30 June 2011

Two-headed python

A python with two heads seen in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany. The animal is around one year old and approximately 50cm long. The snake is the second python known to be born with two heads, according to snake breeder Stefan Broghammer. 

A beautiful creature.   Photo credit EPA, via the Telegraph

Explaining the "14" and "88" memes

Excerpts from an article at Spiegel Online discussing subtle new neo-Nazi codes:
Openly Nazi symbols such as the swastika are banned in Germany, so neo-Nazis get around the law by using coded combinations of letter and numbers such as 14 and 88. A new book explains the meaning of such codes, and reveals that far-right style is becoming increasingly diverse and hard to spot...

According to Weiss, the number 14 is a reference to the so-called "14 Words," a phrase coined by the American white separatist David Lane ("We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children"). The meaning behind "88" -- often found in conjunction with 14 -- is slightly more complicated. Here, the number eight stands for the eighth letter of the alphabet, forming "HH" -- an abbreviation for "Heil Hitler," a phrase which is banned in Germany. Similarly, the number 28 signifies "BH," standing for "Blood and Honour," a far-right network that was banned in Germany in 2000.

Wikileaks commercial

Trapped bubbles in a frozen lake

Not a rare phenomenon for those of us who live "up north," but nicely photographed by Emmanuel Coupe and posted at National Geographic.

Utah "rock monster"

Credit Shelly Pollock/National Geographic, via Dark Roasted Blend.

A Barnum display becomes commonplace

The top image is a carte de visite from the 1860s of Phebe Dunn,"supposedly one of Barnum's "fat ladies" at his American Museum. She is 17 in this photo, according to the back, and 407 lbs." People of that era paid money to look at her as a human anomaly.

In the lower image, "Fairgoers play a carnival game at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California."

I'll defer commentary.  Res ipse loquitur.

Top photo credit gormer, via Historical Indulgences.  Lower photo Reuters.

28 June 2011

Fungible? Fusillade? Futon? Furbelow?

What word was being scratched on the car?  I guess we'll never know.

Found at Criggo, which has lots of these, including the ones below:

Magnets can improve blood flow

I was totally gobsmacked to see an article on this topic at Physics Buzz.  Here are some excerpts:
Blood, like the motor oil in a car’s engine, has an ideal viscosity, or thickness, that keeps the body’s circulatory system running smoothly. When a person’s blood is too viscous (too thick and sticky) his or her blood vessels build up more plaque leading to a greater risk of heart attack. Finding a way to decrease the blood’s viscosity, by taking aspirin for example, reduces those risks. The problem with aspirin, though, is that it may cause as much harm as it does help.

Rongjia Tao, chair of the Department of Physics at Temple University, and his former student have found a mechanical alternative to aspirin to thin highly viscous blood.

“It’s quite simple,” Tao said of the technique. He uses a magnetic field to rearrange a person’s red blood cells, streamlining blood that is too thick. A magnetic field of 1.3 Tesla (about the same as an MRI – magnetic resonance imaging - machine) applied to blood for about one minute can reduce its viscosity by 20 to 30 percent....

"You have just been poisoned"

This iconic glass from Episode 15 of The Prisoner was posted at Neatorama, but is not available in the Neatoshop.  However, you can make one of your own by following the etching instructions at Make Projects.

"U.S. to Throw More Money at Central America's Drug War"

At a regional conference this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged almost $300 million to the governments of Central America during 2011 to aid in their efforts to oppose cartels and others involved in the region’s violent, illegal drug trade. The new assistance package is almost a 15 percent increase from last year’s aid. [Clinton did not offer details] on exactly how the money should or would be used, but it seems safe to assume most will be spent on police and military operations.

Fortunately we have lots of extra money we don't need for other purposes.
Text and title from Truthdig. Photo:U.S. Embassy New Zealand.

He was the second U.S. president to be photographed.

Born before Independence in 1767, photographed at age 78 in 1845.  Those who don't recognize him will find his identity at Historical Indulgences.

And the first one to be photographed was... (see the comments)

Choosing between "...ize" and "...ise"

Explained at DCBlog:
The -ize spelling was preferred by classical scholars, especially in the 16th century, for verbs which came into English from Greek and Latin, and that etymological argument has fostered the use of z ever since. The USA and Canada adopted it from the outset. And the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary opted for it, at the end of the 19th century, partly on etymological grounds (a z is used in Greek and Latin) and partly on phonological grounds (that the letter better reflects the sound)...

So where did the -ise alternatives come from? Some of the words such as baptize) were spelled with both an s and a z from their earliest days in Middle English. The trend to spell all such verbs with s began when verbs came into English with increasing frequency from French, where the suffix was -iser. A verb of this kind borrowed directly from French, it was argued, should be spelled with -ise, to reflect that source. Some felt it important to maintain a spelling link between related words, such as analyse and analyst. And during the 19th century, this usage grew.

The problem, of course, is that it is often unclear whether a verb has come into English from French or from Latin. Confusion led 19th-century printers to try to sort it out, and they did this by imposing a uniform rule for all such verbs where alternatives exist...

World usage varies. -ize is the overall preference in North America; -ise in Australia. Usage in the UK is mixed, with -ise beating -ize in a ratio of 3:2... Some publishers these days are adopting a more relaxed attitude: they don't mind which authors use, as long as they are consistent.
Via Sentence First.

Sand sculpture

Six feet tall, photographed at Harrison Hot Springs in 2005 by loyless

Via This is My Stomping Ground.

Famous political MISquotes

These quotations were never spoken, at least in the way they are commonly cited, by these famous persons.  Each one is explained in some detail in a post at the Christian Science Monitor.

10. "I can see Russia from my house!" – Sarah Palin

9. 'I invented the Internet.' – Al Gore

8. 'First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.' - Mohandas Gandhi

7. "Let them eat cake." - Marie Antoinette

6. "Et tu, Brute?" - Julius Caesar

A bird call that sounds like an insect call

"Listen as Macaulay Library Audio Archivist Martha Fischer describes her experience hearing the song of a White-rumped Sandpiper on its high arctic breeding grounds."
Via A London Salmagundi.

As much as $18,000,000,000 "missing" in Iraq

From a story posted at Al Jazeera:
Osama al-Nujaifi, the Iraqi parliament speaker, has told Al Jazeera that the amount of Iraqi money unaccounted for by the US is $18.7bn - three times more than the reported $6.6bn... "Iraq's development fund has lost around $18bn of Iraqi money in these operations - their location is unknown. Also missing are the documents of expenditure...

The Bush administration flew in a total of $20bn in cash into the country in 2004. This was money that had come from Iraqi oil sales, surplus funds from the UN oil-for-food programme and seized Iraqi assets. Officials in Iraq were supposed to give out the money to Iraqi ministries and US contractors, intended for the reconstruction of the country...

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Iraqi officials argue that the US government was supposed to safeguard the stash under a 2004 legal agreement it signed with Iraq, hence making Washington responsible for the cash that has disappeared.

Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records. The US has audited the money three times, but has still not been able to say exactly where it went...

"Safeguarding the money was up to the Americans ... after the invasion, provisional authority here was run by the American military.

"Piles and piles of shrink-wrapped US dollars came here, but the cash coming in is not the important part - it is what happened to it after [it got here].

"There are no documents to indicate who got it, where it was spent and what was ever built from it."
I think I can hear General Smedley Butler chuckling in the background...

27 June 2011

A branded hand

This Daguerreotype was taken by Southworth Aug. 1845 it is a copy of Captain Jonathan Walker’s hand as branded by the U.S. Marshall of the Dist. of Florida for having helped 7 men to obtain ‘Life Liberty, and Happiness.’…

The brand is “S.S.” for “Slave Stealer”.
Text and image from The Daguerreian Society, via Historical Indulgences.

Actors of Hollywood's "Golden Age"

That era being defined as extending from the end of silent movies until the early 1960s.  This montage was created by Peter Schneider and posted at Vimeo.

Plagiarizing a plagiarized paper

In those cases I was alerted to plagiarism by the sudden appearance, in a paper that is otherwise a morass of grammatical errors, of a series of flawless sentences with complicated structures. The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me. As is the use—and often misuse—of specialized jargon or technical language that I’ve not discussed with them in class. Then I type those sentences into Google, and they all wind up being smoking-gun cases of plagiarism. My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?” Which indicated to me, along with a number of the other email responses I got from students, that many of them don’t even know what plagiarism is.
I'm also saddened by the instructor's observation that "the correct use of a semicolon" is an indicator that a college student might not have written it...

From an interview of a philosophy instructor in New York, posted at The New Inquiry, via The Dish.

Addendum: I liked this comment from reader .\\axxx re his experience with high-school science students:
"When the phrase "A white dwarf, also called a degenerate dwarf, is a small star composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter." occurred in multiple papers, and I pointed out that it was just a copy-paste from Wikipedia, one student got quite angry, saying they hadn't copy-pasted, they had printed it out then typed it in again!"

It's "E. E. Cummings," not "e. e. cummings"

After I "discovered" E. E. Cummings as a collegiate English major, I was so enthralled that for some years thereafter all my typed letters home were done without uppercase letters.  I believe I justified it as "increasing my typing speed" but in fact it was more likely an affectation.  An article at the Grand Valley State University website extensively explains Cummings did not extend his lower case typography to his name:
"...it must be said once and for all that his name should be written and printed with the usual capital letters in their usual places: "E. E. Cummings.''.. in his letters he most frequently used the uppercase form, with his signature at the bottom in caps [above]... We hereby proclaim it to be so, and we hope the dismal lowercase custom will disappear from the face of the earth."

A bicycle with mirror wheels

Yes, we know it's unrideable.  It's an art installation by Olafur Eliasson. 

Photo posted by thezu, via A London Salmagundi and Dinosaurs and Robots (which has more information on the artist and exhibit).

An interactive light studio for hearing-impaired children

As reported by ABC News:
P.S. 347 is the city's only public school for kids who are deaf, hard of hearing or the children of deaf parents. In their interactive light studio, however, the sense of hearing is not needed to have fun... The lights in the room react to sound. Not just any sound, but also the pitch of the sound. For the deaf kids, it makes sound visible...

"They can begin to develop some kind of awareness; awareness of how sound can affect things, how it can affect people... In the future, P.S. 347 hopes to expand the technology of turning sound into light for more classroom applications.

95-year-old woman in wheelchair has to remove her adult diaper for a TSA inspection

Here's a summary of the story, from the Northwest Florida Daily News:
Jean Weber of Destin filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security after her 95-year-old mother was detained and extensively searched last Saturday while trying to board a plane to fly to Michigan to be with family members during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.

Her mother, who was in a wheelchair, was asked to remove an adult diaper in order to complete a pat-down search...

Weber’s mother entered the airport’s security checkpoint in a wheelchair because she was not stable enough to walk through, Weber said... She said her mother was first pulled aside into a glass-partitioned area and patted down. Then she was taken to another room to protect her privacy during a more extensive search, Weber said...

She said security personnel then came out and told her they would need for her mother to remove her Depends diaper because it was soiled and was impeding their search.

Weber wheeled her mother into a bathroom, removed her diaper and returned. Her mother did not have another clean diaper with her, Weber said.
I have a 92-year-old mother, somewhat impaired, who is reluctant to make a final plane trip to see her 93-year-old sister because of the hassles of air travel.  Reports like this one totally enrage me.  I know the counterargument, elucidated in the article by a TSA spokesman:
Koshetz said the procedures are the same for everyone to ensure national security. “TSA cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability,” she said.
It's the same mindless logic that punishes children for having an aspirin at school or requires a grizzled octagenarian to show an I.D. in order to purchase a bottle of wine.  Americans are increasingly being forced - and conditioned - to accept the pronouncements of bureaucrats without question.

Via Reddit, where the story has garnered over a thousand comments.

Exclaves vs. enclaves in the Northwest Angle

Geography enthusiasts are familiar with the anomaly known as the Northwest Angle, the most northerly point in Minnesota.
The Northwest Angle owes its existence to Benjamin Franklin, US Minister Plenipotentiary at the negotiations for the Treaty of Paris (1783). Franklin’s efforts won British acceptance for the US-British border to extend “from the most northwesternmost point” (sic) of the Lake of the Woods to the Boundary Waters (i.e. towards the east), and from that point due west to the Mississippi.

As the negotiators in Paris used the faulty Mitchell Map (which showed the Mississippi mistakenly extending too far north beyond its actual source at Lake Ithasca), such a line could not be drawn. Therefore, after the 49th parallel had been agreed as the line dividing American and British possessions west of Lake of the Woods, in 1818 a line was drawn due south from that northwesternmost point towards the 49th parallel. Hence the 90-degree upward bend in that border, creating, as the handful of locals call it, ‘The Angle’. 
The interesting article in the Strange Maps blog at Big Think points out that there is a second anomalous area - Elm Point.
Point Roberts and the Northwest Angle are not the only border anomalies on the 49th parallel. A much smaller American exclave exists only a few feet from the aforementioned 90-degree bend... The 49th-parallel line skirts Buffalo Point’s southern shore... the peninsula to the south of the line is US soil, cut off from its main territory by American water and Canadian land. Unlike Point Roberts, this much smaller peninsula is uninhabited. The actual border, visible on Google Maps as a line cut clear through the pine forest, is a mere 3,400 feet long... This box-shaped border anomaly is known as Elm Point. It is part of Roseau County in Minnesota, unlike Northwest Angle, which is part of Lake of the Woods County...
 The article goes on to describe even smaller discrepancies, but I'd like to shift the focus from the geography to the definition of the terms "exclave" and "enclave." 
Exclaves are territories legally part of a country but not physically attached to them. Enclaves are territories entirely contained within another country. While both categories often overlap, they are not the same. Lesotho is an enclave within South Africa, but not an exclave of another country. The territories mentioned here are exclaves of the US, but not enclaved within Canada (as they have access to the US over water).
You learn something every day.

Map credit: Ruland Kolen

26 June 2011

A Pinkerton detective with lead gloves

ca. 1875, [extremely tall Pinkerton detective with lead gloves] via Deadly Intent: Crime and Punishment Photographs from the Burns Archive, Stanley B. Burns and Sara Cleary-Burns

I found this at Historical Indulgences.  After musing about that bizarre mustache (?perhaps the photo was touched up to hide his identity?), I began to wonder about the lead gloves.  1875 would have been the year xrays were discovered, but one doesn't expect the Pinkerton detectives to be employing that technology.  I think I found the answer when I ran across "sap gloves" -

An amazing chemical anagram

The names of 30 elements -
hydrogen + zirconium + tin + oxygen + rhenium + platinum +
tellurium + terbium + nobelium + chromium + iron + cobalt +
carbon + aluminum + ruthenium + silicon + ytterbium + hafnium +
sodium + selenium + cerium + manganese + osmium + uranium +
nickel + praseodymium + erbium + vanadium + thallium + plutonium
- can be anagrammed to form a different group of 30 elements:
nitrogen + zinc + rhodium + helium + argon + neptunium +
beryllium + bromine + lutetium + boron + calcium + thorium +
niobium + lanthanum + mercury + fluorine + bismuth + actinium +
silver + cesium + neodymium + magnesium + xenon + samarium +
scandium + europium + berkelium + palladium + antimony + thulium.
AND...  if you replace the elements with their atomic numbers -
1 + 40 + 50 + 8 + 75 + 78 +
52 + 65 + 102 + 24 + 26 + 27 +
6 + 13 + 44 + 14 + 70 + 72 +
11 + 34 + 58 + 25 + 76 + 92 +
28 + 59 + 68 + 23 + 81 + 94
7 + 30 + 45 + 2 + 18 + 93 +
4 + 35 + 71 + 5 + 20 + 90 +
41 + 57 + 80 + 9 + 83 + 89 +
47 + 55 + 60 + 12 + 54 + 62 +
21 + 63 + 97 + 46 + 51 + 69
[= 1416]
- the two groups are still equal.

From a group of "Anagrammy Winners" composed by Mike Keith.  (See his anagram of Poe's "The Raven.")

Via Not Exactly Rocket Science

Atocha treasure still being recovered

This emerald ring is estimated to be worth $500,000.
The gold ring has a rectangular cut estimated at 10 karats. It's believed to be from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha that sank off the Florida Keys during a 1622 hurricane. Divers from Mel Fisher's Treasures found the ring Thursday about 35 miles from Key West.

A spokesperson said the ring's estimated value is based on the stone's 2.7- by 2.5-centimeter size and the value of other emeralds from Atocha.
Mel Fisher's website is here.

Via Carolina Naturally.

"Keep your hands low..."

Via meme4U.

Childhood disorders and paternal age

Excerpts from a WSJ article reviewing older data suggesting that children of older fathers may be more prone to a variety of problems:
As women increasingly pursue careers and take advantage of fertility treatments to postpone childbirth into their 30s and 40s, they do place their offspring at risk for countless disorders and diseases. This occurs, however, not because of the woman's age but because women in their 30s... tend to couple off with older men...

Older fathers made headlines several years ago when researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported that a man over 40 is almost six times as likely as a man under 30 to father an autistic child. Since then, research has shown that a man's chances of fathering offspring with schizophrenia double when he hits 40 and triple at age 50. The incidence of bipolarity, epilepsy, prostate cancer and breast cancer also increases in children born to men approaching 40. Both dwarfism and Marfan syndrome (a disorder of the connective tissue) have been linked to older fathers...

24 June 2011

Antheraea polyphemus

I was absolutely delighted this week when a fellow member of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association asked if I wanted to raise some early instars of Antheraea polyphemus, one of three giant silk moths that live in North America. 

The top photo shows a pair of first instars on their host plant (red oak).  The second photo gives an indication of the relatively fearsome defense mechanisms that the caterpillars use to protect themselves from predation.  They are nevertheless still susceptible to parasitic wasps, so hand-rearing in a protected environment greatly enhances their survival.

By next week they should be larger second instars and I should be able to get some better images.

King Ludwig II and Neuschwanstein

The Atlantic's In Focus segment features a gallery of 30 photos commemorating the 125th anniversary of the death of Ludwig II.
A hundred twenty-five years ago, Bavaria's "Maerchenkoenig" (or "Fairy-tale King") Ludwig II died under very mysterious circumstances at the age of 40, his body found floating in Lake Starnberg, south of Munich. Today, Ludwig remains famous for the castles he built and attempted to build, most notably Neuschwanstein Castle, perched high in the Alpine foothills... When his cabinet accused him of insanity, he was placed in custody after a brief showdown at Neuschwanstein Castle, and was taken to a castle next to Lake Starnberg. The following day, while out for a walk, Ludwig disappeared, his lifeless body discovered hours later.
AP Photo/Christof Stache.

More "bog butter" found

A recent report out of Ireland details the discovery of a small barrel of 5,000-year-old butter:
Joe explained "We were cutting turf and I found what looked like a huge piece of timber…We took it out with a spade and it turned out to be bog butter."... "It looked like a keg or an urn with two handles and a lid carved from a solid piece of wood."  The container has carving marks around the edges with a removable lid with handles and holes, possibly for carrying. The wooden vessel measures a foot in diameter and is almost two feet tall. The 100 pound container was buried seven-feet down.
Further details at Irish Central, and the Irish Times has a report of another similar discovery.  The butter may have been "piseogary" (or a "pishogue').

What faith-related short fiction can you recommend ?

After I wrote the post about the reading habits of TYWKIWDBI visitors, in which the average respondent reported reading 50 books a year, I received a number of interesting emails.  Among them was a request from a longtime friend who now attends Trinity Church in Boston.
Among the many things I do at Trinity Church is co-facilitate a reading group that we call Short Fiction on Faith. I advertise it as "the English class you always dreamed of...great literature, great discussion, no papers or tests." Short stories only, and we choose those with content that raise issues of faith and can stimulate discussion of those issues in our own lives.

The stories do not have to be overtly religious, certainly not necessarily Christian - we have read from just about any faith tradition I can think of. We have read stories from classics to contemporary, all the way from Chaucer (The Wife of Bath's Tale from Canterbury Tales) to current fiction from the New Yorker. I like to do a mix of classic and contemporary.

We have been going for 8 or 9 years, and have made our way through a bunch of anthologies and collections. For the past two years or so we have been selecting the stories individually... We have read quite a few Flannery O'Connor stories, and one of my favorite discoveries is "The Great Good Place" by Henry James.
In recent years the group has read selections by Alice Adams, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sholom Aleichem, Shalom Auslander, James Baldwin, Honore De Balzac, Raymond Carver, Geoffrey Chaucer, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Pearl Crayton, Alice Elliott Dark, Tim Gautreaux, Andre Gide, Graham Greene, Jim Grimsley, Heinrich Heine, Paul Horgan, Henry James, John L'Heureux, Yi Yun Li, N. Scott Momaday, H. L. Mencken, Flannery O'Connor , Reynolds Price, Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Leo Tolstoy, John Updike, David Foster Wallace, Edith Wharton, Tobias Wolfe, and Dwight Yates.

The group is currently on summer break, and the coordinators are requesting suggestions for further reading.  My own reading tends to favor nonfiction topics (evident in my recommended books category of this blog), so I may be able to offer them some science fiction stories that would be relevant, but for other short fiction, I'll turn to TYWKIWDBI visitors.

If you have recommendations for the Trinity Church reading group, please leave a message in the Comments with the author's name, the title of the work, and preferably with a sentence or two summarizing why the piece might interest them.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Recommended by ninjas


Afghanistan troop levels in context

Via The Daily Beast.

Man robs bank in order to get health care

[James Richard Verone] noticed a protrusion on his chest. "The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept," Verone told the Gaston Gazette. "I kind of hit a brick wall with everything."

Verone knew he needed help--and he didn't want to be a burden on his sister and brothers. He applied for food stamps, but they weren't enough either.

So he hatched a plan. On June 9, he woke up, showered, ironed his shirt. He mailed a letter to the Gazette, listing the return address as the Gaston County Jail.

"When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me," Verone wrote in the letter. "This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body."

Then Verone hailed a cab to take him to the RBC Bank. Inside, he handed the teller his $1 robbery demand.

"I didn't have any fears," said Verone. "I told the teller that I would sit over here and wait for police."

The teller was so frightened that she had to be taken to the hospital to be checked out. Verone, meanwhile, was taken to jail, just as he'd planned it.

Because he only asked for $1, Verone was charged with larceny, not bank robbery. But he said that if his punishment isn't severe enough, he plans to tell the judge that he'll do it again. His $100,000 bond has been reduced to $2,000, but he says he doesn't plan to pay it.

In jail, Verone said he skips dinner to avoid too much contact with the other inmates. He's already seen some nurses and is scheduled to see a doctor on Friday...
Further details at Yahoo News, via The Dish.

23 June 2011

Selections from Lapham's Quarterly

"No man can eat fifty eggs" photo from Cool Hand Luke.  © The Kobal Collection.

If an internet policeman were to declare that I could only keep a hundred bookmarks on my browser, one of those would link to Lapham's Quarterly.  I became a lifelong reader of Harper's during Lewis H. Lapham's editorship, and was a great fan of his incisive essays in that magazine.  Retired from that position, he now maintains Lapham's Quarterly, which, like the magazine, assembles information on a wide variety of topics.

The current edition of the Quarterly is devoted to "Food." I encourage those who like TYWKIWDBI to browse the site and sample some of the linked material (try, for example, Dumas' description of the feast prepared by the Count of Monte Cristo).

Below this post are three excerpts from the "Food" issue; I have embedded only brief excerpts in order to encourage everyone to read more at the source.

"Powdered wife" explained

Cannibalism and corpse-eating during the starvation of Jamestown in 1609, as reported by John Smith in The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles:
...as for our hogs, hens, goats, sheep, horse, or what lived, our commanders, officers, and savages daily consumed them—some small proportions sometimes we tasted—till all was devoured...there remained not past sixty men, women, and children, most miserable and poor creatures—and those were preserved for the most part by roots, herbs, acorns, walnuts, berries, now and then a little fish...

Nay, so great was our famine that a savage we slew and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and ate him, and so did diverse one another boiled and stewed with roots and herbs. And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed, as he well deserved; now whether she was better roasted, boiled, or carbonadoed, I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard.
More information at Lapham's Quarterly.

American food in 1832

As reported by Frances Trollope (the mother of novelist Anthony Trollope), from Domestic Manners of the Americans:
They consume an extraordinary quantity of bacon. Ham and beefsteaks appear morning, noon, and night. In eating, they mix things together with the strangest incongruity imaginable. I have seen eggs and oysters eaten together; the sempiternal ham with applesauce, beefsteak with stewed peaches, and salt fish with onions. The bread is everywhere excellent, but they rarely enjoy it themselves, as they insist upon eating horrible half-baked hot rolls both morning and evening...

They seldom indulge in second courses, with all their ingenious temptations to the eating a second dinner, but almost every table has its dessert (invariably pronounced “desart”) which is placed on the table before the cloth is removed and consists of pastry, preserved fruits, and creams. They are “extravagantly fond,” to use their own phrase, of puddings, pies, and all kinds of “sweets,” particularly the ladies; but are by no means such connoisseurs in soups and ragouts as the gastronomes of Europe. Almost everyone drinks water at table, and by a strange contradiction, in the country where hard drinking is more prevalent than in any other, there is less wine taken at dinner; ladies rarely exceed one glass, and the great majority of females never take any...

Their large evening parties are supremely dull; the men sometimes play cards by themselves, but if a lady plays, it must not be for money; no écarté, no chess; very little music, and that little lamentably bad. Among the blacks, I heard some good voices, singing in tune, but I scarcely ever heard a white American, male or female, go through an air without being out of tune before the end of it...
Additional commentary is available at Lapham's Quarterly.

A remarkable polyphagist (France, 1795)

All the polyphagists whose wonderful deeds are recorded in history are superseded by the famous Tarrare, who was known to all Paris and who died at Versailles at the age of twenty-six years...

At seventeen years of age, Tarrare weighed only one hundred pounds and was already able to eat, in twenty-four hours, a quarter of a bullock of that weight... One time on the stage, he defied the public to satiate him, and ate in a few minutes a pannier-full of apples, furnished by one of the spectators; he swallowed flints, corks, and all that was presented to him...

He swallowed a large eel alive without chewing it, but we thought we perceived him crush its head between his teeth. He ate, in a few instants, the dinner prepared for fifteen German laborers... M. Comville, the surgeon-major of the hospital where Tarrare then was, made him swallow a wooden case, enclosing a sheet of white paper: he voided it the following day by the anus, and the paper was uninjured...

The general-in-chief had him brought before him, and after having devoured in his presence nearly thirty pounds of raw liver and lights, Tarrare again swallowed the wooden case, in which was placed a letter to a French officer, who was a prisoner to the enemy. Tarrare set out, was taken, flogged, imprisoned; voided the wooden case, which he had retained thirty hours, and had the address to swallow it again, to conceal the knowledge of its contents from the enemy...

The servants of the hospital surprised him drinking the blood of patients who had been bled, and in the dead room devouring the bodies...
The rest of the story can be read at Lapham's Quarterly. Original source: the Society of Physicians, from The Eclectic and Analytic Review.

ʌǝpǝʌpǝɯ ʎɹʇıɯp

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev looks at his own reflection, 
while visiting the Lytkarino Optical Glass Factory in the town of Lytkarino.

Photo credit AP, via The Telegraph.  Text inverter here.

How to sell 1,000 overcoats

Found at Modern Mechanix, via The Life of a Bohemian.

Victorian locksmithing

In this seven-minute segment of a UKTV program, the BBC shows how the history of science can be intelligently presented on television.

p.s. - the word "Bramah" in the dialogue is explained here.

Via Neatorama.

Michele Bachmann supports intelligent design

"I support intelligent design," Bachmann told reporters following her speech at the conference, CNN reports. "What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."

"I would prefer that students have the ability to learn all aspects of an issue," Bachmann said. "And that's why I believe the federal government should not be involved in local education to the most minimal possible process."
On behalf of all educated and sensible Minnesotans, I would like to apologize for Mrs. Bachmann's continuing presence in the political arena.

Celestial "water sprinkler" discovered

It's amazing how one's perceptions change over time.  It was only about two years ago that I blogged my amazement that water was being discovered on Mars.  Now I find a report in National Geographic of a star that is shooting water into space:
Seven hundred and fifty light-years from Earth, a young, sunlike star has been found with jets that blast epic quantities of water into interstellar space, shooting out droplets that move faster than a speeding bullet.

The discovery suggests that protostars may be seeding the universe with water. These stellar embryos shoot jets of material from their north and south poles as their growth is fed by infalling dust that circles the bodies in vast disks.

"If we picture these jets as giant hoses and the water droplets as bullets, the amount shooting out equals a hundred million times the water flowing through the Amazon River every second," said Lars Kristensen, a postdoctoral astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

"We are talking about velocities reaching 200,000 kilometers [124,000 miles] per hour, which is about 80 times faster than bullets flying out of a machine gun," said Kristensen, lead author of the new study detailing the discovery, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
The mind boggles.  Truly.

"What a fool believes" (The Doobie Brothers)

This was the Grammy-award-winning "Song of the Year" in 1980, and "one of the few non-disco No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1979. The song lyrics tell a story of a man who is reunited with a former lover and attempts to rekindle the relationship with her, only to realize she never really loved him and shows no interest in continuing an affair with him."

I've listened to this song uncountable times in the past 30 years, and it wasn't until I decided to blog it today that I realized I have been mishearing the lyrics.  I thought the words were "The wise man has the power to reason away..."  It's just the opposite.

Not quite a "mondegreen" - but almost.  (See also "Obama's Elf").

19 June 2011

17 June 2011

Alice Liddell portrayed as a beggar-maid

She is lazing coquettishly against a much eroded garden wall of limestone and sandstone, standing in a corner in her bare feet. She looks with a calm directness right into the camera lens, her face bearing an expression quite unutterably different from those in all the previous images. It is an expression of impish, secret knowledge, a winsome look that manages to be both confident and disturbing. Many who view it find it vaguely unsettling to return the young girl's gaze, and not a few move on to other pages, or close the book and return it to the shelves.  Yet, for most, even after the book is finally shut and put back, the memory of the image proves hauntingly and lingeringly distracting, and for a long while...

The girl stands, leaning very slightly back, though not  apparently touching the garden wall, in a seductive pose.  Her left arm is crooked and the hand placed on her waist, the fist half-closed.  Her right arm is bent in front of her at waist level, her hand cupped in a posture of a person hoping to receive alms, or else a benison of some kind.  Her hair is newly washed and gleaming, cut in page-boy style, bobbed and with a fringe, parted in a line directly above her slightly retrousse nose...

The shift is folded and tucked above her waist so that it falls double, but has been shortened to reveal her calves and, of course, her slender ankles and her surprisngly large feet.  There is sufficient shoulder, ankle, and skin revealed about Miss Liddell to excite and, these days, to infuriate...
Text from pp 5-9 of Simon Winchester's The Alice Behind Wonderland.  Every book of his I've read has been a delight to read.  I've previously blogged reviews of his Krakatoa; the Day the World Exploded and his The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. I can also highly recommend The Man Who Loved China.

This book focuses on the photograph above, offering as background a biographical sketch of Charles Dodgson (his uncle, for example was "Commissioner of Lunacy" with responsibility of oversight of the country's asylums, which might be relevant to certain stories Dodgson was later to pen...), detailing what is known about Dodgson's relationship with Alice, her siblings, and the Liddell family, providing a rather detailed explanation of the new science of photography and why serious amateur photographers of the time came to prefer the collodion process rather than the daguerrotype (Stan B and other photographers who read this blog will be interested in this part of the book), explaining how Alice prompted Dodgson to write Alice in Wonderland, and detailing some of Alice's later life as a housewife and a celebrity.  All this in only 100 pages, which allows the book to be consumed in a single pleasant evening.

The Great Missouri River flood of 2011

In the top photo, the river's normal banks are well defined by the vegetation.  The bottom photo shows Interstate 29 under about 10 feet of water.  Both pix from a 113-image collection in Larry Geiger's Picasa Web Album, via Paul Douglas On Weather blog, where he notes -
But that isn't even the full story. The Rocky Mountain snowpack in Montana is now beginning to melt in earnest. In places, that snowpack is at 140 percent of normal. All of that melt water is just going to pass through Fort Peck reservoir. Then there is the issue of rainfall. June is the wettest month of the year on the Northern Plains and within Montana. The rains are going to come. The National Weather Service has predicted above-average rainfall for June in Montana because of the presence of La Nina in the Pacific.

Neocons and Republican foreign policy

An interesting post at The Desk of Brian suggests that the foreign policy espoused by the Republican party is undergoing changes from within:
Nearly ten years after seizing control of Republican foreign policy, neoconservatives and other hawks appear to be losing it.

That is at least the tentative conclusion of a number of political analysts following Monday’s first nationally televised debate of the party’s declared Republican candidates — none of whom defended the current U.S. engagement in Libya, while several suggested it was time to pare down Washington’s global military engagements, including in Afghanistan.

This sure isn’t the Republican Party of George Bush, [former Vice President] Dick Cheney, and [former Pentagon chief] Donald Rumsfeld,” exulted one liberal commentator, Michael Tomasky, in the Daily Beast. “The neocons are gone.”..

Of particular note during the debate was a comment about Afghanistan by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is widely acknowledged to be the current front-runner in the Republican field.

“It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the [Afghan] military in a way that they’re able to defend themselves,” Romney said, adding, perhaps fatefully, “I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation.”

What precisely he meant by the latter sentence was left unclear, but it was sufficiently negative for one prominent neoconservative, Danielle Pletka, to tell Politico that her inbox had been flooded Tuesday morning with emails calling Romney’s remarks a “disaster.”..

Since the mid-1970′s, Republicans have been divided between aggressive nationalists, like Cheney, and Israel-centered neoconservatives — who also enjoyed the support of the Christian Right — on the one hand, and isolationists and foreign-policy realists on the other. The balance of power between the two groups has shifted more than once in the nearly four decades since...

But the Sep 2008 financial crisis — and the economic distress it caused — laid the groundwork for the resurgence of the party’s realist-isolationist wing, according to political analysts.

“The economic duress is undermining the national greatness project of Bill Kristol and the neocons,” according to Steve Clemons, a national-security expert at the New America Foundation (NAF), whose washingtonnote.com blog is widely read here.

What we are seeing evolve among Republicans is a hybrid realism with some isolationist strains that believes the costs of American intervention in the world at the rate of the last decade simply can’t be sustained,” wrote Clemons...

Just last week, the Pew Research Center released its latest poll on U.S. foreign policy attitudes which found that “the current measure of isolationist sentiment is among the highest recorded” in more than 50 years..."
More at the link.

Interesting message on an LED billboard

I wonder what prompted the public-service-announcement-type message.

Found at the StarTribune.

Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas

Nice stick hand work.


Wasp waist refers to a woman's fashion silhouette, produced by a style of corset and girdle, that has experienced various periods of popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its primary feature is the abrupt transition from a natural-width rib cage to an exceedingly small waist, with the hips curving out below. It takes its name from its similarity to a wasp's segmented body. The sharply cinched waistline also exaggerates the hips and bust.

In the 19th century, while average corseted waist measurements varied between 20 and 23 inches, wasp waist measurements of 18 to 16 inches were not uncommon and were often striven for as the reigning standard of feminine beauty in the period.
More at Wikipedia. Those intereted should also read the entry for "tightlacing."

The scientifically-minded reader may be more intereted in this curious, frankly bizarre, experiment.

The photo is undated, and I don't have a primary source. Based on the other clothing, one suspects that her waistline reflects fetishism rather than fashion per se. Found at the totally-unsafe-for-work tumblr queerest of them all.

Addendum: A hat tip to Kniffler, whose web search revealed that the person in the photo is Cora Korsett,  taken in 1973.

Jimmy Carter: "End the global war on drugs"

In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts.

I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: "Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself."

These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

This approach entailed an enormous expenditure of resources and the dependence on police and military forces to reduce the foreign cultivation of marijuana, coca and opium poppy and the production of cocaine and heroin. One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries...

And the single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980.

Not only has this excessive punishment destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families (disproportionately minorities), but it is wreaking havoc on state and local budgets...
More at the StarTribune.

Two Afghan girls

Gulsum,12, holds a baby cannabis plant plucked out of the field while she works with her father Ghafordin on May 15, 2011 in Wakhil, in the mountainous upper Panjshir region, Afghanistan. The farmer has been growing cannabis for three years and has seen the prices triple since 2008. This spring he is planting less wheat in order to increase his marijuana crops. Known as the world's largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, Afghanistan has now become the top supplier of cannabis, with large-scale cultivation in half of its provinces, according to a 2010 report by the United Nations. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
Shabaneh plays with the parallel bars May 10, 2011, as her aunt Somayeh Masroor, 44, takes a rest after she walked with her artificial leg at International Committee Red Crescent Orthopedic Center in Kabul, Afghanistan. Somayeh lost her right leg when she was 13 years old and traveling from Herat to Kandahar while they were caught in a fight between Soviet forces and Mujahedeen in Shajoor and their car hit a landmine off the road. (Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press)

Both photos from a group of 45 assembled at Boston.com's The Big Picture.

A question for linguists and mathematicians

Yesterday I concluded my blogging day with a report I entitled "The decimation of Atlantic food fish."  The scientific study described a decline in biomass of the fish "by a factor of nine over the [twentiety] century."

Sue Dunham quite correctly pointed out that by definition, decimation is a reduction by 1/10th, not a reduction to one-tenth, based on the Roman military discipline:
A unit selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten; each group drew lots (Sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing. The remaining soldiers were given rations of barley instead of wheat and forced to sleep outside the Roman encampment...

The Italian General Luigi Cadorna applied decimation to under-performing units during the First World War. In his book Stalingrad, Antony Beevor recounts how, during the Second World War, a Soviet Corps commander of a division practised decimation on retreating soldiers by walking down the line of soldiers at attention, and shooting every tenth soldier in the face until his TT-33 pistol ran out of ammunition...
She and Wikipedia both note that by modern convention, the term can be used in a less precise way to indicate massive reduction -
In Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Stephen Jay Gould uses "decimate" to indicate the taking of nine in ten, noting that the Oxford English Dictionary supports the "pedigree" of this "rare" meaning.
So, this morning I wondered - is there a better term I could have used?  The Latin equivalent of a 90% reduction would apparently require a neologism like ? nonagintication.

But an even more interesting question is mathematical.  How many times must humans (and nature) have decimated the Atlantic food fishes (at 10% per decimation) to reduce the population to 10% of its original level?  Probably about twenty true decimations.  That makes the results of the study even more impressive.

16 June 2011

The decimation of Atlantic food fish

Jilted lovers used to be consoled by friends with the reassurance that "there are plenty more fish in the sea."  That analogy may not be valid much longer.  Here are some excerpts from a column in the Guardian's Datablog:
This image shows the biomass of popularly-eaten fish in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1900 and in 2000...

Dr Villy Christensen and his colleagues at the University Of British Columbia used ecosystem models, underwater terrain maps, fish catch records and statistical analysis to render the biomass of Atlantic fish at various points this century...

These early accounts and data on the past abundance of fish help reveal the magnitude of today's fish stock declines which are otherwise abstract or invisible.

They also help counter the phenomenon of "shifting environment baselines". This is when each generation views the environment they remember from their youth as "natural" and normal... The problem is, the sea was already heavily exploited when we were young. So this is a kind of collective social amnesia that allows over-exploitation to creep up and increase decade-by-decade without anyone truly questioning it...

As Prof Roberts writes: "The greater part of the decline of many exploited populations happened before the birth of anyone living today."
The study itself was published in Fish and Fisheries in 2003. Here's part of the abstract -
We estimate the biomass of high-trophic level fishes in the North Atlantic... from 1880 to 1998. We extract over 7800 data points that describe the abundance of high-trophic level fishes as a function of year, primary production, depth, temperature, latitude, ice cover and catch composition.We then use a multiple linear regression to predict the spatial abundance for all North Atlantic spatial cells for 1900 and for each year from 1950 to 1999. The results indicate that the biomass of high-trophic level fishes has declined by two-thirds during the last 50-year period, and with a factor of nine over the century. Catches of high- trophic level fishes increased from 2.4 to 4.7 million tonnes annually in the late 1960s, and subsequently declined to below 2 million tonnes annually in the late 1990s... Our results raise serious concern for the future of the North Atlantic as a diverse, healthy ecosystem; we may soon be left with only low-trophic level species in the sea.
Writing this post has reminded me that I need to revisit my review of the excellent book Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery, by Steve Nicholls.  I wrote one post about the topic last year, but there's much more amazing information to present.


Bundlers and patronage in the Obama White House

From an extensive report at iWatch:
More than two years after President Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events...

As a candidate, Obama spoke passionately about diminishing the clout of moneyed interests and making the White House more accessible to everyday Americans. In kicking off his presidential run on Feb. 10, 2007, he blasted “the cynics, the lobbyists, the special interests,” who he said had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.”

“They write the checks and you get stuck with the bill, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back,” he said...

Overall, 184 of 556, or about one-third, of Obama bundlers or their spouses joined the administration in some role. But the percentages are much higher for the big-dollar bundlers. Nearly 80 percent of those who collected more than $500,000 for Obama took “key administration posts,” as defined by the White House. More than half the ambassador nominees who were bundlers raised more than half a million...

Bundling is controversial because it permits campaigns to skirt individual contribution limits of $2,500 in federal elections. Bundlers pool donations from fundraising networks and as a result “play an enormous role in determining the success of political campaigns,” according to Public Citizen...

Public Citizen in 2008 found that George W. Bush had appointed about 200 bundlers to administration posts over his eight years in office. That is roughly the same number Obama has appointed in little more than two years, the iWatch News analysis showed...

Some of the biggest fundraisers end up serving in foreign capitals. Obama made a nod to this long practice in a pre-inauguration news conference, saying, “It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants but who haven’t come through the ranks of the civil service.”

About a third of Obama's ambassadors have been political appointments as opposed to career foreign service officers—about the same as recent presidents. However, Obama has nominated 24 bundlers to ambassadorships to date...

The bundling merry-go-round is cranking up for its second act: Obama’s re-election campaign.
Much more at the link.

15 June 2011

U.S. life expectancy

Found at the Washington Post today, which also has an interactive graphic where you can sort life expectancy at a county-by-county level according to sex and race.

I'm not sure what to make of the data.  I can see on the map Hidalgo County, Texas (on the Rio Grande) coded in dark red for "long life expectancy," but that's where my dad spent his retirement years in a trailer park full of old people.  The same effect is evident in the South Florida coastal cities.  I'm not sure it's a map of relative health so much as a map of old/young populations.

Ticked off

The cartoon is humorous, but the risks are real.  I've pulled about 20 ticks off myself this past week, and it's sobering to realize that a 95% success rate in finding/removing them runs the risk of acquiring infection.
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