24 February 2017


I'm tired of blogging, and I'm scheduled to give a lecture next weekend, so I'll plan to use much of this coming week to get materials ready for that.  You guys are on your own for a while.

From the archives of The New Yorker

Nazi-grave robbers are not Nazi grave-robbers

The distinction is explained at Bloomberg Business Week:
In Latvia, it is normal for you to have dead soldiers on your yard,” Esmits said. “When people came back to their homes after the war, they saw there was a dead soldier here and a dead soldier there, and they just buried them.”..

During the final months of World War II, Latvia was the site of especially bloody battles between German and Soviet forces. Approximately 350,000 Nazis were cut off here from the rest of the German line in the autumn of 1944, in what became known as the Courland Pocket. In the months that followed, about 100,000 of them were killed...

... in recent years, the often illicit market in Nazi memorabilia has intensified, creating a new class of diggers across eastern Europe that is at odds with Esmits’s work. Of particular interest are relics... Some $50 million in military memorabilia is sold each year, according to an estimate by the Guardian, and Nazi items fetch a premium...

For the Volksbund, grave robbing remains a persistent problem, especially in Russia and Ukraine. “Grave robbers blight our work,” Kirchmeier says. Many illegal diggers dutifully give over information to officials if they come across a dead body, he says, but others “open graves and then take out anything they can sell—steel helmets, pieces of equipment, medals, belt buckles, personal mementos belonging to the dead, sometimes even the skull, leaving the rest of the bones on the forest floor.”

Yngve Sjodin, a Norway-based militaria seller who sometimes digs with Legenda, says he was confronted with a “black digger” during one of his first digs for soldiers in Latvia, in 2014. “He screamed at us that it was his forest,” he says, “and started attacking the guy next to me.” He adds, “The driving force for the black diggers is money, which they need to survive, or party, or whatever.”
Much more at the source.

Photo: German rifle grenades, a boot, drinking cup, mess kit lid, and gas mask recovered from a trench.  Credit: Reinis Hofmanis for Bloomberg Businessweek

Metabolic markers for chronic fatigue syndrome. Fascinating.

Excerpt from an abstract at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:
We targeted 612 metabolites in plasma from 63 biochemical pathways by hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography, electrospray ionization, and tandem mass spectrometry in a single-injection method. Patients with CFS showed abnormalities in 20 metabolic pathways. Eighty percent of the diagnostic metabolites were decreased, consistent with a hypometabolic syndrome...

Our data show that despite the heterogeneity of factors leading to CFS, the cellular metabolic response in patients was homogeneous, statistically robust, and chemically similar to the evolutionarily conserved persistence response to environmental stress known as dauer.
More on dauer, which resembles hibernation, but is not the same thing:
Many of the pathways and metabolites that were abnormal in CFS are also known to be features of dauer, a well-studied, long-lived survival and persistence state triggered by environmental stress...

The developmental stage of dauer is a hypometabolic state capable of living efficiently by altering a number of basic mitochondrial functions, fuel preferences, behavior, and physical features. Dauer is comprised of an evolutionarily conserved and synergistic suite of metabolic and structural changes that are triggered by exposure to adverse environmental conditions. Entry into dauer confers a survival advantage in harsh conditions. When the dauer response is blocked by certain mutations (dauer defectives), animals are short-lived when exposed to environmental stress. These mutations show that the latent ability to enter into a hypometabolic state during times of environmental threat is adaptive, even though it comes at the cost of decreasing the optimal functional capacity..
This is really quite interesting, since most people probably have a bias toward assuming that "chronic fatigue" is a psychological or emotional disorder.  The idea that it is a mitochondrial disorder is thought-provoking.

"Dauer," btw, is the German word for "duration."

Bees are endangered. Or not.

First, from USA Today:
A bumblebee is now on the endangered species list for the first time in a "race against extinction," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.

The agency placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the list because of a dramatic population decline over the past 20 years. Since the late 1990s, the population of the species has plummeted 87%.

Named because of the rust-colored marks on its back, the bee was once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota. Today, the bee is only found in small, scattered populations in 13 states...

It's not just the rusty patched bumblebee that is struggling in the U.S. Other species have experienced dramatic declines in recent decades. The reduction is believed to be caused by a combination of habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, climate change and an extremely small population size...

This is the first bee of any type in the continental U.S. to be placed on the list. In September, the Obama administration designated seven species of bees in Hawaii as endangered.
Counterpoint from the Washington Post:
You've probably heard the bad news by now that bees were recently added to the endangered species list for the first time. But if you're part of the 60 percent of people who share stories without actually reading them, you might have missed an important detail: namely, that the newly endangered bees are a handful of relatively obscure species who live only in Hawaii.

The bees you're more familiar with — the ones that buzz around your yard dipping into flowers, making honey, pollinating crops and generally keeping the world's food supply from collapsing? Those bees are doing just fine, according to data released by the USDA this year...

The number of commercial bee colonies is still significantly higher than it was in 2006, when colony collapse disorder — the mass die-offs that began afflicting U.S. honeybee colonies — was first documented...

“Honey bees are not about to go extinct,” Kim Kaplan, a researcher with the USDA, said in an email. “It is the beekeepers who are in danger, facing unsustainable economic losses."

"Flash in the pan" explained

The flash pan or priming pan is a small receptacle for priming powder, found next to the touch hole on muzzleloading guns.  A small amount of finely ground gunpowder is placed in the flash pan and ignited. The flash of flame travels through the touch hole igniting the main charge of propellant inside the barrel,,,

The ignition of the main charge from the flash pan was not a guaranteed operation, however, and sometimes it failed. In those cases the spark would flash in the pan, but the gun would fail to fire. This led by the end of the 17th century to the expression “flash in the pan” to mean a failure after a brief and showy start, or momentary sensation of no real importance.  
Photo credit.

The power to arrest peaceful demonstrators

Claiming people are being paid to riot, [Arizona] Republican state senators voted Wednesday to give police new power to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration that may turn bad — even before anything actually happened...

But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side...

But Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that chilling effect is aimed at a very specific group of protesters.

“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,’’ he said.

“A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists,’’ Kavanagh continued. “But this stuff is all planned.’’

There’s something else: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest those who are planning events. And Kavanagh, a former police officer, said if there are organized groups, “I should certainly hope that our law enforcement people have some undercover people there.’’
Classic black ops.  You plant your people in a peaceful group, have your guy perform an illegal violent act, then arrest all the others. 

More details at the Arizona Capitol Times.

Note: found this via a new subreddit: r/esist.
"r/esist is a sub dedicated to compiling resources and fostering discussion to help resist the damage the Trump administration is doing to our country and the world."

Golf: 25 hours. Foreign relations: 21 hours

Donald Trump regularly assailed President Barack Obama for playing golf, then spent the first weekends of his own presidency doing just that. He attacked Obama for using Air Force One to campaign, and did it over the weekend just a month into the job. He mocked Obama for heading out of Washington at taxpayer expense, but appears to have no qualms about doing so himself...
"Donald Trump has zero worry about contradicting himself, because he does it all day long," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who has met with Trump. "He figures he can get away with it because he does it all the time. There is no worry about it. He says one thing and then does another, and his supporters don't hold it against him.
"Trump said last August that if he became president, he wouldn’t have time for golf. "I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go play golf," he said at an event in Virginia.
Text from Politico.  Infographic via Elle.

22 February 2017

Goodbye to "Arbroath"

I started TYWKIWDBI in 2007, and within a couple months I had found my way to Nothing To Do With Arbroath, one of the best-known and best-loved blogs on the internet.  Kevin Norman Gray harvested the news sites of the world to collect oddities and ephemera.  In the last ten years I've used Kevin's blog as a "via" for over 200 posts, because his material was very much "things you wouldn't know."

Readers of "Arbroath" were startled this past November to see a personal post from a blogger who was always very private; he reported having an illness which would hamper his blogging.  Sadly, he wrote a final post in January detailing a terminal illness, and shortly thereafter a blog reader found and posted a link to a death notice, which was later confirmed by the family.

Bloggers and blog-readers everywhere will miss Kevin's eclectic approach.  Nothing To Do With Arbroath is still up, and since the blogspot host is free, it will probably remain available for the near future; I invite you to visit and browse.  I note that I still have a couple dozen of his posts in my bookmarks folders, so I may do a compilation post in the future.

Rest in peace, Kevin.

Locate structurally deficient bridges near you

The Washington Post offers an interactive map which lets you click on your county and then zoom in to identify bridges that have been deemed structurally deficient (and others that are "functionally obsolete.")

"Megachiropteran cinematographer"

Wordsmiths interested in anagrams will find an interesting study at the Universe of Discourse.  Examples of some of the more interesting long ones include -
7 admirer married
7 admires sidearm
8 negativism timesaving
8 peripatetic precipitate
8 scepters respects
8 shortened threnodes
8 soapstone teaspoons
9 earringed grenadier
9 excitation intoxicate
9 integrals triangles
9 ivoriness revisions
9 masculine calumnies
10 coprophagist topographics
10 chuprassie haruspices
10 citronella interlocal
11 clitoridean directional
11 dispensable piebaldness
11 endometritria intermediator
That source also provices a link to an apparently comprehensive list of 38,333 anagrams.

Related, and well known to cryptic puzzle enthusiasts, is this anagram maker.

There are lots of multi-word interesting anagrams, such as

INCONSISTENT is an anagram of N IS, N IS NOT, ETC.

These are clever:
Dormitory = Dirty room
Evangelist = Evil's agent
Desperation = A rope ends it
The Morse Code = Here come dots
Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler
Snooze alarms = Alas! No more Z's.
Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one
Clint Eastwood = Old West action
Slot machines = Cash lost in 'em
Conversation = Voices rant on
Norwegians = Swen or Inga?
The piano bench = Beneath Chopin
Southern California = Hot sun or life in a car

And this one is arguably the most impressive because of its logical consistency:
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
      is an anagram of
A novel by a Scottish writer
And finally there is a chemical anagram, in which 30 chemicals anagram to 30 other ones the sum of whose atomic numbers is the same.

"Biotwang" emanating from the Mariana Trench

YouTube link

After months of speculation, scientists have finally identified the most likely source of a creepy audio recording from the deepest part of the ocean... [it] features five different sounds ranging from metallic to biological, and has been nicknamed the Western Pacific Biotwang...

While these sounds are entirely unique in the scientific record, the best clue Nieukirk's team had for identifying them was an equally bizarre recoding from 2001, made in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef... Known as the minke whale 'Star Wars' call, it sounds just as alien as this more recent recording, and the researchers say that based on similarities of frequency and structure, the Western Pacific Biotwang likely comes from the same type of animal.
It's easy to understand how ancient mariners would get creeped out by sounds echoing through the wooden hulls of their vessels in mid-ocean at night.

Credit only where credit is due

In his chapter on word choice, Harold Evans rightly takes issue with the misuse of the term “credit” in news media. In 2014, Boko Haram was “credited” with the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. A year later, on the night of the terror attacks in Paris, a TV commentator reported that no one had yet “claimed credit.” This is to ventriloquize the terrorists: to claim credit for an act is to imply its righteousness. Evans proposes a clearer-sighted alternative: “Nobody has yet admitted . . . responsibility.”
From an essay about the proper use of the English language in this month's Harper's.  I quite agree with the sentiment expressed.

20 February 2017

Donald Trump may have dyslexia

This video presents a very interesting proposition: that Donald Trump has difficulty reading.   He has admitted - publicly and unabashedly - that he "doesn't" read (books, reports, briefings) and prefers to get his information from television.  Examples are presented of him appearing to have problems reading when presented with documents during court testimony and public signings.

I think it's unfortunate that the video title questions whether Trump "knows how" to read.  The problem, presuming it exists, would be a reading disability rather than a lack of knowledge of how to read.  It would also explain his famously low-reading-level speech as being easier to memorize or to read off a teleprompter. 

Dyslexia does not preclude advancement or competence in professions.  Wikipedia's List of people diagnosed with dyslexia is long and impressive, including Alexander Graham Bell, Richard Branson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Edison, David Rockefeller and many others. 

If he is dyslexic, he really ought to come out and say so, and tell his staff that that is why he has avoided the morning briefings, and make arrangements for information to be presented to him in other ways.  A public announcement would probably garner a measure of sympathy and perhaps some improved tolerance for his shenanigans.

19 February 2017


Snopes confirms that Mencken did make such a pronouncement in 1920 (using the term "downright moron").
In this case the attribution to Henry Louis Mencken, a prominent newspaperman and political commentator during the first half of the 20th century, is accurate. Writing for the Baltimore Evening Sun on 26 July 1920, in an article entitled “Bayard vs. Lionheart” (and reprinted in the book On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe), Mencken cynically opined on the difficulties of good men reaching national office when the scale of their campaigns precluded them from directly reaching out to large segments of the voting public:
The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
Mencken biography.
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