26 November 2021

Tibetan yak

Image cropped for size from the one at the via.

A compilation of rare and unusual baseball plays

Said to be the "world's largest freeway"


The Katy freeway (Interstate 10) in Houston "was expanded to as many as 20 total lanes in Houston, but due to induced demand, travel times along the highway within the city increased as much as 30 percent."  Comments about the road at the via.

That photo reminded me of this one, of "Detroit before and after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956":

Should you NOT point at a rainbow ?


Many cultures around the world consider it improper - or even dangerous - to point at a rainbow.  Excerpts from an article in Atlas Obscura:
He would soon amass evidence for the rainbow taboo—in some form or another—in 124 cultures. The prohibition turned up in North America, among the Atsugewi of northern California and the Lakota of the northern plains; in remote parts of Australia and isolated islands in Melanesia; among the Nyabwa of Ivory Coast and the Kaiwá of Brazil. At one time it was present in Europe, too: one of the Grimm brothers noted it in his book on German mythology. The belief was not found in every culture, according to Blust’s search, but it was present globally, across all inhabited regions.

There was also more to the taboo than the vague idea that pointing to rainbows is bad. Blust found that it often came bundled with specific ideas about what would happen if you violated the taboo, ideas that varied from culture to culture. Most commonly, your finger would suffer the consequences: it might become bent or paralyzed, fall off, wither, rot, or swell, or develop warts, ulcers, or maggots. Less commonly—such as in parts of New Guinea and Australia—the ill effects would befall your mother. In most cases, it was specifically pointing with the index finger that was prohibited. It was fine to draw attention to a rainbow using your head, lips, nose, or tongue, or by forming your hand in a less “pointy” shape, such as a fist. A final recurring idea was that, should you accidentally point to a rainbow, there were remedies. You could wet the offending digit; or put it into a bodily cavity like your mouth, anus, or belly button; or, according to the Javanese version of the taboo, plunge it into a pile of buffalo dung.
Continue reading at the link.  Photo credit Eric Rolph at English Wikipedia.

From Middle English, from Latin īris, from Ancient Greek ἶρις (îris, “rainbow”), from Proto-Indo-European *wey-ro- (“a twist, thread, cord, wire”), from *weh₁y- (“to turn, twist, weave, plait”). Cognate to English wire.  

25 November 2021

Thinking of refugees on Thanksgiving


If you have nothing else to be thankful for on this day, be thankful that you are not a refugee - political refugee, war refugee, climate refugee, whatever.  I fully understand that some migrants are economic opportunists seeking to game the system, but the vast majority are helpless victims of circumstances beyond their control - from wildfires, floods, droughts, ethnic cleansing, national geopolitical policies, and wars.

The top embedded image is from the border between Poland and Belarus, where the migrants are political pawns in an autocrat's power struggle with the EU.  They have been displaced from their homes, have only what they can carry, lack food and shelter and are facing an oncoming winter entirely at the mercy of strangers.

Here's an old photo of a Syrian refugee child:

“I was using a telephoto lens, and she thought it was a weapon,” photographer Osman Sağırlı told the BBC. “İ realized she was terrified after I took it, and looked at the picture, because she bit her lips and raised her hands. Normally kids run away, hide their faces or smile when they see a camera.”
It's tempting to succumb to "compassion fatigue" when reading about the never-ending world crises, or to consider oneself safe from geopolitical conflicts, ignoring the potential of becoming a climate refugee.

Tigers in the United States


Excerpts from an interesting article in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic:
My visit to the Ringling center with photographer Steve Winter was just one stop during a two-year investigation into why there are likely more tigers living in cages in the U.S. than remain in the wild... we found that most tigers in this country live in small zoos and animal attractions - known generally in the industry as "roadside" zoos - where care standards can vary widely, in some cases endangering the animals in them and the humans who visit them...

You can get a USDA license to exhibit or breed gerbils - and then exhibit or breed any animal you want, including big cats...

Tiger cubs are a gold mine, especially white ones... A quick photo op or five-minute cuddle runs $10 to $100.  A three-hour zoo tour with cub handling can run $700 a person.  Guests often are told they're helping to save wild tigers.  They leave happy and post selfies on social media.

What they don't know is the cubs' history or future.  Most are born in tiger mills where females churn out two or three litters a year, compared withone litter every two years in the wild.  Cubs are pulled from their mothers soon after birth... When they're just a few weeks old, the cubs go to work, sometimes passed around for up to 10 hours a day.  The profits can be enormous...

In 2003 Illinois corrections officer William Kapp was convicted for his role in shooting 18 tigers and leopards in their cages and brokering the sale of their meat and skins to buyers.  The same year, California Department of Fish and Wildlife investigators found 90-some dead animals - mostly tigers, including 58 cubs - in a freezer when they raided the home of John Weinhart, owner of Tiger Rescue, a facility in Colton, California, that billed itself as a sanctuary for animals that had worked in the entertainment industry...
The source article is behind a paywall, but the magazine can almost certainly be checked out from your local library.  A gallery of photos from the article is posted at the Natural History Museum's recognition of Steve Winter as their Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

How the United States was divvied up

"[Daniel] Boone's early, temporary excursions into the "Land of Tomorrow" [Kentucky] gave him a sense of the beauty and unknown dangers he could expect... The trips also led to property claims on the land by the travelers, in turn prompting a demand for surveyors to record those claims.  One such team of surveyors put their lives on the line to parcel off two thousand acres below the Elk River for George Washington, then a representative to the Virginia legislature, and in two other spots recorded seven thousand acres for another legislator, Patrick Henry, who was ready to carve out a large piece of property in a place unknown to him.  Washington and Henry, like other influential politicos, believed they could get rich from pushing into the territory.

"Years earlier, the British had forbidden private purchase of lands from American Indians such as the one Henderson engineered, having cited 'the great dissatisfaction of the said Indians' involved in such transactions." 

---- excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Taking of Jemima Boone: Colonial Settlers, Tribal Nations, and the Kidnap that Shaped America, by Matthew Pearl (HarperCollins, 2021). 

Anaerobic preservation exemplified


Car retrieved from a Norwegian lake after 49 years.  The front end had been buried in the lake bottom mud.  Note the preservation of the paint and the shiny hubcap.

Lake bottoms, ocean bottoms, peat bogs etc are famous for their ability to preserve organic material because the environment is anaerobic (oxygen-depleted).

A recent example was the retrieval of a 1200-year old wooden canoe from the bottom of a lake here in Madison, Wisconsin.  Lots of photos and a video at the link depict the recovery process.

24 November 2021

"Mickey-Mousing" explained

For cruciverbalists


For the past five years I've been solving the crossword puzzles in the Los Angeles Times (and the New York Times) every day as a sort of mental exercise to keep my brain in shape.  This morning I was stunned to encounter an absolutely remarkable construction.  This is not a particularly difficult puzzle (Wednesday-level) and it can be completed by experienced crossword enthusiasts in 5-10 minutes.  But when you get to the final Down clue, a truly remarkable feature about the construction is revealed.

You can try it first (at the link), or read on below the fold for a minor spoiler/reveal about why this particular puzzle is so awesome...

Hubble's "Ultra Deep Field" photo - updated

This is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Starting in late 2003, astronomers pointed Hubble at a tiny, relatively empty part of our sky (only a few stars from the Milky Way visible), and created an exposure nearly 12 days long over a four-month period. The result is this amazing image, looking back through time at thousands of galaxies that range from 1 to 13 billion light-years away from Earth. Some 10,000 galaxies were observed in this tiny patch of sky (a tenth the size of the full moon) - each galaxy a home to billions of stars. 
Credit NASA/ESA/S. Beckwith - STScI, and The HUDF Team.

Selected from a gallery of 50 photos chosen by The Big Picture as the most significant images of the past decade. I wish I could post all 50. Absolutely worth a click and scroll.


Reposted from 2009.  And reposted again from 2016 to add this photo of the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field.

"The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (HXDF), released on September 25, 2012, is an image of a portion of space in the center of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image. Representing a total of two million seconds (approximately 23 days) of exposure time collected over 10 years, the image covers an area of 2.3 arcminutes by 2 arcminutes, or approximately 80% of the area of the HUDF. This represents approximately one thirty-two millionth of the sky.

The HXDF contains approximately 5,500 galaxies..."

23 November 2021

I'm disappointed that it's only a kugel


Several summers ago I visited the home of a fellow butterfly enthusiast.  I happened to look up while we were seated in the family room and spotted a Monarch chrysalis (like this) -


- dangling from the ceiling.  Kevin was delighted to realize that his escaped Monarch caterpillar had made it to a safe location and was not at risk of being squished on the carpet.

That was the memory that came to my mind when I saw a page from a recent issue of  Martha Stewart Living magazine (embedded at the top).  The photo caption indicates that what is hanging from the entryway is "an unusually large late-19th-century German copper-blown-glass kugel.

So I had to look up "kugel" and found this at RealOrRepro:
"Kugel" is the name of heavy glass Christmas ornaments that were made in Germany from as early as 1840 to the early 1900s. Although the word kugel means "round ball" in German, original kugels were also made in the shape of grapes, apples, pears, pine cones, berries, tear drops and balls with melon-style ribs.

Original kugels are generally lined inside with silver. The outside colors are red, cobalt, blue, green, silver, gold and amethyst. There is a hole in the top of each ornament which is concealed by a brass cap. Caps may or may not have an embossed design. Caps are fastened to the ornament with a piece of wire with spread out legs. Circular hanging loops are usually fastened to the wire on the cap.
A quick Google Image search did not lead me to any photos of kugels intentionally designed and colored to look like a butterfly chrysalis.  Perhaps one of my German readers will know whether such fabrications exist.  I would hope so.

Upcoming movie looks interesting

"Democrats are pushing tax breaks for the rich"

Excerpts from a op-ed in The Guardian:
The last time Democrats held the presidency and Congress, the party spent its first year in power enriching big banks that had cratered the economy and then letting public money subsidize the Wall Street bonuses of their campaign donors. The spectacle gave Republicans a political bailout in the 2010 midterms, allowing them to depict themselves as anti-establishment populists challenging an elitist government.

Twelve years later, history is rhyming. Democrats were vaulted into office on popular promises to tax the wealthy, but they are now generating national headlines about their proposal to provide new tax breaks narrowly targeted to enrich their affluent blue-state donors – just as a new survey shows nearly two thirds of Americans see the party as “out of touch with the concerns of most people.”..

Democratic leaders are pushing a regressive proposal to allow wealthy property owners to deduct more of their state and local taxes (SALT) from their federal taxes...

Under current law, the relatively small number of Americans wealthy enough to itemize their tax returns are barred from writing more than $10,000 of their state and local tax levies off their federal tax returns. In 2019, that was just 13% of Americans.

That means the entire SALT debate is about a policy almost exclusively affecting a small number of rich people, who already disproportionately benefit from other tax breaks. And really, it’s about the miniscule number of rich folk who happen to live in specific locales with higher state and local levies, and who pay more than $10,000 of those levies every year...

It shows that while the Build Back Better reconciliation bill would still raise taxes on billionaires, adding SALT deductions to the bill would provide no significant help for the middle class, and would result in big tax breaks for very rich people just below the billionaire stratosphere...

In a nation where 87% of people already make too little to itemize their tax returns and are therefore not eligible for any SALT deductions, Democrats’ whole campaign is designed to confuse and distract from all the data showing that repealing the SALT cap would be a more regressive policy than Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, and would exacerbate racial and economic inequality.
It has been a truism all through my lifetime that "we have the best Congress that money can buy."

Comments closed.  What's to discuss?

"Wear a mask"

A Beauty and the Beast classic repurposed for a good cause.  (Comments closed because there's nothing more to say.)

Reposted from 2020 because it's still relevant.

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