27 February 2021

A classic "Far Side" cartoon from 1983

Posted for my cousin Doug down in Naples.

Plight of the Monarch butterfly - updated

The graph above was published in the Badger Butterflyer - the e-newsletter of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association.  The bar graphs depict the 20-year trend of the acreage in Mexico utilized by overwintering Monarch butterflies.  This past December's 1.66 acres of wintering butterflies is the lowest ever recorded since recordkeeping began.

The cause is multifactorial, including loss of habitat in Mexico and weather/climate changes, but the principal factor is believed to be loss of milkweed - the Monarch's ONLY food plant.  An article at Slate takes up the story:
More than a million acres of Upper Midwest grassland have been plowed under in recent years for corn and soybean fields—a rate of loss comparable to deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia. Demand for these crops has surged with the rise of biofuels. At the same time, technology enabled farmers to squeeze ever more from each acre. For monarchs, the most important development was Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.

Since the turn of the century, these genetically modified crops have risen to
dominance in the Midwest. Designed to withstand dousing from the Monsanto company’s Roundup weed killer, the plants enabled farmers to swiftly kill competing weeds, including milkweed, while leaving their crops untouched. In 2013, 83 percent of all corn and 93 percent of soybeans in the United States were herbicide tolerant, totaling nearly 155 million acres, much of it in the Midwest.

It’s no coincidence monarchs faltered at the same time. Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, and a colleague estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent. Oberhauser determined that the loss of milkweed almost exactly mirrored the decline in monarch egg production...

Already, Iowa farmland has lost more than 98 percent of the milkweed that was once there, according to Iowa State University biologist John Pleasants, who worked with Oberhauser. He’s seen firsthand the transformation as he has studied cornfields during the past decade and a half. Before Roundup, patches of milkweed grew among the corn and along the edges of fields. After the herbicide—nothing but corn... 
Here's the advice that Michigan State University's agricultural extension service offered its subscribers:
Common milkweed, asclepias syriaca, can become a serious problem over time in no-till fields and hay and pasture fields where glyphosate-resistance in the crop is not an option. This weed has an extensive and deep root system and is tolerant to many common herbicides. Multiple herbicide applications are often required...

In glyphosate-resistant crops, milkweed control is not difficult to control. Glyphosate [Roundup], when applied at the proper rate and timing, will give good control. In glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans, milkweed should be treated with glyphosate at 0.75 lbs a.e./acre glyphosate to control or suppress milkweed. It is always recommended to include 17 lbs spray-grade ammonium sulfate per 100 gallons of water. Late, post-emergent applications when plants are in the bloom stage will be most effective in killing roots...

In hay or pasture, milkweed can be spot-treated with glyphosate applied with a wipe-on applicator while the milkweed is taller than the crop, or spot-treated with a hand-sprayer. When these fields are rotated or renovated, that is the time to make your best effort to deal with milkweed aggressively. Fence rows, field borders and nearby, non-crop areas should be monitored and any milkweed found should be controlled.
And this from Britain's Guardian:
The announcement [of the decreased Mexican overwintering population] followed on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which saw the United States, Mexico and Canada signing environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch. At the time, the butterfly was adopted as the symbol of trilateral cooperation.

“Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ cooperation, is at serious risk of disappearing,” said Omar Vidal, Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.
This coming weekend I will be attending the annual late-winter Garden Expo here in Madison, where thousands of cabin-fevered Midwesterners will flock to see the latest in garden products and technology.  I'll be helping staff the information booth for SWBA;  I hope to be handing out ziplock baggies of milkweed seeds to likeminded people who want to do something to help sustain the Monarchs. 

Reposted from 2014 to add some new data (excerpts from a press release by the Monarch Joint Venture and a report by CBS News):

[Note:  the bar graph at the top of this post depicts forest area occupied by Monarchs from 1994 to 2013.  This graph updates the numbers with seven more bars through the end of 2020] 
"The government commission for natural protected areas said the butterflies’ population covered only 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres) in 2020, compared to 2.8 hectares (6.9 acres) the previous year and about one-third of the 6.05 hectares (14.95 acres) detected in 2018...

Gloria Tavera, the regional director of Mexico’s Commission for National Protected Areas, blamed the drop on “extreme climate conditions,” the loss of milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada on which butterflies depend, and deforestation in the butterflies’ wintering grounds in Mexico."
"Illegal logging in the monarchs wintering rounds rose to almost 13.4 hectares (33 acres), a huge increase from the 0.43 hectare (1 acre) lost to logging last year.

Jorge Rickards of the WWF environmental group acknowledged the lost trees were a blow, but said “the logging is very localized” in three or four of the mountain communities that make up the butterfly reserve.

In addition, wind storms, drought and the felling of trees that had fallen victim to pine beetles or disease, caused the loss of another 6.9 hectares (17 acres) in the reserve, bringing the total forest loss in 2020 to 20.65 hectares (51 acres). That compares to an overall loss of about 5 hectares (12.3 acres) from all causes the previous year...

Tavera also expressed concern about the severe winter storms in Texas, which the butterflies will have to cross — and feed and lay their eggs — on their way back to their northern summer homes in coming months.
“This is a cause for worry,” Tavera said, referring to whether the monarchs will find enough food and habitat after the winter freeze."

"Democrat" - noun or adjective?

Depends who is using it, as explained by AP News:
During the “Stop the Steal” rallies that emerged to support Trump’s groundless allegations that the 2020 election was stolen from him, the construction was everywhere. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel accused “Democrat lawyers and rogue election officials” of “an unprecedented power grab” related to the election. Demonstrators for the president’s baseless cause mirrored her language.

After Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was removed from her House committees for espousing sometimes dangerous conspiracy theories, she tweeted: “In this Democrat tyrannical government, Conservative Republicans have no say on committees anyway.”

Trump’s lawyers used the construction frequently during his second impeachment trial, following the lead of the former president, who employed it routinely while in office. During a campaign rally last October in Wisconsin, he explained his thinking.

“You know I always say Democrat. You know why? Because it sounds worse,” Trump said. “Democrat sounds lousy, but you know what? That’s actually their name, the Democrat Party. Right? The Democrat Party. So I always say Democrat.”..

Using Democrat as a pejorative is now so common that it’s almost jarring to hear a Republican or conservative commentator accurately say “Democratic Party.”
Image credit AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File (cropped for size).

A nice summary of the Perseverance Mars landing

I was just going to peek at this, but wound up watching most of it; it's reasonably concise and easy to watch.

26 February 2021

Eggs cracked in Walker, Minnesota

Wind chills recently 50 degrees below zero.  This is one of my favorite towns to go to for vacations (in the spring, summer, and autumn only).

Image cropped for size from the original at the via.

One way to combat bottom-trawling

"A Greenpeace ship has been dropping huge boulders into the sea off Brighton this week to stop fishing boats from trawling the sea bed. The action is part of campaign to tighten restrictions on the most destructive forms of fishing in protected areas of UK waters. But leaders of the fishing community describe the action as dangerous, illegal and irresponsible."

Dolchstosslegende and the lack of a shared reality

The most interesting podcast I've heard this year was recently broadcast on This American Life.  In the segment There's a German Word for That, Ira Glass interviews journalist Jochan Bittner, whose op-ed about the topic was published in the New York Times.  Herewith some excerpts from the print version:
One hundred years ago, amid the implosions of Imperial Germany, powerful conservatives who led the country into war refused to accept that they had lost. Their denial gave birth to arguably the most potent and disastrous political lie of the 20th century — the Dolchstosslegende, or stab-in-the-back myth.

Its core claim was that Imperial Germany never lost World War I. Defeat, its proponents said, was declared but not warranted. It was a conspiracy, a con, a capitulation — a grave betrayal that forever stained the nation. That the claim was palpably false didn’t matter. Among a sizable number of Germans, it stirred resentment, humiliation and anger...

In 1918, Germany was staring at defeat. The entry of the United States into the war the year before, and a sequence of successful counterattacks by British and French forces, left German forces demoralized. Navy sailors went on strike. They had no appetite to be butchered in the hopeless yet supposedly holy mission of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the loyal aristocrats who made up the Supreme Army Command...

A starving population joined the strikes and demands for a republic grew. On Nov. 9, 1918, Wilhelm abdicated, and two days later the army leaders signed the armistice. It was too much to bear for many: Military officers, monarchists and right-wingers spread the myth that if it had not been for political sabotage by Social Democrats and Jews back home, the army would never have had to give in.

The deceit found willing supporters. “Im Felde unbesiegt” — “undefeated on the battlefield” — was the slogan with which returning soldiers were greeted. Newspapers and postcards depicted German soldiers being stabbed in the back by either evil figures carrying the red flag of socialism or grossly caricatured Jews...

The startling aspect about the Dolchstosslegende is this: It did not grow weaker after 1918 but stronger. In the face of humiliation and unable or unwilling to cope with the truth, many Germans embarked on a disastrous self-delusion: The nation had been betrayed, but its honor and greatness could never be lost...

Germany’s first democracy fell. Without a basic consensus built on a shared reality, society split into groups of ardent, uncompromising partisans. And in an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia, the notion that dissenters were threats to the nation steadily took hold.

Alarmingly, that seems to be exactly what is happening in the United States today... A staggering 88 percent of Trump voters believe that the election result is illegitimate, according to a YouGov poll. A myth of betrayal and injustice is well underway.
More at the NYT link.  I would also encourage those interested to click on the podcast link and listed to Ira Glass' interview with Jochan Bittner.

Binary message encoded in NASA's Perseverance parachute

The inner rings read "Dare Mighty Things," and the outer rings give the JPL's GPS coordinates:

Explained and discussed at the NASA subreddit.

Addendum:  Soon to be available as a dress:

23 February 2021

The evolution of A-ha's "Take On Me"

The enduring iteration of “Take on Me” was actually the group’s fourth attempt at the song...  When “Take on Me” was released in October 1984, it sold 300 copies... Barron instructed the animators to use a technique called rotoscoping, which amounts to tracing animation over live-action footage... It took four months for Patterson and Reckinger to draw a total of 2000 sketches that would be used in the video... When the rotoscoped version of “Take on Me” debuted on MTV in 1985, it became a sensation, helping the single hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. MTV bestowed 11 Video Music Awards nominations on the song, of which it won eight.
More information at Mental Floss.

Light pillars and sun pillars - updated again

An Astronomy Picture of the Day from Finland, explained at the link and in my previous post on the subject.

Reposted from 2013 to add this awesome Astronomy Picture of the Day taken over Whitefish Bay:

"...vertical lines of light over a ground source that reflect from falling ice crystals. As the ground temperature was above freezing, the flat crystals likely melted as they approached the ground, creating a lower end to the vertical light pillars."
Reposted from 2018 to add this photo, via

And reposted yet again to add this remarkable image from the Astronomy Picture of the Day, which depicts a sun pillar.

"This was not a typical sun pillar. Just after sunrise two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, a photographer, looking out his window, was suddenly awestruck. The astonishment was caused by a sun pillar that fanned out at the top. Sun pillars, singular columns of light going up from the Sun, are themselves rare to see, and are known to be caused by sunlight reflecting from wobbling, hexagon-shaped ice-disks falling through Earth's atmosphere. Separately, upper tangent arcs are known to be caused by sunlight refracting through falling hexagon-shaped ice-tubes. Finding a sun pillar connected to an upper tangent arc is extraordinary, and, initially, took some analysis to figure out what was going on. A leading theory is that this sun pillar was also created, in a complex and unusual way, by falling ice tubes."
Might as well link to my previous posts on sun and light pillars in 2009 and 2010.

This schematic from Wikipedia -

- illustrates how the phenomenon is created.

The myth of "race"

Pantone chart of human skin colors

Humanæ is a photographic work in progress by artist Angélica Dass, an unusually direct reflection on the color of the skin, attempting to document humanity’s true colors rather than the untrue labels “white”, “red”, “black” and “yellow” associated with race. It’s a project in constant evolution seeking to demonstrate that what defines the human being is its inescapably uniqueness and, therefore, its diversity. The background for each portrait is tinted with a color tone identical to a sample of 11 x 11 pixels taken from the nose of the subject and matched with the industrial pallet Pantone®, which, in its neutrality, calls into question the contradictions and stereotypes related to the race issue. More than just faces and colors in the project there are almost 4,000 volunteers, with portraits made in 20 different countries and 36 different cities around the world, thanks to the support of cultural institutions, political subjects, governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. 
The artist has presented her work in a TED talk.

Awesome Patagonian crater agate

Via Reddit (source unknown, but other examples here).

It's a loveseat

It only looks like a colon from above.  Source unknown (emailed to me).

A tip of the blogging hat to reader Drabkikker, who found the source.  And I learn some new terminology:
A loveseat can be one of two styles of two-seat chair.

One form – also known as "British two-seaters" – is essentially synonymous with "two-seat couch". It typically has two upholstered seats.

Another form, variously also known as a tête-à-tête, courting bench, kissing bench, gossip's chair, or conversation bench, is any form of two-seat furniture where the two seats are arranged in an S shape, so that two persons can converse while looking at each other and being within arm's reach, while at the same time typically retaining a modest barrier between them.
Addendum:   A tip of the blogging cap to reader fabs, who commented that "In Mérida, México they are very popular and they are called "confidants" or "you and me." You can see them in many public parks and along the most representative avenue of the city called Paseo Montejo.  Here's a photo from a report at Historical Mexico:

A supercut of typewriter use

As a touch typist, I don't mind when cinema portrayals depict typists "hunting and pecking," but I am tired of seeing actors who alternate left-right-left-right-left-right...

The music for this is exactly what you would expect.
The typewriter was modified so that only two keys work to prevent the keys from jamming. According to the composer himself, as well as other musicians, the typewriter part is difficult because of how fast the typing speed is: even professional stenographers cannot do it, and only professional drummers have the necessary wrist flexibility...

Michael Kamen used this composition as the musical basis for "the Office" theme for the Ministry of Information in Terry Gilliam's Brazil.  When Mrs. Buttle's cheque for her dead husband is filed in the Ministry of Information a tune is played on typewriters interwoven with orchestral music to symbolize a stuffy bureaucratic atmosphere. The same music is also used later in the film when Sam joins the Ministry of Information and is then met with Mr. Warrenn and his many yes-men.

Via Neatorama

RelatedTouch typing (not)

Solar skin damage

My father was a traveling salesman in the era before AC was common in cars.  I don't remember any facial asymmetry, but his left elbow was always more darkly pigmented than the rest of his body.  Via.

18 February 2021

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab... [updated with historic video]

... should be put in charge of running the rest of this country.

Addendum:  When all of us watched this event on live TV, the video was only of the interior of the lab plus some animations.  Now NASA has downloaded video from the spacecraft during the descent and matched it with the original audio.  Impressive.

17 February 2021

Larval lionfish

Runner-up in the Macro division of this year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.   Via a gallery at The Atlantic.

Progress in the aviation industry

My mom was a stewardess back in the 1940s when it was standard practice for her to personally prepare meals for passengers.

The problem of "mismatched bumpers"

I remember hearing about this decades ago.  It appears the industry hasn't done diddly-shit about it.  Pisses me off.

"Spy pixels" in emails

From the BBC:
The use of "invisible" tracking tech in emails is now "endemic", according to a messaging service that analysed its traffic at the BBC's request.

Hey's review indicated that two-thirds of emails sent to its users' personal accounts contained a "spy pixel", even after excluding for spam. Its makers said that many of the largest brands used email pixels, with the exception of the "big tech" firms.

Defenders of the trackers say they are a commonplace marketing tactic. And several of the companies involved noted their use of such tech was mentioned within their wider privacy policies.

Emails pixels can be used to log:
- if and when an email is opened
- how many times it is opened
- what device or devices are involved
- the user's rough physical location, deduced from their internet protocol (IP) address - in some cases making it possible to see the street the recipient is on

This information can then be used to determine the impact of a specific email campaign, as well as to feed into more detailed customer profiles.
Tracking pixels are typically a .GIF or .PNG file that is as small as 1x1 pixels, which is inserted into the header, footer or body of an email.

Since they often show the colour of the content below, they can be impossible to spot with the naked eye even if you know where to look.

Recipients do not need to click on a link or do anything to activate them beyond open an email they are embedded in.

Addendum:  an anonymous reader offered this relevant link re blocking these spy pixels.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - updated

Reposted from 2010 because today is the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.  Those interested can read more about the event and the song.

Reposted again from 2015 to add illustrations of some of the ways ships sink in the Great Lakes -

Three more examples are illustrated here.

Reposted for the third time to add this video recording of a similar ship (a Ukranian freighter) actually splitting in the Black Sea:

The relevant action occurs in the first minute; there is a second segment showing the ship sinking.

Addendum:  PBS Wisconsin has a video presentation of a public lecture on The Storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Locations of UFO sightings, by year of report

Winter biking

You can add treads to the tires, or replace the tires with saw blades.  Your choice.

Video re the first option at Neatorama.  Commentary re the second at BoingBoing.

16 February 2021

The first and last scenes of movies, side-by-side

First and Final Frames from Jacob T. Swinney.  I think the term "scenes" is more accurate because the compilation is not of single frames.  Definitely best watched full-screen (and not on a phone).

Part II (below) has the names of the movies displayed as subtitles.  That information for Part I is posted at the first link.

And if you like those... Part III.

This morning I had to look up the difference between a mashup and a supercut.  Apparently the latter "illustrates a particular repeated element such as a word or phrase," so this would more properly be termed a mashup.

I love creations like this; I wound up making notes of a half-dozen movies that I may watch just based on the 5-second clips.

An Anglo-Saxon cross from the 9th century

"A supreme example of Anglo-Saxon metalwork has been revealed. The equal-armed cross was created by a goldsmith of outstanding skill and artistry. Its four arms bear the symbols of the four evangelists to whom tradition attributed the gospels of the New Testament: Saint Matthew (man), Mark (lion), Luke (cow) [probably ox] and John (eagle)...

The Galloway Hoard was buried in the late 9th century in Dumfries and Galloway, where it was unearthed by a metal detectorist in 2014. The cross was among more than 100 gold, silver and other items, including a beautiful gold bird-shaped pin and a silver-gilt vessel. Incredibly, textile in which the objects had been wrapped was among organic matter that also survived...

The pectoral cross has survived with its intricate spiral chain, from which it would have been suspended from the neck, displayed across the chest. The chain shows that the cross was worn. Goldberg said: “You could almost imagine someone taking it off their neck and wrapping the chain around it to bury it in the ground. It has that kind of personal touch.”

Conservators carved a porcupine quill to create a tool that was sharp enough to remove the dirt, yet soft enough not to damage the metalwork..."
More at The Guardian.  

12 February 2021

Pondering deep space and deep time

Top video via Neatorama.  The second is a companion piece narrated by Brian Cox, Carl Sagan, and David Attenborough.  Both posted at YouTube by Melodysheep, who has an interesting array of videos (and over a million subscribers, including me).


The town/commune is located in the province of Enna, Sicily, Italy.  Here it is on Google Maps.

Image cropped for size from the one at the via.

Promoting urban "microforests"

A vagina shouldn't smell like a creamsicle

That's the opinion of a gynecologist who is waging war against some feminine hygiene products.
Jen Gunter is on a crusade to make sure teenagers know that vaginas should smell like vaginas, not creamsicles.

The Bay Area gynecologist and author of “The Vagina Bible” has been waging a high-profile war against various vaginal hygiene products and practices since her 2017 Goop takedown, taking particular issue with guidance that women place jade eggs in their vaginas and practice vaginal steaming. Today she’s aiming her ire — and sizable social media following — at Vagisil, a vaginal care products company that launched a line for teens this summer...

“Society’s always looking for ways to make people with vaginas feel ashamed,” Gunter said. “I hate that industry with a passion because it capitalizes on vaginal and vulvar shame. But to see it marketed to teens? Not on my watch.”..

Gunter says although products such as tampons and sanitary products are needed, the scented washes and wipes that accompany them in drug store aisles are unnecessary at best and can be downright harmful at worst. The products can upset the vagina’s natural ecosystem, stripping it of the bacteria it needs to fight off infections — potentially including sexually transmitted ones. In a 2018 study, participants who used feminine wipes had almost double the odds of reporting a urinary tract infection, and those who used gel sanitizers were almost eight times more likely to report a yeast infection.
Continued at The Washington Post.

Image cropped for size from the original at Instagram.

Today's date (February 12, 2021) is a palindrome AND an ambigram

It reads the same forwards and backwards - and (at least in this font) upside down.  

But that's not as rare as one might think.  Discussed at the Reddit thread.

11 February 2021

The Kensington Runestone is fake

The Kensington Runestone is viewed by reputable scholars as a modern fake artifact.
The Kensington Runestone is a 202-pound (92 kg) slab of greywacke stone covered in runes reportedly discovered in central Minnesota in 1898. Olof Öhman, a Swedish immigrant, reported that he unearthed it from a field in the largely rural township of Solem in Douglas County. It was later named after the nearest settlement, Kensington.

The inscription purports to be a record left behind by Scandinavian explorers in the 14th century (internally dated to the year 1362). There has been a drawn-out debate on the stone's authenticity, but the scholarly consensus has classified it as a 19th-century hoax since the time it was first examined in 1910, with some critics directly charging the purported discoverer Öhman with fabricating the inscription. Nevertheless there remains a community convinced of the stone's authenticity.
I have a personal bias in favor of "diffusionism" - the concept that ancient peoples spread their ideas, skills, languages, and genes more widely and successfully than is generally appreciated.  Because of that bias (and my Norwegian ancestry), I have always wanted to believe in the runestone as valid.  But the arguments against it from the academic community have been persistent and emphatic.  One of the authoritative texts in that regard is Theodore Blegen's "The Kensington Rune Stone: New Light on an Old Riddle," published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1968.  Blegen was a professor of history at Hamline and the University of Minnesota and the dean of its graduate school.  His book explored in detail the circumstances of the stone's discovery and the people involved, and his conclusions that the stone is fake were based on runology, without any analysis of petrology or geology.
"The circumstances that envelop the Kensington story begin with the striking fact, hitherto little appreciated, that among the Scandinavian pioneers in Minnesota in the 1890s and earlier there were not a few persons, incluidng laymen, who well understood runes."

"... authoritative runologists, with no dissenting voices, have pronounced
the inscription modern

"... a second circumstance... is that the Kensington stone was dug up on the land of a Swedish-American farmer in a Scandinavian community, in a state with a large Scandinavian population.  These facts defy easy explanation."

"... Turner's suggestion that the "stone could have been placed under the tree so that the roots could in a few years have clasped" the stone.  Ohman spoke of the stunted appearance of the tree.  One wonders what made it stunted."

"The inscription is a fake.  The evidence points to a hoax, with Olof Ohman as the principal originator."
The all-encompassing objection to the runestone's validity lies in the argument that "it doesn't make sense that 14th-century Scandinavians would travel to the middle of North America," and therefore the stone and its inscription are a priori fake.

Travel to North America by Vikings is a well-documented fact; extensive studies have been conducted at L'Anse aux Meadows on the shore of Newfoundland:

That site was occupied three hundred years before the date of the Kensington runestone's inscription.  Could Vikings have explored up the St. Lawrence River and through the Great Lakes?  Could they have entered Hudson Bay and then ventured southward to Lake Winnipeg and further?

Kensington is not located on a river.  But it is located almost equidistant from three major watersheds:  the Red River draining north to Hudson Bay, the Great Lakes draining east to the Atlantic, and the Mississippi draining south to the Gulf of Mexico.  As such, laying claim to territory in this region would give a trader a major advantage in transporting goods to and from various cultures, and the Vikings of the 1300s were world-famous traders, not just warriors.  It is neither impossible nor unreasonable for explorers to have reached central Minnesota in the 1300s.  There are bills of lading for beaver furs in London for the period 1380-1420.  These furs arrived in Basque ships baled in the Canadian fashion (as opposed to being packed in barrels as Russian beaver pelts were). Whether the runestone is evidence of visitors to the mid-continent or not must be based on the stone itself.

That is the purpose of the book illustrated at the top.  The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence was published in 2006 to bring together all available evidence about the stone and its runes.  I found it to be a fascinating read.

Consider the inscribed runes.  There have been objections since day one that there is evidence of recent scratching in some of the grooves.  That is not disputed.  The family who unearthed the stone said at the time that they had used nails to scrape dirt out of some grooves so they could try to read the runes; these scratches are not evidence of fakery.  What is new since the publication of Blegen's book are the results of scanning electron microscopy of the stone (Blegen specifically ignored petrological and geological findings re the stone in the 1940s).  The images (reproduced in the Nielsen/Wolter book) show that the biotite mica grains on the surface of the native stone and in the unscratched grooves of the runes show similar weathering, indicating that the unscratched grooves are at least 200 years old (similar to the weathering of mica in 200-year-old gravestones in colonial New England cemeteries), so nobody living in the late 19th century could have been involved in a hoax re carving the runes. This weathering is not present on a known fake runestone (the "AVM stone") which was carved at about this same time.  [This doesn't eliminate the possibility of the runes on the stone having been carved by explorers (fur traders, soldiers etc.) centuries ago, pre-statehood.]

Another suggestion that the stone could have been inscribed in medieval times comes from a rune called "the dotted R."  There are two of them on the stone.  The "dotted R" rune was not known to science in 1898, when the Kensington Stone was unearthed.  Many of the early efforts to debunk the stone (cited in the Blegen book) emphasize that there are runes on the stone which "do not exist" and must have been made in error by this Minnesota farmer.  No runologist or other Scandinavian scholar had ever seen a "dotted R" and it was not in any books, so it could not have been copied.  This "dotted R" ("palatal R" pronunciation) was in use on Gotland during the last half of the 1300s.

Additional evidence against Olof Ohman (the discoverer) having forged the runes is that he wrote his personal correspondence using the Swedish "A dialect" with words ending in "a" ("dissa" for "this") while the runes are written in the "E dialect" ("fiske" rather than "fiska.")  In one of his personal books he has written the words "dod" for "death" and "resor" for "travel," while on the stone are the words "ded" for "death" and "rise" for "travel."
"In 1935 the dotted R first came to the attention of runologists on an inscription (Sm 145) in the Ukna church in Smaland, Sweden [dated about 1300]... Another inscription with two dotted Rs was found in the 1938 excavation of a medieval site in Lund, Sweden from the elder Middle Danish perios, circa 1200... The first dotted R to be noticed on the Kensington Rune Stone was sighted by Erik Wahlgren in 1958 in the word norr (north)..."
So, here's a rune that was in use in Sweden (and Gotland) in the 13th and 14th century but was not known to anyone until 40 years after the Kensington Stone was unearthed.  If any readers have newer information on this subject, please chime in in the comments.

One aspect of the Kensington runestone that troubles me is my feeling that a group of explorers/traders of the 14th century would not have been so upset by a slaughter of some comrades that they would have carved the event in runes; more likely IMHO they would have said "too bad about Sven and Ole.  Let's move on."  

The Nielsen/Wolter book has extensive details on the mineralogy of the rock and on runology and ancient and modern Swedish dialects.  The book unfortunately fails in not having had a proper proofreading re English spelling and grammar ("slight of hand," "aggitatedly," "whomever carved the stone," "emmigrates," etc) but those are cosmetic rather than substantive faults.  And the efforts to tie some of the runes to Templars and Teutonic knights seems contrived and unnecessary.

I would be delighted to hear informed commentary from readers of this blog who may have expertise or information relevant to this topic.

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging hat to reader Fester, for locating this video (by a professor of Norse language) that effectively demolishes the idea that the runestone dates to the 14th century.  The language depicted on the stone is consistent with a 19th-century creation.  

07 February 2021

Short-eared owl, posted for Superb Owl Sunday

This photo (by Henrik Nilsson, taken in Boundary Bay, BC, Canada) is one of the award-winning entries in the nature category of National Geographic's 2014 photo contest

Reposted from 2014 to make note of Superb Owl Sunday.  I'll be watching football rather than blogging this afternoon.   Those who love owls may also want to revisit -

There are two owls in this picture, and this gif showing..

I'll leave you with these three photos from the Atlantic link above:


I learned about "Buck" after watching and enjoying Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer."  This movie is a documentary about Buck Brannaman, the real-life "horse whisperer" who served as a consultant to Redford.
Dan M. "Buck" Brannaman (born January 29, 1962) is an American horse trainer and a leading clinician with a philosophy of handling horses based on classical concepts from the vaquero tradition; working with the horse's nature, using an understanding of how horses think and communicate to train the horse to accept humans and work confidently and responsively with them. One of Brannaman's stated goals is to make the animal feel safe and secure around humans so that the horse and rider can achieve a true union.
If you love horses (or animals in general), you will appreciate this movie.  I don't know if it's available for streaming; I found the DVD at our local library.

Bat nursery

The via has no useful content; this is just something I've never seen before.

06 February 2021

"The Dig" and the Sutton Hoo helmet

An outstanding movie in every regard.  A rather straightforward storyline, dialogue masterfully presented by Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan (and all of the other cast members), and a captivating cinematography.  Highly recommended.

More information about Sutton Hoo at The Smithsonian:
The importance of the Sutton Hoo burial cannot be understated. Not only did the site shed light on life during the early medieval Anglo-Saxon period (roughly 410 to 1066) but it also prompted historians to revise their thinking about the Dark Ages, the era that followed the Roman Empire’s departure from the British Isles in the early fifth century. Contrary to long-held beliefs that the period was devoid of the arts or cultural richness, the Sutton Hoo artifacts reflected a vibrant, worldly society.

As the archaeologists dug deeper, they found themselves stunned by the scale, quality and sheer diversity of the trove. Among the artifacts unearthed were fine feasting vessels, deluxe hanging bowls, silverware from Byzantium, luxurious textiles and gold dress accessories set with Sri Lankan garnets.

The grave’s burial chamber was laden with weapons and high-quality military equipment. A shield found inside is believed to have been a diplomatic gift from Scandinavia; shoulder clasps appear to be modeled on those worn by Roman emperors, suggesting the armor’s owner drew from different cultures and power bases to assert his own authority.

The artifacts also included a belt buckle with a triple-lock mechanism, its surface adorned with semi-abstract imagery featuring snakes slithering beneath each other. Brown found gold coins that had been minted in the Aquitaine region of France with an ornate lid adorned in reddish garnet. The purse’s cover is now considered one of the finest examples of cloisonné, a style in which stones are held by gold strips.

Though metal items survived in Suffolk’s acidic soil better than organic objects like fabric and wood, the team did find a number of unexpected artifacts, including a well-preserved yellow ladybug.
The movie's emphasis is properly on the people and the process, not the artifacts per se, which can be read about and viewed at a variety of websites.

The BBC has a brief video with segments from their 1965 documentary, including film and audio of Basil Brown.

And finally here is a detailed and eloquently narrated video on the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet:

05 February 2021

Hawk vs. snake

Best comment at the via: this is the coat-of-arms of Mexico in real life.

Former Senator John Danforth (R-Missouri) offers his assessment of the current Republican Party

"... the Republican Party today is not just different from what it had been.  It's the opposite, in many ways, of what it had been.  America needs a strong, responsible, conservative party.  That has been the Republican Party.  It is neither strong, nor responsible, nor conservative today..."

An idea for my next party trick...

Porcupine damage to a tree

This was labeled at the via as "beaver damage" but it clearly is not.  I spent the better part of several summers wrapping lakeside trees with chicken wire to fend off the predations of beavers.  This pattern was left by a porcupine interested in consuming the bark, not felling the tree.
Porcupines prefer the young bark, leaves, and terminal twigs commonly found high up in the crown of a mature tree, but will strip bark anywhere on a tree’s trunk or branches. Like beavers, porcupines prefer to eat the nutritious inner tree bark or phloem. To get to it they have to remove the bark all the way down to the cambium layer of the tree, which is where the wood begins. If bark is stripped all the way in to the cambium then that part of the tree will die, though small wounds may eventually heal by new tissue growing from the edges of the wound. If porcupines remove the bark all the way around the trunk or a branch (girdling it), then the trunk or branch will be killed from that point up or out. This will weaken the tree and make it more vulnerable to damage from diseases, insects, and birds.

Grooved tooth marks approximately 5 mm wide are characteristic of porcupine damage. Squirrels and other small mammals will also remove tree bark, but small animals make smaller tooth marks. Porcupines in Utah will damage fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and some agronomic crops like alfalfa, and grain if they are present.

Bears will also debark trees. 

Who sees this photo as symbolic of white privilege???

Ingrid Seyer-Ochi, a San Francisco public high school teacher, wrote an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle objecting to the privileges symbolized by Sanders’ style of dress at the inauguration.
Seyer-Ochi addressed the topic with her students, who she said were also upset by what they saw as the implicit message being delivered by Sanders’s choice of outerwear.

“What did they see? They saw a white man in a puffy jacket and huge mittens, distant not only in his social distancing, but in his demeanor and attire,” Seyer-Ochi wrote, adding, “What did I see? What did I think my students should see? A wealthy, incredibly well-educated and -privileged white man, showing up for perhaps the most important ritual of the decade, in a puffy jacket and huge mittens.

“I don’t know many poor, or working class, or female, or struggling-to-be-taken-seriously folk who would show up at the inauguration of our 46th president dressed like Bernie.”..

“I mean in no way to overstate the parallels. Sen. Sanders is no white supremacist insurrectionist. But he manifests privilege, white privilege, male privilege and class privilege, in ways that my students could see and feel,” Seyer-Ochi wrote. 

Commentary and backlash to her outrage in an article on Yahoo News, where they note that "Sanders monetized his viral fame to raise more than $1.8 million for various causes from the licensing of T-shirts and other merchandise with the now iconic image. The beneficiaries include Meals on Wheels, Feeding Chittenden, the Vermont Parent Child Center Network, the Chill Foundation, the Bi-State Primary Care Association and senior centers."

Some people just need to feel victimized, IMHO.

Addendum:  an interesting variety of opinions in the comments.

The Coffer Illusion

Most people will interpret this image as perhaps a door panel; it may take a while to realize that there are actually 16 circles in this pattern.

Reposted from years ago to add an improved-quality image.

Line jumpers

On a chilly morning in late January, three planes landed on the lone airstrip of a remote community in northern Canada.

The first two carried members of a mobile team from the Yukon territory’s health department who were there to give Covid-19 vaccines to the residents of Beaver Creek. The tiny settlement of about 100 inhabitants had been prioritised because of its older population, many of whom belong to the White River First Nation.

The third aircraft, a bush plane, was unexpected.

Onboard were the casino executive Rod Baker and his wife, the actor Ekaterina Baker, who had broken quarantine and flown to Beaver Creek for the sole purpose of receiving doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Over the next few hours, the couple travelled into town, posed as local motel employees, received their shots and then escaped as quickly as they had arrived.

As Canada struggles with vaccine shortages and delays, the Bakers’ deception has been met with scorn and disbelief. The incident – in which a wealthy white couple received treatment intended for the most vulnerable members of an Indigenous community – has cast a spotlight on the stark divisions of class and race that cut across the country...

In Beaver Creek, where residents found out about the couple’s ploy from local reporters, not the government, the immediate response was one of panic: thanks to its isolation, the community had not seen any confirmed cases of the virus, but age and pre-existing health conditions meant that its population was firmly in the demographic most vulnerable to Covid-19...

News of the Bakers’ trip reached the wider world when local papers reported that the couple had been fined for breaching lockdown rules. And when the size of the fine – C$2,300 ($1,800) – was compared with the couple’s wealth, the outrage only grew...

Last week, Yukon officials announced the tickets had been stayed and the Bakers were summoned to appear in court, where they will face charges for failing to self-isolate for 14 days and failing to act in a manner consistent with their declarations upon arriving in the Yukon. If convicted, they could face up to six months in jail. 
The rest of the story is at The Guardian
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