30 August 2016

A great conversation-starting dress


A young astronomer wears a dress printed with an image from the Hubble Deep Field.  She posted the photo at the Space subreddit.  Good for her.

3D transformation of the Hubble Deep Field


Reposted from 2010 because the subjec matter deserves reposting.

Hubble's "Ultra Deep Field" photo

This is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Starting in late 2003, astronomers pointed Hubble at a tiny, relatively empty part of our sky (only a few stars from the Milky Way visible), and created an exposure nearly 12 days long over a four-month period. The result is this amazing image, looking back through time at thousands of galaxies that range from 1 to 13 billion light-years away from Earth. Some 10,000 galaxies were observed in this tiny patch of sky (a tenth the size of the full moon) - each galaxy a home to billions of stars
Credit NASA/ESA/S. Beckwith - STScI, and The HUDF Team, via The Big Picture.

Selected from a gallery of 50 photos chosen by The Big Picture as the most significant images of the past decade. I wish I could post all 50. Absolutely worth a click and scroll.


Reposted from 2009.

Wallace and Gromit defeat Feathers McGraw


The classic scene from The Wrong Trousers.

No thanks

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday rejected Citigroup Inc's bid for a preliminary injunction to stop AT&T Inc from using the phrase "AT&T thanks" on a customer loyalty program, which the bank called too similar to its trademarked "thankyou."

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan said Citigroup has not shown that customers would likely be confused, or that it would suffer irreparable harm, if AT&T kept saying "AT&T thanks" while the bank's lawsuit continued.

She also said AT&T provided solid evidence that forcing it to start saying something other than "AT&T thanks" would cause an "expensive and significant disruption."

Citigroup had no immediate comment. AT&T said in a statement it was pleased with the decision, and maintained that "the law does not allow one company to own the word 'thanks.'"

The fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets sued AT&T on June 9, one week after the Dallas-based phone company launched "AT&T thanks" in a dispute that threatened to damage a co-branding relationship dating to 1998.

Citigroup said AT&T went too far, having known it would object after the New York-based bank had since 2004 extensively used "thankyou" on its own customer loyalty and reward programs.
Offered without comment.

29 August 2016

"Forward! Forward"... "Retreat! Retreat!"


Responses to the banning of burkinis


In the one televised interview I have seen with a French official, he did not cite security risks, but rather tried to justify the ordinance on the basis that "seeing those outfits on the beach makes people uncomfortable."  There are other "justifications" -
For those on the right, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the burkini is a “provocation,” a symbol of radical Islam in a country still reeling from the terrorist attacks in Paris last fall and in Nice in July. For those on the left, such as Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the burkini is a means of “enslavement,” the subjugation of women to a patriarchal religion.
But in France, that type of secularism, which is common in countries around the world, soon became a creed in its own right. The initial prohibition against the state — or any of its representatives — showing religious preference eventually became a prohibition against private citizens showing any religious preference in public.
Here's one counterpoint:
The women who wear burkinis, she said, cannot be called oppressed. They are not the women subservient to a conservative Islam; they are the women who sit on beaches unsupervised by men, enjoying their leisure time in mixed social company.
And here's an image posted by an Italian imam who suggested that these women will not be asked to remove their beach clothing:

Embedded images via The Independent.

The myth of "equal opportunity" in colonial America

Here's an extended excerpt from an "The Original Underclass," an article in the September issue of The Atlantic:
For England, the New World beckoned as more than a vast store of natural resources, Isenberg argues. It was also a place to dispose of the dregs of its own society. In the late 16th century, the geographer Richard Hakluyt argued that America could serve as a giant workhouse where the “fry [young children] of wandering beggars that grow up idly and hurtfully and burdenous to the Realm, might be unladen and better bred up.” The exportable poor, he wrote, were the “offals of our people.” In 1619, King James I was so fed up with vagrant boys milling around his Newmarket palace that he asked the Virginia Company to ship them overseas. Three years later, John Donne—yes, that John Donne—wrote about the colony of Virginia as if it were England’s spleen and liver, Isenberg writes, draining the “ill humours of the body … to breed good bloud.” Thus it was, she goes on, that the early settlers included so many “roguish highwaymen, mean vagrants, Irish rebels, known whores, and an assortment of convicts,” including one Elizabeth “Little Bess” Armstrong, sent to Virginia for stealing two spoons.


One of America’s founding myths, of course, is that the simple act of leaving England and boldly starting new lives in the colonies had an equalizing effect on the colonists, swiftly narrowing the distance between indentured servant and merchant, landowner and clerk—all except the African slave. Nonsense, Isenberg says: “Independence did not magically erase the British class system.” A “ruthless class order” was enforced at Jamestown, where one woman returned from 10 months of Indian captivity to be told that she owed 150 pounds of tobacco to her dead husband’s former master and would have to work off the debt. The Puritans were likewise “obsessed with class rank”—membership in the Church and its core elect were elite privileges—not least because the early Massachusetts settlers included far more nonreligious riffraff than is generally realized. A version of the North Carolina constitution probably co-authored by John Locke was designed to “avoid erecting a numerous democracy.” ...
Class distinctions were maintained above all in the apportionment of land. In Virginia in 1700, indentured servants had virtually no chance to own any, and by 1770, less than 10 percent of white Virginians had claim to more than half the land. In 1729 in North Carolina, a colony with 36,000 people, there were only 3,281 listed grants, and 309 grantees owned nearly half the land. “Land was the principal source of wealth, and those without any had little chance to escape servitude,” Isenberg writes. “It was the stigma of landlessness that would leave its mark on white trash from this day forward.”...
The Founding Fathers were, as Isenberg sees it, complicit in perpetuating these stark class divides. George Washington believed that only the “lower class of people” should serve as foot soldiers in the Continental Army. Thomas Jefferson envisioned his public schools educating talented students “raked from the rubbish” of the lower class, and argued that ranking humans like animal breeds was perfectly natural. “The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy of attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs and other domestic animals,” he wrote. “Why not that of man?” John Adams believed the “passion for distinction” was a powerful human force: “There must be one, indeed, who is the last and lowest of the human species.”
I have not read the book, but the review is enticing.

How "The Elephant Man" was exploited - updated


Not by the sideshow, but by the medical establishment:
There is another story that casts a different light on what happened. The memoirs of Tom Norman, Merrick’s London manager, are surely as biased as Treves’. But as one of the most respected showmen of his day, Norman’s account challenges head on Treves’ claim that Merrick was ultimately better off in the hospital than at the freakshow...

Most Victorian freaks, however, actually earned a comfortable living. Many were free agents who negotiated the terms of their exhibition and could ask for a salary or a share of the profits. They sold souvenirs to the crowds to make extra money. The freakshow was thus an important economic resource for working people whose deformities prevented them undertaking other forms of labour. Indeed, freak performers did not consider their exhibitions to be obscene or degrading. Rather, they saw themselves as little different from other entertainers...

During the two years he was on display in Europe, he was able to save more than £50 – a sizeable sum for a working-class man. In fact, Merrick earned more from his exhibition than his manager. They shared the take evenly, but Norman paid for the rent of the venue, food and lodging...

In the hospital, Merrick was kept largely confined to his rooms. When he ventured too far outside them, he was quickly shepherded back, lest he frighten other patients. Treves said his intention in providing for Merrick was to save him from the humiliation of public exhibition. However, his charge was constantly visited by curious members of high society. Like the masses who attended freakshows, they came out of a prurient fascination with Merrick’s grotesque body rather than merely to “cheer his confined existence”...

The Elephant Man’s hospitalisation sprang from a benevolent desire to help this “poor fellow”. But, for Merrick, it may have been little different from entering the workhouse. As a permanent resident, supported entirely by charitable donations, he was rendered a dependent member of “the deserving poor”. Norman argued that Merrick’s “only wish was to be free and independent”. This could not happen while he remained an inmate of the hospital where, his former manager argued, he must have felt as if “he were a prisoner and living on charity”. Treves maintained that Merrick was “happy every hour of the day”. But Norman’s son unearthed the testimony of a hospital porter who claimed that Merrick asked more than once: “Why can’t I go back to Mr Norman?” 
More information and illustrations at The Public Domain Review.

Reposted from 2013 to add this photo of the skull of Joseph Merrick:

Classic abuse of power

From a complaint filed in October 2014 on behalf of a woman who was harassed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Harris County, Texas. In October 2015, the officer, Patrick Quinn, pleaded guilty to official oppression and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Ms. S was traveling north when she observed a police car traveling south. She was doing the speed limit and not otherwise breaking any traffic laws. However, she noticed the car make a sharp U-turn and catch up to her. The officer pulled in behind her once she stopped, asked for her driver’s license and proof of insurance, and told her that her insurance was expired. The officer then told her that he smelled marijuana in her car. Ms. S consented to a search, and the officer had her sit in his car while he searched her vehicle. According to Ms. S, the officer told her that he found a marijuana grinder in the car. Ms. S told the officer that it was not hers. She began to get nervous and began shaking. The officer asked her what she would do in his position. She responded that she would give her a warning and let her go. The officer responded, asking if that was really what she would do. She said yes. The officer told her that he had a foot fetish. He would let her go if she let him smell her feet. If she refused, he would take her to jail. Ms. S began to take off her boots...
The rest of "Foot Patrol" is at Harper's.

The relevance of basketball to the Yup'ik community


I was surprised to learn that basketball was introduced to the Yukon about 70 years ago by a Jesuit priest.  If you like basketball and think that sports are more than just a game, you will want to see this video.  If not, skip it.

“To My Fellow Filthy Rich Americans: The Pitchforks Are Coming”

 Capitalism and the Reformer, by Art Young, 
from The Best of Art Young © 1936 The Vanguard Press, Inc., New York City, via Harper's.

Excerpts from an open letter:
You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries...

What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind...

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last...

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when...

The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts...

Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around.
Fulltext of the letter here.  Via Jobsanger

26 August 2016

"Wing pollination" of azaleas by swallowtails


The most interesting thing I've read about butterflies this year was a study by Mary Jane Epps, an assistant professor of biology at Mary Baldwin College who examined the reproduction of flame azaleas, publishing her results last August in The American Naturalist.  Here's the abstract:
Although many angiosperms are serviced by flying pollinators, reports of wings as pollen vectors are rare. Flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) is visited by diverse insects, yet previous observations suggested that only butterfly wings may transfer pollen to stigmas. We used an experimental approach to determine whether butterfly wings are the primary vehicle of pollination in flame azalea. Over two seasons of observations, only butterflies (Papilio glaucus and Speyeria cybele) contacted both anthers and stigmas, yet because of differences in wing-flapping behavior, P. glaucus transferred pollen most efficiently. In contrast, bee species specialized either on pollen or nectar but did not contact both anthers and stigmas. A field experiment revealed that flowers excluding butterflies experienced almost complete fruit failure, whereas fruit set in open flowers did not differ from those that were hand pollinated. Additionally, butterflies had 56-fold more azalea pollen on their wings than bodies, while azalea stigmas bore both pollen and wing scales. These results suggest that plants with many visitors contacting reproductive organs may still specialize on a single guild of visitors for pollination and that wing-borne pollen transfer is a key mode of flame azalea pollination.
Every reader of this blog will be familiar with mechanisms of pollination by bees and similar small insects, which transfer pollen on their bodies and feet.  This becomes a problem when the blossoms are large:
“In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator – usually an insect – has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, the distance between these two structures meant that it was unlikely for a bee or other small pollinator to come into contact with both anther and stigma during a visit.”

The researchers discovered something else interesting – the pollen was most likely being transferred by the butterflies’ wings, instead of their bodies. “We observed two species of butterfly that frequented these flowers: the eastern tiger swallowtail and the great spangled fritillary. However, the majority of the butterflies were the swallowtails, who differ from the fritillaries because they tend to keep moving their wings even when gathering nectar from a flower,” Epps says. “The constant fanning motion gives the wings a number of contacts with both anther and stigma, making the swallowtails more efficient at pollination.”
I've noticed this behavior in our back yard, when Tiger Swallowtails and Giant Swallowtails constantly flutter their wings while visiting large blossoms (not azaleas at our latitude).  In the past I considered this wing motion a nuisance because it frustrated my attempts to get good photographic images, but I assumed it was done to achieve aerodynamic stability (though it doesn't occur with almost-as-big fritillaries, who hold their wings quite still).

Here's one additional relevant photo, of Spicebush swallowtails on azalea, by Jim McCormac:


Top photo: Great Spangled Fritillary on a flame azalea, by Suzanne Allison, via NC State University College of Sciences News.

Offered without comment


Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

NPR is eliminating the "comment" feature from its websites

Good riddance to NPR’s comment section, which is shutting down Tuesday after eight years. There has to be a better way for news organizations to engage with the public.

NPR is joining a growing list of media organizations that have said “finito” to comments including, ‘This American Life,’ Reuters, Recode, Mic, The Chicago Sun-Times, Popular Science, CNN, The Toronto Star and The Week...

The trolls who rule the comment seas may actually have won because they often scare away people with their vicious attacks. An infinitesimal number of NPR’s 25 to 35 million unique monthly users bothered to join story-page conversations...

There are some sites that handle comments well, noted Alex Howard, a senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation. “Building a healthy online community is hard, but outlets like TechDirt and forums like MetaFilter show that it’s not only possible but sustainable,” said Howard. “At their best, good comments are improvements upon the journalism they’re focused upon, but they require convening a community and investing in editorial moderation and tools.”
TYWKIWDBI will continue to allow comments.   The need to delete spam every morning is a nuisance, but the readership here is reasonably sane and immensely well-informed on a huge range of topics, and I have had readers tell me that they routinely read most of the comments on the posts.  I will continue to "curate" comments, however, by weeding out the egregiously offensive ones.

More details at Moyers&Co (and 300+ comments).
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