Witness, World Service, Tuesday
Darwin's Tunes, Radio 4, Wednesday
How to make friends by thawing the Ice Curtain
If you're in the sea and it's a bit nippy, check two things: first, that your fingers aren't splaying, because if they are, your brain's packing up; and that your shoulders aren't blue. If they are, the rest of you is packing up, too.
The endurance swimmer Lynne Cox knew what to do. In 1987, she swam the 2.7 miles between two islands, Little Diomede, part of the US, and Big Diomede, in the then Soviet Union. During the Cold War it was known as the Ice Curtain, and Witness recalled her crossing, which had taken 12 years to set up, inspired by her plaintive plea: "Why can't we find a way of being friends?"
Guided over – more or less – by Inuits with a rusty compass, she made it in just over two hours to be met by a reception committee on an ice bank. Two soldiers pulled her out of the sea – "I instantly felt the heat from their hands" – and everyone threw towels and blankets and coats on top of her. The Soviets had set up tables for a picnic, with a samovar and biscuits. "They were just ready to celebrate the whole afternoon," said Cox. "I'm standing there on the ice and snow and my feet are getting colder."
When she was taken to recover, a female Russian doctor put hot water bottles on her arteries, wrapped her in a sleeping bag then climbed on top of her and hugged her to share body heat – not a bad way of "being friends". And what thanks did Cox get? The BBC news said she managed it "by a combination of determination and her own body fat, which insulated her like a seal". Charming.
Darwin's Tunes was a curiosity with a depressing conclusion. The evolutionary biologist Professor Armand Leroi asserted that cultural transmission is an evolutionary process like its biological equivalent. He spoke to the inventor of DarwinTunes, a computer program that generates musical samples that can "breed" new samples, passing on characteristics. After an online vote (that's the natural selection bit), the most popular "evolve". A surprisingly small variety of samples find public approval. And the result? After 6,000 generations, it sounds like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. All that evolution and we get Eighties synthpop. I told you it was depressing.
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