The Blandness of the Northwest Arkansas Times | Street Jazz

The Blandness of the Northwest Arkansas Times

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Okay, I don’t miss John Terry - and Anne Britton was seriously creeping me out. But I know that they had their share of faithful readers.

Since the merger of the Northwest Arkansas Times and the Morning News, it’s difficult to find anyone who actually has anything nice to say about the new paper. I guess I could try. What did the guy say to Peter Fonda in Futureworld?

“It’s gonna wrap a lot of fish!”

Of course, I don’t even think they do that, any more. But, while we’re on things of a fishy nature, let’s look at the “new and improved” Northwest Arkansas Times.

Stylistically, it’s a mess. They could fix this, I suppose, if they were of a mind to. But since they are, essentially now the only game in town, why should they bother, unless they were going to give some UA students something to do?

Basically it’s the Morning News we are all looking at. Let’s not kid ourselves.

The letters to the editor column, long my favorite part of the paper, seems to have no letters at all from Fayetteville in any more, but instead seems to favor writers from Bella Vista, Rogers and Bentonville. How many letters are being culled from the herd?

People are complaining about this, though the powers-that-be at the paper probably don’t care too much.

What has most folks upset is the sudden disappearance of local columnists such as Fran Alexander, Grady Jim Robinson, Lowell Grisham, Art Hobson, and even the dreaded John Terry, and regular  “guest columnist” Anne Britton.

They all provided viewpoints on subjects that were interesting (even if you didn’t agree with them) and many readers responded to them. They have been replaced with - oh, they haven’t been replaced! Who are we kidding? The writers we are reading now have been with the Morning News for a long time.

They’ve been deep-sixed. It’s a short-sighted business decision  that shows just how little the owners of the paper respect and care about the sensibilities of their readers.

******

Tales of Valor, or the Vanishing of News?

While many no doubt appreciate the stories of bravery on the part of troops fighting overseas on the front page of the Northwest Arkansas Times, one can’t help but notice two things:

This ongoing series actually pushes local reporting  from the cover.

Some of the stories (at least so far) have focused on folks who are aren’t even from Arkansas.

It’s a page-filler.

*****

Quote of the Day

Resentment is an extremely bitter diet, and eventually poisonous. I have no desire to make my own toxins. - Neil Kinnock

****

Art Hobson’s “lost” column

Well, you probably won’t see it in the Northwest Arkansas Times any time soon, so here is columnist Art Hobson’s latest column - which never saw the light of day, thanks to the merger. You can read all of Art’s older columns at his website: http://physics.uark.edu/hobson/.

Discovering our evolutionary roots


Her genus and species name are Ardipithecus ramidus, but you can call her "Ardi." She lived 4.4 million years ago (4.4 Mya). Her fossilized remains were discovered beginning in 1992 in the sediments flanking the Awash River in Ethiopia when paleoanthropologist Gen Suwa of Tokyo University spotted a tooth root among the pebbles of the desert. He immediately knew it was a molar from some long-extinct human ancestor.

Team leader Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley, Suwa, and 45 other scientists pieced Ardi's partial skeleton together from bones that also included parts of at least 35 individuals of the same species. Although early reports appeared in Nature in 1994, it took 15 more years of painstaking searches and analysis before the entire discovery could be assembled and published. For example, Suwa spent 9 years mastering the computer technology needed to carry out a digital reassembly of the smashed fragments of Ardi's skull into a virtual skull. And what a story emerged, as published in an inspiring special issue of Science on October 2.

Ardi is the oldest full human skeleton yet discovered, and represents a new kind of direct ancestor, a new genus. She is quite distinct from the genus Australopithecus, represented by the famous "Lucy" skeleton from 3.2 Mya. She thus gives us a clearer picture of the complete human, or hominin, line of development. "Hominins" are ancestral to modern Homo sapiens but not to other apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees). Both hominins and apes branched off from a still-undiscovered "last common ancestor." It's now clear that there are at least three distinct hominin genera, related by evolution: Ardipithecus, followed later by Australopithecus, and finally Homo. Hominins date back to at least 7 Mya, as testified by a hominin cranium (top of the skull) from about that time.

Ardi adds to an already-rich human fossil record. Some 22 separate hominin species (a "species" is reproductively isolated, i.e. two individuals from different species can't have offspring together) have now been discovered. Ten of these are different species of Homo such as the famous Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, nine are species of Australopithecus such as Lucy, and now we have one species of a distinctly new genus, Ardipithecus.

If you look at the careful reconstructions shown in Science, Ardi appears ape-like as compared with modern humans. But surprisingly, she is anatomically quite distinct from the apes. Although it's true that our closest living relatives are the chimps, Ardi now demonstrates that we didn't evolve from anything like chimpanzees. The last common ancestor was much more akin to modern humans than to modern apes, but very different from both.

Ardi stood 4 feet tall, weighed 110 pounds, and had arms hanging down to her knees. But she didn't knuckle-walk or swing through trees like modern apes. Instead, she had a decidedly un-ape-like foot that could walk or run along the ground, and an opposable big toe (similar to the opposable thumb of humans and apes) so she could grasp tree limbs with her feet and hands and thus move on all fours on top of branches in the trees. So she could travel and gather food on the ground, while using trees to escape enemies and to nest. Unlike monkeys, she wasn't really built for climbing or jumping from branch to branch. As one scientist remarked, "These things are very odd creatures."

Ardi lived in lightly forested woodlands, refuting the once-popular hypothesis that humans first stood on two feet in grasslands where tree-climbing was irrelevant. Humans must have evolved the ability to walk while living in woodlands, or there would be no reason for Ardi to retain an opposable big toe. And Ardi's spine was long and curved like a human's rather than short and stiff like a chimp's, suggesting that Ardipithecus had been two-footed for a very long time. As seen in footprints dated 3.7 Mya at Laetoli, Tanzania, humans lost their opposable big toe by the time of Australopithecus, reflecting an irreversible commitment to life on the ground.

You can learn a lot from a few teeth. Ardi probably ate nuts, insects, fruits, and small mammals, a conclusion that follows mainly from the sizes and shapes of 145 teeth gathered from 20 individuals. The large upper canine tooth in modern male monkeys and apes is important in male aggression, and its smaller size among the many male Ardipithecus teeth indicates human sexual selection for less combative males.

We evolved our big brains long after we stood on two feet. Our large brain capacity distinguishes modern humans from other hominins and apes. Brain capacity depends on the brain's volume relative to total body volume, and also on brain convolutions. Ardi's brain occupied just 350 cubic centimeters (cc), similar to a modern chimpanzee's brain. Lucy's Australopithecus brain 1.2 million years later occupied 500 cc, still only one-third as big as Homo sapiens' brain. The earliest member of the Homo genus was Homo habilis, with an average brain size of 650 cc, followed in time by other Homo species having average brain sizes of 700 cc, 1000 cc, 1200 cc, and finally 1350 cc for modern Homo sapiens beginning 200,000 years ago.

Science has been called an endless frontier; each confirmed hypothesis brings up further questions, while each dis-confirmed hypothesis opens entire new vistas of possibility. And so it is with human evolution. We shall forever thirst to know our roots, and forever thrill to new insights into what makes us human.

rsdrake@cox.net

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