31 January 2024

Understanding the Ottomans

When our new next-door neighbor turned out to be from Turkey, I decided I needed to learn something about Ottoman history and culture.  This book from our library was an excellent read, clear and concise and lavishly illustrated.  It covers history and geography, religion, science and medicine, literature, music, art and architecture, food, and more.  Here are some notes I jotted down while reading:
The Ottoman empire was perhaps the most cosmopolitan in the world; its 30 million subjects were from seventy ethnic groups, speaking twelve major languages. (30)

"In Aleppo in the mid-1700s, women constituted up to one-third of all commercial property buyers and investors... property laws in the Ottoman Empire were more favourable to women than in Western Europe." (49)

England became an ally of the Ottomans in the 16th century after the pope excommunicated the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I.  She initiated trade relations with the Islamic world, sending exotic gifts, including clockworks.  They returned perfumes and silks.  England then exported tin and lead, which they stripped from Catholic churches and monasteries.  The Ottomans used the lead and tin for weaponry against Catholic Spain, which delighted the English. (53)

The Ottoman empire implemented a meritocracy rather than a hereditary aristocracy.  "Rustem Pasha [was] originally a Catholic Croat swineherd... he became Suleyman the Magnificent's longest-serving grand vizier and married Suleyman and Roxelana's only daughter, the Princess Mihrimah - then the richest woman in the world." (74)

"During the 1845-52 Irish Potato Famine... the Ottoman sultan declared that he was ready to send £10,000 to help Ireland's farmers.  Queen Victoria... asked that the sultan send no more than £1,000, since she herself had sent only £2,000.  He complied, to spare her embarrassment, but in secret also sent five ships laden with food." (79)

"Images of women in the Ottoman Empire have been distorted by Western fascination with the harem... In practice, however, only about 2 per cent of marriages in the empire were polygamous... usually involved the taking of only two wives... and was often used as a good way of looking after widows or orphans who would otherwise have no support and nowhere to live.  In most Christian European societies, the solution was usually the convent or the asylum for the elite, and the street for the rest." (88)

"... coexistence and compromise between different manifestations of religious belief and practice is one of the abiding themes of Ottoman history... Orhan's Christian wife... was allowed to remain a practising Christian while at the same time being given the power to endow Muslim religious establishments." (90-1)

"Christianity, as well as Islam, was a religion that originated east of Europe, and there is no reason why Islam could therefore not be considered a European religion in the same way as Christianity." (92)

"... in 1830 Sultan Mahmud II had declared: 'I distinguish among my subjects, Muslims in the mosque, Christians in the church and Jews in the synagogu, but there is no difference among them in any other way.  My affection and sense of justice for all of them is strong and they are indeed my children.'" (99)

The most famous Ottoman admiral was Piri Reis, known now for his cartographic skillls, including his 1513 map - one of the oldest in the world to depict the Americas. (111)

Ottoman court music was played by several instruments "according to open-ended modal systems" and was never written down.  "This absence of notation encouraged improvisation and allowed a certain freedom in performance." (148)

The medical scholar Aksemseddin described microbe theory 200 years before van Leeuwenhoek: "It is incorrect to assume that diseases appear one by one in humans.  Disease infects by spreading from one person to another.  This infection occurs through seeds that are so small they cannot be seen but are alive." (170)

"The sultan's 'walled' tent palace was so large, according to the French traveller Antoine Galland, writing in 1673, that 600 camels were needed to carry the various parts." (259)

"The Turkish word kosk (our word "kiosk") is a natural extension of the tent culture, evolving gradually into a kind of garden pavilion.. [and tourist information booths]... The key piece of furniture in the Ottoman home was a padded upholstered seat or bench, without arms or a back, that in most Western languages is still known as an 'ottoman'." (261)

"The Seljuks are thought to have been responsible for the introduction of the tulip bulb into Anatolia from Central Asia, where the flowers grew wild... on the China-Kazakhstan border.  By the 15th century the flower was regarded as the symbol of the Ottomans.  It is still prominent in Turkish culture (stamps, coins, emblems, flags).  The word for tulip in both Persian and Turkish is lale, often used as a girl's name.  When written in Arabic script, lale has the same letters as 'Allah,' which is why the flower also became a holy symbol..." (266)

Open letter sent to President Biden by a coalition of young voters

Dear President Biden -

We are a diverse group of leaders, spanning race, class, and geography from youth organizations who mobilize our generations and build political power for young people. We mobilized the record youth turnout in 2020 that pushed your ticket over the finish line in key swing states. Many of us worked to provide the critical source of support for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections that prevented the Red Wave. We have been preparing to mobilize the youth vote again as you face your re-election. We are experts in youth voting behavior who have worked tirelessly across the years to generate Generation Z and Millennial enthusiasm for civic action under a variety of circumstances. We share your conviction that the 2024 election will be one of the most important in American history. We write to you to issue a very stark and unmistakable warning: you and your Administration’s stance on Gaza risks millions of young voters staying home or voting third party next year. We are pleading with you to use every tool available to you to broker a ceasefire, now, and to revive the peace process. 

As we write this, over 1,400 Israelis, 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza, and 100 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been killed. We came of age during two decades of endless war that cost thousands of American lives and millions of lives around the world. We know that the longer you allow the siege of Gaza to continue, the greater the risk of this spiraling into a broader regional conflict, potentially pulling U.S. troops into combat or occupation. This would be both a moral and political disaster.

There is no way for a Democratic presidential nominee to win without significant youth voter enthusiasm and mobilization. Young people are a cornerstone of a winning Democratic coalition, and the vast majority of young people in this country are rightfully horrified by the atrocities committed with our tax dollars, with your support, and our nation’s military backing. We did not spend hours upon hours knocking doors and making calls to turn out the vote so that you could support indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and violations of international law. We fear that it will not be possible for those committed to turning out the youth vote this election to recruit the volunteers, organizers, staff, and donors needed to deliver the margins for Democratic victory down the ballot. Young people across the country are terrified, we are grieving, and we need to see the Biden administration stand up against all human rights violations.

The polls reflect what we are seeing in our communities and organizations over the last month:
*According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, young voters are deeply disturbed by your position on the war. Amongst voters under 35, 65% oppose “sending more military aid to Israel and only 22% approve of your handling of the Israel/Hamas war”. 
*The same poll found your favorability rating among voters under 35 has fallen to just 25%. While young people are particularly opposed to handing the Israeli military a blank check, 80% of Democrats and 66% of all likely voters support a ceasefire. 
*In Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin the number of Muslim and Arab voters exceeds the margins you won by; your pollster Lake Research Partners found that support for your administration has “cratered among Muslim, Arab, and young Democrats in Michigan”, a state you won by only 150,000 votes in 2020.  Now, just 61% of Michigan Democrats under 30 support your re-election, with 21% opting to vote third party. 
*A New York Times poll shows you trailing Trump in 5 out of the 6 critical swing states by an average of 48-44%, which is in huge part driven by the fact that you currently are favored by voters under 30 by only 1 percentage point. 
*You are “bleeding support” among young Black and Brown voters in particular, who powered your victories in the key swing states that delivered you the electoral college.
You cannot win this election by only telling our generation that you are the lesser of two evils. The position of your administration is badly out of step with young people and the positions of Democratic voters, who have been shown to support a ceasefire by supermajorities in multiple polls. This is already becoming an issue we are hearing about from thousands of young people across the country. We cannot explain your position to the people of our generation.

For the sake of Palestinians, Israelis, morality, humanity, your own political future, and American democracy itself: we urge you to do everything in your power to stop the current cycle of violence and move from the path of war towards the path of peace and justice. Call for a ceasefire and a safe return for all hostages. Stand up for humanity on the international stage. Do not continue to enable war crimes through word, deed, or dollars.

While we have not always agreed, we have always appreciated your administration’s willingness to listen to our voices and include our interests as a vital component of the coalition you represent. Doing so helped to make you President, deliver a Democratic trifecta in 2020, and prevent a Red Wave in the 2022 midterms. However, we believe you are failing to hear us on this issue, and we are deeply concerned about the potential consequences. The decisions you have made thus far surrounding Gaza have made it harder for us to convince our communities to organize and get out the vote in 2024. We urge you to reverse course as quickly as possible. No more innocent people should be killed. We deeply understand that America and the world cannot afford another four years of far-right leadership. However, that is the path you are risking. Stand on the right side of history. Your legacy hangs in the balance.

Natalie Fall, March for Our Lives, Executive Director 
Victoria Hammett, GenZ for Change, Deputy Executive Director
Elise Joshi, GenZ for Change, Executive Director 
Aidan Kohn-Murphy, Gen Z for Change, Founder and Senior Advisor
Jack Petocz, GenZ for Change,  Mobilization Coordinator
Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement, Former Executive Director
Geoff Simpson, Justice Democrats, Campaigns Director
Aru Shiney-Ajay, Sunrise Movement, Executive Director
United We Dream Action 
Evan Weber, Sunrise Movement, Former Political Director
Michele Weindling, Sunrise Movement, Political Director

Google Doc source (boldface added by me). Discussion at NBC News.  Comments closed.

30 January 2024

Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky"

And I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do, I don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it – you've got to go sometime.
— Gerry O'Driscoll, Abbey Road Studios janitorial "browncoat"
I've been listening to this all week, wondering what the faint spoken words were.  The above sentiment is expressed at 0:38 and "I never said I was frightened of dying" (by Patricia 'Puddie' Watts, wife of road manager Peter Watts) at 3:33.

Fittingly, this "sky" song is the one that (coincidentally) plays during Dorothy's ride in the tornado in "The Dark Side of the Rainbow."

And, as I've always suspected, the sexual connotation of the vocals was intentional, as David Gilmour indicated in a Rolling Stone interview: "We wanted to put a girl on there, screaming orgasmically."

Reposted from 2013.  Most of the few regrets I have regarding my life are not about things I did, but about things I missed out on doing.  One of those regrets is that I never took the time to find and attend a Pink Floyd concert.  IIRC, my attitude when young was that it would be better to buy albums I could listen to many times rather than attend concerts once live.  In this case, I should have opted for the latter.

Just found the 1994 concert remastered:

I used to drive around with my windows down and this playing loudly in the car, enjoying the puzzled reactions of passers-by.


A screencap from this evening's weekly weather forecast.  I've highlighted the historical seasonal norms for emphasis.  I spent most of my youth in Minnesota and the last 20 years in Wisconsin, and I cannot ever recall sustained warmth like this at the start of February.  All kinds of businesses and recreation are being devastated (snowmobiling, skiing, ice fishing, outdoor hockey, ice sculptures, winter festivals.  Some climate change skeptics are having to change their arguments from "not happening" to "nothing we can do about it."

Addendum:  Here's a graph of the ice covering Lake Superior (50-year-average blue vs. this year red).  (Other Great Lakes at the link are similar). Holy cow.

Addendum: a multifactorial (temps+snow) "winter season severity index" comparing this year to historic norms (for Minnesota):

If you are a snowshoe hare who turned white for the winter, you're in a bunch of trouble in a brown landscape.

Addendum:  A tornado was reported in Wisconsin on February 8, 2024 for the first time in recorded weather history.  Temperatures were in the 50s.

Yet another addendum (might as well keep adding these to the old post rather than start new ones):
Ocean surface heat continues to astonish seasoned observers and raises the prospect of intense storms later in the year. The hurricane specialist Michael Lowry tweeted that sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic main development region, where most of the US category 3 or stronger hurricanes form, “are as warm today in mid-February as they typically are in middle July. Incredible.”
More updates March 2024: end-of-season numbers and El Nino relationship: 

Revisiting the second season of Fargo

I was so impressed by this recent fifth season of Fargo that I decided to binge-watch season 2, which was previously my favorite.  I spent three delightful evenings enjoying the remarkable characters, the various twists and turns of the plot, and literally laughing-out-loud at some points.  Later this year I may redo 1&3, but not 4.

Introducing the sidebar

Not long ago I realized that not all readers of TYWKIWDBI know that there is a "sidebar" on the right of the main column of posts.  Apparently some prefer to access this blog only via the small screen of a phone, and are thus unaware of other resources located beyond the phone's screen.  The top part of the sidebar has "meet and greet" stuff (thumbnail description, search box, bio, list of followers, feed links etc).  Below that...

... is an expandable archive extending back to 2007 - useful on those not infrequent days when I don't have time to post new material and you'd like to browse some TYWKIWDBI posts without scrolling backwards forever from the front page.  I recently spent part of an everning revisiting 2015 and found several items to repost.  And below that...

... is the much more useful "Categories" index.  That's where I refer newbies who are visiting for the first time.  I suggest they pick out a topic of interest to browse, rather than trying to go back sequentially through pages that are individually a mish-mash of multiple topics (most new visitors reflexly click on "humor.")  The topic list is twice as long as the embed above.

Below that is material that is generally useless - a list of my sources for material, which is way outdated and full of dead links.  I should either revise or delete it.

29 January 2024

New information about lepidoptera

New for me, at least - and quite interesting.  The commentary by Ze Frank is occasionally hard to hear, so clicking subtitles might be helpful.  Embedded below are a couple screencaps.  You can fast-forward through the one-minute advertisement at 7:14.  Via Neatorama.

27 January 2024

Don't eat sprinkles if they are moving

Photo credit Molly Rutten, cropped for size from the original in a gallery at Bored Panda.

"Handsaw" and "Heronsaw" explained

One of yesterday's NYT crossword clues was "the handsaw in Hamlet's 'I know a hawk from a handsaw.'" (5 letters)  I had to work around sideways to discover the answer as "heron" - which prompted a visit to some online sources.

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2:  "I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a hand saw."

Modern footnotes offer "A hand saw is very different from a hawk. Even in his disturbed emotional state, Hamlet can see the obvious, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are agents of the king and queen."  So I accepted that 50 years ago, assuming that a handsaw was a carpentry tool.

But the crossword clue forced me to dive more deeply: "handsaw" is the obsolete (Shakespearean) version of "heronsaw," a term applied to young herons, because it comes from Middle English heronsewe, from Old French haironcel, diminutive of heiron.

You learn something every day.  

"Sylvia's Mother"

"Sylvia's mother says 'Sylvia's busy. Too busy to come to the phone.'
Sylvia's mother says 'Sylvia's trying to start a new life of her own.'
Sylvia's mother says 'Sylvia's happy.  So why don't you leave her alone?'

And the operator says 40 cents more for the next three minutes.
Please, Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her.  I'll only keep her a while
Please, Mrs. Avery, I just want to tell her goodbye

Sylvia's mother says 'Sylvia's packing.  She's gonna be leaving today.'
Sylvia's mother says 'Sylvia's marrying a fella down Galveston way.'
Sylvia's mother says 'Please don't say nothin' to make her start cryin' and stay.'


Sylvia's mother says 'Sylvia's hurrying.  She's catching the nine o'clock train.'
Sylvia's mother says, "Take your umbrella 'cause Sylvia, it's starting to rain.'
And Sylvia's mother said, "Thank you for calling, and, sir, won't you call back again?"
Classic "golden oldie" from 1972 by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show.  Lyrics by Shel Silverstein, who is perhaps best known for his poetry and cartoons, but he also wrote the lyrics for many country-western songs.

Posted because after enjoying Fargo season 5, I decided to binge-watch season 2, and this song was featured in the background.

Jim Croce's "Operator" (1972)

"Operator, well could you help me place this call? See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded.  She's living in L. A. with my best old ex-friend Ray, a guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated.

[Refrain] Isn't that the way they say it goes? But let’s forget all that. And give me the number if you can find it, so I can call just to tell them I’m fine, and to show I've overcome the blow, I've learned to take it well. I only wish my words could just convince myself that it just wasn't real - but that's not the way it feels.

Operator, oh, could you help me place this call? ’Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me. There’s something in my eyes, you know it happens every time I think about the love that I thought would save me.   [Refrain]

Operator, well, let's forget about this call. There's no one there I really wanted to talk to. Thank you for your time - Oh, you've been so much more than kind - You can keep the dime."   [Refrain]
This backstory from a website about Jim Croce and his work:
"I got the idea for writing "Operator" by standing outside of the PX waiting to use one of the outdoor phones. There wasn't a phone booth; it was just stuck up on the side of the building and there were about 200 guys in each line waiting to make a phone call back home to see if their "Dear John" letter was true, and with their raincoat over their heads covering the telephone and everything, and it really seemed that so many people were going through the same experience, going through the same kind of change, and to see this happen especially on something like the telephone and talking to a long-distance operator-this kinda registered."
(reposted from 2013).  Reposted again from 2015 because I heard a familiar song in the background of Fargo season 2 about a young man agonizing on the phone, which I wanted to post, but I looked up "Operator" and then realized it was the wrong tune.  But I'll repost it anyway because it's a good one, and it's been on the back pages of the blog for almost ten years.

St. Paul (Minnesota) city council: all women, all under age 40 - updated

"Last fall, all seven city council seats were up for grabs. On 7 November, after a campaign season packed with candidates, Minnesota’s capital city elected its new city council – comprised entirely of women. Last week marked the group’s inauguration.

Noecker’s fellow council members – Nelsie Yang, Cheniqua Johnson, Hwa Jeong Kim, Saura Jost, Anika Bowie and Mitra Jalali – are all women of color and, like her, progressive in their politics. All council members are also below the age of 40.

In 2019, Nevada became the first state with a majority-women state legislature. Today, women make up 62% of the Nevada state legislature – the largest percentage of any state.

But experts have noted that no major city has achieved the feat of electing an all-woman city council like St Paul.

Notably, St Paul has a population of roughly 300,000 people, the second most populous city in the state after fellow Twin city, Minneapolis. Around 46% identify as a race other than white, according to the US census."
More at The Guardian.  The City Council president offered these comments from the podium at the inauguration of the council:
“If you read my Twitter replies lately, the responses sure are something. They’re fighting for their lives in there,” Jalali said. “Let’s just say a whole lot of people who are comfortable with majority male, majority white institutions for nearly 170 years of city history are suddenly sharply concerned about representation.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with them in this challenging time,” she added, the crowd erupting in cheers.
Worth mentioning: The City of Asheville, North Carolina, also has an all-female city council, making state history in 2020.

Reposted from just a week ago to make readers aware of the lengthly comment thread (50+) about the subject matter of this post.  I get quite a few compliments on TYWKIWDBI, most of which boil down to "nice blog", but the one that I remember and cherish the most is from a reader who said that TYWKIWDBI was the only blog they read where they enjoyed reading the comment threads, and specifically clicked on the comments.  I do review and curate all comments before they get posted, weeding out trash, spam, and trolls, but I try to leave in opposing viewpoints, which sometimes results in long and well-thought-out exchanges from readers who are both knowledgeable, opinionated, and... civilized.  There are certainly an abundance of topics in modern news cycles on which one is not going to change one's mind, but it is still useful to hear/read well-expressed differing viewpoints.

25 January 2024

A surprise on the underside of dresser drawers

The owner was concerned when he discovered that the bottoms of the drawers appeared to be "not original."

Map of the periodical cicada broods

Coming to our neighborhood this summer.  Via Neatorama, where note is made of the coincidence of a 13-year brood and a 17-year brood this year.

Image credit USDA Forest Service.

The middle strip is NOT a gradient

I checked it myself by selecting a segment from the left of the strip and pasting it on to the right side of the strip.  It disappeared.  Found in the opticalillusions subreddit.

"Free" annual checkups are not actually free

More in an endless stream of horror stories about the bullshit American health care delivery system:
When Kristy Uddin, 49, went in for her annual mammogram in Washington state last year, she assumed she would not incur a bill because the test is one of the many preventive measures guaranteed to be free to patients under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The ACA’s provision made medical and economic sense, encouraging Americans to use screening tools that could nip medical problems in the bud and keep patients healthy.

So when a bill for $236 arrived, Uddin — an occupational therapist familiar with the health-care industry’s workings — complained to her insurer and the hospital. She even requested an independent review.

“I’m like, ‘Tell me why am I getting this bill?’ ” Uddin recalled in an interview. The unsatisfying explanation: The mammogram itself was covered, per the ACA’s rules, but the fee for the equipment and the facility was not...

Over the past several years, the medical industry has eroded the ACA’s guarantees, finding ways to bill patients in gray zones of the law. Patients going in for preventive care, expecting that it will be fully covered by insurance, are being blindsided by bills, big and small...

Peter Opaskar, 46, of Texas, went to his primary-care doctor this year for his preventive-care visit — as he’d done before, at no cost. This time, his insurer paid $130.81 for the visit, but he also received a perplexing bill for $111.81. Opaskar learned that he had incurred the additional charge because when his doctor asked if he had any health concerns, he mentioned that he was having digestive problems but had already made an appointment with his gastroenterologist. So, the office explained, his visit was billed as both a preventive physical and a consultation. “Next year,” Opasker said in an interview, if he’s asked about health concerns, “I’ll say ‘no,’ even if I have a gunshot wound.”

22 January 2024

This is a "Scrabblegram"

Explained at The Guardian:
The Scrabblegram is a form of constrained writing in which you must write a piece of text that uses all 100 tiles in an English Scrabble set, and no other letters. The blank tiles must be used, and as per the rules can be any letter.

This example by David Cohen [embedded above] is considered one of the best examples in the genre: it is a remarkable piece of text because not only does it make sense and paint an amusing picture, but it also flows beautifully, rhymes and has the correct number of syllables for a limerick.
You can create Scrabblegrams at this link (although I haven't been able to figure our how to utilize blanks) (apparently just keep typing as long as the number of red letters doesn't exceed two).

20 January 2024

An ode to Dot (Dorothy)

What an absolutely superb character the Fargo team created for this fifth season.  And an absolutely faultless portrayal by Juno Temple.  

These four balls are congruent in terms of color

All four are the same color (not the same color throughout their area, but congruent in terms of color at each point).  Via the opticalillusions subreddit, where readers have confirmed the identical colors using digital sampling techniques.

Pubic lice

Nits on the pubic hairs, and some lice on the skin (a gif at the NEJM source shows the red blood pulsing inside the louse that looks like it has a death grip on that hair).

Huge quantities of water ice detected on Mars

The image above is of the Valles Marineris, the "Grand Canyon" of Mars, which despite its arid surface appearance, has now been found to have immense water deposits below the surface.
The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) has detected an area about the size of the Netherlands where water could make up as much as 40 percent of the material near the surface...

FREND detected a water-rich region measuring some 41,000 km2 (15,800 square miles). Within the upper 1 m (3.3 ft) of soil, up to 40 percent of the material seems to be water, which the team says most likely exists as ice...

 “This is very much like Earth’s permafrost regions, where water ice permanently persists under dry soil because of the constant low temperatures.”
Reposted from 2021 to add an update:

"... a new radar survey of the Medusae Fossae Formation region on the Martian equator has revealed what appears to be giant layered slabs of buried water ice, several kilometers thick...

There's as much water buried there, scientists say, as can be found in Earth's Red Sea; if it were brought to the surface and melted, it would cover Mars in a shallow ocean between 1.5 to 2.7 meters (4.9 to 8.9 feet) deep...

There's no liquid water on Mars now, that we know of. Where all that water went remains a mystery: did it disappear into space as vapor, or is it sequestered inside the planet, locked away where we can't see it? The Medusae Fossae Formation may hold some answers to this question..."
So, not "water" in the form of hydrated minerals, but actual water water, frozen into ice.  Fascinating.

Social generations of the western world

Posted for my own reference, since I keep forgetting the time frames.  Via.

New collegiate sports record

One of my cousins in Florida offered the opinion that the young man is clearly enjoying the academic life in Miami.  There are, obviously, mitigating circumstances (injuries, Covid) for these increasingly-common extended tenures, but the headline immediately called to my mind John Belushi's lament in Animal House: "Seven years of college down the drain."

17 January 2024

Word for the day: fermata

Today I was reading an essay by Rachel Kushner about the personal management of time, which included this passage:
Nabokov’s character Van Veen, from Ada, suggests that he is “an epicure of duration,” who “delight[s] sensually in Time.” Veen’s “greatest discovery,” Nabokov later said, was “his perception of Time as the dim hollow between two rhythmic beats . . . not the beats themselves, which only embar Time.” What Nabokov describes in his typically florid style, without naming it, is the fermata. A simple but profound music notation, a fermata on a note or rest stops time between beats, freeing the musician (or conductor) to decide when it ends. On my own fourteen-mile fermata, from the town of Las Terrenas to Salto El Limón, I passed on foot through clusters of modest little houses with tin roofs. I saw people, a woman in hair curlers cooking on charcoal briquettes, and people saw me, the men in faded military uniforms who stopped to offer me a ride in their jeep. I refused their offer, and was abandoned back into my solitary pursuit.
What a wonderful new word.  
Fermata is the Italian name for the sign (𝄐), which in English is commonly called a Pause, and signifies that the note over which it is placed should be held on beyond its natural duration. It is sometimes put over a bar or double bar, in which case it intimates a short interval of silence. [examples in the image embedded above].
The Wikipedia entry has some clickable audio examples of incorporating fermatas into music, but no discussion of usage of the word beyond the realm of music.  The word is not in my compact OED, and the only non-musical use I could find was in Wiktionary, where (as an Italian word) is designates "a stop" (where passengers get on and off).

But I like Rachel Kushner's usage.  I think I need to spend more time "pausing" rather than constantly going from point A to point B to get things done.  If anyone wonders why I'm staring off into the distance to ponder a scene or the meaning of life, it will be because I'm in a personal fermata.

16 January 2024

University of Minnesota Dance Team jazz routine

Props to these youngsters for the immense amount of time and effort expended in perfecting this routine, recorded at the Universal Dance Association College Nationals in Florida this past weekend.
The team competed in two dance categories, winning its 22nd national championship for its pom performance, a style that involves holding pompoms. But it was the jazz routine choreographed to Aerosmith's "Dream On" that went viral over the weekend. Videos ricocheted around YouTube and TikTok.

A sequence in the choreography took the dancers through a long series of one-legged spins, ending with all 20 dancers flipping an aerial turn in unison.

"That's a hard skill to get on, with 20 people on the floor," Tumbleson said. The dancers and coaches initially planned that only a few dancers would execute the aerial, but the team decided to choreograph the routine with all the dancers making the flying turns.

For a long time, Tumbleson said, dance did not get the same recognition as other sports. Social media is changing that, especially through moments of virality like the team just experienced. 

The flying turns are executed between the 1:30 and 1:40 timepoints in the embedded video.  Embedded above is the jazz routine. The championship pom routine is here.

Origin of the "butterfly effect" theorem

I learned this today while reading about chaos theory and its manifestations in our modern world:
Edward Lorenz was a weatherman during World War II, tasked with forecasting cloud cover before American bombing raids in the Pacific. But meteorology in those days was largely guesswork and produced only crude predictions. After the war ended, Lorenz decided to try to unlock the secrets of the weather using more sophisticated methods and harnessing the nascent power of computing. He created a simplified, miniature world on his LGP-30 computer: Instead of the millions of different variables that affect weather systems in the real world, his model had just 12 variables.

One day, Lorenz decided to rerun a simulation he’d done earlier. To save time, he decided to start midway through, plugging in the data points from the prior snapshot. He figured that so long as he set the variables at the same levels, the weather patterns would be repeated just as they were before: same conditions, same outcomes.

But something strange happened instead. The weather in his rerun simulation was different in every way. After a lot of scowling over the data, Lorenz realized what had happened. His computer printouts had rounded data to three decimal places. If, for example, the exact wind speed was 3.506127 miles an hour, the printout displayed it as 3.506 miles an hour. When he plugged the slightly truncated values from the printouts back into the simulation, he was always off by a tiny amount (in this case, just 0.000127 miles an hour). These seemingly meaningless alterations—these tiny rounding errors—were producing major changes.

That observation led Lorenz to a breakthrough discovery. Minuscule changes could make enormous differences: Raising the temperature one-millionth of a degree could morph the weather two months later from clear blue skies into a torrential downpour, even a hurricane. Lorenz’s findings were the origin of the “butterfly effect” concept—the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could trigger a tornado in Texas—and, ultimately, of chaos theory. They also explain why meteorologists are still unable to forecast the weather beyond a short time frame with much accuracy; if any calculation is off by a tiny amount, the longer-term forecast will be useless.
The article goes on to explain why "humans are the puppets of small, seemingly arbitrary or accidental events" (the bombing of Hiroshima instead of Kyoto, for example).

Embedded image from the Wikipedia entry on this topic. 
"One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull's wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls."
Related (and the source article that set off my inquiry this morning):
"I know it seems counter-intuitive but one of the most glaring signs of our warming climate is that of our coldest temperatures."

15 January 2024

14 January 2024

"Beach grass" from a garden in Vienna

This image by Gerhard Vlcek won first place in the micro category in the CUPOTY (Close-up Photographer of the Year) competition.  You can spend all morning exploring that link, because there are subsections for animals, insects, plants, fungi, landscape(!), underwater, human-made, etc., and for each there is a gallery of the shortlisted finalists.  I plan to feature some images from the butterflies and dragonflies category in the future.

In the United States, politics fills a "moral vacuum"

In a thought-provoking article in The Atlantic, David Brooks postulates that in this country politics has expanded to fill a "moral vacuum."  Herewith some extened excerpts:
Why have Americans become so mean? I was recently talking with a restaurant owner who said that he has to eject a customer from his restaurant for rude or cruel behavior once a week—something that never used to happen. A head nurse at a hospital told me that many on her staff are leaving the profession because patients have become so abusive...

The most important story about why Americans have become sad and alienated and rude, I believe, is also the simplest: We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat others with kindness and consideration. Our society has become one in which people feel licensed to give their selfishness free rein. The story I’m going to tell is about morals. In a healthy society, a web of institutions—families, schools, religious groups, community organizations, and workplaces—helps form people into kind and responsible citizens, the sort of people who show up for one another. We live in a society that’s terrible at moral formation.

For a large part of its history, America was awash in morally formative institutions. Its Founding Fathers had a low view of human nature, and designed the Constitution to mitigate it (even while validating that low view of human nature by producing a document rife with racism and sexism). “Men I find to be a Sort of Beings very badly constructed,” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “as they are generally more easily provok’d than reconcil’d, more dispos’d to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation, and much more easily deceiv’d than undeceiv’d.”

If such flawed, self-centered creatures were going to govern themselves and be decent neighbors to one another, they were going to need some training. For roughly 150 years after the founding, Americans were obsessed with moral education...

These various approaches to moral formation shared two premises. The first was that training the heart and body is more important than training the reasoning brain. Some moral skills can be taught the way academic subjects are imparted, through books and lectures... The other guiding premise was that concepts like justice and right and wrong are not matters of personal taste...

And then it mostly went away...

If you put people in a moral vacuum, they will seek to fill it with the closest thing at hand. Over the past several years, people have sought to fill the moral vacuum with politics and tribalism. American society has become hyper-politicized.

According to research by Ryan Streeter, the director of domestic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, lonely young people are seven times more likely to say they are active in politics than young people who aren’t lonely. For people who feel disrespected, unseen, and alone, politics is a seductive form of social therapy. It offers them a comprehensible moral landscape: The line between good and evil runs not down the middle of every human heart, but between groups. Life is a struggle between us, the forces of good, and them, the forces of evil.

The Manichaean tribalism of politics appears to give people a sense of belonging. For many years, America seemed to be awash in a culture of hyper-individualism. But these days, people are quick to identify themselves by their group: Republican, Democrat, evangelical, person of color, LGBTQ, southerner, patriot, progressive, conservative. People who feel isolated and under threat flee to totalizing identities.

Politics appears to give people a sense of righteousness: A person’s moral stature is based not on their conduct, but on their location on the political spectrum. You don’t have to be good; you just have to be liberal—or you just have to be conservative. The stronger a group’s claim to victim status, the more virtuous it is assumed to be, and the more secure its members can feel about their own innocence.

Politics also provides an easy way to feel a sense of purpose. You don’t have to feed the hungry or sit with the widow to be moral; you just have to experience the right emotion. You delude yourself that you are participating in civic life by feeling properly enraged at the other side. That righteous fury rising in your gut lets you know that you are engaged in caring about this country. The culture war is a struggle that gives life meaning.

Politics overwhelms everything. Churches, universities, sports, pop culture, health care are swept up in a succession of battles that are really just one big war—red versus blue. Evangelicalism used to be a faith; today it’s primarily a political identity. College humanities departments used to study literature and history to plumb the human heart and mind; now they sometimes seem exclusively preoccupied with politics, and with the oppressive systems built around race, class, and gender. Late-night comedy shows have become political pep rallies. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died unnecessarily during the pandemic because people saw a virus through the lens of a political struggle.
If The Atlantic is behind a paywall for you, the September 2023 issue will be at your library.

A galaxy with no stars (yet)

Artist depiction of hydrogen gas observed in galaxy J0613+52.  The colors indicate the likely rotation of the gas relative to the observer (red=away, blue=toward). This image was made using a starfield from STScI POSS-II with additional illustration by NSF/GBO/P.Vosteen
"While examining a discrepancy between data from the Nançay Radio Telescope and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), O’Neil discovered an error, “The GBT was accidentally pointed to the wrong coordinates and found this object. It’s a galaxy made only out of gas—it has no visible stars. Stars could be there, we just can’t see them.”

Known as J0613+52, this LSB is unlike others that have been observed before. “What we do know is that it’s an incredibly gas rich galaxy. It’s not demonstrating star formation like we’d expect, probably because its gas is too diffuse.  At the same time, it’s too far from other galaxies for them to help trigger star formation through any encounters. J0613+52 appears to be both undisturbed and underdeveloped. This could be our first discovery of a nearby galaxy made up of primordial gas,” adds O’Neil."
More information at Green Bank Observatory, via Science Alert.

Owlets can vocalize while still inside their egg

"Great horned owls find their voice while they are still doubled over in the dark of their moon-shaped egg. Having punctured the small air cell inside the egg’s membrane with their budding beak, the proto-owlets inflate their lungs and start chittering." 
A perfect addition to the large (2000+ entry) things you wouldn't know subcategory because not only did I now know it, but it's something I wouldn't have imagined.  I had understood that the developing chick can hear the parent's calls while still inside the egg, but wouldn't have expected it possible for them to vocalize there.  More information at The Atlantic.

Historic snowstorm underway - updated

I took the photo above three days ago - before the current snowstorm began.  We were receiving about 8" with that storm.  I got the driveway cleared, the deck shoveled, and the roof raked, and got to Target to stock up on food.  The next round has begun.  It will snow all day today.  Here are the expected totals:

Those data come from a rather nice New York Times link that updates not just daily, but every several hours and can be customized to your ZIP code.  It's worth bookmarking for those of you in the path of this unstable weather.

Addendum:  We've been advised that after the snow ends this weekend that the high temperatures will be about zero, with wind chills approaching 30 below zero.  Clearing the driveway and breaking through the wall created by the snowplows at the road is going to be an adventure.

Addendum:  It was more of an adventure than I had anticipated, because halfway though the clearing of the driveway, our snowthrower stopped throwing snow, and I discovered a broken shear pin.  This had happened to me once perhaps ten years ago when the snowthrower encountered an entire Sunday newspaper under heavy snow.  This time the culprit was unknown - perhaps an ice chunk.  Thankfully I was rescued by my neighbor Ben -

- and his crew of able assistants (Soren and Oskar) -

And so this morning instead of finishing the job with a shovel in -11 degree weather (-31 wind chill), I'm able to turn my attention to more interesting things like blogging how owlets can sing while they are still inside the egg.

10 January 2024

Optical illusion best viewed from a distance

Hard to see close-up, but from a distance [or by "zooming out" on your screen] the dark spaces between the rocks spell "The stones will cry out" (a Biblical phrase).  I don't know the original source for this somewhat-viral image.

"Dogs intended for consumption"

Activists from Animals Hope Shelter inspect a truck containing hundreds of dogs intended for consumption after it was seized by police [Semarang, Indonesia].  Photograph: Daffa Ramya Kanzuddin/AFP/Getty Images

One of the "Photos of the Day" at The Guardian.  I haven't tried to track down the story. 

State and local tax systems are regressive

“When you ask people what they think a fair tax code looks like, almost nobody says we should have the richest pay the least. And yet when we look around the country, the vast majority of states have tax systems that do just that. There’s an alarming gap here between what the public wants and what state lawmakers have delivered.”
Nationally, the average state levies an effective state and local tax rate of 11.3 percent for its lowest-income 20 percent of residents; 10.5 percent for the middle 20 percent; and 7.2 percent for the top 1 percent (see Figure 1). This means the top 1 percent are contributing 37 percent less of their incomes toward funding state and local services in their states than the poorest families.
States such as Florida, Tennessee, and Texas are often described as “low tax” due to their lack of personal income taxes. While this characterization holds true for high-income families, these states levy some of the nation’s highest tax rates on the poor. This is indicative of a broader pattern. Nationally, we find evidence that states with lower taxes for their highest-income earners tend to have higher taxes for their lowest-income residents.
The study itself was highly detailed and sophisticated.  One can argue about the implications and justifications for various tax policies, but I think there's not arguing about the data itself. 
“When you ask people what they think a fair tax code looks like, almost nobody says we should have the richest pay the least,” said Carl Davis, research director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), which conducted the analysis.

“And yet when we look around the country, the vast majority of states have tax systems that do just that. There’s an alarming gap here between what the public wants and what state lawmakers have delivered.”

Superb acting in "Seance on a Wet Afternoon"

I recently found this movie on the Turner Classic Movies channel, and was totally blown away by the acting of Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough.

I'll apologize for the embedded trailer, which was the best of the few that I could locate.  The trailer is from 1964, is overly long with too much plot detail, intrusive music, and some terminal unnecessary hyperbole.

But I can't find any faults with the movie itself.  TLDR: Kim Stanley has Richard Attenborough kidnap a young girl, with the intention that they will reveal clues about the girls disappearance and location in seances, thus promoting the woman's career as a psychic.  But the woman is clearly deranged, and the girl's well-being is endangered.

The buildup of dramatic tension is so intense that I actually took a break during the movie to walk around and "chill" a bit.  Kim Stanley gives one of the best performances I have ever watched; she was a nominee for Best Actress at the 1965 Academy Awards, but lost that honor to (for fox ache) Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins).  Seance on a Wet Afternoon was nominated for four BAFTAs (Stanley, Attenborough [won], screenplay and cinematography).

JustWatch does not list the movie as streaming for free anywhere; you will need to access it via TCM or a library copy, or perhaps on YouTube.

Addendum:  Reader Rick found the full-length movie online in the Internet Archive.  It is clickable to fullscreen.

Female penis and male vaginas in cave insects

"Male genitalia are sometimes used as devices for coercive holding of females as a result of sexual conflict over mating. In contrast, female genitalia are usually simple. Here we report the reversal of intromittent organs in the insect genus Neotrogla (Psocodea: Prionoglarididae) from Brazilian caves. Females have a highly elaborate, penis-like structure, the gynosome, while males lack an intromittent organ. The gynosome has species-specific elaborations, such as numerous spines that fit species-specific pouches in the simple male genital chamber. During prolonged copulation (∼40–70 hr), a large and potentially nutritious ejaculate is transferred from the male via the gynosome. The correlated genital evolution in Neotrogla is probably driven by reversed sexual selection with females competing for seminal gifts. Nothing similar is known among sex-role reversed animals."
Excerpted from the abstract of an article at Current Biology, which has lots more detail (and additional graphic depictions).  It will be interesting to see if Blogspot takes this post one down or puts it behind a warning.
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