Another interesting program on BBC: The History of the Jews, which I watched, because I wanted to understand something I have never understood.
As usual with such programs, I learned a lot, but discovered one interesting fact. 1492 for Americans means the year that Columbus “discovered” America, supposedly being the first European to do so (long since proved erroneous, like so much in the history taught in American classrooms). This date means something else to Muslims, because that was the year that Christians “conquered” Spain and ran them out of town. This year was mentioned by Osama Bin Laden, when chortling over his success on September 11, 2001, which confused all Americans.
What I learned from the BBC program is that this year also has meaning for the Jewish people, because they were also forced to flee from Spain. It seems that Christians, who preach one thing, practice something else. They were far less tolerant than Muslims towards non-believers.
One thing is certain: if I had lived in Spain after 1492, I would have been in trouble. I would not have survived the Inquisition...
I have been living--successfully, I might add--with the metric system for several decades, but knew nothing of its origins. Thanks to another excellent BBC program on measurement of everything (distance, weight, heat, speed, mass, etc.), I know a bit more.
Because of chaos caused by every Tom, Dick, and Harry (or whatever the king/prince/head guy was called) having his own system of measurement, European states agreed with the French academy of science in 1791 to overcome the chaos of multitude measurement systems.
length of meter determined in 1799. Instead of some guys foot, arm, or other appendage length, they agreed to use the earth and chose one ten millionth of distance from north pole to equator. No mention in the program of how that discussion and decision came about, but knowing the French I’m sure they overwhelmed all others with a demand for theoretic beauty. The fact that determining that distance did not matter.
Naturally, measures based upon royal body parts are still in use in US and England, because neither would accept anything with a taint of Frenchness. Initially, only 17 countries signed up, but the kilometer has one the race for world domination.
I also learned another interesting fact: there exists a “master” kilogram (agreed in 1889) in a building outside Paris. Surprisingly, neither the Nazis nor the liberating Americans violated or even entered the building. Once again, those geniuses of yore in France chose to use some aspect of nature to govern a universal definition of weight. The kilogram is based upon the weight of a cubic decimeter of water. To date, only three countries in the world have not adopted the kilogram: Liberia, Myanmar, and--you guessed it-- USA, USA, USA. Who would have guessed.
As far as time goes, which has nothing to do with the metric system, the atomic clock is currently accurate to one second every 138 million years. Because this is so loose, scientists are working to increase accuracy.
Are you not thankful that I have save you the time of looking up all those facts on Wikipedia....
Warning: I’m going to bore you again with ranting about a science program. This one is called Wonders of Life. I watched the last of five episodes. I do not know what amazes me more, discoveries made by humans or the ability of humans to make such discoveries.
There was a bit about the Monarch butterfly, which I recall seeing as a child in Massachusetts. I learned that they migrate from many parts of North America to a particular forest in Mexico. Being used to stories about drug wars in Mexico, I was surprised by the idyllic nature of the region shown. The butterflies’ round trip is over 2000 miles and takes three generations. That’s correct: three generations! How can that be, you ask? It seems that the information is stored in their DNA, like a natural GPS system.
This sparked a memory of reading about Australian Aborigines. They have something called “songlines”, which sounds a lot like what the Monarch butterflies do. There is a good book by Bruce Chatwin (all his books are good!) on this subject. No one knows the truth, but the tale of a simple butterfly suggests that DNA might play a role in the unique aspects of the Aborigines...which other humans seem to have lost or never had.
I am a fan of BBC science and art programs. I wish that, when I was a student, I had been as curious and interested in learning as I have become. I was a lazy student, who did enough to obtain decent grades and excelled only when properly motivated. If I wanted to, I could excel. The problem was that little offered in school or college interested me.
I have no use for the knowledge I can now, beyond broadening my horizon and understanding of the world in which I live. As a student, I recall not seeing a need for the knowledge I was forced to learn by rote for a test. Practical application was never an issue, perhaps because no one could offer any. I moved forward with the glacial movement of life from one checkpoint to the next. Now, I can choose what to learn and what to forget, because application is not necessary.
Earlier, I never would have read for pleasure and/or enlightenment Ancestor’s Tale, Richard Dawkins story of evolution or watched a program like BBC’s Wonders of Life, which brings to life much of what I learned in that large volume (all of which is rejected by Evangelical Christians and Republican geniuses). Such dullards could never accept, much less understand, that three small bones, which permit human hearing, evolved from fish gills. That would be one more bone of contention...pun
And, the programs fill the hours, keep my brain moving, and provide occasional topics for discussion with others. That’s enough...
Yesterday, BBC ran a report on Chechnya. The thrust seemed to criticize the current leader as being a dictator and his rumored to having his opponents murdered. The interviewer even asked the man to his face if this was true. The man laughed.
The report also mentioned history and the UN claim that the capital was the most-bombed city in the world during the uprising a few years ago.
Now, peace prevails, the capital has been re-built into a modern, flourishing city. There is order, People go shopping and sit at cafes. Islam predominates and rules everyday life.
I am certain that the average citizen is willing to take the bad with the good. Most, if not all by a minority, prefer living under a dictator to being bombed or shot...but that would not make a compelling BBC report.
There are two music programs, which have become a tradition I enjoy each year. One is the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert. The other is BBC's Last Night at the Proms, which comes each September.
The Proms is a summer series of concerts, featuring a wide variety of music types. The final night includes some featured pieces of music, but also a number of pieces which are repeated each year and have become a fun tradition. The audience joins in with raucous singing, clapping, and bouncing to the beat (this is held in Royal Albert Hall in London, so there is no disco dancing). The music is great, even if the lyrics might be out-dated (Britannia no longer rules the wave!), and the atmosphere is infective. The concert is beamed to Hyde Park (and venues in major cities), where tens of thousands enjoy the show and add voices to the choruses. This is entertainment at its best.
Fearful of cliche and ensuing boredom, I must admit to watching another fascinating science program on BBC (produced with Discovery Channel). It was named Wonders of the Universe and is about the cosmos and physics. Older readers might recall the 70s television program with Carl Sagan on the same subject. Scientists have learned a great deal since that time, so the information is even more fascinating and more difficult to imagine. The visuals are marvelous.
If such programs had been available during my school years, I might have been more interested in learning about science. That said, I'm certain the school curicula lag behind current state-of-the-art knowledge. Children continue to be bored with stale lectures, out-of-date facts, and rote learning.
These programs made me realize how unimaginable it is that a creature could evolve, which is able to decipher the secrets of life and the universe. Of course, not many of their fellow creatures understand what they are talking about and could never come close to achieving similar results. Most cannot imagine that humans evolved from the smallest particle present in the universe, and none can fathom the numbers involved in the math of the universe.
A second thought occurred to me. Such knowledge and such achievement underlines the pettiness of everyday dialogue, especially in the political arena. It is a sign of intelligence, when someone can recognize facts and understand logical arguments. Anyone denying the advances of science lacks intelligence...or has a second agenda (usually associated with personal enrichment).