27 February 2021

A classic "Far Side" cartoon from 1983

Posted for my cousin Doug down in Naples.

Plight of the Monarch butterfly - updated

The graph above was published in the Badger Butterflyer - the e-newsletter of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association.  The bar graphs depict the 20-year trend of the acreage in Mexico utilized by overwintering Monarch butterflies.  This past December's 1.66 acres of wintering butterflies is the lowest ever recorded since recordkeeping began.

The cause is multifactorial, including loss of habitat in Mexico and weather/climate changes, but the principal factor is believed to be loss of milkweed - the Monarch's ONLY food plant.  An article at Slate takes up the story:
More than a million acres of Upper Midwest grassland have been plowed under in recent years for corn and soybean fields—a rate of loss comparable to deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia. Demand for these crops has surged with the rise of biofuels. At the same time, technology enabled farmers to squeeze ever more from each acre. For monarchs, the most important development was Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.

Since the turn of the century, these genetically modified crops have risen to
dominance in the Midwest. Designed to withstand dousing from the Monsanto company’s Roundup weed killer, the plants enabled farmers to swiftly kill competing weeds, including milkweed, while leaving their crops untouched. In 2013, 83 percent of all corn and 93 percent of soybeans in the United States were herbicide tolerant, totaling nearly 155 million acres, much of it in the Midwest.

It’s no coincidence monarchs faltered at the same time. Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, and a colleague estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent. Oberhauser determined that the loss of milkweed almost exactly mirrored the decline in monarch egg production...

Already, Iowa farmland has lost more than 98 percent of the milkweed that was once there, according to Iowa State University biologist John Pleasants, who worked with Oberhauser. He’s seen firsthand the transformation as he has studied cornfields during the past decade and a half. Before Roundup, patches of milkweed grew among the corn and along the edges of fields. After the herbicide—nothing but corn... 
Here's the advice that Michigan State University's agricultural extension service offered its subscribers:
Common milkweed, asclepias syriaca, can become a serious problem over time in no-till fields and hay and pasture fields where glyphosate-resistance in the crop is not an option. This weed has an extensive and deep root system and is tolerant to many common herbicides. Multiple herbicide applications are often required...

In glyphosate-resistant crops, milkweed control is not difficult to control. Glyphosate [Roundup], when applied at the proper rate and timing, will give good control. In glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans, milkweed should be treated with glyphosate at 0.75 lbs a.e./acre glyphosate to control or suppress milkweed. It is always recommended to include 17 lbs spray-grade ammonium sulfate per 100 gallons of water. Late, post-emergent applications when plants are in the bloom stage will be most effective in killing roots...

In hay or pasture, milkweed can be spot-treated with glyphosate applied with a wipe-on applicator while the milkweed is taller than the crop, or spot-treated with a hand-sprayer. When these fields are rotated or renovated, that is the time to make your best effort to deal with milkweed aggressively. Fence rows, field borders and nearby, non-crop areas should be monitored and any milkweed found should be controlled.
And this from Britain's Guardian:
The announcement [of the decreased Mexican overwintering population] followed on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which saw the United States, Mexico and Canada signing environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch. At the time, the butterfly was adopted as the symbol of trilateral cooperation.

“Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ cooperation, is at serious risk of disappearing,” said Omar Vidal, Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.
This coming weekend I will be attending the annual late-winter Garden Expo here in Madison, where thousands of cabin-fevered Midwesterners will flock to see the latest in garden products and technology.  I'll be helping staff the information booth for SWBA;  I hope to be handing out ziplock baggies of milkweed seeds to likeminded people who want to do something to help sustain the Monarchs. 

Reposted from 2014 to add some new data (excerpts from a press release by the Monarch Joint Venture and a report by CBS News):

[Note:  the bar graph at the top of this post depicts forest area occupied by Monarchs from 1994 to 2013.  This graph updates the numbers with seven more bars through the end of 2020] 
"The government commission for natural protected areas said the butterflies’ population covered only 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres) in 2020, compared to 2.8 hectares (6.9 acres) the previous year and about one-third of the 6.05 hectares (14.95 acres) detected in 2018...

Gloria Tavera, the regional director of Mexico’s Commission for National Protected Areas, blamed the drop on “extreme climate conditions,” the loss of milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada on which butterflies depend, and deforestation in the butterflies’ wintering grounds in Mexico."
"Illegal logging in the monarchs wintering rounds rose to almost 13.4 hectares (33 acres), a huge increase from the 0.43 hectare (1 acre) lost to logging last year.

Jorge Rickards of the WWF environmental group acknowledged the lost trees were a blow, but said “the logging is very localized” in three or four of the mountain communities that make up the butterfly reserve.

In addition, wind storms, drought and the felling of trees that had fallen victim to pine beetles or disease, caused the loss of another 6.9 hectares (17 acres) in the reserve, bringing the total forest loss in 2020 to 20.65 hectares (51 acres). That compares to an overall loss of about 5 hectares (12.3 acres) from all causes the previous year...

Tavera also expressed concern about the severe winter storms in Texas, which the butterflies will have to cross — and feed and lay their eggs — on their way back to their northern summer homes in coming months.
“This is a cause for worry,” Tavera said, referring to whether the monarchs will find enough food and habitat after the winter freeze."

"Democrat" - noun or adjective?

Depends who is using it, as explained by AP News:
During the “Stop the Steal” rallies that emerged to support Trump’s groundless allegations that the 2020 election was stolen from him, the construction was everywhere. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel accused “Democrat lawyers and rogue election officials” of “an unprecedented power grab” related to the election. Demonstrators for the president’s baseless cause mirrored her language.

After Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was removed from her House committees for espousing sometimes dangerous conspiracy theories, she tweeted: “In this Democrat tyrannical government, Conservative Republicans have no say on committees anyway.”

Trump’s lawyers used the construction frequently during his second impeachment trial, following the lead of the former president, who employed it routinely while in office. During a campaign rally last October in Wisconsin, he explained his thinking.

“You know I always say Democrat. You know why? Because it sounds worse,” Trump said. “Democrat sounds lousy, but you know what? That’s actually their name, the Democrat Party. Right? The Democrat Party. So I always say Democrat.”..

Using Democrat as a pejorative is now so common that it’s almost jarring to hear a Republican or conservative commentator accurately say “Democratic Party.”
Image credit AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File (cropped for size).

A nice summary of the Perseverance Mars landing

I was just going to peek at this, but wound up watching most of it; it's reasonably concise and easy to watch.

26 February 2021

Eggs cracked in Walker, Minnesota

Wind chills recently 50 degrees below zero.  This is one of my favorite towns to go to for vacations (in the spring, summer, and autumn only).

Image cropped for size from the original at the via.

One way to combat bottom-trawling

"A Greenpeace ship has been dropping huge boulders into the sea off Brighton this week to stop fishing boats from trawling the sea bed. The action is part of campaign to tighten restrictions on the most destructive forms of fishing in protected areas of UK waters. But leaders of the fishing community describe the action as dangerous, illegal and irresponsible."

Dolchstosslegende and the lack of a shared reality

The most interesting podcast I've heard this year was recently broadcast on This American Life.  In the segment There's a German Word for That, Ira Glass interviews journalist Jochan Bittner, whose op-ed about the topic was published in the New York Times.  Herewith some excerpts from the print version:
One hundred years ago, amid the implosions of Imperial Germany, powerful conservatives who led the country into war refused to accept that they had lost. Their denial gave birth to arguably the most potent and disastrous political lie of the 20th century — the Dolchstosslegende, or stab-in-the-back myth.

Its core claim was that Imperial Germany never lost World War I. Defeat, its proponents said, was declared but not warranted. It was a conspiracy, a con, a capitulation — a grave betrayal that forever stained the nation. That the claim was palpably false didn’t matter. Among a sizable number of Germans, it stirred resentment, humiliation and anger...

In 1918, Germany was staring at defeat. The entry of the United States into the war the year before, and a sequence of successful counterattacks by British and French forces, left German forces demoralized. Navy sailors went on strike. They had no appetite to be butchered in the hopeless yet supposedly holy mission of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the loyal aristocrats who made up the Supreme Army Command...

A starving population joined the strikes and demands for a republic grew. On Nov. 9, 1918, Wilhelm abdicated, and two days later the army leaders signed the armistice. It was too much to bear for many: Military officers, monarchists and right-wingers spread the myth that if it had not been for political sabotage by Social Democrats and Jews back home, the army would never have had to give in.

The deceit found willing supporters. “Im Felde unbesiegt” — “undefeated on the battlefield” — was the slogan with which returning soldiers were greeted. Newspapers and postcards depicted German soldiers being stabbed in the back by either evil figures carrying the red flag of socialism or grossly caricatured Jews...

The startling aspect about the Dolchstosslegende is this: It did not grow weaker after 1918 but stronger. In the face of humiliation and unable or unwilling to cope with the truth, many Germans embarked on a disastrous self-delusion: The nation had been betrayed, but its honor and greatness could never be lost...

Germany’s first democracy fell. Without a basic consensus built on a shared reality, society split into groups of ardent, uncompromising partisans. And in an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia, the notion that dissenters were threats to the nation steadily took hold.

Alarmingly, that seems to be exactly what is happening in the United States today... A staggering 88 percent of Trump voters believe that the election result is illegitimate, according to a YouGov poll. A myth of betrayal and injustice is well underway.
More at the NYT link.  I would also encourage those interested to click on the podcast link and listed to Ira Glass' interview with Jochan Bittner.

Binary message encoded in NASA's Perseverance parachute

The inner rings read "Dare Mighty Things," and the outer rings give the JPL's GPS coordinates:

Explained and discussed at the NASA subreddit.

"Shoddy" as a noun

"This heap is composed of the shredded remains of used wool rags, socks, clothes, and remnants from the textile industry, all slowly disintegrating into the earth. Despite containing the refuse of multiple fiber-based industries…this is not a dump in any typical sense. In various states of chemical decomposition and arranged in strata-like layers, this debris has a biological purpose; wool contains a high amount of nitrogen that it releases slowing as it breaks down….Here, textile waste…gradually turns into agricultural fertilizer that is intended for use on the surrounding fields of rhubarb….

Today when most people hear the word shoddy, they think of an adjective meaning “low quality” or “badly fabricated.” But, in fact, the term came into existence in the early decades of the nineteenth century as a noun, referring to a new textile material produced from old rags and tailors’ clippings. Workers made it by shredding wool rags in what were christened “devils,” grinding machines equipped with sharp teeth. Recycled waste and other leftovers were turned into plentiful “new” raw materials in the “shoddy towns” of Batley and Dewsbury….Over the next century, shoddy…was widely used in the production of suits, army uniforms, slaves’ clothing, carpet lining, and mattress stuffing.…"
An excerpt from Shoddy: From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance of Rags (University of Chicago, $25), via Harvard Magazine.

23 February 2021

The evolution of A-ha's "Take On Me"

The enduring iteration of “Take on Me” was actually the group’s fourth attempt at the song...  When “Take on Me” was released in October 1984, it sold 300 copies... Barron instructed the animators to use a technique called rotoscoping, which amounts to tracing animation over live-action footage... It took four months for Patterson and Reckinger to draw a total of 2000 sketches that would be used in the video... When the rotoscoped version of “Take on Me” debuted on MTV in 1985, it became a sensation, helping the single hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. MTV bestowed 11 Video Music Awards nominations on the song, of which it won eight.
More information at Mental Floss.

Light pillars and sun pillars - updated again

An Astronomy Picture of the Day from Finland, explained at the link and in my previous post on the subject.

Reposted from 2013 to add this awesome Astronomy Picture of the Day taken over Whitefish Bay:

"...vertical lines of light over a ground source that reflect from falling ice crystals. As the ground temperature was above freezing, the flat crystals likely melted as they approached the ground, creating a lower end to the vertical light pillars."
Reposted from 2018 to add this photo, via

And reposted yet again to add this remarkable image from the Astronomy Picture of the Day, which depicts a sun pillar.

"This was not a typical sun pillar. Just after sunrise two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, a photographer, looking out his window, was suddenly awestruck. The astonishment was caused by a sun pillar that fanned out at the top. Sun pillars, singular columns of light going up from the Sun, are themselves rare to see, and are known to be caused by sunlight reflecting from wobbling, hexagon-shaped ice-disks falling through Earth's atmosphere. Separately, upper tangent arcs are known to be caused by sunlight refracting through falling hexagon-shaped ice-tubes. Finding a sun pillar connected to an upper tangent arc is extraordinary, and, initially, took some analysis to figure out what was going on. A leading theory is that this sun pillar was also created, in a complex and unusual way, by falling ice tubes."
Might as well link to my previous posts on sun and light pillars in 2009 and 2010.

This schematic from Wikipedia -

- illustrates how the phenomenon is created.

The myth of "race"

Pantone chart of human skin colors

Humanæ is a photographic work in progress by artist Angélica Dass, an unusually direct reflection on the color of the skin, attempting to document humanity’s true colors rather than the untrue labels “white”, “red”, “black” and “yellow” associated with race. It’s a project in constant evolution seeking to demonstrate that what defines the human being is its inescapably uniqueness and, therefore, its diversity. The background for each portrait is tinted with a color tone identical to a sample of 11 x 11 pixels taken from the nose of the subject and matched with the industrial pallet Pantone®, which, in its neutrality, calls into question the contradictions and stereotypes related to the race issue. More than just faces and colors in the project there are almost 4,000 volunteers, with portraits made in 20 different countries and 36 different cities around the world, thanks to the support of cultural institutions, political subjects, governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. 
The artist has presented her work in a TED talk.


Via.  I would appreciate any information about the provenance of this amazing image.

Reposted from 2017 to add this photo of another specimen (via):

Awesome Patagonian crater agate

Via Reddit (source unknown, but other examples here).
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