31 October 2018

Our Halloween decoration this year

Minimalistic, but totally effective.  As soon as the trick-or-treat official hours began at 4:30, a bunch of kids began to gather around the balloon.  They were waving to friends and parents to "look at this," and they certainly didn't need the explanatory note on the grate, which says "WE ALL FLOAT DOWN HERE, GEORGIE."  (cultural reference)

I watched from a window in the house as neighbors went by, taking photos of the balloon, taking videos of the balloon, and getting down on all fours to peer into the grate.

Next year I'd like to print a big photo of Pennywise to put at the bottom of the stormwater chamber.  Ideally, I'd like to put a speaker down there to talk to people from the house and ask for Help! and "please reach down through the grating..."  Not sure how to do that.

29 October 2018

The joy of the bronze medalist

It has been known for years that athletes who win bronze medals are happier than those who win silver.  When I encountered the photo above, I decided to look up the source.  Found this in Scientific American:
To scientifically investigate this question, the researchers took video footage of the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Specifically, they recorded the medal ceremonies and showed them to undergraduate students, as well as footage from the athletic competitions immediately following announcements of the winners. They asked them to rate the happiness displayed by each of the medalists on a 10-point scale, with 1 being “agony” and 10 being “ecstasy.”

On average, the silver medalists scored a 4.8, and the bronze medalists scored a 7.1 immediately following the announcement. Later in the day, at the medal ceremony, the silver medalists scored a 4.3 on the happiness scale, while the bronze medalists scored 5.7. Statistical analyses proved that both immediately after winning, as well as later at the medal ceremony, bronze medalists were visibly happier than the silver medalists...

Altogether, they found that thirteen of the fourteen gold medal winners smiled immediately after they completed their winning match, while eighteen of the twenty-six bronze medalists smiled. However, none of the silver medalists smiled immediately after their match ended. More interestingly, the facial expression that were recorded among silver medal winners ranged from sadness (43%) to contempt (14%) to nothing (29%). This means that it wasn't just that the silver medal winners were less happy than gold medalists; instead, as Matsumoto and Willingham write, "those who displayed something displayed discrete, negative emotions."
Photo via.

"Angel shots" explained

I didn't know about these because I don't go into women's restrooms in nightclubs.
Bars lately are coming up with secret codes to help customers signal, privately, when they need help if they're getting harassed or feeling unsafe on a bad date.

At one Tampa restaurant, that code was the Angel shot. Depending on how the shot was ordered (neat, on the rocks, with lime), the bartender would know the person needs a ride home, a walk to their car, or a secret call to the police. Women receive the intel about the secret-code drink order via a discreet sign in the restroom.
You learn something every day.  More information at the link.


English language time machine

Merriam-Webster has reconfigured their database so that you can now look up all the words that were invented (or recorded) in any given year.  I found the following words were invented the year I was born:
anabolic steroid
Caesar salad
cafe au lait spot
cardiac catheterization
clinical trial
crawl space
crown molding
decubitus ulcer
dental technician
digital computer
expiration date...
- and on an on for several hundred entries.  Try their Time Traveler.  The database sorts the words year-by-year back through the 1500s, and by centuries for entries with origins older than that.

25 October 2018

Earliest I've ever voted

I'm guessing I saved myself 1-2 hours compared to going to City Hall on November 6.

The "financial toxicity" of a cancer diagnosis

Excerpts from an article published in this month's edition of the American Journal of Medicine:
Approximately 15.5 million Americans have a history of cancer, with an estimated 1,688,780 new cases and 609,640 deaths annually. With 87% of diagnoses occurring in persons ≥50 years of age, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States. Cancer's financial burden is often substantial during treatment phases and often worsens with improving prognoses.

With 6.5% of direct costs among nonelderly persons alone involving out-of-pocket payments, over half of all persons with cancer experienced house repossession, bankruptcy, loss of independence, and relationship breakdowns. Additionally, 40%-85% of cancer patients stop working during initial treatment, with absences ranging up to 6 months. Deductibles and copayments for treatment, supportive care, and nonmedical or indirect costs (eg, travel, caregiver time, and lost productivity) may be financially devastating even with healthcare coverage.

At year+2, 42.4% depleted their entire life's assets, with higher adjusted odds associated with worsening cancer, requirement of continued treatment, demographic and socioeconomic factors (ie, female, Medicaid, uninsured, retired, increasing age, income, and household size), and clinical characteristics (ie, current smoker, worse self-reported health, hypertension, diabetes, lung disease) (P<.05); average losses were $92,098. At year+4, financial insolvency extended to 38.2%, with several consistent socioeconomic, cancer-related, and clinical characteristics remaining significant predictors of complete asset depletion.
The American Journal of Medicine is peer-reviewed and is one of the most highly respected medical publications in the United States.  

The distribution of West Nile virus in the United States

Looks like it should be called West of the Mississippi virus.  The distribution varies from year to year; the map shown is for the most recent dataset (2016).  More info and other maps here.

"Gaslighting" explained

The term is much in the news recently, applied frequently to the political realm.  I've looked it up a number of times in the past and decided I would only remember it if I created a blogpost.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's belief.

The term originates in the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by her husband in the 1938 stage play Gaslight, known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944. In the story, a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that happened when the husband was using the gas lights in the flat above while searching for the jewels belonging to a woman whom he had murdered. The wife correctly notices the dimming lights and discusses it with her husband, but he insists that she merely imagined a change in the level of illumination.

The term "gaslighting" has been used colloquially since the 1960s to describe efforts to manipulate someone's perception of reality...

"Crooked toe disorder" in chicks

Details on the condition and its treatment at Hobby Farms (photo via):
Crooked toe is a poultry foot disorder characterized by one or more toes curving sideways. It can affect one or both feet, and the curve can vary from very gentle to pronounced and acute. Because of this curvature, the afflicted chick stands and walks on the side of these toes...

Crooked toe is benign at best and bothersome at its worst. Left untreated, crooked toe does not cause crippling or even limping. The chick simply becomes accustomed to its toes being curled sideways and compensates. As an adult, it might encounter difficulty digging and might not be able to perch due to the way the toe joints align...

The soft tissues in a chick’s foot are still growing and developing and, when braced in a chick bootie, crooked toes usually straighten well and remain corrected. To construct a chick bootie, you’ll need the following...

Your chick will not like its new footwear. It might squawk and protest. It might dash around its brooder like a tottering ragdoll. It might even sit on its hindquarters, feet up, glaring at you. Don’t worry. Within an hour or two (sometimes a little longer for particularly headstrong chicks), your baby will be walking around with its new shoes. Keep the chick booties on for two to three days, changing the outer tape as needed to keep it clean...
You learn something every day.

Where Americans vote (and don't vote...)

From the Washington Post, where there is more information and more charts.

"Area of refuge"

Spotted while visiting a show at a local hotel.  This was a featureless dead-end area on the main floor, adjacent to a set of elevators.  I had to look up the term:
An area of refuge is a location in a building designed to hold occupants during a fire or other emergency, when evacuation may not be safe or possible. Occupants can wait there until rescued or relieved by firefighters. This can apply to the following:
  • any persons who cannot access a safe escape route
  • any persons assisting another person who is prevented from escaping
  • patients in a hospital
  • sick people
  • people with disabilities
  • old people
  • very young children or infants
  • medical personnel who may be operating on a patient at the time of the emergency
  • operators in a critical facility whose function must not be interrupted (such as nuclear power station, a key military fortification, or a high security prison)
It's still a bit vague as to how this area is safer than any other, or how the implementation works.  I suppose the existence of such designated spots tells first responders where to look for persons needing help.  [relevant information from two architects in the Comments]

23 October 2018


Study of a Young Woman (also known as Portrait of a Young Woman, or Girl with a Veil) is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.

The sitter is depicted as having a homely face... with a small nose and thin lips. The lack of idealised beauty has led to a general belief that this work was painted on commission, although it is possible that the model was Vermeer's daughter. The artist probably used a live model but, as with Girl with a Pearl Earring, did not create the work as a portrait, but as a tronie, a Dutch word meaning "visage" or "expression", a type of Dutch 17th-century picture appreciated for its "unusual costumes, intriguing physiognomies, suggestion of personality, and demonstration of artistic skill". The picture encourages the viewer to be curious about the young woman's thoughts, feelings, or character, something typical in many of Vermeer's paintings. 
More at the two links.

An environmental disaster, ongoing for 14 years

"An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history.

Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century...

The Taylor Energy spill is largely unknown outside Louisiana because of the company’s effort to keep it secret in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information, according to a lawsuit that forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan. The spill was hidden for six years before environmental watchdog groups stumbled on oil slicks while monitoring the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a few miles north...

It would take another three years before the government revealed an even deeper truth. Taylor Energy had been playing down the severity of the spill. An Associated Press investigation in 2015 determined that it was about 20 times worse than the company had reported. Taylor Energy had argued that the leak was two gallons per day; the Coast Guard finally said it was 84 gallons or more.

“There’s a fine for not reporting, but none for underreporting,” Amos said.

Nearly a decade after the oil platform went down, the government determined that the actual level of oil leaking into the Gulf was between one and 55 barrels per day. Now, the new estimate dwarfs that: up to 700 barrels per day. Each barrel contains 42 gallons."

Preserved in an anaerobic environment

"The world’s oldest intact shipwreck, complete with mast, rudders and rowing benches, has been found at the bottom of the Black Sea where it has been lying for more than 2,400 years."

Intruders will be stoned

From testimony given in March by David Helsel, the superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District, in Pennsylvania, at a meeting of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives education committee:
Our district has been training staff and students in an armed-intruder defense plan. Every classroom has been equipped with a five-gallon bucket full of river stone. If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance, they will face a classroom full of students armed with rocks. And they will be stoned...

Obviously the teachers have pepper spray. The rocks are just for students. We used to have them huddle underneath desks. We’ve learned from Virginia Tech: the gentleman that did it went to a shooting range a week before and put the targets on the ground because he knew students were going to be under the desks...
From the October issue of Harper's.   There's a bit more at the link, and it has a better title ("Schoolhouse Rocks").

21 October 2018


Prominent on the Secretary bird:

Top photo via the San Diego Zoo.  Eyelash photo via.

High school pep rally - updated !!


When I was in high school, a pep rally consisted of two or three girls waving pom-poms and trying unsuccessfully to get a small crowd to yell "Win team win."  Times have changed.

Some serious planning, choreography and hundreds of hours of practice must have gone into this routine at Walden Grove High School, Sahuarita Arizona.  Worth a few minutes of your time unless you are a complete grouch. 

Via Boing Boing.

Reposted from last year to add this year's equally-spectacular production:

If you're going to watch, you should definitely click the fullscreen icon in the lower right corner

This link goes to another view of the performance filmed from closer to the court.  And if you search YouTube you can find a "making of" interview video.  These kids practice every day for a year to prepare these performances.

Via Neatorama.

18 October 2018

René Descartes and the "Exploding Head Syndrome"

Excerpts from an article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine:
René Descartes (1596–1650), “the Father of Modern Philosophy” and advocate of mind-body dualism, had three successive dreams on November 10, 1619 that changed the trajectory of his life and the trajectory of human thought... I propose that Descartes' second dream was not a dream at all; rather, it was an episode of exploding head syndrome; a benign and relatively common parasomnia.

Baillet recounts that Descartes laid awake for 2 hours pondering “the blessings and evils of this world” after his first dream on the night of November 10, 1619. Just as Descartes fell asleep again:

“…immediately he had a new dream in which he believed he heard a sharp and shattering noise, which he took for a clap of thunder. The fright it gave him woke him directly, and after opening his eyes he perceived many sparkling lights scattered about the room. The same thing had often happened to him at other times…”
Descartes' experience following his first dream meets the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Third Edition (ICSD-3) diagnostic criteria for EHS: (1) a sudden loud noise in the head at the wake-sleep transition; (2) causing abrupt awakening and sense of fright; and (3) not associated with significant complaints of pain.

Recent case reports indicate that EHS is often concomitant with another sleep disorder, most notably sleep paralysis, and it may also be more common in undergraduate students... Because EHS is a benign and self-limiting condition, patient education and reassurance is usually all that is required...

The pathophysiology of EHS is unknown. One theory postulates that EHS is the result of a momentary disinhibition of the brainstem reticular formation, occurring during the transition from wakefulness to sleep. A resulting paroxysm of neuronal activity in auditory and visual regions would explain the sudden perception of a loud noise and flash of light. If so, EHS may represent a sensory variant of hypnic jerks.
Much more at the link.  You learn something every day.

Canadian grocery stores running out of Doritos



From the HumansBeingBros subreddit.

17 October 2018

Here's some food for thought

The Murchison meteorite is about five billion years old - older than the Earth

It contains amino acids.
The meteorite belongs to the CM group of carbonaceous chondrites. Like most CM chondrites, Murchison is petrologic type 2, which means that it experienced extensive alteration by water-rich fluids on its parent body before falling to Earth. CM chondrites, together with the CI group, are rich in carbon and are among the most chemically primitive meteorites...

Several lines of evidence indicate that the interior portions of well-preserved fragments from Murchison are pristine. A 2010 study using high resolution analytical tools including spectroscopy, identified 14,000 molecular compounds including 70 amino acids in a sample of the meteorite.
Photo via.

Word for the day: pants

Last night I was listening to an episode of the Great British Baking Show (excellent entertainment, BTW).  One of the contestants said that he had done well in the morning signature bake but had been "pants in the afternoon."  The meaning was evident, but I had to look up the background.

World Wide Words had the answer:
It has been an all-purpose term of disapproval among young people in the UK during the middle to late nineties. It first turned up in print in 1994, in pieces that indicate it was popularised by DJs on the BBC’s radio pop channel, Radio 1... But there’s evidence that the word in this sense is somewhat older, and that it comes from student slang.

Pants in British usage are not trousers, of course, but underpants, principally male. These intimate nether garments have long been a source of innocent merriment among pubescent youth, and this was just another example, in the tradition of the earlier exclamation knickers!, indicating contempt or exasperation. It appears in phrases like “it’s a pile of pants!” (Simon Mayo’s catchphrase) and “it’s pants!” or “it’s absolute pants”, meaning that it’s a total load of rubbish. Later, we began to hear it from older people as in “My tomato crop was pants last year”. In phrases like “say pants to ...” it’s an injunction to wave goodbye to something considered outmoded, unwanted or unnecessary.
You learn something every day.

"Blade Runner Suite"

Via Neatorama.

The Federal budget deficit continues to grow. No end in sight.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago:
Federal revenues were essentially flat in the budget year that just ended, despite stepped up economic growth, strong hiring and rising wages for workers, according to new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that show the effects of last year’s tax law. Government spending rose 3% in fiscal year 2018, pushing the budget deficit to $782 billion, up from $666 billion the previous fiscal year, CBO estimated. As a share of gross domestic product, the deficit totaled 3.9% in fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30, the third consecutive increase. The deficit would have been even higher if not for shifts in the timing of certain payments...

On the spending side, federal outlays rose 3% in the fiscal year, due to rising costs for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as higher interest payments on the public debt and higher military spending.
The WSJ article was based on the Congressional Budget Office's "snapshot" report.  This week the Treasury Department released the final fiscal-year report...
... showing that the deficit for FY 2018 increased to $779 billion, a $113 billion (or 17 percent) increase from FY 2017. The deficit is 3.9 percent of GDP, also up from 3.5 percent in 2017...

The $113 billion increase in the deficit comes from largely flat revenue coupled with increasing spending. Revenue was up only $14 billion, or 0.4 percent. This revenue growth rate is the eighth lowest in the past 50 years, and the seven lower years either coincided with a recession or tax cuts/expiring tax increases enacted shortly after a recession...

Outlays were up $127 billion over FY 2017. Interest was the fastest growing portion of the budget, increasing nearly 24 percent since last year. Other areas of spending growing significantly were Social Security (4.5 percent) and defense (5.6 percent). Defense spending grew by a more rapid rate than recent years due to this year's budget agreement that increased the defense spending cap substantially...

Recent legislation is responsible for the deficit increase. CBO estimated that the tax law would cost $164 billion in FY 2018, which would account for more than the entire deficit increase. The spending deal (the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018) was estimated to cost $68 billion, which would account for about 60 percent of the increase. Other deficit increasing legislation in FY 2018 added $32 billion to the 2018 deficit. These estimates suggest that if none of these laws were enacted, the deficit would have declined to about $515 billion this year. The tax bill and the spending deal are expected to cost more next fiscal year ($228 billion and $185 billion, respectively) as the deficit is expected to reach nearly $1 trillion.
For Fox ache - is there no adult anywhere in Washington who is willing to address this problem.  It seem to me these numbers have hardly been mentioned in the news, because everyone is so busy reporting on Kavanaugh hearings and hurricane damage and the Khashoggi murder and the midterm forecasts.  And the baseball playoffs.  And... squirrel !!!

Embedded image from the second link.

Leaf chromatography

Photographed at an exhibit at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum yesterday.  I need to learn about this, but haven't yet found a concise source (written for adults) to read and cite.   Suggestions?

Scientific American has detailed instructions for undertaking the procedure and interpreting the results:
What are the different bands of color on the test strips? These are the different pigments in the leaves. The ones you may see on your paper towel strips are: green chlorophylls, yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red anthocyanins. Pigments with larger molecules generally stay near the bottom of the strip, where the solution was first "painted" onto the pencil line, because it is harder for them to travel up through the paper towel's woven fiber. Smaller pigments can more easily traverse the paper towel and, consequently, they usually travel farther up the strip.

15 October 2018

Best vacation trip ever. Maybe the best one possible.

The brochure above arrived in my mail this week, because I've been a National Geographic subscriber.  This is what they are offering:

Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the world, and the process became available to the wealthy in the 19th century.  Nowadays such trips are routinely offered by travel agencies.

But this one is different.  Note the destinations:

This is not a trip to New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London etc for shopping.  For those reading this on a phone and unable to decipher the small fonts of the embeds, here are the destinations:
Machu Piccu
Easter Island
Samoa, Polynesia
The Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling
Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom
the Taj Mahal
the Serengeti Plain
Petra and Wadi Rum
Any ONE of those would for me be the trip of a lifetime.  In addition, you are accompanied on your trip by a National Geographic photographer and a marine biologist, art historian, or anthropologist and archaeologist etc, who will give in-flight lectures on relevant topics - when you are not eating a meal prepared by the expedition chef (using local dishes and served with fine wines):

Travel is in a small(ish) private jet.  Accommodations are in hand-picked small lodges, not big hotels, and entertainment (Rapa Nui dancers, Andean weavers, Bedouin dinners etc) is provided.  And there is an expedition physician traveling with the group.  Of course.

It does cost a lot -

- almost as much as having a medical procedure in an American hospital without insurance.

So it's out of my range by about two log powers, but it still fascinates me.  This is how the 1% live, expending this much for a three-week trip.  Or perhaps charging it to a corporate account to be blended in with other line items.

I guess what I'm jealous of most is the lack of hassles for these travelers.  I can certainly fly somewhere for a vacation, but on arrival I have to rent a car, drive myself through traffic, stay in a big hotel, find a place to eat and so on.  To be catered to like this is an entire different way of life.

But those destinations...

Piano arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody

Via Neatorama.

Evangelical support for Donald Trump

For the past year I've been trying to sequester Donald Trump-related links to a q3monthly "Trump clump," but an article in The Atlantic is so well written that I believe it deserves standalone status.

The author is not your everyday political pundit or internet hack.  Michael Gerson was President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter and senior policy advisor (he wrote Bush's second inaugural address that "called for neo-conservative intervention and nation building around the world.")

Gerson is a neo-conservative and was raised in an Evangelical Christian family.  In this article he asks why Evangelical Christians continue to support a president whose "background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership."
Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ... According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams...

So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons...

How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory...

[concise history of evangelicalism from the Civil War to the present at the link]

As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated...

Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice...

The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.

It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues...

Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall...

In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.

Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities...

It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life...

It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.
Apologies to the author for such extended excerpts, but there is way, way more at The Atlantic.  I encourage readers to read the original beginning to end.

When you feed on exploding seed pods...

Via BoingBoing.

Word for the day: Stook

A stook, also referred to as a shock or stack, is an arrangement of sheaves of cut grain-stalks placed so as to keep the grain-heads off the ground while still in the field and prior to collection for threshing. Stooked grain sheaves are typically wheat, barley and oats.

The purpose of a stook [or 'stooking'] is to dry the unthreshed grain while protecting it from vermin until it is brought into long-term storage. The unthreshed grain also cures while in a stook. In England, sheaves were commonly stacked in stooks of twelve and may therefor refer to twelve sheaves.

In North America, a stook may also refer to a field stack of six, ten or fifteen small (70–90 lb (30–40 kg)), rectangular bales of hay or straw. These bales may be stacked and deposited by a "stooking machine" or "stooker" that is dragged, sled-like, behind the baler.
The Oxford Dictionaries website lists the etymology as Middle English.  When I was growing up in Minnesota, we would refer to these as "shocks," reserving the word "stack" for the larger haystacks.

Related: Sculpting with straw and Making hay while the sun shines (video).

Credit for the photo of a field in Devon: Paul McLoughlin, via a gallery of landscape photos at The Guardian.

12 October 2018

Leaf shape as a marker of average annual temperature

Plants in temperate climates tend to have leaves with serrated margins, i.e. they have jagged edges; plants in warmer and more humid climates tend to have what are known in botanical jargon as entire margins, that is, smooth and unserrated. The difference is illustrated in the photographs.

Rather than there being a sharp cut-off between the temperate and tropical styles of leaves, there is a continuous relationship between the climate and the mix of leaf types found in it: that is, as the climate gets a little hotter and wetter, the proportion of entire margins increases a little. This means that looking at a single leaf doesn't tell us that we are looking at a temperate or tropical climate; but
looking at a whole lot of species will allow us to do something a whole lot better than simply dividing climates into tropical or temperate: we can actually estimate the average annual temperature.

We can establish by observation that the ratio of temperate to tropical leaf styles is a surprisingly good indicator of average annual temperature, as illustrated by the graph [right], showing the relationship between floras and temperature in the forests of East Asia.
More at the link (and source credit for the graph).  That article didn't address the question of "why."  I found some related discussion in a Smithsonian article about fossilized leaves:
Scientists are still trying to understand the exact basis for this relationship, but they think it’s because plants in colder climates need to get a jump-start on converting sunlight to energy (photosynthesis) in the spring. Having more teeth enables more water to move out of the leaves, increasing the flow of sap and ramping up photosynthesis. This is important if you need to start photosynthesizing lots of food quickly, say because you only have a brief growing season before the cold comes. If you’re in a warm climate though, jagged edges do more harm than good: losing water can be dangerous to the leaf and to the whole plant, especially when it’s hot. This set of tradeoffs makes one leaf shape more favorable (and thus more predominant) at certain temperatures.

Borderline behavior

Excerpts from an article in this month's Harper's:
Laura Sandoval threaded her way through idling taxis and men selling bottles of water toward the entrance of the Cordova International Bridge, which links Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. Earlier that day, a bright Saturday in December 2012, Sandoval had crossed over to Juárez to console a friend whose wife had recently died. She had brought him a few items he had requested—eye drops, the chimichangas from Allsup’s he liked—and now that her care package had been delivered, she was in a hurry to get back to the Texas side, where she’d left her car. She had a three-hour drive to reach home, in the mountains in New Mexico, and she hated driving in the dark.

Sandoval took her place in the long line of people waiting to have their passports checked by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). When it was her turn, she handed her American passport to a customs officer and smiled amicably, waiting for him to wave her through. But the officer said she had been randomly selected for additional screening. Sandoval was led to a secondary inspection area nearby, where two more officers patted her down. Another walked toward her with a drug-sniffing dog, which grew agitated as it came closer, barking and then circling her legs. Because the dog had “alerted,” the officer said, Sandoval would now have to undergo another inspection.

She was taken to a fluorescent-lit, windowless room inside the port of entry office. Two female officers entered and announced that they were going to search her for drugs. They patted her down again, but found nothing. At that point, Sandoval assumed they would release her, but instead they told her they were going to conduct a strip search. The officers put on latex gloves, picked up flashlights, and asked Sandoval to remove her clothes and bend over so they could look for signs of drugs in her vagina and her rectum.

By the time they finished, Sandoval had been detained for more than two hours in the stifling room. Her passport and cell phone had been confiscated; her husband and children had no idea where she was. Sandoval begged to be released. “I was shaking and I was in tears,” she told me. Saying nothing, the officers put her in handcuffs and led her to a patrol car waiting outside. They left the international bridge and drove north into Texas. Frightened, Sandoval asked the officers if they had a warrant for her arrest. “We don’t need a warrant,” one of them replied...
Sandoval, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, told me that after the officers forced her into the squad car, they drove her to University Medical Center, a public hospital in El Paso. The officers found an empty room and shackled her to the examination table. A nurse entered and asked her to swallow a laxative so they could observe her bowel movement. Then a group of doctors came in. Sandoval pleaded with them to let her go. “A nurse told me to calm down,” she said. “That this was something they did anytime Border Patrol brought people in.” One of the doctors conducted a vaginal and rectal search using a speculum and his hands. “The agents kept saying that they knew I had drugs,” Sandoval told me. Still not satisfied, the doctor ordered an X-ray and a full-body scan. Again they found nothing...

Sandoval tried to forget about what had happened to her. She figured it would be too costly to fight the government. But then the bills from the hospital started to arrive. For the cavity searches, the X-ray, and the CT scan, the hospital was charging her $5,488. [she had refused to sign a consent form]
The article continues at Harper's.   I'm going to close comments for this post.  Posted because some people don't realize what's going on in this country.  Just to emphasize - this lady is a legal American citizen.  The only "probable cause" was someone's interpretation of a dog's behavior.
And these CBP agents operate not just at the border itself, but for a hundred miles inside (see the map at top), where two-thirds of all Americans live.  Some "roving patrols" extend twice that far.
In 2008, Patrick Leahy, a senator from Vermont, was stopped at a temporary immigration checkpoint in New York—125 miles from the border. Agents ordered Leahy to get out of his car and asked him to prove that he was a US citizen. When Leahy asked under what authority the Border Patrol agent was acting, the agent pointed to his gun and said, reportedly, “That’s all the authority I need.”...

[Beto] O’Rourke’s opposition to CBP’s sweeping powers stems in part from his own encounter with border agents. In 2009, he and his two-year-old son were detained at a checkpoint more than seventy miles from the border while agents pulled his truck apart. “They don’t have to explain why they’re holding you,” he said, “and you’re not given the right to an attorney.” O’Rourke told me that he and his son were held in a cell for close to thirty minutes before they were allowed to leave. “It was a strange feeling to be held against my will and to have my car searched,” he said. “I hadn’t committed any crime. I hadn’t even crossed the border.”..

Sandoval said she was glad to hear that the hospital had changed its policy, but she still worried that CBP would subject others to similar treatment. She has not been back to Juárez. “It’s not because I’m afraid to go to Mexico,” she told me. “I’m afraid of coming back to my own country.”
There's more at the link.  Sad.

What are the gizmos inside this sign ?

Inside the golden arches and the nameplate is a series of what appear to be aluminum plates with a regular array of holes.  I'm guessing these must be components of a lighting system (perhaps for LEDs ?), but can't figure out how they work.  Nothing important, but curious minds want to know, and I thought some reader here might have the answer.

Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Word for the day: Sortition

"Federal authorities have charged a New York man with building a 200-pound (90-kilogram) bomb they say he planned to detonate on Election Day on the National Mall in Washington. Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, was charged Wednesday with unlawfully manufacturing a destructive device and interstate transportation and receipt of an explosive. Prosecutors said he planned to use the bomb to kill himself and draw attention to a political system called sortition, in which public officials are chosen randomly rather than elected."
From Wikipedia:
In governance, sortition (also known as choice by lot, allotment, or demarchy) is the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates. Sortition ensures all competent and interested parties have an equal chance of holding public office. It also minimizes factionalism, since there would be no point making promises to win over key constituencies if one was to be chosen by lot. Elections, by contrast, foster factionalism. For that reason, when the time came to choose individuals to be assigned to empowering positions, the ancient Athenians resorted to choosing by lot. In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials, and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of true democracy.
More at the link on the theory, and on historical examples of its utilization.  One of the examples cited is "picking a school class monitor by drawing straws."  Here are some other excerpts:
Compared to a voting system – even one that is open to all citizens – a citizen-wide lottery scheme for public office lowers the threshold to office. This is because ordinary citizens do not have to compete against more powerful or influential adversaries in order to take office, and because the selection procedure does not favour those who have pre-existing advantages or connections – as invariably happens with election by preference.

These Greeks recognized that sortition broke up factions, diluted power, and gave positions to such a large number of disparate people that they would all keep an eye on each other making collusion fairly rare.

The most common argument against pure sortition (that is, with no prior selection of an eligible group) is that it does not discriminate among those selected and takes no account of particular skills or experience that might be needed to effectively discharge the particular offices to be filled.

Because it introduces randomness in determining outcomes, there is always the statistical possibility that sortition may put into power an individual or group that do not represent the views of the population from which they were drawn... This argument applies to juries, but less to larger groups where the probability of, for example, an oppressive majority, are statistically insignificant.
The chance of American elected officials approving the utilization of sortition is, of course, one in a hundred gazillion bazillion, plus or minus.

"Mooooooooo....." (updated)

Photo via.

Reposted to add this (via):

10 October 2018

Caterpillar of the Tailed Emperor butterfly


I wonder what writers think the breath is baited with ???

Saw this comment somewhere yesterday, and I agree with World Wide Words that this error is so common that there is a real danger "that it will soon become the usual form."
Bated and baited sound the same and we no longer use bated (let alone the verb to bate), outside this one set phrase, which has become an idiom. Confusion is almost inevitable. Bated here is a contraction of abated through loss of the unstressed first vowel (a process called aphesis); it means “reduced, lessened, lowered in force”. So bated breath refers to a state in which you almost stop breathing as a result of some strong emotion, such as terror or awe.
Shakespeare is the first writer known to use it, in The Merchant of Venice, in which Shylock says to Antonio: “Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key, / With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, / Say this ...”. Nearly three centuries later, Mark Twain employed it in Tom Sawyer: “Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”.
For those who know the older spelling or who stop to consider the matter, baited breath evokes an incongruous image; Geoffrey Taylor humorously (and consciously) captured it in verse in his poem Cruel Clever Cat:
Sally, having swallowed cheese,
Directs down holes the scented breeze,
Enticing thus with baited breath
Nice mice to an untimely death.
p.s. yes I know the title should read "with what"...


"American Craig Ramsell reportedly came up for the idea for his boomwhackers in 1994 while at home recovering from radiation therapy. While cutting cardboard tubes into shorter lengths for recycling he happened to notice the different pitches resulting from the different lengths and decided to investigate their creative potential. He experimented with various plastics before settling on plastic mailing tubes.

Boomwhackers produce musical tones when struck together, on the floor, or against nearly any surface. They can also be grouped together and struck with mallets in different configurations, in specialized holders (homemade or available from the manufacturer), similar to a horizontally-aligned xylophone. When one end of a Boomwhackers tube is covered with what the manufacturer calls an Octavator Cap, the pitch it produces is lowered by an octave.

Boomwhackers are most commonly used in elementary music classrooms as an inexpensive alternative or supplement to traditional pitched instruments such as xylophones and metallophones. Boomwhackers are often used by performance artists and other musical performance groups to add an element of spectacle. They can also be used by people with intellectual and developmental impairment to develop sensorimotor skills, social skills, and creativity."

Which is which ?

You probably know the difference between these two elevator buttons, but which is which?  (not that it matters - they probably don't work anyway).

Answer: the one with the line is for the front.

"Bullshit asymmetry principle"

Publicly formulated the first time in January 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer, the bullshit asymmetry principle (also known as Brandolini's law) states that:
The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

09 October 2018

Reunion of twins separated at birth

An 8-minute video worth watching.  Backstory at The Atlantic.

Posted for my twin cousins, Audrey and Meridee.  

08 October 2018

Selling my mother at a barn auction

Since you "can't take it with you," everyone eventually has to decide what to do with memorabilia.  Photos and letters from grandparents, aunts and uncles will logically go to the next generation of my cousins and nieces and nephews.  But what to do with a baby photo of my late mother?  My grandparents had the photo enlarged to almost-lifesize, then placed it in a large (and heavy) wooden frame of "tiger-stripe" pattern apparently popular after the turn of the century; the glass is top-of-the-line convex "bubble glass."

The framed photo hung on the wall in my grandparents' farmhouse for probably 40 years, then was stored in my parents' home for another 50 years, then to me for 10 years.  Now it's at the end of the road.  Others in my family are happy to get old photos of my mother as an adult, and especially of her as a senior citizen, but a picture of her as a baby triggers no memories and has no sentimental value, and most modern mobile young families don't want to be burdened with a heavy wood-and-glass photo frame.

So this past week I loaded mom in my car, along with a couple Coca-Cola mirrors I bought at a Bill Wade auction in Dallas in the 1970s, and my sister's sleepy-eyed "walking" bridal doll, and my paternal grandfather's medical encyclopedias from his corner drug store, plus boxes of my old collectibles and knick-knacks, and hauled them to a local auctioneer.

My whole adult life I've enjoyed barn auctions, sitting in the bleachers on a Sunday afternoon, or walking through a crowd in a farmyard rummaging through stuff on carts and wagons.  There are amazing bargains to be found, and when you don't win you help the seller by boosting the price that winds up being paid by whoever outbid you.

When she was in her late 90s, my mother moved from Minnesota to our town here in Wisconsin, and she enjoyed going to barn auctions, where she would walk around looking at farm implements and old kitchen tools and pottery and dishware and say "I remember these" over and over again.  I think she would be delighted to have her old picture frame going to a new family to start a new life.


I've always been fascinated by weaver birds and orioles and their suspended nests.

Photo: Mahesh Kumar A/AP, via The Guardian.

"Paper terrorism" explained

The term is briefly defined on a Wikipedia entry, but is better explained in a recent Harper's article:
In the spring of 2011, Cherron Marie Phillips, a real estate agent in Chicago, decided to take revenge on twelve government officials who had been involved in prosecuting her brother Devon for drug trafficking. Phillips went to the office of her local recorder of deeds, where she filed a series of liens against the judges, prosecutors, law enforcement agents, and court staff who had taken part in his case... Phillips claimed that Fitzgerald owed her brother $100 billion...

Such tactics have become known as paper terrorism, defined by Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League, as “the use of bogus legal documents and filings, or the misuse of legitimate ones, to intimidate, harass, threaten, or retaliate against public officials, law enforcement officers, or private citizens.” Liens are simple and inexpensive for paper terrorists to file but difficult for victims to scrub away. Even when the claims are obviously fake—alleging debts of outlandish magnitude—the supposed debtors can be forced to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to clear the titles to their homes or to restore their credit ratings...

Recently, current and former inmates, who were introduced to paper terrorism by incarcerated sovereign citizens, have been employing its tactics in nothing-to-lose gambits and harassment campaigns. Since the sovereign citizen movement tends to attract followers during economic downturns, the next one, which seems cyclically due, may bring with it a surge in phony filings. Similarly, Pitcavage warns that if the Democrats return to power—or if Trump is impeached—there will be a wave of anti-government anger on the right, and sovereign citizens will get swept up in it. “Anytime there is a surge in sovereign citizen activity,” he says, “you will see an increase in paper terrorism.”

06 October 2018

Encouraging animal adoption

Cat and rabbit images, and their source, are presented at Neatorama.

"... where no man has gone before"

This is the surface of a comet.
This image shows a portion of 67P/C-G as viewed by Rosetta on 22 September 2014, only one and a half months after the spacecraft had made its rendezvous with the comet. At the time, the spacecraft was 28.2 km from the comet centre (around 26.2 km from the surface). Amateur astronomer Jacint Roger Perez, from Spain, selected and processed this view by combining three images taken in different wavelengths by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on Rosetta.

Seen in the centre and left of the frame is Seth, one of the geological regions on the larger of the two comet lobes, which declines towards the smoother Hapi region on the comet’s ‘neck’ that connects the two lobes. The landscape in the background reveals hints of the Babi and Aker regions, both located on the large lobe of 67P/C-G. For a wider image of this region in the overall context of the comet see here.

The sharp profile in the lower part of the image shows the Aswan cliff, a 134 m-high scarp separating the Seth and Hapi regions. Observations performed by Rosetta not long before the comet’s perihelion, which took place on 13 August 2015, revealed that a chunk of this cliff had collapsed – a consequence of increased activity as the comet drew closer to the Sun along its orbit.
More at the ESA website.

Thought for the day


Interesting "how-to" video

Very interesting, but the petulant response to an error at the end seems discordant. This is one of a series of instructional videos by the artist, and it looks to me as though the error at the end was intentional, perhaps to emphasize that anything less than perfection is supposed to be discarded?

But the first 98% of the runtime is interesting for showing how things used to be done.

Via Neatorama.

05 October 2018

A heat map of initials from the U.S. year 2000 census

Found at the DataIsBeautiful subreddit.

Is the U.S. laying the groundwork for future biological warfare ?

Government-backed researchers in America are aiming to use virus-carrying insects to genetically engineer crops – raising fears the technology could be used for biological weapons.

A new article in the journal Science explores the shadowy program funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). The program aims to disperse infectious, genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to alter the
chromosomes of crops – using insects to spread the viruses to the plants.

Researchers have budgeted more than $45m to pursue the genetic engineering scheme, in a program dubbed Insect Allies.

The agency describes the research as a way to improve crop security: bugs like aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies will be used to spread a virus to plants including corn and tomatoes, which will then impart beneficial genes making the plants resistant to disease or drought.

But in the Science article, an international team of scientists and lawyers warn that the technology could be put to more nefarious purposes, including military applications.

“It is our opinion that the knowledge to be gained from this program appears very limited in its capacity to enhance US agriculture or respond to natural emergencies,” they write. “As a result, the program may be widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their means of delivery.”..

“We have viruses which can genetically modify a plant, or even a mouse,” Reeves said. “But no one’s ever proposed dispersing them into the environment. That’s the thing that makes Insect Allies unique.”..

At the same time, the spread of virus-carrying insects could be hard to control...

Darpa says there is nothing to fear from the program.
You be the judge.  More information at the Guardian link above, and at Vice's Motherboard.   Embedded image via DARPA.
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