15 February 2019

News from The Onion

The Onion

The final seven Henry Merrivale mysteries

In July of last year I covered the first four Henry Merrivale novels.  In November I tackled the next five, then six more in January.  Today we finish with the final seven, discussing the language only, with no plot-spoiling comments.

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (1945)
No locked room.  Instead an introductory dedication to Ellery Queen with a "cryptic reference to Mr. James Phillimore and his umbrella."  Carr is obliquely referring to John Watson's line in Doyle's The Problem of Thor Bridge:
‘Among these unfinished tales is that of Mr James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world.’
I'll say no more (for those interested, there is a review here).  On to the language.
[A row involving H.M.] ".. is still mentioned with respect by Arab porters and hotel commissionaires, even in that city of memorable schlimozzels."  That's a word I first (and last) heard in the introductory song for Laverne and Shirley!  "Schlemazel, also schlimazel, "born loser," 1948, from Yiddish shlim mazel "rotten luck," from Middle High German slim "crooked" + Hebrew mazzal "luck." British slang shemozzle "an unhappy plight" (1889) is probably from the same source."

"The sunlight made a living entity of the picture carvings which fretted every inch of the bowl."  "To decorate or ornament, especially with an interlaced or interwoven pattern, or (architecture) with carving or relief (raised) work."

"She slipped out over the up-ended front seat, as trim and soignee as though the waterproof were a kind of cellophane wrapping."  Fashionable and elegant, borrowed from the French.

"... met an odd cove named Beaumont."  Informal British for "a fellow, a man."  Said to be from Romany (Gypsy) cova "a thing," covo "that man".

"By the six names of Satan, she was here! I heard her!"  One online reference says there are six names of Satan found in Scripture: Satan, Beelzebub, Devil, Lucifer, Dragon, Prince.

"But I was there.  So was a josser named Alim Bey."  Lots of meanings, depending on the context - a foolish man, a clergyman. an outsider working in a circus, a person of influence or importance.

"Kit would have recognized him by the red tarbush on his head."  A fez. (Arabic: tarboosh).

"... a kitchen maid or a tweeny."  Slang for "between-maid" - a sort of servant to the servants.

"She was gettin' scared.  She didn't dare keep the dibs any longer." In context, stolen merchandise, perhaps related to claiming "dibs" (ownership).

My Late Wives (1946)
Not a locked-room mystery; the puzzle to be solved is how a murderer can dispose of a dead body from a room under constant surveillance.  Not one of JDC's best.
"In the spring of 1933 he took her north, to a bosky cottage near Scarborough..."  Covered by trees or bushes; wooded.  (Late 16th century: from Middle English bosk, variant of bush.)

 "This is especially so in post-war London, where browned-off troops and equally browned-off civilians find their nerves scratched by so many small annoyances..."  Irritated or depressed, bored, fed up, disgusted.  "The slang phrase became popular in the Second World War.  The reference is probably to a dish that has been overcooked. See also cheesed off..."

 "You leave it to me, cock.  I'll see you don't get lagged." To transport as a punishment for crime (British archaic slang).

"Sir, do you think I'm off my chump?"  Insane, crazy. 

"Is that your Goddamned theatrical habit?"  Interesting to see it capitalized.

"Commander Renwick, obviously, was very pukka, very much the sort of person who does not let you forget that he has been an officer and a gentleman."  High quality, genuine, first class.  From the Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu.

"By any sane computation, that ought to carry the perisher round and land him slap on the green..."  Annoying child or brat, used as a term of contempt (or pity).  "Perishing" can be used as an intensifier in British speech.

"Beyond it was a car, an S.S. Jaguar in whose big dickey, or rumble seat, you could easily hide a body."  The manufacturer's name 'SS Cars', used from 1934, maintained a link to the previous owner, Swallow Sidecar, founded in 1922 to build motorcycle sidecars. In March 1945 the S. S. Cars shareholders agreed to change the name to Jaguar Cars Limited.

"H.M. was at the wheel of the car, a big but very old relic with isinglass-windowed side-curtains..."  I've always equated isinglass with mica, but that wouldn't make sense in this context.  Turns out the word is also used for "a form of gelatine obtained from the air bladder of the sturgeon and certain other fish, used as an adhesive and as a clarifying agent for wine and beer.  And in fact the word itself is from the Dutch/German for "sturgeon-bladder."  “With isinglass curtains y’ can roll right down/In case there’s a change in the weather.”—“The Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” from Oklahoma!, 1943.  Photo of 1926 car with "large isinglass side curtains" (perhaps the term is used interchangeably with "celluloid."

"... along an open coast where rain-gusts flew at them with harpy violence..."  Commonly encountered as a noun; I don't recall seeing it used as an adjective.

"... and owing to a concatenation of circumstances..."  A series of links united, from the Latin catena = chain.

"That's when J.M. realized this blighter was up the pole, a lunatic with designs on Daphne..." "'Up the pole' is an odd phrase, or rather, it is an odd collection of phrases, in that it has numerous meanings..." In context, insanity, so perhaps thus: "In a classic example of folk etymology, 'up the pole' has been suggested to be named after De La Pole Psychiatric Hospital, Hull, UK."

Skeleton in the Clock (1948)
The plot involves locked rooms (execution chambers at an abandoned local prison), but the murders don't take place there.
"Who the devil are these two powerful jujus, grandmother and Aunt Cicely?"  Borrowed from the West African.

"Didn't you hear Beowulf's Mother yellin' for chuckers-out?"  "Ejection or dismissal, usually the sack. Late 19th century Austrlia/NZ. Also the end of drinking time in a public house, or place of entertainment, when customers are asked to drink up and leave."  The second definition makes more sense in context.

"... it made him jump to his feet, miry-eyed, and peer round..."  Related to a mire (swampy), but in context presumably meaning the eyelids stuck together from recent sleep.

"For some reason Martin's gorge rose sickeningly at the very thought of eating."  Throat, gullet, from the Latin.  If it rises, the implication is impending vomiting.

"You're not likely to forget the first h.e. bomb that fell close to you..."  Colloquial term for high-explosive bomb used by the Luftwaffe.

"Martin thought he could detect one brass band, a panotrope with a bad needle, and the steam organ of a merry-go-round." "A device for playing records, especially one that plays them loud enough for fairground or similar use." 

A Graveyard to Let (1949)
The setting is the equivalent of a locked room.   A wealthy man is visiting with six or seven guests at his swimming pool.  When police arrive he dives into the pool.   His hat floats to the surface, along with his sandals, but he disappears.  The water is murky, so while watching the pool, the police have it drained.  His body is not in there.  And there are no secret exits from the pool.

"The revolver was not a Colt .38 police positive, as Cy half expected."  "The Colt Police Positive was an improvement of Colt’s earlier “New Police” revolver, upgraded with an internal hammer block safety. Colt named this new security device the “Positive Lock”, and its nomenclature ended up being incorporated as a partial namesake for the new revolver

"Sir Henry, you have a popsy in New York."  (in context, a kept woman)

Night at the Mocking Widow (1950)
Probably the weakest JDC novel I've reviewed to date, because the solution relies more on psychology and motives rather than clues - more reminiscent of an Agatha Christie than a JDC (the crimes in this book are poison pen letters, not murders).
"Theo Bull swears 'e won't have no nance amateur three rounds [of boxing]. 'E wants a perfessional fifteen..." Short for "nancyboy" = homosexual or effeminate man.

"The woman seemed to sag, like a dim droopy witch, as she indicated a door on the left side."  I have no clue on this one, and don't know where to start.

"... so you see, my dolly, there's no call to be scared of that sausage-eatin' faker downstairs.  He's only wind and gold-rimmed gig lamps.  He sticks the gig lamps in your face and talks a lot of tommyrot." A lamp on the side of a gig (carriage, two-wheeled, horse-drawn).  The person referred to in the story was a psychiatrist.

Behind the Crimson Blind (1952)
Another weak  novel, written late in JDC's career, and during a time when his other detective, Gideon Fell, was getting the best plots.  Carr still has a way with words, vide this introduction of a principal character: "Though his best friend could not have called him handsome, his thin face showed traces of an intelligence and humour which were masked, as a result of his official duties, by a formal courtesy close to stateliness." As with The Mocking Widow (above), there is too little detecting and too much romance, comedic episodes, and derring-do; it's a "light read."

In his critical study of John Dickson Carr, S.T. Joshi notes a decline in the later Merrivale mysteries: "It is not very profitable to trace the course or history of the Merrivale novels: not one, I believe, is to be compared in scope or brilliance with the four or five best Fell novels, or even with the best of the Bencolin series, and in general there is simply a gradual decline in quality and readability."

Remarkably, in this novel H.M. even kills someone: "H.M.'s powerful left hand whacked down on Middle Europe's head, seizing and rolling a good handful of hair to hold  hard.  As he forced the man downwards, H.M.'s right hand drove the Riff knife through the side of white robe's throat, just behind the Adam's apple."  In the concluding chapter Merrivale says "Maybe I had to do something like that in Marseilles once; or two or three times at Port Said; or maybe in Occupied Germany..."
Riff knife was hard to find, in part because of dilution from references to a knife owned by a character named Riff in West Side Story.  Finally found a proper reference in Agatha Christie's Murder is Easy:" He had a knife in his hand--a long slender blade. "Perfect workmanship," he was saying. "One of my young men brought it back to me from Morocco, where he'd been special correspondent. It's Moorish, of course, a Riff knife."

 "I'm not asking for any Bertillon measurements..." [re someone's head]  "A system for identifying people by a physical description based upon anthropometric measurements, notes of markings, deformities, skin colour, impression of thumb lines, etc." Named for the French anthropologist (who also invented the mug shot).

"... young Arabs in modern clothes whose pinched-in waists and white ties made them resemble wide-boys from Soho."

"... breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs, huge slices of ham together with those red sausages... his collation was placed on the table piece by piece over a smooth linen cloth."  A collection or bringing-together.  Also a light meal taken by monks after a reading in a Benedictine monastery, perhaps used here jokingly."

 "... [redacted] had got to the point, that night, where he and Collier had got to part brass rags."

The Cavalier's Cup (1953)
Classic locked-room mystery, though the mystery is overwhelmed by lengthy and sometimes tedious side-stories of humor involving Signor Luigi Ravioli, a caricatured Italian.  ["Well! She isn't bad at all.  Except for one thing, she would meet with anyone's approval.  Though I hate to put it quite so crudely, Dad did seem to be getting to first base."  "First-a base?" exclaimed Signor Ravioli in horror.  "You want-a to insult-a your Pop?  He's-a tear around-a bases going straight-a for home plate!"  Virginia did not stop to correct this vulgarism..."]
"Just then they both heard horsemen in half-armour and buff-coats..."  "The European buff coat (the term deriving from the ox or buffalo hide from which it was commonly made and its yellowish colour) was an item of leather clothing worn by cavalry and officers during the 17th century, it also saw limited use by some infantry. It was often worn under armour. It was derived from the simple leather jerkins worn by huntsmen and soldiers during the Tudor period, these in turn deriving from the arming doublet worn under full plate armour."

"Rapidly, as though they were alone on some fond, isolated island, Virginia sketched out what she had been telling the others..."  An odd adjective to choose, perhaps meaning "foolish, silly."

"What's the idea of the tile?" yelled H.M.  "Lord love a duck, haven't you got any better manners than to stick on your hat in the house?"  Definitions of "tile" do include "a stiff hat."  In this case the hat was a top-hat and clearly not discoid or tile-shaped; perhaps the usage refers to the application of tiles to cover a roof.
Thus endeth my survey of language in twenty-two Sir Henry Merrivale novels (one week after H.M.'s 148th birthday).  I need a change and will switch my reading elsewhere.  When I return to John Dickson Carr, it will be to cover the historical mysteries.  I'm saving the final group (and the best of the lot) - the Gideon Fell novels - for last.

Canine agility champion

Filmed at the 2015 Westminster Kennel Club dog show.  Wikipedia has a wonderfully comprehensive article on dog agility competitions.
Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles. Consequently the handler's controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler....

Because each course is different, handlers are allowed a short walk-through before the competition starts. During this time, all handlers competing in a particular class can walk or run around the course without their dogs...

Each dog and handler team gets one opportunity together to attempt to complete the course successfully...

Dogs are measured in height at the peak of their withers (shoulders). They are then divided into height groups... Dogs are further divided into their experience levels...Dogs are not separated by breed in agility competitions... 
Lots more details re the individual obstacles and the training techniques.

Reposted from 2015 because I was inspired by watching video of the 2018 competition this week, and another video of an 8" Papillon winning this year.

Related: Once an agility canine, always an agility canine (paraplegic dog)

How Washington lobbyists use the homeless

This practice has been going on for a long time.  Also at rock concerts and various store openings.  One interesting suggestion in the Twitter thread: if they are being paid to hold a spot for a lobbyist, couldn't someone else offer them more $ to leave the spot, or hold it for them instead?

George said it well

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.
--- George Washington, Fairwell Address, September 17, 1796
Via Harper's Magazine, 1944.

14 February 2019

Preparing for a book sale

I spent the better part of this morning helping the Friends of the Fitchburg Library prepare for one of their triannual book sales.  Many thousands of books, CDs, DVDs and other items had to be transferred from the storage bankers boxes to plastic tabletop trays.  Fortunately the books had already been sorted into categories, so it was just a matter of unboxing and rearranging them.

These sales bring in thousands of dollars to the library for use in outreach programs, children's programs, and staff development.  When the doors open tomorrow, the first ones through will be local book dealers who will zoom around with their portable barcode readers to find bargains.  The volunteers price books cheaply and the sheer volume precludes individual pricing.  They do try to assess old books more carefully; one year someone donated a copy of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, with the author's name misprinted as "H.S. Wells" - a mark of a rare first edition [example at right].  It had some damaged pages, but still brought in $500 in a private sale.

One noticeable trend in recent years has been an increasing flood of DVDs donated to the library - probably reflecting the public's shifting preference toward streaming rather than buying physical copies.

I encourage all readers to patronize your local library, which likely has extensive resources (local history, geneaology, etc) and programs (child literacy, adult continuing education) that you may be unaware of.  If you have some spare time and a love of books, your library probably has a volunteer group that would welcome you with open arms.  These are nice people, and working with them can provide a nice variation from whatever hassles you face in daily life.

13 February 2019


The Alma Oasis near Ubari, Libya.  Photo (presumably oversaturated, but striking just for morphology) via.

Perhaps a deterrent to nail-biting

Yes, I know... one isn't supposed to be judgmental about art.  If you don't care for something, just move on.  But really... a dead cranefly displayed on a nail offered as "embedded in amber."

Perhaps the next step is to create a teeny, tiny air pocket between layers of the "amber," then insert a wood tick, which will probably crawl around for a long time...

Via the DiWHY subreddit.

Reposted from 2017 to add these examples of nail art:

and these glow in the dark -

Swimming with a saltwater crocodile

Inside a Lucite cylinder at Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin Australia.  Via.

Cheerful story of the day

"Gabriel Nobre, 19, with his mom and sister right after he found out he’d passed Brazil’s famously difficult university entrance exam. The young man had cut a deal with a prep course to clean the building in exchange for free classes to help him prepare for the exam."
Some context offered by ThatDIYcouple at the MadeMeSmile subreddit:
As a little bit of background: Brazil’s public universities are free, but you have to pass an entrance exam called the Vestibular that is very difficult. What was meant to be a measure to make the country more of a meritocracy hasn’t exactly worked in practice. Instead what happened is a bunch of private companies sprung up to tutor people to pass the exam. So young people often need to pay for the prep courses and also study full time for about a year in order to pass the exam. Naturally, it is mostly affluent Brazilian youths with family support who can afford to do this. So it ends up being less meritocratic- rich kids get the prep and training they need, and then get the university for free. When stories like this kid come out, it really captivates the public’s imagination, because he’s “made it”, the way the system was intended to work, against all odds. As a bonus, he came in 4th in his desired field, medicine, and will be studying at (arguably) Brazil’s most prestigious university.
More here (in Portuguese).

Railroad map of Australia

The routes are presented schematically rather than geographically (ala London Tube, MTA etc), but still interesting.  Via the MapPorn subreddit.

Trends for tax rates in the past century

The graph above shows the highest marginal tax rate in five rich countries since 1900.  AOC and other Democrats have recently been admonished by Bill Gates for placing too much emphasis on income rather than wealth.  The graph below shows the trends in inheritance taxes in these same countries over this same time period.

Both graphs from Thomas Piketty's blog, where there is a brief explication.

Every Oscars "Best Picture" winner

11 February 2019

"Jackstone" urolith

This one reportedly comprised of calcium oxalateVia

Restoring a rusty cleaver

I don't have a lot of time to spare, but I wound up watching this for the full 11 minutes.  I love seeing skilled craftsmen at work.   Not sure why he left the pitting in place (and added more) - don't know if that's an aesthetic or functional choice.  And it's a joy to watch an instructional video that is effective without a narration.

Facts about the "Green New Deal" proposal

A lot of talk about the "GND" in recent weeks, and some misstatements such as this one: "... to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military."

Thankfully the Washington Post has presented a reasonably brief, fact-checked summary of the proposal.
"The Green New Deal is a manifesto calling for sweeping changes to American society. Key goals include cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guaranteeing jobs for all.

The resolution in Congress from Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) calls for a “10-year national mobilization” that would include:
  • “Guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.” 
  • “Providing all people of the United States with — (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.” 
  • “Providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States.” 
  • “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” 
  • “Repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States, including . . . by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible.” 
  • “Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘smart’ power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity.” 
  • “Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.” 
  • “Overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in — (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and (iii) high-speed rail.” 
  • “Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible.” 
  • “Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible." 
... Even if it passed, the resolution would not have the force of law. Resolutions like this are broad statements about policy priorities. 
There's more at the Washington Post, including clarification about various misstatements, including ones made by AOC and her staff.

Addendum:  The most cogent and concise arguments I've heard against the Green New Deal were elucidated by David Brooks on the February 15 broadcast of the PBS Newshour.   However admirable the goals may be,  he pointed out that implementation of them concentrates an unusual amount of power in the hands of a central government, which is against our country's founding principles, and which recent experience should show us is not a wise strategy.

Eclipse as seen from space


Puckish humor

While other heads of state aspire to regal magnificence, Queen Elizabeth remains a bit different in that regard.  This photo reminded me of my favorite story about her.  It was told by one of her former "protection officers."  He  had accompanied her to a public gathering in the area of Balmoral, not far from one of her castles.

The Queen was dressed informally while visiting a flower show or such.  While there she fell into conversation with some American tourists, one of whom asked her if she "lived around here." She told the lady that she did in fact have a place nearby.

The lady then asked eagerly whether she  had ever met the queen.  After a moment's consideration she replied (truthfully) "No..."  Then, pointing at her protection officer she said, "But HE has!"

Reposted from 2016 to add this photo:

Image cropped from the original.

09 February 2019

Divertimento #160

I am so far, far behind.  The selections in this "linkfest" date back to August of 2018...

A Koch-funded think tank's study reports that under Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" proposal "overall health costs would go down, and wages would go up."  "...acknowledges that Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan would yield a $482 billion reduction in health care spending, and over $1.5 trillion in administrative savings, for a total of $2 trillion less in overall health care expenditures between 2022 and 2031, compared to current spending. In order to arrive at this number, Blahous looked at how “Medicare for All” could lower administrative costs and provide savings in areas like drug spending."

"All hail the VPL [visible panty line]" op-ed piece.

A man posted a video of a live worm wriggling out of a piece of cod served at a restaurant. “Anisakids are commonly called ‘cod worms’ because they are frequently found in cod,” though Pritt added that the worms can also be found in salmon, mackerel and other fish. “They are, unfortunately, a fact of life.” (video at the link)

Related to the above, I grew up eating fish that my mom used to remove worms from before serving to us (walleye, usually.  In the summer the perch would get so wormy that we wouldn't eat them).   For more information, see this Minnesota publication on parasites of freshwater fish.

More on LeBron James' new I Promise School.

A man who delivers ice cream accidentally asphyxiated his mother by leaving four coolers with dry ice in the back seat of a car she was in.

How Iranians made ice cream 2,000 years ago.

"After the couple died, a stolen Willem de Kooning painting with an estimated worth of $160 million was discovered in their bedroom."

"... the chief of the U.S. District Court in Kansas, Judge Julie A. Robinson... ruled, after a lengthy trial, that Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, produced no credible support for his theory that large numbers of noncitizens are illegally voting in American elections. Thus, the Kobach-inspired law requiring Kansas voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship is ­unconstitutional because it imposes the burden without a reasonable ­justification."

You can make a larger (though not watertight) Ziplock bag by turning one inside-out and connecting it to a second one.

"You'll be O.K." cartoon.

"Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that political decisions about education "don't reflect" a desire to have better schools and teachers, saying that Americans "never vote on education." In his new book "How Schools Work" out on Tuesday, writes that the American education system "runs on lies." "As a nation, we're not top 10 in anything," he said.

"Using a radio telescope, scientists have detected what could be a huge planet nudging our solar system. About 12 times as massive as Jupiter, this rogue celestial body is floating through space without its own host star."

" Officers arrested a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old... following two separate alleged carjacking attempts... a few seconds later, they left the car and ran away. Police believe they didn't know how to use the victim’s manual transmission."

Creepy aspects of Facebook's "People You May Know" feature.

"The AMA has led the opposition to national healthcare since the 1930s, but by the end of the meeting the AMA had chartered a study group to consider its position. Polls of younger doctors show overwhelming support for the idea. They're entering a field dominated by huge corporate practices and don't see themselves as entrepreneurs striking out on their own and worried about government interference in "their business.""

The little-understood cruelties of ankle monitors for felons.

"The bizarre experiment was launched in 1946, when Argentina relocated 20 Canadian beavers to Tierra del Fuego, the windswept archipelago at South America’s tip, to “enrich” local wildlife and foster a fur trade. The pelt industry never took off, but the beavers, unchecked by North American predators like wolves and bears, flourished. They swam glacier-scoured fjords between islands, dispersing throughout both the Argentine and Chilean sides of Tierra del Fuego. Some decades after their arrival, a beaver clambered from an icy strait and established a beachhead on the Patagonian mainland. These days, their population numbers about 200,000.  And as beavers spread, they did what beavers are wont to do: They transformed their surroundings."

"... the NBA doesn’t allow its players to peacefully protest during the national anthem, because doing so would open the door to just as much controversy as the NFL is currently experiencing. The NBA certainly isn’t the complete shitshow that the NFL is, but that’s a low bar to clear."

"Six crows trained to pick up cigarette ends and rubbish will be put to work next week at a French historical theme park..."

"Hitchens's razor is an epistemological razor asserting that the burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with the one who makes the claim, and if this burden is not met, the claim is unfounded, and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it.  ("What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.") Hitchens's razor is actually an English translation of the Latin proverb quod grātīs asseritur, grātīs negātur ("What is asserted gratuitously may be denied gratuitously"), which was commonly used in the 19th century. It takes a stronger stance than the Sagan standard ("Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"), instead applying to even non-extraordinary claims."

"A Florida couple was arrested last week after they were caught allegedly selling drugs out of a drive-thru window they constructed out of the side of their mobile home."

A longread about the potential for a North American megadrought and its consequences.

"In most corn fields it is not unusual to find a few scattered plants with a combination tassel and ear in the same structure - a "tassel ear". The ear portion of this tassel ear structure usually contains only a limited number of kernels.  Tassel ears often appear on tillers (suckers) arising from plants with normal ears and tassels.  Tassel ears are often produced by tillers that result when the plant’s growing point is destroyed or injured by hail, wind (green snap), animal feeding, frost, flooding, herbicides, and mechanical injury."

Don't add your boss on Facebook.

A Republican candidate for the Florida House lied about having a college degree and posed with a fake diploma after a news outlet questioned her credentials... According to the photographed diploma, Howard graduated with a degree that doesn't exist at Miami University in Ohio. The school offers a bachelor of science degree in business, not a bachelor of science degree in marketing. The photographed diploma also includes a signature of Robert Johnson, the then-dean of the graduate school, not of the school of business.

An actuarial life table for the population reflected in the U.S. Social Security roles.  Find your age, see your expected remaining lifespan.

"When scammers get inside of the networks of financial institutions, they sometimes stage "cashouts" where they recruit confederates around the world to all hit ATMs at the same time with cards tied to hacked accounts and withdraw the maximum the ATMs will allow; but the wilier criminals first disable the anti-fraud and withdrawal maximum features in the banks' systems, enabling confederates to drain ATMs of all the cash they contain. This is called an "unlimited cashout.""

A collection of little-known facts about various animals.

"Imagine going to the eye doctor because your upper eyelid is swollen and painful. The doctor tells you it's a cyst and operates. Inside the blister, the surgeon finds a contact lens: a rigid gas-permeable one. But you haven't worn that type of contact in 28 years! That's what happened to a 42-year-old British woman." (MRIs at the link)

"One night, while preparing one of his favorite meals with supercomputer pioneer Danny Hillis, Feynman noticed something strange about spaghetti. If a dry noodle is taken and broken in half, it will almost always break into three or more pieces, tiny bits spraying in every direction."  Now two MIT students have studied the problem and come up with a technique for breaking a dry noodle into only two pieces.

John McCain's mother at his funeral.  She was born before Arizona became a state.

"This year, if you’re sending your kids off to college, pack fentanyl testing kits and naloxone. I promise you’re not enabling or encouraging them to use drugs; you’re just telling them to use drugs more safely if they do."

The Morandi Bridge, considered an engineering jewel when it was inaugurated in 1967, was the 12th bridge to have collapsed in Italy since 2004. Five of those were in the last five years. Many of the problems can be traced back to the construction boom of the 1960s, when bridges, roads, buildings and schools were being built, often with weak or cheap material to increase profits, and ending up in the hands of the mafia.

Four-minute video mapping world arms sales, 1950-2017.

"In 17th Century Europe, when Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens painted their famous masterworks, ultramarine blue pigment made from the semi-precious lapis lazuli stone was mined far away in Afghanistan and cost more than its weight in gold. Only the most illustrious painters were allowed to use the costly material, while lesser artists were forced to use duller colours that faded under the sun. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution in the 19th Century that a synthetic alternative was invented, and true ultramarine blue finally became widely available.  Across the Atlantic Ocean, colonial Baroque works created by artists like José Juárez, Baltasar de Echave Ibia and Cristóbal de Villalpando in early 17th Century Mexico – New Spain – were full of this beautiful blue. How could this be? Lapis lazuli was even rarer in the New World. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th Century that archaeologists discovered the Maya had invented a resilient and brilliant blue, centuries before their land was colonised and their resources exploited. 

"What's a short, clean joke that gets a laugh every time?" [dozens - maybe hundreds - at the link]

Foreskin activists use "a giant truck featuring a half-naked woman ripping the tighty-whities off a helpless dude. At the top are the words “foreskin… a girl can hope.” To the right, there’s a big ad sending onlookers to a site called foreskin.life, which promises a list called “4 Powers of Foreskin” and shows the intertwined legs of a couple in bed. The group behind the truck is an anti-circumcision group called Intaction — like the words “intact” and “action.”"

Why you shouldn't visit a psychic.

"... countless whelks. They started to climb onto the newcomers, sticking to their legs. “I didn’t know then, but they’d started to suck them alive, basically. It was like a horror movie,” Barkai said. “It actually was a bit frightening to watch.” The lobsters simply didn’t know how to respond. They were outnumbered and overwhelmed."

"I had not realised that T.S. Eliot was a Sherlock Holmes fan until I thought to look up the word grimpen, which occurs in ‘East Coker’, in the Four Quartets: ‘On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold.’ We take grimpen to mean ‘a bog’. The OED undogmatically gives the meaning as ‘marshy area’, and the etymology as ‘uncertain’. This is no surprise since the word, it appears, was made up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for The Hound of the Baskervilles."  Eliot also borrowed from Doyle's "The Musgrave Ritual" for his "Murder in the Cathedral." (details at the link)

Two ostriches = one camel

Paper car wheels were composite wheels of railway carriages, made from a wrought iron or steel rim bolted to an iron hub with an interlayer of laminated paper. The center was made of compressed paper held between two plate-iron disks. Their ability to damp rail/wheel noise resulted in a quiet and smooth ride for the passengers of North American Pullman dining and sleeping cars.

I should have posted this on Groundhog Day:  "This list of films featuring time loops where characters experience the same period of time repeatedly. The list provides the names and brief synopses of films in which time loops are a prominent plot device."  46 films in the list.

If your last name is "Long," you could adapt this signature.

Burgle vs. Burglarize: "In American English, the verb burgle, meaning to rob, is regarded as a humorous backformation from burglar, and burglarize is the preferred term in serious contexts. In British English, it’s the other way around. Burgle is a legitimate verb, used even in sober news reports, and burglarize (or burglarise, as it would probably be spelled if it were an accepted word in British English) is virtually nonexistent in serious contexts. Some Britons view burglarize as an American barbarism. Irish, Australian, New Zealand, and South African writers tend to go along with British writers on this. Canadians prefer burglarize."

In English, every odd number has the letter "E" in it.

Examples of bad kerning.

A polite discussion thread about whether Obama was a bad president: "Obama expanded the surveillance powers of the state, invaded 7 countries, ordered the extrajudicial execution of an American citizen, prosecuted more journalists under the espionage act than all other presidents in history COMBINED, deported more immigrants than any other president and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I don't understand how anyone who calls themselves "liberal" can think he's a good president." (over a thousand comments in the thread)

Discussion thread has some funny comments about this touching pair of photos.

A "team of thieves hit the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion over four days in late August. They made off with those critters and nearly 7,000 other insects, spiders and lizards — more than 80 percent of the institution’s collection. Who would want 7,000 very creepy crawlies? Plenty of people, it turns out. Cambridge said the exotic pet industry is “absolutely bursting with buyers right now” — and not just for furry foxes or lemurs, but for insects, too. Some of the stolen animals are known to fetch a pretty penny. A healthy adult Gooty sapphire tarantula can cost more than $350, while Mexican fireleg tarantulas go for $250. Rhinoceros cockroaches are worth $500 per mating pair. According to a police report, the entire theft is estimated to be worth between $30,000 and $50,000."

The embedded photos are "Martian, lunar, and other rare meteorites" up for auction this week at Christie's.

And now we're caught up through September.  *sigh*

Disrespecting the chief meteorologist

FOX17 WZTV chief meteorologist Katy Morgan showing viewers some of the abuse she was subjected to after breaking into a broadcast of 'The Masked Singer' to give an extreme weather warning. (Twitter/@katymorganwx)

Four tornadoes touched down in Tennessee on Thursday, Feb. 7, prompting wall-to-wall storm coverage on local television stations in Nashville.

Following the severe weather warnings on Thursday, Chief Meteorologist at Nashville's Fox station WZTV Katy Morgan received harsh criticism due to the interruptions.

The meteorologist took to Twitter to share some of the negative remarks that she received following the severe weather interruption. 
More at Accuweather.

Cartoon from 1965

Still has some resonance today.

08 February 2019

Abronia graminea (alligator lizard)

More pix here and info hereVia.

Introducing Bernie Sanders - updated

"We've all become so accustomed to stage-managed, focus-group-driven candidates that authenticity comes across as lunacy." - Jon Stewart

Reposted from 2015 to add this information from a new Atlantic article:
The senator from Vermont has been huddling with staff in meetings and brainstorming on phone calls over the past few weeks, chewing over plans. Barring a surprise, last-minute change of heart, he will jump into the 2020 race, convinced he can win, according to people familiar with his plans...

Last time, he didn’t get in until the end of April 2015. This time, the launch will be in February. He sees advantage in a much more crowded 2020 field. The left-leaning politics he campaigned on in 2016 have been broadly embraced in a progressive surge among Democrats, and Sanders has succeeded in diminishing the nominating power of so-called super delegates, the elected officials and party elders who help consolidate establishment power within the Democratic National Committee...

There are also the nuts-and-bolts political considerations that Sanders doesn’t focus as much on, but that his team pays close attention to: He’s the one with the massive email list. Alone among those eyeing the Democratic nomination, he’s the one who had 40,000 people watching various live-streams of his State of the Union response. He’s the one whose team thinks he could, on day one, raise more money online and get more attention than any of the other candidates...

If the early states all come together, Sanders would be positioned to power through the front-ended primary calendar that has California, Texas, and several other big states voting on the first Super Tuesday, March 4, just a month after Iowa. No one else in the field has anything like his proven success with both grassroots supporters and the small-dollar online fundraising that it will take to fund the kind of massive national operation any 2020 campaign will require...

“With all the other people in, the fact is, Bernie is the one whose ideas everyone else is ‘borrowing,’ whether it be Wall Street reforms, or Medicare for all, or free college. These are all ideas that Bernie came up with first and best,” Fort said. “I’m a little bit skeptical of the sincerity of some of the latecomers.”..

What a Sanders candidacy may do for Warren, though, is enable her not to seem as radical as his democratic socialism. It might also enable her to note that she’s a generation younger than Sanders, as opposed to currently being the oldest Democratic candidate in the field. And a Sanders candidacy might allow Warren to argue that she’s largely in line with him politically, but the one who could actually win...

But Sanders skeptics doubt that he fully appreciates how much of the approximately 45 percent of the primary vote he received in 2016 was fundamentally an anti-Clinton vote, and doubt that he realizes how many of those people might leave him once they realize how many other choices they have.

The best video I've seen in years

Six minutes in length and worth every millisecond, IMHO.  As you watch the cells divide, you realize that each one is programmed to a different final outcome, and even when they divide those two divisions likely have different fates.  And if one or two cells screw up at a given moment, the result is a spina bifida or whatever.  It's as fascinating as contemplating deep space or deep time.

The Texans who don't want a wall

This was definitely a "thing I didn't know."  Excerpts from an Atlantic article - Why the Wall Will Never Rise:Trump is no match for the Texas border barons.
If President Donald Trump ever gets the funding for his long-promised wall, he will have to plot a course through Texas. But he will never make it all the way through here, the 800-mile stretch from Laredo to nearly El Paso. There will be no “concrete structure from sea to sea,” as the president once pledged. Taking this land would constitute an assault on private property and require a veritable army of lawyers, who, I can assure you, are no match for the state’s powerful border barons...

Yet dozens of cases are still tied up in court, and settlements have been wildly unequal: A retired schoolteacher got $21,500 for two acres; a lawyer and banker who hired one of the state’s biggest law firms got nearly $5 million for just six acres.The cost has been staggering. The most recent 33 miles in the valley have set back taxpayers $641 million, or $19.4 million a mile, for a hodgepodge of fences, vehicle barriers, and some bollard fencing—with lots of gaps...

As messy as land seizure has been in the valley, it would be even messier upriver... on the drive to Laredo, tiny plots give way to expansive ranches controlled by richer landowners—with more power to oppose eminent domain. I know this place. I’m a Texan who grew up a border rat...

So I can say this, generally speaking: Although many big ranchers and landowners backed Trump, they are conservative in the most traditional senses. They actually believe in small government, free enterprise, free trade, and private property. And nobody puts a wall through their brush...

“The general sentiment—to a person—is that everybody is in favor of additional border security,” said LaMantia. But seizing land through eminent domain? “That is diametrically opposed by everybody, from Zapata to Del Rio.”..

These landowners may be few, but they’re powerful. Campaign contributions can dry up.  “Those with influence and power have the ability to hire big lawyers.”.. The region’s border barons also have the people of their state behind them: Texans have consistently opposed the wall in polls...

Although the courts have upheld eminent domain under the Secure Fence Act, a national-security declaration is another matter. The border barons would have standing in court to challenge a declaration—they would be directly affected—and they would have reason on their side. After all, apprehensions of undocumented immigrants are down from 1.6 million in 2000 to 300,000 in 2017. There is no disorder in the streets. Crime in every border city is down. Way down. Among the lowest in the nation...

Here is the final, insurmountable barrier to Trump’s wall here: money. The government has already paid nearly $1 million an acre for that six-acre plot in the Rio Grande Valley, potentially setting a precedent. If the Trump administration seized 700 miles of private land along the border, one mile wide—640 acres per square mile—the tab could come to $448 billion. Nearly 20 times the wall itself.
Much more at the link.

06 February 2019

This (very, very) old house

"With 25,000 euros and 1000 hours of work, Maurizio Cesprini and his partner Paola Gardin rebuilt a ruined home in the medieval village of Ghesc, Italy. They hope other young families will consider their example with a plentiful supply of medieval ghost towns. They also feel drawn to save the rich architectural heritage of artisanal stonework dotting villages throughout the Alps, and beyond."
This is a long video, but a relaxing and uplifting one to watch.  Even if you skip through with the slider, it will still be impressive.

Fake people in fake videos

And this face-swapped "deepfake" video:

 Steve Buscemi's face transferred to Jennifer Lawrence's body (with her voice).  This one created probably for humorous effect, but ignore the oddity and concentrate on the quality of the imaging.  This technology is being applied to fake nudes, fake pornographic videos, fake political speeches, fake everything.

About a year ago, Vice's Motherboard posted an article about artifical-intelligence-generated fake porn (includes a gif of Hitler's face convincingly transposed onto an Argentinian president's video).

This is not going away.  It will be applied for nefarious purposes.
“You could argue that what’s new is the degree to which it can be done, or the believability, we’re getting to the point where we can’t distinguish what’s real—but then, we didn’t before,” she said. “What is new is the fact that it’s now available to everybody, or will be... It’s destabilizing. The whole business of trust and reliability is undermined by this stuff.”
Here's one that was done years ago when the technology was cruder (via an outstanding Radiolab podcast):

An op-ed from the Washington post posits that Fake news is about to get so much more dangerous:
The most powerful false-news weapon in history is around the corner. The media industry has only a short time to get ahead of it. If technology continues its current advance, we may soon face totally convincing videos showing events that never happened — created so effectively that even experts will have trouble proving they’re fakes...

At a political level, deftly constructed video could show a political leader advocating for the reverse of what she stands for, or portray bloody events that never happened. It could trigger riots, swing elections, and sow panic and despair.

At a business and personal level, it could be equally dangerous. Fake statements by chief executives or banking officials could throw financial markets into turmoil. False videos could be created about anyone’s private life, with devastating effects...

But videos are more dangerous because of the authority this medium has taken on in society. For years, video has been the ultimate argument-settler. Online news outlets routinely hyperlink videos into stories to buttress the credibility of their reporting. Dash-cam video is often the clincher in claims of police malfeasance.

Society now has to learn that video no longer guarantees reliability. Instead, it could be the biggest lie of all...

Finally, in publicizing the dangers, media need to avoid a tone of hopelessness — “Soon we may never know what is real and what isn’t.” Quality media outlets need to emphasize how carefully they vet video. They should make sure their ethics codes and verification procedures adequately address the dangers. Otherwise, audiences will doubt any video — including legitimate and important footage that media outlets gather in their own breaking-news coverage and investigative work.


Saved this cartoon a decade ago.  Decided I'd better post it before people forget what Tetris is.

And btw, this is a real building (near Prague):

Expensive vintage n.b.c. gum

“A fellow collector and I got a lead on a National Colgan’s Taffy Tolu gum vendor from a Chicago dealer who had found it in an old barn. We decided rather than try to outbid each other, we would make a fair bid and purchase the machine together. Pleased with our $2,000 purchase, I took it home and opened it up and cleaned it. I was pleasantly surprised to find seventeen sticks of Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum inside...

Each collector I called couldn’t wait to get their hands on a few sticks of this mystery gum, as none of them had this brand in their collection. In the end, my partner and I sold thirteen sticks of the gum for $300 to $350 each, making a $4,000 profit without even selling the machine!”
The rest of the story is at Collector's Weekly. (image cropped for size from the original)

If you've read this far, you'll want to also read about Seattle's "Gum Wall" (a.b.c gum).


Readers here don't need a blog post for news about the polar vortex; it has been exhaustively covered by the national news media.  But TYWKIWDBI also serves a secondary function as a sort of private diary for me for storing interesting stuff, so I'll insert a few notes.

Wind chills in Madison to 48-below-zero (-44 C).  Even worse farther up north in my favorite vacation areas:

Some temps and wind chills colder than simultaneous readings at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica (you can check current conditions there with this link).  Minnesota/Wisconsin area described as "like Siberia, but with better restaurants."

Schools sensibly closed.  Stores closed.  Banks and credit unions closed.

The official motto of the U.S. Postal Service specifies delivery despite rain, heat, and gloom of night, but doesn't specify "cold," so mail pickup and delivery has been cancelled for a couple days.

Here in Madison we went 17 days without the temperature ever getting above freezing.

Top photo: Lady Liberty emerging from the ice at Lake Mendota (the return of a 40-year-old tradition).

Back in 2015 the temperature here was colder than Mars (and Mars doesn't have wind chill).  That probably was true again this year.

I have a snowthrower to help me clear the driveway, but to get snow off the roof I have to pull it down with a roof rake, being careful not to hit the heating coils that prevent ice dams.

As we transition towards spring the bad weather morphs more toward ice (sleet, freezing rain).  Got some last night, more due tonight.  Sometimes dangerous to walk to the mailbox.

Whenever things are really bad, I like to watch this video and remind myself that at least we don't have "Condition 1" weather:

Low-res, but worth watching fullscreen for full effect.  And have the sound on so you can hear her squeal.

Oh, and one more thing - I have several Black Swallowtails overwintering in their chrysalises in the terrarium on the screen porch:

This is what some butterflies do - freeze solid, then thaw and proceed to undergo metamorphosis.  Incredible.  I don't know if they are adapted to 40-below-zero.  We'll see in the spring...

Update 4 days later:
"Several rounds of snow will blanket south central Wisconsin through this week. Up to an inch of snow is expected today [Sunday], possibly mixed with freezing drizzle.
By Monday afternoon, more significant snow develops and continues through Tuesday.
Forecast snowfall totals include 3-4 inches on Monday night and an additional 2-3 inches during the day on Tuesday.
Another moderate round of snow is expected Thursday night into Friday."
I wasn't able to clear the driveway by chipping the ice or spreading salt (too cold for the latter), so this snow will fall on top of lumpy ice.  Ice also has occluded many of the gutters and all the rain downspouts that don't have heating cables in them.  After a  while this gets on your nerves. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...