in the bible. Which is important. The road (they didn’t say) wasn’t, since the bible’s silent on the subject of access roads, so their dimensions and materials are either guesswork or blasphemy. It’s also silent on admission charges, so those weren’t set at biblical levels either, and maybe that was the problem.
Anyway, the road needed a lot of repair, apparently, and the insurers weren’t interested in most of them or impressed by biblical arguments.
While researching a biography of Maria Branwell, the mother of the Brontë sisters, Sharon Wright discovered that Maria’s father, and therefore the Brontës’ grandfather, wasn’t the gentlemanly merchant we all thought he was–those of us, that is, who thought about him at all, that is. (I confess: I never did.) He did business with smugglers–as many a Cornish businessman did in those days–and in 1788 was indicted for “obstructing the Customs Officers in searching his dwelling.”
It was his tainted money that made it possible for the sisters to first publish their work. And there’s a moral in there, although I’m not sure what it is. Choose your grandparents wisely, maybe.