30 July 2018

Beautiful. And sad.

Every summer, phytoplankton spread across the northern basins of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, with blooms spanning hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometers. Nutrient-rich, cooler waters tend to promote more growth among marine plants and phytoplankton than is found in tropical waters. Blooms this summer off of Scandinavia seem to be particularly intense.

On July 18, 2018, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired a natural-color image [below] of a swirling green phytoplankton bloom in the Gulf of Finland, a section of the Baltic Sea. Note how the phytoplankton trace the edges of a vortex; it is possible that this ocean eddy is pumping up nutrients from the depths...

In recent years, the proliferation of algae blooms in the Baltic Sea has led to the regular appearance of “dead zones” in the basin. Phytoplankton and cyanobacteria consume the abundant nutrients in the Baltic—fueled largely by runoff from sewage and agriculture—and reproduce in such vast numbers that their growth and decay deplete the oxygen content of the water. According to researchers from Finland’s University of Turku, the dead zone this year is estimated to span about 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles).

A research team from Finland and Germany reported this month that oxygen levels in recent years in the Baltic Sea are at their lowest levels in the past 1500 years. More frequent and massive blooms, combined with warming seas due to climate change, are making it harder for fish and other marine life to thrive in this basin.

I cropped the top photo from the lower one; the tiny white dots are boats.

"80% of US workers live paycheck to paycheck"

That's seems hard to believe, but that's the number cited by CNBC:
Seventy-eight percent of full-time workers said they live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75 percent last year, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder. Overall, 71 percent of all U.S. workers said they're now in debt, up from 68 percent a year ago...

Even those making over six figures said they struggle to make ends meet, the report said. Nearly 1 in 10 of those making $100,000 or more said they usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, and 59 percent of those in that salary range said they were in the red.
Commentary in a op-ed piece at The Guardian:
The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Although the US economy continues to grow, most of the gains have been going to a relatively few top executives of large companies, financiers, and inventors and owners of digital devices.

America doesn’t have a jobs crisis. It has a good jobs crisis...

Two fundamental forces have changed the structure of the US economy, directly altering the balance of power between business and labor. The first is the increasing difficulty for workers of joining together in trade unions. The second is the growing ease by which corporations can join together in oligopolies or to form monopolies...

This great shift in bargaining power, from workers to corporations, has pushed a larger portion of national income into profits and a lower portion into wages than at any time since the second world war. In recent years, most of those profits have gone into higher executive pay and higher share prices rather than into new investment or worker pay...

Another consequence: corporations and wealthy individuals have had more money to pour into political campaigns and lobbying, while labor unions have had far less... 
The combination of high corporate profits and growing corporate political power has created a vicious cycle: higher profits have generated more political influence, which has altered the rules of the game through legislative, congressional, and judicial action – enabling corporations to extract even more profit. The biggest losers, from whom most profits have been extracted, have been average workers.  
Image via the Brookings Institute.

Movie trailers



The most striking example I can think of recently where a trailer was strikingly different from the movie was Suburbicon.  The trailer suggests a Coen brothers-style black comedy in which Matt Damon is the hero. That would be the case only if gang rape and racial violence are considered comedic elements (and Matt Damon is the antithesis of a hero in the film).

And speaking of trailers...



Guess what this one's for (via the whatisthisthing subreddit).

Answer here:


Congratulations to Imran Khan

YouTube link.

I first took note of Imran Khan in this blog back in 2010, when he spearheaded a nationwide effort to address the crisis of massive flooding covering one-fifth of Pakistan.  The following year The Guardian took note of his criticism of longstanding graft and corruption in Pakistan's politics.

That populist approach has culminated in his successful election to lead the country; he is expected to easily form a coalition government and become Prime Minister.  The video above is a 24-minute worthwhile longwatch that incorporates three regional journalists from Islamabad and Lahore.  They make note of the breadth of his appeal, winning districts from the Khyber to Punjab, as well as he major cities.  Perhaps because of his cricketing fame, he is hugely popular (with the people and the politicians) in neighboring India - a major advantage in securing regional peace.  And this morning the India Times headline reads "Chinese media goes gaga over Imran Khan..." after his party Tweeted in Mandarin about improving ties with China.

He has a complicated task ahead, having inherited a government that for generations has been corrupt and has wasted the country's resources.  He has to deal with military generals who have exercised immense control of national policies in the past.  His country shares national borders with India, China, Afghanistan, and Iran.  He will want to continue modernizing his country, with a major focus on the welfare of the common people rather than the military.
Pakistan matters because, with its youthful population of more than 200 million (66% are under 30), it is a country of vast potential handicapped by endemic poverty, illiteracy and inequality. It is also, not coincidentally, a battleground pitting anti-western Islamists, schooled in international jihad in Saudi-funded madrassas, against the secular, anglophone elite. It is central to the “war on terror”. Its stability and security, or lack of it, has a potentially global impact.

For the British, Pakistan exercises an abiding fascination, rooted in the Raj’s disastrous part in its bloody 1947 birth and in continuing, close ethnic and cultural ties. For the Americans, self-anointed heirs to empire, Pakistan plays the dual role of indispensable ally and duplicitous villain in their endless Afghan drama. For many in India, Islamabad is the nuclear-armed bogeyman next door. For expansionist China, Pakistan is a key link in its grandiose Belt and Road trading franchise, reliant on Beijing’s loans, investment and goodwill...
Pakistan’s generals are accustomed to exercising sole control of foreign and security policy. Challenging them can be a career or even life-ending experience. So if Khan, for example, wants to break with the US, befriend India, or talk to terrorists, he had better watch his back. Whatever the popular storyline says about democracy redux, the hidden hand on the new prime minister’s shoulder is real. It will be hard to shake off.
And these thoughts from the New York Times yesterday:
Pakistan has reached a turning point that could possibly alter its dysfunctional trajectory... Mr. Khan brings something new: more star power and mystique than any recent Pakistani leader and perhaps a better chance to change the country’s narrative... “Relatively few Pakistani leaders have won over the West... But Khan is familiar with operating in the international world. He already has strong name recognition. He doesn’t need to be introduced.”

Oxford-educated and once married to a wealthy British woman, Mr. Khan is clearly comfortable in the highest circles of Western power brokers. He was close friends with Princess Diana. (Shortly before she died, Mr. Khan has said, he was trying to help her find a new husband.)

Still, the old Mr. Khan is not necessarily the new Mr. Khan. In recent years, he has undergone a complex metamorphosis, distancing himself from his days as a star athlete and ladies’ man. He now expresses sympathy for the Taliban and for Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which include the death penalty, positions that play well domestically...

Take his views on religion. He has said that he wants to reform the madrasa system in which countless young Pakistani boys have been brainwashed in Quranic schools to fight for extremist groups. At the same time, Mr. Khan has supported Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and teamed up with hard-line religious groups that a few years ago rioted in Islamabad, the capital...

To Western governments, Mr. Khan’s idiosyncrasies may not even matter that much. Analysts say there are only two issues the West really cares about in Pakistan: militant groups and nuclear arms. Mr. Khan will not have much say in either. The military and intelligence establishment handles both.
The biggest issue that Mr. Khan will control is the economy. This is where he could shine as a leader or quickly be subsumed. Pakistan is facing a balance of payments crisis, its currency has rapidly devalued, its debt is soaring.

Economists say the steps the next prime minister must take are obvious but painful. The national budget (including the military’s) needs to be cut, Pakistanis must pay more for energy, old state-run businesses need to be privatized and taxes — many more taxes — need to be collected.
TYWKIWDBI wishes Imran Khan success in this enormous task.  We will continue to follow events and blog them every now and then.

"Babywearing" explained

When Maura Caldwell was nine months pregnant and working out at her Minneapolis gym, people would often ask to take her photo. Not because she was deadlifting 135 pounds, but because she was doing it with her toddler strapped to her back.

“I love working out and when Grandma wasn’t able to come watch my son, I’d just wear him at the gym and add a little extra weight to my workouts,” Caldwell said. “Now, having had a second baby, I find babywearing even more valuable and essential.”

“Babywearing” is a growing practice among a new generation of parents who are ditching the stroller in favor of strapping their babies — and sometimes even toddlers — into carriers to tote around on their backs, chests or hips. Unlike baby backpacks once used for toting infants to and from home, parents now rely on slings and soft carriers to bring their children with them wherever they go: to the gym, grocery store, concerts, even work.

Though babywearing has been met with safety warnings from the medical field, proponents say it helps infants thrive physically, socially and emotionally.
More information at the StarTribune (whence the photo, cropped for emphasis, credit Richard Tsong-Taatarii), and at Wikipedia, where there is a reminder that this is an ancient and worldwide practice.

29 July 2018

Sweet corn and freezer corn

"Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered."            --Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
For Ray Bradbury, summer was preserved in dandelion wine.  Here in Wisconsin and Minnesota, we preserve summer in freezer corn.

The first step is an early morning visit to a local farm.  They harvest at sunrise and bring it into a barn for processing.  Modern sweet corn is incredibly sweet - much more so than the strains of corn I grew up with 50-60 years ago.  And modern corn holds that sweetness longer, before the intrinsic sugars start turning into starch.  Even so, it's best to obtain, prepare, and eat the corn as soon as possible after it's harvested.  Throughout the summer we go to this farm once or twice a week.


After the shank is chopped and the ear is inspected (top photo), the corn is moved to a self-serve table, and then it's first-come first-served until they run out.  The entire process is done on the honor system.  You take what you want, figure the cost from a chart on the wall (it's about 50c/ear), put your money in the open cashbox and take change if you need it.  Grocery bags are provided, but most people bring their own reusable ones.

Here's the recipe for freezer corn, which is of course a bit different from the heat-and-eat process for regular corn-on-the-cob:


The Stonemans grow a supersweet bicolor corn.  The ears were a little smaller this summer because of unusually cool temperatures during the growing season.


We process about two dozen ears for the freezer, first cutting it off the cobs out in the garage (it can be messy, with kernels and juice flying around).  Note at this point the kernels are ready to eat - and very sweet.
 

Then to the kitchen to be processed according to the directions in the third photo above.


And finally packed in Ziplock bags and stored in the freezer next to the other essential food groups...


Reposted from last fall (when it was titled "Freezer corn") to remind locals that Stoneman's is open and has the season's first crop available (it is the bicolor).  The heavy rains this spring delayed planting, so several of the fields are a week or two behind schedule (there will be a LOT of corn coming in August).  Best to visit their Facebook page to check availability before driving out.

28 July 2018

Farmers' market


Madison, Wisconsin is an urban island in a sea of farmland in southern Wisconsin, so it's not surprising that there are probably 12-15 farmers' markets scattered through the city and suburbs.


The one closest to home is within walking distance, between our house and the local library.  The participants are mostly local farmers, but also bakers, beekeepers, cheesemakers, and other specialists.
 

There's no better place to get fresh food.


Tomorrow I'll be heading out to my favorite local farm to get the season's first sweet corn.

Divertimento #154

 
Another gif-fest (plus some short videos that seem better linked here rather than in separate posts)

I try to avoid cat gifs, but this one is good.

A swarm of midges

It's a windy day at the park, when the porta-potties go airborne.

Showing someone why they should wear a seat belt

Trashy firework 

Fireworks are illegal in Los Angeles 

Little girl takes her baby brother for a ride (cringeworthy)

Simple modification of a nail clipper

100 years of progression in Olympic gymnastic performance 

Beer flies in Hyde Park

Hey, your mom is filming this.  And those girls don't like you taunting them.

Transporting a mattress

Red Lotus Lake, Thailand

Slow traffic 

Acrophobics can skip this one 

This top does not stop and reverse

How to make an adjustable wrench

Catching fish with an umbrella


Animals

Andean bear and a little boy

Dog loves his treadmill

Processionary caterpillars merging

Feral hogs

Feeding a bald eagle

Police dog performs CPR

Rabbit vs. hawk.  Rabbit wins.

Cutlassfish

Frog ate a lightning bug

Dog performs his "happy dance"

Another happy dance when woman reunited with missing dog

I want to know - who did this? 

Mother duck of nine adopts ten more 

Baby flamingo and a baby peacock and an unfledged baby condor

Spider building a web

If the wind is in my face, I must be running 

"Tunnel snakes" 

Paraplegic dogs enjoy doing "zoomies"


Impressive

Tug-of-war

Awesome scenery (the Wengernalp, Switzerland)

Stage magic

Busking

Cattail (bulrush)

Ultimate Frisbee play

Kite train

Dancing in the street

Kitchen knife skills

Penmanship

Gulper catfish 

Rooing (handshearing) a sheep 

Woman escapes from mudslide
 
A young woman puts on her glasses

Gunman taken down by non-lethal bullets (obviously not in the United States)

Surfing a quiet lake

One way to restore a carpet

Sulfur hexafluoride is heavier than air

Etched on a penny

Diving trick 

Nobody dies in this video

Kamikara (Japanese papercraft)


Fails

Removing a stump using your BMW

How not to avoid a falling tree

Messing around in someone's unused swimming pool

Beer bong novice

She needs to find a shorter friend 

People underestimate the strength of plywood.  Alcohol probably involved.

Bicyclist crossing an open lift bridge.  Alcohol probably involved.

Probably returning a beer keg for the deposit.  Another "alcohol probably involved."

Get off the phone while working out at the gym

Dancing on a table



Humor/cheerful

Summer job

Astronaut jumps

Dad imitates a seal 

Dad loves his new shoes 

Mom says you can't be back here 

Apparently he's having fun 

Learning to dive 

Sheepdog puppies have herding instincts 


The images embedded in this week's gif-fest were selected from a gallery of "Garden Photography of the Year" (macro) entries posted at The Guardian; titles/content and credits at the link.

27 July 2018

Pixie's parasols


Cropped for size.  Via.


Mycena interrupta.

Photo credit JJ Harrison, via

Sodomy and earthquakes

"The law against sodomy goes back fourteen hundred years to the Emperor Justinian, who felt that there should be such a law because, as everyone knew, sodomy was the principal cause of earthquakes.

"Sodomy" gets them.  For elderly, good-hearted audiences, I paraphrase; the word is not used.  College groups get a fuller discussion of Justinian and his peculiar law, complete with quotations from Procopius.  California audiences living on or near the San Andreas Fault laugh the loudest - and the most nervously.  No wonder."

--- Gore Vidal, Matters of Fact and Fiction, 1977
Cited in Simon Winchester's A Crack in the Edge of the World, which I'm currently reading.

In praise of the Driftless Historium and other county museums


When I travel I particularly enjoy driving secondary roads - the "blue highways," as William Least Heat-Moon designated them.   And if time permits when I'm in a new area, I try to visit local county museums.   These ventures, almost always staffed and maintained by local enthusiasts, offer better insight into local history than what one gets from large historical society or national museums.


Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a new museum - the Driftless Historium in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.   This is a brand-new, well-designed, spotlessly clean, well-lighted venue that focuses on this history of Dane County and the larger "driftless area" of southwestern Wisconsin.


The exhibits are extensively described, and are supplemented with historical information on an abundance of wall placards.  The layout leads the visitor through a timeline that begins with glacial geology/landforms and moves on from there to native American history, to settlement and statehood, and eventually to modern times.  Special exhibits feature arts and crafts of immigrant and local artisans.


I couldn't resist taking a photo of a product that screams Midwestern understatement: rubbers that were marketed as being "better-than-usual."


I recommend allotting a couple hours to explore this excellent museum - perhaps supplemented by a visit to the Sunn Cafe across the street for lunch.

I remember the taste...



... of the spoon.

Via the Nostalgia subreddit.

25 July 2018

Male golden pheasant


Presented as a contrast to the post below this one.  Image cropped for emphasis from the original.

Featherless chicken


Apparently these have been around for many years; I found articles dating back to 2002. at which time they were extolled as "the future of mass poultry farming."  Some discussion of pros and cons at Owlcation.  Photo via.

Good thing they're wearing hard hats for safety

Via

The reigns of Roman emperors


Via the dataisbeautiful subreddit.

Horn vs. antler vs. ivory vs. bone


An elaboration on the important, but sometimes subtle distinctions in an article at the Pitt Rivers Museum:
Although at first sight ivory, bone, antler, and horn might appear difficult to distinguish their intrinsic qualities vary.

Strictly speaking, the word ivory only applies to the elephant tusks. However, it is generally used more widely to describe the dentine materials of other animals as well... The layers of dentine within the tusk form a wavy, interlacing pattern (or 'grain'). This offers different surface effects and also gives ivory its strength, making it suitable for long-lasting, detailed carving. An oily substance within the pattern's cavities helps reduce brittleness and give a smooth finish that can be enhanced with polishing to reveal a range of colours...

Bone refers to the hard parts of any vertebrate skeleton. Unlike ivory, which is protected by a smooth enamel layer, the surface of bone naturally appears rather grainy and coarse...

Antlers are outgrowths of bone... Cows, goats, and sheep, amongst other animals, carry horns rather than antlers. Unlike antler, horn is formed by modified skin tissue and is therefore naturally quite soft and flexible. Periodically new layers of tissue are added to the base of every horn. The material has a fibrous structure and can therefore be broken down into very thin translucent sheets...
And some additional comments of varying quality in a Natureismetal discussion thread.

24 July 2018

Putin's motivation in hacking the U.S.

Yes, I know - everyone (including me) is tired of Putin this and Putin that.  But this afternoon I was reading in a back issue of The Atlantic a story entitled "Putin's Game."
It wasn’t a strategic operation,” says Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist with deep sources in the security services, who writes about the Kremlin’s use of cybertechnology. “Given what everyone on the inside has told me,” he says, hacking the U.S. political system “was a very emotional, tactical decision. People were very upset about the Panama Papers.”

In the spring of 2016, an international consortium of journalists began publishing revelations from a vast trove of documents belonging to a Panamanian law firm that specialized in helping its wealthy foreign clients move money, some of it ill-gotten, out of their home countries and away from the prying eyes of tax collectors. (The firm has denied any wrongdoing.) The documents revealed that Putin’s old friend Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and the godfather to Putin’s elder daughter, had his name on funds worth some $2 billion. It was an implausible fortune for a little-known musician, and the journalists showed that these funds were likely a piggy bank for Putin’s inner circle. Roldugin has denied any wrongdoing, but the Kremlin was furious about the revelation. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, whose wife was also implicated, angrily ascribed the reporting to “many former State Department and CIA employees” and to an effort to “destabilize” Russia ahead of its September 2016 parliamentary elections.

The argument was cynical, but it revealed a certain logic: The financial privacy of Russia’s leaders was on par with the sovereignty of Russia’s elections. “The Panama Papers were a personal slight to Putin,” says John Sipher, a former deputy of the CIA’s Russia desk. “They think we did it.” Putin’s inner circle, Soldatov says, felt “they had to respond somehow.” According to Soldatov’s reporting, on April 8, 2016, Putin convened an urgent meeting of his national-security council; all but two of the eight people there were veterans of the KGB. Given the secrecy and timing of this meeting, Soldatov believes it was then that Putin gave the signal to retaliate.
The original aim was to embarrass and damage Hillary Clinton, to sow dissension, and to show that American democracy is just as corrupt as Russia’s, if not worse. “No one believed in Trump, not even a little bit,” Soldatov says. “It was a series of tactical operations. At each moment, the people who were doing this were filled with excitement over how well it was going, and that success pushed them to go even further.”
Way more at the longread link.

23 July 2018

I do love solitary oak trees


Or other large trees located far away from others.  I photographed this one today on a back road on my way to a local recycling center.

Here in the Upper Midwest, the story of such trees on farms usually begins with a great-grandparent, who spared a tree while clearing a field for agriculture, so that he and the hired hands would have a shady spot to rest for lunch during planting, weeding, or harvesting chores.

Over the subsequent years those trees often became surrounded by rocks and small boulders that the frost heaved up every spring, and which were thrown under the tree ("rock picking") to get them away from the tilling equipment.  After a decade or two of this, the tree is de facto protected from being cut, even when the advent of tractors with air conditioning negated the original purpose of the tree.

Left to themselves in the center of a field, the oaks fill out to a wonderful symmetry not achieved in the closer confines of a yard or roadside (though this one appears to have lost a branch UL in some remore storm).

Perhaps not apparent at this magnification is that the owners of this farm have placed a bench at the base of the tree, so that someone can still come down to spend a pleasant summer afternoon in the shade of a huge tree.

Updated map of legal marijuana

In July Vermont turned dark green:


Context at the Burlington Free Press.

Huge numbers of young people registering to vote

As reported by Mother Jones:
The study evaluated all new voter registrations in the 39 states with available data since February 14, 2018—the day of the Parkland shooting—and calculated the change in the share of new registrants who are 18 to 29 years old. Across the country, the share of youth registrants increased by a modest 2.16 percentage points. But in Indiana, Virginia, and New York—home to some of this year’s marquee House and Senate contests—the share of youth registrants increased by 9.87, 10.49, and 10.7 percentage points, respectively. In Pennsylvania—where voters will decide as many as nine competitive congressional races—the share of new registrants who are younger than 30 jumped by a whopping 16.14 percentage points.
caveat:
... though there’s no guarantee that many of the new registrants will actually vote. Just under half of all 18-to-29-year-olds were registered to vote in 2014, but less than 20 percent of that population group ended up casting ballots that year.

Brooklyn Supreme


That was his name.  In 1930 he was "the biggest horse ever."
Brooklyn "Brookie" Supreme (April 12, 1928 – September 6, 1948) was a red roan Belgian stallion noted for his extreme size. Although disputed, the horse may be the world record holder for largest (but not tallest) horse and was designated the world's heaviest horse. He stood 19.2 hands (198 cm (6 ft 6 in)) tall and weighed 3,200 lb (1,451 kg) with a girth of 10 ft 2 in (3.10 m). His horseshoes required 30 in (76 cm) of iron. The horse was foaled on the Minneapolis, Minnesota farm of Earle Brown.

"And did those feet in ancient time / walk upon England's mountains... brown"


Blake's Jerusalem will need to be rewritten if current climate conditions persist.  The photo shows Hyde Park this summer (from a gallery at BBC.  Another gallery here).  I really don't want to see photos of Kew...

When the expanding city engulfs the old one


Closeup of central Missoula, Montana
The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 led to a housing boom along the tracks, particularly on the northern side where many of the railway workers would reside. When the Higgins Avenue Bridge was replaced in 1893, they debated whether the bridge should continue southwest toward the Bitterroot Valley as it had earlier, or due south. Attorneys W. M. Bickford and W. J. Stephens had already laid out plots of land five years earlier for what they hoped would be a new town of "South Missoula". The streets there were perpendicular to the Bitterroot Wagon Road while Judge Hiram Knowles who owned the land just south of the river preferred the north-south plan and did not want to become part of South Missoula.

The result was a 7×14–block area along the west side of Higgins Avenue commonly referred to as the Slant Streets centered along what is now Stephens Avenue.

Trailer for the "Fantastic Beasts" sequel


How easy/hard is it to start a nuclear war?


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

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

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

Reposted from 2016 to add some updated material on how easy or hard it is for someone to start a global nuclear war.  Herewith some excerpts from "How to Start a Nuclear War" in this month's Harper's Magazine:
Serving as a US Air Force launch control officer for intercontinental missiles in the early Seventies, First Lieutenant Bruce Blair figured out how to start a nuclear war and kill a few hundred million people. His unit, stationed in the vast missile fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, oversaw one of four squadrons of Minuteman II ­ICBMs, each missile topped by a W56 thermonuclear warhead with an explosive force of 1.2 megatons—eighty times that of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. In theory, the missiles could be fired only by order of the president of the United States, and required mutual cooperation by the two men on duty in each of the launch control centers, of which there were five for each squadron.

In fact, as Blair recounted to me recently, the system could be bypassed with remarkable ease. Safeguards made it difficult, though not impossible, for a two-man crew (of either captains or lieutenants, some straight out of college) in a single launch control center to fire a missile. But, said Blair, “it took only a small conspiracy”—of two people in two separate control centers—to launch the entire squadron of fifty missiles, “sixty megatons targeted at the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.” (The scheme would first necessitate the “disabling” of the conspirators’ silo crewmates, unless, of course, they, too, were complicit in the operation.) Working in conjunction, the plotters could “jury-rig the system” to send a “vote” by turning keys in their separate launch centers. The three other launch centers might see what was happening, but they would not be able to override the two votes, and the missiles would begin their firing sequence. Even more alarmingly, Blair discovered that if one of the plotters was posted at the particular launch control center in overall command of the squadron, they could together format and transmit a “valid and authentic launch order” for general nuclear war that would immediately launch the entire US strategic nuclear missile force, including a thousand Minuteman and fifty-four Titan missiles, without the possibility of recall. As he put it, “that would get everyone’s attention, for sure.” A more pacifically inclined conspiracy, on the other hand, could effectively disarm the strategic force by formatting and transmitting messages invalidating the presidential launch codes.

When he quit the Air Force in 1974, Blair was haunted by the power that had been within his grasp, andhe resolved to do something about it. But when he started lobbying his former superiors, he was met with indifference and even active hostility. “I got in a fair scrap with the Air Force over it,” he recalled. As Blair well knew, there was supposed to be a system already in place to prevent that type of unilateral launch. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon took comfort in this, not knowing that the Strategic Air Command, which then controlled the Air Force’s nuclear weapons, had quietly neutralized it...

Today, things are different. The nuclear fuse has gotten shorter...
I suggest not reading the article.

21 July 2018

Mantis in amber

"Amber with Inclusions. Hymenaea protera. Oligocene. Dominican Republic."
Photos from other angles at Heritage Auctions.

Alcohol and country music


A relationship examined at The Washington Post:
Although fans imbibe copiously at concerts of every genre, all of which boast songs about drinking, it’s possible that no slice of American life has embraced alcohol with the enthusiasm of country music. The two have gone hand-in-hand for decades, thanks in part to the so-called “tear in your beer” songs that helped make the format famous.

But today, country music and alcohol are inextricably linked as never before. Not only has the genre become known (and sometimes mocked) for its sheer amount of drinking-themed songs, but an increasing number of country acts have created their own brands of booze, including Chesney’s rum, Blake Shelton’s Smithworks vodka, Miranda Lambert’s Red 55 wine and Toby Keith’s Wild Shot mezcal.

In June, Shelton and Jason Aldean opened bars in downtown Nashville. They join recent establishments from Florida Georgia Line, Alan Jackson and Dierks Bentley, each of whom has a musical catalogue that pairs naturally with a few drinks...

Traditionally, the conjured image is not flattering, from the early-1900s “drunk hillbilly” stereotype to summer 2014, when country concerts saw a spate of intoxication-related hospital trips and arrests, and one death. But that connection is changing, as the genre is skewing younger and wealthier than ever...

Decades ago, when the country format was scorned as niche music of the working class, the prominence of alcohol fed into the cliche of drowning your sorrows at a honky-tonk. Now, it’s the reverse. Modern country singers promote alcohol largely as an escape: partying with friends, having wild nights on the town or — for singers like Chesney who lean into the tropical, Jimmy Buffett vibe — sitting on the beach with a drink in hand...

There’s no doubt the audience appreciates this. And as Nashville continues to see dollar signs (a CMA study this spring found “country music consumers are spending more on alcohol” these days), artists will keep singing about it.

The mutual benefit is a marked difference from decades ago, when there was a negative connotation of even listening to drinking songs in country bars. Now, those establishments embrace the image. And even a Sirius XM satellite radio station proudly plays “music of country-themed bars and honky-tonks across America.” It’s called Red, White & Booze. 
Lots more at the longread link.  Image cropped from one of the originals there.

Subway car floor


Looks wet - but isn't.  Reportedly designed this way as part of an advertising campaign for upcoming collegiate Olympic events in Taipei.  Image via.

Cropmarks as guides to archaeology


Not crop circles, mind you, but variations in crops that are indicative of subsurface archaeological features.  A heat wave and partial drought in Great Britain have rendered such marks unusually prominent.


Last week the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales posted a well-illustrated article (schematic images embedded), showing how ancient earthworks create alterations in crop size and color by allowing water to be retained during times of scarcity.   The advent of drone photography has obviously simplified the detection process immensely.


I recommend visiting their link to see the awesome gallery of British cropmarks, but today I'll embed a different image I found today at Wired:

A previously unknown henge has been revealed in Boyne Valley, in the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO world heritage site, in Ireland's County Meath. Stretching 200m in diameter, 750m from the famous Newgrange monument... The henge is thought to date from the late Neolithic period, up to possibly the Bronze Age, from about 3,000 BCE...

The henge would have been made out of timber with two concentric circles, which would possibly have been 'linteled' with horizontal supports as well. "This is a time period where they're building particularly in timber and earth, as opposed to stone which went before," Davis says.

"We have this bizarre broken ditch, which we don't really necessarily understand yet and that's the most unusual thing about it," Davis says. This ditch is causewayed, broken into lots of little bits, forming a "permeable boundary" meaning it's not a form of defense. Although there are discernible entries and exits, you could in theory enter the structure at any point. "It makes it much more like a symbolic enclosure, rather than a real enclosure."

This all points to the idea that the structure was used for ritual ceremonies that involved feasting, gathering and trading together.
Wow.  I think I'll go climb a ladder in my front yard...

The epitome of poor design


Braille cells on a pebbled surface.

20 July 2018

Northstar

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