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Friday, 15 April 2011

Another piece of tsunami wisdom

I am always on the look-out for parables, and Al Lee passed on to me a link to an AP report about the Japanese tsunami. There's more to it than what I am extracting here, but there was one aspect: tablets which say "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point."

Now there's a curious twist to this, as the report points out. If any of the tablets have been placed too low, then sooner or later a tsunami will carry them away, and the surviving ones will stand as testaments to the safety of their locales.

It's a savage form, but the parallel to the rather more subtle odds-shading of Darwinian evolution are pretty obvious.  I can work with that at some point, if only in a radio essay. As that link reveals, I do those as well.

From the Frascati-Rome train, 2010.
Sometimes the wisdom of past generations is complete rubbish (think phlogiston, the impossibility of heavier-than-air flight or bad smells causing disease), but as a rule, even those approximations have a message for us, if we squint and look at them the right way.  Whatever the past generations believed, it didn't kill them outright, and it may well have contributed to their survival, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

French colonial hospital, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Take these Eucalyptus trees, snapped from the train while travelling from Frascati to Rome. Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, KCMG was an Australian botanist who features in Curious Minds.

I have long known that Eucalyptus trees were exported for their disease-fighting powers to quell malaria by their nice smell, while the reality is that these thirsty trees lowered the water table and dried up the swamps and marshes where mosquitoes bred.  I have snapped these trees in Cambodia, and on Kefalonia and and Cyprus, playing the same role.

Mature river red gum, Argostoli, Kefalonia
It was only last week that I found that the chief distributor of seeds around the world was Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, KCMG.  You hunt down the bits for long enough, and in the end, they fall into place.

That is how my parable of the Japanese stone tablets will eventually find a home. A bit like those unbiquitous eucalypts.

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