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Primates evolved in a forest habitat of many complex colors and shapes where a failure to properly judge depth perception meant painful injury or death.  Vision is therefore a paramount sense for monkeys, apes, tarsiers, lemurs, and lorises.  Primates are social animals.  After evolving highly acute sight and keen color vision, they then evolved to be the most colorful order of mammals.  As with cuttlefish and birds of paradise, primate colors carry all sorts of social cues.

 

We will talk about all of this more (although, to be frank, we have always been talking about it), but today we are concentrating on the color red, which is of enormous importance to most primates because it is involved in status relations and thus in mating. Red is an important color for primates!  For example, among mandrills, red coloration of the face correlates directly with a male’s alpha status: the redder the face the more exalted the mandrill.  Primatologists have found this pattern vividly true in many species of monkey (and to other very different creatures like octopuses and cardinals, where red holds similar dominance significance).  To quote a particularly eye-opening line from Wikipedia, “Red can also affect the perception of dominance by others, leading to significant differences in mortality, reproductive success and parental investment between individuals displaying red and those not.”

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Humans beings are primates.  I suspect that it is not news to you that red is heavily involved in our own status and sexual selection preferences (for the sake of chivalric euphemism I will hereafter say “romantic” preferences).  Although this is readily evident in the red dresses of supermodels, the flashy Ferraris of celebrities, and the power ties of senators, the subconscious sway it holds over our lives is more pervasive than you might realize.

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In studies where men rated the general attractiveness of photographs of women, the women wearing red were rated as more desirable, even when the experimenters stacked the deck with pictures of the same women in different colors.  The same sort so f experiments revealed similar preferences among women looking at pictures of men.  It might be speculated that this has something to do with blushing, blood flow and suchlike visible markers of fertility/interest (although when asked, men said that women in red were more attractive, and women said that men in red were more “dominant”).

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Wearing red uniforms has been linked with increased performance in competitions (particularly physical competitions such as sports). Controlled tests revealed that red conferred no physical advantage during non-competitive exercise, so the effect is purely one of perception among opponents, teammates, and referees. Referees and judges seemed to be a particular focus of the psychological effects we are discussing here, rating red-garbed performers much more highly/favorably than similar peers in other outfits.

One needs to pause and think of how much more frequently the hateful Boston Red Sox and the despicable Atlanta Falcons would be justly drubbed if they wore dun uniforms.

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All of this might seem like bad news for people without a great deal of red in their wardrobe or in their clubhouse lockers, but there is a counterposing effect too.  In studies which involved paying attention and focusing on achievement-type events like the SATs or IQ tests (or essay questions about the Byzantine empire), red proved to be a nuisance and a hindrance.  Exposure to red decreased performance during such events (although my source does not say what this constitutes…maybe the experimenters had a huge red flashing light or a ringing red phone or some such gimmick that would unequivocally mess up one’s GREs).

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If all of this sounds wrong or suspicious to you, I guess it is the middle of the 2018 World Cup.  According to primatologists, Russia, England, Belgium, and Serbia should all win in the quarterfinals (so as long as they are not wearing their white or yellow “beta” uniforms).  If that test seems too nonsensical for you, you could always put on a British naval uniform and walk down to the local bar.  I would be very curious to learn how your experiment goes, and I will tally up the results as soon as I finish ordering a few new shirts…

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Wake up, soccer fans! Today I will celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Championship which is currently being played in Brazil. Well actually I was going to write about this year’s world cup tournament, but nothing interesting has happened so far except for that Uruguayan player who repeatedly bites people (and apparently he has already been captured, sedated, and returned to his native habitat without further human injuries).

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Since nothing exciting has happened in this tournament, I will write about the previous World Cup Soccer Championship Tournament which took place in South Africa in 2010. Unfortunately I don’t remember anything that happened on the pitch in South Africa. Clearly I was otherwise preoccupied…plus I am an American and we are famously obdurate in our inability to understand soccer (also we already have several dozen better sports to follow). Only two aspects of those matches stick in my memory: 1) the fearsome buzz of the vuvuzela, AKA “the devil stick”, a horrid musical instrument which first arrived on Earth inside a radioactive comet (probably because humankind failed to win a cosmic moral bet); and 2) Paul the octopus, a magical cephalopod who could predict soccer matches with greater accuracy than any of the world’s human pundits, psychics, and bookies.

The vuvuzela being played by a lesser demon...

The vuvuzela being played by a lesser demon…

I believe that in-depth writing about the vuvuzela is now prohibited by international treaty, and I have nothing comprehensible to say about soccer (which seems to be a sort of agonizingly slow hockey with arcane kabuki-like dramatic conventions), but I would like to take a moment to eulogize Paul, who was not just a remarkable octopus but also a first-rate showman. Like soccer, Paul originated in England. In 2008, he hatched from an egg at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, England. Paul soon moved to Oberhausen, Germany, which, Wikipedia informs us, is an anchor point on the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Paul was a common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), a species known for intelligence, lively personality, tool-use, and acute senses. His oracular abilities soon became apparent during the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament. Before each match, Paul’s keepers would offer him two identical seafood treats in bags or boxes which were identical except for national flags of soccer playing nations. Whichever bag Paul chose to eat from first was reckoned to be his choice for match winner.

Paul chooses between Spain and Germany

Paul chooses between Spain and Germany

Paul was a German Octopus and initially he only voiced his opinion concerning German matches. He distinguished himself by correctly choosing the outcome of 4 out of 6 of Germany’s matches. But 2008 was only a lead-up to his remarkable World Cup predictions. During the 2010 World Cup, Paul correctly predicted every match which he was consulted about. This resulted in unprecedented world popularity (and infamy) for the tiny sea creature. Fans of the losing teams threatened Paul’s life, (which ultimately lead the Spanish Prime Minister to offer him state protection). The president of Iran denounced Paul as a symbol of Western Imperial corruption. The German press speculated that 2008 Paul had died and been replaced with a savvier octopus in 2010. PETA demanded that he be released to the wild (which would certainly have spelled the end of the aging tank-raised celebrity mollusk).

Paul chooses the winners of this World Cup from the great hereafter

Paul chooses the winners of this World Cup from the great hereafter

Sadly, Paul passed away on October 10th, 2010 at the age of two and a half (ripe old age for a cephalopod). He was memorialized with a statue and the very funny Google doodle seen above. Paul’s life illustrates that through PR savvy and complete random chance anyone or anything can become an International celebrity (although skeptical marine biologists note that Common Octopuses betray a preference for bright surfaces and horizontal lines—so those national flags may have played a bigger role than thought). Since I failed to blog about him in 2010, I thought I would take this opportunity to eulogize the most famous octopus in the world of sports (which is saying something, considering the role of Al the Octopus in hockey). His tragic passing marks the last time soccer (which is also known as “football”) was enjoyable…although maybe somebody will find a cuttlefish who can correctly calculate penalty kicks or a whelk that can play the Croatian national anthem…

UC San Diego Triton

UC San Diego Triton

This week Ferrebeekeeper has been all about Tritons: we published posts on 1) The retrograde ice moon of Neptune; 2) the giant starfish-eating gastropod; and 3) the Greek merman god.  The only major definition of triton left is the nucleus of a tritium atom which has one proton and two neutrons (as opposed to a normal hydrogen atom which has one proton and NO neutrons).  Tritium is very important in nuclear engineering and could be critical to the development of nuclear fusion reactors—an effort which I regard as being of paramount importance to getting humankind moving forward.  Unfortunately, I am no nuclear engineer, so you will have to research tritium elsewhere.

Although the concept of deuterium-tritium fusion is succinctly explained by this necktie...

Although the concept of deuterium-tritium fusion is succinctly explained by this necktie…

What I did discover is that, for some reason, Triton is incredibly popular as a mascot.  Numerous semi-professional and school teams have a triton (a merman) as a mascot.  Is it because the figure is solemn and powerful?  Is this a last breath of Greek polytheism blowing through America’s high schools and colleges?  Do people simply love mermen?  I have no idea, but for a lighthearted Friday post, here is a gallery of Triton mascots.

Edmond Community College Tritons

Edmond Community College Tritons

A homemade Triton outfit

A homemade Triton outfit

The Triton College Seal

The Triton College Seal

"Tryton the Laker King" (it beats me)

“Tryton the Laker King” (it beats me)

The University of Guam Triton

The University of Guam Triton

The University of Missouri--Saint Louis (their "tritons" are devilish red water monsters)

The University of Missouri–Saint Louis (their “tritons” are devilish red water monsters)

Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Florida) weird anonymous triton mascot

Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Florida) weird anonymous triton mascot

San Clemente High School (San Clemente, California) Tritons

San Clemente High School (San Clemente, California) Tritons

And, once again, the UCSD King Triton mascot...

And, once again, the UCSD King Triton mascot…

Enjoy the mermen, stay warm, and I’ll see you next week!

The 2012 London Olympics are passing into history.  Congratulations to all of the athletes and planners (and to the British in general).  Now the world is becoming curious about what’s going to happen in the next summer Olympics in Brazil.  Will that nation continue its meteoric rise from underperforming “developing” economy into a major international powerhouse?  Will municipal authorities clean up street crime in Rio de Janeiro?  Will Cariocas continue to disdain all but the skimpiest of garments—even with the eyes of the world upon them? These answers will only be known in four years: it is impossible to see into the future.  But maybe it’s worthwhile to take another look back at the past.  The first modern Olympic games were held in Athens in 1896 thanks to a late nineteenth century obsession with fitness, the hard work of Pierre de Coubertin, and a widespread interest in the classical Olympics (the roots of which are lost in history, but which are mythically believed to have been initiated by Hercules).  Yet there were earlier modern Olympic-style contests which preceded the 1896 Olympics.  The Wenlock Olympic games, an annual local gaming festival which originated in the 1850’s in Shropshire, England, have been much discussed by the English during the run-up to the 2012 Olympics (in fact one of the awful mascots takes his name from the venerable tradition), however an even older modern Olympics festival was celebrated in much stranger circumstances.

On September 11, 1796 (also known as “1er vendémiaire, an IV” under the crazy Republican calendar) the “First Olympiad of the Republic” took place in Paris at the Champ de Mars.  As many as 300,000 spectators watched some part of the contests. The opening ceremony was dedicated to “peace and fertility” and then teams of competitors participated in various sporting events modeled on those of classical antiquity.  The first event, a foot race, was a tie between a student named Jean-Joseph Cosme and a “pomegranate” named Villemereux [I had to break out the French-English dictionary to determine that Villemereux was (probably) a grenadier instead some sort of seedy fruit].  The Olympiad also features horse and chariot racing.  The victors were crowned with laurel and rode in a chariot of victory.  The event ended with fireworks and an all-night drinking holiday.  The event was very popular with the public and the press.

There were two more Olympiads of the Republic, in 1797 and 1798.  The 1797 Olympiad was modeled closely on the 1796 event, however the 1798 Olympiad took additional inspiration from the classical Olympics and from the Enlightenment ideals of science and reason.  Wrestling was added to the contests and the games featured the first ever use of the metric system in sports.  However in 1798, the ominous shadows lengthening over Europe were apparent at the games.  As the athletes marched onto the field, they passed in front of effigies which represented all of the original French provinces, but they also passed before effigies which represented the newly conquered provinces from the Netherlands, Switzerland, and northern Italy.  The armies of the French Republic were surging through Europe.  As the Directory gave way to the Consulate the games were subsumed by more serious martial conflict, and the first consul—soon known as Emperor Napoleon, apparently saw no reason to bring them back.

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Old-timey Olympics?

The Olympics is continually remade to reflect contemporary taste.  Sports which were once important are gradually abandoned.  Exciting new sports which appeal to younger audiences (or boring old sports which appeal to wealthier audiences) are tried out.  For example, the 2016 Olympics in Rio will feature two new sports—rugby sevens and golf (which has repeatedly been part of the Olympics in the past—and has repeatedly been dropped because it is an unwatchable festival of abject tedium).  The extent to which things have gradually changed becomes apparent when one looks back at the canceled sports of yesteryear, many of which are so anachronistic they seem like Monty Python gags.  The Economist illustrates the point with this delightful chart which features live pigeon shooting, javelin free style, and pistol dueling for teams (!?).  One of the discontinued sports which sounded most exciting to me was club swinging which conjures heady images of hirsute cavepersons belaboring each other with wooden cudgels. Was this the original sport?

Club Swinging?

Alas, my research into club swinging has revealed that the sport was not the Neanderthal free-for-all for which I was hoping (nor even some sort of amoral 70’s party event).  Apparently the “clubs” are those weird elongated bowling pin things that jugglers use.  The club swinger would take these objects and whirl them about his head and trunk in a discipline which combined saber-dancing, juggling, gymnastics, and just plain looking ridiculous. The sport had such a circus appearance that it gave rise to rumors that juggling was once an Olympics sport (which it never was).  Club swinging was also known as Indian club swinging because gifted participants apparently looked like they were taking part in some intricately choreographed Native American ritual.  In the fullness of time club swinging devolved into rhythmic gymnastics, that strange pseudo sport where a young Bulgarian dances and tumbles with a ribbon on a stick (which always makes my poor father apoplectic when he sees it on TV).

Club Swinging

Rhythmic Gymnastics

Club swinging was only a medal event at two Olympics festivals—the Saint Louis Olympics of 1904 and the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932.  Both of these Olympics were dominated by Americans because, in the age before cheap jet travel, the Olympics were not nearly as International as they now are.

“Smokey” the mascot of the 1932 Olympic Games

The 1932 Olympics took place at the high point (or low point?) of the Great Depression and underlines the sad exigencies of those times.  The gold medalist in club swinging was George Roth, an unemployed gymnast who was hit particularly hard by that economic catastrophe (in fact the Guardian reports that he once went 15 days without eating—so he probably looked like today’s gymnasts).  Roth embodied Baron de Coubertin’s ideal of unpaid amateur sports to an unwholesome degree: as soon as he was awarded with his gold medal he left the stadium and sadly hitchhiked home.

George Roth, the last Olympic gold medalist in Club Swinging

In an effort to boost ratings I am writing about sports! Specifically I am looking at the most grueling sporting event in the world, the Tour de France.

Everyone is familiar with the contemporary Tour de France: teams of mighty Spaniards and Germans on futuristic carbon bikes exchange thinly-veiled insults about steroids with each other and with Lance Armstrong.  The most exciting Tour de France, however, was the second, which took place in 1904.

The entire 1904 race was bedeviled by over-the-top scandals and cheating.  During the first stage, Maurice Garin and Lucien Pothier were attacked by four masked desperados driving a motor coach. The second phase took the riders through the birthplace of Antoine Fauré, where a mob of 200 Fauré supporters attempted to stop the remainder of the cyclists with brute force.  The riot was only dispersed by race officials firing pistols into the air!  Unfortunately, several riders were wounded in the melee.  In Nimes, the local supporters of Ferdinand Payan dropped stones down onto the riders. And on the final stage, the riders themselves (as well as various partisan miscreants) threw nails and glass on the road.  Henri Cornet was obliged to ride the last 40 kilometers with two flat tires and came in fifth.

Violence, riots, and booby traps were not the only way of cheating, several of the riders were found to have utilized motor cars to advance, none more flamboyantly than Hippolyte Aucouturier.  Hyppolyte had lost the first Tour de France in 1903 because someone spiked his water bottle (perhaps that race’s winner, a chain-smoking chimney sweep).  So determined was Hyppolyte not to lose the second race, that he enlisted an accomplice in a car to tow him up the steepest parts of the race.  To accomplish this Hyppolite used a long wire tied to a cork which he then gripped with his teeth.  Other riders, such as Ferdinand Payan, simply waited till dark and held onto car bumpers or climbed inside and rode.  During the evenings riders would deaden the pain from riding and fighting by drinking copious quantities of wine and huffing ether.

Hippolyte Aucouturier

At the conclusion of the race, 29 riders were disqualified, including Hyppolyte and all four of the other top-placed racers.  The fifth placed rider, Henri Comet won the 1904 Tour de France either through moral steadfastness or because he cheated more subtly than everyone else.

Wow, bicycle racing used to be amazing!

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