31 January 2020

Cancellations on Denmark's first postage stamps

This post will likely be of interest only to stamp collectors, but before discarding some old philatelic auction catalogues, I wanted to preserve a couple items for future reference.  

Denmark's first postage stamps were issued in 1851 - a blue 2 Rigsbank skilling issue for local delivery in Copenhagen, and the more commonly encountered 4 Rigsbank skilling ("Fire R.B.S.") issues shown here.  

Cancellations are used by postal authorities as a form of revenue protection (to prevent reuse of the stamps), and to a lesser extent for administrative purposes to document where letters originated and how they were transported.  The first issues in Denmark were cancelled with four-ring "mute" cancels (with a dot in the center); clerks were instructed to center these on the stamp and did so with varying degrees of efficiency.  

Shown in the top image is a philatelic rarity (prices shown in all the images are auction opening bids, expressed in IIRC Swedish or Danish kronor).  The item shown is an intact cover, cancelled on the first day the stamp was issued (April 1, 1851).  As the catalog entry notes, the cancel and the postmark are in blue ink, which was used in Copenhagen during that first week.

Full covers are rare because early collectors were interested only in the stamps, which were soaked or steamed off envelopes and mounted in albums.  The second image shows some individual FIRE R.B.S. stamps from that auction.  These have been "plated" by specialists, so they are identified by the plate from which the stamp was printed and even the position of the stamp on the plate.  Note that the third example is offered at a higher opening bid because of the blue cancel, which marks it as having been mailed during that first week of issue.

Another group of cancels seen especially during the first year were "manuscript" cancels, where the obliteration was performed by the postmaster by hand using an ink pen (or, as in the first example ink and chalk).   I believe these were more commonly done is smaller rural post offices, and were officially frowned upon (and eventually banned), so they also carry a premium in the modern marketplace.

The "mute" cancels were followed in October of 1852 by "numeral" cancels, still with obliterating rings, but now with numbers that corresponded to specific post offices or postal facilities.  Reference books provide rarity values for each of the numbers (those from small villages being especially uncommon, and sought by collectors).  Even rarer than the small town ones are the two shown above: the "183" used only when the king was in residence at his castle, and the "230" used briefly before a German invasion (these examples on 4-skilling stamps with wavy spandrels issued in 1863).

And one final uncommon item.   A few Fire R.B.S. stamps received "rebellion" cancels ("oprørsstempel" - think "uproar") from the Schleswig-Holstein rebellion of 1848-51.  The "first Schleswig war" ended about the time that adhesive postal stamps were introduced, but I think what happened was that some of the cancellers were retained and used by Danish postoffices after the conflict ended.  The opening bid shows how uncommon good examples are.

Counterfeit $1 bills

Amazing.  It used to be thought that it wasn't worthwhile for malefactors to counterfeit bills smaller than $20, but now...
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the International Falls Port of Entry seized $900,000 in counterfeit United States currency Friday that was discovered in a commercial rail shipment originating from China...

Due to the vigilance of CBP officers, a rail container was referred for a Customs Exam Station inspection on Dec. 14, 2019.  During the examination, CBP discovered 45 cartons of possible counterfeit currency in the form of $1 bills with a total face value of $900,000.

Opting out of housekeeping at hotels

First came the pleas to re-use bathroom towels at hotels as a way to help the environment.

Now, more operators are asking guests to skip housekeeping altogether — and they’re willing to sweeten the deal. Under programs with names like “Make a Green Choice,” “Greener Stay” and “Green for Green,” hotels are rewarding customers who choose not to have their rooms serviced during their stay with loyalty points, food and drink vouchers or other incentives.

Such opt-out programs have been around the industry for more than 10 years; Starwood, now part of Marriott, started Make a Green Choice in 2009. But observers say the practice has been spreading more in recent years, especially at mid-level properties...

Disney’s option doesn’t even tout an environmental goal; it just offers guests at value or moderate resorts a $10 Disney gift card per night (excluding the first night) if they opt out of room cleaning.
I've always considered daily housekeeping in a hotel to be totally unnecessary, but the source article raises the question of what this trend means for hotel workers.

Sharing the sea with whale sharks (Philippines)

Credit in the watermark, via.

Whale fossil in the Sahara Desert

Via Reddit, where the discussion thread quickly devolved into questions about whether a bowl of petunias was found at the site.  Science information at the Wikipedia page on Wadi El Hitan.

"There were giants in the earth in those days..."

Archelon is an extinct marine turtle from the Late Cretaceous, and is the largest turtle ever to have been documented, with the biggest specimen measuring 460 cm (15 ft) from head to tail, 400 cm (13 ft) from flipper to flipper, and 2,200 kg (4,900 lb) in weight. It is known only from the Dakota Pierre Shale and has one species.
The holotype pictured above is in the Yale Peabody Museum.

30 January 2020

The micrographia of Robert Walser

I listened to a fascinating story in the "Small Things Considered" podcast of This American Life (in Act 3 - "What the Eye Can't See")
After Walser died, a nurse in one of his hospitals came forward with these strange scraps of paper. His sister had a shoebox full of them too-- hundreds of little scraps, used postcards, business cards, old calendar pages ripped in half. And those little shreds were just covered in ant-like pencil markings, dense little rows of tiny slashes and ticks, packed onto shreds of paper. Everyone thinks it's just mad-man scrawl, and they put the papers away.

A few months later, his friend, who, for years, was one of the only people who really visited him in the hospital, publishes a blown-up photo of one of these scraps in a Swiss literary magazine. "Undecipherable," he writes, "a product of Walser's schizophrenia." But when the magazine comes out, a grad student writes in saying, Wait, I can read this. I think those scratchings are letters.

He got the papers and spent months staring at 24 pages trying to decipher the tiny handwriting. It turned out to be an entire novel. But there were still hundreds more scraps. It wasn't until the 1980s that someone tackled the rest of them...
It's worth the listening time to hear the full story (audio clip here).  More on Robert Walser.

"Winterkill" explained (and updated)

From a report in the StarTribune in 2011:
Those big December snowfalls have crews on some Minnesota lakes heading onto the ice earlier than usual this winter in an effort to prevent mass fish kills.  They're on a rescue mission to install aerators and create open water before oxygen levels plummet to the point that fish essentially suffocate under the ice. Some lakes are already showing faster-than-usual oxygen depletion...

Winterkill is a natural process that happens when fish don't have enough dissolved oxygen in water, he said. Because of the ice cover, oxygen in winter comes mainly from aquatic plants, which receive enough sunlight through ice to grow.  But in years with lots of snow, sunlight penetrates ice less and plants stop growing. Instead of producing oxygen in water, the plants consume it as they die and decompose...

Sometimes it kills all the fish in a lake, he said, and sometimes it only affects part of a lake or some species of fish. It is more of an issue in southern Minnesota, he said, where more lakes tend to be shallower...
A new photo and additional details in 2014:

Lauer said the first fish to die are game fish: walleyes, bass, panfish, perch and northern. Then rough fish such as carp, suckers and bullheads succumb.

“I’d say bullheads go last,’’ said Lauer. “If we get [dead] bullheads … we know it’s been a significant kill.’’..

“I’ve never seen [this lake] winterkill,’’ said Frankie Dusenka of Frankies Live Bait and Marine in Chisago City. “There’s still 36-plus inches of ice around here; it’s amazing.’’

DNR officials drilled holes around the lake and found very low oxygen levels — 1 part per million or less. Normally, the level would be 8 to 12 parts per million...

The DNR assesses lakes with winterkill and determines whether to restock them or let natural reproduction occur. Sometimes the fish kills can help a lake by removing rough fish or reducing the number of small game fish, allowing survivors to grow larger.
Lower photo credit: Allan Nistler, StarTribune.

Reposted again, because it's happening again:
Layers of ice, slush and deep snow on lakes north of the Twin Cities could lead to a rash of fish kills this year on shallow lakes susceptible to losses of oxygen, state fisheries managers say.

Especially if the winter drags on without a big thaw, experts for the Department of Natural Resources say this could be the third winter in a row for partial kills of panfish and largemouth bass in vegetated lakes less than 20 feet deep...

... anglers in the region [have been] turning on aeration systems in their favorite shallow lakes. Fifty-eight machines are now running in Carstensen’s area compared to 79 a year ago at this time...

In other cases where there’s been a heavy fish kill on a shallow lake, the DNR sometimes will stock walleye fry. Without predation by other species, the baby walleyes can grow relatively quickly.

The face of methamphetamine

The photo on the right is at age 41.

Minnesota pays homeowners to make lawns bee-friendly

A new spending program approved by lawmakers in 2019 called Lawns to Legumes sets aside $900,000 annually to pay homeowners who replace traditional lawns with bee-friendly wildflowers, clover and native grasses, The Star Tribune reported. It's part of a larger effort to help the state's declining bee population.

Although the wildflowers and native grasses will benefit all species of bees, the hope is that unmanicured lawns will specifically attract and help the rusty patched bumblebee. Once abundant across a wide swath of North America, the bee species (Bombus affinis) was formally listed as endangered in March 2017. The fuzzy, striped critters have suffered an 87% decline in population since the mid-1990s due to factors such as climate change, pesticide exposure, habitat loss, population fragmentation and diseases transmitted from infected commercial domesticated honeybees.

The program will cover up to $350 of the cost for homeowners who convert their lawns. The grants may cover more in areas targeted as "high potential" to support rusty patched bees. 
Here is the webpage on Lawns to Legumes.

Superman's advice re immigrants (1960)

I found this page in a 1960 "Bob Hope" comic book (published by DC comics).

Everyone knows that Superman was an immigrant; fewer people realize that "the creators of Superman, the scenarist Jerry Siegel and the draughtsman Joe Shuster, were children of Jewish immigrants."

29 January 2020


"Paepalanthus is a genus of plants in the family Eriocaulaceae. It has about 300-400 species, native mostly to tropical Africa and Latin America, with a few species in Japan and Madagascar."
A tip of the blogging hat to reader SnowMan, who located the source:  Marcio Cabral from Brazil  submitted the image to the 2017 SIPA photo contest and won an Honorable Mention/

Scrapbook, part VI

The text on these pages can be very difficult to read. One possible workaround is to right-click on a page to open it in a new tab, then zoom the image on that tab.

"Land yacht"

"Jean Bugatti, standing next to his Bugatti Royale, one of seven built (1932)".  Some informed commentary at the OldSchoolCool discussion thread.

28 January 2020

Lunch with grandma

Cartoon found in the discussion thread of this image:

When the plague victims began to recover

Philadelphia in 1793 was the nation's capital while Washington was being built; it had 55,000 residents and was a major port, with traffic from subtropical islands where yellow fever was endemic.  Yellow fever had been part of the Philadelphia's history back to its founding by William Penn; they knew it as "the Barbados distemper."

This book discusses in great detail the yellow fever epidemic that devastated the city that year, with a focus on Benjamin Rush, the famous physician.  He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. a participant in the Continental Congress, and an overall civic leader for the city of Philadelphia.  Rush read descriptions of yellow fever in Virginia in 1741, where the observation had been made that the abdominal viscera of the victims were filled with blood, and "must be cleaned out by immediate evacuation."  Rush decided to apply this basic principle in 1793, even though other physicians were beginning to be wary of bloodletting and purges.

Here are some excerpts from the book:
"An ill-timed scrupulousness about the weakness of the body" on the part of a physicain was fatal, Rush read.  It was that very weakness which made evacuations necessary... The physician should produce these evacuations by "lenitive chologoque purges."  Mitchell [from 1741] asserted boldly, "I have given a purge... when the pulse has been so low, that it could hardly be felt, and the debility extreme, yet both one and the other have been restored by it."

"Bloodletting he had generally tried, but in small amounts.  Now he realized he must take enough blood to remove all inflammatory stimulus..."

[not everyone agreed]  "Physicians realized he was approaching the realms of God's natural order, and approaching with violence; laymen realized their simple cures were not without effect..."

"Dr. Joseph Goss of Second Street averred that he had treated above sixty patients with considerable success by inducing a heavy sweat for twelve hours, giving ditiny tea with molasses and a decoction of twelve turnips, one endive, and eight carrots boiled in a gallon of water down to three quarts, a clyster every four or five hours, balsam or camphor for coughing, and ipecacuahna for nausea."

 "Calamities multiplied beyond number.  A man named Collins buried his wife, two daughters, a son, his son's wife and child; he married again, buried his new wife, and died himself."

[as the epidemic raged] "Soon Rush and his pupils gave up even elementary precautions.  They threw away their vinegar rags [for face masks], and when there were not enough bowls for his pupils to use, the young men would take patients out to the front yard on Walnut Street and bleed them as they stood in the open air.  The blood flowed freely on the ground, dried and putrefied there, stank hideously, drew flies and mosquitoes..."

"Rush was, a contemporary wrote, "wonderfully entangled in the web of his honest sophistry."  It was sophistry of his own making.  He was not following old errors; he was consciously, proudly departing from them into new and greater errors of his own.  He was not misled by others; indeed, others whom he should have respected argued forcefully against him.  He was not justified by his observations; his observations... even as he records them, show how wrong he was.  Yet as he watched death a thousand times that fall, he continued to believe himself right, his cure successful, his patients helped."

"It is a still more difficult matter to explain how anyone he treated survived Rush's ministrations, particularly when we learn that he, like his contemporaries, thought there was about twice as much blood in the human body as there really is.  Rush was willing to take as much as a quart of blood at a time, and to repeat this process several times in two or three days.  When his great purge caused the bowels to bleed, he thought this merely an additional benefit supplementing his venesection.  The more blood loss, the better.  He urged that bleeding be continued at intervals until "four-fifths of the blood contained in the body are drawn away."  Dr. Physick was bled twenty-two times, Dr James Mease lost 162 ounces..."

"But it was not the fact of death that people dreaded; death was familiar to them all.  Every year, without a plague, a quarter of all children born died before they learned to walk; half of all mankind perished before the age of nine.  What shocked people was a sudden mass of death..."
This isn't a book that I would recommend to everyone, because it is way too detailed for a general audience.  But to those with careers in medicine it is just startlingly interesting.  What amazes me is that patients suffering from a disease characterized by vomiting and bloody diarrhea, on the verge of dying of hypovolemic shock, were "treated" with emetics, laxatives, and massive bloodletting.  It boggles the modern mind. 

I have to conclude with the best phrase in the book:
"...Benjamin Franklin's observation that in Barbados the inhabitants began to recover from the fever only after the doctors had run out of medicine."
Related:  "The Humane Society for Recovering Persons from Suspended Animation &c"

One good result of the yellow fever epidemic

Here's an interesting story told in the book "Bring Out Your Dead" that I reviewed above.  I thought this excerpt was worth posting separately.
"Among Quakers John Todd, Jr, was known as a promising attorney... Four years earlier, John had married a lovely southern belle, Dolley Payne, and installed her in a pleasant home at Fourth and Walnut... When the pestilence began, John moved Dolley... to a farm home near Gray's Ferry... Early in October his father, a schoolmaster in Chestnut Street, fell ill of the fever; so did his mother.  John attended them both, but they died... he rode down to Gray's Ferry to his wife and children.  At the doorstep, fainting, he gasped out to Dolley's mother, "I feel the fever in my veins, but I must see her once more."  Dolley, still weak from her confinement, came down the stairs only in time to gather him in her arms... He died that evening.

For weeks afterward Dolley Todd lay close to death with fever, and the infection passed through her whole family.   The new little baby died; but winter came on [killing mosquitoes], and she and her older son recovered.  They returned with her mother to the city, where the mother began to take in gentlemen boarders.  The handsome young widow of lawyer Todd was an appealing spectacle.  Senator Aaron Burr certainly thought so... It was Senator Burr who introduced Dolley Todd to Congressman James Madison of Virginia.  That the distinguished statesman was twenty years her senior, even that he was a head shorter than she, did not long deter the lady... Dolly married James Madison, and entered upon a career that would have amazed her simple, adoring Quaker lawyer.  Dolley Madison's role in history began in the yellow fever of 1793."
And now you know - as Paul Harvey used to say - "the rest of the story."

Related: Dolley Madison on "American Experience." [30-minute video about how Dolley Madison invented the position of First Lady.]

"Witch bottle" found in Virginia

The bottle, jade blue and less than half a foot in height, was plucked in 2016 from the soil dividing traffic on Interstate 64 between exits 238 and 242 in York County. William & Mary archaeologists were inspecting the area for any remaining artifacts in advance of a highway-widening project by the Virginia Department of Transportation...

Witch bottles can be traced to the East Anglia region of England in the late Middle Ages, according to a summary of research on the subject by JSTOR Daily. The bottles typically included human urine, hair or fingernail clippings and sharp objects such as nails, pins or thorns.
The objects were intended to lure witches or malevolent spirits with the urine, hair or fingernail clippings, then trap them with nails or pins — a low-tech witch hunt. Nearly 200 have been found in Britain, where researchers have launched a multiyear survey and study of witch bottles, complete with a social media-aided #WitchBottleHunt campaign to educate the public on identifying the artifacts. Last year, contractors razing an old pub found a suspected witch bottle containing fish hooks, teeth and a mysterious liquid.
More at the Washington Post.

Solar panels vs. historic preservation committees

As reported in the Washington Post:
It is a debate playing out in towns and cities across the country, as the priorities of historic districts collide with the growing enthusiasm for clean energy. From the Great Lakes to the Black Hills, property owners worried about climate change find themselves debating the fine points of dormer contours and shingle color with preservationists worried about architectural integrity.

The conflict is especially acute in Washington, where a concerted push for solar is taking place amid historic preservation agencies that in their territorial and procedural complexity rival the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Some permit seekers have found themselves snarled for months, or even years, trying to convince regulators of the aesthetic merits of proposed solar installations...

Green said she has no problem with existing historic district regulations that allow solar cells on flat roofs, where they cannot be seen from the street. But she believes it would be a mistake to permit installations on sloped roofs like those visible on the facades of many bungalows in her neighborhood...

“I think people just get stuck in trying to preserve a certain look when, gosh, I mean, we do have to evolve,” Stanslaw said. “If that is going to require that we change our views on what is aesthetically pleasing, we really have to find some common ground.”
When we moved into a Madison subdivision twenty years ago, the neighborhood association guidelines allowed solar panels but advised placing them in inconspicuous locations, out of view from the street.  This past year one neighbor retrofitted his house and garage roofs with dozens of panels directly facing the street, with no objections from anyone.  But perhaps a 40-year old subdivision is different from a 200-year-old one.

Interesting comic book advertisement (1960)

I'm in the process of doing a final re-read on my old comic book collection before selling them on eBay.  The "comic" aspects of them have disappeared over the years, but there are some other interesting features, including the advertisements.  Most of the back-cover feature ads have been for bicycles, BB guns, toys, or related comics, but the one above from 1960 was particularly interesting.

I wonder how many "Kraft Ball Parks" were constructed, and if any still exist.  Google didn't locate any for me.

Addendum:  A tip of the hat to reader krossbow, who found this story about Bentleyville, Pennsylvania:
Community life is a focal point of Bentleyville, and residents gather at Richardson Park to support local sports teams, hold graduation parties and weddings, do laps on the walking track or play on the playground.
Caramel Park is home to Bentleyville Youth Baseball. The baseball fields were built in 1960 when Bentleyville won a national contest sponsored by Kraft Corp., after residents sold more than 55,000 bags of the sweet, chewy caramels. Members of Bentleyville’s Little League baseball team were invited to New York City to appear on the Perry Como Show after they won the contest...

Good boy

"I was laughing and my dog thought I was hyperventilating and got me my emergency inhaler."

Via the DogsWithJobs subreddit.

27 January 2020

A visit to a "wet market" in Guangzhou (1986)

The current consensus is that the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan probably started in a wildlife market in the city, where residents shop for living and recently butchered animals, as reported in the New York Times:
The typical market in China has fruits and vegetables, butchered beef, pork and lamb, whole plucked chickens — with heads and beaks attached — and live crabs and fish, spewing water out of churning tanks. Some sell more unusual fare, including live snakes, turtles and cicadas, guinea pigs, bamboo rats, badgers, hedgehogs, otters, palm civets, even wolf cubs.The markets are fixtures in scores of Chinese cities, and now, for at least the second time in two decades, they are the source of an epidemic...

This is where you get new and emerging diseases that the human population has never seen before,” said Kevin J. Olival, a biologist and vice president of research with EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research organization, who has tracked previous outbreaks...

On Taobao, a popular Chinese online shopping platform, all manner of live wildlife can be had. A baby badger costs 1,300 renminbi, or $187. A farmer from Hunan, the province directly south of Hubei, sells civets, the source of SARS, for the equivalent of $215 each — discounted to $200 if one buys 500 or more.
I spent several weeks in the PRC back in 1986, shortly after the country opened to Western visitors.  The trip included a couple days in Guangzhou, where friends of mine went out to a "snake restaurant" for lunch and then to the wildlife market while I was busy with other activities.  After I returned to Kentucky, one of them sent me a couple photos, including the one above.

I don't know if/when I'll get back to this topic again, so before I close this post I'll insert my favorite photo from the trip, taken obviously at the Great Wall (near Beijing):

I was 34 years younger then, and in way better health, because in order to get away from the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds near the entrance to the wall, you have to hike for miles - and mostly uphill - to reach spots like this.  I have nothing but fond memories of that trip and of the Chinese people.

The "Oxford comma" - updated

In English language punctuation, a serial comma or series comma (also called Oxford comma and Harvard comma) is a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms.

For example, a list of three countries might be punctuated either as "France, Italy, and Spain" (with the serial comma), or as "France, Italy and Spain" (without the serial comma)...  It is used less often in British English, but some British style guides require it, including The Oxford Style Manual...

The style that always uses the serial comma may be less likely to result in ambiguity. Consider the apocryphal book dedication quoted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden:
To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.
There is ambiguity about the writer's parentage, because Ayn Rand and God can be read as in apposition to my parents, leading the reader to believe that the writer claims Ayn Rand and God are the parents. A comma before and removes the ambiguity: To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.

An example collected by Nielsen Hayden was found in a newspaper account of a documentary about Merle Haggard:
Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.
The Times once published an unintentionally humorous description of a Peter Ustinov documentary, noting that "highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector". This would still be ambiguous if a serial comma were added, as Mandela could then be mistaken for a demigod, although he would be precluded from being a dildo collector.
Much more at the link.

RelatedIs the semicolon an endangered symbol? 

Reposted from 2017 to add the photo above, from an article in The Guardian reporting on the controversy over the absence of an Oxford comma on the new Brexit 50p coin:
It is a debate that has torn the nation in two, ripped friends and family apart, and entrenched deep and uncrossable lines throughout the land. Should the Royal Mint have used an Oxford comma on its Brexit 50p piece?..

... early responses include His Dark Materials novelist Philip Pullman’s criticism of its punctuation.
“The ‘Brexit’ 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people,” wrote the novelist on Twitter, while Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell wrote that, while it was “not perhaps the only objection” to the Brexit-celebrating coin, “the lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me”.
It seems appropriate to close with this observation by Lynne Truss, author of the delightful style guide Eats, Shoots & Leaves*:
"There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don't, and I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken." 
 *read this book if you enjoy the English language.

26 January 2020

Best car ever

In 1972 I was in the first year of my first full-time job when my 1966 Ford began to sputter on the highway, then died and wouldn't restart.  I had it towed to a mechanic, who discovered that someone had poured sugar into my gas tank.  The cost to redrill the cylinders and clean the fuel system was more than the value of the car, so I sold it for basically scrap metal.

I had little savings and my salary was only $5,200/year, so I had to quickly find something cheap and reliable to get me to work.   I walked to a nearby Volkswagen dealership and was granted a loan to purchase their basic not-even-a-radio Beetle for IIRC less than $2,000.  As part of the deal, the salesperson taught me how to drive a stick shift.

That lemon yellow Beetle did its job for five years, never failing to get me where I needed to go.  When it came time to sell and I put the Polaroid above on the wall at my workplace, I discovered that people in Dallas, Texas weren't eager to buy a car with no air conditioning.  So I sold it to my mom up in Minnesota.  She drove it another 6-8 years from the distant western suburbs of Minneapolis to get to her downtown job as a burn unit nurse at the county hospital, including through every winter snowstorm.  She was so delighted with it that when she traded it in, she chose another Volkswagen.

I was reminded of this old VW when I encountered a Marketwatch article saying that the road to riches should be driven in a cheap car ("Buying new cars is like taking $40,000 and setting it on fire.")  I totally agree.

"Country Life" humor from Punch, part III

Over a period of many years I clipped out selections from the "Country Life" section of Punch magazine and stored them in a "humor" scrapbook. When I hosted parties at my apartment I would invite guests to sit down and try to read two pages while controlling their emotions and not smiling or laughing. I don't recall anyone successfully doing so. Now I'll try posting the pages here in the blog, a couple at a time.

The text on these pages can be very difficult to read. One possible workaround is to right-click on a page to open it in a new tab, then zoom the image on that tab.

24 January 2020

Can there be a "good" bibliocaust?

Every decries the burning of books - but what if the "good guys" are burning the "bad books"?  Herewith some excerpts from an article in Lapham's Quarterly:
The Allies signed Order No. 4, on the “Confiscation of Literature and Material of a Nazi and Militarist Nature” on May 13, 1946. It prohibited works that promoted Nazism, fascism, militarism, racism, völkisch ideas, antidemocratic views, and civil disorder. It required schools, universities, and public libraries, as well as booksellers and publishers, to remove these works from their shelves and deliver them to Allied authorities; they would then be “placed at the disposal of the Military Zone commanders for destruction.” American officials must have assumed that Order No. 4, as an extension of earlier policies, would attract little notice when they announced it in Berlin that day. Instead, reporters clamored for explanation and demanded a second briefing. In a hastily organized press conference that night, Vivian Cox, an ex-WAC and a low-level assistant in the Armed Forces Division, was called in to address the skeptical crowd. She told them that a single passage could condemn a book and “billions” of volumes might be seized. “Was the order different in principle from Nazi book burnings?” they asked. “No, not in Miss Cox’s opinion,” reported Time. This was a front-page story: Americans were burning books...

Public libraries and universities were initially seen in a different light. The Handbook for Military Government, issued in December 1944, had ruled that books in these libraries “not be removed, impounded, or destroyed.” Education and Religious Affairs in particular favored unrestricted access to any library material, drawing a distinction between adult reading and re­quired school textbooks. Through the spring, however, the policy hardened...

Removing Nazi literature from German homes proved to be a red line. Although a committee drafted a directive to this effect, it aroused strong opposition in the U.S. Control Council. To accomplish this goal, one general objected, they would need not only a vast index expurgatorius of “tens of thousands of titles” but also armies of inspectors to search every home and bookshelf.

A map of Mormonism

Via the MapPorn subreddit, where a reader comments that the map "displays what percentage of the total population are Mormons, not total number of Mormons per county. It also cuts off at 2%."

Boing Boing is celebrating their vicennium

Kudos to Boing Boing, which this week is celebrating 20 years on the internet.  I have been harvesting material from them for about 12 years; they offer a rich source of eclectic information, informed opinions, and incisive comments from their readers.  Two posts this week are of particular note:
Boing Boing is 20 (or33) years old today

Twenty years of blogging at Boing Boing
In the first one, Mark Frauenfelder presents the history of Boing Boing, and in the second Rob Beschizza offers links to a boatload of historic posts.

I had to look up the word for the title.  I was expecting to have to say "double-decennial", but it turns out there is a word for every twenty years: "vicennial" is from the Latin vicesimus+annus.   One could also use "vigintennial", but vice is nice.

Other anniversary terms.

You learn something every day.

There are two "Tywkiwdbis" in World of Warcraft

The acronym isn't copyrighted, and I'm not angry - just puzzled.  I presume it was a reader here who created the character - care to leave a comment on this post about the character?

Addendum: found another one - a High Warlord:

"Crazy worms" severely damage forest ecosystems

I have previously posted about the damage that fisherman inflict on forests when they dump unused bait on the shore:
At dusk Chaffin provided a tour of a colony of night crawlers — the most damaging of the worms — residing beneath a massive basswood tree behind his campsite. Each year, the worms can eat a season’s worth of basswood leaves, depriving the forest floor of “duff,’’ the carpetlike layer of decaying matter that is a critical component of northern American forests.

In a healthy forest, the duff keeps tree roots cool, germinates tree seeds and mushrooms, and provides a home for ovenbirds, salamanders and other small creatures. But below this basswood the earth is bare, a circle of hard-packed dirt 30 feet in diameter. Trees that might fare better here as the climate warms — hardwoods such as red maple and basswood — can’t take root in the packed dirt. Instead, the worms create ideal conditions for invasives such as buckthorn and garlic mustard, plants that evolved with them in Europe.
Recently, a non-native earthworm was discovered at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum
The Amynthas agrestis, also called the Asian crazy worm, was discovered last fall in the Arboretum, and the species survived the harsh winter. Officials said it’s the first time the species has been seen in Wisconsin, although it’s been in the East and Southeast U.S. for 50 years, Herrick said.

The eight-inchers come with a ravenous appetite and an advanced ability to reproduce, reaching maturity in just two months and creating offspring without mating. When infestations happen, the worms devour nutrient-rich soil at the forest floor. Erosion sets in, making it harder for native plants to survive. In their place, pesky invasive plants can grow.
The worms are presumed to have arrived in nursery plants received from the east coast.

The best resource I know of online for earthworm-related problems is the Great Lakes Worm Watch, maintained by the University of Minnesota.

Reposted from 2014 to add some excerpts from a recent, detailed article in The Atlantic:
With the exception of a few native species that live in rotting logs and around wetlands, there are not supposed to be any earthworms east of the Great Plains and north of the Mason-Dixon Line...

Gardeners now rejoice to find earthworms in their soil, and you can purchase a 1,000-pack of “Nature’s Wonder Workers” on Amazon for $45. There’s even an entire canon of worm-centric children’s literature, including Wiggling Worms at Work and Richard Scarry’s Best Lowly Worm Book Ever!  But Peter Groffman, a soil ecologist at the City University of New York, says that while worms may do some good in your compost bin, they don’t deserve all the credit for your bumper crops and lush ornamentals. “The earthworms are in the soil because the soil is healthy,” he says. “They are not necessarily doing anything for it.”..

The discovery alarmed scientists. In the absence of worms, North American hardwood forests develop a thick blanket of duff—a mille-feuille of slowly decomposing leaves deposited over the course of years, if not decades. That layer creates a home for insects, amphibians, birds, and native flowers. But when worms show up, they devour the litter within the space of a few years. All the nutrients that have been stored up over time are released in one giant burst, too quickly for most plants to capture. And without cover, the invertebrate population in the soil collapses...

Plants like trillium, lady’s slipper, and Canada mayflower vanish, too. This may be because the worms disrupt the networks of symbiotic fungus that many native plants depend on, or because worms directly consume the plants’ seeds. Or that native species, accustomed to spongy duff, are ill-prepared to root into the hard soil left behind when the worms have finished eating. It could be all of the above...

Bernie Williams remembers when she discovered jumping worms in Wisconsin. October 3, 2013, was “the day that ruined many of our lives,” says Williams, a worm expert at the state Department of Natural Resources.

She was leading a group of researchers and managers on a tour of the University of Wisconsin arboretum. Scientists already knew European worms had taken up residence there, and Williams led the visitors to a heavily invaded spot. But as soon as she saw the soil, she knew something was wrong. “These worms were everywhere,” she says.

Over the next three years, the jumping worms stormed across 25 acres of forest in the arboretum, effectively eradicating their European rivals. They have now been reported in 52 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, Williams tells me, disproving predictions that the harsh winters would keep them at bay...
Much more at The Atlantic.

"Wilderness solo" longread

"... I was always in the middle of some calculation or quantification with respect to time, and such thoughts were always predicated on an understanding of it as a precious and limited resource. What time was it right now? How much time was left for me to do the thing I was doing, and when would I have to stop doing it to do the next thing?..

I came to a clearing in a forest by a riverbank in Dartmoor national park, far enough from any trail that it seemed unlikely I would encounter anyone while I was there. I gathered some loose branches and stones and arranged them in a circle of about 10 metres in diameter, and then I walked into the circle and did not leave it until the same time the following day.

The short version of this story is that nothing happened in that time: that I did nothing and witnessed nothing, experienced only the passage of the hours and minutes, and the languid dynamics of my own boredom. The long version isn’t exactly The Iliad, either, but in that version something could be said to have happened. Because by the time I walked out of that circle the following afternoon, I’d had an entirely unexpected and intensely cathartic encounter with the passage of time, and with my own mortality.

This is a practice commonly referred to as a “wilderness solo”..."
The story continues at "Splendid isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours"

23 January 2020

Scrapbook, part V

The text on these pages can be very difficult to read. One possible workaround is to right-click on a page to open it in a new tab, then zoom the image on that tab.

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