The smartest animal

Although we do not know when exactly the dog became man's best friend, there is evidence of domestic cohabitation between dogs and humans from at least 35,000 years ago. Through unyielding loyalty and typically unconditional love and devotion, dogs entered our families and have, in return, received our protection. Today, there are around 500 million dogs in the world, most of whom are loved and safe.

In the meantime, humans have managed to eradicate most other animal species. The Australian mega fauna disappeared 45,000 years ago. The American mega fauna was all but gone 10,000 years ago. The ocean mega fauna is currently in the process of disappearing, stifled by pollutants we dump in the ocean. As for smaller animals, humans have for centuries been killing those, too, for food or for fun.

Worse still, we have subjugated the animals we need for food for millennia, and we have treated them in a way in which no living creature should ever be treated. Calves are separated from their mothers at birth, held in tiny compounds so that their meat is tender, with machines attached to their udder to pump the milk out. Pigs are held in small compounds, too, deprived of movement, forced to sleep in their own excrement, so that they get fat and tasty. We jail domestic birds by the thousands in small spaces, cut their beaks, feed them by force, kill them in the most inhumane way possible. Etc, etc.

Compared to that, dogs have a really nice life. We provide them with a home, a bed, plenty of food, toys to play with, our children to be friends with, we wash their paws after a walk, we cry when they pass away, and sometimes we even bury them close by, so that we can keep their memory alive. And they achieved all that by befriending us early enough.

I think dogs saw what was coming. They saw our true nature. They realized that offering loyalty and love was the only thing that could spare them from our innate cruelty.

For that act of early analysis only, I am convinced that the dog is the smartest animal in the world.

Flat Earth

For a long time, I was not really convinced that the Earth is round (those pictures from Space look really flimsy to me), but I finally came across the ultimate proof:

"If the earth was flat, cats would have pushed everything off of it by now."

Hallelujah. One less thing to worry about.

Man & pain

I burnt my right hand the other day while mixing the vegetables for the chicken with the hot olive oil. Nothing serious, obviously; but it made me think.

30,000 years ago, a man would hurt himself while hunting.
3,000 years ago, a man would hurt himself while ploughing.
300 years ago, a man would hurt himself while digging coal, or working in a factory.
And all this time, a man would frequently be hurt while fighting somebody else's war.

Now, a man hurts himself while cooking.
And this, my friends, is what is called progress.

Monotheism vs. dualism

"So, monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe -- and He's evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief."

Yuval Harari, "Sapiens"

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Refugees and sisters

I came across an interesting story recently about Richard Attenborough (of "Gandhi" director fame, among else) and David Attenborough (of "Planet Earth" fame, among else).

First of all, it turns out they had a younger biological brother, John Attenborough, who became wildly successful in the field of banking, and ended up accumulating great wealth as a financial adviser. The black sheep in a family of intellectuals, so to speak.

Second, the Attenborough brothers grew up with two non-biological sisters, Irene and Helga Bejach, Jewish refugees whom their parents took under their roof in 1939. Having seen their home destroyed and their father taken away by the Nazis, the girls arrived in England with nothing but a small suitcase each, only to find a loving home with the Attenboroughs.

Here is a touching description of this period by Richard Attenborough himself:

"After the girls had been with us for three weeks, my brothers David, John and I were called into the study by our parents. Our mother said, ‘We absolutely love you boys, but we will have to show even more love to these girls because they are here on their own and without their parents. It is entirely up to you, darlings, if they stay…'” He said his parents had always “stood up and were counted wherever they saw an injustice being done,” and that’s why they took in the girls. “The three of us boys had no hesitation in taking Helga and Irene into our family,” he wrote. “We really did see them as sisters, virtually from the time we were told they were going to live with us.”"

He also said, "They helped shape our lives; we loved them and cherished them."

On a different note: Poland and the Czech Republic are no longer accepting refugees who fled the war in Syria; the Hungarian parliament just voted to confine all refugees on its territory to camps on the borders with neighboring countries; and Slovakia is taking the EU decision to relocate refugees among member states to court.

Welcome to Planet Earth.

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Fusion is also inevitable

Researchers in the UK have just carried out a successful test of a nuclear fusion reactor. With the help of powerful magnets, the reactor heats plasma to 100 million degrees Celsius (seven times hotter than the core of the Sun). At this temperature, hydrogen atoms begin fusing into helium, releasing clean energy. Needless to say, the supply of fuel in this case is limitless.

The hope is to start providing electricity from fusion into the UK grid by 2030. One more dream coming true.

Now, where is this fusion-based space ship engine? :)

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Life is inevitable

For a long time, we've had a coherent scientific theory of how life evolves. We finally have a scientific theory of how it began.

"The 101 version of his big idea is this: Under the right conditions, a random group of atoms will self-organize, unbidden, to more effectively use energy. Over time and with just the right amount of, say, sunlight, a cluster of atoms could come remarkably close to what we call life. In fact, here’s a thought: Some things we consider inanimate actually may already be “alive.” It all depends on how we define life, something England’s work might prompt us to reconsider. “People think of the origin of life as being a rare process,” says Vijay Pande, a Stanford chemistry professor. “Jeremy’s proposal makes life a consequence of physical laws, not something random.”"

Heroes and traitors

Gaius Julius Caesar was an ambitious man. And because the rules of the Roman Republic prevented him from rising as fast as he would have liked to, he embarked on a campaign of military conquest to prove that he was worthy of Rome's admiration. When the Senate refused to honor him in a way he deemed fitting, Caesar started a Civil War and did not rest until all his opponents died or surrendered and he could proclaim himself Dictator for life and award himself all the Triumphs he believed he had earned the right to.

In the process, he achieved the following:

1) His armies killed around a million Gauls and enslaved around 1 million more (according to Plutarch). He would routinely order the annihilation of entire tribes that showed no sign of aggression. Given that the world population at the time was about 300 million, this would correspond to 25 million war victims today.
2) He created the archetype of the modern tyrant: pardoning selectively, micro managing all affairs of the state, projecting an image of benevolence while being fiercely vindictive. He changed the name of the month Quintilis to July, after himself, and installed a golden statue of himself, all petty dictatorial gestures copied in modern times by the likes of Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan and the Kims in North Korea.
3) Most importantly, he put a definitive end to Roman democracy. More than half of the elected Senators died during the Civil War, and he replaced the Senate with men he thought were personally loyal to him. Rome achieved further glory in the centuries to come, and it was fortunate enough to be ruled by a number of enlightened rulers, but it never became a Republic again.

Things did not end well for Caesar. A groups of rebellious Senators (among whom Brutus and Cassius), resentful of his aspirations to assume monarchic powers, assassinated Caesar on the Ides of March. Their actions did not save democracy, but at least they tried.

And now, here comes the irony. In his "Inferno", Dante makes Brutus and Cassius two of the three people deemed sinful enough to be chewed in the mouths of Satan, in the very center of Hell, for all eternity (the other one being Judas Iscariot), for being treacherous against their benefactor. And this is how Brutus and Cassius are styled in the Western mindset until today. While Caesar, apparently, is a great man: he founded the Roman Empire which Dante viewed as an essential part of God's plan for human happiness.

Life is not fair.

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