15 October 2019

"Goodbye, Crook"

"Even during the height of the American Civil War, presidential security was lax. Throngs of people entered the White House every day. "The entrance doors and all the doors on the Pennsylvania side of the mansion were open at all hours of the day and, often, very late into the evening." Lincoln finally gave in to concerns for his safety in November 1864, and was assigned four around-the-clock

On April 14, 1865, [William] Crook began his shift at 8 am. He was to have been relieved by John Frederick Parker at 4 pm, but Parker was several hours late. Lincoln had told Crook that he had been having dreams of himself being assassinated for three straight nights. Crook tried to persuade the president not to attend a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater that night, or at least allow him to go along as an extra bodyguard, but Lincoln said he had promised his wife they would go. As Lincoln left for the theater, he turned to Crook and said "Goodbye, Crook". Before, Lincoln had always said, "Good night, Crook". Crook later recalled: "It was the first time that he neglected to say 'Good Night' to me and it was the only time that he ever said 'Good-bye'. I thought of it at that moment and, a few hours later, when the news flashed over Washington that he had been shot, his last words were so burned into my being that they can never be forgotten." Crook blamed Parker, who had left his post at the theater without permission."

1959 comic book advertisements

I'm giving a goodbye read to old comic books before disposing of them.  Yesterday evening I encountered the above page of advertisements on the inside back page of an issue of Caspar the Friendly Ghost.

I presume the "Safety Deposit Bank Vault" was of a size that a thief could pick it up and put it in their pocket.  But I'm more intrigued by the "Record Your Voice At Home" advertisement.  I believe in that era my father owned an Edison Voicewriter, which I thought was rather sophisticated (and which generated a couple records which I don't expect ever to be able to listen to).  I'm surprised that an equivalent device was marketed in childrens' comic books.

"Ant bear" illustrated

Yesterday evening while I was playing Civilization V a "great person" was created and an illustration popped up on the screen portraying Landscape with an Ant Bear, by Frans Post.  Had to look it up.

Image brightened from the original, but it's still hard to see the ant bear (this one).

14 October 2019

Television host, 1963

The program is "Music Hop" on the CBC.  The host is a young Alex Trebek.  Via.

Russian cursive looks like scribbles

Image cropped for clarity from the original, where there is a little bit of relevant commentary about why this happens and how someone can use context to read it.  Readers here may be able to offer additional insights.

Addendum:   Several good comments from readers, and a hat tip to Aleksejs for providing this dissection of the cursive "chinchilla":

Green pigment in paintings turns brown with time

To anyone living in the 21st century, it might not be obvious that Renaissance paintings were once much colorful than they look now. “If you look at the paintings of, say, Leonardo da Vinci, they are very, very dark,” says Didier Gourier, a chemist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and an author of the study. “But they didn’t always look this way.”..

Presented with incredibly high-resolution images of the paint chips, they contrasted the color changes in verdigris sampled from the center of Bronzino’s painting against verdigris sampled right next to the frame, a shaded area that would have offered protection from light. Their suspicions were proven right when they found the frame-protected paint was far less deteriorated. When Gourier magnified a cracked paint sample from “Pietà,” he found that each crack had darkened, likely due to the diffusion of oxygen in the cracks. “The darkening is not systematic,” Gourier says. This inconsistency helps researchers pick out now-brown verdigris from originally brown paint, he says.
More at Atlas Obscura, via Neatorama.

Retrofitting highways for wildlife

It's not just a matter of protecting wildlife - projects like these are also important for driver safety.
U.S. Highway 285 was once a death zone for the dwindling herds of elk and mule deer on Colorado’s Western Slope. But today it offers a lifeline, helping them travel from their summer range high in the mountains to winter foraging grounds along the Arkansas River. 

For the past year, a tunnel dipping under three lanes of speeding traffic has beckoned. And as frost descended recently on subalpine meadows and glittering-gold aspen, a huge bull elk, measuring at least nine feet from antlers to hoofs, entered the structure ever so cautiously. Infrared cameras on both ends captured his meandering.

The $3.5 million project is one of several planned for Colorado’s ever more crowded roads, on which some 4,000 bears, bighorn sheep, coyotes and myriad other animals died last year. The cost of the carnage exceeded $80 million, according to state officials.

Across the country, as development continues to encroach on natural areas, wildlife-vehicle collisions are taking a massive toll. More than 1.9 million animal-collision insurance claims were filed in fiscal 2019, a State Farm report found, with some researchers estimating the annual price tag of the resulting human fatalities, wildlife mortality, injuries, vehicle damage and other costs at almost $10 billion.
More at the Washington Post.

Concise (6-minute) explainer video about the Ukraine phone call

(Comments closed for this post)

Snowshoe for a horse

Found at 2000m altitude in Norway during rescue archaeology in melting snowfields.  The snowshoe dates to the Viking or Medieval period.  Truly remarkable preservation, but needs conservation because if left untended it would dry out and crumble.

Credit Secrets of the Ice, via The Rescue Mission to Save Civilization From the Big Melt.

12 October 2019

I suppose we should place these spices on the left side of the kitchen cabinet...

The politics haven’t hurt Mr. Penzey’s business, he said, adding that he has lost some customers but gained some, too.  “If you are a company and you have values, now is the time to share them,” Mr. Penzey said. “Now is the time that it’s important to share them.”
Store locatorOnline orders (I recommend the gift boxes).

11 October 2019

Stuffed bear

The images above are before-and-after photos of Holly - the winner of Fat Bear Week in Alaska's Katmai National Park.
"It was very hard to get a good picture [of Holly] out of the water," she says, "because she was a submarine for the entire month. She did not stop fishing, except to dig a belly hole big enough for her to sleep in."
More at NPR.

"Modern monetary theory"

This concept is counterintuitive, and totally new to me.
Modern Monetary Theory is an economic philosophy based on the idea that all state spending is "deficit" spending, since money comes into existence when the government spends it, and when the government raises taxes, it does so in order to take that money out of existence, both in order to control inflation and to limit the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy.
The corollaries of this are many, but the two standout ones are:
1. The government can create money to buy any good or service that the private sector isn't using without driving inflation (that is, if there's someone unemployed and the government gives them a job, that won't drive up wages because the private sector had already passed on using their labor, so the supply/demand ratio of labor to private jobs remains constant), offering full employment to everyone who wants to work; and
2. The government can create money to buy goods and services that the private sector is currently using without creating inflation, provided it can convince people not to spend that money -- for example, by creating "war bonds" that sequester the vast sums that get pumped into the economy during wartime, to prevent the workers who receive those sums from bidding against the materials that are being used in munitions factories.
These two facts are central to the Green New Deal, which proposes using a combination of a federal jobs guarantee and federal procurements of the materials needed for a sustainable energy conversion and climate change remediation to avert the climate crisis. 
The BoingBoing source for the excerpt above includes a nine-minute video of an academic lecture on the subject which is well worth watching [edited and condensed from probably a one-hour lecture].  The key concept is that the federal budget cannot be compared to a household budget; deficit spending and borrowing work differently when the entity issues the currency.

A Thorough Defense of Modern Monetary Theory
Economists worry that MMT is winning the Argument in Washington
Addendum:  For an outstanding longread on this subject, see Explain Like I'm Five: Functional Finance, written by TYWKIWDBI reader escapefromWisconsin.

New England's "town pounds"

"Dozens of these stone enclosures—open at the top, usually square or circular, with a gap secured by a gate—remain scattered across New England. They were once a ubiquitous feature in the region. In fact, they were so necessary to the orderly functioning of a community that they were required by law. They were town pounds.

In 17th-century America, livestock were generally not fenced in as they are today. Back in England, grazing animals were guarded by herders. But in the New World, where labor was scarce, animals like sheep and cattle were turned loose to graze on common lands instead. (The town green, or common, was often used for this purpose.)

If an animal strayed and was found wreaking havoc on private property, it was brought to the pound, where it was corralled with other wayward creatures and watched over by a town-appointed “pound-keeper” (sometimes called a “pound-master,” or “pounder”) until its owner could retrieve it—for a fee...

Today perhaps a hundred town pounds remain across New England. (They exist in other areas too. In addition to having mapped two dozen of New England’s pounds, users of the site waymarking.com have located one in a Nevada ghost town, and several in the U.K.)" 
More at the  always-interesting Atlas Obscura.

Redesigning the speculum

"Improvements already made include a three-leafed design that eliminates the need to open the speculum as wide, an angled handle so patients don't have to hang off the exam table, and a silicone material that reduces the coldness felt upon insertion."
More at Freethink.

09 October 2019

Bagpipe bungee jump

Spiders detect electrical fields and use them for ballooning

Everyone knows that spiders fly through the air on strands of their silk.  But it's not just a matter of chance and favorable winds.  The relevance of a surprising factor (earth's electrical field) is explained in a recent issue of Cell:Current Biology:
... the involvement of electrostatic forces in ballooning has never been tested. Several issues have emerged when models using aerodynamic drag alone are employed to explain ballooning dispersal. For example, many spiders balloon using multiple strands of silk that splay out in a fan-like shape. Instead of tangling and meandering in light air currents, each silk strand is kept separate, pointing to the action of a repelling electrostatic force. Questions also arise as to how spiders are able to rapidly emit ballooning silk into the air with the low wind speeds observed in ballooning; the mechanics of silk production requires sufficient external forces to pull silk from spinnerets during spinning...

In the early 20th century, atmospheric electricity was intensively studied, establishing the ubiquity of the atmospheric potential gradient (APG); from fair to stormy weather, an APG is always present, varying in strength and polarity with local meteorological conditions. Over a flat field on a day with clear skies, the APG is approximately 120 Vm−1... Closer to the tree, around sharp leaf, needle, and branch tips, e-fields easily reach tens of kilovolts per meter... the spider’s unlearned response to e-fields is to engage in ballooning, and, on becoming airborne, switching the e-field on and off results in the spider moving upward (on) or downward (off) [video at the link].
Ed Yong discusses this research in his Atlantic column.
Plants, being earthed, have the same negative charge as the ground that they grow upon, but they protrude into the positively charged air. This creates substantial electric fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches—and the spiders ballooning from those tips.

Many of the spiders actually managed to take off, despite being in closed boxes with no airflow within them.


Next time I visit the North Shore I'm going to take my black-light flashlight.

Bottle-feeding babies in prehistory

As reported in Nature:
The earliest known clay vessels that were possibly used for feeding infants appear in Neolithic Europe, and become more common throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, these vessels— which include a spout through which liquid could be poured—have also been suggested to be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm. Here we report evidence for the foods that were contained in such vessels, based on analyses of the lipid ‘fingerprints’ and the compound-specific δ 13 C and ∆ 13 C values of the major fatty acids of residues from three small, spouted vessels that were found in Bronze and Iron Age graves of infants in Bavaria. The results suggest that the vessels were used to feed infants with milk products derived from ruminants.
It's not just a quaint curiosity.   Breast-feeding inhibits ovulation, rendering the mother temporarily infertile until the newborn is weaned.  Bottle-feeding with ruminant milk would shorten the interval between pregnancies and lead to significant population expansion.

08 October 2019

Nature preserve for children and disabled persons

My hiking today took me to a small gem of a nature spot: the Jenni and Kyle Preserve.
The vision for the Jenni and Kyle Preserve began in 1989 with a donation from Harvey and Patricia Wilmeth, given as a memorial to their two grandchildren, Jenni and Kyle, who both died at the age of 4 due to a degenerative neurological disorder. The Jenni and Kyle Preserve is unique in that the park is intended to serve children and persons with disabilities, and provides accessible fishing and picnic areas, trails, wheelchair swings, and a shelter building around two spring-fed ponds containing trout and panfish.
The paths are paved with asphalt to facilitate wheelchair transport, and the three wooden bridges/docks on the ponds project out so that those in wheelchairs can have direct access to the water for fishing (permitted in the preserve only for those under age 14).  But what really intrigued me were the two wheelchair-accessible swings:

The swings have fold-down ends to allow roll-on, roll-off entrance/exit and a number of security chains.

Very nicely done.  More cities and towns should have such facilities.

Reposted from 2012.

07 October 2019


Find the leopard before he finds you.

"Fall" has two meanings

"Minnesotans have a high tolerance for playoff pain. That comes from watching the Vikings lose four consecutive Super Bowls and six straight NFC championship games.

And from witnessing 29 seasons without a Timberwolves championship, as well as 46 years of North Stars and Wild hockey without a Stanley Cup.

The Twins added to this ignominious history on Friday night by breaking baseball’s record for most consecutive postseason losses. Their 10-4 loss to the New York Yankees extended their playoff losing streak to fourteen — eleven of them coming at the hands of their Bronx tormentors.

The Twins have not won a playoff game since taking the opener of the 2004 American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium. New York took the next three games to clinch that series."
That article was written before they lost game 2.  So now it's fifteen in a row - a record unlikely to ever be broken.

Addendum:  The Twins lost game 3.  So they now hold the all-time never-to-be-beaten world record of 16 playoff losses in a row.

Cartoon modified for the entertainment of my friends and family by altering the final speech bubble.  The original is at Real Life Adventures.




I think the original comment was badly phrased; presumably he meant that the court decision would subtract billions in costs from employers' bottom lines (but the counterargument still stands)/

"Parody inversion" explained


05 October 2019

Green vine snake


The culinary history of "Ants on a log"

I somehow survived childhood and adulthood without ever encountering stuffed celery, until last year when a neighbor gave her children "ants on a log" at a neighborhood Thanksgiving party.
While cookbooks confirm that the American practice of stuffing celery began in the early 20th century as an appetizer for parties and adult gatherings, it didn’t become a vital part of lunchboxes and playdates until decades later. The most famous (at least for the coloring-book crowd) is, of course, ants on a log...

A hypothesis tracing the recipe origins to a product cookbook proved null. Sun-Maid (which represents about 40 percent of the raisin industry), Dole, the California Raisin Marketing Board, and even the Girl Scouts had no knowledge of the ants on a log inventor. (Sun Valley and the Raisin Bargaining Association did not respond to requests for comment.)

As it turns out, its beginnings are a bit upside down, if not backwards. A recipe for "Stuffed Celery Stalks” appeared in the Good Housekeeping Cook Book (1944) with seven iterations, the second of which instructs log builders to “lay seedless raisins end to end in celery stalks” before filling them with a mixture of cream cheese, top milk (the upper layer of milk in a container enriched by whatever cream has risen), spec pepper, and paprika. (There’s no mention of any “ants” or “logs” of any kind.)

The first print sighting took place on February 15, 1959, when the Star Tribune published a story about encouraging children to help out in the kitchen: “Anne Marie is working on snacks. Popcorn, cheese dips, and the other night, ants on a log have been some of the foods the family has shared.” The piece references the snack as a graduation from the more elementary task of frosting baked cookies...

The most basic variations play on the name: “Ants on a Slip ‘n’ Slide” (an added layer of honey), “Fire Ants on a Log (cranberries), “Ghost Ants on a Log” (mini marshmallows), and “Ants on Vacation” (no raisins). While "gourmet", "grown-up", and "fancy" updates modernize the classic for home cooks, restaurants are now reinventing the dish for fine-dining audiences.

In 2017, New York City’s Empellón added a literal interpretation to its seasonal menu, featuring (chicatanas, or flying ants. (Most famous in the state of Oaxaca, these ants are a regional delicacy.) Twain, a Chicago restaurant that closed in May, served a version of ants on a log with celery, duck liver peanut butter mousse, and bourbon cherries.
Photo credit James Ransom [cropped for size from the original].

Food served in a three-star Michelin restaurant

Served as shown, directly onto the diner's hand.

Did you ask the chef what is the advantage of eating food from the palm of your hand? Does it make tastier, does it enhance the flavor over serving it in a normal (warmed) plate? I would really like to know the logic behind the idea.... or the chef just goes after the primal in us... just to eat with our hands, and messier the better?

They have a philosophy in the degustation menu that they can make you feel that you are inside chef's painting or colour palette, and the different dishes you eat during the dinner represent the colours in the palette. The most vivid colours are more "explosive" dishes in terms of tastiness and more weird, and they ask to experiment with a few ones like this to eat directly from your hand like you are the painter and the colours are made by the chef. Difficult to explain, hope it made more sense.

Posted as an entry on the We Want Plates subreddit (which has a variety of interesting items).

Predation of Monarch butterflies in Mexico

Readers of this blog will presumably be familiar with the fact that Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed plants and sequester the toxic cardenolides in their bodies.  Naive birds that eat a caterpillar or adult butterfly will vomit and learn to avoid the species in the future (the nontoxic Viceroy butterfly has evolved coloration and a pattern similar to the Monarch in order to take advantage of this bird-repellant feature.)

Most of the predation of Monarchs that we see in Wisconsin comes from ants, wasps, and other insects attacking the eggs and young caterpillars.  This week I attended the biannual meeting of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association and learned from a lecture presentation that major predation also occurs in the overwintering sites in the mountains of Mexico.

Overwintering butterflies that fall to the ground in the mountain roosts are eaten by mice:
An individual Peromyscus melanotis [black-eared mouse] consumes an average of 37 Monarchs each night. They feed preferentially on easily accessible butterflies (near the ground) and on "wet" butterflies (dead butterflies that have not dried out). During the winter season, P. melanotis migrate to Monarch roosts where they set up residence and breed intensively... Over the winter season, these mice may consume 4 to 5.7% of the total population of the Monarch colony. This translates into at least one million butterflies each winter in a 2.25 ha roost
Up in the trees, the Monarchs are eaten by two species of birds:
Black-headed grosbeaks and black-backed orioles have very different ways of avoiding poisoning when they eat Monarchs. Grosbeaks, which eat the entire Monarch abdomen, are relatively insensitive to cardenolides and can tolerate moderate levels of these chemicals in their digestive tract. Orioles, on the other hand, vomit after consuming much smaller amounts of cardenolides. They avoid poisoning by not eating the cuticle, which is where Monarchs store cardenolides. Orioles slit open the body and strip out the soft insides... Grosbeak and oriole predation causes more than 60% of Monarch mortality at many Mexican roosting sites, killing approximately 7 to 44% of the total population. At one 2.25 hectare colony, for example, birds ate an average of 15,000 butterflies daily and over 2 million for the season, which constituted 9% of the roost's population.
Interesting - especially the adaptive strategy employed by the orioles.

More information at Monarch Watch and Journey North.



A "minimum wage machine"

Minimum Wage Machine (2008-2010, updated 2012, and 2016)
Custom electronics, change sorter, wood, plexiglas, motor, misc. hardware, pennies.
(approx. 15 x 19 x 72 inches)

The minimum wage machine allows anybody to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 3.24 seconds, for $11.10 an hour, or NY state minimum wage (2018). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money. The machine's mechanism and electronics are powered by the hand crank, and pennies are stored in a plexiglas box. The MWM can be reprogrammed as minimum wage changes, or for wages in different locations.
An interesting concept to teach about mindless work for minimal pay.

04 October 2019

Indian giant squirrel

That's really its name.  And those are its true colors.

Fashion trend


A pasta straw instead of a plastic straw

Now being marketed as an eco-friendly alternative:
Unlike paper straws, which get soggy quickly and can detract from the overall experience of your drink, this pasta straw will hold its strength and shape in cold drinks, as well as will not affect the taste of your drinks. Made with only 100% durum wheat semolina and pure water, its all-natural composition is suitable for vegans and does not require special composting equipment to dispose of. The pasta's thick walls will last for an hour in your cold beverages and its 1/4" diameter promotes easy sipping no matter the drink's consistency. For added benefit, their 9 1/2" length makes them long enough for your hi ball, collins, or milkshake glasses, but can be cut to any length to accommodate your rocks glasses. Get ahead of the trend and supply your restaurant, bar, or cafe with this eco-friendly straw and show your customers you're committed to protecting and preserving the environment.
Photo via the Europe subreddit.

Unhappiness resulting from too many choices

From an article published by the Stanford Center on Longevity:
Summary: We presume that more choices allows us to get exactly what we want, making us happier.  While there is no doubt that some choice is better than none, more may quickly become too much.  Drawbacks include:
  • Regret:  More options means constantly considering the option we didn’t choose –decreasing satisfaction overall.
    • Instead, learn to accept “good enough” and stop thinking about it.
  • Adaptation: By becoming accustomed to whatever we’ve chosen, the availability to more options decreases our satisfaction with our choice.
    • Instead, limit thinking about options foregone, and focus on the positive of the option chosen.
  • Unattainable expectations: With increased options, our expectation escalates until we constantly expect to get precisely what we want.  Thus anything less than perfect is disappointing, and we blame ourselves (as the decision makers) for our unhappiness.
    • Instead, control expectations to a certain standard of requirements, and keep them reasonable.
  • Paralysis: Too many options can decrease the likelihood of making any decision at all.
    • Instead, limit options when decisions aren’t crucial.
Largely an issue for modern, affluent Western societies, the paradox of too much choice strains consumers’ capacity for decision making.  Making financial security decisions simple, easy, and justifiable may facilitate increased and happier participation.
The source article has a detailed analysis of what I often refer to as "first-world problems."  Via Boing Boing.  Photo taken at my local Target.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader dragonmamma for providing the link to this relevant Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

"Period-syncing" is a myth

No matter how inaccurate the myth of period syncing may be, the idea that women’s bodies can fall into collective rhythms carries a certain mysterious, otherworldly appeal and, lending the myth more inertia, gives women a way to feel connection, empathy, and collective empowerment with other women.

Period syncing—or, more formally, “menstrual synchrony”—was introduced into the popular consciousness in 1971 by a researcher named Martha McClintock. Her study on the menstruation patterns of students at a women’s college, published in the journal Nature, tracked the period start dates of 135 women who lived together in a dormitory over a time frame of about six months. It claimed to find “a significant increase in synchronization (that is, a decrease in the difference between onset dates)” among roommates and among groups of women who independently identified one another as a “close friend.” At the beginning of the study, these friends averaged about six and a half days’ difference between period start dates. By the end, they averaged a little less than five. (McClintock conducted this research while she was still an undergraduate at Wellesley College.)..

In a 1999 paper in the journal Human Reproduction, Strassmann pointed out a fundamental flaw in the period-syncing logic:
Given a cycle length of 28 days (not the rule—but an example), the maximum that two women can be out of phase is 14 days. On average, the onsets will be 7 days apart. Fully half the time they should be even closer. Given that menstruation often lasts 5 days, it is not surprising that friends commonly experience overlapping menses, which is taken as personal confirmation of menstrual synchrony.
Strassmann considers the idea of period syncing to have been “debunked,” but of course much of the general population remains convinced that it’s a real thing, thanks to what she calls “an appealing narrative that overrides the science.”
Discussed at length in The Atlantic.

Auto-brewery syndrome

A medical condition of which I was previously totally unaware.
The man’s troubles began in 2004, when, having moved from China to attend college in Australia, he got really drunk. That would hardly have been a noteworthy event, except that the man hadn’t consumed any alcohol—only fruit juice.

The bizarre incident soon turned into a pattern. About once a month, and out of the blue, he’d become severely inebriated without drinking any alcohol... his mother cared for him while monitoring him with a Breathalyzer. His blood-alcohol levels, she found, would erratically and inexplicably soar to 10 times the legal limit for driving...

The man was diagnosed with a rare condition aptly known as auto-brewery syndrome, in which microbes in a person’s gut ferment carbohydrates into excessive amounts of alcohol... The microbial culprits are usually yeasts—the same fungi used to brew beer and wine—and the condition can often be treated with antifungal drugs... analyzed the man’s stool samples and found that the alcohol in his body was being produced not by yeast, but by bacteria [Klebsiella pneumoniae].
That is a rare disorder, but this corollary has more clinical relevance:
... people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) build up fatty deposits in their liver in the style of heavy drinkers, despite touching little or no alcohol. This condition is very common, affecting 30 to 40 percent of American adults; the causes are still unclear and likely varied. Yuan wondered if Klebsiella might be involved, and when she analyzed 43 Chinese people with NAFLD, she found that 61 percent had the same high-alcohol strains as the man with auto-brewery syndrome. By contrast, just 6 percent of people with a healthy liver carry those strains.
Continue reading at Ed Yong's excellent article in The Atlantic.

A chart of media bias

Data source and Reddit discussion thread.

Why Honeycrisp apples are more expensive than other varieties

This is the best time of year to enjoy apples - Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Red Delicious, and the local favorite Honeycrisp (which were developed at the University of Minnesota).  An article in the StarTribune explained why they are more expensive than other apples:
The simple answer to the apple’s high price lies in its prickly, finicky nature. “It’s one of the most difficult apples to grow,” said Mark Seetin, director of Regulatory and Industry Affairs at the U.S. Apple Association in Virginia. “It tends to like to bear fruit every other year and to achieve annual production requires significant additional labor.”

Its thin skin creates a delectable crunch that fans love but growers curse. Most apples produce a “pack out” rate of 80 to 90%, indicating that nearly 90% of the harvested crop can be sold as fresh. But Honeycrisp’s pack out rate is between 60 and 65%. “That means that 35% of your crop is going as juice,” Bedford said. “And juice only captures one-tenth the value of a fresh apple.”

Labor costs for Honeycrisp are higher than other apples because it’s one of the only apples that has to have its stem clipped so it doesn’t puncture the skin of neighboring apples when packed. “Apples pickers are used to picking with two hands, but with Honeycrisp you have to pick with one hand and clip with the other,” Bedford said. “With more labor costs and a 60% pack out, you have to charge more.”
So yesterday at Target I paid more attention to the details.  The close-cut stem of the Honeycrisp -

- versus the standard-length stem of a Granny Smith:

You learn something every day.

Today Target paid me $5 to get my flu shot

I went to Target for food and supplies, walked over to the in-store CVS.  Clerk greeted me, checked my insurance, and about 2 minutes later I walked away with the vaccine in my deltoid and a $5 gift certificate in my wallet.  I don't  know whether this is a standard policy nationwide, but it certainly has been in effect at our local Target for the past 2-3 years.  I think I'll go back tomorrow for another shot.

But seriously, this raises some questions for me.  Target has always been a civic-minded company, but they must be making $ on the transaction.  Which suggests to me that this is another example of our national insurance-based health-care system being more expensive than a single-provider one would be.  Does anyone know how much a provider (store, local M.D. etc) is reimbursed for an influenza vaccination?
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