23 September 2020

Turquoise opal in a concretion (Queensland)

'Murican provincialism

I agree with the sentiment, but the numbers are a bit imprecise.  According to a 2019 article in The Hill, "... 11 percent of respondents have never left the state in which they were born, and 54 percent said they have visited fewer than 10 states.... (and) 40 percent said they have never left the country."

Via WhitePeopleTwitter, where the discussion is mostly about Americans dissing states other than the one they live in.
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain

Suburban reflections

Stupid me

I was momentarily startled by this sentence in Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (intro to Chapter 11, with the protagonists adrift at sea in the doldrums), then realized that it is a perfectly proper use of "stupid":

"We spent the remainder of the day in a condition of stupid lethargy, gazing after the retreating vessel..."

Etymology from Wiktionary:

From Middle French stupide, from Latin stupidus (“struck senseless, amazed”), from stupeō (“be amazed or confounded, be struck senseless”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)tup-, *(s)tewp- (“to wonder”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)tew- (“to stand, stay”). Cognate with Old High German stubarōn (“to be astonished, be stunned, be blocked”). 

Definitions of the adjective:

Lacking in intelligence or exhibiting the quality of having been done by someone lacking in intelligence. 

To the point of stupor.

(archaic) Characterized by or in a state of stupor; paralysed. 

(archaic) Lacking sensation; inanimate; destitute of consciousness; insensate. 

Dulled in feeling or sensation; torpid 

(slang) Amazing.

(slang) Darn, annoying. 

Similar usages from a quick Google search:

"You, sir, who have at least some small opportunity of giving good advice, try and rouse us from this stupid lethargy, and, if you can, do something for literature, which has done so much for France." (Voltaire)

"Rouse, my Friends, rouse from your stupid lethargy. Mark the men who shall dare to impede the course of justice. Brand them as the infamous betrayers of the rights of their country." (Samuel Seabury, comment re the Continental Congress, 1774)


Just to quickly clarify - the man in the wheelchair is not pulling the baby carriage (it's being pushed by his wife, who took the photo).  She posted this on Facebook and got a ton of pushback:

Why don’t you just walk in the road like normal people?

Why do you need to shop for shoes at Payless if you are in a wheelchair?

Totally fake. Photoshopped. 100%.

You just did this for likes and attention. Staged.

Can’t you just move the carts out if the way like everyone else?

Go around through the grass.

Go through the parking lot made for things with wheels.

Store employees are slacking in their jobs and get paid to get the carts.

Why didn’t you park in handicapped parking?

Why are you so far away from the entrance if you get priority spots up front?

I’ve never seen a sidewalk in a complex like this so this can’t be real.

Why didn’t you drop him off in the loading zone?

You knew your condition so why did you choose to go down the sidewalk if you saw the carts?

She replies to these questions with details about their experience in an article at Medium.  Discussion thread at Reddit.

Related: The Shopping Cart Theory

22 September 2020

Europe's second wave of coronavirus

Excerpts from John Authers' most recent Bloomberg newsletter:

The question is much subtler than it was six months ago, when it was probably correct for a blindsided world to respond to a new and fast-spreading disease by shutting down. Now, there is greater knowledge, and much more complexity. So it is perhaps a little unnerving that the key test case on the “second wave” will be decided on by the U.K.’s prime minister, Boris Johnson.

To simplify a sprawling debate, the case for a lockdown is contained in these figures, shown here in a chart from Capital Economics. New Covid cases per capita are higher than they were at the worst of the spring in both Spain and France while they are rising menacingly in the U.K.

This is happening even though the U.K. ended up having one of the longest and most complete lockdowns the first time around. But are cases the best measure of the problem? In spring, cases were undercounted as officials struggled to organize testing. Now, more are being caught, despite serious problems with the U.K. testing system. Meanwhile deaths have barely risen yet, and remain far lower than they were in spring.

Hospitalizations show a just-discernible rise in the last few weeks, according to figures from Britain’s National Health Service. The number of people so seriously ill that they need to go to hospital is still tiny compared to the spring, and there is no imminent danger of the system overflowing.

While deaths are obviously the most important measure, followed a long way behind by hospitalizations, the situation is complicated by the growing evidence that some people can suffer long-term debilitating consequences. There is still very little data on how widespread the problem is, and how long the effects can persist, but there are enough anecdotes to suggest that people under the age of 50 shouldn’t be too cavalier about the risks of catching the virus — and that governments should go to some lengths to protect them.

Johnson has to decide what to do. A second full lockdown looks hard to justify. Allowing the disease to continue expanding at its current rate looks similarly hard to justify.

Will some more nuanced lockdown keep the disease sufficiently bottled up? Will Covid continue to grow less deadly over time? Or will greater understanding of longer-term effects force yet another change in direction? The answers to these imponderable questions matter to all of us. They will also determine the direction of asset markets.

More charts and discussion at the link.

21 September 2020

Bollards near a school

Via Just a Car Guy ("Cool things with wheels since 2006").

Sleep paralysis misinterpreted as encounters with ghosts

Excerpts from Between Two Worlds: True Ghost Stories of the British Isles (D.A. MacManus, Colin Smythe Ltd., 1977) -

"All this time the sense of something that was loathsome beyond words to express became more and more intense and she waited with bated breath for the next move.  She had not long to wait for in a few moments she clearly heard the soft slur of a heavy, shapeless body moving slowly but steadily across the carpet towards her bed.  She remained motionless, her mind so numbed that it had not the power to command action.  After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the awful 'thing' reached the side of her bed.  Then came the ultimate horror, for it began to climb upon the bed.  She felt its weight upon her, a heavy weight, and next it seemed to stretch itself out and it seized each of her hands in a grasp of iron.  Its hands or paws, were icy, hard and boney and the strength of their cold vice-like grip was such that she felt her own bones might break.  Relentlessly it climbed further and further on to the bed until her legs were being crushed by its weight.  In another moment the Thing would have been right on top of her but, at last, the sheer horror it it all broke the spell and her mind and will leapt into action." [Killeaden, 1926]

"Eventually, from sheer emotional exhaustion [the maid] dropped off to sleep, only to be awakened panting for breath as if in her sleep something heavy had been pressing upon her chest and neck, crushing the breath out of her.  She lit her candle and looked round the room.  All was just as it had been...

So the next night saw her again in bed in that eerie room... she awoke from a sound sleep to feel, very definitely this time, something heavy upon her, pressing on her chest and throat as if to choke her.  It was the same sensation as she had experienced the night before, but now it was more pronounced and frightening.  It was with considerable difficulty that she struggled clear of this unseen weight, but she managed to do so and at once lit her candle...

[the next night] But this doze was nearly fatal to her for she awoke to find again the awful unseen body upon her, pressing down on her and slowly, relentlessly strangling her as it squeezed upon her throat... She was unable to cry out because of the pressure on her throat and at first she was so numbed with horror that she was unable to move at all; then fortunately blind panic seized her and gave her the strength to fight fiercely for her life.  Eventually she managed to push the awful Thing away from her sufficiently to be able to turn on the side and feel for the matches...

[the next night the lady of the house sleeps in the same room]  Then she fell asleep also and slept soundly for some hours, but suddenly awoke to feel something upon her, trying to strangle her.  She fought hard to wriggle away from under this unseen body which was lying on her and pressing upon her throat...

[she tells her husband, who mocks her, so she returns to that room the next night]  But, sure enough, an hour or two later she awoke with a start to find the usual heavy uncanny body lying on top of her and pressing tightly against her face and neck, strangling her inexorably.  Then the awful fear of imminent death overcame all other fear and inspired her to fight for her life as she had never fought before, violently using every muscle in her body in a desperate struggle for survival.  For some time she could make ho headway, but at last she managed to struggle free and frantically strike a light.  The evil 'presence' then ceased to manifest itself and she sank back on her pillow quite exhausted.

[the next night her husband sleeps in the room, taking "his tough bulldog" with him]  This was about eleven o'clock and he was undisturbed for some time, but shortly after two o'clock he woke up struggling and panting for breath.  As he shook off his sleep and gained full consciousness he found that there was something heavy lying upon his body and a soft but very tangible 'Thing' was pressing so hard upon his neck that as he painfully gasped for breath he felt that he was getting black in the face from strangulation.  Just as with his wife, the awful fear of coming death spurred him to frantic physical effort and after a few desperate surges he forced away from himself the unseen 'Thing' for a few moments..."  [ten months later the family moved out] [south of Dublin, 1904]

"One night as Mrs. Shephard lay in bed she felt a heavy weight climb upon her.  It was soft though heavy and frantic with fear, she struggled to free herself but was unable to move, it pinned her down so firmly.  After some time, which seemed to her to be an age, it became progressively lighter and eventually disappeared altogether.  She was not alone in this for her maid, a trusted and intelligent servant, had the same experience shortly afterwards.  It happened to them both a number of times after that and later, when Mrs. Shephard's mother came to stay, she also suffered it.  It should be noticed that in this house no one was able to struggle clear of this weight, but had to wait till it left of its own accord."  [Ulster, 1944]

Excepts from The Ghostly Register: a Guide to Haunted America (Arthur Myers, Dorset Press, NY 1986), which contains 64 "true" stories of ghosts in American houses - eight of which are probably sleep paralysis:

"I've seen John Wayne's ghost twice and have felt his spirit nearby many times.  I was sleeping in The Duke's stateroom.  I remember waking up with a start in the middle of the night. . . As my eyes got used to the dark I suddenly became aware of someone standing by the door to the port gangway.  I froze because I was alone on the boat.  Then I leaped out of bed - and the figure vanished into thin air!" (an incident involving The Wild Goose, John Wayne's yacht in Newport, CA)

"At one time, Virginia says, she felt an invisible hand choking her in bed.  She prayed, and the hands released their grip." (rented house, Simsbury, Connecticut)

"Mrs. Hollingsworth began seeing a woman with long hair, wearing a long, white gown that seemed to date from the past century. . . "My husband saw her one night... standing by the side of my bed staring down at me.  He said it scared him so badly that he couldn't move.  He says she just stood there for a while, then turned and walked away toward the living room." (house in Statesboro, GA)

"Their daughter, Sarah, however, a college student, has had more explicit experiences.  At night in her bedroom she would hear rustling.  When she turned the light on, nobody would be there.  Once she heard a voice whisper her name.  "One night," she says, "I turned the light out and felt something some down on top of me.  I couldn't move my arms or legs, as though somebody was holding them down.  I tried to speak, but something came down over my mouth.  I just prayed that it would go away, and after about ten minutes it did." (Witch Hollow Farm, Boxford, MA)

"The incident sounds very melodramatic.  I was awakened in the middle of the night by a presence in the room -- a feeling that some unknown being was in the midst.  As I opened my eyes, I saw a grayish figure at the side of my bed, to the left, about four feet away.  It was not a distinct person, but a shadowy mass in the shape of a standing figure.  It remained still for a moment, then slowly floated to the foot of the bed, in front of the fireplace.  After pausing a few seconds, the apparition slowly "melted" away.  It was a terrifying experience.  I was so frightened I could not scream.  I was frozen to the spot." (The Colonial Inn, Concord, MA)

"So I went back to bed.  Sometime after, I was aware of a large figure standing next to the bed, a tall human being's figure, dressed in a kind of cloak with a hood on it, open in the front but closed down enough so that you couldn't see any face within it.  I felt at some level that it was antagonistic to me.  It took me what seemed like a full ten minutes of struggle to actually raise myself.  I felt it was trying to press me back down on the bed.  When I finally did overcome it and get myself to a seated position, it was gone.  It dissolved."  (The mansion of Edith Wharton, Lenox, MA)

"When I woke up I had what I can only describe as the most tremendous feeling of fear and panic, for no apparent reason that I was aware of.  I felt almost as though there were some evil presence that was there and was holding me down - almost, I guess, trying to possess me."  (house in Weymouth, MA)

" . . . he was sleeping in the house's addition.  "All of a sudden I felt something grab me on the shoulder.  I tried rolling over to see what it was, but the thing put more pressure on me, and I couldn't turn to see what it was.  I couldn't even say anything; I couldn't get words out of my mouth. . . I could see the moon outside the window, and I was certain I wasn't dreaming; I was awake.  After a while the pressure released, and I started to turn, and all I saw was just possibly a black image, for just a second."  (cabin in Hancock, WI)

2020 continues

Don't tell them...

What do you use to catch a dragon ?

For anyone wondering what humor was like in the 1950s, may I present... Mr. Stan Freberg.  If you like it, see also Little Blue Riding Hood.

Related: Flanders and Swann.

Do we really need daily mail delivery?

By now everyone is aware of the ongoing and increasing problems of the United States Postal Service.

There has been a longstanding interest by various members of Congress and business world to privatize the USPS - allegedly to modernize and improve its service, but in real life because the USPS is a monopoly with enormous profit potential.

“These changes are happening because there’s a White House agenda to privatize and sell off the public Postal Service,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “But there’s too much approval for the organization right now. They want to separate the service from the people and then degrade it to the point where people aren’t going to like it anymore.”

This started back in the Bush administration:

"But the agency has been rapidly losing money since a 2006 law, passed with the support of the George W. Bush administration, required USPS to pre-fund employee retiree health benefits for 75 years in the future. That means the Postal Service must pay for the future health care of employees who have not even been born yet. The burden accounted for an estimated 80% to 90% of the agency’s losses before the pandemic." 

Imagine any other business being told to pre-fund health benefits for the next 75 years.

Then this past year the prospect arose that disruption or slowing of the mail service might provide grounds for delegitimizing the results of mail-in ballots in the November election.  Some post offices were physically removing mail-sorting machines.  The justification (which may well be valid) was that the mix of mail has shifted massively away from letters to packages, and different machines are required for that purpose.

But for this post I'm going to set aside politics and just ask whether daily mail delivery is necessary in this modern era.  What prompted me to do this was some interesting items I noticed in the philatelic news:

"News from vanishing postal services are familiar everywhere in these days... In Finland the Post has already dropped Tuesday, and is now planning a three-times per week delivery system.  The iconic main Post office at the Helsinki city center was closed this summer, and there are not many post offices left in the city."

"Norway Post will provide every other day delivery of mail due to the decline in mail volume... Recipients will get their mail on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one week, and Tuesday and Thursday the following week.  Those who have a post office box will receive normal daily delivery each weekday... Packages will be delivered every day or every other day depending on where in Norway the household is... Newspapers will be delivered every other day, or daily if the addressee has a post office box."

Those reports were in the March 2020 issue of The Posthorn - Journal of Scandinavian Philately, a publication of the Scandinavian Collector's Club.

TYWKIWDBI has an international readership, so I'd like to hear some feedback from non-U.S. readers to help me sort out in my mind how much of the U.S. situation is political vs. pragmatic.

19 September 2020

This is not "Starry Night"

Whom do you believe ?

This in a week when it was revealed that CDC guidelines on coronavirus testing had been written by Trump officials and were contrary to the advice of CDC staff.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that a previous CDC guidance was published on the agency’s website over the strong objection of CDC scientists.

The scientists disagreed sharply with recommendations in the document including one advising that people who did not show symptoms of Covid-19 had no need to be tested for coronavirus, even if they had come into contact with a known carrier, the New York Times said in a report on Friday.

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the CDC, rewrote the document in question and “dropped” it onto the agency’s website, the New York Times quotes unnamed government officials as saying. HHS is run by the Donald Trump appointee Alex Azar.

“That was a doc that came from the top down, from the HHS and the [White House] task force,” the Times quoted an unnamed federal official as saying. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy.”

For fox ache.  This kind of politicizing of policy can be dangerous.  Screencap via BoingBoing.

"Nessun Dorma"

A four-minute video from a June 2007 segment of the ITV program Britain's Got Talent.  This video has been viewed 19 million times.

Update May 2008 - the video has now been viewed 25 million times.
Update 2016 - now it's 157 million views...

Reposted from 2008 to add Pavarotti's rendition of the same piece:

And to add the lyrics (in English):
Nobody shall sleep!...
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know...
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!...
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!
And an excerpt from the story:
"At the start of the opera, Calaf sees Princess Turandot for the first time and instantly falls in love with her. However, any man who wishes to marry her must correctly answer three riddles. Those who fail are killed. Despite protests from his father and his servant, Calaf accepts the challenge and is determined to marry the princess. 

Much to the delight of the princess's father as well as the entire kingdom, Calaf answers all three riddles correctly. Turandot realizes she must now marry a stranger and becomes upset. Calaf makes a deal with her that if she can correctly answer his own riddle before dawn, he will die. If she does not answer correctly, he will marry her. Turandot agrees and the countdown begins. 

Late that night, the princess declares that no one will sleep until she learns the name of her suitor. In fact, she cries out that everyone in the kingdom will be killed if no one steps forward to reveal Calaf's identity. Meanwhile, Calaf confidently sings "Nessun Dorma" (Nobody shall sleep). "

Reposted from 2017 to add this cover from this young Dutch singer who won the Holland's Got Talent competition at age 9:

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