30 March 2016

Queen Elizabeth does not lay 2,000 eggs a day

Gaffes like the one highlighted above occur when a style guide (in this case Reuters news service) requires that references to "the queen" be capitalized and her name given in full, and when a 'bot proceeds to check and autocorrect styles before publication.

A tip of the blogging hat to John Farrier who found this and posted it at Neatorama.

The Judaism of Bernie Sanders

I'm trying to minimize coverage of politics during this election cycle, but I thought this article in The Village Voice offers some insight into both a candidate and a religion:
Commentators who had previously criticized Sanders for downplaying his Judaism were underwhelmed by his mostly secular response. "Sanders may be focused on uniting Americans for a better future," argued the Jewish Telegraphic Agency newswire, "but some Jews would clearly like to hear him acknowledge his past."

Those Jews were eventually given voice through the unlikely agency of Anderson Cooper, who, during a March debate in Michigan, referred to Jewish leaders who were "disappointed" that Sanders keeps his Judaism "in the background." "Look, my father's family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust," came Sanders's reply. "I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being." Finally, Sanders was giving commentators what they seemed to want to hear from a Jewish candidate — a reference to the Holocaust. Vox's Zack Beauchamp said the response "nearly brought me to tears."

We shouldn't be surprised by this insistence that Bernie invoke the Holocaust: Museums, school curricula, and the culture generally have so diligently cultivated the image of Jews as primarily survivors or victims of the Holocaust that we've learned to see this, and not all that solidarity talk, as properly Jewish. But Sanders carries on a Jewish tradition much longer, and more sacred, than merely paying lip service to the Holocaust. His every utterance about universal health care, economic inequality, and social justice relentlessly embraces Judaism; it's just a Judaism many people no longer recognize. Bernie Sanders is a Jew of a different era — the kind of Jew that Zionists would very much like us to forget...

When pundits complain that Sanders is not being publicly Jewish enough, what they are really complaining about is his refusal to fall in line with the philosophy that has come to define Jewish life in America. They are disappointed that Sanders has not aligned himself with Zionism...

And yet it is the non-Zionist Sanders who is criticized for insufficient faith, even as wealthy right-wing Zionists ostentatiously parade their donations to Holocaust Museums and prestigious congregations. These gestures are supposed to fulfill the sort of public obligation Judaism imposes, but next to Bernie Sanders's dogged agitation for universal equality and justice, decade in and decade out, Zionist chest-thumping looks like a cheap substitute.

This contrast was at its starkest when Sanders declined the opportunity to join every other presidential candidate in addressing Zionism's most exalted assembly: the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Instead, he addressed the question of Israel at a high school in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a speech that included such taboo-breaking observations as "There is too much suffering in Gaza to be ignored."

Such heresy reminds us of an earlier Judaism. When Sanders says, "We are living in a world which worships not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the sick, but worships the acquisition of money," he is not hiding his religion, but espousing it. He is evangelizing. And if his gospel is going to catch, it will most likely be among the young people who have flocked to his campaign.
More at the link.

29 March 2016


A happy camel is a bouncy camel.

Birds are typically depicted inaccurately in Hollywood movies.  There is a legal reason for that: "Casting native species is against the law. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, federal law since 1918, prohibits the possession of migratory birds for commercial purposes, and that includes keeping domestic bird species for use as animal actors." (so tropical or foreign birds are used instead)

How to manage mail for the deceased.  Not explained at the link is that if the deceased was a resident in a care facility (group home etc) that did not have individual mailboxes for each resident, you cannot submit a change of address form to the USPS.  You have to contact each sender individually.

"Tracy Warshal, 39, noticed the man behind her in line at an Aldi supermarket was shuffling around looking for his wallet, she told ABC News. Realizing he'd forgotten it, Warshal offered to pay for his $7 grocery bill." (with an interesting result...)

An alternative explanation for the Biblical virgin birth predicates a mistranslation.

"...former corporate raider Asher Edelman says Bernie Sanders is the strongest presidential candidate. Appearing on CNBC’s “Fast Money” this morning, Edelman responded immediately when asked who he thought the best candidate for the economy would be. “Bernie Sanders,” Edelman said, without missing a beat. “No question.”" (video at the link)

"In a not-at-fault automobile accident, you are entitled to a check for the value that your car lost due to the collision. But you'll ONLY get it if you ask for it."

"LPT: When purchasing a used car, make sure the check engine light turns on when you first start the car. A lot of people rip out the bulb so you don't know that the car needs repairs!"

If you are lost in the woods and need to start a fire, use a lemon...

A woman disappears during a live television broadcast.

"In May of 1940, as French forces crumpled in the face of the Nazi onslaught and the British anxiously scanned the skies for signs of the dreaded invasion, the newly installed prime minister was preoccupied with another pressing problem. Where would he get the money to pay his bill from the shirtmaker? Britain’s predicament was dire, but so was Winston Churchill’s. He owed not just the shirtmaker, but the watchmaker, the wine merchants, and the printers as well. He was overdrawn at the bank, he owed interest payments on his debts, his taxes were conspicuously late, and his publishers were clamoring for an overdue book on which he had taken a large advance. Churchill would lead Britain through the Blitz a few months later, but first he needed money..."

The history of "night soil" management in major cities.

"Since November, 54 people in Wisconsin have one by one fallen ill with an obscure kind of bacteria called Elizabethkingia. Fifteen have died from the infection."  And now it's in Michigan.

A mashup of Pink Floyd and Donald Trump.

The history of tattoo removal.

An op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times posits that doctors and clinics shouldn't sell drugs: "The way Medicare pays for prescription drugs gives doctors an incentive to choose the most expensive alternatives, and gives drug makers an incentive to raise prices relentlessly. In other words, the system works for doctors and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of everyone else. Eliminating such perverse incentives without reducing the quality of care is crucial to slowing the unsustainable growth of health care costs...."

A cartoon about spaceflight.

How to use a hair pick to help you slice an onion.

Plagues that might have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Here's the best article I've read this year about the recent evolution of the Republican Party.  It was published a couple months ago when there were more contenders, but that's not important.  The author has a good grasp of recent Republican party developments, because he was formerly a speechwriter for George W. Bush.  The article isn't written in favor of (or against) any particular current candidate.

Fabulous Oldies is a website that collects and preserves biographical snippets about older people.

"Eggs on a cloud" are visually attractive eggs.

A group of New York millionaires sign an open letter to the governor and legislature saying "please raise our taxes."

The Netherlands is closing prisons because they don't have enough convicted criminals to use the space.  They may accept some Norwegian malefactors.

Fluoroscopy of cracking knuckles.

There is an actor who appeared in five films.  Only five films.  But each one of them was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.  Then he died.

Impressive video of how to cut down a large tree without damaging structures underneath (the severed limbs swing off to the side).

A man asks his girlfriend to hold their dog while he sets up a camera for a photo.  He sets it to record video while he proposes marriage to her...

The absence of climate change discussion in the Republican presidential candidate debates.

Kroger's logical policy about unisex bathrooms.

A puppy decides he's going to sleep.... right... here...

Today's images come from "The Stunning Beaury of Braided Rivers" - a gallery at Amusing Planet

Linguistic humor

This passage comes from Molière's 1670 play, "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" :
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: ... I'm in love with a lady of great quality, and I wish that you would help me write something to her in a little note that I will let fall at her feet...PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Is it verse that you wish to write her?
M.J. : No, no. No verse.
PH. M: Do you want only prose?
M.J. : No, I don't want either prose or verse.
PH. M: It must be one or the other.
M.J. : Why?
PH. M: Because, sir, there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse.
M.J. : There is nothing but prose or verse?
PH. M: No, sir, everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose.
M.J. : And when one speaks, what is that then?
PH. M: Prose.
M.J. : What! When I say, "Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give me my nightcap," that's prose?
PH. M: Yes, Sir.
M.J. : By my faith! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing anything about it, and I am much obliged to you for having taught me that. 

Voltaire, writing to Catherine the Great: 
"I am not like a lady of the court of Versailles who said 'what a dreadful pity that the bother at the Tower of Babel should have got language all mixed up; but for that, everyone would always have spoken French'."

And this from The Onion:

Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia

Cities of Sjlbvdnzv, Grzny to Be First Recipients

Before an emergency joint session of Congress yesterday, President Clinton announced US plans to deploy over 75,000 vowels to the war-torn region of Bosnia. The deployment, the largest of its kind in American history, will provide the region with the critically needed letters A,E,I,O and U, and is hoped to render countless Bosnian names more pronounceable. 

"For six years, we have stood by while names like Ygrjvslhv and Tzlynhr and Glrm have been horribly butchered by millions around the world," Clinton said. "Today, the United States must finally stand up and say 'Enough.' It is time the people of Bosnia finally had some vowels in their incomprehensible words...

The deployment, dubbed Operation Vowel Storm by the State Department, is set for early next week, with the Adriatic port cities of Sjlbvdnzv and Grzny slated to be the first recipients...

Citizens of Grzny and Sjlbvdnzv eagerly await the arrival of the vowels. "My God, I do not think we can last another day," Trszg Grzdnjkln, 44, said. "I have six children and none of them has a name that is understandable to me or to anyone else...

Said Sjlbvdnzv resident Grg Hmphrs, 67: "With just a few key letters, I could be George Humphries. This is my dream."

The airdrop represents the largest deployment of any letter to a foreign country since 1984. During the summer of that year, the US shipped 92,000 consonants to Ethiopia, providing cities like Ouaouoaua, Eaoiiuae, and Aao with vital, life-giving supplies of L's, S's and T's.

I found these three anecdotes while skimming through Guy Deutscher's The Unfolding of Language.

Drone footage of salmon migration


Originally posted at Vimeo.

Promoting math literacy

The Romanian national football team wears special training jackets as an encouragement to their fans. 



Potoooooooo or Pot-8-Os... was a famous 18th-century Thoroughbred racehorse, known for his defeat of some of the greatest racehorses of the time and his later life as an influential sire...

Pot-8-Os acquired the strange spelling of his nickname through a transliteration error, when a stable lad was asked to write the original name, "Potatoes", on a feed bin. The lad's version, Potoooooooo, was said to amuse his lordship so he kept it, and it appears in the General Stud Book.
There must be other names that could be reconfigured in a similar manner.  CCCPO (or would it be CPPPO?) comes to mind.  Readers can undoubtedly come up with others.

Today I learned:  "The term [Thoroughbred] is a proper noun referring to this specific breed, though often not capitalized, especially in non-specialist publications, and outside the US."

"Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born."

The Second Coming 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I have seen snippets from this famous poem by W.B.Yeats quoted several times during this political season.  Just wanted to store it here for reference.

This is not a perpetual motion machine

It just looks like one.

27 March 2016

This should look "sort of familiar" - but not quite...

The image is of the planet Jupiter - but as viewed from its south pole.
This map of Jupiter is the most detailed global color map of the planet ever produced. The round map is a polar stereographic projection that shows the south pole in the center of the map and the equator at the edge. It was constructed from images taken by Cassini on Dec. 11 and 12, 2000, as the spacecraft neared Jupiter during a flyby on its way to Saturn.

The map shows a variety of colorful cloud features, including parallel reddish-brown and white bands, the Great Red Spot, multi-lobed chaotic regions, white ovals and many small vortices. Many clouds appear in streaks and waves due to continual stretching and folding by Jupiter's winds and turbulence. The bluish-gray features along the north edge of the central bright band are equatorial "hot spots," meteorological systems such as the one entered by NASA's Galileo probe. Small bright spots within the orange band north of the equator are lightning-bearing thunderstorms. The polar region shown here is less clearly visible because Cassini viewed it at an angle and through thicker atmospheric haze.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
That's almost as cool as Saturn's north pole, which features the famous rotating hexagon:

The bizarre hexagonal cloud pattern was first discovered in 1988 by scientists reviewing data from NASA's Voyager flybys of Saturn in 1980 and 1981, but its existence was not confirmed until NASA's Cassini spacecraft observed the ringed planet up-close years later. Nothing like the hexagon has ever been seen on any other world. The structure, which contains a churning storm at its center, is about 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) wide, and thermal images show that it reaches roughly 60 miles (100 km) down into Saturn's atmosphere.

Thank you, Google

Via imgur.

Tympanic membrane abuse

Via Joanne Casey's I Have Seen The Whole Of The Internet

 A tip of my blogging hat to reader Dan Noland, for his observation that this young woman is attending a dB drag racing event:
dB drag racing is a competition rewarding the person who can produce the loudest sound inside a vehicle. The "dB" means decibels of sound pressure level (SPL). In these competitions, SPL of 155 dB can be reached, and it is not unheard of to hear more than 160 dB as well.

Competitive vehicles can range from a small vehicle with a single amplifier and subwoofer up to a large van with dozens of amplifiers and subwoofers powered by dozens of car batteries and with upgraded electrical wiring and alternator...

During a competition, the vehicle must be driven 20 feet. Nobody is allowed to sit in the vehicle during trials because injury would be certain. The vehicles are sealed tight to maximize containment of the sound energy for the decibel level meter. The competitor stands away from the vehicle with an on/off switch control while a computer voice announces the stages for the "races"...
This would be a good time to quote Miranda:
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!

Is there a "war on Easter" ?

The Telegraph reports that the word "Easter" has been quietly deleted from the names of certain chocolate eggs...
Growing numbers of chocolate eggs are on sale in the UK without any mention of the word “Easter” on the front of the packaging.

Many of Britain’s best known brands have quietly dropped the name of the Christian festival from their main branding, now selling Easter products labelled simply as “chocolate egg” or even “egg”, it has been claimed.
The allegation was highlighted by the makers of the “Real Easter Egg”, a fair trade chocolate product which carries a Christian message instead of pictures of bunnies and chicks and donates its profits to charity.

The Meaningful Chocolate Company, based in Manchester, was set up six years ago in an attempt to reintroduce Easter eggs with references to the Easter story and Advent calendars featuring nativity scenes to the mainstream market.

But since then, according to the company’s founder David Marshall, the secularising trend has been gone further, with many products now seemingly dropping references to Easter from the title altogether. 
I have difficulty getting a grasp of the theological arguments of Christians who protest the non-use of "Easter" on candy.

˙˙˙uʍop-ǝpısdn ʇxǝʇ ǝʇıɹʍ oʇ pǝǝu noʎ ɟI

˙ǝʇsɐd puɐ ʎdoɔ uǝɥʇ 'ǝbɐssǝɯ ɹnoʎ ǝdʎʇ oʇ noʎ sʍoןןɐ ʇɐɥʇ ddɐ ǝןdɯıs ɐ sɐɥ bɹo˙ʇxǝʇdıןɟ ǝʇısqǝʍ ǝɥʇ

Dogs as food

The Munchies column at Vice reports on the increasing consumption of dog meat in Cambodia:
Until recently, eating dog had never been a big thing in Cambodia in the way that it is in other East Asian countries like Vietnam, China and Korea. Now, however, more and more Cambodians appear to crave this controversial meat...

"It’s become very popular, especially here in Phnom Penh" says Pheakadey, who owns one of the alley’s dog joints. ”It’s very delicious, and it also has some medicinal qualities. It’s good for the man’s virility.”
One can't help but notice the similarity with the use of rhino or tiger derivatives for "virility."
Along with the Cambodian appetite for dogs, a black market of stolen pets and street dogs has emerged.  "We buy some of our dogs from the dog thieves” Pheakadey admits. ”Every day we have people bring us stolen dogs.”
Trigger warning: if you love dogs, don't go to the source article to read about how the dogs are captured and killed.

Water use in the United States

A remarkable (and counterintuitive) graph -
The US economy keeps expanding and the population keeps growing. But we actually use less water now for all purposes than we did back in 1970. That includes freshwater for our showers and toilets. It includes farm irrigation. It also includes withdrawals of both fresh and saline water to cool our fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.

The underlying data comes from a new report by the US Geological Survey, which notes that water for power plants (45 percent) and irrigation (33 percent) still made up most water withdrawals in the US as of 2010. But use in both of those areas has been declining over time.
More at Vox, including an explanation of "withdrawal" vs. "consumption."

24 March 2016


This is a "self-loading laundry basket."

This image dramatically illustrates how relatively small our galaxy (the Milky Way) is.

Cliteracy is an "art project that fuses street art, textiles and typography" with the goal of educating the public about the clitoris.

"How do you film a conversation? Most likely, you’re going to block the actors, set up the camera, and do shot/reverse shot. But where do you put the camera? What lens do you use? And how do you cut back and forth? Today, I consider the Coen brothers — Joel & Ethan — and see how these choices lend a particular feel to their version of shot/reverse shot."

How to pronounce Godiva (as in the chocolates).  You've been saying it wrong.  Belgium's Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs explains the preferred pronunciation.

"Iraq's Mosul Dam faces "unprecedented" risk of a "catastrophic failure" that would unleash a wave of water which could flatten cities and kill hundreds of thousands within hours..."

"This fossil may be the oldest and most detailed example of a central nervous system yet identified, with even individual nerves -- rarely preserved soft tissue -- visible enough to study."

Kindertrauma is a website about "the movies, books, and toys that scared you when you were a kid. It’s also about kids in scary movies, both as heroes and villains. And everything else that’s traumatic to a tyke!"

"MacWilliams studies authoritarianism — not actual dictators, but rather a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.
So MacWilliams naturally wondered if authoritarianism might correlate with support for Trump..."

A coroner says an 86-year-old Pennsylvania woman died after she apparently tripped and her medical alert necklace caught on her walker and strangled her.

Ballet shoes will soon be available in "flesh" tones for persons of color.

Americans lie about having voted.  Blatantly.  This video shows some of them, captured in video by Jimmy Kimmel's crew.

How to restore an old, beaten-up book.

Disney flies in foreign workers, abusing the provisions of the H-1b visa for persons having "specialized knowledge," and then has the current workers train their replacements.

"Phubbing" is phone-snubbing - paying more attention to one's phone than to one's partner.

There are different shades of black (resulting from reflectivity rather than admixture of other colors).   Videos at the link demonstrate, and show the blackest material in the world ("Vantablack," made of carbon nanotubes).

Five-story basements are causing problems in London.  "A resident of Kensington Palace Gardens — the most pricey street in Britain — Hunt planned a five-story basement to house a car museum, a tennis court, an elevator, a swimming pool and a rotating Ferris wheel for vehicles."

"In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by fifty companies; today, 90% is controlled by just six companies." And two of those are owned by the same person.  "Before passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a company could not own more than 40 radio stations in the entire country. With the Act's sweeping relaxation of ownership limits, Clear Channel now owns approximately 1225 radio stations."

How to catch a joey.

How to remove a popcorn ceiling (spackle knife + vacuum).

Rescue of an elephant stuck in mud.

An article about Cliven Bundy and the plundering of the West. "... the BLM had begun to impound Bundy’s herd, which had been illegally grazing on a 578,724-acre parcel of public land in the Mojave Desert known as the Bunkerville Allotment of the Gold Butte range. The BLM planned to sell the herd in order to reimburse the public for an estimated $1.1 million in grazing fees and fines that Bundy owed. Bundy, decrying federal tyranny and vowing to do whatever it took to protect his rights to graze his cattle, called in the press to witness the start of a “range war” on Gold Butte..."  It's a long read, and not particularly uplifting.

A collection of video representations of migraine auras.

Why were so many home runs hit in major-league baseball last year?  It may just reflect a regression to the mean, or...

HMB while I dodge this bull...

A family video captures images of a moose shedding an antler.

A plagiarism scandal rocks the world of crossword puzzles.  “When the same theme answers appear in the same order from one publication to the next, that makes you look closer,” Shortz tells Eli Rosenberg for the New York Times. “When they appear with the same clues, that looks suspicious. And when it happens repeatedly, then you know it’s plagiarism.”

"In the end, the oil attrition wars may lead us not into a future of North American triumphalism, nor even to a more modest Saudi version of the same, but into a strange new world in which an unlimited capacity to produce oil meets an increasingly crippled capitalist system without the capacity to absorb it."

Octopus vs. seagull.  Octopus wins.

Ungraceful Golden Lab puppy vs. stairs.  Stairs win.

Photo credits to Robert Clark, from his new book, “Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage” via a gallery posted in the Washington Post, where you can read explanations of what the images represent, and their scientific relevance.

22 March 2016

Nature, enhanced

An art installation by Andy Goldsworthy, apparently created by trimming and rearranging fallen leaves at the base of a tree.  Zoomable image here.

Money and politics. And money.

Did I mention money?  Here are some excerpts from a new book, Nation on the Take:
Not too far from the Capitol Hill townhouses are the call centers that both Democrats and Republicans use to dial for dollars. Endlessly.

This is how Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, described it: “We sit at these desks with stacks of names in front of us and short bios and histories of giving . . . and we make calls to our faithful friends and ask them to give money or host a fundraiser.”..

How much time do our elected representatives spend trying to collect money from wealthy people? Roughly 50 percent. One former congressman, Tom Perriello (D-VA), told reporter Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post that even that may be “low-balling the figure so as not to scare the new members too much.”

This feverish fundraising begins even before a freshman gets sworn in. After former representative Walt Minnick, a conservative Democrat from Iowa, won his first election to Congress in 2008, he took just five days off before heading back to the phones...

The sad truth is that given the frenetic search for money in federal congressional elections,
there simply isn’t enough time in the day to stay competitive in campaign finance and do the actual job of policy making . . . I remember when I was first elected to Congress, I and many other House members would often go down to the floor of the House of Representatives and just listen to the debate. I may not have had an amendment to the bill or a particular interest in the issue but I always felt that watching policy discussions and witnessing the crafting of laws was an important part of my day. It gave me the chance to educate myself and interact with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Today most lawmakers would tell you that any free moment not used raising dollars is time wasted.
This theme of members of Congress not being able to commit time to doing the increasingly complicated job of examining and deeply understanding legislation comes up over and over again. It’s not just driving them nuts, it’s also driving many of them out of office, and it’s deterring good people from even thinking about running...

Of course, not all the fundraising occurs in dreary call center cubicles and trade-association-owned townhouses in D.C. As the New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton chronicled in 2014, “destination events” have become all the rage. Republicans join lobbyists and business executives for spa weekends in Las Vegas and ski trips at the Four Seasons resort in Vail. Democrats join lobbyists and business executives on the Ritz-Carlton’s private beach in Puerto Rico and on quail hunts in Georgia...

President Obama hasn’t exactly been a champion of reform, either. Despite some of his strong rhetoric—for instance, his statement at a White House press conference in 2013 that “There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed”—he has failed to champion the cause. For instance, despite repeated requests from Common Cause and more than fifty other organizations, President Obama (as of the writing of this book) has been unwilling to sign an executive order requiring that all companies receiving federal contracts disclose their political spending...

We wish we could claim that coin-operated government exists only at the national level. Sadly, that’s not the case. Just as the influence industry has mushroomed in Washington in the last two decades, influence peddlers and political operatives have sought new ways to accomplish their agendas at the state and local levels...

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that just fifty individuals and organizations—from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Democratic Governors Association—steered $440 million to state candidates and parties in 2014. Eighty-five percent of candidates who got donations from one of those fifty donors won.

Giving directly to state candidates, who raked in $1.2 billion in 2011– 2012, is often easier than giving to federal candidates, who can face tougher donation limits. Six states allow limitless giving directly to candidates, and another six have only slight restrictions. Data show that in states like California, Georgia, and South Carolina, all of which have high contribution limits, elections are less competitive. By contrast, elections in Maine, Arizona, and Minnesota, all of which have some form of public financing, are typically much more competitive...

Super PACs are also getting involved in city council and even school board elections across the country. A super PAC called the Committee for Economic Growth and Social Justice filed papers in Washington and promptly sent more than $150,000, funded largely by the bail bond industry, to unseat several members of a school board in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
There's much more at Salon.  I'm not sure I have the willpower to approach the book.

Pinhole camera six-month exposure

The University of Wisconsin-Madison holds an annual Cool Science Images contest, inviting campus researchers to submit interesting photos and videos.
"Using a pinhole camera made of an aluminum can, duct tape and photosensitive paper and positioning the device atop Sterling Hall from winter solstice to summer solstice, yields a symmetric chart of the sun's path across the sky. The lowest arc was the sun's winter solstice trajectory and the highest arc was the sun's path at summer solstice. Gaps between the arcs are days of overcast weather.
I'm amazed that the paper isn't totally bleached-out during a six-month exposure.  The sensitivity of the paper must be extremely low.  Very cool.

Details about "The Great Escape"

A couple brief excerpts from a detailed account in The Telegraph:
The subsequent events, thanks to numerous books and the 1963 Hollywood epic The Great Escape, have become the stuff of legend. However the real story had nothing to do with Steve McQueen on a motorbike and over the top derring-do by a few men – in reality some 600 were involved.

Despite being meticulously planned by the committee known as the X Organisation, the escape was a far messier affair than we have previously been led to believe. Events unfolded in chaos with numerous hold-ups and tunnel collapses. Some pushed their way in line; others fled their post altogether.

Now, after corresponding with and interviewing survivors, and seven painstaking years of trawling through historical records in archives across Europe, prisoner-of-war historian Charles Rollings throws new light on the night of the ‘Great Escape’. 
Two weeks later the remaining prisoners at Stalag Luft III receive news that 42 of the recaptured escapees had been shot “resisting arrest or making further escape attempts after arrest”. When the list of victims was posted it amounted to 47 names, and a few days later another three were added, bringing the total to 50. Among the dead were 25 Britons, six Canadians, three Australians, two New Zealanders, three South Africans, four Poles, two Norwegians, one Frenchman and a Greek. A further 23 were sent back to various other Nazi prison camps. Only three of the escapees - two Norwegians and a Dutchman - made it home.

21 March 2016

Meet the Tully monster

It's real.  Or was, 300 million years ago, as Ed Yong explains:
A pipe-fitter by trade, Tully was just an amateur collector, but a skilled one. He knew that the coal miners of Mazon Creek had discarded vast piles of shale that contained fossils galore. And as he sifted through the fragments, he found two rocks that had cracked open and that held something incredible between them...

Fifty years after Tully’s discovery, he and Richardson have both passed away, and the Tully Monster is the official state fossil of Illinois. And finally, a team of scientists led by Victoria McCoy at Yale University have solved the mystery of the strange beast, and assigned it a spot on the tree of life. It turns out to be a close relative of modern lampreys... Its body is short and stout. Its eyes sit at the end of a rigid bar. And instead of the distinctive sucker, its mouth is a long, triple-jointed claw...

Why, for example, were Tullimonstrum’s eyes at the end of a rigid bar? “We think that the best comparison is to the hammerhead shark,” says McCoy. Their wide-set eyes give them exceptional binocular vision. “We think the eyebar allowed Tully monster to see the things it was grabbing with the mouth at the end of the proboscis.” Oh yes. There’s that. Other scientists had interpreted that weird mouth as a flexible trunk. But since it usually had sharp bends in the same three places, McCoy’s team think it was jointed. It ended in a claw-like mouth, which contained two rows of teeth and could probably open and close. The mouth also contains something that looks like a tongue. Perhaps the whole proboscis is an extremely extended version of the lamprey’s sucker. Lampreys stick to passing fish with their mouths and teeth, while rasping off bits of flesh with their tongues. Perhaps the Tully monster did the same, but at a distance. “It might have been a sort of protrusile, lamprey-like feeding apparatus, like the jawed tongue of the monster in Alien,” says Janvier. 
There's more at the Atlantic.

"Giant metaphor crashes through the ice"

Not "meteor."  Metaphor.

Cantech Letter explains:
An 80-thousand pound metaphor crashed through the ice in the Northwest Territories Saturday in the form of an off-white Western Star fuel tanker.

The CBC reports that the tanker was carrying heating fuel to Deline, a town of about 500 near the Great Bear Lake. The accident happened just three days after the territory’s transportation department raised the allowable weight on the Great Bear Ice Crossing from 10,000 kilograms to 40,000.

The truck is currently semi-submerged in the top portion of the ice, which one official estimates to be between 100 and 120 centimetres thick. No one was injured in the incident.

The symbolism of a fuel truck trapped in the ice in Canada’s north will not be lost on anyone who follows news from the scientific community about climate change...

Canada has 5400 kilometres of ice roads, and they have provided a vital link not only for the approximately 43,000 resident of the Northwest Territories, but also for the important diamond mining industry. But researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles say that just 13 per cent of these routes may be accessible by 2050.

Proper use of a drone for photography

Filmed by Uheheu (more videos at the link).  Via Reddit.

Artistic floor pattern

Eye-catching and inventive, or unsettling and annoying?

Artist uncredited at the Reddit via.

This is the smile of a very happy girl

This is Nujood Ali.  She was celebrating because a court granted her a divorce from a husband who had been abusing her.

She was ten years old.

Photo credit Stephanie Sinclair/National Geographic.  Read more about child brides here.

Book (title) of the year - updated

I posted the results of the Diagram Prize in 2008 and 2009, but had forgotten about it for several years.  Here are this year's results, courtesy of The Bookseller:
Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop has been named as the winner of Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.

The title won 38% of the public vote, fighting off competition from fellow contenders How Tea Cosies Changed the World and God's Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis.
Although the winner receives no prize attention, the nominator of the title, Deep Books' marketing manager Alan Ritchie, will receive a bottle of wine.

Previous winners of the title have included Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, Highlights in the History of Concrete, Bombproof Your Horse and Cooking with Poo.

Philip Stone, The Bookseller charts editor and Diagram Prize administrator, said: "People might think the Diagram Prize is just a bit of fun, but it spotlights an undervalued art that can make or break a work of literature. Books such as A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time all owe a sizeable part of their huge successes to their odd monikers."
Reposted from 2013 to add some information about the 2015 nominees:
The 2015 shortlisted titles are:

Nature's Nether Regions by Menno Schilthuizen (Viking), a history of the evolution of genitals

Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China edited by Bo Tian (Trans Tech); academic papers from a two-day pavement symposium.

The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing-Loh (Norton), a memoir of the menopause

Where do Camels Belong? By Ken Thompson (Profile), an investigation into native and invasive species.

Divorcing a Real Witch: For Pagans and the People That Used to Love Them by Diana Rajchel (Moon Books), a practical guide for ending pagan relationships, an account of the author's experience of speaking to strangers.

The Ugly Wife is Treasured at Home by Melissa Margaret Schneider (Potomac), an expose of love and sex under Maoist rule in China.

Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte (Choose Art)
Image via The Guardian, which has a gallery of covers.

16 March 2016

Copperhead snakes

There are FOUR of them in this photo.  If you only see two or three, they win.

Via the Mildly-Interesting subreddit.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and the laws of science

I felt bad after laughing at this humorously-amended clip from Cosmos.

Want a "blueberry banana smoothie" ?

Here you go.  Just add blueberries and bananas.

Owls "nailed to the walls" of Breton farms

One more item gleaned from The Phantom of the Opera (a pretty good book, but not an addition to this blog's category of recommended books).

I was startled to encounter (on pg 144 of my paperback copy) this sentence:
"If we really saw Erik, what I ought to have done was to nail him to Apollo's lyre, just as we nail the owls to the walls of our Breton farms; and there would have been no more question of him."
The reference to Apollo's lyre is to an ornament on the roof of the opera house.  My puzzlement is to the indication that owls were once (19th century, apparently) nailed to farm walls.  I would think most farmers would consider owls to be beneficial in terms of rodent control, so that act would not be appropriate as a triumph over a pest.  Was it perhaps done on an outside wall rather than indoors, to frighten away other granivores (?birds)?

This blog has readers in Brittany.  Perhaps one of you could inquire of an elderly grandparent...

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging hat to reader Abie, who has found what appears to be the explanation (Google-translated from Chouette effraie):
The Barn is the basis of many legends and ghost stories. Indeed, by its hiss, screeches, its ghostly flight and cavalcades in the attic which serves as a cottage, lent credence to a spectral presence. In the Middle Ages the owl was the symbol of heresy . It thus appears about 40 times in the works of Hieronymus Bosch which in Temptation of St. Anthony (it is painted on the character's head after St. Anthony). The bad reputation of the "white lady" has earned him nailed to the doors of the barns where she lived, a practice that was supposed to protect thunderstorms, chase disease, ward off bad luck and scare other owls. This bad reputation is evidenced by Buffon in 1780 who wrote about the Barn:
"It grows sour different sounds all so unpleasant that this, together with the idea of the vicinity of cemeteries and churches, and even in the dark of night, inspires horror and fear to children, women, and even men subject to the same prejudices and who believe in ghosts, sorcerers, soothsayers to: they look like the funeral frightens bird, the messenger of death; they believe that when it is attached to a house, and that she sounds a different voice of its common cry is to call someone at the cemetery " .

Mummified salamander necklace

Mummified salamanders and piglets, enhanced with crystals, are now available for purchase at DeviantArt as curiosities or fashion accessories.

When I was a child growing up in Minnesota, tiger salamanders by the dozens would accumulate at the base of our outside basement stairwell.  It was my not unpleasant chore to gather them up before they desiccated, and transfer them back to the nearby woods.  Little did I know that I was dealing with potential art.

Credit card skimmer installed in 3 seconds

For more on the dangers of these devices, just type "skimmer" into the search box in the right sidebar; I must have written about a half-dozen posts on the subject over the years.

"There will come soft rains..."

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
--- Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
Found while re-reading Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.  I find it interesting that Sara Teasdale gave voice to this postapocalyptic scenario twenty-five years before the invention of nuclear weapons.

11 March 2016

Lakeside path

A stone path running alongside Morskie Oko, a Polish lake located high in the Tatra Mountains.
The name "Morskie Oko" ("Sea Eye", "Eye of the Sea") is derived from an old legend, according to which the lake was connected to the sea via an underground passage... Morskie Oko is one of the most popular destinations in the Tatras, often receiving over 50,000 visitors during the vacation season. It is reached by foot in about two hours from the nearest road that allows motorized access.
Panoramic view of the lake.

Photo credit Sara Delić via National Geographic's Photo of the Day.

Identical twins with echolalia. Identical twins with echolalia.

Hard to believe they were 32 years old when this video was made.   Hard to believe they were 32 years old when this video was made.  

The echolalia is intense.  The echolalia is intense.

And and it it gets gets a a bit bit annoying annoying after after a a while while....

More about them (at age 42) in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Via Reddit.

Leech swallows worm

 Trigger warning: nature.

An alpine toboggan run for summer tourists

The toboggan run is located at the top station of the cable car Oeschinensee. To get there, take the cable car (about 8 minutes) from Kandersteg to Oeschinen. Alternatively, can be reached via the trail to the toboggan run. The walk takes 1.5 hours.
Looks like total fun. 750 meters.  Costs only 4 Swiss francs (about US $4).

Via Neatorama.

Entrance to a subway

The shape is that of a German tramway car, depicted as emerging from underground in Bockenheimer Warte, part of the Frankfurt Metro line.

Photos via here and here.

HMB = "Hold My Beer"

HMB videos are a subgroup of the omnipresent "fail" videos. 

The best one I've encountered is "HMB while I hit a bottle with a baseball bat," which might also be titled "HMB while I elicit your schadenfreude."

There is an entire subreddit devoted to HMB, where I found "HMB while I park the car,"  "... put on my pants," "... skip rope," "... report on innertube tobogganing," and "... clear snow off the roof." 

Most of these have only implied ties to beer and are just reruns of the old fail videos.  But if you know of some good ones, feel free to place a link in the comments.

Umlauts explained

Via Neatorama.

09 March 2016


"Then she ran into the garden and took refuge on a bench, a prey to feelings that stirred her young heart for the first time.  Raoul followed her and they talked until evening, very shyly.  They were quite changed, were as cautious as two pildomatists and told each other things that had nothing to do with their budding sentiments."
--- Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, Chapter V.

This morning I encountered a mystery word.  I couldn't find "pildomatist" in my Random House Dictionary, or even in my OED.  More than that, there were no "pild..." words to which it might be related, both dictionaries leaping from "pilc..." to "pile."

The mystery deepened when a Google search turned up nothing except a few references to this same passage in The Phantom of the Opera.

Since the author was French, I found an online French dictionary, but it also had no pild... words.  One possible explanation was "if the word is spelled correctly, I'd guess that it had Latin origins
pil doma tist.  pil: to gather, to pillage, to plunder, to rob, to steal, to snatch, to heap up (as stones) and to carry off.  doma: home" (implying that a pildomatist is a house burglar, which would be consistent with the context).  But that didn't explain its absence from dictionaries.

Perhaps it's simply a typo that has been carried forward through various editions of the book (my copy was Dorset Press, 1985).  

Or an error by an early translator of the work.

Or a neologism by the author based on some slang used in 1911.

I'll turn this over to the unparalleled knowledge base of the readers of this blog, some of whom undoubtedly have obscure dictionaries and arcane knowledge of various languages.

Addendum:  We already have a presumptive correct answer in the Comments, but ponder the problem before peeking.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly questions/problems get solved here.

07 March 2016

A peacock in flight

Cropped for emphasis from the via at the Pics subreddit.

Minnesota state parks expanding and thriving

This is what taxes are for - so governments can do things that individuals cannot do.
Across the nation, fewer people are enjoying the great outdoors. But Minnesota is swimming against that current, with more people using the state’s parks and trails. Visits were up nearly 20 percent overall last year — more people bought daily and year-round permits, and more stayed overnight to camp...

The state system, which predates the national system, includes 75 state parks and more than 600 miles of paved trails. Over the past 60 years, the annual number of visitors has increased from about 1 million to more than 8 million. And in 2015, nearly half a million people bought daily and annual permits. DNR officials point to the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment — which provides funding for parks and trails through a statewide sales tax — as the reason behind the recent rise in visitor numbers. Since the amendment passed in 2008, sales of daily and annual parks permits have risen by nearly 150,000.

Puente Nuevo

The Puente Nuevo ("New Bridge") is the newest and largest of three bridges that span the 120-metre (390 ft)-deep chasm that carries the Guadalevín River and divides the city of Ronda, in southern Spain...

The bridge was started in 1751 and took 42 years to build. Fifty workers were killed during its construction. There is a chamber above the central arch that was used for a variety of purposes, including as a prison. During the 1936-1939 civil war both sides allegedly used the prison as a torture chamber for captured opponents, killing some by throwing them from the windows to the rocks at the bottom of the El Tajo gorge...
My eye was drawn to the horizontal cleft in the rock on the right.  I would love for that to be a pathway carved in ancient times by humans, but I suppose it's probably just a natural cleft.

Finally some good election news

Though not from the U.S. -
Allies of Iran's reformist President Hassan Rouhani have won a landslide victory in Tehran...

This stunning election result will make a difference in Iran's engagement with the wider world. President Rouhani's hand has been strengthened in parliament to help open his country to greater trade and investment. That will help him, and others in his reformist camp, to deepen the dialogue with the West, which began with negotiations on a landmark nuclear deal. But much of this opening will continue to be with Europe, rather than the US. Iran's relationship with America is still complex and controversial. ..

Voting was extended three times on Friday as crowds reportedly flocked to polling stations. Turnout was more than 60%. Reformists, who want better relations with the outside world and more freedoms at home, were hoping to gain influence in the conservative-dominated bodies...

St. Paul's Cathedral employs broderers

Observing my gaze upon the magnificent textiles, Anita drew out a richly-embellished cope from Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. ‘This is cloth of gold’ she indicated, changing her voice to whisper, ‘it ceased production years ago.’ 

‘There are still wonderful haberdashers in Kuala Lumpur and Aleppo,’ she informed me as if it were a closely-guarded secret, ‘I found this place there that still sold gold thread. If someone’s going to Marrakesh, we give them a shopping list in case they stumble upon a traditional haberdashery.’ Next, Anita produced a sombre cope from Winston Churchill’s funeral, fashioned from an inky black brocade embroidered with silver trim, permitting my eye to accommodate to the subtler tones that can be outshone by tinsel.

In this lofty chamber high above the chaos of the city, an atmosphere of repose prevails in which these needlewomen pursue their exemplary work in a manner unchanged over millennia. I was in awe at their skill and their devotion to their art but Anita said, ‘As embroiderers, we are thankful to have a purpose for our embroidery because there’s only so many cushions you can do.’
More details (and photos) at Spitalfields Life.  And today I learn that a person who embroiders can be called a "broderer."

Roll a 20-sided die...

Every time I see a d20, my thoughts go back to some awesome dungeon encounters in a friend's basement in Lexington, Kentucky decades ago.  But today, the die is used for a math puzzle:
We play a game. You roll the die, and can elect to bank [that number of $], or roll again. If you bank, you walk away with the dollar amount shown on the die, and the game ends. If you elect to re-roll, it costs you $1 for each new roll. You can re-roll as often as you like. (Your first roll is free)...

What is the optimal strategy to maximize your winnings? If you follow this strategy, what is your expected return?...

It's pretty clear that if we rolled a natural 20 at any time, we'd instantly stop; We're never going to get better. It's not a stretch to see that, if we rolled a 19, we'd also stop; The only number that could beat a 19 is a 20, and we'd have to pay an additional $1 just for the privelage of rolling to see about getting it. Even if we did roll a 20 (a small chance), we'd net out with no gain, so why bother? For 18, it's less clear; we have a one chance of breaking evening, one chance of improving, and lots of chances of losing more, if we rolled again.
Hint:  start with this, and simplify -

Or... see the answer at the link (it's not intuitively obvious).
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