10 July 2020

Remembering Sugar Rae

This post is written for family, but it's about a situation that all families and pet-lovers eventually have to face.  "Sugar" was a yellow lab who joined the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) branch of my family fourteen years ago.  I'll let the family describe her in their own words, and I invite readers to share in the Comments setion their own memories and stories about the deaths of favorite pets.

"To those that knew her, she was the sweetest, most loyal, and unconditional dog.

She loved to "subtly" nudge u, so u would pet her; she loved playing catch, up until the end, when she could barely walk, much less run...

she loved sleeping on your foot, so you couldn't get up and leave her; she loved chasing the deer when we lived on the golf course; she loved getting her belly rubbed...

she loved eating the peanut butter out of an empty jar; she loved playing in the snow; she loved "smelling the roses" on her walks around the block...

she loved drinking out of the hose; and loved taking long naps, in what we will forever call "the Sugar Shack."

In hindsight we were fortunate to spend the last 107 days of Sugar's life with her, literally almost every minute of every day because we were in locked-down stay-at-home/teach-from-home mode.  She got more walks than usual, petted more than ever, and was loved and cherished more than ever.

Her struggle to breathe was painful to hear and see, and that alone reassured us that her time had come.   At the vets we wiped away tears, and Sugar bravely managed to stand for a final family portrait.

It's hard to see a pet suffer, and it's harder to do what we had to do, but we are reassured that she went peacefully.  R.I.P. "C 'n H Pure Cane Sugar Rae Van Alvarez."  U stole our hearts, and we love u.  May we all learn more from our dogs."

Bonsai azalea in blossom


The politics of Calvin

As I was saving and blogging (here and here) my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, I noticed a group of them that resonated because of Trump-like comments.  Bill Watterson, the cartoonist, majored in political science, but he created these comics long before the Trump era began and likely had Calvin voicing the attitudes of an immature child, not a politician.

While searching today for Calvin+politics, I was not surprised to discover that I am not the first person to notice the resemblance.  It turns out there is an entire DonaldandHobbes subreddit, with cartoons modified to highlight the similarities.  Herewith some samples, several via HuffPost.

Some of these have had the dialogue modified while retaining the basic tenet.

Found on a Michigan farm

Last Monday, farmer James Bristle and his neighbor were digging a trench to install a drainage pipe in his wheat field on the outskirts of Chelsea, Michigan, when their backhoe suddenly struck something hard about eight feet underground. At first, the pair thought they had hit a buried piece of wood, perhaps a fence post, but they soon realized they had uncovered something neither had ever seen before—an enormous three-foot-long bone... 
Using zip lines attached to a backhoe, the paleontologists carefully hoisted the mammoth’s gigantic skull and tusks and placed it on a flatbed trailer along with the skeleton’s vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and shoulder blades before filling in the pit... 
The mammoth’s remains still need to be dated, but Fisher said the bones are from an adult male that likely lived between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago and was in its 40s when it died. The paleontologist said the specimen was a Jeffersonian mammoth—a hybrid between a woolly mammoth and a Columbian mammoth named for founding father Thomas Jefferson, who had a keen interest in paleontology. 
Fisher noted there was “excellent evidence of human activity” associated with the mammoth remains, and he theorizes that ancient humans carved the animal and submerged the carcass in a pond to preserve the meat for later use. “We think that humans were here and may have butchered and stashed the meat so that they could come back later for it,” he said. The evidence included three basketball-sized boulders found with the remains—which may have been used to weigh down the carcass—a stone flake resting next to one of the tusks that could have been used as a cutting tool and the positioning of the neck vertebrae in correct anatomical sequence as opposed to a random scattering that normally happens after a natural death.
And this related material via Neatorama:
Mammoths lived on North America's mainland until about 10,000 years ago, but they survived in two places for much longer: St Paul Island and Wrangel Island, in the Russian Arctic, where teeth have been found that are only 4,000 years old... 
St Paul is a volcanic island that until around 9,000 years ago was connected to the mainland by the Bering Land Bridge, which enabled animals to roam freely to and fro. 
But as the climate warmed and sea levels rose, it became isolated – and the mammoths were trapped... there had been a severe weather event, a drought, on St Paul Island. The lake started to dry up and the mammoths were left with nothing to drink. 
Dr Shapiro warns the isolation that killed the mammoths on St Paul is threatening other species and biodiversity today. 
"Islandization takes different forms where the habitats that we've chosen to protect are surrounded not by water, but by other things like farms and agriculture."
It's striking to realize that 4000 years ago (2,000 B.C.) would be contemporaneous with pharaohs ruling Egypt, the cuneiform alphabet, Stonehenge, and the Chinese Bronze Age.

Shark finning

Fins are lucrative, fetching as much as HK$6,800 (£715) per catty (604.8g, or about 21oz), and the trade is big business. Hong Kong is the largest shark fin importer in the world, and responsible for about half of the global trade. The fins sold in Sai Ying Pun come from more than 100 countries and 76 different species of sharks and rays, a third of which are endangered
In May, customs officials made the biggest shark fin seizure in Hong Kong history: 26 tonnes of fins, contained in two shipping containers from Ecuador, cut from the bodies of 38,500 endangered sharks. The fins are often removed from the animals while still alive. The wounded sharks are then usually thrown back into the sea where, unable to swim, they sink and die of blood loss or are eaten by other predators... 
Viewed as a delicacy and status symbol, shark fin is typically eaten shredded in a jelly-like soup at weddings and family banquets. “The shark fins themselves don’t taste of anything,” says Andrea Richey, executive director of Hong Kong Shark Foundation, a local NGO. “The taste comes only from the soup broth. It’s the texture of the shark fin that people like and the fact that it is a luxury item. It’s conspicuous consumption. It’s about showing wealth and status by ordering the best or most expensive item.”
Related: Why We Need Sharks

Headless sea lions reported on Vancouver Island

"Sea lion heads are a sought-after commodity.  
Thomas Sewid believes the recent reports of headless sea lions are evidence of people taking advantage of a growing underground market for sea-lion skulls. Sewid, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation on Vancouver Island, said he has received more than 120 emails in recent months from taxidermy enthusiasts interested in buying a sea lion skulls.  
 “Right now, there’s a big demand. And there’s no legal supply,” said Sewid. A male steller sea lion skull, with all of its teeth intact, goes for about $4,000 in the underground market, he said."

09 July 2020

Language in John Dickson Carr's Gideon Fell mysteries

John Dickson Carr authored 23 novels featuring Dr. Gideon Fell, starting with Hag's Nook in 1933 and finishing in 1967 with Dark of the Moon.  These include several of his most famous locked-room stories, like Till Death Do Us Part.   The Crooked Hinge uses a truly remarkable disguise for the murderer.  In The Eight of Swords the murderer is absolutely the last person you would suspect; the same in To Wake the Dead and He Who Whispers, which I rated the highest of all the books in this group.  Death Watch is almost unsolvable.  I was disappointed to note that the solution to The Case of the Constant Suicides was given away by the artist who created the paperback book cover.

Lots of interesting words and phrases.  No need to sort them by book, so I'll group them all together in this one post.

"The ancient rain of England, which brought out old odours like ghosts, so that black-letter books, and engravings on the wall, seemed more alive than real people."  I'm not sure if the hyphen was intrinsic to the word, because it was at the end of a line of text, but maybe it's this: The Letter-Books of the City of London are a series of fifty folio volumes in vellum containing entries of the matters of in which the City of London was interested or concerned, beginning in 1275 and concluding in 1509.  Or else this: Blackletter (sometimes black letter), also known as Gothic script, Gothic minuscule, or Textura, was a script used throughout Western Europe from approximately 1150 until the 17th century. 
"It's just a lot of crackbrain poetry--"
"Verse," corrected Dr. Fell.
[a distinction that escapes me.  Maybe he's saying poetry has to rhyme?] 
"That hat - well, hang it!" the manager exploded, volplaning down into honest speech..."  In a steep controlled dive, as an aircraft with the engine off [from the French for "gliding flight."
"There he stood, looking taller, more shrunken and bony in his shirt sleeves... the sleeves tucked up on corded arms, his tie askew...  Presumably muscular, with tendons and muscles defined. 
"Possibly, with time to lend joke and point, a sense of adventure on the high seas would come in retrospect."  [need help with this phrase] 
"You couldn't imagine her on a party or doing anything that wasn't strictly according to Hansard."  (Hansard is the traditional name of the transcripts of Parliamentary Debates) 
"And this was not bravery, for he was frightened green and he could hear a thick beating in his ears."   A quick Google =  nothing.  And elsewhere: "I detest new processes, particularly chemical ones; they exalt the brains of fools and they bore me green." 
"... the thing seemed so obvious that he wondered how mind co-related with eyesight could have gone so far astray."  I suppose "correlated" is just a modernized "co-related."  [but the grammar Nazi asks - is "co-related" internally redundant?] 
"... a squat grey fortress, fourteen acres ringed with the strength of inner and outer ballium walls."  Fortification, from the Latin. 
"It was not so much that a man had been found dead at the Tower of London.  He had eaten horrors with a wide spoon during those days of the Starberth case... [previous murder case]"  Presumably means he had taken in a lot; rather an odd way to phrase it. 
"Sir William was jammed into the tonneau between Hadley and Dr. Fell."  Rear compartment, or a vehicle with such a compartment.  From the French. 
"A sentry, in the high black shako and grey uniform of the Spur Guard..."  A stiff military headdress. 
[pocket contents] "Bunch of keys.  Fountain-pen and stylo pencil..."  Ballpoint pen or biro.  Derived from stylus
"... he had tried to impress a policeman with a casual retort, and instead he had been flicked across his poise." [need help with this one]
"And when I left it I came out and started to snoopy up the stairs..."  Seems to be an adjective used as a verb.  "Snoop" is from Dutch snoepen (“to pry, eat in secret, sneak”)

"That's better, but it's not over yet by a long chalk."  A phrase of emphasis.  "Not by a long chalk' is a 19th century expression that originated in Canada but first became commonplace in England. It is the equivalent of the variant that is more used in the USA - 'not by a long shot'. The chalk that is referred to is that used to mark up scores in pub games and at horse races.  And this is interesting:
'Long chalk' only ever appears in the negative, like 'laughing matter', 'rest for the wicked' and 'all the tea in China'.

"Since one of the lights of the window stood open, I heard it distinctly."  Probably a panel in a mullioned window.

"The same, with knobs on, applies to the proprietor of the Witching Water Mill."  In context, "even more so" 
"They'll condole with me so..."  obviously the verb for giving condolences; have never seen it used as a verb. 
"He wouldn't ride on any of the swings or giddy-go-rounds or things..."  In context probably a merry-go-round/carousel.  I wonder if the "giddy" implies the presence of horses as in "giddyup", or more likely the circling makes one giddy. 
"I should like to thank you for taking this very awkward and unpleasant business in such good part...  I take it in devilish damned bad part, and you might as well understand that."  Apparently "in good humor". 
"There is something in our Mr. Welkyn's statement which tends to give me a cauld grue."  From Thrawn Janet: "it "sent a cauld grue [shudder] along my bones".  Obviously related to "gruesome." 
"You've got me in a cleft stick.  If I say he hated such things..."   Trapped, presumably, as one might capture a snake? 
"It brought things home to the jury as certainly as sixpence and two wrong."  [need help from a Brit on this one]
"Where were you then?"  "I was couped down beside the fence, out in front."  I need help with this one. 
"The result was, they had a hell of a slanging match which went on for more than three minutes..."  Not sure on this one either. 
 "I came over and stayed at Daddy's bungalow."  Borrowed from Hindi (baṅglāBengali), referring to the Bengali-style (one-storey) house. 
"So it is to your lucubations, sir, that we are indebted for what we think we have learned now?"  Probably a typo for lucubration "intense study" from the Latin for "working by artificial light." 
"Nobody could be more cynical as regards the powers of darkness and the lords of the four-went-ways."  There is a location in Cambridge with this name.  I presume the term refers to an intersection of two roads.  Not sure the reference to the powers of darkness although I think intersections were once locations for hangings and perhaps witchcraft. 
"It had no such high ambition; or, to put it more properly, no such high-falutin."  Common word, but I wondered the etymology.  Definition pompous, arrogant.  Etymology implied related to high-flying. 
"Were the Parcae, do you say, giving me some particularly nasty breaks?"  "In ancient Roman religion and myth, the Parcae (singular, Parca) were the female personifications of destiny who directed the lives (and deaths) of humans and gods. They are often called the Fates in English." 
"Yours sincerely, John Farnleigh (whilom Patrick Gore)."  Once-upon-a-time, formerly, from Old English. 
"... it concerns the Bishop of Mappleham.  Quite a big pot, I understand."  In context, referring to the person.  ?derived from potentate? 
"... friend would be measuring out gin drops, with the fierce concentration of a scientist, into a glass jug containing half-a-gallon of alcohol and half-a-gallon of water."  Why hyphenated?
"... Shira is no' a canny place."  "Canny, I suppose," observed Alan, "being the opposite of uncanny?"  "Aye."  "But if Shira isn't a canny place, what's wrong with it?  Ghosts?"  Knowable, pleasant, fair. 
"I've heard the Scotch were booze-histers, of course..."  Booze-hoister (drinker). 
"She said she thought it was only decent to redd up the room."  In context, tidy.  Probably a back-formation from "ready." 
"Depping was rather a blister, wasn't he?"  A cause of annoyance.
"It was in a hollow of somewhat marshy ground, with a great ilex tree growing behind it..." 
"Oh, I know!  I've had it dinned into me a dozen times."  To repeat continuously, as though to the point of deafening or exhausting somebody [from Middle English]. 
"A general murmur, like the church's mumbled responses when the minister reads the catechism, answered the toast.  The Martini's healing chill soothed Hugh Donovan..."  Capitalized, presumably manufactured by Martini and Rossi? 
"Actually, he was as superstitious as they make 'em.  And the taroc was his favorite."  "The deck which English-speakers call by the French name Tarot is called Tarocco in Italian, Tarock in German and various similar words in other languages." 
"This, it occurred to him, would be an excellent house in which to play any sort of game that entailed wandering about in the dark; say that noble pastime called sardines."   One derivative in game is called "Sardines", in which only one person hides and the others must find them, hiding with them when they do so. The hiding places become progressively more cramped, like sardines in a tin. The last person to find the hiding group is the loser and subsequently the hider for the next round. This game is best played at night in a big area like a park, or in a dark room..." 
"The latter was... too full of new alcoholic courage... His foot groped vainly for a rail under the bar."   Discussed at Mixopedia.  I read somewhere recently that this is more a feature of American bars than British ones (the character in the story is an American in Britain).
"I swore Dibbs to silence with a new, crisp jimmy-o'-goblin - and I'll bet he hasn't betrayed me yet."  Rhyming slang for golden sovereigns
"... in fiction... they are always haughtily aristocratic, or languidly epigrammatic, or dodderingly Wodehouse..."  Brief, witty, from French from Greek. 
"Somebody mentioned an American thing called 'screens.'  We don't have 'em in England, but we ought to have."  Novel written in 1944.  Interesting that England didn't yet have window screens
"The inside of the safe, not much bigger than a large biscuit barrel, was empty."  The contents of the safe were small pieces of jewelry, and the biscuit barrel would be a term for a cookie jar. 
"... sat up all night telling incredible yarns, which were all the funnier in his strong squarehead accent."  "A foreigner of Germanic origin, especially a German, Dutch, or Scandinavian person."  Also "Squarehead' is a literal translation of the term tête carrée used by French-Canadians to describe English-Canadians, especially those who do not or prefer not to speak French." 
"She paused as a white-coated steward struggled out of a door near by and peered round..."  [unusual as two words] 
"She still seemed hurt by the behaviour of the eminent soaks; but her protective instincts had been roused..."  Drunkard, souse. 
"Stanley, who had been brushing one sleeve across his eyes in a sort of wabbling torpor, whirled round."  Equivalent to "wobble" unsteady. 
"... he looked startled out of his five wits..."  "In the time of William Shakespeare, there were commonly reckoned to be five wits and five senses. The five wits were sometimes taken to be synonymous with the five senses, but were otherwise also known and regarded as the five inward wits, distinguishing them from the five senses, which were the five outward wits...  the five (inward) wits were "common wit", "imagination", "fantasy", "estimation", and "memory"." 
"He only told Dr. Watson, who was gabbling under his breath, to go on with the silent work that had to be done."  Idle chatter; fast and foolish talk. 
"Why write that? - and concludes at 5 p.m., Thursday, the 4th inst., G. F. Ames..."  I've only ever seen this in British literature.  Hard to look up, but some reader must know. 
"... a frogged smoking-jacket over the pyjamas."  "Ornamental fastening for front of coat made of button and loop."  
"They gave them short shrift in England.  Three clear Sundays after sentence, and then the walk at dawn [to execution]."  Originally, a rushed sacrament of confession (shrift) given to a prisoner who was to be executed very soon.  Now, A quick rejection or dismissal, especially one which is impolite and undertaken without proper consideration. 
"... the group fell silent, but terror was here as well as tensity..."  Tension (from the Latin).

"The next person we saw was Inspector Grimes.  He came pelting across a field to the west..."  To move rapidly, maybe related to "pellet."

"Clarke wanted to compass Logan's death."  To wrap his mind around; to embrace.

"Not being an actor of outstanding merit, I feared that my expressive dial might betray me..."  Face, typically of a clock, but Brit/Aus used for human face.

"There Mr. Campbell will find a portrait, by Lely, of this handsome termagant."  Originally a god thought by Christians to be worshipped by Muslims, but  used in modern English to mean a violent, overbearing, turbulent, brawling, quarrelsome woman; a virago, shrew, vixen. In the past, the word could be applied to any person or thing personified, not just a woman.

"... it takes a bit of doing to come out flat with it.  You're rather a gimlet eye, you know.  Or at least you have that reputation."  "To have a gimlet eye or to cast a gimlet eye means to stare at someone or something in a piercing manner, or to stare in an extremely watchful manner. The term gimlet eye is derived from the gimlet, a small piercing or boring tool first used in the mid-1300s."

"Good evening, sir!... Come to beard the lion in his den, you see!"  Challenge someone on their own ground, especially to ask a favor.  Beard as a verb is to bravely oppose, probably implying to grab by the beard.

"You knew, after that phone call, that the police would be coming in a brace of shakes, along the only road they could come."  A brace is a pair, so two shakes ?of a lamb's tail?

"With all due respect to the clock in the car belonging to Dr. Fellows ... I submit that his statement is tosh and eyewash."  Rubbish, trash, from 19th century British thieves' cant.

[at a community charity bazaar] "From the coconut-shy to the so-called "pond" where you fished for bottles..."  A coconut shy (or coconut shie) is a traditional game frequently found as a sidestall at funfairs and fêtes. The game consists of throwing wooden balls at a row of coconuts balanced on posts. Typically a player buys three balls and wins each coconut successfully dislodged. In some cases other prizes may be won instead of the coconuts.

"Even now Middlesworth did not comment or obtrude into the conversation."  To intrude, impose, cut in (Latin "thrust against")

"[in the Army]... you get, unheroically, that form of Diesel-oil-poisoning which in the Tank Corps is nevertheless as deadly as anything Jerry throws at you.  Typically hydrocarbon intoxication comes from ingestion; maybe fumes can be inhaled in the tank??

"... the uniformed commissionaire at the entrance to Beltring's [restaurant]"  A uniformed doorman [French].

"... rather like an intellectual Charles the Second, and (God's fish!) just as unprepossessing."  I couldn't find anything.

"That was why he had dossed down here in the chair."  Sleep; a place to sleep, esp cheap lodging house (Scand dorsk = "sleepy")

"Then I knew there was a greasy cord around my neck."  With reference to a dream about hanging.  Interesting; would imply that nooses used for hanging were typically greased = presumably to overcome friction and allow the noose to tighten maximally.

"A single drugget of brownish carpet ran along the wooden floor..."  Inexpensive cloth, from the French drogue ("cheap").

"He had been told to search; and, by the six horns of Satan, he would search."  ??? was Satan supposed to have six horns?

"... looking forward to the explanation Dr. Fell promised, when the Gargantuan doctor had said he would accompany Brian..."  [note in a preface to one of the books when Fell was described as "Chestertonian," that was also capitalized.]  Certainly Chestertonian should be capitalized, since it references G. K. Chesterton.  And Gargantua was of course a proper name, but to be honest I don't remember ever having seen "gargantuan" capitalized.

"She was staying incognita at a hotel overlooking the Quai du Mont Blanc."  The feminine form of incognito.

"He drew up at a white-painted barrier across the entrance to the open auto lobby." [in context, parking lot]

"With a certain desperation, they foregathered in the hall..."  Scottish "assemble".

"Set cater-cornered in the south-west angle of the room... was a piano..."  Cf. kitty-corner, catty-corner, cater-corner.  All the words come from the original base word cater which means “four” and comes from the French word for four: quatre... The Dictionary of American Regional English has even more variants: kitty-cross, kitty-katty, kittering, and kitty-wampus, which means “askew” instead of “diagonally across” like all the others

And finally, this remarkable passage is from Chapter 17 of The Three Coffins:
"I will now lecture," said Dr. Fell, inexorably, "on the general mechanics and development of the situation which is known in detective fiction as the 'hermetically sealed chamber.' Harrumph. All those opposing can skip this chapter. Harrumph. To begin with, gentlemen! Having been improving my mind with sensational fiction for the last forty years, I can say--" 
"But, if you're going to analyze impossible situations," interrupted Pettis, "why discuss detective fiction?" 
"Because," said the doctor, frankly, "we're in a detective story, and we don't fool the reader by pretending we're not. Let's not invent elaborate excuses to drag in a discussion of detective stories. Let's candidly glory in the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book." 
This "Locked Room Lecture" from that chapter is excerpted here.
"The Three Coffins is one of several--perhaps many--Carr novels that one ought to read twice in succession: the first to be bamboozled, the second to see how it was done." [Joshi]
Note: Most of these books will probably be available in public libraries.  For those who want to own personal copies for reading, I have listed this group of 16 paperbacks on eBay as a single lot (opens $16 + about $5 shipping, bidding to end next Sunday).

Facial reconstruction (Crouzon syndrome)

Crouzon syndrome is an autosomal dominant genetic disorder known as a branchial arch syndrome. Specifically, this syndrome affects the first branchial (or pharyngeal) arch, which is the precursor of the maxilla and mandible. 
This syndrome is named after Octave Crouzon, a French physician who first described this disorder. First called "craniofacial dysostosis" ("craniofacial" refers to the skull and face, and "dysostosis" refers to malformation of bone), the disorder was characterized by a number of clinical features which can be described by the rudimentary meanings of its former name. This syndrome is caused by a mutation in the fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGFR2), located on chromosome 10. The developing fetus's skull and facial bones fuse early or are unable to expand. Thus, normal bone growth cannot occur. Fusion of different sutures leads to abnormal patterns of growth of the skull.
More at the link, and some informed discussion at Pics.


08 July 2020

Not a dead leaf

Zaretis Itys, the skeletonized leafwing (or leaf wing) butterfly, found from Mexico to the Guyanas, Paraguay, Suriname and Brazil.

Pray for the President. Psalm 109, verse 8.

The man who retweeted this:

- and added this to public discourse:

We really should pray for him:

So, you want to be a professional model...

Via Neatorama.

What should you do with 300 dead bodies?

The photo shows the aftermath of lightning strikes in Norway in 2016.
In August 2016, a park ranger stumbled upon 323 dead wild tundra reindeer in Norway’s remote Hardangervidda plateau. They had been killed in a freak lightning event. But instead of removing the carcasses, the park decided to leave them where they were, allowing nature to take its course – and scientists to study this island of decomposition and how it might change the arctic tundra ecosystem. 
Over the years scientists observed the bloated, fly-infested bodies turn into dry skeletons. The latest paper, published by the Royal Society in June, looked at the creation of a “landscape of fear”, as top predators such as wolverines, golden eagles and arctic foxes took advantage of the carrion... 
Scavenger birds such as ravens, crows and eagles visited the highest density of carcasses in 2017 and then were nearly absent in 2018. The reverse was true of rodents (such as root vole, lemming, bank vole and field vole), which were absent from the site in 2017 and then were everywhere in 2018... 
Another discovery was that non-scavenger birds such as the meadow pipit, northern wheatear, common reed bunting, bluethroat and lapland bunting all fed on the “bloom” of arthropods, such as blowfly, that developed on the carrion... 
It is now widely accepted that leaving dead wood in forests benefits many species, but leaving carcasses is still taboo. This, along with concerns about the spread of disease, means there has historically been little research on how carrion returns nutrients to ecosystems. Frank says: “We’ve been focusing on animals when they’re alive, where they go, and where are they moving. I don’t know if it’s something about mortality, culturally, from the western perspective, that we’re a little bit averse to. I think people are now kind of warming up to cold bodies, at least in wildlife research. Everything is connected, and circular.”
More at the link.

Guillotine earrings

Via.  My search for a source mostly led to Pinterest and Etsy, so I can't confirm these were typical during the Reign of Terror.

Public execution by guillotine, 1939
Two contrasting French hairdos


From an op-ed at the Washington Post:
How does Trump absorb information? For decades, the president’s daily briefs (PDBs) have sounded early warnings on everything from enemy troop movements to pandemics to terrorist attacks. Yet under Trump, the president’s intelligence briefings have almost completely broken down. His oral briefings, given daily to most presidents, now take place as rarely as once or twice a week. These sessions often turn into monologues in which the president spitballs woolly conspiracy theories from Breitbart, Fox News and hangers-on at Mar-a-Lago, say intelligence officials who are familiar with his briefings. Convinced that the intelligence community is a “deep state,” honeycombed with traitors, the president rarely believes anything the CIA tells him... 
Trump’s current briefer, Beth Sanner, a highly regarded, 30-year CIA veteran, has endured a bumpier ride than Gistaro. When news broke that the alleged Russian bounties were included in the PDB, the Trump administration issued its usual denials and obfuscations. First, the president claimed the so-called reports were fake news. Then, he told Fox News that the intelligence was not credible enough to be in the PDB. Then the story changed again: If the intelligence was in the PDB, the White House said, his briefer didn’t bring it to Trump’s attention... 
The president is unbriefable. He will not listen to anything he does not want to hear.

Fireworks were banned in Los Angeles on the 4th

Photo cropped from the original (presumably stacked, not time-lapse).

Modernized videos from 1911-1913

Lots of interesting things to note.  Any modern viewer will be struck by the scarcity of vehicles, but I also was intrigued by the limited color palette for clothing, signs, and objects.  I suppose the chemical industries had not yet mass-manufactured synthetic dyes, and natural products would have been relatively expensive.  (Or perhaps the colorization process is limited in the degree to which it can saturate colors without distorting skin tones).  I liked the signs that hang at an angle over the street so that pedestrians can view them, and the young girls bouncing rubber balls.

06 July 2020

Gleanings from "Naked to Mine Enemies" - updated

I first read Naked to Mine Enemies in the 1960s when I subscribed to the superb Time Reading Program.  Read it again and enjoyed it about 20 years ago and again reshelved it for future rereads.  Now the future is here, so it's time to give it a "goodbye read." The book is arguably the best biography ever written about Thomas Wolsey, the Archbishop of York and effectively the "alter rex" of England in the early 1500s.  Herewith some excerpts from volume I:
"And so, obedient to a practice that belongs to no age and an irony that belongs to all ages, the Marquis saw that the schoolmaster must be rewarded for his good teaching by not teaching at all, by being withdrawn from teaching.  There was no future in teaching.  Education was to fit a man for something else."

"Miraculous cures had been accomplished, and many persons came in great penance and devotion; but not a few came for the ride, and the term Canterbury gallop, denoting the leisurely and pleasant pace of the horses of the pilgrims, had begun to take its place in the language, later to be reduced to the word canter."

(for the invasion of France):  "In intent and purpose the army of the King went to invade; but first and foremost it went to parade... The Earl of Northumberland carried with him a feather bed and mattress for his pavilion, "with cushions of silk, hangings of worsted, twelve dishes, six saucers, twelve silver spoons, two or three folding stools, a folding table, a close carriage with seven horses, two chariots each with eight horses, four carts each with seven horses, not to speak of a steward, a chamberlain, and a treasurer of the household, a treasurer of wars, two chaplains, a gentleman usher of the chamber, a master of the horse, carvers and cupbearers, a herald and a pursuivant."

"The whole question of dress needed to be reviewed; and the Parliament of 1515 passed an Act of Apparel fathered and furthered by Wolsey, which restricted the burgesses to their appropriate homespun and defined in more precise terms than did the earlier laws what men of the several classes would be permitted to wear.  The Act of Apparel went further.  It set up regulations in another area where the tendencies of persons of low order to ape their betters had begun to show themselves - the area of food.  Those who stood in the ranks of gentlemen were permitted to have three dishes at a meal; lords of Parliament, Lord Mayors, and Knights of the Garter could have six."

"[Buckingham] was brought back to the bar, and the Duke of Norfolk, as chief judge, pronounced the sentence of death for treason:  "To be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, there to be hanged, cut down alive, your members to be cut off and cast into the fire, your bowels burnt before your eyes, your head smitten off, your body to be quartered and divided at the King's will, and God have mercy on your soul... [Buckingham protests that he was not a traitor]... "... before his death, four days after his condemnation, the King relented and graciously consented that the Duke not have his bowels burnt before his eyes but that he be merely decapitated.  So he was, on May 17, 1521, to the astonishment and sympathy of the people far and wide."

"The whigmaleeries and involvements of foreign trade were no less a mystery to the overworked apprentices and workers of London than they would be to future generations...  From RampantScotland: ""Whigmaleerie" has a number of meanings, including a fanciful notion, a piece of ornamentation in a dress, a game played at a drinking club - and a fantastical contraption. Nowadays, it is often applied to a rotating clothes dryer in a garden."

[re the selection of a new Pope]: "Public interest in learning the name of the new pope was not altogether prompted by piety.  It was a quaint custom that the cardinal chosen should have his house ransacked and pillage before he could return to it, "an offense tolerated and overlooked in the general joy and license of the election."

[Wolsey] "set about to change England from a kingdom ruled by lords and whims into an orderly state... The very fact that he was a minister and not a king indicated that change had come about.  For a king, with his might and tyranny, to order this or that was one thing; for Wolsey under the King's approval to set up accounts, investigate prices, supervise the coinage, look to export licenses, regulate wages and prices, monitor the diet and dress of the people, devise graduated taxes - this was quite another.  The lines of a state which would have continuity were beginning to form."

"Wolsey's steady and relentless insistence upon regulation and responsibility, while it was often misguided, establishes gradually the consciousness of nationhood.  That consciousness was still dim when he came to power.  Men were primarily loyal to their class or their locality, not to their country.  Their loyalty lay naturally to what was close at hand.  ... there was simply nothing in the range of their experience to encompass the land of England as a whole, save at times of crisis.... the intense local loyalty which in the days of Wolsey's childhood could regard his father as an "alien" because he came from a village ten miles away - these attitudes showed what men felt and how limited was their sight.  The State was an abstraction just begining to emerge in men's minds..."

"Thomas Wolsey was in a sense the real Henry VIII, and the man who swaggers through history under that title was in effect Henry IX, a king whose performance was made possible by the work of Wolsey..."

Updated to add two items from the second part of the book. Wolsey's inability to secure a dispensation from the Pope for Henry's original marriage to Catherine ultimately led to his disfavor in the court and exile therefrom.  This was an interesting observation about Henry's marital situation:
"That a King who was one of the most envied and powerful princes of Christendom could not do as he pleased about his marriage had a sobering effect on the whole populace... made men reckon anew with marriage. 
The point involved might affect any marriage in England. Consanguinity, or affinity between two persons, had come to be looked upon as the devil's handiwork.  The most carefully arranged marriage, celebrated with every precaution in the face of the Church, might be invalidated by the discovery of this impediment.  "If the parties were related within the fourth degree - that is, if they had a common great-great-grandparent - then their union was null or void, unless a papal dispensation could be secured."  And this was only the beginning of the complications, for a husband was related to all his wife's relations and a wife to all her husband's...  This multiplication of impediments "made the formation of a valid marriage a matter of chance."  Parish registers offer many references to persons who had married in  ignorance of the fact that they were related within the prohibited degree.  And in some cases a husband might merely weary of his wife, and then suddenly discover that the two were related and that their marriage ought to be dissolved."
Imagine the complexities involved at the village level, where birth records were scattered, family trees not commonly created, and the populations small.  I should think in many small villages, everyone would be related to one another within four degrees.

Overall, the second part of this book was not as enjoyable as the first, perhaps because reading about someone's fall from grace is not as pleasant as reading about success.  Wolsey had risen from common stock to a life surrounded by nobility, and his rise to power had created a variety of enemies.  Economic conditions had become difficult in England because of drought, then floods, then by an epidemic plague of murrain, devastating the cattle and sheep herds.  The church and the state controlled much of the economy.
"A kingdom usually rich and verdant and teeming with animal life ached from repeated afflictions and suffered the justice of extremes, and the people who had confidently drawn their plenty from a beneficent land looked bitterly at the one who might be held accountable for prices and shortages. 
The government's measures for dealing with the effects of dislocations caused by drouth and flood could not have added to the popularity of the Cardinal... And the man in the red hat who had painstakingly identified himself with the government paid the penalty of assumed and flaunted responsibility... It was part of his function as Lord Chancellor to serve as a kind of effigy for the King, sparing the King actual contact with the populace and keeping the royal person sacrosanct... 
Suddenly the son of an innkeeper and grazier, who had risen to be the shield of the King, began to seem personally as well as officially offensive: the very manner of his living implied a disregard for the common lot, and the splendor of his palaces and the stateliness with which he moved through London... now offered an affront to a public suffering from diminished prosperity in some ranks and from actual hunger in others... 
The temper of the people had altered while the Cardinal was too energetically engaged in administering the regime to revise his values or see the changed look in men's eyes as he passed through the smells of the crowd, his protective orange stuffed with spices held beneath his nostrils... The man from Ipswich had in effect forsaken the woolsack of his father; he had risen too high to see what went on below, to observe that a "more frugal, prosaic and commercial element was daily gathering strength and ascendancy" and that this element "found itself more in conformity with the severe, rigid, and economic spirit of Protestantism than with the sumptuous ritual of the ancient Church, or the dazzling amusements of the court."
This was a longread, and perhaps in the end TMI for my needs, but it was a fascinating look at one of the most powerful men in the history of England.

In memoriam: Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone, the  Italian composer whose atmospheric scores for spaghetti westerns and some 500 films by a Who’s Who of international directors made him one of the world’s most versatile and influential creators of music for the modern cinema, died on Monday in Rome. He was 91... 
To many cineastes, Maestro Morricone (pronounced more-ah-CONE-ay) was a unique talent, crafting melodic accompaniments to comedies, thrillers and historical dramas by Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Terrence Malick, Roland Joffé, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino and other filmmakers. 
Mr. Morricone scored many popular films of the past 40 years: Édouard Molinaro’s “La Cage aux Folles” (1978), Mr. Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), Mr. De Palma’s “The Untouchables” (1987), Roman Polanski’s “Frantic” (1988), Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” (1988), Wolfgang Petersen’s “In the Line of Fire” (1993), and Mr. Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” (2015). 
In 2016, Mr. Morricone won his first competitive Academy Award for his score for “The Hateful Eight,” an American western mystery thriller for which he also won a Golden Globe. In a career showered with honors, he had previously won an Oscar for lifetime achievement (2007) and was nominated for five other Academy Awards, and had won two Golden Globes, four Grammys and dozens of international awards. 
But the work that made him world famous, and that was best known to moviegoers, was his blend of music and sound effects for Sergio Leone’s 1960s spaghetti westerns: a ticking pocket watch, a sign creaking in the wind, buzzing flies, a twanging Jew’s harp, haunting whistles, cracking whips, gunshots and a bizarre, wailing “ah-ee-ah-ee-ah,” played on a sweet potato-shaped wind instrument called an ocarina... 
Mr. Morricone looked professorial in bow ties and spectacles, with wisps of flyaway white hair. He sometimes holed up in his palazzo in Rome and wrote music for weeks on end, composing not at a piano but at a desk. He heard the music in his mind, he said, and wrote it in pencil on score paper for all orchestra parts.
More at The New York Times.  My mostest favorite composer ever.

Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold"

Morricone is perhaps my favorite modern composer.  Even better in my view than the embedded selection above is Jill's Theme in Once Upon a Time in the West, and the musical theme of Cinema Paradiso.

Addendum:  Here's an orchestral version, which I think is better than the film version, where the vocal is so toned down.

Reposted from 2012 to substitute an improved wide-screen video. 

Re-reposted to celebrate Ennio Morricone finally being awarded a well-deserved (and long-overdue) Academy Award. And re-re-reposted from 2016 to again replace the orchestral video with an updated one.

Re-re-re-reposted from 2016 in memoriam.

Music by Morricone

A couple days ago I wanted to read for an hour, so I asked Alexa to shuffle music by Ennio Morricone, who has become my favorite composer.  The first offering Alexa presented was the one embedded above.  I had to interrupt her to ask her to identify the song.  It sounded familiar, and I wondered if Morricone had written for Broadway or a movie I hadn't seen.

Identifying the piece took a while.  Searching the lyrics kept yielding links to an Australian group called Savage Garden.  Adding Celine Dion to the search finally led me to a tribute album.  And then I discovered that the lyrics had been added on to Morricone's well-known Deborah's Theme from Once Upon a Time in America.

Reposted from 2017 in memoriam.

Gabriel's Oboe (from The Mission)

Composed (and directed) by Ennio Morricone.

A relevant scene from the movie is here:

Reposted to celebrate Ennio Morricone finally being awarded a well-deserved (and long-overdue) Academy Award.

Re-reposted from 2016 in memoriam.

05 July 2020


(click pic to embiggen)

She joined me while I was reading on our deck yesterday evening.  A female, judging by the ovipositor, and presumably a juvenile based on the size of the wings.  I know next to nothing about orthoptera, but found some info at a UW-Milwaukee website:
"...in the family Tettigoniidae, the Long-horned Grasshoppers and Katydids. In order to belong to this club, your antennae have to be as long as or longer than your body... Male Katydids are all about sound (in some species, the females answer, but not loudly). And if their hind set of wings is dedicated to flight, their front pair was made for song. This they accomplish by stridulation (friction), rubbing the rigid edge of one forewing against a comb-like “file” on the other. What they produce may not sound like the classic “katy-did, katy didn’t;” that song is limited to a single genus of True Katydids. Fork-tailed Bush Katydids are the best singers of the “false katydids”, with a repertoire of clicks and buzzes. Because those who produce sound must be able to hear it, katydids have a slit-like ear (tympana) on each front leg. To pick up sound, they raise a leg in a gesture that is reminiscent of humans cupping their hand behind an ear. 
Hubbell says that Katydids challenge us to reevaluate our concept of “sound,” because in addition to the clicks and buzzes, some kinds of katydids have an ultra-ultrasonic call, while others produce, by thumping/stamping on twigs in species-specific tempos, vibrations that are detected by other katydids. For many insects there is no line between “heard” and “felt,” and the vocabulary of our sensory experience may be inadequate to express theirs."

Mount Russia-more

As portrayed this week on Russia’s premier state media channel Rossiya-1.

Asking for suggestions re Father Brown

I've finished reading all the John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson mysteries.  Carr apparently was an admirer of G.K. Chesterton's classic "Father Brown" series of mysteries.  Can a reader here recommend a selection of his short stories? I don't have time to read everything, so I'd like to sample the best.  Thanks in advance.

04 July 2020

Fireworks safety video

Via Neatorama.

The Arctic is warming REALLY fast

"... already this year, fires in the spring arrived earlier and with more ferocity, government officials have said. In the territory where Deyev lives, fires were three times as large this April as the year before. And the hot, dry summer lies ahead... 
“We always expected the Arctic to change faster than the rest of the globe,” said Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “But I don’t think anyone expected the changes to happen as fast as we are seeing them happen.”.. The temperatures occurring in the High Arctic during the past 15 years were not predicted to occur for 70 more years... 
Neither Dallas nor Houston has hit 100 degrees yet this year, but in one of the coldest regions of the world, Siberia’s “Pole of Cold,” the mercury climbed to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) on June 20. 
Scientists have long maintained that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. But in reality, the region is now warming at nearly three times the global average. Data from NASA shows that since 1970, the Arctic has warmed by an average of 5.3 degrees (2.94 Celsius), compared with the global average of 1.71 degrees (0.95 Celsius) during the same period. Scientists refer to the phenomenon as “Arctic amplification."
The melting of snow and ice earlier in the spring exposes darker land surfaces and ocean waters. This switches these areas from being net reflectors of incoming solar radiation to heat absorbers, which further increases land and sea temperatures."
More grim reality at The Washington Post.

Thomas Jefferson's sixth great-grandson

Some relevant comments at DamnThat'sInteresting.  More about Shannon LaNier and the creation of the portrait at Smithsonian (with interesting video), via BoingBoing.

Counterfeit mint marks

This is the most interesting thing I've read all week.  I started collecting coins when I was a kid, though the hobby has been inactive for decades.  Mint marks are crucial in determining the value of a coin, and most collectors realize that they can be altered by abrading them off, or by adding extra metal (typically crudely done).  Yesterday the Madison Coin Club circulated an article from CoinWeek explaining that mint marks can be added from the inside of the coin.
This curious alteration, known as an embossed mintmark, began turning up in the late 1970s and early ‘80s on coins bearing thick edges and on which any mintmark would typically be found near the rim. Buffalo Nickels certainly fit that bill. So, too, do Morgan Dollars...

What’s an embossed mintmark? It’s a mintmark that has pushed up from inside the coin – that’s the embossing process. But how’s something like this done? By drilling a tiny hole through the edge of the coin under the place where the mintmark will be situated on the coin. To emboss the mintmark, a device resembling needle-nosed pliers is used; on the inside of one jaw is the mintmark, and on the inside of the other is padding to prevent scratches and other damage on the surface receiving the embossed mintmark. With the mintmark-side of the pliers in the drilled-out hole, pressure is then applied on the pliers and the mintmark is embossed onto the coin from within. The access hole on the edge of the coin is then filled with a material such as lead and sanded or sculpted to resemble the surrounding authentic edge...

A miscreant who endeavors in such fraud must have a lot of patience – and access to dental tools – to emboss bogus mintmarks. But it’s been done… countless times. How many embossed mintmarks are out there is anybody’s guess. But these phonies are prevalent enough on the marketplace that collectors need to be wary.
Image from the source (I added the arrow pointing to the "S" mint mark).

Remember to clean your clothes dryer vent - updated

It's not sufficient to clean the lint trap screen on your appliance.  We did that for 15 years, but still found the efficiency of the dryer decreasing, so we called in the services of a professional.  The first thing he did was remove the contorted connector (above) that ran between the dryer and the wall conduit.  The previous owner of the house had done this because the dryer vent outlet and the wall site were not in line horizontally or vertically.   This segment was not occluded with lint, but it's inefficient and prone to collecting debris.

The replacement (not shown) is a short "transition vent" that runs diagonally; it will need to be detached in order to move the dryer out to clean the floor etc, but it's less likely to become plugged with lint.

The next step was to clean inside the dryer by removing the front panel. 

I've highlighted with a red oval the problem he usually finds - an accumulation of dust and (in our case) cat hair.   When home clothes dryers catch fire, THIS is the where the combustible material is typically located.  And most importantly, this material is NOT derived from the clothes in the dryer - it gets sucked into the cabinet from the floor of the room.

Think about it.  The dryer is going to heat and spin and blow air out its vent.  To do that, it has to pull air in from somewhere.  Not from outdoors, where the air might be subzero, but from behind itself and from the floor of the room.  Even if you're careful about cleaning, over the years dust and debris will accumulate.

The next step was cleaning the conduit between the utility room and the outdoors.  In our case, that conduit ran up the inside of the wall between the utility room and the garage, then horizontally between a crawlspace and the roof of the garage, then exited high on the outside wall.

Too high for me to access.  I don't have a ladder that long, and if I did, I wouldn't go up except at gunpoint.  He went up and removed the louvers that covered the vent.  The louvers were twisted and didn't move freely.  This happens because the exiting air is hot enough to warp the plastic slats of the louver (this risk is present on clothes-dryer vents, but not on ones for room-temp air such as bathroom vents).  He reached in and dropped down to me a handful of what he found inside:

That's typical clothes lint - the stuff that works its way through the trap in the dryer.

The next step was to clean the entire conduit - probably 30-40 feet in length.  On the internet I had read reports of homeowners claiming success in cleaning such vents by adapting the output of a leaf blower to the indoor end and blowing the ducts out.  He explained that it's seldom that simple.  The lint that exits sometimes carries some moisture and especially at bends or joins in the tubing it can accumulate in a consistency not unlike papier-mâché.

What professionals use (I didn't take a photo) is the air-duct equivalent of a Roto-Rooter for water drains.   It's a flexible "snake" with brushes that rotate as it traverses the ducts.  And as it goes through, vacuum is applied from the inside to suck out the material that is coating the duct.

Finally, he replaced the louver with an animal-exclusion cage (it lifts up for cleaning if lint accumulates).  Our exit site did not contain a bird's nest or any evidence of animal invasion.  Birds do sometimes nest in these sites if they are open (he had recently serviced the vents at an apartment complex where a dozen of the 30-40 vents had bird nests in them).  Chipmunks and other small rodents will nest in these locations if the outlet is low on the wall.  Bats are not a problem because they do not tolerate the heat.

We couldn't be happier with the result.  The first load we ran dried in probably half the time that similar loads required in the past, so there will be a saving in electricity plus much less wear and tear on tumbling clothes, plus eliminating one potential risk for a house fire.

Finally, a shout-out to the crew:

They were highly efficient and totally professional.  Their offices are on Odana Road in Madison, Wisconsin.

Addendum:  There is a relevant current article on "Dryer Duct Safety" in Reuben Saltzman's incomparable home inspection blog.

Reposted from 2017 to add this incredible GIF ("Renters demand a new dryer since this one "isn't working well"").
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