30 March 2022

Intergluteal cleft in the news

"It was Read Across America week, and the second graders in the Hinds County School District in Mississippi were waiting for an administrator to read to them.

The administrator had forgotten it was her turn, said Toby Price, the assistant principal at Gary Road Elementary School in Hinds County, who was in his office at the time. He decided to fill in.
Mr. Price, 46, quickly grabbed a book — “I Need a New Butt!” by Dawn McMillan, one of his children’s favorites — and began reading it to the roughly 240 second graders over Zoom.

Later that day, on March 2, the district superintendent, Delesicia Martin, called him into her office and told him he was on administrative leave, Mr. Price said. He was fired two days later, accused of violating the standards of conduct section of the Mississippi Educator Code of Ethics.

In a letter to Mr. Price, the superintendent called the book “inappropriate.” She particularly took issue with the references to farting in the story ...
... and how “the book described butts in various colors, shapes and sizes (example: fireproof, bullet proof, bomb proof).”..
“I expected a write up,” said Mr. Price, who had worked for the district for three years. “I did not expect to get terminated. I cried the entire way home.”..

“My granddaughter heard him read the book and thought it was hilarious and not at all inappropriate!” the grandmother wrote.

Mr. Price said that was the reaction from students after he read the book. He recalled going into the hallway and being approached by students who thanked him for his pick.

“They loved it,” he said. “They all stopped me and said, ‘Mr. Price, that book was really good.’”
“We have a lot of reluctant readers,” he said. “I am a firm believer that reluctant readers need the silly, funny books to hook them in.”..

He said he wanted only his job back so he could support his three children. His two eldest children — a daughter, 19, and a son, 18 — have severe autism.

“I’m tired. I’m stressed. I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I need to work.”"
More at The New York Times.  I checked the book out from our library system, which has 20 copies.  

Magnolia State Live reported yesterday that "The Hinds County School Board’s decision on Price’s employment is expected in about two months."
“First and foremost, the book contains statements and cartoon pictures regarding bodily anatomy, bodily functions and removing clothing to expose private areas of the body in various positions,” Martin said. “These statements and pictures are inappropriate for an educator to read and display to second graders, especially without advance notice to the teachers of the students.”

28 March 2022

It actually IS called a "thagomizer"

This week The Far Side reposted the classic 1982 cartoon embedded above.  Many people don't realize that Gary Larson's neologism has now been incorporated into the scientific lexicon:
Thagomizer has since been adopted as an informal anatomical term, and is used by the Smithsonian Institution, the Dinosaur National Monument, the book The Complete Dinosaur and the BBC documentary series Planet Dinosaur. The term has also appeared in some technical papers describing stegosaurs and related dinosaurs.
The four spikes in the tail of the stegosaurus are now thought to have protruded horizontally rather than vertically.

Corporate code of ethics

Medicaid structured as a loan program

A guardian of the state admitted Edna into a nursing home and signed her up for the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth. Tawanda was relieved that her mother was being cared for while she was busy arranging her brother’s funeral. But when she arrived in Boston from Brooklyn, where she and her husband had settled, she heard rumors about MassHealth “robbing people of their homes” as reimbursement for their medical bills.

She soon learned that the rumors held some truth. Medicaid, the government program that provides health care to more than 75 million low-income and disabled Americans, isn’t necessarily free. It’s the only major welfare program that can function like a loan. Medicaid recipients over the age of 55 are expected to repay the government for many medical expenses—and states will seize houses and other assets after those recipients die in order to satisfy the debt...

One of the reasons estate recovery works at all is that few people know about it. Although states disclose the policy in their Medicaid-enrollment forms, it’s often buried in fine print that can easily be overlooked, especially when applicants are anxiously seeking urgent medical care. MassHealth, for example, places its notice about three-quarters of the way down page 20 of its 34-page application: “To the extent permitted by law, and unless exceptions apply, for any eligible person age 55 or older, or any eligible person for whom MassHealth helps pay for care in a nursing home, MassHealth will seek money from the eligible person’s estate after death.”

“It’s all technically accurate, but it’s hard for a nonlawyer to know that that means We’re going to send you a bill,” says Gregory Wilcox, an elder-law attorney in California who’s received “lots of calls from people who are dismayed, shocked,” first by the loss of their loved one and then by the secondary blow of losing their inheritance.

Remember to clean your clothes dryer vent - updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, a shout-out to the crew:

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

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

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

AddendumHere's another one - even more impressive. ("My friend asked me to switch her laundry over. I found out they didn’t know you were supposed to clean your lint trap.")

Addenda:  one-minute gif of cleaning a dryer vent and a gif of cleaning out a hotel laundry vent.

"Shoddy" as a noun - updated

"This heap is composed of the shredded remains of used wool rags, socks, clothes, and remnants from the textile industry, all slowly disintegrating into the earth. Despite containing the refuse of multiple fiber-based industries…this is not a dump in any typical sense. In various states of chemical decomposition and arranged in strata-like layers, this debris has a biological purpose; wool contains a high amount of nitrogen that it releases slowing as it breaks down….Here, textile waste…gradually turns into agricultural fertilizer that is intended for use on the surrounding fields of rhubarb….

Today when most people hear the word shoddy, they think of an adjective meaning “low quality” or “badly fabricated.” But, in fact, the term came into existence in the early decades of the nineteenth century as a noun, referring to a new textile material produced from old rags and tailors’ clippings. Workers made it by shredding wool rags in what were christened “devils,” grinding machines equipped with sharp teeth. Recycled waste and other leftovers were turned into plentiful “new” raw materials in the “shoddy towns” of Batley and Dewsbury….Over the next century, shoddy…was widely used in the production of suits, army uniforms, slaves’ clothing, carpet lining, and mattress stuffing.…"
An excerpt from Shoddy: From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance of Rags (University of Chicago, $25), via Harvard Magazine.

Reposted from 2021 to add this interesting statistic:

70 pairs of pants per person per year.  We should clarify that it's not all pants - it's the equivalent of that many pants, and it's not all consumer discards, because much of it occurs "upstream" at industry level.

The concern is quite different from the "shoddy" described at the top.  Nobody worries about lost cotton or wool fibers.  The problem is that modern clothing contains high levels of plastic (polyester) that requires extracting from fossil fuels and winds up generating microplastics.  

Graphic adapted from The Global Glut of Clothing is an Environmental Crisis, where there is much more information:
Today, in fact, fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined, according to the United Nations Environment Programme...

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that plastics will be the largest driver of net growth in the demand for oil in the next two decades. Textiles are the second-largest product group made from petrochemical plastics behind packaging, making up 15% of all petrochemical products...

Most clothing around the world is made with polyester, the synthetic fiber derived predominantly from petroleum. It has overtaken cotton as the main textile fiber of the 21st century, ending hundreds of years of cotton’s dominance.

Shein puts out an average of about 1,000 women’s new clothing styles a day based on our sample, 85% of which were made with polyester...

 Santaniello, who worked in the fashion industry for 15 years, says retailers and consumers both need to change their habits and expectations for a true reckoning to occur. “When I worked in fashion, the other sales reps and I would sit there and talk about how we wanted to set fire to the whole industry and start over again,” she says. It may be a chicken-or-egg problem, but “if stores just started offering less inventory, maybe consumers could get used to there being less out there. I think that would make us all a little bit happier.”

27 March 2022

"If We Were Vampires" (things would be different...)

Kudos to The Reverend Morgan Allan for selecting the above ballad for the introduction to his lecture today comparing the horrors of the Marsten House in Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot to the beheading of John the Baptist as portrayed in the Gospel of Mark.  [The video at the lecture link is muted during the first minute during the playing of the ballad, perhaps to avert copyright infringement]; here are the relevant lyrics in the hinge refrain, which can be heard in the embed:

It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone.

If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind...

The ballad by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is from his 2017 studio album "The Nashville Sound."  The Reverend Morgan Allan's presentation (the second link above) is 45 minutes in length and contains several insights into Stephen King's writing that I think some readers here will appreciate.  This is part of an ongoing series of lectures; the presentation last week focused on The Shining.  Coming up: Cujo, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Pet Sematary, and Thinner - all in the context of the Gospel of Mark.  

26 March 2022

The Holodomor ("Death by Starvation") explained

A riveting documentary about stuff I didn't learn in school.

Addendum:  This book was recommended by a reader -

It is a scholarly, detailed report on all of the political and financial maneuvering that culminated in the mass starvation.  Sobering reading.

25 March 2022

I could listen to David Attenborough all day

(best viewed fullscreen)

Ex libris Hernando Colón (son of Christopher Columbus)

Hernando Colón tried to assemble a library of every book then in existence.  He and his staff composed summaries of those books.
“The ivory casket” by Hippocrates: In the medical section of the library there is a certain pamphlet of prognostics with the title “The Ivory Casket,” and here is what I’ve been able to find out about this mysterious name: Hippocrates, sensing his death was near, instructed that the contents of this pamphlet be placed in an ivory casket and buried in his grave with him, to keep people from discovering them. When this came to the attention of a certain emperor, he ordered the grave dug up and saw to it that the contents of the casket were saved for posterity. What is contained in this prognostic are rules or instructions by which to predict the very season, day, and hour of death coming to one who is sick, by the signs that are here set down.

A scholar’s manual beginning “respected teacher”: Whoever published this book wasted their money. It’s supposed to teach schoolboys what they should expect at university, but I doubt whether someone brought up among the Sarmatians or Scythians would recount such barbaric behavior as this. The Latin itself is awful. The dialogue describes what goes on in places such as Deventer and Cologne, where during the matriculation rituals the little graduate bitches and other wicked scoundrels bombard the freshman with abuse and insults and human filth, and also shave him and inflict other indignities. Then the freshman has to take them all out and get them drunk on his own dime. I will stop here so I don’t shock anyone too much, but the debauched author even includes dialogues about whores and prostitution. There’s nothing funny or clever or charming here—it’s just filth. And, as if that isn’t enough, there’s a string of grammatical errors more than a mile long.
Excerpted from an article wonderfully entitled "The Library of Babble," in the November 2021 issue of Harper's Magazine.  Another book summary there, along with info re a relevant upcoming publication.

The victims of "Manifest Destiny"

"At the time of first contact, around 1500 ce, Indian populations in North America had numbered, according to sober estimates, around 5 million. There were more than five hundred distinct tribes spread over the entire continent—from the Florida Keys to the Aleutian Islands. The deserts of the American Southwest hosted some of the most advanced societies, who built cities that still stand today. At the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi, where St. Louis now stands, was a city of more than twenty thousand. Along the resource-rich eastern seaboard, the coast was populated, without break, from Florida to Newfoundland. But four hundred years of warfare, disease, and starvation had taken its toll. According to the US census, there were only 237,000 Indians in the United States in 1900, a twentieth of the population at its peak.

The story of the land parallels that of the population. The United States comprises 2.3 billion acres. By 1900, Indians controlled only 78 million acres, or about 3 percent."
-- excerpt from The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, published by Riverhead Books. Author David Treuer is Ojibwe, from the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Awesome program on slime molds

Embedded above is the brief trailer for the recent NOVA program exploring the astounding capabilities of slime molds.  One can argue (at some length) about the definition of "intelligence," but the program does document that a slime mold is capable of learning and of remembering information.  Then the question evolves to ... how does a living creature store information when it has no brain, and when in fact the entire organism is comprised of a single cell?

Fascinating.  Best science video I have seen in a long time.  You can view The Secret Mind of Slime at PBS.

Word for the day: "Permacrisis"

Apparently it's not a new word; Google Ngram viewer seems to indicate its coinage in the early 1970s.  I first encountered it yesterday reading an op-ed lament on parenting which expressed concern about how to help today's children deal with climate change + coronavirus + war ......

It's a good word, useful for describing our current lives.

21 March 2022

"Is it safe?" (no)

[A] dentist in Jackson, Wis., drilled into and broke his patients’ teeth in order to charge them for fixing the damage he’d caused, according to federal prosecutors. By doing so, Charmoli went from pulling in $1.4 million and affixing 434 crowns in 2014 to raking in $2.5 million and performing more than 1,000 crown procedures a year later...

Charmoli’s methods were exposed after he sold his dental practice in 2019. The new owners, in reviewing his files, noticed the high rate of crown procedures. One reported his predecessor to authorities.

Jade burial suit

As reported at Heritage Daily:
Because of its hardness, durability, and subtle translucent colours, jade became associated with Chinese conceptions of the soul, protective qualities, and immortality in the ‘essence’ of stone (yu zhi, shi zhi jing ye)...

The Han thought that each person had a two-part soul: the spirit-soul (hun 魂) which journeyed to the afterlife paradise of immortals (xian), and the body-soul (po 魄) which remained in its grave or tomb on earth and was only reunited with the spirit-soul through a ritual ceremony. The early Han rulers came to believe that jade would preserve the physical body and the souls attached to it in death, with various burials being found with large and small jade bi discs placed around the deceased.

This developed into the practice of being buried in ornate jade burial suits, completely encasing the deceased in thousands of pieces of cut and polished jade sewn together with thread, believing that the suit ensured the body would remain immortal. It is estimated that it would require hundreds of craftsmen more than 10 years to polish the jade plates required for a single suit, emphasising the power and wealth of the deceased...

According to the Hòu Hànshū (Book of the Later Han), the type of thread used was dependent on status. An emperor’s jade suit was threaded with gold, whilst lessor royals and high-ranked nobility with silver, sons and daughters of the lessor with copper, and lowly ranked aristocrats with silk.

It is believed that the practice ceased during the reign of the first emperor of the state of Wei in the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280), in fear of tomb robbers who would burn the suits in order to retrieve the gold or silver thread.
So far, 20 of these suits have been found.  More pix at the link.

Insect trends in Wisconsin during the pandemic

A good video for those who are interested in insects, presented by the head of the Insect Diagnostic Lab at the University of Wisconsin.  Residents in the state can send in insect samples (or photos) for free diagnosis, so the lab offers a good perspective of changes that are happening in the state.   Start at the 10-minute mark for comments on specific insects.  Lots of exotic insects arriving because of purchases on Amazon being sent from the country of origin (like Australian cockroaches).  

16 March 2022

Saltine cracker art

Other works by Kristen Meyer can be viewed here.

I'll use this opportunity to congratulate the via, Jason Kottke, on 24 years of blogging.  That is a remarkable achievement.

Nikon "Small World in Motion" winning entries


New Ukrainian postage stamp

Approved but not yet printed.  Backstory at NPR.

NASA visualization of global warming

Coronavirus surging in China

Just a reminder that it isn't over:
China’s worst Covid-19 outbreak since the initial wave of the pandemic worsened Tuesday with a major factory city ordering production halts.

Recent outbreaks in 28 provinces have infected more than 15,000 people and stem primarily from the highly transmissible omicron variant, China’s National Health Commission said Tuesday, according to state media. China has 31 province-level regions.

Although the northern province of Jilin accounts for most of the cases, the latest outbreak has hit major cities such as the financial center of Shanghai and technology manufacturing hub Shenzhen.
Omicron is less lethal, but China tends to respond with autocratic lockdowns, which will have a ripple effect on the world economy.  Embedded image via Bloomberg.

Addendum: Also Europe -
A surge in coronavirus infections in Western Europe has experts and health authorities on alert for another wave of the pandemic in the United States, even as most of the country has done away with restrictions after a sharp decline in cases...

Germany, a nation of 83 million people, saw more than 250,000 new cases and 249 deaths Friday... The Netherlands, home to fewer than 18 million people, was averaging more than 60,000 cases the same day...

In the past two years, a widespread outbreak like the one now being seen in Europe has been followed by a similar surge in the United States some weeks later. Many, but not all, experts interviewed for this story predicted that is likely to happen.
I'm sure Americans will be willing to mask up again and isolate themselves in order to prevent a resurgent pandemic.  Not.

Materials unsafe for bird nests

Guidelines from Audubon:
[Advice] from Jennifer Gordon, executive director of Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, a center in North Carolina that cares for everything from donkeys to injured songbirds. Gordon says her team treats dozens of adult birds and chicks every year due to hazardous nesting materials. Based on her experience, Gordon advises staying clear of anything synthetic and providing only natural materials. But be careful, she says, because even some natural elements aren’t always safe for bird nests. Pet fur, for example, could be dangerous if treated with flea medicine.

Materials to Avoid:

Human hair: According to Gordon, human hair is a triple threat for birds: It’s long, thin, and strong. These characteristics can be a deadly combination, allowing the hair to easily ensnare a bird’s leg or wing and sever it. “You can wrap [hair] around your finger and cut your circulation off,” she says.

Yarn or string: Long strands of yarn and string can wrap around a bird. Hatchlings are particularly susceptible to such entanglements, Gordon says. Yarn in a nest can get caught around a baby bird and cut off circulation as it grows.

Dryer lint: Although it is popular to put out and seems like the perfect lining for a nest, dryer lint quickly loses its fluffiness and structure when wet. Dryer lint is unsustainable in the rain, crumbling and leaving holes in an otherwise solid nest.

14 March 2022

Butterfly season has begun in Wisconsin

First sighting was yesterday, in Milwaukee County:

Not surprisingly, it was a Mourning Cloak, because they come out of hibernation and don't need to migrate here from down south.

Addendum:  The first butterfly in our yard appeared on March 20 this year, and was -  not surprisingly - a Mourning Cloak.

The free wi-fi password is...

I've written a possible answer in the first comment on this post, but several readers have come up with a better answer than mine (assuming that there is a typo in the equation as written)... (via)

Try it this way (yesterday):

13 March 2022


A costumed demonstrator performs the song "Un Violador en Tu Camino," or "A Rapist in Your Path," with others, during a demonstration against gender-based violence on International Women's Day in Santiago, Chile, on March 7, 2022.  
One of the Photos of the Week at The Atlantic.

Marie Antoinette's diamonds

I saw the Christie's press release many months ago -
Geneva - on 9 November 2021 Christie’s will proudly offer THE MARIE ANTOINETTE DIAMONDS as lot 1 of its live Magnificent Jewels Auction to be held at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues. Presented in their current form [a pair of matching bracelets], the 112 diamonds, originally belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France (1755-1793)... 
Architectural Digest offered a followup that "the bracelets sold on November 9 for $9,353,855, far more than their initial $2,000,000-4,000,000 estimate."

This is a portrait of her daughter Marie-Therese wearing the bracelets -

RelatedMarie Antoinette was a blonde.

Impressive college prank

In 1997 someone lodged a large pumpkin on a spire at the top of a tower on a Cornell University building, 173 feet in the air.  Nobody explained why this was done or even took credit for doing it, since the achievement jeopardized the health of students on the ground below, and there was fear of retribution. 

The prank was discussed at length 20 years later in an NPR article, and recently updated at the Cornell Daily Sun pic via

12 March 2022

This is my rental flat in Kharkiv, Ukraine

In a followup to my post from last week, after some brief research I did go ahead and book a rental unit in Ukraine with no intention of visiting, in order to test out this method of providing a modicum of support to someone there.

There were of course lots of places available via airbnb; I opted for a unit in a city rather than a guest house in the country, and chose a low-priced one on the assumption that the funds would go to an individual or family rather than to a hotel or corporation.  I messaged the host to suggest they could offer the room to an internal refugee or use the funds for whatever they need.  I did receive a nice thank-you reply:
Thanks for the support. None of the refugees will want to stay in this flat - people are fleeing from such apartments. Therefore, the money will go to the purchase of the most necessary: food and medicine. Thanks again.  --Дмитро

Update: A brief video shows why residents and refugees are not staying in Kharkiv.

11 March 2022


"A portrait of a young girl, taken after she fled from Ukraine to Romania, following Russia's invasion, at the border crossing in Siret, Romania, on March 7, 2022."  

Credit Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters.  One of the Photos of the Week at The Atlantic

Note:  today I added Ukraine as a new category in the right sidebar of TYWKIWDBI, and incorporated some old posts dating back to the conflict with Russia in 2014.

One Ukrainian refugee's story

There are (literally) a million stories now.  Here is one of them -
I’m a Python programmer and I work for a German company, and they helped me leave Ukraine for Poland. We left Kyiv in a small Peugeot 307 car. There were nine of us, me, my mum, my sister, our two husbands, four children and two big dogs, including an elderly German shepherd. It was impossible to move inside the car. We drove for 16 hours to a village about 140km from Kyiv...

Near the border with Poland there were a lot of cars and we couldn’t stay in the car for the next three – or five – days, so we decided to walk the last 17km to the border. We left at 4am – it was minus seven degrees... 

My dog is 12 and a half and she struggled to walk and fell down every kilometre or so and couldn’t stand up again. I stopped cars and asked for help but everyone refused; they advised us to leave the dogs. But our dogs are part of our family. My dog has experienced all the happy and sad moments with us. Mum’s dog is all she has left of her former life. So my husband, at times, carried our dog on his shoulders...

My husband couldn’t cross the border because of his age and the mobilisation order. He has gone back to the village to look after his mother and grandmother... All of them are in one little house without water. There’s no shop, no pharmacy, no water or food in the village and he and my sister’s husband are using firewood to heat the house.

My plan is just, I don’t know...
Her story continues at The GuardianImage (credit Alisa/Guardian community) cropped for size from the original at the source.

Kseniya Simonova - Ukrainian sand artist


The winner of Ukraine's Got Talent "recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the second world war. She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman's face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. 

Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes - with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene 'you are always near'." Consider also that she performs her art within the time constraints of a mix of prerecorded music. Very impressive. 

Additional performances here and here, and others searchable on YouTube.

Reposted from 2009.

The upside of dementia

Reposted from 2014.

06 March 2022

Portending an "age of discord"

Excerpts from an interesting article in The Atlantic:
The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions... The problems are deep and structural—not the type that the tedious process of demo­cratic change can fix in time to forestall mayhem...

Of the three factors driving social violence, Turchin stresses most heavily “elite overproduction”—­the tendency of a society’s ruling classes to grow faster than the number of positions for their members to fill...  In the United States, elites over­produce themselves through economic and educational upward mobility: More and more people get rich, and more and more get educated. Neither of these sounds bad on its own. Don’t we want everyone to be rich and educated? The problems begin when money and Harvard degrees become like royal titles in Saudi Arabia. If lots of people have them, but only some have real power, the ones who don’t have power eventually turn on the ones who do...

Elite jobs do not multiply as fast as elites do. There are still only 100 Senate seats, but more people than ever have enough money or degrees to think they should be running the country. “You have a situation now where there are many more elites fighting for the same position, and some portion of them will convert to counter-elites,” Turchin said.

Donald Trump, for example, may appear elite (rich father, Wharton degree, gilded commodes), but Trumpism is a counter-elite movement... Trump’s former adviser and chief strategist Steve Bannon, Turchin said, is a “paradigmatic example” of a counter-elite. He grew up working-class, went to Harvard Business School, and got rich as an investment banker and by owning a small stake in the syndication rights to Seinfeld. None of that translated to political power until he allied himself with the common people. “He was a counter-elite who used Trump to break through, to put the white working males back in charge,” Turchin said.

Elite overproduction creates counter-elites, and counter-elites look for allies among the commoners. If commoners’ living standards slip—not relative to the elites, but relative to what they had before—they accept the overtures of the counter-elites and start oiling the axles of their tumbrels. Commoners’ lives grow worse, and the few who try to pull themselves onto the elite lifeboat are pushed back into the water by those already aboard. The final trigger of impending collapse, Turchin says, tends to be state insolvency. At some point rising in­security becomes expensive. The elites have to pacify unhappy citizens with handouts and freebies—and when these run out, they have to police dissent and oppress people. Eventually the state exhausts all short-term solutions, and what was heretofore a coherent civilization disintegrates.

Turchin’s prognostications would be easier to dismiss as barstool theorizing if the disintegration were not happening now, roughly as [he] foretold 10 years ago...

One of Turchin’s most unwelcome conclusions is that complex societies arise through war. The effect of war is to reward communities that organize themselves to fight and survive, and it tends to wipe out ones that are simple and small-scale. “No one wants to accept that we live in the societies we do”—rich, complex ones with universities and museums and philosophy and art—“because of an ugly thing like war,” he said. But the data are clear: Darwinian processes select for complex socie­ties because they kill off simpler ones. The notion that democracy finds its strength in its essential goodness and moral improvement over its rival systems is likewise fanciful...

He opposes credential-­oriented higher education, for example, which he says is a way of mass-producing elites without also mass-­producing elite jobs for them to occupy. Architects of such policies, he told me, are “creating surplus elites, and some become counter-elites.” A smarter approach would be to keep the elite numbers small, and the real wages of the general population on a constant rise.
More at the link.  Embedded image cropped for size from the one at the source.

Paralympics this week

Impressive life story of a Ukrainian-American paralympian.

Russian TV staff walk out after saying "No to war"

As reported in The Guardian:
Two Sundays ago I wrote in the Observer about the last remaining Russian independent TV station, Dozhd (“TV Rain”), and the irrepressible spirit of Natalya Sindeyeva, the woman who pioneered and ran it. Keeping the station alive had cost Sindeyeva her home and her marriage and her health and her security. A dozen years ago when she launched Dozhd she had been a vivid Russian celebrity, a “dancing queen” of Moscow’s elite party circuit, now her mugshot is posted on street corners as a “foreign agent”. The defiant struggles of Dozhd to stay on air and to continue to report the truth in Russia despite years of intimidation and sanction from the Kremlin were the subject of an inspiring documentary, “F@ck This Job (Tango with Putin)”, made by London-based Vera Krichevskaya, which was released in the UK last week and broadcast on the BBC.

A few days after “F@ck this Job” came out, on Friday, the decade-long defiance of Dozhd was silenced, at least for a while, by a brutal new law, passed unanimously in the Russian parliament, which bans news organisations from reporting anything except state approved press releases (it is now illegal for any broadcaster to call events in Ukraine, for example, “a war”). The new legislation, which has also caused the BBC and most other news organisations to suspend its reporting in Russia, will see journalists and media owners who contravene it jailed for up to 15 years. BBC director general Tim Davie said the law “appears to criminalise the process of independent journalism”. Its most chilling effects have been felt among the few surviving liberal Russian media outlets like Dozhd and Novaya Gazeta, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, announced that the paper’s website had been forced to remove all of its material on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying “there is no doubt that the threat [of prosecution] will be realised”...

For their last broadcast Sindeyeva joined the entire news team in front of the camera to say goodbye to viewers. “No to war,” she said, as a farewell, with a bleak smile. The station then cut to some old footage from the ballet Swan Lake, an ironic gesture to the films that Soviet state television had once routinely broadcast when news was censored...

All the talk between journalists, Elovsky said, was how to effectively erase media histories from phones and computers in light of the new law. “It feels like an iron curtain is returning,” he said.
Much more at The Guardian.  Shame on Donald Trump and all U.S. politicians who support the autocratic rule in Russia.

Support for Ukraine in Boston

This morning Trinity Church in the City of Boston offered special support to the people of Ukraine:
This Sunday, March 6, we are honored to welcome the Ukrainian Cultural Center of New England (UCCN) and all those Ukrainians, Ukrainian-Americans, and friends of Ukraine from greater Boston and beyond that they have invited to join them and to join us for our 10 am worship. When our liturgy concludes, a Peace March will start from Copley Square and move down Boylston to the Boston Common. At 12:30, a rally will begin at the Parkman Bandstand. The day’s program intends to show support for the independence of Ukraine and its territorial integrity; to provide opportunity for speaking out against the war in Ukraine; to ask for donations for the people of Ukraine and for humanitarian aid; and to express thanks for all the countries, organizations, and people around the world for their support of Ukraine.

We have coordinated with organizers to offer special prayers for Ukraine and for our world, and our loose offering at all services this Sunday will go toward Sunflower of Peace, an organization delivering medical and humanitarian aid to Ukrainians. Following the Dismissal, we will offer support for guests, and invite all those in our congregation who would like to participate to join the Trinity clergy in the Peace March.
At the conclusion of the Holy Eucharist, the Ukrainian participants were invited to come forward to be recognized as the combined communities sang the Ukranian national anthem:

It was quite a touching moment.  A recording of the livestream is available here.

Why not the first Tuesday?

Newspaper clipping from the inimitable Bad Newspaper.   I can understand that some events have to be held X weeks before other events, but why not on the first Tuesday of the month?  Why a first Tuesday after a first Monday?  Clearly they don't want the activity held if the Tuesday is the first day of the month.  Does this have something to do with federal holidays?

The plural of "talisman" is "talismans"

I've always known what a talisman is, but I'd never thought about the plural until I encountered it in today's Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, where a 9-letter answer was required.

Had to look up the etymology, which obviously is not related to "man/men" -
From French talisman, partly from Arabic طِلَّسْم‎ (ṭillasm), from Ancient Greek τέλεσμα (télesma, “payment”); and partly directly from Byzantine Greek τέλεσμα (télesma, “talisman, religious rite, completion”), from τελέω (teléō, “to perform religious rites, to complete”), from τέλος (télos, “end, fulfillment, accomplishment, consummation, completion”). Doublet of telesm.
Embedded photo from a NYT article on the comfort of wearing talismans in stressful times.  Related: words ending in -man.

05 March 2022

This may be a great time to book a vacation stay in Ukraine

Seriously.  Learned about this today from an article at NPR:
Some people have found a novel way to get money to Ukrainians as their country is under attack from Russia: booking immediate Airbnb stays they don't intend to use.

Airbnb hosts are paid 24 hours after a guest checks in, so people abroad are booking stays and letting hosts know that it's a gesture of solidarity, and they don't plan to appear.

The idea spread over the last few days, and Airbnb is waiving all host and guest fees in Ukraine for now. On Wednesday and Thursday, more than 61,000 nights were booked in Ukraine from around the world — bookings that grossed nearly $2 million, Airbnb tells NPR.

While this phenomenon appears to have developed in a grassroots manner, Airbnb also has its own initiative to provide housing to those in need. The company will offer short-term housing for free for up to 100,000 of those fleeing Ukraine. People can go to Airbnb.org and sign up to host refugees or donate to the cause.
I'm going to look into this this weekend.  Certainly if a Ukrainian family depended on renting rooms to supplement their income, that source of support must have vanished during the war.  I much prefer to assist people as directly as possible rather than through large aid organizations.  I've never personally used Airbnb, so I'd appreciate any suggestions from readers re avoiding scams. 

Addendum:  One of my friends has already "booked" a week's stay and received this reply from the host -

Followup: My friend received this message from Airbnb several days later:
It looks like you might have booked a reservation in Ukraine to support a Host. We’re reaching out because at least one of your reservations has been canceled, and we want to share more about what’s happening. 

Why your reservation was canceled.  Your reservation was canceled because it was booked with a listing that is no longer able to receive payments. 
That could reflect something as prosaic as an inability to access a financial account - or it could be more ominous.

Barbie clothes hangers

Presumably crafted in the aftermarket from discarded dolls rather than being a primary product.  Via Awful Taste but Great Execution.

"Bicycling with Butterflies"

This book will be of interest to butterfly enthusiasts and to bicycle enthusiasts.  The author describes her adventure of bicycle camping alone while riding from the Mexican winter monarch reserve north during the spring/summer to Minnesota, then east to Boston/NYC, then back down to Mexico again in the autumn - a journey of over 10,000 miles.  

The narration is split about evenly between monarch and milkweed biology and the pragmatics of an extended bike trip (camping in churchyards, staying with friends to present lectures to local students, coping with errant drivers).

Herewith a few interesting tidbits and things I learned:

[in the mountains of Mexico] A winter storm on January 11-16, 2002 started with 48 hours of rain followed by a prolonged freeze.  
"An estimated 200 to 275 million monarchs, or 75 percent of the population at El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, were killed.  On the ground, dead butterflies formed a mass grave.  At some places the monarchs measured thirteen inches thick, and survivors insulated by the dead, were unable to crawl out."
Female monarchs taste milkweed leaves with their feet.  
Their "... brushfeet (the first pair of legs which, unlike the other two pairs, are typically tucked beneath the body and are difficult to see) cut the milkweed and trigger the release of more plant chemicals..."
The average female lays 300-500 eggs in her lifetime, typically one per plant.  

"By the time fifth instars finish eating and form their chrysalis, the full-grown caterpillar could be as much as 2000 times bigger than when it emerged from its egg."  (Ponder a human growing from 150# to 300,000# in two weeks and how much food intake that would require.)

The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is especially hairy.  Monarchs prefer laying their eggs on the flowers instead of the leaves.  

The timing of monarch migration is linked to the elevation of the sun above the horizon.  Because the height changes during the day, the monarchs calibrate its position using circadian clocks in their antennae.  Navigation is even more interesting.  On cloudy days monarchs can monitor the sun's polarized UV light.
"They can detect the pattern of UV light scattered across the sky... It seems that monarchs have a backup magnetic compass.  Light sensitive cryptochrome proteins in their antennae react with even a limited amount of light in such a way as to trigger signals that allow monarchs to sense the magnetic field... The angle of the field, in relation to the surface of the earth, changes predictably from the equator to the poles; the monarchs can sense this angle and navigate accordingly."
I believe there are other organisms capable of detecting and navigating by magnetic fields (?whales), but how they do that is totally a mystery to me.
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