18 September 2019

Fondly remembering Cokie Roberts

Excerpts from a tribute at NPR:
Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts, who joined an upstart NPR in 1978 and left an indelible imprint on the growing network with her coverage of Washington politics before later going to ABC News, has died. She was 75.  Roberts died Tuesday because of complications from breast cancer, according to a family statement.

A bestselling author and Emmy Award winner, Roberts was one of NPR's most recognizable voices and is considered one of a handful of pioneering female journalists — along with Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg — who helped shape the public broadcaster's sound and culture at a time when few women held prominent roles in journalism...

Liasson said it wasn't so much that NPR had a mission for gender equality but that the network's pay, which was well below the commercial networks of the day, resulted in "a lot of really great women who were in prominent positions there and who helped other women."..

Roberts, the daughter of former U.S. representatives, grew up walking the halls of Congress and absorbing the personalities, folkways and behind-the-scenes machinations of the nation's capital. She became a seasoned Washington insider who developed a distinctive voice as a reporter and commentator...

"She liked people on both sides of the aisle and had friends on both sides of the aisle," Will told NPR. "If you don't like the game of politics, I don't see how you write about it well," he said. "She liked the game of politics and she understood that it was a game."

Born in New Orleans as Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, she was given the nickname Cokie by her brother, Thomas, who had trouble pronouncing Corinne.

Roberts' father was Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., a former Democratic majority leader of the House who served in Congress for more than three decades before he disappeared on a campaign flight in Alaska in 1972. Her mother, Lindy Claiborne Boggs, took her husband's seat and served for 17 years...

As a commentator, Roberts sometimes walked a line that threatened to eclipse her role as a dispassionate journalist. In a February 2016 op-ed co-authored with her husband, they called on "the rational wing" of the Republican Party to stop the nomination of Donald Trump.

"[Trump] is one of the least qualified candidates ever to make a serious run for the presidency," Roberts and her husband wrote. "If he is nominated by a major party — let alone elected — the reputation of the United States would suffer a devastating blow around the world."..

"In covering Congress, there's plenty of times when I felt, you know, the mother line...... I don't care who started it, I'm stopping it."
That last comment deserves the larger font.  We need more mothers in Congress.

Image cropped for size from the original, credit Ariel Zambelich/NPR.

Zebra foal spotted

Via.  Not much discussion at the link, and I don't have time to look this anomaly up right now.

Addendum: another image (via) -

- which incidentally shows that zebras are black with white stripes, not white with black stripes.

Evidence for inheritance of autism

This was all new to me:
Rizzo’s children, ages 7 and 6, were at the center of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry. Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the United States, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities...

When she first found out about their many half-siblings, she consulted a genetic counselor, who she says told her the odds of so many blood-related children with autism occurring spontaneously was akin to all the mothers “opening up a dictionary and pointing to the same letter of the same word on the same page at the same time.”..

The Food and Drug Administration told her its oversight of the sperm-donor industry is limited to screening for sexually transmitted diseases.  So, after a year of fruitless phone calls and letters, she sued...

Donor H898 from Idant Laboratories looked like a winner. He was blond and blue-eyed, 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, and appeared to be smart and accomplished. His profile said he had a master’s degree and was working as a medical photographer. His hobbies included long-distance running, reading and art. And most important, Rizzo says, he had a clean bill of health, according to his profile — having scribbled “NA” and a strikethrough line on all but one of the more than 100 medical questions, including mental health ones, posed by sperm banks...

Donor H898’s sperm was offered through multiple sources. According to the mothers, court documents and genetic testing through 23andMe and Ancestry.com, he sold anonymously to at least four sperm banks (which typically pay about $100 per visit), donated to a high-end agency that matches parents with donors they can meet face-to-face, and offered his sperm for a low fee or even free on sites such as KnownDonorRegistry.com or privately...

As of August, Repro Lab was still selling vials, priced at $450-$525, from the donor.
More details at The Washington Post.

So very true...


Kids these days...


Denez Prigent & Lisa Gerrard - Gortoz A Ran

I originally blogged this song in 2009 and 2010 when it was used as the background audio for a tsunami video and for a Black Hawk Down video.  Reblogging now because the original links have undergone linkrot.  This version has the advantage of including the lyrics (in Breton and English) at the YouTube link.

Re-reposted from 2016 because the song continues to fascinate me.  I have challenged several friends to identify the language while listening to the song; nobody has been successful.  I doubt that it would help even if I had let them view the written lyrics:
Gortozet 'm eus, gortozet pell
E skeud teñval tourioù gell
E skeud teñval tourioù gell

E skeud teñval an tourioù glav

C'hwi am gwelo 'c'hortoz atav

C'hwi am gwelo 'c'hortoz atav

Un deiz a vo 'teuio en-dro
Dreist ar maezioù, dreist ar morioù

'Teuio en-dro an avel c'hlas
Da analañ va c'halon c'hloaz't

Kaset e vin diouzh e alan
Pell gant ar red, hervez 'deus c'hoant

Hervez 'deus c'hoant pell eus ar bed
Etre ar mor hag ar stered  
More about the Breton language.

The Regal Birdflower (Crotolaria cunninghamii)

Horticultural details at Seattle Garden & Fruit Adventures; photo via.

Language in Bram Stoker's "Dracula"

I first read Bram Stoker's Dracula decades ago, then placed it on the "reread someday" bookshelf; that someday arrived this summer.

It is worth emphasizing that this is not "schlock" literature.  The plot is well-known to every consumer of culture in the Western hemisphere, but the profusion of "B" movie adaptations do not do justice to the richness of the language in the story.   The original novel is a longread, and for those with a limited vocabulary or those for whom English is a second language it may be tedious, but personally I love the sometimes convoluted sentences and extended descriptions of late Victorian novels.   By the time I finished reading, I had bookmarked a considerable number of words and phrases, which I'll share for those with similar interests:
"I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour... and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call 'impletata.'"  According to Wikipedia, forcemeat (derived from the French farcir, "to stuff") "is a mixture of ground, lean meat mixed with fat by grinding, sieving, or puréeing the ingredients."  Also interesting to me is the listing of paprika as a main breakfast item rather than just a flavoring.  "The trade in paprika expanded from the Iberian Peninsula to Africa and Asia, and ultimately reached Central Europe through the Balkans, then under Ottoman rule, which explains the Hungarian origin of the English term... Despite its presence in Central Europe since the beginning of Ottoman conquests, it did not become popular in Hungary until the late 19th century."  A convenient way for Stoker to emphasize the exotic site of his story in the opening chapter.

"At three tomorrow the diligence will start for Bukovina..."  A four-wheeled stagecoach (familiar to anyone who has seen any of the movies).  The word is French.

"... a caleche, with four horses, drove up behind us..."  More commonly called a barouche, is another four-wheeler.

"I was conscious of the presence of the Count, and of his being as if lapped in a storm of fury."  If in the sense of a hem or border, this would suggest "being surrounded by" - maybe.  A bit obscure.  [note from a reader: "lap" in Dutch means a big sheet of cloth, which fits with the "wrapping up" meaning.]

"I am surely in the toils."  Trapped.  Early 16th century (denoting a net into which a hunted quarry is driven): plural of toil, from Old French toile ‘net, trap’.

"My dear, I am somewhat previous."  In context, being premature, or getting ahead of oneself in relating a story. 

"He will not admit anything, and downfaces everybody."  (transitive, archaic, rare) to persist boldly in an assertion.  Modernized to "face down."

"As there is no motive for concealment, I am permited to use them, and accordingly send you a rescript, simply omitting technical details..."  A copy- literally "re-write."

"We had a capital "severe tea" at Robin Hood's Bay in a sweet little old-fashioned inn..."  Presumably a harsh or bitter tea ???.  Maybe some Brit will have better knowledge of how this word applies to tea.

"We beg to acknowledge [amount] received and to return cheque... 17s. 9d, amount of overplus, as shown in receipted account herewith."  Overpayment.  From over- + Anglo-Norman plus, Middle French plus.

"... the edges [of the puncture wound] were white and worn-looking, as if by some trituration."  From the Latin, conventionally "to grind to a fine powder," but I also found "to break up biological tissue into individual cells via passage through a narrow opening such as a hypodermic needle."

"It would at once frighten him and enjealous him, too."  To make jealous (archaic).

"I have left to me neither chick nor child; all are gone, and in my will I have left you everything."  Chick can mean child (especially female one), but why pair it with child?

"Together we moved over to the bed, and I lifted the lawn from her face..."  Later: "... we could see that the lips were crimson with fresh blood, and that the stream had trickled over her chin and stained the purity of her lawn death-robe."  A type of thin linen or cotton (named after a French town).

"We shook hands, and he was so earnest and so kind that it made me quite choky."  Presumably "choked up."

"Holding his candle so that he could read the coffin plates, and so holding it that the sperm dropped in white patches which congealed as they touched the metal..."  Candle wax, obviously.  A physical resemblance of the drippings of a white candle to human sperm is a possible association, but candle wax in this era was also derived from the oil in the head of sperm whales.  So, to if you want to enliven the conversation at the next dinner party at a table with candleabra, just announce that you see some sperm on the tablecloth...

"... I began to typewrite from the beginning of the seventh cylinder [of a dictation "phonograph"].  I used manifold, and so took three copies of the diary..." Perfectly logical but seldom seen use of typewrite as a verb (and a usage that is destined never to come back into vogue).  Manifold in this context would be the Victorian equivalent of carbon paper.

"To use an Americanism, he had 'taken no chances'...  I had no idea this is an "Americanism." ???

"It is just as that dear, good Professor Van Helsing said: he is true grit, and he improves under strain..."  Didn't know the phrase was this old.

 "... his mouth was actually nauseous with the flies and spiders which he had eaten just before Mrs. Harker entered the room."  Sickening or disgusting.

"He is a decent, intelligent fellow, distinctly a good, reliable type of workman, and with a headpiece of his own."  Brain, presumably.

"This was all practical, so one of the children went off with a penny to buy an envelope and a sheet of paper, and to keep the change." Getting change for a penny only sounds odd if you forget about the existence of the farthing.

"This was manifestly a prig of the first water, and there was no use arguing with him."  A dandy or arrogant person.  "First water" borrows the term for a fineness of a diamond's clarity.

"She looked at him meaningly as she spoke."  ?meaningfully

"There are, or there may be, customs and octroi officers to pass."  Local tax collector (French).

"There are great, frowning precipices and much falling water..."  Googling the term in quotes yields a variety of references in literature to precipices "frowning," but I can't quite sort out the meaning.  Presumably they tower over you in a foreboding manner??

"I fear to think of her, off on the wolds near that horrible place."  From Middle English wald, wold, from Old English (Anglian) wald (compare weald), from Proto-Germanic *walþuz, from Proto-Indo-European *wel(ə)-t- (compare Norwegian voll ‘field, meadow’, Welsh gwallt ‘hair’, Lithuanian váltis ‘oat awn’, Serbo-Croatian vlât ‘ear (of wheat)’, Ancient Greek λάσιος (lásios) ‘hairy’). See also the related term weald.  A grassland, or (obsolete) a forest.

"... the whole body began to melt away and crumble into its native dust, as though the death that should have come centures agone had at last assert himself..." Van Helsing speaking, using an archaic form of "ago."

"... every man of the gypsy party drew what weapon he carried... Issue was joined in an instant."  To enter into an argument or conflict.
And two other memorable items:
"She is going though the house, and wants to see every one in it," I answered.  "Oh, very well," he said; "let her come in,  by all means; but just wait a minute till I tidy up the place."  His method of tidying was peculiar; he simply swallowed all the flies and spiders in the boxes before I could stop him."

When he was buying property in England, Count Dracula used the alias Count de Ville."  (I wonder if he had dalmatians...)

Eric Clapton's version of "How Deep is the Ocean?"

I listened today to the 1973 "Clapton" album; mixed in with all the blues pieces was his version of an old song with refreshingly upbeat lyrics:
How much do I love you? I'll tell you no lie -
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

How many times a day do I think of you?
How many roses are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel to be where you are?
How far is the journey from here to a star?

And if I ever lose you how much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?
Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1932.  I found videos of covers by Peggy Lee/Benny Goodman, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Etta James, Nat King Cole, and Ray Charles, among others, but I like Clapton's the best.

Reposted from 2011 to replace the original video and delete other links which had undergone linkrot over the years.

Regarding habitable exoplanets

Dropping feathers and a bowling ball in a vacuum

Educated people know what's going to happen, but it's still interesting to see in real life.  If you're in a hurry, you can start at about the 2:20 mark.

The upside of a hurricane

Reportedly found on the Atlantic shoreline of Virginia after Dorian, via [image cropped for size].

08 September 2019

Blogcation begins now

Back in a week or two.  In the meantime, consider browsing the "Archive" in the right sidebar.

Divertimento #168

89 gifs to keep you busy while I go on vacation

Everyone knows how satisfying this isAnd this (poppy seeds).
Backyard rollercoaster
Downhill go cart track in New Zealand
Traditional soap production in Palestine
Mushrooms being harvested
A mashup of the phrase "go f--- youself" in movies and TV
Mother's reflexes save child from serious fall
Escalator eats a person (safe to watch)
Man headbutts someone, gets instant karma
Animated 20-year history of internet browser usage
Woman giving birth in a Denver jail cell (warning)
Woman driver (discussion thread)

Nature and Science
Tourist goes head over heels for Yellowstone bison
How the planets circle a moving sun
How to boil water at room temperature in a parking ramp
Mudslide coming!!
Adjusting mesh stockings
Friendship ring
Why you shouldn't kayak too close to cliffs 
Anemone escapes from a starfish
Microburst of rain 
Clean a seashell with hydrochloric acid.
Baby born with a caul
Cracking open some obsidian
Eye of hurricane Dorian
A reminder that bullets can bounce off water
Parasitoid emerges from a mantis

Pedicure of a horse.
Feeding a Nautilus.
Goose drowns a gull
Parrot evicts an intruder 
Shade-seeking lizard 
How maggots jump without legs 
Alligator climbs a chain-link fence
Shadow of a millipede
Snake climbs a rope
Baby goat headbutts dog
Mistreated rescue bird loves his new owner (discussion)
Polar bear channels his inner narwhal
Who knew that armadillos love toys?

Sports and athleticism
Bowler converts her spare
Two-person cartwheel
Interactive gym wall 
Caught in the act of blood-doping
Pole vault

Idiot decides to slap a horse's ass
Bringing pizza home 
She didn't need that last beer 
Chainsaw kickback 
Car driver tries to bash cyclist
Hotel room shower head
Idiot driver

Impressive or clever
Interesting door mechanism
Lots of interesting ways to fold a dinner napkin
How to julienne a potato 
Spray-painting two images onto bowls
Scythe with a basket 
Walleye captures a muskie 
Flip-flop winch (see this video for explanation)
Woman catches a catfish
Anjihan Grand Canyon
Carving styrofoam
Polymer clay art
Screws turned inside wood using magnetic drill
Speed chess 
Clever way to move a concrete slab
Art using staples
Party trick I'd like to learn
Street performer
Convertible bicycle
Making a culinary sugar dome.  Also a mirror glaze on a cake.
Art restoration (note this person has a channel of videos)
To repair a hole in jeans

Cheerful or funny
Dad gives his daughter a surprise gift
Man can't find his phone 
Filmed in a "typical British pub"
Infant's first glasses
Dog helps his human
Girl asserts dominance over her sibling(s)
A couple propose to each other at the same time
Making children happy 
Father gets a pretend vaccination
Dog returned to his owner
Girl with knife at carnival ride 
Shower trick
Dogs happy to return home
There are two types of dogs...

Today's embedded images come from a Flickr gallery entitled Roadside America. "Take a journey along U.S. main streets, byways, and highways through photographs taken by John Margolies between 1969 and 2008. We’ll be continuously adding images from the Margolies archive of more than 11,000 color slides."

This teacher thought menstrual periods last one day

Discussion thread at the badwomensanatomy subreddit.

Last Monarchs of the summer

This week our last Monarchs are eclosing and departing (we raised and released probably about 150 of them this summer).  With the cooler weather, some needed an energy boost before taking off.  And we released them from the south side of the house to make their trip to Mexico a little shorter.

Political discourse these days

Owning the liberals by sucking on a plastic straw embedded in a meat patty decorated with an incandescent bulb.

To be fair and balanced, we will admit that liberals pull similar stunts.


Early rock music

"Archaeologist Dr. Jean-Loup Ringot specialized in prehistoric music demonstrates a Lithophone."

Other relevant videos here and here (stalactites).

07 September 2019

Victorian radiator incorporating a plate warmer


Uncommonly persistent spam from deltrino.duckdns.org

My personal email (not the one associated with this blog) has been swamped in recent weeks by a torrent of spammy emails.  Nothing dangerous or ominous as far as I can see.

All of them come from a single source: deltrino.duckdns.org, and for reasons I don't understand my Earthlink system does not allow emails from this source to be flagged as spam.

Obviously my email address got into this company's database.  IIRC, the same thing happened to me many years ago and I was able to escape, but I don't remember how.

Have any readers experienced the same problem?  Can anyone offer a suggested remedy?


Offered without comment.

The Republican party will cancel primaries in several states

Republican parties in South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and Kansas are expected to finalize the cancellations in meetings this weekend, according to three GOP officials who are familiar with the plans.

The moves are the latest illustration of Trump’s takeover of the entire Republican Party apparatus. They underscore the extent to which his allies are determined to snuff out any potential nuisance en route to his renomination — or even to deny Republican critics a platform to embarrass him...

The cancellations stem in part from months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Trump campaign. Aides have worked to ensure total control of the party machinery, installing staunch loyalists at state parties while eliminating potential detractors. The aim, Trump officials have long said, is to smooth the path to the president’s renomination and ensure he doesn’t face the kind of internal opposition that hampered former President George H.W. Bush in his failed 1992 reelection campaign.

Trump aides said they supported the cancellations but stressed that each case was initiated by state party officials.

The shutdowns aren’t without precedent. Some of the states forgoing Republican nomination contests have done so during the reelection bids of previous presidents. Arizona, GOP officials there recalled, did not hold a Democratic presidential primary in 2012, when Barack Obama was seeking a second term, or in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for reelection. Kansas did not have a Democratic primary in 1996, and Republican officials in the state pointed out that they have long chosen to forgo primaries during a sitting incumbent’s reelection year. 
More at Politico.

The treasures of Padmanabhaswamy Temple

Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. The temple is built in an intricate fusion of the indigenous Kerala style and the Tamil style (kovil) of architecture associated with the temples located in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, featuring high walls, and a 16th-century Gopuram... The principal deity Vishnu is enshrined in the "Anantha Shayanam" posture, the eternal yogic sleep on the serpent Adisheshan.

The Temple has been referred to in the (only recorded) Sangam Period of literature between 500 BCE and 300 CE several times. Many conventional historians and scholars are of the opinion that one of the names that the Temple had - "The Golden Temple" - literally was in cognizance of the fact that the Temple was already unimaginably wealthy by that point. Many extant pieces of Sangam Tamil literature and poetry, and even the later works of Ninth Century Tamil poet-saints like Nammalwar, refer to the Temple and even the city as having walls of pure gold. At some places, both the Temple and the entire city are often eulogized even as being made of gold, and the Temple as Heaven

While vault B remains unopened, vaults A, C, D, E and F were opened along with some of their antechambers. Among the reported findings, are a three-and-a-half feet tall solid pure golden idol of Mahavishnu, studded with hundreds of diamonds and rubies and other precious stones. Also found were an 18-foot-long pure gold chain, a gold sheaf weighing 500 kg (1,100 lb), a 36 kg (79 lb) golden veil, 1200 'Sarappalli' gold coin-chains that are encrusted with precious stones, and several sacks filled with golden artifacts, necklaces, diadems, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, gemstones, and objects made of other precious metals. Ceremonial attire for adorning the deity in the form of 16-part gold anki weighing almost 30 kilograms (66 lb), gold coconut shells studded with rubies and emeralds, and several 18th century Napoleonic era coins were found amongst many other objects. In early 2012, an expert committee had been appointed to investigate these objects, which include lakhs of golden coins of the Roman Empire, that were found in Kottayam, in Kannur District. According to Vinod Rai, the former Comptroller-and-Auditor-General(CAG) of India, who had audited some of the Temple records from 1990, in August 2014, in the already opened vault A, there is an 800 kg (1,800 lb) hoard of gold coins dating to around 200 BCE, each coin priced at over 2.7 crore (US$390,000). Also found was a pure Golden Throne, studded with hundreds of diamonds and other fully precious stones, meant for the 18-foot-long Deity. As per one of the men, who was among those that went inside this Vault A, several of the largest diamonds were as large as a full-grown man's thumb. According to varying reports, at least three, if not more, of solid gold crowns have been found, studded with diamonds and other precious stones. Some other media reports also mention hundreds of pure gold chairs, thousands of gold pots and jars, among the articles recovered from Vault A and its antechambers.

This revelation has solidified the status of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple as the wealthiest place of worship in the world. It is conservatively estimated that the value of the monumental items is close to 1.2 lakh crore or 1.2 trillion (US$17 billion). If the antique and cultural value were taken into account these assets could be worth ten times the current market price
More at the link. Photo cropped for size and adjusted for exposure and contrast from the original.

"Regrets, I've had a few..."

The photo above reminded of one regret.  In the 1960s I owned a small parcel of land (a couple acres) in northern Minnesota.  Not lakeshore, nothing special - some trees and a meadow.  At the time I considered planting a tree farm.  Seedling trees were available at the time at little or no cost from the Forestry Service.  I knew that hardwood trees like walnut would be a good long-term investment, but I was busy with my career and kept deferring the action.  Decades later I sold the parcel for a pittance.

Those trees would now be about 50 years old.  Not fully mature, but substantial in size (assuming no cowboy loggers found them and stole them).  And they would have monetary value as timber:
Black walnut trees are native to the central and eastern U.S, but also do well in other parts of the country, and are grown for both nuts and timber. A walnut orchard can take a few years to come into full production, but then produces up to 6,000 pounds of nuts per acre. Black walnut logs bring premium prices, and have since the 1700s, with single trees bringing up to $20,000. Bruce Thompson, author of “Black Walnut For Profit,” estimates a mature stand of black walnut trees can bring about $100,000 per acre in timber value alone. The fine, straight-grained wood is used for furniture, veneer and gunstocks.
If you are 50 years younger than me, take a hint...

Re socialized medicine

From the MurderedByWords subreddit, where the discussion thread dismantles the lie that medical care in the United States does not involve a waiting time.

05 September 2019

Leucistic peacock


North Sea cod declining

As reported by The Guardian:
... A report published last month by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) revealed that North Sea cod stocks had fallen to critical levels. Warning that cod was being harvested unsustainably, it recommended a 63% cut in the catch – and that’s on top of a 47% reduction last year...

North Sea cod stocks were once plentiful but plummeted – and came perilously close to collapse – between the early 1970s and 2006. A “cod recovery plan” sought to restore stocks to sustainable levels by limiting fishing days, decommissioning boats, banning catches in nursery areas and putting larger holes in nets to allow young cod to escape...

Environmental organisations point out that cod has been fished above its maximum sustainable yield in recent years, meaning the fish are taken from the sea faster than they can reproduce.

The species is not breeding as fast as it used to, too many unwanted “juvenile” fish are caught, and the practice of “discarding” – throwing dead fish back into the sea to keep within quotas – continues despite being banned.

With the end of the cod recovery plan, fishing vessels are now entering sites that have not been trawled for more than a decade, causing damage to the ecosystem, they say.

This is a fishery that was on the road to recovery, but failures to reduce fishing pressure have led to serious overfishing and a reversal of fortunes for cod,” said Samuel Stone of the Marine Conservation Society.
The story continues at the link with a history of fish and chips.

Milkweed leaves "trenched" and "skeletonized" - updated

If you're walking past milkweed plants, sometimes you can see a tiny hole in the leaf.  Turn the leaf over, and you may see droplets of the sticky latex sap oozing from the cut area.

In this case, the perpetrator is not present.  This is the feeding pattern of the first generation (first instar) larva of the Monarch butterfly.  The female Monarch lays her egg (typically one to a plant) by grasping the leaf edge with her feet and stretching her abdomen underneath.  When the larva hatches, it begins eating the leaf by cutting that circle, which breaks the flow of latex to the tissue in the center.  The little instar can then continue eating that part of the leaf without being physically overwhelmed by the flow.

Here's one at work.  First they eat the little hairs inside the circle, then they finish the contents of the circle, then (usually as a larger second instar) head out to work on the leaf edge itself.

When we see leaves like the one at the top, it typically means the caterpillar has fallen victim to a bird or to the ants who patrol the plant tending their aphids.

There's one other caterpillar that has evolved to favor the highly toxic milkweed leaves as a food source - the "milkweed tussock moth."

Unlike the monarch cats, these are gregarious creatures, emerging from large clusters of eggs laid by the moth.  They can tolerate the cardiac glycosides in the latex, but also don't want to be overwhelmed by the flow, so while they are little, instead of cutting the vein as the Monarch does, they eat between the veins.  The result looks like this leaf I photographed yesterday -

Totally "skeletonized" but with the arborized veins still intact.  In this case they had moved on to a different leaf; as they get larger they are capable of consuming the entire leaf and defoliating the plant.  Milkweeds have large taproots and tolerate the process quite well, especially because these are late-summer caterpillars and the plant is already in blossom or seed.

Addendum July 30:  Here's what leaves look like that have been consumed by the next generation of tussock moth instars.  It's not as delicate.  The generation after this one is capable of stripping a milkweed right down to the stem.

Reposted from 2011 to add this photo and comments:

The image above shows why we bring Monarch eggs into the house and screen porch.  The milkweed plant in the photo is next to our driveway.  We have never seen a caterpillar on it.  Each of those holes represents a location where a Monarch deposited an egg, the first instar emerged and began feeding, perhaps molted once... and then disappeared.  At our location that probably represents predation (or accidental dislodgement) by ants.  The survival percentage may be higher in more rural locations, but it is still high; consider that a female Monarch can lay 500 eggs in her lifetime, and sustaining the population requires that 2 survive, then do the math.

When we find eggs on milkweed leaves, we pluck the leaf and bring it inside away from predators.  The containers require cleaning and changing, but the cats are quite content to pupate there.

This (September) morning we had a couple eclose; we released them from the south side of the house because they have a long trip to get to Mexico before the weather turns cold (though they can travel a hundred miles in a day).


Some would say 16.  Discussed at Neatorama.

Cannabis etiquette

Now that legalization of cannabis is spreading, it may be appropriate to consider some of the nuances and intricacies of the use of the new products.   Lizzie Post, great-granddaughter of Emily, shares some insights in an article in Vox:
The most important thing is the act of sharing cannabis is at the forefront of the entire community. So if you happen to be in a group of people, and you do have weed, and you are about to light something up, offering to share it with someone is pretty huge. Beyond that, it’s very specific to the different methods, but making sure you’re not holding on to something that is burning, or that you’re wasting weed. Third, not getting rid of something before asking everyone if they’d like the rest of it...

The [reason people take offense to the use of the word "marijuana"] is that in the early 1900s, the term marijuana was purposely used to negatively associate it with the Latino community. That’s painful for a lot of people. Right now, I think we need to be aware of the controversy around it. I personally still call it weed or pot, but when I’m trying to speak publicly, I use the word cannabis...  a lot of growers don’t like the term weed, because the definition of “weed” is an unwanted plant...

Take the issue of smoke. Smoke is not a comfortable thing for everyone to sit in or be around... You don’t pop down with your joint on the beach three feet away from the family having a picnic...

Or let’s say you go to a dinner party, and how many people have been in that awkward position where there’s only two people left in the living room while everyone else has quietly vacated to the back porch? The two people in the living room haven’t been invited to do that, and aren’t aware enough to say, “Can I just come out and talk to you while you do this?” Or as a hostess, to say, “Hey, they’re going outside, but I’m going to stay inside with you.”...
Emily Post has written and published a guidebook on this topic - Higher Etiquette - which I found at our local library.

Via Neatorama.

04 September 2019

Camouflaged spider

Dolophones conifera, known as the Wrap-around spider, is a species of spider in the family Araneidae indigenous to Australia. It is named for its ability to flatten and wrap its body around tree limbs as camouflage. It is found in Western Australia.
It would be a better image (via) if the distracting thingy below the branch were edited out, but I don't have time this morning.  Anyone have a smudging tool and free time?

Update: A tip of the blogging hat to readers mehughes124, Chris Tyrell Loranger, Kris McCusker, and Iain Stuart for sending virtually identical amended and improved images, one of which is now embedded above.

A tree is not a permanent carbon sink

And an old-growth forest is not a net producer of oxygen.

There are lots of excellent reasons to plant trees, but doing so to sequester carbon is a reflection of short-term thinking.  A tree does harvest CO2 from the air and converts it to various organic structures.  If it is a deciduous tree, all the leaves that sequestered carbon for the summer will return that carbon to the environment when the leaves decay in the fall and winter.

The CO2 that was sequestered in cellulose and lignin will be trapped in the wood for a longer period of time, but when that tree dies, the cycle reverses: CO2 is released as the wood decays.  The CO2 sequestration can be prolonged by cutting the tree down while it is alive, using the wood to make furniture for example, and covering the furniture with a layer of lacquer or paint or other preservative.  The ultimate sequestration of course is to bury the dead tree underground and let it turn into coal.

That old-growth forest of towering giant trees is not a net oxygen producer.  The living trees utilize photosynthesis and release O2, but the dead ones on the forest floor are decaying, consuming oxygen as the wood is "burned" back to CO2.  If you want to glorify a trees as an oxygen source, point to a stand of quick-growing "rubbish" trees or a tree farm of new plantings, not the ancient rain forest or the taiga.

I've held this view for a long time, but have seldom expressed it in social settings because the sentiment is so unpopular and frankly a "downer" in conversation, so why bother.   But the recent uproar about Amazonian fires has produced so much hyperbole that the Atlantic boldly posted an article entitled The Amazon is Not Earth's Lungs.  Herewith some excerpts:
The Amazon is a vast, ineffable, vital, living wonder. It does not, however, supply the planet with 20 percent of its oxygen.

As the biochemist Nick Lane wrote in his 2003 book Oxygen, “Even the most foolhardy destruction of world forests could hardly dint our oxygen supply, though in other respects such short-sighted idiocy is an unspeakable tragedy.”

The Amazon produces about 6 percent of the oxygen currently being made by photosynthetic organisms alive on the planet today. But surprisingly, this is not where most of our oxygen comes from. In fact, from a broader Earth-system perspective, in which the biosphere not only creates but also consumes free oxygen, the Amazon’s contribution to our planet’s unusual abundance of the stuff is more or less zero...

That is, Peters wanted to know what would happen to the atmosphere if you burned down not just the Amazon, but every forest on Earth, every blade of grass, every moss and lichen-spackled patch of rock, all the flowers and bees, all the orchids and hummingbirds, all the phytoplankton, zooplankton, whales, starfish, bacteria, giraffes, hyraxes, coatimundis, oarfish, albatrosses, mushrooms, placozoans—all of it, besides the humans.

Peters pulled up the next slide. After this unthinkable planetary immolation, the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere dropped from 20.9 percent to 20.4 percent. CO2 rose from 400 parts per million to 900—less, even, than it does in the worst-case scenarios for fossil-fuel emissions by 2100. By burning every living thing on Earth.

“Virtually no change,” he said. “Generations of humans would live out their lives, breathing the air around them, probably struggling to find food, but not worried about their next breath.”

On their own, then, trees—and even entire forests and seas of plankton—are not enough to fill the atmosphere with a surplus of oxygen. If 99.99 percent of the vast reservoir of oxygen created by the living world is consumed by the living world, that gets you an atmosphere with 0.01 percent oxygen, not our modern 20.9 percent. Photosynthesis is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a world that is hospitable to white-hot oxygen-burning furnaces like us.

“The notion that we owe the breath we breathe to the rain forest, or the [phytoplankton] off the rain forests’ coasts, is just a little bit misinformed on the long timescale,” says Peters.

You don’t get to 20.9 percent, or an atmosphere that can host animal life, without geologic time, and without the fossil record. The tiny remainder of photosynthetic stuff that isn’t consumed and respired again by life—that 0.01 percent of plants and phytoplankton that manages to escape from this cycle of creation and destruction—is responsible for the existence of complex life on Earth. It’s the organic carbon that, once created, doesn’t get consumed again.
The rest of the article is worth reading in toto.

Addressing inequities

Modding the exhaust sound

Via Just A Car Guy - the best source for posts about things on wheels.


Credit to witenry for skillful execution of an original idea.

03 September 2019

Crazy stupid

When Wisconsin children return to school this week, close to 50,000 of them will have waivers that exempt them from vaccines, leaving them vulnerable to measles at a time when the nation has experienced its largest outbreak in 27 years...

Immunization rates of 92% to 95% are considered necessary to provide what health officials call "herd immunity."... Not a single county in 2018 came close to the 92% threshold. In fact, 40 of the 72 counties had immunization rates below 80%.
From the (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel.

02 September 2019

Muir Woods

Posted because this photo brings back memories of one of my most favorite hiking days ever.  About 35-40 years ago I attended a national convention in San Francisco to present a paper.   I then skipped out of the meeting for a day to drive with a couple colleagues up to Marin county to hike these woods and later visit local roadside wine and cheese establishments.

Muir Woods National Monument is flat-out awesome.  I quite agree with a comment at the CozyPlaces via for this image that the best way to appreciate the grandeur is to get away from the paved trail and the attendant tourists and walk back someplace where you can be alone and gaze upward at the trees.

Scientists review disaster movies

The movies reviewed include "San Andres," "2012," "The Day After Tomorrow," "Volcano," "Twister," "Geostorm," "The Core," "Interstellar," "Sharknado," "The Perfect Storm," "Pompeii," "Noah," "The Impossible," "The Happening," "Hard Rain," and "Into the Storm".

Most of them are "unrealistic."  I'm shocked.

Via Vanity Fair.

Fake survey

We've all received these in the mail - "surveys" asking our opinion of political issues, whose only functional purpose is to disguise a fundraising appeal.  I took the screencap above from an online embed at the Los Angeles Times.  I was bemused to note that question 6 asked "On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job... (select as many that [sic] apply)."

I didn't submit my reply, because at the end of the "survey" the participant is required to enter a valid email address - which of course is the entire intent of the instrument.

Matte black nail art

Via the oddlysatisfying subreddit.

"Belling the cat"

"Belling the Cat" is a fable also known under the titles "The Bell and the Cat" and "The Mice in Council". Although often attributed to Aesop, it was not recorded before the Middle Ages...

The fable concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One of them proposes placing a bell around its neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the others, until one mouse asks who will volunteer to place the bell on the cat. All of them make excuses. The story is used to teach the wisdom of evaluating a plan on not only how desirable the outcome would be but also how it can be executed.

30 August 2019

Madeline's first train ride

The sheer unadulterated joy of a child having a new experience.  We have all probably had a variety of these when we were young, but that sensation is hard to replicate as an adult.  But we can share hers vicariously.

Discussion at the MadeMeSmile subreddit.

Lethal dose of fetanyl

Top coment from the Reddit thread:
Just as a point of reference: fentanyl is the most commonly used opioid (morphine-like drug) used in surgeries. We generally dose 50-100 micrograms/0.05-0.1 milligrams initially. This amount is enough to get most people to stop breathing for a few seconds to a few minutes, until the body’s respiratory stimulation defenses kick in. The body then immediately begins downregulating the number of opioid receptors.

This happens so quickly that a second, identical dose given a few minutes later will likely not cause the person to stop breathing at all. It also explains the constant need to increase the dose to get a similar high when abusing an opioid, and why it’s so hard for anyone taking opioids to feel “normal” without them - the body literally adjusts to create a new normal. Without more opioids, feeling “normal” just isn’t possible.

The fentanyl used in hospitals comes in a liquid form, with a concentration of 50 micrograms/ml. There’s very few problems with overdosing, since most of our pain/sedation drugs are given one ml at a time. (Example: morphine is given at 1mg/ml.) So even though the potency of fentanyl is greater than morphine, the dose that is given is less.

As mentioned below, much of the problem with street fentanyl is that it comes in a powdered form that has variable potency, especially after it’s cut. It doesn’t take much fentanyl to “improve” low-grade heroin. If your first hit of fentanyl-laced heroin is mostly heroin, no problem (lower potency heroin = lower dose opioid). If your second hit is mostly fentanyl, you’re dead (higher potency fentanyl = higher dose opioid). That’s how someone can die even when multiple hits have been taken out of the same bag.

TLDR: Medical-grade fentanyl has a very consistent potency and is relatively easy to dose, street fentanyl/heroin is a crap shoot.

Source: am an anesthesiologist.

First-ever Disneyland ticket

Purchased by arrangement in 1955 by Walt Disney's brother Roy Disney.  I was wondering what today's cost is, and found this comment in the Reddit thread: "In 1955 minimum wage in California was .75 cents. A ticket cost an hour and fifteen minutes of hourly pay. Today, California’s minimum wage is $12.00 and ticket admission to just the original Disneyland Park is $149.00. That takes just over eleven and a half hours of work to pay for one ticket admission."


Premiers tomorrow at Venice Film Festival.  "Joker is set in 1981 and follows Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian who is driven insane and turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City."

28 August 2019

Why is Peru on fire?

Found the photo above today - a satellite image from August 22 - showing the locations of fires in South America (if the embed doesn't enlarge, the original will X2).

It's clear there are fires raging through the Amazon.  My impression from internet news reports was that they were largely attributable to the policies of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and refleced clearing of the forest for industrial-scale farming.

But... the image clearly shows extensive fires in Peru.  And in Bolivia.  And Paraguay.

It may be for similar reasons, but I can't see how Bolsonaro can be implicated by the fires in the other countries.  And if not there, perhaps not in Brazil?  Has it become standard practice for the people of South America to burn off their forests??  Are some of these fires oil drills degassing rather than forests?

I'll send the query to my cousin who is currently in Peru.  In the meantime I'd appreciate opinions from knowledgeable readers.

Addendum: A tip of the blogging hat to reader Colin for providing the link to the relevant NASA Visible Earth page:
Fire activity in the Amazon varies considerably from year-to-year and month-to-month, driven by changes in economic conditions and climate. August 2019 stands out because it has brought a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon, explained Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. While drought has played a large role in exacerbating fires in the past, the timing and location of fire detections early in the 2019 dry season are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought...

The map above shows active fire detections in Brazil as observed by Terra and Aqua MODIS between August 15-22, 2019. The locations of the fires, shown in orange, have been overlain on nighttime imagery acquired by VIIRS. In these data, cities and towns appear white; forested areas appear black; and tropical savannas and woodland (known in Brazil as Cerrado) appear gray
I was wondering about the black/gray demarcation and also why city lights did not overwhelm the fires (this is a composite image of two methodologies).  But I'm still puzzled by the extra-Brazilian distribution.


"Chick" stools from the Estonian Design House.

Exploring H.M.S. Terror

As reported by National Geographic:
The wreck of H.M.S. Terror, one of the long lost ships from Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage, is astonishingly well preserved, say Parks Canada archaeologists, who recently used small remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) to peer deep inside the historic vessel’s interior...

“We were able to explore 20 cabins and compartments, going from room to room,” says Harris. “The doors were all eerily wide open.” What they saw astonished and delighted them: dinner plates and glasses still on shelves, beds and desks in order, scientific instruments in their cases—and hints that journals, charts, and perhaps even early photographs may be preserved under drifts of sediment that cover much of the interior.

“Those blankets of sediment, together with the cold water and darkness, create a near perfect anaerobic environment that’s ideal for preserving delicate organics such as textiles or paper,” says Harris. “There is a very high probability of finding clothing or documents, some of them possibly even still legible. Rolled or folded charts in the captain’s map cupboard, for example, could well have survived.”..
Just as tantalizing is the possibility that there could be pictures of the expedition awaiting discovery. It’s known that the expedition had a daguerreotype apparatus, and assuming it was used, the glass plates could still be aboard. “And if there are, it’s also possible to develop them,” says Harris. “It’s been done with finds at other shipwrecks. The techniques are there.”
More information at the link and at this CBC report.   There must be a fantastic National Geographic television program in the works.

A bold prediction about Big Ten football

Posted for family and a few friends with an interest in collegiate football.
Other readers can just scroll past to more interesting stuff.
Tomorrow the Big Ten football season starts with the first preseason games.  The pundits and national analysts have published their predictions; the list embedded at the top is from USA Today.   Of the Big Ten teams, Ohio State (predicted 5th), Michigan (7th), Penn State (14th), Wisconsin (17th), Iowa (19th), Michigan State (20th), and Northwestern (25th) are all expected to be in the top 25 nationally.  Minnesota received 1 measly point, out of 21,000 awarded by 65 headcoaches around the country.  Reporters covering the Big Ten are similarly dismissive; they collectively predicted Minnesota to finish sixth in the 7-team West division.

TYWKIWDBI hereby predicts Minnesota to finish in the top 25 nationally and second in their division.  You heard it here first.

Last Year
The Gophers closed out the 2017 season two years ago with two losses by a combined score of 70-0, and in the past two years under their new coach P.J. Fleck their record against Big Ten teams has been 5-13.  The problem last year was that the team lost both of their premier running backs to injuries in September, and they lost Antoine Winfield, their star defensive safety after just four games.  So they struggled; after a change in the assistant coaching staff, the defense went from giving up 500 yards/game to 300 and from 43 pts/game to 15, and the team's offense compensated and managed to finish the year by beating ranked Wisconsin at Wisconsin and then blowing away Georgia Tech in a bowl game.

Last year they fielded a team that was the youngest in U.S. collegiate football; at times the entire backfield was composed of freshmen right out of high school.  This year the team returns 78% of its offensive production.   Their injured star running backs (Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks) are back for their senior seasons, as is last year's star sophomore Mo Ibrahim; the three have combined for 6,000 rushing yards.

The only major players lost to graduation were the placekicker and center, two defensive tackles, and the best linebacker.  The team has 17 returning starters: the Gophers return an amazing 100% of passing yards, 99% of rushing yards, and 99% of receiving yards. None of the Big Ten teams they play can say as much; most of the opposing teams in the division lost key players from last year to graduation or transfer. 

The offensive line has four returning starters, and pound-for-pound is bigger than the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line. The four average 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds (the Vikings’ line averages 6-foot-4, 302)  Sophomore Daniel Faalele is 6-foot-9 and 400#. The wide receivers include all-Big-Ten senior Tyler Johnson, who could have turned pro last year but elected to stay with the team.

The Gophers have one difficult preseason game in week two, against Fresno State, which went 12-2 last year, beat Boise State for the Mountain West championship, and then beat Arizona State in a bowl game.  The game is at Fresno State in the second of a home-and-home pairing.  But.. of those two losses last year, one was to Minnesota in the preseason, and Fresno State lost to graduation their star quarterback, and will play this year with an inexperienced one.

A little-known fact:  the Gophers have won 15 straight nonconference games.  That is the longest streak in the nation, dating back to when they lost to #2 TCU in 2015.  I expect the Gophers to repeat as winners against Fresno State and thus enter the conference schedule 3-0 after wins against South Dakota State and Georgia Southern..

When the conference schedule starts in late September, the first five games will be winnable (at Purdue, home against Illinois and Nebraska, at Rutgers, and then Maryland at home).  By then they could be 8-0 and ready to roll against the big boys, because the season ends against presumably ranked teams: home against Penn State, away to play Iowa and Northwestern, and then the season-ending traditional game against Wisconsin (at home).

This year the Gophers are not scheduled to play Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State.   The West division's toughest schedule may go to Wisconsin, which must face Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. And Iowa will play against Michigan and Penn State.

I predict the Gophers to finish 6-3 in the West division, behind only Iowa, and thus 9-3 overall and ranked in the top-25 nationally. The one thing that could derail my prediction would be unexpected injuries to key players.  Already in the preseason one of the team's two experienced quarterbacks has been declared out for the season with a foot injury.
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