30 April 2023

The Finseths arrive in the United States

[Prequel - this post is just a family history item, written for my cousins and their children.  Other readers will not find much of interest here]

In the early 1800s, Knut K. Finseth and his wife Margit Olsdatter lived on a farm in Hemsedal, in the Hallingdal valley of south-central Norway.  For reasons that haven't been passed down in my family's oral history, they decided to emigrate to the United States (one presumes that the family's ancestral farm had been subdivided too many times and couldn't support the addition of another generation).

I found their destination in A History of Norwegian Immigration to The United States From the Earliest Beginning down to the Year 1848, a privately printed book by George T. Flom, Professor of Scandinavian Languages and Literature at the State University of Iowa:
In 1847 very few came from Hallingdal, among them are mentioned Ole Onsgaard, Nils 0. Wikko, and Osten Burtness. In the following year, however, there was a considerable immigration. Erik K. Berg and his brother Truls Berg, Ole Trulson Ve and Ole Gulsen (Trostem) with wife and son Gul and daughter Guri, Erik Ovestrud, Tideman Kvarve, Guttonn Megaarden, a Mr. Sagdalen and wife, Kari, Levor Kvarve and family of twelve, and Knut Guttonnsen Tyrebakken.

There came others from Hallingdal also in the years following. I may mention here Ole J. Bakke and wife and Herbrand K. Finseth (born in Hemsedal in July, 1830), who emigrated in 1852 and lived three years on Rock Prairie.

They moved to Goodhue County, MN, in 1855, as did also Knut K. Finseth and A. K. Finseth, brothers of Herbrand

Here's a brief summary of the relevant branch on the family tree from Norway to the US:

Knut Torseth (1770-1858) m. Margit Skar [Hemsedal farm family]
    Children: Knut K., Bergit, Gunvor, Margit, Anders

Knut K Finseth (1802-1885) m. Margit Olsdatter [emigrated to WI, then moved to MN]
    Children: Ole K., Knut K., Anders K., Herbrand

Ole K. Finseth (1833 – 1902) m. Gunhild Lien [arrived with parents, farmed in MN]
    Children: Knut Olaus, Mathilda, Gurina, Caroline, Gina, Marcus, Anna, Victor, Gisle

Knut Olaus Finseth (1875 – 1960) m. Selma Distad [my grandparents]
    Children: Edythe, Ona, Sylvia, Marian, Paul, Oliver, Levi Stanley 

Yesterday I decided it was time to check out the brief Wisconsin connection of the family.  An hour's drive south of Madison took me to Clinton, Wisconsin (the former "Rock Prairie,") located just east of Janesville.  The first Norwegians in the area were led by Ole Knutson Nattestad, who arrived from Numedal, Norway in 1838 and set up the "Jefferson Prairie Settlement."  His brother Ansten went back to Norway and returned with more than a hundred emigrants, who settled in Jefferson Prairie and at Rock Prairie (now Luther Valley).  A state historical marker (top photo) just south of Clinton notes that "they are regarded jointly as the first Norwegian settlement in Wisconsin, and the fourth in America."

The only physical remnant of the Jefferson Prairie Settlement is the Jefferson Prairie Lutheran Church, established in 1844 and still going strong:

I was fortunate that at the time of my weekday visit, a church volunteer was present doing some clerical chores; she invited me in to see the sanctuary:

It was an interesting experience to visit the same church that my great-great-grandfather worshipped in 160 years ago.

Thus endeth the family history post for this year.

Reposted from 2012 to add this document I found on the Ancestry.com website. 

Original source not known; this was a photocopy found in another family's memorabilia.

29 April 2023

Berlin, July 1945

Mesmerizing.  Sobering.  And blessedly without unnecessary narration.  Via Kottke.

VERY not-safe-for-work

19,905,666 views  Dec 8, 2009  AUSTRALIA

On December 10th 1989 the first TAC [Transportation Accident Commission, Victoria] commercial went to air. In that year there were 776 deaths on our roads, by 2008 that number had fallen to 303.

This five minute retrospective of road safety campaigns is a compilation of 20 year of TAC ads. The montage features iconic scenes and images from commercials that have helped change the way we drive, to the song Everybody Hurts by REM.

This TAC campaign is a chance to revisit some of the images that have been engraved on our memories, remember the many thousands of people who have been affected by road trauma and remind us all that for everyone's sake; please, drive safely.

There's no one someone won't miss. 

Towards Zero is a TAC vision for a future free of deaths and serious injuries on our roads.

It acknowledges that as humans, we make mistakes. But when those mistakes happen on our roads we come off second best, because our bodies aren't designed to absorb high impact speeds. They never have been and never will be.

Via the interestingasfuck subreddit, where there is relevant commentary. 

26 April 2023

Big door

"This photo from 1979 shows a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employee opening the world’s heaviest hinged door, which was eight feet thick, nearly twelve feet wide, and weighed 97,000 pounds. A special bearing in the hinge allowed a single person to open or close the concrete-filled door, which was used to shield the Rotating Target Neutron Source-II (RTNS-II) -- the world’s most intense source of continuous fusion neutrons."

Bad shot

An article about influenza vaccination this past week in The Telegraph carried this image - presumably standard stock material - of a patient receiving an injection from a nurse.

The nurse/model's finger positions indicate that this is an injection, not a phlebotomy, but the needle's position in the antecubital fossa is the location for drawing blood from a large vein.  Vaccine and medication injections are typically injected into major muscle groups like the deltoid.

To anyone with a medical background (or a modicum of experience with medical care) this image should be totally cringeworthy.

Reposted from 2016 to add the "soldering" stock photo mentioned by Aleksejs in the comments...

Doubly bad because not only does she have her fingers on the heating element, but perhaps less obviously she is soldering the wrong side of the circuit board.

Dating the plays attributed to William Shakespeare

Thirteen minutes too long?  Short version: "Nobody knows when the plays were written."

Cartoon credit: Conde Nast

"Bamboo" baby clothes are made of rayon

When I was four months pregnant and still barely aware of the existence of sleep sacks, a mom giving recommendations handed me one made of bamboo. “Feel—soooo soft,” she said. I reached out to caress, and it really was soooo soft. This was my introduction to the cult of bamboo...

The Instagram brands that popularized bamboo for babies have also perfected the art of scarcity-induced demand: Every so often, they drop limited-edition prints that can sell out in minutes. So intense is the competition that moms resell them on Facebook for three, five, even 10 times the retail price; one confessed to reselling a $98 blanket for $1,000...

Imagine my surprise, though, when I committed the act of serious investigative journalism that is reading a clothing label. The “magical,” “buttery soft” bamboo fabric that so many moms have been obsessing over? It’s rayon. Yes, rayon, the material best known as what cheap blouses are made of. Rebranded as “bamboo,” rayon has taken on an improbable second life as the stuff of premium, collectible baby clothes...

And what exactly is rayon? It is neither natural like cotton nor synthetic like polyester. Rayon is in-between, a semisynthetic material made of the cellulose extracted from plants. A century ago, manufacturers used wood as feedstock, but these days they also use bamboo...

But rayon is a “weak fiber,” Sarkar told me. When rubbed together, the fibers tend to break and curl—a.k.a. pilling—which explains why bamboo baby clothes come with unrealistically fussy laundry instructions: line dry, lay flat to dry. Who has time when your newborn is pooping on three outfits a day? I tossed it all in the dryer, and sure enough, the bamboo clothing started to pill...

I did, however, continue marveling at the stretch in the bamboo—sorry, I mean rayon—pajamas. I found myself reaching for them over cotton ones because they were simply easier to stuff my baby’s ever-chunkier thighs into. But rayon isn’t inherently that stretchy, Gopinath told me. The stretch in “bamboo” baby clothes comes from the 3 to 5 percent of spandex blended into their fabric...
You can continue reading at The Atlantic.

Canine agility champions

Filmed at the 2015 Westminster Kennel Club dog show.  Wikipedia has a wonderfully comprehensive article on dog agility competitions.
Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles. Consequently the handler's controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler....

Because each course is different, handlers are allowed a short walk-through before the competition starts. During this time, all handlers competing in a particular class can walk or run around the course without their dogs...

Each dog and handler team gets one opportunity together to attempt to complete the course successfully...

Dogs are measured in height at the peak of their withers (shoulders). They are then divided into height groups... Dogs are further divided into their experience levels...Dogs are not separated by breed in agility competitions... 
Lots more details re the individual obstacles and the training techniques.

Reposted from 2015 because I was inspired by watching video of the 2018 competition this week, and another video of an 8" Papillon winning this year.

Reposted once again to add this video:

And this tiny dog:

And if that's not enough, here's a "best of" compilation:

Addendum:  Rehearsal for first dance at a wedding.

Reposted from 2019 because today I saw a gif of Gabby's performance elsewhere and was reminded of this compilation.

If you watched one or more of the above, or if you wonder what dogs think about this, you should finish up with this video-

Once an agility canine, always an agility canine

"Zip is a multiple champion. She competed in three different agility disciplines (AKC, USDAA, and NADAC) and achieved the championship title of Master Agility Dog Champion (MACH) four times in AKC...

But on January 8, 2011, everything suddenly changed. Zip was fetching sticks with a group of children at a Saints’ playoff party when she became the victim of a “hit and run” reckless speeder. Her very active lifestyle came to an abrupt halt.  Emergency surgery was performed that night to repair her broken back (technically, a T-13, L1 dorsal vertebral subluxation) and the tear in her lungs from broken ribs. She also had a left ischium (hip) fracture...

[after surgery and rehab] Then one day I brought her to agility practice. It was too hot to leave her in the car so my husband put her on a mat near the field. Suddenly Zip appeared at the base of the AF. She’d crawled 60 feet from her mat; she wanted to play agility. A friend and my husband decided to put the bars down on the course and I was handed a leash attached to Zip’s wheelchair. They said, “Run her.” I had reservations but Zip was gleefully barking by this time..."
More details at CNN, via Neatorama.  

Reposted from 2013 to accompany the post above this.

Corvette vs. light pole

Light pole wins.  Found at the idiotsincars subreddit, where there are some salient comments.

Why would a student apply to 200 colleges?

I'm five decades away from this process, so someone clue me in...
A high school student in Louisiana has received more than $9m in scholarship offers, an amount that leaves him at least close to clinching what is believed to be a US record.

Dennis Barnes has been offered aid from 125 colleges and universities, after maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 4.98, among other academic accomplishments, at International high school in New Orleans.

Hoping to collect more than $10m in offered scholarships, he is waiting on responses from a number of the 200 colleges to which he applied, school officials said.
In the "old days" one requested (or was mailed) brochures, filled out forms, visited nearby locations, applied to one's favorites plus a couple "safety" options.  Nowadays the process is online and presumably automated to facilitate the process, but this student has a GPA of 4.98.  Is this necessary to find the best scholarship, or is it an ego trip?

The upside of hurricanes

This is the ultimate dream discovery for every old man with a metal detector.  The authorities of course respond by asking the public to stay away because it could be dangerous (i.e. "please leave the gold doubloons for us").

22 April 2023

Auroral storm over Lapland

I wonder what the entry code is for this gated community?

Lots of cogent comments at the mildlyinfuriating subreddit.

Anti-wokeness exemplified

Sent to me in an email, so I don't have primary source confirmation.  But I believe it's true.

Addendum:  see the info provided by reader Bicycle Rider in the Comments.

A new online geography game

Where in the USA is this? offers you photographs and invites you to identify the location by placing pins on a map, which basically makes it a clone of Geoguesser.  The photos chosen seem to be devoid of useful clues, but I had an interesting experience yesterday.  First two guesses (a house, then a store) were off by almost a thousand miles, in the wrong part of the country.  Then the third guess, based on the photo above was exactly on the spot.  Many readers will recognize those iconic cliffs.

Should the rape of children be punished by death?

The Florida Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow the death penalty for people who commit sexual batteries on children under age 12, sending the issue to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Lawmakers hope the bill (HB 1297) will ultimately lead to the U.S. Supreme Court reversing a 2008 decision that barred the death penalty for people who rape children. The state House passed the bill last week.

Under the bill, defendants could receive death sentences based on the recommendations of at least eight of 12 jurors. Judges would have discretion to impose the death penalty or sentence defendants to life in prison. If fewer than eight jurors recommend death, defendants would receive life sentences.
The arguments for a death penalty carried the day in Florida, including one Senator who argued that "people who sexually abuse children can't be rehabilitated."  One argument against the death penalty is religious...
"I love kids, and I'll do anything to protect them," Osgood said. "But I struggle from a faith perspective. If I believe in my faith that God can redeem and save anybody, then how do I support someone getting the death penalty? 
The other argument against death was articulated by Thomas More 500 years ago:
"I think putting thieves to death is not lawful; and it is plain and obvious that it is absurd and of ill consequence to the commonwealth that a thief and a murderer should be equally punished; for if a robber sees that his danger is the same if he is convicted of theft as if he were guilty of murder, this will naturally incite him to kill the person whom otherwise he would only have robbed; since, if the punishment is the same, there is more security, and less danger of discovery, when he that can best make it is put out of the way; so that terrifying thieves too much provokes them to cruelty."

"Public domain" videos explained

A tip of the blogging cap to reader Lois Tverberg for sending me the link for this video, which explains that archival material offered for sale by Getty Images is often available for free from other sources.

Via Aeon.
From the late 19th century to today, cameras have been there to capture some of history’s most important moments, from pivotal battles, to civil rights marches, and even moonwalks. However, as A History of the World According to Getty Images details, some of the most extraordinary footage ever shot is locked away behind paywalls by a few companies that charge exorbitant fees for access and usage – even in cases where the material has entered the public domain, or was never even owned by anyone at all. In his riveting video essay, the UK filmmaker Richard Misek sets out to release these images from ‘captivity’.

(Rather annoying audio for the first 4 minutes) 

Tie dying a mandala tapestry


My best for the NYT Saturday crossword is 7.9 minutes, keyboard, using autocheck.

Addendum January 5, 2024 - my best time ever for a Saturday NTYT puzzle:

I've been recording my times since 2020, with the idea that any upward trend in solving times might provide early evidence of the onset of dementia.  No evidence of that yet.  

Embedded cartoon from The New Yorker, IIRC.

The plague of robotexts

An article in The Guardian today details the flood of scams being perpetrated by fake text messages.
While phishing texts have been around for years, data shows they are on the rise. In 2022 US phone users got 157bn robotexts , or more than 440 a person – an 80% increase from 2021, according to the company Robokiller, which offers a scam-blocking service for cell phones...

There are more than 362,000 robotexts being sent a minute in America.."

I don't believe this is impossible to stop.   

Modern-day gold prospector

Image cropped slightly for size from the original at the New York Times, which reports that the recent torrential rains in California have been a boon for gold prospectors, who nowadays sometimes don wetsuits rather than panning the gravel.

20 April 2023

This is a "rapid unscheduled disassembly"

Elon Musk's unmanned SpaceX Starship experienced a failure today:
SpaceX’s engineers are still sorting through exactly what went wrong with the uncrewed vehicle. Mid-climb, a few of the 33 Raptor engines appeared to flame out. Within three minutes of liftoff, the Super Heavy booster was supposed to separate, but that never occurred. Instead Starship began to spin wildly, tumbling through the sky. Then, the vehicle exploded, which SpaceX later said was triggered on purpose with flight-termination commands sent to both the rocket and booster.
SpaceX expressed it this way:
“Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation.”
Addendum:  Explanation in one of the Comments.  But it reminds me of this old skit:

17 April 2023

ELVES in the sky

The Astronomy Photo of the Day.  (explained there).  More ELVES:

Trivia for English majors

"Jeykll" does not rhyme with "freckle."
The correct (and little-known) Scottish pronunciation of Jekyll is ‘Jee-kul’... I originally discovered this uncommon fact whilst studying at Kent. It was told to me by a favourite lecturer who said that Stevenson had intended ‘Jee-kul to rhyme with treacle, not Jeck-ul to rhyme with heckle’.
I'll interrupt to note that many Americans would mispronounce "treacle" to rhyme with "heckle."  I would suggest instead "Jekyll should rhyme with fecal."  Now to continue...
My quest launched me into the world of Hollywood (fount of all cultural wisdom), where in 1941 a film was made based on the text starring Hollywood heavyweights Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner.  The film was a remake of a 1931 production starring Fredric March.

The interesting thing is that March pronounced Jekyll ‘Jee-kul’, whilst Tracy pronounced it ‘Jeck-ul’. Despite being made only ten years later, Tracy’s portrayal of Jekyll and Hyde marked a watershed moment for the shift in pronunciation in mainstream society.

So why did March’s pronunciation not take hold instead, given that it had a ten-year head start?  [answer at the link]

There seems little doubt that Stevenson meant for Jekyll to be pronounced the Scottish way. Jekyll is an actual Scottish surname and Stevenson borrowed it from a family he befriended (that of famous horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll)...

There is also a lovely anecdote that suggests Stevenson may have chosen the name as a joke, intending ‘Jee-kul’ to rhyme with ‘seek all’, in opposition to Mr Hyde (or Mr Hide) and in reference to the children’s game ‘Hide and Seek’.
Or maybe he wanted Jekyll to rhyme with cecal...

You learn something every day.

Men called Ove and Otto

I watched this movie earlier this week in 2017 and can unreservedly recommend it.
A Man Called Ove (Swedish: En man som heter Ove, pronounced [ˈuːvɛ]) is a Swedish comedy-drama film... The film was written and directed by Hannes Holm, and is based on author Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name. In the leading role as Ove is Rolf Lassgård. The film was nominated for six awards, winning two, at the 51st Guldbagge Awards in 2016. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling categories at the 89th Academy Awards.
It's clearly not a Hollywood-style movie, featuring a curmudgeonly older man rather than a superhero, in a story where nothing explodes.  It begins a bit slowly, until the viewer learns a bit of the backstory of the protagonist.  A pleasant diversion for an evening's entertainment.

Reposted from 2017 because the Tom Hanks-version remake is currently being widely publicized.   This original version is probably better (see readers' opinions in the comment thread).  Likely available from your local library as a DVD.

Addendum:  It took me several months to get the Tom Hanks-verson DVD from our library.  After viewing it last night, I'm of the firm opinion that it's as good as the Swedish original.  Tom Hanks is a very convincing "grumpy old man," and Mariana Trevino is outstanding as his effervescent savior.

Official trailer embedded above.  For those who want a bigger sample, try this 10-minute "extended preview."

One thing drove me crazy.  Otto goes for his pre-induction physical for military service and is shown this chest xray [images cropped for size/emphasis]:

He is rejected for service because...

He may well have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (a symmetric and slowly progressive enlargement of the heart),  but the CXR shows a 10-cm mass in the left upper lobe of the lung consistent with bronchogenic carcinoma.  I suspect some low-level intern was given the assignment to "find us an xray showing a big heart" and returned with the one they used.  Amazing that nobody noticed this; the xray could have been deleted from the scene with no loss of necessary information.

32 ingredients in a "handmade" egg sandwich

A food columnist at The Guardian makes note of the absolutely stunning number of ingredients incorporated into modern food.
Having bought a “handmade” egg sandwich on a train, he organises its ingredients into a vertical list, as if he were about to try to shop for these scientific-sounding things. The visual effect is startling and chastening. Each column – there are two – is preposterously long, for the sandwich has no fewer than 32 ingredients, most unknown to a domestic cook. Eggs, for instance, come in at number 22, just after potassium sorbate...

In Britain, he tells us, we eat an awful lot of highly seductive, hyper-palatable, ultra-processed food – it comprises 57% of our diet, a figure higher than anywhere else in Europe – and it makes us hungrier, or less satisfied, than we should be, with the result that we eat more of it, and put on more weight.

"Every last child"

The European Polio Conference, organized by Polio-France in cooperation with the European Polio Union (EPU), will be held on 25-27 May in Nancy, France.  Registration details and further information are available here.
This congress will not be a congress like any other, with a learned society that addresses its colleagues. It will be organized by a patient association that wishes to create the necessary conditions for the exchange of knowledge in order to perpetuate its dissemination, but above all to motivate research and innovation in care. This congress is aimed at people with polio and post-polio syndrome from all over the world, and health professionals concerned by the management of polio and post-polio syndrome.
A major focus of the conference is on the post-polio syndrome:
Polio-France is the only national association that gathers and represents exclusively the people carrying sequelae of poliomyelitis. It is also an active member of the Board of Directors of the European Polio Union (EPU). After the serious epidemics of the 1950s and 1960s, the introduction of compulsory vaccination in 1964 marked the end of cases of poliovirus. Some children died at that time, and about 50,000 survivors in France are in various situations of disability due to the after-effects of the disease.

After leaving the rehabilitation centers and reaching adulthood with their disabilities stabilized, all of them were able to study, work, start a family and pursue a career. Many of them are now reaching retirement age. They have blended into the national landscape, fully integrated, and are no longer visible to the point that 40 to 50 years later, it is common to hear people say: “polio no longer exists!” This is true of the viral threat. Yet the survivors with polio scars are among us ; in our neighborhoods, our businesses, our families. They continue to fight, as they always have.

No scientific hindsight allowed us to imagine that, 40 or 50 years later, the natural effects of aging could play a major role in the life process of these disabled people, degrading their remaining capacities as early as 45-50 years old, with more or less brutality and rapidity. Impoverished by the lack of transmission among most health professionals, the body of knowledge on the management of the after-effects of poliomyelitis is such that there is an urgent need to reinitiate the circulation of this knowledge. It is necessary to create (or perpetuate) spaces for the dissemination of scientific knowledge and management methods. This can only be achieved through events that encourage this type of exchange, as proposed by the Nancy conference.
Their motto:

Anyone who lived in the 1950s and 1960s and is now developing progressive weakness needs to be aware of the post-polio syndrome.  Too often physicians unaware of the entity will ascribe an elderly person's impairment to "aging" or inadequate exercise/diet etc.  Many people had mild polio in the pre-vaccine era and were unaware of it.

An invention for our times: a "sargassum barrier"

Details at Bloomberg, where the article discusses attempts to harvest sargassum.  But note these Caribbean barriers are HUGE:

Words for the day: plutocracy and kakistocracy

A plutocracy (from Ancient Greek πλοῦτος (ploûtos) 'wealth', and κράτος (krátos) 'power') or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income. The first known use of the term in English dates from 1631.
An opinion piece in the Washington Post today is entitled "How megadonors circumvent laws to give huge checks to politicians."  Here is a graph of the surge in donations for Congressional and Presential elections:

The explanation:
One big reason for this has been an innovation known as “joint fundraising committees.” Both parties use them. And their influence is growing.

Here’s how they work: Election laws try to limit the influence of any one rich person by capping how much the individual can donate to a given candidate. In 2020, individuals could give no more than $5,600 directly to Joe Biden or Donald Trump. That’s a tidy sum, but it’s not enough to curry favor with Biden, who amassed more than a billion dollars in the 2020 election, or Trump, whose haul surpassed $800 million.

Joint fundraising committees render such limits meaningless. They allow presidential candidates to bring their campaign, their national party and state parties into a single fundraising entity. Donors can give a limited amount to each group, but -- thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC — they can hit the contribution limit for as many groups as they want.

The result: The maximum donation to these mega-committees is not $5,600. It’s the combined maximum for each participating group.

This is how two donors were able to cut $817,800 checks to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee run by the former president in 2020. Multiple donors gave $730,600 to the Biden Victory Fund. Both campaigns amassed hundreds of millions of dollars this way.

And, unlike super PACs — which can raise and spend infinite sums but can’t legally coordinate messaging strategy with candidates — joint fundraising committees allow politicians to have direct control over these pooled funds.

That gives large donors ever-greater power to buy influence with candidates. As Brendan Doherty, a political scientist at the Naval Academy, told me, “Joint fundraising encourages presidents to raise money in even larger amounts from high-dollar donors. That, in turn, has led to them spending more time at fundraisers with people who can cut ever larger checks.”

And candidates love these fundraisers...
More information at the link, but I've already abstracted an inordinate amount.

Many laws have been passed to prohibit or at least regulate this type of actitivy.  And each time the wealthy sit down with some damn lawyers to draft a variant of legislation or an amendment or a new law to allow the money transfers to occur, and these revisions/amendments/whatever are eagerly passed by whatever legislature is in session because the incoming money is going to go to them.  The only people empowered to regulate or limit this activity are the very ones who benefit from it.

In the rest of the Americas this abuse would lead to demonstrations in the streets.  Here the public shrugs their collective shoulders in deference to "freedom."

And don't think the flood of money is somehow magically limited to campaign flyers and badges.  Tons of it get channeled to personal accounts, family members hired for "campaign" activities, private planes, retreats to discuss campaigns in exotic locales, and bank accounts in overseas locations. 

Plus these politicians have inside information on upcoming wars, weapons procurement needs, highway plans, infrastructure upgrades - everything.  And if they can't buy shares in the companies that benefit, they can notify their cousin Sally in Peoria or their high-school buddy in Cheyenne.  

There is an ongoing endless abuse of political power in this country and nobody is making an effort to restrict it.

I have previously decried American plutocracy in a 2014 post, and was roundly criticized by readers who declared that there is nothing preventing the people on the bottom from rising to the top if they only work at it.  That's bullshit too, but I don't have time to write a rebuttal now.

I'm tired of all this bullshit.

Next word: kakistocracy
The earliest use of the word dates to the 17th century, in Paul Gosnold's A sermon Preached at the Publique Fast the ninth day of Aug. 1644 at St. Maries:
Therefore we need not make any scruple of praying against such: against those Sanctimonious Incendiaries, who have fetched fire from heaven to set their Country in combustion, have pretended Religion to raise and maintaine a most wicked rebellion: against those Nero's, who have ripped up the wombe of the mother that bare them, and wounded the breasts that gave them sucke: against those Cannibal's who feed upon the flesh and are drunke with the bloud of their own brethren: against those Catiline's who seeke their private ends in the publicke disturbance, and have set the Kingdome on fire to rost their owne egges: against those tempests of the State, those restlesse spirits who can no longer live, then be stickling and medling; who are stung with a perpetuall itch of changing and innovating, transforming our old Hierarchy into a new Presbytery, and this againe into a newer Independency; and our well-temperd Monarchy into a mad kinde of Kakistocracy. Good Lord!
English author Thomas Love Peacock later used the term in his 1829 novel The Misfortunes of Elphin, in which he explains kakistocracy represents the opposite of aristocracy, as aristos (ἄριστος) means "excellent" in Greek. In his 1838 Memoir on Slavery (which he supported), U.S. Senator William Harper compared kakistocracy to anarchy, and said it had seldom occurred:
Anarchy is not so much the absence of government as the government of the worst—not aristocracy but kakistocracy—a state of things, which to the honor of our nature, has seldom obtained amongst men, and which perhaps was only fully exemplified during the worst times of the French revolution, when that horrid hell burnt with its most horrid flame. In such a state of things, to be accused is to be condemned—to protect the innocent is to be guilty; and what perhaps is the worst effect, even men of better nature, to whom their own deeds are abhorrent, are goaded by terror to be forward and emulous in deeds of guilt and violence.
American poet James Russell Lowell used the term in 1876, in a letter to Joel Benton, writing, "What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone. Is it or is it not a result of Democracy? Is ours a 'government of the people by the people for the people,' or a Kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?"

Remembering jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal

Saw an article in The Guardian today making note of the death of Ahmad Jamal.
Embarking on a professional music career from the age of 14, over seven decades Jamal forged a unique sound that leapt over genre boundaries. Minimalism, classical, modernism, pop: Ahmad was sometimes likened to Thelonious Monk in terms of his ability to innovate and influence other musicians: his piano would be sampled by the likes of De La Soul, Jay-Z, Common and Nas. The trumpeter Miles Davis once said: “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal,” writing in his memoir that his friend had “knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, and the way he phrases notes and chords and passages”.

Jamal performed jazz, which he called “American classical music” all his life, in the house band for Chicago’s Pershing Hotel lounge – a Black-owned favourite of the likes of Sammy Davis Jr and Billie Holiday, and where he recorded his 1958 breakthrough album, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not For Me. The album sold 1m copies and remained on the Billboard magazine charts for more than 100 weeks, making Jamal a household name when rock’n’roll was on the up and jazz was beginning to wane.

More at the link, of course.  I remember being impressed by his music back in the 1960s, to the extent that my senior yearbook biography noted my interest in "Brubeck, Monk, Previn, and Ahmad Jamal."  Then an invasive species of Beatles arrived as I went to college, and I left jazz far behind.

An encounter with "birch water" - updated (again)

One of my first garden chores this spring [written in 2011] was to tidy up a flower bed near the front door.  Last year a birch tree cluster had begun to shadow the bed, so on Monday I pruned a few branches, then sat down to clear some of the detritus of dead material from the flowerbed.  Several minutes later, I noticed that a liquid was dripping down onto the area where I was working.  I looked up to see sap dripping from several of the pruned birch branches.

Several years ago I would have thought no more about it except to view the oozing as a fortuitous feast for any early-emerging Mourning Cloak butterflies.  But two years ago I wrote a post about the drinking of birch tree juice in Russia, and just last month posted a photo of a "sugar-sickle" (frozen dripping tree sap).

I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I used rubber bands to secure sandwich-sized Ziploc bags on the two clipped branches.  By the time I had finished gardening that afternoon, the bag (shown above) had accumulated quite a bit of liquid, and to my surprise it was beautifully clear:

I suppose I had expected some coloration or cloudiness.  When I came out Tuesday morning, I was startled to find both bags substantially distended with birch sap.  It was now impossible to unwind the rubber band, so I brought out a scissors, intending to snip it, then decided it would make more sense to snip a small hole in the Ziploc bag to drain the fluid.  Placing a hole at the top of the bag allowed me

to tip the bag's contents into a container and then leave the bag on the branch to accumulate more fluid.

The next step, of course, was to search the internet for more information.  At Naturespeak I found directions for concentrating maple sap into syrup and into maple candy (a nice article, worth a visit by those interested).  The best source of information I found was at BirchBoy.com, with articles written by people in Alaska, where apparently birch juice processing is an honored pasttime:
Birch syrup is one of the few taste treats unique to Alaska and the circumpolar region. Although many people have never heard of it, birch syrup is not new. Birch trees, like many northern hardwoods, have long been tapped for their sugary, invigorating sap; but because of maple's high sugar content, generous sap flow, mellow flavor, and compliant nature, maple became the premier sugar tree in North America - except for Alaska, where birch trees are plentiful and maples are small and scarce. Birch syrup would have been the only springtime sugar source for Alaska sourdoughs in remote areas. For every gallon of birch syrup he made, the sourdough would have tapped no fewer than a hundred trees, collected more than one hundred gallons of sap, and burned nearly a cord of wood. Folklore relates that the syrup boiled down in open pans was tart, robust, and very dark, but the sourdough must have guarded and savored every drop. Neither did he have to worry much about spoilage, since pure, thick birch syrup seems incorruptible...
There is an outstanding amount of information at that link on the science of birch sap and the techniques for its harvest and for protecting the trees, and the subtleties of rendering it down to a syrupy consistency.

I haven't decided yet whether to undertake that aspect of the adventure.  Everything I've read suggests the process is time-consuming and needs to be undertaken with some degree of care to avoid scorching the concentrate.  I have about a half-liter of fluid now, because the trees are still dripping into this third day (memo to self: in the future don't prune when the sap is running).  That half-liter would be worth about 25 Euros in the Japanese market, so rather than waste it I decided to have some last night with my dinner.

I had a small glass of birch sap with my takeout Chinese food dinner last night.  It tastes pretty much like very fresh water, with maybe just a subtle hint of earthy overtones.  It goes well with General Tso's Chicken.

Reposted from 2011 because Modern Farmer has a report on how entrepreneurs are trying to commercialize "tree water" rather than rendering it into syrup:
A new wave of maple entrepreneurs are skipping the laborious syrup boiling process—where sap is reduced to 1/40th of its original volume to create the beloved pancake dressing—and marketing the pure watery sap as a health drink instead. The first maple water companies emerged over the last few years in Canada, but the idea has now infiltrated the American market. The drink is primarily found in health food stores in New England, but distribution is ramping up and this year’s maple water harvest should hit stores across the country in the coming months...

It’s always been common knowledge among maple syrup producers that taking a sip of sap was a good way to quench their thirst while working in the sugarbush, but apparently the notion that it could be a marketable substance is a new one. The first impression after downing a glass of maple water is that it tastes like water, but with a slightly sweet aftertaste and a tiny hint of earthy, maple syrup-like flavor.

With coco water (and other flavored waters) selling for $4 a pop, it’s a wonder that no one thought of bottling maple water sooner. It’s all-natural, sustainably-produced, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, paleo and local...

Between the U.S. and Canada, at least 11 different companies are marketing the drink so far. All of them are recent startups, sporting catchy names like Vertical Water, Wahta, Happy Tree and Sap on Tap.
Reposted August 2015 after reading an article in the Belfast Telegraph about water menus at luxury hotels.
The five-star Merchant Hotel has been home to the world's most expensive cocktail and now it has turned its attention to water by launching Ireland's first dedicated water menu. This summer will see the hotel will launch its new water menu with an exclusive range of 13 bottled waters.

The handpicked selection has been curated to include some of the world’s purest waters, with bottles originating from 10 countries including Italy, Iceland, Finland, the Faroe Islands and Fiji. Prices start from £4.95 and go right up to £26.45 per bottle with a description of the water and its mineral content guiding guests through the options available.

And to keep customers right - the Merchant has also appointed two new water butlers that can help guests choose the water that is right for their palate - by explaining the unique benefits, tastes and attributes of the different brands - many of which can be rarely found in the UK and Ireland. 
More details at the link, but this item caught my eye:
De l’Aubier Maple Sap Water: Canada - £15.50 750ml Btl
This is the only water of its kind in the world. A still water of vegetal origin made from maple sap. Through the biological phenomenon of osmosis, it rises to the tree’s branches during the night and flows back to the roots during the day.  TDS 260mg - Sodium 2mg - Magnesium 2mg - Calcium 2mg.
"The only water of its kind in the world."  Hmmm......

Addendum:  The glass on the right shows what my birch water looked like after I boiled it down in a pan on the stove:

The process did concentrate and intensify the flavor, but frankly it wasn't worth it in terms of my time and the carbon footprint energy expenditure involved.

Addendum:  Found an article in DownEast about one man's effort to promote birch syrup -
So, eight years ago, he started what remains Maine’s only commercial birch-syrup operation. On average, 120 gallons of sap make just 1 gallon of syrup, three times the input needed for an equal amount of maple syrup. The result is complex — sweet, but also earthy and tart.
Reaffirms my previous impression that it's not worth expending the energy to boil down the sap.

Reposted from 2020 to add this gif showing how a tap can be used, and how much water accumulates in a relatively short time.

Weather reporter having fun

Via the wholesomememes subreddit.

11 April 2023

"El Mundo"

I was immediately reminded of the one about someone saying "plethora" at a funeral - and all the other related ones ("bargain," "being alive," and "infinity" for example).

And while we're doing lame jokes, remember there is one word that is spelled incorrectly in all dictionaries (this word).

Two Easter messages to the American public

Res ipsa loquitur.  Via the WhitePeopleTwitter subreddit.

You can't unsee this...

... photo of a venomous snake exiting the rear of a frog.  But you can read a possible explanation at Neatorama (Image brightened and cropped for size from the original)

Apparently saying "ladies" is a form of "microaggression"

Easthampton is rallying around a superintendent finalist who said his offer to lead the city’s public schools was rescinded after he referred to women as “ladies” in an email — an act some school committee members reportedly viewed as a microaggression. 

Dr. Vito Perrone said the school committee rescinded its offer in an executive session last Thursday, about a week after it voted 4-3 to hire the former Easthampton High School principal... 

The decision hinged on Perrone’s use of “ladies” in an email he sent to committee Chairperson Cynthia Kwiecinski over contract negotiations, he told the newspaper...

Perrone, currently interim superintendent of schools in West Springfield, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that Kwiecinski said using “ladies” was a microaggression and “the fact that he didn’t know that as an educator was a problem.”

He explained that the terms “ladies” and “gentlemen” were used as a sign of respect when he was growing up, adding that he wasn’t aiming to insult anyone, according to the newspaper.
Perhaps someone can explain this to me; I seem to be out of touch.  Or perhaps there is was some nuance in his email that's not being reported.  Story found at Boston.com.

Addendum:  A big tip of the blogging hat to the reader who found details about this case and the explanation for the offensive characteristics of the term "ladies" in a Boston Globe article.  Several other comments by readers offer additional insights.

Ukranian girl explains the meaning of life

Reposted from 3 years ago, because it's still hits home.

Addendum:  so sad to see this gif link dead.  If any readers remember it ("you go to school, then you work, then you die") and can find a copy for me to embed, I would be grateful.

A man stands on the sidewalk holding a sign...

North Dakota state senators...

 ... defeated a bill to provide free school lunches to low-income K-12 students.

Ten days later they voted to raise the per-diem reimbursements they receive while traveling in the state, from $35/day to $45/day.
"State employees should get a higher per diem because inflation has made eating out much more expensive, he noted."

08 April 2023

Intra-family politics

A New Yorker cartoon.

Global ocean surface temperature at all-time high

I really hate to start my blogging day with a "gloom and doom" item, but the graph is quite striking.
Three years of La Niña conditions across the vast tropical Pacific have helped suppress temperatures and dampened the effect of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

But scientists said heat was now rising to the ocean surface, pointing to a potential El Niño pattern in the tropical Pacific later this year that can increase the risk of extreme weather conditions and further challenge global heat records...

Hotter oceans provide more energy for storms, as well as putting ice sheets at risk and pushing up global sea levels, caused by salt water expanding as it warms.

Marine heatwaves can also have devastating effects on marine wildlife and cause coral bleaching on tropical reefs. Experiments have also suggested that warming oceans could radically alter the food web, promoting the growth of algae while lowering the types of species that humans eat..
Discussion and maps continue at The Guardian.

07 April 2023

Randy Rainbow is back...

There are about 4-5 more Randy Rainbow productions posted in the Video - humor section of this blog.
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