Conventional wisdom has it that the first animals evolved in the ocean.
Now researchers studying ancient rock samples in South China have found that the first animal fossils are preserved in ancient lake deposits, not in marine sediments as commonly assumed.
These new findings not only raise questions as to where the earliest animals were living, but what factors drove animals to evolve in the first place.
For some 3 billion years, single-celled life forms such as bacteria dominated the planet. Then, roughly 600 million years ago, the first multi-cellular animals appeared on the scene, diversifying rapidly.
The oldest known animal fossils in the world are preserved in South China's Doushantuo Formation. These fossil beds have no adult specimens — instead, many of the fossils appear to be microscopic embryos.
"Our first unusual finding in this region was the abundance of a clay mineral called smectite," said researcher Tom Bristow, now at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "In rocks of this age, smectite is normally transformed into other types of clay. The smectite in these South China rocks, however, underwent no such transformation and have a special chemistry that, for the smectite to form, requires specific conditions in the water — conditions commonly found in salty, alkaline lakes." .....
[The scientists detailed their findings online July 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.]
"Ryoma Igarashi likes going for long drives through the mountains, taking photographs of Buddhist temples and exploring old neighborhoods. He's just taken up gardening, growing radishes in a planter in his apartment. Until recently, Igarashi, a 27-year-old Japanese television presenter, would have been considered effeminate, even gay. Japanese men have long been expected to live like characters on Mad Men, chasing secretaries, drinking with the boys, and splurging on watches, golf, and new cars.
Today, Igarashi has a new identity (and plenty of company among young Japanese men) as one of the soushoku danshi—literally translated, "grass-eating boys." Named for their lack of interest in sex and their preference for quieter, less competitive lives, Japan's "herbivores" are provoking a national debate about how the country's economic stagnation since the early 1990s has altered men's behavior. ....."
".....Fukasawa sees grass-eating boys as a positive development for Japanese society. She notes that before World War II, herbivores were more common: Novelists such as Osamu Dazai and Soseki Natsume would have been considered grass-eating boys. But in the postwar economic boom, men became increasingly macho, increasingly hungry for products to mark their personal economic progress. Young Japanese men today are choosing to have less to prove."
And more importantly these 草食系男子 don't seem to be interested in their father's 'salary-man' vision of working 12 -16 hour days, rarely seeing wife and family, and dying of a heart attack before they turn 50 years old. Perhaps a bit of grass grazing is in order.
Here in Thailand, the Mumusops elengi is known as 'phikun', or also called Spanish Cherry [although it is not from Spain, nor is it from the cherry family].
It is remarkable for the wonderful scent of the flowers, which retain their fragrance when dried and even if kept for many years. It also has an oval, orange-red fruit which is edible and supposedly has many medicinal qualities. Happened to spot one yesterday and was reminded of the many botanical treasures of this incredible country.
Chiune Sugihara [杉原 千畝] — 1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986
Last night on the History channel I watched "The Conspiracy of Kindness", a rebroadcast of the PBS/Nova program, about an extraordinary individual that I daresay few people have every heard of. I certainly hadn't, but am pleased that I now know about Mr. Sugihara.
Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat, serving as Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania during the 1940's. Soon after the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, he helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan. Most of the Jews who escaped were refugees from Poland or residents of Lithuania. Sugihara wrote travel visas that facilitated the escape of more than 6000 Jewish refugees to Japanese territory risking his career and his family's life.
It is estimated that there are 40,000 people alive today because of his actions. Forty-five years after signing the visas, Sugihara was asked why he did it. He replied: "They were human beings and they needed help. I'm glad I found the strength to make the decision to give it to them."
From my vantage point on the other side of the world, I occasionally question the sanity of some Americans. Questioning anything Fox News transmits is a no brainer, but should we even be allowed to question the lofty Lou Dobbs? Jon Stewart puts it all in perspective.....
I have read all of Murakami Haruki's novels and yesteday I found a book of his which I somehow didn't even know existed. Published just last year. Seems that it takes literary news, and publicaitons, a while to reach us here in Northern Thailand. And this, to the best of my knowledge, is the first collection of his short stories — or at least those published in English translation.
Unlike his novels wherein I have become lost for days at a time, the short stories are somewhat akin to day trips to the twilight zone and the wonderfully twisted explorations into alternate realities.
My absolutely favorite contemporary author has scored yet another winner.
'Firefly' and 'Man-Eating Cats' are two marvels which are especially unforgettable — as well as being pure Murakami genius. In fact, if I am not mistaken, 'Firefly' was perhaps the kernel which was later transformed into 'Norwegian Wood', which of course I have read and savored numerous times.
Now it has always seemed to me that if God were universal, everyone would be tuned into the same wavelength with a similar way of addressing this supposedly divine spirit. Instead the planet has 80 gazillion stories about this other worldly creature and never seems to tire of trying to get his attention by each religion's specific means. And do you think he/she/it would really very impressed by all of the costly monuments built in its honor?
Well crafted video which looks at the way humans try to communicate with higher powers from Religious Prayer to Seti [great graphic images].
Scientists have discovered an exquisitely preserved ancient primate fossil that they believe forms a crucial "missing link" between our own evolutionary branch of life and the rest of the animal kingdom.
The 47 million-year-old primate – named Ida – has been hailed as the fossil equivalent of a "Rosetta Stone" for understanding the critical early stages of primate evolution.
The top-level international research team, who have studied her in secret for the past two years, believe she is the most complete and best preserved primate fossil ever uncovered. The skeleton is 95% complete and thanks to the unique location where she died, it is possible to see individual hairs covering her body and even the make-up of her final meal – a last vegetarian snack.
"This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all the mammals; with cows and sheep, and elephants and anteaters," said Sir David Attenborough who is narrating a BBC documentary on the find. "The more you look at Ida, the more you can see, as it were, the primate in embryo."
"This will be the one pictured in the textbooks for the next hundred years," said Dr Jørn Hurum, the palaeontologist from Oslo University's Natural History Museum who assembled the scientific team to study the fossil. "It tells a part of our evolution that's been hidden so far. It's been hidden because the only [other] specimens are so incomplete and so broken there's nothing almost to study." The fossil has been formally named Darwinius masillae in honour of Darwin's 200th birthday year.
Those who occasionally pass this way know that I like film. Films in which everything seems to mesh into an extraordinary production, which demands that it be well written, has actors of sustance, perhaps a well composed musical score, a fine director, and is guaranteed to linger in your memory for years to come.
Such a film is 'Departures' [Okuribito おくりびと], the lovely Japanese movie that won this year's Oscar for best foreign film. Roger Ebert gave it a coveted 4 stars, the highest in his rating system.
Director Yojiro Takita and writer Kundo Koyama examine the rituals surrounding death in Japan with this tale of an out-of-work cellist who accepts a job as a "Nokanashi" or "encoffineer" (the Japanese equivalent of an undertaker) in order to provide for himself and his young wife.
Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a talented musician, but when his orchestra is abruptly disbanded, he suddenly finds himself without a source of steady income. Making the decision to move back to his small rural hometown, Daigo answers a classified ad for a company called "Departures," mistakenly assuming that he will be working for a travel agency.
Upon discovering that he will actually be preparing the bodies of the recently deceased for their trip to the afterlife, Daigo reluctantly accepts the position as gatekeeper between life and death and gradually gains a greater appreciation for life. But while Daigo's wife and friends universally despise his new line of work, he takes a great amount of pride in the fact that he is helping to ensure that the dead receive a proper send-off from this state of being.
Director Takita is a terrific visualist; his compositions have a marvelous symmetry, and a scene where Daigo plays his cello (melding into a series of childhood memories) has some wonderful imagery. But what pulls the film together is Takita's mastery of tone, and his patience. Departures is a quiet, measured picture, filled with both love and tenderness for both the living as well as the dead.
And here is a clip from UCLA's Asia-Pacific Institute interviewing 'Departures' director Yojiro Takita. While watching the film I was aware that Masahiro Motoki did an incredbile job in portraying the job as a Nokanshi (encoffiner), and in a related interview, discovered that the idea for this film was orginally his.
APA Interview with Departures director Yojiro Takita
While going through some letters and emails of a close friend who died earlier this year, I found this wonderful bit of prose about life, living, and our all too human condtion. I know it was not written by my friend, but unfortunately I don't have a source to thank. So whoever you are, thank you for these gentle words of wisdom.
A prescription for life and living and remembering those who have gone.
Find a quiet, peaceful place, a green field of grass where great trees grow and gift the world with their shade. Let it be just before sunset, at that golden hour when the heat of the afternoon is past, when the sky is blue as a pearl and the setting sun hues the world in its last, richest and most transitory light.
Sit against the trunk of an old and massive tree, one that's lived through summers and winters untold. Lean on its rough, moss-clad bark and feel the slow, patient pulse of the life in the green heart of the wood. Try to clear your mind of thought, and listen.
Put your hand on the earth, tangle your fingers in the soft blades of the grass, and hear it whisper to you. It knows about death, about loss; it dies each winter, when the snows and frosts come. But that isn't the end of its story: it's born anew in the spring, remade each year, playing its part in the mystery of eternal renewal that our ancestors knew intimately.
Hear the wind's call as it passes by, rustling across the grass. It teaches that nothing is permanent, everything is transitory. Life is a pattern of change, of ebb and flow, loss and renewal, death and rebirth. Like the wind, all things arise in their time, sweep by us, and pass on.
Hear a trill of birdsong float down from the green and golden branches of the trees. Their singing should remind us that life itself is music, a great unbroken symphony, and if they do not scorn to play their part, neither should we. In truth, we are not the singers: we are the notes of the melody. There, a birth, a joyous rising chord; here, a death, a plaintive falling note. Each life is a brief theme in the choral harmony, and like every musical theme, it has a beginning and an ending; but if played well, it may inspire exuberant new bursts of music that transcend the original.
Look up to the high boughs of the trees. Look up, because most of us don't do it often enough, and see their branches rise like pillars through endless halls of green. Look past them to the sky beyond, where the stars glimmer unseen beyond the blue haze of our atmosphere, and reflect on how small we all are in the ultimate accounting, how low we stand in the grandest scheme of things. In a way, our insignificance is strangely comforting. It reminds us to look beyond our day-to-day concerns, beyond the small glories and the small sorrows, and to keep in mind the whole vast cosmos that dwells beyond the private walls of grief. And when our gaze returns to earth, when we descend from that lofty plane back to our own small circle of warmth and light, let it be with a renewed sense of our own purpose in living.
No matter what happens after death - whether we are reborn, go on to another place, or simply cease - there is beauty in this life, as much as we could ask for. There are green fields and peaceful waters, the hush of the dawn and fireflies in the summer evenings, the glory of sunset and the silent, holy falling of snow on dark clear nights. If there is any complaint we might justly make, it is not that this life lacks meaning, but rather that it has so many meaningful things to do and to explore that one lifetime is not enough for all of them.
It's true, as an old book says, that we live in the valley of the shadow of death. But that should not be a source of fear to us. That proximity is the very thing that makes our lives meaningful, that makes them sacred. The knowledge of our own mortality should imbue each day with an ocean of significance; it should be the signpost on the trail, pointing the way for us to live life to the fullest, with the most awareness, and the deepest joy.
Someday we, too, will slumber under green fields. Our story will be told, our journey will be complete. But in the interim, in this time and this place, we are alive and free. We have a long way left to walk before the evening falls, before the time comes to lay our burdens down. Let us choose our path wisely, and find worthy companions to accompany us along the way. And one more, personal word of advice: take the time to explore the side trails and detours. You'll find secrets and wonders that will make the effort worthwhile.