29 April 2011

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1564

This week I found on our library's new acquisitions shelf a book entitled "Death and the Virgin Queen," by Chris Skidmore -
Elizabeth's life as England's Virgin Queen is one of the most celebrated in history. Christopher Skidmore reveals a very different picture: of a vulnerable young woman, in love with her suitor, Robert Dudley. Had it not been for the death of his wife, Amy Robsart, Elizabeth might have one day been able to marry Dudley, since Amy was believed to be dying of breast cancer. Instead, the suspicious circumstances surrounding Amy Robsart's death would cast a long shadow over Elizabeth's life, preventing any hope of a union with Dudley and ultimately shaping the course of Tudor history.
I haven't started the book yet; if anyone has already read it, feel free to comment.

(Nice duds, btw...)

Image via Alabaster.

Medical animation

Many years ago I had schoolmates who chose careers in "medical illustration."  In that era, most of the work was still imagery.  This video shows examples of what now can be done - "XVIVOs award-winning animation studio creates compelling visual productions for pharmaceutical, medical device and biotech companies, advertising agencies, educational organizations, museums and broadcast companies."

Via Everlasting Blort.

Ruth Law, an early aviatrix

Bought her first airplane from Orville Wright in 1912 at age 21.  First woman to do a loop-de-loop.  First woman authorized to wear a uniform by the U.S. Military.

Found at My Ear-Trumpet Has Been Struck by Lightning, where there are additional photos.

Addendum (hat tip to Ninabi for finding this anecdote about her):
[...] Robbie went down in baseball lore for his attempt to catch a ball dropped from an airplane. In 1908, Gabby Street had caught a ball dropped from the Washington Monument. Robbie scoffed that this was all that difficult a feat and so Ruth Law, a famous aviatrix, was enlisted to fly a plane higher than the Washington Monument and drop a ball for Robbie to catch.

There are several versions of what happened next-one version of which put Dodger Casey Stengel in the plane to make the drop. But Law flew alone. When Robbie, the old Oriole-now 53 years old-caught the object he saw falling from the plane, he was splattered with warm juice from a grapefruit. The impact knocked him to the ground whereupon he exclaimed: "Help me, lads, I'm covered with my own blood."

Law explained in 1957 that she had forgotten the baseball back in her hotel room and when she discovered the situation it was too late to retrieve the ball. So she took a grapefruit from the lunch of one of the ground crew and dropped it instead.

Laser punches holes in a human hair

A new laser-powered chemical analysis technique is so sensitive that it can take dozens of samples from a single strand of hair, distinguishing between the chemical signatures of each...

Forensic scientists should find the technique useful, Moran said. “The carbon you eat goes into your hair, so hair is a record of carbon ratios. If you’ve been traveling, I could guess which countries you’ve been to or what you ate.”

The team is developing its laser-ablation system to work with other chemical isotopes, including nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur.

“Carbon tells you what you’re eating, but nitrogen could tell you whether it’s meat or plants. Oxygen isotopes vary with the water cycle, and sulfur with bedrock, so they’re location proxies,” Sessions said. “Put them together, and you’ve got some really powerful data in space and time.”
Text and video via Wired Science.

Still yet more endless TSA nonsense

Is there any point in continuing to catalogue these egregiously nonsensical events?
As a federal agent, I'm authorized to fly armed, so on one trip, I was clearing through security, the airport cop had checked my ID and paperwork and approved me to pass through the checkpoint, but the TSA guy stopped me and said he needed to inspect my carry-on...

Well, he came up with my Leatherman knife (basically a fancy Swiss Army knife) and said that I couldn't bring it on the plane because knives are prohibited items...

I looked at him like he was insane and said, "Let me get this straight, you're letting me carry a loaded handgun onto the plane, but not a pocket knife? In what conceivable world does that make sense?"

He responded that per FAA rules, I was authorized as a federal agent to carry the gun on board but the rules don't mention knives except as a general prohibition for everyone.

Not wanting to lose a $30 knife, I asked to see his supervisor, figuring this was some low-level zombie unable to exercise basic common sense. But no, the supervisor said the same thing!
Yes, I know, the staff "have to follow strict rules" and can't make exceptions, but...

Via J-Walk.

"Summer of 1919"

Nice headdress, cute smile, and I never fail to be stunned by the "sensible footwear" children of that era wore. 

From The New Found Photography, via old photos, young kids.

Half-brothers meet by chance

In the right column of this blog are the categories of topics.  "Cheerful" ranks rather low at 40th (out of 70) in terms of number of posts.  This one fits in there nicely.  From Boston.com:
Waikiki Beach wasn’t part of Rick Hill’s vacation plans last Monday, but the Lunenburg resident and his family decided to make a quick stop.

Joe Parker, who grew up in Leominster but moved to Hawaii to escape a troubled upbringing and a failed relationship, wasn’t supposed to be on the beach that day, either. An event planner for a resort, he had hustled down to secure a last-minute surfing lesson for a client.

Hill’s fiancee was about to take a snapshot of Hill and their three children when Parker offered to take a picture of the entire family. Parker immediately detected Hill’s accent; instead of asking the family to say “cheese’’ he asked them to say “Leominster.’’

“When he said that, it took us by shock because we live in the next town over, and what are the chances of a stranger in Hawaii saying that,’’ Maureen Howe, the fiancee, said yesterday.

And then the name game began. Parker threw out several, including Dickie Halligan. Hill responded, “That’s my father!’’

Standing in the glistening white sand, Parker lowered his sunglasses, squinted at Hill, and declared, “That’s my dad, too!’’

A map of U.S. wealth distribution - in 1870

Wealth distribution (or maldistribution) is a popular topic these days.  This map shows how different this country was in the post-Civil War era.  Note the density of what would later become the "rust belt," and the paleness of Florida and Texas.

Lady with a ponytail

I believe the photo was taken at the Royal Ascot, where ladies are required to wear a hat.  Hers is NOT the most outlandish of the ones shown at this link.

I hope she saved this and wore it to the royal wedding today.

Christian theologian defends genocide and infanticide

Excerpts from an essay by William Lane Craig at his "Reasonable Faith" website:

Question 2:
I have heard you justify Old Testament violence on the basis that... they were obeying God’s command.... This resembles a bit on how Muslims define morality and justify the violence of Muhammad and other morally questionable actions... Do you see any difference between your justification of OT violence and Islamic justification of Muhammand and violent verses of the Quran?..

Dr. Craig responds:
According to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), when God called forth his people out of slavery in Egypt and back to the land of their forefathers, he directed them to kill all the Canaanite clans who were living in the land (Deut. 7.1-2; 20.16-18).  The destruction was to be complete: every man, woman, and child was to be killed.  The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s carrying out God’s command in city after city throughout Canaan...

The question of biblical inerrancy is an important one, but it’s not like the existence of God or the deity of Christ!  If we Christians can’t find a good answer to the question before us and are, moreover,  persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature, then we’ll have to give up biblical inerrancy...

Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself,  He has no moral duties to fulfill.  He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.  For example, I have no right to take an innocent life.  For me to do so would be murder.  But God has no such prohibition.  He can give and take life as He chooses...

So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives.  The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them.  Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder?  No, it’s not.  Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.  The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong...

But why take the lives of innocent children? .. God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel... Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives...
It continues at the link, where you can read on if you like.  I'll stop here.  Just copying and pasting is making me ill...

"Black sheep" = "white crow"

In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family. The term has typically been given negative implications, implying waywardness. It derived from the atypical and unwanted presence of other black individuals in herds of white sheep.

The idiom is also found in other languages, e.g., French, Serbian, Bulgarian, Hebrew, Portuguese, Bosnian, Greek, Turkish, Dutch, Swedish, Danish Spanish, Czech, Slovak, Romanian and Polish. There is an expression "white crow" ("белая ворона", "belaya vorona") in Russian, in Persian there is similar expression "white crow", "kalag-e sefid" (کلاغ سفید), which roughly means black sheep.

The term originated from the occasional black sheep which are born into a herd of white sheep due to a genetic process of recessive traits. Black wool was considered commercially undesirable because it could not be dyed.  In 18th and 19th century England, the black color of the sheep was seen as the mark of the devil.
I looked this up this morning because of a report in the Mail Online of a English flock of 37 white sheep that have just given birth to 60 lambs, all of whom are black. 


This is a 1938 Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia.  Found in the Gratuitous Motor Porn section of Wired, where there is technical and design information.        Photo credit: Mullin Automotive Museum.

Full-contact figure skating

A set of ten photos at The Telegraph document an incident at the World Figure Skating Championships during which Meagan Duhamel broke the nose of her partner Eric Radford.  (photo credit AP)

Ice dancing, anyone?

The "demon core"

The Demon Core was the nickname given to a 6.2-kilogram (14 lb) subcritical mass of plutonium that accidentally went critical in two separate accidents at the Los Alamos laboratory in 1945 and 1946. Both incidents resulted in the acute radiation poisoning and subsequent death of a scientist...

[the second incident]: On May 21, 1946, physicist Louis Slotin and seven other scientists were in a Los Alamos laboratory conducting an experiment to verify the exact point at which a subcritical mass (core) of fissile material could be made critical by the positioning of neutron reflectors. It required the operator to place two half-spheres of beryllium (a neutron reflector) around the core to be tested and manually lower the top reflector over the core via a thumb hole on the top. As the reflectors were manually moved closer and further away from each other, scintillation counters measured the relative activity from the core. Allowing them to close completely would result in the instantaneous formation of a critical mass and a lethal power excursion, and the only thing preventing this was the blade of a standard flathead screwdriver manipulated by the scientist's other hand. The test was known as "tickling the dragon's tail" for its extreme risk, and was notoriously unforgiving of even the smallest mistake; many scientists refused to perform the test, but Slotin (who was given to bravado) became the local expert, performing the test almost a dozen separate times, often in his trademark bluejeans and cowboy boots in front of a roomful of observers. Enrico Fermi reportedly told Slotin and others they would be "dead within a year" if they continued performing it.

While lowering the top reflector, Slotin's screwdriver slipped a fraction of an inch, allowing the top reflector to fall into place around the core. Instantly there was a flash of blue light and a wave of heat across Slotin's skin; the core had become supercritical, releasing a massive burst of neutron radiation. He quickly knocked the two halves apart, stopping the chain reaction and likely saving the lives of the other men in the laboratory. Slotin's body positioning over the apparatus also shielded the others from much of the neutron radiation. He received a massively lethal dose in under a second and died nine days later from acute radiation poisoning. The nearest physicist to Slotin, Alvin C. Graves, was watching over Slotin's shoulder and was thus partially shielded by him, receiving a high but non-lethal radiation dose. Graves was hospitalized for several weeks with severe radiation poisoning, developed chronic neurological and vision problems as a result of the exposure, suffered a significant shortening of his lifespan and died of a radiation-induced heart attack 20 years later. The other six people in the room were far enough away from the assembly to avoid fatal injury, however they all suffered other complications as a result of the accident. Two people suffered severe shortening of their lives and died years later from radiation induced complications: leukemia (at age 42, 18 years after the accident) and clinical aplastic anemia.
Via Uncertain Times.

And a big tip of the proverbial hat to Swift Loris, who offers this scene of John Cusack as Slotin in the film Fat Man and Little Boy:

"Debris ball"

For anyone who is at least minimally sentient and socially aware, the outbreak of tornadoes is not a "TYWK," but I wanted to blog two items.  From Paul Douglas On Weather blog comes the image above -
Here's a reflectivity view from Birmingham (NWS) Doppler around 6:30 pm Wednesday, showing a 1/2 to 1 mile wide tornado. The energy beam from the Doppler is actually reflecting off debris swept up in the tornado. Absolutely incredible.
And one doesn't want to be a gawker at other people's tragedy, but The Big Picture does have a gallery of 23 photos, from which I've selected these two:
One of many impressive videos is at Vimeo; you can understand why the videographer was hyperventilating.  And a survival story is here.

Photo credit top Marvin Gentry/Reuters, bottom Rogelio V. Solis/AP.

27 April 2011

"Ryan" - an animated documentary

Here's the description from the National Film Board of Canada:
This Oscar®-winning animated short from Chris Landreth is based on the life of Ryan Larkin, a Canadian animator who produced some of the most influential animated films of his time. Ryan is living every artist's worst nightmare - succumbing to addiction, panhandling on the streets to make ends meet. Through computer-generated characters, Landreth interviews his friend to shed light on his downward spiral. Some strong language. Viewer discretion is advised. 
Wikipedia notes that "Ryan won the 2004 Academy Award for Animated Short Film and the 25th Genie Award for Best Animated Short. The film was also very well received at the Cannes, Venice, Sundance and Toronto film festivals." 

The unusual (bizarre) graphic imagery may be a little off-putting at first, but I recommend sticking with it.  The film is thought-provoking re the relationships of artistic excellence and mental instability.

Ryan Larkin died in 2007 of metastatic lung cancer.

"Pistachio disaster" reveals the downside of monoculture

The Australian pistachio crop has been ravaged by an epidemic of anthracnose -
According to Nelson, the outbreak isn’t just a function of weather. It’s likely a result of monoculture crop practices, in which just one or a few varieties of a crop are planted. Australia’s pistachios are descended almost entirely from a single cultivar developed in the early 1980s; selected for the nuts’ flavor, aesthetically pleasing color and easy-splitting shells, the variety was an easy choice for farmers — but with that choice, the seeds of an epidemic may have been planted.

“Those are the varieties that are best for them. That’s why we have monocultures: They can’t plant something that isn’t profitable. But monocultures create these problems,” said Michailides.

Monocultures are the rule in modern agriculture, and are especially vulnerable to disease, as a pathogen that can infect one plant will likely be infectious to the rest. That’s happening now in Australia with Tropical Race Four, a fungus that threatens to destroy the country’s banana industry, and may eventually doom modern bananas altogether.

But increased vulnerability isn’t the only problem. Monocultures also function as evolutionary crucibles for pests, exerting selective pressure in a single direction: toward any mutation that helps the pest spread.

That seems to be happening in the resurgence of wheat rusts — the defeat of which decades ago was the Green Revolution’s founding achievement. And that may have happened, at a smaller scale, with the emergence of anthracnose in pistachios.
More at the link.  We and our neighbors became familiar with anthracnose when it spread through our subdivision several years ago in the form of "apple scab" on the beautiful (and popular) crabapple trees.  The leaves developed black lesions and fell early from the tree.  If any of you notice something similar with your apple/crabapple trees, be sure to call an arborist, because although the tree can tolerate partial defoliation, if it happens several years in a row, it can kill the tree. 

Text from Wired Science; photo credit Themis Michailides. 

"Here comes the chopper to chop off your head..."

Workers harvest tulips in a field near the eastern German town of Schwaneberg
Picture: AFP/GETTY
From the "Pictures of the day" feature at The Telegraph.  Although the caption says the tulips are being "harvested," my understanding of what is really happening is that the machine is decapitating the tulips, leaving the foliage intact and allowing the plant to redirect its energy to bulb formation.  The actual "harvest" will probably come in the autumn when the bulbs are excavaed.

Too bad to waste all those petals.  They could have been used to cover a road or something.

Great tit makes use of a cigarette bin

A great tit which has built its nest in a cigarette bin at the RSPB's Fairburn Ings nature reserve in Castleford, Yorkshire. Picture: PA / RSPB
One of the Telegraph's "Pictures of the Day."

Spider vs. ant - with a surprise ending

Wait for the ending.  You'll have to admit you didn't see that coming...

26 April 2011

"Quinn and his ducks" - a manifestation of autism

"We thought the way he was always lining up toys was just a quirky thing he liked to do... but later realized it was a very strong indicator that he had autism."
Photo credit to andwhat'snext, who commented on his photo "After looking at some other photos, we saw that he has used various types of non-random patterns with his stacking, aligning and drawing."

Via The Atlantic's In Focus photoblog, which has assembled 29 photos to mark April as Autism Awareness Month.

Redefining "National Security"

"Imagine if we as a country defined national security as the health, well-being, education and gainful employment of our citizens, and not as the ability to deliver bombs on targets."
Credit to Susie Madrak.

Joint Chiefs: "America has overreacted to Islamic extremism"

From a very intersting article at Foreign Policy:
On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: "A National Strategic Narrative."..

The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a "personal" capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world...

The paper argues persuasively that the tendency of Americans to broadly label the rest of the world has been hugely counterproductive. The authors point out that the tendency over the last decade by some Americans to view all Muslims as terrorists has made it more difficult to marginalize genuine extremism, while alienating vast swaths of the global Muslim community. In a world where credibility is so central to America's national interest and reach around the globe, the overheated domestic debate about the war on terror has never served it very well. ..

The budget deal over the weekend lopped $8 billion off of funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Defense spending was left untouched. Congress doesn't seem to have gotten the wake-up call.
Via Crooks and Liars.

Nice hat

From a gallery of photos of Ladies Day at Aintree, posted at The Guardian

Via Duck Soup.

Right-wing populist parties gaining ground in Europe

Excerpts from an article in Spiegel Online:
It is ironic that it is here in Finland -- a part of Europe that always seemed eminently European -- that a movement is now coming to power that inveighs against immigrants and abortions, considers Brussels to be the "heart of darkness" and rejects all financial assistance for what it calls "wasteful countries," like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. "We were too soft on Europe," says Soini, adding that Finland should not be made to "pay for the mistakes of others."..

The entire program to rescue the euro could be in jeopardy, because it has to be approved unanimously by the entire European Union. That includes both the anticipated aid for Portugal, the additional billions for the euro bailout fund and the planned reform of the fund...

The successes of right-wing populists could indeed exacerbate the smoldering euro crisis. Tensions between the wealthy countries in the north, who are contributing most to the bailouts, and the ailing debtor nations in the periphery already threaten to destroy the monetary union. If a European version of the American Tea Party movement develops, it could very well become the kiss of death for the euro...
Much more at the link.

Chris Hondros, photographer killed in Libya

This undated photograph shows Chris Hondros in Afghanistan. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal has a gallery of about twenty photographs by Chris Hondros taken in Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, and Haiti.  To me, the most memorable of the group is the one below, which I saw many years ago (and probably posted at the time, though I can't find it now):
Samar Hassan screams after her parents were killed by U.S. Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division in a shooting on January 18, 2005 in Tal Afar, Iraq. The troops fired on the Hassan family car when it unwittingly approached them during a dusk patrol in the tense northern Iraqi town. Parents Hussein and Camila Hassan were killed instantly, and a son Racan, 11, was seriously wounded in the abdomen. Racan, who lost the use of his legs, was treated later in the U.S.

"At first you wear light colors. After you kill the man, darker colors."

"In the beginning you act like a nice girl. But then, after you kill the man you meet in the little house, you become a bad girl. Yes? First half, good girl. Second half, bad.”
“I get you,” she said. That was his direction, Greer recalled. “But I did throw in a few big eyes anyway. I couldn’t help myself.”

Tourneur also discussed with her his plan for the character’s wardrobe, something typical of his films’ subtle, insidious visual design. “At first you wear light colors. After you kill the man, darker colors. In the end, black.”
-excerpted from Lee Server’s Baby I Don’t Care
Excellent film noir.  Via Old Hollywood.

60 years of tornado touchdowns

Several months ago I posted a map of tornado watches over a ten-year period.  Here's an even-longer-range perspective:
This distribution of tornadoes often feeds into the myth that mountains protect communities from tornadoes. In fact, the more rugged terrain of the mountainous region does not disrupt tornado tracks or prevent formation of tornadoes; however, the slightly cooler and drier climate leads to conditions less conducive to formation. In other words, the relative lack of tornado touchdowns in mountainous regions is because of the weather, not the terrain.
Via Paul Douglas' On Weather blog.

25 April 2011


The Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire collapsed in 2003, but a photo of it and nine other rock faces are assembled at Wired Science.

A brief history of the federal income tax

The y-axis shows number of tax returns filed divided by number of households.
In 1913, 358,000 returns were filed which was 2% of all households. While the top tax rate was 7% on incomes above $500,000 ($10.9 million in 2010 dollars), the first $3,000 ($65,331 in 2010 dollars) was exempt from the the income tax for single persons.

In 1918, 4,425,000 returns were filed which was 20% of households. Now the exemption was $1,000 ($14,352 in 2010 dollars) while the top rate of 77% was now applied on income over $1,000,000 to pay for World War I ($14.3 million in 2010 dollars). There was high inflation during and right after the war so by the peak in 1923 almost 40% of households were being taxed due to bracket creep. This was fixed in 1925.

In 1942, 36,619,000 returns were filed and the exemption had been dropped to $500 for single persons ($6,613 in 2010 dollars). For the first time the number of income tax returns filed exceeded the number of households.
And the last 70 years the data are self-evident.  These data are potentially relevant re the currently ongoing discussion re raising tax rates on America's wealthiest people.

Graph and text from Visualizing Economics, via Yglesias.

"Poor Pussy" and other Victorian games

A whole range of 19th century games, in fact, consisted of trying not to laugh. For example, "Poor Pussy" involved one proper Victorian guest having to crawl on all fours amongst the seated company, meowing piteously, and crouching in front of someone who had to respond, "Poor Pussy!" with an absolutely straight face. If either Pussy or the speaker so much as smiled, the latter became the new pussy. If both maintained their composure, Poor Pussy was Poor Pussy indeed, condemned to crawl toward another human in hopes of being relieved of his task...

"Hot Boiled Beans" was another game in which one guest was sent out and an object hidden. When he returned, the guests shouted, "Hot boiled beans and bacon for supper." Guided by other players saying this meal was becoming cold, hot, even perhaps burned (if he was very near it), he searched for the article. In "Hunt the Thimble," a small item was hidden in plain view while all guests were out of the room. Upon returning, each guests was to sit down silently as soon as she spotted the item. The last person left searching had to pay a forfeit...

Forfeits... included having to answer yes or no to three questions without knowing what questions had been selected, or standing on a chair and posing however the company demanded. For single guests, forfeits might include having to kiss another member of the opposite sex, or having a male and a female player be blindfolded and then dance together.
Many more listed at Make a Living With Kay.

Hair museum

Located in Capopadocia -
[T]he museum was started over 30 years ago, when one of Galip’s friends had to leave Avanos, and he was very sad. To leave him something to remember her by, the woman cut a piece of her hair and gave it to the potter. Since then, the women who visited his place and heard the story gave him a piece of their hair and their complete address. Throughout the years, he has amassed an impressive collection of over 16,000 differently colored locks of hair, from women all around the world...

Twice a year, in June and December, the first customer who comes in Chez Galip’s shop is invited down into the Hair Museum to choose ten winners off the walls. These lucky ten will receive an all-expenses-paid week-long vacation in beautiful Cappadocia, where they will get to participate in his pottery workshops, for free. This is the artist’s way to give back to the women that helped him create the unique museum which bring in new customers every day...
And very clever marketing, I would say.

Found at Oddity Central, via Neatorama.

Americans in prison

Offered in conjunction with an article in LA Progressive, which notes that "“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.”
Growing crime rates over the past 30 years don’t explain the skyrocketing numbers of black — and increasingly brown — men caught in America’s prison system, according to Alexander, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun after attending Stanford Law. “In fact, crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows.”

“Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” she said, even though studies have shown that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks...

However change is to come, a big impediment will be the massive prison-industrial system. “If we were to return prison populations to 1970 levels, before the War on Drugs began,” she said, “more than a million people working in the system would see their jobs disappear.”
Via Miss C Recommends.

Root cellar culinary science

When my mother was growing up on a farm in rural Olmsted County, Minnesota, the farmhouse had a large root cellar, where vegetables were stored for the winter.  There was a large pile of sand in the corner, in which carrots were buried, and separate piles for potatoes.

In my childhood home in suburban Minneapolis thirty years later in the 1950s, we had good kitchen refrigeration (though no air-conditioning), but in addition to a refrigerator and storage freezer, we still maintained a de facto root cellar.  The basement was partitioned into a play area and a utility area which held the furnace and water heater; one corner of that unheated area was used for storage of potatoes, which we bought by the gunny sack.

Today I learned, from an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, that winter storage of vegetables may improve their sweetness -
"This is a phenomenon called cold-sweetening," says UW-Madison horticulture professor Irwin Goldman. As plants produce sugars through photosynthesis, most are combined and stored in the plant as starches and other large polymers. But in response to cold temperatures, some plants break down some of their energy stores into "free" sugars, such as glucose and fructose, and stash them in their cells to guard against frost damage. Sugar dissolved in a cell makes it less susceptible to freezing in the same way that salting roads reduces ice...

Cold-sweetening occurs in many cold-tolerant vegetable plants. Local consumers may have experienced it in Wisconsin-grown winter spinach, but it also happens in beets, broccoli, carrots and even potatoes.

In fact, Goldman says, cooks may find that cold-stored potatoes turn brown when cooked, due to caramelizing of the extra sugar. This can be avoided by moving cold potatoes to warmer storage areas to recondition them and allow the sugars to convert back to starch before cooking them.
The photo, from the Minnesota Historical Society, shows the large root cellar at the Oliver H. Kelley farm, a historical farm preserved for educational purposes.

A 2-liter soda bottle

That's what it looks like before it is inflated by the molding process.  Video here, via Reddit.

America as Omelas

I know some readers of this blog are tired of my posting articles about Bradley Manning, but it's a topic that just doesn't go away.  The Guardian notes that 250 legal scholars have now signed a letter condemning the humiliation of this unconvicted, untried prisoner -
More than 250 of America's most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting against the treatment in military prison of the alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, contesting that his "degrading and inhumane conditions" are illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.

The list of signatories includes Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be America's foremost liberal authority on constitutional law. He taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign...

Tribe said the treatment was objectionable "in the way it violates his person and his liberty without due process of law and in the way it administers cruel and unusual punishment of a sort that cannot be constitutionally inflicted even upon someone convicted of terrible offences, not to mention someone merely accused of such offences"...

Tribe is the second senior figure with links to the Obama administration to break ranks over Manning. Last month, PJ Crowley resigned as state department spokesman after deriding the Pentagon's handling of Manning as "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid".

The intervention of Tribe and hundreds of other legal scholars is a huge embarrassment to Obama, who was a professor of constitutional law in Chicago. Obama made respect for the rule of law a cornerstone of his administration, promising when he first entered the White House in 2009 to end the excesses of the Bush administration's war on terrorism...

In a stinging rebuke to Obama, they say "he was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency".

Benkler told the Guardian: "It is incumbent on us as citizens and professors of law to say that enough is enough. We cannot allow ourselves to behave in this way if we want America to remain a society dedicated to human dignity and process of law."
Those unfamiliar with the allusion I used in the title of this piece are invited to read Ursula LeGuin's brilliant short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas*," the theme of which she based on a theme expressed by William James:
"Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?"
* p.s. - she came up with the name of the city when she saw a road sign for Salem, Oregon in her car's rear-view mirror (!).  You learn something every day.

Deep sea photography

One of ten photos by Joshua Lambis in a gallery at The Telegraph.

"England's oldest shop" up for sale

[Sallie Stevens] loves every inch of her eccentric workplace and home in Kent on one of the most absurdly picturesque village streets in the country, from the two iron columns said to have been made from Tudor cannon holding up the shop roof, to the 1.2 metre (4ft) high door to her bedroom – claimed to be a security measure for the unloved tithe men who used the room for tax collection, since the doorway was too low for a man to swing a sword...

The "oldest" claim for any premises is always a red rag to competitors but, in 1593 a tailor, John Moody, was recorded as taking on the lease and installing some of the counters still in daily use. Moody's lease was recording a change of tenancy, so the building was probably a shop far earlier.

The building is at least 140 years older, part of a medieval manor house, Burghesh Court, once owned by Anne Boleyn's father, Sir Thomas Bullen, whose main home was Hever Castle a few miles away. Since then carpenters, tailors, hatters and grocers have used the shop, and it has been a post office for more than a century.

The village, a single row of ravishing half-timbered houses ending in a rosy brick pub at the castle gates, has been used as a setting for many films, including A Room with a View, which was partly filmed in the shop, Elizabeth R and The Wind in the Willows.
Additional details at The Guardian.

24 April 2011


We planted these little guys by putting the bulbs under the turf of the front yard.  They came out on schedule, but Mother Nature had a little surprise for all of us this past week.  That prompted me to look up some information on the flowers.  From the Wikipedia entry:
There are two derivations of the name. One is that of the youth of Greek mythology called Narcissus, who, in at least one of many variations of the tale, became so obsessed with his own reflection as he kneeled and gazed into a pool of water that he fell into the water and drowned... the Narcissus plant first sprang from where he died.

The other derivation is that the plant is named after its narcotic properties (ναρκάω narkao, "to grow numb" in Greek)...

The name Daffodil is derived from an earlier "Affodell", a variant of Asphodel. The reason for the introduction of the initial "d" is not known, although a probable source is an etymological merging from the Dutch article "de," as in "De affodil."..

The name jonquil is sometimes used in North America, particularly in the South, but strictly speaking that name belongs only to the rush-leaved Narcissus jonquilla and cultivars derived from it. Flowers of the tazetta-group species Narcissus papyraceus are commonly called paperwhites...

All Narcissus varieties contain the alkaloid poison lycorine, mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves... On 1 May 2009 a number of school children fell ill at Gorseland Primary School in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England after a daffodil bulb was added to soup during a cookery class. The bulbs could often be confused with onions, thereby leading to incidents of accidental poisoning.

One of the most common dermatitis problems for florists, "daffodil itch" involves dryness, fissures, scaling, and erythema in the hands, often accompanied by subungual hyperkeratosis (thickening of the skin beneath the nails). It is blamed on exposure to calcium oxalate in the sap...

The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, where it is traditional to wear a daffodil or a leek on Saint David's Day (March 1).

In some countries the yellow variation is associated with Easter. The German for daffodil is Osterglocke, that is "Easter bell."
Happy Easter, everyone.

Disassembling vehicles

The video above was posted at Kottke; it shows Canadian Army engineers disassembling and reassembling a (modified) Jeep in four minutes.

That's good, but this old Volkswagen commercial shows a Beetle being disassembled in less than 30 seconds:

Treasure found in an Viennese back yard

As reported at HuffPo (and many other venues):
VIENNA -- A man turning dirt in his back yard stumbled onto buried treasure – hundreds of pieces of centuries-old jewelry and other precious objects that Austrian authorities described Friday as a fairy-tale find.

Austria's department in charge of national antiquities said the trove consists of more than 200 rings, brooches, ornate belt buckles, gold-plated silver plates and other pieces or fragments, many encrusted with pearls, fossilized coral and other ornaments. It says the objects are about 650 years old and are being evaluated for their provenance and worth...

While he found the ornaments in 2007, Andreas K. did not report it to the memorials office until after rediscovering the dirt-encrusted objects in a basement box while packing up after selling his house two years ago, said Profil. The soil had dried and some had fallen off, revealing precious metal and jewels underneath.

Etymology of the term "shit-faced"

A contributor at Slate offers the following commentary on the OED entry:
shit-faced, adj. orig. U.S. (a) contemptible; ugly.... (b) intoxicated with alcohol or drugs; spec. extremely drunk. 1961 A. GINSBERG, Empty Mirror 19 "Why, you *shit-faced fool!"
It's a satisfying usage, but 1961 seems a bit late to me. And sure enough, delving into the wonderful 1948 linguistic study "North Texas Agricultural College Slang" reveals this earlier use: "S.F.C., n., An undesirable person. From shit-faced Charley."..

Shit history is full false cognates like shittle—which proves to be related to shuttle, in the sense of inconstancy. That's why a 1448 letter-writer could worry that "I am aferd that Jon of Sparham is so schyttyl wyttyd." The same root later meant you could play badminton with a shittlecock. (This 1797 report of a Chinese "game of shittlecock... [played] with the sole of the foot" appears to be an early description of hacky-sack.) Even more shit gets slung around by chit, from the same root as kit or kitten—while another derivation from to shut accounts for a c. 1415 sermon's curious exhortation to "shitt þe gates of heven."..

But in particular, I draw your attention to this entry:
SHIT-FACED, adj. Having a very small face, as a child, Clydes[dale].; q. chit-faced?
Instead of, say, a deeply unfortunate drunken pratfall, this shit-faced may come from the old Scottish fondness for referring to children as little shits; Jamieson's 1818 edition notes just such a "contemptuous designation for a child."
More at the link.

And speaking of shit-faced...

Arrested for the 48th time.  Details at Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

How does one define "stuff we don't need" ?

This chart comes from an article in the Wall Street Journal, which cites Commerce Department data on consumer spending -
A non-scientific study of Commerce Department data suggests that in February, U.S. consumers spent an annualized $1.2 trillion on non-essential stuff including pleasure boats, jewelry, booze, gambling and candy. That’s 11.2% of total consumer spending, up from 9.3% a decade earlier and only 4% in 1959, adjusted for inflation. In February, spending on non-essential stuff was up an inflation-adjusted 3.3% from a year earlier, compared to 2.4% for essential stuff such as food, housing and medicine.
So, is the guidebook to North American caterpillars I recently bought a nonessential item?   There must be a lot of subjective components to this non-scientific study, but perhaps if they use the same criteria every year, then the year-over-year trend may be meaningful.

23 April 2011

"Cave Canem"

The graphic design looks quite modern, but... "This mosaic of a guard dog, one of several in Pompeii, is on the floor of the entrance hall to the House of the Tragic Poet, which also is known for its fresco of the Sacrifice of Iphigenia."  Here's a contemporary citation:
"There on the left as one entered...was a huge dog with a chain round its neck. It was painted on the wall and over it, in big capitals, was written: Beware of the Dog."
Petronius, Satyricon (XXIX)
(The Petronius quote may be describing a different work.)

Found in the Encyclopedia Romana, via The Ancient World.

50 books every child should read

Whenever I post lists like this, I feel obliged to anticipate commens by offering the disclaimer that these lists are totally matters of opinion.  Still, I find it interesting to see what other people's opinions are.  The Independent asked three children's authors and two staff critics to provide lists of 10 books each that they thought an 11-year-old child should read.  Here's the list they came up with (details and comments at the link):

* Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.
* Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.
* Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner.
* Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.
* Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken.
* The Owl Service by Alan Garner.
* The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
* Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson.
* A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna.
* The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé.
* The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson.
* A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
* Just William books by Richmal Crompton.
* The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde.
* The Elephant's Child From The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling.
* Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson.
* The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
* The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.
* The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy.
* The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett.
* Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah.
* Finn Family Moomintroll (and the other Moomin books) by Tove Jansson.
* Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
* I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
* The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein.
* The Tygrine Cat (and The Tygrine Cat on the Run) by Inbali Iserles.
* Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse.
* When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.
* Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett.
* The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson.
* The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
* Mistress Masham's Repose by TH White.
* Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
* How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willams and Ronald Searle.
* Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz.
* Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.
* Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.
* The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier.
* Animal Farm by George Orwell.
* Skellig by David Almond.
* Red Cherry Red by Jackie Kay.
* Talkin Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah.
* Greek myths by Geraldine McCaughrean.
* People Might Hear You by Robin Klein.
* Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman.
* Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan.
* After the First Death by Robert Cormier.
* The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd.
* Beano Annual. 

Your comments re other books that should be on the list?

Another "flying carp" video

I suppose if you've seen one of these videos, you've seen them all.  But if you haven't seen one, try this one (or the two I posted in 2009).  These guys know enough to travel slowly in order to prevent personal injury; ou can see why serious fishermen and boaters dread these creatures spreading into additional rivers and lakes.

The Great Wall of Vietnam

A couple weeks ago I linked to a report that archaeologists were working to uncover and preserve the "Great Wall" of Vietnam -
"This is the longest monument [~200 km] in Southeast Asia," CNN.com quoted Professor Phan Huy Le, president of the Vietnam Association of Historians, as saying. The wall is built of alternating sections of stone and earth, with some sections reaching a height of up to four meters...

Construction of the Long Wall started in 1819 under the direction of Le Van Duyet, a high-ranking mandarin serving Emperor Gia Long, and it served to demarcate territory and regulate trade and travel between the Viet in the plains and the Hre tribes in the mountain valleys.
Today I found at the BBC another report, this time with a photo (above, copyright EFEO).  A quick search yielded a couple more low-resolution photos (here and here) -
From the looks of it, I would bet this wall was designed not so much as a military defense, but rather to funnel travelers and traders toward defined crossing points where tariffs could be collected, as was done where the Silk Road crossed the Great Wall in China.

Stanley Ann Dunham and her son

For obvious reasons, I was intrigued when I first realized that Barack Obama's mother's first name was "Stanley."  I learned more about her today from a well-written piece in the New York Times -
The president’s mother has served as any of a number of useful oversimplifications. In the capsule version of Obama’s life story, she is the white mother from Kansas coupled alliteratively to the black father from Kenya. She is corn-fed, white-bread, whatever Kenya is not...

Intentionally or not, the label obscures an extraordinary story — of a girl with a boy’s name who grew up in the years before the women’s movement, the pill and the antiwar movement; who married an African at a time when nearly two dozen states still had laws against interracial marriage; who, at 24, moved to Jakarta with her son in the waning days of an anticommunist bloodbath in which hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were slaughtered; who lived more than half her adult life in a place barely known to most Americans, in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world; who spent years working in villages where a lone Western woman was a rarity; who immersed herself in the study of blacksmithing, a craft long practiced exclusively by men; who, as a working and mostly single mother, brought up two biracial children; who believed her son in particular had the potential to be great... never knowing who or what he would become...

As she told him, with a dry humor that seems downright Kansan, “If nothing else, I gave you an interesting life.”
Much more at the link.

An impressive balancing act

Performed by Mädir Eugster Performer, Performance, performer, performer, Performerin, Performance, performer, performer on the France2 channel, produced by MagicTV/Patrick Sébastien.  One supposes that performances similiar to this date back to the courts and streets of the Middle Ages and before, though I have no evidence for that.

For obvious reasons (and perhaps for stagecraft) it's a bit slow in developing; those in a hurry will probably want to skip through using the video progress bar.

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Don't get on this bus

Source unknown; posted by lightsOut at Reddit.

21 April 2011


During this change of seasons, we've been noticing rings around the sun, as ice crystals in the upper atmosphere refract light to create halos or smaller sun dogs. The best online source I've seen on this topic is Atmospheric Optics, which has sections on sun dogs, moon dogs, rainbows, and other related phenomena.

The image embedded above is "Vädersolstavlan" -
...an oil-on-panel painting depicting a halo display, an atmospheric optical phenomenon, observed over Stockholm on April 20, 1535. It is named after the sun dogs (Swedish: Vädersol, "Weather sun") appearing on the upper right part of the painting. While chiefly noted for being the oldest depiction of Stockholm in colour, it is arguably also the oldest Swedish landscape painting and the oldest depiction of sun dogs...

The painting is divided into an upper part depicting the halo phenomenon viewed vertically and a lower part depicting the city as it must have appeared viewed from Södermalm in the late Middle Ages. The medieval urban conglomeration, today part of the old town Gamla stan, is rendered using a bird's-eye view. The stone and brick buildings are densely packed below the church and castle, which are rendered in a descriptive perspective (i.e., their size relates to their social status, rather than their actual dimensions). Scattered wooden structures appear on the surrounding rural ridges, today part of central Stockholm...

Over time, the painting has become emblematic of the history of Stockholm, and as such appears frequently in various contexts. The 1000 kronor banknote published in 1989 shows a portrait of King Gustav Vasa, based on a painting from the 1620s, in front of details from Vädersolstavlan. In the arcs of the parhelion is the microtext SCRIPTURAM IN PROPRIA HABEANT LINGUA, which roughly translates to "Let them have the Holy Scripture in their own language". This is a quote from a letter written by the king in which he ordered a translation of the Bible into the Swedish language...
More re the painting at Wikipedia. Those interested in parahelia might look at my old posts on sun halos and light pillars.

"Ice-out" pending

This past week, Paul Douglas' On Weather blog posted this photo showing the lake ice status in Minnesota.  Leech Lake (my favorite) is the one at the end of the upper pink line.  When the ice is out up there, my blogging will be subject to more frequent interruptions.

When I was little, communities used to park cars on the lakes and have residents enter contests to guess when the car would plummet through the ice.  Such contests are still held, but I don't think any cities use cars for that purpose anymore (?).

Sample questions from the National History Bowl

Congratulations to my old high school, which had a team among the finalists for the National History Bowl competition.  The website for the competition offers sets of sample questions; here are some examples -

10. This amendment is the only one adopted by state conventions instead of state legislatures. Utah’s ratification brought it into effect in 1933, which is somewhat ironic in a sense. Name this amendment to the Constitution, the only one to repeal a different amendment, the 18th, which had introduced Prohibition, which came to an end with this amendment’s passing.

6. The inhabitants of this city may have participated in child sacrifice in their worship of the god Baal. Dominated for years by the Barca family, It is described in Book 1, Line 12 of the Aeneid as being both ancient and settled by colonists from Tyre. For ten points, name this city in modern-day Tunisia which was destroyed after the third Punic War with Rome.

6. Although a colony of Portugal not of Britain, it is still a member of the Commonwealth Nations. And although not home to a communist government, its flag still features the star of Marxism and an AK-47. Just like another Portuguese colony, roughly 1500 miles to its northwest, Angola, it won independence in 1975. For twenty points, name this country on the east coast of Africa whose foreign relations with neighboring Zimbabwe and South Africa improved dramatically in the 1980’s.

8. He was clearly the most competent commander for his state in World War I, although that couldn’t prevent his state’s defeat at the hands of Lawrence of Arabia, among others. His military prowess also proved useful in the war against Greece which soon followed. Following the war, he helped institutionalize secular principles in his country and introduced the Latin alphabet in lieu of Arabic. For twenty points, name this man whose mausoleum can be seen in Ankara, the founder of modern Turkey.
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