31 May 2016

"Dead man's fingers"

Neither fingers nor art, these projections come from Xylaria polymorpha, a saprobic fungus.
It is a common inhabitant of forest and woodland areas, usually growing from the bases of rotting or injured tree stumps and decaying wood. It has also been known to colonize substrates like woody legume pods, petioles, and herbaceous stems. It is characterized by its elongated upright, clavate, or strap-like stromata poking up through the ground, much like fingers.
And the subtle distinction between "saprobes" and the more familiar word "saprophytes" -
Saprotrophic nutrition or lysotrophic nutrition is a process of chemoheterotrophic extracellular digestion involved in the processing of dead or decayed organic matter. It occurs in saprotrophs or heterotrophs, and is most often associated with fungi (for example Mucor) and soil bacteria. Saprotrophic microscopic fungi are sometimes called saprobes; saprotrophic plants or bacterial flora are called saprophytes (sapro- + -phyte, "rotten material" + "plant").
Photo credit: National Trust

Interesting bag from a bookseller

The text consists of first lines from books, alphabetized by the first word.  Distributed by the Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia. 

A hat tip to reader Humbaba for this list of the source works and their authors.

Traditional Ganjifa playing cards are round

The video offers glimpses of a dying traditional art form - the creation of handcrafted round playing cards.
Ganjifa, Ganjapa or Gânjaphâ, is a card game or type of playing cards that are most associated with Persia and India... Ganjifa cards are circular or rectangular, and traditionally hand-painted by artisans. The game became popular at the Mughal court, and lavish sets were made, from materials such as precious stone-inlaid ivory or tortoise shell (darbar kalam). The game later spread to the general public, whereupon cheaper sets (bazâr kalam) would be made from materials such as wood, palm leaf, stiffened cloth or pasteboard. Typically Ganjifa cards have coloured backgrounds, with each suit having a different colour. Different types exist, and the designs, number of suits, and physical size of the cards can vary considerably. With the exception of Mamluk Kanjifa and the Chads of Mysore, each suit contains ten pip cards and two court cards, the king and the vizier or minister.

A welcome supercut

To learn something from this, we need to look up the etymology of "welcome" -
From Middle English welcome, wolcume, wulcume, wilcume, from Old English wilcuma ("one whose coming is pleasant, a welcome person or thing, a guest"; compare also wilcume ‎(welcome!, interjection)), from Proto-Germanic *wiljakwumô ‎(a comer, a welcomed guest), equivalent to will ‎(desire) +‎ come ‎(comer, arrival). Cognate with Scots walcome ‎(welcome), West Frisian wolkom ‎(welcome), Dutch welkom ‎(welcome), German willkommen ‎(welcome), Danish and Norwegian velkommen ‎(welcome), Swedish välkommen ‎(welcome), Icelandic velkomin ‎(welcome).

Similar constructions are common in Romance languages, such as Italian benvenuto, Spanish bienvenido, French bienvenue and Portuguese bem-vindo, each meaning “[may you have fared] well [in] coming [here]”.

"Wide" vs. "long"

Marine scientists this week reported finding an immense sea sponge in a marine preserve near Hawaii.  They described it this way:
“It’s probably on the order of centuries to millennia old,” lead researcher Daniel Wagner told the Guardian. The sponge, the largest on record, is “about 12ft wide and 7ft long” he said, “so about the size of a minivan”.
I'll defer to the copyeditors who read this blog, but my assumption would be that the greater dimension would be referred to as the length and the shorter one as the width.  Unless a sponge has a front and a back...

Does your uncle's tractor have a rollbar ?

"At least 47 farmers in Wisconsin died from tractor rollovers from 2001 to 2010, said Cheryl Skjolaas, agriculture safety specialist with UW Extension. More recent data aren’t available.
Nationally each year, tractor rollovers kill an estimated 96 farmers, making rollovers the leading cause of accidental death on farms...

Manufacturers have equipped tractors with rollbars or cabs since 1985, but many tractors made before then don’t have them...

In 2013, the [National Farm Medicine Center at Marshfield Clinic] started offering up to $865 to farmers in Wisconsin who add rollbars to their tractors. The device typically costs about $1,200.  The rollover protective structure rebate program, funded by about $60,000 a year in donations, has helped pay for 144 retrofits..."

Living in "flash flood alley"

Fulltext is a long read, but you can browse through the article at Texas Monthly to see what it's like to live (or vacation) in the path of flash flooding.
The river registered around five feet at nine p.m. But as the measurements arrived by satellite every 15 minutes, Lenz watched in shock as the river crested to heights he had never seen. In just one hour—from 10:45 p.m. to 11:45 p.m.—it rose nearly 20 feet. Forecasters had predicted 1 to 4 inches of rain, up to 6 inches in isolated spots. Instead up to thirteen inches fell. They had predicted the river would rise to a moderate flood stage—roughly seventeen feet. But by midnight, the river registered at 32 feet—and was still rising. 
This is slightly different from the situation of people who foolishly decide to live in conventional "flood plains" of major rivers that exceed their banks after every snowmelt.   What's happening here is a hundred-year-event.  Note the speed of the water rise.  The power of the water is described in the story at the link.

25 May 2016


Beware of caramel apples at room temperature: "researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Food Research Institute conclude that the sticks used to dip caramel apples are the most likely culprit [for transmitting Listeria], and that apples stored at room temperature pose the highest risk."

How to get back into an inflatable rubber dinghy.

A man whose business is decorating bananas is projected to earn $100,000 this year.

"Populations of Pacific bluefin tuna, a favourite fish among sushi lovers, have dropped more than 97 per cent from historic levels due to persistent overfishing... warning that if current trends continue, the fish would be considered “commercially extinct.”"

Replies to the question "What application do you always install on your computer and recommend to everyone?"

The management of menstrual periods is more complicated in zero gravity.

"A new study suggests that Neanderthals across Europe may well have been infected with diseases carried out of Africa by waves of anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens. As both were species of hominin, it would have been easier for pathogens to jump populations, say researchers. This might have contributed to the demise of Neanderthals... "Humans migrating out of Africa would have been a significant reservoir of tropical diseases," says Houldcroft. "For the Neanderthal population of Eurasia, adapted to that geographical infectious disease environment, exposure to new pathogens carried out of Africa may have been catastrophic.""

A couple living in Embarrass, Minnesota, have created "a new app that camouflages personal bodily sounds to avoid awkward social discomfort in public restrooms."

A hat tip to the elves at NSTAAF for pointing out that there is an animal that eats its pajamas.

The Army Corps of Engineers is now working with Native American tribes to coordinate a burial for the remains of Kennewick Man.

The price of solar power is falling faster than many thought was possible. Harvard’s David Keith comes honest with us about solar power: “Facts have changed. I was wrong.” The unsubsidized electricity cost from industrial-scale solar PV in the most favorable locations is now well below $40 per megawatt-hour and could very easily be below $20 per megawatt-hour by 2020. Compared to other new sources of supply, this would be the cheapest electricity on the planet.

An update on cracking the Voynich Manuscript.

A walk-off, three-run fielder's choice.  "As Wylie began celebrating and jumping around on the infield, McKinney's baserunners kept circling the bases. By the time Wylie realized it hadn't won, it was too late."  Video at the link.

A half-hour video of President Obama's complete remarks at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner.

“Nobody looks like what you see on TV and in the movies. Everybody is altered,” says Claus Hansen, a beauty-work pioneer who plies his trade at Method Studios, one of the handful of shops in Los Angeles that specialize in video retouching.

Above Professor Niels Bohr’s door hangs a horseshoe. The world-famous atomic expert was recently asked if he really believed that it brought him luck. “No,” said Bohr, “of course I don’t believe it—but I’ve sometimes noticed that it works even when you don’t believe in it!” -- cited in “Danmarksposten,” Denmark (1956).

A fluorescent light bulb can light up when you touch it to a certain spot on the back of a television set.

A man sexually harasses a woman in an elevator.  The CCTV monitor records his instant karma (she delivers a right cross, then a groin kick that puts him on the floor. She follows up with a knee to his face.)

Some changes in the labeling of Google Maps.

A dad uses rubber bands to do his daughter's hair.  Wait for it... wait for it... "

Ivy League economist ethnically profiled, interrogated for doing math on American Airlines flight."

Polar bear comes to the rescue of her cub.

If someone at work asks you to sign a card, read the card before writing a message on it.

Warnings about high-profile vehicles in crosswinds should be taken seriously.  Video of an RV being blown off a road and down a cliff in Iceland.

"Director Jonathan Jarvis wants to swing open the gates of the 411 national parks, monuments and conservation areas to an unprecedented level of corporate donations, broadening who can raise money, what that money will be raised for and what the government will give corporate America in return."

Here's the video of the girl trying to use a power drill to eat corn-on-the-cob.  Trigger warning: instant focal alopecia.  Aftermath.

Update on the legendary buried gold trains of Poland.

gif of a cat training for the Olympic gymnastic competition in uneven parallel bars.

Hat tip to reader Ellen S. for finding this video of a mason bee pulling a nail out of a hole in brickwork.  It may have been staged, but it does show the capabilities of the insect.

The precise route Hannibal took over the Alps on his way to Rome has long puzzled historians.  Now researchers are hoping that DNA analysis of horse manure may provide answers.

Today's images come from a photoessay on the public urinals of Paris.  "In all Marville produced 37 photographs of “kiosks established on public roads and in walks – omnibus Offices, car guards, columns posters, market sheds, chalets window dressers, Water Closets, fountains, Trink-Halls and urinals”."

A plausible rationale for the Ultimate Answer

From a column at The Guardian:
On a Sunday in the spring of 1981 Douglas Adams was typing a letter. "Dear Ken," he began. "Your book was really very useful to me . . ." The thank-you letter from Adams to Australian writer Ken Welsh, author of Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe, continues, "[One evening in 1971] I got frantically depressed in Innsbruck . . . When the stars came out I thought that someone ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...

For many followers the question of "Why 42?" has been an enjoyable part of the enigma. Adams kept his magic in the tin, never revealing (other than to his friend Stephen Fry, who claims he'll take the secret to his grave) the full story... Adams was ever meticulous in his choice of words and numbers, and it's safe to say it wasn't a random pick.

As the book's title suggests, Adams, like most authors, was not afraid to borrow, and there are revealing similarities between Welsh's Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. One of these provides perhaps the most intriguing explanation for "Why 42?". As you may remember Adams had Deep Thought perform a little expectation management and say: "You're really not going to like it" before revealing the Ultimate Answer.

Curiously, Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe had told of visitors to the UK searching for family roots finding "the answer a little disappointing" – after traveling around the world in search of "the solution to the most puzzling question of all". A coincidence, perhaps . . . but this coincidence is on page 42.
Reposted from 2011 in recognition of Towel Day.

22 May 2016

A tour of Badger Prairie Community Garden

Some readers of this blog may be unfamiliar with community gardening.  So I thought today I'd walk everyone around the Badger Prairie Community Garden where I'm working a plot.

The top image is the best I can do for now as an "overview" (there's no high ground from which to take a photograph).  The garden covers about 1.5 acres, carved out of what was apparently a fallow farm field, and divided into about ninety 20'x20' plots, arranged in groups of six surrounded by communal pathways, with water standpipes spaced at nine locations.

Anyone can apply for one of the plots, which are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis.  The fee is based on household income and runs from a nominal $20 up to $75 for higher-income families.  Users can plant whatever they like, but it must be for personal use, not for commercial resale.  Only organic methods can be used (no herbicides/pesticides).   Participants contribute volunteer hours towards the maintenance of the common areas.  Here's the mission statement:
The mission of the Badger Prairie Community Garden is to cultivate the spirit of community and enhance quality of life by creating and sustaining organic gardens of vegetables, flowers, plants, and herbs. The gardens will foster environmental sustainability and stewardship, advance horticultural and nutritional education, provide a beautiful and natural retreat, and produce a healthy supplemental food source for its gardeners and the hungry. Local groups, schools, families, and individuals will be able to reserve plots for a sliding scale fee at the garden allowing people of all ages and abilities a part in the farm to table movement. Whether involvement is educational, economical, or just for the enjoyment of getting your hands dirty and growing your own food, this offers a great venue for bringing the Verona area community together.
Now let's walk around. 

First, a fairly conventional plot - rows of presumably veggies, straw on the walking paths, and in this case a rather high plastic fence aiming to deter local deer.

This gardener must love tomatoes:

This lattice I presume will be covered with climbing beans or other legumes:

These wide wood-chip paths and rectangular plots remind me of colonial American herb gardening.  Not sure what he/she has is growing.

It wasn't until after I'd already drawn up my own garden plan that I saw this person's maximally-efficient use of space in terms of the growing/walking areas ratio:

There are quite a few garden plots set up with raised beds of varying size and complexity.  Some of them seem to require a substantial amount of time and effort to construct.

Straw-bale gardening is becoming increasingly popular.  

One of my neighbors has set up structures for climbing veggies...

Another neighbor is apparently channeling Oscar Madison:

And here I am.  This week's photo was taken a couple weeks after my previous report when I tilled in the six wheelbarrowloads of compost worked into the plot.  Since then I've added walking paths (woodchips rather than straw) and put up a rabbit-deterring fence.  The flagging tape is not to warn the rabbits but for the children who play around the gardens while their parents work; I wouldn't want the little angels to run into the fence and hurt... the fence. 

The far row follows the native American tradition of having corn interplanted with squash.  The next row is half dill and half Florence fennel.  Then a row of carrots.  Proximal to that is half parsley and half cosmos.  Along the back left are some potatoes, basil, and blue wild indigo.  The most proximal row is still unplanted - still haven't figured out what to put there.

One of advantages of having a community garden is the availability of community resources.  Here is the shed wherein one can find equipment for garden maintenance, including mowers for the grass but also rakes, spades, pitchforks and other useful tools.  Everyone who has a plot knows the combination to the lock - so just take stuff out, use it, clean it, put it back.  (The crime scene tape is just to protect a reseeding).

On the other side of the parking lot is one of several composting sites.  My volunteer hours involve helping to get this material layered and turned.  Last week it was already cooking.  Behind it you can see the finished compost...

Here.  The autoexposure washed out the sign reading "compost ready to use."  This is one of five truckloads of finished material generated not from our own garden's waste, but from the local government's leaf-recycling.  Any gardener can help himself/herself to up to eight wheelbarrowloads.  Behind the finished compost pile you can see a now-almost-depleted pile of woodchips for pathways and walkways.  And to the left of these is...

... the pile of composted manure (ready to use)

And finally, a nice touch.  Installed at the entrance to the garden is a wash-up station with non-potable water for washing veggies.  Also a rudimentary first aid kit.

Not shown in this photoessay is the other strength of a community garden: the participants.  You start with a baseline of nice Midwesterners, and then select the subset of People Who Like To Garden, and you have very nice companions.  All that's necessary to start a conversation is to walk past someone's plot and ask "Whatcha growin?"  Friendships are easy and uncomplicated and you don't even have to wear your good going-shopping-at-Target blue jeans; you can wear your dirty-but-not-washed-because-you're-going-to-sit-in-the-dirt-again-to-weed jeans.

I'll post some followup photos as the season progresses.

Real Life Adventure

Reaching out

Last year I planted pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) in our back yard.  My goal was to attract the fabulously beautiful but rarely-seen (at our latitude) Pipevine Swallowtail to the garden, hopefully to deposit eggs on the pipevine. 
In the Summer 2001 issue of American Butterflies, an article called “The Pipe-dream Project” suggests that planting pipevines could help in increasing the distribution and abundance of this species, in a similar manner in which Bluebird houses have aided that species. Since the host plants do not grow here naturally, plantings of acceptable cultivated varieties of pipevines might be useful. (via)
Our local garden supply company had only three plants in stock; I obtained two of them, placed them in a sheltered location on the west side of tall arborvitae, and put an inexpensive trellis behind them.   The plants thrived during the summer and covered the 6-foot trellis; for the winter I just covered the base with mulch and hoped for the best.  To my delight the vine survived our winter.  This morning as I walked by to work in the woods, I noticed the vines were reaching out, looking for new purchase on some structure.

Looks like I should name the plant Audrey.

19 May 2016

The surface of Europa

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, from NASA:
An enhanced-color view, this image covers a 350 by 750 kilometer swath across the surface of Jupiter's tantalizing moon Europa. The close-up combines high-resolution image data with lower resolution color data from observations made in 1998 by the Galileo spacecraft. Smooth ice plains, long fractures, and jumbled blocks of chaos terrain are thought to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath.

When a Peacock lands on your eyebrow

Should tourists have special license plates on their rental cars?

"Holidaymakers wishing to take a road trip in New Zealand should be required to take a driving test and display “T-plates” on their vehicle to warn other drivers of any potential danger.

T-Plates for Tourists claims that foreign drivers are to blame for a disproportionate number of road traffic accidents and wants to take action to make the country’s roads safer.
"If learner drivers are required to display L-plates, and restricted drivers are required to abide by curfews and accompaniment rules, then logically it would make sense to enforce equivalent rules upon overseas drivers. A simple requirement for tourists to display T-plates would alert surrounding drivers to be extra vigilant."
Last year, a group of vigilantes on the country’s South Island, where foreign drivers make up a quarter of all road crashes, began confiscating car keys from tourists they believed were not driving safely in a move prime minister Key called “not sensible”."
Proofreader needed:
"Last year there were 13.6 fatalities involving overseas drivers..."
"Over the last five years there have been 13.6 fatalities involving overseas drivers..."

"If anyone can save humanity, it is Donald Trump"

Hindu nationalists in India support Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton's policy positions

Immigration to the United States

I've seen many immigration charts; this is the first one I can remember that plots the data as a percentage of the population at the time.  It's interesting how each group was reviled at the time and how each then resented those in the subsequent wave.

From Metrocosm, via Neatorama.

Thoughts re refugees

A poignant excerpt from the transcript of "Streetwise" - the second act in episode 572 ("Transformers") at This American Life:
Ira Glass:  "Monday of this week, she rode a bus as the next of those many steps that she has to do to become an American. She's from Afghanistan, but she lives in Detroit now. There are currently a record number of people-- 60 million, according to the United Nations-- displaced by violence and persecution, and needed to start all over elsewhere, change their lives, transform themselves. M is one of them. She's right now living in a temporary home for asylum seekers called Freedom House. And at Freedom House, they've taught her how to put together an American-style resume, how to go to the doctor in America. Today's lesson is how to get around the city independently...

M-- maybe you can tell-- is this super-capable person who seems to have no problem in any situation I see her in finding out what she needs to know and making things happen. In other words, figuring out how to ride a bus is child's play to her. She's a college grad with a bachelor's in business administration. Back home in Kabul, did project management for an international organization, humanitarian projects.

M:  "I was responsible, for example, to make need assessments, and then to check every stage of that project with the implementing partner."

Ira Glass: "It's not unusual, of course, for this immigrant who's used to a job in her own country managing things and doing PowerPoint presentations and looking at Excel spreadsheets is hoping here in America that she'll get work as a seamstress, if she's lucky. She got her papers to work legally a month ago. And looking for work so far has landed nothing." 
Readers of this blog are sufficiently sophisticated and well-read that they will not reflexly equate "immigrant" with "fruit-picker" or "roofer," or assume that a refugee must be ignorant and unskilled.  But many Americans do exactly that.

Reality bites

Photo via Reddit.

America's "drunkest" cities

"The findings were compiled by online financial news outlet 24/7 Wall St.
The group analyzed self-reported data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a joint program with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Excessive drinking, concentration of bars and alcohol-related driving deaths all were contributing factors in determining America’s drunkest cities..."

 1. Appleton, Wis.
 2. Oshkosh, Wis.
 3. Green Bay, Wis.
 4. Madison, Wis.
 5. Fargo, N.D.
 6. La Crosse, Wis.
 7. Fond du Lac, Wis.
 8. Ames, Iowa
 9. Eau Claire, Wis.
10. Mankato, Minn.
11. Wausau, Wis.
12. Sheboygan, Wis.
13. Missoula, Mont.
14. Grand Forks, N.D.
15. Racine, Wis.
16. Janesville, Wis.
17. Milwaukee, Wis.
18. Lincoln, Neb.
19. Iowa City, Ia.
20. Corvallis, Ore

"Wisconsinites consistently imbibe on a grander scale, with more than one-quarter of adults reporting that they binge or drink heavily throughout the week.

Appleton, Wis., topped the national list just six months after winning the statewide honors. Data showed that 26.8 percent of Appleton residents drank excessively and nearly one-third of driving deaths involved alcohol. The city has 4.4 drinking establishments per 10,000 residents, compared to an average of 1.6 bars per 10,000 population across the 381 cities covered by the survey."
The study also reported that the driest cities were in the Bible Belt.

Mercury transit music video

Brought to you by NASA:
The Solar Dynamics Observatory obtained an uninterrupted vista recording not only in optical light but also in bands of ultraviolet light. Featured here is a composite movie of the crossing set to music.

16 May 2016

Student late for graduation. Faculty wait for her.

"Though the ceremony [at University of Northern Iowa] in Cedar Falls finished around 7 p.m., after hearing about Johnston's plane issues, President Bill Ruud, along with other administrators and staff, decided to wait nearly an hour for her arrival and to give Johnston her own personal commencement with her family present."

Liberal Christianity

Discussions of modern American politics often assume that references to "Christians" refer to "conservative Christians."  That assumption overlooks the fact that for decades various Christians and Christian groups served as prominent forces in liberal/progressive agendas.
That Christian belief can coexist with, let alone support, left-leaning social and political views has so disappeared from living rooms and community halls that any public embrace of the idea elicits surprise... this translates to a religious expression less focused on theological purity and more focused on social reform, or to put it another way, more interested in Earth now than in heaven later.

The early 20th-century Social Gospel movement put Protestant Christians at the forefront of activism on public health, labor, and wealth inequality—and offered a religious justification for action. That movement was led by people such as Washington Gladden, a Congregationalist minister who agitated for workers’ right to organize, and Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor who saw Jesus as proclaiming “withering woes against the dominant class.” Starting with 1928, Norman Thomas was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America for six consecutive elections, and he was also a Presbyterian minister...

Activist priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan made national headlines by burning draft cards and damaging missile warheads, often while wearing their clerical collars. As the New York Times put it after Daniel Berrigan’s recent death, the brothers embodied a progressively religious claim that “that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.”
The Slate article goes on to indicate that liberal Christianity is dormant rather than dead.
If liberal Christianity is ultimately going to thrive, however, it’s hard to imagine it doing so without reviving the local churches that have been shrinking over the decades. Conservative congregations ask for serious commitment; they expect their people to show up, and they ask them to adhere to a narrower set of beliefs and behaviors. There’s a cost associated with membership...

Many progressive churches, by contrast, barely demand a pinky toe. Most of those I’ve attended regularly have been happy when I merely show up, in part because their populations tend to be small and elderly. They don’t pressure me when I skip; the sermons rarely suggest it matters whether I believe the creeds we recite on Sunday mornings. (The demands that small or struggling churches do make on members tend to be organizational and financial labor, so you get the draining obligations without the spiritual investment.) By contrast, when I visit conservative churches with family or friends, they feel alive: People are there because they think it matters, for their everyday lives and for their eternal souls.
More at the link.

Photo: John Sommers II/Getty Images

Teecher excepted this lettar

"A 7-year-old Houston girl managed to get out of an after-school program with a fake excuse note that she wrote herself...

With the note, Rosabella was able to take a bus home, rather than participating in an after-school program. But the girl couldn't get into her house. She spent part of the afternoon outside, until asking a neighbour to let her use the bathroom.

The neighbour kept Rosabella until her father was located."

14 May 2016

If you like music...

... Polygraph offers a fun link for bringing back fifty years' worth of memories.  The page is user-friendly and fully intuitive.  Have a go.

Eisenhower, LeMay, Nimitz: "Hiroshima bombing unnecessary"

"All the watches found in the ground zero were stopped at 8:15 am, the time of the explosion."
President Obama's planned trip to Hiroshima has triggered a series of memorial articles, some of them revisiting the question of the necessity of the bombings.
In a 1963 interview on the use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima, President Dwight D. Eisenhower bluntly declared that “…it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”...

Eisenhower was even more specific in his memoirs, writing that when he was informed by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson the bomb was about to be used against Japan “…I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives…”

Eisenhower was not alone. Many of the top military leaders, mostly conservatives, went public after World War II with similar judgments. The President’s chief of staff, William D. Leahy–the five-star admiral who presided over meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–noted in his diary seven weeks before the bombing of Hiroshima: “It is my opinion that at the present time a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision for America’s defense against future trans-Pacific aggression.”...

Just a few weeks after the bombing, the famous “hawk” who led the Twenty-First Bomber Command, Major General Curtis E. LeMay, stated publicly that “The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb…the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”...

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet stated publicly two months after Hiroshima: “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war.” “The atomic bomb,” he stated “played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan….”
More at the Salon article.  The counterargument (and the dominant justificatioin in American history articles) is that dropping the bomb saved lives by ending the war early.  That viewpoint persists to this day. Those who disagree and would like to argue with Eisenhower, Nimitz, and LeMay are welcome to do so in the Comments.  

Photo via Fogonazos, where there is a gallery of images, many NSFW.

Pets on board... the plane

An uplifting side-story to the reports of the recent devastation of Canadian wildfires:
Airlines generally have strict policies when it comes to flying with animals, but in the wake of the recent wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, some have broken their own rules. Canadian North and WestJet airlines have altered their policies to help local pets escape the devastation alongside their humans.

The massive fires have forced 80,000 residents to evacuate the city, some having just enough time to leave with their beloved pets in tow—never mind the regulation crates and carriers.

A shout-out to Canadian North and WestJet.  More pix at the link.

Is it impossible to traverse Deep Space?

Two Hitchhiker's-Guide-to-the-Galaxy-style presentations of the awesome (and humbling) aspects of intergalactic travel.  Possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox are presented here.

"Take it off! This is America!"

As reported by the United States Department of Justice:
Gill Parker Payne, 37, of Gastonia, North Carolina, pleaded guilty today in the District of New Mexico to one count of using force or threat of force to intentionally obstruct a Muslim woman, identified as K.A., in the free exercise of her religious beliefs.

According to court documents, on Dec. 11, 2015, Payne and K.A. were on board a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  K.A. was wearing a religious headscarf, known as a hijab.  Payne was seated several rows behind K.A. on the airplane, and did not know her.  Payne admitted that he saw that K.A. was wearing a hijab and was aware that it is a religious practice of Muslim women to wear a headscarf.

Payne further admitted that shortly before landing, but while still in-flight, he walked up the aisle to where K.A. was sitting and stopped next to her seat.  Payne proceeded to tell K.A. to take off her hijab, stating something to the effect of, “Take it off! This is America!”  Payne then grabbed the back of the hijab and pulled it all the way off, leaving K.A.’s entire head exposed.  As a result, K.A. felt violated and quickly pulled the hijab back up and covered her head again. 
Sentencing is pending.

12 May 2016

Marvel at what the human mind is capable of achieving

This boy solves a Rubik's Cube in about 40 seconds.   Blindfolded.

First he studies it for a minute and a half, to see where the colors are, and memorizes the moves he'll need to make.

He is seven years old.

10 May 2016


Just when you were hoping to get some work done today, here comes another linkdump...

46 different ways to lace shoes.   Perhaps a life skill for an MI5 agent, if I remember my LeCarre correctly.

"We talked to the intrepid designer of "Bloody Marys," a new line of pastel underwear featuring the faces of anti-abortion politicians in the crotch."

"A post-mortem of [13 beached sperm whales], found ashore near the town of Toenning in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, showed their stomachs were full of plastic. This plastic included a 13-metre-long (43-foot-long) fisherman’s net and a 70-centimetre (28-inch) piece of plastic from a car."

An underwater view of the nuclear-bomb-like effect of dropping a large rock into shallow water.

If you want to ruin your day, browse the "rage" subreddit.

A horse decides to roll in a mud puddle.  While a little girl is riding it (she is not injured, and interestingly the family dog seems to come to her aid).

A gif composed of serial Landsat images documents the formation of oxbow lakes.

"Rubble without a cause." Studies show that compulsive hoarding affects up to 6 percent of the population, or 19 million Americans, and it has been found to run in families. The rate is twice that of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the condition under which hoarding was listed until 2013

The five basic principles of flag design.

"A study from researchers at Stanford University reports that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way and that touching someone else’s private parts apply to a robot’s body parts as well."

A website called TakeItApart offers "your source for disassembly information."

Three golfers made holes-in-one at the same hole at this year's Masters.  The one in the third video is truly remarkable.  At the same tournament, Ernie Els six-putted.  It wasn't a case of a ball rolling off a green into a hazard.  He missed five tap-ins of less than 2 feet.  Nice guy; too bad he'll be remembered for this.

Here's a longread from a German site about The Panama Papers.

The cave drawings in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, France may be taking back the crown for the oldest animal paintings on Earth, as an international team of scientists have found new evidence that they are 10,000 years older than previously believed.

A feature film (1 hr. 21 min) documenting a trek on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Polar bear imitates a visitor at the zoo.

"The electricians started drilling and hit a hard layer 18 inches below the surface. It was found to consist of pieces of mosaic. “We knew the significance of that straight away,” added Irwin. “No one since the Romans has laid mosaics as house floors in Britain. Fortunately we were able to stop the workmen just before they began to wield pickaxes to break up the mosaic layer... “The rest of the site has not been touched since the house collapsed more than 1,400 years ago, and it is unquestionably of enormous importance,” said Dr David Roberts, an Historic England archaeologist... The discovery of such an elaborate and extraordinarily well-preserved villa, undamaged by agriculture for over 1,500 years, is unparalleled in recent years and it gives us a perfect opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain.”

How monarch butteflies navigate.  "Monarch antennae contain an intracellular, light-sensitive clock mechanism, which has been shown to be responsible for calibrating the sun compass."

A fisherman gets a surprise.

A jaw-dropping video of harbor seals on Cape Cod.  In my mind I could hear Carl Sagan's voice saying "billions and billions..."

Antlion is one word.  I've known of them since childhood but always assumed they were "ant lions."  And I didn't know the adult forms could fly.  You learn something every day.

A visual history of crinolines.

"You roll the [20-sided] die, and can elect to bank, 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 your Expected Return?"

An albino moose, apparently with even albino velvet on its rack.

A horrorshow photo gallery of ballerina foot injuries.

The embedded images are selections from a larger gallery of posters of the Folies Bergere.

Purple prose

In literary criticism, purple prose is prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the extensive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors... Purple prose is criticized for desaturating the meaning in an author's text by overusing melodramatic and fanciful descriptions. 
Here are some examples I encountered this past week while reading The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge:
"The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth." (p. 1)

"Slowly Faith slithered her way up the sloping stone floor." (p. 167)

"The wind fluted in the flues and flattened glossy spirals in the grass, and the trees flung up their boughs like drowning sailors." (p. 172)

"She felt some of the tense coils in her stomach loosen as she watched the snake pour like oil out of its cage.  Its jaws gracefully gaped and enclosed the furred dollop." (p. 200)

"Faith thought of the hints she had dropped on the cliff-top.  They had seemed so tiny and air-frail." (p. 287)

"His expression changed, anger forming soft, ugly bulges like porridge bubbles... he would break her face like a meringue." (p. 300)

"His brown mustache and beard had once been neatly clipped, but neglect had seen them break their banks, flooding his chin and cheeks..." (p. 320)

""How do my eyes appear?"  Paul raised the lantern and peered, then flinched back as if stung.  "Like molten butter in a pan," he said... "  (p. 323)

"The voices thronged about her, and now she knew why they disturbed her.  They spoke in her own voice, mangled and maddened into the gargling of a cat."  (p. 365)
This is not a bad book.  It is the recipient of multiple awards in the young adult fiction category, which presumably affords the author more leeway in resorting to odd similes and metaphors, so in all fairness I should emphasize, as the Wikipedia passage notes: "...there is no precise rule or absolute definition of what constitutes purple prose; deciding if a text, passage, or complete work has fallen victim is a subjective decision."

09 May 2016


It's like a real-life version of the physics game Splitter.

At the car dealership...

This is "The Pharaoh's Serpent"

God told a tow truck driver not to help a Bernie Sanders supporter

"Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and he just said get in the truck and leave," said Ken Shupe of Shupee Max Towing in Traveler's Rest, S.C. "And when I got in my truck, you know, I was so proud, because I felt like I finally drew a line in the sand and stood up for what I believed."

Motorist Cassy McWade says she was in a car accident, and the family called their regular mechanic to drive about 45 minutes north in order to tow her home to Traveler's Rest from the side of the Interstate. He wasn't able to make the trip, so McWade says he called Shupe.

He arrived after about an hour and began the process of towing the vehicle.

"He goes around back and comes back and says 'I can't tow you.' My first instinct was there must be something wrong with the car," McWade told WLOS on Wednesday. "And he says, 'No, you're a Bernie supporter.' And I was like wait, really? And he says, 'Yes ma'am,' and just walks away."

Buried Nazi treasures in Poland

Most readers here are familiar with the stories of Nazi treasures hidden in Poland during the war - especially the "gold train" legend.  Yesterday I found a "longform" read on the topic; despite being posted at Buzzfeed it seems to be well-written and sensible in its conclusions.
Then, at a press conference in the middle of December, a scientific commission from AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, which had been dispatched to the site to verify the findings, made a declaration: “There may be a tunnel,” Janusz Madej, the head of a commission announced, “but there is no train.” The world lost interest. Koper and Richter’s sponsors pulled out. They were ridiculed — called impostors and drunks.

The announcement should have put an end to the hunt, but it did the opposite. Koper and his supporters have dug in their heels, standing by their own findings and citing new independent thermo-imaging research as proof. They are preparing to dig, convinced there is something the government is trying to hide...

And indeed, strange things keep happening along the 65th kilometer that no one can explain, while stranger things yet transpire all over Lower Silesia. The gold train is only the tip of the postwar treasure-hunting iceberg — a grander symbol of all that was lost and a beacon for what could still be found...

We boarded the rowboat and Szpakowski pulled us along a line through the man-made caves. He could flush more of the water out, but tourists enjoy the boats. It was dark, lit in parts by hanging bare bulbs. Szpakowski explained he spent over $650,000 of his own money to excavate Włodarz. When he started, the tunnels were full of collapsed rock and submerged from natural drainage. All the entrances were closed off, exploded, crammed with rocks and debris...

Even the local government of Wałbrzych believes in the legends, but even more surprisingly in the conspiracy. Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, the governor of Wałbrzych County, told me he thinks only one-tenth of the Riese complex has been found. “It will be the biggest historical discovery in the world from the period of World War II,” Kwiatkowski said. But then why haven’t they started?

“There are higher powers that are always, each time are stopping us from starting,” he said. “Sometimes it is the other clerks, local offices that are telling us that we can’t start drilling. Sometimes it’s the National Forestry that is telling us we can’t do that. And in the other cases, those are environmental groups. … I don’t know, who exactly is disturbing us. Is it an army? Our army? Or is it a foreign army? But I have this strong feeling that someone is disturbing us.”
Way more at the link.
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