19 October 2021

John Steinbeck's "slut" explained

As reported in The Guardian

The word “slut” scrawled at the end of the manuscript for John Steinbeck’s seminal novel The Grapes of Wrath may have been explained, thanks to a handful of Swedish academics.

The Grapes of Wrath was written by Steinbeck in a frenzy of creativity in under 100 days, between May and October 1938. Independent press SP Books released the first ever facsimile of the handwritten manuscript last week, showing Steinbeck’s increasingly tiny handwriting, his swear words, which were excised from the final novel – and a faint “slut”, written in red, at its conclusion.

Welcoming the manuscript’s release last week, Steinbeck expert Susan Shillinglaw described the word “slut” as “an archival mystery”, pondering whether Steinbeck’s wife Carol might have “playfully” written it in red and then erased it, or if someone in the University of Virginia archives had defaced the manuscript. “I suspect the latter, but we’ll never know for sure,” she told the Guardian last week.

But after the Guardian article about the facsimile was published, a handful of Swedish scholars got in touch with Shillinglaw, pointing out the meaning of “slut” in Swedish.

It is the Swedish expression for ‘the end’, used on the last page of all kinds of books, especially children’s books,” wrote Jonathan Shaheen, an academic at Stockholm University, to Shillinglaw. “A well placed ‘slut’ always makes me laugh.

“When the matter was brought to my attention by the University of Virginia archivist, I had no idea when the word was added to the manuscript. I thought perhaps someone was objecting to the final scene, and that the word referred to Rose of Sharon’s actions, offering her breast to a dying man,” she said. “I consulted with Steinbeck scholar Bob DeMott. He had no idea about what the light ‘slut’ at the end meant or who might have written it – a visitor to special collections, perhaps? But when I wrote Bob this week, he said, ‘Mystery solved.’ I felt the same way.” 


The Sicilian town of Gangi - updated with video

When I saw this photo at the via, I immediately went to Google Maps to see a map of the streets:

I'm showing my bias as an American raised on rectilinear grids of streets, but it's hard to imagine navigating in an old city like this.

Addendum:  found a video depicting streetviews and interior views -

Immense polycystic kidneys

It's particularly sad when a disease is nobody's "fault", but instead occurs as the result of a random wayward gene or two.  I do hope this man finds a donor.

American ragpickers

This person is a "You Tuber" who starts with an effusive "Hello friends..." which is my signal to tap the mute button.  I'm posting this just to show the mountains of returned "trash and treasures" created by Amazon.   The scenes remind me of those steaming piles of refuse in videos like this.

Tip of the day for newbies:  after the mute button, the other useful browsing tools are to hover your mouse over the progress bar, and to click the right arrow on your keyboard to jump through the video in 5-second intervals.

So much stuff.  I wonder what our grandparents would have thought of this.

18 October 2021

A merkin salesman

Merkins are wigs for the pubic area, with origins dating back at least to the 15th century, when pubic hair was sometimes shaved to combat pubic lice; merkins were also worn to cover dermatologic evidence of syphilis.  Via.

Modern-day merkins can be viewed in a Google Image search (mostly safe for work, depending on where you work), with subsections for Hollywood, burlesque, etc (even a face-hugger variant).

And for completeness of "things you wouldn't know," here are instructions on how to attach (and remove) a merkin.

Addendum:  A tip of the hat to reader Drabkikker, who tracked down the fact that this photo is a bit of art that is the creation of a modern photographer.  Merkins, however, were real, so I'll leave the post up for the educational value of the links.

I don't know why this happens

The leaves are from a milkweed plant in our garden.  Asymmetry in foliage coloration is certainly not rare, but these examples were particularly striking.  Perhaps the difference starts with leaf morphogenesis, with a cell dividing and the two halves following different clocks, or maybe it's a phenomenon that is a result of the vascular pattern.  It's nothing important - just as oddity AFAIK.

I'm heading back to the Arboretum later this week.  Prime leaf-peeping season has begun.

Why some are now referring to the coronavirus as "red Covid"

The coronavirus pandemic initially manifested itself in the United States in "blue" (Democratic) districts - especially inner-city New York.   Some pundits have offered that fact as a reason for the then-Republican administration's slow response to the pandemic.  Skipping forward a year we find a quite different demographic pattern.
And as a result, current mortalilty rates from Covid are substantially higher in "red" states:

At the New York Times source, the data is broken down to the county level, where the differences are even more stark.  And it's getting worse:

There's additional discussion and graphs at the Gallup organization website.  They note that a large percentage of Americans frankly do not understand the risks of disease vs. vaccination.

A walking tour of the Giza Plateau

A lengthy (100 minute) tour, quite nicely done in terms of image quality and absence of any of the inane audio commentary that accompanies so many similar videos.  I would have liked to have seen more closeup detail of the Sphinx, which is only visible at some distance in the closing ten minutes.  Via Kottke.

I did find this screencap particularly interesting:

The hole is an entrance to an underground chamber.  Above it, prominently displayed on a plinth, is a stone in the shape of the state of Wisconsin.  

Over the millennia the Door County peninsula has weathered away, and perhaps Napoleon's soldier's damaged the Indianhead area when they were vandalizing the Sphinx, but it is clear that the ancient Egyptians must have had extensive knowledge of Wisconsin, perhaps on their trips to the Keweenaw Peninsula to mine copper ore before returning down the Mississippi to the Gulf - leaving behind some small pyramids at Aztalan State Park.

Or maybe they just came for the cheese curds.

La Palma home with mountain view

From The Guardian today (Saul Santos/AP) comes this photo of a home on La Palma, where the volcano has been erupting.  

That's not lava - just ash.  Sort of a Canary Islands equivalent of a Swiss chalet covered with snow.   I suspect the ash will be so caustic that a simple cleanup with broom and dustpan will not be sufficient.  And I feel sad for all the wild critters that would not have been able to escape.

Addendumvideo of a policeman on the streets facing windblown ash.

I seem to be encountering problems embedding images - (update: solved, I think)

I just noticed the problem today; not sure how long it has been going on.

Normally (historically) every image I embed has been clickable and enlarges to supersize.  Now I'm seeing photos that not only fail to enlarge, but even appear smaller when one clicks on them.

The post below this one has a NASA image composed of photos of the moon.  When I click on the photo, instead of enlarging to view details, I see this tiny image:

I don't know WTF is going on - whether the problem is with my computer or Blogspot or what.  Bear with me.  I'll try to sort this out (later).

Addendum:  A comment by reader Kniffler seems to have steered me to the source of the problem, which seems to have been on my end (the browser opening images at the incorrect magnification).  If so, it will not have affected your viewing.

As Gilda Radner's Emily Litella used to say on Laugh-In... "Never mind."

The "Moona Lisa"

Only natural colors of the Moon in planet Earth's sky appear in this creative visual presentation. Arranged as pixels in a framed image, the lunar disks were photographed at different times. Their varying hues are ultimately due to reflected sunlight affected by changing atmospheric conditions and the alignment geometry of Moon, Earth, and Sun. Here, the darkest lunar disks are the colors of earthshine. A description of earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth's oceans illuminating the Moon's dark surface, was written over 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. 

But stand farther back from your monitor or just shift your gaze to the smaller versions of the image. You might also see one of da Vinci's most famous works of art.
Image and text from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website.

16 October 2021

Mandarin duck

Because we like to end the blogging day with an interesting photo.  Via.
Photo credit to Kjetil Salomonsen, a birder from Bergen (Norway).

This little Mandarin duck was the attraction of the month here in Bergen, mostly because he is a juvenile that was spotted alone in a small pond with still his immature plumage on. Between early October and last weekend, people have gone there often and were able to see the progression of his colors from immature to a vibrant grown male.

For reference, here is the same individual that I captured about 10 days prior, look at the difference in colors not even two weeks can make!

Reposted to add this photo of another Mandarin duck (via): 

15 October 2021

Superb sand art in a bottle

Two examples of the work of Andrew Clemens.
Andrew Clemens (1857 – 1894) was a sand artist from Iowa in the United States. Clemens formed his pictures by compressing natural colored sands inside chemists' jars to create his works of art.

He would collect naturally colored grains of sand from an area in Pikes Peak State Park known as Pictured Rocks. At Pictured Rocks, the basal portion of the sandstone near the Sand Cave is naturally colored by iron and mineral staining. Clemens separated the sand grains into piles, by color, and used them to form the basis for his art... 

To create his art he inserted the presorted grains of sand into small glass drug bottles using homemade tools formed out of hickory sticks and florists wire. His process utilized no glue and pressure from the other sand grains alone held the artwork together. When Clemens completed a sand bottle he sealed the bottle with a stopper and wax...

Andrew returned to McGregor [Iowa] to live year-round after a fire at the State School for the Deaf destroyed the dorm where he had lived... Clemens showed his work at the Saint Paul Dime Museum in 1889. He earned an invitation to demonstrate his work at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, which he declined due to his failing health. His artwork sold for $5–7 at the time...
Image via.

Another (expensive) example found by reader shiningrobes.

Punctuation (only)

Miss Cellania posted at Neatorama on online tool that allows one to remove all text letters from a passage, leaving behind only the punctuation marks.  I applied that tool to the longest entry I've written for TYWKIWDBI, with the result seen above.

That particular post involved artificial page breaks (*****) and a lot of citations from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, so I tried the tool again on a two-page letter I wrote earlier this week -

- which obviously included a number of URLs.

I wrestled with the question as to whether these images contain punctuation since the symbols don't separate and define any text, but the etymology of punctuation is from the Latin punctuo ("to mark with points"), so I guess it's o.k.

Slow-motion moth flight

Fascinating to watch.  It always amazes me how a creature that has spent its entire life crawling around on a plant can then come out of a cocoon and know how to do this.

I have previously featured life cycles of two of these moths in TYWKIWDBI: the Polyphemus in 2012, and the Virginia Tiger Moth in 2010.

Via Kottke, who notes that "the rest of Smith’s AntLab videos are worth looking through ."

12 October 2021

There is NO RED COLOR in this image

It does look like there is a red letter and a red background on the other flag, but those are optical illusions - illustrated with closeups at Neatorama.

What's eating the mullein ? Solved - it's Paracorsia repandalis

We occasionally find mullein (Verbascum sp.) growing next to our driveway, mixed i with the milkweed and shrubbery.  It's not something we plant, so is technically a weed, but we tolerate it because it can grow to such magnificent proportions.  The photo above is from 2013.

This year mullein appeared in the same general area, but met a sad fate.  The central "spear" was persistently attacked and eaten, not by the rabbits, but by some insect.

I found some semilunar cuts reminiscent of what Monarch cats do to milkweed -

-  but never found a caterpillar under the leaves (it might feed only at night).   I let the process go on its own for most of the summer, then this past week decided to dig into the central mass.

What I retrieved is a generally formless mass of plant fibers liberally admixed with frass.  I didn't want to remove all of it, but I did finally dissect the "mass of frass" to find this little fellow -

- a semitranslucent larva that doesn't resemble any butterfly caterpillar I'm aware of.  It could be a moth larva, but the overall appearance frankly looks a bit more like a beetle larva than a lepidoptera species -

It looks not unlike the "grubs" that my mom and I used to dig out of rotting stumps in the woods up at Leech Lake to use for fishing bait back in the 1960s. (the color a bit inaccurate in my available-light photo; it was more yellowish in real life).

I have no idea what it is.  It currently is residing in a container with some of that chewed mass plus some fresh leaves in a closed container on our screen porch.  Given the season I would expect it to pupate in anticipation of winter.

A brief internet search didn't yield an answer for me.  Googling mullein + caterpillar results in numerous hits for a "mullein moth" that is native to Europe.  A 1904 article "What ate the mullein?" in Elementary School Teacher didn't offer a definitive answer.

I'd be delighted to hear any suggestions.  Is this important?  Not at all.  Just that curious minds want to know.

Addendum:  SOLVED by reader Kniffler, who found the moth Paracorsia repandalis at the Maryland Biodiversity Project, where these photos were posted:

Credit for all photos to Peter Coffey.  Apparently what I referred to as a "formless mass of plant fibers" was actually composed of trichomes from the leaves (admixed with an abundance of frass).

I'll check in a few days and see if I can find the pupa.

Addendum:  Here's a good article about mullein found by reader Crowboy.

And also I'm wondering if the "cotton" in the bee nest I found in a window back in 2019 was comprised of these trichomes from mullein.  Looks very similar.

Volcanic hydrochloric acid production

The toxic soup of volcanic gases (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide) is familiar to most everyone.  Today I learned about a new one being produced on La Palma in the Canaries:
One river of lava reached the ocean near Playa de Los Guirres on Sept. 28. It poured off a 300-foot-tall cliff into the seawater below, prompting authorities to urge residents to remain indoors with their windows closed to limit the entry of outside air. When lava enters the ocean, it heats up seawater extremely rapidly, splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen ions. Some of the hydrogen combines with chlorine ions in the seawater to form hydrochloric acid and produce a gas that is toxic when inhaled.
You learn something every day (though hydrochloric acid shouldn't exist as a gas - perhaps they mean hydrogen chloride, or else the HCl is aerosolized as inhalable droplets).  

Image cropped for size from the original. 

A new cryptocurrency

Redeemable in ice cream.  Explained at Neatorama.

White supremacy presented as religion

"In rural Minnesota, a fringe Heathen group known as the Asatru Folk Assembly has purchased a local church – and membership is strictly whites-only. They worship Nordic, pre-Christian gods and they call themselves a 'folk religion' that only accepts those with northern European ancestry. Their racially exclusive ideology is protected by the first amendment

Amudalat Ajasa visits the church to understand how it is gaining influence across the country and to meet the anti-racist Heathens fighting back to reclaim their religion."
I couldn't watch this all the way through, but I'll post it because it's important to know about the existence of groups like the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Yarns dyed with pigments derived from mushrooms and lichens

Information about these natural dyes at the Cornell Mushroom Blog.  Image via.
Tyrian purple, the desired color, was originally extracted from a marine mollusk, and initially, lichen dyes were used only as underdyes. However, as the mollusk population was depleted, lichens became the primary source of the valuable purples, for they also were found to have a natural affinity to woolen and silk textiles...

The techniques and knowledge for making orchil lichen dyes were great secrets in early times. The earliest known description of the preparation of orchil was given by Roseto in 1540. The process generally consisted of obtaining the desired lichen, adding it to stale urine and slaked lime, and waiting...

I also found this re the history of purple dyes

"Citizen Hearst" trailer

This four-hour PBS presentation from the American Experience series is an excellent documentary, because even though most people are vaguely familiar with the overall story via Citizen Kane, the details re Hearst's life are fascinating.

Available for viewing online (not in libraries yet, AFAIK).

10 October 2021

Impressive migration of a bee-eater - updated

"A female European Honey Buzzard was fitted with a satellite tracking system in Finland and was of particular interest to South African locals because it spent the most austral summer (our winter) around the town of Reitz in the Free State in South Africa. She left Reitz in SA to start heading north on 20 April and on 2 June she finally reached Finland where she will probably spend the boreal summer before probably returning again this autumn to South Africa."

The photo shows the data received from the tracker which plots the route that she took to head north... so, in just 42 days, she covered over 10,000 km at an average of more than 230 km every single day!  

Had to look up the bird:
The European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus), also known as the pern or common pern, is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae.

Despite its English name, this species is more closely related to kites of the genera Leptodon and Chondrohierax than to true buzzards in Buteo. The binomen is derived from Ancient Greek pernes περνης, a term used by Aristotle for a bird of prey, and Latin apivorus "bee-eating", from apis, "bee" and -vorus, "-eating". In fact, bees are much less important than wasps in the birds' diet. Note that it is accordingly called Wespenbussard ("wasp buzzard") in German and similarly in some other Germanic languages and also in Hungarian ("darázsölyv").

It is a specialist feeder, living mainly on the larvae and nests of wasps and hornets, although it will take small mammals, reptiles, and birds. It is the only known predator of the Asian hornet. It spends large amounts of time on the forest floor excavating wasp nests. It is equipped with long toes and claws adapted to raking and digging, and scale-like feathering on its head, thought to be a defence against the stings of its victims. Honey buzzards are thought to have a chemical deterrent in their feathers that protects them from wasp attacks.
Wish we had one in the back yard to control the yellow jackets.

Reposted after totally rewriting the post based on information from the source, which was located by reader Lones Smith.

Addendum:  Gotta share this awesome photo found by reader Crowboy -

08 October 2021

White sage on a Wisconsin hillside

Photographed this week on the West Knoll of the Grady Tract of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, while on a hike with the Friends of the Arboretum.

I always prefer to hike and photograph on cloudy or overcast days when the diffuse light offers better images (IMHO) that those taken in bright sunshine with stark contrasts of light and dark.  

Intermixed with the sage are some young sumac plants sporting their October colors (parent plants in the background).  The hillside is a remnant prairie.

This sage is, I believe, a species of Artemisia, which is a bit different from the shrub-sized salvia in California - also referred to as "white sage" - which has been the subject of a report in Vice entitled The White Sage Black Market.

October is prime leaf-peeping season in Wisconsin, so I hope to continue with some additional posts in the weeks ahead.   This particular hike was a three-hour exploration led by Michael Hansen, the Arboretum's land care manager, who

discussed the glacial morphology of the land and explained what the University is doing to combat invasive species such as the bittersweet vines and the everpresent buckthorn.  "Rewilding" two hundred acres in the center of a city is not an easy task.

Gorilla dies in the arms of her human

"The Virunga National Park said in a statement Tuesday that Ndakasi died on Sept. 26 after battling a prolonged illness and “took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma.” The statement is accompanied by a photo of Bauma, who befriended the gorilla when she was just 2 months old, holding Ndakasi shortly before her death at the park’s Senkwekwe Center, where she had lived for about 12 years.

Bauma, who was not made available for an interview, said in a statement that it was “a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature.”

“It was Ndakasi’s sweet nature and intelligence that helped me to understand the connection between humans and Great Apes and why we should do everything in our power to protect them,” he said. “I am proud to have called Ndakasi my friend.”..

Her life started with tragedy. In April 2007, rangers at the Congolese park found a 2-month-old Ndakasi “clinging to the lifeless body of her mother, gunned down by armed militia hours earlier,” park officials said in a statement. Her mother’s death was part of a series of massacres of gorilla families in the region that led the park to strengthen the protection of its mountain gorillas, they added.

Understanding how dangerous it would be to leave the mountain gorilla by herself, vulnerable to people with guns and human encroachment, rangers brought Ndakasi to the park’s rescue center. It’s there that she met Bauma.

“All night long, Andre held the baby close to him,” the park said in a statement."
And as a reminder, this gif of a silverback attempting to console a small child who had fallen into a gorilla enclosure.

Time-lapse of Covid-19 in the United States

Pretty much as everyone remembers this unfolding, but I have to say that the second recent peak is rather startling.  Via Kottke.

"Covid toe" reported

The skin condition known as Covid toe may be a side-effect of the immune system’s response to fighting off the virus, according to a study.

The symptom results in chilblain-like inflammation and redness on the hands and feet, with the condition sometimes lasting for months at a time. It typically develops within a week to four weeks of being infected and can result in toes and fingers becoming swollen or changing colour...

Concerns were raised in the opening months of the pandemic that so-called Covid toe was one of the non-recognised symptoms of infection, after patients in several countries reported the condition even though, in some cases, they displayed none of the usual symptoms...

Dr Veronique Bataille, a consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, said Covid toe was seen very frequently during the early phase of the pandemic, but had been less common in the current Delta variant wave.

She said that might be down to more people being vaccinated or having some protection against Covid from past infections. “Presentations after vaccination are much rarer.”
Basically a peripheral vasculopathy.  Worth emphasizing that this is a complication of coronavirus infection, not a side effect of immunization.  More information at the Guardian source and the British Journal of Dermatology.

One thing we share with spiders: kneecaps

All taxa possess a proximal short segment (coxa; shown in dark gray), and most taxa also have an additional short segment (trochanter; shown in light gray). But only arachnids have a third short leg segment (patella; shown in black) that is intercalated between two longer leg segments. Our data show that the proper formation of this unique leg segment requires the function of dac2 and thus link the origin of the patella to the duplication and neofunctionalization of the dachshund gene in arachnids...
This definitely gets filed in the "things you wouldn't know" category.

The "most neighborly" city in the United States is...

Looking at data around charitable giving, volunteering, and community well-being, we named the 25 cities in the U.S. where you could find the friendliest people to live next door... we also scoured the internet for new factors to consider, including which cities are the happiest. We also surveyed people across the nation and learned what it means to be a good neighbor:
79% of people said they’ve done at least one favor for their neighbor in the past year.
62% of people say they hang out with their neighbors at least a few times a year.
66% of people say they have at least two neighbors they can depend on to do favors like watering their plants or picking up their mail.
And amid the coronavirus pandemic, 42% of people said they’re now more likely to start relationships with their neighbors, so they can take care of one another.
Using the above data, we came up with a new list of 25 cities where we think you can find the most neighborly people around.
#4 on the list is Minneapolis, where I grew up.

Where clothes go to die

05 October 2021

The Dalai Lama's perilous escape from Tibet

It's a story that I remember hearing years ago, but the details of which I had never seen until reading an article in the August 2019 National Geographic.  In 1959 Tibetans feared that the Dalai Lama would be seized by the People's Liberation Army of China, so they engineered his escape from Tibet to India.  The escape route entailed traveling upward from Lhasa, over passes at 15,000 feet altitude, then 16,000 x4, then 17,000 feet (5200 meters), over a period of two weeks, then gradually down to sea level in India, as indicated on the embedded graphics.

The magazine apologizes for using "variable scale" in the images, and I normally decry deceptive y-axes on graphs, but in this case I'll give them a pass because of the enormous problems in graphing Himalayan peaks to scale.  What impresses me now is the awesome altitudes traversed, even granting that the participants had a lifetime's adaptation in terms of their heart, lungs and hemoglobin.  

04 October 2021

A fungus among us

Photographed in central Massachusetts; presumably a lion's mane mushroom, or relative thereof.

Massive oil spill headed toward the Arctic Ocean

This is not the massive oil spill off the California coast.  And not the hurricane-induced one in the Gulf of Mexico.  This is another massive oil spill, as reported by The Siberian Times:
A huge flow of diesel has reached stunning Lake Pyasino in the Arctic after the recent accident at a thermal power plant near Norilsk, it is believed.

This indicates the failure of initial attempts to contain the toxic pollution, and with the lake linked by the Pyasina River to the Kara Sea there are now fears much worse is to come...

On 29 May, diesel leaked into the Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers from a fuel tank weakened by permafrost thawing at Power Plant No. 3 of Norilsk-Taymyr Energy Company (NTEC), which is part of Norilsk Nickel and provides electricity for the Norilsk industrial district.

Disturbing pictures and footage of the discoloured toxic rivers were revealed by the media. It is now clear that early hopes of stemming the pollution have failed, and the scale of the ecological catastrophe is becoming clearer. 

The quantity fuel released mainly into the river system above the Arctic Circle would fit into 350 train wagons.

The lake under immediate threat is of glacial origin and is some 20 km from Norilsk. The only river flowing out of it - the Pyasina passes through the Great Arctic State Nature Reserve and flows into the Kara Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean... 

Disturbingly, she revealed that on the Ambarnaya, beyond the booms, the concentration varies from 80 to 116 times the maximum limits...

This sounds incredible but it was true: the state’s own local ecological watchdog officials were not permitted to visit the scene of an environmental emergency of huge proportions. 

‘They told us we must get permission from the chiefs of Norilsk Fuel and Energy Company, but we did not have much time,’ said Vasily Ryabinin. ‘We asked them: ‘Whose interests are you protecting, guys?’ But they did not allow us to enter. ..

‘The main problem is that the leak was not of oil itself, but of the product of its processing - diesel.  ‘An oil slick is held on the surface of the water, and diesel sinks to the bottom and mixes with water and silt. In addition, the chemical components of diesel fuel are much more toxic. 

‘Booms will not be able to completely stop the diesel, part of the oil product will still go beyond and then settle to the bottom. For complete cleaning, it is necessary to completely remove the soil from the bottom of water bodies. So far it is about at least collecting all the spots from the surface. 

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging cap to reader Kolo Jezdec, who found this followup report by Greenpeace, which included this ominous map - 

Foreign "troll firms" run Facebook's Christian pages

As reported by MIT Technology Review:
In the run-up to the 2020 election, the most highly contested in US history, Facebook’s most popular pages for Christian and Black American content were being run by Eastern European troll farms. These pages were part of a larger network that collectively reached nearly half of all Americans, according to an internal company report, and achieved that reach not through user choice but primarily as a result of Facebook’s own platform design and engagement-hungry algorithm...

Troll farms—professionalized groups that work in a coordinated fashion to post provocative content, often propaganda, to social networks—were still building massive audiences by running networks of Facebook pages. Their content was reaching 140 million US users per month—75% of whom had never followed any of the pages. They were seeing the content because Facebook’s content-recommendation system had pushed it into their news feeds...

The report found that troll farms were reaching the same demographic groups singled out by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA) during the 2016 election, which had targeted Christians, Black Americans, and Native Americans...

As of October 2019, around 15,000 Facebook pages with a majority US audience were being run out of Kosovo and Macedonia, known bad actors during the 2016 election.

Collectively, those troll-farm pages—which the report treats as a single page for comparison purposes—reached 140 million US users monthly and 360 million global users weekly. Walmart’s page reached the second-largest US audience at 100 million.

The troll farm pages also combined to form:
*the largest Christian American page on Facebook, 20 times larger than the next largest—reaching 75 million US users monthly, 95% of whom had never followed any of the pages.

*the largest African-American page on Facebook, three times larger than the next largest—reaching 30 million US users monthly, 85% of whom had never followed any of the pages.

*the second-largest Native American page on Facebook, reaching 400,000 users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages.

*the fifth-largest women’s page on Facebook, reaching 60 million US users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
More at the link; I don't want to borrow too much.  The source article is worth reading and worth sharing.  Top image from the via.

Sorry for all the gloom and doom posts today, but we are really so fucked...

Petroglyph of whale hunting

I found this photo in an interesting article about the petroglyphs of northern Siberia.
The spectacular art gallery - scientists found 350 stone planes, each with dozens of drawings - was ‘opened’ at least two thousand years ago, when ancient artists embossed petroglyphs on rocks of what is now  Chukotka, Russia’s easternmost corner. 

The Pegtymel petroglyphs were found by Soviet geologists in 1967, high above the right bank of the Pegtymel River, a short distance from the East Siberian Sea...

The most striking part of the gallery are petroglyphs of ‘mushroom people’ - women and men with large mushroom on their heads, or with one or several mushrooms replacing heads. In some cases their legs are shaped as mushroom stems, too. 

Russian experts have christened them the 'fly agaric people’ after the hallucinogenic mushrooms it is believed they consumed.

North Pacific salmon are dwindling

Two articles today on this subject.  First from Bloomberg re Alaska:
In a normal year, the smokehouses and drying racks that Alaska Natives use to prepare salmon to tide them through the winter would be heavy with fish meat, the fruits of a summer spent fishing on the Yukon River like generations before them.

This year, there are no fish. For the first time in memory, both king and chum salmon have dwindled to almost nothing and the state has banned salmon fishing on the Yukon, even the subsistence harvests that Alaska Natives rely on to fill their freezers and pantries for winter. The remote communities that dot the river and live off its bounty — far from road systems and easy, affordable shopping — are desperate and doubling down on moose and caribou hunts in the waning days of fall.

“Nobody has fish in their freezer right now. Nobody,” said Giovanna Stevens, 38, a member of the Stevens Village tribe who grew up harvesting salmon at her family's fish camp. “We have to fill that void quickly before winter gets here."

Opinions on what led to the catastrophe vary, but those studying it generally agree human-caused climate change is playing a role as the river and the Bering Sea warm, altering the food chain in ways that aren't yet fully understood. Many believe commercial trawling operations that scoop up wild salmon along with their intended catch, as well as competition from hatchery-raised salmon in the ocean, have compounded global warming's effects on one of North America's longest rivers.
And this from The Guardian re Northern California:
As a lifelong reservation resident, Gensaw recalls when fresh food was abundant. “I grew up with fish patties, rice and fish, noodles and fish, salmon sandwiches, dried fish,” she remembers fondly. “We never understood how lucky we were, that it was going to go away.”

The Yurok reservation where Gensaw lives sits on a remote strip of land that snakes shoulder to shoulder with the final 44 miles of the Klamath River along the misty northern California coast. In 2001, drought descended on the Klamath Basin, the watershed that feeds the river. Due to a history of water mismanagement in the basin, combined with a historic drought, the river is sick – and the Yurok are too.

The salmon they have long depended on as dietary staple and cultural cornerstone have become scarce... Earlier this year, a fish kill of enormous magnitude left 70% of juvenile salmon dead, according to Yurok biologists. Tribal scientists later found the deadly pathogen Ceratonova shasta, which spreads when water quality is low and fish are stressed, present in 97% of the fish they captured...

For Gensaw, that means restoring the river and its salmon population to health, because when the fish thrive, so do the children and families. “No fish means no food,” she says. “Our communities depend on the river for sustenance.”

"I wouldn't want to offend my Board of Directors"

“The board decides what I make,” Dimon told Axios co-founder James VandeHei, echoing a response he gave Congress in May, before the panel awarded him a surprise five-year retention bonus. When VandeHei countered by suggesting they could ask their boards to cut their pay, Dimon says his would take offense. The CEO’s compensation is part of a broader “umbrella” designed to retain senior management, he said.

The board awarded Dimon $31.5 million in compensation for 2020. 

Indian Air Force helicopter

Comments at the via indicate that the photo was taken about 40-50 years ago. "It was a small helicopter, modified to resemble a “dancing elephant“ and flew over the Republic Day grounds during the Republic Day parade."

Bird migration heat map

This is a screencap from an interactive map at The Cornell Lab's BirdCast website.  The intensity of the colors reflects the intensity of the migration in terms of number of birds in the air (750,000,000 at just after midnight), and obviously the arrows show direction of movement.  For comparison, here is the image from 10:30 this morning (one-tenth as many birds migrating, the others presumably having landed to feed or rest).

There is a pull-down that lets you view any day going back to 2018.  Awesome.

Modern radar equipment is also capable of detecting airborne insects.  I've seen reports that they are now learning to analyse the data by adding radar "signatures" of different types of insects in order to distinguish butterflies from locusts from mayflies etc.  Amazing.

03 October 2021

What will it take for the world to ameliorate climate change?

Philipp Blom is not particularly optimistic. “The rich Western societies of today are no more effective in combating climate change than those that existed around the year 1600,” he writes. “The occurrence of some kind of dramatic collapse seems to be only a question of time.” We are rapidly approaching the inevitable end point of an economic system that relies upon exploitation of resources, workers, the poor, he argues. We are too stubborn, too enraptured with the free market, to save ourselves in time.

Yet Blom’s own history suggests another possibility. If changes in climate spur profound changes in economic thought, philosophy, and the political and social order, might not such a profound shift occur again? It will have to. Blom thinks such a transformation can only occur if we abandon our faith in the invisible hand of the market—a faith “theological in nature”—and understand the degree to which our fate is tied to the protection of our physical environment.

An analogous intellectual transformation occurred in the 1670s in the Dutch provinces, where the Jewish lens grinder Baruch Spinoza overcame the ideological divide that had stymied Western thought for centuries. (Heinrich Heine: “All our modern philosophers . . . see through the glasses which Baruch Spinoza ground.”) Before Spinoza, intellectual thought had to square with the letter of the Bible, under the penalty of death; Blom recounts the cautionary tales of Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake for speaking of parallel worlds and an infinite universe, and Lucilio Vanini, the author of wily essays about the incompatibilities between Christian doctrine and rational thought, who was also burned, but only after having his tongue ripped out and being strangled.

In Blom’s telling, Spinoza’s Ethics marked the break between the medieval and modern worldviews. Spinoza’s method is to turn theological doctrine inside out, until it devours itself. Taking literally the notion that God is perfect and omnipresent, he deduces that God and nature are synonymous. (This is a convenient solution to the theology trap, for if God is everything we see, think, and feel, then He is also nothing.) It follows that an ethical life is one lived in accordance with nature. This requires liberating ourselves from ungoverned passions, which only cause suffering and confusion, and appealing instead to reason and the pursuit of knowledge. Spinoza does not call for the abandonment of self-interest but calls instead for an enlightened self-interest, which recognizes that we are most free when we act with shared purpose: “although men are generally governed in everything by their own lusts, yet their association in common brings many more advantages than drawbacks.” Blom, overlooking certain passages of the Ethics (such as those calling for human beings to exploit nature when it suits us), summarizes Spinoza’s conclusion this way:
"if we analyze our situation, it becomes clear that our best chance to survive well, and with the least degree of restraint, lies in acting in solidarity with others in order to create a world in which people can live with dignity.'
Activists, philosophers, and politicians are increasingly beginning to make this very claim about climate change: that inaction is not only irrational, a profound threat to our own sense of self-preservation, but immoral. It is immoral exactly because it threatens our self-interest. You hear a version of this argument in Bruno Latour’s insistence that favoring short-term interests over long-term human survival is not an instinctual behavior but one conditioned by economic and political factors. You hear the same argument when South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, likely the only millennial who will run for president in 2020, speaks of “intergenerational justice,” when the pope calls for solutions to climate change “not only in technology but in a change of humanity,” and when the sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg tells world leaders that they are stealing their children’s future right in front of their very eyes. You will hear this argument grow louder and louder until, before very long, you won’t be able to hear anything else.
The source article is a review of Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present, by Philipp Blom.  Liveright. 352 pages. $27.95.  I have requested the book from our library and am #2 on the "hold" list for 8 copies.  Hope to review it later this fall or winter.

01 October 2021

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