Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 IN REVIEW

Comparing this year with the state of the world a thousand years ago

The first 17 years of the twenty-first century have been unprecedented as a dangerous time for man and the planet. War, crime, political instability, sudden deaths, natural disasters and other disruptions appear to be breaking all records. Most people will agree we live in truly dangerous times.

Meanwhile, for the past week, commentators everywhere have been busy reviewing the year just closing, and the reviews paint a grim picture. It seems there has never been a year quite like 2017 with so much doom, gloom, violence, catastrophes, and predictions of even worse to come. Apart from 2017, the record of the twenty-first century to date must also appears to be unprecedented. Many are asking, what is the world coming to?

To put 2017 and the twenty-first century into perspective, let’s roll the clock back 1,017 years, and look at the events recorded in The Concise Encyclopaedia of World History, Rodney Castlelton (The Book Company, 1998), from 1000 AD to 1017 AD. Where possible, the birth and death dates of individuals have been added, just to illustrate how short and cheap life was in those far-off days.

1000 Olaf I Tryggvesson (963-1000) is killed in a battle with the kings of Sweden and Denmark. Norway is left without a king and the Danes take over the country. Boleslav King of Poland (992-1025) unites Bohemia and Moravia. Ceylon is invaded by the Cholas under their King Rajaraja the Great (947-1014). Seljuk Turks occupy Transoxiana, the territory east of the Oxus River. Basil II (958-1025), the Byzantine Emperor, attempts to conquer Bulgaria again. In North America, the Southern Cult evolves in the lower Mississippi valley. Mexican influenced, the people make objects of carved shell, metal and pottery showing a preoccupation with death; they focus on such sites as Emerald and Grand Village. The Iroquois people in north-east North America live in villages and cultivate beans and maize. Ethiopia is almost overrun by non-Christian, non-Islamic people from the south. The Polynesians have reached New Zealand in the last stage of the greatest migration and navigational feat in human history. Their ancestors began this migration in about 1500 BC from the East Indies, reaching Easter Island and Hawaii by about 400 AD; they are now the most widely dispersed racial group on earth. Churches are built, especially in France and Germany, to express gratitude for the postponement of the Day of Judgement; Duke Stephen I founds the monastery of Gran. The Indian mathematician Sridhara recognizes the importance of zero. Duke Stephen, who has been in power since 997, is crowned first King of Hungary with regalia sent by Pope Sylvester II (946-1003). The Bridge of Ten Thousand Ages is completed in Foochow (China).
Brian Boru

1001 The Mayan civilization in Central America is in retreat; overuse of land, soil erosion and malnutrition take their toll as the population levels drop.

1002 The Holy Roman Emperor Otto III dies of malaria at Paterno, aged 22, while on campaign against the Romans. He is succeeded as King of the Franks and Bavarians by his cousin Duke Henry of Bavaria (972-1024), who is now 28. The Vizier al-Mansur, chief minister of Caliph Hisham II of Cordova, dies aged 63, the Caliphate begins to decline without his guidance. The Byzantine armies of Basil II overrun Macedonia, defeating the Bulgarians at Vidin. Ethelred II (966-1016) orders a massacre of Danish settlers (racism is not new).

1003 The Danish King Sweyn (Forkbeard) (960-1014) ravishes the English coast and exacts tribute in recompense for the massacre last year. Thorfinn Karlsefni (980-1007) leaves Greenland with three ships for a three-year exploration of North America (500 years before Columbus). His attempts at colonization are unsuccessful. Pope Sylvester II dies (aged 57).

1004 Zhenzong, the Song Emperor of China (968-1022), concludes a peace treaty with the Laio empire of the Khitan Mongol nomads, which costs China 100,000 ounces of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk a year, an extortionate tribute many Song officials find humiliating and offensive. The Lombard King Ardoin is defeated by Henry King of Bavaria, who has himself crowned King of Lombardy at Pavia on 14 May. Ardoin nevertheless carries on fighting and much of Pavia is destroyed by burning and many of its citizens killed.

1005 Kenneth III (966-1005) King of Scotland dies and is succeeded by Malcolm II (954-1034).

1006 Muslims settle in northern India. Mount Metrop in Java erupts; Hindu King Dharmawangsa is killed in the eruption and the Temple of Borbudar, the largest temple in South-East Asia, is badly damaged.

1007 Ethelred II King of England pays the Danes for two years free of attacks.

1008 Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030) defeats Hindu forces at Peshawar as he expands his empire. The Persian writer Al-Hamadhani dies at Harat (age 39); he invented the literary form called Maqamah, a cameo short story in rhyming prose.

1009 Egypt’s Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (985-1021) destroys the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. There are demands across Christian Europe for a crusade to recover the Holy Land from Muslim control.

1010 Orders of King Rajaraja of Chola: Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur completed. Mansur Abu’l-Quasim Firdwasi The Book of the Kings written.

1011 Ichijo Emperor of Japan dies, aged 31, and is succeeded by his cousin Sanjo.

1012 Ethelred II pays the Danes another huge sum to stop them attacking England. ‘Heretics’ – Christians professing unorthodox beliefs – are for the first time persecuted in Germany.

1013 The Danes once more attack and conquer England; Ethelred II takes refuge in Normandy. Cordova’s Caliph Hisham II (966-1013) dies and is succeeded by Sulaiman al-Mustain.
Nathaniel's Bloodline

1014 Henry of Bavaria the German King recognizes Benedict VIII (980-1024) as Pope and is crowned by him as Holy Roman Emperor Henry II on 14 February. Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard dies suddenly at Gainsborough and is succeeded by his son Canute (994-1035). Canute, who is 20, returns to the safety of Denmark as Ethelred comes back from Normandy to reclaim his throne. April 23: Battle of Clontarf: fighting rages all day between two Irish factions. The victorious Munster army is led by Brian Boru (941-1014), the 87-year old High King of Ireland; the other, led by Mael Morda King of Leinster, is aided by the Vikings. Morda himself breaks through Brian Boru’s bodyguard and stabs Boru to death. Morda is later tortured to death by the High King’s army. Basil II, the Byzantine Emperor, annexes part of Bulgaria and orders that the Bulgarian army is to be blinded.

1015 Olaf II (995-1030) of Norway re-establishes Norwegian independence. Canute returns to England and is recognized as King of Wessex.

1016 Sanjo, the blind Emperor of Japan, abdicates, aged 40, and is succeeded by Ichijo’s eight-year old son Goichijo (1008-1036). Ethelred II King of England dies, aged 48, and is succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside (990-1016), who is chosen by the people of London; Canute is chosen to succeed by the witan at Southampton. Battle of Ashingdon in Essex: Canute routs Edmund’s army but permits him to reign in the south until his death. Edmund dies later in the year, aged 26; Canute rules all England.

1017 Canute divides England into four earldoms for ease of administration.

Other research reveals that the year 1000 AD was a time of major upheaval and extraordinary suffering. For example, in France, the whole country was seized with panic and despair, people feared that the world would end during the millennial year. People went on pilgrimages, leaving their homes, crops and animals, throwing into chaos the normal course of living. Fields were unploughed, crops untended, and when the world didn’t end, there was widespread starvation, disease and death. Does that ring a bell with Y2K? Then there was drought in 1002 followed by unprecedented rain storms and flooding in 1003. The years 950-1250 was the period of Medieval Climate Optimum, a time of global warming, but inside the Optimum, 1000-1017 was mostly cold, dry and harsh, an abrupt and seemingly inexplicable climate reversal.

From 1004-1016 England experienced, ‘such a famine prevailed as no man can remember.’ Although the wars between Ethelred and Sweyn the Dane took the lives of thousands, famine took thousands too. Some authorities have estimated that England lost half its population during this period. In 1008 there was famine in Wales. In 1009 Italian troops had to march on frozen rivers. In 10111 the River Nile was frozen. In 1012 many European cities were flooded by the sea. In 1013 England had a hurricane, an earthquake, and severe flooding. The year 1014 was notable for many English towns being destroyed by the sea with the loss of many lives. The climate was erratic and unpredictable, just as it is now.

In the period 1000-1017, war, violence, and sickness were a way of life. Almost half of deaths recorded by early coroners were due to violence. But by far the greatest number of deaths were due to infectious diseases. Life expectancy from birth at the time was 20-30 years. From the birth and death dates for the famous people above, it can be seen how much longer the privileged classes lived, and even they did not live long by today’s standards.

A thousand years ago, crime was not a major worry to the citizenry at large – they just lived and died with it. Crime statistics and research data gathering did not start until much later, but there is anecdotal evidence of widespread crime a thousand years ago. It was a dangerous time to be alive.  However, there is a discernible downward trend from 1300 onward in the European homicide rate and it is now barely 10% of 1300 rates based on the number of homicides per 100,000 population. In short, the world is not falling apart because of crime.

Whether we compare the world situation now with that of a thousand years ago, or of ten years ago, it will always appear to be worse now. But it isn’t. A thousand years ago there was no newspapers, radio, television or internet to prime the crime fear. A thousand years ago entire populations were illiterate. Ten years ago? Well, it’s not easy to remember everything from ten years ago, even many major events and experiences are lost in the mists of time.

Like the years 2000-2017, the years 1000-1017 were normal in their own wild and erratic ways, but we can be assured of some things; there is now less poverty and more security than a thousand years ago. We have welfare services, fair justice systems, education systems, and employment and business and leisure time opportunities like never before. More people now live full lives with secure retirements at the end of their days than ever before. But then, we wouldn’t be people if we didn’t have something to gossip or complain about, would we?

All in all, 2017 has been a good year, and I can’t wait for the sun to rise on 2018.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

HIGHWAY AMERICA

Life on the road is rarely boring with a CB radio

An excerpt from Highway America – the adventures of a Kiwi truck driver, by Peter Blakeborough, and available as an eBook from Smashwords.com

The smooth, rounded hills of Pennsylvania gave way to the flat plains of Ohio and Indiana as I continued west listening to the CB. Anything and everything can be heard on the CB. It’s a great way to keep up with the latest traffic situations, the location of highway patrols, accidents, gossip and humor. In the southern suburbs of Chicago I switched off the music and turned up the CB for a change of entertainment as a truck convoy gradually caught up with me. In my mirror a big red Peterbuilt was drawing closer and in the following convoy a big-mouthed ladies man was doing most of the talking.
‘That’s a mighty fine rig you got there, gal.’
‘Yeah, mister, it’s gets me everywhere I wanna go. What you driving?’
‘You just passed me. I’m in the white KW. Where you headed?’
‘I’ve got a load here for Elmhurst up there by O’Hare International.’
‘Hows about that. I’m going to East Romans Road, Elmhurst, right next to the I-294. What time is your appointment?’
‘Not till eleven.’
‘I’ve got plenty of time. They don’t want to see me until six in the morning. We could meet someplace for a coffee and whatever else that happens to rear its head.’
‘You married?’
‘Yeah but that don’t matter. We pretty much live separate lives. I’ve got all the freedom a man needs. You married?’
‘I was till I kicked him out last year. I’m a free agent now and enjoying every minute of it.’
‘You sound like just my kind of lady.’
‘I like a big man with a big heart and an outgoing friendly personality and willing to live it up, have fun and not afraid to spend a buck. I’ll bet you’re a pretty impressive guy.’
As the red Peterbuilt drew alongside my truck, Old Bluey, I saw a feminine hand hanging up the microphone and then she looked my way, gave a big smile and waved. She was an attractive lady in her thirties and mistress of her own destiny. As she pulled ahead, the white KW was right behind her trailer doors and the rest of the dog pack followed closely, fearing that they might lose the scent. The man in the KW was a big man in his early forties and good-looking with a flash cowboy hat to complete the image.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Sandra. What’s yours?’
‘I’m Randy.’
‘Yeah, I’ll believe that.’
We were nearing the point where three lanes curved around to the right to become the I-294 North through Chicago while the far-right lane went onto a flyover to continue westward as the I-80 to Iowa and eventually to San Fransisco. Approaching the interchange Sandra was in the far left hammer-lane with the hammer down and Randy was still hanging on right behind her trailer doors. Suddenly the red Peterbuilt veered across three lanes at the last moment and shot up the flyover and onto the I-80 West. Sandra came on the CB radio again.
‘Bye Randy. It was nice talking with you.’
The CB was silent for about three seconds before all hell broke loose as the rest of the convoy took the Mickey out of Randy.


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

WHITE-TAILED SPIDERS

Leg amputations and other horror stories of Australia’s legendary spider

Australia’s white-tailed spider is a little critter with a gruesome reputation for attacks on humans, according to media stories and legends that abound on the internet.

Some 35 species of white-tails have been identified, the most common being Lampona cylindrata and Lampona murina. They are native to southern and eastern Australia and found their way to New Zealand about 1886. A typical white-tail is small to medium size and looks much like any other dark-coloured spider, except for a distinctive white spot on its tail. These spiders live in gardens beneath rocks and bark and inside houses, where they often hide in dark places like inside clothes, shoes and bedclothes. They are mobile hunters by night, preying on other spiders, rather than building webs to snare passing traffic.

A White-tailed spider
From their identification as a species in 1866, the white-tail, although common, attracted little attention until about 1982 when horror stories started appearing in news media about near death incidents in which severe necrosis (wasting of flesh) occurred with victims of white-tailed spider bites. Reports of leg amputations and eaten flesh spread quickly along with reports of victims taking years to recover from bites. Almost everyone knew someone who had suffered at the fangs of a white-tail spider. It was often said that the white-tail venom was so powerful because its meal of choice was the daddy longlegs, which it was claimed would be the world’s most deadly spider, if only its fangs were stronger. But that claim is unproven and most likely false.

The New Zealand Tour Commentary
The first reported case in Australia of necrotising archaism (severe ulcers and lesions because of a white-tail bite) appears to have been in 1982 and the medical profession was caught on the hop. Newspapers and television programs quickly took up the cause and the reputation of the white-tailed spider was damaged, it seemed, forever. But science, including medical science, frequently takes wrong turnings, even if only briefly, which, incidentally, is the only way science can advance. The problem with the white-tail scare was that no one who was suffering those symptoms had arrested the suspect and submitted it for trial by a jury of scientists. There was nothing to prove that a white-tail was involved.

Meanwhile, research by Dr Geoff Isbister of the University of Newcastle, NSW, and Mike Gray, a spider expert at the Australian Museum, suggests the opposite. Their study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2003. They studied 130 white-tail spider bites where the culprit was positively identified and found no evidence of the so-called necrotising archaism. In all the cases studied by Isbister and Gray the patients experienced pain like a bee sting, puncture marks with redness, swelling and itchiness around the sting. All recovered fully within hours, or days at the most, and none suffered any other symptoms or long-term injury. Only 27% of victims reported pain more severe than a bee sting.

According to Isbister, misdiagnosis by the medical profession is still common. But that is understandable. They are medical doctors not arachnologists. Meanwhile, the claims of horrific spider injuries continue and often the claims are supported by gruesome photos published in newspapers or on social media. But the white-tail spider, although aggressive toward other spiders, does not attack humans unless cornered or provoked.
A Sydney funnel web spider

It’s a good idea to wear gloves when gardening and to shake clothes and towels before use. Shoes should be given a good shake before inserting the feet, just to make sure there are no white-tails in there, or any other critters that could be more harmful than a white-tail. In Australia, you wouldn’t want to place your foot on a Sydney funnel-web spider. The venom of a funnel-web can kill a human within 15 minutes to an hour. Of 10,000 species of spiders in Australia, the Sydney funnel-web is the deadliest.

Spiders have evolved throughout the world during the last 280 million years and there is estimated to be 43,000 species. Most spiders are relatively harmless to humans and less than 30 species have been responsible for human loss of life.