06 July 2015

Toxins in 19th-century clothing

This dress came with both a low‐cut bodice for evening wear and a more buttoned‐up bodice for daytime wear. Many Victorian dresses, including this one, were made with both styles of top and the advantage of “Emerald Green” was that it kept its bright colour in both natural and gas lighting. Collection of Glennis Murphy. Photo credit: Image © 2015 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

An exhibition at Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum draws attention to the health hazards of 19th-century clothing.
Before inventor Carl Wilhelm Scheele came along near the end of the 18th century, there was no colorfast green, only the option to do a blue overlay with yellow or vice versa. By mixing arsenic and copper, Scheele developed a pigment that would hold, whether in wallpaper, paintings, or clothing. It also happened to look fantastic under natural and new gas light, an important duality for the time. By the mid-19th century, when, as Matthews David notes “nature was disappearing from the environment,” this “Emerald Green” was incredibly popular in artificial flowers. It was also highly toxic, even deadly, and it’s no coincidence that Baudelaire titled his book of tormented poems Les Fleurs du Mal — The Flowers of Evil — just as the death of a young artificial florist was being investigated.
I presume the deadliness of the pigment derived primarily from its manufacture, not from wearing the clothing, as the embedded image of a lithograph of arsenic-damaged hands illustrates.

A national movement requires "affirmative consent" for sex

From the StarTribune:
The University of Minnesota is joining a national movement requiring students to obtain “affirmative consent” from their sex partners or risk being ­disciplined for sexual assault.

The policy change, sometimes known as the “yes means yes” rule, has been sweeping college campuses across the country since California passed the first such law last year.

The U’s new rule, which is poised to take effect this month after a 30-day comment period, says that sex is OK only if both parties express consent through “clear and unambiguous words or actions.” Absent that, it would fit the U’s ­definition of sexual assault.

So far, the plan has prompted little dissent at the U. But nationally, critics have derided such policies as absurd and dangerous, particularly when it comes to protecting the rights of the accused...

Hanson, who serves on the presidential policy committee that endorsed the new approach, said she sees it mainly as a teaching tool. “We’re in the education business,” she said. “What this is trying to get students to understand is that silence doesn’t equal consent.”

"America the Beautiful" quarters

The United States is in the process of issuing a series of commemorative quarters celebrating natural wonders of the country.  These America the Beautiful quarters are not as well known as the 50 State Quarters, in part because the series is not scheduled for completion until 2021.

In the meantime you can use them to win bar bets asking if the turkey is featured on an American coin.  Or a frog -

Or a volcano...

Some of our "founding fathers" believed in extraterrestrial life

Benjamin Franklin maintained that every star is a sun, and every sun nourishes a “chorus of worlds” just like ours. Ethan Allen, the self-taught leader of the Green Mountain Boys, insisted that the inhabitants of these other earths included intelligent beings just like us. David Rittenhouse, the famous Philadelphia inventor and astronomer, made it official in a 1775 lecture that was reprinted for the benefit of the Second Continental Congress. “The doctrine of the plurality of worlds,” he said, “is inseparable from the principles of astronomy.”...

If these peace-loving aliens were a threat to anything, it was to theology. John Adams put his finger on the problem as a young man in a diary entry from 1756. Given the near-certainty of alien life, he reasoned, Evangelical Christians must either condemn our extraterrestrial brothers to everlasting perdition or suppose that Jesus shows up on an endless number of planets in ever-changing alien incarnations. Thomas Paine later made the same point in print, rather more caustically: “The person who is irreverently called the Son of God, and sometimes God himself, would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to world, in an endless succession of death, with scarcely a momentary interval of life.”
More at the link re the roots of these theories in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Mystery butterfly - aberrant Pearl Crescent ?

This butterfly was spotted and photographed by Dan Sonnenberg on a farm in central Wisconsin this past weekend.   The image was shared with other members of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association, none of whom had ever seen such a coloration pattern.

After much pondering and web-searching, the current opinion is that it is an aberrant form of a Pearl Crescent.  For comparison, here is a "normal" Pearl Crescent I photographed a couple years ago:

The size and wing shape (and time of year, and location) are similar, but the coloration is dramatically different in the mystery butterfly.  Mike Reese, president of SWBA, found this comparison photo at Bug Guide -

- of a butterfly presumptively identified as an aberrant Pearl Crescent.

Dan was able to capture a view of the underside of the mystery butterfly's wing -

- which is at least marginally Pearl Crescent-ish.  (Here's one from my files)

The photos of the "mystery butterfly" have been submitted to the North American Butterfly Association, which will publish the images and solicit professional opinions.

If any readers here have suggestions or know of images of similar butterflies, please don't hesitate to append a comment.

03 July 2015

Bernie Sanders in Madison

Bernie Sanders brought his message to Madison, Wisconsin two nights ago.  In view of the tentative results of the poll in the right sidebar of this blog (which I'll discuss when voting closes next week), I decided I owed it to TYWKIWDBI readers to attend the rally to see for myself what this political movement is all about.  The photo above was published in The Guardian yesterday.  The camera angle is from the upper deck behind the speaker's podium.  I have drawn a red circle around myself in the far upper right corner of the image; sufficiently enlarged, you can see about a dozen pixels depicting me wearing one of my Neatorama t-shirts.  The rest of the photos below were ones I took at the rally.

Local news media had indicated that there would be large crowd, so I left home early because I don't have the stamina to stand for hours.  I arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled start time, and even then had difficulty finding a good seat (as indicated by the position of the little circle).  Fortunately for events such as this, visuals are not crucial, and the audio system in the auditorium was superb.

The Veterans Coliseum at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison has a seating capacity of 10,000 for sporting events.  By the time the program started, the building was full to the rafters -

- including seating on the coliseum floor, so the estimates of 10,000 attendees are certainly accurate and perhaps conservative.  As Bernie Sanders was speaking, I took a photo toward the podium -

- which shows people standing in the entrance ramps (probably in violation of fire codes).

So much for the numbers.  Now, who were these people?  In terms of "diversity", the crowd is overwhelmingly white.  The state of Wisconsin is 86% white, and this crowd was even more skewed.  Beyond that, it was hard to me to see any other homogeneity.   There were girls with purple hair and farmers with John Deere shirts.  Lots of older people, but plenty of college-age students.

The most uniform characteristic of the crowd would of course be their political beliefs - liberal and progressive.  I was startled, but not actually surprised, to see a man standing in the aisle next to me wearing an old Paul Wellstone tee shirt.  Wellstone was a progressive and activist in the Minnesota Democratic party who died in a plane crash 13 years ago.  Although Wisconsin's current governor (Scott Walker) and legislature are Republican, the state has historically been home to a strong Progressive movement, moreso in Madison - home of the University of Wisconsin -  than in Milwaukee.  I should think there is no doubt that Bernie Sanders chose Madison as a favorable spot outside New England to kickstart his campaign.  Energizing a grassroots base here would also be useful because of the physical proximity to the adjacent state of Iowa, which holds an early and influential caucus when the poltical theater begins in earnest.

I won't use this post to discuss the content of Sanders' speech, which presumably is a stump speech that will be repeated endlessly in the months to come.  My interest was in the crowd's response.  Knowing that apart from a few curiosity-seekers, everyone in the crowd was liberal/progressive, I knew that there would be applause when Sanders attacked Scott Walker and the Republicans, but I was surprised by the energy with which they responded to his talking points.  He spoke about organized labor and the right of women to control their bodies and the cost of higher education and frequently about income inequality.  But at one point he said if elected president he would have a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees that they must favor overturning Citizens United because Citizens United is undermining American democracy.  The crowd went wild -

My photo is blurry because people were jumping up and down and yelling. I would expect that response from a small crowd in a Jon Stewart audience, but hadn't expected it from such a large mass of people.  "Citizens United" boils down to the ability of wealthy individuals and corporations to influence American elections.  Opposition to Citizens United is probably the ultimate populist emotional trigger, and this immense crowd responded enthusiastically.  This requires a certain degree of political sophistication, and obviously people who attend rallies are expected to be more knowledgeable about issues.  Whether this enthusiasm can be generated in a broader population remains to be seen.  Ten thousand people in Wisconsin hope so.

For those interested in hearing Bernie Sanders' speech, here it is in its entirety.  The  embedded video will include an unneeded crowd-rallying introduction - most of you will prefer to use this link to view just Bernie Sanders.  Or you can click the video below and move the progress slider to the 8:30 mark.

Hair jewelry explained

From Death Made Material: The Hair Jewelry of the Brontës:
If the Brontës’ things feel haunted in some way, like Emily’s desk and its contents, then the amethyst bracelet made from the entwined hair of Emily and Anne is positively ghost-ridden. Over time the colors have faded, the strands grown stiff and brittle. Charlotte may have asked Emily and Anne for the locks as a gesture of sisterly affection. Or, the tresses were cut from one or both of their corpses, an ordinary step in preparing the dead for burial in an era when mourning jewelry with hair became part of the grieving process. Charlotte must have either mailed the hair to a jeweler or “hairworker” (a title for makers of hair jewelry) or brought it to her in person. Then she probably wore it, carrying on her body a physical link to her sisters, continuing to touch them wherever they were...

Part of the body yet easy to separate from it, hair retained its luster long after the rest of the person decayed. Portable, with a shine like certain gems or metals, hair moved easily from being an ornamental feature of the body to being an ornament worn by others. By the 1840s, hair jewelry had become so fashionable that advertisements for hair artisans, designers, and hairworkers ran in newspapers, and magazines printed a sea of articles on the minute particulars of the fad. The London jeweler Antoni Forrer, a well-known professional hairworker in the 1840s, had fifty workers fully employed at his Regent Street store. At the Great Exhibition, around eleven displays of the art garnered glowing reviews, including pictures embroidered in hair of Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, and the Hamburgh Exchange. A tall vase “composed entirely of human hair” and a “horn filled with artificial flowers in human hair, representing the horn of plenty,” were other impressive exhibits. Hairwork kept women’s hands busy at home, another one of those many domestic arts, like needlework, quilling, shellwork, and taxidermy. Fashion magazines discussed the homecraft of hairworking and included jewelry patterns, instructions, and tips. Hair wreaths, set into shadow boxes or under glass domes, also had their day, as did the use of hair in drawing and painting. One industrious woman copied a Rembrandt using only hair in a cross-stitch. Charlotte brought the device of a “cambric handkerchief with a coronet wrought upon it in black hair” into more than one early story, a means of signaling that the male owner has a secret lover who embroidered it with her own hair.

The hairwork process—involving boiling the hair to clean it, then weaving it on specially designed round tables (which could be mail ordered) with a series of weights that were attached to the strands of hair—was described in instructional manuals, such as Mark Campbell’s popular 1865 Self-Instructor in the Art of Hair Work. The tight weave of the bracelet with Anne’s and Emily’s hair, pictured at the start of this chapter, was likely achieved this way, although in this case probably by a professional, who then attached the ends of the hair to the metal. A bracelet made of Anne’s hair, from locks given to Ellen Nussey by Charlotte after Anne’s death, has a slightly different weave, and Ellen may have made it herself. By the time Ellen died, she had at least three hair bracelets, four hair brooches, a hair ring, and a couple of loose locks, much of it hair from the Brontë family.
Much more at the very interesting Longreads source.

Offered without comment...

Via Reddit.

30 June 2015

Assassin bug

I was out in our garden yesterday collecting Monarch butterfly eggs (found twelve of them).  The photo above shows the surprise I found under one leaf.  I came back later after she had finished to get this photo of the cluster of eggs: (click both images for fullscreen)

She appears to me to be from the group of true "bugs" but I don't know her precise identity.  I suppose I could search on BugGuide, but instead I'll leave it open for the readership to ponder.  Some reader out there will be knowledgeable enough to offer a proper name that I can put in the title.* 

*solved by readers bucaneer, Shrike, and William D. Richards, who recognized it as an assassin bug:
The most common assassin bugs in our area are members of the Zelus genus... They are slender, long-legged bugs that are usually found on leaves and flowers, where they hunt by ambush. Length is 10-15 mm. Zelus species can fly and will if frightened, but they usually stay put and rely on their camouflage to hide them from both predators and their prey. They capture prey with their front legs, which are coated with sticky hairs.

Zelus eggs are laid on leaves in a small cluster. They have white caps on top. When they hatch, the nymphs disperse very quickly, as they will eat their siblings if given the chance... 
I have seen slightly different (more robust) assassin bugs in our garden holding dead butterflies and moths.  Didn't know they preyed on caterpillars, but I'm not surprised.


Piñatas bearing the likeness of the billionaire mogul have begun popping up in Mexico, a response to controversial comments Trump made about Mexican immigrants.
“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” Trump said during his Presidential campaign announcement speech. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
It's not like Trump said this in a moment of levity at a party.  This was part and parcel of his public announcement that he wants to be POTUS.  Incredible.

Deterrence for a first-strike nuclear attack

A suggestion first made by Roger Fisher in the March 1981 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
There is a young man, probably a Navy officer, who accompanies the President. This young man has a black attaché case which contains the codes that are needed to fire nuclear weapons. I could see the President at a staff meeting considering nuclear war as an abstract question. He might conclude: “On SIOP Plan One, the decision is affirmative, Communicate the Alpha line XYZ.” Such jargon holds what is involved at a distance.

My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being. The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.” He has to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.

When I suggested this to friends in the Pentagon they said, “My God, that’s terrible. Having to kill someone would distort the President’s judgment. He might never push the button.
Text from an old post at The Nuclear Secrecy Blog, with a hat tip to the staff at Radiolab.

Elementary information about the Sherlock Holmes canon

 They left out my favorite:
Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, ... It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.
The Guardian has more sixteen more infographics, at least one of which will have some fact you didn't already know.

29 June 2015

An amazing walk down a driveway

Members of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association report their butterfly sightings to a website that is open to the public for viewing.  A set of companion pages provide information on the characteristics of butterflies of the region.

The above report from this past week caught my eye because of the abundance and the diversity of butterflies observed in just a couple hours in the space of only a half-mile walk down a driveway in southwestern Wisconsin.

Seeing butterflies on a driveway (on the sand/gravel - not on the adjacent vegetation) is not an unexpected experience in itself.  The phenomenon is called "puddling" because after a summer rainshower butterflies gather at barren locations in search of minerals (especially sodium) and other trace nutrients that are not obtainable from the nectar sources in flowers.  I photographed this cluster a couple summers ago at Crex Meadows -

- and I had difficulty driving down the roads there without running into butterflies.

What amazed me about the list at the top of this post was not the number of butterflies, but the diversity of species present.  With the exception of the large fritillaries and the Red Admiral and a couple others, these are not long-distance migratory butterflies.  Most of them have a rather limited range for their lifetime, and since their needs are specific with regard to food plants for their larva, the implication is that there must be a wide range of microhabitats present close to this driveway (woods, fields, meadows, wetlands, prairie).

Marcie O'Connor maintains Prairie Haven, a repurposed 500-acre farm that she has been "unfarming" for years.  Unfarming does not mean neglecting - it refers to an active and labor-intensive process of letting the land revert back to its natural set of habitats, which requires attention to invasives and selective controlled mowing and seeding.  She describes the process at this link; elsewhere on the website she provides inventories of the incredible variety of butterflies, moths (82 species in one night), and other animals (and plants) they have observed at Prairie Haven.  The website is well worth a visit for those interested in conservation of natural resources and habitats.

"He endured being called a girl..."

He endured being called a girl, playing sports with waist-length hair and attracting disapproving looks from adults — all for a child in need he's never met.

Eight-year-old Christian McPhilamy grew out his blond hair for more than two years so he could donate it to kids who have lost their locks.
More at the Today parenting column.

Three years without shampoo

"...you do the following instead of using shampoo: put baking soda in your hair, rinse it out, put apple-cider vinegar in your hair, rinse it out. Repeat once every 5–7 days, washing with just water in the meantime...

After about three years without shampoo, my hair is noticeably softer and fluffier than it used to be. I never use any product—I just blow-dry it with a finger diffuser and it stays in beautiful perfect waves all day...

Take a bottle and fill it with half baking soda, half water. Then take another bottle and fill it with half apple-cider vinegar, half water. Keep the bottles in your shower. This seems to be the optimal level of dilution—not too basic, not too acidic...

...my hair doesn’t smell like vinegar. It doesn’t smell like pomegranate rainwater or whatever, either. It just smells like nice, neutral, clean hair. People are always surprised, but seriously, diluted apple-cider vinegar is way less gross than your body. Shampoo, on the other hand, just makes you grosser. Quit it. I dare you.
More at The Hairpin.
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