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A gorgeous item, Paleolithic art in the form of a hand axe created sometime from 300,000 to 500,000 years ago, discovered in Toft, England. Though not a culture like we think of a culture, this is part of what is known as the Acheulean culture, or Acheulean tradition, of tool making you can find all over Europe, Africa, and Asia. It went on for a million and a half years or so, slowly, infinitesimally changing, for about five times as long as the 300,000 years we Homo sapiens have existed. This beautiful thing was created by someone in the last third of that span, towards the northwestern extremity of that range, when the island of Great Britain was on the eastern edge of a vast plain that extended from the Pyrenees and Alps and Carpathians north across verdant grasslands where the English Channel and much of the North Sea are now. The maker of this thing, or their parents, or perhaps their parents hundreds of generations earlier had walked across that plain to the place where this was flaked—striking stone against stone with just the right touch at just the right angle using techniques that went back well over a million years—in what is now Toft, England, about an hour or so northwest of London.
We’re stepping out of history into Deep Time trying to imagine such a span of time, perhaps not Geologic Deep Time, with its sweep of hundreds of millions years, but certainly hominid Deep Time, with endless integers of a million years. Acheulean culture existed in this Deep Time, a million and a half million years ago, and the visionary creature (or visionary to us, anyway) who made this back then was not one of us, not at all. We are a different and later species of hominid, of human. This gorgeous handaxe would have been shaped by a Homo erectus or a Homo heidelbergensus, and we really have no idea what they saw in it, or thought about it, or what significance the fossil shell uncovered by their flaking had to them. We only know what we what we know of if, with our huge Homo sapien brains whirring, that it’s a fossil, something that lived and died millions and millions of years before, deep in paleontological time. Of course there is absolutely no way whatsoever the Homo erectus who discovered it could have even had a glimmer of any of that. It requires a frontal lobe of the sort that he or she did not have. It never really occurs to us that before Homo sapiens had even evolved by genetic mutation from a single mating pair of Homo erectus, that for millions of years such entirely different human creatures wandered from Africa across half the globe, thinking thoughts that we can never possibly know. But we can look at what they made, and must have marveled at, and showed the others, communicating with gestures and expressions and sounds without uttering or even thinking a single word.
A gorgeous painting of Australopithecus afarensis by paleoartist Viktor Deak. They’ve uncovered hundreds of these guys, who seem to have been around for about a million years three to four million years ago, and though back in the Lucy days it was thought that she and her species were our direct ancestors, now it’s thought that Australopithecines were related to our direct ancestors, but didn’t lead eventually to us. Sadly, they were on a dead end evolutionary path, and at some point in the three million years since this picture would have been taken, her line and all the genetic info it contained came to an end. The oblivion of extinction. Still, she takes a nice painting.
(I have no idea when I wrote this one, I found it in the pile of drafts.)
Does anyone know or care, she posted on Facebook, that lobster and crabs are just giant bugs?
Lobsters and crabs, I mansplained, are giant bugs the way humans are giant hummingbirds or rattlesnakes or lampreys or Gila monsters or cane toads which are all as closely related to human beings as crabs and lobsters are to insects. Crabs, lobsters and insects all have the basic features of arthropods—they have the hard exoskeletons that the soft parts of the body are held within, as well as segmented bodies (head, thorax and abdomen) and paired jointed appendages (all those matching legs, claws and antennae.) Anyone, bibbed and covered with crustacean goo, who actually eats a lobster gets a beautiful lesson in arthropod anatomy. Humans, fish, reptiles, amphibians and your Thanksgiving turkey all have the basic chordate design of backbones (or a notochord made of cartilage like lampreys do) and all our edible parts are built around that backbone and the skeleton that developed out of it (except the brains tucked inside our skulls but those are more like the marrow and neurons inside our spinal column than the rest of our soft body parts). So if a lobster could think about it he (or her) would probably be offended by us comparing her (or him) to a cockroach, the way we would be offended (or I would, anyway) by being compared to, say, a hagfish.
That being said, lobsters are way too gross to eat, because they look just like giant bugs.
Not to change the subject, but this is how evolution gets all fucked up.
I’d never bought a Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector before. I’d always thought it was a metaphor.
OK, I didn’t think it was a metaphor. That was the opener. It didn’t work. Forget it. But to smoothly segue, Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector would be one word in German. And our brand new Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector works beautifully, without shaking the plumbing to death like the aerator with far fewer syllables I bought last week and wasn’t even pronounceable in German. A 2 Flow Faucet Aerator, that one. Actually if you include the description beyond the comma it was a 2 Flow Faucet Aerator, Dual-function Water Saving Sink Aerator Replacement, which rolls across the tongue with all grace and beauty of a sentence in a technical manual. No wonder the pipes shuddered and belched air. It’s so agglutinatively icky, something better translated into one of those endless sentence-in-a-word Turkish words. There’s something morphologically magical about those endless rows of nouns that we in English insist are just that, rows of nouns, but the German sees as one long glorious compound noun, a single word, but maybe that’s just me, and I seem to have digressed. Getting back to our story, this Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector is so hip and sleekly modern it’s just got to be digital, and I must have wasted ten minutes trying to convince the thing to aerate the water (it’s not named Siri, anyway) till I gave up and used the Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector handle thing. Turns out it’s just as analog as the ancient faucet from 1931 that was here when we moved in thirty years ago. You have to turn it on by hand and water comes out. The one we replaced two nozzles back (was that really only two weeks ago?) could go from gush to spritz with a bump and back to a gush with a tug. Talk about a conceptual step up from the binary gush/no gush. What will they think of next. But the Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector looks digital anyway. A jarring touch of the modern in our Art Deco kitchen. No, I won’t post a photo. I’ll be damned if I’m going to take a picture of a faucet. Writing Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector over and over is embarrassing enough. And Sink Water Faucet Tip Swivel Nozzle Adaptor Kitchen Aerator Tap Chrome Connector embarrassment would be one word in German.
Sorry there’s no more of the great gobs of prose I used to spill out all over these blogs. People have been asking. Alas, epilepsy was really fucking with the long essays, and I finally had to stop. Had to stop working too. Had to stop just about everything. It’s been a couple years now and the synapses have calmed down nicely. They seem to like being bored. Me not so much at first but I’ve adapted. So I write tiny little essays now, scarcely ever longer than a paragraph. Hence all this tinyness where vastness used to be. Little gems, I tell myself. The actual gemage might be debatable, but they’re my blogs. You can think everything you do is art if no one is editing you.
Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to complain.
If I got this right, a polyp reproduces asexually, budding by cell division into little bumps that become tiny jellyfish that float about and grow and finally do some sort of jellyfish touchless fuck thing involving male jellyfish releasing vast hordes of sperm into the water and letting the little buggers find their way to a female jellyfish’s ovum which, once fertilized, gives birth to a cillia driven little squiggle which finds its way onto a surface somewhere to develop into another polyp and begin the cycle anew. Luckily for us, we aren’t descended from cnidarians, which is what jellyfish are, cnidarians. Instead we did the whole vertebrate thing, which is why love is not a many polyped thing.
I had no idea that searching for a new dish rack—dish drying rack in the trade—would open me up to an entire universe of dish rackery of all shapes, sizes, materials, and functions, none of which are even close to the old fashioned dish racks we’ve been using for decades now. At least none were digital, though maybe I didn’t look hard enough. To think that in less deadly times I could just pluck one of the obsolescent models from the shelf at Target in a wide variety of three colors from white to blue to green. Now I’ve been searching for an hour to no avail. I actually got lost in Wayfair, I typed dish rack in the search window (populated sounds so dirty) and was zapped into a vast collection of dish racks from all over the galaxy, not one of which looked even remotely like the simple things we used to use on earth a decade ago. Bathroom rugs were easy, though, pretty green ones. Fyl picked them out. They’re smart rugs. You’re peeing on me, it says, and in various languages. I like the music. Then she went to the Victoria’s Secret site to buy underwear. The models were so young and gorgeous I felt even dirtier looking than I did populating the search window, so I put a CD in the TV and listened to music from Australia recorded upside down.
I remember when this thing started last spring my wife and I began isolating immediately, and I mean seriously isolating. No socializing, no shopping, never forgetting that the deadliest people in a pandemic like this are your friends and family. The maskless looney at the grocery store is a threat, but if you come down with Covid you most likely were infected by one of your pals or loved ones. I’m not sure just how many people are aware of this even now, or how many are willing to sacrifice all their in person social ties to help kill off the pandemic, but that’s why California is being swept by the pandemic now. We do wear masks, we do socially distance, but only from strangers. Around friends and family the distances shrink, the masks inevitably come off. We laugh, we shout hellos, we hug, we get buzzed and talk too loud, talk at the same time, get too excited to realize that it’s very likely that someone in your smallish circle hanging around a single table just infected everyone else sitting there. If you die of Covid, it was probably one of your friends or loved ones who killed you.
But only for a little bit longer. See you all next summer.
This is wild. Crows in this study could tell that recordings of people speaking Japanese (the language of the researchers) was different from recordings of people speaking Dutch. We can’t do that listening to birds. Unless we were a highly trained specialist, we couldn’t distinguish between mockingbird songs in one part of the country from mockingbird songs in another part of the country, though each song has a ‘dialect” that makes them mutually unintelligible. All the mockingbird would know is that another mockingbird is yelling at it. It has to learn to sing in the local dialect (meaning mockingbirds have learned cultures, actually.) But when a crow hears recordings of humans speaking different languages, it can tell that we are not speaking the same language, and it reacts to them differently. They were used to Japanese. They were wary of the recording in Dutch. What were they hearing? Japanese isn’t tonal like Chinese, so it’s not that the crows can tell that one is melodic and the other not. Can they detect the different phonemes (the vowel and consonant sounds) the languages use? Can they distinguish stresses, like what part of a sentence rises or drops? Can they detect the specific rhythms or sound patterns of grammar? How is it that a goddam bird can tell if a person is speaking Dutch or speaking Japanese while we with our enormous brains can’t tell if a recording of a mockingbird screaming at five in the morning is in Southern California Mockingbirdese or Danish Mockingbirdese? I can write about the concept of a crow distinguishing human languages, but damn if I can imagine what it is they actually hear in our human sounds.