27 July 2016

Isle of the Dead ("Die Toteninsel")

Arnold Böcklin is best known for his five versions (painted in 1880-1886) of the Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried.

Aging without children

Some thoughts about an overlooked demographic group:
[People ageing without children] includes those who aren’t parents (either by choice or circumstance), as well as those who are estranged or geographically separated from their adult children; those whose children have care needs of their own; or whose children predeceased them.

Ageing without Children (AWOC) was set up in 2014 by Kirsty Woodard and three other campaigners to raise awareness and provide support to this significant, yet hidden, group in our society...

Indeed, the government line on ageing is that ‘families must do more’ - ignoring those for whom that isn’t an option...

Reactions to the issues of ageing without children can be surprisingly cruel and unsupportive, often along the lines of: ‘Well, you should have had kids then,’ without knowing anything of the individual’s experience...
More at The Telegraph.

Norway may build floating underwater traffic tunnels

Norway has hatched ambitious plans to install the world’s first floating underwater tunnels to help travelers easily cross the nation’s many fjords. At present, the only way to travel across the bodies of water involves taking a series of ferries – an inconvenient and time-consuming process. The “submerged floating bridges” would consist of large tubes suspended under 100 feet of water, and each one will be wide enough for two lanes of traffic...

Norway has so far committed $25 billion in funds to the project, which is expected to reach completion by 2035.
How can they spend $25,000,000,000 on this?  Because they're not spending $25,000,000,000 projecting their military strength around the world.  They understand the importance of maintaining and improving infrastructure, and their nation's political structure is not controlled by the military-industrial complex.

Addendum: a relevant video.

Scavenging fishing tackle

This video brings back fond memories.  When I was a youngster, my family spent a lot of time at Leech Lake in northern Minnesota.  From the time I was about 12 years old, I was allowed to take the boat out by myself (a heavy wooden 14-foot boat with a 7.5 hp Evinrude, laughable by today's standards of speed, but great for trolling and drifting).  I knew the locations of the logs on the lake bottom, and often tried to retrieve lures with home-made grappling hooks. 

Via Science Matters.

The chemistry of sexual excitement

The molecular structure of a silica gel, shown in this illustration of a chemistry textbook or syllabus, has been described as "the chemical composition of a latina orgasm."

World's deepest blue hole

After nearly a year of exploration, Chinese researchers have determined that the [deep blue “Dragon Hole” in the Paracel Islands, called the “eye” of the South China Sea] sinkhole is likely the world’s deepest, reaching about 987 feet below the surface and surpassing the previous record holder, Dean’s Blue Hole near the Bahamas, by more than 300 feet...

Researchers told the television station that after about 330 feet, the water is oxygen free and likely unable to support life.
I find the latter observation to be the most interesting aspect of this report.  I know of no reason why deoxygenated seawater would be heavier, so I presume the anaerobic environment develops because of consumption of oxygen during breakdown of organic matter that falls into the hole, and a lack of circulation of the water within the hole.  But I would think there would still be extremophiles down there, and that when they refer to "life" they are referring to oxygen-dependent life.

Addendum:  Here is a reply I received from a relative of mine who spent his professional career studying similar environments:
Some of these marine sink holes contain water that is more dense than normal seawater due to saltier ocean conditions in the past. If a full scientific report references a "chemocline" that's what is implied. There will certainly be microbial life, almost certainly based on use of sulfate or elemental sulfur in anaerobic respiration of organic matter that ends up in the hole. These are quite "garden variety" bacteria - well known from marine sediments a few meters below the sediment-water interface. They are not really even "extremophiles", just well known anaerobes. Fermentative bacteria would also be part of the microbial food chain.

24 July 2016

Christina's World (Andrew Wyeth, 1948)

Image via the Museum of Modern Art.  Text from an article in Mental Floss:
The 31-year-old Wyeth modeled the painting's frail-looking brunette after his neighbor in South Cushing, Maine. Anna Christina Olson suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder [Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease] that prevented her from walking. Rather than using a wheelchair, Olson crawled around her home and the surrounding grounds... The sight of Olson picking blueberries while crawling through her fields “like a crab on a New England shore” inspired Wyeth to paint Christina’s World.

Art historians have often snubbed Wyeth's works in their surveys, and some naysayers have attacked the painting's widespread popularity, deriding it as "a mandatory dorm room poster." Meanwhile, critics have chastised Wyeth's attention on Olson's infirmity and characterized it as exploitation. Still others claim there was no art in rendering realistic imagery in paint...

Christina's World remained her favorite to the end. Once when I asked her why, she simply smiled and said, 'You know pink is my favorite color.' 'But you're wearing a flowered pink dress in Miss Olson and holding a kitten. I thought you loved kittens.' 'Course I do, but in the other one Andy put me where he knew I wanted to be. Now that I can't be there anymore, all I do is think of that picture and I'm there.'

Famous poliomyelitis survivors

Wikipedia has an extensive list, from which I've extracted some of the names I recognize:

Alan Alda born 1936 An actor most famous for his role as Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H. Alda contracted polio at age seven, during an epidemic. His parents administered a painful treatment, developed by Sister Elizabeth Kenny, in which hot woolen blankets were applied to the limbs and the muscles were stretched by massage

Mia Farrow born 1945 An actress who was appointed a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2000, and campaigns in the fight against polio. Farrow collapsed on her ninth birthday and was diagnosed with polio two days later. She was in the hospital for eight months, where an iron lung maintained her breathing.

Gwen Verdon 1925–2000 An actress and dancer on Broadway and in films. Verdon was encouraged to dance by her mother, a dance teacher, as therapy for her polio-afflicted legs.

Johnny Weissmuller 1904–1984 At age nine, Weissmüller contracted polio. At the suggestion of his doctor, he took up swimming to help battle the disease, and he went on to win five Olympic gold medals in the sport during the 1920s.

Arthur C. Clarke 1917–2008 A science-fiction author and inventor. He contracted polio in February 1962, which confined him to bed for months. In 1984, he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, and he spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair.

Judy Collins born 1939 As a child, singer-songwriter Judy Collins spent several months in the hospital recovering from bout with polio. Collins later became a representative for UNICEF and has worked to promote polio vaccination programmes.

Donovan born 1946 Folk singer-songwriter and guitarist Donovan contracted polio, aged four, from the vaccine he was given. This left him with a limp and feeling excluded. However, he says "I kind of look back on it and think it was positive for me because it made me withdraw from my pals and realise I was different."

Michael Flanders 1922–1975 An actor, broadcaster, and writer and performer of comic songs, often in partnership with Donald Swann. He contracted polio in 1943 while serving in the Royal Navy, and required a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Joni Mitchell born 1943 A musician, songwriter and painter. Mitchell started singing at age nine while in the hospital recovering from polio. Her distinctive sound featured dozens of non-standard guitar tunings, which she developed partly to compensate for a weakened arm.

Itzhak Perlman born 1945 A virtuoso violinist. He contracted polio at the age of four. Perlman requires braces and crutches to walk, and plays the violin seated.

Dinah Shore 1916–1994 A big band singer, actress and talk show host. Shore contracted polio, aged 18 months, which left her right leg crippled. She recovered strength through massage, swimming and tennis.

Neil Young born 1945 A singer-songwriter and guitarist. He caught polio at age five, during the epidemic of 1951.

Mitch McConnell born 1942 A Republican member of the United States Senate from Kentucky and current Senate Minority Leader. He contracted polio at age two resulting in a paralyzed left leg, but eventually recovered with physical therapy.

Robert McNamara 1916–2009 A business executive and former United States Secretary of Defense. Both McNamara and his wife contracted polio in August 1945. He was in the hospital for a couple of months but his wife was badly affected and remained there for nine months. His career change from Harvard professor to the Ford Motor Company was made to pay her hospital bills.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 1882–1945 U.S. President 1933-1945. FDR founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now called the March of Dimes. He spent as much time as he could recuperating from Poliomyelitis in the waters of Warm Springs, Georgia where he founded one of the first rehabilitation facilities for Polio survivors.

Bud Grant born 1927 The long-time former American football head coach of the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League for eighteen seasons. He caught polio as a child, leaving one leg shortened. He was advised to take up sport as therapy.

Jack Nicklaus born 1940 A professional golfer who has won many major golf championships. He caught polio, aged 13. Nicklaus was affected with stiffness, pain and weight loss over two weeks. He recovered without any paralysis but believes he may have post-polio syndrome, which makes his joints sore.

Wilma Rudolph 1940–1994 A track and field athlete, Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals at the Olympic Games. At age four, she contracted polio and lost the use of her left leg. After five years of massage and exercises, she managed to walk again without her leg braces. By the time she was a teenager, Rudolph was faster than the boys in her neighbourhood were. Rudolph won a bronze medal, aged 16, at the 1956 Summer Olympics and three gold medals in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Frida Kahlo 1907–1954 A painter who was the subject of a 2002 movie starring Salma Hayek. She caught polio, aged six, and spent several months in bed. Kahlo was left with a deformed and shortened right leg.

Dorothea Lange 1895–1965 A photographer and photojournalist most noted for her picture Migrant Mother. She caught polio, aged seven, and was left with a withered right lower leg and a limp. Lang said, "It was perhaps the most important thing that happened to me. It formed me, guided, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me. All those things at once. I've never gotten over it and am aware of the force and power of it."

Henriette Wyeth 1907–1997 A portrait artist. She caught polio as a child, which crippled her right hand. She compensated by holding the paint brush between her first and second fingers.

Van Gogh's ear

The Art Newspaper reports on an Amsterdam exhibition about Vincent van Gogh’s medical problems:
The exhibition also reveals new evidence discovered by the writer Bernadette Murphy, as revealed in her book Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story (Chatto & Windus). Murphy found a note and diagram from Dr Félix Rey, who had treated Van Gogh in Arles after he had mutilated his ear. This note was written on 18 August 1930 for the American novelist Irving Stone, author of Lust for Life (the document has been lent to the Amsterdam museum by the Bancroft Library at the University of California).

Rey’s diagram shows that virtually the entire ear was cut off, with a caption stating it showed “what remained of the lobe”...

Most importantly, Murphy says she has identified the young woman at the brothel to whom Van Gogh presented his ear...
More about that in this report:
The Institut Pasteur medical records reveal that 18-year-old Gabrielle Berlatier lived at the Mas de Faravelle in Moulès, a village ten kilometres east of Arles, in Provence. On 8 January 1888 she had been bitten on her left arm by a dog owned by the farm’s shepherd, Monsieur Moreau. The dog was shot and found to have had rabies. As Murphy’s book records, Gabrielle then suffered the painful process of having the wound cauterised with a red-hot iron, leaving a disfiguring scar. She was quickly taken to Paris, where she was treated with a new anti-rabies vaccine, saving her life...

Murphy writes in her book that Gabrielle was too young to be a registered prostitute, and she was only working as a maid in the brothel [and at the Café de la Gare].

How to blow a cow

I learned about this subject matter from a recent podcast of No Such Thing as a Fish:
Cow blowing, Kuhblasen, phooka, or doom dev, is a process used in many countries according to ethnographers, in which forceful blowing of air into a cow's vagina (or sometimes anus) is applied to induce her to produce more milk.

Cow blowing was the reason why Gandhi abjured cow milk, saying that "since I had come to know that the cow and the buffalo were subjected to the process of phooka, I had conceived a strong disgust for milk."
A brief search yielded a video of the process.   Frankly, I don't find the maneuver any more disgusting than American presidential politics, but in recognition of the more refined sensibilities of some of this blog's readers, I'll place the video below the fold:

Hillary Clinton channels Richard Nixon

An article written several months ago in Salon describes Hillary Clinton as being ideologically closer to Nixon than Donald Trump is:
Part of the problem is definitional and historical, and maybe even epistemological. What do we mean by “Republican”? A Republican where, and when? In broad strokes of politics and policy, Clinton is a lot closer to the worldview of Richard Nixon — the president who funded Planned Parenthood and proposed a national single-payer healthcare plan — than Donald Trump is...

She’s a Democrat — a Democrat of a specific vintage and a particular type. At least in her 2016 incarnation, Clinton is an old-school Cold War liberal out of the Scoop Jackson Way-Back Machine, a believer in global American hegemony and engineered American prosperity...

She faces a public ground down and demoralized by 15 years of pointless warfare and empty paranoia. Clinton’s version of liberalism — she has earned that label, in all fairness — has been rebranded and reconfigured so many times no one could possibly keep track of its current contents. Her politics are like Doctor Who’s flying phone booth: Until you open the door, you have no idea what’s inside... [good one!]

Cold War liberalism never really went away. It changed its form and its name but continued to drive the internal politics of the Democratic Party... Cold War liberals of the golden age were internationalist hawks who favored an aggressive global policy of American hegemony...

By the time Hillary Clinton had her famous undergraduate conversion, and resigned the presidency of Wellesley College’s Young Republicans to go ring doorbells for Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire, she had presumably turned against the Vietnam War. As an adult politician, however, she has come full circle, and now belongs to the tradition of mainstream war-hawk Democrats whom McCarthy attacked — the Cold War liberal cadre of Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and the aforementioned Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, aka “the senator from Boeing.”..

She’s been inside the defensive Democratic Party carapace of Cold War liberalism for so long, believing it to be the only possible reality, that she hadn’t noticed until right now how much the political landscape had shifted. There are voters who want war, no doubt, and voters who want liberalism. But they aren’t the same people; the connection has been severed. Cold War liberalism, in 2016, is a political philosophy with a constituency of one. To use a reference Hillary Clinton will get immediately, one pill makes you larger and one pill takes you small. Taking both at once doesn’t do anything at all.

"Trump that bitch"

From a story in the Washington Post:
As thousands of Donald Trump supporters streamed out of an evening rally here this week, they walked past a handful of vendors from Ohio selling simple white T-shirts featuring Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and a vulgar joke. The back of the shirts read: “TRUMP THAT B----!”

One woman laughed and said to the man with her: “You have to get one!” A group of four middle-aged women pulled out their wallets and tried to bargain the vendors down from $20. One of the vendors shouted again and again: “Trump that b----! Trump that b----!” A guy walking past responded: “That’s right!”...

In an interview last month, Trump said he was unaware that his fans were using the term.
“They’re what? They’re calling her what?” Trump said, as the word was repeated to him a second time. “I have not heard that. I don’t like that. But I have not heard that. I would not be happy if I heard it.”...

“Everybody has gotten too sensitive with terminology,” said Amanda Michael, 27, who attended Trump’s Greensboro rally with her husband, who wore one of the shirts. “Everybody’s just so sensitive now. Trump supporters just go out and they just say how they feel. . . . I’m not offended by it. I mean, it just is what it is. It’s just a feel-good American-type thing. We are not over-analyzing every little thing that we say or do.”...

The company’s website includes this disclaimer: “All designs are created just to allow our customers to expres how they feel. FIRST AMENDMENT RULES!”...

The front of the shirt features images of Clinton and Lewinsky with the wording: “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.”

"Ancient bottom wipers"

After writing posts about politics, it seems appropriate to consider the topic of "bottom wipers."
Some bamboo sticks with scraps of grimy cloth wound around them have been identified as bottom wipers from a latrine pit in a 2,000-year-old Chinese relay station on the Silk Road. They have also preserved the first solid evidence of disease spread from east to west by travellers. Samples of ancient faeces scraped off the fabric and brought back to a laboratory in Cambridge have revealed eggs from four species of parasites, including Chinese liver fluke. The fluke needs marshy conditions to complete its life cycle, so could not have come from the desert area around the ancient Xuanquanzhi relay station.
I'm not sure why the cloth was attached to sticks for use.  I know the Romans used (and reused!) sponges on sticks, and similar contraptions are marketed nowadays for the severely obese or physically handicapped. 

Mike Pence: "Smoking doesn't kill"

"Time for a quick reality check.  Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill.  In fact 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness, and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer..." 

Monitoring the upcoming election via electoral votes

Personally,  I'm sick and tired of American politics.  Sick and tired of the way it is conducted, and sick and tired of reading about it.

But it is unquestionably important, and the outcome of the November elections will impact everyone's lives for the next 4+ years.  Michael Moore has recently opined publicly his "five reasons why Trump will win," and national polls show the race to be neck-and-neck.

National polls, however, don't decide the presidency, because the convoluted electoral system takes precedence (as Bush-Gore clearly showed).  The site I use to monitor trends in the electoral map is at Real Clear Politics (current map embedded above).

That link uses all available polls to indicate which states are "solid" (a subset of "likely" in the table above the map), "likely," "leaning," or a "toss-up."  It obviously is not predictive of the future, but it seems to be a reasonable reflection of best-available current data.  I don't know how often it is updated (hopefully every time a new poll result is added in the table under the map at the source).

There are undoubtedly other similar resources.  Please offer any suggestions in the Comments.

Addendum:  An anonymous reader correctly pointed out that I failed to mention Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website.  Here's the most recent electoral map from there:

538: "We'll be updating our forecasts every time new data is available, every day through Nov. 8."
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