31 August 2013


John D. Olson, Paul W. Czoty, Michelle Bell
Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC

Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is an advanced form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) capable of mapping the direction of water motion in tissues. Fiber tracking is a specific method of assembling DTI data to study the three-dimensional architecture of the brain. This DTI fiber tracking image shows the brain of a living female cynomolgus monkey, collected as part of a study designed to determine whether cocaine use causes long-term changes to the brain’s structure and connectivity. Color indicates the direction that the axons (the brain cells’ long “arms”) are travelling: red is left to right, green is front to back, and blue is top to bottom.
A 2013 BioArt winner at FASEB.

Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!

The "Glasgow Smile" [Heath Ledger/The Joker] has gone mainstream:
[A] new technique called “Smile Lipt” carves a permanent smile into an otherwise angry face. The procedure, whose name combines “lip” with “lift”—get it?—turns up the corners of the mouth...

The Seoul-based Aone Plastic Surgery has patented the procedure, according to the clinic’s blog. For $2,000, it now offers patients the chance to be thus transformed...

The procedure is, as KRT reports, increasingly popular among men and women in their 20s and 30s—especially flight attendants, consultants and others in industries aiming to offer service with a smile...

In essence, it can make patients smile… even when they’re not smiling. That could prove problematic during “funerals, breakups and fights with your significant other,” as RocketNews24 notes. 
Via The Dish.

Fake testimony helped justify the liberation of Kuwait (1990)

Nayirah Testimony refers to the controversial testimony given before the non-governmental Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990, by a female who provided only her first name, Nayirah. In her emotional testimony, Nayirah stated that after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die. Though reporters did not then have access to Kuwait, her testimony was regarded as credible at the time and was widely publicized. It was cited numerous times by United States senators and the president in their rationale to back Kuwait in the Gulf War.

Her story was initially corroborated by Amnesty International and testimony from evacuees. Following the liberation of Kuwait, reporters were given access to the country and found the story of stolen incubators unsubstantiated. However, they did find that a number of people, including babies, died when nurses and doctors fled the country.

In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah's last name was al-Ṣabaḥ (Arabic: نيره الصباح‎) and that she was the daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. Furthermore, it was revealed that her testimony was organized as part of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait public relations campaign which was run by Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Following this, al-Sabah's testimony has largely come to be regarded as wartime propaganda.
Discussion thread at Reddit.  In the 1950s Hill & Knowlton was hired by the tobacco industry to counteract findings linking cigarette smoking to cancer.  More recently they have been one of several firms hired by the fracking industry.

Another sign of an "imperial presidency" ?

According to an NBC poll, "nearly 80 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using force in Syria."

Whatever the "margin of error" inherent in the sample pool, it's clear what the American people think about this matter.  Will Obama seek approval from Congress?

Earlier this summer I wrote a post in which I suggested the Obama administration was exhibiting behavior consistent with an "imperial presidency." I later withdrew (deleted) the post because comments from several readers convinced me that I may have overinterpreted the data.   We'll see what happens this time...

A remarkable V-12 engine

After receiving a Cda-Projects Grant [Eric van Hove] headed to Morroco to create V12 Laraki, an excruciatingly detailed Mercedes V12 engine built from 53 materials that were hand-forged from 35 master craftsmen from various regions in Morocco.

Nine months in the making,V12 Laraki began when van Hove dismantled a mercedes engine and then set about creating faithful reproductions of every single component, some 465 parts and 660 bolts made of casted copper. Contracting with artists around Morocco the engine was made with white cedar wood, high Atlas red cedar wood, walnut wood, lemon wood, orange wood, ebony wood of Macassar, mahogany wood, thuya wood, Moroccan beech wood, pink apricot wood, mother of pearl, yellow copper, nickel plated copper, red copper, forged iron, recycled aluminum, nickel silver, silver, tin, cow bone, goat bone, malachite of Midelt, agate, green onyx, tigers eye, Taroudant stone, sand stone, red marble of Agadir, black marble of Ouarzazate, white marble of Béni Mellal, pink granite of Tafraoute, goatskin, cowskin, lambskin, resin, cow horn, rams horn, ammonite fossils of the Paleozoic from Erfoud, Ourika clay, geometric terra cotta with vitreous enamel (zellige), green enamel of Tamgrout, paint, cotton, argan oil, cork, henna, rumex. In case you were interested.

While the engine is of course not meant to be functional, the piece acts as an incredible testament to Moroccan craft, as well as a fascinating amalgam of natural resources and materials found in the region.
Via Just a car guy.

Defining a "burger"

It depends on which side of the Atlantic you live on, according to separated by a common language:
The British focus on the bread: a burger is a cooked thing served in a round bun... So, order a chicken burger at Nando's or Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and you'll get what Americans would call a chicken breast sandwich. For Americans, a burger is a (chiefly AmE) patty made of (AmE) ground/(BrE) minced meat, so we can be heard to express surprise when the chicken burgers we order in the UK are chicken breasts. (Not necessarily disappointed, but surprised. One doesn't hear chicken burger that much in the US, but turkey burger is fairly common--and always ground/minced.)...

In fact the 'burger' is so much associated with the meat that (orig. AmE) hamburger can also be used in AmE to refer to ground/minced beef even before it's cooked. Hence Hamburger Helper, and its 'Add hamburger' in the top right corner of the package.

30 August 2013

"The only part of government that actually listens"

The story of these t-shirts and why they were banned is at Salon.

Indigenous languages of Australia

Who knew there were so many?  And apparently these are not minor dialect variations, because the source text says:
This map indicates only the general location of larger groupings of people which may include smaller groups such as clans, dialects or individual languages in a group. Boundaries are not intended to be exact. 
Large, high-resolution map.

What the Tooth Fairy pays for a tooth

When I was a kid it was a dime.   That was enough to buy a comic book.  Prices have gone up since then.
Kids this year are getting an average of $3.70 per lost tooth, a 23 percent jump over last year's rate of $3 a tooth, according to a new survey by payment processor Visa Inc., released Friday. That's a 42 percent spike from the $2.60 per tooth that the Tooth Fairy gave in 2011.

Part of the reason for the sharp rise: Parents don't want their kids to be the ones at the playground who received the lowest amount...

Piggyback. Or would that be "bear-back" ?

"A polar bear cub hitches a piggy-back ride on its mother as they swim through the Arctic Ocean in Svalbard, Norway"  Picture: Kevin Schafer / Barcroft USA
A Picture of the Day from the Telegraph back in 2012.

Now I'm wondering about the etymology of "piggyback."  Did it have anything to do with pigs?  No time to look it up now.  Perhaps someone knows, or can look it up and report back to the class tomorrow.

Indirectly via a little bit of this, a lttle bit of that, a little more of...

Can you see what's wrong with the bones in this person's hand?

Answer below the fold, via Electric Orchids.

The Grand Canyon of Greenland

"Data from a NASA airborne science mission reveals evidence of a large and previously unknown canyon hidden under a mile of Greenland ice.

The canyon has the characteristics of a winding river channel and is at least 460 miles (750 kilometers) long, making it longer than the Grand Canyon. In some places, it is as deep as 2,600 feet (800 meters), on scale with segments of the Grand Canyon. This immense feature is thought to predate the ice sheet that has covered Greenland for the last few million years...

The researchers believe the canyon plays an important role in transporting sub-glacial meltwater from the interior of Greenland to the edge of the ice sheet into the ocean. Evidence suggests that before the presence of the ice sheet, as much as 4 million years ago, water flowed in the canyon from the interior to the coast and was a major river system."
(I do wish people would not say "Artic" Ocean.)

Britain says "NO" to an attack on Syria

"The last time a British prime minister was defeated by the Commons on a war motion was 1782 when MPs refused to go on fighting – of all people – the restless Americans wishing for independence. It’s taken Tony Blair, Iraq and the dodgy dossier to bring about such a historic moment again in our land. The travesty, the falsehoods went deep over Iraq. Last night we found out just how deep into the political psyche of the nation. After Iraq, if a PM said there are trees in the rainforest you’d need to send for proof...

The PM said the evidence could never be 100 per cent and that it required a judgement call. But post Iraq, no government can rely on YouTube and shadowy intelligence as a pretext for bombing another country as David Cameron did (as Kerry and Biden have done in the US). Equally, what politician – post-Iraq – would reasonably even attempt the ploy of saying to the British public that we have evidence but we cannot show you? Trust daddy, he knows best. Once upon a time – ante Blair, ante Iraq – it might have worked. Now it looks either desperate or plain daft. Worse, even had he produced intelligence-based evidence, many would still not believe it. When the credibility of MI6 and 5 have been damaged to that extent, you begin to see the Iraq legacy for the catastrophe that it is in terms of voter confidence in the key public institutions of state...

So, irony of ironies, it may well prove that that most abject and dutiful slave to US foreign policy, Anthony Blair, is the man who finally made it possible for the British parliament to think and decide upon matters of warfare all by itself and, on occasion, to say no – not just to the prime minister, but to the White House. "

29 August 2013

Colliding galaxies

What will become of these galaxies? Spiral galaxies NGC 5426 and NGC 5427 are passing dangerously close to each other, but each is likely to survive this collision. Typically when galaxies collide, a large galaxy eats a much smaller galaxy. In this case, however, the two galaxies are quite similar, each being a sprawling spiral with expansive arms and a compact core. As the galaxies advance over the next tens of millions of years, their component stars are unlikely to collide, although new stars will form in the bunching of gas caused by gravitational tides... Recent predictions hold that our Milky Way Galaxy will undergo a similar collision with the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy in a few billion years
Text and image from NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day.

"That's your problem, not mine"

The Republican that will run against Cory Booker in October is Steve Lonegan, an avid supporter of Tea Party politics. While Booker is considered a favorite by Democrats, those on the far right can find a friend in Lonegan. Continuing the theme of anti-Obama rhetoric, Lonegan spoke to a group of supporters last year, attacking President Obama over his health care reform and even took shots at Republican governor Chris Christie for not being hard enough on the program. Speaking to the crowd, Lonegan stated that he didn't think the government had any part to play in providing health care, even to those who are the least fortunate. He went as far as to say he didn't wish people to get cancer, but if they did, that was their problem and not his.
"I'll be as callous and uncaring as you can imagine. I have no interest in paying for your health care. I'd hate to see you get cancer, but that's your problem, not mine. I'm going to pay for my health care, I'm going to take care of my children's health care and tend to my wife. And when I stand for charity care (inaudible), you [and] no one else has the authority to infringe on my right (inaudible) dig into my pocket and my ability to pay for your health care or anybody else's."
Image via a little bit of this, a lttle bit of that, a little more of...

Screw fastened shoes

I remember years ago digging through an old dump looking for bottles and finding shoe soles with the nails protruding.  I didn't know until today that some shoes used screws to attach the sole to the upper.

Image via Alabaster.

Rules for hyphenation

The phrase "screw fastened shoes" reminded me of a column in the Columbia Journalism Review regarding hyphenation:
The “rules” under which hyphens are used to connect multiple modifiers, like “well(-)known man,” are varied and difficult to remember. Some style guides try to avoid hyphens except when their absence would create confusion: Don’t hyphenate “local business owner,” for example, but do hyphenate “small-business owner,” since it could be read that either the business or the owner is small. Others suggest hyphenating most of these compound modifiers for consistency: “mental-health officials.” For our man of renown, some style guides call for a “well-known man” before the noun, but “as a man, he is well known,” with the compound following the noun...

Part of the reasoning for not using a hyphen after “-ly” adverbs is that, appearing before a verb as it does, an “-ly” adverb is obviously attached to it, so no confusion is possible... As Chicago notes, “not every word ending in -ly is an adverb—some are adjectives (e.g., lovely, curly).” Those might take hyphens in compounds to avoid confusion: “The curly-haired girl” means the girl’s hair is curly, not the girl herself... But there are times when a “ly” adverb does need a hyphen. As Chicago notes, the adverb in “a sharply worded reprimand” does not take a hyphen, but the one in “a not-so-sharply-worded reprimand” does. The adverb itself isn’t taking a hyphen, but the whole phrase “not-so-sharply-worded” is a gigantic adjective.
I think screw fastened shoes should be hyphenated.

"Ou Phrontis" at T.E. Lawrence's cottage

Clouds Hill was T.E. Lawrence's home in Dorset.
Lawrence ["Lawrence of Arabia"] first rented the cottage in 1923 while stationed at Bovington Camp with the Tank Corps, and he purchased it in 1925. He wrote "Nothing in Clouds Hill is to be a care upon the world. While I have it there shall be nothing exquisite or unique in it. Nothing to anchor me." 
In 1935, he left the RAF and returned to live at Clouds Hill. At the age of 46, a few weeks after leaving the service, Lawrence suffered severe head injuries in a motorcycle accident close to the cottage, and died in the Bovington Camp hospital on 19 May 1935. The following year, his heir, his brother Prof. A.W. Lawrence gave Clouds Hill to the National Trust. It is now a museum, dedicated to Lawrence.
The Greek phrase above the door is "Ou Phrontis":
Lawrence was nothing like the tall, handsome and debonair Peter O'Toole. Quite the opposite in fact. He was only five foot three, rather plain looking and awkward in his mannerisms...

The first thing is Clouds Hill itself. It is rather a rum kind of place. Not much in the way of windows as you can see from the picture and inside there is no kitchen nor lavatory nor any kind of hot or cold water. Certainly a place for the bohemian lifestyle. A man who had lived among the Bedu for almost two years had no need for modern conveniences...

One day his neighbour called round to find Lawrence up on a ladder with hammer and chisel in hand carving the words “ou phrontis” into the concrete lintel. Lawrence was a Greek scholar as you probably knew and when he was asked what the Greek words meant he told a story which he said he had read in Herodotus. The story goes that a king had a daughter that he wanted to marry off so he invited all of the best and most suitable young men to a feast. Well one young man got a bit drunk and danced on the table and did a few handstands – which is not the kind of thing you do at polite parties remembering that Greeks wore short military skirts and didn’t bother much with undergarments. Well the king was suitably repulsed by this young show-off and shouted out that he had just lost his chances of marrying the royal daughter. To which the young man shouted back “ou phrontis!” which roughly translated means “I don’t give a damn!”
Image via Uncertain Times.

Impress your friends when you tie up a boat


This message was on an envelope I received from TIAA/CREF:

eDelivery will save trees, conserve paper and reduce mailbox clutter.

I encounter messages like this several times a year.  And they are absolutely true.  And I do have the vast majority of my financial and business data transmitted to me electronically; there are just a few items for which I prefer to receive paper documents.

But... I wish just once that just one of these companies would say this:

eDelivery will reduce our company's costs, increase our profits, and maybe we will then return a portion of that to you in the form of lower fees or higher returns.

Just once.  Say that.  Especially when you're sending me documents I didn't request or need. Say that instead of pretending that the financial services industry is one of the bastions of environmental conservation.

Sorry for the mini-rant.  I'm in a grumpy mood this morning.

A request for humor links

There are mornings when you surf the 'net for material and what you encounter generates a lot of gloom and doom.  On days like that I like to visit cheerful or humor sites for a mental health break.  I have these bookmarked in various folders:

Miss Cellania
Bad Newspaper [the old "Criggo"]
The Onion
New Yorker weekly cartoons
Lowering the Bar

I'd appreciate additional suggestions.

27 August 2013

Fish can communicate using electricity

Matthew E. Arnegard, Derrick J. Zwickl, Ying Lu, and Harold H. Zakon
Closely related electric fish species from the Okano River of Gabon, collected in the vicinity of the abandoned Fang village, “Na.” Each species is shown along with a recording of its electric organ discharge, which these fish use to communicate with one another and electro-locate prey, much like bats use echolocation. Electric fish recognize other members of their own species using the species-specific waveforms of these heartbeat-like discharges. NIH funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences... 
From FASEB (abbreviated, and boldface mine).  I suppose as a basic principle, there's no difference between communicating using electical waveforms vs. communicating using auditory or visual waveforms, but the idea still staggers my mind.  Fascinating.  I wonder if there is other information they can share, besides just "I am here."

America's changing "frontier"

Defined as counties with fewer than 6 people per square mile.

From the National Center for Frontier Communities (where there are several other related maps), via Maps on the Web.

Noctilucent clouds AND the aurora borealis - at the same time

Filmed by Maciej Winiayczyk in the sky above Caithness.

Hat tip to reader Shaun for alerting me to a related video at the BBC.

14th century Bulgarian poison ring

It’s not the large cabochon gemstone that opens on a hinge to reveal a secret compartment filled with tasteless, odorless, deadly iocane* powder of your imagination. This ring has a more subtle, and therefore effective, design. It’s made out of modest bronze and has a hollow cartridge welded to the bezel. It’s finely crafted with a circular granulation detail around the top and five cylinders that look like stacked pennies going up the side. There’s a small hole on the side of the ring between two of the cylinders through which poison could be introduced into the hollow chamber and, when the propitious moment is at hand, into the food or beverage of your benighted target.

Its size suggests that it was made for a man to wear, probably on the little finger of the right hand. Since the hole is on the left side, it would be concealed by the ring finger next to it. A quick lift and tip of the pinkie and poisoning accomplished. It’s a much stealthier approach than having to open a splashy begemmed lid and turn your hand upside down without anyone noticing.

The ring was found by archaeologists excavating the remains of a 14th century fortress on Cape Kaliakra on the Black Sea about seven and a half miles from the town of Kavarna in northeast Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology has been excavating the fortress site since 2011. Amidst the remains of the 14th century walls, water pipes, baths and fortress, archaeologists have found more than 30 gold jewels, pearl earrings, rings set with precious and semiprecious gems. This ring is the only one made out of bronze discovered on the site.
Text and image from The History Blog (where there are more details about relevant local history).

*a fictional toxin (from The Princess Bride)

Cloud Atlas (the book)

I was intrigued by the movie, so I decided to read the book, which I enjoyed immensely, especially the author's ability to present each of the six segments in a unique "voice."

I won't even try to summarize or analyse the content of the book; there are an abundance of reviews both of the book and of the movie adaptation available online.  Interestingly, for this edition of the book David Mitchell includes a postscript reporting on how he was invited to participate in the creation of the movie, and how (recognizing the differences inherent in film vs. text presentations) he has been delighted with the movie's ability to capture the essence of the novel.

Unexpectedly, I decided that having seen the movie enhanced my enjoyment of the book; I think the nested "Matryoshka-doll-like" structure of the book would have been confusing had I not already seen the movie and understood the connections between the characters.

Herewith some random thoughts.  Best turn of phrase in the book:
(of a teenage girl)  "she has to lose her pre-Copernican view of a universe revolving around herself."
New words/phrases to look up the meaning or etymology of:
sinnet, doolally, retrousset, sundered, crenellation, shagreen, scarper(v.), clement, sarnies, sheog, wuthering, “small ale,” hugger-mugger, “we got under weigh,” yorkered, mollyhawk, tournour.
Re corpocracy:
"How the consumers seethed to buy, buy, buy! Purebloods, it seemed, were a sponge of demand that sucked goods and sevices from every vendor, dinery, bar, shop, and nook.

Hae-Joo lead me to a stylish cafe platform where he bought a styro of starbuck for himself and an aqua for me.  He xpalined that under the Enrichment Statutes, consumers have to spend a fixed quota of dollars each month, depending on their strata.  Hoarding [money] is an anti-corpocratic crime.
Two references to the title:
"I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o' that kayak.  Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an' tho' a cloud's shape nor hue nor size don't stay the same, it's still a cloud an' so is a soul.  Who can say where the cloud's blowed from or who the soul'll be 'morrow?  Only Sonmi the east an' the west an' the compass an' the atlas, yay, only the atlas o' clouds. (Zachry, p. 308)

Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides... I mistook them for adulthood.  Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life's voyage.  I neglected to record their latitude their longitude, their approach.  Young ruddy fool.  What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable?  To posess, as it were, an atlas of clouds. (Cavendish, p. 373)
I've already requested another of his books ("The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet") from the library.

Readers are invited to leave their own mini-reviews (of the movie or the book) in the Comments. 

26 August 2013

Can someone identify this wildflower?

It's nothing important, but we ran across this plant on a hike this weekend and are frustrated because we have been unable to locate it in our guide books.  The blossom looks like perhaps a type of mallow, but the leaves don't seem to match.

Location: Walking Iron Park, south-central Wisconsin.  Thanks in advance.


You can explore the intricacies of this interesting 1936 dormered cabin in Georgetown County, South Carolina in a wallpaper-size photo at Shorpy.

Godfather-themed Pepsi commercial

Wait for it...

The U.S. supported chemical warfare by Saddam against Iran

The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America's military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq's war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent...

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein's government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture. "The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," he told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

 In contrast to today's wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein's widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted...
You can read more about this at Foreign Policy.

How to create artificial cartilage

Due to a lack of blood vessels and other characteristics, cartilage heals very slowly. One way to accelerate natural cartilage repair and growth is to use tissue engineering, or the artificially-stimulated production of functional replacement tissue. The image shows a three-dimensionally woven biomaterial scaffold. The scaffold consists of multiple layers of resorbable fiber bundles that have been woven into a porous structure. The scaffold is then seeded with cells that grow to become new tissue as the fibers are resorbed. The fibers provide stiffness and strength in a manner that mimics native collagenous tissues such as cartilage. 
Text and image from FASEB, via Fresh Photons.

Claims of lax oversight of agricultural biotechnology

A video report from Motley Fool comments on recent accusations that the USDA's current monitoring activities are basically a "rubberstamp" approach to the genetic engineering of crops.

A coalition of farmers and food companies is mounting a challenge to that arrangement.

Australia's experience with giving up guns

Recently a young Australian athlete "was shot in the back... as he jogged alongside a road in Oklahoma. One of the three teenagers who, according to police, left him to die in a drainage ditch said: “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.”
Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer warned Australians to “think twice” before traveling to the United States because you are “15 times more likely to be shot dead.”

In 1996, after a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 18 others in Port Arthur, a former penal colony turned tourist attraction, Australians collectively decided not to follow what then-Prime Minister John Howard called “the American way” on guns.

Just 12 days after the massacre, Howard, a conservative, announced that he had convinced Australia’s states to ban automatic and semiautomatic weapons and instigated a gun buyback for high-powered and rapid-fire rifles. A uniform system for registering and licensing firearms was introduced.

A third of the guns in Australia were handed in to the government. Polls found that as much as 90 percent of the public approved of the stricter gun laws.

There had been 11 gun massacres in the decade preceding 1996, but there have been no mass shootings since. This is a source of national pride, though statisticians still argue about what caused the change...

Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the Sydney School of Public Health and a specialist in firearm injury prevention, has documented that after the laws were changed, the risk of an Australian being killed by a gun fell by more than 50 percent. Australia’s gun homicide rate, 0.13 per 100,000 people, according to GunPolicy.org, is a tiny fraction of that of the United States (3.6 per 100,000 people). It should be noted that our gun homicide rates were already in decline, but the gun laws accelerated that slide.

In a 2010 paper, economists Andrew Leigh and Christine Neill found that the law change had led to a 65 percent decline in the rate of firearm suicides. Firearm homicides fell by 59 percent.

A U.S. map of English as a second language

"More than a quarter of counties in the United States have at least one in 10 households where English is not the language spoken at home. Spanish is, by far, the most common language other than English spoken in the home, especially on the West Coast, in the Southwest, the Eastern urban corridor and other big cities. Native American languages are also common in the West, as is French around New Orleans and in some counties in the Northeast. German is a common language in some Midwestern and Western areas." 
A larger, interactive map, where you can click for information on your county, is at the Washington Post.

Her name was "Mimsie"

In the standard version of the logo, as first used on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mimsie appears in a crouched position, looks up at the camera, and meows once. Mimsie would not meow for the camera crew, so they eventually used footage of her yawning, run in reverse, with the sound effect added. By the 1980s, there were many different variants of the logo, with Mimsie often appearing in different painted “costumes” corresponding to the style and theme of the particular programs. For the detective series Remington Steele, a Sherlock Holmes-esque stalking cap and pipe were added; The White Shadow featured a basketball with Mimsie; Hill Street Blues painted a police uniform hat onto Mimsie’s head; St. Elsewhere used a surgical mask; in contrast, Newhart kept the original, unadorned footage, but replaced the sound effect with Bob Newhart’s voice-over of “meow” in his trademark deadpan style. 

Words for epeolatrists

A selection of adjectives, from Laurence Urdang’s Modifiers (1982):
abbatial, of an abbot
buccinal, of trumpets
compital, of a crossroads
contabescent, of atrophy
frumentaceous, of wheat
haruspical, of a soothsayer
macropodine, of kangaroos
obumbrant, of an overhang
orarian, of the seashore
pavonine, of peacocks
smaragdine, of emeralds
sphingine, of a sphinx
suspirious, of a sigh
trochilidine, of hummingbirds
veliferous, of sails
There are several more in the Futility Closet.
"Epeolatry literally means the worship of words. It derives from ἔπος épos, which unlike λόγος lógos more specifically means word in Greek, and was apparently coined in 1860 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr."

"Speculative ad of the year"


Voted such by the Association of Independent Commercial Producers.

Via Buzzfeed, where there is a similar, real, advertisement from ten years ago

23 August 2013

Donut-flavored beer !!

New and interesting foods are a powerful incentive for people to go to state fairs.
Lift Bridge Brewing Co. is launching a mini donut-flavored beer for the Minnesota State Fair. The Stillwater brewery teamed up with Dan and David Thiesen, co-owners of the fair’s Ball Park Café, to create the beer. It will have a warm tan color, like the exterior of a mini donut, and a sweet, malty taste. As an added touch, it will be served in a glass with cinnamon and sugar on the rim...

The Minnesota State Fair runs Aug. 22 through Sept. 2. 
From the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, via Stuff About Minneapolis.

Correlation of fracking and groundwater contamination

In Pennsylvania, the closer you live to a well used to hydraulically fracture underground shale for natural gas, the more likely it is that your drinking water is contaminated with methane. This conclusion, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA in July, is a first step in determining whether fracking in the Marcellus Shale underlying much of Pennsylvania is responsible for tainted drinking water in that region.

Robert Jackson, a chemical engineer at Duke University, found methane in 115 of 141 shallow, residential drinking-water wells. The methane concentration in homes less than one mile from a fracking well was six times higher than the concentration in homes farther away. Isotopes and traces of ethane in the methane indicated that the gas was not created by microorganisms living in groundwater but by heat and pressure thousands of feet down in the Marcellus Shale, which is where companies fracture rock to release gas that rises up a well shaft.
For relevant background, see my 2011 post on fracking (with videos "My water's on fire tonight" and a trailer for "Gasland.")

From Scientific American, via Reddit.

The "Racial Dot Map" of the United States

This map is an American snapshot; it provides an accessible visualization of geographic distribution, population density, and racial diversity of the American people in every neighborhood in the entire country. The map displays 308,745,538 dots, one for each person residing in the United States at the location they were counted during the 2010 Census. Each dot is color-coded by the individual's race and ethnicity. The map is presented in both black and white and full color versions. In the color version, each dot is color-coded by race.

All of the data displayed on the map are from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 Summary File 1 dataset made publicly available through the National Historical Geographic Information System. The data is based on the "census block," the smallest area of geography for which data is collected (roughly equivalent to a city block in an urban area).

The map was created by Dustin Cable, a demographic researcher at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Brandon Martin-Anderson from the MIT Media Lab deserves credit for the original inspiration for the project. This map builds on his work by adding the Census Bureau's racial data, and by correcting for mapping errors.
The embedded image is for the area where I now live (Madison, Wisconsin).  You can see your home area at The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, via Neatorama.

If you could travel back in time...

When asked "If you could travel back in time, which decade of the 20th century would you most like to see?", Americans most popular choice is the 1950s, which was selected by 18% of Americans...

Americans' time travel preferences relate strongly with their age. 35% of those over 65 would want to return to the 1950s and 18% would want to go back to the 1960s, the decades when they would have experienced their adolescence and early adulthood...

For those 18-29 years-old, the top two choices are a mix of personal and societal nostalgia. 19% would choose the 1990s - when most of those in the age demographic were kids. 19% also would select the 1920s - a time well before they were born, but celebrated in American culture, most recently by this year's film adaptation of the Great Gatsby.
Text and graphs from YouGov, via The Dish.

"A blizzard of horseradish" explained

I had not heard this phrase before, but I had heard of "horsefeathers."  They are related, as noted at World Wide Words:
Most examples from newspapers imply that a blizzard of horseradish is a torrent of unhelpful or irrelevant political verbiage:
All the righteous indignation which drifts down Capitol Hill like a blizzard of horseradish is simply partisan politics.
The News and Tribune (Jefferson City, Missouri), 3 Feb, 1974.
Horseradish is on record from the 1920s meaning arrant nonsense or rubbish, a relative of horsefeathers. Both terms are euphemisms for horseshit or bullshit. It’s possible that an unbowdlerised alliterative form blizzard of bullshit could already have been in use around that date; it’s recorded only within the past decade, but that doesn’t mean a lot as it would have been considered too rude to print much before then...

A few sources suggest where it comes from:
The death of Ho Chi Minh has left policy-makers at the State Department, and the men who convey their thinking to the public, lost in what Groucho Marx once called “a blizzard of horseradish.”
Naugatuck Daily News (Connecticut), 10 Sep. 1969.
You learn something every day.  Now I have a new euphemism to use.

A billion ants live in New York City

These are, needless to say, big numbers. We have made a bunch of assumptions with this simple math, but the one most likely to be wrong seems to be the assumption that there are no ants in the places that are not green. Ants sometimes make it into apartments in New York (though the ants of New York City apartments have never been studied). At least three ant species, the cornfield ant (Lasius neoniger), the pavement ant (Tetramorium species E) and Monomorium minimum can nest under cement. Just how many of these ants are under cement is something you can guess at as well as I can, but whatever the number it would increase our estimate of the number of ants in New York by at least a billion and maybe much more. Nor do we consider the species that nest up in trees, species such as Camponotus pennsylvannicus. We have also not included baby ants, eggs, larvae and cocoons. Including their numbers would probably about double the number of ants in the city overall. Amazingly, because the estimates in Table 1 are so high it means that even some of the very rare ants in New York City, species that no one has ever studied and that we know essentially nothing about, may be more common than human New Yorkers.
More details at Your Wild Life, via Scientific American.

How to walk on water - updated

Waxy, hydrophobic coatings typically make such insects’ points of contact (feet, legs, etc.) water-repellent, and their light weight can be supported by surface tension. Navigating the interface between air and water is more complicated, though, and these creatures have evolved several mechanisms to help. Some, like water striders, use appendages they insert below the surface for propulsion. At 0:49 in the montage above, you can see flow visualization of the vortices generated by a stroke. Other insects release a chemical in their wake that lowers the local surface tension and drives them away via the Marangoni effect.
That last-named one is particularly cool; I presume that's what's happening in the segments labeled "meniscus climbing." 

Addendum:  A hat tip to an anonymous reader for sorting out two of the mechanisms.
The Marangoni effect is shown near the end of the video, but I believe the sections labeled "meniscus climbing" are something different. The insects shown are adopting postures that change the shape of the surface of the water around them, causing capillary forces to draw them up to the top of the meniscus. This can be seen in the side views as dents or peaks in the water where the legs touch, or in the top view as bright and dark spots around the legs in the shadow - bright spots where the water is pulled up and focusing light, dark where it is pushed down and diffusing light. The same forces are used as in the capillary attraction two insects use to stick together at 1:03. The water treader Mesovelia (the first one shown climbing the meniscus) is covered with water-repellent hairs, so it uses special claws to grasp the surface of the water for meniscus climbing. 
Here are two relevant links - first to the hard science explanation in the esteemed Nature journal, and to a beautifully illustrated companion piece replete with photos by these same authors.  If this post has stimulated your interest, the second link is totally worth your visit.

Thanks again, anon.

Via fuck yeah fluid dynamics.

"I don't believe in colleges and universities" - updated

From a 2009 New York Times article about Ray Bradbury, then approaching 90 years of age:
"...among Mr. Bradbury’s passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene...

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
He is not a fan of the Internet, however: "“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.” More at the link.

Reposted from 2010 to commemorate Bradbury's death today.   Interestingly, I also found Bradbury's sentiment echoed by another SciFi legend, Isaac Asimov:
I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
Asimov quote via A Writer's Ruminations.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2012 to add this observation by Bradbury on how to use a library:
I use a library the same way I’ve been describing the creative process as a writer — I don’t go in with lists of things to read, I go in blindly and reach up on shelves and take down books and open them and fall in love immediately. And if I don’t fall in love that quickly, shut the book, back on the shelf, find another book, and fall in love with it. You can only go with loves in this life.
And this:
I try to keep up with what’s being done in every field, and most children’s books are ten times more enjoyable than the average American novel right now.
Text from a public television interview in the 1970s, posted at Brain Pickings.

21 August 2013


"A child waits to unload drums of diesel at a jetty in the Niger Delta, where illicitly refined fuel is sold on the black market to local filling stations."  Photograph:
"A boy is supported as he fires a machine gun."   Photograph:

One factor that bloats the cost of American health care

From the Washington Post:
Unknown to most, a single committee of the AMA, the chief lobbying group for physicians, meets confidentially every year to come up with values for most of the services a doctor performs.

Those values are required under federal law to be based on the time and intensity of the procedures. The values, in turn, determine what Medicare and most private insurers pay doctors.

But the AMA’s estimates of the time involved in many procedures are exaggerated, sometimes by as much as 100 percent, according to an analysis of doctors’ time, as well as interviews and reviews of medical journals.

If the time estimates are to be believed, some doctors would have to be averaging more than 24 hours a day to perform all of the procedures that they are reporting. This volume of work does not mean these doctors are doing anything wrong. They are just getting paid at the rates set by the government, under the guidance of the AMA...

Florida records show 78 doctors — gastroenterologists, ophthalmologists, orthopedic surgeons and others — who performed at least 24 hours worth of procedures on an average workday.

Some former Medicare chiefs say the problem arises from giving the AMA and specialty societies too much influence over physician pay...
More at the link.

Afghanistan in 1967

In 1967, Professor William Podlich (Arizona State University) took a sabbatical for two years to teach in the College of Teachers in Kabul as part of a collaboration with UNESCO. Besides his teaching activities, Podlich was a prolific photographer, and documented extensively everyday life. For the record, we are a decade before the Soviet invasion (1979).

Back to school for Afghan girls. They were also educated than boys. While in uniform, they were not allowed to wear the burqa to go to school.
Text translated from the original French at Curiosités de Titam.  Galleries of the original photos are at this link.   Note the Paghman Gardens photo location looks a bit different today...

Movie poster cliches

From a gallery of 15 at imgur, via Boing Boing.

Wall Street's bid-rigging conspiracy

Excerpts from a lengthy article by Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:
Over 10 years in the making, the case allowed federal prosecutors to make public for the first time the astonishing inner workings of the reigning American crime syndicate, which now operates not out of Little Italy and Las Vegas, but out of Wall Street.
The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along with virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from "virtually every state, district and territory in the United States," according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business...

More recently, a major international investigation has been launched into the manipulation of Libor, the interbank lending index that is used to calculate global interest rates for products worth more than $3 trillion a year. If and when that case is presented to the public at trial – there are several major civil suits in the works here in the States – we may yet find out that the world's most powerful banks have, for years, been fixing the prices of almost every adjustable-rate vehicle on earth, from mortgages and credit cards to interest-rate swaps and even currencies.

But USA v. Carollo marks the first time we actually got incontrovertible evidence that Wall Street has moved into this cartel-type brand of criminality. It also offered a disgusting glimpse into the enabling and grossly cynical role played by politicians, who took Super Bowl tickets and bribe-stuffed envelopes to look the other way while gangsters raided the public kitty. And though the punishments that were ultimately handed down in the trial – minor convictions of three bit players – felt deeply unsatisfying, it was still a watershed moment in the ongoing story of America's gradual awakening to the realities of financial corruption.
Lots more detail at the link.

Do any readers have philatelic expertise?

Or know anyone who does?

The item in the image above has me baffled.  I know with 100% certainty that it's not a postage stamp, a revenue, or a cut square from postal stationery, but I don't know what it is.

The corner letters are highly reminiscent of early British postage stamps, such as the Penny Black and Penny Reds.  The scrollwork in the bottom half is an elaborate "VR", which would certainly be "Victoria Regina" (Queen Victoria) - again suggesting 19th century Great Britain (or a British colony such as Australia/New Zealand).  Same with the crown.

But what is it?  The margins show partial frames of two adjacent items to the left and below, suggesting that it was cut and torn from a non-perforated sheet of presumably similar items.  The engraving is high quality, the paper is crisp and seemingly unwatermarked.  On the back is a hinge remnant, indicating that some philatelist had mounted it in an album.

It could be a simple "label" created for decorative or recreational purposes, or a "cinderella."  But I think it might be a die proof which was not successful in later becoming a stamp.

I'd welcome any insights from readers.

Addendum:  Andrew came up with the answer immediately.  See his comment.

20 August 2013

Ceremonial helmet of Emperor Charles V (1540)

There is no more splendid example of European dress as high political propaganda than the ceremonial armor made for the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V and for Charles’ son, Philip II of Spain. They employed the greatest sculptural metalworkers on the continent... Such armor was rarely intended as practical protection during battle; rather it had a starring role in parades, jousting tournaments and court rituals and was favored attire for official portraits.
This helmet was crafted by Desiderius Helmschmid and is now in the collections of the Patrimonio Nacional, Real Armería, Madrid.  Image via Uncertain Times.

A world-class sprinter decides to play rugby sevens

Some may find this advice useful

Imgur source, via Reddit.

A gynandromorph lobster

For more information on gynandromorphs, see my previous posts here and here.

From imgur, via The Soul is Bone.

"Our banner in the sky"

A Civil War-era (1861) painting by famed landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church, currently in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, from the collection of Fred Keeler, via Salon.

18 August 2013

Identifying employees with management skills

All the Dilberts are here.

Seabed patterned circles

Discovered here, at a depth of 80 feet off an island in the Japanese archipelago, these elaborate circles have been attributed to the work of a small puffer fish, whose activity is shown in this video:

Enhanced mating and reproductive success is one explanation, but one can't overlook the fact that this amazingly detailed circle has 27 segments - a perfect cube, and a number that is present in pi as a self-locating string (i.e. at the 27th place after the decimal), and is the number of books in the New Testament, and the number of bones in the human hand.  As a famous person once said "you can't explain that."

Via the first blog I ever followed - Gerald Vlemming's The Presurfer.

Bat skeleton

Clinging to a barn door.

Via The Soul is Bone.

Noam Chomsky: The U.S. and European countries are no longer democracies

Excerpts from the notable liberal philosopher's essay at Salon:
In the work that’s essentially the gold standard in the field, it’s concluded that for roughly 70% of the population – the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale – they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They’re effectively disenfranchised. As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it’s plutocracy...

Europe, incidentally, is much worse – so outlandish that even The Wall Street Journal has been appalled by the disappearance of democracy in Europe. …[I]t had an article [this year] which concluded that “the French, the Spanish, the Irish, the Dutch, Portuguese, Greeks, Slovenians, Slovakians and Cypriots have to varying degrees voted against the currency bloc’s economic model since the crisis began three years ago. Yet economic policies have changed little in response to one electoral defeat after another. The left has replaced the right; the right has ousted the left. Even the center-right trounced Communists (in Cyprus) – but the economic policies have essentially remained the same: governments will continue to cut spending and raise taxes.” It doesn’t matter what people think and “national governments must follow macro-economic directives set by the European Commission”. Elections are close to meaningless, very much as in Third World countries that are ruled by the international financial institutions. That’s what Europe has chosen to become. It doesn’t have to...

One of the most interesting cases has to do with taxes. For 35 years there have been polls on ‘what do you think taxes ought to be?’ Large majorities have held that the corporations and the wealthy should pay higher taxes. They’ve steadily been going down through this period...

In the past, the United States has sometimes, kind of sardonically, been described as a one-party state: the business party with two factions called Democrats and Republicans. That’s no longer true. It’s still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction. The faction is moderate Republicans, who are now called Democrats. There are virtually no moderate Republicans in what’s called the Republican Party and virtually no liberal Democrats in what’s called the Democratic [sic] Party. It’s basically a party of what would be moderate Republicans and similarly, Richard Nixon would be way at the left of the political spectrum today. Eisenhower would be in outer space...

But there is another version of democracy. Actually it’s the standard doctrine of progressive, contemporary democratic theory. So I’ll give some illustrative quotes from leading figures – incidentally not figures on the right. These are all good Woodrow Wilson-FDR-Kennedy liberals, mainstream ones in fact. So according to this version of democracy, “the public are ignorant and meddlesome outsiders. They have to be put in their place. Decisions must be in the hands of an intelligent minority of responsible men, who have to be protected from the trampling and roar of the bewildered herd”. The herd has a function, as it’s called. They’re supposed to lend their weight every few years, to a choice among the responsible men. But apart from that, their function is to be “spectators, not participants in action” – and it’s for their own good. Because as the founder of liberal political science pointed out, we should not succumb to “democratic dogmatisms about people being the best judges of their own interest”. They’re not. We’re the best judges, so it would be irresponsible to let them make choices just as it would be irresponsible to let a three-year-old run into the street. Attitudes and opinions therefore have to be controlled for the benefit of those you are controlling. It’s necessary to “regiment their minds”. It’s necessary also to discipline the institutions responsible for the “indoctrination of the young.”..

The founders of the American republic had pretty much the same view about the rabble. So they determined that “power must be in the hands of the wealth of the nation, the more responsible set of men. Those who have sympathy for property owners and their rights”, and of course for slave owners at the time. In general, men who understand that a fundamental task of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority”. Those are quotes from James Madison...
There is much more in the full essay at Salon.

Addendum:  A salient comment from an anonymous TYWKIWDBI reader:
"What's wrong with the system? I think it's fine that a bunch of unemployed incompetents don't have any real say in how things get done."
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