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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It was Science. Really.

I’ve always liked The Onion. The site contain news that I like to read, whereas others have news that are really depressing. If only they have a news channel on cable, to compete with other news organizations that constantly bombard us with news from around the world that makes us cringe, puke, tear our hairs out, snort out in disgust, shout out imprecations, shake our collective heads, and other manifestations of rage and general dislike.
Consider this article from The Onion:

Science Confirms Men and Women Never Meant To Be More Than Friends
March 28, 2011 | ISSUE 47•13
UPSALA, SWEDEN—In a shocking reversal of thousands of years of thinking on human reproduction, researchers at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences announced Monday that sexual contact is a genetic accident, and men and women originally evolved to just be good buds. "Using DNA evidence unavailable until the completed mapping of the human genome, we can now definitively state that the two genders were never meant to do anything more than hang out with each other platonically as pals," said noted evolutionary scientist Dr. Janet Karberg, adding that humans are genetically hardwired in such a way that getting involved romantically can only "ruin everything" between two people. "The true biological imperative of male and female humans is to enjoy long-lasting friendships that don't get bogged down in attraction or sexual tension in any way." Ideally, the report stated, men and women should just go to dinner or the movies every few weeks, hug at most, and then return home to masturbate in solitude.
Who knew, eh?

A lot of people, as it turn out. That would explain the dating record of most people who blog and spends time enough browsing the internet to know about The Onion. <snicker>
Guys, it was science. For somebody who spends a lot of time thinking up excuses, this really warms my heart. (I was going to write cockles in place of heart, but I don’t know what, anatomically, cockles really are).

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Did the First Cities Begin?

Before the Neolithic Period, humans led harsh lives. They lived in caves, foraging, searching for food from dawn until dusk. They hunted wild animals. Sometimes wild animals hunted them. Life was very uncertain, and humans always worried about where their food will come from next. Fortunately, somebody figured out that certain seeds could be planted, and grown, and cultivated, and harvested; and if they could do it in a more or less permanent and hospitable place, it would be much better! They would not have to search for those hard-to-find wild plants that grew near swampy and marshy lands that were so often filled with unfriendly creatures. This time they could settle down in places where it would be easier to cultivate crops.
Finally, humans learned to control their environment and to control and contain the food source. They also learned to domesticate some animals. This meant that people did not have to spend so much time hunting for food. Now they have time to do other things, other than hunting and foraging. They now have the time, and the resources, to build their first cities.
            Most anthropologists and historians believe that civilization started with the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals; among other things, it allowed people to grow more than they would need. The surplus food made it possible for people to do other things than be always looking for food. Some became merchants, potters, artisans, weapon makers, carpenters, and others. 
In addition, because of this surplus, it meant that population could grow. Society became more stratified as occupations became more specialized—all these made possible the creations of cities.
The word “civilization” comes from the Latin civis, which means “inhabitant of a city.” Essentially, civilization is the ability of people to live harmoniously in cities and other social groupings. Social groupings alone, however, cannot be the basis of civilization; bees, ants and other animals also live in social groups. They, too, live and work together, as do some microorganisms. Human civilization means much, much more than this. Beyond social groupings, civilization signifies the triumph of humanity’s reason over instinct, of humanity’s mastery of the environment. Hand-in-hand with the development of civilization is culture—its necessary companion. Civilization cannot flower without it.
The main characteristics of civilizations are urbanization, literacy, complex economic, political, social systems, and an advanced technology. The building of cities, the development of writing, the discovery of metallurgy—all these are indications of an advanced technology. Of course, for a civilization to develop, the land must be rich and fertile enough to support an ever-increasing population. How can a land be fertile? The presence of nearby freshwater source ensures this. It is no wonder then that Asia’s earliest civilizations grew in areas near rivers. 

As civilizations arose, human evolution entered into a very different phase; before civilization, humans lived in small, family-centered groups, groups that lived no better than animals, at the mercy of the elements, controlled by the forces of nature. Now, thousands of years later, humanity lives in societies consisting of millions of people, protected from the natural environment, living inside houses, apartments, buildings, traveling in automobiles, using modern appliances and technologies unimaginable to the cave people who are our ancestors. And it all started with the cultivation of agricultural crops, like rice.
The transition to agriculture occurred around 10,000 years ago, and took place in several regions of the world. Great civilizations developed as a result. The firsts of these civilizations however occurred in Asia.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The “Rice” of Empires

The person who finally figured out what to do with the grains on the grass-like plants that grow on marshy grounds was probably not aware that he has found not only food, but the seeds that will build civilizations.
The cultivation of rice (and other grains) made it necessary for ancient peoples to live together and to cooperate with each other. The first communities were founded, and from these early agricultural communities the mighty empires of the ancient world arose.
Archaeologists found evidence that rice cultivation in Asia began as early as 10,000 BC. In Thailand, rice was first grown there around six thousand years ago. Over the centuries, it has spread through China, Japan, and other Asian countries.

So, next time you eat rice, think about this: from such small grains, empires were built.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Language Extinction

The world today has more than 6,000 languages. Linguists, however, assert that a few centuries from now, these languages could be reduced to a few hundred. Languages, too, can become extinct, like plants and animals. How do languages become extinct?
     There are actually several ways of erasing a language. The simplest, of course, is to kill off the speakers. A government could also ban the use of minority languages and  punish those who persist in using them. The British and Spanish Empires, during their heyday, are two examples of centralized states that imposed their languages to conquered peoples.
     Of course, there are less drastic, but no less effective, ways for a language to become extinct. Some languages undergo rapid change, or assimilated, and “mutates” into a different one.
Like Latin.
Latin, an extinct language, is the ancestor of modern “Romance Languages”—French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, and their variants. Another language “victim” of evolution is Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. Sanskrit’s “children” are the modern Indo-Aryan languages. Intermarriage is also one of the causes of language extinction: a married couple from different ethnic backgrounds may have no common language except the majority language. Another cause is when people move to urban centers from their native speaking-villages for economic reasons and have no choice but to abandon their native tongue and adopt the majority language. Indeed, there are many ways for a language to die.  
     How does one protect a language, then? And perhaps more important, why?
Ethnologue, a catalogue of languages spoken around the world, lists about 750 extinct and near extinct languages around the world, including 110 in Asia. Languages with names like Aputai (in Indonesia), Alutor (Russian Asia), and Babuza (Taiwan). People who speak these languages are either very old, or have died without passing them on to their children. A lot of languages die that way, in fact.
     Linguists are trying to preserve languages in danger of extinction. Some have established foundations that record languages. Philanthropists have also donated funds for projects that document rare languages around the world. A foundation in California pays an indigenous language speaker to teach the language to a young relative, who is also paid. After all, the survival of a language, any language, rests on the next generation. 

     Language is a complex product of the human mind. Each has a different sound, structure, and pattern of thought. When a language is lost, the result of thousands of years of human creativity is also lost. The culture, literature, how a people sees the world—in short, the record of how a people lived—these are lost to us.
     The Philippines is especially endowed with a variety of languages: we have about 170. Compare that to Western Europe, which has a grand total of 45. Our languages make us a culturally and ethnically diverse country. Linguists are having a field day studying our languages, which are as different from one another as Chinese is from German.

Rather than divide us, the diversity of our languages should unite us.
What it all boils down is that no language can really be called superior to others. As any linguist will tell us, different languages have different advantages, and there is no such thing as an all-purpose language. We just have to learn to respect other people’s ethnicity and language.
Instead of prejudice, diversity should teach us tolerance.
Instead of rejection, acceptance.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The World According to Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus lived about two hundred years ago, a time when optimism was in the air; when it was believed that the problems of humanity will eventually be solved by man himself, and that through human willpower, reason, and the innate goodness of the human species all the world’s problems shall be solved, and we will live happily ever after. 

But in the world according to Thomas Malthus, man’s future is as murky as the Dickensian London fog, and as grim as the slums found in every city of the world. Thomas Malthus saw poverty, sickness, and misery in man’s future; he saw a world where man is forever laboring for food that is never enough to satisfy the hunger of his children. What’s more, he saw that famine, diseases, poverty, war, and other miseries are necessary to ensure the survival of the rest of humanity.
Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), who greatly influenced modern demographics, was born in England, and was educated in Jesus College, University of Cambridge. From 1805 until his death, he was a professor of political economy at the East India Company’s college in Haileybury, England, where his students affectionately referred to him as ”Pop,” for “Population Malthus.”
His work, “An Essay on the Principles of Population,” was first published in 1798. In it, he predicted that human population will eventually exceed food production, and so, hope for social happiness will be in vain, for population will always tend to outrun food production. Or, as Mr. Malthus put it, “Population increases in a geometric ratio, while the means of subsistence increases in an arithmetic ratio."
He also observed that man’s hunger for food and for procreation can never be satisfied, and that because food production cannot match the growth of population, the time will come when man will reach its limit and Earth’s resources will eventually be exhausted. When that happens, it will be the end for humanity. Therefore, natural checks are not only inevitable, but necessary.
What are those natural checks? Here, then, is the essence of the Malthusian theory. “Pop” Malthus stated that poverty, war, famine and diseases are the natural checks necessary for our survival. In other words, for the rest of us to live, some of us must die to make room. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this theory inspired Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution--the survival of the fittest, in Herbert Spencer’s words. Later, he added another “check”—moral restraint. What does he mean by that?
“By moral restraint, I mean a restraint from marriage…” --- Thomas Malthus
What Malthus wrote about population (that man will exhaust the planet’s resources) is as true today as it was in 1798; it is also true that war, diseases, disasters, and other acts of God act as natural checks against population. Malthus was a realist with a pessimistic view of man’s future. He painted a world where humans cannot do anything to help themselves, and that any laws to help the poor, the sick, and those who need help, will not only not solve the problem, but will actually worsen the problem.
However, Malthus failed to anticipate agricultural revolution, which actually exceeded the food requirements of a large number of people--in some parts of the world, anyway. Also the incidence of famine has diminished. Contraceptives also has caused a decline in fertility rate.
Malthus is regarded as a man who greatly influenced modern demography. He also influenced Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and other great writers and philosophers. The policy of the United Nations Population Fund is rooted in the theories of Malthus. His works continue to influence modern demography, and will most likely continue to do so in many years to come. Indeed, modern demography and its branches owe much to the works of Thomas Malthus.
Malthus’ theory sparked great controversy when it was published. More than anything else, the theory is not only about population increase and the hardships it will bring about, but rather what should be done about it. Malthus showed us a world of suffering, a future of forever searching for an elusive happiness, a happiness that is always out of reach. Like Gatsby’s green light.
What he showed the world, essentially, is that the nature of man cannot be changed, and that trying to change it will bring about greater hardships.
What, then, is to be done?

Gerry Sitjar, Basic Author

Spice-One of the Reasons for the Colonization of Southeast Asia

The “Spice Boys”

Almost all countries in Southeast Asia were colonized by western nations. What is it about this region that attracted the white men? What were they looking for?
History tells us that what they really, really, wanted was trade. More specifically, the spice trade. The spice trade even helped launch the Age of Exploration. Even during ancient and medieval times, spice was already worth its weight in gold. Spice was used for magical rites and purification ceremonies, embalming, cosmetics, perfumes, medicinal benefits, and of course for its more conventional uses: for cooking, food flavoring, and food preservation.
During the 15th and 16th century, Europeans were looking for the shortest route to the fabulous East, and for the Spice Islands (the Moluccas, or Maluku, in Indonesia). They theorized that by sailing west, they would eventually reach the Spice Islands. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer sponsored by the Spanish King, in his search for the Spice Islands stumbled upon an archipelago which was later named “Philippines.” Another Portuguese looking for the Spice Islands, Vasco da Gama, found a route via Cape Horn on the southern tip of Africa and reached India. Marco Polo’s travels to China were also attempts to open a spice trade route to Asia.
Later on, the whole Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia) became one of the major centers for the rich spice trade. The Portuguese established outposts throughout the region, and established footholds for future colonization. Eventually, other western nations joined in. The whole region was opened for colonization.
The quest for spice was one of the main reasons for westerners to roam the globe. In the 18th century, the Moluccas ceased to be the main source of spice. Other European nations had found a way to cultivate the spices in their other colonies, most notably the Netherland’s West Indies.
By then, colonies throughout Southeast Asia, where the original Spice Islands are located, were established, and the western nations had found other reasons for colonization.
But that is another story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Posting blues

As my first post to this blog, I chose a piece I had written several years ago for a book I was writing.

For now, I think I'll focus on history and related topics.
The post on Thomas Malthus was posted March 21, but I deleted it accidentally. I do not want to go to a lot of trouble (a lot of trouble, for me) restoring it to its original date posted. Besides, I don't think it could be done, so I re-posted it instead.
I blame first-time blogger blues.
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