31 March 2023

"Nyctinastic" plants explained

I think I've seen this in real life, but never appreciated it.  Pictured above is a three-leaf clover with holes generated by insects.  Note the symmetry, which is explained at LiveScience:
Each night at sunset, a handful of plants "fall asleep." Species as diverse as legumes and daisies curl up their leaves and petals for the evening and do not unfurl until morning. 

Now, a new study suggests that plants may have been folding their leaves at night for more than 250 million years. By tracking the unique bite marks that insects inflict only upon folded leaves, the authors determined that one extinct group of plants were likely nyctinastic — the scientific term for plants curling up in response to darkness...

Charles Darwin described "sleep movements in plants" in 1880 in his book "The Power of Movement in Plants," but the phenomenon had already been documented as far back as 324 B.C. by Androsthenes of Thasos, an associate of Alexander the Great. It's hard to miss — stroll through any garden near dusk, and you'll likely notice a few flower species closing their petals...

But if plant sleeping behavior is a defense mechanism, it clearly does not work every time. In fact, one of the telltale signs of nyctinasty is that the plants' leaves are often pockmarked by perfectly symmetrical holes. Not unlike what happens when a child cuts shapes into folded paper to make a snowflake, any hole punched through a folded leaf by an insect will show up on both sides of that leaf when it opens.
Here is an image of a fossilized leaf depicting the same event:

More details and relevant links at LiveScience.

It's o.k. to be not-for-profit

There is a longstanding and ongoing effort by various members of congress to take the U.S. postal service private because it is "losing money."  Were that to happen, there are enormous profits that could be reaped by the new owners because of the near-monopolistic status of the mail (just as the Russian oligarchs became billionaires by privatizing Soviet industry).  

I'll defer ranting on this subject for now.  There is some salient commentary at the MurderedByWords subreddit where I found the embedded exchange, including opinions that healthcare, education, and public utilities might also be viewed as public services rather than profit centers.

Kindergarten play cancelled because...

 "In April 2014, the Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, New York, sent a letter to the parents of its kindergartners, confirming rumors that the school would not be going ahead with its annual play.
Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians,

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the twenty-first century are changing schools.

The reason for eliminating the kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and careers with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.
These kids, the letter implied, could not spare two days from their regularly scheduled work..."
The essay continues at Harper's.

Movie props

Via Kottke.


"... members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and post-modern professors will no longer be calling the shots...

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion . . . All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet."
That passage was written 25 years ago.  Discussed at Harper's.

28 March 2023

The Gloucester Tree is a fire-lookout tree

The Gloucester Tree is a giant karri tree in the Gloucester National Park of Western Australia.

At 58 metres in height, it is the world's second tallest fire-lookout tree (second only to the nearby Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree), and visitors can climb up to a platform in its upper branches for views of the surrounding karri forest. It is owned by the Shire of Manjimup.
More information at the link.  I just learned yesterday that a friend of mine has climbed to the top of this tree.   Congratulations, Olie.

Here's a video (real-time, not compressed), thankfully without irrelevant music and with minimal narration:

There is no way I would ever climb this behemoth.  It just keeps going and going...  (and there could be drop bears up there)

Agatha Christie's writing being "cleaned up" for modern readers

Several Agatha Christie novels have been edited to remove potentially offensive language, including insults and references to ethnicity.

Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries written between 1920 and 1976 have had passages reworked or removed in new editions published by HarperCollins to strip them of language and descriptions that modern audiences find offensive, especially those involving the characters Christie’s protagonists encounter outside the UK...

The newspaper reported that the edits cut references to ethnicity, such as describing a character as black, Jewish or Gypsy, or a female character’s torso as “of black marble” and a judge’s “Indian temper”, and removed terms such as “Oriental” and the N-word. The word “natives” has also been replaced with the word “local”.

Among the examples of changes cited by the Telegraph is the 1937 Poirot novel Death on the Nile, in which the character of Mrs Allerton complains that a group of children are pestering her, saying that “they come back and stare, and stare, and their eyes are simply disgusting, and so are their noses, and I don’t believe I really like children”.

This has been stripped down in a new edition to state: “They come back and stare, and stare. And I don’t believe I really like children.”
I don't believe I really like sanitized literature.  I quite understand why my favorite novel of hers had its title changed to And Then There Were None, but much of the rest of this is unnecessary and ridiculous.

Remixing explained

I haven't watched this through (it's a hour long), but from the samples I've seen, it looks interesting and well done.  Via Kottke.

It's so sad that nothing can be done about this

NASHVILLE, TN—In the hours following a violent rampage in Tennessee in which a lone attacker killed at least six individuals and injured several others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Tuesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Tennessee resident Laura Campbell, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”
Text from The Onion, photo via the pics subreddit (credit Nicole Hester / USA Today Network / Reuters).  The victims include not just the traumatized survivor depicted above, but indirectly all the other schoolchildren in the United States, who undergo "active shooter drills" to learn how to avoid the people who want to kill them in school with AR15s that will vaporize their facial features to such an extent that their identity can only be recognized by having them wear distinctive green Converse sneakers.  Fuck all the people who enable these tragedies, and the horses they rode in on.

This post is closed to comments because after all there is nothing that can possibly be done.

25 March 2023

A bee roosting for the night

... by clamping its mandibles onto the plant.
Epeolus sp. A brood parasite bee that roosts overnight that clamps itself to plants with its mandibles. This is apparently common among ‘cuckoo’ bees.
From an article about brood parasitism at The Prairie Ecologist.


New word for me.  I encountered it for the first time in last Saturday's New York Times crossword puzzle.
21D. This is a debut entry, although its singular form appeared once before. “Words that form other words when read backward” are SEMORDNILAPS, which have a kinship to palindromes, which read the same forward and backward, of course. As you might have noticed, the singular form, “semordnilap,” is palindromes spelled backward. Martin Gardner, a prolific writer and magician, coined the term.
Examples of palindromes and semordnilaps at Big Dave's Crossword Blog.  See Wikipedia for a list of synonyms.

Name that animal - the end

The critter from round 14 (image above) had the coloration of a wasp and the clasping forearms of a mantis - but it wasn't either one. It is a wasp mantidfly - a relative of the lacewing but with the protective coloration and with "raptorial" forearms that are in fact capable of capturing prey.

Credit to Neatorama for the subject for that round, but frankly I'm running out of ideas for "name that animal" entries; those who want to see the previous 13 entries in the series can look here, but to come up with more I'd probably have to dig deeper into the realms of insects and microorganisms and deep sea teleosts. In the meantime there is so much else going on in the world. I may revisit this topic later, but for now we'll give it a rest.

Reposted from 2008 because I found another image at The Prairie Ecologist:

"Wasp mantidflies can be found throughout much of North America, but either they’re not super abundant on our prairies or I’ve fallen for their mimicry an awful lot."
Agreed.  I need to be more observant and see if I can spot one.

Olympic moment, 1992


A sports video for those who don't particularly like sports, reposted from 2017 because the original video had undergone linkrot.  

There are multiple videos about this event.  Here's the live television broadcast, and here's one with Derek Redmond discussing the injury and the outcome.

Gruesome injury

This pelvic xray shows a left femur fractured at the neck, but the more horrific injury is on the right, where the entire femur has been dislocated from the acetabulum and now protrudes through the medial leg to the pubic area.  

There is a conventional photograph of this same injury at the Eyeblech subreddit, which specializes in gore and notsafeforlife images.

The important lesson to be taken from these images is that the young lady who incurred the injury was riding in an automobile with her legs on the dashboard when the airbags deployed in a collision.

Image cropped for clarity from the original at the interestingasfuck subreddit, where there is no useful discussion.

An "Assassin's Teapot"

Detailed explanation in the video.  Apart from the supposed "assassination" use, this device (or similar ones) could be used to pour alcoholic/nonalcoholic drinks or normal and adulterated drinks.  Worth knowing.  Via Kottke.

21 March 2023

"Audacious Adi" dances

This was Adilyn Malcolm's YouTube debut; she now has a second video

Some reader more in tune with contemporary music and dance can tell us whether this is dubstep or some variant subgenre.

Reposted from 2014 because I encountered it again while browsing my old music videos category.  Worth sharing again because it lightens up the blog when other material gets a bit too heavy.

20 March 2023

Birdsmouth joints on a sailboat mast

More on birdsmouth cuts and joints.  You learn something every day.  Image via.

This would be somewhat lighter in weight than a solid wood mast, but perhaps there are other considerations re flexibility etc?  Someone out there will know.

More on modern high-tech sailboat masts.

Worst globe ever

Cropped for size from the image at the Crappy Design subreddit, where the comment thread is full of snarky comments, but with no link to the source of the image or the manufacturer of this reportedly $200 globe.  Can anyone track that down??

The symbolism of green Converse sneakers

As a synecdoche for the tragedy of our historical moment, consider a news item about the murder of nineteen schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. One victim, ten-year-old Maite Rodriguez, was identifiable only by the green Converse sneakers she wore. She had drawn a heart on her right shoe. After the actor Matthew McConaughey, for some reason delivering a press briefing at the White House, made this detail known to the public, the shoes sold out as appalled consumers ordered them online.

It is impossible to understand a society whose response to the slaughter of children is to purchase green Converse sneakers as anything other than psychotic. It is impossible, I believe, to wish for such a society to continue—a society that is also bent on murdering as many other forms of life as possible, driving entire species extinct, rendering the planet uninhabitable. 
Excerpted from Apocalypse Nowish in the December 2022 issue of Harper's.  Embedded image via NPR.

"This is everything I have left"

We were surrounded by a maze of folding tables, chairs, and couches draped in kente cloth. In the center of the room sat a four-by-four-foot metal cage that had been used by a search and rescue team to airlift people from the roofs of inundated houses after Katrina. Every inch of the wall space around us was occupied, covered with artwork depicting the storm’s ravages, and with Omar’s photos. On one wall hung a large tarp affixed with handwritten accounts by survivors and aid workers: Triaging a nursing home patient who handed me a wet plastic grocery store bag & said “This is everything I have left.”
An excerpt from "Book of the Living: The house museums of New Orleans" in the December 2022 issue of Harper's.

That last sentence is so unutterably sad that I wanted to preserve it here in the blog, because it is emblematic of so many crises happening around the world in the aftermath of floods, tidal waves, wildfires, earthquakes, and war zones. 

17 March 2023

The imagery of the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope made the Pillars of Creation famous with its first image in 1995, but revisited the scene in 2014 to reveal a sharper, wider view in visible light, shown above at left.

A new, near-infrared-light view from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, at right, helps us peer through more of the dust in this star-forming region. The thick, dusty brown pillars are no longer as opaque and many more red stars that are still forming come into view.

While the pillars of gas and dust seem darker and less penetrable in Hubble’s view, they appear more diaphanous in Webb’s.

The background of this Hubble image is like a sunrise, beginning in yellows at the bottom, before transitioning to light green and deeper blues at the top. These colors highlight the thickness of the dust all around the pillars, which obscures many more stars in the overall region.

In contrast, the background light in Webb’s image appears in blue hues, which highlights the hydrogen atoms, and reveals an abundance of stars spread across the scene. By penetrating the dusty pillars, Webb also allows us to identify stars that have recently – or are about to – burst free. Near-infrared light can penetrate thick dust clouds, allowing us to learn so much more about this incredible scene...
Images and text from Webb Space Telescope.  Click the image to supersize, then click again to super-super-supersize.

No crabs were injured in the making of this video

Some relevant discussion at the interestingasfuck subreddit.

It's a wasp nest

Via the interestingasfuck subreddit, where all the commentary is trivial.

Rest in peace, Kiska

Sometimes known as “the world’s loneliest orca”, Kiska the killer whale spent more than four decades in captivity at MarineLand, a theme park in Niagara Falls, Canada.

For the last 12 of those years, despite wild orcas being social and intelligent animals that live in tight-knit family pods that hunt together and communicate through underwater clicks and calls, Kiska swam alone, in a featureless tank, with no calves, mate or mother by her side. She was the last captive orca in Canada...

Kiska’s death comes four years after Canada passed bill S-203, banning the captivity and breeding of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Although the new law was too late for Kiska – individuals already in captivity were excluded from protection – activists say her story was instrumental in drawing public attention to the plight of captive marine mammals.
More information at The Guardian.

"Submitted for your approval..."

Miles grinned sleepily, puddled down in his uniform. “Welcome to the beginning,” he said quietly. “We have a long way to go.”

“But I can’t speak Swedish,” I said.

“You’ll learn,” he said. “You’ll learn, you’ll learn.”

He threw on some more brush and watched the dark smoke spiral up under the sun, a warm and now comforting sun. “Let’s sail till we come to the edge.”

“Not until we can deliver our secret to our respective worlds. And acquire an intact ship.”

“Let’s go talk to Folimum and see what he says.” He turned back to his Master. He was ready to go.

“I think that could be arranged,” I said. I turned away from the bridge and Diane offered me her arm. I hesitated a moment, then took her arm.

Miles smiled. “Let the blind man show the way.”

He did.

We gladly followed. We walked hand in hand down the street. Somewhere on that road was Gerrith, and at its end, the starships waited. And high in the sky, an intact ship ascended until it was a mere speck, an enormous dim comet, with tail pointing along its path rather than away from the sun—and like comets of old, an omen of change. Amerie blinked, and the speck became invisible against the bright vault of the heavens.

We turned our backs on the comet and went into the house, hand in hand. Rogi closed the door and got on with it: “To the everlasting glory of the Infantry?”

“To the everlasting glory of the Infantry!”

“To the brave, ingenious, and honored survivors of this planet? Including the dinosaurs?”

“To the brave, ingenious, and honored survivors of this planet! Including the dinosaurs!”

I handed the bartender my empty glass. “I just found out where we’re going: Unto the end of the world … Unto the end of the world.”

“Yes, the end is not yet! Let us go!” he said. “ … someday soon. When I have time.”

“We’ll take a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe … ” 
If the science fiction text excerpt above seems odd (or oddly familiar), you might enjoy reading the explanation at Wired (where it continues). And here's a snippet re the title of this post.

Bad pie

I wasn't blogging on "pi day" this year, so I'll belatedly repost this old item from 2020.  Image cropped for emphasis from the one at the via.


The Western New York Book Arts Collaborative held an Edible Book contest.  This was the entry by Chuk and Cara Matteliano.
“I’m an engineer by training, and my wife has her PhD in speech communication,” said Matteliano...

He ran some trials with notoriously delicate phyllo, finally learning how to attach uncooked phyllo sheets to paper before passing them through an inkjet printer loaded with nontoxic ink. The Mattelianos printed pages from Homer’s Odyssey on phyllo, mounted them with more phyllo baked into a flaky, many-layered dessert, and there it was: “Booklava: An Edible Odyssey.”

The printed phyllo turned yellow and started to crack, so it looked even more like an old book,” said Matteliano, whose creation won first place. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to top it this year.”
Found at Edible Geography in 2010.  Image credit Caesandra Seawell.

"Forget it Jake. It's Florida"

Rep. Stan McClain’s (R) proposed legislation, House Bill 1069, seeks to restrict the educational materials used in state schools, which critics have likened to book banning. The bill requires course material and instruction on sexually transmitted diseases, health education or material on human sexuality to “only occur in grades 6 through 12,” according to the legislation.

During a Wednesday House Education Quality Subcommittee, Rep. Ashley Viola Gantt (D) asked McClain if this bill would prohibit girls younger than 6th grade from discussing their periods in school.

“Does this bill prohibit conversations about menstrual cycles ― because we know that typically the ages is between 10 and 15 ― so if little girls experience their menstrual cycle in fifth grade or fourth grade, will that prohibit conversations from them since they are in the grade lower than sixth grade?” Gantt asked McClain during the committee hearing.

“It would,” McClain responded.
More details at The Huffington Post.  Image cropped for size from the original at the WhitePeopleTwitter subreddit.  

Adaptation to open prairies

"Outside the ranch fence, pronghorn sometimes pass in the light. Pronghorn are the world’s fastest mammals over long distances. They can sustain a speed of sixty miles per hour for hours on end; their eyes can see three hundred degrees; they can detect movement four miles away. Pronghorn, Antilocapra americana, are the only surviving species of the Antilocapridae family—and barely. Pronghorn, of which there were roughly thirty-five million in the early nineteenth century, were largely hunted out of existence to feed the European settlers and construction crews that facilitated the westward takeover of the continent. Their habitats were ransacked, their migration routes disarranged, truncated, cut off. By the late twentieth century, only twelve thousand remained: those that outran the extinction, or outsaw it. I believe them to be a miracle."
-- from No Guarantees, an essay in Harper's magazine.

I seem to remember reading that pronghorn are so superbly adapted for distance vision on open prairies that they could look skyward at night and see the moons of Jupiter.  

But Snopes says their 8X vision would not detect the rings of Saturn.

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging cap to reader Vince who provided a link to Astronomy that demonstrates that 8X magnification is sufficient to see the moons of Jupiter.

Women with monkeys as prostitutes - updated

We'll begin with the photograph above (credit here, via BoingBoing 2006):
"...the community of Beloit, Wisconsin came together on the banks of the Rock River to recreate George Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte."
They are performing a tableaux vivant to reproduce the famous pointillist painting shown here:

One difference between the photograph and the painting is that in the photograph, the woman in the foreground does not have a monkey at her feet.  This apparently reflected unavailability of one in Beloit, Wisconsin - or it may have been intentional, since the monkey symbolically represents that the woman may be a prostitute:
Furthermore, the inclusion of symbols, most obviously a monkey on a leash and a woman fishing, is indicative of the painting’s satirical nature. In nineteenth century slang, ‘singesse’ (female monkey in French) meant prostitute. The wordplay of ‘pêche’ (fishing) and ‘péché’ (sin) was a pun often made in French cartoons with reference to prostitution.  Such symbols speak to the ability of “the proletarian woman [to] become superficially bourgeois through prostitution.”  Through this subtle imagery, Seurat adds another dimension to the comparison of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, noting the superficiality and immorality within high class society.
That was all new to me, so I searched the web for pictures of women with monkeys, and after discarding those with Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Fay Wray, and Jessica Lange, I found this one by Aubrey Beardsley (source):

The Lady and the Monkey. c. 1897

and this one by Picasso:

- both of which presumably incorporate the monkey with woman = prostitute symbolism, as may this this depiction mocking an early American suffragette:

- both found at Infinite Thought, where there are other photos of women with monkeys (linkrot since 2010).

I got started on this topic because of a Reddit thread last month, where the best comment comparing the Beloit photograph and the Seurat painting came from UserNumber42:
"Oddly enough, both were created with very small dots, one just has better resolution than the other."
And finally, since I won't have another chance to blog tableaux vivant again, I'll close with this old but quite remarkable music video by Hold Your Horses:

The art works recreated in the video are listed at Blog of an Art Admirer and History Lover.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2010 to add this example from the 1920s:

Found at La balsa de la Nostromo.  Perhaps some Francophile can translate for us the title and captions.  (Hat tip to an anonymous reader: "Title: "With monkeys being in fashion this winter, we'll leave the antics to them." Caption: "C'mon, hurry up, lady, you're putting me in an awkward position." The text at the bottom is number/pricing info for the magazine issue.)

Reposted from 2014 to add this relevant video I found today at Kottke:

11 March 2023

Corn with a Pearl Earring

 Via Kottke, where there are links to other versions of Vermeer's iconic painting.

10 March 2023

Free range parenting punished - updated

The Port St. Lucie, Florida, mom was arrested on Saturday for letting her 7-year-old son, Dominic, walk alone — in the daytime, with a cellphone — a half-mile to a local park. “I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” she says. “I was letting him go play.”During his approximately 10-minute walk, the boy passed by a public pool, where a patron asked him where his mother was and other questions. As he told a local news station, “I got scared and ran off to the park, and that’s when they called the cops.” Police picked up the boy at the park, brought him home and arrested his mother for felony child neglect. In their report, police noted that “numerous sex offenders reside in the vicinity.” Gainey says the cops “just kept going over that, you know, there’s pedophiles,” which sounds to me like the kind of problem that perhaps there’s a better approach to than whisking kids off playgrounds and arresting mothers...
More at Salon, and an extended discussion thread at Reddit.

There is a Wikipedia page on slow parenting/free range parenting.  Years ago I wrote a post (which I frustratingly cannot locate this morning) which incorporated a map showing the range a man's father had wandered freely as a child compared to the range he wandered as a child compared to the neighborhood his child is allowed to wander.  The circles get smaller and smaller...

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging hat to reader Dan for finding the link I referred to above, which contained this image:

Addendum #2:  This Pearls Before Swine cartoon seems relevant -

Addendum #3It has happened again, to another family.
It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children...

The Meitivs say they believe in “free-range” parenting, a movement that has been a counterpoint to the hyper-vigilance of “helicopter” parenting, with the idea that children learn self-reliance by being allowed to progressively test limits, make choices and venture out in the world...

Police picked up the children near the Discovery building, the family said, after someone reported seeing them...

Danielle is a climate-science consultant, and Alexander is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health. Alexander said he had a tense time with police on Dec. 20 when officers returned his children, asked for his identification and told him about the dangers of the world. The more lasting issue has been with Montgomery County Child Protective Services, he said, which showed up a couple of hours after the police left...

The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply...

The family has a meeting set for next week at CPS offices in Rockville.
“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”
I don't have time to cover it now, but I would note here that the April 2014 issue of The Atlantic has an excellent article by Hanna Rosin entitled "Hey! Parents, Leave Those Kids Alone."

Addendum #4:  I just finished browsing I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream Because Puns Suck (a Pearls Before Swine compilation), so I'll repost the above from 2015 to add three more cartoons:

08 March 2023

Solar evaporation ponds

I was flying into Salt Lake City last week and noticed an interesting landscape (photo above).  After returning home I searched Google Maps and saw that this area was identified as "Compass Minerals":

"At our Ogden, Utah, location at the Great Salt Lake, we draw highly saline waters from the lake’s most remote areas into very shallow solar evaporation ponds to produce salt, sulfate of potash (SOP) and magnesium chloride."
I wonder if the coloration is the result of minerals alone, or whether the ecology of the ponds supports some type of microbial or algal flora.  Anyone know?  [see the comments]

Addendum:  Salt ponds in San Francisco Bay


Reposted from 2017 to add this photo of salt ponds in Senegal:

From a gallery of aerial photographs of Africa, posted by the BBC.

Today is International Women's Day

"Liberals should give up on the judiciary"

The title of this post is a TL;DR summary of an article in Harper's Magazine entitled "Courting Disaster."  Herewith a few of the most salient arguments:
To purify the court, the good court’s disciples tell themselves, they need to expose the fraud of originalism, to devise rival philosophies, to outmuscle and undermine the cabalists. The high court, made good again, will then resume the righteous work of its fabled forebears.

This story gets told because it offers a straightforward lesson for liberals at a moment when little else seems simple: if Democrats could only reclaim the judiciary, it would rescue them from a political sphere that increasingly seems to have gone off the rails. There’s comfort in talk of restoration, of a halcyon era recovered. But this is the wrong lesson. The good court of the postwar period was an aberration. The court has rarely been friendly to progressive ideals, and what it giveth, it can taketh away...

Law is a conservative profession by nature. It attracts rule followers. Its practitioners tend to come from the moneyed classes, and then cater to their interests. The courts, too, tilt in this direction. They’re principally backward-looking, with the authority to maintain the status quo or restore the status quo ante. Federal courts are generally given the prerogative to curtail government programs but not to create or expand them. Likewise, judges often block regulatory action but rarely order it. This asymmetry lends itself to libertarian outcomes more naturally than progressive ones.

Given this structural and sociological bias, it’s not surprising that for most of American history the courts have been aligned with political conservatives and capital—the elites, who had the most to lose from popular democratic rule...

... they misdiagnose the deeper problem the court poses for the left, or any group whose policy agenda—unlike the present-day GOP’s—depends on enacting federal legislation. With judicial supremacy uncontested, the Supreme Court has installed itself at the apex of national politics. The justices hold an absolute veto on almost any government action. They endorse and demote individual rights at will, picking political winners and losers along the way. After all, American constitutional rights are “trumps,” as Dworkin put it, that defeat most, if not all, competing claims of interest. Who controls the court matters, but more important still is what the court controls. And for decades now, it has controlled far too much.
Objections to judicial supremacy from both the left and the right are most often articulated in terms of its undemocratic character, what the constitutional theorist Alexander Bickel called the “counter-majoritarian difficulty.” The basic critique is compelling: core political rights and even the most popular laws exist at the mercy of five unelected justices insulated from accountability by life tenure and a salary that can’t be docked...

Some might raise the specter of the political philosopher Judith Shklar’s “liberalism of fear”: judicial supremacy as a check against the bad things an unrestrained state can do. But the courts won’t stop an able autocrat. In countries that have recently slid toward authoritarianism, judiciaries either have learned to love the tyrant or have been crushed by him. When constitutionalism thwarts effective governance, moreover, it supplies the ideal conditions for populist authoritarians to rise. The greater risk today isn’t that Congress will occasionally pass bills that many of us won’t like. It’s that five well-to-do lawyers will prevent Congress from responding to the country’s needs.

Others may wonder who, if not the Supreme Court, will articulate and secure minoritarian rights against the tyranny of the majority. The courts, in truth, recognize relatively few rights; most of those we enjoy derive not from the Constitution but from federal statute. To name just a few: voting rights; labor rights; disability rights; rights against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. As the legal scholar Jamal Greene argues in How Rights Went Wrong, Congress has the institutional capacity to weigh and reconcile various values and interests, not only to pick which interests get to trump all others. When it comes to statutory rights, the court’s primary role since the Eighties has been to undermine them by curtailing, and at times usurping, congressional power...

“Law reflects but in no sense determines the moral worth of a society,” the scholar Grant Gilmore argues at the conclusion of The Ages of American Law, his classic survey of American legal history. The worse a society’s politics, he claims, the more it will lean on the law to resolve deep-seated disagreements, which tends to deepen them further still. “In heaven there will be no law, and the lion shall lie down with the lamb,” Gilmore writes. “In hell there will be nothing but law, and due process will be meticulously observed.”
Much more in the source article at Harper's Magazine, which should be read before starting to argue the points made.

Here's how the system works


A Canticle for Leibowitz

I don't have time/energy to excerpt from this book; just wanted to list it to add to my list of recommended books.  Here's a quick preview:
A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic social science fiction novel by American writer Walter M. Miller Jr., first published in 1959. Set in a Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the book spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz preserve the surviving remnants of man's scientific knowledge until the world is again ready for it....

In 1961 it was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Novel by The World Science Fiction Convention. In the years since, praise for the work has been consistently high. It is considered a "science-fiction classic ... [and] is arguably the best novel written about nuclear apocalypse, surpassing more popularly known books like On the Beach".
It's curious that this book has never been adapted into a movie.

06 March 2023

Red-eyed tree frog

Always nice to end the blogging day with an impressive photo.  Credit for this one to Manuel Rodriguez, from the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards, via a gallery of nature photos in the Washington Post.

Clickword for word puzzle enthusiasts

The Clickword daily puzzle presents you with several initial starting letters, then invites you to add twenty more groups of three to form words (detailed instructions at the link).

At the end your score is tabulated and compared to other participants.  Without knowing what letters are coming up later, there's a lot of guesswork involved in deciding whether to harvest small words or try to save for possible higher-scoring larger ones.  I presume everyone gets the same letters every day, so cheating would be possible if one collaborated with a friend.

The corollary puzzle Squareword is less challenging.

"Dust corners" on a stairway

Found in the Damnthatsinteresting subreddit, where the discussion thread indicates that these are still available commercially.


For the past year I have studiously avoided adding to the hundred posts in the Trump category of TYWKIWDBI, but if he's going to keep pushing himself forward, I may have to keep pushing back.

This comment at the CPAC conference was obviously a dogwhistle to the Quiverfull faction, but the added comment about "lucky men" is just unutterably creepy.

I'll leave the comment thread open for a little while but will probably shut it down soon.

Advice for vaccine deniers

Via the MurderedByWords subreddit, where the discussion thread includes salient comments about sörströmming.

Narrowboat ride on an English canal


One of a long series of soothing videos, seemingly narrated by the voice of Wallace and Gromit cartoons.

Reposted from 2020 to add this interesting video about living on a narrowboat:

01 March 2023

"Beer poking" explained

Beer poking basically involves heating a metal poker in a fire until it's glowing red and then plunging the tip into a glass of beer for a few seconds. The poker flash heats and instantly caramelizes the residual malt sugars abundant in certain types of beer.

The result is variously described as adding smoky, roasted, smooth, soft, creamy or toasted marshmallow notes to the flavor profile of your brew. The hot poker also creates a foam cap on the top of a glass of beer, but it isn't kept in the glass long enough to make the beer warm.

Drinking a poked beer is a little like drinking a hot chocolate with whipped cream on top, but in reverse. Instead of tasting warm milk coming through cool whipped cream, you get cool beer coming through a warm, sweet foam. Food & Wine magazine called it "The Beer Equivalent of S'mores."

Beer historians say the practice has been around for more than 400 years. In the winter, when beer might be too cold to comfortably drink, colonial Americans were said to use hot pokers to warm their ale a bit.

Weihenstephan, a Bavarian brewery that has been making beer for close to 1,000 years, says the practice is called bierstacheln in Germany, or beer spiking. It credits blacksmiths who always had hot pokers handy to warm up their drinks.
More information at the StarTribune.

"Car debt" in the United States

Chris Martin knew he needed a bigger car as the birth of his fourth child approached, but he and his wife were already $14,000 underwater on their two vehicles.

So the couple proposed an unusual two-for-one deal with an Atlanta-area auto dealer in 2020: trading in both of their vehicles so they could afford a three-row Ford Explorer. Their total loan after factoring in negative equity, a service contract, fees and other costs ballooned to $66,000 on the $49,000 Explorer.

Despite a lot of progress on the debt, he feels uneasy. “I don’t want to be paying interest on cars that I don’t even have anymore,” said Martin, a 36-year-old data engineer.

The build-up in negative equity  — or the amount that debt exceeds a vehicle’s value — is rattling consumers and raising alarms within the industry. Though it’s not unusual for drivers to carry negative equity, some dealers say more people are arriving at their lots up to $10,000 underwater, or “upside down,” on their trade-ins. They’re buying at still-sky-high prices and rolling debt from one car to another and even onto a third. Loans are commonly stretching to seven years. 

As trade-in values begin to cool, each month more and more consumers will find themselves falling from positive to negative equity,” said Ivan Drury, director of insights at auto-market researcher Edmunds. “Unless American car shoppers break their habit of buying again too soon, we’ll see the negative equity tide continue to rise.”
The article continues at Bloomberg.  Any comments Jesse?

"Eliminate the hostage, eliminate the problem"

Maybe it was intentional rather than a misunderstanding of the image.  Via.

Fungicides may alter the flavor of produce

Have you ever bitten into a plump, red strawberry, only to find it bland and watery? Certain pesticides might be responsible. A team reporting in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that two common strawberry fungicides can impact cellular mechanisms, creating berries with subdued flavor and sweetness, as well as a lower nutritional value.

The flavor profile of any produce, including berries, is a result of its taste and smell—sweetness often arises from the amount of dissolved glucose or fructose, and a unique aroma comes from volatile compounds, such as esters and terpenes. In addition, many fruits are also full of nutrients, including vitamin C, folic acid and antioxidants.

But because fungicides are designed to disrupt the cellular processes of detrimental fungi, they could accidentally interfere with these processes in crops, inhibiting production of these important flavor and nutritional compounds. So, Jinling Diao and colleagues wanted to investigate how two common pesticides used on strawberries—boscalid (BOS) and difenoconazole (DIF)—affect specific molecular pathways in berries...

Looking more closely, the team found that BOS had a direct effect on the regulation of genes involved in cellular pathways related to producing sugars, volatile compounds, nutrients and amino acids. Finally, in a blind taste test, people consistently preferred the untreated strawberries.
More info and a link to the primary source at Phys.org

Apparently this is real

Embedded image from the WhitePeopleTwitter subreddit, where there is a relevant discussion thread.  I have nothing to add.
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