21 April 2024

Bicycles storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day

I don't remember seeing this in the movies.  This is one of a series of interesting images of Bicycles of World War II at The Atlantic.  Here are a couple more (the first shows bicycles with mounted machine guns):

Details and photo credits at The Atlantic.

Politics-driven internal migration in the United States

An article in the New York Times discusses the possibility that Americans are starting to move to new locations based on their political opinions.
The in-migration has fueled a yearslong real estate boom across South Carolina, where Republicans have controlled the governor’s mansion and legislature for more than two decades. Real estate agents like Ms. Hubbell say many of their clients are religious conservatives whose reasons for moving include opposition to policies like abortion access, support for transgender rights and vaccine mandates during the pandemic.

Paul Chabot, the founder and president of Conservative Move, which works with about 500 agents across the country, said that when he started his company in 2017, there were not a lot of people asking to go to South Carolina.

In the last two years, however, it has joined Texas and Florida among the top three states that the company’s clients are buying homes in, Mr. Chabot said. About 5,000 people in its clientele database have expressed interest in moving to South Carolina soon...

Last year, about 15,500 New Yorkers, 15,000 Californians and 36,000 North Carolinians moved to the state, which has a population of more than 5.3 million. There is no data that breaks down those demographics by political party, but few believe that the growth will do much to shift the state politically. The same cannot be said for Texas, Georgia and North Carolina, which are becoming somewhat more blue as young, liberal-leaning people flock to some of their cities, said Mark Owens, a political science professor at the Citadel in Charleston...

Ms. Gomes, who described herself as Christian and anti-abortion, said she felt compelled to leave [Minnesota] because she was getting yelled at in grocery stores for not wearing a mask during the pandemic, and because abortion remains legal, with no restrictions, in Minnesota.  She said she was also worried about how, in her view, “transgenderism infiltrates all aspects of education, public life, when you’re out and about” in Minnesota.
Looking forward to comments from Crowboy and others...

Charles Schultz, axe-murderer ?

An article at the Peanuts wiki discusses the brief life and theoretically gruesome death of "Charlotte Braun," a minor and not-well-liked character in the series.
Charlotte's life in the strip was very short-lived. She made only 10 appearances, the last of which was on February 1, 1955; a victim of being an under-used supporting character with limited comic potential. Her bossy, loudmouthed traits survived, however, in the form of Lucy, who gained much storyline potential after her personality was changed in the mid-1950s (until that time Lucy had functioned as a wide-eyed child of wonder)...

...two months after Schulz died, a Peanuts fan named Elizabeth Swaim informed the Library of Congress that she would be donating a letter to the library, which was revealed that she had written to Schulz in 1955, requesting him to remove Charlotte Braun from the strip. Schulz replied that he would be willing to do so but said that the person who wrote to him would be responsible for "the death of an innocent child". Schulz concluded the letter with a picture of Charlotte Braun with an ax in her head. The letter is now in the United States Library of Congress.

Via Neatorama

A "contaminated ink" error dollar bill

It's a rather subtle error (different color inks on the serial numbers), and one that I would not normally notice and have perhaps passed over in daily life.  The prevalence and relative value of this error is discussed in the papermoney subreddit.

Use the solidus, not the obelus, to indicate division

I encountered the plural "obeli" in a crossword puzzle today and had to look it up.  
The word "obelus" comes from ὀβελός (obelós), the Ancient Greek word for a sharpened stick, spit, or pointed pillar. This is the same root as that of the word 'obelisk'...

The form of the obelus as a horizontal line with a dot above and a dot below, ÷, was first used as a symbol for division by the Swiss mathematician Johann Rahn in his book Teutsche Algebra in 1659. This gave rise to the modern mathematical symbol ÷, used in anglophone countries as a division sign. This usage, though widespread in Anglophone countries, is neither universal nor recommended: the ISO 80000-2 standard for mathematical notation recommends only the solidus / or fraction bar for division, or the colon : for ratios; it says that ÷ "should not be used" for division.

You learn something every day.   

20 April 2024

Recipe for gooey pot brownies

Following generally accepted blogging ethics (and to avoid copyright infringement), I won't post the entire (rather lengthy) recipe here; it is currently available at The Washington Post.  Here are three salient excerpts:
Dark chocolate, a sprinkle of sea salt and cannabis-infused butter (cannabutter) come together for the ultimate take on the iconic edible.

According to cookbook author Diana Isaiou, based on cannabis with 15 percent THC, 1/4 cup of this cannabutter should have 263 milligrams THC total, which means each 2-inch brownie square has about 11 milligrams THC.

And note those healthful fibers.   Reading the recipe reminded me of Julia Child's famous recommendation "I enjoy cooking with wine.  Sometimes I even put it in the food."

Posted for a friend.  Enjoy.

19 April 2024

A jaw on the floor

The idiom describing shock or astonishment is familiar to everyone, but in this case a jaw is literally on the floor.
"My parents just got their home renovated with travertin stone. This looks like a section of mandible. Could it be a hominid? Is it usual?"
That question was posted by a dentist at the Fossils subreddit, where there are numerous informed replies explaining that this could indeed be a human jawbone (image cropped for emphasis).   There is a detailed scientific explanation at John Hawks (via Neatorama):
Travertine is a limestone that forms near natural springs. Spring water that emerges from lime-rich bedrock often carries a high concentration of dissolved calcium carbonate. When the water evaporates or cools—especially near hot springs—this calcium carbonate precipitates as rock and may form very large deposits around the spring. Travertine has an interesting internal texture when polished, and often has color bands and inclusions of calcite crystals, which make it an appealing choice for decorative flooring or wall covering.

Travertine also commonly includes fossils. Many are fossil inclusions of algae, plants, and small animals—especially molluscs and crustaceans—that live within the spring water. Much larger animals may be found and humans are no exceptions: Several well-known hominin fossil discoveries are from travertine deposits. Most of these discoveries have happened because of quarrying of the travertine deposits for use in construction.

For example, the Steinrinne site is on a terrace of the Wipper River near Bilzingsleben, Germany. The site was quarried from the Middle Ages onward into the twentieth century. Naturalists took notice of the fossils there in the nineteenth century, and straight-tusked elephants, woolly rhinos, and macaques all occur in great numbers, dating to an interglacial period sometime between 470,000 and 280,000 years ago...

Quarries rough-cut travertine and other decorative stone into large panels, doing basic quality checks for gaps and large defects on the rough stone before polishing. Small defects and inclusions are the reason why people want travertine in the first place, so they don't merit special attention. Consumers who buy travertine usually browse samples in a showroom to choose the type of rock, and they don't see the actual panels or tile until installation. Tile or panels that are polished by machine and stacked in a workshop or factory for shipping are handled pretty quickly.

What this means is that there may be lots more hominin bones in people's floors and showers...

It isn't a crime scene. But depending on your state or nation of residence, laws governing discovery of human remains on your property may be complicated and having the paperwork in order with the police, sheriff, or coroner is the first step for most investigations...

Fiendishly difficult cryptic puzzle - updated

Every month I enjoy tackling the cryptic puzzle in Harper's magazine.  The December one that came this week is particularly frustrating.  I've figured out the 24 words in the clues, but I'm facing the task of fitting them into the dodecahedron.

The instructions note that there are 12 letters left over after "subtracting" the five-letter answers from the 6-letter answers, and those 12 letters will spell "the name of the holiday person to whom the puzzle is dedicated." (no indication whether that "name" is a proper name or an occupation or other descriptor and whether it is one word or two or three).

Here are the 12 letters: BEGIIILNNRRV

If I could figure out how to rearrange those 12 letters into a name, the rest of the solution would fall into place more easily.  Even Wordsmith's excellent Internet Anagram Server couldn't come up with any relevant one- to six-word solution - but perhaps names are not in its database.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.  [answer in the Comments]

Reposted to add another fiendish cryptic from Harper's:

I am in awe of the constructors of word puzzles like this.  To start with, the clues are cryptic:
12:  "Unlikely flier takes a long time to become one!"
The unlikely flier is a PIG ("when pigs fly...").  Add a long time (EON) to get PIGEON, which is a flier.  That goes in the hexagon numbered 12.  But... there's no way to know which of the six triangles gets the first letter, and there's no way to know whether the word turns clockwise or widdershins.

So you have to solve an adjacent hexagon clue.  Let's say you figure out clue 11, and the answer shares the letters P and I with hexagon 12.  Good.  But there's still no way to know which direction the words get entered.  So you have to solve a third adjacent clue to start fitting the words together in the grid.

These puzzles are a bit different from the traditional British cryptic grids, and are not for the faint of heart.  For an entry-level standard cryptic, I would suggest the ones posted on Sundays by The New Yorker.  That link should not be behind a paywall, you don't have to create an account, you can click the "settings" to include an "error check mode" that will alert you if you make a mistake while working the puzzle.  And best of all, when you finish (or give up), the answer key will indicate the proper construction of the cryptic entries.  Give it a try.

Reposted from 2023 to add yet another challenging cryptic puzzle grid:

This time the grid has no numbers, so there is no indication which answer goes where.  The clues are arranged in alphabetical order of their (unknown) answers.  I've been working on this for several days and after solving about half of the clues I've found two pairs that logically have to cross in the grid, but it's going to be tough sledding to get the whole grid done.  Those who want to tackle the puzzle can find the original in the May 2024 issue of Harper's Magazine (available from your library).

A grandmother's tattoo explained

She told her grandchildren she "had to get" the tattoo as a child.  The reason is explained in a thread at the WhatIsIt subreddit.

16 April 2024

A college student expresses some stark realities

Excerpts from an eye-opening essay by an undergraduate student:
I was surprised to find I spend far, far less time on my classes than on my extracurricular activities... It turns out that I’m not alone in my meager coursework. Although the average college student spent around 25 hours a week studying in 1960, the average was closer to 15 hours in 2015...

This fall, one of my friends did not attend a single lecture or class section until more than a month into the semester. Another spent 40 to 80 hours a week on her preprofessional club, leaving barely any time for school. A third launched a startup while enrolled, leaving studying by the wayside... These extreme examples are outliers. But still, for many students, instead of being the core part of college, class is simply another item on their to-do list, no different from their consulting club presentation or their student newspaper article...

Half of the blame can be assigned to grade inflation, which has fundamentally changed students’ incentives during the past several decades. Rising grades permit mediocre work to be scored highly, and students have reacted by scaling back academic effort...

And therein lies the second reinforcing effect of grade inflation, which not only fails to punish substandard schoolwork but actively incentivizes it, as students often rely on extracurriculars to get ahead. Amanda Claybaugh, dean of undergraduate education, made this point in a recent New York Times interview, saying that “Students feel the need to distinguish themselves outside the classroom because they are essentially indistinguishable inside the classroom.”..

One of my classmates last semester, who is one of the more academically oriented people I know, told me that to get the best grade on an important essay, he simply “regurgitated the readings” without thinking critically about the material...

This utilitarian approach to schoolwork requires a cultural explanation beyond grade inflation, and some of the blame must be placed on the newly meritocratic nature of college admissions. Although the partial shift away from the monied legacy networks that dominated Ivy League spots has been beneficial overall, the change also initiated a résumé arms race... nationwide surveys of incoming freshman confirm this narrative, as an increasingly large share of first-years view college as preparation for financial success rather than a site of learning per se...

This attitude is one manifestation of what Fischman and Gardner call a “transactional model” of college. According to their book, a so-called transactional student “goes to college and does what (and only what) is required to get a degree and then secure placement in graduate school and/or a job; college is viewed principally, perhaps entirely, as a springboard for future-oriented ambitions.”..

In contrast, a professor who is also a College alumnus recently told me that he spent most of his time at Harvard taking five or six classes a semester without doing extracurriculars. Hearing that made me think I’ve probably approached this place in the wrong way. I was discussing the professor’s comments with my roommate the other day, and we both agreed that if we were to go back and redo our undergraduate education, we would basically drop all our extraneous clubs and take as many classes as possible.
I'm sure this essay will trigger a lot of responses from readers (most of whom have probably attended college and experienced similar (or opposite) situations, and I anticipate some vigorous comments.  I would encourage you to read the essay in its entirety and not rely on my focused excerpts.  And note the student is at an elite university, but the principles expressed likely extend broadly across the academic world.

Leaf of Coccoloba gigantifolia

Image cropped for size from a gallery of big things at Bored Panda.  Botanical info at Wikipedia.

Jon Stewart on "victimless" financial crimes

This Daily Show monologue started with commentary about Donald Trump, but in the embedded segment he extends the argument to the wider financial community:
"He's commiting bank fraud where there is no victim"
"No victim.  The ruling is blatantly unfair."
"That didn't go over well with the investment community, because we're asking each other "who's next"?"
"Every [crime] you've just listed is done by every real estate developer..."
According to Stewart the system is "incentivized for corruption", and that apparently if enough people commit a crime, it automatically becomes legal.

Try to watch the video without getting mad at the US financial system.

I'll file this post under "humor" but it's really trenchant social commentary.

What's wrong with people these days??? Updated.

I have fond memories of walking along Hadrian's Wall when I was a younger man.  This wasn't a whimsical folly; it was planned vandalism requiring heavy power tools or a two-man crosscut saw.  Whoever did this should be castrated.  Publicly, IMHO.

The embedded photo is a screencap from a brief video homage at the BBC.

Reposted from last year to information about vandalism of rock formations at Lake Mead:

The embedded image is a composite I made of screencaps from a video of the incident.  In the video a park ranger explains that it is impossible for staff top monitor the entire recreation area, and asks the public's help in this regard.

How quickly can a chicken cross the road? Updated.

A very interesting and entertaining portrayal of the speeds of various birds on land and in the air.  There are lots of surprises (vulture, pheasant, pigeon!)  Go ahead and click the fullscreen icon; life is too short not to enjoy things to the max.

Reposted from last year to add this comparison video of terrestrial animals:

Via Neatorama, of course.   From the video site you can also click to a similar video of aquatic life.

15 April 2024

If your rotissserie chicken is green on the inside...

Image from the Costco subreddit, where the top comment is that this is "green muscle disease."
"There is no evidence that Green muscle disease is caused by a pathogen, so technically it would be considered safe to consume a bird with it. However, it may not be aesthetically pleasing to eat green meat. The green discoloration of the meat is similar to a bruise that is trying to heal."
Additional information from an AOL webpage:
Green muscle disease — which is also called ischemic myopathy, deep pectoral myopathy, or green breast — is a condition that develops in larger chickens or turkeys when their pectoral muscles are overdeveloped, becoming too large for the blood supply to reach that region. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), when birds use those muscles to repeatedly flap their wings, the exertion causes the muscles to swell, further restricting the blood supply to that area. Without adequate circulation, those muscles die, turning green in the process.

The comparison to a bruise evolving from reddish-blue to green is accurate.  The green color arises from the breakdown of hemoglobin or myoglobin in the dead muscle.  This is way different from the green color in wounds that arises from the presence of bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa, whose presence should be detectable by a foul and nauseating odor.*  So in the case presented, there would be no disease risk in eating the normal parts of that chicken.

This report was sent to me by a pathologist, who commented that "green muscle disease" should be called what it is: necrosis.  I'll add a comment to express my dismay about the extent to which our food service industry is now bioengineering fowl.  I knew that turkeys were falling over from overdeveloped breasts, but this is the first time I've heard about vascular insufficiency in the poor creatures.

*historical anecdote re Pseudomonas.  When I was working the major medicine ER in Parkland Hospital decades ago, a patient was wheeled into a closed examining room suffering from a decubitus ulcer that extended from his shoulders to his coccyx, the entire extent glowing almost neon green from Pseudomonas colonization.  A series of nurses went into the room to examine him and prepare him for admission upstairs, and at least two of them exited the room wretching or vomiting.  I have always had the deepest possible respect for Parkland ER nurses, who are tough as nails and have seen everything there is to see.  The reason these two were retching has nothing to do with squeamishness; the detection of the odor bypasses the cortical analytic processes and goes directly to the brainstem to produce nausea - a vestigial reflex that natural selection employed to protect our earliest ancestors from dangerously contaminated meat.

13 April 2024

College admissions

Interesting album page from a stamp collection

Screencap from a lot I saw posted on eBay.   Stamp collectors should lean back so as not to drool on their keyboard.

Before you complain about the postal service...

... study this table.  Details from NPR:
The office compared the U.S. to 30 other nations that were selected by country size and postal service revenue, as well as the ability to source reliable data. The list includes much of the European Union, along with countries such as Canada, Japan, Brazil and Russia.

In raw numbers, only four countries had cheaper stamps than the U.S. And while many postal services have raised prices in recent years, the U.S. increases were moderate compared to most nations in the sample.

"The price of a [USPS] stamp increased by 26 percent from June 2018 to June 2023 ($0.50 to $0.63)," the inspector general report states, "which is less than half of the average increase for our sample size (55 percent) during that period."

When the OIG adjusted its analysis for purchasing power parity — a currency conversion rate used to compare the relative affordability of goods in different countries — the U.S. had the lowest stamp price of the 31 postal services.

11 April 2024

Finding "dark skies" - updated

Those who wish to see the skies as their grandparents did and appreciate the magnificience of the Milky Way would do best to find a "dark sky" away from the contamination of urban lighting.  I made the screencap above from a world map at DarkSiteFinder.

It's zoomable to tell you which way to drive from Salt Lake or Park City for stargazing -

- and it covers the entire world -

?why the hot spot in subSiberian Russia?  Perhaps burning natural gas from oil fields?

Found via an article at FiveThirtyEight about The Darkest Town in America, which discusses the environmental and health effects of nocturnal light pollution.

And this is related: an aerial view of a community in the process of switching from conventional sodium lights to LEDs:

Discussed at the Mildly Interesting subreddit.

Reposted to add this video from NPR, which I watched last night and thoroughly enjoyed:

10 April 2024

Goodbye to one of my favorite comics

Real Life Adventures ended on September 23.  
No word on why the cartoonists are retiring, although the strip has been going for 32 years, and writer Lance Aldrich has turned 78, and there are only four newspapers left in the United States that even run comics, so it’s easy to make up a plausible story.
I have harvested their material frequently (here, here, here, here, and many more) for the humor subsection of TYWKIWDBI, and will truly miss their panels.

A memorial to the World Central Kitchen heroes

Tributes to each of these workers have been posted, with details about their histories and personalities.

The fact that these people were specifically targeted, and were targeted because they were humanitarian aid workers is particularly appalling, and deserves not only censure but also prosecution as a war crime.  More on this later.

The significance of airport runway numbers

TIL from the NYT crossword that airport runway numbers have directional significance, as explained in Wikipedia:
Runways are named by a number between 01 and 36, which is generally the magnetic azimuth of the runway's heading in decadegrees. This heading differs from true north by the local magnetic declination. A runway numbered 09 points east (90°), runway 18 is south (180°), runway 27 points west (270°) and runway 36 points to the north (360° rather than 0°)... A runway can normally be used in both directions, and is named for each direction separately: e.g., "runway 15" in one direction is "runway 33" when used in the other. The two numbers differ by 18 (= 180°).

Additional details (including the letter designations) at pilotinstitute

A haircut and a crocheted rat

Both images from the ATBGE (Awful Taste But Great Execution) subreddit, which is an interesting (and well-named) website to explore: hair (cropped) and rat, if you want to browse the comments.  I can't think of anything to add.

08 April 2024

Three types of eclipses

Credit to Katie Mack (@astrokatie) in 2014 for the original concept.

Reposted from 2022 because of today's event.

07 April 2024

What is this food ?

The image is a screencap taking while watching the television broadcast of the NCAA women's basketball semifinal game between Iowa and Connecticut.  I don't believe the plate of food was described, mentioned, alluded to, or otherwise noted (but the TV was on mute); the image was part of an "ambience" series of photos during a break in the action, presumably taken at the stadium or in the surrounding community of Cleveland, Ohio, where the tournament was held.

It looks like a sandwich on steroids.  Ground beef?  Pastrami?  Google Lens seems to steer toward a Reuben or a "deli sandwich" but I'm too busy to drill down for details and will rely on the viewers here.  Apologies to Clevelanders if I'm unaware of your local trademark delicacy.

And do you just bite into it, or do you have to squish it down?  Thanx in advance.

"Liberals are sadder than conservatives"

Excerpts from an interesting op-ed in The Economist:

Numerous studies and surveys—Americans are obsessed with this subject—show that some groups tend to lag behind others in the pursuit of happiness: bankers are said to be sadder than lumberjacks, the unmarried sadder than the married, teenage girls sadder than teenage boys.

One distinction that holds true today has persisted for decades: liberals are sadder than conservatives. This is a global symptom of political difference, but it is particularly strong in America. Of whatever age group or whichever sex, liberals are also far more likely than conservatives to report having been diagnosed with a mental illness...

In a study in 2021 called “The Politics of Depression”, a group of scholars zeroed in on the possible link between political ideology and unhappiness among teenagers... Liberal boys reported higher rates of depression than conservative boys or girls, and liberal girls reported the highest rates of all...

Conservatives tend to be healthier, more patriotic and more religious, and to report finding higher levels of meaning in their lives. These characteristics correlate with happiness...

Another hypothesis, advanced by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, and Greg Lukianoff, a lawyer, is that liberals are performing a reverse cognitive behavioural therapy on themselves: promoting not resilience and optimism about incrementally improving the world but catastrophic rumination about problems such as climate change and fearfulness of disagreement even on university campuses. Such habits of mind can deepen depression...

One of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such,” wrote Friedrich Hayek in “The Constitution of Liberty” in 1960, “while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course.”.. Donald Trump has robbed liberalism of its transgressive glamour and made conservatism mean its opposite: disruption, subversion, challenge to fuddy-duddies and the status quo—all that cool stuff. It’s kind of depressing.

05 April 2024

Why it's called a "menu"

The image was emailed to me, with no credit for creation or source except for the incorporated watermark, but it did prompt me to look up the word:
Inherited from Middle French menu, from Old French menu, from Latin minūtus (“minute, tiny”)...
The Google AI explains a little more:
In French, menu has several meanings, including "small" and "detailed". The use of menu as a noun meaning "a list of food" probably came from the "detailed" sense of the adjective, since a menu is most often a detailed list. 

04 April 2024

Fluid dynamics

"Billowing turbulence, mushroom-like Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities, and spreading flows abound in Vadim Sherbakov’s “Origin.” The short film takes a macro looks at fluids — inks, alcohols, soaps, and other household liquids."
via FYFD.

"Forcibly fitted with IUDs"

The Danish health minister should “get on a plane and visit” some of the thousands of women thought to be living with the consequences of being forcibly fitted with the contraceptive coil as children, Greenland’s gender equality minister has said.

In an attempt to reduce the population of the former Danish colony, at least 4,500 women and girls are believed to have undergone the medical procedure, usually without their consent or knowledge, at the hands of Danish doctors between 1966 and 1970 alone...

“For us this story plays into the story about children being adopted without parental consent, about children being sent to Denmark, forgetting their language and their culture. It’s about stories of Danish men coming to Greenland and fathering children that they then did not assume responsibility for,” she added...

She said writing off Denmark’s contraceptive practices on girls as young as 12 as the product of another time was “a very white way of thinking”, “because yes, that’s just easy to say when you’re not directly affected”. For those who know people who were “cut off from the possibility of becoming mothers”, it’s an entirely different perspective, she added.

Although the coil is now a safe and highly effective form of birth control, lawyers for the Greenlandic women say that for many the forcible fitting of unsophisticated devices that were often too big for the girls’ young bodies went on to cause a lifetime of medical difficulties.
And in other, marginally-related news...
The Taliban’s announcement that it is resuming publicly stoning women to death has been enabled by the international community’s silence, human rights groups have said...

In an audio broadcast on the Taliban-controlled Radio Television Afghanistan last Saturday, Akhundzada said: “We will flog the women … we will stone them to death in public [for adultery]...

“You may call it a violation of women’s rights when we publicly stone or flog them for committing adultery because they conflict with your democratic principles,” he said, adding: “[But] I represent Allah, and you represent Satan.”..

Most recently, in February, the Taliban executed people in public at stadiums in Jawzjan and Ghazni provinces. The militant group has urged people to attend executions and punishments as a “lesson” but banned filming or photography.
... revisiting a memorable scene from The Kite Runner.

Jon Stewart ruthlessly skewers "performative patriots"

Pondering the remarkable history of Afghanistan

Last night I had a pleasant evening watching four of the hour-long segments of Michael Palin's documentary Himalaya (BBC, 2004). He begins the journey and the narrative quite logically at the Khyber Pass, noting that many of the worlds greatest armies have followed this route, since it is the only passage through the mountain chain. He mentions Alexander the Great, Darius the Persian, and Tamerlane the Great. Then this...
"And in 1842 the lone survivor of the British Army's attempt to pacify Afghanistan came staggering up this road to announce the annihilation of 17,000 of his comrades..."
That got my attention, since it referred to an event not covered in any of my (few) history courses. Searched the web today, and found the First Anglo-Afghan War, and then the catastrophe under the heading Massacre of Elphinstone's Army. Details at the link, but these excerpts give the flavor:
The remnants dragged on and made a last stand near the village of Gandamack on 13 January. The force was down to fewer than forty men and almost out of food and ammunition. They were surrounded on a hillock and when a surrender was offered by the Afghans, one British sergeant gave the famous answer "Not bloody likely!" All but two were slain.

Only one soldier managed to reach Jalalabad. On January 13 William Brydon, an assistant surgeon, rode through the gate on his exhausted horse. Part of his skull was sheared off by a sword. An Afghan shepherd had granted him refuge and, when the shooting was over, put him on his horse. It is said that he was asked upon arrival what happened to the army, and answered "I am the army."
The paintings above: Remnants of an Army and Last Stand

Reposted from 2009, because last night I rewatched The Kite Runner and was once again thoroughly impressed with the movie, so I'm going to embed the trailer here to encourage others to consider it.

The blurb provided by Paramount is succinct: 
"Amir is a young Afghani from a well-to-do Kabul family; his best friend Hassan is the son of a family servant. Together the two boys form a bond of friendship that breaks tragically on one fateful day, when Amir fails to save his friend from brutal neighborhood bullies. Amir and Hassan become separated, and as first the Soviets and then the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan, Amir and his father escape to the United States to pursue a new life.  Years later, Amir -- now an accomplished author living in San Francisco -- is called back to Kabul to right the wrongs he and his father committed years ago."
I think the movie deserves consideration by a new generation of viewers if for no other reason than to realize from viewing the opening scenes of the movie what Afghanistan was like before the Soviet invasion and the rise of the mullahs.

In the movie when the father and son flee Afghanistan, the father asks a friend to look after the house until the Russians leave.  When asked if they will leave he replies "everyone leaves Afghanistan," which reminded me of this post written 15 years ago.

03 April 2024

"Let the people eat"

A plea from Jose Andres expressed in a public essay:
In the worst conditions you can imagine — after hurricanes, earthquakes, bombs and gunfire — the best of humanity shows up. Not once or twice but always.

The seven people killed on a World Central Kitchen mission in Gaza on Monday were the best of humanity. They are not faceless or nameless. They are not generic aid workers or collateral damage in war.

Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, John Chapman, Jacob Flickinger, Zomi Frankcom, James Henderson, James Kirby and Damian Sobol risked everything for the most fundamentally human activity: to share our food with others.

These are people I served alongside in Ukraine, Turkey, Morocco, the Bahamas, Indonesia, Mexico, Gaza and Israel. They were far more than heroes.

Their work was based on the simple belief that food is a universal human right. It is not conditional on being good or bad, rich or poor, left or right. We do not ask what religion you belong to. We just ask how many meals you need.

From Day 1, we have fed Israelis as well as Palestinians. Across Israel, we have served more than 1.75 million hot meals. We have fed families displaced by Hezbollah rockets in the north. We have fed grieving families from the south. We delivered meals to the hospitals where hostages were reunited with their families. We have called consistently, repeatedly and passionately for the release of all the hostages.

All the while, we have communicated extensively with Israeli military and civilian officials. At the same time, we have worked closely with community leaders in Gaza, as well as Arab nations in the region. There is no way to bring a ship full of food to Gaza without doing so.

That’s how we served more than 43 million meals in Gaza, preparing hot food in 68 community kitchens where Palestinians are feeding Palestinians.

We know Israelis. Israelis, in their heart of hearts, know that food is not a weapon of war.

Israel is better than the way this war is being waged. It is better than blocking food and medicine to civilians. It is better than killing aid workers who had coordinated their movements with the Israel Defense Forces.

The Israeli government needs to open more land routes for food and medicine today. It needs to stop killing civilians and aid workers today. It needs to start the long journey to peace today.

In the worst conditions, after the worst terrorist attack in its history, it’s time for the best of Israel to show up. You cannot save the hostages by bombing every building in Gaza. You cannot win this war by starving an entire population.

We welcome the government’s promise of an investigation into how and why members of our World Central Kitchen family were killed. That investigation needs to start at the top, not just the bottom.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said of the Israeli killings of our team, “It happens in war.” It was a direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by the Israel Defense Forces.

It was also the direct result of a policy that squeezed humanitarian aid to desperate levels. Our team was en route from a delivery of almost 400 tons of aid by sea — our second shipment, funded by the United Arab Emirates, supported by Cyprus and with clearance from the Israel Defense Forces.

The team members put their lives at risk precisely because this food aid is so rare and desperately needed. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification global initiative, half the population of Gaza — 1.1. million people — faces the imminent risk of famine. The team would not have made the journey if there were enough food, traveling by truck across land, to feed the people of Gaza.

The peoples of the Mediterranean and Middle East, regardless of ethnicity and religion, share a culture that values food as a powerful statement of humanity and hospitality — of our shared hope for a better tomorrow.

There’s a reason, at this special time of year, Christians make Easter eggs, Muslims eat an egg at iftar dinners and an egg sits on the Seder plate. This symbol of life and hope reborn in spring extends across religions and cultures.

I have been a stranger at Seder dinners. I have heard the ancient Passover stories about being a stranger in the land of Egypt, the commandment to remember — with a feast before you — that the children of Israel were once slaves.

It is not a sign of weakness to feed strangers; it is a sign of strength. The people of Israel need to remember, at this darkest hour, what strength truly looks like.
Copied in toto from the New York Times, with apologies for not excerpting, but without embarrassment because these words need the widest possible distribution.  Boldface highlights added by me for the TL;DR crowd.

Photo from the World Central Kitchen report about opening kitchens in Gaza.  
There is a donate button on that page.

02 April 2024

More information about World Central Kitchen - updated re deaths in Gaza

World Central Kitchen was frankly not on my radar screen of charities (most of my favorites being medicine- or education-related) until Putin's war on Ukraine brought me information about their refugee relief efforts.  I appreciate the comments about WCK added to that post by several readers, and today I found more information about the group at Bloomberg:
Within hours of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 25, the nonprofit disaster-relief organization co-founded by chef José Andrés [in pic above] started dishing out food. World Central Kitchen has now established kitchens at eight of Ukraine’s border crossings with Poland, and has created meal distribution centers in six countries including Romania and Hungary. In Poland alone, says Director of Communications Strategy Lisa Abrego, WCK has served more than 37,000 hot meals including chicken and rice and pasta; the total was nearing 45,000 late on Tuesday. Everyone from fire fighters to nuns has pitched in to help cook and serve food.

“There are many ways to fight. Some people fight making sure people are fed,” said Andrés via email. “Those are our people, and we will be supporting them.” The chef was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 and has pledged a portion of his $100 million award from Jeff Bezos to address the current crisis.

Inside Ukraine, WCK has partnered with local restaurants to feed people who have chosen not to flee. The organization will expand its work in the country as more shelters are established...

Rather than cold meals or MREs (meals ready to eat), the organization focuses on the dignity inherent in eating a home-cooked meal—and taking immediate action.
More photos at the link.

Most readers will want to do something concrete.  A simple Google search yields 50,000 hits.  I'm going to focus on World Central Kitchen.  I made my second financial contribution today (click here) in memory of my antiwar activist sister. 

Update from WCK on March 13:
With bombs still falling day and night, millions of Ukrainians continue to flee the country or relocate west to the city of Lviv. In response, WCK is rapidly expanding our #ChefsForUkraine response to distribute food—including hot, fresh meals—in five countries. We've now opened a kitchen and food supply depot in Poland, right on the border with Ukraine, and have multiple warehouses active in Lviv where trucks are filled with food to head east reaching cities like Odessa and Mykolayiv. We are also supporting more restaurants to serve meals in Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv and Kyiv, which remain under active attack.
The new WCK Relief Kitchen is located in Przemyśl—a Polish city just a few miles from the border with Ukraine that is receiving tens of thousands of refugees every day. From this kitchen, our team has the capacity to scale up and cook 100,000 meals per day utilizing 12 massive WCK paella pans and 12 large ovens...

Within Ukraine, we are now working with dozens of chefs and restaurant partners across 12 cities to provide meals to those who remain at home or are escaping to other locations within the country. More families are now beginning to stay in Lviv rather than leave Ukraine. The UN estimates over 2 million people are already internally displaced, so the WCK team, alongside our partners in Lviv and other cities across Ukraine, are cooking more meals each day. We are delivering the freshly prepared meals to 50 locations in Lviv alone, and that number goes up daily.
I repeated my gift today.  You can support WCK by clicking here.

Reposted from last year because of the catastrophe in Turkiye.  Our family sent funds to World Central Kitchen via Paypal today.  It only takes two minutes.

Reposted to replace the old photo at the top of this post with this new video, which I received in an email from WCK today.   Our family is going to send another contribution now, and I would encourage those readers who have messaged me in the past suggesting that I should add a tip jar to this blog so that they could express their appreciation of TYWKIWDBI in a monetary sense to consider the simple expedient of your sending that "tip" money to World Central Kitchen instead of to me.  

Several humanitarian groups said Tuesday that they would suspend their operations in Gaza after seven World Central Kitchen workers were killed in an Israeli strike, threatening already precarious deliveries to the aid-starved enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel carried out the strike Monday but said it was “unintentional.” He vowed the military would carry out a “transparent” investigation and make the results public.

The attack on the aid convoy killed three British nationals, a Canadian American dual national, a Palestinian, and citizens of Australia and Poland..

The organization said the team was traveling in a “deconflicted zone” in two armored cars with the WCK logo branded on the roof, to make them clearly identifiable from the air, and a third vehicle. Images from the scene showed a blackened hole on the roof of one of the vehicles, puncturing the nonprofit’s logo.
The strike is the first of the war to kill foreign aid workers, but humanitarian officials say it is part of a pattern of attacks by Israel on relief convoys. Israeli limitations on aid deliveries, and its targeting of police officers that protected them, have put Gaza’s 2 million people on the brink of famine. The situation is especially dire in the north, where health officials say children have begun to die of malnutrition, and many families are subsisting on weeds and animal feed.

WCK said last month it had served more than 42 million meals since the war began and opened more than 60 community kitchens across Gaza.

The potential downsides of meditation

Excerpts from "Lost in Thought." by David Kortava in the April 2021 issue of Harper's.
Some clinicians believe that meditation can cause psychological problems in people without underlying conditions, and that even forty minutes of meditation per day can pose risks...

As part of her PhD research at the University of Arizona, Britton conducted a study to determine the effects of regular meditation on sleep quality. The consensus at the time was that meditation helped people sleep better, but most of the existing studies relied on self-reports. Britton was one of the first researchers in her subfield to bring subjects into the laboratory overnight, measuring their brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tension. Britton collected two hundred nights of data. As in other studies, her twelve subjects said they had been sleeping better since taking up meditation five days a week. And the data seemed to support that for the group that was meditating less than thirty minutes per day. But any more than a half hour and the trend started moving in the other direction. Compared with an eight-person control group, the subjects who meditated for more than thirty minutes per day experienced shallower sleep and woke up more often during the night. The more participants reported meditating, the worse their sleep became.

Britton’s sample size was small, but other researchers have also documented this apparent paradox—positive self-reports combined with negative outcomes...  Britton filed away the results and delayed publishing them. On a vipassana meditation retreat in 2006, she told one of her instructors about her research. “The teacher kind of chastised me, like, ‘Why are you therapists always trying to make meditation a relaxation technique? That’s not what it’s there for. Everyone knows that if you go and meditate, and you meditate enough . . . you stop sleeping.’ ”...

The Buddhist ascetics who took up meditation in the fifth century bc did not view it as a form of stress relief. “These contemplative practices were invented for monastics who had renounced possessions, social position, wealth, family, comfort, and work,” writes David McMahan, a professor of religious studies at Franklin and Marshall College...

In other words, mindfulness was not invoked to savor the beauty of nature or to be a more present, thoughtful spouse. According to the Pali suttas, the point of meditation was to cultivate disgust and disenchantment with the everyday world and one’s attachments to people and things... If meditation conferred any practical benefit, it was in helping ascetics “accept the discomfort of a hard bed and a growling stomach or in preventing them from being beguiled by physical beauty.”..

I put the same question to Matcheri Keshavan, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. He thought it was possible. There are reliable ways to induce psychosis and other disturbances in a healthy subject—via drugs, sleep deprivation, and prolonged confinement or isolation. “If you deprive the brain of normal inputs—through sensory or social deprivation—that can produce psychosis,” he said. “And you can think of prolonged meditation as a form of deprivation.” The brain is accustomed to a certain amount of activity. When you’re sitting motionless with your eyes closed for ten or more hours a day, he said, neurons can start firing on their own, unprompted by external stimulation, “and this might lead to unusual phenomena, which we call psychosis.”

Britton’s research was bolstered last August when the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica published a systematic review of adverse events in meditation practices and meditation-based therapies. Sixty-five percent of the studies included in the review found adverse effects, the most common of which were anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment. “We found that the occurrence of adverse effects during or after meditation is not uncommon,” the authors concluded, “and may occur in individuals with no previous history of mental health problems.”
I would encourage anyone seriously interested in this topic to read the entire article in Harper's (available online or in your library), and not rely on my selected excerpts. 

Maximum capacity...

(viral Photoshopped image; source and credit unknown)

Ashramas - the stages of life

"A few years ago, I saw a cartoon of a man on his deathbed saying, “I wish I’d bought more crap.” It has always amazed me that many wealthy people keep working to increase their wealth, amassing far more money than they could possibly spend or even usefully bequeath. One day I asked a wealthy friend why this is so. Many people who have gotten rich know how to measure their self-worth only in pecuniary terms, he explained, so they stay on the hamster wheel, year after year. They believe that at some point, they will finally accumulate enough to feel truly successful, happy, and therefore ready to die.

This is a mistake, and not a benign one. Most Eastern philosophy warns that focusing on acquisition leads to attachment and vanity, which derail the search for happiness by obscuring one’s essential nature. As we grow older, we shouldn’t acquire more, but rather strip things away to find our true selves—and thus, peace.

At some point, writing one more book will not add to my life satisfaction; it will merely stave off the end of my book-writing career. The canvas of my life will have another brushstroke that, if I am being forthright, others will barely notice, and will certainly not appreciate very much. The same will be true for most other markers of my success.

What I need to do, in effect, is stop seeing my life as a canvas to fill, and start seeing it more as a block of marble to chip away at and shape something out of. I need a reverse bucket list. My goal for each year of the rest of my life should be to throw out things, obligations, and relationships until I can clearly see my refined self in its best form... 

Acharya answered elliptically, explaining an ancient Hindu teaching about the stages of life, or ashramas. The first is Brahmacharya, the period of youth and young adulthood dedicated to learning. The second is Grihastha, when a person builds a career, accumulates wealth, and creates a family. In this second stage, the philosophers find one of life’s most common traps: People become attached to earthly rewards—money, power, sex, prestige—and thus try to make this stage last a lifetime.

The antidote to these worldly temptations is Vanaprastha, the third ashrama, whose name comes from two Sanskrit words meaning “retiring” and “into the forest.” This is the stage, usually starting around age 50, in which we purposefully focus less on professional ambition, and become more and more devoted to spirituality, service, and wisdom. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop working when you turn 50—something few people can afford to do—only that your life goals should adjust.

Vanaprastha is a time for study and training for the last stage of life, Sannyasa, which should be totally dedicated to the fruits of enlightenment. In times past, some Hindu men would leave their family in old age, take holy vows, and spend the rest of their life at the feet of masters, praying and studying. Even if sitting in a cave at age 75 isn’t your ambition, the point should still be clear: As we age, we should resist the conventional lures of success in order to focus on more transcendentally important things."
Excerpted from "Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think," by Arthur C. Brooks, in the July 2019 issue of The Atlantic.

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