Birds feeding at table, video


This 31 March 2019 video is about birds feeding at a table in Ede in the Veluwe region in the Netherlands: blackbird, collared dove, starling and more.

Advertisements

Beowulf, ancient poem, new research


This 2015 video is called Classics Summarized: Beowulf.

From Harvard University in the USA:

Breaking down Beowulf

Researchers use statistical technique to find evidence that Old English poem had a single author

April 8, 2019

Summary: Using a statistical approach known as stylometry, which analyzes everything from the poem’s meter to the number of times different combinations of letters show up in the text, a team of researchers found new evidence that Beowulf is the work of a single author.

It’s been a towering landmark in the world of English literature for more than two centuries, but Beowulf is still the subject of fierce academic debate, in part between those who claim the epic poem is the work of a single author and those who claim it was stitched together from multiple sources.

In an effort to resolve the dispute, a team of researchers led by Madison Krieger, a post-doctoral fellow at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and Joseph Dexter, who received a Ph.D. from Harvard, turned to a very modern tool — a computer.

Using a statistical approach known as stylometry, which analyzes everything from the poem’s meter to the number of times different combinations of letters show up in the text, Krieger and colleagues found new evidence that Beowulf is the work of a single author. The study is described in a April 8 paper published in Nature Human Behaviour.

In addition to Krieger, the study was co-authored by Leonard Neidorf from Nanjing University, an expert on Beowulf whose numerous studies include a book on the poem’s transmission, as well as Michelle Yakubek, who worked on the project as a student at the Research Science Institute, and Pramit Chaudhuri from the University of Texas at Austin. Chaudhuri and Dexter are the co-directors of the Quantitative Criticism Lab, a multi-institutional group devoted to developing computational approaches for the study of literature and culture.

“We looked at four broad categories of items in the text,” Krieger said. “Each line has a meter, and many lines have what we call a sense pause, which is a small pause between clauses and sentences similar to the pauses we typically mark with punctuation in Modern English. We also looked at aspects of word choice.”

“But it turns out one of the best markers you can measure is not at the level of words, but at the level of letter-combinations,” he continued. “So we counted all the times the author used the combination ‘ab’, ‘ac’, ‘ad’, and so on.”

Using those metrics, Krieger said, the team combed through the Beowulf text, and found it to be consistent throughout — a result that lends further support to the theory of single authorship.

“Across many of the proposed breaks in the poem, we see that these measures are homogeneous,” Krieger said. “So as far as the actual text of Beowulf is concerned, it doesn’t act as though there is supposed to be a major stylistic change at these breaks. The absence of major stylistic shifts is an argument for unity.”

The study is just the latest effort to pin down Beowulf’s often-mysterious background.

“There are two big debates about Beowulf,” Krieger explained. “The first is when it was composed, because the date of composition affects our understanding of how Beowulf is to be interpreted. For instance, whether it is a poem near or far in time from the conversion to Christianity is an important question.”

The second debate among Beowulf academics, Krieger said, is related to whether the poem was the work of one author, or many.

“The first edition that was widely available to the public was published in 1815, and the unity of the work was almost immediately attacked,” Krieger said. “From high school, everyone remembers the battle with Grendel and Grendel’s mother, and maybe the dragon, but if you go back and read the whole poem, there are weird sections about, for instance, how good Beowulf is at swimming, and other sections that go back hundreds of years and talk about hero kings that have ostensibly nothing to do with the story. So the way we read it now… seems very disjointed.”

One piece of evidence that has factored into debates about unitary composition can be seen just by looking at the text.

“The handwriting is different,” Krieger said. “At what I would call a random point in the poem, just mid-sentence, and not really an important sentence, the first scribe’s handwriting stops, and somebody else takes over. It’s clear that the second scribe also proofread the first scribe, so even though currently nobody really thinks that these two guys were different poets, or were joining together parts of a poem at this random mid-sentence location, it has helped contribute to a narrative according to which the writing of Beowulf, and maybe its original composition, was a long and collaborative effort.

For the nineteenth century, the prevailing view among academics was that the poem must be the work of multiple authors. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that another author — one whose name is all but synonymous with epic storytelling — began to challenge that idea.

His name? J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Tolkien was one of the greatest champions of single authorship,” Krieger said. “He was a very prominent Beowulf scholar, and in 1936 he wrote a landmark piece, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, that really revived the idea that it was the work of a single person.”

At the heart of Tolkien‘s argument, Krieger said, was the way in which Christianity is reflected in the text.

“The Christianization of Beowulf is very interesting, because every single character in it is a pagan, even in these odd digressions” Krieger said. “Beowulf is from southern Sweden and goes to Denmark to help other pagan Germanic peoples fight monsters…but it’s overlaid throughout with a Christian perspective and infused with Christian language.” Computational evidence from the study supports Tolkien’s view, from a new perspective. “Arguments based on the poem’s content or its author’s supposed belief system are vital, of course, but equally important are arguments based on the nitty-gritty of stylistic details. The latter also have the merit of being testable, measurable.”

Though he acknowledged it’s unlikely the new study will be the end of the debates about Beowulf’s authorship, Krieger believes it can shed important new light on English literary traditions.

“If we really believe this is one coherent work by one person, what does it mean that it has these strange asides?” he asked. “Maybe one of the biggest takeaways from this is about how you structured a story back then. Maybe we have just lost the ability to read literature in the way people at the time would have understood it, and we should try to understand how these asides actually fit into the story.”

Going forward, Krieger and colleagues are hoping to apply the stylometry tools developed for the study to other literary traditions and other landmark works.

“Even works as well-studied as the Iliad and the Odyssey have yet to be analyzed using a full array of computational tools,” Krieger said. “The fine-grained features that seem to matter most have never been examined in a lot of traditions, and we’re hoping to spread these techniques that we think could change the way similar problems are approached.”

Krieger also hopes to use the techniques to understand the stylistic evolution of English across history.

“Putting Old English in context is the springboard,” he said. “This is the birth of English literature. From here, we can look at what aspects of style evolved — not just grammar, but at the cultural level, what features people enjoyed, and how they changed over time.”

Ultimately, though, Krieger believes the study is a prime example of how ancient texts still hold secrets that can be uncovered through the use of modern tools.

“This is the first step in taking an old debate and refreshing it with some new methodology,” he said. “It’s a new extension of the whole critical apparatus, and it’s exciting that an area probably assumed to be very traditional can in fact be at the cutting edge of work that spans the humanities and sciences.”

This research was supported with funding from a Neukom Institute for Computational Science CompX Grant, a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant, a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and a Neukom Fellowship.

Life recoveries after mass extinctions


This 2014 video says about itself:

Evolution of Life After the Dinosaur Extinction

Paleontologist Richard Smith explains the unusual life that evolved on this isolated continent [Australia] during the Paleocene Age 65 million years ago.

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Evolution imposes ‘speed limit’ on recovery after mass extinctions

April 8, 2019

It takes at least 10 million years for life to fully recover after a mass extinction, a speed limit for the recovery of species diversity that is well known among scientists. Explanations for this apparent rule have usually invoked environmental factors, but research led by The University of Texas at Austin links the lag to something different: evolution.

The recovery speed limit has been observed across the fossil record, from the “Great Dying” that wiped out nearly all ocean life 252 million years ago to the massive asteroid strike that killed all nonavian dinosaurs. The study, published April 8 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, focused on the later example. It looks at how life recovered after Earth’s most recent mass extinction, which snuffed out most dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The asteroid impact that triggered the extinction is the only event in Earth’s history that brought about global change faster than present-day climate change, so the authors said the study could offer important insight on recovery from ongoing, human-caused extinction events.

The idea that evolution — specifically, how long it takes surviving species to evolve traits that help them fill open ecological niches or create new ones — could be behind the extinction recovery speed limit is a theory proposed 20 years ago. This study is the first to find evidence for it in the fossil record, the researchers said.

The team tracked recovery over time using fossils from a type of plankton called foraminifera, or forams. The researchers compared foram diversity with their physical complexity. They found that total complexity recovered before the number of species — a finding that suggests that a certain level of ecological complexity is needed before diversification can take off.

In other words, mass extinctions wipe out a storehouse of evolutionary innovations from eons past. The speed limit is related to the time it takes to build up a new inventory of traits that can produce new species at a rate comparable to before the extinction event.

Lead author Christopher Lowery, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), said that the close association of foram complexity with the recovery speed limit points to evolution as the speed control.

“We see this in our study, but the implication should be that these same processes would be active in all other extinctions,” Lowery said. “I think this is the likely explanation for the speed limit of recovery for everything.”

Lowery co-authored the paper with Andrew Fraass, a research associate at the University of Bristol who did the research while at Sam Houston State University. UTIG is a research unit of the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.

The researchers were inspired to look into the link between recovery and evolution because of earlier research that found recovery took millions of years despite many areas being habitable soon after Earth’s most recent mass extinction. This suggested a control factor other than the environment alone.

They found that although foram diversity as a whole was decimated by the asteroid, the species that survived bounced back quickly to refill available niches. However, after this initial recovery, further spikes in species diversity had to wait for the evolution of new traits. As the speed limit would predict, 10 million years after extinction, the overall diversity of forams was nearly back to levels observed before the extinction event. Foram fossils are prolific in ocean sediments around the world, allowing the researchers to closely track species diversity without any large gaps in time.

Pincelli Hull, an assistant professor at Yale University, said the paper sheds light on factors driving recovery.

“Before this study, people could have told you about the basic patterns in diversity and complexity, but they wouldn’t have been able to answer how they relate to one another in a quantitative sense,” she said.

The authors said that recovery from past extinctions offers a road map for what might come after the modern ongoing extinction, which is driven by climate change, habitat loss, invasive species and other factors.

Trump administration protects Bush from war crimes prosecution


This 8 April 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Secretary of State Pompeo Protecting Bush Jr. from War Crimes Prosecution (Pt 1/2)

With the revocation of the International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor’s US visa, Pompeo and Bolton are trying to make sure that high-level US government officials are never prosecuted for war crimes committed in Afghanistan or elsewhere, says Law Prof. Francis Boyle.

This 8 April 2019 video from the USA is the sequel.

Birds of Oostvaardersveld nature reserve


Oostvaardersveld, 6 April 2019

This photo is from Oostvaardersveld nature reserve in Flevoland province in the Netherlands. Like the other photos in this blog post, it was taken, as an experiment, with a ‘lensbaby‘: a kind of camera lens enabling to make photos in which some parts are focused while other parts are not. Also, as it was a bit of a foggy day, the photos are not as focused as some others.

We went to Oostvaardersveld on 6 April 2019.

First, we went to the Grote Praambult viewpoint. There was a flock of still wintering barnacle geese there. A running red deer.

An Egyptian goose flying. Herring gulls near the barnacle geese flock. A great egret.

A white wagtail in a tree, calling.

A peregrine falcon nest in an electricity pylon. Three falcons flying around it. Is this an intruder trying to dislodge the nesting couple? Or just a curiosity visit? We don’t know.

We go on to another viewpoint, Kleine Praambult.

A song thrush sings. Chiffchaff sound.

Oostvaardersveld, on 6 April 2019

As we start our foggy Oostvaardersveld walk, a blackcap sings.

So does the first one of many willow warblers, just back from Africa.

A coot swims on a lake. Two goldfinches just off the footpath.

In the next lake, mallards and tufted ducks. Common pochards and mute swans.

A Cetti’s warbler sings. A common linnet on the top of the bush.

Great spotted woodpecker sound.

Oostvaardersveld, tree on 6 April 2019

We enter a wooded area.

Oostvaardersveld, dead tree on 6 April 2019

Some trees are dead.

Oostvaardersveld, spring tree on 6 April 2019

For some trees, the spring is just beginning.

Common field-speedwell flowers.

Nuthatch sound.

We arrive at the hide ‘De Krakeend’, meaning the gadwall duck.

Indeed, two gadwalls swim here. And a little grebe.

Grey herons.

Many barn swallows, recently back from spring migration, flying low above the water. There is a barn swallow nest inside the hide, but its inhabitants do not seem to have arrived yet.

As we walk further, a flock of barn swallows sitting on dead branches of a tree.

In another tree, a willow tit.

Oostvaardersveld, lake on 6 April 2019

We continue to another lake.

A reedy area. A male stonechat on a reed stem.

And a bluethroat.

Still further, beavers prove that they live here: quite some trees gnawed through.

Coltsfoot flowers.

This 2012 video is about the Oostvaardersveld.

We arrive at the visitors’ center. A wooden sea eagle sculpture.

Then, something special: a real live sea eagle sits in a tree top.

If you walk towards the Zeearend hide, then many big carp swim near the second bridge.

Along path to Grauwe Gans hide, 6 April 2019

We continue to another footpath, leading to the Oostvaardersplassen hide near the Knardijk dike. The hide is called De Grauwe Gans.

Along footpath to Grauwe Gans hide, 6 April 2019

Flowering shrubs, 6 April 2019

Flowering blackthorn shrubs along the footpath.

Pollard willows, 6 April 2019

And pollard willows.

Trees, 6 April 2019

And other trees.

From the hide: Shelducks. Avocets.

Common horsetail growing.

See also here.

Pentagon contributes to climate change, hurt by it


This 7 April 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

US Military Under Attack By Climate Change

Climate change is no joke to the military.

Likewise, it is no joke for, officially climate denialist, Donald Trump when he protects his golf courses against global warming.

Cenk Uygur, Francesca Fiorentini, and John Iadarola, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

“Greg Brudnicki, mayor of Panama City, Florida, has lived in the community for 55 years and said he has never seen a storm like Hurricane Michael. The cyclone barreled through the Florida panhandle in October, flattening beach neighborhoods and piling 20 years’ worth of debris on Panama City alone.

Tyndall Air Force Base, located 12 miles east of the city, provides more than 30 percent of the city’s economy, Brudnicki says, and, like much of the surrounding area, it was completely decimated by Michael.

“It just looked like somebody went through and kicked down all the buildings,” said Brudnicki, who toured the base shortly after the storm. “It looked like missiles came in and blew the place up.”

Read more here.

The Pentagon gets hurt by climate change; a considerable part of which they have caused themselves.