17 December 2013
This book was bound with human skin.
Human skin was removed from a corpse, tanned (or processed in another way) and then used to cover a book. Harvard’s Houghton Library has one from the 1880s (read more about it here), but the one in this image is much older. Dating from the early 17th century, this book seems to have been bound in the skin of the priest Father Henry Garnet, who was executed in 1606 for his role in the Gunpowder Plot - the attempt to ignite 36 barrels of gunpowder under the British Parliament.From Erik Kwakkel, whose post also has links to other books bound with human skin. See also my 2009 post on the subject - Human skin used for bookbinding - as well as the followup last year on shoes made from human skin.
"Our three-part library starts here, in the bedroom, on our fancy Home Depot particle-board shelves. They bow a bit, 'cause our studs aren't ideally placed, and we have too much media. Our books are mostly contemporary fiction, with some literary nonfiction and my grandmother's poetry books thrown in. These shelves have the first part of the alphabet: Louisa May Alcott to Carl Hiaasen, as well as some photo albums. You can see Shelly, my childhood Cabbage Patch Kid, staring at you benevolently from above. The shelves on the right have our CDs"
"Above is the weirdest thing in the house: my grandmother shrine. My grandmothers were both admirable ladies, so I decided to non-obviously memorialize them here. The white cloth is a khata, a Tibetan ceremonial scarf. I presented it in greeting to a lama, who blessed it and gave it back. The riding crops belonged to my maternal grandmother and are from Libya, where the family lived when my mom was young. The one in front has an iron spike in it. The silver coin purse belonged to my paternal grandmother. Inside are some Tibetan blessing pills given to me by the lama; I was supposed to swallow them, but I decided to do this instead. What does a secular humanist do when presented with sacred pills? She uses them to build a grandmother memorial.
To the right is the middle part of the alphabet: Homer to Jhumpa Lahiri, with heavy representation from John Irving and Stephen King. The bookshelf belonged to a former roommate. Note the attractively displayed cans of cat food.
This final section has the rest of our books. John LeCarré to Jeanette Winterson, as well as some reference and travel guides. The shelves were a wedding present from my mother-in-law; they're custom made by a local craftsman. Rob the cat, looking weirdly huge, supervises."
Blogger's note: This is the 32nd entry in what has become a very interesting series of reader's bookcases. And with the queue now depleted, it will be the last entry unless someone else out there has both a bookcase and a camera.
Labels: readers' bookcases
Eleanor Roosevelt was 6 ft. tall
From an essay in Esquire:
In one survey, about half of collegiate men required their date to be shorter, while a monstrous nine of every ten women said they would only date a taller man... Only four percent of heterosexual couples feature a shorter man...Julia Child (6'2") said ""Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you."
Here’s how I figure it: If a man is comfortable with the fact that I’m taller, he’s also likely to be comfortable with the fact that I’m competitive and outgoing and career-oriented. As in: It means he’s a secure man.
Nationmaster has a list of hundreds of famous tall women (and see bottom of the page for links to lists of famous short women, tall men, and short men).
Photo credit to the FDR Library.
Minnesota may spend more money performing the drug tests and implementing the program than it saves by denying benefits to drug users:
A new state law designed to prevent drug users from receiving welfare benefits could end up costing taxpayers far more than it saves, while inadvertently denying assistance to poor families simply because they are unable to comply with its complex paperwork.Like a recent wave of drug-testing laws passed in other states, Minnesota’s legislation was touted as a way to encourage greater responsibility among welfare recipients while saving taxpayers money.But many county officials and advocacy groups say the reality is quite different: The law contains a bevy of costly local mandates and complicated rules that apply to just a tiny fraction of the 167,000 Minnesotans receiving welfare and other cash benefits.Critics also say the policy is based on the false perception that large numbers of welfare recipients are using illegal drugs. A new analysis by the state Department of Human Services (DHS) found that participants in Minnesota’s welfare program for low-income families are actually far less likely to have felony drug convictions than the adult population as a whole...In 2013 alone, at least 30 states proposed bills related to drug screening and testing, with some even extending it to federal benefits such as unemployment insurance, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C...Just 0.4 percent of participants in the Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state’s main cash welfare program, have felony drug convictions, DHS records show. That compares with 1.2 percent of the state’s adult population as a whole.
This may be the most salient comment:
“I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that this is about saving taxpayers money,” said Heidi Welsch, director of family support and assistance for Olmsted County. “This is punitive.”
As reported in The Register (UK):
Facebook has reportedly swerved a huge corporation tax bill by paying its Ireland-based parent company - Facebook Holdings Limited - €1.75bn in “admin costs” for its intellectual property.This would be a good time to quote U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes on the matter:
According to the Financial Times (£), Facebook recently reported a pre-tax loss of €626,000 after it paid out those expenses.
In 2012, Facebook Ireland Ltd had 382 staff on its books in Dublin, and reported a gross profit of €1.75bn and sales of €1.79bn for the year...
The practice of avoiding tax in that way – known as Double Irish – is used by other internet giants such as Google, which shifts some of its money through a Bermuda shell company...
Facebook defended its actions by saying it "complies with all relevant corporate regulations including those related to filing company reports and taxation.
The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of workingmen. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.Of course we should also point out that the "presidential election of 1876 had been thoroughly corrupted by fraudulent vote counts in favor of each candidate (the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, both of them held captive by the banks)."
Diary (11 March 1888]).
News from the British Library:
We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain. The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.
Which brings me to the point of this release. We are looking for new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display these 'unseen illustrations'. The images were plucked from the pages as part of the 'Mechanical Curator', a creation of the British Library Labs project. Each image is individually addressible, online, and Flickr provies an API to access it and the image's associated description.Their Flickr photostream is here.
16 December 2013
From the study published in PLoS One:
Artificial sweeteners have been widely incorporated in human food products for aid in weight loss regimes, dental health protection and dietary control of diabetes. Some of these widely used compounds can pass non-degraded through wastewater treatment systems...The top image shows the sampling sites. The graph below demonstrates that the aquatic concentrations corrrelate with the size of the human population upstream from the sample sites:
In order to determine the riverine concentrations of artificial sweeteners and their usefulness as a tracer of wastewater at the scale of an entire watershed, we analyzed samples from 23 sites along the entire length of the Grand River, a large river in Southern Ontario, Canada, that is impacted by agricultural activities and urban centres. Municipal water from household taps was also sampled from several cities within the Grand River Watershed. Cyclamate, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame were found in elevated concentrations despite high rates of biological activity, large daily cycles in dissolved oxygen and shallow river depth. The maximum concentrations that we measured for sucralose (21 µg/L), cyclamate (0.88 µg/L), and saccharin (7.2 µg/L) are the highest reported concentrations of these compounds in surface waters to date anywhere in the world....
The effects of artificial sweeteners on aquatic biota in rivers and in the downstream Great Lakes are largely unknown.
More at the link.
According to an article in the Harvard Gazette, the idea that studying music improves intelligence is probably a myth:
Though it has been embraced by everyone from advocates for arts education to parents hoping to encourage their kids to stick with piano lessons, a pair of studies... found that music training had no effect on the cognitive abilities of young children. The studies are described in a Dec. 11 paper published in the open-access journal PLoS One.Details and discussion at the links.
“More than 80 percent of American adults think that music improves children’s grades or intelligence,” Mehr said. “Even in the scientific community, there’s a general belief that music is important for these extrinsic reasons. But there is very little evidence supporting the idea that music classes enhance children’s cognitive development.”
The notion that music training can make someone smarter, Mehr said, can largely be traced to a single study published in Nature. In it, researchers identified what they called the “Mozart effect.” After listening to music, test subjects performed better on spatial tasks.
Though the study was later debunked, the notion that simply listening to music could make someone smarter became firmly embedded in the public imagination...
An interesting post today at American Forests muses about the "hedge apple"/"Osage orange"/"monkeyball" (Maclura pomifera):
Consider the fruit of the Osage-orange, named after the Osage Indians associated with its range. In the fall, Osage-orange trees hang heavy with bright green, bumpy spheres the size of softballs, full of seeds and an unpalatable milky latex. They soon fall to the ground, where they rot, unused, unless a child decides to test their ballistic properties.More at the link, and a big hat tip to Quigley's Cabinet for the via.
Trees that make such fleshy fruits do so to entice animals to eat them, along with the seeds they contain. The seeds pass through the animal and are deposited, with natural fertilizer, away from the shade and roots of the parent tree where they are more likely to germinate. But no native animal eats Osage-orange fruits. So, what are they for? The same question could be asked of the large seed pods of the honeylocust and the Kentucky coffeetree...
In terms of evolutionary time, the difference between 13,000 years ago and now is like the difference between Friday, December 31, 1999 and Saturday, January 1, 2000. We may assign those two days to different centuries or millennia, but they are still part of the same week. Likewise, all the animals and plants of 13,000 years ago belong just as much in the present. In fact, they still live in the present, with just one major exception: most of the big and fierce animals are now gone...
Now let’s return to the forlorn fruit of the Osage orange. Nothing today eats it. Once it drops from the tree, all of them on a given tree practically in unison, the only way it moves is to roll downhill or float in flood waters. Why would you evolve such an over-engineered, energetically expensive fruit if gravity and water are your only dispersers, and you like to grow on higher ground? You wouldn’t. Unless you expected it to be eaten by mammoths or ground-sloths...
It’s true that such adaptations are now anachronistic; they have lost their relevance. But the trees have been slow to catch on; a natural consequence of the pace of evolution. For a tree that lives, say, 250 years, 13,000 years represents only 52 generations. In an evolutionary sense, the trees don’t yet realize that the megafauna are gone.
In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Hemingway describes the impending death of a hunter suffering from a gangrenous leg (boldface emphasis mine):
Because, just then, death had come and rested its head on the foot of the cot and he could smell its breath."Never believe any of that about a scythe and a skull," he told her. "It can be two bicycle policemen as easily, or be a bird. Or it can have a wide snout like a hyena."It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape any more. It simply occupied space."Tell it to go away."It did not go away but moved a little closer."You've got a hell of a breath," he told it. "You stinking bastard."It moved up closer to him still and now he could not speak to it, and when it saw he could not speak it came a little closer, and now he tried to send it away without speaking, but it moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest, and while it crouched there and he could not move or speak, he heard the woman say, "Bwana is asleep now. Take the cot up very gently and carry it into the tent."He could not speak to tell her to make it go away and it crouched now, heavier, so he could not breathe. And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest.
This is a superb description of the phenomenon of sleep paralysis (the paralysis, the muteness, the chest pressure, the dyspnea, and the cessation when the victim is touched or moved), so vivid and precise that I have no doubt that Hemingway must have experienced it himself (his lifestyle would have been compatible with a high risk for the syndrome).
Back when I was active in academia, I developed a special interest and expertise in sleep paralysis, and had visions of someday publishing a book on its portrayal in literature and folklore. That seems unlikely now, but since I have file boxes full of information, perhaps I can incorporate some of that material into posts for this blog.
13 December 2013
The solid red line in the gif is the "freezing line" forecast for this coming weekend (data and graphic from NOAA and Ham Weather, via Paul Douglas' On Weather). Here in Madison, Wisconsin the temperature hasn't been above freezing even once in December.
Today I discovered that Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt chose to reverse the traditional male-female stereotypes for this song when they performed it for a holiday special with the Muppets:
Compare the modern version with the original from the musical romantic comedy "Neptune's Daughter" from 1949, where the heavy-handed seduction of Esther Williams by Ricardo Montalban is almost painful to watch:
For starters, consider that there is not a single self-described atheist in Congress today. Not one. It wasn’t until 2007 that Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from Northern California, became the first member of Congress and the highest-ranking public official ever to admit to being an atheist. (And even he framed it in terms of religious affiliation, calling himself “a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”) Stark was elected twice after this, but when the 20-term congressman lost his seat last year, it was to a 31-year-old primary challenger who attacked him as irreligious, citing, among other things, Stark’s vote against our national motto: “In God We Trust.”...
The Cold War changed all that. Atheism began to seem almost treasonous amid tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, because the Soviets were officially and emphatically against religion. Sen. Joseph McCarthy famously used the phrase “godless communists” to bash the political left and others he considered his enemies. In this context, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed laws in the mid-1950s inserting “God” into our Pledge of Allegiance and putting it on all our money. (It had been on most coins earlier, but Eisenhower made “In God We Trust” our national motto, henceforth to appear on all bills.)