28 February 2019

A tip for used-book buyers

I recently decided just for fun to browse a group of books about Edward Gorey, and discovered that in addition to the books written and illustrated by him, there are lots of books by other authors for which he designed the cover.  One writer noted that Gorey enthusiasts like to prowl used-book stores looking for the ones for which he provided illustrations or covers.

So my next step was to get this book from our library:

It turns out there are an abundance of such books, some with "instantly-recognizable Gorey" covers, but more with images that are stylistically related and recognizable, once you familiarize yourself with his work.

There are way too many book covers for me to even attempt embedding here.  The one at the top of this post struck my eye, because it was the cover of a textbook I was assigned to read for my first course in American Literature in college in the 1960s.  Sadly, I recycled that book decades ago, but the cover was unforgettable.

Might this knowledge be useful in some pecuniary way?  Apparently so.  I searched eBay for "Gorey cover" in the "books" section and saw some offered at ridiculous prices.  Then I clicked on "sold" and was surprised to see some of the prices realized.  In my experience, selling books on eBay is largely a futile effort because to sell your precious coffee-table art book you have to compete with sellers offering the same for $3 plus free shipping.

But these Gorey-illustrated books might be worth looking for.  If you can't locate the book shown above, browse this page of results of a Google Image search for "Gorey covers" to familiarize yourself with what to look for.

Additional information from an old Guardian article:
Yet, understandably, less attention is devoted today to the 200-plus illustrated paperback covers and hardcover jackets that Chicago-born, Harvard-educated Gorey (known to his friends as Ted) created while working as a staff artist, art director, editor and freelance illustrator at various American publishing houses for a large portion of his career. In two brief sentences, his obituary tossed aside this impressive output: “After graduation he remained in Boston, illustrating book jackets. Then he went to New York and worked in the art department at Doubleday, staying late in the office to create his own books.”...

Gorey’s covers and jackets were not done anonymously or as mere throwaways, as many others were. Nor was this a strategic compromise until he found and embraced his true calling. Today, this body of work exemplifies his unique contribution to a truly exceptional era of graphic design when book covers and jackets became an innovative genre honoured by exhibitions and awards.
The correspondence of Edward Gorey
The bizarre humor of Edward Gorey
Selections from "Gashlycrumb Tinies" - updated

27 February 2019

Eagle tracked for 20 years

Apparently a Steppe Eagle.  Via the MapPorn subreddit.

Atlantic salmon, farmed in Wisconsin

"[Just] up the hill from an abandoned schoolhouse in the rolling hills of west central Wisconsin about 33 miles southeast of Eau Claire, 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of salmon are harvested each week and 1.5 million pounds of leafy greens each year. And it’s all being sold to grocers, restaurants and wholesalers within a 400-mile radius of Jackson County...

A 3-acre greenhouse, nearly twice the length of a football field, glows purple from its more than 1,100 LED grow lights — a sight that turns the heads of passing motorists on Interstate 94 at night. The lights, with cloud-based software, help mimic California’s Salinas Valley.

Next door, the North Atlantic Ocean is replicated in a one-acre fish house. Thousands of Atlantic salmon, some newly hatched from eggs sourced in Iceland, others nearly 10 pounds after two years, are raised in 22,000-gallon tanks filled with fresh water drawn from a 180-foot-deep well...

With millions of dollars in financial backing from Todd Wanek, the CEO of Ashley Furniture, and his wife, Karen, this is where a team of experts schooled in the minutiae of aquaculture and hydroponics uses water from the fish rearing process to grow vegetables year round on floating mats. It’s all certified organic with no pesticides, growth hormones or other additives."
"Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Water in which fish are raised is then used to fill greenhouse tanks to grow plants. The fish waste provides nutrients for the plants, and the water recirculates between the tanks...

Salmon are raised in water that is about 39 degrees. The nutrient-rich water is then pumped to the neighboring greenhouse where the water is allowed to warm naturally to around 75 degrees and can be used to grow baby red leaf lettuce from seed to harvest in 18 to 24 days...

Like hydroponics, aquaponics systems require less land and water than conventional crop production methods, increase growth rates and allow for year-round production... The projects, which use no surface water and emphasize cleanliness including bio-security measures to prevent contamination of crops, are designed to decrease transportation costs and provide locally sourced food...
The Superior Fresh system, which includes about 850,000 gallons of water in the greenhouse, has interior and exterior weather stations that talk to each other and open and close roof vents to help regulate temperatures. On a recent day, with temperatures outside in the mid-20s, the greenhouse temperature was 76 degrees. During the polar vortex, interior temperatures dropped to the upper 50s..."
More details and pix at the Wisconsin State Journal.

Immense courage. North Carolina, 1956.

Dorothy Counts, whose nickname was Dot, was dropped off on her first day of school by her father Herman Count along with their family friend Edwin Thompkins. As their car was blocked from going closer to the front entrance, Edwin offered to escort Counts to the front of the school while her father parked the car. As Counts got out of the car to head down the hill, her father told her, "Hold your head high." The harassment started when the wife of John Z. Warlick, an officer of the White Citizens Council, urged the boys to "keep her out" and at the same time, implored the girls to spit on her, saying, "spit on her, girls, spit on her."

Another video of falling dominoes

This one shows some truly innovative variations.

One small request to makers of videos like this.  Listening to the sound of falling dominos is interesting and relaxing.  If you feel compelled for some odd reason to add in a musical accompaniment, please choose one that doesn't repeat itself every 15 effing seconds.  Thank you.

Via Neatorama.

How much snow can the roof of your home tolerate?

This extraordinary winter has created much anxiety among homeowners worried about whether their roof can withstand the weight of the snow.  When should you worry?  I had to look it up, and found the answer in Reuben Saltzman's excellent Home Inspector column at the StarTribune (I highly recommend that homeowners bookmark and browse his home inspection blog).

For southern Minnesota, the building code stipulates load-bearing of snow by the roof of 35 pounds per square foot.  But... as anyone who has ever shoveled snow understands, there is a world of difference between light fluffy snow that falls when temps are near zero and the heavy wet snow that falls when the temps are closer to freezing.  The table embedded above sorts this out,

Water weighs 62 pounds/cubic foot, ice just a little less.  Heavy and light snow are shown in the first two columns (from 1/3 the weight of water to 1/20th); this is obviously a continuum, but the two numbers shown are useful to make the point.

The bottom part of the chart translates the numbers into snow depth.  If a roof was built to withstand 20 pounds per square foot, it would be at risk with a foot of heavy wet snow, but can handle over 6 feet of light dry snow.

It gets more complicated, because as snow remains on a roof, it becomes progressively more compact, and note that the tolerance for ice is way less than for snow.

In point of fact, residential roofs rarely collapse from snow.  But here in Wisconsin this week there have been reports of barn roofs and outbuilding roofs on farms collapsing, because building standards for those structures are less rigorous.

And a bigger problem than roof collapse is water penetration from ice dams.

This is a "duck"

The photo shows the Kamil Gulec Library in Turkey - its exterior designed to resemble a shelf of books (there is a similarly-designed library in Kansas City, Missouri).

Today I learned that there is a term for this sort of contrivance -
"Robert Venturi coined the term. He saw a building, literally in the shape and appearance of a Duck and coined the term from there. Buildings that are intended to look like 'things' are therefore referred to as 'Ducks'."
The Longaberger office building comes immediately to mind.  There must be many others.

25 February 2019

Future warfare is here. Kamikaze drones are real.

As reported by the Washington Post:
ABU DHABI — The Russian company that gave the world the iconic AK-47 assault rifle has unveiled a suicide drone that may similarly revolutionize war by making sophisticated drone warfare technology widely and cheaply available.

The Kalashnikov Group put a model of its miniature exploding drone on display this week at a major defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where the world’s arms companies gather every two years to show off and market their latest wares...

The KUB is four feet wide, can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 80 mph and carries six pounds of explosives, the news release says. That makes it roughly the size of a coffee table that can be guided to explode on a target 40 miles away — the equivalent of a “small, slow and presumably inexpensive cruise missile,” according to a report by the National Interest website...

“I think of it as democratizing smart bombs,” he said “It means disseminating smart bombs more widely. This would shrink the gap between the most advanced militaries and the smaller ones.”

Suicide drones are not new. The Islamic State pioneered the art of attaching explosives to commercially available drones and detonating them on advancing troops and enemy bases during the battles for the cities of Mosul and Raqqa in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. and Israeli militaries have incorporated suicide drones into their arsenals — but controls on the export of technology mean the devices aren’t shared outside a small circle of close allies.

The KUB drone will be faster and more accurate, and will deliver twice the explosive charge and have a greater range than any of the crude homemade devices that have been patched together by terrorists, according to the Kalashnikov representatives at the exhibition.
More at the link.  Image cropped for emphasis from the original.

These are not autonomous.  That may come later...

Tree vs avalanche

The avalanche wins the first round.  Via.

Gray pareidolia



The trend of Americans' incomes

I think the chart above helps to resolve the debate. It shows that both sides have a point — but that it’s a mistake to divide the country into only two groups. To make grand pronouncements about the American economy, you need to talk about three groups.

The first is indeed the top 1 percent of earners, and especially the very richest. Their post-tax incomes (and wealth) have surged since 1980, rising at a much faster rate than economic growth. They are now capturing an even greater share of the economy’s bounty.

Then there are the bottom 90 percent of households, who are in the opposite position. The numbers here take into account taxes and government transfers, like Social Security, financial aid and anti-poverty benefits. Even so, the incomes of the bottom 90 percent have trailed G.D.P. Over time, their share of the economy’s bounty has shrunk.

Finally, there is the upper middle class, defined here as the 90th to 99th percentiles of the income distribution (making roughly $120,000 to $425,000 a year after tax). Their income path doesn’t look like that of either the first or second group. It’s not above the line or below it. It’s almost directly on top of it. Since 1980, the incomes of the upper middle class have been growing at almost the identical rate as the economy.

24 February 2019

"Pyt" is my new favorite word

Just like ‘hygge’, ‘pyt’ does not have a direct English translation. Some interpretations include ‘never mind’, ‘don’t worry’ or ‘forget about it’ – but these expressions don’t convey the positive aspect of the word. ‘Pyt’ is used to express that you accept a situation is out of your control, and even though you might be annoyed or frustrated, you decide not to waste unnecessary energy on thinking more about it. You accept it and move on. ‘Pyt’ is also used to comfort other people and diffuse unfortunate situations.

‘Pyt’ is so beloved by Danes that in September 2018 it was chosen as the nation’s favourite word in a competition held by the Danish Library Association during the country’s annual ‘Library Week’...

“Pyt is one of my favourite words; it’s the most positive sound I have ever heard. And it has an enormous power when it comes to letting go of things we can’t change. There is so much relief in that word.”

The power of the word has been harnessed in other ways, too. It’s passed down to children at kindergarten and primary school through the introduction of a ‘pyt’ button. This is usually just a plastic lid with ‘PYT’ written on it, glued to a piece of cardboard and placed somewhere centrally in the classroom, to be used in situations where children feel upset about not coming first in a race or winning a game. Essentially, they learn from an early age that losing is OK, as this is also part of real life.

Charlotte Sørensen, a head teacher at Søndervangskolen in the town of Hammel, Jutland, told me: “The ‘pyt’ button is genius. It doesn’t work for all children, but for some of them, it’s great. The action of pressing a physical button seems to help them clear their minds and move on.”
I needed a new word to help cope with arguably the most unpleasant winter I've ever experienced.  Had to rake my roof for a record 4th time, repeatedly salt the driveway and chop ice from the walkways and deck.  Yesterday we had freezing rain followed by rain followed by freezing rain followed by snow, and now that all that is frozen up, temps are forecast to remain below freezing for the next week even in midday.  Winds 40-50 mph today, so I'm not eager to go out to the mailbox, where when I shovel the packed snow the road plows leave in the driveway, I have to lift it to shoulder-height.  PYT!!!

The tooth of a Great White Shark...

... is the one on the RIGHT.  The one on the left is from a megalodonVia.

When you don't know you're poor

Via the Wholesomememes subreddit, where there is a discussion thread.

Sinkhole epidemic in Turkey

Karst formation underneath.  Water harvested for intensive farming.  Details and a photo gallery here.

Farming sunlight

Across the flatlands of Illinois, a new crop is rising among the traditional waves of grain... Hundreds have applied to host acres of solar panels on their property, a move encouraged by a state law requiring that renewable resources provide 25 percent of Illinois power by 2025.

The shift is controversial, and not just because of how it could alter the pastoral landscape. Taking some of the most fertile soil in the world out of production could have serious consequences for a booming population.

Yet farmers point to the uncertain economics of their lives and the need to have other income. Prices last year for the state’s most prominent crops were far below original projections, with University of Illinois data showing corn 7 percent lower and soybeans 15 percent lower. The Trump administration’s trade war with China triggered the steep drop in soybean prices.

Climate change is also spurring some farmers to rent acreage for solar panels, as a way to help combat global warming. “I like to believe I’ve done a small part in trying to slow that process down,” DeBaillie said...

Proposals for midsize projects have become so popular that Illinois is hosting a lottery to determine who will be awarded contracts to sell solar electricity to large power companies in the state, which then delivers it to subscribers.

The state anticipates about 1,000 applications, with many of the proposed projects located on farmland, officials said. About 100 agreements will be issued starting in March.
More information at the Washington Post.

22 February 2019

Sigiriya ("Lion Rock") fortress (Sri Lanka)

According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure — Sīnhāgiri, the Lion Rock (an etymology similar to Siṃhapura, the Sanskrit name of Singapore, the Lion City). The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king's death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

Sigiriya today is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning... "The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery... the largest picture in the world perhaps". The paintings would have covered most of the western face of the rock, an area 140 metres long and 40 metres high. There are references in the graffiti to 500 ladies in these paintings...

The Gardens of the Sigiriya city are one of the most important aspects of the site, as it is among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. The gardens are divided into three distinct but linked forms: water gardens, cave and boulder gardens, and terraced gardens. 
Image cropped for composition from the one at the via.

Mudlarking - updated

This past week [In 2009] the BBC featured an article on "mudlarking," which apparently is treasure hunting along riverbanks at low tide.
"... there is no place better to mudlark than on the 95-mile foreshore of the Thames, considered by some the largest open-air archaeological site in London...
While a general permit to look for artefacts allows the aspiring treasure hunter to dig only 7.5cm into the ground, a special mudlark's licence allows the enthusiasts to venture much further underneath the surface.
"The best thing I've ever found," says Tony, "is a silver wine taster, dated 1634, that is now in the Museum of London's collection."
Over the last 30 years, Tony and his friends from The Society of Thames Mudlarks have amassed a collection of more than 2,500 buttons ranging in date from the late 14th to the late 19th Century. They are now being donated to the Museum of London and include examples of buttons made of silver, pewter and semi-precious stones...
I think it sounds like fun, although I think I remember references in some Dickens' novels that it was not viewed that way in earlier times:
During the Industrial Revolution, mudlarks were usually young children or widowed women. Becoming a mudlark was a cry of desperation as it is considered one of the worst "jobs" in history. At the time of the Industrial Revolution, excrement and waste would wash onto the shores from the raw sewage which wasn't treated. The corpses of humans, cats and dogs would also wash up. Mudlarks would be lucky if they made a penny a day selling what they had found during low tide, which was the only time people could scavenge along the shores of the rivers.
I'm sure lots of murder weapons and wedding rings have been tossed into the Thames.

Reposted from 2009 to add a report of the recovery of a neolithic skull fragment by a mudlarker:
The fragment of a neolithic skull was mudlarked from the south bank of the river’s foreshore by Martin Bushell last September... The discovery, which Bushell initially believed was just a shard of pottery, was handed in to the Metropolitan police. The force commissioned radiocarbon dating of the bone, which revealed that the man had died about 5,600 years ago...

Last month, a rare Roman oil lamp found on the river’s foreshore by Alan Suttie, an amateur treasure hunter, also went on display at the Museum of London. Other ancient objects found in the Thames in previous years include a neolithic polished macehead, a sword dated to the late bronze age and a bust of the Roman emperor Hadrian, dated to his visit to Britain in AD122 – all of which are on display at the British Museum.
See alsoLove tokens retrieved from the mud of the Thames (2011).

DaVinci believed that "Alpine peaks were once the floors of seas"

"Few art historians doubt that Leonardo’s vision was influenced by his memory of a mountain excursion on which he found himself wandering “among gloomy rocks”. “I came to the mouth of a great cavern... discovery inside of a fossilised whale and a horde of ancient seashells whose engrossing geometric grooves he would memorialise in the pages of his notebooks...

Over the ensuing years, the perplexing presence of “oysters and corals and various other shells and sea snails” on “the high summits of mountains”, far from the sea, worried away at the artist’s imagination. For Leonardo, the accepted explanation by ecclesiastical scholars of a great flood, such as that described in the Old Testament, for the relocation of these shells, didn’t wash. These creatures weren’t thrown there. They were born there.

Seashells in mountains were proof, Leonardo came to believe and confided to his journal, that Alpine peaks were once the floors of seas. And the Earth was therefore much older and far more haphazardly fashioned by violent cataclysms and seismic upheavals over a vast stretch of time (not the smooth hand of God in a handful of days) than the Church was willing to admit...
Continue reading at the BBC, where there is discussion of this worldview in relation to the iconography he inserts in his paintings.

21 February 2019

Albino alligator

This one lives at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.  Image cropped for size from the one at the via.

Nuclear technology transfer to Saudi Arabia ?

From a report two days ago:
Washington, D.C. (Feb. 19, 2019)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued an interim staff report after multiple whistleblowers came forward to warn about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress as required by law—efforts that may be ongoing to this day...

The report indicates that there is now serious, bipartisan concern with the Trump Administration’s efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.  For example, on October 31, 2018, Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Todd Young, Cory Gardner, Rand Paul, and Dean Heller sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “suspend talks related to a potential civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia” due to “serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia.”

Flying fish

Image via Reddit.  Video below narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

Child sacrifice in ancient Peru

Evidence for the largest single incident of mass child sacrifice in the Americas— and likely in world history—has been discovered on Peru's northern coast, archaeologists tell National Geographic. More than 140 children and 200 young llamas appear to have been ritually sacrificed in an event that took place some 550 years ago on a wind-swept bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in the shadow of what was then the sprawling capital of the Chimú Empire...
While incidents of human sacrifice among the Aztec, Maya, and Inca have been recorded in colonial-era Spanish chronicles and documented in modern scientific excavations, the discovery of a large-scale child sacrifice event in the little-known pre-Columbian Chimú civilization is unprecedented in the Americas—if not in the entire world...

The skeletal remains of both children and animals show evidence of cuts to the sternum as well as rib dislocations, which suggest that the victims' chests were cut open and pulled apart, perhaps to facilitate the removal of the heart...

The layer of mud found during excavations may provide a clue, say the researchers, who suggest it was the result of severe rain and flooding on the generally arid coastline, and probably associated with a climate event related to El-Niño.
More information, and a slideshow, at National Geographic.

Recycling cut flowers

Two young women in the Twin Cities have started a nonprofit business delivering cut flowers to senior citizens.
The duo built a website Bluebirds and Blooms to organize volunteers, accept private donations and set up sources for the repurposed flowers, which come from weddings, corporate events, fundraisers and grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Fresh Thyme. A pool of more than 100 volunteers picks up flowers, designs the arrangements and delivers bedside bouquets twice a week to 25 suburban and Minneapolis senior memory and hospice care communities every month...

Last February, they partnered with the Edina Community Foundation to help manage the nonprofit. At that spring’s fundraiser, “we were bragging about delivering 200 bouquets,” said Hogan. “In the next few weeks, we’ll be at 5,000.”
More information at the StarTribune.

18 February 2019

We don't have DNA from all of our ancestors

This past week I've been reading a very interesting book - Who We Are And How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the Science of the Human Past, by David Reich.  It examines the history of the spread of mankind using information not from bone morphology or artifact similarities, but from the arguably more rigorous basis of DNA sequences.  Human migration is charted out of Africa (and back into it), up to Eurasia, and across to the Americas.  Correlations are drawn with languages and artifacts, but it's the DNA that overturns Clovis First and other older schema.  There is a lot of hard science, much of it way over my head, but it was clearly worth the browse, even just for the insight on Sally Hemings and the progeny of Genghis Khan.  The final chapters discuss the question of "what is race?" - a more complex question than most people realize.

The most interesting insight for me is reflected in the diagram embedded above (via), and this paragraph from the opening chapter:
’The Bible and the chronicles of royal families record who begat whom over dozens of generations. Yet even if the genealogies are accurate, Queen Elizabeth II of England almost certainly inherited no DNA from William of Normandy, who conquered England in 1066 and who is believed to be her ancestor twenty-four generations back in time. This does not mean that Queen Elizabeth II did not inherit DNA from ancestors that far back, just that it is expected that only about 1,751 of her 16,777,216 twenty-fourth-degree genealogical ancestors contributed DNA to her. This is such a small fraction that the only way William could plausibly be her genetic ancestor is if he was her genealogical ancestor in thousands of different lineage paths, which seems unlikely even considering the high level of inbreeding in the British Royal family.’
So, to oversimplify it for myself:   As you go back through the generations of your ancestry, the number of ancestors you have begins to increase exponentially.  For the first 6 generations back (to your great-great-great-great grandparents) there is "room" in your genome for some DNA from each of them.  But once you are back a dozen generations, with 4,096 ancestors (barring consaguinity), only a minority of them will have any sequences reflected in your genome.

Interesting stuff.  A hard read, but a good browse.  I think the book is available fulltext online here.

The continuing evolution of tuskless elephants

An example of natural selection at work:
Hunting gave elephants that didn’t grow tusks a biological advantage in Gorongosa. Recent figures suggest that about a third of younger females—the generation born after the war ended in 1992—never developed tusks. Normally, tusklessness would occur only in about 2 to 4 percent of female African elephants...

New, as yet unpublished, research she’s compiled indicates that of the 200 known adult females, 51 percent of those that survived the war—animals 25 years or older—are tuskless. And 32 percent of the female elephants born since the war are tuskless...

This tuskless trend isn’t limited to Mozambique, either. Other countries with a history of substantial ivory poaching also see similar shifts among female survivors and their daughters. In South Africa, the effect has been particularly extreme—fully 98 percent of the 174 females in Addo Elephant National Park were reportedly tuskless in the early 2000s...
There is a downside -

Tusks are essentially overgrown teeth. Yet they’re typically used for most tasks of daily living: digging for water or vital minerals in the ground, debarking trees to secure fibrous food, and helping males compete for females...

The work elephants do with their tusks is vital for other animals too. Elephants’ “role as a keystone species to topple trees and dig holes to access water is important for a variety of lower species that depend on them... If elephants are changing where they live, how quickly they move, or where they go, it could have larger implications for the ecosystems around them.

17 February 2019

Rocks on Lake Baikal

Via Reddit, whence also the link to this image:

Found discarded in a parking lot

"Experts recently found that it is likely to be a long-lost royal marriage bed dating to the 15th century.  In it, the nuptial frolics of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York celebrated the end of the Wars of the Roses... and birthed England's famed Tudor dynasty.

The bed's former identity came to light after it was retired from the hotel and discarded in a parking lot. It was rescued by an antiques dealer who [incorrectly] listed it as "a profusely carved Victorian four poster bed with armorial shields..."

When Ian Coulson, a restorer and dealer of antique beds, purchased the bed online in 2010, he discovered that the wood was far older than the seller suspected... Meanwhile, emblems such as stars, shields, lions and roses carved into the bed frame were frequently associated with Tudor royalty; together, they matched the style of surviving Tudor beds from the 15th and 16th centuries.

The faces in the Adam and Eve headboard carving resemble early portraits of Henry VII and his queen; and the figures are surrounded by fertility symbols — acorns, grapes and strawberries...

DNA analysis of the wood confirmed that it was oak from central Europe of the genetic variety known as Haplotype-7, found from southern France through Belarus, and all of it came from the same tree, according to the online news outlet Hexham-Courant. Samples of paint under the headboard varnish revealed flecks of ultramarine; this vivid blue medieval pigment was more precious than gold and likely would have been used only to decorate beds belonging to royalty...
More at Live Science, via Neatorama.

"Trombone suicide"

I thought for sure I must have blogged one of these routines before, but apparently not.  This one via Neatorama.

"Her cups runneth over"

About two weeks into last month’s government shutdown, Dana Marlowe, a.k.a. “The Accidental Bra Fairy,” put out a Facebook post in which she offered to help female federal employees who had no money for bras or feminine hygiene products.

Within hours, nearly 100 messages poured in...

Marlowe was better equipped than most to offer her support: She has a basement filled with bras and sanitary products that she gives away free...  Since she began her I Support the Girls nonprofit in July 2015, the 42-year-old business executive and mother of two sons from Silver Spring, Md., said she has distributed more than 500,000 bras and 2.5 million personal hygiene products to women in need.

Underwire bras, push-up bras, sports bras, maternity bras and racerback bras arrive at her house by the boxload in every hue and pattern imaginable, including pastel pink and neon green and red polka dots, winged hearts and spotted leopard. Most of them are gently used.

What started as a local project to help give a few homeless women some intimate wear has turned into an organization with an army of volunteers collecting and distributing bras, tampons and pads in 50 U.S. cities and five other countries... 

[In 2015] she went to a Soma lingerie store near her home to buy several new bras. After the sales clerk rang up her purchases, Marlowe asked what she could do with 16 perfectly good bras that no longer fit.

“The clerk told me four simple words that completely changed my direction and my life,” Marlowe said. “She said, ‘Homeless women need bras.’ ”

It had never occurred to her.

Marlowe called a homeless shelter in Washington and was told that they would gladly accept all the clean, gently used bras she could find. “What else could you use?” Marlowe inquired. “Maxi pads and tampons,” the worker said. “Women here would really appreciate those.”..

In almost any situation, she said, a new bra can signify a fresh start.

“A bra is one of many small luxuries that most women take for granted,” Marlowe said, “and if you don’t have these things, you think about them all the time. To take away that worry for as many women as possible is what keeps me going. It makes all of the long hours and hard work worthwhile.”
Kudos to this lady.  More at The Washington Post.   Photo credit D. Lag. 

Homepage for I Support the Girls.

Rural America needs immigrants

As explained by the editor of the Storm Lake Times in northern Iowa:
Here in Storm Lake, Iowa, where the population is about 15,000 and unemployment is under 2 percent, Asians and Africans and Latinos are our lifeline. The only threat they pose to us is if they weren’t here...

One part of the rural condition in American today is that, after college, our young people go to Des Moines or some city beyond for a job in finance or engineering... As rural counties are drained of young people with higher educations, immigrants flow into the vacuum. The influx began 40 years ago and continues today...

So long as there is corn, there will be hogs and turkeys and eggs in Iowa. Somebody will have to do that work. Now, the Storm Lake Elementary School is 90 percent children of color, and about three-fourths of those are Hispanic — mainly from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. We could employ 500 more workers easily if we could find, and find housing for, them...

The demand for meat cutters seems endless. Smaller towns run buses to Storm Lake to pick up immigrants for day work in those factories. They’ll pay you $18 an hour at Tyson to slice pork, plus a hefty signing bonus. The workforce is overwhelmingly immigrant, well over half Latino. Tyson insists they are all legal, yet we figure about a third of the immigrant community in general here might be without papers — who knows?..

In keenest demand here are health-care workers — orderlies, nursing assistants and cafeteria workers to toil for about $12 to $15 an hour in one of Iowa’s largest industries: nursing homes...

Storm Lake’s crime rate last year reached a 27-year low. It is more diverse than ever. Some 30 languages or dialects are spoken here. But the community knows it will wither up and blow away without its young people. Like it or not, legal or not, our young people are predominantly Latino. If there is to be a wall, there will have to be a door for immigrants to find their way here as the better-educated leave for the brighter lights and greener urban pastures.
More here.

15 February 2019

News from The Onion

The Onion

The final seven Henry Merrivale mysteries

In July of last year I covered the first four Henry Merrivale novels.  In November I tackled the next five, then six more in January.  Today we finish with the final seven, discussing the language only, with no plot-spoiling comments.

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (1945)
No locked room.  Instead an introductory dedication to Ellery Queen with a "cryptic reference to Mr. James Phillimore and his umbrella."  Carr is obliquely referring to John Watson's line in Doyle's The Problem of Thor Bridge:
‘Among these unfinished tales is that of Mr James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world.’
I'll say no more (for those interested, there is a review here).  On to the language.
[A row involving H.M.] ".. is still mentioned with respect by Arab porters and hotel commissionaires, even in that city of memorable schlimozzels."  That's a word I first (and last) heard in the introductory song for Laverne and Shirley!  "Schlemazel, also schlimazel, "born loser," 1948, from Yiddish shlim mazel "rotten luck," from Middle High German slim "crooked" + Hebrew mazzal "luck." British slang shemozzle "an unhappy plight" (1889) is probably from the same source."

"The sunlight made a living entity of the picture carvings which fretted every inch of the bowl."  "To decorate or ornament, especially with an interlaced or interwoven pattern, or (architecture) with carving or relief (raised) work."

"She slipped out over the up-ended front seat, as trim and soignee as though the waterproof were a kind of cellophane wrapping."  Fashionable and elegant, borrowed from the French.

"... met an odd cove named Beaumont."  Informal British for "a fellow, a man."  Said to be from Romany (Gypsy) cova "a thing," covo "that man".

"By the six names of Satan, she was here! I heard her!"  One online reference says there are six names of Satan found in Scripture: Satan, Beelzebub, Devil, Lucifer, Dragon, Prince.

"But I was there.  So was a josser named Alim Bey."  Lots of meanings, depending on the context - a foolish man, a clergyman. an outsider working in a circus, a person of influence or importance.

"Kit would have recognized him by the red tarbush on his head."  A fez. (Arabic: tarboosh).

"... a kitchen maid or a tweeny."  Slang for "between-maid" - a sort of servant to the servants.

"She was gettin' scared.  She didn't dare keep the dibs any longer." In context, stolen merchandise, perhaps related to claiming "dibs" (ownership).

My Late Wives (1946)
Not a locked-room mystery; the puzzle to be solved is how a murderer can dispose of a dead body from a room under constant surveillance.  Not one of JDC's best.
"In the spring of 1933 he took her north, to a bosky cottage near Scarborough..."  Covered by trees or bushes; wooded.  (Late 16th century: from Middle English bosk, variant of bush.)

 "This is especially so in post-war London, where browned-off troops and equally browned-off civilians find their nerves scratched by so many small annoyances..."  Irritated or depressed, bored, fed up, disgusted.  "The slang phrase became popular in the Second World War.  The reference is probably to a dish that has been overcooked. See also cheesed off..."

 "You leave it to me, cock.  I'll see you don't get lagged." To transport as a punishment for crime (British archaic slang).

"Sir, do you think I'm off my chump?"  Insane, crazy. 

"Is that your Goddamned theatrical habit?"  Interesting to see it capitalized.

"Commander Renwick, obviously, was very pukka, very much the sort of person who does not let you forget that he has been an officer and a gentleman."  High quality, genuine, first class.  From the Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu.

"By any sane computation, that ought to carry the perisher round and land him slap on the green..."  Annoying child or brat, used as a term of contempt (or pity).  "Perishing" can be used as an intensifier in British speech.

"Beyond it was a car, an S.S. Jaguar in whose big dickey, or rumble seat, you could easily hide a body."  The manufacturer's name 'SS Cars', used from 1934, maintained a link to the previous owner, Swallow Sidecar, founded in 1922 to build motorcycle sidecars. In March 1945 the S. S. Cars shareholders agreed to change the name to Jaguar Cars Limited.

"H.M. was at the wheel of the car, a big but very old relic with isinglass-windowed side-curtains..."  I've always equated isinglass with mica, but that wouldn't make sense in this context.  Turns out the word is also used for "a form of gelatine obtained from the air bladder of the sturgeon and certain other fish, used as an adhesive and as a clarifying agent for wine and beer.  And in fact the word itself is from the Dutch/German for "sturgeon-bladder."  “With isinglass curtains y’ can roll right down/In case there’s a change in the weather.”—“The Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” from Oklahoma!, 1943.  Photo of 1926 car with "large isinglass side curtains" (perhaps the term is used interchangeably with "celluloid."

"... along an open coast where rain-gusts flew at them with harpy violence..."  Commonly encountered as a noun; I don't recall seeing it used as an adjective.

"... and owing to a concatenation of circumstances..."  A series of links united, from the Latin catena = chain.

"That's when J.M. realized this blighter was up the pole, a lunatic with designs on Daphne..." "'Up the pole' is an odd phrase, or rather, it is an odd collection of phrases, in that it has numerous meanings..." In context, insanity, so perhaps thus: "In a classic example of folk etymology, 'up the pole' has been suggested to be named after De La Pole Psychiatric Hospital, Hull, UK."

Skeleton in the Clock (1948)
The plot involves locked rooms (execution chambers at an abandoned local prison), but the murders don't take place there.
"Who the devil are these two powerful jujus, grandmother and Aunt Cicely?"  Borrowed from the West African.

"Didn't you hear Beowulf's Mother yellin' for chuckers-out?"  "Ejection or dismissal, usually the sack. Late 19th century Austrlia/NZ. Also the end of drinking time in a public house, or place of entertainment, when customers are asked to drink up and leave."  The second definition makes more sense in context.

"... it made him jump to his feet, miry-eyed, and peer round..."  Related to a mire (swampy), but in context presumably meaning the eyelids stuck together from recent sleep.

"For some reason Martin's gorge rose sickeningly at the very thought of eating."  Throat, gullet, from the Latin.  If it rises, the implication is impending vomiting.

"You're not likely to forget the first h.e. bomb that fell close to you..."  Colloquial term for high-explosive bomb used by the Luftwaffe.

"Martin thought he could detect one brass band, a panotrope with a bad needle, and the steam organ of a merry-go-round." "A device for playing records, especially one that plays them loud enough for fairground or similar use." 

A Graveyard to Let (1949)
The setting is the equivalent of a locked room.   A wealthy man is visiting with six or seven guests at his swimming pool.  When police arrive he dives into the pool.   His hat floats to the surface, along with his sandals, but he disappears.  The water is murky, so while watching the pool, the police have it drained.  His body is not in there.  And there are no secret exits from the pool.

"The revolver was not a Colt .38 police positive, as Cy half expected."  "The Colt Police Positive was an improvement of Colt’s earlier “New Police” revolver, upgraded with an internal hammer block safety. Colt named this new security device the “Positive Lock”, and its nomenclature ended up being incorporated as a partial namesake for the new revolver

"Sir Henry, you have a popsy in New York."  (in context, a kept woman)

Night at the Mocking Widow (1950)
Probably the weakest JDC novel I've reviewed to date, because the solution relies more on psychology and motives rather than clues - more reminiscent of an Agatha Christie than a JDC (the crimes in this book are poison pen letters, not murders).
"Theo Bull swears 'e won't have no nance amateur three rounds [of boxing]. 'E wants a perfessional fifteen..." Short for "nancyboy" = homosexual or effeminate man.

"The woman seemed to sag, like a dim droopy witch, as she indicated a door on the left side."  I have no clue on this one, and don't know where to start.

"... so you see, my dolly, there's no call to be scared of that sausage-eatin' faker downstairs.  He's only wind and gold-rimmed gig lamps.  He sticks the gig lamps in your face and talks a lot of tommyrot." A lamp on the side of a gig (carriage, two-wheeled, horse-drawn).  The person referred to in the story was a psychiatrist.

Behind the Crimson Blind (1952)
Another weak  novel, written late in JDC's career, and during a time when his other detective, Gideon Fell, was getting the best plots.  Carr still has a way with words, vide this introduction of a principal character: "Though his best friend could not have called him handsome, his thin face showed traces of an intelligence and humour which were masked, as a result of his official duties, by a formal courtesy close to stateliness." As with The Mocking Widow (above), there is too little detecting and too much romance, comedic episodes, and derring-do; it's a "light read."

In his critical study of John Dickson Carr, S.T. Joshi notes a decline in the later Merrivale mysteries: "It is not very profitable to trace the course or history of the Merrivale novels: not one, I believe, is to be compared in scope or brilliance with the four or five best Fell novels, or even with the best of the Bencolin series, and in general there is simply a gradual decline in quality and readability."

Remarkably, in this novel H.M. even kills someone: "H.M.'s powerful left hand whacked down on Middle Europe's head, seizing and rolling a good handful of hair to hold  hard.  As he forced the man downwards, H.M.'s right hand drove the Riff knife through the side of white robe's throat, just behind the Adam's apple."  In the concluding chapter Merrivale says "Maybe I had to do something like that in Marseilles once; or two or three times at Port Said; or maybe in Occupied Germany..."
Riff knife was hard to find, in part because of dilution from references to a knife owned by a character named Riff in West Side Story.  Finally found a proper reference in Agatha Christie's Murder is Easy:" He had a knife in his hand--a long slender blade. "Perfect workmanship," he was saying. "One of my young men brought it back to me from Morocco, where he'd been special correspondent. It's Moorish, of course, a Riff knife."

 "I'm not asking for any Bertillon measurements..." [re someone's head]  "A system for identifying people by a physical description based upon anthropometric measurements, notes of markings, deformities, skin colour, impression of thumb lines, etc." Named for the French anthropologist (who also invented the mug shot).

"... young Arabs in modern clothes whose pinched-in waists and white ties made them resemble wide-boys from Soho."

"... breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs, huge slices of ham together with those red sausages... his collation was placed on the table piece by piece over a smooth linen cloth."  A collection or bringing-together.  Also a light meal taken by monks after a reading in a Benedictine monastery, perhaps used here jokingly."

 "... [redacted] had got to the point, that night, where he and Collier had got to part brass rags."

The Cavalier's Cup (1953)
Classic locked-room mystery, though the mystery is overwhelmed by lengthy and sometimes tedious side-stories of humor involving Signor Luigi Ravioli, a caricatured Italian.  ["Well! She isn't bad at all.  Except for one thing, she would meet with anyone's approval.  Though I hate to put it quite so crudely, Dad did seem to be getting to first base."  "First-a base?" exclaimed Signor Ravioli in horror.  "You want-a to insult-a your Pop?  He's-a tear around-a bases going straight-a for home plate!"  Virginia did not stop to correct this vulgarism..."]
"Just then they both heard horsemen in half-armour and buff-coats..."  "The European buff coat (the term deriving from the ox or buffalo hide from which it was commonly made and its yellowish colour) was an item of leather clothing worn by cavalry and officers during the 17th century, it also saw limited use by some infantry. It was often worn under armour. It was derived from the simple leather jerkins worn by huntsmen and soldiers during the Tudor period, these in turn deriving from the arming doublet worn under full plate armour."

"Rapidly, as though they were alone on some fond, isolated island, Virginia sketched out what she had been telling the others..."  An odd adjective to choose, perhaps meaning "foolish, silly."

"What's the idea of the tile?" yelled H.M.  "Lord love a duck, haven't you got any better manners than to stick on your hat in the house?"  Definitions of "tile" do include "a stiff hat."  In this case the hat was a top-hat and clearly not discoid or tile-shaped; perhaps the usage refers to the application of tiles to cover a roof.
Thus endeth my survey of language in twenty-two Sir Henry Merrivale novels (one week after H.M.'s 148th birthday).  I need a change and will switch my reading elsewhere.  When I return to John Dickson Carr, it will be to cover the historical mysteries.  I'm saving the final group (and the best of the lot) - the Gideon Fell novels - for last.

How Washington lobbyists use the homeless

This practice has been going on for a long time.  Also at rock concerts and various store openings.  One interesting suggestion in the Twitter thread: if they are being paid to hold a spot for a lobbyist, couldn't someone else offer them more $ to leave the spot, or hold it for them instead?

George said it well

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.
--- George Washington, Fairwell Address, September 17, 1796
Via Harper's Magazine, 1944.

14 February 2019

Preparing for a book sale

I spent the better part of this morning helping the Friends of the Fitchburg Library prepare for one of their triannual book sales.  Many thousands of books, CDs, DVDs and other items had to be transferred from the storage bankers boxes to plastic tabletop trays.  Fortunately the books had already been sorted into categories, so it was just a matter of unboxing and rearranging them.

These sales bring in thousands of dollars to the library for use in outreach programs, children's programs, and staff development.  When the doors open tomorrow, the first ones through will be local book dealers who will zoom around with their portable barcode readers to find bargains.  The volunteers price books cheaply and the sheer volume precludes individual pricing.  They do try to assess old books more carefully; one year someone donated a copy of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, with the author's name misprinted as "H.S. Wells" - a mark of a rare first edition [example at right].  It had some damaged pages, but still brought in $500 in a private sale.

One noticeable trend in recent years has been an increasing flood of DVDs donated to the library - probably reflecting the public's shifting preference toward streaming rather than buying physical copies.

I encourage all readers to patronize your local library, which likely has extensive resources (local history, geneaology, etc) and programs (child literacy, adult continuing education) that you may be unaware of.  If you have some spare time and a love of books, your library probably has a volunteer group that would welcome you with open arms.  These are nice people, and working with them can provide a nice variation from whatever hassles you face in daily life.
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