Monday, June 30, 2008

Rock 'n' roll federal courts

Bob DylanJanis Joplin
Bedrock(er)s of American law
Simon and Garfunkel

This multimedia post serves as a sequel to Rock 'n' Roll Law School — the SSRN download as well as the Jurisdynamics entry. Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice and Adam Liptak of the New York Times have extracted maximum musical value out of one passage in Chief Justice John Roberts's dissent in Sprint Communications Co. V. APCC Services, Inc., No. 07-552 (U.S. June 23, 2008):
“The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing. ‘When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.’ Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).”
A Times pop-up graphic explains the broader place of rock 'n' roll citations in the federal courts. The rest of this post will let the music speak for itself:

Like a Rolling Stone

Me and Bobby McGee

I Am a Rock

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Amazing grace, in the key of black

» Cross-posted at Danzig U.S.A. «

Negro Spiritual Singers
Negro Spiritual Singers, from the Works Progress Administration's Federal Music Project, entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the White House, June 8, 1939.
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart


The Negro spiritual is a powerful and influential art form. Through their music and their words, spirituals transformed the tragedy of slavery into an enduring expression of faith, hope, and love.

Among the many beautiful songs within this tradition, Amazing Grace stands out. And how:


Hat tip: Already Not Yet and Rick Ianniello.
Wintley Phipps says he has God on his side, at his back, and in his soul. I am in absolutely no position to question any of that. I come solely to show that Reverend Phipps also has music theory and cultural history in his favor.

Amazing Grace uses a pentatonic scale. Properly spaced, five intervals within any octave are sufficient to generate an astonishing diversity of musical idioms, including Celtic, blues, and Negro spiritual. The belief that the pentatonic scale is the native tonality of children underlies Orff Schulwerk, a method of music education perhaps best known for withholding keys from kids' xylophones.

Piano keysIt's easy to generate a pentatonic scale. You can climb the circle of fifths on a piano. Starting at middle C, this trip yields the note sequence C G D A E. If you have a violin handy, the strings there give you the last four steps in that sequence: G D A E. Rearranging all five notes within a single octave gives you the pentatonic sequence, C D E G A.

Or you can subtract two from seven and yield five. Remove the fourth and seventh scale degrees from the familiar "do-re-mi" diatonic scale — or F and B — and you will reach the same C D E G A sequence.

Most simply, you can follow Reverend Phipps's advice and play just the black keys: G♭ A♭ B♭ D♭ E♭. How sweet the sound.

Finally, as for the cultural history of the Negro spiritual, I am pleased to leave the explanation to The Spirituals Project, whose mission is "[t]o preserve and revitalize the music and teachings of the sacred songs called 'spirituals,' created and first sung by enslaved Africans in America in the 18th and 19th centuries":


Editor's note: This Spirituals Project video presents an excerpt from I Can Tell the World, a new documentary by Larry Bograd and Coleen Hubbard.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Poverty and natural disasters

Katrina flagHerewith the RealPlayer video of my February 16, 2007, presentation (alongside Daniel A. Farber) on Poverty and Natural Disasters, during the Law & Inequality Symposium: The Next 25 Years. I have summarized these thoughts in an essay called Law Among the Ruins (previously discussed on Jurisdynamics).

Mountain of sorrow

One wistful Nanci Griffith cover on MoneyLaw merits a musical response in the form of a wistful Nanci Griffith tune on Jurisdynamics:

Nanci Griffith
Mountain of Sorrow
Hearts in Mind (2005)

Easy come, easy go
Anything but easy . . . though
You were here, now you’re gone
That’s the only thing I know

And it’s just one more sorrow
To throw upon the heap
Mountain of sorrow . . . steep

What you see, the new me
Changing right before your eyes
Like a leaf on a tree
Letting go before she flies

And it’s just one more sorrow
To throw upon the heap
Mountain of sorrow . . . steep
Mountain of sorrow
How high the top
Must I climb, must I climb
Ever blue
Mountain of sorrow
When I can I stop
And be fine
Knowing I’m over you?

Easy come, easy go
Anything but easy . . . though
Said goodbye, knowing I
Would have rather said hello

And it’s just one more sorrow
To throw upon the heap
Mountain of sorrow . . . steep
Mountain of sorrow . . . steep

Thursday, June 26, 2008

AIDS as a global disaster

  IFRC, Our world, together against HIV  

“The link between vulnerability to HIV and humanitarian disaster has long been recognized; yet we have been slow as a global community in proactively involving organizations in the humanitarian world in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The focus of this World Disasters Report on HIV and AIDS is extremely timely.”

— Noerine Kaleeba, Ph.D., Founder and Patron, TASO Uganda; Chair, ActionAid International Board of Trustees

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has just released its World Disasters Report 2008 to a "Focus on HIV and AIDS":

Published annually since 1993, the World Disasters Report brings together the latest trends, facts and analysis of contemporary crises — whether "natural" or man-made, quick-onset or chronic.
The AIDS epidemic is a disaster on many levels. In the most affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where prevalence rates reach 20 per cent, development gains are reversed and life expectancy may be halved. For specific groups of marginalized people — injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men — across the world, HIV rates are on the increase. Yet they often face stigma, criminalization and little, if any, access to HIV prevention and treatment services. As this report explains, HIV is a challenge to the humanitarian world whose task is to improve the lives of vulnerable people and to support them in strengthening their capacities and resilience. Disasters, man-made and ‘natural’, exacerbate other drivers of the epidemic and can also increase people’s vulnerability to infection.

The World Disasters Report 2008 features:
  • The challenge of HIV and AIDS
  • The disaster of HIV
  • The humanitarian interface: using the HIV lens
  • HIV and population mobility: reality and myths
  • Refugees and the impact of war on HIV
  • Natural disasters: the complex links with HIV
  • HIV and AIDS funding: where does the money go?
The report can be read online or downloaded in .pdf format. Hat tip: Imogen Foulkes, AIDS epidemic a "global disaster."

People living with HIV

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Le Bassin aux Nymphéas

Le Bassin aux NymphéasEveryone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.

— Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Carol Vogel, Le Bassin aux Nymphéas is sold for a record $80.4 million , New York Times (June 25, 2008)

An important work by Claude Monet has set a record price at auction. As reported in the New York Times:
The summer auction season here began at Christie’s on Tuesday night when a standing-room-only crowd of dealers, collectors and art lovers came from all over the world to watch and bid on one of the largest London sales the auction house has held. . . .

Monet on saleA sea of hands shot in the air when . . . Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, which had been expected to sell for $36 million to $47 million, came up on the block. Among at least six would-be buyers, a blond woman in the front row bid tenaciously against several Christie’s representatives on the telephone with clients. When the price hit nearly $70 million, Christopher Burge, Christie’s honorary chairman in the United States and one of the evening’s two auctioneers, leaned over and said to the woman, “Take as long as you like.” The woman, identified as Tania Buckrell Pos of Arts & Management International, a London company, ended up winning the painting on behalf of an unknown client, and the salesroom burst into applause. . . .

Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, from 1919, a large horizontal work measuring more than 3 feet by 6 feet, is from a series of four that Monet signed and dated and that experts consider to be among the most important paintings from his late period. Unlike most of his late works, which remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1926, this series was sold by him. One is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; another was cut in two; and a third is in a private collection, having been sold at Christie’s in New York in 1992 for $12.1 million, a stellar price at the time.
On a summer night in London, one of the rarest of Monet's waterlilies sold for $80.4 million. That price, however, bears no necessary relation to Le Bassin aux Nymphéas. Monet himself approached his waterlilies with no objective in mind besides the pleasure of planting and admiring them: "It took me time to understand my waterlilies. I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them."

Hat tip: Sentences we love.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Homage to Lampyridae

Fireflies
As with the photographer who snapped the shot above, this too is my favorite part of summer. The season with the least amount of dark offsets that deficit by allowing the meekest lights among us to rule the night. Hail Lampyridae; long may you glow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin

George Carlin has died. A Prawfsblawg post by Howard Wasserman featured this video of Carlin's Seven Dirty Words routine:


Howard Wasserman's broader point regarding Carlin's legal legacy is squarely on target. There simply is no way to reconcile FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978), with core First Amendment principles, let alone the admittedly unwieldy mass of free speech decisions rendered by the Supreme Court. The routine itself, transcribed on the pages of United States Report, succinctly summarizes the reaction of most legal scholars to Pacifica: "I've had that shit up to here." 438 U.S. at 753.

George CarlinFor my part, I always think of Carlin whenever I think of a specific "two-way word[]" and its peculiar etymology in the English language. According to the original Seven Dirty Words routine, "ass is okay providing you're riding into town on a religious feast day." Otherwise, the sentiment "up your ass" must be recast as the milder "stuff it!"

As it happens, ass in modern English appears to represent the merger of two distinct Germanic roots, one referring to the odd-toed ungulate, Equus asinus, and the other referring to the buttocks. Modern German distinguishes sharply between Esel and Arsch, but English does not. My frequent use of the German word Arschloch pays homage to the rather awkward way I first learned the difference between the words: by using Arsch when I really, really, really meant Esel.

And insofar as Western artists have made much use of the Hebrew Bible's story of Balaam and his talking ass (chapter 22 of the Book of Numbers), I suppose it makes sense to dedicate the following collage to George Carlin, a comedic genius and a friend of civil liberties:

ArschlochEsel
Balaam and the ass
Gustav Jaeger, Bileam und der Engel (1836)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Rock 'n' roll law school

Joan Jett loves rock 'n' roll. So do I. And so should the Supreme Court. Herewith Rock 'n' Roll Law School, 12 Constitutional Commentary 315 (1995), plus part of its accompanying soundtrack:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Banana twilight

A widely read and frantically e-mailed New York Times story has opened many new eyes to a horticultural disaster anticipated for many years: the commercial extinction of the Cavendish banana. Dan Koeppel's warning is right on target:
By sticking to [a] single variety, the banana industry ensures that all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same rate, creating huge economies of scale. The Cavendish is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable.

But there’s a difference between a banana and a Big Mac: The banana is a living organism. It can get sick, and since bananas all come from the same gene pool, a virulent enough malady could wipe out the world’s commercial banana crop in a matter of years.

This has happened before. Our great-grandparents grew up eating not the Cavendish but the Gros Michel banana, a variety that everyone agreed was tastier. But starting in the early 1900s, banana plantations were invaded by a fungus called Panama disease and vanished one by one. Forest would be cleared for new banana fields, and healthy fruit would grow there for a while, but eventually succumb.

By 1960, the Gros Michel was essentially extinct and the banana industry nearly bankrupt. It was saved at the last minute by the Cavendish, a Chinese variety that had been considered something close to junk: inferior in taste, easy to bruise (and therefore hard to ship) and too small to appeal to consumers. But it did resist the blight.

Over the past decade, however, a new, more virulent strain of Panama disease has begun to spread across the world, and this time the Cavendish is not immune. The fungus is expected to reach Latin America in 5 to 10 years, maybe 20. The big banana companies have been slow to finance efforts to find either a cure for the fungus or a banana that resists it. Nor has enough been done to aid efforts to diversify the world’s banana crop by preserving little-known varieties of the fruit that grow in Africa and Asia.
The problem is straightforward. Commercial bananas are sterile mutants, whose separation from sexual reproduction prevents the Cavendish cultivar from evolving resistance to Fusarium oxysporum (the fungal agent responsible for Panama disease), black sigatoka, and any number of other fungal or bacterial threats. The technical details regarding the use of asexual vegetative reproduction to propagate bananas are fascinating:
Bananas!Photo: Steve Hopson, © 2007.
The cultivated banana is often listed in botanical references as Musa x paradisiaca (Musaceae), although it is actually a complex hybrid derived from two diploid Asian species, M. acuminata and M. balbisiana. Common cultivated bananas are usually triploid (3n) with three sets of chromosomes. [Note: The word "set" is defined here as one haploid set of chromosomes.] If A represents one set of chromosomes from diploid M. acuminata (AA) and B represents one set of chromosomes from diploid M. balbisiana (BB), then hybrid bananas have three sets of chromosomes represented by AAB, ABB or another 3-letter (triploid) combination of A's and B's. Like seedless watermelons and red grapes, bananas are sterile and do not produce mature seeds. . . . Bananas are sterile and seedless because they are odd polyploids in which one set of chromosomes (A or B) has no homologous set to pair up with during synapsis of meiosis. Therefore meiosis does not proceed normally, and viable gametes (sex cells) are not produced. Since banana fruits (technically berrylike ripened ovaries) develop without fertilization they are termed parthenocarpic. Without viable seeds, banana plants must be propagated vegetatively (asexually) by planting corms, pieces of corms or sucker sprouts.
Banana researchThe solutions are obvious and expensive. Organizations preserving diverse cultivars and wild varieties need all the help they can get. One of those varieties — if we haven't already destroyed it in our ongoing, careless elimination of natural and agricultural biodiversity — may offer temporary relief against Fusarium oxysporum and Panama disease. And the commercial banana, snared in the sterile trap of mass propagation, needs for the first time in decades to have sex.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What it's like: Everlasting empathy

It has been ten years since Everlast issued What It's Like, but the song still resonates. Even more so in a hotly contested political season that coincides with some of the toughest economic times in recent American history.

  • We've all seen the man at the liquor store begging for your change
  • The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked, and full of mange
  • He asks the man for what he can spare with shame in his eyes
  • Get a job you fucking slob is all he replied.

  • God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
  • 'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues
  • Then you really might know what it's like [x4]

  • Mary got pregnant from a kid named Tom who said he was in love
  • He said don't worry about a thing baby doll I'm the man you've been dreaming of
  • But three months later he said he won't date her or return her calls
  • And she swears God damn if I find that man I'm cutting off his balls
  • And she heads for the clinic and she gets some static walking through the door
  • They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner, and they call her a whore

  • God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes
  • 'Cause then you really might know what it's like to have to choose
  • Then you really might know what it's like [x4]

  • I've seen a rich man beg
  • I've seen a good man sin
  • I've seen a tough man cry
  • I've seen a loser win
  • And a sad man grin
  • I heard an honest man lie
  • I've seen the good side of bad
  • And the down side of up
  • And everything between
  • I licked the silver spoon
  • Drank from the golden cup
  • Smoked the finest green
  • I stroked the daddy's dimes at least a couple of times
  • Before I broke their heart
  • You know where it ends
  • Yo, it usually depends on where you start

  • I knew this kid named Max
  • He used to get fat stacks on the corner with drugs
  • He liked to hang out late, he liked to get shit faced, and keep pace with thugs
  • Until late one night there was a big gun fight and Max lost his head
  • He pulled out his chrome .45, talked some shit, and wound up dead
  • Now his wife and his kids are caught in the midst of all of his pain
  • You know it crumbles that way
  • At least that's what they say, when you play the game

  • God forbid you ever had to wake up to hear the news
  • 'Cause then you really might know what it's like to have to lose
  • Then you really might know what it's like [x3]
  • To have to lose . . . .

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Primary colors

Census regions and divisions
The Census Bureau has already divided America into regions and divisions. Might these boundaries help the parties organize — and rotate — regional primaries?

Now that primary season is over, it's time to draw and quarter the political rules that make a mockery of America's system for selecting each major party's presidential nominee. Herewith four rules that should change before the 2012 primary:


Iowa caucuses
Caucuses must die. What a hideous way to choose candidates. All-day commitments. No privacy in voting. No absentee balloting. Rabid partisans are far more likely to attend than normal voters, especially those with families and jobs. Eliminate caucuses; rely exclusively on primaries.
Superdelegate
So must superdelegates. Pledged delegates to the convention are democratic. Superdelegates are not. Either let people vote, or dispense with the pretense. I prefer democracy; it's a great American tradition. Fire the superdelegates and have nothing but pledged delegates.
Play primary roulette
Play primary roulette. It's ludicrous to let the same two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, set the table and eliminate weaker candidates every presidential cycle. We can sort states by region and let the regions take turns going first. And let's time primaries sensibly. There's no reason to devote six weeks to one state, and then rush to four others in the next week.
Greed
Share fairly, but not stupidly. It has become clear that neither winner-take-all nor proportional representation is a good way to allocate delegates. How about proportional representation for the lion's share of delegates in any state (75 percent?), plus a winner-take-all bonus awarding the remaining delegates to the winner of the state as a whole?

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Telecommunications mergers

Herewith my latest SSRN download:

Telecommunications Mergers, in Competition Policy and Merger Analysis in Deregulated and Newly Competitive Industries, at pp. 52-83 (Peter Carstensen & Susan Beth Farmer eds., Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008):

TelecommunicationsTelecommunications mergers are at once a historical mirror and a harbinger of the legal future. Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, no significant telecommunications merger has failed to receive regulatory approval in the United States.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 has accelerated the trend toward consolidation and concentration. Having devoted most of its energy on issues doomed to become technologically and economically obsolete, the Act failed to anticipate the technological conditions (especially the emergence of the Internet) that drove telecommunications carriers to consolidate. Nevertheless, possible avenues for reform remain open should the federal government ever conclude that the anticompetitive potential of telecommunications mergers outweighs their salutary effects.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The $4 barrier and rural America

As reported in the New York Times, the breaking of the $4/gallon barrier for gasoline is taking an extraordinary toll on rural America:
Man driving tractor
Tchula, Miss. — Gasoline prices reached a national average of $4 a gallon for the first time over the weekend, adding more strain to motorists across the country.

But the pain is not being felt uniformly. Across broad swaths of the South, Southwest and the upper Great Plains, the combination of low incomes, high gas prices and heavy dependence on pickup trucks and vans is putting an even tighter squeeze on family budgets.

Here in the Mississippi Delta, some farm workers are borrowing money from their bosses so they can fill their tanks and get to work. Some are switching jobs for shorter commutes.

People are giving up meat so they can buy fuel. Gasoline theft is rising. And drivers are running out of gas more often, leaving their cars by the side of the road until they can scrape together gas money.

Pumping gasThe disparity between rural America and the rest of the country is a matter of simple home economics. Nationwide, Americans are now spending about 4 percent of their take-home income on gasoline. By contrast, in some counties in the Mississippi Delta, that figure has surpassed 13 percent.

As a result, gasoline expenses are rivaling what families spend on food and housing.

“This crisis really impacts those who are at the economic margins of society, mostly in the rural areas and particularly parts of the Southeast,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service, a fuel analysis firm. “These are people who have to decide between food and transportation.”
Some longstanding staples of agricultural economics warrant reexamination as rising fuel prices squeeze rural consumers:
  1. The concept of the price squeeze is known throughout many sectors of industrialized economies. The agricultural variant is often called "the agricultural treadmill" — farmers, as it were, sell at wholesale but buy at retail. The diversification of rural economies hasn't so much softened the blow as spread the pain to all residents. Everyone is feeling the squeeze of lower returns on rural labor, coupled with higher retail prices on consumer goods across the board.

  2. Gas pumpsEngel's law holds that as a consumer's income rises, the proportion of that income spent on food declines. In other words, demand for food is relatively inelastic, and relative to other goods, food is an inferior good.

    Substitute fuel for food in Engel's law, and the relationship still holds. Raising the price of food or fuel is tantamount to exacting a very regressive tax, whose impact falls most heavily on the poor.

  3. Old-time agricultural economics stressed parity, the goal of maintaining farmers' purchasing power relative to a historic baseline. If one unit of agricultural output used to purchase a certain level of consumer goods, then parity prescribes price and/or income supports designed to maintain rural purchasing power at that level as consumer prices rise. A broader notion of parity in diversified rural economies would extend the concept to nonagricultural workers in rural communities.

  4. Speaking of conventional farm policy, federal commodity programs since the New Deal have striven to prop up commodity prices in order to raise farmers' incomes. Commodity prices have skyrocketed, and the result, for large swaths of the rural population, is misery. Rural economic welfare has long rested on pillars besides farm incomes.

  5. Transaction cost analysis, the heart of economic analysis of law, still matters. The naked, awful truth is that basic geography is driving economic distress in rural communities: greater distances demand more fuel, and fuel is costing more in relative and absolute terms.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Hillary Clinton campaign montage

Primary season is over, and Hillary Clinton didn't win. Even though she didn't win (enough) delegates or the Democratic nomination, she did make history and win the grudging admiration of many friends and foes, especially down the stretch. Herewith a gallery of images drawn from two New York Times slide shows, Clinton Cross-Country and Clinton's Bid Comes to a Close.Hillary in defeat
Party's over

Citizen Hillary
Chelsea and HillaryCrowd pleaser
William Butler Yeats
To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing (1916)

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honour bred . . . ?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
Working class heroineEvery woman's right to shoes
Exit Hillary
Photos:
  1. First row: Citizen Hillary. Hillary Clinton stands before a giant American flag.

  2. Second row — Left: Heir apparent. Will Chelsea extend the Clinton dynasty? (original photo). Right: Crowd pleaser. The adoring masses press Hillary after her June 7 exit.

  3. Third row — Left: Working-class heroine. Hillary found her voice and her core constituency, a bit too late. Right: Every woman's right to shoes. Hillary leaves big shoes to fill.

  4. Fourth row: Exit Hillary. The National Building Museum wasn't the party Hillary wanted, but she liked the company.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

The greatest story ever told

Cyanobacteria
Hear the rhapsody in cyan that cyanobacteria composed in bridging the Archaean and Proterozoic eons of geologic history. By "poisoning" the ancient earth's atmosphere through photosynthesis, cyanobacteria converted the reducing atmosphere of the Archaean into the aerobic atmosphere that has prevailed ever since and has supported a wide range of oxygen-loving (or at least oxygen-tolerant) organisms.

Once again, reports Rebecca Bratspies, politically potent forces of ignorance are trying to undermine the teaching of evolution in the United States.

Comet West
Comet West, as it appeared in 1976, was beautiful to behold. But did it presage yet another deadly bolide from the depths of transneptunian space, headed toward a fatal collision with earth?
Enlightened voters and policymakers should fight back with precisely the emotional and rhetorical weapons that opponents of evolution have used to foist ignorance upon American children. As Brian Greene recently wrote in the New York Times, science — real science — "really matters" because:
Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.
Science empowers humanity — indeed, science morally impels humanity — to seek nothing less from life and to ask nothing less of the universe than the truth. In the poetic idiom of the Hebrew Bible — namely, chapter 38 of the Book of Job:
  • 4 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding. . . .
  • 16 Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
  • 17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
  • 18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
    Declare, if you know all this.
Humanity, so it seems, demands a story of origins. If we need a creation myth, and the emotional reality of human existence evidently demands no less, then let's tell the greatest story ever told: the real story of earth, from its Hadean origins to the sixth great extinction spasm of the Phanerozoic.

Evolution, the unifying theory of the life sciences, has a rigorous explanation for each of the phenomena illustrated here. It helps humanity unlock the mysteries behind the Book of Job, among other myths that have enchanted humanity throughout its history. In any of its guises, creationism offers no answers whatsoever. Teachers, parents, and citizens, go tell it on the mountain: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
Govett's leap
Govett's Leap in Australia's Blue Mountains is a spectacular instance of the Permian-Triassic boundary (250 million years ago), which marks the largest mass extinction of the Phanerozoic eon. Triassic sandstone overlies Permian coal; the boundary occurs roughly at the tree line near the base of the waterfall. Charles Darwin wrote about Govett's Leap in The Voyage of the Beagle: "Jan 18, 1836: Very early in the morning, I walked about three miles to see Govett's Leap . . . . These valleys . . . are most remarkable. Great arm-like bays . . . penetrate the sandstone platform; on the other hand, the platform often sends promontories into the valleys, and even leaves in them great, almost insulated, masses."
Bolide impact
The Phanerozoic eon has witnessed five mass extinctions: the end Ordovician, the late Devonian, the end Permian, the end Triassic, and the end Cretaceous. Humanity is living through — and largely responsible for — for the sixth: the Holocene mass extinction. Amphibians, a clade 400 million years old, have lived through four mass extinctions. They may not survive a fifth. Will chytridiomycosis, caused by the chytrid fungus, ultimately be responsible for the extinction of evolutionarily distinct, globally endangered amphibians?

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