31 March 2012

Bioluminescent firefly squid


Very cool photo, and a fitting final image for the top of the blog today.   There's a little information about these creatures in Wikipedia, and a post about them in Atlas Obscura.

Via Reddit.  I've tried without success to track back to the photographer for credit, but most "similar image" searches wind up in Japanese tumblrs that I can't decipher.

See also the incredible image of a shoreline in Australia glowing with bioluminescent algae.

A different view of the U.S. Postal Service

I don't know whether all these details are true, or to what extent they are relevant, but I thought the comments are interesting and worthy of consideration:
These gloomsayers claim the national mail agency is bogged down with too many overpaid workers and costly brick-and-mortar facilities, so it can't keep up with the instant messaging of Internet services and such nimble corporate competitors as FedEx. Thus, say these contrivers of their own conventional wisdom, the Postal Service is unprofitable and is costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year in losses. Wrong.

Since 1971, the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers. All of its operations — including the remarkable convenience of 32,000 local post offices — are paid for by peddling stamps and other products.

The privatizers squawk that USPS has gone some $13 billion in the hole during the past four years — a private corporation would go broke with that record! (Actually, private corporations tend to go to Washington rather than go broke, getting taxpayer bailouts to cover their losses.) The Postal Service is NOT broke. Indeed, in those four years of loudly deplored "losses," the service actually produced a $700 million operational profit (despite the worst economy since the Great Depression).

What's going on here? Right-wing sabotage of USPS financing, that's what.

In 2006, the Bush White House and Congress whacked the post office with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to PRE-PAY the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who'll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who're not yet born!

No other agency and no corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement.
It's clearly a rant, posted at a liberal/progressive source (Common Dreams).  The implication is that politicians want the USPS to "fail" so that the services can be privatized and the resultant profits can be pocketed by the eventual owners.

Open for discussion.

The 1% at Play - Part II


Posted as a contrast to this.

Image from QuickMeme.  A video clip from a National Geographic program is available via The Telegraph.

Alice B. Toklas marijuana brownies recipe

Here's the story, from SubRosa:
First published in 1954, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook is one of America's great works of recollection, culinary and otherwise. Toklas lived, cooked, and kept house in Paris and rural France with her companion, Gertrude Stein, from 1908 until Stein's death in 1947. During that time she cooked for and shared food with friends, including Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Thornton Wilder, accumulating recipes for the simple and haute bourgeois dishes compiled in the book. She also saw and remembered all, from life in the high bohemian circle she and Stein occupied; to France during two world wars; to the United States, visited in the '30s; to summers passed in a paradisiacal country retreat at Biligin in France. These and more Toklas depicts vividly and acerbically, all viewed through the prism of food and good eating...

It all started when Alice signed a contract with Harper's to write a cookbook in 1952. She was a pretty fair cook, but what Harper really hoped to get (and what by and large it got) was not so much recipes but tales of her life with Gertrude Stein, who had died in 1946.

With the deadline only a few months away, Toklas, then in her mid-70s, found herself half a book shy. So she began soliciting recipes from her artsy friends. This recipe was contributed by wiseacre painter friend named Brion Gysin.

Alice, unfamiliar with "canibus" (at least as spelled by Gysin) and lacking the time to test the recipes, stuck her friend's contribution into her manuscript and sent it off to the publisher. The American editors at Harper's spotted the suspicious ingredient and held the recipe out, but the publisher of the British edition didn't. The press promptly went nuts. The rest is history
And here's the recipe for "haschigh fudge":
This is the food of Paradise – of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises: It might provide entertaining refreshment for a Ladies Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by an ‘un évanouissment reveillé’.

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of de-stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Obtaining the cannabis may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as cannabis sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognized, everyone in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called cannabis indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

Comments from lottery losers

"I know the odds are really not in my favor, but why not," she said.

"When it gets as big as it is now, you'd be nuts not to play," he said. "You have to take a chance on Lady Luck."

"My 401(k) is worth so little. My only chance to retire is Mega Millions," he says.

"They say the third time is the charm, so I'm bound to win, you know," she says.

And this promotional blurb: "Plenty of people don't win the lottery the first few thousand times they play."

A jumping robot (the "Sand Flea")


Pretty impressive.
Sand Flea is an 11-lb robot with one trick up its sleeve: Normally it drives like an RC car, but when it needs to it can jump 30 feet into the air. An onboard stabilization system keeps it oriented during flight to improve the view from the video uplink and to control landings. Current development of Sand Flea is funded by the The US Army's Rapid Equipping Force.
Created by Boston Dynamics, who also made the "Big Dog" robot.  Presumably, the "Sand Flea" will later be equipped with reconnaissance equipment and perhaps some lethal weaponry.

Your tax money at work.

You Can't Go Home Again (Thomas Wolfe)


During my "feet in the air" post-bunionectomy blogcation, I pulled Thomas Wolfe's famous novel You Can't Go Home Again off the shelf for a reread.  When I was a young man in the 1960s, his writing fascinated me, and I think I must have read four or five of his novels.  Now that I'm older it's more difficult to find the time and energy to tackle a 700-page novel, and I'm frankly less interested in a thinly-disguised autobiography of a struggling young writer.

But at his best, Wolfe was capable of incisive commentary on the manners and mores of his contemporaries; I've pulled several excerpts relevant to the lifestyles of 1920s-1930s Americans and posted them in the last few days (see below in the blog).  He also can be masterful in his use of language, achieving a lyrical style that is almost poetic.  Here, for example is a passage from early in the book:
"Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth, and listen.

"The voice of forest water in the night, a woman's laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children's voices in bright air--these things will never change.

 "The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbours, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry--these things will always be the same.

"All things belonging to the earth will never change--the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth--all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth--these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts for ever. Only the earth endures, but it endures for ever.

"The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth again, for ever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April."
I have not added You Can't Go Home Again to my recommended books category, because the best parts of it are too thinly scattered through a rather prosaic storyline, but the excerpts were certainly worth finding and blogging.

Text credit for this post and the subsequent ones from Project Gutenberg Australia - with many thanks to them for saving me hours of transcribing.

Carte de visite of a bearded woman (~1860)


Found in Cornell University's online exhibition of "Dawn's Early Light" (the first 50 years of American photography), via Historical Indulgences.

Lots of interesting images at the link for those interested in photography (or for bloggers looking for material).

This is not a mohawk hairstyle


It's a distribution pattern for neural circuitry in the human brain, generated by diffusion spectrum imaging (discussed/explained at Reddit).

"Break It To Me Gently" (Brenda Lee, 1961)


I heard this song last night in the background during the credits for an episode of Mad Men (second season) and thought it should be stored in the blog.
4 ft 9 inch tall Brenda Mae Tarpley was born "in the charity ward of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia... She attended grade schools wherever her father found work, primarily in the corridor between Atlanta and Augusta. Her family was poor, living hand-to-mouth; she shared a bed with her two siblings in a series of three-room houses without running water... Her father died in 1953, and by the time she turned ten, she was the primary breadwinner of her family through singing at events and on local radio and television shows."

"Coregasm" (Exercise-induced orgasm)

A researcher claims that women can achieve orgasm during conventional physical exercise -
"The most common exercises associated with exercise-induced orgasm were abdominal exercises, climbing poles or ropes, biking/spinning and weight lifting," Herbenick said. "These data are interesting because they suggest that orgasm is not necessarily a sexual event, and they may also teach us more about the bodily processes underlying women's experiences of orgasm."

The findings are published in a special issue of Sexual and Relationship Therapy, a leading peer-reviewed journal in the area of sex therapy and sexual health. Co-author is J. Dennis Fortenberry, M.D., professor at the IU School of Medicine and Center for Sexual Health Promotion affiliate.

The results are based on surveys administered online to 124 women who reported experiencing exercise-induced orgasms (EIO) and 246 women who experienced exercise-induced sexual pleasure (EISP). The women ranged in age from 18 to 63. Most were in a relationship or married, and about 69 percent identified themselves as heterosexual. 
In an article in Psychology Today she reports that a companion study will include reports of men achieving orgasm during exercise.

Via The Dish.

30 March 2012

Canada will no longer produce pennies


From the National Post:
The penny coin, loved by some but an annoyance to many, will be withdrawn from circulation this year because it costs too much to make and is a pecuniary pest....

Ottawa said the penny retained only one twentieth of its original purchasing power...

“Financial institutions face increasing costs for handling, storing and transporting pennies. Over time, the penny’s burden to the economy has grown relative to its value as a means of payment,” it said. Other nations that have either ceased to produce or have removed low denomination coins include Australia, Brazil, Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain...

The Royal Canadian Mint will stop distributing penny coins to financial institutions later this year. As the coin slowly disappears, prices for cash transactions will be rounded up or down to the closest five cents. 
The rationale and details re the implementation are at the National Post link.  The U.S. has previously done away with two- and three-cent coins and twenty-cent coins and half cents.  I'm sure the penny will go soon.

Relevant video: Why the penny should be eliminated.  Completely.

ESIARN TOLCDU PMGHBY FVKWZX QJ


ESIARN TOLCDU PMGHBY FVKWZX QJ should be used in place of the more familiar ETAOIN SHRDLU CMFWYP VBGKQJ XZ when guessing letters during the playing of the word game "Hangman."

The new sequence is better because the old one represents the frequency of letters in the written/spoken language, which is dominated by common words, while the new sequence reflects letter frequency in the list of dictionary words.

Then you need to modify your choices according to the length of the word, and refine it again depending on whether the first letter you tried was present in the word or not.

Full details are at Data Genetics, via Neatorama.

Flying with bird-like wings


A 31-year-old Dutch man has successfully flown over a hundred meters from a ground-level start. According to UPI, "he controlled the 55-foot wings using two Nintendo Wii controllers, the accelerometers from an HTC Wildfire S smartphone and Turnigy motors..."

The embedded video is part 14 in a long YouTube documentary series -- all of which are apparently fake, according to readers of this blog (see the comments).  I'll leave it up because it's still cleverly done.

Addendum:  More re the fake video at Life's Little Mysteries, including a comment that "the experts point out that the animation cycle of Smeets flying through the air seems to be modeled on a clip of a flying monkey in the Wizard of Oz."

Before the crash of 1929

As described by Thomas Wolfe in You Can't Go Home Again:
But he spoke at length about the town itself, telling her all that he had seen of its speculative madness, and how it had impressed him. What did the future hold for that place and its people? They were always talking of the better life that lay ahead of them and of the greater city they would build, but to George it seemed that in all such talk there was evidence of a strange and savage hunger that drove them on, and that there was a desperate quality in it, as though what they really hungered for was ruin and death. It seemed to him that they were ruined, and that even when they laughed and shouted and smote each other on the back, the knowledge of their ruin was in them.

They had squandered fabulous sums in meaningless streets and bridges. They had torn down ancient buildings and erected new ones large enough to take care of a city of half a million people. They had levelled hills and bored through mountains, making magnificent tunnels paved with double roadways and glittering with shining tiles--tunnels which leaped out on the other side into Arcadian wilderness. They had flung away the earnings of a lifetime, and mortgaged those of a generation to come. They had ruined their city, and in doing so had ruined themselves, their children, and their children's children.

How many martinis is too many ?


In this "immortal quatrain," Dorothy Parker explained that her limit was two:
“I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
After four I'm under my host.” 
Intrigued by the quote, I checked the Wikipedia biography of a woman whose name I have heard, but about whom I knew nothing.  She was a widely quoted author, especially in the 1920s, known for her wit.  A collection of her work "was released in the United States in 1944 under the title The Portable Dorothy Parker. Parker's is one of only three of the Portable series (the other two being William Shakespeare and The Bible) to remain continuously in print."  Here are some of her famous quotes:

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

“What fresh hell is this?”

“Tell him I was too fucking busy-- or vice versa.”

“This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

“I had been fed, in my youth, a lot of old wives' tales about the way men would instantly forsake a beautiful woman to flock around a brilliant one. It is but fair to say that, after getting out in the world, I had never seen this happen.”

“So, you're the man who can't spell 'fuck.'" (Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, 'fug,' in his 1948 book, "The Naked and the Dead.”)

“Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

“The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.”

For her epitaph, she suggested 'Excuse my dust.'  Ironically "her ashes remained unclaimed in various places, including her attorney Paul O'Dwyer's filing cabinet, for approximately 17 years."  I've requested The Portable Dorothy Parker from the library.

Coloring Easter eggs using old silk ties


It's possible to bleed the colors from a silk tie onto an eggshell, as explained in this DIY article at Mommy Knows and in this older Martha Stewart column.

I have lots of silk ties from the 1940s that I inherited from my father and never wear; I think it's time to sacrifice a few for the sake of "art."

Deriving "the number of the Beast" from 123456789

I found this in a Martin Gardner column in a back issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

The "number of the Beast" (666) can be derived in eight different ways by placing + and - signs in the sequence 123456789Only plus and minus signs may be used, and the numbers have to stay in that order.

To me, the most remarkable solution is this one:
+123 +456 +78 +9 
There are five solutions that include the number 678, such as:
-1 +2 -3 +4 -5 +678 -9
And two solutions that use 567 as a component.

I'll defer posting those, to allow those of you who enjoy math puzzles to post your discoveries in the comments.  (btw, there are also five solutions using the descending order 987654321).

Update: Rob from Amersfoort has posted the other answers in the comments.

Earl Scruggs (1924-2012)


One of the advantages of having lived in Kentucky for ten years is that I gained an appreciation for bluegrass music. This week a lot of memorials are being posted to mark the passing of the legendary Earl Scruggs.  Instead of posting the usual "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," I've selected an earlier performance at the Grand Old Opry, in his classic pairing with Lester Flatt.

Here are a few biographical notes from AP, via the StarTribune:
"I just didn't know if or how well I'd be accepted because there'd never been anybody to play banjo like me here. There was Stringbean and Grandpa Jones. Most of them were comedians."

There was nothing jokey about the way Scruggs attacked his "fancy five-string banjo," as Opry announcer George D. Hayes called it. In a [1945] performance broadcast to much of the country but unfortunately lost to history, he scorched the earth and instantly changed country music. With Monroe on mandolin and Flatt on guitar, the pace was a real jolt to attendees and radio listeners far away, and in some ways the speed and volume he laid down predicted the power of electric music...

Scruggs' use of three fingers — in place of the limited clawhammer style once prevalent — elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section — or even a comedian's prop — to a lead instrument that was as versatile as the guitar and far more flashy...

"He invented a style that now probably 75 percent of the people that play the banjo in the world play Scruggs-style banjo. And that's a staggering thing to do, to play an instrument and change what everyone is doing."

World defense budgets


Data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, posted at Mother Jones.

Picnic table modification


Rain gutter used to replace the middle board; adaptation apparently developed at a vinyard somewhere.  One reader at Reddit suggested screwing it in with the brackets underneath, which might even allow the middle board to be repositioned.

29 March 2012

I'm back


I've spent much of the past week with my feet propped up in the air, trying to relieve the congestion and edema that comes from undergoing bunion surgery - which basically involves cutting a metatarsal bone into several pieces and then scootching it over to a different position and then nailing it back together (but is not as bad as it sounds).

There are several aspects of the procedure (and some related aspects of health care financing) that are bloggable, but first I need to clear out over 60 links I saved while laid up.

Feet in the air is also a great position for reading, so I pulled Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again off a shelf and spent many hours reading it; I've collected the best excerpts and will scatter them in a half-dozen posts today and tomorrow.

I'll have to take another break soon to slog through the income tax paperwork, but first we'll post some of this new material.

Photo via Seleene's Sandbox.

Speculation and wealth in the 1920s

As described by Thomas Wolfe in You Can't Go Home Again (1940):
In all these ways Mr. Frederick Jack was not essentially different from ten thousand other men of his class and position. In that time and place he would have been peculiar if these things had not been true of him. For these men were all the victims of an occupational disease--a kind of mass hypnosis that denied to them the evidence of their senses. It was a monstrous and ironic fact that the very men who had created this world in which every value was false and theatrical saw themselves, not as creatures tranced by fatal illusions, but rather as the most knowing, practical, and hard-headed men alive. They did not think of themselves as gamblers, obsessed by their own fictions of speculation, but as brilliant executives of great affairs who at every moment of the day "had their fingers on the pulse of the nation." So when they looked about them and saw everywhere nothing but the myriad shapes of privilege, dishonesty, and self-interest, they were convinced that this was inevitably "the way things are."

It was generally assumed that every man had his price, just as every woman had hers... Such men could not realise that their own vision of human nature was distorted. They prided themselves on their "hardness" and fortitude and intelligence, which had enabled them to accept so black a picture of the earth with such easy tolerance. It was not until a little later that the real substance of their "hardness" and intelligence was demonstrated to them in terms which they could grasp. When the bubble of their unreal world suddenly exploded before their eyes, many of them were so little capable of facing harsh reality and truth that they blew their brains out or threw themselves from the high windows of their offices into the streets below...

All that, however, was still in the future. It was very imminent, but they did not know it, for they had trained themselves to deny the evidence of their senses. In that mid-October of 1929 nothing could exceed their satisfaction and assurance. They looked about them and, like an actor, saw with their eyes that all was false, but since they had schooled themselves to accept falseness as normal and natural, the discovery only enhanced their pleasure in life...
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The amount of simplicity that could be purchased even in, those times for a yearly rental of fifteen thousand dollars was quite considerable. As if this very thought had found an echo in her mind, she went on:

"I mean when you compare it with some of these places that you see nowadays--some of the God-awful places where all those rich people live. There's simply no comparison! I don't care how rich they are, there's--there's just something here that money cannot buy."

As her mind phrased the accusing words about "the God-awful places where all those rich people live," her nostrils twitched and her face took on an expression of sharp scorn. For Mrs. Jack had always been contemptuous of wealth. Though she was the wife of a rich man and had not known for years the economic necessity of work, yet it was one of her unshakable convictions that she and her family could not possibly be described as "rich". "Oh, not really," she would say. "Not the way people are who really are." And she would look for confirmation, not at the hundred and thirty million people there impossibly below her in the world's hard groove, but at the fabulous ten thousand who were above her on the moneyed heights, and who, by the comparison, were "really rich". 
The second excerpt has a certain resonance with statements made by some current politicians and their wives.

Black Beauty Stick Insect

Peruphasma schultei.

Photo via Don't Panic and A London Salmagundi.  I found a source where you can purchase these at Virginia Cheeseman (an entomological supplier).  Does anyone know if they are hard to raise/take care of, because I'm rather tempted...

Addendum:  Those similarly interested should read Liesel Weppen's comment on this post.

Incentives for college basketball coaches

By winning the school's eighth consecutive Big 12 title during the regular season, [Kansas coach Bill] Self earned a $50,000 performance bonus. And when his team pulled away late to beat North Carolina in the Midwest Regional finals Sunday, Self guaranteed himself another $100,000. If the Jayhawks can get by Ohio State, a team they have beaten once already this season, and then win their second national championship in five years, Self will take another $200,000 to the bank.

The potential of $350,000 in incentives pales in comparison, though, to what could await Calipari... Calipari already has earned an extra* $50,000 for capturing the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, $100,000 each for making the regional semifinals and finals and $150,000 for beating Baylor and taking the Wildcats back to the Final Four. Winning the basketball-mad school's eighth NCAA tournament title would net another $350,000.

Incidentally, the bonus tied to Kentucky's academic progress rate? A mere $50,000.

* extras above base salary of $3.8 million 

p.s. - best wishes tonight to Tubby Smith and his Minnesota Golden Gophers as they take on the Stanford Cardinal in the championship game of the NIT tournament.

Earth's ocean surface currents

This visualization shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through Decmeber 2007. The visualization does not include a narration or annotations; the goal was to use ocean flow data to create a simple, visceral experience.

This visualization was produced using NASA/JPL's computational model called Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II or ECCO2.. ECCO2 is high resolution model of the global ocean and sea-ice. ECCO2 attempts to model the oceans and sea ice to increasingly accurate resolutions that begin to resolve ocean eddies and other narrow-current systems which transport heat and carbon in the oceans.The ECCO2 model simulates ocean flows at all depths, but only surface flows are used in this visualization. The dark patterns under the ocean represent the undersea bathymetry. Topographic land exaggeration is 20x and bathymetric exaggeration is 40x. 
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, via Neatorama.

So you want to be a copy editor


It must be easier nowadays.  This is a hand-edited typewritten manuscript of Crash, by J.G. Ballard, written in the early 1970s.  Via Uncertain Times.

Addendum:  Reader MikeP points out that the ms above would not be the version submitted to the copy editor; this would have been an earlier draft, with revisions probably made in the author's handwriting, which would likely have been retyped before being professionally edited. 

"The desire for fame is rooted in the hearts of men"

An excerpt from Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again:
The desire for fame is rooted in the hearts of men. It is one of the most powerful of all human desires, and perhaps for that very reason, and because it is so deep and secret, it is the desire that men are most unwilling to admit, particularly those who feel most sharply its keen and piercing spur.

The politician, for example, would never have us think that it is love of office, the desire for the notorious elevation of public place, that drives him on. No, the thing that governs him is his pure devotion to the common weal, his selfless and high-minded statesmanship, his love of his fellow-man, and his burning idealism to turn out the rascal who usurps the office and betrays the public trust which he himself, as he assures us, would so gloriously and devotedly maintain.

So, too, the soldier. It is never love of glory that inspires him to his profession. It is never love of battle, love of war, love of all the resounding titles and the proud emoluments of the heroic conqueror. Oh, no. It is devotion to duty that makes him a soldier. There is no personal motive in it. He is inspired simply by the selfless ardour of his patriotic abnegation. He regrets that he has but one life to give for his country. So it goes through every walk of life. The lawyer assures us that he is the defender of the weak, the guardian of the oppressed, the champion of the rights of defrauded widows and beleaguered orphans, the upholder of justice, the unrelenting enemy, at no matter what cost to himself, of all forms of chicanery, fraud, theft, violence, and crime. Even the business man will not admit a selfish motive in his money-getting. On the contrary, he is the developer of the nation's resources. He is the benevolent employer of thousands of working men who would be lost and on the dole without the organising genius of his great intelligence. He is the defender of the American ideal of rugged individualism, the shining exemplar to youth of what a poor country boy may achieve in this nation through a devotion to the national virtues of thrift, industry, obedience to duty, and business integrity. He is, he assures us, the backbone of the country, the man who makes the wheels go round, the leading citizen, Public Friend No. 1.

All these people lie, of course. They know they lie, and everyone who hears them also knows they lie. The lie, however, has become a part of the convention of American life. People listen to it patiently, and if they smile at it, the smile is weary, touched with resignation and the indifferent dismissals of fatigue.

How African countries got their borders

In 1884 at the request of Portugal, German Chancellor Otto von Bismark called together the major western powers of the world to negotiate questions and end confusion over the control of Africa. Bismark appreciated the opportunity to expand Germany's sphere of influence over Africa and desired to force Germany's rivals to struggle with one another for territory.

The Berlin Conference was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African Continent. By the time Africa regained its independence after the late 1950s, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily. The African politico-geographical map is thus a permanent liability that resulted from the three months of ignorant, greedy acquisitiveness during a period when Europe's search for minerals and markets had become insatiable.

At the time of the conference, 80% of Africa remained under Native Traditional and local control.

Fourteen countries were represented by a plethora of ambassadors when the conference opened in Berlin on November 15, 1884 by the imperial chancellor and architect of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck to settle the political partitioning of Africa. Bismarck wanted not only to expand German spheres of influence in Africa but also to play off Germany's colonial rivals against one another to the Germans' advantage. The countries represented at the time included Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey, and the United States of America. Of these fourteen nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the major players in the conference, controlling most of colonial Africa at the time...

Following the conference, the give and take continued. By 1914, the conference participants had fully divided Africa among themselves into fifty unnatural and artificial States. 
Here is a precolonial map:


Excerpted from an extensive discussion at Africa Federation, via fyeahblackhistory.

Camouflage

A Little Owl imitates a ceramic insulator on a telegraph pole. The bird was spotted by wildlife photographer Mircea Costina in Dobrogea, Romania...  Picture: Mircea Costina/Rex Features, via The Telegraph.
And for some reason, the juxtaposition makes the inverted insulator near the end humorous.

Cash can make a speeding ticket "disappear" (legally)

From the StarTribune in Minnesota, but it probably occurs in other states as well:
Motorists with no recent driving infractions are taking advantage of little-known court deals in which they pay a sometimes-hefty fee and keep their records clean as long as they don't get caught disobeying traffic laws too quickly again. In some cities in Hennepin County, for instance, the drivers can end up paying more than double the price of the ticket.

 "It's a loophole," said Jeff Hochstein, a 43-year-old self-described habitual speeder, who said he has sought and received the deal several times throughout his driving career in an attempt to keep his insurance rates lower. "There's ways to buy your way out of it."

Besides added revenue, the deals help keep court calendars from getting clogged with traffic cases, some prosecutors say. Still, some critics worry they give a pass to speeders -- one of the nation's deadliest road hazards -- even as legislators consider a bill to keep more speeding tickets off driving records. The deals, allowed in some cities but not others, raise questions of fairness and governmental policy.

"To me, that's bribery," said Sharon Gehrman-Driscoll, director of Minnesotans for Safe Driving. "What message are we sending our kids? Daddy's going to pay this ticket but he's gonna pay a little more so then no one knows about it? ... I think as a society we need to always be as fair as we possibly can."..

In Hennepin County, most cities allow qualified drivers to get a deal, called a continuance for dismissal, simply by going to the courthouse and getting the OK from a hearing officer. The ticket's fines and fees are dismissed and replaced by "prosecution costs" which go entirely to the city, along with a state surcharge. The total bill can run as high as $325 in some cities, far above the $145 or so that the speeding ticket would have cost...

Tallen said he and other prosecutors are careful to make sure the benefit isn't just for the wealthy, though. He allows people the option to work off the tab through community service.

Tallen said he wasn't in favor of offering continuances at first, but judges urged him to cut down the number of cases going to trial. "We got tremendous pressure from the bench to get rid of cases," he said. "That's the only reason I did it."..
More on the details of the law and its ethical ramifications at the StarTribune.

A child's walker


Fashioned in the era before plastics, this clever walker (made of ?rattan) is a detail in a larger painting entitled "The Treat," by Giovanni Sandrucci -


- which I found posted at Miss Folly.  I've not been able to find out anything more about the artist, except that he was Italian (1829-1897), so I presume the walker was a construction of that country in that era.  I should think the history of children's walkers would be an interesting topic to research for a longer post.

Addendum:  I just found a nice collection of images of baby walkers (dating back as far as the 15th century!) at A Polar Bear's Tale.

Thomas Wolfe on "Hitlerism"

"Hitlerism" is a term we never hear today, having been replaced by "Nazism."  Wolfe wrote about it in You Can't Go Home Again, before the outbreak of the war:
Hitlerism, he saw, was a recrudescence of an old barbarism. Its racial nonsense and cruelty, its naked worship of brute force, its suppression of truth and resort to lies and myths, its ruthless contempt for the individual, its anti-intellectual and anti-moral dogma that to one man alone belongs the right of judgment and decision, and that for all others virtue lies in blind, unquestioning obedience--each of these fundamental elements of Hitlerism was a throwback to that fierce and ancient tribalism which had sent waves of hairy Teutons swooping down out of the north to destroy the vast edifice of Roman civilisation. That primitive spirit of greed and lust and force had always been the true enemy of mankind.

But this spirit was not confined to Germany. It belonged to no one race. It was a terrible part of the universal heritage of man. One saw traces of it everywhere. It took on many disguises, many labels. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin--each had his own name for it. And America had it, too, in various forms. For wherever ruthless men conspired together for their own ends, wherever the rule of dog-eat-dog was dominant, there it bred. And wherever one found it, one also found that its roots sank down into something primitive in man's ugly past. And these roots would somehow have to be eradicated, George felt, if man was to win his ultimate freedom and not be plunged back into savagery and perish utterly from the earth.

Matisse sculpting in his apartment (1951)


With what appear to be two black cats at his feet.*

Photo from LIFE (Dmitri Kessel), via Miss Folly.

* confirmed at The Cat Ladies.  One would think that he would have sculpted a cat, but a quick search doesn't show any photos of such.

Serrated teeth of the crabeater seal

This seal, Lobodon carcinophagus, is called a crab-eating seal, but its main diet consists of krill, which it filters out of the water through its complexly cusped teeth.
Via Evolution, where the teeth are compared to fossil whale teeth -


- which may offer some insight into the predecessors of modern filter-feeding baleen whales. Not quite.  See BJN's note in the comments.

One puzzler:  According to Wikipedia, crabs are not found in the Antarctic habitat of the crabeater seal.  So why are they called that?

Photo credit: Dr. Alistair Evans, Monash University, Australia.

The sublingua cleans the toothcomb

A toothcomb (tooth comb, dental comb) is a dental structure most commonly known in lemuriform primates (which includes lemurs and lorisoids). Similar dental structures can be found in other mammals, including colugos, treeshrews, and some African antelopes...

The toothcomb of lemuriform primates include incisors and canine teeth that tilt forward at the front of the lower jaw, followed by a canine-shaped first premolar... The comb is formed by fine spaces between the teeth, although in colugos the individual incisors are serrated, providing multiple tines per tooth.

The toothcomb is kept clean by either the tongue or, in the case of lemuriforms, the sublingua, a specialized "under-tongue."

The toothcomb is usually used for grooming. While licking the fur clean, the animal will run the toothcomb through the fur to comb it. Fine grooves or striations are usually cut into the teeth during grooming by the hair and may be seen on the sides of the teeth when viewed through a scanning electron microscope. The toothcomb can have other functions, such as food procurement and bark gouging...
You learn something every day.  More at Wikipedia.

"I believe that we are lost here in America..."

An excerpt from the concluding "Credo" chapter of Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again:
I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found. And this belief, which mounts now to the catharsis of knowledge and conviction, is for me--and I think for all of us----not only our own hope, but America's everlasting, living dream. I think the life which we have fashioned in America, and which has fashioned us--the forms we made, the cells that grew, the honeycomb that was created--was self-destructive in its nature, and must be destroyed. I think these forms are dying, and must die, just as I know that America and the people in it are deathless, undiscovered, and immortal, and must live.

I think the true discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfilment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come. I think the true discovery of our own democracy is still before us. And I think that all these things are certain as the morning, as inevitable as noon. I think I speak for most men living when I say that our America is Here, is Now, and beckons on before us, and that this glorious assurance is not only our living hope, but our dream to be accomplished. I think the enemy is here before us, too. But I think we know the forms and faces of the enemy, and in the knowledge that we know him, and shall meet him, and eventually must conquer him is also our living hope.

I think the enemy is here before us with a thousand faces, but I think we know that all his faces wear one mask. I think the enemy is single selfishness and compulsive greed. I think the enemy is blind, but has the brutal power of his blind grab. I do not think the enemy was born yesterday, or that he grew to manhood forty years ago, or that he suffered sickness and collapse in 1929, or that we began without the enemy, and that our vision faltered, that we lost the way, and suddenly were in his camp. I think the enemy is old as Time, and evil as Hell, and that he has been here with us from the beginning. I think he stole our earth from us, destroyed our wealth, and ravaged and despoiled our land. I think he took our people and enslaved them, that he polluted the fountains of our life, took unto himself the rarest treasures of our own possession, took our bread and left us with a crust, and, not content, for the nature of the enemy is insatiate--tried finally to take from us the crust.

28 March 2012

"I'll take 'severed feet' for $800, Alex."


The Jeopardy! online test is tonight; it's the first step toward becoming a contestant.  It's too bad the readers of this blog can't sign up as a sort of "hive mind," but you can certainly try out on your own.  Details here.

I'll probably restart the blog tomorrow.  Today I'm cramming for the test.


Relevant:  A Jeopardy! episode from 1974.  And miscellaneous Jeopardy! trivia.

btw - “Watch Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek’s fun TV quiz game” is a pangram (it contains every letter of the alphabet).

Addendum:  A hat tip to Zak, who found a list of the questions online (the morning after the test).  Here are the first 25:


1. BYGONE KINGS
His title in French was "Le roi soleil"

2. MOVIE FACTS
Steven Spielberg wasn't yet 30 when he directed this 1975 scarefest that became one of the biggest hits ever

3. FICTION
Dan Brown introduced the character Robert Langdon in this novel that preceded "The DaVinci Code"

4. STATE CAPITALS
This city of about 175,000 people, also a state capital, was named by Roger Williams

5. WHAT'S FOR LUNCH
This Mexican dish is meat & veggies coated with masa dough & wrapped in a corn husk

6. FAMOUS AMERICANS
This man who died in CA in 1926 developed over 800 plant varieties, including a russet potato that bears his name

7. POETS
Her "Sonnets from the Portugese" was dedicated to her husband Robert

8. ALSO A BODY PART
This body part is also a term for certain baby mammals, like elephants

9. HISTORIC PLACES
It's a national monument in Charleston Harbor

10. PAINTINGS
This 1893 painting is perhaps the most famous artwork ever done in Norway

11. ANNUAL EVENTS
The UFO Encounter Festival takes place each July in this New Mexico city

12. CABLE TV
Since 2006 Tom Colicchio has been the head judge on this Bravo cooking show

13. MIDDLE EAST GEOGRAPHY
Riyadh is the capital of this country

14. TECHNOLOGY
Version 4 of this popular communications device includes Facetime, a system for video calling

15. SHAKESPEARE'S TRAGEDIES
This title character has Banquo killed & is later visited by Banquo's ghost

16. MEDICINE
Conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the membrane that lines the eye, is commonly known as this

17. CROSSWORD CLUES "H"
Emporium for men's clothes & hats (12)

18. BIBLICAL PEOPLE
She's the "she" in the verse "She caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head"

19. THAT'S COLD!
Temperatures can reacn -90 degrees in this area that makes up 75% of the world's biggest country

20. LITERARY TERMS
Type of novel that's often set in a gloomy castle designed in the arch. style of the same name

21. DISASTERS
Masses of pumice from this volcano landed in the ocean & halted ships around Indonesia in 1883

22. ROCK MUSICIANS
In U2 Bono sings lead; this man, born David Evans, plays lead guitar

23. MINERALS
Halite is also called rock this

24. CANADA
With 5.1 million in the metro area, it's Canada's most populous city

25. HOTELS
The Regal Maxwell House & the Sheraton Music City are found in this souther US city

The last 25 are at this link.   I think I only got 31 of the 50 right.

20 March 2012

Limited blogging for the next week or two


This morning I'm on my way to the hospital for some scheduled surgery.  It's a reasonably minor procedure (which I won't go into details about)* but I certainly won't be able to spend my usual 10 hours a day at my desk, and without a working laptop, blogging will probably  have to be deferred.  Time for me to catch up on reading and you to explore other blogs.

*but for the curious, I've left a clue in the embedded photo.

19 March 2012

Moon-men and linkboys

"Among propertied families, it was common on black nights for a single servant to light the way.  Gracious hosts instructed footmen to escort departing guests safely home... Footmen accompanied coaches through city streets, carrying flambeaux aloft as they trotted alongside.  Ahead of the coach, a "moon-man" sometimes served as a guide, holding a globular lantern - the "moon" - atop a long pole.

In most towns and cities, one could hire a linkboy for a small sum.  These, for the most part, were orphans or other impoverished adolescents who, for a pedestrian's benefit, carried links (torches) or, less often, lanterns.  In some English communities, they were nicknamed mooncursers, for the harm done their trade by moonlight... In Venice, they were termed codeghe, and in France porte-flambeaux or, for lantern-carriers, falots... At least in London, however, linkboys bore a checkered reputation for consorting with street ruffians.  "Thieves with lights," Daniel Defoe charged.
The above from "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past." And this from Wikipedia:
The term derives from "link", a term for the cotton tow that formed the wick of the torch. Links are mentioned in William Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 1, as Falstaff teases Bardolph about the shining redness of his face: "Thou hast saved me a thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night betwixt tavern and tavern." (Act III, scene 3).

The expression "cannot hold a candle to" (meaning "inferior to") may derive from a comparison to an inadequate linkboy... If you could not hold a candle to somebody, that means you were not even good enough to be his linkboy.
Image source here.

A true "lanthorn"


This one was made by a modern tinsmith, but the construction is in the traditional manner, encasing the candle in a metal cylinder, and letting the light out through a window made of animal horn (typically slaughtered cattle, whose horns were hydrated, heated, flattened and sliced).  Mica would be a mineral alternative, but this fabrication shows the origin of the "horn" in "lanthorn."

I found this one at the website of the Cooperstown Tinker Shop.

The "Hand of Glory" ("thief's candle")


Excerpts from a paragraph in "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past" -
"The most notorious charm, the "thief's candle," found ready acceptance in most parts of Europe.  The candle was fashioned from either an amputated finger or the fat of a human corpse, leading to the frequent mutilation of executed criinals.  Favored, too, were fingers severed from the remains of stillborn infants.  Because they had not been baptized, their magical properties were considered more powerful.  To enhance the candle's potency, the hands of dead criminals, known as Hands of Glory, were sometimes employed as candlesticks. 

Ar Hyd y Nos


This is the dedication for the book "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past," by A. Roger Ekirch.  It's the first time I've seen a dedication created solely with a musical score.

I have negligible musical skills, but was able to hum this, and, in connection with the book's title, deduce it's source.  Answer below the fold...

NASA's budget


Defended by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Bald eagles, bagged and ready for processing

Eagles ready to be sent out to fill orders hang in one of two freezers at the U.S. Eagle Repository in Commerce City, Colo. The repository receives all eagles that have died in the United States and prepares them to go to Native Americans for their religious ceremonies. Joanna B. Pinneo / For The Washington Post
Details on what happens to dead bald eagles are available in the Washington Post.

Envisioning a "cashless society"

Excerpts from an AP article in the Washington Post:
Sweden was the first European country to introduce bank notes in 1661. Now it’s come farther than most on the path toward getting rid of them...

The contours of such a society are starting to take shape in this high-tech nation, frustrating those who prefer coins and bills over digital money. In most Swedish cities, public buses don’t accept cash; tickets are prepaid or purchased with a cell phone text message. A small but growing number of businesses only take cards, and some bank offices — which make money on electronic transactions — have stopped handling cash altogether.

There are towns where it isn’t at all possible anymore to enter a bank and use cash,” complains Curt Persson, chairman of Sweden’s National Pensioners’ Organization. He says that’s a problem for elderly people in rural areas who don’t have credit cards or don’t know how to use them to withdraw cash...

The number of bank robberies in Sweden plunged from 110 in 2008 to 16 in 2011 — the lowest level since it started keeping records 30 years ago. It says robberies of security transports are also down... The flip side is the risk of cybercrimes. According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention the number of computerized fraud cases, including skimming, surged to nearly 20,000 in 2011 from 3,304 in 2000.

Oscar Swartz, the founder of Sweden’s first Internet provider, Banhof, says a digital economy also raises privacy issues because of the electronic trail of transactions. He supports the idea of phasing out cash, but says other anonymous payment methods need to be introduced instead...

But there are pockets of resistance. Hanna Celik, whose family owns a newspaper kiosk in a Stockholm shopping mall, says the digital economy is all about banks seeking bigger earnings. Celik says he gets charged about 5 Swedish kronor ($0.80) for every credit card transaction, and a law passed by the Swedish Parliament prevents him from passing on that charge to consumers. “That stinks,” he says. “For them (the banks), this is a very good way to earn a lot of money, that’s what it’s all about. They make huge profits.”
I prefer using cash rather than credit cards for small transactions, especially when traveling.  Personally, I wouldn't want cashless transactions to be mandated, but perhaps I'm an old fogey.

18 March 2012

Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists

From the Library of Congress:
To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802.
The context of the letter is discussed at U.S. Constitution Online.

A number of other relevant Founding Fathers/ Religion quotations have been compiled at The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive ("Refuting the Notion the US was founded on Christianity").

1877

From Lewis Lapham's essay about Mark Twain in the April 2011 issue of Harper's Magazine:
[Twain] began the project of his autobiography in 1877, a year that the historian Allan Nevins ranked as “one of the blackest in the nation’s annals.” Then as now, the situation was desperate, the economy in dire straits, democracy on its deathbed. The country was in severe depression, the rates of unemployment, bankruptcy, and business failure pegged to unprecedented levels of violence, poverty, and despair. The presidential election of 1876 had been thoroughly corrupted by fraudulent vote counts in favor of each candidate (the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, both of them held captive by the banks). A number of Republican politicians had been murdered in the Southern states for their disagreement with the policy of lynching Negroes. The Lincoln County war in New Mexico encouraged the random shooting of Mexicans; mobs formed in the streets of San Francisco to beat to death the Yellow Peril as personified in Chinese laundrymen and shopkeepers. A railroad strike in West Virginia that began in July became the first national strike in the country’s history, 500,000 workers walking away from factories and mines everywhere between New Jersey and California. Strikers in Pittsburgh set fire to the property of the Pennsylvania Railroad, destroying 39 buildings, 104 engines, 46 passenger cars, more than 1,200 freight cars. The disturbance moved Tom Scott, president of the railroad, to suggest that the strikers be given “a rifle diet for a few days and see how they liked that kind of bread.” State militia and federal troops complied with the suggestion, killing more than a hundred strikers in Maryland and Pennsylvania....

The official trailer for "Prometheus"


This looks like a movie that would be best viewed on a large screen in the theater rather than via DVD at home (and I highly recommend clicking the fullscreen icon at lower right to view the trailer).

Details re the movie at Wikipedia.

And some good discussion/speculation re this movie and Alien in this Reddit thread.

There will be a test today


A "fiendish" spelling test.

16 March 2012

The Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)


Photographed yesterday, nectaring on rotten banana flesh that I had smeared on the tree bark.   They were competing with a cluster of flies that had also found the treat.

Mourning cloaks (not "morning cloaks," btw)(and the "Camberwell Beauty" to the Brits) are gorgeous butterflies when seen up close.  I would love to raise some from eggs or caterpillars in order to photograph a newly-eclosed adult, but since these are tree-associated butterflies which use willows, aspens, elms, and hackberry trees as host plants, the eggs and cats have eluded me.  When one of these fellows batted his wings to chase away the flies, he exposed -


- a rich auburn-brown coloration on the dorsum of his wings, surrounded by a yellowish (fading to white) border and a series of bluish submarginal spots.  The dorsal colors may be displayed for wooing mates or for declaring territoriality, but more commonly the butterfly rests with wings folded, because then...


... the coloration provides a stunningly effective camouflage against the typical background of the bark of a tree.  Note in the photo above that the brown color isn't iridescent, but rather muted and patterned like wood.  The scalloped edges of the wing and the marginal band also contribute to the deception.  As you might infer from their coloration, these are butterflies of the woods (or at least the wood margins) which rely on stealth for survival at a time of the year when few insects are available for birds to feed on. 

These are among the first butterflies to emerge in the spring.  They are able to do so because they overwinter not as immatures or pupae, as most butterflies do, but as full-grown adults.  It boggles the human mammalian mind to think that these insects survive way-below-zero temperatures hiding under the bark of trees, under leaves, or in woodpiles.  Clearly they have some effective antifreeze or other defence against cellular disruption.

When they emerge on the first warm days of spring, they need sugar for energy, but there are typically no flowers for them to nectar on.  So they find nutrition in the seeps of tree sap at sites of injury (woodpecker holes, storm trauma).  But they're not particular, and if an obliging human happens to take an over-ripe brownish-black banana and smear it on a tree, they will quickly use that resource (fwiw, I was pleased to note that this banana was still attractive to them a day after I placed it out, despite having desiccated overnight).

Addendum March 24:  I am so jealous of SWBA member "Alisha," who posted the following photo at the organization's butterfly sightings webpage yesterday:

"I saw a Mourning Cloak 3 days ago along this trail [McMillan Marsh, Wood County], and today when hiking back through found these Mourning Cloak eggs. I've got them safely set up to hatch and am looking forward to my very first time in bringing a complete life cycle."
There must be over a hundred eggs in that cluster.  I'll be out looking for eggs as soon as I'm ambulatory.

The last thing a mouse sees


Or doesn't see (best when viewed fullscreen - perhaps while holding your cat on your lap).

Via James Fallows' column at The Atlantic, where he notes -
...the Chinese word for owl, maotouying, is written 猫头鹰. Which character-by-character is "cat head eagle," or more vividly "cat-faced eagle."

Recalled frog mask


This happened months ago, so you probably don't have one at home, but if you did buy one at Target, don't secure it over your child's face.  The top image shows the front of the mask.  Here is the back -


- which shows there are no nose and mouth holes for breathing.  Details on the recall from the StarTribune.

Cyanobacteria, BMAA, and neurologic diseases


Excerpts from a frankly unnerving article in Discover magazine, which suggests that chemical pollutants in water might contribute to the incidence of Parkinson's, ALS, and Alzheimer's:
The cause of ALS is unknown. Though of little solace to the afflicted, Stommel used to offer one comforting fact: ALS was rare, randomly striking just two of 100,000 people a year.

Then, a couple of years ago, in an effort to gain more insight into the disease, Stommel enlisted students to punch the street addresses of about 200 of his ALS patients into Google Earth. The distribution of cases that emerged on the computer-generated map of New England shocked him. In numbers far higher than national statistics predicted, his current and deceased patients’ homes were clustered around lakes and other bodies of water. The flurry of dots marking their locations was thickest of all around bucolic Mascoma Lake, a rural area just 10 miles from Dartmouth Medical School. About a dozen cases turned up there, the majority diagnosed within the past decade. The pattern did not appear random at all. “I started thinking maybe there was something in the water,” Stommel says.

That “something,” he now suspects, could be the environmental toxin beta-methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA. This compound 
is produced by cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae that live in soil, lakes, and oceans. Cyanobacteria are consumed by fish and other aquatic creatures. Recent studies have found BMAA in seafood, suggesting that certain diets and locations may put people at particular risk. More worrisome, blooms of cyanobacteria are becoming increasingly common, fueling fears that their toxic by-product may be quietly fomenting an upsurge in ALS—and possibly other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s as well...

The 1% at play


These are the sons of Donald Trump on an African hunting trip.
The photographs are intense – images of the men proudly hoisting a dead leopard, smiling and holding a sawed off elephant’s tail next to the animal’s body, posing with a dead bull and waterbuck and an enormous, strung-up crocodile...

Yet the younger Trumps stand by their actions. In a joint statement, the brothers defended themselves, explaining, “We are both avid outdoorsmen and were brought up hunting and fishing with our Grandfather who taught us that nothing should ever be taken for granted or wasted. We have the utmost respect for nature and have always hunted in accordance with local laws and regulations. In addition, all meat was donated to local villagers who were incredibly grateful. We love traveling and being in the woods — at the end of the day, we are outdoorsmen at heart.”
Via Salon, which has details and commentary and a link to the hunting tour company (with a trophy photo library).

How is a fork like a lightsaber ?

Both are considered risks to aircraft security, as explained in an Ask The Pilot column at Salon:
Safely assured of a top spot in the Hall [of Shame], or so I thought, was the time I had a butter knife confiscated by overzealous TSA guards. I mean, what could be more ridiculous than taking a butter knife from a uniformed, on-duty pilot?

Answer: confiscating a fork from a uniformed, on-duty airline pilot.

It happened the other day in Mexico City, at the special crew inspection checkpoint at Benito Juarez International Airport. Yes, I’m dropping the “American” part and changing the name to the “Security Hysteria Hall of Shame,” since, as you’ll see, we are not the only ones who have lost our minds...

Every day, hundreds of thousands of stainless steel forks, not to mention knives, are handed out to passengers in the forward cabins of airplanes. (And why not? The hijacking paradigm exploited on Sept. 11 no longer exists.) Yet on-duty pilots are not allowed to carry them through the checkpoint?...

This is the lunatic world of security we now live in: one of blind adherence, stripped of reason and logic, in which even the stupidest policies are enforced to the letter of the law...

One day, flying from Dallas to Jacksonville, Fla., Goldring and her toddler son were refused passage through the TSA checkpoint because they boy was carrying … get ready now … his Star Wars lightsaber. A lightsaber, if you’re not familiar, is a flashlight with a plastic cone attached — or, perhaps more to the point, a toy in the shape of a make-believe weapon from a galaxy, and a line of reasoning, far, far away.

“I believe it was green,” says Goldring, “indicating my son’s future Jedi path. We were told by the TSA professionals that the saber, which technically is something that does not exist, was a weapon. We were escorted out of security and sent to the ticket counter, where I had to fill out paperwork in order to check the lightsaber in as baggage.”..

Like I said, you can’t make this up.

The saddest part is that few people seem to care. We grumble, we gripe, and sometimes we laugh, but there is little if any organized push to change this madness, neither by citizens nor their elected leaders. In the end, we get what we deserve.

1000000000000066600000000000001


That number is "Belphegor's Prime" - a palindromic prime with "666" in the center, flanked by 13 zeroes.  The symbol for it is a bird glyph (right) found in the Voynich manuscript.

Belphegor was one of the seven princes of Hell, who seduced people "by suggesting to them ingenious inventions that will make them rich."

Image of Belphegor (seated on what appears to be a "close-stool") credit to J.A.S. Collin de Plancy, in the Dictionnaire Infernal, Paris : E. Plon, 1863. Page 55, via ZTF News.

Via Dr. Cliff Pickover and Neatorama.  Can math wizards here offer any additional insights on the derivation or usage of the number?

15 March 2012

An Elizabethan vizard


Not wizard.  Vizard.  This is one of the treasures in the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
The mask was found during the renovation of an inner wall of a 16th-century stone building. The wall was approximately four feet thick, and the mask was found concealed within the inner hard core of the wall...

The outer fabric is black velvet. The lining is silk. The inside is strengthened by a pressed-paper inner. The three layers are stitched together by a black cotton thread. On the lining, just below the centre of the mouth, is a loose thread of white cotton. This cotton would have held the black glass bead (found in association with the mask)... The black glass bead was used to hold the mask in place. With a lack of holes to allow string or elastic to be put around the head, the mask would have instead been held in place by the wearer holding the black bead in her mouth...

[An] Elizabethan scholar, Randle Holme, wrote: "A mask . . . This is a thing that in former times Gentlewomen used to put over their Faces when they travel to keep them from Sun burning....Visard Mask, which covers the whole face, having holes for the eyes, a case for the nose, and a slit for the mouth, and to speak through; this kind of Mask is taken off and put in a moment of time, being only held in the Teeth by means of a round bead fastned on the inside over against the mouth."
Further details at the link.

Pithy quotations

From a collection of several dozen assembled at Harvard Magazine:
We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both. —Louis D. Brandeis

A memorandum is written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer. —Dean Acheson

Taxes are what we pay for civilized society. —Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

What religion a man shall have is a historical accident, quite as much as what language he shall speak. —George Santayana

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. —Henry James

A democracy—that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people. —Theodore Parker, 1836

All the security around the American president is just to make sure the man who shoots him gets caught. —Norman Mailer
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