Tuesday, May 28, 2013
There are Chinese doctors, Chinese pharmacists, Chinese restaurateurs. Is there anything the Chinese can't do for us? She's actually a Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics at the University of Sheffield. Yet another Chinese mathematician! Formidable in an attractive young lady
A freshly baked scone, a layer of fruity jam and lashings of cream -- the ingredients for a traditional cream tea couldn 't be simpler.
But according to one expert you will also need a tape measure, scales and perhaps a degree in maths.
Dr Eugenia Cheng, of Sheffield University, claims to have devised a statistical formula for the perfect combination of jam, cream and scones.
The mathematician concluded that the best weight ratio is 2:1:1, which means an average scone, weighing 70g, requires 35g of jam and 35g of cream.
Dr Cheng set the ideal thickness of the scone, with all its elements added, at about 2.8cm, allowing a relaxed open width of the mouth when taking a bite.
The equation also specifies the thickness of the cream and jam layers.
Wrangles over whether it should be jam first or cream, and whipped cream or clotted, have been running for generations, with references to the sweet treat dating back to the 11th century.
The Devon tradition is to slather the scone with cream first, while the Cornish -- who also lay claim to inventing cream teas -- prepare their scones the opposite way.
Dr Cheng 's formula is a victory for Cornwall, with jam spread first due to avoid it running off the edge.
Another rule in the scientific method is to use clotted rather than whipped cream. This is due to the excessive volume of whipped cream needed to satisfy the weight ratio. The thickness of the layer should not exceed that of the scone.
Dr Cheng said: "Building a good scone is like building a good sandcastle -- you need a wider base, and then it needs to get narrower as it goes up so that it doesn 't collapse or drip. '
A cream tea
Friday, May 17, 2013
In 1950 Leonard E. Read faced one of the most difficult challenges of his life as he prepared to appear before a hostile congressional committee. His friend W. C. Mullendore warned that the committee was out to destroy him: "You should be under no illusion whatever but that the intention is to smear and not look [for] information, enlightenment and the philosophy of freedom. You are going against a bunch of cutthroats who have very vicious motives. "
Read was not the only target of this committee. Even more in the crosshairs was Edward Rumely, who had refused to divulge the names of those who had purchased controversial books he published.
When modern historians, most of whom write from a left-wing perspective, chronicle the "witch hunts " of the 1940s and 1950s, they rarely have in mind the likes of Read and Rumely. Neither fits their formal victim profile. Read, of course, was the founder and president of FEE and the future publisher of The Freeman. Mullendore was his close associate and a trustee of the organization. Rumely was the president of the Committee for Constitutional Government, a group that defended the free market and limited government.
Read and Rumely were not alone. Ever since 1933, many prominent New Deal and later Fair Deal Democrats had relied on the same methods of guilt by association, character smears, and other forms of intimidation to attack conservative and libertarian critics of the growing federal bureaucracy.
Why have most historians ignored these witch hunts? Part of the reason is undeniably the political bias of historians. They tend to be sympathetic to the New Deal and Fair Deal and, in many cases, causes much further to the "left. " This has encouraged a natural human tendency to overlook the dark side of those causes and an unwillingness to sympathize with conservatives and libertarians who may have been their victims. But some of it has to do with the methods used by the New Deal witch hunts, which were often informal and avoided head-on attacks. For example, in New Deal or Raw Deal? Burton Folsom describes how Franklin Roosevelt worked closely with his good friend and Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau to use the Bureau of Internal Revenue against political opponents. Roosevelt arranged audits against such prominent opponents as the wealthy anti-New Dealer Moses Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer; former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon; and conservative U.S. Rep. Hamilton Fish, who represented Roosevelt"s hometown in New York.
In addition to informal pressure, the New Deal witch hunt also included congressional investigations. The first of these was the Special Committee on Lobbying Investigations (better known as the Black Committee) -- named after the committee chairman, Senator Hugo Black of Alabama. Black was a committed New Dealer. From 1933 on he targeted companies and organizations that opposed Roosevelt"s policies. In 1936 he went after the American Liberty League, which united Democrats and Republicans who opposed the New Deal. In this effort Black pioneered the use of the so-called dragnet subpoena. He also teamed with the Federal Communications Commission to require Western Union, a private company, to turn over copies of thousands of telegrams sent by New Deal opponents. At the time the FCC required Western Union to keep a copy of each telegram sent.
The next phase in the New Deal witch hunt began in 1937, when Roosevelt tried to expand the U.S. Supreme Court after it had overturned key New Deal legislation. No one was more important in mobilizing public opposition to the "court-packing scheme " than Edward A. Rumely. Rumely was born in LaPorte, Indiana, in 1888 and became wealthy as a manufacturer of tractors. He got involved in politics as an enthusiastic supporter of Franklin"s distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. Rumely depicted himself as a Theodore Roosevelt Progressive for the rest of his life. (Favoring TR and limited government was a curious combination that Rumely and others were able to rationalize somehow.)
In 1915 Rumely purchased the New York Evening Mail with funds borrowed from an American citizen living in Germany. Rumely later claimed he did not know that all such loans had first to be funneled through the German government. Nevertheless, he was convicted under the Trading with the Enemy Act and served time. Although President Calvin Coolidge issued a full pardon, Rumely"s enemies brought the case up repeatedly to discredit him over the next three decades.
During the 1930s he turned against the emerging New Deal, which he feared was undermining individual liberty by centralizing power in Washington. He found common cause with his friends publisher Frank Gannett and conservationist and civil-libertarian Gifford Pinchot. On the same day that Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his court-packing plan in 1937, the trio organized the Committee for Constitutional Government (CCG). Gannett wrote the checks, and Rumely ran day-to-day operations. In fighting the court plan, the CCG led perhaps the first successful offensive against the New Deal and pioneered the use of direct mail.
Despite an overwhelming three-fourths Democratic majority, the Senate rejected the court plan. It was the first major congressional defeat for the Roosevelt administration. Hugo Black, however, received the ultimate reward for his loyalty when Roosevelt nominated him to the Supreme Court the same year. Not even news that Black had once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan deterred Roosevelt from nominating him.
After the court plan lost, New Deal Democrats almost immediately launched a counterattack against the CCG. In 1938 Senator Sherman Minton of Indiana, another ardent New Dealer and Black"s successor as head of the lobbying committee, announced a sweeping congressional investigation targeting forces opposed to "the objectives of the administration. " Minton had actually been Roosevelt"s first choice for the Supreme Court appointment that went to Black, but Minton had turned it down because he preferred to stay in the Senate. At the top of his Senate agenda was the investigation of the CCG. He issued yet another dragnet subpoena, this time for the CCG"s records, and sent his staff down en masse to the CCG"s office, where they began copying files. After watching this go on for several hours, Rumely ordered them out, charging them with an illegal "fishing expedition. "
Minton"s undoing was his proposed bill to ban newspapers from publishing articles known to be false. The public backlash over a perceived threat to free speech led to the collapse of the investigation. Like Black, however, Minton"s loyalty to the New Deal was ultimately rewarded with an appointment to the Supreme Court by his former Senate ally, President Harry S. Truman.
The CCG continued to be a stumbling block for the New Deal and later the Fair Deal. After 1937 the committee distributed over 82 million pieces of literature criticizing such policies as expanded government medical insurance, public housing, and labor legislation. In an article for Collier"s, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes presented the administration"s case against the CCG. He called it a "devilish petard " and said it had been "arousing mob spirit, that miasmic, bloodthirsty degrading emanation out of the dim past. "
The New Deal witch hunt reached its apogee during World War II. Once the United States entered the war, Roosevelt put constant pressure on Attorney General Frances Biddle to crack down on critics of his foreign policy. Most notably he wanted Biddle to prosecute the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Robert McCormick, a powerful critic of the New Deal and entry into the war, for sedition. To his credit, however, Biddle resisted this pressure. Finally, though, he began to relent by, for example, ordering wiretaps on key administration critics such as Joseph Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News. In addition, the postmaster general barred dozens of anti-administration periodicals from the mails. Finally, and much more quietly, Roosevelt ordered Treasury Secretary Morgenthau to launch a new round of tax audits on such prewar noninterventionists as Rep. Fish.
In 1944 a U.S. House committee chaired by Clinton Anderson of New Mexico launched a second major lobbying investigation. Many New Dealers, notably Wright Patman, were upset about the CCG"s campaign for a constitutional amendment to limit taxes to 25 percent of income. Patman characterized the CCG as the "most sordid and most sinister lobby ever organized. " He charged that it represented the "Quisling reserves " of Hitler because it was trying to "sap the power and strength of this government at its tenderest spot, its purse strings, in time of war. "
Like Minton, Anderson subpoenaed the names of the CCG"s contributors. After Rumely refused to comply, the Committee cited him for contempt. A court acquitted him in 1945, finding that the subpoena was improper because the CCG was not a political organization. The most important result of this event was the Lobbying Act of 1946, which required lobbies (broadly defined) to disclose the names of all contributors of $500 or more. Although the CCG decided to register under protest, it found an inventive way around the reporting requirement, or so it thought. Instead of accepting cash contributions over $490, it took them in the form of book orders.
After Truman"s 1948 upset victory, Fair Deal Democrats promised again to scrutinize lobbies such as the CCG. The New Republic declared triumphantly that the "New Deal is again empowered to carry forward the promise of American life " and that it was high time to investigate "the great lobbies and the millions they have spent . . . to defeat social legislation. " The AFL and CIO agreed on this goal, as did two of the best-read columnists in the United States: Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell.
One of the early targets was FEE, which Pearson condemned on the grounds that it was "flooding the country with propaganda aimed at undermining the Marshall Plan, rent control, aid to education, and Social Security. "
After a failed effort to set up a Senate-House joint committee, the House assigned the investigation to a committee led by Rep. Frank Buchanan of Pennsylvania. Buchanan was not only a stalwart Fair Dealer but had his own axe to grind because the CCG had successfully fought expanded public housing, a goal he had championed. He defined lobbying in the broadest possible terms to include groups that had an indirect influence on the formation of public opinion. The committee sent out a probing questionnaire to 166 businesses and organizations, most of them opponents of the Fair Deal. The Buchanan committee ignored lobbying by government agencies, but perhaps for the sake of balance a questionnaire also went to the Civil Rights Congress, an organization with close ties to the Communist Party.
When Buchanan"s staffers, armed with a dragnet subpoena, arrived in force at FEE"s headquarters in early 1949, Read reluctantly cooperated. It became readily apparent to him, however, that the investigators were leaving no stone unturned in the hope of finding something -- anything -- to discredit the organization. It was also clear that the committee had formed a working alliance with key New Deal interest groups and journalists. Almost immediately after the committee rummaged through FEE"s offices, someone leaked the information to Drew Pearson. Pearson"s column publicized the best-known names on FEE"s "secret " contributor list and quoted liberally from internal correspondence. Mullendore expressed his outrage about the leak in a letter to Buchanan: "Those who seek to extend the power of government try to close the mouths of citizens who dare to oppose them. . . . Your inquisitorial and extremely burdensome demand for information which you have no moral right to demand is a most alarming example of the use of this means of intimidation. "
For its part, the CCG ramped up its anti-Fair Deal efforts by promoting purchases of John T. Flynn"s book The Road Ahead. Flynn warned that pro-New Deal pressure groups were pushing the United States, like Britain, into socialism. Harper & Brothers sold the book for $2.50, but the CCG cut the price to a dollar, thus encouraging bulk purchases. From 1949 to 1950 the CCG distributed an amazing ten million copies.
Despite Mullendore"s warnings, Read agreed to testify before the committee. Ever the optimist, he used that venue to educate the members, and he had some success. He found a sympathetic audience among the leading Republican members, and even Carl Albert, a member of the majority, admitted Read was "far more effective than the average buttonhole artist, so-called, around the capital. "
While most of Read"s testimony explained FEE"s mission to inform and educate Americans about free markets, he also challenged the legitimacy of the committee"s investigation. To Read, under the committee"s all-inclusive definition, lobbying "becomes synonymous with communication of thought -- all thought. The Bible communicates ideas that may affect legislation. . . . The list is endless. "
Rumely agreed to answer all the Buchanan committee"s questions except the one asking the names of those who had purchased The Road Ahead. Pointing to the First Amendment, he asserted that the committee had "no power to go into a newspaper publisher and say, "Give me your subscription list." And you have no power to come to us. " If the House wanted to cite him for "contempt and bring me to trial, " it would "get an education on the Bill of Rights. "
By this point the press had turned against the Buchanan committee and its methods. Editor and Publisher found it guilty of "an invasion of the guaranteed right of the American people to own, hire or use a printing press without interference. " Similarly, the Cleveland Plain Dealer called the investigation "Fair Deal Intimidation. " Even Buchanan"s hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, condemned the probe. Frank Chodorov, a leading libertarian and future editor of The Freeman, asked during the period: "Why did the Committee want these names? Simply to discourage support of the anti-collectivist organizations by harassment and intimidation. . . . Buchananism, then, is a step in the direction of thought control. "
The Buchanan committee presented three separate contempt resolutions for a House floor vote in August 1950. Each had the support of most Democrats. The first and most-publicized centered on Rumely. The second resolution focused on Joseph Kamp, head of a much smaller group, the Constitutional Education League. Unlike Rumely, Kamp had stated he was willing to cooperate but was unsure exactly what the Buchanan committee wanted from him. The last of the contempt resolutions dealt with William Patterson, head of the Civil Rights Congress. Like Rumely, he had refused to reveal the names of contributors.
In the floor debate Rep. John W. McCormick, the Democratic majority leader, went to bat for the committee. In language as extreme as just about any smear uttered by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, he condemned Rumely as "a spy in World War I, and a man who is nothing but a Fascist, who is an opponent of American institutions and American Government. " Virtually all those opposed to the resolution were conservatives, with the notable exception of Rep. Vito Marcantonio. As the lone American-Labor Party member in the House, he was easily the most left-wing person in Congress. Marcantonio portrayed himself as an absolutist champion of free speech even for a "fascist " like Rumely. If Rumely"s conservative defenders truly valued free speech, he challenged, they would also vote against the contempt resolution for Patterson. Despite his claims, Marcantonio"s record on free speech was at best mixed. During World War II, for example, he had urged tough action against critics of the war.
The final vote on the Rumely resolution was close but went against him. Nearly all Republicans, joined by Marcantonio and 42 Democrats, almost all from the South, opposed it.
The Patterson contempt resolution also passed but by a much more lopsided majority. Although the debate took place at the height of the McCarthy era, Republicans cast virtually all their 109 votes against it. By contrast, those southern Democrats who had opposed the Rumely resolution were not about to vote against the Patterson resolution even though the charges were essentially the same. For the southerners, race and anticommunism apparently trumped all other considerations.
In April 1951 a federal judge gave Rumely a six-month suspended sentence for contempt and a $1,000 fine, saying he would have sent him to jail save for his advanced age. Rumely"s old nemesis, Walter Winchell, exulted that he "got real satisfaction out of the conviction last week of Edw. A. Rumely. . . [a] convicted pro-German agent. " Few newspapers or columnists agreed with Winchell. Even The New Republic and Drew Pearson, who had egged on Buchanan at the beginning, steered clear of the controversy.
The Last Laugh
It was Rumely who had the last laugh, however, when in 1953 the Supreme Court overturned his conviction 7-0. Two justices recused themselves because of possible conflicts of interest. In a separate opinion the Court"s most "liberal " members, William O. Douglas and Hugo Black, endorsed Rumely"s free speech and privacy rights in no uncertain terms. When it turned to the Buchanan committee"s demands it declared: "If the present inquiry were sanctioned a publisher would be compelled to register as a lobbyist with the federal government, would be subjected to harassing inquiries. A requirement that a publisher disclose the identity of those who buy his books, pamphlets or papers is indeed the beginning of surveillance of the press. "
By this time some prominent New Dealers were losing their appetite for investigative crusades against the conservatives and libertarians. For one thing, they were too busy beating back McCarthyism. By championing Rumely"s free speech, they could better fend off charges of hypocrisy. Even before the House cited Rumely for contempt, for example, the pro-New Deal columnist Marquis Childs pointed to him as an example of how the First Amendment protected "rightists " just as much as communists. In addition, lawyers for two victims of McCarthyism, Owen Lattimore and Corliss Lamont, cited the Supreme Court ruling in defense of their clients. Rumely had become a case study in the need to protect free speech. It was quite a turnabout for a man whom the left only a few years earlier had roundly condemned as a fascist, a federal convict, and a German spy.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Minoans were Caucasian: DNA debunks longstanding theory that Europe's first advanced culture was from Africa
DNA analysis has debunked the longstanding theory that the Minoans, who some 5,000 years ago established Europe's first advanced Bronze Age culture, were from Africa.
The Minoan civilisation arose on the Mediterranean island of Crete in approximately the 27th century BC and flourished for 12 centuries until the 15th century BC.
But the culture was lost until British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans unearthed its remains on Crete in 1900, where he found vestiges of a civilisation he believed was formed by refugees from northern Egypt.
Modern archaeologists have cast doubt on that version of events, and now DNA tests of Minoan remains suggests they were descended from ancient farmers who settled the islands thousands of years earlier. These people, it is believed, are from the same stock that came from the East to populate the rest of Europe.
Evans set to work on Crete in 1900 with a team of archaeologists soon after the island was liberated from the yoke of the Ottoman empire, almost immediately unearthing a great palace.
He named the civilisation he discovered after the legendary Greek king Minos and, based on likenesses between Minoan artifacts and those from Egypt and Libya, proposed that its founders migrated into the area from North Africa.
Since then, other archaeologists have suggested that the Minoans may have come from other regions, possibly Turkey, the Balkans, or the Middle East.
But now a joint U.S. and Greek team has made a mitochondrial DNA analysis of Minoan skeletal remains to determine the likely ancestors of the ancient people.
Mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of cells, contain their own DNA, or genetic code, and because mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mothers to their children via the human egg, it contains information about maternal ancestry.
Findings suggest that the Minoan civilisation arose from the population already living in Crete, and that these people were probably descendants of the first humans to reach there about 9,000 years ago.
Further, they found, the remains have the greatest genetic similarity with modern European populations.
Senior researcher Dr George Stamatoyannopoulos, professor of medicine and genome sciences at the University of Washington, said the analysis showed these people probably came to the area from the East, not the South.
'About 9,000 years ago there was an extensive migration of Neolithic humans from the regions of Anatolia that today comprise parts of Turkey and the Middle East,' he said. 'At the same time, the first Neolithic inhabitants reached Crete.
'Our mitochondrial DNA analysis shows that the Minoans' strongest genetic relationships are with these Neolithic humans, as well as with ancient and modern Europeans.
'These results suggest the Minoan civilization arose 5,000 years ago in Crete from an ancestral Neolithic population that had arrived in the region about 4,000 years earlier.
Dr Stamatoyannopoulos and his team analysed samples from 37 skeletons found in a cave in Crete"s Lassithi plateau and compared them with mitochondrial DNA sequences from 135 modern and ancient human populations.
The Minoan samples revealed 21 distinct mitochondrial DNA variations, of which six were unique to the Minoans and 15 were shared with modern and ancient populations.
None of the Minoans carried mitochondrial DNA variations characteristic of African populations.
Further analysis showed that the Minoans were only distantly related to Egyptian, Libyan, and other North African populations.
Indeed, the Minoan shared the greatest percentage of their mitochondrial DNA variation with European populations, especially those in Northern and Western Europe.
When plotted geographically, shared Minoan mitochondrial DNA variation was lowest in North Africa and increased progressively across the Middle East, Caucasus, Mediterranean islands, Southern Europe, and mainland Europe.
The highest percentage of shared Minoan mitochondrial DNA variation was found with Neolithic populations from Southern Europe.
The analysis also showed a high degree of sharing with the current population of the Lassithi plateau and Greece.
In fact, the maternal genetic information passed down through many generations of mitochondria is still present in modern-day residents of the area where the Minoan skeletons were found.
Dr Stamatoyannopoulos said he believes that the findings highlight the importance of DNA analysis as a tool for understanding human history.
'Genetic analyses are playing in increasingly important role and predicting and protecting human health,' he said.
'Our study underscores the importance of DNA not only in helping us to have healthier futures, but also to understand our past.'
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
By Dr. Jack Wheeler
Edinburgh-of-the-Seven-Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean. Welcome to the most isolated community on the planet, on the world"s remotest inhabited island.
Named after the Portuguese captain who discovered it in 1506, Tristão da Cunha, it is 1,736 miles from Africa, and 2,466 miles from South America. The nearest inhabited land is the island of St. Helena 1,343 miles to the north, itself so remote that the Brits exiled Napoleon there.
It"s not simply that Tristan is far away from anywhere else, it"s amazingly difficult to get here. You have to arrive by ship as there"s no airport -- and there are no regular passenger ships, just the occasional fishing boat and an annual relief/supply ship from Cape Town. And when one does get here, it is rarely able to land as the weather doesn"t allow it. We are the first passenger ship to land here since March of 2012.
Why bother? Why brave often incredibly rough and dangerous seas for days or even weeks to come here on the off-chance that you can go ashore? Just to be able to tell your friends back home you set foot on the world"s remotest inhabited island?
Maybe for some. For me, it was the opportunity to meet perhaps the most extraordinarily unique people on earth. I came hoping to find a freedom paradise (more accurately, a conservative-libertarian paradise) -- and I found it. But before you start packing your bags, be advised: there is, of course, a catch.
There is only one settlement on the island, named after the original Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince Alfred, Consort to Queen Victoria, who visited here on a world tour of the British Empire in 1867. Every Tristanian (tris-tay-nee-un), 262 at current count, lives in Edinburgh-of-the-Seven-Seas -- although they usually just call it The Settlement.
Among those 262, there are only seven family names: Glass, Green, Hagen, Swain, Rogers, Lavarello, and Repetto. There are never any first or second cousin marriages, and for 200 years the Tristan gene pool has been continually refreshed from shipwrecked sailors to marriage to outsiders. The population hasn"t gone more than 10% above or below 260 for a over a century.
No one had ever lived on the island when da Cunha (coon-yah) found it in 1506, and for 300 years, no one paid much attention to the tiny, 38 square mile volcanic speck with no natural harbor and little habitable land, until 1816 when a Scottish corporal named William Glass and his wife from Cape Town, decided to live there, and attracted others, such as a sailor named Thomas Swain, and women from St. Helena for sailors like him.
The community grew, waxed and waned, prospered and suffered, learning to become intensely self-reliant. They raised cattle and sheep, fished in the sea, grew vegetables and potatoes, and fended for themselves, dependent upon no one by necessity.
They lived simply. Every family had its own small home, made of large blocks of an easily-carved volcanic rock called tufa, with a heavily thatched roof. There was only one main room, with a fireplace that provided heat and where food was cooked, and a small bedroom. The bed"s mattress was stuffed with penguin feathers, and lamps at night were lit with seal oil.
Yet they saw that their children were well educated. They learned of world events and read books by Plutarch, Plato, and Shakespeare acquired from passing sailing ships. They saw their children learned Christian values at one of the two churches in the Settlement: St. Mary"s Anglican Church, or St. Joseph"s Catholic Church. There"s no history of religious feuds or fanaticism on Tristan.
After World War II, "red gold " was discovered. With the help of South African businessmen, the Tristan Development Corporation was formed in 1949 to exploit the uncountable numbers of easily-caught rock lobsters in Tristan"s waters. In addition, beautifully designed Tristan postage stamps became prized by stamp collectors and were sold world-wide.
The economy boomed, living and housing conditions improved -- yet Tristanians managed to adapt to modernization without losing their traditional values and culture.
Then disaster struck. Tristan is an active volcano above a hotspot in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, with the main cone (Queen Mary"s Peak) almost 7,000 feet high. In August of 1961, a vent suddenly opened up right next to The Settlement, out of which molten lava began flowing towards the sea. When it looked like the lava might envelop and destroy the community, the British government ordered the entire population evacuated to England.
For most Tristanians, it was the first time they"d been off their island (save for fishing trips to the small nearby uninhabited satellite islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible), their first exposure to modern Western life and all its temptations. They hated it.
When scientists reported, after an expedition to the now-deserted island in 1962, that the lava flow had missed The Settlement by not much more than the length of a football field, that the eruption had terminated, and that repatriation of the islanders was an option, the Tristanians celebrated. They were given the choice to stay in England and be subsidized wards of the British Welfare State, or return to Tristan and fend for themselves again. All but five voted to return -- which they did in 1963.
The kids brought back rock n" roll and the Twist with them, but for the most part, the plethora of lunacies comprising the Sixties passed Tristan by. Everyone went back to work, although with the rock lobster and postage stamp businesses going better than ever, that work was more profitable. The Settlement soon had a movie theatre, a pub, a community swimming pool; everyone had a modern kitchen, video recorders, and family car -- even though there are less than four miles of road on the island.
Today there"s an Internet cafe, and many kids have a Facebook page or even their own websites. The island maintains its own well-done website, www.tristandc.com.
Now we come to the interesting part. If exposure to and immersion in the culture of Western degradation has spoiled and ruined the culture of Tristan, it is indiscernible.
To this day, in almost 200 years of history since Tristan"s founding in 1816, not one Tristanian has ever murdered another. Murder is unknown, it has never happened on Tristan. Rape is unknown. There has never been a single case of rape in anyone"s memory or on record. Divorce is unknown.
Marriage is for life. No one can recall any couple ever getting divorced (save for marriage to an outsider who couldn"t handle life on Tristan and left the island). Pre-marital sex is abundant, but once a girl gets pregnant, she marries the father and that"s that. Abortion is unknown. Aborting a baby is indescribably horrific to a Tristanian.
Crime is unknown. There is no theft. Everyone keeps his home unlocked. There are no fights in the pub, no drunken brawls. There is a peacefulness and serenity to life on Tristan that has to be experienced to be believed.
And there is no socialism. Tristan"s economy and society is based on private property. People have their own sheep, their own cows for milk, their own cattle for beef, their own cultivated patches for potatoes and vegetables. Fishermen are paid according to the amount of lobsters they personally haul in.
For the most part, Tristanians govern themselves. There is a resident British Administrator, as Tristan is a British Overseas Territory, appointed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Yet, with the exception of rare emergency circumstances such as the decision to evacuate the island in 1961, he can only act with the approval of the Island Council, composed of islanders elected by the community.
In fact, Tristanians pay little attention to the "Hadmin, " as they call the Administrator, who manages to spend much of his time in London. They look instead to their own elected leader and head of the Council, called the Chief Islander, for guidance. Currently, he is Ian Lavarello, and I was fortunate to have dinner with him.
His home is like everyone else"s. He goes fishing, manages his potato patch, and works like everyone else. "Tristanians learned long ago, " he told me, "to be a cooperative people, to resolve our disputes peacefully and with goodwill. We are all family on this island, and we use problems to bring us together, not divide us. I don"t think you"ll find a more agreeable people anywhere than Tristanians. They make it easy for me to find solutions to situations that we all can agree on. "
Tristan has one policeman -- Conrad Glass, a direct descendant of founder William Glass. Over a Castle Lager at the world"s remotest pub, the Albatross Bar, I asked him what a policeman does in a place where there"s no crime. "My job is to help people, " he explained. "Ian (Lavarello) helps with community-wide issues. I talk to people about their individual disagreements. And I help them be careful.
"There"s a place on the road to the Patches (an area of tiny walled fields two miles from the Settlement in which everyone grows their potatoes and vegetables) where some people drive fast and there"s been a couple of accidents. I"ll park my police car behind this curve -- you Yanks would call this a "speed trap," I believe -- so when someone is speeding and they see me, they quickly slow down. We smile and wave at each other, although sometimes I have to shake my finger at them. "
Conrad asked me why I had come here. "People who live in the remotest community on earth, and have been determined to do so for two centuries, " I answered, "have to be uniquely interesting. I came here to meet them, and try to understand something about them. "
He smiled. "The most important thing to understand about Tristanians is what they value most in life is freedom. We have a freedom here in Tristan like nowhere else. That"s why we found England suffocating, rules everywhere, someone always telling you what you can and cannot do. We couldn"t wait to get back here where we are free and we live by our own rules.
"On Tristan, no one tells you what to do. No one tells you when to get up, when to milk your cows or go fishing or help your neighbor fix his house damaged in a storm. But… if you don"t do these things, your cow will die, you won"t have fish to eat, your neighbor won"t help you when you need to fix your house. We"ve learned that when you"re free, when no one forces you to help others, everyone ends up helping everyone else -- and cheerfully. There"s no obligation -- we just are happier together that way. "
A young fellow, George Swain, joined us. He had gone to high school in Cape Town and then received training in wildlife conservation. Now, at age 20, he had returned to the island to work for Tristan"s Conservation and Fisheries Office. I asked him if most young people left the island to study or work elsewhere today, and how many ever came back.
"Most all of us leave at some time, " he said. "We want to learn something of the world. After a few years or even several, just about everybody returns to live. We miss Tristan"s freedom. "
So -- ready to kiss all the fascist craziness in the world goodbye and live in peace and freedom on Tristan da Cunha? That"s the catch: you can"t. The world"s remotest, most isolated community on the planet wants to keep it that way. You can visit here between ships, arriving on one and departing on another -- although there are no hotels or restaurants, so you"d have to arrange a homestay -- but you can"t live here. Tristan is for Tristanians.
There is only one way to become a Tristanian -- and that"s to marry one. You could visit here in hopes of meeting and marrying a local gal if you"re a guy or vice versa (and just to be clear: any mention of "same-sex " marriage is considered a stupidly tasteless joke here). Or you could by chance or tracking them down, bump into a young Tristanian studying or working abroad, marry him or her, and move to Tristan.
Once you establish a home in the Settlement, have children and start to raise a family, you can become a Tristanian -- that"s the only way.
The bottom line is that Tristanians are self-contained. They are cheerful, friendly, approachable, nice and easy to talk to. But they don"t need us. Outsiders from other countries and cultures have their values and lifestyles, and that"s fine -- live and let live. But they don"t need them.
Tristanians have a freedom and shared humanity that is unique in this world. There is a calmness in their souls, what I would call a gravitas of serenity, that I have never witnessed elsewhere in all the places on earth I have been.
You and I cannot be a part of it -- but it is enough to know that it exists. At least there is one place on our planet this free, this peaceful, this happy together. It is not ironic that this place is a tiny village on a tiny island in a vast stormy sea farther away from other people than anywhere else. The latter has to be part of the cause of the former.
No matter. We know now that such peace and freedom isn"t a fantasy ideal but something human beings are actually capable of. It has been such a privilege to be here and meet these wonderful people. The short weather window that allowed us to be here has closed. A major storm is approaching and we must board the Zodiac motorized inflatable rafts in the tiny harbor -- so tiny a couple of Zodiacs or motorized rowboats is all it has room for -- to get back to the ship anchored offshore.
I must finish one last Castle Lager here in the Albatross Bar where I"m writing this and say goodbye to my Tristanian friends. For the rest of my life, I"ll treasure having been here and having met them. There is such a place as Tristan da Cunha. It"s real, and that should mean a lot to all of us.