Family history


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(originally published a couple of years ago to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

Anyone into family history? I’ve been researching mine on and off for a few years and am finding it quite interesting. I’ve gone back to the 1400s on a couple of lines on my father’s side and one on my mother’s side, as well as several lines back to the 1500s and 1600s on both sides. [I’ve possibly since tracked one line back to William the Conqueror.] 

One line on my father’s side were Huguenots from France, migrating to London in the 1600s to escape religious persecution. A line on my mother’s side also escaped religion persecution by moving from Germany to London around the same period, but London wasn’t taking refugees at the time and large groups were forwarded to Ireland! 

I haven’t stumbled across any royals as yet, but apparently just about anyone from Europe, including the UK, is related to royalty. Once you find one, it means you’re related to all the others because all the royals are related. [see above]

Records can be sketchy the further you go back and I’ve come across a lot of family trees on ancestry sites that go off in wrong directions due to 1 or 2 people in there that don’t actually belong. Many trees include royals, but I suspect that a lot of them can’t be proved.  

Some trees include a lot of the ancient royals and other famous people, including biblical characters, but again I suspect most are inaccurate somewhere along the line, mainly in getting from the commoners to the royals around the 1000s to the 1500s. One tree has various biblical characters right back to Noah and Adam and Eve and starts with God! 

During my research, I’ve found a number of third and fourth cousins and a sixth cousin who I communicate with.

Today’s cotton wool kids


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(originally published in 2014 to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

In our Sunday Mail newspaper here in Brisbane, Australia, there was an article on today’s cotton wool kids and all the safety rules and regulations and so on. I wrote a letter to the editor for possible publication next week (it got published), below:

I refer to the article on today’s cotton wool kids (SM, Feb 2). In the early 1960s in Melbourne, the 200 or so grade 3-6 boys at my school spent morning play, most of lunch break and afternoon play on a rough, uneven field of dirt and clumps of grass up to a foot long, about the size of a soccer field. There was footy (kick to kick for each grade), a cricket “pitch” in each corner, marbles, chasey, brandy, British bulldog, and general running around.

None of these were organised, other than by the kids. No teacher was ever on duty there. The area couldn’t be seen from any classroom or staff room. Very occasionally, a teacher would join in kick to kick. I can’t recall any serious dust-ups, abuse or injuries, although there were a few bloody scratches and bruises, and plenty of dirty knees, elbows and hands.

And of course nearly everyone walked or rode their bike to and from school. From my second day onwards as a five-year-old, I walked to school, until age 10 when I rode my bike.

It used to be pink for boys and blue for girls


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(originally published to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

These days, we think blue for boys and pink for girls. But it wasn’t always this way. Until the late 19th century, white dresses were the norm for boys and girls up to the age of 5 or 6. Longish hair was in fashion for children and you could hardly tell boys from girls.

New chemical dyes meant colors gradually became more popular in the 19th century as they no longer faded when washed. Pink and blue were worn by both boys and girls up to about the time of World War I (1914-18). Around this time, pink became more popular for boys and blue for girls. In 1918, trade magazine Earnshaw’s Infant Department said:

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

This rule seemed to be promoted by magazines and stores in the 1920s. There were exceptions, such as blue sailor suits for boys, which had been popular since the late 19th century.

By the 1940s, manufacturers and retailers were pushing blue for boys and pink for girls. The main influence may have been French fashion, which was predominant and had traditionally used pink for girls and blue for boys.

Man-made global warming deniers are back


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Here in Australia, one of the new senators, Malcolm Roberts, denies anthropogenic global warming. He and/or one of his staff plus a few other deniers have been busy posting odd things refuting AGW on his Facebook page, including various odd explanations and selective bits and pieces, old quotes, etc, to declare that AGW is all a hoax by scientists, scientific organisations and governments around the world. I’ve been picking the deniers to pieces over there but they don’t give up. I posted this comment on his video which he posted to his page a few days ago (although all I get in response is that I’m talking rubbish and more odd comments and selective quotes as the deniers continue to try and support their position) …

This video is misleading and gives totally the wrong impression. Carbon dioxide might be a small percentage of the atmosphere and man-made CO2 a smaller percentage still. But I think he’s mixing up his stocks and flows. He’s right in saying that man-made CO2 is only 3-4% of all CO2 but he seems to be saying that this is the level (stock) of man-made CO2 when in actual fact this is the percentage of man-made CO2 emissions (flow).

The problem is that only about two-fifths of this additional CO2 is absorbed and the rest stays in the atmosphere, building up steadily over time. Roberts seems to forget this. Before the industrial revolution, the CO2 absorption and release sides were pretty much in balance. Since then, we’ve had additional CO2 released by humans in ever-increasing volumes through all our various activities. It may seem small overall but, as I said, it builds steadily over time.

CO2 is now at about 400 parts per million or 0.04% of air as per the video. But over the last 400,000 years and up to the industrial revolution, CO2 varied between about 180 and 280 parts per million, in natural cycles. It was around the top of this cycle at the start of the industrial revolution and is now 40-45% higher at 400 ppm. Normally, it takes 5,000 to 20,000 years to increase by 100 ppm; this time, it has taken perhaps 150 years to increase by 120 ppm. The extra CO2 acts like a blanket, or a thicker blanket, enveloping the earth and keeps the heat in, thus the steadily increasing temperatures. This causes the ice the melt, sea levels to rise and an increase in wilder weather, with increasingly severe storms, larger tidal surges and more coastal flooding, causing damage and displacing people, often in the poorer parts of the world.

He then seems to compare Australia’s CO2 with the world’s total air. His subsequent statistics and analysis are therefore quite flawed.

I’m not sure where his carbon dioxide tax figures come up: $72 billion in five years. This was the estimated cost over this period of an American scheme in the 1990s. Emissions fell when we had carbon pricing in place, they rose before that and have risen again since. Also, getting rid of carbon pricing was estimated by the PBO to cost the budget $18 billion over four years, adding extra pressure to the budget. We now have the useless Direct Action policy.

Roberts says that temperature changes come first and then CO2 levels follow. It actually works both ways. In other words, changes in carbon levels both cause, and result from, changes in temperature. For example, when ocean temperatures rise, more CO2 is released into the atmosphere making the air warmer which means more CO2 is released. We have to also consider the rapid increase in temperatures this time around, much faster than historically. Graphing temperatures and CO2 levels since the 19th century, we can see a very high correlation over this period, which makes sense because the large increase in CO2 acts as a blanket keeping the heat in. To say that nature alone determines CO2 levels not humans, as Roberts states in the video, is simply wrong.

He doesn’t seem to offer any explanation for the increasing temperatures. It can’t be solar activity as that has fallen if anything since the 1970s, nor volcanic eruptions (these are low historically), nor Earth’s orbit (variations and effects on temperature are long term). That leaves greenhouse gases, which includes CO2 which causes up to a quarter of the greenhouse effect. Water vapour has a larger effect but it’s CO2 levels that have easily changed the most. Or does he think scientists use faulty thermometers, or are fudging the numbers?

History of Arbor Day


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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Here in Australia, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in July as National Tree Day. National Schools Tree Day is on the last Friday of July. I wrote the following article on the history of Arbor Day for American writing site Helium …

Arbor Day is a holiday or a day set aside for the planting of trees, ‘arbor’ being Latin for ‘tree’. Looking after trees has a history that goes back to ancient times. The Celts worshipped a number of tree species, such as holly trees. Norsemen believed that ash trees were the foundation of the universe. Over the centuries, less importance was placed on trees and by the 19th century, the wholesale and indiscriminate felling of trees for commercial purposes seemed to be of little concern to most people.

One person who was concerned about trees was J. Sterling Morton of the US. In 1854, he married Caroline Joy French and they moved west to south-eastern Nebraska. The Nebraska City area had just been opened up for settlement and the young couple staked out a 160 acre claim. At the time, the plains of Nebraska had few trees, but Morton knew that the soil and climate would support many trees.

Morton had grown up in New York and Michigan, and he and his wife missed the thickly wooded areas of the east. They planted many trees on their property, including an apple orchard of 300 trees by the late 1850s. He soon became a leading figure in Nebraskan society, becoming editor of the Nebraska City News shortly after his arrival, and was Nebraska Territory secretary from 1858 to 1861. A constant stream of new arrivals to the area meant there was a demand for trees to produce wood for houses, fencing, farm sheds, and so on. Morton had built a good knowledge of farming and forestry methods and advised local people through his newspaper of the tree species they should be planting on their properties.

His standing in the community continued to grow. By the 1870s, he was on the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, and in 1872 suggested that one day a year should be for planting trees across the state, or a statewide Arbor Day. He organized the day as a competition to see who could plant the most trees, offering a prize of $100 to the winning county and $25 and a ‘farm library’ to the individual winner. Over a million trees were planted on this inaugural Arbor Day.

Other states recognized the good work done by Morton and realized the importance of planting trees, with Kansas and Tennessee legislating for an Arbor Day in 1875. In 1885, Arbor Day in Nebraska was set as 22 April, Morton’s birthday. Many other states followed suit and established their own Arbor Day. Nebraska became known as the ‘Tree Planters State’, with 700,000 acres of trees by 1885.

At the federal level, 50,000 people turned out to a tree planting day in 1882 held by the American Forestry Congress. The National Education Association gave its support to Arbor Day in 1884 when it suggested that the day be recognized in all US schools. In 1893, Morton became the US Secretary of Agriculture and was able to further promote the idea of Arbor Day and the planting of trees.

Morton died in 1902 but his legacy lived on. Arbor Day was observed in 45 states by 1920, and is now recognized by all states. A National Arbor Day has been established by a number of presidents, although in practice, dates for the celebration vary across states due to different climate patterns. The most commonly used day is the last Friday in April.

The popularity of Arbor Day in the US quickly spread to other countries. In Australia, Arbor Day started in 1889 in Adelaide, capital of South Australia. In Queensland, the first Arbor Day ceremony was at Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens in 1890, with 2,500 trees being distributed to schools. The country now has a National Tree Day in late July.

In New Zealand, the initial Arbor Day was in 1890. Great support was received in that country by leading botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne who promoted tree planting in schools in the early 20th century. This nation has held its Arbor Day on 5 June, World Environment Day, since 1977.

Taiwan held its first Arbor Day in 1927 as a result of a recommendation to the Agriculture and Forestry ministry by Nanking University in 1914. Mainland China started Arbor Day in 1981, stipulating that everyone should aim to plant 3-5 trees a year. Germany has celebrated Arbor Day since 1952 and the Netherlands from 1957.

Many countries across all continents now celebrate Arbor Day. What started in a newly settled area in remote Nebraska in the 1850s has become a worldwide movement.

Health benefits of blueberries


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(originally published to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

Blueberries are native to North America and are also now grown in a number of European countries, Turkey, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They are loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients, including vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C and fiber.  

One study found that consumption of blueberries by older people improved memory and slowed down or stopped the deterioration of mental processes, although participants consumed large quantities of the berries. Another study found that blueberries helped blood sugar regulation in people with type 2 diabetes.  

Research has shown that eating blueberries improves antioxidant defences in the cardiovascular system, improves the nervous system, the digestive tract, and even muscle damage. Other studies have shown benefits of consuming blueberries for inflammation, depression, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Tests on animals have shown better eye health, reduced risk of cancer, and less brain damage after stroke. 

I eat a small punnet of blueberries on the weekend in breakfasts of yoghurt and other fruit.


How seeding is done at Wimbledon


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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Seeding at the Wimbledon Championships is not determined in quite the same way as at other tennis tournaments. Instead of being based solely on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Entry System Position, seeding at Wimbledon for the men’s singles takes into account grass court performance. Thus seeding will not necessarily be in the same order as the 32 highest ranked players.

In tennis tournaments and other sports, the better-performed individual players and teams are seeded so as to protect them from early elimination. If the names of all 128 men (or women) in the singles draw at Wimbledon were placed in a barrel and names drawn at random, two top ranked players might play each other in the first round, knocking one out. Much lower ranked participants would have a reasonable chance of advancing through the rounds and reaching the finals without meeting a really good player.

To try and reduce such inequities, the names of the 32 highest ranked men and 32 women are arranged in the draw in such as way that none of them will play one another until the third round. The top 16 seeds will not meet until the fourth round, the top eight before the quarters, the highest four until the semis, and the top two seeds cannot meet until the final. The other 96 entrants’ names are drawn from the barrel and fill the remaining places, such that no seeded player has another seeded player in their initial group of four who meet in the first two rounds. The system is never completely fair as the 33rd ranked player could meet the top seed in the first round, and the person ranked 32nd could play a qualifier.

Wimbledon takes the ATP rankings as at mid June and then, unlike other tournaments, makes some adjustments. Firstly, it doubles the points that players have earned in grass court tournaments over the previous year. Secondly, it multiplies by 1.75 the points earned on this surface 1-2 years ago. These ‘bonus’ points are added to the normal ATP points from other tournaments to arrive at revised total points and new rankings. This listing determines the order of the 32 seeds.

This means a player ranked 10th in the ATP rankings might move to, say, 7th in the rearranged rankings at Wimbledon with good grass court performances. The player is ‘protected’ from meeting a top eight player until the quarters, whereas he might have had to meet a top eight player in the fourth round if unadjusted ATP rankings were used. In 2009, Marat Safin moved from 23rd seed to 15th seed under this system, meaning he couldn’t meet a top 16 player until the fourth round, instead of the third round. This year (2010), Andy Murray moved up from a ranking of 5 to a Wimbledon seeding of 3, which means he can’t play another top 4 player until the semis.

The arguments behind the different system of seeding players at Wimbledon is because the tournament is played on grass and if a player has excelled on grass at other events, then he should be entitled to a higher seeding than his position in the ATP rankings. Most tournaments are now played on hard courts or clay. Apart from Wimbledon, the remaining grass court competitions on the ATP circuit include the AEGON Championship at Queen’s, London and the AEGON International at Eastbourne, UK, both lead-up events to Wimbledon. The others are the Gerry Weber Open in Germany, the Topshelf Open in the Netherlands, and the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at Rhode Island, US.

Opportunities for any one player to compete in grass court tournaments are even fewer, because the Gerry Weber and Topshelf events are held at the same time as the respective AEGON competitions. The Hall of Fame tournament is held in the week following Wimbledon when many of the top players take a break. The two AEGON tournaments in June are favored by most players so they can acclimatize to English conditions and try to gain some extra points before the Wimbledon seedings are announced. The system provides a real boost for these tournaments and perhaps this is a major reason for the continuation of this seeding method. Indeed, Wimbledon contributes to the other tournaments on the grass court circuit.

It is hard to think of other reasons Wimbledon continues with its different seeding process. The serve and volley style of play is no longer an advantage on grass, due to advances in racket technology allowing everyone to hit the ball hard these days. A player that comes into the net will be passed much of the time. Nearly everyone now plays from the baseline on all surfaces.

Curiously, the women’s seeding is not adjusted for grass court performances. Here the seeds are based on the Women’s Tennis Association rankings, although changes may be made depending on the view of Wimbledon’s Committee of Management. For example, in 2009, an adjustment was made for 2004 winner Maria Sharapova who had been out injured for nine months and she became the 24th seed.

Wimbledon’s way of determining the seeding is controversial and is inconsistent between the men’s and women’s events. Given the conservative nature of the committee and the tournament, and the support it provides to other grass court competitions, the method is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Australia: the truth about negative gearing


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I posted the following about negative gearing to Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull’s Facebook page yesterday. I went there today but the post had been deleted. I guess I can understand why. I posted it again. The government supports the policy and thinks it helps the economy. It doesn’t. Nor does it help the budget …

To say that property values will go down and rents up if negative gearing is removed is nonsense. You can’t have lower house prices and higher rents together for any length of time at all, even if these things happen initially, which they probably won’t to any extent. Investors would quickly hop into such a market, knowing they could buy a house for less money and get more in rent (most investors don’t negative gear). It would also mean that buying a home would be more attractive to renters. Greater demand by both investors and potential owner occupiers would see the market quickly adjusting, with housing prices and rents both stabilising.

Overly generous tax concessions on property investment in this country has greatly increased demand for housing, pushing prices up rapidly, which is what we have seen for best part of two decades. We now have among the highest housing prices in the world. Speculative investors are buying and selling existing houses and units for ever higher prices. It is little better than a Ponzi scheme. The amount borrowed for residential investment properties is 80 times higher than 30 years ago and prices have gone up about eightfold.

And rents have increased 25% over and above the CPI increases over the last 30 years, which means that a house that would have cost $300 a week in rent had rents kept pace with the CPI instead costs $375. That’s nearly $4000 more a year and is a large amount for struggling families to find, while ‘investors’ keep on riding this gravy train.

Many people have been priced out of the owner occupier market and are forced to pay high rents perhaps forever more. They never get to the stage where they have paid off a mortgage and have a large increase in their disposable income for things like renovations, household goods, a new car, a holiday, etc. The current policies on residential property investment are bad for the budget and bad for the economy. Have no doubts.

Modern observances of Shavuot


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This year, 2016, the Jewish festival of Shavuot is celebrated on 11-13 June. I wrote and published the following article several years ago to Helium writing site, now gone.

Shavuot is the second of three major festivals in the Jewish calendar, following Passover and before Sukkot. It falls in Sivan, the first month of summer, and commemorates the initial fruit of the year and the anniversary of Moses and the children of Israel being given the Torah by God at Mount Sinai. Shavuot is now a Jewish holiday. There are a number of modern day observances relating to Shavuot.

One of the customs is to stay up all night on the eve of Shavuot and study the Torah. The reason for this is that the Israelites nearly didn’t wake up in time on the morning they were to be given the Torah, so Jews accept they should now study the books through the night to make up for this failing. This tradition has its origins in 1533 when an angel told a rabbi and his associates who were studying the Torah overnight to go to Israel and make their home there. Studies are not restricted to the Torah but can include the Talmud, the Mishnah, and other works. Some people attend lectures or participate in study groups on the Torah. A custom in Jerusalem on Shavuot is to walk to the Wailing Wall in the early hours and participate in dawn prayers.

As part of studying the Torah before Shavuot, an evening service is held in many communities. This is called ‘Tikkun Leil Shavuot’ or ‘Rectification for Shavuot Night’ and includes readings from the Torah and various other works. The Ten Commandments feature in this service as they do in morning services held on Shavuot itself. The daytime service is attended by everyone, young and old, as they symbolically visit Mount Sinai and receive the Torah, and reaffirm their commitment to it. Grade 10 children often go through the confirmation ceremony at these services.

The first reading at morning service on Shavuot is the ‘Akdamut’, a 90 line liturgical poem. It comprises 45 two line verses. The usual custom is for the ‘baal koreh’, an official, to recite the first two verses and the assembly replies with the following pair, and so on for the entire poem. The verses are acrostic, meaning that the initial letters of each word of a line or verse spell out a word or phrase that is symbolic of some person, thing, or message. At the end of each line are the letters ‘ta’, being the last and first letters respectively of Hebrew, symbolizing a continuing learning process where a person who gets to the end of the Torah then starts again.

Another important reading at the morning service is the Book of Ruth. The reasons this book is read on Shavuot are several. First, Ruth’s great great grandson King David has the anniversary of both his birth and his death on Shavuot. Second, Ruth was a convert to Judaism and this symbolizes the Torah’s acceptance by Jews. Third, the book includes descriptions of harvests, and Shavuot is known as a harvest festival.

In contrast to other Jewish holidays, it is customary to eat only dairy foods or at least one meal of this food type on Shavuot. Popular dishes include cheesecakes, as well as blintzes, a kind of pancake that can be spread with butter or cream, or eaten with cheese. A reason for this custom is that before the Israelites were given the Torah, their meat was not prepared under kosher laws, so on Shavuot they eat dairy, which has fewer restrictions under these rules compared with meat. Another reason is the biblical view of Israel being a land of milk and honey.

A further Shavuot observance is to decorate homes and synagogues with leaves, flowers, and fruit. Children in Israel often wear a band of flowers and leaves on their head. The main reason for this custom is that when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the desert landscape quickly turned into an oasis of greenery and flowers. With this tradition, Jews are also commemorating the ‘bikurim’, or the sacrificing of fruits, where grapes, pomegranates, figs, dates, and olives were taken to the temple as sacrifice.

Various general observances are made on Shavuot and other Jewish holidays. These rules are known as the laws of ‘Yom Tov’ and can be found in the Torah. No work is undertaken on Shavuot, while writing, money, and electrical appliances should not be part of this day. Women are often given new clothing and children receive a toy or candy. Sharing food and drink with outsiders and paupers is also an important part of this day.