07 December 2022

Peruvian politics

I received this email today from my cousin in Peru:
This morning I planned to tell you that the Peruvian Congress planned to impeach President Castillo, 
But before I could write you, President Castillo dissolved Congress, 
But before I could report that Castillo was taking action, his Cabinet ministers began to desert him, 
But before I could tell you that news, the Congress met and impeached Castillo,
Then Castillo, still defiant, called on the Armed Forces for support,
But the Armed Forces took a hard look at where they could conduct more graft,
And The Armed Forces told Castillo that he was on his own, 
And Castillo told his family to start packing,
But the family could not pack very quickly, because it was an awful lot of cash, 
And the police arrived at the Presidential Palace with an arrest warrant, 
And the family was still packing, because it was a lot of cash,
And the Legislature met to swear in the VP, Dina Balluarte, a real loose cannon, 
And she gave a speech in which she thanked the military and god, in that order, 
And Castillo was photographed leaving the Presidential Palace with a police escort,
And now life will go on. 

05 December 2022

Ancient Roman blanket

It looks like a blanket, but it's a mosaic floor, warped by earthquakes.
Antakya, anciently Antiochia on the Orontes, is a Turkish city renowned for its superb collection of Roman mosaics and a stunning museum. It can now add a truly remarkable geometric mosaic, lauded as being the largest surviving example in the world, to its public attractions...

Now a new attraction has opened to the public, displayed beneath a futuristic hotel. It takes the form of a unique archaeological park, the Necmi Asfuroğlu Archaeology Museum, which is home to the impressively sized great mosaic. This 1,050m² 4th-century pavement was discovered in 2009, when the Asfuroğlu family began constructing what was supposed to be a new luxury hotel on a site 2km from the centre of the modern city. However, it soon became apparent that the proposed location was full of incredible archaeology.

Instead of abandoning the project, the family decided to preserve the archaeological treasures by integrating them into their new hotel. The Asfuroğlu family worked alongside the Antakya Municipality, the Hatay Archaeology Museum, and the Adana Conservation Council for Cultural and Natural Assets to conduct the largest archaeological excavation in Turkey since the 1930s, and to plan a hotel that would cause the least disturbance to the archaeology. A team of 200, including 35 archaeologists and five restorers, worked for 18 months to complete the excavation and restoration. The finds were superb and included the great geometric pavement, beautiful mosaics such as the 2nd-century AD Bathing of Pegasus, panels devoted to the Muses, and a 5th-century mosaic of Megalopsychia, the physical embodiment of magnanimity, surrounded by birds...

The superb Pegasus or Helikon mosaic, with its Greek inscriptions, is said to contain a remarkable 160 colour shades of plant-dyed tesserae.
More information (and three additional images) at World Archaeology.  And kudos to that family for their preservation efforts.

Should you compost your underpants ?

The situation is more complicated than most people imagine.  
As apparel brands face pressure to curb fashion’s enormous waste problem, many are turning to resale programs that let consumers cash in on used duds. But companies that make intimates don’t typically have that option: When underwear is past its prime, the obvious solution is to toss it, adding up to billions of pounds of textile waste over time...

For two years, [Los-Angeles-based Kent] has been selling a line of “fully compostable” underwear made from 100% pima cotton, which has longer fibers and is known to last longer than traditional cotton blends. Customers can buy Kent undies for about $25 apiece... When a pair of Kent undies are ready for decommissioning, they can be dropped into a regular compost bin or mailed back to the company...

While Kent’s secret is using 100% cotton — with zero other materials, synthetic dyes or softeners — customers tend to prefer underwear that’s also stretchy, which requires the use of spandex or elastane. Neither is compostable or recyclable, and both have a low melting point that makes it difficult for the shredders used in textile-recycling plants to process in any large quantity... The problem is particularly acute for women’s underwear, which usually has elastic fibers throughout, whereas men’s boxers often have an elastic band that’s easier to remove...

Underwear and other stretchy garments that arrive at textile-recycling facilities are thus rarely shredded; instead they’re repurposed into padding in products like car seats, punching bags and pet beds...

Spandex isn’t the only culprit. Most women’s underwear also contains polyester and nylon — increasingly prevalent in textile production as a cheap alternative to natural fibers like cotton. Some intimates have also been found to contain high levels of BPA and PFAS chemicals..

“Another ancillary consequence of [materials like polyester and nylon] is they release microfibers into natural environments, both when you produce them in upstream production along with washing,” says Kibbe. “As they decompose, they release tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions like methane into our ecosystems.”..

But would-be buyers may still feel weird about dropping their underwear in a compost bin alongside banana peels and coffee grounds, and there’s an understandable discomfort baked into the idea of mailing back used underwear. ..

Even harder than recycling underwear: recycling a bra. That’s because bras contain tiny pieces of plastic and metal that have to be removed piece by piece, a labor-intensive and expensive process. Their padding is also typically made from polyurethane, which can’t be recycled.
More at Bloomberg.

SARS-CoV-2 biology animated

Minnesota "Name a snowplow" contest returns

"The Minnesota Department of Transportation's "Name a Snowplow" contest is back for the third straight year.

The agency is accepting name suggestions for the next 10 days. Last year, MnDOT received more than 11,000 suggestions after putting out a call for the public to help name eight snowplows — one for each district in the state. "Betty Whiteout" was the runaway winner.

MnDOT was the first transportation department in the country to launch a snowplow naming contest — an effort to bring some levity to winter, Meyer said. Agency officials had seen an article in "Roadshow" explaining how Scotland names its entire snowplow fleet and posts maps showing their locations. The country calls the vehicles "gritters," the article said, which led to witty handles such as "Gritney Spears" and "Gritty Gritty Bang Bang.""
More information at the StarTribune.  Entries can be submitted to the DOT here.  "Gosh darn it, nothing vulgar please."  And politics-related names are verboten.

Addendum:  Here are the gritters of Scotland (hat tip for link to reader Marge):


The "well-being" index of each U.S. state

Massachusetts and Minnesota are #1 and #2, but...
"...neither state has the highest income (that’s Connecticut). Nor do they have the highest life expectancy (California and Hawaii). Or even the most leisure time (Mississippi and West Virginia work the least). But Massachusetts and Minnesota have the best balance across a panel of metrics that, combined, give people a holistic sense of well-being."
More information at the Washington Post, where the graphic is interactive so you can mouse over each state to retrieve data.

Moroccan "tree goats" explained

02 December 2022

Fish death by COVID

A photo from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Awards competition.  Click to read the explanatory caption.

Also, check out the seahorse and the snub-nosed monkeys

Via the Washington Post

The "Turntable Paradox"

Especially for lovers of mathematics, but worth skimming by everyone.  Via Neatorama.

Kottke is back

Just a quick note to alert readers that Jason Kottke has resuscitated his eponymous blog after taking a 7-month sabbatical from blogging.  I mention this because the breadth of material in his blog and the often eclectic subject matter makes it one of the most TYWKIWDBI-like blogs in cyberspace.  And Jason Kottke is a legend, having achieved a Lifetime Achievement award for blogging four years before I even started this one.

I will harvest occasional material from Kottke for this blog, but I suggest you do bookmark his site and check it on your own, because there's lots of stuff there.  His archive holds 30,000 posts (mine has about 18K), dating back to 1998.

01 December 2022

Not a pine cone (it's an ootheca)

More information at The Daily Mail about what to do if you find one on your Christmas tree.  See also Wikipedia.

Does the world really need an off-road Lamborghini?

As reported by Bloomberg:
Porsche recently debuted an off-road version of its 911 sports car, the 911 Dakar. Now another brand that made its name building track-focused sports cars wants to do the same. On Nov. 30, Lamborghini unveiled the Huracán Sterrato, a jacked-up version of its $270,000 Huracán supercar...

The Sterrato is for neither rock crawling nor forging through dry river beds... The best it will do is carry you across “loose or dirt surfaces,” the company says. Let’s be honest: In many parts of the world (even and especially those owned by rich people), that describes the driveway. Sterrato means gravel in Italian...With road clearance barely able to handle speed bumps, and exterior visibility an afterthought in that cockpit, carbon fiber chins and splitters and rims tend to get scraped, even on the most innocuous city streets...

Underneath the hood, this dirt-road Huracán boasts a 610-hp, V10 engine that goes zero to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds, and has a top speed is 160 mph. By comparison, the Huracán STO gets to 60mph in just under 2.6 seconds and has a top speed of 196 mph... Pricing in Europe starts at €263,000 ($272,0000); US pricing has yet to be announced. 
And note the fine print in the photo caption: "the car can be controlled remotely by an app."  Supercool.  I can sit at my desk and send the car down to the local mall to pick up a carryout order of General Tso's or a Pollo Laredo.  And it can get there in less than a minute.  

More  information about the Huracan at Just a Car Guy

"Hypercorrection" explained

I was recently invited to a holiday alumni event that included amuse-bouches.  Readers as unsophisticated as I am can find more information about those at the link.  What was more interesting for me as an old English major was this phrase:
In France, amuse-gueule is traditionally used in conversation and literary writing, while amuse-bouche is not even listed in most dictionaries, being a euphemistic hypercorrection that appeared in the 1980s on restaurant menus and used almost only there. (In French, bouche refers to the human mouth, while gueule may mean the mouth or snout of an animal, though commonly used for mouth and derogatory only in certain expressions.
Inquiring minds want to know what constitutes a "euphemistic hypercorrection."
A euphemism is an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that is deemed offensive or suggests something unpleasant. Some euphemisms are intended to amuse, while others use bland, inoffensive terms for concepts that the user wishes to downplay. Euphemisms may be used to mask profanity or refer to topics some consider taboo such as disability, sex, excretion, or death in a polite way.
That at least was familiar (though the etymology was not) -
Euphemism comes from the Greek word euphemia (εὐφημία) which refers to the use of 'words of good omen'; it is a compound of (εὖ), meaning 'good, well', and phḗmē (φήμη), meaning 'prophetic speech; rumour, talk'. Eupheme is a reference to the female Greek spirit of words of praise and positivity, etc. The term euphemism itself was used as a euphemism by the ancient Greeks; with the meaning "to keep a holy silence" (speaking well by not speaking at all).
But hypercorrection was totally new:
In sociolinguistics, hypercorrection is non-standard use of language that results from the over-application of a perceived rule of language-usage prescription. A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes through a misunderstanding of such rules that the form is more "correct", standard, or otherwise preferable, often combined with a desire to appear formal or educated...

Hypercorrection can be found among speakers of less prestigious language varieties who attempt to produce forms associated with high-prestige varieties, even in situations where speakers of those varieties would not. Some commentators call such production hyperurbanism...{defined by Kingsley Amis as an "indulged desire to be posher than posh")...

Some British accents, such as Cockney, drop the initial h from words; e.g. have becomes 'ave. A hypercorrection associated with this is H-adding, adding an initial h to a word which would not normally have one. An example of this can be found in the speech of the character Parker in the marionette TV series Thunderbirds, e.g. "We'll 'ave the haristocrats 'ere soon"

Hyperforeignism arises from speakers misidentifying the distribution of a pattern found in loanwords and extending it to other environments
And there is also hypocorrection.

I don't plan to attend the party, but FWIW my ideal amuse-bouche is a bowl of Cheetos.

Why colonial America didn't celebrate Christmas

"As late as 1832 the English actress Fanny Kemble noted in her diary: “comparatively no observances of ‘tides and times’ punctuated the American year.  Christmas Day is no religious day and hardly a holiday with them.  New-year’s day is perhaps a little more, but only a little more so.  As for Twelfth-day, it is unknown.”

To understand the absence of Christmas observances noted by Fanny Femble, we must go back to the nation’s earliest days, when the colonial Americans, Puritans, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Baptists tried to suppress the celebration of ChristmasFinding no biblical evidence for the date of Jesus’ birth, they found no reason to celebrate the day as a holiday, let alone observe it in church.  Their disdain for Christmas only grew as peasant-class settlers from other European countries began arriving, bringing their Old World Christmas customs along.

Characterized by prolonged and raucous festivity, these customs had arisen at the one time of the year that offered both a reduced workload and an abundance of food.  For hard-laboring peasants, Christmas provided a welcome occasion to let off steam and to gorge themselves.  The carnival mood that resulted permitted – even encouraged – the participants to violate the usual rules of conduct.  Celebrants blackened their faces or disguised themselves as animals and members of the opposite sex; thus cloaked in anonymity, they begged for money from the prosperous.  From house to house they marched while “shouting, singing, blowing penny-trumpets and long tin horns, beating on kettles, firing crackers, hurling missiles, etc.”  Barging into the homes of the well-to-do, they also demanded gifts of food and drink.   The upper classes participated in hopes that the workers, with this spree behind them, would put more effort into their labors the rest of the year.

Such a celebration could function in confined neighborhoods, but as the working class expanded, the wealthy felt increasingly threatened by the marauding masses.  The growth of cities deepened the social inequity between rich and poor, and the revelry became the occasion for expressing class and ethnic hatred.  Pressure against the chaos of the Christmas revels began to mount, as the growing middle class also felt the need of an alternative to “these disgraceful saturnalia” which, according to the observer just quoted, had only gotten worse.

While the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Puritans and Presbyterians had given up on Christmas, seeing repression as the best path of reform, Anglicans commended both the religious observance and the festive hospitality that Christmas could provide.  Though they, too, viewed with alarm the holiday’s “current riot and excess,” they thought they should avail themselves of the festival and sought a way to “hallow the occasion” and “redeem the exultation” to perpetuate an “innocent and laudable festivity” by which people were made “more generous, virtuous and religious.”

Toward that end a group of wealthy, conservative New Yorkers known as the Knickerbockers met during the 1810s and 1820s. A group of High Church Episcopalians, they aimed to devise a Christmas holiday that would be celebrated at home and allow each family’s children – rather than the unknown poor – to benefit from tis bounty.  Clement Clark Moore belonged to the group, and his familiar 1822 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” popularly known by its first line “Twas the night before Christmas,” played an instrumental role in transforming the American Christmas, replacing the rowdy roaming bands demanding gifts from homeowners with a benevolent man who comes to bestow them…  (pp. xvii-xix).
Excerpted from Stokker, Kathleen, Keeping Christmas; Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.  
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