3,800-Year-Old ‘Thinker’ Preceded Rodin by 3.5+ Millennium


A picture taken on November 23, 2016 shows a 3,800-year-old jug from the Middle Bronze Age, featuring a human sculpture, displayed at the Israel Antiquities Authority lab in Jerusalem after it was unearthed during an archaeological excavation ahead of the construction of new buildings in Yehud. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

‘The Thinker’, a sculpture conceived by Auguste Rodin in the 1880’s, has long been recognized – virtually since Rodin’s first sculpture with that name was unveiled in 1904 – as a striking work of art and as a symbol for the study of philosophy. But The Times of Israel recently reported that a much earlier ‘thinker’, from the Middle Bronze Age (about 3,800 years ago), has been discovered in Israel.

Now on display at the Israel Antiquities Authority lab in Jerusalem, this hardly-new ‘thinker’ is made of clay and is remarkably well preserved for its age.

The unique clay statuette, mounted atop a ceramic vessel, was found in the central Israel town of Yehud by a team of Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists, who were paired up with high school students in October.

News of the discovery was reported by the IAA last Wednesday (November 23rd).

Gilad Itach, the archaeologist heading the dig, said that on the last day of excavations, just before construction of a building commenced on site, they found the 18-centimeter (seven-inch) tall figurine, along with an assortment of other items.

It seems they first prepared a pot characteristic of the period, and afterwards they added the unique statue, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research,” he said. “The level of precision and attention to detail in creating this almost 4,000-year-old sculpture is extremely impressive. The neck of the jug served as a base for forming the upper portion of the figure, after which the arms, legs and a face were added to the sculpture.”


The 3,800 year old jug exposed in the field. (Credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists also found other vessels, as well as daggers, arrowheads, and ax head, as well as the bones of sheep and what may be ass bones. Itach suggested the items were funerary objects for a prominent member of the Canaanite community.

It was customary in antiquity to believe that the objects that were interred alongside the individual continued with him into the next world,” he said in a statement. “To the best of my knowledge such a rich funerary assemblage that also includes such a unique pottery vessel has never before been discovered in the country.”

One can see that the face of the figure seems to be resting on its hand as if in a state of reflection,” Itach added, “It is unclear if the figure was made by the potter who prepared the jug or by another craftsman.”

In addition to the Bronze Age finds, researchers involved in the salvage dig discovered 6,000-year-old remains from the Chalcolithic period, including a circular stone installation that may have served as an ancient well, as well as fragments of a ceramic butter churn from the same period.

Earlier this year, archaeologists operating in Yehud, not far from the statue’s discovery, found a Middle Bronze Age necropolis containing 94 pit graves containing men, women and children along with funerary offerings including pots, daggers and pins, scarabs, animal bones and jewelry. The site continued to be used as a burial ground for centuries thereafter.


Cold War Nuke Shelter Discovered in Britain


(Photo: Eastnews Press Agency)

It was built in the late ’50’s, when tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were escalating, and there was real reason to fear the world was on the brink of a nuclear war: An underground bunker, deep in the East Anglian (east of London) countryside that was voluntarily staffed by watchers who were dedicated to performing probably useless services if a nuclear attack came, The Mirror reported earlier this week. (The world was, believe or not, a far more innocent, but also more frightening, place in the ’50’s!)

Was it or the many similar sites around the country a good idea? Probably not, given that they were, judging from this one, tiny, with next to no food or water supplies, and seemed to have minders totally ill-equipped to deal with ‘the morning after’ … or beyond.

Britain today in very few ways resembles that country as recently as the early-mid 1970’s, when I lived there. Early on, in that period, it was required that one leave ‘sidelights’ on on a vehicle parked on a roadside. Heaven forbid an errant horse-pulled wagon should collide with one’s automobile! Or whatever.

Until the late 1960’s, when the Post Office Tower was erected, no building in London could be higher than the 365-foot-high dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was built (in the late 17th century) atop the city’s highest hill. Now, there are 18 buildings in London topping out at 150 meters (492) or more, with one, the Shard, stretching 309.6 m (1,016 ft) skyward.

Since 1979, when the Jubilee line was opened, the underground system has consisted of eleven lines. Twenty years later, in 1999, the Jubilee line was extended to the then-booming Docklands area in London’s East End. When I lived in the city, Docklands was a virtual no-man’s land still looking, across much of the area, exactly as it did after German bombers turned factories and residences there into rubble.

(One afternoon in late 1973 or early ’74, when Britain was enduring scheduled periods of blackouts because electricity was in short supply (thanks to a combination of a miners’ strike and trimmed oil supplies from the MidEast as Arab countries fought Israel), I walked through the Docklands after having walked under the River Thames in a tunnel stretching north from Greenwich to The Isle of Dogs, on the eastern edge of Docklands. My walk eventually took me to my home at the time – a flat (apartment) in a 100-year old ‘mansion’ next door to The Royal Albert (concert) Hall in Kensington. I was familiar with most of the route, being a frequent explorer of London on foot.

But Docklands was new to me, and it frankly was a not-very-comfortable place to be as the natural light faded and no artificial light replaced it. Almost like walking the city would have been had there actually been a nuclear attack!

Photos from the time of the blackouts, in the above-cited article, reminded me just how long ago that was – and how, with wartime ‘we’ll muddle through’ spirit, the British people bore up amazing well through what truly was a period of serious hardships for many in the country.

But in the end, it was nothing like hardships that would have been faced had ‘the bomb’ been dropped there. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the inadequacies of those small shelters like the one just unearthed in East Anglia.

Shady Practice Sees ERs, Docs Billing Patients Separately


It’s hard to decide which is worse: The fact that this problem exists, or the fact that Congress seems disinclined to fix it.

The problem, as reported on by The New York Times, is being billed after an emergency room visit by the doctor(s) who treated you because, while the visit itself was covered by your major medical insurance, the service of the doctor(s) was not. Why? Because they aren’t employed by the ER, but work there as contractors not recognized by your health care plan.

I ran into an odd variation on that theme some years ago when I went to a certain hospital in White Plains NY for an x-ray – only to be billed, a few weeks later, for the reading of the x-rays, apparently because the x-ray reader was a contractor not recognized by my health care coverage company. (This actually happened on more than one occasion.)

Arguing the absurdity of that situation, because an x-ray is useless unless it is read, I simply refused to pay the bill. ‘Never heard from them again! And rightly so.

My point to the hospital and the x-ray reader was, ‘This is between you; Don’t try to drag me into your territorial dispute or whatever it is. With those ‘others,’ I didn’t play well at all, at least not by their rules.

Health-care billing in the U.S. has become ludicrously complicated, with patients being, for the most part, totally unable to comprehend why they are being billed X for Y service. Consequently, I have developed a not-altogether-fair, very cavalier attitude to the original ‘overage’ bills I receive and all the subsequent follow-up bills from the provider organization and, eventually, one, another or a series of bill collectors: I ignore them.

I assume, at this point, one of three things to be the truth: [1] I’m an exception to the rule, and most people simply pay up – or the system could have collapsed by now (as I’ve been ignoring bills for years!); or [2] the bill collecting system truly is broken, and uncompensated hospitals and and doctors are living on borrowed time; or [3] somewhere in the collection system someone came to the realization that I was either unfairly billed – not a likely possibility, from the biller’s perspective – or mine was a bad debt that needed to be written off.

I consider [3], particular the second possibility under it, to represent the least likely scenario of those I’ve listed. The most likely scenario, I fear, is that the collections system truly is broken. But the billing system is, too, with people being charged outrageous sums for the likes of a couple of aspirins, the equivalent of a consumer level ‘Band-Aid’, or a charge for a television one was too ill to watch.

The likelihood that the latter supposition is correct is pointed to, indirectly, in the Times article, which noted that when the subject patient went to one of those billing him and asked for a reduction in the bill, it was halved! Clearly, it was unnecessarily high in the first place.

But now (not a moment too soon, I imagine you’re thinking), on to the second concern: That Congress seems to be totally disinclined to address an issue that, for complicated reasons, is best dealt with at the national level, as opposed to local ones.

Lloyd Doggett, a Democratic Congressman from Texas, last year introduced a bill that would require hospitals and doctors working in them to be ‘related,’ for billing purposes. (As you’d suspect, the legislative proposal is far more complex than that!) But as The Times put it, “he experienced a ‘healthy dose of indifference’ from his colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee” – the elite group responsible for seeing that money-related bills do, or don’t, move forward to the Congress as a whole.

Doggett plans to reintroduce the bill, but he’ll be doing so into a climate probably more, not less, likely to move the issue along – thanks to party and representative shifts created by the just-past (but hardly forgotten!) elections.

As has been noted elsewhere – a lot of elsewheres – lately, members of the American Congress are great at paying lip-service to serving the public, the people who elect them, but the members of that august body tend to vote where the money is. And on issues such as this one and most others, there are few lobbyists for John Q. Public, but a whole lot (with gobs of money) speaking out in favor of the status quo, or, at the least, again any idea that might upset it.

The patient cited in The Times article was seen by a doctor who “gave him some medication and tests, and let him go.” Shortly thereafter, the guy was billed for $1,620. And that, of course, doesn’t have anything do with what the ER billed and was paid.

The guy’s appeal to the doctor’s private practice, the group that had billed him, was successful, but only to a point:

They knocked half off the bill,” he told the paper. “Which is great. It’s like, would you rather get punched four times or two times? I guess two times is better.

But hardly better than being treated fairly in the first place!


Record Cuke Measures 43 Inches (1.09m) Long


Photo: Ric Dugan

The world’s longest-ever cuke was grown – to 43 inches (1.09m) – this year in Maryland from seeds purchased at a Home Depot store. Depot, indeed: The grower, Butch Taulton, a 72-year-old retired road construction worker and on-going goat-raiser, told www.andnowyouknow.com, a produce industry report, that there’s no way he could consume all of this monster – which grew to a significantly greater size than the seed packet said it would.

“I just kept watering it and it kept growing,” Taulton told the World Record Academy, which earlier this year awarded him the ‘world’s largest’ title held since 2011 by Ian Neales, of Wales, whose trophy measured 42.1 inches.

“The packet of seeds from Home Depot said they would grow between 32 to 36 inches long—they weren’t supposed to get this big,” Taulton said.

In case you’re wondering, the heaviest-ever cuke weighed in, according to Guinness, at 23 pounds 7 ounces (12.9kg). It was recorded by the record monitors in September, 2015.

Home Products Recycling Becoming a BIG Business


Nick Swaggert, of Better Futures, said the work he and his company do has “saved 700 tons of building materials from going into the landfill.” (Photo: Elizabeth Flores, StarTribune)

The old ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ line is increasingly being recycled in the building materials field. The Minneapolis StarTribune reported earlier this week how an assortment of non- and for-profit companies are taking in and reselling kitchen parts (including cabinets, fridges, stoves and more), other types of cabinetry, bathroom fixtures, and even hardwood flooring that, for whatever reason, someone ones to replace.

Habitat for Humanity, which has 875 Habitat ReStore locations across the U.S., is able to build six homes with the income each store earns from goods either donated at the store or picked up, free of charge, from donors’ homes. One of their stores in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota is doing more than $1 million per year in sales, and a nearby store is targeted to do about as well in two or three years, the company’s senior manager of operations for the area told the paper.

Another company, Better Futures Minnesota, which opened a building materials warehouse a block away from the new ReStore, uses demolition crews to remove reusable building materials in homes throughout the Twin Cities. Revenue from the sale of deconstruction materials has nearly doubled since the move to the new location nine months ago. The company provides housing and employment to men recently incarcerated. “We’ve saved 700 tons of building materials from going into the landfill,” said Nick Swaggert, vice president of business development and operations for Better Futures.

Two trends are aiding growth in this segment of the recycling field: The age of many homes – in the neighborhood of 40 years in the Twin Cities (and 30+ years, nationally)– and the inability of many Millennials to buy new many of the items they want to put into their homes. And with pricing in the home materials recycling stores being generally 50-90% less than such large new products outlets as Home Depot and Loews, the business of putting old things back into circulation, and use, is proving to be a serious winner!

Worsening Air Pollution In Africa Costs Many Lives, Untold Sums


Air pollution in parts of Africa has reached near crisis levels. The Guardian reported recently that between 1990 and 2013, deaths from airborne particulate matter increased 35% across the continent. Deaths from polluted air in houses also increased during that period, but ‘only’ by 18%, a researcher at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development told the paper.

The air pollution problem has become so bad that it is resulting in more premature deaths than either unsafe water or childhood nutrition issues. A study by a global policy forum has found that at current rates of increase in outdoor and indoor pollution, a number of African countries appear to be headed for crisis conditions not unlike those found in China and India. (Schools were closed for three days earlier this month in Delhi, India, because the air pollution was so bad, the BBC reported on November 6th.)


The worst pollution in Delhi air in 17 years.  Getti Images via The BBC

Exhaust fumes are a large contributor to the problem, as are open cooking fires, power plants and the burning of rubbish – a widespread practice because, as one wag put it a few decades ago, “there’s no such place as ‘away’” when stuff is discarded: Once thrown out, most waste tends to stay ‘there’ for very long periods of time, and as more and more stuff is thrown out, viable storage areas become fewer and fewer.

By one measure, Onitsha, Nigeria, is the world’s most polluted city. By another measure, that dubious title goes to Zabol, in eastern Iran, on that country’s border with Afghanistan.)

For Africa as a whole, the estimated economic cost of premature air pollution deaths in 2013 was roughly $215bn (£175bn) a year for outdoor air pollution, and $232bn for household, or indoor, air pollution.

“This mega-trend is set to continue to unfold throughout this century<, says Rana Roy, the author of one study on the problem. “It suggests that current means of transportation and energy generation in African cities are not sustainable,” said Roy. “Alternative models to those imported from industrialized economies, such as dependence on the individual automobile, are necessary.

“It is striking that air pollution costs in Africa are rising in spite of slow industrialization, and even de-industrialization in many countries. Should this latter trend successfully be reversed, the air pollution challenge would worsen faster, unless radically new approaches and technologies were put to use.

“The ‘new’ problem of outdoor air pollution is too large to be ignored or deferred to tomorrow’s agenda. At the same time, Africa cannot afford to ignore the ‘old’ problem of household pollution or to consider it largely solved: it is only a few high-income countries – Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, Seychelles and Tunisia – that can afford to view the problem of air pollution as being a problem of outdoor particulate pollution alone.”

The study stresses that there is not nearly enough knowledge of the sources of air pollution and its impact in much of Africa. It quotes UK scientist Mathew Evans, professor of atmospheric chemistry at York University, who is leading a large-scale investigation of air pollution in west Africa.

“London and Lagos have entirely different air quality problems. In cities such as London, it’s mainly due to the burning of hydrocarbons for transport. African pollution isn’t like that. There is the burning of rubbish, cooking indoors with inefficient fuel stoves, millions of steel diesel electricity generators, cars which have had the catalytic converters removed and petrochemical plants, all pushing pollutants into the air over the cities. Compounds such as sulphur dioxide, benzene and carbon monoxide, that haven’t been issues in western cities for decades, may be a significant problem in African cities. We simply don’t know.”

Whereas China has reached a level of development that has allowed it to concentrate on solving air pollution, most African countries must grapple with several major environmental burdens at the same time, said the report.

Spinach To Human: ‘Hey, there’s a bomb around here!’

Plant to person communication

Yep, you read that right: A spinach plant – or some other type – could be ‘programmed’ to detect and alert a human, via a computer-recognized signal, of the presence of an explosive device.

They never even taught this concept in Science Fiction 101!

Who even comes up with these ideas?  – the concept that a plant’s can be groomed to detect “nitroaromatics” in nearby substances that may – hopefully on rare occasions – point to the presence of an explodable  device. As it happens, ‘they’ were Min Hao Wong, a grad student at MIT, and Juan Pablo Giraldo, a former MIT postdoc,  now an assistant professor at the University of California/Riverside. Their discovery was announced a few days ago (on Oct. 31) in the scientific journal Nature Materials.

Wong, Giraldo and their team – which included seven others then working at MIT — embedded a spinach plant’s  leaves with carbon nanotubes—tiny carbon cylinders able to detect “nitroaromatics”—chemical compounds often used in landmines and other explosives. When one of these chemicals compounds is absorbed naturally by the plant (either in the air or through groundwater), the embedded nanotubes emit a fluorescent signal that can be read with an infrared camera, MIT said. “The camera can be attached to a small computer similar to a smartphone, which then sends an email to the user,” the school said in a release.

Question: Could spinach so equipped detect, after being consumed by a human, the ‘explosive’ gut feeling when too-hot peppers are eaten?

“The goal of plant nanobionics is to introduce nanoparticles into the plant to give it non-native functions,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the leader of the research team.

To add another strange note to this tale, Carbon P. Dubbs, a co-founder of what’s now known as UOP (formerly Universal Oil Products), sported the middle name ‘Petroleum.’

In the news release from MIT, Strano said, “This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier.” The senior author of the paper listing Wong and Giraldo as the lead scientists on the project, Strano believes plant power could also be harnessed to warn of pollutants and environmental conditions such as drought.

Min Hao Wong has started a company called Plantea to further develop this nanobionics technology.