31 May 2019

Starting a new phase of life

Here's the newest addition to our neighborhood - a gorgeous female Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

I photographed her shortly after she eclosed from her chrysalis a couple days ago.   She began her life in an egg laid on a rue plant out by our mailbox last summer.  As a caterpillar she stayed hidden in that foliage, undergoing several molts until early autumn, when she emerged on the top of the plants, looking for a stick to pupate on.

Because there were no vertical sticks in that flowerbed, and because she was at risk of predation from local wasps, I elected to bring her (and a few of her siblings) in to our screen porch for the winter. 

As demonstrated in the photo above, she wasted no time once offered a stick, spinning a silken "sling" to suspend herself for the metamorphosis.   The photo below shows another black swallowtail caterpillar whose chrysalis is fully mature (and remarkably stick-like in appearance).  That is how she stayed from late autumn until this spring, outwardly static but changing inside.

Remember the weather this past winter?  Here is south-central Wisconsin the temperature fell below freezing on January 18, and stayed below freezing for two weeks until February 2, bottoming out at 26 below zero Fahrenheit on January 30 and 31.  During that time this lady spent her days and nights outdoors on an unheated screen porch.

Butterfly chrysalises are at risk for dehydration over the winter if they are located away from any precipitation, so I placed the terrarium in a corner where it would get snowed on.

I saw her hanging from the chrysalis last week.  She had emerged on a cloudy, cool (50s) day and she was clearly too weak to fly.   Her wings were perfectly formed, but too floppy to function aerodynamically, so I brought her inside to 70-degree temps and offered her some sugar-water (which she mostly ignored).  I returned her to the screen porch when temps warmed up, but it took one more day before her wings fully hardened and she flew away.  The photos below show the subtle sexual dimorphism of the species.  The top photo is a male who eclosed the following day, with prominent yellow spots in two rows, just a hint of blue, and then the pair of false eyespots near the tail.  Below that is the photo of this lady just before she flew off: yellow spots in the same pattern, but smaller, and the blue markedly enhanced in a pair of arcs that are sometimes hard to see because the forewings often cover part of the hindwing (she held them out for this portrait).  She also has the eyespots to lure predatory birds to her disposable rear wingtips.

Everything about this process fascinates me - the metamorphosis of course, but even moreso the remarkable resilience of a creature often portrayed as fragile and ephemeral.  The ability to fly upwind when you have the weight and shape of a Kleenex.  The adaptability to spend months as a crawling caterpillar, and then after dissolving and reshaping oneself to be able to fly away over a rooftop.  This is what fifty million years of evolution can produce.  Awesome.


Apparently it's like normal chess, but with the pieces arranged in unconventional starting positions.

I photographed this at the Hilldale Mall in Madison, on my way to the local Apple store.  I presume the layout is the work of an uninformed or inattentive employee rather than a passing troll.

When I play Scrabble with family, we like to do variants of the game.  I wonder if recreational chess players ever modify the game a la "Battleship," setting up pieces any way they want before the start of the game.

Floating dock with a "duck dock"


万 steps

"In the past decade, as pedometers have proliferated in smartphone apps and wearable fitness trackers, another benchmark has entered the lexicon: Take at least 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles of walking for most people...

I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, began looking into the step rule because she was curious about where it came from. “It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter.’”

Based on conversations she’s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking. As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research."
More at The Atlantic.

29 May 2019

Polydactyly and oligodactyly

Images cropped for size from the originals here and here.

See also:
Can you see what's wrong with the bones in this person's hands?

Extraordinary polydactyly

Polydactyly in the paintings of Raphael

Transcript of Robert Mueller's final statement

Via Vox (boldface added):
"Thank you for being here. Two years ago, the Acting Attorney General asked me to serve as Special Counsel, and he created the Special Counsel’s Office. The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. Now I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I’m speaking out today because our investigation is complete. The Attorney General has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the Special Counsel’s office, and as well I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life. I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work. But beyond these few remarks it is important that the office’s written work speak for itself.
Let me begin where the appointment order begins: and that is interference with the 2016 presidential election. As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization Wikileaks. The releases were designed and times to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.
And at the same time as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election. These indictments contain allegations, and we are not commenting on the guilt or innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The indictments allege, and the other activities in our report describe, efforts to interfere in our political system. They needed to be investigated and understand. And that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office. That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance and it was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrong doers accountable.
Let me say a word about the report. The report has two parts, addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate. The first volume details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
And in a second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president.
The order appointing the Special Counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. And we conducted that investigation and we kept the Office of the Acting Attorney General apprised of the progress of our work.
And as set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.
We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. The introduction to the volume two of our report explains that decision. It explains that under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that too is prohibited. The special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice and by regulation it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.
The Department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report, and I will describe two of them for you. First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now. And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrong doing. And beyond Department policy we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially — it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.
So that was Justice Department policy. Those were the principles under which we operated and from them we concluded that we would not reach a determination, one way or the other, about whether the President committed a crime. That is the office’s — that is the office’s final position, and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the President.
We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the Attorney General, as required by Department regulations. The attorney general then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and to the American people. At one point in time I requested that certain portions of the report be released. The Attorney General preferred to make that — preferred to make the entire report public all at once, and we appreciate that the Attorney General made the report largely public. And I certainly do not question the Attorney General’s good faith in that decision.
Now I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before congress.
In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office. So beyond what I have said here today, and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress. And it’s for that reason I will not be taking questions today as well.
Now before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, and analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals who spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel’s Office were of the highest integrity.
And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments — that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interference in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.
Thank you. Thank you for being here today."
Cartoon credit: The New Yorker.

28 May 2019

"Magnet fishing" and metal detecting in Europe

Via BoingBoing, where there is a related video.

Remember to prune

This photo of a transected hedge reminded me that one gardening skill I have never acquired is the ability/willingness to aggressively prune perennials.  A decade ago the burning bush (Euonymus spp.) next to our sidewalk was chest-high.

Because I loved the vivid autumn color, I pruned it minimally, so now it is enormous and extending over the sidewalk.

Now if I try to prune it back, I encounter the hardwood branches revealed in the top cross-section photo, which might not leaf out if pruned to that level.  And if I don't prune, visitors who brush against it learn what one commenter said when viewing the cut hedge:
"...as a kid, running into one playing football or something and thinking it would be soft. nope, stabby."
Stabby is right.  

The lesson repeats itself elsewhere.  The birch behind the burning bush was planted too near the house, then leaned out over the sidewalk seeking light and had to be sacrificed when winter snows brought in down too low.  Our crabapple has gone in 18 years from tidy to enormous and now drops fruit everywhere.  The junipers change from tidy to bulky.  Everything in the garden competes for the limited light and water.  As a gardener I should be more assertive in setting limits for them. 

Perhaps in my next life.

A cultural history of fat

From The Atlantic:
Whether procured from plant, animal, or human sources, in one form or another fat has been an important element in the European pharmacopoeia since ancient times. For reasons that are not quite clear, a medicinal interest in human fat was especially pronounced in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1543, the physician Andreas Vesalius instructed anatomists who boiled bones for the study of skeletons to carefully collect the layer of fat “for the benefit of the masses, who ascribe to it a considerable efficacy in obliterating scars and fostering the growth of nerves and tendons.” Vesalius knew what he was talking about. At the time, human fat was widely considered—and not just by “the masses”—to be efficacious in healing wounds, and was typically harvested from the recently deceased. In October 1601, after a particularly bloody battle during the Siege of Ostend, Dutch surgeons descended upon the battlefield to return with “bags full of human fat,” presumably to treat their own soldiers’ wounds...

If the fat of warriors was efficacious, that of executed criminals was easier to lay one’s hands on. What was called “poor sinner’s fat” was rendered from the bodies of the recently executed and used to treat sprains, broken bones, and arthritis. Beyond such uses, human fat was also prescribed as a painkiller or to treat sciatica and rheumatism, while dead men’s sweat was collected for the treatment of hemorrhoids. Until the mid-18th century, executioners in the city of Munich, who often prescribed and administered homemade remedies from the corpses of their doomed clients, had a lucrative trade in the fat they delivered to physicians by the pound...

Despite the apparent obsolescence of many of these beliefs, the claim that fat could heal wounds was not entirely misguided. Physicians today know that adipose tissue is highly “angiogenic,” meaning that it promotes the growth of new blood vessels from preexisting ones...

In a tradition extending back to the Middle Ages, especially in Germanic cultures, many thieves believed that their nocturnal pilfering would go unnoticed if they burned a candle made of human fat or the fingers of dead babies. As long as these “thieves’ candles” burned, it was said, burglars acquired powers of invisibility while homeowners would remain blissfully asleep. So powerful was this belief that in the 16th and 17th centuries, several thieves were convicted of murdering people just to make such candles...
More information in the upcoming book Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life.

Abandoned train

Reportedly somewhere in Siberia (note the star logo on the two front steam engines).  Via.

Wealth inequality in the U.S. - updated

According to Torsten Sløk, the chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, income inequality is a major factor that has been holding back the U.S. economy for nearly a decade.

“One important reason why the expansion since 2009 has been so weak is that wealth gains have been unevenly distributed,” he wrote. “A decline in the homeownership rate and the number of households holding stocks has dampened consumer spending growth for the bottom 90% of households.”

Per his data, the median net worth for all income percentiles except the wealthiest one dropped between 2007 and 2016, usually by double-digit amounts
The wealthy and the corporate CEOs continue to recite the mantra that wealth "trickles down."

"We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
---- Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis
Reposted from 2018 to add new data:

The chart at the top of the post reported data up through 2016.  A new report by the Federal Reserve includes data through 2018, and presents it in a graph that is more intuitive for interpreting:

The purple (the 1%) and the green (the next 9%) households own 70% of the wealth in this country, and it has continued getting more imbalanced.  The wealth of half of the households in this country is represented by the red.

Discussed at MarketWatch:
Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Sløk says that the distribution of household wealth in America has become even more disproportionate over the past decade, with the richest 10% of U.S. households representing 70% of all U.S. wealth in 2018, compared with 60% in 1989...

To make a finer point, Fed researchers say the increase in wealth among the top 10% is largely a result of that cohort obtaining a larger concentration of assets: “The share of assets held by the top 10% of the wealth distribution rose from 55% to 64% since 1989, with asset shares increasing the most for the top 1% of households. These increases were mirrored by decreases for households in the 50-90th percentiles of the wealth distribution,” Fed researchers said.

Sløk said the financial crisis has played a significant part in this growing gap, which resulted in the Federal Reserve stepping in to stem a massive ripple of losses through the global financial system as the housing market imploded.

As a result, the Fed lowered interest rates, which had the knock-on effect of pushing easy money into the hands of the already-wealthy
An extensive detailed discussion is at the Federal Reserve report, with additional data and graphs.

26 May 2019

Making quills

This is one of three videos I'm posting today from a British Library series entitled "Making Manuscripts."  There are several more in the series, which can be accessed at the British Library YouTube channel.

Making vellum

This is one of three videos I'm posting today from a British Library series eneitled "Making Manuscripts."  There are several more in the series, which can be accessed at the British Library YouTube channel.

Making oak gall ink

This is one of three videos I'm posting today from a British Library series entitled "Making Manuscripts."  There are several more in the series, which can be accessed at the British Library YouTube channel.

"Palliative transport" for dying children

As reported in the Washington Post:
Palliative transport lets families move critically ill children from the hospital intensive care unit to their home or hospice, with the expectation they will die within minutes to days after removing life support...
At the Mayo Clinic, palliative transport has helped culturally diverse families carry out end-of-life wishes for their dying children. In one case, a newborn girl rode 400 miles by ambulance to return to her Amish community, where she was extubated and died in her parents’ arms, in the company of her 11 siblings. In another, an 8-month-old Native American girl traveled 600 miles by air and ground ambulance to her rural tribal reservation, where she could participate in end-of-life rituals that could not be done in the hospital...

These trips, which can cost thousands of dollars, are typically offered free to families, paid for by hospitals or charities. Most children are taken home, where they transition to receiving care from hospice staff. Some go instead to hospice facilities...

And dying at home is not what every family wants. “We do sometimes overly romanticize the death at home,” Thorvilson acknowledged. Some parents would much rather have a child die in the hospital, with familiar nurses at the bedside for medical and emotional support. Some would rather keep this traumatic experience away from where they live...

Mayo’s Thorvilson, who has worked closely on a half-dozen palliative transports, said it’s possible these last-minute trips from ICU to home could be avoided by earlier referrals to hospice, which might get kids home sooner. But when children with complex illnesses get sick, she said, “sometimes it’s hard to know whether this is just another bump in the road, or whether this is the natural end of the child’s life.”

24 May 2019

The rites of spring

As a partial explanation of my absence from the blog for several days, I'll offer this photoessay showing the outburst of growth in the woods behind our home.  This past winter was unusually prolonged, so when non-Arctic temperatures finally arrived, most people in this part of the country rushed outdoors.  I headed to the woods behind our house.  (The photos should enlarge with a click)

This tree arches over the entry to the woods; this past winter we had several dead and undesirable trees taken out and failed to realize that this tree was leaning on one of those.  When its support was removed it bent to the extent that the top branches now touch the ground.  Not sure if they will collect enough light there for the tree to thrive, but for now it creates a living gateway.

In the Upper Midwest of the U.S., the primary choices for foliage plants in shaded woodlands are hostas.   This cluster at the base of the arching tree was one of the first I planted perhaps 10 years ago.  It will fill out to cover the entire mulched area before midsummer.  All except one of the clusters have had Repellex tablets placed in the root zone in an effort to dissuade rabbits from enjoying lunch here; one plant serves as a control.  We'll see what happens.


An even more striking foliage plant in my view is Pulmonaria spp.  I think we planted just a few; now they have proliferated in scattered locations in the woods.  I love the leaf patterns; the flowers are a bonus in the early spring but don't last long.  

These Lilies of the Valley came to us in an exchange with a neighbor to whom we donated some of the pulmonaria.  The other flowers in bloom this week include the bleeding hearts (photo at the top of this post), phlox, trillium, bluebells, dandelions, wild geraniums and violets.


Last fall I spent uncounted hours laying down landscape fabric and then dragging tarps full of hardwood mulch to the woods to create walking paths.   There's still lots of work to do to finish the paths (I'm laying down logs from the cut trees and partially embedding them on the sides of the paths to keep the mulch from spreading.   The paths give me a more secure footing for walking and also subdivide the garden into areas where we can experiment with different botanical combinations.

This hosta was the first one I planted in the woods after I spent the better part of probably two summers grubbing out the buckthorn and honeysuckle underbrush by the roots.  The soil back here is black loam several inches deep, and the other plants love it once you remove the invasives that steal all the water and light.  This fellow will be huge by the end of the summer; I probably should subdivide him.

We've added bluebells; these are not the English bluebells that you see in immense masses in the forests of the National Trust in Britain.  I put chicken wire around this cluster this week to keep the rabbits at bay, because we want to harvest the seeds to scatter in other areas of the woods.  Last summer the rabbits nibbled these down to the ground.


It makes sense to incorporate some landscape features into the planting scheme (and it makes way more sense than trying to move them).  Here three varieties of hosta cluster around a set of large boulders.

Some phlox was initially planted in the center of this area; it has now spread up and down the hillside.  The ferns are escaping from their bed and may have to be restrained because they will shade out everything else, and they are aggressive spreaders in soil like this.

A felicitous combination of plants - Jacks in the Pulpit at the far left just getting started, a variegated hosta, a Pulmonaria cluster, and at the far right some native violets.

Both the white trillium and the yellow ones need some protection from rabbits until they manage to spread to some distant locations.  The chicken wire is unattractive and "unnatural,", but is a temporary means to an end.

I really enjoy having Jacks-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) in the woods.  Never had to plant them; the year after I got out all the invasive underbrush, a couple Jacks emerged.  Now there are hundreds of them; the largest/oldest ones in the woods get as high as my thigh.

Last fall I wrote a post for this blog about propagating Jacks; I heard recently from my friend that her transplants have emerged and appear healthy.

I'll be back out in the woods and yard in the days to come.  Also facing the annual monster chore of Cleaning The Garage.  And hobby and family stuff is accelerating - and the Monarchs will be arriving within a week or so.  So the blog posts will be fewer for the next several weeks.

Reposted from 2013 to add some additional photos:

The bleeding hearts are five years older and the plants somewhat bigger.  I think there are more "hearts" in each array now, but that may be my imagination.

The trillium are also larger and more numerous, but the area they cover has increased only by a couple square meters, with only a few outliers beyond the original cluster.  That rate of change makes one appreciate how many centuries it must have required when they eventually cover a forest floor as far as one can see in every direction.

We now have some purple trillium, probably Trillium flexipes ("bent trillium") rather than Trillium erectum, which are native to eastern woodlands, and which I used to love to photograph when I lived in Kentucky.  I've not seen them native in Minnesota/Wisconsin but maybe I haven't walked enough woods.  They also have multiplied slowly; I think the oxalic acid in their leaves protects them from rabbit predation.

Two winters ago a large oak fell in our woods.  It wasn't practicable to harvest the wood, and the work of removing the deadfall would have been enormous because of its size, so it now serves as a new "feature" on that slope - and provides a handy place to sit and rest one's gluteus maximus while gardening.  Also a nice contrast to the ferns backlit by the late-afternoon sun.

It has its mother's eyes. And its father's...

Commonly known as a "water tiger," this four-eyed micro-AT-AT is the larval form of a predaceous diving beetle.

Via for the colorized scanning EM, whence the quote I used for the title; too bad the critter was wrongly identified there.  A major tip of the blogging hat to reader "unknown," who found the correct attribution for the image.

You'll never guess what this is

Installed in the wall of a home.  Explained at Whatisthisthing.  Two-page product info here.

Want some Mexican food? Have a Caesar salad.

"I was heading to Tijuana to eat lunch at the restaurant that invented the Caesar salad... A 25-minute walk from the border, Caesar’s Restaurante-Bar has been located on Tijuana’s main drag since 1927.

As Cardini’s daughter, Rosa, famously recounted for decades until her death in 2003, her father invented his namesake dish on 4 July 1924. As legend has it, the restaurant was doing such brisk business on American Independence Day that it was running short on ingredients. On a whim, Cardini improvised a dish using romaine lettuce leaves, raw egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and other leftovers – transforming the odd scraps into a surprisingly delicious meal...

Throughout the 1920s, hordes of American film stars flocked to Tijuana for Prohibition-banned booze, and word soon spread of Caesar’s eponymous salad among Hollywood elite. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow travelled to Tijuana to try Caesar’s crisp lettuce and richly dressed dish. And in her book From Julia Child’s Kitchen, acclaimed American chef Julia Child described one of her earliest restaurant memories as venturing to Caesar’s with her parents from their California home in the 1920s and watching Cardini prepare his creation at their table."
Read the BBC source article about how the salad is prepared at your table at Caesar's, and then note this:
"Whatever the true origins, as the salad moved north into the US, one of its key ingredients changed. Today, most recipes call for a splash of lemon juice, and not the fresh lime juice the ensaladero stirred into the dressing at my table... “The problem, as I see it, is that the word in Spanish for ‘lime’ is ‘limón’, which, of course, sounds an awful lot like ‘lemon’,” she wrote. To add to the confusion, the Spanish word for ‘lemon’ is also ‘limón’. Carreño’s father happened to work at Caesar’s in the 1950s tossing salads tableside, and as she pointed out, the original Caesar she ate as a child was always made with small, green Mexican limes."
You learn something every day.

Visible birdsong

Photo credit: Михаил Калинин

Poor white Americans

Excerpts from the best article I've read this year about the American "underclass."
Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis, and the language of sociologists and pathologists predominates... social breakdown among low-income whites was starting to mimic trends that had begun decades earlier among African Americans: Rates of out-of-wedlock births and male joblessness were rising sharply. Then came the stories about a surge in opiate addiction among white Americans...

And then, of course, came the 2016 presidential campaign. The question was suddenly no longer why Democrats struggled to appeal to regular Americans. It was why so many regular Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump.

Equally jarring has been the shift in tone. A barely suppressed contempt has characterized much of the commentary about white woe, on both the left and the right... The barely veiled implication, whichever version you consider, is that the people undergoing these travails deserve relatively little sympathy—that they maybe, kinda had this reckoning coming. Either they are layabouts drenched in self-pity or they are sad cases consumed with racial status anxiety and animus toward the nonwhites passing them on the ladder. Both interpretations are, in their own ways, strikingly ungenerous toward a huge number of fellow Americans...

Welcome to America as it was,” Nancy Isenberg, a historian at Louisiana State University, writes near the outset of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Her title might seem sensational were it not so well earned. As she makes plain, a white lower class not only figured more prominently in the development of the colonies and the young country than national lore suggests, but was spoken of from the start explicitly in terms of waste and refuse...

For England, the New World beckoned as more than a vast store of natural resources, Isenberg argues. It was also a place to dispose of the dregs of its own society... The Puritans were likewise “obsessed with class rank”—membership in the Church and its core elect were elite privileges—not least because the early Massachusetts settlers included far more nonreligious riffraff than is generally realized. A version of the North Carolina constitution probably co-authored by John Locke was designed to “avoid erecting a numerous democracy.”

Class distinctions were maintained above all in the apportionment of land. In Virginia in 1700, indentured servants had virtually no chance to own any, and by 1770, less than 10 percent of white Virginians had claim to more than half the land. In 1729 in North Carolina, a colony with 36,000 people, there were only 3,281 listed grants, and 309 grantees owned nearly half the land. “Land was the principal source of wealth, and those without any had little chance to escape servitude,”

The Founding Fathers were, as Isenberg sees it, complicit in perpetuating these stark class divides. George Washington believed that only the “lower class of people” should serve as foot soldiers in the Continental Army. Thomas Jefferson envisioned his public schools educating talented students “raked from the rubbish” of the lower class, and argued that ranking humans like animal breeds was perfectly natural...

By the time her account reaches the late 20th century, though, the social and economic texture thins. Instead, Isenberg resorts to cataloguing representations of poor whites in pop culture (Deliverance, Hee Haw, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) and celebrity politics (Tammy Faye Bakker, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin), and offers some fairly trite commentary on the current political scene. Isenberg’s history is a bracing reminder of the persistent contempt for the white underclass...

The government and corporations have presided over the rise of new monopolies, the effect of which has been to concentrate wealth in a handful of companies and regions. The government and corporations welcomed China into the World Trade Organization; more and more economists now believe that move hastened the erosion of American manufacturing, by encouraging U.S. companies to shift operations offshore. The government and corporations each did their part to weaken organized labor, which once boosted wages and strengthened the social fabric in places like Middletown. More recently, the government has accelerated the decline of the coal industry, on environmentally defensible grounds but with awfully little in the way of remedies for those affected...

One of the most compelling parts of Isenberg’s history is her account of the help delivered to struggling rural whites as part of the New Deal. Projects like the Resettlement Administration, led by Rexford Tugwell, which moved tenants to better land and provided loans for farm improvements, brought real progress. So did the Tennessee Valley Authority, which not only spurred development of much of the South but created training centers and entire planned towns—towns where hill children went to school with engineers’ kids...

As Isenberg documents, the lower classes have been disregarded and shunted off for as long as the United States has existed. But the separation has grown considerably in recent years. The elite economy is more concentrated than ever in a handful of winner-take-all cities... The clustering is intensifying within regions, too. Since 1980, the share of upper-income households living in census tracts that are majority upper-income, rather than scattered throughout more mixed-income neighborhoods, has doubled. The upper echelon has increasingly sought comfort in prosperous insularity, withdrawing its abundant social capital from communities that relied on that capital’s overflow, and consolidating it in oversaturated enclaves...

But far more striking is the general aura of decline that hangs over towns in which medical-supply stores and pawn shops dominate decrepit main streets, and Victorians stand crumbling, unoccupied. Talk with those still sticking it out, the body-shop worker and the dollar-store clerk and the unemployed miner, and the fatalism is clear: Things were much better in an earlier time, and no future awaits in places that have been left behind by polished people in gleaming cities. The most painful comparison is not with supposedly ascendant minorities—it’s with the fortunes of one’s own parents or, by now, grandparents. The demoralizing effect of decay enveloping the place you live cannot be underestimated. And the bitterness—the “primal scorn”—that Donald Trump has tapped into among white Americans in struggling areas is aimed not just at those of foreign extraction. It is directed toward fellow countrymen who have become foreigners of a different sort, looking down on the natives, if they bother to look at all.
Apologies to the authors for excerpting so extensively from their Atlantic article, which is worth reading in toto.  I've requested from our library one of the books they recommend.


Via the ATBGE (Awful Taste But Great Execution subreddit), which is an interesting site to browse.

Death-cap mushrooms coming to the U.S.

The crowded summit of Mount Everest

The image is not photoshopped.  Discussion at Outside, via.


An overlooked and less-discussed aspect of climate change.  The image above presents the data for this year, and the one below shows the longer-term (70-year) trend.  Can't blame this on urban heat islands...

Discussion and source links at Paul Douglas' incomparable weather blog.

21 May 2019

"Sinnerman" (Nina Simone)

While watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople a couple nights ago, I heard this song in the soundtrack, and remembered hearing it in The Thomas Crown Affair.  Found more information at Wikipedia:
"Sinner Man" or "Sinnerman" is accepted as an African American traditional spiritual song that has been recorded by a number of performers and has been incorporated in many other of the media and arts. The lyrics describe a sinner attempting to hide from divine justice on Judgement Day. It was recorded in the 1950s by Les Baxter, the Swan Silvertones, the Weavers and others, before Nina Simone recorded an extended version in 1965...

Simone learned the lyrics of this English song in her childhood when it was used at revival meetings by her mother, a Methodist minister, to help people confess their sins. In the early days of her career during the early sixties, when she was heavily involved in the Greenwich Village scene, Simone often used the long piece to end her live performances.
Reposted from 2016 to add the lyrics;
Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman where you gonna run to?
Where you gonna run to?
All on that day
We got to run to the rock
Please hide me, I run to the rock
Please hide me, run to the rock
Please hide here
All on that day
But the rock cried out
I can't hide you, the rock cried out
I can't hide you, the rock cried out
I ain't gonna hide you there
All on that day
I said rock
What's the matter with you rock?
Don't you see I need you, rock?
Good Lord, Lord
All on that day
So I run to the river
It was bleedin', I run to the sea
It was bleedin', I run to the sea
It was bleedin', all on that day
So I run to the river
It was boilin', I run to the sea
It was boilin', I run to the sea
It was boilin', all on that day
So I run to the Lord
Please hide me, Lord
Don't you see me prayin'?
Don't you see me down here prayin'?
But the Lord said
Go to the Devil, the Lord said
Go to the Devil
He said go to the Devil
All on that day
So I ran to the Devil
He was waitin', I ran to the Devil
He was waitin', ran to the Devil
He was waitin', all on that day
I cried, power, power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Kingdom (power, Lord)
Kingdom (power, Lord)
Kingdom (power, Lord)
Kingdom (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Well, I run to the river
It was boilin', I run to the sea
It was boilin', I run to the sea
It was boilin', all on that day
So I ran to the Lord
I said Lord, hide me
Please hide me
Please help me, all on that day
He said, hide?
Where were you?
When you oughta have been prayin'
I said Lord, Lord
Hear me prayin', Lord, Lord
Hear me prayin', Lord, Lord
Hear me prayin', all on that day
Sinnerman, you oughta be prayin'
Outghta be prayin', sinnerman
Oughta be prayin', all on that day
Up come power (power, Lord) 

Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
(Power, Lord)
Hold down (power, Lord)
Go down (power, Lord)
Kingdom (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Power (power, Lord)
Na-na-na, na-na-na-na
Na-na-na, na-na-na-na
Na-na-na, na-na-na-na
Woah, ho

Ha-ha-ha-ha, oh Lord
Nu, nu, nu
No-no-no-no, ma-na-na-na-na, don't you know I need you Lord?
Don't you know that I need you?
Don't you know that I need you?
Oh, Lord
Oh, Lord
Oh, Lord, Lord

Gleanings from The Island of the Colorblind

I've had Oliver Sacks' The Island of the Colorblind on my bookshelf for 20 years now, awaiting a final re-read, which I got done this week.  Herewith some excerpts and interesting bits...
"... and a brilliant yellow lichen on some of the trees.  I nibble at it - many lichens are edible - but it is bitter and unpromising." 
He is braver than I am.  But a search yielded this info:  Iceland moss "forms a nutritious and easily digested amylaceous food, being used in place of starch in some preparations of cocoa."  Rock tripe "is the common name for various lichens of the genus Umbilicaria that grow on rocks. They can be found throughout northern parts of North America such as New England and the Rocky Mountains. They are edible when properly prepared and have been used as a famine food in extreme cases when other food sources were unavailable, as by early American northern explorers."  I found several others on a websearch, but I never expect to be that hungry.

This in a chapter discussing the amazing site Nan Madol.
"He did not refer to, and probably did not know of, the other megalithic cultures which dot Micronesia - the giant basalt ruins in Kosrae, the immense taga stones in Tinian, the ancient terraces in Palau, the five-ton stones of Babeldaop bearing Easter Island-like faces..." 
Today I (re)learn that some plants can generate heat other than by basking in sunlight:
"Botanists  have known for about a century (and cycad gatherers, of course, for much longer) that cones may generate heat - sometimes twenty degrees or more above the ambient temperature - as they redy for pollination.  The mature cones produce heat for several hours each day by breaking down lipids and starches within the cone scales..." (since Sacks is British, he is probably referring to degrees Celsius here!)
More about cycads:
"It was true that cycads had the largest growing apices of any vascular plant, but, equally to the point, these delicate apices were beautifully protected by persistent leaf bases, enabling the plants to be fire resistant, everything resistant, to an unusual degree, and to reshoot new fronds, after a catastrophe, sooner than anything else. And if something did nonetheless befall the growing apices, the plants had an alternative, bulbils, which they could fall back on. Cycads could be pollinated by wind – or insects, they were not choosy: they had avoided the path of overspecialization which had done in so many species over the last half-billion years. In the absence of fertilization, they could propagate asexually, by offsets and suckers (there was a suggestion too that some plants were able to spontaneously change sex). Many cycad species had developed unique ‘cor-raloid’ roots, where they symbiosed with blue-green algae, which could fix atmospheric nitrogen for them, rather than relying solely on organic nitrogen from the soil. This struck me as particularly brilliant – and highly adaptive should the seeds fall on impoverished soils; it had taken legumes, flowering plants, another hundred million years to achieve a similar trick.

Cycads had huge seeds, so strongly constructed and so packed with nourishment that they had a very good chance of surviving and germinating. And they could call on not just one but a variety of vectors for their dispersal. All sorts of smaller animals – from bats to birds to marsupials to rodents – attracted by the brightly colored, nutritious outer coat, would carry them off, nibble at them, and then discard the seed proper, the essential inner core, unharmed. Some rodents would squirrel them away, bury them – in effect, plant them – increasing their chances of successful germination. Large mammals might eat the entire seed – monkeys eating individual seeds, elephants entire cones – and void the endosperm, in its tough nut, unharmed in their dung, often in quite far-removed places."
And two more blogworthy items:
"It was only in 1986 that Guam's 'ecological murder mystery' was solved and the bird-eating tree snake, Boiga irregularis, was proved to be the culprit... It was estimated in the mid-eighties that there were now thirteen thousand snakes to the square mile, three million on the whole island.  Having consumed all the birds by this time, the snakes turned to other prey - skinks, geckos, other lizards, and even small mammals..."

"... branchial myoclonus, arising from lesions in the brain stem.  Here there occur rhythmic movements of the palate, middle-ear muscles, and certain muscles in the neck - an odd and unintelligible pattern, until one realizes that these are the only vestiges of the gill arches, the branchial musculature, in man.  Branchial myoclonus is, in effect, a gill movement in man..."
Credit for the cycad photo to San Diego Zoo.

20 May 2019

This is not a fish

It's a nudibranch (sea slug) that has evolved a flattened morphology in order to hunt in a pelagic rather than benthic environment.  Details at Deep Sea News.

Management track

Easter fireworks battle

Rouketopolemos (Greek Рουκετοπόλεμος, literally Rocket-War) is the name of a local traditional event held annually at Easter in the town of Vrontados (Βροντάδος) on the Greek island of Chios. As a variation of the Greek habit of throwing fireworks during the celebration of the service at midnight before Easter Sunday, two rival church congregations in the town perform an Rocket War by firing thousands of rockets across the town, with the objective of hitting the bell tower of the church of the other side.

The origin of this event is unclear, but local tradition holds that it goes back to the Ottoman era. According to local lore it was earlier performed with real cannons, until Ottoman authorities prohibited their use in 1889.

Reposted from 2008 to add this newer video:

Via Neatorama.

Our dystopic world

Found at The New Yorker.

"Falsies" for calves

Discussion thread at Instagramreality.

My grandparents' wedding photo

I was digitizing this old family photo yesterday to distribute to family members, when I noticed something odd.

The occasion is the 1912 wedding of my maternal grandfather, Knut Olaus Finseth, to his new bride Selma Aline Distad.  They and the others in the wedding party are standing in front of their apparently-new home in rural Minnesota.  They were both teachers, but farming would become his full-time occupation.

As I zoomed the photo to view the bride and groom (in true Norwegian fashion holding in their abundant joy behind a dour visage), I noticed a white object in Grandfather Knut's right hand.  It looks ever so much like a golf ball, but I'm sure he would have consigned golf to the same category as pool and solitaire - as tools of the Devil to distract people from their chores.  So what is it?

I would venture to guess it might be an egg.  I am not sufficiently au fait with traditional Norwegian wedding customs to know whether an egg might be incorporated into the festivities as a token of fertility.  Or maybe he just came from the henhouse...

I also don't know what the raptor-talon-shaped object is at my grandmother's waist.  Her left arm is at her side, so I presume it is some kind of floral bouquet tucked into her waistband.  Both of them were very much old-country traditionalists, so again there may be some symbolism involved.


The Finseths arrive in the United States.

Ole K. Finseth's children, Kenyon 1903

The Finseth Band Stand at St. Olaf College.

Distad, Norway.

A hat tip to an anonymous reader, who found the photo
at the right (cropped from the original here), showing a woman from approximately the same time period wearing a "waist corsage."

I did find a writeup of the wedding in the Olmstead County Democrat which says that my grandmother "was attired in marquisette over messaline" and that she and the bridesmaids carried pink and white roses.

I suspect the white flowers are just inapparent against the white dress in the wedding photo.

Of interest, the wedding report also notes that "following the plighting of vows, a seven-course dinner was served to sixty guests."  That would have been prepared on a wood-burning stove...

Now if I could only figure out about that egg in grandpa's hand.  I'll see if anyone in the family can track down an elderly Norwegian relative...

Reposted from 2015 to add this contemporary wedding photo that was enhanced by the unexpected appearance of a pig:

Via OldSchoolCool.
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