31 January 2011

Recent posts at Neatorama


Last year I wrote a post about the Antikythera mechanism and its possible relationship to the Olympics.  Now a working model can be made from Lego parts.  "Since gears with 19, 47, 127, and 223 teeth were not publicly available, a complex differential shaft had to be fashioned."

This is totally relevant to the superstorm that is engulfing the nation's midsection this week: snow spectacles.  Three examples from the British Museum, made by Eskimos, Siberians, and people from Salekhard.  Apart from their functionality, they are just impressive to look at.

"A Danish urban myth alleges that it is possible to get drunk by submerging one’s feet in alcohol.  Three physicians at Hillerød Hospital in Denmark tested this hypothesis on themselves in their office."

More and more physicians are bring dogs into their offices to serve as "canine assistants" for certain groups of patients.

"Hidden mother" photographs were nineteenth-century tintypes in which mothers covered themselves with cloth in order to hold an infant for a portrait.

A pantomime dame was told by the British Red Cross that she could not wear a red cross on a nurse's uniform.

For fifty years, live babies were taken from orphanages and used as "practice babies" to train "practice mothers."

Horoscope signs have changed because the sky has changed.  I've gone from Cancer to Gemini.  Check your sign change here.

Some fox hunting is now conducted in England using human prey rather than foxes.  Both humans and foxes are happy with the new arrangement.

The coin-flip query "heads-or-tails?" changes in different languages (depending on what is depicted on the obverse and reverse of the coins).  You can add information about your language/country at the Neatorama link or in the comments here.

The top photo shows a nighttime scene from the front door of our house, with a street light and a neighbor's garage light providing the illumination.  Below that is a closeup of our mailbox the morning after a "freezing fog," which produces rather amazing ice crystals everywhere.  I chose these photos today because of a programming note re the blog.  This storm is going to affect our area:
We are expecting well over a foot of snow; we will probably be spared the ice, but I will expect to be clearing the sidewalk and driveway several different times in the next 2-3 days.  Blogging will have to be put on hold for a while.

The size of professional football players

Several nights ago I watched the HBO movie "Lombardi" (a surprisingly good documentary, even if you don't care for football as a sport), and couldn't help but notice the different body habitus of players from the 1960s.  This week the New York Times has a column addressing the same topic:
When B. J. Raji nimbly intercepted a pass and shimmied in the end zone last Sunday, helping to put Green Bay into the Super Bowl, the feat was remarkable given that Raji is a nose tackle and, at 337 pounds, is thought to be the largest player to score a postseason touchdown in N.F.L. history...

In 1970, only one N.F.L. player weighed as much as 300 pounds, according to a survey conducted by The Associated Press. That number has expanded like players’ waistlines from three 300-pounders in 1980 to 94 in 1990, 301 in 2000, 394 in 2009 and 532 as training camps began in 2010...

On the other hand, the enormousness of many players, and the recent deaths of one active lineman and several relatively young retired linemen, have raised questions — and brought conflicting answers — about potential health risks associated with size...

“You can see by looking at the defensive linemen that they carry 30, 40, 50 pounds of fat,” said Jerry Kramer, the All-Pro guard who led the Packers’ famed sweep in the 1960s while playing at about 250 pounds. “Fat doesn’t make you strong and quick. It makes you heavy. Muscle makes you strong. We’ve gotten enamored with the 300-pounder, but give me an offensive guard who’s in great shape at 270 or 275 and understands leverage and positioning, and I’ll bet he’ll whip the fat guy every time.”
More at the link for those interested (and kudos to the author of the piece for writing "enormousness" rather than "enormity.").  I'll bet when the Packers and Steelers arrived in Dallas today that they brought several dozen CPAP machines with them.

"Cousin-german"

I don't know where or when I encountered this word; it's been on my "words" list for years waiting to be looked up.  I was a bit surprised by what I found in the OED:
1a. The son or daughter of (one's) uncle or aunt; (one's) first cousin. (1826 R. Southey Lett. to C. Butler 232 The marriage of cousin-germans‥was allowed in the first ages of the church.)
2. A person or thing closely related or allied to another; a near relative. 1822 W. Irving Bracebridge Hall (U.K. ed.) II. 85, I had been apt to confound them [sc. rooks] with their cousins-german, the crows.)
One's brother and sister can similarly be called your "brother-german" and "sister-german," with some implications for the genetics.  Nowadays the term means the person is your brother/sister via both your parents, as opposed to a "brother on the father's side" or a "brother-uterine" (brother via your mother with a different father).

And the "german" part?  Here's the head-slap moment - it's a variant of "germain" [O.F. < Latin], which of course means "closely-related" or "relevant."

I was going to publish this without a picture, but when I ran the term through Google Images, I kept seeing moths.  Turns out there are several species of moths called the "Cousin German."  The embedded one I found here; the UK Moths site says "A rare and local species, restricted to birch woodland in the Highlands of central Scotland.  They are also illustrated in BugGuide.  Why they should have been given that common name, I have no idea.

Someone should invite Jay Leno and Ann Landers to a party

An immensely detailed article in Wikipedia discusses "toilet paper orientation," presenting the pros and cons of the "over" configuation vs. the "under" configuation (shown above).
"The choice is largely a matter of personal preference, dictated by habit. In surveys of American consumers and of bath and kitchen specialists, 60–70% of respondents prefer over.

Despite being a trivial topic, people often hold strong opinions on the matter. Advice columnist Ann Landers said that the subject was the most controversial issue in her column's history. Defenders of either position cite advantages ranging from aesthetics, hospitality, and cleanliness; to paper conservation and the ease of detaching individual squares. Celebrities and experts are found on both sides..."
Those with time to kill during this blizzard are invited to peruse the entire article, but what caught my attention were quotations from two celebrities:
Favoring "Over":  Jay Leno, comedian. Leno "...will even change the paper at others' houses, saying if people don't have it right, they obviously don't know which way it's supposed to go."

Favoring "Under":  Ann Landers, advice columnist: "I'm very compulsive about it. The toilet paper needs to be hung down along the wall. I'll actually rearrange it myself if I'm over at someone's home and I see it hung over the top."

Tax rates in Britain "could rise to 83%"

From a column at The Guardian today:
Nearly a million people will see their tax rates soar as the government's austerity package kicks in this spring, potentially to as high as 83%.

Analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies today reveals that changes in April will drag 750,000 people into the 40% tax bracket. Meanwhile, little-publicised tax credit cuts will push the marginal rates of 175,000 working parents up above 70%. In theory, effective tax rates in Middle Britain could reach 83%, the rate that Labour levied on Britain's top earners before 1979...

This is on top of the extra VAT which families at all income levels have been paying since the start of the year....
Not to mention the austerity-related cuts in public spending. Some lessons for the U.S. here, for those willing to learn.  More at the link.

30 January 2011

Cactus. Fasciation. White-winged dove. And Stevie Nicks.


First I encountered this photo of an absolutely awesome cactus (at L'oeil ouvert, via).  The caption was in French, so I had to Google Translate it to find this info about the plant:
The French naturalist and historian Leon Diguet realized six scientific expeditions in Mexico between 1893 and 1913... With a few prints in the world, this picture offers a spectacular example of a species of cacti: the Giant Cardon, about 8 meters high and about 10 tons.
I still wondered if it could be a manipulated image, because these are famously-slow-growing plants - it's said to take up to 75 years to develop a single side arm.  Some take on unusual shapes; here is a cristate ("crested") crown -


- a phenomenon that occurs secondary to "fasciation":
... a condition of plant growth in which the apical meristem, normally concentrated around a single point, producing approximately cylindrical tissue, becomes elongated perpendicularly to the direction of growth, producing flattened, ribbon-like, crested, or elaborately contorted tissue. The phenomenon may occur in the stem, root, fruit, or flower head.
Wikipedia illustrated the phenomenon with a photo of a wildflower:


- and I suddenly realized that I had seen the same type of anomaly two summers ago while hiking, but had no idea what was going on -


(I had assumed it was some kind of mutation, and made plans to return to the site later in the fall to collect seeds, but didn't have a chance to go).

But back to the cactus.  I remembered from old nature films that the major pollinators are bats:
There are a number of floral characteristics geared toward bat pollination: nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above the ground, durable blooms that can withstand a bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. One additional evidence is that the amino acids in the pollen appear to help sustain lactation in bats...
- but one link also listed daytime pollinators as bees and... white-winged doves.  And, of course, I couldn't hear that without thinking of Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen.  Until this moment I had always assumed that the "white-winged dove" in her lyrics was an imaginary creature (her lyrics sometimes tend to be rather mystical and obscure):
The clouds... never expect it... when it rains.
But the sea changes colours...
But the sea... does not change.

And so... with the slow... graceful flow... of age
I went forth... with an age old... desire... to please
On the edge of... seventeen

Just like the white-winged dove... sings a song...
Sounds like she's singing...
Ooo baby... ooo... said ooo
Re the genesis of this song, she was in Australia when she heard the news that John Lennon died.  She returned to Phoenix, where she was familiar with the white-winged dove.  While there she was present when her uncle John died at night, which prompted this part of the lyrics -
In a flood of tears
That no one really ever heard fall,
Oh I went searchin' for an answer...
Up the stairs... and down the hall
I did not find an answer... but I did hear the call
Of a nightbird... singing...
Come away... come now...
"The white-winged dove in the song is a spirit that is leaving a body, and I felt a great loss at how both Johns were taken..." She explains it all in this VH1 Storytellers segment, which is the best way to close this blog for the night.  The resolution isn't good for fullscreen, but you can still crank up the audio...  Enjoy.


You learn something every day.

Addendum:  For a contemporary photo of an immense cactus, see the link posted by HeavenlyJane in the comments.

Australian English

Excerpts from an interesting article at the OED (where the free access offer is entering its final week): 
Australian English differs from other Englishes primarily in its accent and vocabulary. The major features of the accent were established by the 1830s. In the period between colonial settlement (1788) and the 1830s, when the foundation accent was being forged, new lexical items to describe the new environment...

And then, at the end of the nineteenth century, something curious and largely unpredictable happened to Australian English. In response to a newly-developed concept of Received Pronunciation in Britain, which was closely tied to notions of social prestige, some Australian speakers modified their vowels and diphthongs in order to move them towards the British exemplars. From the 1890s, and well into the 1950s, elocution was in the air, and elocution teachers found a ready market for the teaching of British vowels and diphthongs to the socially-aspirational classes. This modified form of Australian speech came to be called Cultivated Australian.

As if in response against this new British-based Cultivated Australian, a diametrically opposed form of Australian English developed in the first part of the twentieth century. This form moved the Australian vowels and diphthongs even further away from what was now the British standard of pronunciation, and emphasized nasality, flatness of intonation, and the elision of syllables.This second modified form of Australian speech came to be called Broad Australian. While it is true that when non-Australians hear any Australian say ‘mate’ or ‘race’ they are likely to mistake the words for ‘mite’ and ‘rice’, the mishearing is most likely to occur with speakers of Broad Australian.

The majority of Australians continued to speak with the accent that had been established in the first fifty years of settlement, and this form of speech came to be known as General Australian. General Australian was now book-ended by Cultivated Australian and Broad Australian, and these forms of Australian English came to carry with them very different sets of values. Cultivated Australian, for example, came to express a longing for British values and a nostalgia for a country that was still regarded by many as ‘home’. Broad Australian was strongly nationalistic, and carried with it notions of egalitarianism that were antagonistic to a perceived class-obsessed and hierarchical Britain....
More at the link, especially regarding the lexis.

Jodhpur

Why the population of the fortress city – the Blue City as it is universally known – took to painting their houses in various shades of blue is not completely certain.  Yet most believe it is to do with the prevailing caste system in India.
From an interesting post with several dozen photos at Kuriositas,

Buenos Aires

Interesting street pattern.  Photo found at Consciousness is a Congenital Hallucination.

"Buy one - get five free !!"


The Winnipeg Humane Society adapted hard-sell local advertising techniques to finding homes for cats, with help from Andy Hill from Kern Hill Furniture Co-op in Winnipeg. The midnight madness event is not real, but the Winnipeg Humane Society is real, and will be glad to accommodate you during regular hours.
Found at the prize-winning humor blog Miss Cellania.

"On second thought, I WILL have the garlic bread."


HA! (One of this week's 'toons at The New Yorker)

Toast

"Things you wouldn't know," courtesy of the QI column at The Telegraph:
At 154C bread undergoes the Maillard reaction (named after the French chemist who first described it in 1910). This happens when heat breaks down the structure of proteins and sugars on the bread’s surface to form new flavour compounds and a brown colour.

The same process occurs when roasting meat and coffee or when frying onions. The word “toast” comes from the ancient root ters – meaning “dry” (from which we also get terra, “earth”). The past tense of Latin torrere “to parch” was tostus, which became a new verb, tostare “to toast”.
QI: Quite Interesting, of course, specializes in things you wouldn't know. If you like this blog, their website should be among your bookmarks.

King's College chapel (Cambridge)

Color photos are available, but I think this grayscale one shows the architecture to advantage. 

Found at Colette Saint Yves.

Bicycles in wartime

I encountered the image above in a column at Ptak Science Books:
When these pictures were published in 1897 interest in the bicycle was shattering; it was a popular conveyance, and then in just two or three years, an explosion:  millions of people suddenly needed one.  Bikes seemed to be everywhere,  which forced people to imagine new and different uses for the machine.  And so the Austrian army came up with a plan to include the bike in its plans of war, and it proved to be as about as useful as a double-decker horse...
A quick search revealed that there are a number of scholarly and comprehensive webpages devoted to this very subject, among them this page at The Liberator, which focuses on more modern U.S. military bicycles:
The 'Bicycle, Military, Universal' was adopted in October 1942 by the Ordnance Department. It was a military version of the Westfield 'Columbia' and was equipped with heavy duty rims and spokes. It came with a D-Cell powered headlight on the front fender and basic tools were carried in a tool bag attached to the Persons saddle. A tire pump was clamped to the frame...
The site includes a large number of photographs from the WWII era, and screencaps from two movies, including From Here To Eternity, featuring soldiers with bikes.

The BSA [Birmingham and Small Arms] & Military Bicycle Museum is extremely comprehensive.  I'll let you explore it, but can't resist closing with this contemporary photograph:
Soldiers on Bikes in Uruzgan: Dutch Marines have taken up mountain bikes to patrol their sector in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. Dutch marines yesterday began bike patrols in Tarin Kowt. It is now safe enough to do that. Usually the soldiers ride in all-terrain vehicles and armored vehicles throughout the provincial capital. The marines, part of the battle group, got the bikes so they can make better contact with the population. It is also a practical means of moving faster in inaccessible locations in the city. The Afghans have responded enthusiastically to the Dutch initiative. [Bron: Min. Defensie NL]

Human wall protecting the Cairo Museum

Kudos to these men.

Source, via Reddit.

29 January 2011

Carnivorous pitcher plants provide homes for bats

From another interesting piece at Ed Yong's Not Exactly Rocket Science column at Discover:
The world’s worst [?] flesh-eating plant lives in the jungles of Borneo. It’s called elongata and it’s one of several strains of Raffles’ pitcher plant. Like its relatives, it has distinctive pitcher-shaped leaves that can lure insects into a watery grave. But unlike other strains, elongata is strangely incompetent at catching insects. Instead, it lures bats into its pitchers, and lives off their poo...

Elongata looks much like other pitcher plants, except for its giant traps. They’re around four times larger than those of its relatives, they don’t contain much fluid, and they don’t emit any noticeable smell. At such a size, you’d expect the pitchers to be swimming in insects. But when Ulmar Grafe from the University of Brunei Darussalam looked inside the giant pitchers, he found six to seven times fewer insects than in other pitchers. Instead, he found small bats...

In the pitchers, the bats get shelter from predators and the elements. But what does the plant get in return for providing a living bat-cave? In a word: faeces. The bats defecate into the pitchers, providing the plant with at least a third of its nitrogen, packaged in neat dollops.

Is organized crime scavenging used refrigerators ??

Over the last several months, 22,741 New Yorkers contacted the city’s Department of Sanitation and arranged for the pickup of refrigerators, air-conditioners and freezers. In more than 11,000 instances, the machines vanished before sanitation workers arrived in their white trucks to pick them up...

Deepening the mystery, these were neither the latest Sub Zero behemoths, sleek Bosch nor stylish retro Smeg refrigerators. They were garbage, quite literally — discarded appliances left at the curb for pickup by the Sanitation Department...

Behind those losses, some in the industry — by some accounts an $85 billion annual business in 2008 — see the hand of organized crime, although no one can point to hard evidence. New York’s enduring and resourceful mob families have long played a role in both the recycling and scrap industries and have a knack for turning up where the money is.
The rest of the story is at the New York Times. I wish the malefactors would come to our neighborhood; we have to pay to get large broken appliances hauled away.

The Muslim Brotherhood

Information from several sources, because the current events in Egypt suggest that this group will be in the news for a while.  First, from CNN:
The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious and political group founded on the belief that Islam is not simply a religion, but a way of life. It advocates a move away from secularism, and a return to the rules of the Quran as a basis for healthy families, communities, and states.

The movement officially rejects the use of violent means to secure its goals. However, offshoots of the group have been linked to attacks in the past, and critics blame the Brotherhood for sparking troubles elsewhere in the Middle East. Many consider it the forerunner of modern militant Islamism.
The article then cites some relevant history of the group, followed by these comments -
The Brotherhood is the oldest and largest opposition group in Egypt. However, it is illegal under Egyptian law, which bans all parties based on religion. Because of this, its members contest elections as independents... The Brotherhood has widespread support among Egypt's middle classes, and its members control many of the country's professional organizations...

Sayyid Qutb, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s, developed the doctrine of jihad, and the radical group Hamas is believed to be an offshoot of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.
This from the New York Times:
The support of the Brotherhood could well change the calculus on the streets, tipping the numbers in favor of the protesters and away from the police, lending new strength to the demonstrations and further imperiling President Hosni Mubarak’s reign... But Islam is hardly homogeneous, and many religious leaders here said Thursday that they would not support the protests, for reasons including scriptural prohibitions on defying rulers and a belief that democratic change would not benefit them.
A Washington Post links to the CNN and NYT pieces and offers additional comment from an article in Time:
If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate. They want desperately to catch up with the rest of the world.

Historically, Islam was hijacked about 20 or 30 years after the Prophet and interpreted in such a way that the ruler has absolute power and is accountable only to God. That, of course, was a very convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler.
There is of course extensive historical and geopolitical information about the Muslim Brotherhood in Wikipedia.

TYWKIWDBI normally gets about 100 visits a month from readers in Egypt; they are of course cut off right now, but if others in the region or anyone with a good understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood would like to offer some perspective in the Comments section, please have a go.

Absurdly filthy rich


You can access all the NonSequitur comics here.

"We pay cash for dead flies"


From the Mansfield Advertiser, Mansfield, Penn., June 24, 1914, via Centuries of Advice and Advertisements.

"Blowtorch" - a mechanical horse

Blowtorch, a life size mechanical horse, was the pet project and creation of W.J. McIntyre, a Swift Current, Saskatchewan inventor... Blowtorch’s body was fashioned from sheet metal. A nine hp gasoline engine provided the “horsepower.” Small wheels were hidden under his hooves. The legs slid back and forth. A foot throttle controlled the speed; a brake cable slowed it down... McIntyre rode his mechanical steed at local fairs where its peculiar lurching gait delighted the crowds.

After McIntyre’s death in 1965, Blowtorch was put out to pasture. Neglected and almost forgotten, the elements took their toll... That’s when Allan Jacobs, a welder at McIntyre’s shop, spotted the tired horse and decided to do something about it...

On a $20 dare by Jim, Jacobs headed for the fairgrounds astride Blowtorch in the 1968 Swift Current parade. However, disaster struck when the horse’s tiny wheels got stuck in an expansion joint on an overpass. The jolt was more than Blowtorch could take and the poor horse lost his head. Jacobs managed somehow to put the head back on, holding it in place with the halter and bridle. But things did not go well for long. As they turned a corner, Blowtorch snapped a leg bolt, and down went horse and rider. Jacobs, dressed as a cowboy, pulled out his toy gun and “shot” the crippled horse as the crowd roared its approval.

But this was not the end of Blowtorch...
The rest of the story is at the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum web page.  Posted for Funder and her readers (someone obviously thought a mechanical horse was a good idea at the time...)

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

Internet cutoff in Egypt; implications re a "kill switch" for an American president

Information from various sources re the blocking of internet service in Egypt.   First, from the New York Times:
Autocratic governments often limit phone and Internet access in tense times. But the Internet has never faced anything like what happened in Egypt on Friday, when the government of a country with 80 million people and a modernizing economy cut off nearly all access to the network and shut down cellphone service.

The shutdown caused a 90 percent drop in data traffic to and from Egypt, crippling an important communications tool used by antigovernment protesters and their supporters to organize and to spread their message...

Professor Deibert said that a government that chooses to tamper with the Internet — let alone shut it off — incurs potentially serious diplomatic, political and economic costs. Citizens and businesses, he noted, have become increasingly dependent on Internet communication and transactions, and doubtless are putting pressure on the Egyptian government to relent...

Egypt has only a handful of major Internet access providers, so it would take just a few phone calls to get them to stop the flow of traffic. That would not be possible in countries with more complex networks.
These observations from the BBC:
Earlier this week, Egyptians had reported being unable to access social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. At the time the Egyptian government denied it was behind the block, saying it supported free speech.

Many of the protesters were able to get round those restrictions by using smartphone apps - which had not been blocked - to access those sites. Others used proxy servers - which divert web traffic to its destination via sites that haven't been blocked.
And from Scientific American:
The shutdown does not appear to be a spontaneous event, given that the Telecom Egypt, Raya, Link Egypt, Etisalat Misr and Internet Egypt ISPs each shut down its part of Egypt's Internet in sequence an average of about three minutes apart, according to Manchester, N.H.-based network security firm Renesys Corp. This sequencing indicates that each of the ISPs may have received a phone call telling them to drop Internet access to their subscribers, as opposed to an automated system that kicked in to take down all of the providers at once... If this analysis is correct, it indicates a level of governmental Internet control unseen to this point, not even in China, Iran and Tunisia...

Typically what happens in countries like Tunisia or Iran or China is people exert very surgical control over information, they will block particular domain names, or they'll block particular Web sites or particular small networks that host content that they don't like. When Iran had its problems after its elections, they slowed down their Internet so they could use it more effectively to control protestors but they didn't take it down...

If you look at a complex system such as those in the United States or Canada, you might ask, "How many phone calls would I have to make to shut it down?" It probably wouldn't be possible. Most of the people you would call operate independent of the government and wouldn't even listen to you. In a place like Egypt there's a lot less diversity in that ecosystem. There were just a few key providers, they're all licensed by the government. They have to do what the government says...

There is [currently] no standing legal authority to be exercised and no kill switch [in the United States]... If the laws were changed so that there were a clear-cut legal authority and a plan to control the Internet, then anything is possible. But I certainly don't think that the industry in most countries on Earth would stand to have that kind of power dangled over their heads. It would do incredible violence to the companies economically, and it would do even greater economic violence to the country.
For further discussion on this topic, see the companion piece at Scientific American entitled "Conspiracy theory: Could the president take over the Internet?"

PC World has a relevant post entitled "Get Internet Access When Your Government Shuts It Down".

And finally for now, an observation at Al Jazeera that searches for "Egypt" are not trending in China because the word has been blocked there.

Image via The Daily What.

Lichtenstein Castle

Not identified by name when it was posted at Pixdaus by Habub 3; the associated tags suggest it is somewhere in Germany.

Addendum:  Hat tips to Turi and A. Fischer for identifying this beautiful structure as Lichtenstein Castle.
Historically there has been a castle on the site since around 1200. It was twice destroyed, once in the Reichskriegs war of 1311 and again by the city-state of Reutlingen in 1381... The romantic Neo-Gothic design of the [current] castle was created by the architect Carl Alexander Heideloff [in 1840-42].

FunGals girls panties

These are real products, made by Fruit of the Loom -
FunGals are children's underwear intended for young girls that is a developmental stepping stone between training pants and adult female undergarments. They are inspired by Saturday morning cartoons and movies intended for a young female audience. Examples of licenses used include Bananas in Pyjamas, Teletubbies, Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer, and SpongeBob SquarePants. The male equivalent of FunGals (for young boys) are called Funpals...
I would nominate them for Worst Product Name Ever.  One wonders if it was done on purpose.

Image source.

Stop


When I saw the image above in a photoessay about the Ukraine, I was immediately reminded of this comment by Bill Bryson, in his book The Mother Tongue; English and how it got that way - 
“In Yugoslavia they speak five languages. In not one of them does the word stop exist, yet every stop sign in the country says just that.” (p. 179)
I wonder if other countries also use the word "Stop" on signs, but not in the native language.

Addendum:  Andrew and Fletcher indicate Portugal and Spain use the word "Stop" on their signs.  And ch.zimmerman found a Wikipedia page on this topic - with interesting photos of Stop signs in many countries.

Egypt, January 25, 2011


Incredible. 

Note the comment at 0:45 - "We will not be silenced.  Whether you're a Christian, whether you're a Muslim, whether you're an atheist, you will demand your goddamn rights, and we will have our rights, one way or the other.  We will never be silenced!

And this tweet:

Via Reddit, where there are several threads discussing Egypt.

28 January 2011

White-nose syndrome in bats

Tom Kunz has been studying bats throughout New England for more than four decades... During trips to bat hibernacula—the bats’ winter hideouts—he grew accustomed to cave walls covered in huddled masses of bats, tens of thousands strong. Aeolus Cave in Vermont, the largest bat hibernaculum in the northeast, has long been a winter home for more than 100,000 bats....

Two years ago, a new, potent fungus was found rampaging through New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania, wiping out entire colonies of bats Kunz had studied since the Johnson administration. He and a group of graduate students visited Aeolus in January 2009 and were appalled at what they saw: Tracks in the snow made by crawling, starved bats; birds eviscerating bat carcasses outside the cave entrance; bats frozen into ice stalagmites, having died while trying to climb to higher ground; and a cave carpeted in bat bones.

“You couldn’t step on the cave floor the last two winters without walking on dead bats. It was just horrible,” Kunz said. “I’m not an emotional person, but I was in tears when I saw this ... it’s just devastating. It’s unprecedented in the annals of science.”...

Since 2006, about a million bats in the northeastern United States have died during hibernation. The culprit is white-nose syndrome (WNS), caused by a fungus called Geomyces destructans that biologists believe arrived from Europe. The bats awaken every few days, burning their precious fat reserves; ultimately, they freeze, starve to death or are picked off by opportunistic predators....
Further details at this PopSci article and at this one.
Blehert said that because the disease does not spread to humans, getting the public to care means educating them about the value of bats and the potential loss of creatures that are an important part of the ecosystem.
Consider this: one little brown bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour.

The situation in Egypt

This topic isn't a "TYWK", but I thought I'd add two sources.  At Reddit someone asked for a basic explanation of what's happening, stating "I still feel like I started watching a very complicated movie right in the middle."  Here is the top-rated response, from "Sagron":
I'll do my best, but you should really click the links K0ilar and robotl suggested as they'll do a much better job of explaining than I'm about to.

The Catalyst: Tunisia a country in Northern Africa was ruled by a repressive and dictatorial regime led by President Ben Ali. At the end of 2010, a series of riots broke out throughout Tunisia, collectively termed the "Jasmine Revolution." The root causes are considered to be mass unemployment, widespread corruption, appalling living conditions and the governments propensity to squash free speech. This resulted in President Ben Ali dissolving the government, a victory for the revolutionaries.

Regional results: In the region, the success of the Tunisian revolution led to widespread instability. It had previously been considered axiomatic that regional dictatorships were too stable to fall. The Tunisian revolution proved otherwise and soon protests began all over the region, most strongly in Algeria, Yemen and Egypt.

Egypt: The Egyptian youth were mobilized by the example set by the Tunisian revolution. Many suggested that the upcoming 25th of January 'National Police Day' be instead used as a massive nation wide protest against corruption. Other causes for the unrest have been the widespread brutality of the Egyptian police and military (Egypt is basically a dictatorship because the country is under 'Emergency law' and has been since 1967), the crippling poverty in the country and President Mubarak himself.

The Egyptian Response: The Egyptian police and military have been very heavy handed in responding to the protests. A huge number of protestors have been beaten by police and plain clothes secret police officers. Three have been confirmed killed at the time of this writing. In an effort to stop the protestors utilizing Facebook and Twitter to organize and get their message out, Egypt shut down access to those two sites and now, basically unplugged the country from the internet entirely.

Friday: This Friday will see a pivotal moment in the Egyptian revolution as a mass protest has been called after traditional Friday prayers. The Egyptians have called for a "Million Man March" but the chaos in the country and the unpredictability of what's going on makes it difficult to even guess at what will actually transpire.

Predictions: Analysts are split as to what will happen in Egypt. There seems to be a concensus that unlike Tunisia, whose military was underpaid, had terrible morale and had little stake in the Police State, the Egyptian army is far more likely to support the Mubarak regime. If the support of the armed forces wavers (as the police support already has, on occasion) then a very real revolution is on the cards.

The U.S in the Region: If you're American and wondering, the U.S has a lot of skin in the game. Mubarak has received a huge amount of aid from the United States. Egypt is one of the only Middle Eastern countries to have something approaching a lasting peace treaty with Israel, and Mubarak is generally considered to be a 'friend of the West' by the standards of his fellow leaders in the region. Many of the protesters see the U.S as propping up Mubarak's regime. If the revolution succeeds, any popular democracy in Egypt is almost certainly going produce leaders with anti-American platforms. Further, one of the largest opposition groups in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist organization and a supporter of terrorism by the Russian Federation and is typically anti-west in its rhetoric.

Hope that helps and I really hope I didn't get too much wrong.
But by far the best coverage I've found today is the live-streaming coverage by Al Jazeera English.  I've had it open on a separate tab for a couple hours while surfing and blogging; there hasn't been a commercial yet, and they are offering a mix of interviews with analysts and live video from the streets and commentary from reporters down in the streets and up in buildings.

I don't know how to embed this live video.  You can watch it/listen to it at this link.

The modern megaliths of North Korea

From a photoessay with about a hundred photos of North Korea, I found the two above to be the most interesting: "The road is prepared for an invasion, the big cubes can be pushed on the road to trap the enemy tanks. Just in case, they put those things up on every road in the radius of 50km from the border, they are often decorated. "

Credit watermarked in the photos, via Reddit.

27 January 2011

How butterflies came to the Americas

[Vladimir Nabokov] was the curator of lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University... in a speculative moment in 1945, he came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves.

Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right...

Dr. Pierce and her colleagues concluded that five waves of butterflies came from Asia to the New World — just as Nabokov had speculated. “By God, he got every one right,” Dr. Pierce said. “I couldn’t get over it — I was blown away.” ...

Dr. Pierce and her colleagues found that the first lineage of Polyommatus blues that made the journey could survive a temperature range that matched the Bering climate of 10 million years ago. The lineages that came later are more cold-hardy, each with a temperature range matching the falling temperatures.
And the correlate to this - left unstated by the investigators and the NYT, but quite obvious to me - is that the reason early humans crossed Beringia from Asia to the Americas is that they were interested in the butterflies.

Further details at the New York Times.

Photo:  An endangered "Karner Blue" (Lycaeides melissa samuelis), photographed by me at Bauer Brockway Barrens, Wisconsin in May of 2010.  This butterfly was originally identified by Vladimir Nabokov.  The Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association has tentatively scheduled another field trip to this location on May 21, 2011.  Local enthusiasts can say tuned to this blog for further updates after the snow melts...

"Night of the Living Dead"

This is the original (noncolorized) 1968 version by George Romero, "selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed 'culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.'"
Nationally, it was shown as a Saturday afternoon matinée — as was typical for horror films at the time — and attracted an audience consisting of pre-teens and adolescents. The MPAA film rating system was not in place until November 1968, so even young children were not prohibited from purchasing tickets. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times chided theater owners and parents who allowed children access to the film. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them," he said. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else." According to Ebert, the film affected the audience immediately: “ The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying...

More than 40 years after its release, the film enjoys a reputation as a classic and still receives positive reviews; Night of the Living Dead currently holds a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes
The embed is full-length and has a 1080p option in the control bar, to allow fullscreen viewing.

Abusing bath salts

When Neil Brown got high on dangerous chemicals sold as bath salts, he took his skinning knife and slit his face and stomach repeatedly. Brown survived, but authorities say others haven't been so lucky after snorting, injecting or smoking powders with such innocuous-sounding names as Ivory Wave, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky.

Some say the effects of the powders are as powerful as abusing methamphetamine... emergency calls are being reported over-exposure to the stimulants the powders often contain: mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV...

The stimulants aren't regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, but are facing federal scrutiny. Law officers say some of the substances are being shipped from Europe, but origins are still unclear... MDPV and mephedrone are made in a lab, and they aren't regulated because they're not marketed for human consumption...

A small packet of the chemicals typically costs as little as $20.

How China will create a mega-city

City planners in south China have laid out an ambitious plan to merge together the nine cities that lie around the Pearl River Delta. The "Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One" scheme will create a 16,000 sq mile urban area that is 26 times larger geographically than Greater London, or twice the size of Wales...

Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion)...

Twenty-nine rail lines, totalling 3,100 miles, will be added, cutting rail journeys around the urban area to a maximum of one hour between different city centres...

In the north, the area around Beijing and Tianjin, two of China's most important cities, is being ringed with a network of high-speed railways that will create a super-urban area known as the Bohai Economic Rim. Its population could be as high as 260 million...

As the process gathers pace, total investment in urban infrastructure over the next five years is expected to hit £685 billion, according to an estimate by the British Chamber of Commerce, with an additional £300 billion spend on high speed rail and £70 billion on urban transport.
Mind-boggling.  More at the Telegraph.

"The river Thames"

I recently posted an article about the impressive cleanup of the Thames, and raised the question of why that river (and other English rivers) are often identified as "the river Thames" rather than "the Thames river" (or Thames River).  It is apparently a classic American English / British English difference.  Kniffler was able to provide and excellent link on the subject, from the separated by a common language blog:
Before the late 17th century (according to the OED), the normal way to refer to rivers was the River of X... From the late 17th century, the of started to be dropped, so then we get the River X, as in the River Thames, the River Clyde, the River Cam, etc. But what else was going on in the 17th century? Oh yeah, the English coloni{s/z}ation of North America. So this is about the time when we'd expect to see transatlantic differences starting to develop...

BrE speakers generally use the American word order when referring to American rivers. One doesn't hear the River Mississippi much... and this seems to extend to the rest of the new world--BrE prefers Amazon River (7 British National Corpus hits) over the River Amazon (2 hits), but really prefers just the Amazon (over 300 hits). For European and African rivers, it's River X all the way...

I've had a quick look for rivers in the US and UK that have the same name, but haven't succeeded in finding any--but we can see what happened when the English River Avon went to Canada and Australia. According to Wikipedia, the New World versions are Avon Rivers.
Elsewhere the same blog addresses the differences between "The University of X" and "X University."
People outside the US often get American university names wrong in this way, since elsewhere University of X and X University are synonyms. Thus in the UK, University of Essex and Essex University are two names for the same thing. But in the US, University of X may very well be the name of a different university from X University. Some examples:

University of Miami is in Florida; Miami University is in Ohio...

University of Washington is in Washington State; Washington University is in Missouri.

New York University is a private university; {City/State} University of New York is city/state-funded.

University of California is in California; California University is in Pennsylvania.

"Sex Madness" (1938)

 Sex Madness (1938) is an exploitation film directed by Dwain Esper, along the lines of Reefer Madness, supposedly to warn teenagers and young adults of the dangers of venereal diseases, specifically syphilis. Wild parties, lesbianism, and premarital sex are some of the forms of "madness" portrayed. The "educational" aspect of the film allowed it to portray a taboo subject which was otherwise forbidden by the Production Code of 1930, and its stricter version imposed by Hollywood studios in July 1934. The film has fallen into the public domain and can be freely downloaded from the Internet Archive. It has been reissued under many titles, including Human Wreckage, They Must Be Told, and Trial Marriage.
I've not watched it.  If you decide to do so, please feel free to leave mini-reviews in the Comments section.

Managing "spiritually unfit soldiers"

A series of articles at a website called "Rock Beyond Belief" addresses the U.S. military's approach to the "spiritual health" of its soldiers.  The first article says that the armed forces claim to make a distinction between "spirituality" and "religion," (the former being a belief in a higher power such as a god or spirit), and they justify the need for spirituality as a defense against committing suicide. The second article ' "Yahweh or the Highway" indicates that spiritual fitness is considered mandatory, and that rituals such as folding the U.S. flag have a symbolic significance regarding God.  The third article indicates that soldiers who fail a "spiritual fitness test" are required to seek counseling from chaplains:
...this chaplain told me that I failed the SFT because it was “Jesus’ way of personally knocking on my door as an invitation for me to come to Him as a born again ‘REAL’ Christian” so that I  could be saved and not burn forever in Hell for rejecting him...
The website clearly has an agenda of its own.  I don't have any independent sources to confirm or modify the conclusions they offer.

A top new model. Male model.

... 19-year old Andrej Pejic is not your usual male model as you can see from these pictures showing his two starring turns on the catwalk this past week for Jean Paul Gaultier.

The gorgeous blonde Veronica Lake ringer in gold and furs at Gaultier's menswear show? Pejic. The beautiful hourglass bride at the finale of Gaultier's haute couture show in Paris, resplendent in ruffled tulle and feather headdress? Pejic again.
More at the Telegraph.

Some tips about online shopping

Most people who shop online are aware of these things, but a Slate article provides a nice summary:
In its most brazen form, it works like this: Retailers read the cookies kept on your browser or glean information from your past purchase history when you are logged into a site. That gives them a sense of what you search for and buy, how much you paid for it, and whether you might be willing and able to spend more. They alter their prices or offers accordingly...

Sellers of time-sensitive, highly price-variable goods (think airline tickets, hotel rooms, or car rentals) do it all the time, somewhat openly. If you have ever had the annoying experience of buying a plane ticket through a portal like Kayak, then seeing the final price jump $10 or $40 at check out, you have probably found yourself on the receiving end of dynamic pricing...

This August, the Wall Street Journal reported on a company that helps Capital One determine what credit-card deals to offer customers when they land at the site. The deals change depending not on any credit-rating or salary information given to the firm by the customer—just on information skimmed off of their computer before the page loads. More recently, bloggers caught the bank offering different deals to users using different browsers...

Researchers conducted a 1,500-person survey and found about two in three respondents did not know it is legal "for an online store to charge different people different prices at the same time of day." About 70 percent did not realize it is also legal for bricks-and-mortar stores to do so. But yes, as long as stores do not discriminate based on age, sex, location, or a few other characteristics, stores can price as capriciously as they want.
More at the link.

26 January 2011

"Microcosmos"

"A collection of images taken with scanning electron microscopes (SEM) has been pieced together by London-based science author, Brandon Broll, into a book titled Microcosmos."
Top: "a wood or heathland ant, Formica fusca, holding a microchip."
Bottom: "a clutch of unidentified butterfly eggs on a raspberry plant. These eggs have already hatched."

Several dozen more images are in a gallery at The Telegraph.

Credit: Science Photo Library/Barcroft Media 

"The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous."

"The war is not meant to be won.  It is meant to be continuous.  The essential act of modern warfare is the destruction of the produce of human labor... The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects, and its object is not victory over eurasia or Eastasia, but to keep the very structure of society intact."
From the voiceover dialogue of the movie 1984Via for screencap photo.

Why you shouldn't believe low inflation numbers

From an article in the Wall Street Journal:
... the official inflation numbers should be taken with a fistful of salt. Over the past 30 years, the federal government has made a lot of changes to the way it calculates inflation. It's taken place under presidents of both parties...

... if we still calculated inflation the way we did when Jimmy Carter was president, the official inflation figures would look about as bad as they did when ... Jimmy Carter was president. According to Mr. Williams's calculations, if we counted inflation under the old system the official rate wouldn't be 1.5%. It would be closer to 10%...

Under the official calculations, if steak prices boom, the government just assumes you buy cheaper hamburger instead. Presto—no inflation!

Or consider the case of Apple computers... The cheapest Mac laptop today costs $999. A few years ago, it also cost $999. So the price is the same, right?  Ha. Not according Uncle Sam. Using a piece of chicanery called "hedonics," Uncle Sam calls this a price cut. His reasoning? You're getting more for the money. Today's $999 Mac is lighter, fancier and faster than last year's $999 Mac. So the government calculates that the "real" price has actually fallen..

... look at raw materials. Around the world prices are skyrocketing, from copper to cocoa. The United Nations Food Price Index has just hit a new record high. Oil's back near $90 a barrel. Wheat prices have nearly doubled since last summer... Sooner or later this is going to show up in your supermarket, or at the mall, in higher prices...

We are flooding the world with extra dollars. The Fed simply invents as many as it likes. In the past couple of years, to try to keep the economy out of a tailspin, it has more than doubled the size of the so-called monetary base...
The first argument - about unreliable inflation data - was explained at more length in an article in Harper's, which I highlighted at this link.  Highly recommended reading for those interested in this subject matter.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty


Last January this film was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the Academy Awards.  Does well in fullscreen viewing.

"The rich are different from you and me"

The title is a slightly abbreviated misquotation from the short story "The Rich Boy" (1926), by fellow-Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand."

A good example is given in yesterday's Wall Street Journal account of the divorce of a fund manager:
* The couple owned six homes–including a $4 million home in Rancho Santa Fe and a penthouse in Manhattan–and had two more under construction. The total value of the homes was more than $40 million...

* Mr. Brandes owned 10 Ferraris (valued at more than $4.4 million) and an “extremely long driveway” to race sports cars, dirt bikes and ATVs.

* She had gambling bills of as much as $30,000 a month.

* Mr. Brandes paid Elton John somewhere from $1 million to $1.5 million to perform at his wedding when he remarried in 2006. He paid Christina Aguilera $1 million to perform at a Halloween party...

While the investments generated about $154,881 a month, she said she needed more, citing her clothing budget ($70,000 a year), art spending and gambling bills. Her support increased to $500,000 a month, or $6 million...

She may indeed be entitled to far more than she has already received, since his monthly income is reported to be more than $16 million.

Yet hearing someone say that $6 million a year isn’t enough to live on shows just how removed the economy of the rich has become from the rest of the country...
And today the Telegraph features a story about how "wealth inequality" is under discussion at the Davos summit:
“The increase in inequality is the most serious challenge for the world,” Min Zhu, a special adviser at the International Monetary Fund and a former deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, told delegates at the Davos gathering...

Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at New York University, also warned that inequality “exacerbates political instability”...

Mr Zhu said raising taxes on the rich would not address the core of the problem. “It’s not just about tax, we need to go further. We need to look back at how and where this wealth is being created,” he said...

Mountain climbing in China

The still photo shows one of the stairways at Hua Shan.  I've previously posted a photo of the gondolas and the plank walk.   This morning I also found a video, which includes one stair segment even worse than the one above (think not just vertical but almost convex), and - at the four minute mark - video of the plank walk.  Not for the faint of heart.

Commodity price inflation

I've written about this topic a number of times in the blog, but  two interesting articles just appeared this week.  One in the Wall Street Journal explains how the increases jump across categories:
It's getting pricier to throw some ribs and burgers on the grill. And you can blame the surging price of corn. That's because much of the corn grown in the U.S. is used as animal feed. And "we're using $6 corn to feed hogs right now," up from about $4 last year... So if you "want barbecue ribs," he adds, "you're going to have an extra $10 attached to it."...

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization's monthly Food Price Index, which monitors the monthly change in a basket of commodities including meat, dairy and sugar, rose for the sixth straight month in December to its highest level since 1990....

In some cases, prices may not rise, but you will see fewer discounts or get less for your money. For instance, because of sugar prices' 30-year high in late December, packages are expected to shrink to a four-pound bag, from a five-pound bag, Mr. Swanson says. "You're getting 20% less" for the same price, he says....

Cotton futures prices skyrocketed 92% in 2010, thanks to growing demand as well as floods in Pakistan and heavy rains in China that damaged crops... Retail prices of jeans are expected to increase this year by 4.3%, socks 2.7%, sweatshirts and sweatpants 2.4%, polo shirts 2% and T-shirts 1.8%, according to industry group Cotton Inc.

Mens' clothes, in particular, are expected to get a bigger price bump because more of the garments contain cotton (compared with apparel for women and children) and they're a heavier weight with a higher cotton content....
And an article at the Guardian suggests that it's not just bad weather and increased demand that increases commodity prices. There is also pressure generated by speculators:
The same banks, hedge funds and financiers whose speculation on the global money markets caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis are thought to be causing food prices to yo-yo and inflate. The charge against them is that by taking advantage of the deregulation of global commodity markets they are making billions from speculating on food...

When this process of "hedging" was tightly regulated, it worked well enough. The price of real food on the real world market was still set by the real forces of supply and demand. But all that changed in the mid-1990s. Then, following heavy lobbying by banks, hedge funds and free market politicians in the US and Britain, the regulations on commodity markets were steadily abolished. Contracts to buy and sell foods were turned into "derivatives" that could be bought and sold among traders who had nothing to do with agriculture. In effect a new, unreal market in "food speculation" was born...

...the markets are now heavily distorted by investment banks: "Let's say news comes about bad crops and rain somewhere. Normally the price would rise about $1 [a bushel]. [But] when you have a 70-80% speculative market it goes up $2-3 to account for the extra costs...

Last year, London hedge fund Armajaro bought 240,000 tonnes, or more than 7%, of the world's stocks of cocoa beans, helping to drive chocolate to its highest price in 33 years. Meanwhile, the price of coffee shot up 20% in just three days as a direct result of hedge funds betting on the price of coffee falling...
More at the link.  Sounds like the plot of a Frank Norris novel I read in college.

25 January 2011

A mourning buckle

An interesting item from the Victoria and Albert:
Jewels commemorating the dead were widely worn during the 17th century. This mourning buckle contains panels of woven hair, decorated with an elaborate inscription in gold thread and a small enamelled skull, all set behind rock crystal. The inscription, partly in Latin, tells us that the piece commemorates Elizabeth Harman who died on 11 April 1698, aged 27.
I couldn't find a way to rotate the photo 90 degrees to orient it more "buckle-like," so it looks a bit odd.  The hair runs around the perimeter of the buckle, underneath the inscription.

Image fixed, with a hat tip to nolandda!

"Humanity hanging from a cross of iron"

The Chance for Peace speech was an address given by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 16, 1953, shortly after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Speaking only three months into his presidency, Eisenhower likened arms spending to stealing from the people, and evoked William Jennings Bryan in describing "humanity hanging from a cross of iron."...
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . .
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
The full text of the speech is at this link.

The River Thames - then and now

Excerpts from an article at The Telegraph about the return of wildlife to a newly-cleaned-up Thames:
It was near this spot in 1878 that more than 600 passengers on the steamship Princess Alice died when the pleasure boat sank in a collision. As they swam towards the safety of the shore, the passengers were overcome by the noxious cocktail of pollution in the water. In 1957, the pollution levels became so bad that the River Thames was declared biologically dead. The amount of oxygen in the water fell so low that no life could survive and the mud reeked of rotten eggs.

Fifty years later, the Thames has become a very different place. It teems with life: 125 species of fish swim beneath its surface while more than 400 species of invertebrates live in the mud, water and river banks. Waterfowl, waders and sea birds feed off the rich pickings in the water while seals, dolphins and even otters are regularly spotted between the river banks where it meanders through London...

Environmental officials now say the Thames is the cleanest it has been in more than 150 years and nearly 400 habitats have now been created to allow wildlife back into the river...

Much of the return of wildlife to the Thames has been due to improvements in water quality. Strict legislation now prevents industry from dumping polluted effluent into the river and its tributeries. Sewage from London and the surrounding area is now treated and then exported.

“Improving the water quality is only half of the battle though,” explains Antonia Scarr, a senior marine advisor with the Environment Agency. “We have had to create the habitats to allow the plants, fish and wildlife to move into...

Even on the smaller rivers and streams that feed into the Thames there is a transformation underway. In Greenwich and Lewisham, extensive work is underway to re-naturalise rivers that for decades have passed unnoticed beneath residents feet... The river Quaggy in Greenwich is one such example. In an area called Sutcliffe Park, the river passed though a culvert hidden beneath a large flat area that was used for football pitches. But in an attempt to restore the wildlife and rich biodiversity that once lived on the river, the Environment Agency opened up the culvert allowed the river to meander through the park.
More at the link. The painting is entitled The Thames by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1876), via The Mariner's Revenge Song.

p.s. - I've entitled this post "The River Thames..." because I've seen the words used in that order in quite a few different places.  I think I've seen "The River Nile" (perhaps without uppercase r?), but never "The River Mississippi" or "The River Yukon."  Does anyone know what governs a convention like this?

Lungs

The manipulated image is a top-down view of human lungs with the cosmic clouds represented by the blanket over the person's body on the right and the CT table cushion on the left. Fung digitally removed the rest.
Via Physics Buzz.

Rooftop sled ride - Russian style

Dissatisfaction with President Obama

Excerpts from a column by Michael Brenner at HuffPo:
Wall Street's takeover of the Obama administration is now complete. The mega-banks and their corporate allies control every economic policy position of consequence. Mr. Obama has moved rapidly since the November debacle to install business people where it counts most. Mr.William Daley from JP Morgan Chase as White House Chief of Staff. Mr. Gene Sperling from the Goldman Sachs payroll to be director of the National Economic Council. Eileen Rominger from Goldman Sachs named director of the SEC's Investment Management division...

Mr. Obama last week obediently recited the Chamber of Commerce's liturgy about governmental regulation being the cause of what ails the American economy in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. This public oath of allegiance signaled his now admitted complicity with those who supposedly had been his opponents...

He chose this path. It conforms to his behavior from the very start of his presidency. It was a newly-elected Obama who hand-picked Geithner and Summers. Who installed as his right-hand man Rahm Emanuel from the board of scandal-ridden Freddie Mac and deal-maker at Dresdner Kleinwort. Who declared at a press conference on the eve of his inauguration that he would not seek to repeal the Bush tax cuts but rather let them drain Treasury revenues until they expired, which of course he has conspired to prevent. Who met clandestinely with Big Pharma to cut a secret deal that ruled out the government's bargaining on drug prices. Who met clandestinely with health industry giants to cut a secret deal that ruled out the public option...

In short, all the evidence is that an old-school "moderate" Republican occupies the White House...

Mumblety-peg

The term "Mumblety-peg" came from the practice of putting a peg of about 2 or 3 inches into the ground. The loser of the game had to take it out with his teeth. Mumbletypeg was very popular as a schoolyard game in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, but with increased concern over child safety the game has declined in popularity...

Mumblety peg is generally played between two people with the aid of a pocket knife. In one version of the game, two opponents stand opposite one another with their feet shoulder-width apart. The first player then takes the knife and throws it to "stick" in the ground as near his own foot as possible. The second player then repeats the process. Whichever player "sticks" the knife closest to his own foot wins the game.

If a player "sticks" the knife in his own foot, he wins the game by default...
Photo reproduction of 1922 magazine page via Centuries of Advice & Advertisement.

Addendum:  Rules here, courtesy of Doc Rock.
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