Saturday, May 31, 2014

Evolutions

Mulling over our Species, in History
An author today on Science Friday talking about everything to do with the concept of Self, confessed that for clarification she had resorted to William James, even though a century old.  More than a year ago I had done the same (I think it was in the series of posts that had begun with Hamlin Garland).  When it comes to really good thinking, Henry's older brother is hard to beat, and it does us good to realize yet again that human minds can think straight and radically with very little technology.  Not that they always do, and not that we needn't keep in mind that, say, in archaeology it is important to remember what hadn't been discovered yet and that then, as now, there were fantasy governed or otherwise limited minds.  I mean, Werner Jaeger is not merely anti-Platonic; in many respects he may be right.  Anyone read Paideia recently?  Don't worry; I'd have to read it again if I were to discuss it.  But I've been mulling over a question that is very hard to frame and that may be inane anyway.

What seems to have gotten me started was Memorial Day's statistics of huge numbers of war dead; of all the litanies of lost generation, of the holocaust and Hiroshima accounts in David Remnick's wonderful anthology of The New Yorker in the 1940s; of seemingly unlimited varieties of moths in my friend Bill's blog, Naturally.  

But what about homo sapiens?  How much of a die off or plague has been needed to modify us?  Appalling as the 20th century cemeteries from D-Day or those "In Flanders Field" are, as dreadful quantitatively as well as morally the European harvest from ethnic cleansing, as difficult even to count the dead of Hiroshima, is the consequence of such lost generations genetically sufficient to alter nations affected?  They aren't as numerous as many migrations have been, as of Irish or Mexicans in the 20th century.  That is, was even the loss of Jewry in Europe as large a fraction of their numbers as of Hispanics from South to North America?  The former are as large a proportion of promising lives that never reached full adulthood as I can think of.  Perhaps the remnants of the Confederate armies after 1865?

There are all sorts of difficult questions that come to mind.  Does it in fact matter a great deal if the British lost generation included so large a proportion of educated idealists as the literature tells us?  And the young artists in France and Germany?  And, in Europe, the influenza  epidemic (not that it wasn't bad in America as well).?  What about the famous Black Death of the 14th century?  Not surprisingly, it is the literate who write history, and they can only properly record what they know.  I was thinking that it is very hard (and regarding calculations with some skepticism) to know what fraction of a population perished by great natural or man-made disasters so as to leave a permanent mark on the population.  And how noticeable a mark?  Arguably, the potato famine affected the peopling of the USA more than any wars that we have fought.  How terrible do things have to have been to be noticeable a couple of centuries later?  How important is population explosion today?

I'm not talking about for good or for ill.  If the Old World could populate the New World with its leftovers, it must be said that the result is not by any means so bad as might have been guessed.  I'll vote for the minds and beauty of African-Americans any day.  Also, I'm not sure that we aren't seeing epigenetic changes among them with the North American diet and climate.  If brown bears are much bigger in Katmai State Park than the same-species grizzlies of Yosemite….?

Also, what about miscegenation?  If the ancient world had a much smaller population, it also could not mix so freely as we do.  What about the ancients' inability to count much beyond 10,000 (myrioi) and even so, we often suspect, with only a vague realization of the number?  I first understood the long-term consequences of a lost navy, a lost war, reading Thucydides on Syracuse.  But I understood the loss to have been more societal than genetic.

And yet, I bet our Last Ice Age ancestors may have been a little less identical to us than their bones suggest.  After all, we ARE regular mammals just as the Katmai brown bears are.

OK, perhaps this is inane.  Certainly, there are no ways of getting answers that I could regard as reliable.  But it's hardly as if we could all look just like Masaccio's Adam and Eve, and even less likely that their originals, from the land of Sumer in perhaps the 4th millennium BCE, looked like them.  No harm in wondering.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Some still loose threads

At 301 East Blvd in Baton Rouge, almost "midtown"

(1) When one is driving across Baton Rouge, E to W across town, one first learns to use North Blvd to allow for I-110 as it slices N to S, and to turn south to stay on surface streets.  Your landmark is the big First United Methodist Church and you take East Blvd south in the shadow of the elevated Interstate  before you reach the second landmark church, Mt. Zion First Baptist.  Later I learned that in the first half of the 20th century (and really still today) these were the fashionable protestant churches of their respective denominations, with notable families in their congregations, respectively African-American and European-American.  All the major Christian churches are convenient to downtown and to the Capitol.
The Interstate highway was ruinous to East Blvd, but it hasn't quite ruined it.  Not that Mt. Zion, in particular, enjoys the noise of traffic.
Long before I had retired and began studying pre-WW II Baton Rouge, or had discovered Governor Fuqua's house in the heart of Beauregard Town, I used East Blvd to get from North Blvd to Government St and noticed the handsome house, 301 East Blvd, above, just north of and across the street from Mt. Zion First Baptist.  I still am trying to learn about this house.  It really is quite like Governor Fuqua's, though smaller, tetrastyle instead of hexastyle, but to my eye perfectly Greek Revival and quite old, more distingu√© than its immediate neighbors yet less lovingly maintained than this house that, I understand, belongs to Mt. Zion:
No nuisancy freeway (see at right) can daunt the careful maintenance seen here


I need to take my photos of this fascinating neighborhood to the EBR Parish Library, now that it is in its new building.  Also, the whole neighborhood is plainly of substantial, established importance, and I need to return to solidify my impressions of it.  To my shame, after 20 years, I still don't know it.

(2) How to define (is it possible?) Spanish Town Road.
Spanish Town Road is complex, and I ran out of daylight and legal parking.  Start at the Capitol park:



As I have said in an earlier post, this is too complicated for an amateur like me, but I'd like to get a richer impression of it.
(3) The neighborhood defined by our fine Magnet High School.  Once, when I was serving on an LSU committee, I learned that Baton Rouge Magnet High School was the best secondary school in the State;  in any case, its alumni and the city are very proud of it.
The west flank of the original building

The new north buildings (where for years and years there were "temporaries")

On the west of the central divider with its spreading oaks, a modest well kept bungalow
View of the well known businesses on Government Street from the Eugene St. divider

In fact, right in Midtown, the wellbeing of the city embracing its schools is well illustrated.  Athletic teams can always be bussed to playing fields.  Here, it seems to me, the schools and the residential neighborhoods anchor each other.
Rather than wait still longer, I'm posting what I have.  There are, of course, more houses in the Albums.

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