30 November 2019

In defense of "ugliness"

From an essay in The Paris Review:
Ugly is also a word that carries hard moral implications; for centuries, ugliness has been associated not only with sickness and deformity but also dishonesty, violence, aggression, and bigotry. Consider the term ugly American or the repeated critique of Trump’s “ugly” acts. The word itself comes from the equally discordant-sounding ugga and uggligr, two Old Norse adjectives that mean “dreadful, fearful, aggressive.” (Other words that bloomed from the “dreadful” root include loath and loathsome.) The meaning changed only in the fourteenth century, when uglike stopped meaning “terrifying” and began to mean “unpleasant to look at.”

Even though the word ugly is now primarily used to describe the unaesthetic aspect of things rather than their deep moral fiber, it retains elements of its original meaning. Using it can shift a well-meaning aesthetic critique into the realm of moral judgment. This is unfortunate for those of us who genuinely enjoy, and celebrate, ugly things. If you, too, want to appreciate ugliness, the first thing you have to do is stop assuming that it is the inverse of beauty. We tend to talk about aesthetics as though the categories are locked in a battle: good versus evil, light versus dark. But opposites are a crutch. Beauty and ugliness do not negate each other...

Ugliness has never been the subject of much scrutiny. For the most part, artists and thinkers have treated ugliness as an immutable category, filled with things they simply didn’t like. These included dangerous landscapes, people with disabilities, and objects that showed signs of too much use. When survival was a number one priority, people viewed anything potentially threatening as ugly. And for the most part, ugly works, particularly pieces that were unintentionally ugly, were forgotten to history.

As a result, the most significant ugly works created before the nineteenth century were intentionally ugly, created by technically skilled painters who decided, for whatever reason, to depict an ugly subject. Often, ugly art was created as a warning. There but for the grace of God go I, screams the gargoyle clinging to a medieval facade...
There's much more to read at the source link, the focus of which is on ugliness in the world of art.  I was most interested in the lady pictured in the image embedded above:
Quentin Matsys’s 1513 painting A Grotesque Old Woman can be located in this same tradition of grotesques. Known more commonly as The Ugly Duchess, this work shows a woman in a tight bodice and regal headdress. “The sitter is now diagnosed as suffering from Paget’s Disease,” Stephen Bayley explains in his 2011 treatise Ugly. Despite the fact that we now “know better” than to gawk at the suffering of others, Bayley claims there is a “magnificent absurdity” to this painting’s popularity. It is, he notes, “one of the most popular postcards sold in London’s National Gallery Shop.”
I spent a career dealing with and teaching about disease.   It is unutterably sad how an uninformed public will reflexly interpret variations in the human body as being shameful or wicked.

Related: Banjo goiter, Don't be embarrassed by a colostomy bag, Empowering amputees, Post-mastectomy tattoos, Sturge-Weber syndrome, Embrace your birthmarks, Movie villain dermatology, A man "comes out" regarding his cleft hand.

Image via Madame Jujujive's always interesting Everlasting Blort.

Gamer's library

This is said to be an "entire Playstation 2 library."  It was purchased for $11,000.

Teens convicted of exploiting themselves

As reported in The Guardian:
A teenage boy in North Carolina has been prosecuted for having nude pictures of himself on his own mobile phone. The young man, who is now 17 but was 16 at the time the photos were discovered, had to strike a plea deal to avoid potentially going to jail and being registered as a sex offender.

Experts condemned the case as ludicrous. The boy was, however, punished by the courts, and had to agree to be subject to warrantless searches by law enforcement for a year, in addition to other penalties.

The young man was also named in the media and suffered a suspension as quarterback of his high school football team while the case was being resolved.

[redacted], of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was prosecuted as an adult under federal child pornography felony laws, for sexually exploiting a minor. The minor was himself...

[redacted] was charged with four counts of making and possessing images of himself and one count of possessing a naked image of his 16-year-old girlfriend.

His girlfriend, [redacted], took a plea deal after being prosecuted on similar charges for having naked, suggestive pictures of herself on her cellphone.

While the pictures were technically illegal, actual sex would not be – the age of consent for sexual intercourse in North Carolina is 16...

He was prosecuted for having his own and his girlfriend’s image, despite them not having been shared further...

The legal bind came because the two were over 16 and so could be charged as adults in North Carolina, as is common with some felonies – but the crimes they were being charged with related to laws against sexually exploiting minors.

Each was therefore simultaneously the adult perpetrator who is considered a predator and the minor victim who needs protecting by the law...

“There are about 10 or 12 mostly conservative states where they will prosecute kids for this,” said Lane, “and it’s a kind of moral values thing – they are trying to make an example of them because it’s believed to be inappropriate behaviour.

"Devil's corkscrews" explained

An article at Smithsonian explains the history and science behind the unusual trace fossils known colloquially as "devil's corkscrews."
One of the most unusual fossils ever to be found are strange tall structures recovered across Nebraska, primarily in the state’s northwestern badlands and in neighboring parts of Wyoming. Known locally as Devil’s Corkscrews, each structure is the infilling of a left- or right-handed spiral or helix that can extend up to seven feet into the ground. At the deep end of the spiral, a tunnel extends sideways and up at an angle. These structures became exposed by weathering of the soft rock enclosing them on the sides of bluffs or ravines. They mainly occur in the fine-grained sandstones of the Harrison Formation, which dates from the Miocene epoch and are about 20 to 23 million years old...
Martin and Bennett found that the incisor teeth of the extinct beaver Palaeocastor were a perfect match for the grooves on the infillings of the Devil’s Corkscrews. These tooth marks affirmed that they were, in fact, burrows, spiraling tunnels that the beaver Palaeocastor built mainly by excavating the soil with left- and right-handed strokes of its large, flat incisors. The animal also left claw marks, but they tended to be confined to the sides and bottom of the burrows. The initial burrow extended down as a tightly coiled spiral. At the bottom, the beaver started digging upwards at an angle of up to 30 degrees to create a chamber for itself. This portion of the burrow sometimes extended up to 15 feet. 
More at Smithsonian.

President Eisenhower's farewell address (1961)

Wikipedia summary.

Best known for his precient comments on the military-industrial complex, the speech also cautions against mortgaging the future of our grandchildren for immediate gains:
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.
Fulltext here.

Related:  His Republican administration imposed a 91% marginal tax rate on millionaires, and in 1963 he opined that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unnecessary.

27 November 2019

The Brassica cousins

I knew they were related; didn't know they were selected in this fashion.  Interesting.  via.

Crocheted afghan

Via the confusing perspective subreddit.

Tarring and feathering

Tarring and feathering is a form of public torture and humiliation used to enforce unofficial justice or revenge. It was used in feudal Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, as well as the early American frontier, mostly as a type of mob vengeance. The victim would be stripped naked, or stripped to the waist. Wood tar (sometimes hot) was then either poured or painted onto the person while they were immobilized. Then the victim either had feathers thrown on them or was rolled around on a pile of feathers so that they stuck to the tar. ..

The earliest mention of the punishment appears in orders that Richard I of England issued to his navy on starting for the Holy Land in 1189. "Concerning the lawes and ordinances appointed by King Richard for his navie the forme thereof was this ... item, a thiefe or felon that hath stolen, being lawfully convicted, shal have his head shorne, and boyling pitch poured upon his head, and feathers or downe strawed upon the same whereby he may be knowen, and so at the first landing-place they shall come to, there to be cast up" (transcript of original statute in Hakluyt's Voyages, ii. 21).

A later instance of this penalty appears in Notes and Queries (series 4, vol. v), which quotes James Howell writing in Madrid in 1623 of the "boisterous Bishop of Halberstadt ... having taken a place where there were two monasteries of nuns and friars, he caused divers feather beds to be ripped, and all the feathers thrown into a great hall, whither the nuns and friars were thrust naked with their bodies oiled and pitched and to tumble among these feathers, which makes them here (Madrid) presage him an ill-death."..
Composite image adapted from the originals at Wikipedia, whence also the text.

Comedic juggler

Another performance

Bar graph of the day

Apart from the semantic non sequitur, it's curious how the shape of the bars in the graph turn out to be reflective of the content of the question (yes is vertical, no is horizontal).

Image tweaked from the original at Bad Newspaper.

Bet you can't guess what city this is

Photo via the Pics subreddit, where I found these comments:
"the skyscrapers are part of a smallish new financial district in the works. Moscow itself is very cool IMO - its a very old city (established c. 12th century) and has been redone many times, so you can see the different time periods depending where you go. Moscow city proper used to be considered within the MKAD circular highway that does a loop around the entire city and is usually completely congested, but was recently expanded to include most of the surrounding "oblast'". Towards the outer part of the MKAD, you have your "sleeping regions" - lots of soviet-era apartment blocks with some newer buildings, as well as "mega-malls" dotted around here and there. The interesting part here is that the apartments aren't flush with each other like in cities such as New York, most are free standing and there is lots of greenspace (or highway) in between. In that sense moscow is very "spread out" - lots of parks, from community gardens to large wildernesses (the North-eastern part of moscow is one very large forest/park called Elk Island). Parks are becoming a bigger deal in moscow, the city has been renovating and generally adding cool stuff to the city parks. There is the VDNKh, which used to be the USSR's national exposition, with pavilions for each republic, as well as dozens showing off everything from space tech to agriculture and farming. Today, it is still very much active, with many permanent as well as temporary exhibits. There is also a real-life Vostok rocket near the center. Beyond that, there is the riverfront park, which stretches along the moscow river for quite a while. There is Vorobievie Gori, and krilatiskie holmi, as well as many other university parks and lakes and promenades and shit. Biking is actually a very good way of getting around if you know the way - you can bike a good distance around the city without ever leaving a park for long.

Closer to the center, the city actually grows "shorter". This is the older part of the city - the buildings are generally pre-soviet except for a few government buildings. Here you have the arbat - a pedestrian avenue with shops and stuff in the middle of moscow. You have the kremlin of course, the big theater, the red square, as well as many other historical buildings such as pushkin's home, etc. In general, moscow is a pretty unique city - unfortunately its pretty large as well, so getting around usually means the metro or traffic. There are a ton of museums, from war to art to archaeology. There are lots of parks as I mentioned before, as well as grandiose soviet and pre-soviet monuments and some neat architecture too. I would recommend a visit for sure, in my opinion its one of the coolest cities I've been."
"This is an exceptional part of the city though, where most of the skyscrapers are. Kinda like Canary Wharf in London or La Defense in Paris. Other than that, there are only a handful of "Stalin's High-risers" around the town (one of which is home to Moscow State University)."
"It's big. Very, very, very big. Helsinki, it's population and everything in it would be an outer suburb. Moscow is bigger than London. The part in this photo is the CBD area, and a very, very, very small part of the city. Actually, Moscow doesn't have much of a cityscape view like most other big cities. The Kremlin and St Basil's is pretty much what springs to mind, but what it actually is, is an absolutely beautiful place in the world with many enormous parks, museums, churches and architecture. You can't capture it all in just one scene. You should definitely visit."

Is cursive writing doomed? - updated

From an op-ed piece in the New York Times:
Districts and states should not mandate the teaching of cursive. Cursive should be allowed to die. In fact, it's already dying, despite having been taught for decades. Very small proportions of adults use cursive for their day-to-day writing. Much of our communication is done on a keyboard, and the rest is done with print.

Additionally, there is little compelling research to suggest the teaching of cursive positively affects other student skills enough to merit its teaching. While both research and common sense indicate students should be taught some form of penmanship, there is simply no need to teach students both print and cursive...

Given these realities, teachers would be better off focusing on the skills and knowledge that will impact student success in the future. These include printing and typing, but not cursive. As we have done with the abacus and the slide rule, it is time to retire the teaching of cursive. The writing is on the wall.
Not only did I learn cursive, I learned the abacus and the slide rule as well.  Sigh...

Image from Wikipedia, where I also found these interesting tidbits:
While the terms cursive or script are popular in the United States for describing this style of writing the Latin script, this term is rarely used elsewhere.

The origin of the cursive method is associated with practical advantages of writing speed and infrequent pen lifting to accommodate the limitations of the quill. Quills are fragile, easily broken, and will spatter unless used properly. Steel dip pens followed quills; they were sturdier, but still had some limitations.

The term cursive derives from the 18th century French cursif from Medieval Latin cursivus, which means literally running. This term in turn derives from Latin currere ("to run, hasten")

In the Classical Arabic script, letters of any given word are joined to one another by a continuous flowing line. This flowing script inspired the cursive of Medieval Latin, which in turn developed into the longhand script of English [embed at right]

Cursive handwriting developed into something approximating its current form from the 17th century, but its use was neither uniform, nor standardized either in England itself or elsewhere in the British Empire.

In 2012, the American states of Indiana and Hawaii announced that their schools will no longer be required to teach cursive (but will still be permitted to), and instead will be required to teach "keyboard proficiency".
I'm reposting this rather popular post from 2013 to add the following update about the cursive debate arriving in Wisconsin:
A bipartisan bill requiring all schools to teach cursive writing has been estimated to cost as much as $6 million, but not all supporters of the proposed mandate think the state should help foot the bill. While members of the Senate Committee on Education on Tuesday agreed with the value of learning cursive writing skills, some raised concern that the bill — which does not include funding to public or private schools to offset the cost of implementation — would provide Wisconsin schools with yet another unfunded mandate...
A Department of Administration fiscal estimate for implementing a statewide cursive program projects the per-student cost at $10 to $35 a year and the per-teacher cost at $25 to $160 annually...

Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said in a letter to committee members that the association generally opposes any unfunded mandates on schools.
Achieving mastery of cursive writing can take an “enormous amount of instructional time,” Rossmiller said in the letter.
“In a world that is increasingly moving away from paper communications toward digital and electronic communications, we question the value of spending a significant portion of instructional time in third or fourth grade on cursive writing,” Rossmiller said in the letter.
When I originally posted this topic, the cost of teaching cursive was not considered either in the post itself or in the numerous comments.

I also shared the above links with an old classmate of mine whose career was in education.  His response: "Teaching cursive over the course of several years adds up to a lot of time -- what do we replace/ignore in elementary schools to make the time available?... One of the big problems I have with education law in every state is that it is written by people who, for the most part, have no knowledge of educational best practices... [re] terms like proficiency and mastery in reference to kids "passing" cursive. What do those words even mean?"

Related: Russian cursive looks like scribbles.

23 November 2019

Divertimento #170

I really need to do a general linkfest, but these gifs are easier to dispose of with single sentences.  Found these in the past month...
Dust on a bus seat.
Peeling a pineapple and removing its nipples.
Mind-numbing work.
Brazen theft of a iPad.
Mother beats child in elevator [warning: not safe for life]
An engagement ring crafted out of nail clippings.
Something to do next time it snows.
Bizarre nail art.
Nut harvest (almonds, IIRC)
Oddly satisfying shadow movement on a pair of escalators.

Nature and Science
Time lapse of a blizzard.
Phytoplankton bioluminescence in the Maldives.
The orbits of Venus and the Earth.
Planetary rotation rates and axial tilts.
An illustration of the "Mould effect".
Baking soda and tinfoil remove silver tarnish.
Robotic microsurgery.
Not sure how to describe this.
Halo traction for scoliosis.
Sponge pumping revealed with a bio-safe dye.
Immediate blue oxidation of a mushroom.
Visualization of a supernova.

Build a bed extension so there's room for your dog.
A veiled chameleon is born.
Two hamsters in a wheel.
Dog senses presence of fetus.
Why jaguars are at the top of the food chain.
Razor fish hides.
A deer sneezes.
Budgies like to shower.
Beluga fetches a ball.
Live webcams at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Flame Leg Millipede.
Cormorants harvest remoras off whale sharks.
Deer vs. python (python wins).
Zebra drowning the offspring of a rival male.

Teslas have external cameras.
How not to feed the seagulls.

How to fix a detached zipper using a fork.
People (and dog) not injured when tree fell on house.
Slice a sponge before cleaning a window track.
Amazing dropkick.
Bioluminescent jellyfish Halloween costume.
Trick or treat on a rainy night.
Elaborately dyed hair.
Cutting a tangerine.
Nice parlor trick.
Cat prevents baby from falling down stairs.
Zipline ride in the Philippines.
Add engine oil by pouring with the dipstick in place.
Sandbag filler.
Moving firewood into the basement.
All of the dots move in straight lines.

Sports and Athleticism
World-record fastest 15-meter wall climbEducational video on this topic.
Winners pose for a photo on the medallion podium.

Halloween decoration gets called away.
A boy gets a dog.
Dogs and cats jump around.
Girl learns she will have a baby sister.
Tucking in your best friend at bedtime.
Homeless man gets a new jacket.  Perhaps a repost, but worth revisiting.
Daddy's home!

The embedded images are selections from a book about cat ladders in Switzerland, via Colossal.  Additional photos at the link.

22 November 2019

Ribbon skirts explained

"Ribbon Skirts are not only a distinct fashion piece to the non-indigenous eye but are also a historical and traditional form of identity among native women. Skirts are worn not only in traditional ceremonies but now in political protests, the U.S. Congress, and more recently the Minnesota Governor’s office...

The skirt got its bearings in the late 18th centuries as relationships between the Great Lakes tribes and French settlers expanded, and more goods including ribbon were exchanged. Ojibwe clothing which was previously made of animal hide began being replaced by garments of wool and cotton with the traditional applique style of ribbon work you see today being worked in over time.

According to the Milwaukee Public Museum, “The first recorded instance of ribbon work appliqué was on a Menominee wedding dress made in 1802. Ribbon work reached its peak in the last quarter of the 19th century, having moved out from its epicenter in the Great Lakes to several tribes in the Prairies, Plains, and Northeast. Though the materials used to make ribbon skirts are not native in origin, the method of applique done to create the folded looked of the ribbon has become a visual marker of identity for centuries.”..

Leech Lake Tribal College Instructor, Audrey Thayer says when it comes to skirts, people need to see them through two different lenses; a spiritual one and one that is political. In Ms. Thayers spiritual healing lodge, women often wear traditional ribbon skirts featuring colors sacred to the lodge and the tribe itself, often to identify themselves to the creator as a woman...

The ribbon skirt that we see today isn’t far off from what had been adapted in the past for ceremonies, but it has now gained new meaning as it reaches the floors of the US democratic system and a new status of symbolism of native pride. Newly elected Minnesota Lieutenant Governor and White Earth enrollee Peggy Flanagan has often been photographed wearing traditional regalia, even during her swearing in ceremony. Flanagan herself says the skirt is reflective of her identity and cultural background...

On the other end of the political spectrum lies the use and significance of ribbon skirts within social and indigenous movements. Both the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women movement showcased the skirts' symbolism at the forefront of their causes."

Images (cropped for size and emphasis) and text from a "Part 1" article in Leech Lake News.  Part 2, about ribbon skirts in mainstream fashion, is pending.

Purple urinary bag syndrome (PUBS)

Concisely explained in the video by a skilled narrator who talks instead of reading text.  I've seen uncountable numbers of grody Foley catheter bags, but don't recall ever having seen any purple like these.  You learn something every day.

Infants buried wearing skull helmets

As reported in Latin American Antiquity:
"At Salango, a ritual complex on the central coast of Ecuador, excavations revealed two burial mounds dated to approximately 100 BC. Among the 11 identified burials, two infants were interred with “helmets” made from the cranial vaults of other juveniles. The additional crania were placed around the heads of the primary burials, likely at the time of burial."
More details at Live Science:
The helmets were placed tightly over the infants' heads, the archaeologists found. It's likely that the older children's skulls still had flesh on them when they were turned into helmets, because without flesh, the helmets likely would not have held together, the archaeologists noted.

Organdy dress decorated with beetle wings (1930s)

From a 2011 auction of specialty fashion and textiles.
White organdy blouse & tiered skirt, embroidered w/ iridescent emerald green to cobalt blue beetle wings forming floral pattern w/ silver metallic vines, B 36", W 28", Skirt L 43", (CF buttons & sash missing); includes extra yardage w/ same technique,different beetle wing pattern; t/w 1 1930s blouse made from 1860s organdy fabric, attached rayon slip; very good. BROOKLYN MUSEUM 
Realized $2,040.  Additional close-up photos at the link.

"Juice-jacking" explained

"Travelers should avoid using public USB powercharging stations in airports, hotels and other locations because they may contain dangerous malware.  In the USB Charger Scam, often called “juice jacking,” criminals load malware onto charging stations or cables they leave plugged in at the stations so they may infect the phones and other electronic devices of unsuspecting users. The malware may lock the device or export data and passwords directly to the scam."
Image and text from Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.  Helpful hints at the link, via Neatorama.

Incremental excrement

Eight years of geotagged reports of feces (dog and human) reported in San Francisco.  Varied opinions expressed in the discussion thread at the via.

The Great British Euler diagram

Because many people need a reminder now and then.  Additional notes from the source:
The republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are the only two sovereign states in this image. They are shown in red. Ireland and Great Britain are both islands and are shown in green. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are constituent countries of the United Kingdom and are shown in orange. Here, the term "constituent country" is not used in the same way that "country" is usually used; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are political entities within the UK, and it is the UK which appears in international bodies such as the United Nations and NATO...

There are many other islands in the British Isles which are not shown here. Most of these are politically part of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the republic of Ireland, with the exceptions of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are British crown dependencies and not part of the UK (or ROI) at all...

"Britain" is not a technically correct term for any political or geographical entity. Nevertheless, "Britain" is in frequent use, and taken to mean either "the UK" or "Great Britain". This usage is pretty unfair to Northern Ireland whichever way you look at it...

Ireland is popularly referred to as "the Republic of Ireland" in order to distinguish it from the island of Ireland, and the country is indeed a republic, but "the Republic of" is not part of the country's official name, and I suppose technically this means that the R need not be capitalised...
I am one of those guilty of using the term "Britain" (104 times so far in this blog).

Reposted from 2010 to add this newer and improved Euler diagram:

20 November 2019

Clever decal

Available here, via BoingBoing.

"Flight Behavior" and "The Poisonwood Bible"

This was my first encounter with the work of award-winning author Barbara Kingsolver ("Her 1998 bestseller, The Poisonwood Bible, won the National Book Prize of South Africa, and was shortlisted for both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award.)  I was directed to this particular book by a reader who (correctly) thought the discussion of Monarch butterflies so central to the book would be of interest to me.

The title refers both to the migratory behavior of the Monarchs and (I presume) to the geographically-shorter but equally complex "flight" of the female protagonist from an increasingly restrictive lifestyle in the mountains of southern Appalachia.  I found the latter aspect of the book more compelling than the commentary on climate change (which for me would amount to "preaching to the converted").   I spent 20+ years living in central Kentucky and working with many people whose lifestyle and worldview were not much different from that of Dellarobia Turnbow, the protagonist of the novel.  Kingsolver's portrayal is "spot on" - not surprising, since she herself was raised in rural Kentucky.

I won't attempt a full review of the novel.  The discussion of Monarch behavior and physiology is comprehensive and well-informed, and will provide some additional insights even to committed butterfly enthusiasts.  This detail was new to me:
"Hester called the butterflies "King Billies."  She seemed to think each one should be addressed as the king himself.  "There he goes, King Billy," she would say. (p. 74)
I had to look it up, since my Kentucky acquaintances never used the term.
The name Monarch is probably related to the eponymous appellation "King Billy" used by Canadians; the butterfly has the black and orange colors associated with William of Orange, Coregent with Mary after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the hero of Protestant England for his victory over the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne.
I enjoy reading works by authors who have enough command of the language to create new turns of phrases or colorful metaphors and similes.  Some examples from this book:
"Her every possession was either unbreakable, or broken."

"The equipment was not necessarily new.  Most of it, in fact, seemed to be older than she was, "pre-Reagan administration," they both remarked dolefully, as if that had been some Appomattox Court House with the scientists on the losing side."

"She'd asked him to tidy things up, but men and barns were like a bucket of forks, tidy was no part of the equation."

"Dellarobia was amazed he could see roadkill from the backseat.  The animal was as flat as a drive-through hamburger."

"She'd seen the man's face.  Straining, neck veins and ligaments bulging.  He looked like a tied-up horse in a barn fire."
And I enjoy encountering new words.  (I haven't looked all these up yet):
"She could certainly bring over some more from Hester's, as they'd canned about fifty quarts.  How could a person never have heard of dilly beans?" [explained in a comment]

"It had no shoulder harnesses in the backseat, only lap belts, so the kids' car seats fit in a sigoggling way that was probably unsafe."

"niddy-noddy" and "Moorit" (a black sheep)
Author/cover image at top from Sustainable Kentucky, where the book is also reviewed.  The side embed is of a Monarch raised at our home last summer.

Reposted from 2013 (?has it really been that long?) to add some thoughts about another book:

I am about two decades behind the general public in discovering this Pulitzer Prize-finalist novel by Barbara Kingsolver.   It is an interesting and engaging read, about an evangelical minister who takes his family from the American South to the jungles of the Congo.  The narrative is presented in the voices of his wife and each of his three daughters (the death of one of whom will be a driving force in the destinies of the others).

It will probably take the reader an hour or two to learn the voices and viewpoints of the children, who will pass in the course of the book from youth through adolescence to full adulthood.  There are  few conventional "plot" elements; the strength of the book is its examination of the maturation and evolution of the character of the narrators.  Even the overwhelming attack by army ants is important not for the physical trauma, but for the degree to which it forces instant decisions about familial interpersonal relationships.  [Inset photo shows the blue mouth of the Congolese green mamba, described with emphasis in the book].

All members of the family experience cultural shock after their sudden displacement from America to a Congolese village; their adaptations (and maladaptations) are dramatic and distinctly different one from another.  Interestingly several of them also experience "reverse cultural shock" on their return to the United States where there are "no smells" - even in a grocery store.

The final aspect of the book worthy of note is that Kingsolver uses this novel for an incisive critique of American and European colonization and exploitation of Africa, including the rape of the natural mineral resources, the corruption of local governments, and the overthrow and eventual assassination of Democratically-elected officials like Patrice Lumumba and the later similar perfidy in Angola.

In my commentary on Flight Behavior I commended Barbara Kingsolver for her facility with language.  I particularly enjoyed this turn of phrase:  "Thérèse leans close and looks up at me, her eyebrows tilting like the accents above her name."  I enjoyed the humor in the voice of the insufferable Rachel ("He calls me Princess, which really is maybe too much polish for the jalopy"), and especially her neverending malapropisms ("the forest prime evil", "I was feeling at loose odds and ends", "You have your way of thinking and [Africa] has its, and never the train ye shall meet", "I won't tell her [who I am].  I prefer to remain anomalous", "[the children] clamber around me until I feel like Gulliver among the Lepidopterans.")

In this book I encountered only two new words:  Sigoggling (again).  Looked it up this time - an Appalachian term for "out of balance/crooked/not built properly" - with an interesting etymology: "Apparently from side + goggling, from goggle (to stare at with wide eyes), indicating that something had to be stared at sideways to appear straight."  And calabash - a bottle-shaped gourd, or the tree on which it grows, or a container of that shape, or a musical instrument made from the gourd.  And of course I'm old enough to remember "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."

Photo of mamba's blue mouth via.

18 November 2019

A "bleeding heart" dove

One of the gallicolumbas.  "This genus includes the bleeding-hearts known from the Philippines. Most are named for their vivid-red patch on the breast, which looks startlingly like a bleeding wound in some species and has reminded naturalists of a dagger stab.

The image reminds me of some birds (seabirds? penguins?) that have patches on their breasts that chicks peck, but in this species the red patches are on the breasts of the males.  Via for the image.

A visual reminder that billions are not at all like millions

For a variety of reasons, discussions of wealth, taxes, and inequality often involve comments about the ultra-wealthy, and sometimes "millionaires and billionaires" are conflated as a group.  The image above is a reminder that a billion (of anything - not just $) is not like a million.  It's not even a log-power larger.  In present-day usage it is a thousand millions (3 log powers) (in old British parlance a billion was a million million).

This isn't the post for arguing whether billionaires are inherently wicked or guilty of something and/or how they should be treated.  This is just a reminder about size differences.  The same perspective needs to be applied when referring to deep time (billions of years is vastly different from merely millions of years) and deep space (billions/millions of miles).

Discussed at the dataisbeautiful subreddit, where in addition to the usual analogies ("one million seconds is around 11 days, one billion seconds is over 31 years") is this even more dramatic one:  "How much larger is a billion than a million? The difference is about a billion."

Word for the day: faience

I've seen the word on museum tags, but never took the time to look it up, until today - inspired by encountering the appealing image of William the Faience Hippopotamus.
"William" is an Egyptian faience hippopotamus statuette from the Middle Kingdom, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where it serves as an informal mascot of the museum...  This 20 cm (8 in) figurine in Egyptian faience, a clay-less material, has become popular not only for his endearing appearance but also because his defining characteristics illustrate many of the most salient facets of craft production in ancient Egypt during this time.
Here's the skinny on faience:
"The term is used for objects with a body made of finely powdered quartz grains fused together with small amounts of alkali and/or lime through partial heating. The bodies are usually colourless but natural impurities give them a brown or greyish tint. Colourants can also be added to give it an artificial colour. It can be modelled by hand, thrown or moulded, and hardens with firing. This material is used in the context of Islamic ceramics where it is described as stonepaste (or fritware). Glazed composition is related to glass, but glass is formed by completely fusing the ingredients in a liquid melted at high temperature. This material is also popularly called faience in the contexts of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Near East. However, this is a misnomer as these objects have no relationship to the glazed pottery vessels made in Faenza, from which the faience term derives. Other authors use the terms sintered quartz, glazed frit, frit, composition, Egyptian Blue, paste or (in the 19th century) even porcelain, although the last two terms are very inappropriate as they also describe imitation gems and a type of ceramic."
More at the link, including the difference between Egyptian faience and Italian faience.

The aesthetics of golf

At Wisconsin's latitude the golf season has been brought to an end by early snow and freezing weather, and my personal 6 decades+ relationship with golf is also nearing an end, so I wanted to share this image that I found this past spring while browsing the internet.

There is much to be said for (and against) the sport of golf, but one aspect that's hard to deny is that a properly-designed golf course can present some remarkable vistas of the natural world.  Even non-golfers are likely familiar with the azalea-laden backdrop of 12th hole at Augusta National, but even local private and public courses may have elevated tees that overlook expanses of grass, trees, ponds, creeks, and shorelines that look like something designed by Capability Brown.

This image captivated me because it features a design where the golfer needs to choose between a "safe" play to the manicured fairway at the left, or the aggressive approach straight at the hole, where the pin can even be located behind a deep bunker.   I would love the challenge of playing this hole, perhaps on my fifth mulligan dropping the ball pin high.

I wondered where it was.  The golfer's clothing (long sleeves and pants, down vest) suggest cool weather, and the trees look like spring foliage rather than autumn.  So I figured probably May in the upper Midwest.  It turned out to be Dublin, Ireland.

The poster, with its memorial text, is available at Just Happy Tears.

15 November 2019

Ancient Egyptians mummified MILLIONS of ibis

From an interesting article in National Geographic this week:
Between roughly 650 and 250 B.C., ancient Egyptians sacrificed staggering numbers of mummified ibises to Thoth, god of magic and wisdom, who was depicted with a human body and the distinctive long-beaked head of the bird. Archaeologists have found literally millions of these votive offerings in ancient Egyptian necropolises, where the bird mummies were interred after being offered to Thoth to cure illnesses, gift long life, or even sort out romantic troubles...

Due to the sheer scale of the ibis mummy industry, many Egyptologists have assumed that the bird—specifically the African sacred ibis (T. aethiopicus)—was deliberately bred in large centralised farms. This assumption has been bolstered by archaeological and textual evidence for large-scale bird-raising operations. However, a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that most ibises were actually captured in the wild and possibly kept on farms for only short periods of time before being sacrificed and mummified.
The study revealed a DNA diversity in the mummies more consistent with widespread harvesting rather than local farming.   Not everyone agrees:
But archaeologist Bosch-Puche, who was not a part of the study, believes that the birds were indeed bred in captivity, due to signs of healed fractures and infectious diseases seen in ibis mummies that are similar to those documented in modern captive animal populations that have little genetic diversity...

The new DNA research also may help answer a bigger question of why the African sacred ibis eventually went extinct in Egypt by the mid-19th century.
Data, discussion, and more images at the PLOS ONE article.

Clever? Or a nuisance?

Clock-radio in a hotel has time displays on three sides so bed occupants can check the time without getting up.   Personally, I would cover it up with a towel.  (and interesting how iconic that wall surface/furniture finish is for a hotel/motel)

Concerns re oceanic microplastics

As reported in Vice:
The study, led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, found that larval fish nurseries off the coast of Hawaii are hotbeds of plastic pollution, with trash pieces outnumbering actual fish seven to one. As a result, baby fish looking for a bite are sometimes chowing down on tiny flecks of “prey-sized” plastic instead...

By dissecting hundreds of fish larvae, the researchers learned that those small pieces of plastic are making their way into the bellies of many types of fish, including commercially-important species like swordfish and mahi-mahi as well as flying fish, a key prey item for seabirds. Overall, fish larvae in slicks were about twice as likely to have ingested plastic as those found elsewhere.

The researchers aren’t sure how ingesting plastic impacts the health of these baby fish, but there are reasons to be concerned. Plastic can absorb a variety of chemical pollutants, potentially causing them to bioaccumulate in animals that eat it. In adult fish, one study found that plastic “nanoparticles” can cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger behavioral problems. In developing larvae, the researchers say a bite or two of plastic might cause fish to feel full when they haven’t consumed anything edible.

Plastic ingested by fish larvae could also be making its way into anything that eats them, including us...

Normal tree growth revealed

An interesting perspective.  Via.

To detect a hidden "nannycam"

Hidden cameras are everywhere nowadays.  Travelers especially need to be wary in rented rooms.  A WikiHow article shows how to find one using your smartphone.

Note the red dot in the blackness above (from a hidden camera) is not visible light - you could see that with your naked eye.  This is infrared light from the spy camera, detected by the front-facing camera on your phone.

More procedural details at the link.

A suggestion for next Halloween

In previous years we have given trick-or-treaters a choice between candy and seashells.   This year we offered something else.

The story begins in early summer, when we noticed an unexpected melon plant growing in our tomato patch in the back yard.  We left it alone to see what would happen, steering it away from the tomato cages (it eventually engulfed one of them).  It spread over and between the pots with the Bell peppers and eggplants and headed out into the lawn.  Less grass to mow - fine.

At its late autumn peak that single plant covered an area half again as big as shown in the photo above, and the fruit revealed itself as a decorative squash (top photo).

We had purchased a small bag of varied decorative squash for a previous Halloween, and had tossed them away out back for the local critters to enjoy.  One of them escaped predation and began this growth.  As the season ended we had dozens and dozens of gourds - and no use for them.  So, I loaded them into a wheelbarrow and parked it next to the sidewalk leading to the front door.  When the trick-or-treaters came to the door, they received their small bag of chips, and then we told them "help yourself to a gourd from the wheelbarrow."

The reaction was uniformly enthusiastic.  None of these well-behaved kids had taken anything from the wheelbarrow on the way to the door, figuring that it was a decorative display like the neighbors' ghosts and gravestones.  But on the way back to the street they dove in, and... "YAY!  Mom, look!  I got a gourd!"

Now I'm thinking ahead to next Halloween.  What else do I have that I need to dispose of?  Maybe some of my old comic books, but I wonder if they would be interested in picking through twelve years of back issues of Consumer Reports...?

13 November 2019

Highly recommended

Etiquette has to change with the times; social behaviors that were standard even one generation ago may be totally inappropriate nowadays.  And so it was that Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, was encouraged by her family to create etiquette guidelines for a cannabis-tolerant society.  As she notes in an introductory chapter:
"In Oregon, I watched as a friend tossed a half-smoked joint that had gone out into the garbage.  "What are you doing?" I shrieked.  "I'm so sorry," he said.  "I just figured we'd roll another."  I had to laugh... Many folks who live legal liken offering saved bowls and roaches (the ends of blunts, spliffs, and joints) to offering someone half a can of beer, the rest of their cocktail, or their leftover food."
I grew up in the "prohibition" era, so for me there was a lot of useful information in the book.  Inserted below are screencaps of some sample pages:

There are sections on edibles and drinkables, and of course how to be a considerate guest (or a host) of a party, what to expect at a dispensary, how to behave at a cannabis-friendly bed-and-breakfast (a "bud-and-breakfast"), or at a "lit on lit" book club, or on a "weedcation."

I found the book in our local library system (and Wisconsin is not a 420-friendly state) (yet...)

12 November 2019

The unnecessary carnage of Armistice Day 11/11/11

Excerpts from a chilling article in Harper's:
A hundred years ago this month, the First World War shuddered to a close. The end came when the armistice took effect on the Western Front at 11 am on November 11, 1918—the famous eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a phrase that seems like an obscenity now, a romantic gesture to cap a war that long before should have buried any possible remaining romance of war. The armistice had been coming since at least August 8, 1918, the “black day of the German Army,” when some 15,000 German men surrendered on the first day of a French and British offensive. Germany’s allies had been dropping away since September, with Bulgaria, then the Turks, then Austria-Hungary suing for peace.

The Germans had initiated peace negotiations on November 8, and their delegates pleaded that fighting be suspended at once. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme Allied commander, refused. The signing of the armistice agreement was announced at 5:45 on the morning of November 11, but Foch decreed that the official ending time would be eleven o’clock.

In the ensuing five hours and fifteen minutes, the two sides suffered a combined 10,944 casualties, including 2,738 dead, according to the historian Joseph E. Persico in his book Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour. The fighting went on, to get revenge, to use up “leftover” ammunition, to teach the enemy a lesson. It continued because, even after four years of what British prime minister David Lloyd George would call “the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind,” men were still willing to go dutifully forward to kill when they were ordered to do so.

Most of the killing that last morning seems to have been initiated by the Allies, but the Germans shelled the town of Mézières, flattening the hospital there, and ambushed British troops at a little village near Valenciennes. British cavalry raced into the Belgian town of Lessines at ten to eleven, where they chased down German defenders as if they were on a fox hunt.

“I fired 164 rounds at [the enemy] before he quit this morning,” Captain Harry S. Truman, the only future American president to see action in World War I, wrote. Truman, the commander of an artillery battery, maintained, “I’m for peace, but that gang should be given a bayonet peace and made to pay for what they’ve done to France.” He kept his guns flaring until precisely eleven. Some American artillery batteries kept banging away even past that deadline.

Colonel Thomas Gowenlock, an intelligence officer with the US 1st Division, was surprised to find the shelling from both sides unusually heavy and growing worse as he approached the front near Le Gros Faux. “It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o’clock came—but the firing continued,” Gowenlock would write in his memoir of the war.
Numerous American units—the 32nd and 33rd Army divisions, the 5th Marine Regiment—were ordered into combat that morning and suffered serious losses. The all-black 366th Regiment of the Army’s 92nd Division, in America’s segregated armed forces, was ordered to make three separate assaults on German positions heavily fortified with machine guns; the last one commenced at ten-thirty, and the troops absorbed 319 casualties that day, including seventeen dead.
More at the link, none of it uplifting.
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