Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tenebrae factae sunt

Oh, woe is me!!

From bad to worse. That's the Chiefs season so far, and, perhaps, for the foreseeable future.

Grabbing at some fragile straws (mostly last week's triumph at Washington), I predicted them to beat San Diego at Arrowhead last week. Result: worse than bad.

The loss was hard enough to take. The backwards progression was even more difficult to digest.

Over to coach Todd Haley:

“I’m the head coach of the team and I’m running the offense,” Haley said. “We have to be better than that. We have to be better at protecting. We have to be better at run blocking. We have to be better at catching the ball. We can’t tip the ball to them and we have to be better at quarterback. That’s the bottom line.”

In other words, the Chiefs need to get better at just about everything.

This season is rapidly becoming over even before it got started for the Chiefs. Just look at Coach Haley's comments in detail.

Better at protecting: the Chiefs brought in Matt Cassel in order to provide a solid quarterback around whom we could build an offense. This just isn't working.

Better at run blocking: high hopes were placed on a revamped offensive line who, in concert with All-Pro back Larry Johnson (who is in the news with vaguely disguised dissatisfaction with the coaching staff), could take the pressure of Cassell and provide some kind of ball possession. This has been less than pie in the sky – more like pearls before swine.

Better at catching the ball: Coach Haley seems unable to either provide receivers or design plays which would give Cassell some kind of confidence. They are a fairly nondescript unit – excepting Dwayne Bowe. They just don't look like an NFL receiver corps.

Better at quarterback: it's easy to throw the blame at Cassell, but that's facile. He preformed quite well behind a fine line in New England. Now, he must learn to perform well behind something less than mediocre. The war is, as usual, won in the trenches.

Better at everything: over to you again Coach. The coaches are the factor you have not mentioned.

Fans were expecting a rebuilding kind of season. They were also expecting some kind of progress.

We're still waiting and time is running out. Last week's win at hopeless Washington is looking like the only one this season. Coach Haley better win some soon – or his reign will be short.

Tenebrae factae sunt

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Missing Link?

Human evolutionary theory has suffered a shock recently with the release of details of a possible direct human ancestor dating from 6 million years ago – Ardipithecus ramdius – or Ardi for short.

Finding a specimen that old is surprising enough in itself; yet the real surprise is the revelation that Ardi lived in a well-forested and tropical environment and walked upright.

So, what' so surprising about that?

Previous theories about man's evolution have focussed on the idea that bi-pedal locomotion developed in response to a move to the dryer grasslands and away from the trees. This always seemed unlikely to me. The theory was that in order to see predators from a distance evolution favoured our ancestors who could stand and walk so they could see over the grass and spot the lions before the lions spotted them. Sounds good, until you stop and think about it.

In order for this theory to hold water you would have to have evidence that the environment was changing quite rapidly and that staying close to the trees was not really an option – unless you are a chip or orang-outang. This clearly flies in the face of obvious logic. Why would you choose a very precarious existence out on the plains when you could stay very close to the trees? Tough one that old Ardi may be able to shed light on.

According to the scientists involved in Ardi's discovery, she was up and about a long time before her descendants moved out onto the plains. Why? They speculate that by freeing up her hands she (and more particularly the “he” versions) were more able to gather food and return it to their mates, thereby providing the evolutionary advantage of walking upright a long time before we left the trees for good. Sounds fairly appealing.

But, in common with all theories – it's only a theory, and there are problems.

First, and I confess that I didn't really fully understand this before, the fossil evidence for Ardi and most of the other possible human ancestors you can find on the family tree is really very scanty. So scanty that we have many more fossils of, say, sabre-tooth cats than we have of humans. Therefore the analysis of human fossils remains and the extrapolation of the fossil evidence to form a theory about human evolution is based on very slim fossil evidence, to say the least. In Ardi's case the actual discovery of the fossil bones was made some 8 years ago and the field workers have been busy ever since in trying to firm up the evidence by using a variety of techniques and sources. We are just short of evidence. Very short! Why?

In my view, this is the key question.

Just stop and consider, we are talking about millions of years of human evolution. During that long period we have only a very few skeletal remains upon which to base any theory. Even given that the base populations in Africa were probably quite small, millions of years still adds up to millions of years of potential fossils. That's a lot of potential human carcasses lying about willing and able to form ancestor fossils.

They either are not there or we haven't found them yet. If they aren't there, why not?

Simple. What most of the researchers seem unable or unwilling to deal with is the place early man occupied in the food chain. Ardi and her cousins had very small brains – some only just slightly larger than a chimp. Their lives were short and brutal. They were prey species for all the large to medium predators. Think about the function of the hyenas and vultures on the plains of Africa today. They clean up. They clean up everything. They most certainly would have cleaned up any human remains they found. Result? Some very small, very chewed bone fragments.

After every rain (and these are fairly infrequent!) the scientists return to the valley where Ardi was found and search for newly uncovered bones. They may find some more evidence for Ardi and her kind. We wish them luck. Fortunately, the cause of evolution and, in particular, Darwinian evolution does not depend on their discoveries.

What evidence there is forced the scientists into formulating a new theory to account for the advent of bi-pedalism so early in the evolutionary saga. They came up with sex. Postulating that the males, by freeing up their hands, were able to gather food on the forest floor and near the edge of the savannah and carry it back to the females – thereby providing the earliest equivalent of the ubiquitous box of chocolate on record!! These males were successful in mating and evolution provided the rest.

This pre-supposes that early hominids were very unlike their simian relatives in mating behaviour. Even before the advantages of males co-operating in hunting activities may have “forced” them to be co-operative in mating, our ancestors were (seemingly) avoiding the potential fatal consequences of fighting to secure mates for a more equitable and sociable outcome. This gave us the real advantage over the other branches of the family. We work together and share the females. This behaviour is passed on to our offspring.

Every dog (or indeed proto-human) really does, therefore, have his day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bumper News Day

Truth is really stranger than ficiton!

Firstly, as I expected, the story about cows attacking the farmer (a bit like man bites dog) was not “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. In a later paper we discover that the very experienced farmer confessed he got himself in a poor position and being trampled by the cows was probably his fault. In trying to get the cows through a very small gate something spooked them and they bolted. Unfortunately, he did not have anywhere to go to get out of their way and got stepped on. Cows 1 – Farmer 0.

Meanwhile 15 October proved to be either the slowest news day of the year, or the day when the loonies took over the EDP and chose which articles to publish.

What a selection!

In no particular order: we have the news that train drivers have been instructed to slow down at level crossings following a spate of accidents. They are now down to 20 mph. Aslef (the train drivers union) decided to act in the interests of train drivers and the travelling public. So good to know that the multi-ton train that just hit you is only moving at 20 mph. This is real progress and will be a comfort to relatives of those now killed at level crossings to know that their loved one was mangled at 20 mph instead of 40!

News from a translation company who are seeking Glaswegian interpreters is all good. They have been inundated by applicants. The free-lancers could earn up to £140 a day helping people from places like Japan, who may have learned their English from the BBC and can not now understand anyone from the Gorbals. If the service is a success it could be extended to other UK cities with difficult accents: Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester spring to mind.

Meanwhile, John Stafford from Scarborough – a confirmed arachnophobic – is worried that Halloween may be the death of him. He claims that his doctor told him that even the sight of a creepy-crawlie in a display in a window could trigger a fatal heart attack because his heart “is so badly bruised”. Funny, I thought you got that from being dumped by your girlfriend?

Kerry Callard from Devon is in bit trouble. She posted a YouTube video of her car speeding through puddles and drenching some pupils waiting for a bus. Police said the 29 year-old Kerry had contacted them voluntarily about the puddling and the evidence was now being reviewed. Very public-spirited of you Kerry.

From across the pond: down at Bobby Valentines Sports Gallery Cafe (nifty name, huh!) a woman singing karaoke was attacked by six others who did not like her rendition of A Dios Le Pido – a song made famous by Columbian superstar Juanes. ( a Columbian superstar? Is this not the most appalling oxymoron?) Dudes – it's all happening in Stamford, Connecticut – let's all boogie on down and check it out!!

God is after you in Louisville, Kentucky. Ken Pagano, a US Pastor, hosted a rally entitled, “God and guns” which was designed to promote gun rights and church security. Ken is now, apparently, working part-time at a local gun range and founding the International Security Coalition of Clergy with a New York rabbi. I would really like to pray in this guy's church. No, I mean it, honestly!

Chetania Davis, a 22 year old stripper, attacked her co-worker and exotic dancer ( a 52 year old woman – man they must have some wild strippers in Akron, Ohio!!) with the heel of her stiletto because she was afraid of losing her job – claiming that he club already had too many exotic dancers. Sounds like a sequel to that old standard, My Granny is a Lap-dancer at the Shooting Star Hotel! It annoys me intensely that there is no photo of young Chetania or her 52 year-old victim. I surmise that that any 22 year old stripper feeling threatened by a 52 year-old arch rival is pulchritudinously challenged. I'd love to see a photo to confirm my suspicions.

Let's all get down to London's New Wimbledon Theatre this Xmas for their version of Aladdin – starring Baywatch's Pamela Anderson. Now this is real family entertainment! Wait a minute, she's only doing two weeks and the role is then taken up by Paul O'Grady. Tough act to follow Paul. Good luck.

On the local crime scene: two homes in Dorley Dale (near Carlton Colville) were burgled overnight last Monday. A piggy bank was stolen by extracting it through an open window and found near the crime scene – minus the dosh. Contact Lowestoft Police if you can shed light on this porcine larceny.

Finally, and on a related note: a man far too worse for wear witnessed a burglary in Thetford and then, in a remarkably asinine moment, decided to join in when he saw the perpetrator make his escape. Joshua Richardson, 19, was just walking past a residence in Mingay Road (nope, I'm not making this one up either!) when he saw a burglar climbing out of a window. Joshua, in what could be the worst decision since Mrs Hitler said to Mister Hitler, “Well Alois, are you feeling saucy tonight?”, climbed in the window and took some DVD's and cashpoint cards. Richardson admitted burglary and also confessed to the theft of two carper cleaning machines in July. Just what we need – more clean, tidy and house-proud burglars!

There's more, believe it or not, but I just can't go on. It's just too much.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bovine Mayhem, Raccoon Terror


Strange to see in the paper yesterday two stories about animals attacking humans.

Story one, from the local EDP, concerned a farmer being trampled by his own cattle.

Number two – a woman in Florida was attacked by a marauding band of raccoons.

No, I'm not making this up!

Now, I have heard of cow attacks before. Despite the unlikely nature of such premeditated bovine assaults, it appears they are much more common than you might think. If you think not, try typing “cow attacks” into a Google search.

Herewith I must confess to putting a whole generation of school children at extreme risk by assuring them that cows are harmless, docile creatures and will not harm you. (Bulls are an exception!). I must plead ignorance. I just didn't know that cows were so damn dangerous! They never were when I was young.

At Thorndon in Suffolk, a farmer received “multiple injuries” after he was trampled by his own cattle. Roger Jones had broken ribs, cuts on his face and injured his shoulder after the cattle attacked him on his own land. He was in a stable condition in the hospital. (I had a look in EAU but didn't see Roger – I would have liked to find out some of the details!) Most of the cattle assaults documented on Google concern cows with calves. This makes sense. No matter how domesticated the beast, when the young are threatened (or are seen to be threatened by a brain-less cow) they will defend the calf. Fine. I can understand that. What I would like to know from Roger is what exactly was he doing when he was attacked? If they were his cows, surely they would be used to him and not see him as a threat?

People in England have died after being trampled by cows. Yes, it's true.

Part of my pitch to kids was our divorce from the natural world. Our recent ancestors would have had intimate knowledge of domestic (and wild) animals which we have lost. Ask most kids where a steak comes from and they will say Tesco's. The idea that a cow had to die and be butchered to get a steak is only peripherally known to most kids. They know it, sort of deep down, by they don't really think about it or imagine it as part of their daily lives. Confronted with the reality of slaughter, most kids instantly convert to vegetarianism (fortunately for Tesco this conversion only usually lasts until the next BBQ!).

I just wish the paper had let us in on more of the details.

Same day – same paper – a real human interest story.

Gretchen Whitted, resident of Florida was trying to chase some raccoons from her garden. Five raccoons surrounded her and attacked. She ended up in the hospital with cuts to her neck and leg (presumably she fell down – the idea that a raccoon could, or would, leap a metre or more in the air to bite Gretchen's neck is just too much to take in!) Still, a pack of killer raccoons loose in a Florida garden is pretty worrying!

Again we are sadly lacking in detail. Did, for instance, Gretchen corner the raccoons? Most animals will attack if cornered. What does it mean when she tried to chase them from her garden? With a stick? A broom? Her hands? A twelve gauge shotgun??

I need and want to know!

From the Associated Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Animal control officers hope to trap a pack of raccoons that mauled a 74-year-old Florida woman who tried to chase them from her yard.

The sheriff in Polk County, east of Tampa, says Gretchen Whitted fell when five raccoons surrounded and attacked her Sunday. She was taken to a hospital with extensive cuts from her neck to her legs.

We’re not talking about a lot of little bites here,” Sheriff Grady Judd said. “She was filleted.”

A neighbor called for help after hearing the woman’s cries and seeing her covered in blood.

Whitted was treated for rabies, though officials doubt the animals were infected.

Fire crews flooded nearby drains to drive the animals out, but none appeared. Animal control officers hope to catch them using cat food and sardines as bait.

Filleted! Not just bit, but filleted!!

There's something strange going on here! I'm sure raccoons could give you more than a nasty nip, but the idea that they form a gang, make a plan and then attack someone needs investigating – and now!! There are a lot of raccoons!! They're all over the place!!

My expose regarding harmless animals, given in good faith and with more than a modicum of humour and with tongue firmly in cheek is looking fairly irresponsible and, perhaps, the basis for a very expensive legal action.

I can see the headline now: Girl Trampled – Irresponsible Teacher Blamed!

A young lady was savagely attacked by a herd of cows whilst walking near Stowmarket yesterday. Sally Smith told he Mum she was going for a walk but is now in hospital in Bury with severe concussion after being trampled by up to 15 cows near her home in Lackbrain Crescent.

I was just walking across the field to get home when the cows charged at me and attacked. I wasn't doing anything to annoy then! My English teacher, Mr Kauffman, told me years ago that cows were not dangerous. He lied to me! I'm very upset.” Suffolk Constabulary refused to comment saying the incident is under investigation.

I may need a good lawyer. Not to mention a fence to keep raccoons out of my garden!


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Under Achieve - Over Achieve?

Both impersonating stones.

Contrasting fortunes for the England Cricket Team and the Kansas City Chiefs.

One has, seemingly, been over-achieving whilst the other is moving, or possibly sinking, rapidly in the other direction.

No prizes for guessing which.

England did more than expected in reaching the semi-finals of the ICC One-Day Tournament in South Africa. Still, in the end they were found wanting. First, South Africa exploded – nothing new there then – and India could not win a match. Pakistan flattered to deceive whist England and New Zealand just moseyed through the tournament doing little wrong, albeit not that much right either. So, an independent view must be that England were lucky to make the semis.

Having just been hammered by the Aussies at home 1-6 it is not surprising that the initial reaction to England's new-found capacity to win in the 50-over format was over-optimistic. Actually, they are still not very good at 50 over cricket. Why?

Primarily because they do not have the right bowlers. Wait a minute, I thought that the shorter form of the game was meant to be just a batsman's glory hunt. You are correct.

Therefore to win you must have bowlers who can both take wickets and stop runs flowing. South Africa had none. Neither did Pakistan. Ditto West Indies and Sri Lanka. Result? England flattered to deceive by getting so far with so little. They were fortunate to play on a few circumspect wickets that suited their bowlers. It's that simple – not a new dawn.

Meanwhile the Chiefs are stuck in a morass of losing and losing badly.

What fans were looking for this season was a new beginning. What we have got so far is not a stutter-start – more of a stutter-slide. True the odd NFL scheduling system (how can the AFL West be matched with the NFL East?) has not helped as the Chiefs were mashed by the Giants, Eagles and Ravens and then, in the only game they really had a chance to win in the first four, stumbled like born losers against the woeful Raiders. Ouch! That one hurt!

Coach Haley is bravely trying to put some sort of face on (perhaps it's a Halloween one so he can't be recognized!) but his coaching staff must be wondering what to do. With a team almost last in team defence and not much better on offence there is not much to cheer them up!

Fact is, when you are not a very good team you must have everything go your way in order to compete and have a chance. If not? Not much hope.

This week the Cowboys visit Arrowhead. I did pick them to beat Denver last week and they just failed. Maybe they don't play well on the road. More likely, they will bushwhack the Chiefs and sentence us to a long wait for a win – any win.

Matt Cassell has been a real disappointment. The running game is poor. Receivers are dropping balls at just the wrong time. The defence is still feeling its way into a 3-4 and cannot make a play when they have to. Too many players are under-performing. It's going to be a long season.

At this rate Coach Haley could be a one year phenomenon.