Thursday, 3 October 2013

Tony's Newsround

USA Closes Down

In 1827, the editor of the Western Review (a USA publication) wrote:

"Should the time ever come when Latin or Greek should be banished from our Universities, and study of Cicero and Demosthenes, of Homer and Virgil should be considered as unnecessary for the formation of a scholar, we should regard mankind as sinking into absolute barbarism, and the gloom of mental darkness as likely to increase until it should become universal."

The sinking into barbarism seems to have begun with the deadlock and partial shutdown of the USA, although the lack of prowess in Latin and Greek probably has little to do with it. As the BBC reported:

"As the United States approached a budget crisis that will shut down many federal services and affect more than 700,000 workers, other countries looked on with a mixture of puzzlement and dread. For most of the world, a government shutdown is very bad news - the result of revolution, invasion or disaster. Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers' wages. That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many." (1)

I find it astonishing how powerful interests cannot seek any compromise. The words of the American thinker, Reinhold Niebuhr seem particularly appropriate - "The recalcitrant forces in the historical drama have a power and persistence beyond our reckoning."

The ordinary people, those whose jobs are put on hold, or those who are effected by the partial shutdown of government agencies, seem to have been overlooked in this grim struggle for power between the President and the Republicans over his health care proposals (dubbed "Obamacare").

It is a matter of ideology, a clash of principles and power, and in that clash, it is the little people who get hurt. In a way, it reminds me of the clash between government and unions in the UK in the 1970s, where ordinary people had the three day week, no rubbish collection, no burials or cremations possible, and which led to the "winter of discontent" at the end of that decade.

It is certainly true that the Republicans are very much holding the Obama government to ransom, but I can't help wondering if he had been a bit more flexible on matters like abortion, whether that could have undercut the opposition to Obamacare. A good many reforms in Britain did not happen all at once, but incrementally; the important thing was to get a foot in the door, and the rest could (and usually did) follow later. Lloyd George's early National Health Insurance was not universal in its coverage, but it set a foundation upon which other reforms could build.

I think that President Obama and the Republicans could have tried harder to find a compromise, or what Aristotle called "The Middle Way". And if they had studied Ancient Greek, they might have better political tools at their disposal for achieving such ends. Perhaps the editor of the Western Review had a point, after all.

The Red Headed League

Apparently Scotland is thought by some to have the highest concentration of redheads in the world. Canadian comedian Shawn Hitchins, who took part in a "Ginger Pride" march in August said that "It's a great opportunity to bring together all the redheads in the country that holds 19% of the world's population of redheads".

In fact, he realised after it was questioned that the percentage was wrong. According to one report, the figure is 13% of Scottish people having red hair, not 19% of the world's population, which is overall around 1-2%.

"I am very sorry. This is what happens when you let comedians be spokespeople," says Hitchins. "Also, I'm a ginger so I'm 10 times more likely to make up a statistic."

So what are the figures?

"In purely numerical terms, it is highly likely that the US has the highest number of people with red hair, because of the size of its population. If just 1% had red hair, for example, that would mean it had three million redheads." (2)

According to another survey: "Around six per cent of Scots have red hair, about 300,000 people, and 4 per cent of English people, with a concentration in the north of England. The group estimated that out of the UK and Irish population of around 67 million, about 20.4 million people carry one of the three most prominent red haired gene variants."(3). [While Scotland has high numbers, reports on percentages seem to differ!]

Genetically, it is very interesting because it is a recessive gene:

"Both parents have to have one of the gene variants to produce red haired offspring, which means that generations of families can have no redheads before apparently producing a redheaded child 'out of nowhere' ".(3)

Dr Jim Wilson, who conduced this recent study, concluded that "the lower percentages for the gene variants in the south of England and the far north of Scotland suggested that Anglo Saxons diluted the red headed gene in England, and Norse Vikings diluted it in the north and west of Scotland."(3)

Because of the peculiar recessive nature of the gene, all kinds of myths have grown up about red headed people:

- The hair of a ginger, when sprinkled with dew and placed under moonlight becomes pure gold.
- In Greek Mythology, redheads turn into Vampires when they die.
- In the late 16th century, the fat of a redheaded man was an essential ingredient for poison.

But perhaps the most common myth is that red headed people have fiery tempers. I've seen no experimental evidence to support this at all. There is however a series of experiments done by Edwin Liem which do suggest that red headed people have greater sensitivity to pain.

And there is a widely quoted comment by an Irish judge in 2001, who fined a man for disorderly conduct stating "I am a firm believer that hair colouring has an effect on temper and your colouring suggests you have a temper."

That sounds like an urban myth, and suspiciously it is quoted word for word everywhere on the internet. But I have managed to track down the original source, which came from a Reuters report:

"Redheads live up to their hot-blooded reputation, according to an Irish judge who told a defendant his ginger hair indicated he had a temper. Judge Mary Fahy made the remarks at Carrick-on-Shannon District Court, in the north of the Irish Republic, as she passed sentence on a redheaded man accused of a number of public order offences.

'I am a firm believer that hair colouring has an effect on temper, and your colouring suggests you have a temper,' the judge was quoted as saying by Irish newspapers on Thursday. The defendant was fined a total of 225 Irish pounds (173 pounds), the reports said."

Wouldn't it be ironical if the Judge was a carrier of the recessive gene?


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