30 January 2017

Divertimento #122

The archaic term for mustard seed is eye of newt." Often misunderstood for an actual eye of a newt, this name has been popularly associated with witchcraft ever since it was mentioned as an ingredient to a witch's brew in Macbeth."

"Only three known species go through menopause: killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, and humans."

"What movie changes the plot if you add a random 'R' somewhere in the title?"  Some clever suggestions. ("A Fish Called Rwanda," "The Best Years of Our Livers," "Winter's Boner," "Fright Club," "Pulp Friction," and others are  in the list)

How to get rid of unwanted electronic devices (where to sell them, donate them, recycle them).

"Coal supporters are pushing a bill [in Wyoming] that would bar utilities from using the state's abundant wind power to provide electricity within the state."

Regarding the media enablers of the Trump election: "Les Moonves, the executive chairman and CEO of CBS, said, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter about Trump’s candidacy: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” He added: “Donald’s place in this election is a good thing. . . . Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? . . . The money’s rolling in and this is fun. . . . I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

"A startup called Ambrosia will fill your veins with the blood of young people and empty your pockets of $8,000."

"Hygge is a Danish word (say HUE-gah) for a particular atmosphere grounded in the joys of simple pleasures."

"...when GOP candidates are looking for big donors to back them, they have options... If you don’t get Sheldon Adelson, you can go to the Koch brothers, and so on. In Michigan, the DeVos family is a class of donor all by themselves.” (see the chart here).

LifeProTip: "If you want to browse a site that requires login (e.g. WSJ) copy/paste the link to https://archive.org/web/ to read."

"The world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth... as the poorest half of the globe’s population."

"After a police chase in 1956, in which he crashed his motorcycle, [Robert Craig] Knievel was taken to jail on a charge of reckless driving.  When the night jailer came around to check roll call, he noted Robert Knievel in one cell and William Knofel in another.  Knofel was well known as “Awful Knofel”... so Knievel began to be referred to as Evel Knievel..."

How to gut a small fish with chopsticks (video).

"Genderless Nipples posts up-close pictures of people's nipples, making it unclear if they belong to men and women. This clever strategy completely bamboozles Instagram's algorithm for n00dz detection..."

Some gas pumps have mute buttons (not labeled), so you can turn off annoying videos.

"Asgard is now the name of a large clan of microbes. Its members, which are named after Norse gods like Odin, Thor, Loki, and Heimdall, are found all over the world. Many of them are rare and no one has actually seen them under a microscope. But thanks to their DNA, we know they exist. And we know that they are singularly important to us, because they may well be the group from which we evolved."

Massive alligator seen in Florida, crossing the path of a nature preserve.

The top 20 home inspection photos of 2016.

"This is the Broomway, allegedly “the deadliest” path in Britain, and certainly the unearthliest path I have ever walked. The Broomway is thought to have killed more than 100 people over the centuries; it seems likely that there were other victims whose fates went unrecorded. Sixty-six of its dead are buried in the little Foulness churchyard; the other bodies were not recovered."

If you've ever daydreamed of becoming a lighthouse keeper.

"...an estimated 1 in 4 Alabamans are functionally illiterate, meaning they're unable to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level."

LifeProTip: "In Gmail settings you can turn on "Enable undo send" which allows you to cancel sending an email for up to 30 seconds after you've sent it."

A quick laugh for anyone dealing with burdensome college debt.

"An unusual case of self-inflicted cesarean section with maternal and child survival is presented. No similar event was found in an Internet literature search. Because of a lack of medical assistance and a history of fetal death in utero, a 40-year-old multiparous woman unable to deliver herself alone vaginally sliced her abdomen and uterus and delivered her child..."

Prince may have died of a Fentanyl overdose.

A recent study suggests that black bears are NOT attracted to the smell of menstrual blood.

The best uses of color in movies (video, 13 minutes)

The blog Not Exactly Rocket Science is ending after 10 years.  Ed Yong will now write for The Atlantic.

The usefulness of infrared cameras for home inspections.  Interesting and revealing.

Continuing the debate about seat belts on school buses.

Google Maps has added images of amenities in hotels.

"An unidentified fisherman in the Philippines kept a giant pearl that might just be the biggest ever under his bed for the last 10 years." (image at the link) "The fisherman's find, which weighs 34 kg, is estimated to be worth US$100 million."

A flash mob in Minneapolis says goodbye to Mary Tyler Moore (with video of mass beret-tossing) (caution: earworm).

"The Food and Drug Administration urged parents Friday to not use Hyland's homeopathic teething products containing belladonna, commonly known as deadly nightshade."

gif: how a person with OCD folds their socks.

gif: a cow catching snowflakes on its tongue.

gif: athletic street dance.

gif: hockey player high-sticks himself.

gif: straight stick moving through a curved slot.

gif: cats use advanced mathematics to calculate their jumps.

gif: clever dog costume.

gif: this is described as a "standard daycare trick" for putting on a winter parka.

gif: backyard luge course.

gif: innovative first-grade physical education class.

gif: man being chased by a Tasmanian Devil.

The images in this linkdump come from a gallery of "antique book patterns from front or end papers. Spanning from 1890-1930," compiled by the Bergen Public Library.  (more examples at the link)

29 January 2017

It's perfectly ok to feed candy to cows

In the news this past week was a report that a truck spilled hundreds of thousands of Skittles on a rural road in Wisconsin, and that before the accident occurred the candy was destined to be used as cattle feed.

Today a report in the Wisconsin State Journal explains that such practice is perfectly o.k.:
As a dairy farmer and a dairy cattle nutritionist, Laura Daniels felt she had to speak up after a report that went viral focused on why mislabeled Skittles that had spilled from a truck on a Wisconsin country road 12 days ago were heading to a dairy farm to be used as animal feed...

“As a parent I understand the concern for sugar, it’s just that ruminant animals are totally different than humans. The same logic can’t be applied.”..

In addition to Skittles and gummy candy, farmers also might feed cows human treats like Kool-Aid powder, potato chips, molasses and baked goods like cookies, just to mention a few, O’Netty said.
In the past when corn prices were high, farmers used the candy and sugary foods as a substitute, but today they are used mostly as a supplement, said Randy Shaver, a professor and dairy nutritionist at UW-Madison and UW Extension. Sugary foods typically account for about 2 percent of a cow’s diet, he said...

The Skittle spill was discovered by a Dodge County sheriff’s deputy on a road south of Beaver Dam on Jan. 18. The Sheriff’s Office said the candies, which were missing the “S,” fell off a truck en route to a farm it did not name.

The candies were discarded because they were not completed due to a power outage at the Illinois factory, according to Mars Inc. spokeswoman Michelle Green. Such products that don’t pass muster are sold to a third party that can sell it for animal feed, Green said...

Daniels’ farm used gummy candies from a Minnesota supplier as energy supplements until about four years ago. Most of them were miscolored gummy sharks and gummy worms or a gummy bear that was missing a leg, Daniels said.

“They say you can’t put them in the containers and send them to stores because the children would get upset,” she said. “But I have to laugh at that because what’s the first thing kids do when they get a gummy bear? They bite off the heads and the legs.”
Much more at the Wisconsin State Journal.  Quite interesting.

Selectively limiting immigration

Much has been made of Trump's assertion that he would give favorable consideration to Christians from Muslim countries.  This point deserves emphasis:
The executive action, "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," targets seven nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump has no business interests in those countries.
And this:
One other thing they have in common, as NPR's Greg Myre writes: "No Muslim extremist from any of these places has carried out a fatal attack in the U.S. in more than two decades."

The 19 terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, Myre points out. They are among the Muslim-majority countries not affected by Trump's immigration freeze, but where Trump does business.

He has significant commercial interests in Turkey and Azerbaijan, is developing properties in Indonesia and Dubai, and has formed companies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. His daughter Ivanka said in 2015 that the company was looking at "multiple opportunities in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia — the four areas where we are seeing the most interest."
More at NPR.

It's hard to win a race when you fall down

Especially at the start of the bell lap.

This event was part of the 2008 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships.

This young woman's performance reminds me of "Alexis Conquers the Hurdles," which is the most inspirational sports video I've posted.

Reposted because I had to find a new video to replace the old one, which had undergone linkrot.

Also found an interview with her memories of that race.

Introducing the Curonians

All of this totally new to me (despite a decent education).  Readers in too much of a hurry to spend time on a video may choose instead to browse this article at Latvian History:
The four Latvian tribes differed from each other in many ways. The Semigallians are said to be mightiest Latvian warriors. That could be true because Semigallians resisted to crusader invasion longer than others did. The Latgalian kings were the richest rulers of Latvian tribes. The wooden fortress and city of Jersika was a large and proud center in Latgale. The last ruler of Jersika Visvaldis is one of the legendary ancient kings of Latvia.  But the Curonians are seen as the great sailors and raiders.
Or this post about the Curonians versus the Crusaders.

A tip of my blogging cap to reader Alexsejs for providing the links.

The seven "social sins"

  • Wealth without work. 
  • Pleasure without conscience. 
  • Knowledge without character. 
  • Commerce without morality. 
  • Science without humanity. 
  • Religion without sacrifice. 
  • Politics without principle. 
Published by Gandhi in 1925.
Regarding "politics without principle", Gandhi said having politics without truth(s) to justly dictate the action creates chaos, which ultimately leads to violence. Gandhi called these missteps "passive violence," ‘which fuels the active violence of crime, rebellion, and war.’ He said, "We could work 'til doomsday to achieve peace and would get nowhere as long as we ignore passive violence in our world."

Politics is literally defined as, "The struggle in any group for power that will give one or more persons the ability to make decisions for the larger group."

Props to museum conservators

They never receive sufficient public credit for all the work they do.

Via Atlas Obscura.

A Dr. Seuss cartoon about refugees and immigration (1941)

Discussed and explained at Snopes.

Apparently it's no longer safe to say the word "yes" on the telephone.

What kind of #*@!# world are we creating for ourselves?
It’s not a Verizon commercial: If you receive a phone call from someone asking “can you hear me,” hang up. You’re a potential victim in the latest scam circulating around the U.S.

Virginia police are now warning about the scheme, which also sparked warnings by Pennsylvania authorities late last year. The “can you hear me” con is actually a variation on earlier scams aimed at getting the victim to say the word “yes” in a phone conversation. That affirmative response is recorded by the fraudster and used to authorize unwanted charges on a phone or utility bill or on a purloined credit card...

But how can you get charged if you don’t provide a payment method? The con artist already has your phone number, and many phone providers pass through third-party charges.

In addition, the criminal may have already collected some of your personal information -- a credit card number or cable bill, perhaps -- as the result of a data breach. When the victim disputes the charge, the crook can then counter that he or she has your assent on a recorded line.  
More details on what to do if you've been victimized and how to dispute the claims at CBS News.

I believe I received one of these calls this past week.  The caller (to my private cell which is not a publicly known number) started by saying he was calling in response to my job application.  I denied such and he replied "Can you hear me ok?"  My response was "you've either got the wrong number or you are spamming me" and I disconnected.


AddendumSnopes indicates that this has not yet been proven to be a working scam.

What are "troll-drums" ?

This past week I was reading a volume of writings by Nobel prize winners.  The sample used for Eugene O'Neill was his play "The Emperor Jones," in which background drumming is a prominent theatrical feature, as described in this commentary: 
The despot perishes on the flight from his glory, hunted in the dead of night by the troll-drums of his pursuers and by recollections of the past shaping themselves as paralyzing visions. 
I've never heard of troll-drums, have difficulty adding a drum to my inner vision of trolls, can't quite derive the word from my understanding of "troll," and can't envision trolls in a Caribbean environment.

Can anyone clarify? I may have missed an essential part of the folklore.

Addendum:  Answer in reader Bub's comment.

Image credit.

A touching (and insightful) Danish PSA

YouTube comments should never be read (especially in this case). Except to show what's wrong with the world.

An example of "bathmophobia"

When Donald Trump publicly held Teresa May's hand, many British observers were dismayed at his invasion of her personal space.  A column today in The Telegraph offers a different perspective:
The insider said that Mr Trump is known to have an aversion to slopes or stairs, and said this could have been the reason for the president's decision to grasp the Prime Minister’s hand.
Such a fear is a recognised condition - called bathmophobia...

Just as the couple reach the top of the slope, the president stretches out his left arm and grabs at Mrs May’s right hand. They then walk for about five steps before Mr Trump slides his left arm across and pats the underside of Mrs May’s hand, possibly grateful for her steadying presence.
We all know from public statements by his physician that Mr. Trump is in perfect superexcellent health, so his concern about slopes cannot be from cerebellar/motor problems.  He may well have a fear of going downhill.

The metaphors come pouring forth...

27 January 2017

How to make a realistic face mask

The embedded image is mask probably worn for a ceremonial dance for a Maya ruler, reconstructed from fragments found at an archaeological dig at the Maya capital city of Aguateca in Guatemala.
Although scholars have guessed that the masks were made of wood or other organic materials, the example from Aguateca is the first one ever found to reveal that at least some masks were created by soaking gauze-like textiles in clay and shaping them into the contours of a face. When the clay was fired, the textiles burned off, leaving a mask that was light and comfortable to wear.
From the archives of Archaeology Magazine.  Photo credit Takeshi Inomata

Farmers aren't allowed to fix their own tractors

As reported in Modern Farmer:
This might be hard to believe for non-farmers, but owners of tractors aren't actually allowed to fix them, thanks to a set of laws designed to protect software intellectual property. In fact, the craziness of this goes even further: In a 2015 letter to the United States Copyright Office, John Deere, the world’s largest tractor maker, said that the folks who buy tractors don’t own them, not in the way the general public believes “ownership” works. Instead, John Deere said that those who buy tractors are actually purchasing an “implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”..

But what this has meant is that tractor owners can’t repair their own tractors—and if they do, they’re in violation of the DMCA. So, if a machine stops working, its owner can’t pop the hood, run some tests, and find out what’s going on; he or she is legally required to take the tractor to a service center (one owned by the manufacturer, since that’s the only entity allowed to analyze the tractor’s issues). This can be expensive and time-consuming, and more to the point, unnecessary—at least according to farmers in several states, who are lobbying to force tractor manufacturers make their diagnostic tools available to independent repair shops and owners.
Addendum: A tip of the blogging cap to reader Vlad Tsepis, who commented that the same principle is being applied to motorcycle (and ATV) ownership.

An "emancipated dinnerbell"

A sundial cannon, sundial gun, noon cannon or meridian cannon, also noonday gun is a device consisting of a sundial incorporating a cannon with a fuse that is lit by an overhanging lens, concentrating the rays of the sun, and causing the cannon to fire at noon, when properly oriented along a north-south axis. The cannon sizes ranged from large to small depending on the location of their use. The household variety was used in estates to signal the time for the midday meal. Larger sizes were used in European parks to signal noon.
Note the lens is on an moveable frame so that it can be adjusted during the seasons.

"Outrage dilution"

The title comes from a column by Scott Adams.
At the moment there are so many outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time.

Incredible fact

This is hard to comprehend:
"It takes a million years for a photon moving at the speed of light to reach the sun's surface from its core."
Explained on the basis of Thomson scattering: "The mean free path of a photon in the interior of the sun is about 2 centimeters. This is the average distance it travels in between bounces. If you compare this length to the radius of the sun, you see why it takes so long for the photons to escape."

Additional discussion and clarification of the "bouncing" in this thread.

Mikhail Gorbachev's current worldview

Excerpts from a transcript of his speech at a recent ceremony, as reported by Time:
"The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss. But no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority. The current situation is too dangerous...

While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose
destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.

Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war...

I recall a Politburo meeting in 1986 at which the defense doctrine was discussed. The proposed draft contained the following language: "Respond to attack with all available means." Members of the politburo objected to this formula. All agreed that nuclear weapons must serve only one purpose: preventing war. And the ultimate goal should be a world without nuclear weapons.

In modern world, wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war — not poverty, nor the environment, migration, population growth, or shortages of resources."
Fulltext at the link.   Best comment I've seen: "The irony of it all if Gorbachev tells Trump to tear down that wall."

Photo credit: Vasily Maximov—AFP/Getty Images

Clever protest sign

Image trimmed for size from the original.

Are high school AP classes a scam?

One columnist at The Atlantic thinks so:
Interestingly, the evidence providing the clearest positive argument for AP participation is that high performance in AP courses correlates with better college grades and higher graduation rates, especially in science courses. But that's faint praise. It's the same as saying that students who do best in high school will do better in college and are more likely to graduate.

My beef with AP courses isn't novel. The program has a bountiful supply of critics, many of them in the popular press (see here and here), and many increasingly coming from academia as well (see here). The criticisms comport, in every particular, with my own experience of having taught an AP American Government and Politics course for ten years.
He goes on to argue that
  • AP courses are not remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate.
  • Increasingly, students don't receive college credit for high scores on AP courses...
  • Increasing numbers of the students who take them are marginal at best...
  • Large percentages of minority students are essentially left out of the AP game...
  • Schools have to increase the sizes of their non-AP classes, shift strong teachers away from non-AP classes...
  • The AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification.
I sent the link to two friends who have been high school principals.  Both of them disagreed with the premise.
"These were expensive to run because a teacher teaching five students sees fewer students in a day. One might make the case that this diverts resources from areas. But this does not only happen with AP courses."

"I never experienced students being encouraged to enroll in AP classes just so the class could reach an enrollment minimum."

 "(our) district went out of its way to recruit black students into the AP programs."

 "He doesn't like that many AP scores don't allow a student to earn credit, only exemption from a basic level course. My experience and opinion is that is not a big problem."

"In this day and age of whopping college costs, dual-enrollment fills for many kids a better, more intelligent slot than AP."
The arguments are fleshed out in more detail at The Atlantic and the links embedded there.

25 January 2017


From the archives of The New Yorker.

The 25th amendment can be invoked to remove an incompetent President

The 25th Amendment was added to the Constitution after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and provides for the replacement of the vice president if the office becomes vacant. (So it led indirectly to the presidency of Gerald Ford, the only American president who was never elected to any national office.) But Section 4 is about something else entirely:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
A temporary transfer of power has happened a handful of times since the Kennedy assassination, once when Ronald Reagan had cancer surgery and twice when George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies. Most people have thought of the 25th Amendment as a way to deal with a president who has had a heart attack or a stroke and has become incapacitated, as Woodrow Wilson did, with his wife effectively assuming the duties of the presidency for the remainder of his term.

But the language of the amendment clearly encompasses other scenarios besides physical incapacitation. This topic was a subject of discussion toward the end of the Reagan administration, when it became obvious that the president was suffering a loss of cognitive ability. It wasn’t evoked then but as we now know, Reagan was indeed suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Had it become more acute or more obvious while he was in office, Congress might well have had to take action as laid out in the amendment.
Note that with the current composition of Congress, this is an action that could only be implemented by Republicans.  More at Salon.

This is called a "Zion curtain"

These barriers, nicknamed Zion curtains... are a common sight in Utah’s alcohol-serving establishments. The walls, normally 7-feet 2-inches high and translucent, may be a source of confusion among out-of-state tourists. And though the shields deflect wayward and underage eyes from observing booze, evidence is scarce that the curtains in fact curb alcohol consumption...

In a 2014 video produced by the Church, it described the law requiring barriers as one of the Utah’s “crucial statutes,” which protects children from glamorizing booze and also keeps deaths from alcohol consumption low. (In 2012, the U.S. national average of deaths involving a drunk driver was 3.3 per 100,000 population. The rate for Utah was just 1.2, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.) To those who would like to see the curtains torn down, the voiceover wondered: “How important is it to see your drink being made? Does it really matter as long as you get your order?”
More at the Washington Post.

Every picture tells a story

Source somewhere here.

An open thread on podcasts

I've recently seen two comment threads on Reddit (here and here) responding to the question "What is your favorite podcast?  Now I'll post the same question here, because the readership of this blog is extremely diverse (and international), and I'd like to get some ideas for podcasts to monitor and download.

I'll start.  I didn't discover podcasts until perhaps 2-3 years ago.   I sincerely wish I could have made use of them during the years when I had fairly long commutes to work.  I remember trying to make those hours more pleasant through the use of satellite radio, but nowadays recorded podcasts are essentially my sole entertainment while driving.  I download them to my desktop computer, then transcribe them to rewriteable CDs which I listen to while running errands or taking trips.

For brief rides in the car to get groceries or visit the library,  I prefer short-attention-span recordings such as No Such Thing as a Fish, and BBC programs like Science in Action, In Our Time: History, and In Our Time: Science (BBC podcasts here).

For longer trips where I can listen for 45-80 minutes, I think the best podcasts in the world are those created by the staffs at Radiolab and This American Life.

I have a dozen or so others that I occasionally sample, such as NOVA, America's Test Kitchen, TED talks, Weekend Break, To the Best of Our Knowledge, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, As it Happens, etc. (CBC podcasts here) (Public Radio podcast directory here).

And while I'm on the subject, I'm going to direct a couple gentle rants towards any readers out there who produce their own podcasts:
1) Some podcasts are reformulations of live radio programs.  During the live program phone numbers, and Facebook and Twitter access data are useful.  But call-in numbers are not appropriate in a downloaded podcast.  I gave up on "A Way With Words" after listening to phone, Facebook and Twitter  recited I think seven times in a span of 40 minutes.  Please consider editing the live broadcast recording before saving it as a downloadable podcast.
2) Another thing to edit out is idle chit-chat with callers.
"Hi, welcome to [program]".  Who's this?
"My name is Martha, and I live in Seattle.  It's a typical rainy day here right now."
"I suppose if you live there, you eventually get used to it."
"Not me - I was born and raised in Arizona!"  [giggle]
[laughter].  "So, Martha, how can we help you today?"...
3) Please don't laugh at your own jokes.  We know you didn't surprise yourself with the pun or the bon mot.  You're using your laughter as a signal to the broadcast audience to tell them they've heard something humorous.  "... and nobody knows what kind of soup was served at that dinner.  You might say it was 'souper secret.'  HA HA HA."  Please just present your material and I'll decide what's funny.
4) Don't underestimate your listeners.  Long words and technical terms are not something to be embarassed about.  If you're doing a podcast on gravity waves and the instrument that discovered them is a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, don't present that term in a different voice with an apologetic tone followed by "also called LIGO - thank goodness! he he".  This isn't seventh grade.
5) And finally, many people rigidly observe the dictum that in order to teach something you have to a) tell people what you're going to say, b) say it, and c) tell them what you said.  That structure may be useful in a long presentation, but in a brief podcast it is a waste of listener time.  And try to avoid "As I've said previously...," "As I explained earlier...," and "In other words..."
Enough for my petty peeves.  Your turn to go to the Comments and share with me and other readers your suggestions regarding podcasts that we might find entertaining or educational (or both).

23 January 2017

Protest sign


Addendum:  A tip of the blogging cap to reader bcollinsmn for noting that the text on the sign has been used at protests since at least 2010.

Image cropped slightly for size and emphasis from the original.  Photo credit to L. May.

Spreading the arts

From the archives of The New Yorker.

The Sack of Baltimore

In a post last week I noted that Barbary pirates had attacked and enslaved Icelanders in the early 17th century.  A hat tip to reader Bob the Scientist, who appended a comment that similar events happened in Ireland, as reported here by History Ireland:
The sack of Baltimore, the only recorded instance of a slaving raid by corsairs in Ireland, was part of a wider pattern across Europe, encompassing not only the entire Mediterranean region but also the Atlantic seaboard as far north as Iceland. Slave-raiding of Christians by Muslim corsairs became common from the late fifteenth century onwards, coinciding with the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. In his comprehensive study Christian slaves, Muslim masters, Robert Davis sees a direct correlation between the two. He proposes that by expelling the Moors from Spain in the final years of the fifteenth century Ferdinand and Isabella created an implacable enemy, as well as fostering a new dynamism among Islamic North African communities, which manifested itself as a passionate and conscious desire to settle accounts with Christendom.

Slave-raiding as an economic and ideological weapon was not confined to the Muslims of the Ottoman empire and North Africa. European seafaring powers engaged equally in the taking of Islamic ships and the use of their crews as slave labour...

At 2am on the morning of 20 June some 230 men, armed with muskets, landed at the Cove. Quickly and silently spreading out, they divided up and waited at the doors of the 26 cottages along the shoreline. At a given signal, brandishing iron bars to break the
doors and firebrands to torch the buildings, they launched a simultaneous attack on the sleeping inhabitants. The terror of the population can only be imagined as they were wrested from their beds by strange men speaking an unknown language... In the initial foray 100 people were seized...

For the first hour or so any male captive who did not keep out of his captors’ way was severely beaten, and in some instances actually hacked to death in a bloody frenzy. Owing to their high retail value, women and children were treated with relative kindness; curtains were erected to allow privacy, facilities for washing were offered, and they were allowed complete freedom of movement below decks...

The Baltimore captives were helpless victims awaiting their fate. In Algiers, Frizell reported that all had arrived alive and requested funds to pay for their release. These funds were not forthcoming, owing to the English government’s newly adopted policy of not paying ransoms, as it was believed that to do so would encourage the taking of hostages and act as a disincentive to sailors to defend their ships.

Detainees were immediately taken to the basha, an official who had a right to ten per cent of all booty, including slaves. The rest of the captives, with men and women segregated, would have been sent to slave pens. There they were paraded, chained and nearly naked, while prospective buyers inspected the merchandise. Those not sold in the initial auction were housed in storage facilities or bagnios—large, unsanitary blocks that supplied casual, and expendable, labour on a contract basis. Children had usually been removed from their families by this point and a process of acculturation had begun...
Much more at the link.  This is history that I was never taught, and that has some marginal relevance to current world geopolitics.

Twain's story about Prince Oleomargarine

The New York Times has a report on a "rediscovered Mark Twain fairy tale" -
But decades later, the scholar John Bird was searching the Twain archives at the University of California, Berkeley, when he came across the notes for the story, which Twain titled “Oleomargarine.” Mr. Bird was astonished to find a richly imagined fable, in Twain’s inimitable voice. He and other scholars believe it may be the only written remnant of a children’s fairy tale from Twain, though he told his daughters stories constantly...

After consulting a few other scholars, Mr. Bird brought the text to the attention of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, which sold it to Doubleday Books for Young Readers. This fall, Doubleday will release “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine,” an expanded version of the story that was fleshed out and reimagined by the children’s book author-and-illustrator team of Philip and Erin Stead.
I think it's only fair to point out that "The manuscript was just 16 handwritten pages long, and unfinished" and that Mr. Bird "wrote his own version, which closely followed Twain’s blueprint and incorporated his language," using "Twain’s spare ur-text," and that the Steads subsequently created a 152-page "wonderful story inspired by Twain’s unfinished manuscript, which makes any Twain purist uneasy."

This is interesting, but I hope it isn't over-hyped.  Personally I would rather read the original manuscript and imagine the rest for myself.  I hope they will incorporate the unmodified original into the new publication.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on the history of oleomargarine.  Twain could have encountered it in the mid-1860s when he was in California gold rush territory.

A quiz about quotes about statistics

Not a quiz about statistics, mind you, but about literary references to statistics.  Posted because I believe TYWKIWDBI readers like to take tests.  Herewith some "samples" -
1. Which notable statistical figure said the following? “I am fain to sum up an urgent appeal for adopting a uniform system of publishing the statistical records of hospitals. In attempting to arrive at the truth, I have applied everywhere for information, but scarcely have I been able to obtain hospital records fit for any purpose of comparison.”

2. Name the eponymous hero of a children’s book who said: “Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them you have made a new friend, they never ask you about essential matters. They never ask you, ‘What games does he love best?’ … Instead they demand, ‘How old is he? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”

3. Name the children’s book containing this exchange: “Pardon me for staring,” said Milo, after he had been staring for some time, “but I’ve never seen half a child before.” “It’s .58 to be precise,” replied the child from the left side of his mouth (which happened to be the only side of his mouth). “What is the rest of your family like?” said Milo, this time a bit more sympathetically. “Oh, we’re just the average family,” he said thoughtfully; “mother, father and 2.58 children – and, as I explained, I’m the .58.”

4. Which famous character, who first appeared in print in 1887, said: “Data! Data! Data! I cannot make bricks without clay.”?

5. The following quote describes the most evil mathematician in history. Can you name him? “He is endowed with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of 21 he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem. He won a mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities. … But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind.”
The full quiz (18 more questions) is at the website of the Royal Statistical Society, with a link there to the answers.   And today they posted the answers to the Christmas Quiz.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

The story at SouthTexasNews made no reference to George W. Bush.  I made the screencap yesterday evening from a link at Google News, and as of noon today nobody has changed the image.  *sigh*

22 January 2017

Sign of the times

Credit to the Memphis Public Library, via the Funny subreddit.


I have probably never before reposted anything from another source in toto here.  My policy is to excerpt and refer the reader to the source material.  I'll make an exception today in order to transcribe the totality of an item in the January 22 issue of Harper's Magazine.  The information presented is not new - all of it has been published in readily available sources and most of it is well-known to the American (and world) public.  But the compact and comprehensive presentation here is just overwhelming.
Donald J. Trump, a reality-television star erecting a mausoleum for himself behind the first-hole tee of a golf course he owns in New Jersey, first declared his candidacy for president of the United States in the atrium of Trump Tower, which he built in the 1980s with labor provided by hundreds of undocumented Polish workers and concrete purchased at an inflated price from the Gambino and Genovese crime families. “The American dream is dead,” Trump said to the audience members, each of whom he paid $50 to attend. During Trump’s primary campaign, he told his supporters that he knew “all about crazies,” loved “Wall Street guys” who are “brutal,” planned to “use the word ‘anchor baby,’ ” and preferred to pronounce “Qatar” incorrectly. Trump, who in 1999 cut his sick infant grandnephew off the Trump Organization’s health-care plan and in 2011 compared being gay to switching to a long-handled golf putter, pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act and said he’d consider trying to overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage. Trump said that his book The Art of the Deal was second in quality only to the Bible and that he never explicitly asked God for forgiveness. At a church in Iowa, he placed a few dollar bills into a bowl filled with sacramental bread, which he has referred to as “my little cracker.” Trump, who once dumped a glass of wine on a journalist who wrote a story he didn’t like, told his supporters that journalists were “liars,” the “lowest form of humanity,” and “enemies,” but that he did not approve of killing them. “I’m a very sane person,” said Trump, who once hosted a radio show in which he discussed the development of hair-cloning technology, the creation of a vaccine for obesity, the number of men a gay man thinks about having sex with on his morning commute, and the dangers of giving free Viagra to rapists. Trump denied being the voice of John Miller, one of several fictional assistants he had previously admitted pretending to be, in a recording of himself telling a reporter that he had “zero interest” in dating Madonna; that he had three other girlfriends in addition to Marla Maples, with whom he had been cheating on his wife; and that he had an affair with Carla Bruni, who later responded by describing Trump as “obviously a lunatic.” Trump, who once offered the city of New York vacant apartments in his building to house homeless people in hopes they would drive away rent-controlled tenants, sent a bumper sticker to a group of homeless veterans whom he had previously declined to help and asked them to campaign for him. Trump, whose companies have been cited 24 times since 2005 for failing to pay workers overtime or minimum wage, said the federal minimum wage should go up, and then said it should not. Trump referred to 9/11 as “7-Eleven,” and called Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren “the Indian” and “Pocahontas.” Trump, who had previously labeled a deaf contestant on his reality-TV show The Apprentice “retarded,” and had described poor Americans as “morons,” said the country was on course for a “very massive recession,” one resembling the U.S. recession of 2007 to 2009, which Trump once said Americans could “opt out of” by joining Trump Network, a multilevel-marketing company that sold a monthly supply of multivitamins purportedly tailored to customers based on a test of their urine. Trump submitted his financial-disclosure form to the Federal Election Commission, on which he swore under oath that his golf course in Briarcliff Manor, New York, which was being sued by the town for causing flooding, was worth $50 million, despite having sworn in a previous property-tax appeal that it was worth $1.4 million; and swore that his golf course in Palos Verdes, California, which he was suing for five times its annual revenue, was worth more than $50 million, despite previously having filed papers with Los Angeles County stating it was worth $10 million. Trump claimed he made $1.9 million from his modeling agency, which a foreign-born former model accused of “modern-day slavery,” alleging that the agency forced her to lie about her age, work without a U.S. visa, and live in a crowded apartment for which she paid the agency as much as $1,600 a month to sleep in a bed beneath a window through which a homeless man once urinated on her. Trump sought to exclude a recording of himself telling the nephew of former president George W. Bush that he grabs women “by the pussy” from a fraud suit filed against Trump University, a series of real-estate seminars taught by salespeople with no real-estate experience, which was housed in a Trump-owned building that the Securities and Exchange Commission said also housed the country’s most complained-about unregistered brokerages, and whose curriculum investigators in Texas described as “inapplicable.” Trump announced that he would win the Latino vote, and tweeted a photo of himself eating a taco bowl from Trump Grill in Trump Tower with the message “I love Hispanics!” Trump referred to a black man at one of his rallies as “my African American,” and pledged his support for black people at a gathering of mostly white people in Wisconsin, whom he often referred to as “the forgotten people.” “I am the least racist person,” said Trump, who was sued twice by the Justice Department in the 1970s for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to black tenants, whose Trump Plaza Hotel was fined $200,000 by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1992 for removing black dealers from card tables, who allegedly told a former employee that he hated “black guys counting my money,” who in 2005 floated the idea of pitting an all-black Apprentice team against an all-white one to reflect “our very vicious world,” and who was endorsed by leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, one of whom said, “What he believes, we believe.” Trump tweeted statistics credited to a fictional government agency falsely claiming that the majority of white murder victims in the United States are killed by black people. Trump tweeted a photoshopped picture of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who Trump had said “had blood coming out of her wherever,” standing next to a Saudi prince, who tweeted back that he had “financially rescued” Trump twice, including once in 1990, when the prince purchased Trump’s 281-foot yacht, which was formerly owned by a Saudi arms dealer with whom Trump often partied in Atlantic City, and with whom Trump was implicated in a tax-evasion scheme involving a Fifth Avenue jewelry store. Trump disputed former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s claim that Trump magazine is defunct, showing as proof an annual circular for his clubs that was not Trump magazine, which folded in 2009. Trump republished his book Crippled America with the title Great Again. Trump told and retold an apocryphal story about a U.S. general who executed Muslim soldiers with bullets dipped in pig’s blood and proposed that Muslims be banned from entering the country. At the first primary debate, Trump praised his companies’ bankruptcies, including that of Trump Entertainment Resorts, in which lenders lost more than $1 billion and 1,100 employees lost their jobs, and that of Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, a publicly traded company that Trump used to purchase two casinos for almost $1 billion, and from which he resigned after the company went bankrupt for the first time, but before it went bankrupt for the second time. “I made a lot of money,” said Trump. At the fifth primary debate, Trump defended the idea of retaliating against America’s foreign aggressors by killing non-combatant members of their families, saying it would “make people think.” At the eleventh primary debate, Trump told the crowd there was “no problem” with the size of his penis. Trump said that he knew more about the Islamic State than “the generals,” and that he would “rely on the generals” to defeat the Islamic State. Trump said he would bring back waterboarding and torture because “we have to beat the savages.” Trump offered to pay the legal bills of anyone who assaulted protesters at his rallies, denied making the offer, then made the offer again after a 78-year-old white supporter in North Carolina punched a 26-year-old black protester in the eye and said, “Next time we see him we might have to kill him.” Trump, who in 1999 called Republicans too “crazy right” and in 2000 ran on a Reform Party platform that included creating a lottery to fund U.S. spy training, said that the 2016 primaries were “rigged,” then clinched the Republican nomination for president, receiving more votes than any Republican in history. “I was the one who really broke the glass ceiling,” said Trump when his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, became the first woman to lead a major party’s ticket. Trump hired Steve Bannon, the editor of the white-nationalist website Breitbart, to replace his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who ran a firm that once lobbied for the military dictator of Zaire, and who himself replaced Corey Lewandowski, who resigned from the campaign not long after he was filmed grabbing a Breitbart reporter by the arm to prevent her from asking Trump any questions. Trump selected as his running mate Indiana governor Mike Pence, who previously backed a bill that would allow hospitals to deny care to critically ill pregnant women, and who once criticized the Disney character Mulan as a “mischievous liberal” created to persuade Americans that women should be allowed to hold combat positions in the military. In his general-election campaign, Trump said he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory, and called on Russia to hack into Clinton’s email account. Trump said that he doesn’t pay employees who don’t “do a good job,” after a review of the more than 3,500 lawsuits filed against Trump found that he has been accused of stiffing a painter and a dishwasher in Florida, a glass company in New Jersey, dozens of hourly hospitality workers, and some of the lawyers who represented him. “I’m a fighter,” said Trump, who body-slammed the WWE chairman at WrestleMania 23 in 2007, and who attended WrestleMania IV with Robert LiButti, an Atlantic City gambler with alleged mafia ties, who told Trump he’d “fucking pull your balls from your legs” if Trump didn’t stop trying to seduce his daughter. Trump, whose first wife, Ivana, accused him in divorce filings of rape, and whose special counsel later said rape within a marriage was not possible, said “no one respects women more than I do.” Trump threatened to sue 12 women who accused him of sexual misconduct, including one who recalled Trump trying “like an octopus” to put his hand up her skirt on an airplane 35 years ago; four former Miss Teen USA contestants, who alleged that Trump entered their dressing room while girls as young as 15 were changing and said, “I’ve seen it all before”; the winner of Miss Utah USA in 1997, who alleged that Trump forcibly kissed her on the lips and then told her, “Twenty-one is too old”; an adult-film star, who alleged that at a golf tournament in Tahoe in 2006 Trump offered her $10,000 and the private use of his jet to spend the night with him; and a People magazine reporter, who alleged that while she was writing a story on Trump and his current wife, Melania, on the occasion of their first wedding anniversary, Trump pushed her against the wall and forcibly kissed her before telling her, “We’re going to have an affair.” “What I say is what I say,” said Trump, who previously told a pair of 14-year-old girls that he would date them in a couple of years, said of a 10-year-old girl that he would date her in 10 years, told a journalist that he wasn’t sure whether his infant daughter Tiffany would have nice breasts, told the cast of The View that if Ivanka weren’t his daughter “perhaps I would be dating her,” told radio host Howard Stern that it was okay to call Ivanka a “piece of ass” and that he could have “nailed” Princess Diana, and tweeted that a former winner of his Miss Universe pageant, whom Trump once called “Miss Piggy,” was disgusting. “Check out sex tape,” tweeted Trump, who once appeared in a soft-core pornographic film breaking a bottle of wine over a limousine. Trump did not comment on reports that he used over $200,000 in charitable contributions to the Trump Foundation to settle lawsuits against his businesses, $20,000 in contributions to the Trump Foundation to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself, and $10,000 in contributions to buy a smaller painting of himself, which he hung on the wall of his restaurant Champions Bar and Grill. “I’m the cleanest guy there is,” said Trump, who once granted the rights to explore building Trump-branded towers in Moscow to a mobster convicted of stabbing a man in the face with the stem of margarita glass, who was mentored by the former lead counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Gambino and Genovese crime families, who once purchased a nightclub in Atlantic City from a hit man for a Philadelphia crime family, who once worked with a soldier in the Colombo crime family to outfit Trump Golden and Executive Series limousines with a fax machine and a liquor dispenser, and who once purchased helicopter services from a cigarette-boat racer named Joseph Weichselbaum, who was charged with drug trafficking in Ohio before being moved to Trump’s sister’s courtroom in New Jersey, where the case was handed off to a different judge, who gave Weichselbaum a three-year prison sentence, of which he served 18 months before moving into Trump Tower. Trump told journalists he “made a lot of money” when he leased his house in Westchester to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. “I screwed him,” said Trump. Trump, who in 2013 said that he did “have a relationship” with Vladimir Putin, said in 2016, “I don’t know Putin.” Trump, who wrote in 1997 that concern over asbestos was a mob conspiracy, who in the 1990s spent $1 million in ads to bolster the theory that a Native American tribe in upstate New York had been infiltrated by the mafia and drug traffickers, who once implied that Barack Obama’s real name is Barry Soetoro and that he won reelection by making a secret deal with Saudi Arabia, and who in 2012 tweeted that global warming was a “hoax” created by “the Chinese” to weaken U.S. manufacturing, suggested to his supporters that the Islamic State paid the phone bills of Syrian refugees, that his primary opponent Ted Cruz’s Cuban father was involved in a conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy, and that U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia may have been suffocated with a pillow. During the first debate of the general election, Trump said that Rosie O’Donnell had deserved it when he called her “disgusting both inside and out,” “basically a disaster,” a “slob,” and a “loser,” someone who “looks bad,” “sounds bad,” has a “fat, ugly face,” and “talks like a truck driver.” At the second general-election debate, Trump invited three women who have accused Clinton’s husband of sexual misconduct to sit in the front row; claimed that Clinton had once laughed about the rape of a 12-year-old girl, which audio showed not to be true; claimed that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had endorsed him, which it had not; and afterward suggested that his opponent had been on drugs during the debate. Trump, who said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose supporters, told his supporters that Clinton could shoot one of them and not be prosecuted. Trump told the audience at a Catholic charity dinner that Clinton “hates Catholics,” and told his supporters that she is “the devil” and that Mexico was “getting ready to attack.” Trump, who once kept a collection of Adolf Hitler’s speeches at his bedside, told his supporters that the election was “rigged” against him, won the election despite losing the popular vote by a margin of almost 3 million, claimed that he had in fact won the popular vote, and then announced that he would be staying on as executive producer of The Celebrity Apprentice on NBC, which a year earlier had fired him because he called Mexicans “rapists.” “Our country,” said Trump at a victory rally, “is in trouble.”
I've had a subscription to Harper's for over 20 years.  You can subscribe here.

First humans in North America

One of the most popular posts in the history of TYWKIWDBI was "New evidence supports/denies the "Solutrean hypothesis" (30,000 views,  over 100 comments).   We'll revisit the topic now with excerpts from a report in Science News Journal:
Until now, it was believed that the earliest settlement date of North America was 14,000 years ago. This figure has now been demonstrated to have been 10,000 years earlier. The first entry of humans into North America across the Bering Strait is now estimated at 24,000 Before Present (BP), and happened at the height of the last ice age or Last Glacial Maximum...

Ariane Burke, a professor in Université de Montréal’s Department of Anthropology, and her doctoral student Lauriane Bourgeon, with the contribution of Dr. Thomas Higham, Deputy Director of Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, has demonstrated this beyond any doubt. Archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars excavated the Bluefish Caves, located on the banks of the Bluefish River in northern Yukon near the Alaska border, between 1977 and 1987. Artifacts from these caves were used by the researchers to make their discovery. They made the hypothesis that human settlement in the region dated as far back as 30,000 BP based on radiocarbon dating of animal bones...

To obtain accurate data, Bourgeon examined approximately 36,000 bone fragments that had been removed from the site and preserved at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. This was a huge undertaking and it took her two years to complete. Undeniable traces of human activity in 15 of the bones was revealed...

Burke notes that a series of straight, V-shaped lines found on the surface of the bones were made by stone tools when animals were skinned. She added that the cut marks were indisputably created by humans...

The bones were submitted for further radiocarbon dating by Bourgeon. A horse mandible, which was identified as the oldest fragment, showed the marks of a stone tool that was probably used to remove the tongue. This piece was radiocarbon dated at 19,650 years, which is equivalent to between 23,000 and 24,000 calibrated years Before Present. 
More at the link.

"Mechanically stabilized earth" is more interesting than it sounds

With a tip of the blogging hat/helmet to reader Platoni.

19 January 2017

A possible way to stop Donald Trump on Friday

It's worth a try...

From the archives of The New Yorker.

Record low water levels in Venice

As Venice works on the €5.4 billion 'Mose' floodgate to counteract the eventual effects of rising sea levels, they face an interim problem of record low water levels.
The exceptionally water levels have been caused by abnormal tides this year, combined with drastically reduced winter precipitation rates across northeastern Italy... The drop in water levels has prevented some of the city's gondolas and vaporetti, or water buses, from navigating in some of the smaller canals. On Christmas Eve, the low tide even grounded the mayor's speedboat.
The low water is exposing the city's less attractive underside: garbage and crumbling infrastructure.  And I'll bet it's fragrant:
Historically, all waste produced by humans have been dumped into the canals although larger buildings are required to carry some kind of sewage treatment before dumping the filthy stuff into the canals. Some palazzos have their own septic tanks but there is always a certain amount of leakage, lending Venice its characteristic and at times overpowering stench.
The scavenger in me, however, imagines the excellent opportunity for mudlarking.

Think of the generations of artifacts that have been lost into the canals, the wedding rings tossed away, the rings and brooches.  But it looks like mostly forks.

Related: Mudlarking and Love tokens retrieved from the mud of the Thames.

Very interesting construction - updated

This photograph was in "Death on the Hippie Trail," about events in rural parts of India and Nepal.  What most interested me was the structure the boys are leaning against (click photo for larger image).

What I initially thought was a wall appears instead to be some type of pillar supporting a larger structure above.  It appears to have been constructed using a combination of huge timber beams and large rocks.  My guess is that the wood component provides a flexibility and shock-absorption that a purely-stone structure could not offer.  The design has probably been empirically arrived at by multiple generations of stonemasons in an earthquake-prone area.

I think I have blogged something like this before, but at the moment I can't find the old post.

Addendum:  Still can't find my old post (if it exists), but I'll offer a tip of the blogging cap to reader RolandT for providing a link about murus gallicus ("Gallic wall"), as described by Julius Caesar:
Straight beams, connected lengthwise and two feet distant from each other at equal intervals, are placed together on the ground; these are morticed on the inside, and covered with plenty of earth. But the intervals which we have mentioned, are closed up in front by large stones... each row of beams is kept firmly in its place by a row of stones. In this manner the whole wall is consolidated, until the regular height of the wall be completed.
... it possesses great advantages as regards utility and the defence of cities; for the stone protects it from fire, and the wood from the battering ram, since it [the wood] being morticed in the inside with rows of beams, generally forty feet each in length, can neither be broken through nor torn asunder.
Here's a replica of a Gallic wall in Manching, Bavaria (photo credit Wolfgang Sauber):

I believe the image I embedded at the top is an example of Indian kath knuni architecture, best described in detail at this pdf and this slideshow.

Note the wood and stone are assembled without the use of any mortar.  Impressive.
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