30 June 2016

A breast cancer survivor walks to Washington


From Biloxi, Mississippi.  Topless.
Paulette Leaphart left her hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi, on April 30, intent on walking to Washington, D.C. -- a journey of 1,034 miles -- and arriving by June 27, her 50th birthday, a milestone her doctors weren't always confident she would reach.

She strides with a sense of purpose, acknowledging that her body is forever changed. Leaphart was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in January 2014. She underwent a double mastectomy and wears the scars as emblems of her struggle.

Accompanied by her youngest daughter, 8-year-old Madeline, Leaphart is traveling the entire route topless.

She wants to make sure Congress understands her experience and recognizes that her plight isn't unusual... 
Here's the crux:
"I trained for this. When I got sick, I had to sell my cars. That made me walk to the doctor," Leaphart says, the memory still vivid. "I'd walk the 5 miles there, recover for an hour or two, then walk the 5 miles back."

Cancer treatment had an effect on her mouth. Many of her teeth are now chipped or broken, her molars useless.

"I need to get my mouth fixed, but do you know how much they want? Ten thousand dollars," Leaphart says, the number spilling from her lips with acrimony.
And this:
A deputy of the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office eases out of his vehicle, parked along Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia. He and another officer have come to talk to Leaphart about her decision to walk bare-chested...

The officer's initial concern stems from social norms based on gender -- the idea that she should be wearing a shirt because she is a woman. The officers respectfully but firmly
insist that she wear a shirt...

Leaphart no longer has nipples. That's why she is allowed to walk around shirtless. In most states, indecent exposure is defined as exposing the genitals (breasts and nether regions). She explains this to almost every officer she meets. While respectfully challenging the police's reasoning, she also confronts society's definition of what it means to be a woman.
She made it, and is scheduled to meet with some legislators.
She has found the purpose for her pain, and as she stands on the steps of the Capitol building on her birthday, she utters three words: "Thank you, God."
More details at ESPN.  Credit for both photos to Latria Graham.

Ja, das ist ein distelfink


I ran across the word while reading a story by Charles Kuralt, and despite my Pennsylvania German heritage, I had to look it up.
A distelfink is a stylized goldfinch, probably based on the European variety.  It frequently appears in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art.  It represents happiness and good fortune and the Pennsylvania German people, and is a common theme in hex signs and in fraktur. The word distelfink (literally 'thistle-finch') is the German name for the European goldfinch.
Next step: look up fraktur:
Fraktur is both a style of lettering and a highly artistic and elaborate illuminated folk art created by the Pennsylvania Dutch...
And then to understand why the "goldfinch" looks so odd, I had to look at photos to see that the European goldfinch looks way different from the American ones that are at our feeders all the time.

Coming July 4: Jupiter orbit insertion


 This is an awesome trailer for next week's event.  Even if you normally don't care about astronomy and space, give this one a try.
"The background radiation we're exposed to on earth is about 0.39 rad.  What we expect to see at Jupiter is about 20,000,000 rad."

"Juno's planned mission will take it around the Jovian giant 37 times, after which, to avoid contaminating Europa with microbes, it will be directed to dive into Jupiter's thick atmosphere, where it will break apart and melt."

Dolphins recognized as "non-human persons"


In 2013 India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests forbade the keeping of captive dolphins for public entertainment:
“Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphin should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose,” the ministry said.
Via Reddit.  Props to the Indian government.

Bird wing trapped in amber


Found in a Burmese amber mine:
The two new samples, weighing in at only 0.06 and 0.3 ounces (1.6 and 8.51 grams), contain bone structure, tracts of feathers, and soft tissue. They are the first Cretaceous plumage samples to be studied that are not simply isolated feathers, according to study co-author Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences...

Skin, muscle, claws, and feather shafts are visible in both samples, along with the remains of rows of primary asymmetrical flight feathers, secondary feathers, and covert feathers. All are similar in arrangement and microstructure to modern birds.
More at National Geographic

A surprising graph of American gun ownership

The percent of American households owning guns is at a near-40 year low in the latest CBS News poll released this month. According to the survey, which was conducted among 1,001 Americans in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, 36 percent of U.S. adults either own a firearm personally, or live with someone who does. That's the lowest rate of gun ownership in the CBS poll going back to 1978. It's down 17 points from the highest recorded rate in 1994, and nearly 10 percentage points from 2012.

Different national polls tend to show slightly different rates of gun ownership... But the downward trend in gun ownership remains consistent across the national polls.

But gun purchases, as measured by FBI firearm background checks, are at historic highs... Many gun rights advocates argue that these figures mean that the overall number of gun owners is growing... But the declining rates of gun ownership across three major national surveys suggest a different explanation: that most of the rise in gun purchases is driven by existing gun owners stocking up, rather than by people buying their first gun. A Washington Post analysis last year found that the average American gun owner now owns approximately eight firearms, double the number in the 1990s.
More details at The Washington Post.

26 June 2016

Divertimento


Windblown ducklings (all eventually made it to safety).

Video shows complication of shooting Dragon's Breath incendiary rounds with a shotgun.

House arrest ankle bracelet placed on man's artificial leg.  He switches legs and goes out and kills someone.

Researchers find "the first example of any eukaryote that completely lacks mitochondria."

Barns on farms are becoming popular wedding venues.  "Counties and cities recognize that entertainment venues can economically boost a rural area. And for owners and operators, prices can run between $2,000 and $4,000 a night per rental."  But they present a nuisance for neighbors.


Why an E.R. charges $629 to put a bandaid on a finger.

Watch the helmet as he slides into second base.

"Iceland seems to be on its way to becoming an even more secular nation, according to a new poll. Less than half of Icelanders claim they are religious and more than 40% of young Icelanders identify as atheist. Remarkably the poll failed to find young Icelanders who accept the creation story of the Bible. 93.9% of Icelanders younger than 25 believed the world was created in the big bang, 6.1% either had no opinion or thought it had come into existence through some other means and 0.0% believed it had been created by God."

"... one progressive organization recently uncovered how Koch Industries uses every trick they can wring out of governments worldwide to avoid paying taxes."

Video of a giant octopus kite.


A tunnel has been found under a pyramid at Teotihuacán.

American Prairie Reserve is creating the largest nature reserve in the continental United States.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been criticised for taking a private jet from Cannes to New York to pick up an environmental award – before jetting back to Cannes.

Enthusiastic golden lab comes to a girl's rescue.

"Those in the movement call themselves patriots, demanding that the federal government adhere to the Constitution and stop what they see as systematic abuse of land rights, gun rights, freedom of speech and other liberties.  Law enforcement officials call them dangerous, delusional and sometimes violent, and say that their numbers are growing amid a wave of anger at the government that has been gaining strength since 2008, a surge that coincided with the election of the first black U.S. president and a crippling economic recession."

A showerthought: "We live in a world where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons."

Gawker has an in-depth study of Donald Trump's hair.  If you care.

"While folate is essential for healthy baby development, excessive amounts could be harmful. The study, released today by Johns Hopkins University, analyzed data from 1,391 mother-child pairs. The women who had both excessive folate and vitamin B12 levels were over 17 times more likely to have children that develop the autism spectrum disorder. Those with excessive folate levels – four times above what is considered adequate – faced double the risk."

Millions of snow fleas turn snow black.


The intrinsic problems of time capsules and intergalactic messages.

A man was stung to death by bees in an Arizona park.

"Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some [petro-states] are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels... In 2016, one thing is finally clear, however: the business model for these corporatized states is busted. The most basic assumption behind their operation — that global oil demand will continue to outpace world petroleum supplies and ensure high prices into the foreseeable future — no longer holds.  Instead, in what for any petro-state is a nightmarish, upside-down version of that model, supply, not demand, is forging ahead, leaving the market flooded with fossil fuels."
And a different article at CBC News discusses how this applies to Canada.

Chipmunk in a bird feeder shows the capacity of his cheek pouches.

A 6'2" basketball player takes off from behind the free-throw line to dunk the ball.


"Neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white nationalists have begun using three sets of parentheses encasing a Jewish surname — for instance, (((Fleishman))) — to identify and target Jews for harassment on blogs and major social media sites like Twitter. As one white supremacist tweeted, "It's closed captioning for the Jew-blind.""  [in part because it's unsearchable]

A video compilation of every 3-point shot made by Shaquille O'Neal.  (n=1)

Video reminder that the Milky Way doesn't move during the night - the earth does.

An ELI5 explanation of why one web browser gives you problems, but the same link in another browser loads quickly and successfully.

The United States Department of Defense relies on floppy disks "to coordinate key strategic forces such as nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a new government report." (hint: unhackable)

Detroit police accused of acting like "dog death squads."


The amazing Gothard Base Tunnel is now open. "With a route length of 57.09 km (35.5 mi) and a total of 151.84 km (94.3 mi) of tunnels, shafts and passages, it is the world's longest and deepest traffic tunnek and the first flat, low-level route through the Alps."

A "kosher" dill pickle is not necessarily kosher in the sense that it has been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law. Rather, it is a pickle made in the traditional manner of Jewish New York City pickle makers, with generous addition of garlic and dill to a natural salt brine.

"How did bathrooms get to be separated by gender in the first place?"  A suggestion that" these laws were adopted as a way to further early-19th century moral ideology that dictated the appropriate role and place for women in society."

You probably don't need to take showers unless you are visibly dirty (or use all those shampoos and deodorants).

Kudos to this barber who gives free haircuts to the homeless.  Another similar barber here.

How to straighten a pig's tail.


Credits for embedded photos, top to bottom: Realgar and quartz, pyrite ammonite, malachite, native wire silver, opalized wood, fluorite with chalcopyrite, silver crystals on calcite matrix, pyrite concretion.  All via the Minerals and Crystals tumblr.

Real Life


A look at Bulgaria's "bride's market"


Every year young Roma women attend "bride markets" with the intention of getting married to the highest bidder.  "If you have gold jewelry and shoes that match your dress... the better family we come from, the higher price we get."  The average bride price is about USD$300-350.  "But it's more like massive speed-dating than the forced marriage market that the media reports."

Before going all judgemental, it's worth reflecting that brides have been "sold" by their families for centuries across many cultures.  This is a long watch (20 minutes) but I think worthwhile - very well done, and narrated with insight and empathy.

25 June 2016

Snark-hunting map

"He had bought a large map representing the sea,
    Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
    A map they could all understand.

"What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
    "They are merely conventional signs!

Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
    But we've got our brave Captain to thank"
(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best --
    A perfect and absolute blank!"
An excerpt from Fit the Second of The Hunting of the Snark.

23 June 2016

Brexit returns surprising so far...


This evening many sources, including the American BBC broadcast, admitted that the outcome of the voting was too close to call, but that insiders, pundits, and bookmakers were cautiously predicting a "remain" victory.

But at present (10pm CDT), with 57.6% of the vote tallied, "leave" is leading "remain" by 51.5% to 48.5%.

The pound is undergoing a severe fall, as are futures for the S&P 500 - currently implying a Dow average down 500 points at the open.

Live coverage at The Telegraph, The Guardian, and the BBC.

Fascinating.  I'm going to be up late tonight.

Addendum:  Live coverage on C-SPAN and on CNN International, and of course on BBC.  And MSNBC.  And CNBC.  Birmingham results expected in 15 minutes, and probability of "leave" winning overall is now at 80%.

Pound/dollar has plunged 10%, to lowest level in 30 years ($1.35).  And this is with London still asleep at 0430 there.

Scotland has voted - countrywide - to stay in the EU.  So if the overall vote result is to "leave," the prospect arises that another referendum will be called to vote on Scotland leaving the UK.

72% voting turnout among the electorate puts the U.S. to shame by comparison.

Addendum:  BBC and ITV have now "called" the election for "leave."  Historic.

Addendum on the morning after:   I was up until the wee hours last night listening to analysts on four different broadcasts.  There is an immense amount to read this morning.  As usual I start with the discussion threads at Reddit.  Here are several of the top-rated ones:

Cameron to resign as PM

A thread for those from other countries

Miscellaneous viewpoints and comments

And one with some humor '"if other countries leave the EU." (credit for embedded image)

No blogging today - I'll be busy surfing the web and trying to peek at the future.

22 June 2016

"To the manner born"


I spent the evening of the summer solstice sitting outdoors with a recreational beverage, reading the only first edition I own - a copy of John Dickson Carr's Speak of the Devil.

One of the secondary characters in the story, set in Regency England (1816), is H.R.H. The Prince Regent, who speaks as follows to a lady:
"A charming curtsy, b'gad! Charming!  Miss Adair, your knee -- if I may mention such a delicate subject -- is to the manner born."
(She replies "Your Royal Highness is too kind.")

It's not a phrase encountered very often on this side of the pond, and I needed to sort out in my head the distinction from the old BBC comedy "To the Manor Born."

First I generated an Ngram chart (above) with the two phrases ("manner" in blue, "manor" in red).  Then a quick visit to The Phrase Finder gave the definitive answer:
Any examination of 'to the manner born' has to include a mention of its often-quoted incarnation, 'to the manor born'. That has a similar meaning but stresses manorial birth, that is, it refers to someone born into the nobility. 

The 'manner' version is earlier and there's some debate amongst etymologists as to whether the second of these phrases was coined deliberately as a play on words, or whether it is just a misspelling of 'manner' as 'manor'. The third possibility, that they arose independently, is highly unlikely. 

'To the manner born' was used by, and probably coined by, Shakespeare, in Hamlet, 1602:
HORATIO:     Is it a custom?
HAMLET:      Ay, marry, is't:
      But to my mind, though I am native here
      And to the manner born, it is a custom
      More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
The meaning there is clear. Hamlet knows the custom being spoken of because he is native, that is, born locally. 

Hamlet was written in or around 1600 and published in 1603. The 'manor' version comes much later. The earliest reference I've found so far is in The Times, July 1859...
The article there goes on to discuss the television program and also concludes that the pre-existing concurrent existence of manner/manor is an eggcorn.

"Enhance the reflection"

Adobe Flash Player critical update recommended

As reported by Krebs On Security:
Adobe on Thursday issued a critical update for its ubiquitous Flash Player software that fixes three dozen security holes in the widely-used browser plugin, including at least one vulnerability that is already being exploited for use in targeted attacks.

The latest update brings Flash to v. 22.0.0.192 for Windows and Mac users alike. If you have Flash installed, you should update, hobble or remove Flash as soon as possible.

The smartest option is probably to ditch the program once and for all and significantly increase the security of your system in the process...

If you choose to update, please do it today.
Details and resource links here.

Amazing marble machine

Ca'n't, wo'n't, and sha'n't


This week I was doing one final reread of Alice in Wonderland (a 1962 paperback version) and was struck by some archaic spelling:
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone; "so I ca'n't take more."
"You mean you ca'n't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
Elsewhere the same style was applied to wo'n't and sha'n't.

Just out of curiosity I ran ca'n't through Google's Ngram viewer (result above), which shows that double-apostrophe'd contractions have not disappeared (though I can't tell whether the modern usages are simply new editions of older books).

A quick web search yielded these comments by Lewis Carroll in his Preface to Sylvie and Bruno Concluded:
Other critics have objected to certain innovations in spelling, such as “ca’n’t”, “wo’n’t”, “traveler”. In reply, I can only plead my firm conviction that the popular usage is wrong. As to “ca’n’t”, it will not be disputed that, in all other words ending in “n’t”, these letters are an abbreviation of “not”; and it is surely absurd to suppose that, in this solitary instance, “not” is represented by " ‘t”! In fact “can’t” is the proper abbreviation for “can it”, just as “is’t” is for “is it”. Again, in “wo’n’t”, the first apostrophe is needed, because the word “would” is here abridged into “wo”: but I hold it proper to spell “don’t” with only one apostrophe, because the word “do” is here complete.
Wordsmiths, grammar Nazis, copyeditors - any thoughts?

20 June 2016

"Gaudeamus Igitur"


Time to say goodbye to graduation season.
"De Brevitate Vitae" (Latin: "On the Shortness of Life"), more commonly known as "Gaudeamus Igitur" ("So Let Us Rejoice") or just "Gaudeamus", is a popular academic commercium song in many Western countries, mainly sung or performed at university graduation ceremonies. Despite its use as a formal graduation hymn, it is a jocular, light-hearted composition that pokes fun at university life. The song is thought to originate in a Latin manuscript from 1287. It is in the tradition of carpe diem ("seize the day") with its exhortations to enjoy life. It was known as a beer-drinking song in many early universities and is the official song of many schools, colleges, universities, institutions, student societies and is the official anthem of the International University Sports Federation...

The lyrics reflect an endorsement of the bacchanalian mayhem of student life while simultaneously retaining the grim knowledge that one day we will all die. The song contains humorous and ironic references to sex and death, and many versions have appeared following efforts to bowdlerise this song for performance in public ceremonies. In private, students will typically sing ribald words. 
A video with the Latin lyrics and English translation is here.  Both texts can also be read at the Wikipedia link.

"Hamboning" demonstrated


"This amazing Hambone performance by Samuel Hicks starts out at a normal pace and then increases in tempo to a blazing finish. Shot in North Carolina back in early 1990s while visiting my brother."
The Juba dance or hambone, originally known as Pattin' Juba (Giouba, Haiti: Djouba), is an American style of dance that involves stomping as well as slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks.

The Juba dance was originally from West Africa. It became an African-American plantation dance that was performed by slaves during their gatherings when no rhythm instruments were allowed due to fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming.

Later in the mid-19th century, music and lyrics were added, and there were public performances of the dance. Its popularization may have indirectly influenced the development of modern tap dance... It was often danced in minstrel shows...

Cordyceps on a tarantula


I've previously posted a David Attenborogh-narrated video of cordyceps in ant brains and emerging from a leaf-roller.  Now here it is affecting a tarantula, via BoingBoing.

Reposted from 2012 to note that the "gold rush" for cordyceps in Tibet is fading.  The Economist reported on the phenomenon last year:
Children are at the front line of the armies of Tibetans (almost every able-bodied rural resident in Yushu) who will spend a frenzied month scouring the hills for what they call yartsa gunbu. In Chinese its name is dongchong xiacao, literally “winter-insect-summer-grass”, for that is what it resembles...

This is Tibet’s annual gold rush. Yartsa gunbu is so highly valued as a medicine that it often sells for more than its  weight in the metal. It has many purported benefits, ranging from preventing cancer to curing back pain. But what makes it so prized is its supposed ability to improve sex lives. It is often described as a “Himalayan Viagra”, good for treating erectile dysfunction and (in women as well) low libido...

The children’s good eyesight and short stature make them the best spotters of the fungus among blades of grass and stalks of ground-hugging cinquefoil shrubs that soon, as the weather warms, will dot the slopes with bright yellow flowers. It is not a job for those unused to the plateau’s thin air. Caterpillar fungus, as yartsa gunbu is usually called in English, is generally found at altitudes above 4,000 metres (13,100 feet). That is higher than Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which borders on Yushu and occupies about half of the plateau...

Digging them up requires painstaking effort. A small pick is used, with great care taken not to break the sprout from the caterpillar’s body. There is little demand for separated pieces; yartsa gunbu is dried and consumed whole. Aficionados gauge the quality of a caterpillar fungus based partly on the relative lengths of body and sprout—impossible if there is no way of being sure whether they were once attached...

[d]espite much effort, no one has yet succeeded in producing commercially viable quantities of good-quality yartsa gunbu in artificial conditions. This means colossal dividends for Tibetans. In the TAR the retail value of the more than 50 tonnes of yartsa gunbu harvested there in 2013 was around 7.5 billion yuan ($1.2 billion), equivalent to nearly half its earnings from tourism..

To boost demand for the fungus, some merchants adulterate products made of it with Viagra...
Much more information at the long read at The Economist, including discussion of the social and environmental impacts.

This year there is evidence that the mania is subsiding:
The trouble is, it’s getting harder and harder to hunt down the caterpillar fungus, which can’t grow fast enough to keep up with Chinese appetites. Tibetan nomads told Frayer that the yield from this year’s harvest was the lowest they’d ever seen...


Meanwhile, prices for the fungus are falling, and harvesters fear China’s crackdown on corruption could hurt demand for the product as a high-value gift for officials. A recent health warning about arsenic levels in caterpillar fungus products is a further headache for cordyceps hunters.

“The locals know it’s a false economy, or at least temporary in many ways — one Tibetan man referred to the fungus as “fool’s gold” and he worried that one day they will be worthless,” Frayer said.
Photo credit Kevin Frayer (more images at the link)

Shallow roots


A striking visual reminder that the roots of trees do not extend deeply into the earth.  Cartoons and illustrations of trees often portray the root system as a mirror image of the above-ground branches.  Some species in arid climates can send down deep tap roots, but for the most part tree roots spread horizontally to harvest precious rainfall and inhibit competitiors. 

Photo from the Photoshopbattles subreddit, where one entry depicts the hardwood under the carpet.

17 June 2016

"Kiss me, you fool"


After I laughed at the cartoon, the classic line in the title for the post popped into my head and I wondered where it came from.  I found the answer at SFGate:
After all, catchphrases have been a major part of people's enjoyment and contemplation of cinema for almost 100 years. The phenomenon even predates sound. In 1915, millions of Americans went to see Theda Bara as a deadly vamp in the silent film "A Fool There Was." In an intertitle she told her hapless slave, "Kiss me, my fool!," which was immediately adapted as "Kiss me, you fool!" and said by millions of women to their husbands and boyfriends.
Here's the relevant moment from the film -

Helping the osprey


For as long as I can remember, when I've driven past a certain intersection in north-central Minnesota, I've looked up to view an osprey's nest located on top of a barren scrag (residuum of a storm-damaged red pine, I think).  This year I did a double-take because it looked so different.  I had to stop the car to study it, and realized that the crag was still there (on the left), but a new structure had arisen, with a huge nest atop it:


A quick search of the 'net after I got back home led me to a news story about the response of some volunteers in the Walker, Minnesota area:

A 30-year-old osprey nest destroyed by high winds last year was successfully replaced March 11 on Onigum Road.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Lake Country Power, Leech Lake Reservation Division of Resource Management, Leech Lake Association and Agency Bay Association, the new nest will soon be home to osprey.

Steve Mortensen of the Leech Lake Reservation Division of Resource Management donated the materials for the nest, while the procurement of the pole through Lake Country Power was done with the help of supervisors Jim Hill and Jim Wimmer.

Lake Country Power linemen Paul, Joel and Shannon used a cherrypicker to repair and put up the nest, which is almost 60 feet above the ground.
Photo of the crew at the link.  Here's the location on Google Streetview (turn to the right to see the old nest on the crag).

Cockfight chair

As eighteenth-century English printers produced increasing numbers of books and members of the upper classes read more, the private study or library and its furnishings became an important part of the domestic interior. This chair is one of the earliest examples of specialized furniture with functions specific to reading. Designed so a male reader could sit astride facing the adjustable book ledge, the chair features a candle holder in one arm and a tray for writing implements in the other. Curiously, this form also became known as a “cockfight” chair, and was depicted in illustrations of cockfights. One possible reason is that the chair allowed managers to safely sit, bird in hand, with the padded back protecting the user’s chest.
That explanation for the colloquial term for the chair is met with skepticism at the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Hope for a cure for multiple sclerosis

Twenty-three patients improve after being treated with stem cells:
The trial, which is the first in the world to show complete long-term remission from the debilitating disease has been hailed by experts as ‘exciting’ ‘unprecedented,’ and ‘close to curative.’...

The new technique, which is a treatment usually used to fight leukaemia, involves using chemotherapy to entirely eradicate the damaged immune system, before rebooting it with a transfusion of bone marrow cells. Out of the 24 patients who were given the treatment at least seven years ago, the majority have seen significant improvements. 70 per cent of patients saw a complete stop to the progression of the disease, while 40 per cent saw a reversal in symptoms such as vision loss, muscle weakness and balance loss...

A variation of this procedure has been used to treat leukaemia for decades, but its use for auto-immune diseases is relatively new. “This is very exciting. However, it is important to note that this therapy can have serious side effects and risks, and would only be appropriate for a small proportion of people with very active MS.” During the trial one participant died of liver failure due to the treatment and another required intensive care for liver complications. 
More details at The Telegraph (or better yet Google some key words)

World temperature data since 1850


Found in the Data is Beautiful subreddit, where there is some discussion.

I thought of sending this to a friend of mine who is a climate change skeptic, but I know his response will be that the changes reflect 1) instrumentation error and 2) normal cyclic variation.  *sigh*


Senior magician

13 June 2016

CCC stonework at Interstate Park, Wisconsin


I recently had the pleasure of visiting Wisconsin's Interstate Park, located along the shoreline of the St. Croix River which separates Wisconsin and Minnesota (a corresponding Interstate Park on the opposite bank of the river is part of the Minnesota state park system).

I had finished walking a wooded trail and was driving out of the park when I glanced off to the side and spotted the chimney in the photo above.  That stopped me in my tracks, and I pulled off the road to investigate.  I parked in an empty lot serving two buildings that are apparently just used for storage.  Here's the awesome front of the other building:


It was immediately apparent to me that I had stumbled upon yet another example of the Civilian Conservation Corps stonework that I have featured in fifteen previous posts in this blog.  Here is the side of this building:


Delighted by this unplanned discovery, I proceeded on to the ranger station, and was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to Julie Fox, a Naturalist and the park's resident historian.  She affirmed that the stonework was indeed a product of the CCC (and later the WPA), which had been instrumental in the improvement of the park as a public resource.

There is other stonework in a variety of locations in the park.  Some of it, such as the wall along this road, has been subject to a lot of wear and has required updating for safety reasons, so that what currently exists may not represent original CCC craftsmanship.


The same principal applies at other locations such as stairways and ramparts at viewpoints over the Dalles of the St. Croix River.  This one that I photographed at the end of the Pothole Trail is new construction completed within the past decade; the masons were asked to emulate the style of the CCC workers.



Ms. Fox directed me to a location I would not otherwise have found - a shelter at a picnic ground well back in the woods away from the current parking area. 


Structures like this are standard features on innumerable state and national parks, designed to offer shelter to picknickers and campers during inclement weather, and providing in this case two fireplaces for cooking.


What was unusual to my eye was the squared-off faces of the structural stones.  Even the finest craftsmen couldn't achieve this degree of regularity with hand tools, so I suspect the crew working on this building had access to some type of stone or masonry saw.



It's tidy and perfectly functional, but in my view lacks the charm and raw beauty of the rough stone used in the old park headquarters buildings, so I returned there for a closer look at the stonework:


One of the mandates of the CCC projects was the preferential utilization of local resources.  Julie Fox confirmed that the stone used at Interstate Park was the same basalt that forms the striking landscape of the park, and that it was in fact quarried within the boundaries of the park, using a methodology that dates back to prehistoric times (heating the rock with fire, then dousing it with cold water to fracture it into workable sizes.)

My eye is always drawn to the mortar as a reflection of the skills and experience of the builders.  The CCC gave employment (and taught skills) to a generation of young men from a depression-ravaged nation, taking them from city slums and rural towns where they most likely had never had relevant work experiences.

The CCC hired local stonemasons to guide (and train) the young men.  In the 1920s the building of stone walls and buildings was a respected profession, and I can sense in much of the CCC work the "eyes" and pride of lifelong stoneworkers in selecting colorful and interesting stones that are beautiful rather than just functional (see the stonework at Gooseberry Falls for an excellent example).


I'll be back to this park again the next time I travel to west central Wisconsin.  There's more stonework to find there (stairways for example) and some park buildings that I missed on my quick visit this week.  I hope to repost an addendum later this summer.

More information about Interstate Park in this video.

(As a reminder to readers, fully half the posts in the CCC category of this blog contain photos (from Alaska, Florida, New Mexico, New York) credited not to me, but to readers.  If you find good examples during your summer travels, snap some images and send them along).

Addendum: Forest Army has a report on the CCC work at Interstate Park, including the excavation of a bison skull (currently on display in the park's new headquarters building).  The post incorporates this image (apparently a contemporary postcard) -


- depicting the stonework along the roadside of the park (mortared at the dropoff, drywall on the right).

Context is essential

For many viewers the image is a touching portrait of parental care and affection. The reason that father and son were naked was because Fox had Salmonella poisoning for which he would soon after be hospitalised.

"Thomas had spent hours in the shower with him, trying to keep his fever down and letting the vomit and diarrhea rinse off of them both as it came," Whitten wrote in her post accompanying the photo.

"He was so patient and so loving and so strong with our tiny son in his lap... I stepped out and grabbed my camera and came back to snap a few images of it and, of course shared them."

But for some people the image is inappropriate at best and at worst has undertones of paedophilia. Whitten has been surprised by this reaction and was shocked when people posted negative comments about what was for her a beautiful moment.

"There is nothing sexual or exploitative about this image," she wrote in the initial post. "I was taken aback by how many people missed the story or didn't even look past the nudity to find the story."
More discussion at the BBC.

Diversity immigrant visa - the "green card lottery"

I didn't know such visas existed until I heard about them in an interesting podcast form This American Life.
The lottery makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to natives of countries deemed to have low rates of immigration to the United States... They must satisfy general immigration requirements, such as means of support, no criminal background, and good health... Those born in any territory that has sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the previous five years are not eligible to receive a diversity visa...

[T]here have been arguments by longtime temporary legal residents in the United States against the fairness of the DV program. A situation where high skilled (H-1B and L-1 visas) workers and taxpayers remain on temporary visas in the US for years (in some cases, more than a decade) with no clear path to becoming permanent residents while 50,000 random people are picked around the world and handed permanent resident status questions the fairness of the US immigration system.

Wingsuit flying


Discussed at Reddit.

Safety glasses


The spear-shaped fragment embedded in the lens of the glasses came from a fragmenting angle grinder disc.

Res ipsa loquitur, with additional commentary from experienced users here.

Obama on guns

From comments during a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana:
I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I got people who we know have been on ISIL Web sites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun.

This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer. And if he wants to walk in to a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as much — as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing’s prohibiting him from doing that, even though the FBI knows who that person is.

So, sir, I just have to say, respectfully, that there is a way for us to have commonsense gun laws. There is a way for us to make sure that lawful, responsible gun owners like yourself are able to use them for sporting, hunting, protecting yourself, but the only way we’re going to do that is if we don’t have a situation in which anything that is proposed is viewed as some tyrannical destruction of the Second Amendment. And that’s how the issue too often gets framed.
Note these comments were made last week, before the Orlando massacre.
Law enforcement sources confirmed that Mateen was on the FBI's radar but not necessarily on a watch list. But even appearing on the list wouldn't have necessarily prevented him from obtaining weapons

"Being on the watch list is not in itself disqualifying, under law. The disqualifying elements of the investigation may be classified," ABC News consultant and former acting Homeland Security undersecretary John Cohen said. 

According to Florida law, there is a mandatory three-day waiting period for handgun purchases, but no permit, registration or licensing is needed to buy or own rifles, shotguns or handguns. A permit is needed, however, to carry a handgun.

Respond to disasters with money, not goods

Excerpts from a Reddit discussion thread:
What advice do you have for the general public who want to help in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy (or other crisis events)? 

Do not donate your used items, just give money and in this case blood When the Fort McMurray fire happened they were overloaded with used items that they had no use for and tons of warehouses in Edmonton are filled with people's used crap...

After the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011, the Red Cross actually published ads in newspapers giving guidance about this. They said the reason they wanted money, rather than goods, was threefold: 1) Folks tended to give the wrong things, or too many of one thing and not enough of others (so, in Christchurch, lots and lots of tinned baked beans). If they give money instead the Red Cross can just buy the stuff needed in the right amounts; 2) All the wrong stuff that people give which can't be used has to be either (a) stored or (b) disposed of. Both cost money that could be better spent helping those affected by the disaster; 3) A flood of stuff from outside the disaster area destroys the local economy just when they need help the most. For example, my sister in law runs a corner store in Christchurch. Her family had opened that store every single day, including Christmas and Easter, for over 40 years. After the earthquakes so much food was donated that they ended up closing the store for three months as they had no customers...

Providing free goods and services damages the local economy. Ex-President Clinton admitted that the trade policy his administration imposed on Haiti destroyed Haitian farmers. Small farmers could not compete with U.S. agribusiness and went out of business. Now Haitians rely on aid to buy imported food.

In an article about aid to Africa : "Even what may appear as a benign intervention on the surface can have damning consequences. Say there is a mosquito-net maker in small-town Africa. Say he employs 10 people who together manufacture 500 nets a week. Typically, these 10 employees support upward of 15 relatives each. A Western government-inspired program generously supplies the affected region with 100,000 free mosquito nets. This promptly puts the mosquito net manufacturer out of business, and now his 10 employees can no longer support their 150 dependents. In a couple of years, most of the donated nets will be torn and useless, but now there is no mosquito net maker to go to. They'll have to get more aid. And African governments once again get to abdicate their responsibilities. In a similar vein has been the approach to food aid, which historically has done little to support African farmers. Under the auspices of the U.S. Food for Peace program, each year millions of dollars are used to buy American-grown food that has to then be shipped across oceans. One wonders how a system of flooding foreign markets with American food, which puts local farmers out of business, actually helps better Africa. A better strategy would be to use aid money to buy food from farmers within the country, and then distribute that food to the local citizens in need."
I'm sure one reason disaster areas are flooded with goods is that companies can donate merchandise that isn't selling, then deduct the value from their taxes as a charitable contribution.

05 June 2016

Blogcation


Key Monastery (India)


More information here.

Oh, now I understand...


There have been a multitude of videos and stories coming out of Texas this week reporting on the record flooding there.  I was watching a national newscast of a reporter standing knee-deep in floodwaters with half-submerged houses and cars in the background; he explained the intensity of the disaster in these terms:
"The flow in the Brazos River is equivalent to 35 million water bottles a minute."
Photo credit: Jennifer Pettus Ellis

"It's got a leg like me"

YouTube link.

This 10-year old girl has had a prosthetic leg since she was 9 months old.  Her mother sent an American Girl doll to A Step Ahead Prosthetics, and they fashioned a prosthetic leg for the doll.

Via Neatorama.
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