28 April 2016

She was fired for saying the word "vagina" without previous approval

Allison Wint, a substitute teacher at a middle school in Battle Creek, Mich., told the Detroit Free Press that she was hoping to provoke a thoughtful dialogue about historical interpretations of O’Keeffe’s work on Friday when she used the word “vagina” during a discussion with eighth graders...

Wint told the Free Press that, in total, she estimates she used the word 10 times during the course of the lecture, prompting giggles from her students, but eventually a substantive discussion...

The next day, according to Wint, she was reprimanded by a school official, who noted that she had said the word “vagina … without previous approval.”

The official told her that referring to female reproductive organs without approval violated school policy, Wint told the Free Press.

She told the paper that she was instructed to gather her belongings and leave the school within one hour.
Good thing they got her out of the school "within one hour."  No telling how much damage she might have inflicted had she stayed until the end of the day.

Re the painting:
Flower of Life II - along with many to follow - presented the sexual anatomy of the flower in sharp focus. By drawing attention to the inherent androgyny of this subject, O'Keeffe could have been attempting to contradict the critical notion that her subject matter was related exclusively to her gender.

But if so, the critics in 1925 missed O'Keeffe's point (as most still do). They interpreted her flowers as they had interpreted her earlier abstractions, as expressions of her sexuality. In 1943, O'Keeffe finally responded: Well - I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower - and I don't. ”

Spanish accents

Test your ability to distinguish Spanish accents by taking the test here (the image above is just a screencap).  I was correct on 6 of the 26 examples (equivalent to random chance); my expat cousin in Barcelona hit 50%.  Feel free to post your scores in the Comments.

How military "tanks" got their name

The British developed the tank in response to the trench warfare of World War I. In 1914, a British army colonel named Ernest Swinton and William Hankey, secretary of the Committee for Imperial Defence, championed the idea of an armored vehicle with conveyor-belt-like tracks over its wheels that could break through enemy lines and traverse difficult territory. The men appealed to British navy minister Winston Churchill, who believed in the concept of a “land boat” and organized a Landships Committee to begin developing a prototype. To keep the project secret from enemies, production workers were reportedly told the vehicles they were building would be used to carry water on the battlefield (alternate theories suggest the shells of the new vehicles resembled water tanks). Either way, the new vehicles were shipped in crates labeled “tank” and the name stuck.
With a tip of the blogging hat to the elves at NSTAAF.

Official trailer for "Snowden"

Bison s/p lightning strike

While doing a survey of bison on the refuge in late July 2013, Wildlife Biologist Karen Viste-Sparkman noticed a bull standing by himself. On closer inspection, it was clear that he had been struck by lightning and burned over a large area of his body. “Sparky” was thin after the strike and wasn't expected to live long. Since a lightning strike is something that could happen to wild bison anywhere, the refuge let nature take its course. But two years later, Sparky is going strong!

Sparky is just one of the bison that call Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge home. The refuge was established to protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and sedge meadow.
The rest of the story is at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   Photo credit Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS.

This fracking river is on fire

"Gas first started bubbling though the river shortly after the coal seam gas industry took off in the Chinchilla area. Since then the volume of gas bubbling through the river has massively increased and has spread along the river.

You can see stakes in the river bank were the Queensland Government has marked each gas seep. You can also see pipework near the river where Origin Energy has installed for monitoring the gas bubbling through the river."

Donald and Melania Trump

One excerpt from an extended biography of a potential First Lady:
Melania is as fastidious a wife as she is a mother, which Donald appreciates. Things come easy with her. “I work very hard from early in the morning till late in the evening,” Donald told Larry King in 2005. “I don’t want to go home and work at a relationship.” To the twice-divorced Donald, Melania is terrific. He’s never heard her fart or make doodie, as he once told Howard Stern. (Melania has said the key to the success of her marriage is separate bathrooms.) He can trust her to take her birth control every day, he boasted to Stern; she’s just amazing that way. She has the perfect proportions—five feet eleven, 125 pounds—and great boobs, which is no trivial matter. Stern once asked Trump what he would do if Melania were in a terrible car accident, God forbid, and lost the use of her left arm, developed an oozing red splotch near her eye, and mangled her left foot. Would Donald stay with her?
“How do the breasts look?” Trump asked.
“The breasts are okay,” Stern replied. Then, yeah, of course Trump stays. “Because that’s important.”
I'll defer any commentary.

25 April 2016

This is not a long-legged fox

It's a "maned wolf."  But it's not a wolf.

It is the unique entity in the genus Chrysocyon.  "There are no known extant or extinct species that come close" (because it's the only one that survived the mass extinctions of the Pleistocene).

Explained at Biomedical Ephemera, or: A Frog For Your Boils.

Addendum:  The evolutionary advantage of those long legs can be seen in this video of it in its natural environment (hat tip to Brazilian reader Binho).

NASA video of global carbon dioxide dynamics

 Via the Curiously Krulwich column at National Geographic, where the phenomenon is explained.

"Daddy, what's a 'global steel war'?"

As reported in The Telegraph:
China is on a collision course with the world’s leading powers over excess steel output after it refused to sign up to an emergency global plan to cut capacity and eliminate subsidies. The clash comes as fresh data confirms fears that China is still cranking up production and even reopening shuttered plants supposedly due for closure, despite the massive glut on the world market. Chinese mills produced a record 70.65m tonnes in March, 51pc of global output and five times as much as the whole EU...

“The scale of the emergency in the sector means it is now life or death for many companies,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU trade commissioner... Brussels has been slow to roll out anti-dumping sanctions, partly due to pressure from Britain and other states courting China for their own political reasons. While the US has imposed penalties of 266pc on Chinese cold-rolled steel, the EU has acted more slowly and stopped at 13pc...

Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, said Europe can no longer tolerate the flood of Chinese supply. “You do not respect the rules of world trade. Your steel output is subsidised, and the excess capacity is dumped below cost. It is destroying our productive capacity, and it is unacceptable,” he said...

“The American steel industry faces the greatest import crisis in modern history,” said Tim Murphy, head of the Congressional steel caucus. “We’re at the tipping point, with US mills averaging only 70pc of capacity utilisation, a level that is simply not sustainable. We are in real danger of losing this industry and becoming dependent on foreign countries. We can’t let that happen.”..

China is still selling steel in the EU market at prices below its own production costs, and that does not even take into account transport...”

Yet any sanctions risk setting off tit-for-tat retaliation, and a slide towards 1930s-style protectionism.

Pope Francis channels Pink Floyd

Try listening to the first minute or two.  I guarantee you'll be surprised.

A tip of the blogging hat to Dan Schreiber and the other elves of NSTAAF for alerting me to the existence of this album, which I otherwise would never have known about.

285,000 businesses use this building as their address

Also Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  An article at The Guardian explains how tax avoidance works:
This squat, yellow brick office building just north of Wilmington’s rundown downtown is the registered address of more than 285,000 companies. That’s more than any other known address in the world, and 15 times more than the 18,000 registered in Ugland House, a five-storey building in the Cayman Islands that Barack Obama called “either the biggest building in the world, or the biggest tax scam on record”.

Officially, 1209 North Orange is home to Apple, American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Walmart and dozens of other companies in the Fortune 500 list of America’s biggest companies. Being registered in Delaware lets companies take advantage of strict corporate secrecy rules, business-friendly courts and the “Delaware loophole”, which can allow companies to legally shift earnings from other states to Delaware, where they are not taxed on non-physical incomes generated outside of the state.

The loophole is said to have cost other states more than $9bn in lost taxes over the past decade and led to Delaware to be described as “one of the world’s biggest havens for tax avoidance and evasion”.

But it’s not just big corporations that have chosen to make 1209 North Orange their official home.
Both the leading candidates for president – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – have companies registered at 1209 North Orange, and have refused to explain why...

Several accounting experts said there are many legitimate reasons why US and foreign companies incorporate in Delaware, particularly because of its highly respected Court of Chancery and business-friendly state government. The process of setting up a company in the state can be completed in just a few hours and requires less paperwork than registering for a library card in the state. There are more than 1m companies registered in the state – more than Delaware’s population of 935,000.
I am so very, very, very tired of this.  It's been going on for generations and will never end because the wealthy and the corporations of this country own the politicians who make the laws that enable these arrangements.  Let's call it what it is - pure bullshit.

It's not even secret.  And it will not end under a Clinton or a Trump or a Cruz or a Kasich presidency.  

The counterpart to these domestic loopholes is the holding of assets overseas.
More than any other American company, Apple holds $181.1 billion in offshore accounts, according to a Tuesday report released by Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group.

Other major American tech firms—including Cisco, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Oracle—are among the largest companies that are using legal but questionable tax tricks to keep money overseas and effectively pay little to no American federal corporate taxes...

"Losing $90 billion of potential tax revenues every year is a very big deal," Neil Buchanan, a professor at George Washington University, said... Politicians who respond to proposals to fund these programs by saying that ‘we can't afford it’ are simply saying, ‘I'd rather cut Apple's tax bill than educate our children.’"...

"US corporate tax collection as a percentage of GDP is currently at an all time low. This means the U.S. government has to compensate for the shortfall from other sources (read: domestic taxpayers with no multinational activity) and cut public spending. There is, of course, an alternative: to change the law so Apple actually pays taxes on this income. In current Congressional environment, this will happen immediately after hell freezes over."
 I know I'm repeating myself, but...

It just never ends.

Today is Red Hat Society Day

If you are unfamiliar with the Red Hat Society, you can read aboutit at Wikipedia or at their website.  The idea for the organization came from the second line of the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.


This is why I didn't get any blogging done this weekend.

Slither.io is a multi-player game in which you are a vermiform creature.  You control its non-stop motion with your mouse cursor, towards which it always moves (the head stays in the center of the field-of-view). 

You get bigger by eating the colored dots.   You can briefly speed up your motion by left-clicking, but that uses energy and diminishes your size.  You die instantly if you bump into another "worm," as happened to me in the screencap below when the blue-and-yellow "lucky punch" darted in front of my face before I could move.  The resultant bright dots resulting from a death are particularly nutritious, so any death creates a feeding frenzy of nearby "worms."   One way to kill another worm (when you are big enough) is to encircle them and then coil smaller until they are forced to bump into you.  As soon as you die, you can click to be reborn until you've wasted an entire day.  There is no pause option.

That's basically all there is to it.  At the bottom right is a "map" showing your location in a circular world (if you fall of the end you die).  At the bottom left is your status (length and comparison to other participants at that moment).  At the top right is the leaderboard.

This was my best score last night:

That was good enough for the #2 rank at the moment.  I achieved that mostly by letting others fight and die and then scooting in to eat the dots; I spend a lot of time in a defensive coil with my head inside the coil, where nobody could make me bump into them.  I was killed by a tiny little guy who darted in front of me.

All of the above are screencaps.  The game can be played here (and presumably at many other locations).  Some strategy tips are here and here.  Readers are invited to leave their own suggestions, relevant links, and a report of their best score in the Comments below.

20 April 2016

Gregor Samsa consults a famous doctor

Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a cockroach.  Desperate for help, he writes to a doctor.  From the doctor's reply:
If you ooze like a slug or you prick like a cactus, 
   every ill-feeling bug finds his way to my practice. 
Whether dozens of styes mar your 100-eyed face, 
   whatever your ailment, you're in the right place. 
Not to brag, but I've never yet failed to determine 
   whatever root causes were vexing a vermin.
Rest assured, I'll endeavor to glean and deduce. 
   You'll be better than ever or my name isn't..... Seuss.
The rest of the transcript is available at This American Life, but it's much more enjoyable as an audio experience.

Background for the befuddled. And here, for those few not familiar with the doctor.

Reposted from 2013 to replace the podcast with the video adaptation and insert a link to the transcript.
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