15 December 2014

"History is a set of lies agreed upon" - Napoleon


"The typical spices used in winter include nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and anise. These spices contain two groups of chemicals, the allylbenzenes and their isomers, the propenylbenzenes. It was suggested 40 years ago by Alexander Shulgin that these substances act as metabolic precursors of amphetamines...Humans may be exposed to amphetamines derived from these precursors in forno, the formation during baking and cooking, for example in the preparation of Lebkuchen, or Christmas gingerbread. It is possible that this may be responsible, in part, for uplifting our mood in winter. "

A set of two articles in Der Spiegel details the outrageous profits made by the human scum who act as traffickers for persons seeking asylum in Europe. "Jafir had insisted that the total fee for the trip to Italy -- €7,000 ($8,735) per person -- be paid in advance. Ahmad doesn't comment on the amount, which corresponds to at least two average annual salaries in prewar Syria... Ahmad and 126 other refugees boarded the vessel..."

The Motherboard at Vice explains that "erection vendors" in Peru are driving some amphibians toward extinction.  "Frog Juice, or Jugo de Rana, as it's referred to in Spanish, has been dubbed the Peruvian Viagra. It's a concoction that's believed to have strong medicinal powers with purported benefits including increased blood flow, lung function, and more poignantly, sexual stimulation."

The top song played in U.K. funerals is the Pythons' Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  I posted the video six years ago; I suggest clicking that link and playing it while reading the rest of this linkdump. ("Always look on the bright side of death.  Just before you draw your terminal breath.")

An article (with video) at The Telegraph documents the changes that occur when a man adds ten non-diet Cokes a day to his diet.   In a month "the previously gym-toned Mr Prior put on two stone in weight, and saw his blood pressure rise to an unhealthy 145/96. He also reported strong cravings for more sugar, even though he was consuming 350g of sugar daily from his Coke intake alone."


So, you think you understand Putin's role in the situation in Ukraine?  What if someone said it was the West that was responsible for the escalation of hostilities?  "Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia."  That's Henry Kissinger speaking.  The op-ed piece at Salon suggests "this is a non-Western nation drawing a line of resistance against the advance of Anglo-American neoliberalism across the planet."

Terminal lucidity is the subject of an interesting article in Scientific American.  The term refers to "The (re-)emergence of normal or unusually enhanced mental abilities in dull, unconscious, or mentally ill patients shortly before death, including considerable elevation of mood and spiritual affectation, or the ability to speak in a previously unusual spiritualized and elated manner."  For example " A 92-year-old woman with advanced Alzheimer’s disease... hadn’t recognized her family for years, but the day before her death, she had a pleasantly bright conversation with them, recalling everyone’s name."  At one of the links in the article a reasonable postulate is that when the brain is dying, an inhibitory hemisphere or locus dies first, releasing normal function by memory cells that had previously been suppressed.

Big Agriculture doesn't want libraries to share seeds.

The largest known block of stone carved by humans weighed an incredible 1,650 tons.  It was created in about 27 B.C. but never used for construction. (via Neatorama).

In six years your IRA balance can go from $5,000 to $196,000,000.   But only if you know how to twist the intent of Congress to your personal advantage.

"A German man committed to a high-security psychiatric hospital after being accused of fabricating a story of money-laundering activities at a major bank is to have his case reviewed after evidence has emerged proving the validity of his claims."

As you watch the American collegiate football playoffs, take a moment to ponder this tweet by the quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes: "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS."

A gif of a German sport called headis.  Discussed at Reddit.

Vortices in swimming pools are way more complicated and interesting than you would expect (also via my old friends at Neatorama).  What you're really seeing is both ends of a "half-vortex ring."

YouTube link.

 Wikipedia is the number one "go-to" resource that saves me countless hours of searching. TYWKIWDBI supports Wikipedia; if you enjoy this blog, you should support them too.


Top image of Trapiche emeralds (Muzo, Colombia) via Minerals, Minerals, Minerals!  Time travel image via Mark's Scrapbook of Oddities and Treasures.  I am going to do a sign like that for our front yard next summer.

The way things are going, I may be able to return to regular daily blogging in about one more week.

06 December 2014

"I do not want to be the one who tries to tell somebody else what life is all about. To me it’s a complete mystery."


BoingBoing offers a comprehensive report entitled Everything you need to know about marijuana edibles.  "It’s important for individuals to develop an idea of how they personally metabolize any oral cannabis preparation, starting with a very small dose and remaining patient until it’s thoroughly metabolized over six hours, before taking more... individuals only having experience with the low-potency cannabis of the Seventies and Eighties can be unpleasantly overwhelmed when consuming today’s cannabis."

This autumn in a garden outside the House of Commons in Westminster a gardener was employed to pull the leaves off the trees one by onePhoto at right.

The Telegraph offers a comprehensive list of all the winners of the Man Booker Prize from 1969 to 2013.  Each one is accompanied by a thumbnail sketch, often with a link to a comprehensive review of the book.  I'm embarassed at how few of them I've read.

Naval war games in the Pacific Ocean threaten the lives of countless marine creatures.  "Through 2018, the Navy plans to use 260,000 explosives — some as heavy as 2,000 pounds — and emit high-frequency sonar for a total of 500,000 hours — including 60,000 hours of the most powerful sonar.

The population of Germany is falling; it is down by 2 million.  "Mr. Voigt has already supervised the demolition of 60 houses and 12 apartment blocs, strategically injecting grassy patches into once-dense complexes... In its most recent census, Germany discovered it had lost 1.5 million inhabitants. By 2060, experts say, the country could shrink by an additional 19 percent, to about 66 million.  Demographers say a similar future awaits other European countries, and the issue grows more pressing every day as Europe’s seemingly endless economic troubles accelerate the decline."

A dinosaur newly discovered in Argentina - Dreadnoughtus schrani - is the largest animal ever found (so far).  It weighed 65 tons (a Boeing 737 weights 50 tons).  The photo at left shows a toe bone.

A desert plant plant, Helianthemum squamatum, can derive up to 90% of its fluid requirements from crystallization water (hydrates) trapped in gypsum rock.  Discussed at Reddit.

The Belgian chocolate maker ISIS has decided to change its name.

One appears to be gray and the other yellow, but these two Xs are the same color:


A vaccine has been developed to prevent tick-borne Lyme borreliosis.  Commentary at Reddit.


The first "Knock, knock.  Who's there..." was written by Shakespeare:  "Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' th' name of Belzebub? . . . [Knock] Knock, knock! Who's there, in th' other devil's name?"  [Macbeth II:3, 1-8]

Those readers who have been following developments in the Antikyhthera mechanism will want to read about an update on the subject.  The date it was constructed to be used was 205 B.C. - earlier than previously thought.

Millennials are not interested in golf.  "Last year alone, some 400,000 people gave up the sport in the U.S., according to the National Golf Foundation. At least 160 golf courses closed down, which marked the eighth consecutive year of net closings around the country. Golfers played the lowest number of rounds since 1995."

Unusual horse for sale (image embedded right), via the always funny Bad Newspaper.

If you live in Europe and find an unusual object washed up on the beach, with the word "Tjipetir" written on it, you can read an explanation of it in the Washington Post.

The top (by Ali Akbari) and bottom (by Adam Williams) photos in this post are two of the 101 images presented in the 2014 International Landscape Photographer of the Year Competition.

Title quote (attributed to Charles M. Schulz), found at Mark's Scrapbook of Oddities and Treasures.

29 November 2014

"I AM NOT A COW. I AM PROFESSOR DUNBAR. PLEASE DO NOT KILL ME."



An article at the BBC explores why so many Americans live in mobile homes.  "Not everyone who lives in a trailer park is poor."  My father lived in one in Texas for many years .

The WildCat is an impressive robot developed by the U.S. Defense Department. Video at the link.

The "choking game" is "an activity popular among 9- to 16-year-old kids in which they strangle themselves or each other — sometimes at parties or sleepovers — to get a high. The most common reported age of death is 13, Alex’s age. Many kids like Alex — smart kids who do well in school and have loving families — regard the Choking Game as a legal and safe alternative to drugs; one popular nickname for this is the Good Kids’ High."

The Atlantic explains how close New York City is to a food crisis, if supplies from outside the city are disrupted by natural or manmade events: "New Yorkers rely chiefly on food from across the country, or the other side of the world. And to complicate matters, in recent decades the big companies that run these systems... keep much smaller inventories than in years past, sized to meet immediate demand under stable conditions—a strategy known as "just-in-time."

 Some medical facilities in the U.S. are now permitting patients to be visited by their pets. "In the end, officials decided that the benefits — comfort and reduced stress for patients — were more substantial than the risks. 

The Ancient History Encyclopedia has TMI for right now, but it is a good link to bookmark for reference and future browsing.  Its content is exactly what the name suggests.

The World Memory Championships are a remarkable test of human abilities.  Components of the competition include:
1. Names and faces: recall as many as possible in 15 minutes
2. Binary numbers: remember as many binary figures, which are made up of 0 and 1, in half an hour
3. One hour numbers: to memorise as many random digits in complete rows of 40 in one hour
4. Abstract images: recall the sequence of abstract images in as many rows as possible in 15 minutes
5. Speed numbers: remember random digits, in rows of 40, as quickly as possible in five minutes
6. Historic/future dates: recall as many years as possible and link them correctly to given fictional events in five minutes
7. One hour cards: remember as many separate decks of 52 playing cards as possible in one hour
8. Random words: recount as many random words, such as dog, vase, spoon, in 15 minutes
9. Spoken numbers: memorise as many single digits spoken aloud in one second intervals as possible
10. Speed cards: recall as single pack of 52 playing cards in the shortest possible time.
Additional details are available in an article in The Telegraph.

The Sahara desert is experiencing a "catastrophic collapse of its wildlife." "Of 14 species historically found in the Sahara, four are now extinct, and the rest are heading that way.... the region has lost the Bubal hartebeest (which is entirely extinct), the scimitar horned ornyx (extinct in the wild), the African wild dog and the African lion, while the dama gazelle, addax, leopard and the Saharan cheetah have been eliminated from 90 percent or more of their range."

The earth has vast resources of fresh water - underneath the oceans. "The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we've extracted from the Earth's sub-surface in the past century since 1900."

Some people think the U.S. and Canada should merge into one country.  "Such a merger makes perfect sense. No two countries on Earth are as socially and economically integrated as the U.S. and Canada... Truth be told, the merger of the U.S. and Canada is already well under way. As many as one in 10 Canadians (more than 3 million people) live full- or part-time in the U.S., and an estimated 1 million Americans live in Canada."

An op-ed piece at Salon argues that referring to every soldier as a "hero" cheapens the term.

FlirOne infrared cameras attach to a cellphone and can be utilized in a variety of ways to do your own home inspection looking for heat and water leaks.

The "jetway Jesus phenomenon" is a term flight attendants use to refer to passengers who get rides through airports in wheelchairs, then miraculously get up and walk.

Was Vincent Van Gogh murdered?  "And, anyway, what kind of a person, no matter how unbalanced, tries to kill himself with a shot to the midsection? And then, rather than finish himself off with a second shot, staggers a mile back to his room in agonizing pain from a bullet in his belly?"

Photos of vinyl hoarders and their hoards.

The first house in the United States to have electric lights was in Appleton, Wisconsin.  The homeowner operated a mill and set up a hydroelectric plant for the house.

A previously-unknown Shakespearean First Folio has been discovered in a French Jesuit library.

During WWI, tanks were designated "male" or "female."  The latter had machine guns.

"The former leader of a Christian ministry that promised to cure people "trapped in homosexuality" has revealed that he has married his gay partner."

"The two drugs have been declared equivalently miraculous. Tested side by side in six major trials, both prevent blindness in a common old-age affliction. Biologically, they are cousins. They’re even made by the same company. But one holds a clear price advantage. Avastin costs about $50 per injection.Lucentis costs about $2,000 per injection.  Doctors choose the more expensive drug more than half a million times every year, a choice that costs the Medicare program, the largest single customer, an extra $1 billion or more annually... Doctors and drugmakers profit when more-costly treatments are adopted... “Lucentis is Avastin — it’s the same damn molecule with a few cosmetic changes..."

The National Library of Norway is in the process of digitizing its entire holdings. "If you happen to be in Norway, as measured by your IP address, you will be able to access all 20th-century works, even those still under copyright. Non-copyrighted works from all time periods will be available for download. "

ELI5 explanation of why oil (and gasoline) prices have been plummeting

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The title of this linkdump is one of the penultimate lines from The Court of Tartary, a fantasy by T.P. Caravan first published in 1963. In the story, a professor of English literature "awakens" to find his mind is entrapped in the body of a cow, and the herd seems to be destined to the slaughterhouse.
"Edward Harrison Dunbar, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., L.L.D., member of the Modern Language Association and authority on eighteenth century literature, was not prepared for the situation in which he found himself: it had never been mentioned by any of the writers of the Age of Reason....

And even as he ran he wondered if he couldn't prove that Edward Young was the true author of the third book of Gulliver's Travels, because he knew that if he stopped thinking scholarly thoughts about the eighteenth century he would have to admit that he had turned into an animal. So as he ran he considered the evidence turned up by the publication of the Tickell papers and the discovery of Swift's old laundry lists and Night Thoughts and the graveyard poets and Gray's Elegy and the lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, and he had to admit that he was an animal....

There was no point in approaching his difficulty through the scientific method: he knew no science. There was no help for him in metaphysics: he had cleared his mind of Kant. Nor could the classics aid him: he had read Ovid, of course, and the Golden Ass, but he didn't see how they bore on his problem. And — he hated to admit it — nobody in the eighteenth century seemed to have wondered what would happen to a scholar who woke up and found himself a cow. All right. That left only his own experience to fall back on. But, being a professor, he had never had any experiences..."
He decides to use his hoof to draw a triangle in the dust.  Then... if I've piqued your curiosity, you can read the full story in ten minutes fulltext online at Scribd.

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The photographs (found here, here, and here) embedded above in this weekend linkdump are of Prince's Island Park, located in the Bow River as it passes through Calgary.  The backside of the island abuts the community of Eau Claire, but its nicest feature is that the front of the island faces the delightful community of Sunnyside, a suburb of Calgary characterized by an uncommonly large number of intellectually sophisticated residents.


23 November 2014

Return of the Weekend Linkdump


Gotta do this.  Otherwise the links accumulate and multiply like coathangers in the closet.

Video of massive numbers of mullets (fish, not hairdos) becoming prey during their annual migration.

An introduction to the Paraguayan "Archives of Terror," which "listed 50,000 people murdered, 30,000 people disappeared and 400,000 people imprisoned."

In the United States, this year was "a record year for costume-buying, with more Americans than ever shelling out for children’s costumes ($1.1 billion), adult costumes ($1.4 billion) and costumes for pets ($350 million)."

Video of people annoying a giant anaconda.  The participants have been fined by local authorities, but the video does show the impressive size of the snake.

Halloween pranks by television weathermen.  See what happens when you stand in front of a green screen wearing a green-background skeleton costume, or if you just wrap a green cloth around your head.

Time-lapse video of the night sky captures the explosion of a bolide.

Apparently it's a thing now to create tattoos on horses by gluing glitter on the haunches.

Bergli Books (Switzerland) will publish a book exposing the "Asian Timber Mafia" that is devastating the rainforests of Borneo.

How to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Scary dashcam video - this one in the United States, not Russia.  A man driving at night encounters traffic cones set up as a roadblock.  Not done by the police...

Why you can't outrun a grizzly bear.  This video taken from a vehicle on level ground, but I've seen other videos documenting their incredible speed while running up a steep mountainside.

A massive resource for anyone interested in clothing of the Elizabethan era.  Links for everything from underwear to hats.  Worth bookmarking.
 
An interesting commentary on Vladimir Putin's recent speech at the Russian equivalent of the west's Davos summit.  "A Russian commentator named Dmitry Orlov... said of Putin’s contribution, “This is probably the most important political speech since Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of March 5, 1946.”" "This is the speech not of some kind of nostalgic empire builder — Putin dismisses the charge persuasively — but of a man genuinely afraid that the planet is close to tipping into some version of primitive disorder. Absent less adversarial international relations, we reach a moment of immense peril."

Scientists offer a biologic/physiologic basis for people's perceptions of the existence of "ghosts."

"A dying grandmother was granted a final wish of seeing her favourite horse one last time - after the animal was brought to visit her in her hospital bed."

Ethnic plastic surgery - "procedures outsiders generally view as deracinating processes, sharpening the stereotypically flat noses of Asians, blacks, and Latinos while flattening the stereotypically sharp noses of Arabs and Jews."

Hacks for air travelers.

An informed Reddit thread discussing whether (or to what extent) the recent Rosetta mission has changed our understanding of comets.

An incredibly massive and detailed reading list of history books.

"After becoming frustrated with the superficial standards his female co-workers were held to in regards to the way they dress, Karl embarked on an experiment to test these standards on himself. He wore the same blue suit every day. First for a week, then for a month, then for a year... no one has noticed; no one gives a shit.”
Obamacare premiums will rise next year.  This graph puts that in perspective.

A website offers links to 73,000 private webcams whose owners have not secured them with passwords.  You can peek at the warehouse floor.  Or the baby's crib.

A mother decries the names of some modern cosmetics: "More than once I’ve been in the gruesome position of having to discuss with my daughter the benefits of 'Orgasm' over 'Super Orgasm', or deliberating over palettes labelled F Bomb, Bang and Spunk. Having to ask the shop assistant for one of them takes the conversation to another level altogether."

The lady in this photo -


- does not know what the internet is, but she does understand what a "get well" wish is, and would like to thank everyone ("Who ARE all these people???") for their kind comments.

Top photo found at Reddit/imgur; sadly, today the cheese will stand alone, because the Vikings as a team are in no shape to compete with them.  

Thumbnail embeds via an entertaining collection of business signs at 22 Words.

16 November 2014

I'm shutting down TYWKIWDBI

Not permanently, but for an indefinite time period, probably extending through the holiday season.

On Tuesday, shortly after I wrote that last post, I received a phone call informing me that my 95-year-old mother had fallen and injured herself.  Evaluation at the University Hospital here confirmed that she fractured her humerus when she landed on her elbow, driving the shaft into the head at an angle.  She is now stable in an assisted living facility, but this combined with her dementia results in a variety of medical and social needs that require my attention.

I may pop back here every now and then to do a linkdump as a mental health break for myself, but I just can't justify spending hours per day blogging as I have in recent years.

Bye for now...

11 November 2014

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."


Archaeologists in Bulgaria have uncovered another "vampire grave" dating to the first half of the 13th century:
"The skeleton, thought to be of a man aged between 40 and 50, had a heavy piece of ploughshare – an iron rod, used in a plough – hammered through its chest. The left leg below the knee had also been removed and left beside the skeleton."
"A Raleigh County [West Virginia] man pleaded guilty Thursday to repeatedly faking compliant water quality standards for coal companies, in a case that raises questions about the self-reporting system state and federal regulators use as a central tool to judge if the mining industry is following pollution limits."  Apparently self-reporting of compliance with environmental standards is unreliable???  I am shocked, shocked...

Casebook: Jack the Ripper claims to be "the world's largest public repository of Ripper-related information."

This Reddit thread will link you to a complete scan of the first issue of Action Comics (the first Superman comic).

The BBC has a lengthy and well-written article on the history of lead intoxication in humans.

A video from 1947 explains why you should consider a career as a librarian.

One reader of TYWKIWDBI emailed me to report that the right sidebar was "vibrating" while he was viewing the blog.  I had not heard of such a problem before, but I located a webpage discussing this as an occasional problem related to the presence of the "followers" (I've retitled it "like-minded people") gadget in the sidebar.  This defect is experienced by users of Chrome browsers at certain zoom levels.

Is Crossfit a cult?

Ars Technica has a review of OSX 10.10 Yosemite.

A man who developed a deep venous thrombosis and a variety of complications from it explains why you should consider working at a standing desk or at least stop sitting at your desk for hours at a time.

Deformutilation offers three galleries of photos of a Tibetan sky burial.   Part I focuses on the "body breakers" who chop up corpses: "Hatchets and cleavers are used to make precise cuts in the flesh, which is then carved into chunks of 'meat'. The internal organs are then cut into pieces, the bones are smashed  and then mixed with tsampa, roasted barley flour. This pulverized bone mixture is then scattered on the ground the birds descending to eat their meal..." Part II is hereAnd Part III.  This donation of human flesh to the vultures is considered virtuous because it saves the lives of small animals that the vultures might otherwise capture for food."  I shouldn't need to warn you that the images are graphic.

You can use an apple corer to create "polka-dot pumpkins." Clever. We may try this next year. This and other ideas at Homes and Hues.

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a sphinyx from underneath sand dunes in California.

Because the UK does not offer assisted suicide, an elderly woman successfully starved herself to death.  "The former maths teacher, 86, did not have a terminal illness, but suffered a range of conditions that made her life uncomfortable including chronic back pain and fainting episodes."

Archaeologists have found evidence of a human campgrounds at an elevation of 14,700 feet (4,480 meters) in the Peruvian Andes, dating to about 12,400 years B.P.

The "Giant Rock" in the Mojave Desert is quite interesting.

In 1876 it "rained flesh" in Kentucky:
For several minutes, Crouch and her husband Allen watched as pieces of fresh, raw meat, some “delicate shreds as light as a snowflake” and others “a solid lump three inches square” fell from the sky. Mrs. Crouch said she was “impressed with the conviction that it was either a miracle or a warning.” The Crouchs’ cat, less concerned about meaning of the meat than his masters, "immediately gorged himself with the public breakfast so unexpectedly tendered to him." When it was over, the “Kentucky meat shower,” as it came to be known, left an area of the farmyard 100 yards long and 50 wide strewn with flesh. “Particles of meat” were found “sticking to the fences and scattered over the ground.” 
It was real, and not a prank.  A logical explanation is provided at Mental Floss.

The Telegraph offers a gallery of terrible real-estate-for-sale photographs, including this toilet-in-the-kitchen:


Top photo via Picdit.

The title quote comes from H. G. Wells' Outline of History (1920).

10 November 2014

The "drinkable book"

From the outside, "The Drinkable Book" looks like a normal book. It's about an inch or two thick, with 20 pages. But these pages do a lot more than convey information. Each page also serves as a water filter, a valuable tool for preventing waterborne illness in the developing world...

The pages are about a millimeter thick and contain silver nanoparticles. The silver can rid the water of harmful microbes, but has very little effect on humans... To use the book, you rip one of the pages in half, slide it into the filter box (which doubles as a cover for the book) and pour contaminated water through. After a few minutes, the [bacterial count] is reduced by 99.9 percent and is comparable to U.S. tap water...

The books cost just a few dollars to make; each piece of filter paper costs about 10 cents. The filters can last a couple of weeks, even up to a month. So the entire books could provide the tools to filter clean water for about a year.

Card manipulation


Not card tricks - just (literally) manipulation of the cards by people you wouldn't want to play poker with.

Via Neatorama.

Black members of Congress


Found at The Washington Post.

The "salmon cannon"


This week John Oliver presented a rather funny send-up of the "salmon cannon."  I think the original deserves to be appreciated in its own right.

The downnside of terraforming

Consider this scenario:
A large number of humans have been prenatally genetically modified to live and work in a nonterrestrial location (they require subzero temperatures for comfort, need a different atmospheric gaseous composition, etc).  Then the planet they were destined to live on is vaporized by a supernova; there is no equivalent alternate planet in the known universe.

Now they need another location, so all of them are transported to a partially-suitable planet which will then be terraformed to their requirements.  This will require thousands of years, during which they will enter cryo-sleep, waking in groups at intervals for habitat maintenance until the external world is suitably modified.

So far, so good.  But now suppose that after the terraforming machines have been going for a few centuries a cohort of colonists awakens to discover that their new planet, thought on preliminary survey to contain only primitive plants and beasts, is actually host to what appears to be a sentient creature.  And that sentient race is obviously being forced to adapt to climate change at a rate exponentially faster than normal planetary evolution. 

Are the humans ethically justified in continuing to terraform the new planet to their own needs if the process entails the genocide of the aboriginal inhabitants?
The story is The Keys to December, an 8,700-word (you can read it in an hour) novelette by Roger Zelazny, an acclaimed science-fiction author (Hugo Award x6, Nebula x3).  I first encountered this story a decade ago in the compilation The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth (Simon and Schuster, 2001). 

A brief review is here, along with the names of several other books that include it that might be available from your library if Doors of his Face is not.  If you insist on reading it online, the fulltext is here (in a somewhat awkward font).

What constitutes proper subject matter for postage stamps?


A couple weeks ago the Washington Post made note of some turmoil in the stamp collecting community regarding the selection of images to be used on forthcoming commemorative stamps in the United States:
As the U.S. Postal Service prepares to issue a stamp featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer next week, a postal expert whose 12-year term on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee ended earlier this year pleads with his former colleagues to resist the temptation to choose new stamp images “with the same profit motives as Big Macs, Slurpees, jeans or neighborhood tattoo parlors.”..

This airing of dirty laundry in the small but passionate stamp community... draws another fault line in an ongoing debate over whether the cash-poor Postal Service should pursue commercial stamp subjects to lure new collectors and revenue at the expense of more enduring cultural images...

The friction came to a head last fall, when the stamp panel grew concerned about how the Postal Service’s marketing staff was pushing pop culture that culminated with the release of stamps honoring Harry Potter...

“That said, while continuing to commemorate historic events and individuals, it is critically important that we offer subjects to interest younger generations and topical collectors into stamp collecting, such as Harry Potter, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and, most recently, Batman,” Saunder said.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuts at the National Postal Museum on Nov. 6.
I remember the Harry Potter stamp points of argument, which included not only the commercialization of philately, but also the "promotion" and "glorification" of witchcraft.  Then there was the controversy six years ago when a politically-correct stamp design took the cigarette away from Bette Davis.

I find it interesting that the current controversy over U.S. stamp designs follows by several months the apparently not-very-controversial issuance in Finland of postage stamps commemorating the artwork of "Tom of Finland," whose subject matter [see top image] is of a genre that would set off a firestorm of complaint in this country.  The Finnish stamps are available for purchase in the U.S., but of course not valid for postage here.

Last year the postal service in Finland issued a set of four stamps picturing the "prettiest outhouses in Finland."

Luxembourg tax shelters exposed

From The Guardian:
A cache of almost 28,000 pages of leaked tax agreements, returns and other sensitive papers relating to over 1,000 businesses paints a damning picture of an EU state which is quietly rubber-stamping tax avoidance on an industrial scale.

The documents show that major companies — including drugs group Shire, City trading firm Icap and vacuum cleaner firm Dyson, who are headquartered in the UK or Ireland — have used complex webs of internal loans and interest payments which have slashed the companies’ tax bills. These arrangements, signed off by the Grand Duchy, are perfectly legal.

The documents also show how some 340 companies from around the world arranged specially-designed corporate structures with the Luxembourg authorities. The businesses include corporations such as Pepsi, Ikea, Accenture, Burberry, Procter & Gamble, Heinz, JP Morgan and FedEx. Leaked papers relating to the Coach handbag firm, drugs group Abbott Laboratories, Amazon, Deutsche Bank and Australian financial group Macquarie are also included.
Lots of details at the link.

American plutocracy

A new paper by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics suggests that, in America at least, inequality in wealth is approaching record levels...
 
The top 0.1% (consisting of 160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and almost the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.
From The Economist, where the chart is interactive.  The phenomenon is discussed in greater detail in another article there:
Because the bottom half of all families almost always has no net wealth, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% is an effective measure of “middle class” wealth, or that held by those from the 50th to the 90th percentile...

The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record...

How the 0.1% spend their money


Sotheby's expects the bidding for this "supercomplication" watch to reach $17,000,000.

A video at the Wall Street Journal, which I can't embed, attempts to explain why this watch is worth that much money.  It doesn't address the question of why a person should spend this amount of money on a watch rather than, for example, improving the world in some meaningful way.
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