It’s the Journey That Matters

 

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
— from President John F. Kennedy’s “Race for Space” speech delivered before students and faculty of Rice University in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962.

 

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the walk on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, an event witnessed on television by people around the world. The achievement after a decade of hard work and dedication by NASA personnel was enormous, of course, and as a prestigious accomplishment in science and engineering it has not been topped in the 50 years since July 20, 1969.

 

The feature that stands out after a half century is how little the actual landings on the moon, by Apollo 11 and by subsequent missions, has mattered in the lives of people on Earth. It was all the technological and scientific discoveries and advancements made along the way to landing astronauts on the moon which have made the most impact on the lives of many people. Giving astronauts prominence before the public and making them integral to the Apollo program garnered public support while increasing the expense and difficulty of the missions. Having the Apollo astronauts bound around the surface of the moon for a few hours and gather up some rocks made a comparatively small impact on the wealth of scientific and technical knowledge NASA reaped from the program, while keeping up public interest and support.

NASA Earthrise AS08-14-2383 Apollo 8 1968-12-24
“Earthrise”, a photograph taken by astronaut Bill Anders aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968.

Of all the insights common people gained from the Apollo program, perhaps none made a greater impression overall than the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. In the foreground is what astronaut Buzz Aldrin would seven months later call the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, and viewed from a distance of about 240,000 miles, in a perspective never before seen by anyone on Earth, is the partially sunlit Earth, our home, appearing fragile and jewel-like in the black emptiness of space.

That picture and the emotions it stirred gave impetus and urgency to the environmental movement, and before the end of 1970 people around the world recognized the first Earth Day and in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency began operations. To strive for a decade to land astronauts on the moon, increasing knowledge and spurring progress all along the way, and then to have those astronauts turn around and look back toward the earth, sharing that view with everyone, that was perhaps the greatest legacy of the Apollo space program.
— Techly


The opening sequence of the 1982 meditative documentary Koyaanisqatsi depicts the Holy Ghosts portion of the Great Gallery pictograph in Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, followed by the liftoff of Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. Godfrey Reggio directed the film, Ron Fricke was the cinematographer, and Philip Glass wrote the music. The title comes from the Hopi language and the film makes oblique and direct references to Hopi prophecies, or warnings; and while the Great Gallery pictograph did not originate with the Hopi, they believe it and other pictographs in the Four Corners region are the work of their ancestors and they hold them sacred.

 

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Sour Grapes

 

Legal judgments in lawsuits against the makers of Roundup herbicide continue accumulating in the plaintiffs’ favor, with the latest one entailing an award of $2.05 billion to a married couple who alleged that they each contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) from years of using the herbicide in their home garden. As in many lawsuits, high dollar amounts are likely to come down a great deal in the final settlement, and most of the money will end up in the hands of lawyers, not the plaintiffs.

 

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and similar generic herbicides, and it is glyphosate which the plaintiffs in thousands of lawsuits around the country are alleging is linked to their cancer. Meanwhile, glyphosate continues to be readily available without label warnings to home gardeners as well as professional landscapers and farmers since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not ruled it is a carcinogen. European environmental and health organizations have ruled glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, differing from their American counterparts because they reviewed independent scientific studies instead of regulatory studies, many of them funded by agribusiness.

Wilted thistle
Welted thistle (Carduus crispus) possesses some fine qualities, including pretty flowers as seen here, but most people consider it a weed. Photo by dae jeung kim.

While United States government agencies continue to tilt the scales in favor of agribusiness, the courts appear to have no such bias. Consumers in that case have little recourse other than to seek compensation through the courts for their pain and suffering, which they allege were caused by the makers of Roundup (first Monsanto, and currently Bayer) and other purveyors of glyphosate herbicides. Consumers who are still healthy and use herbicides might want to exercise caution by looking for other options, though the only way they would know that is through their own research or by word of mouth, since there continue to be no cautionary statements about the risk of cancer on the label of glyphosate products the way there are for instance on cigarette packs.

Bottles of vinegar at a supermarket
Bottles of vinegar at a supermarket. Safer to use than horticultural vinegar, this more easily available common household vinegar may be a better option for casual users who do not require a heavy duty herbicide. Photo by Ms angie gray.

 

A safer herbicide option is vinegar. Ancient cultures derived vinegar from soured grape wine, but since it can be made from anything that produces ethanol, today most of it is sourced from corn, a cheap source. Unlike glyphosate, which migrates to the roots of affected plants, vinegar only burns the tops, meaning gardeners will have to reapply it when the weed sprouts new growth. Also unlike glyphosate, vinegar does not damage soil fertility with long term use. Damage to soil fertility is another effect of glyphosate that the manufacturers dispute even though some scientific researchers have upheld the observations of the effect by attentive farmers and gardeners.

Gardeners will be disappointed in the weak effect of using the vinegar commonly sold in grocery or home improvement stores, and that is because it is only a 5 to 7 percent solution of acetic acid in water meant for pickling food or cleaning surfaces, not killing weeds. For home gardeners, the most effective vinegar for killing weeds that is appropriately labeled as such, with accompanying safety warnings, is 20 to 30 percent acetic acid. Probably by reason of the low popularity of strong vinegar and the danger for casual users in believing it is relatively harmless, it appears to be available online only, not in stores. Vinegar that strong, while still mostly water, is potently acrid stuff which can burn a user’s mucous membranes, eyes, and skin, and may corrode hard surfaces and harm any small animals, such as toads, living in a garden. Test a small area first if there’s a chance overspray could affect something like bricks in a walkway. The best that can be said is it’s a good thing weeds are outside in the open air. Spraying strong vinegar in the garden may be unpleasant for the applicator and those in the vicinity and should be done with caution, but unlike using glyphosate, there’s less risk of serious damage to the gardener and the garden.
— Izzy

 

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Witnesseth

 

Witnesseth: Old English, meaning bear witness to the following or take notice.
— paraphrased definition from Black’s Law Dictionary.

When teams of scientists and engineers worked together for years to bring out the first ever image of a black hole last week, some of the excitement was drained off by internet trolls belittling the contribution of one computer scientist, a woman named Dr. Katie Bouman. Dr. Bouman was initially credited online by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she had earned her master’s degree and doctorate, with an outsize role in the great work, probably due to nothing more than an excess of exuberance for the achievement of one of their own when they first heard the news. If Dr. Bouman had been male, it is doubtful the trolls would have seized on MIT’s innocent overstatement and launched their campaign of vitriol geared toward minimizing her contribution and smearing her character.


Female scientist from DAST
From the 1983 Draw-a-Scientist Test, one of the relatively few depictions of a female scientist. Photo by Yewhoenter.

The time for minimization of online trolling has long since past. The usual advice to ignore them has not worked. The situation with trolls is like what happens in an eighth grade classroom when a cadre of unruly boys – they are almost always boys – sits at the back of the class disrupting the learning the majority of students and the teacher would like to conduct peacefully and constructively. Has ignoring those jackasses ever worked? No, it has not. The only remedy that works is invocation of real consequences for their actions. The online world is no different. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube claim they are not interfering with free speech rights when they give free rein to trolls, but they are ignoring the unique qualities of the internet megaphone.

Almost all trolling is anonymous, and making personal attacks while hiding behind anonymity calls up a gray area in slander and libel law. The Tweeter-in-Chief obviously makes all his egregious political and personal attacks without anonymity, and in some tweets he barely conceals incitement to violence against people he dislikes for political or personal reasons. Still, Twitter has not shut down his account. It used to be that one vile person could pollute only a small portion of the world with odious views; now that vile person can disseminate ugliness over the entire world in an instant, and millions more can take up the banner of sexist, racist, or white supremacist internet comments within a day or two. The opposite is also possible, of course, and good things can come about. To make internet freedom rights work, there have to be referees protecting the interests of the majority who would prefer good outcomes without the distraction of constant juvenile disruption, just as in a classroom where a teacher backed up by the school administration and by parents can rule counterproductive behavior out of bounds, restoring the peace and order necessary for instructive dialogue.
— Techly

 

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See You Later

 

The Department of Energy is proposing to change a rule implemented late in the Obama administration that mandated energy guidelines for light bulbs which would have effectively removed all but Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs and Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs from the market in January 2020. Since manufacturers are phasing out CFLs, LEDs would have the market to themselves shortly. Even though manufacturers are turning out more LEDs to replace incandescent bulbs, making the old style bulbs less significant in the market with each passing year, they still apparently chafe at the rule and are behind the push to get it changed.

 

There’s no question LEDs save energy over incandescent bulbs, which waste a lot of energy producing heat instead of light. LEDs also last far longer than incandescents. While the retail price for LEDs had been around ten times higher than the price of incandescents, the price has fallen significantly in the past few years as LEDs flood the market. Unlike the light given off by CFLs, the quality of the light given off by LEDs is every bit as good as that from incandescents, and because there are many options for changing the light from LEDs they are better overall. If Americans are serious about saving energy, it’s difficult to imagine a good reason for not switching over to LEDs sooner rather than later.

First Day of Creation
Separation of Light from Darkness, a 1512 fresco by Michelangelo (1475-1564), painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The Vatican recently completed an eight year project to install LED bulbs and fixtures throughout its facilities, including the Sistine Chapel, cutting their energy use for lighting by 90 percent.

Energy savings from the indoor market for LED bulbs probably will pan out as scientists predict since people will use about as much lighting as they’ve used before, only they will have switched out the type of bulbs they use. Municipal outdoor lighting, on the other hand, has not proved to save energy when switching to LEDs because officials tend to have more of the new lights installed, negating energy savings as well as increasing light pollution. There are compelling reasons for municipalities to increase outdoor lighting, such as fighting crime, but still it seems a terrible waste of resources that may have more to do with bureaucrats defending their turf from budget cuts which might ensue after energy savings. Luckily, private citizens don’t usually control their own budgets in a similarly wasteful manner.

About outdoor lighting at home, it should be noted that scientists don’t know exactly what type of light is most attractive to insects, or to what extent the heat given off by bulbs is a factor. Some types of light are more attractive than others to some kinds of insects and not to others, and most insects are drawn to heat, but not all of them. There is no truth to the rumor that all LEDs, even bright whites, are not attractive to insects. To avoid drawing insects, the best kind of bulb is still an orange one, usually marketed specifically as a “bug light”, though of course it would more accurately be described as a “no bug light” or a “fewer bugs light”. The LED will be more effective than the incandescent because it also takes much of the attractive heat out of the equation. The absolute worst kind of outdoor lighting to get is marketed as a “bug zapper”, for a number of reasons. There are now bug zappers available which use LEDs as their light source, and that makes the least sense of all, except perhaps to someone who with unwarranted satisfaction feels better about saving energy while unnecessarily luring to their deaths any and all bugs.
— Techly

 

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Hey, Stupid!

 

Donald Trump (40238321295)
Photoshopped picture by Taymaz Valley.

Hey, Stupid! takes your questions about weather, or climate or whatever.

Questioner asks: Last week was bitterly cold throughout much of the U.S., and of course you chimed in about that on Twitter. This week, high temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast are forecast to rebound above freezing, and in Washington, D.C., where you can sometimes be found when you’re not on a golf course, are forecast to be in the 50s, 60s, even 70s. That’s pretty warm for mid-winter, even in D.C.. Will you be making any follow-up comments about that on Twitter?

Hey, Stupid! responds: Pffft! Sounds like good weather – or climate, or, you know, whatever – for hitting the links. Nice to get in 18 holes without having to go all the way to Mar-a-Lago this time of year.


Q: Just what is the difference between weather and climate?

HS: It’s the difference between owning the libs by throwing red meat to my base and another slow news day. Next question!

Q: As an erstwhile casino owner, couldn’t you view weather as individual wins and losses, and climate as long term profits assured by the house edge?

HS: You think you’re real smart, don’t you? Security! Interns!


March for Science NYC (22362)
A demonstrator at the April 2017 March for Science in New York City. Photo by Rhododendrites.

Q: Haven’t you taken practical, business measures to ward off the effects of climate change privately, while denying there are any such effects publicly?

HS: I like walls, that’s all! Border walls, sea walls, all sorts of walls. You keep asking smart aleck questions and you’ll be looking at prison walls.


Doonbeg 14th hole
The green at the 14th hole of Doonbeg Golf Club, now known as Trump International Golf Links and Hotel, Ireland. Photo by Terrance Siemon.

Q: Does your public denial of climate change have anything to do with protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry?

HS: What a dumb question! You’re always asking dumb questions! Of course it does.

Q: When you say “throwing red meat” to your base, what exactly do you mean?

HS: I mean I know what they like, and what they like is anything that gets a rise out of pointy-headed, know-it-all liberals and scientists. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Facts are irrelevant. What matters is reassuring them in their ignorance.


Q: My, that’s a remarkably cogent and well-spoken analysis coming from you. Did someone write it for you?

HS: Nah. But mostly I prefer saying how I could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. People like the optics of that.

Q: So it doesn’t make any impact on your base of support to point out how climate change will affect everyone, even them, and especially their kids and grandkids?

HS: First of all, nothing ever affects everyone equally. The rich will always manage to skirt the consequences of their actions. It’s the poors who will suffer the worst effects – and I’m not saying there will be any, because you know it’s a Chinese hoax – anyway, the poors will suffer if there are any problems, and no one cares about them. Meanwhile, get what you can today, Make America Great Again, and let the Chinese worry about tomorrow if global warming is such a big deal to them.


Q: It’s hard to believe you’re openly admitting to contempt for the poor, instead of merely implying it as you always have. Aren’t a fair amount of your supporters working class or poor?

HS: Yeah, but they all imagine they could be like me one day. The people I’m talking about, and they know who they are and my supporters know who they are, are the Other ones, the ones who are looking for government handouts and are rapists and druggies.


Trump Welcome Parties in Greensboro (37312332750)
Supporters of the current president turn out to welcome him on a fundraising trip to Greensboro, North Carolina, in October 2017. Photo by Anthony Crider. The same flubs and ignorant or hateful remarks that dismay Democrats and even some Republicans serve as badges of solidarity for these people.

Q: Ah ha. So getting all this straight now – the cold weather last week was an opportunity to beat up on the libs and the scientists for the benefit of your base, who don’t care whether climate change is real or not because people they resent stand for it’s reality, and your base prefers to take the immature position of opposing whatever those other folks are for, regardless of the merits, and they are either ignorant of or do not care about how they are being used by you and your cronies in the corporate oligarchy. Does that sum things up?

HS: Yup, that’s about the size of it. You forgot to mention jobs. Dangle jobs in front of them and they’ll go for anything, never mind whether the jobs materialize or not, because when they don’t, it happens down the road. They have short memories, these people, Lord love ’em. By the time the temperature hits 70 later in the week, they won’t make any connection with my comments from last week. That kind of critical thinking is for people wearing pointy wizard’s hats, not good ol’ MAGA hat wearing Americans like my people, the Second Amendment people – they’ll only remember the rosy glow of how I outraged the libs and scientists and got them sputtering mad over my very stable genius remarks. Never mind the change in the weather. Or climate or whatever.
— Izzy

 

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A Taste Sensation

 

Since 1968, when the New England Journal of Medicine editors precipitously and unfairly saddled adverse reactions of some people to Monosodium glutamate (MSG) with the name Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, MSG has been stigmatized as a food additive that is apart from and somehow unhealthier than other food additives. The first person to report symptoms to the Journal was a Chinese-American doctor, Robert Ho Man Kwok, who complained of numbness at the back of his neck, general weakness, and heart palpitations after eating at a Chinese restaurant. On this slim testimony and that of several others, the Journal coined the phrase Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.

Dasima 2
A type of kelp known as Dasima in Korea, and Kombu in Japan, is a key ingredient in Dashi, a broth from which Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda identified the quality of umami in 1908 that led him to the discovery and production of MSG. Photo by freddy an.

 

Use of MSG is not limited to Chinese cookery, however, and it can be found in many processed American foods such as Doritos, which millions of Americans appear to consume regularly without complaint. It would be interesting to see if more people would attest to adverse reactions to eating Doritos if they were made aware the product contained MSG. It is listed among the ingredients on the package, and using its most recognizable name, too, rather than one of the many names that can hide its presence, such as autolyzed yeast.

This is not to say no one can have a real adverse or allergic reaction to MSG. But for just about any ingredient in food there are some people who react badly to ingesting it. The main thing to remember is that in scientific studies of MSG, as opposed to the purely anecdotal stories that appeared to satisfy the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968, no one has found that MSG is any more dangerous than any of a multitude of other food additives. If it were as dangerous as some people appear to believe it is, not only would the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) likely take it off its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list, but thousands or even millions of Asians and Asian-Americans would be suffering every day from its effects.

 

Yet Asian chefs and home cooks continue to add MSG to their meals. They are either perverse in their determination to eat the possibly unwholesome ingredient, or they are unconvinced by the nearly hysterical denunciations of it coming from some people in North America and Europe. Given the ubiquity of MSG in highly processed foods that Americans eat and enjoy every day, any real or imagined adverse reaction to it could just as easily be called American Junk Food Syndrome. There is already one name for that, which is Obesity. American food processors discovered around the time of World War II that MSG was a useful flavor booster for otherwise bland or even flavorless foods like canned vegetables and corn snacks. MSG by itself does not encourage obesity, but its overuse in helping to make some rather unpalatable and non nutritious foods delicious does contribute to obesity.

Katsuobushi
Shavings of Katsuobushi, a preserved and fermented skipjack tuna used in Dashi, the umami broth from which Professor Ikeda first isolated MSG. Photo by Sakurai Midori.

At the same time as food scientists and agribusinesses were discovering how to make cheaply made, highly profitable junk food flavorful, they were also inadvertently taking the flavor out of healthful foods by manipulating them to improve qualities like pest resistance, standing up to shipping, or tolerating being confined on factory farms, all at the expense of flavor and nutrition. Those practices yielded bland, watery supermarket produce, and meats needing seasoning and breading and all sorts of treatments in order to taste like much of anything. It’s not all that mysterious why shoppers, particularly poor ones who can’t afford to seek out higher quality ingredients, turn to highly processed, highly flavorful foods, even at the cost of poor nutrition and cumulative destructive effects on their health.

Dr. Joe Schwarcz of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society talks about the MSG controversy.

In this country, people like to blame the victim. After all, free enterprise and free choice means people don’t have to eat junk, doesn’t it? It’s also useful to have an Other to blame, as in Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. The sensible thing would be to teach children in schools about moderation in all things, including sprinkling additives on their food. A little bit of MSG on already healthful food gives an umami flavor boost and has not been shown to do harm to the great majority of people who eat it that way. MSG put on every unwholesome, processed food cannot be healthy since the bad effects of poor quality food combine with excessive amounts of this otherwise relatively harmless additive. Enormous amounts of any additive are probably not healthy, not just MSG. School administrators could stress in the curriculum healthful eating instead of allowing vending machines full of snacks, sodas, and sugary fruit drinks in the hallways. In the case of young people at least, free enterprise and free choice should take a back seat to learning healthy habits.
— Izzy

 

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It Grows without Spraying

 

A jury at San Francisco’s Superior Court of California has awarded school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in damages in his lawsuit against Monsanto, maker of the glyphosate herbicide Roundup. Mr. Johnson has a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it was his contention that the herbicides he used in the course of his groundskeeping work caused his illness, which his doctors have claimed will likely kill him by 2020. Hundreds of potential litigants around the country have been awaiting the verdict in this case against Monsanto, and now it promises to be the first of many cases.

WEEDING SUGAR BEETS NEAR FORT COLLINS. (FROM THE SITES EXHIBITION. FOR OTHER IMAGES IN THIS ASSIGNMENT, SEE FICHE... - NARA - 553879 (cropped)
Migrant laborers weeding sugar beets near Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1972. Photo by Bill Gillette for the EPA is currently in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Chemical herbicides other than Roundup were in use at that time, though all presented health problems to farm workers and to consumers. Roundup quickly overtook the chemical alternatives because Monsanto represented it, whether honestly or dishonestly, as the least toxic of all the herbicides, and it overtook manual and mechanical means of weeding because of its relative cheapness and because it reduced the need for backbreaking drudgery.

 

Monsanto has long been playing fast and loose with scientific findings about the possible carcinogenic effects of glyphosate, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently sides with Monsanto in its claim that there is no conclusive evidence about the herbicide’s potential to cause cancer. In Europe, where Monsanto has exerted slightly less influence than in the United States, scientific papers have come out in the last ten years establishing the link between glyphosate and cancer. Since Bayer, a German company, acquired Monsanto in 2016 it remains to be seen if European scientists will be muzzled and co-opted like some of their American colleagues.

 

Empty Glyphosate (Herbolex) container discarded in Corfu olive grove
The intensive use of glyphosate herbicide to remove all ground vegetation in olive groves on Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, is evidenced by the large number of discarded chemical containers in its countryside. Photo by Parkywiki.

The scope of global agribusiness sales and practices that is put at risk by the verdict in Johnson v. Monsanto is enormous. From the discovery of glyphosate in 1970 by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz to today, the use of the herbicide has grown to the preeminent place in the chemical arsenal of farmers around the world and has spawned the research into genetically modified, or Roundup Ready, crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. There are trillions of dollars at stake, and Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, will certainly use all their vast resources of money and lawyers to fight the lawsuits to come.

Because scientists have found traces of glyphosate in the bodies of most people they have examined in America for the chemical over the past 20 years as foods from Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread throughout the marketplace, they have inferred it’s presence is probably widespread in the general population. That means there are potentially thousands of lawsuits in the works. Like the tobacco companies before them and the fossil fuel industry currently, agribusiness giants will no doubt fight adverse scientific findings about their products no matter how overwhelming the evidence against them, sowing doubt among the populace and working the referees in the government.
— Izzy

 

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Rock-a-Bye

 

Ahhh, wundaful west and wewaxation, as Elmer Fudd might have said, referring to wonderful rest and relaxation. As the weather warms, there can be few finer ways to gain satisfying rest and relaxation than lying in a hammock. Scientists have not studied a great deal the quality of sleep we get while in a hammock, but what little they have gleaned is that the rocking motion of a hammock along with the lack of pressure points on the sleeper’s body promotes deeper, more restful sleep than average.

 

Fidschi 222 rw
Ahhh, living the dream! A hammock on Kuata of the Yasawa Group of islands in the Western Division of Fiji. Photo by Isderion.

Hammocks are not sophisticated technology, though there are options available now with some technology such as lights built into them. A hammock in its basic form without a stand, the kind meant to be strung between two trees or posts, is sleep technology going back centuries and invented in the New World. A net of ropes, sometimes with a length of fabric woven in and sometimes using spreader bars at both ends for the ropes, is suspended from two supports like a sling for the sleeper or napper. It is the sling suspension that does away with pressure points. There is not a lot of hard scientific evidence to support the claim, but people with joint problems such as arthritis do often report the lack of pressure points helps them sleep more comfortably. Judge for yourself if and when you have the opportunity to doze off in a hammock.

How is it that after all the years of technological expertise and research spent on improving conventional beds, the simple hammock remains a more comfortable way to rest yet has never seen widespread adoption for every night sleeping except among sailors on old sailing ships or campers staying in the woods? The portability and light weight of hammocks has worked to their advantage for both sailors and campers, but for people in homes that hasn’t mattered as much as permanence and ease of entry and exit for old people and invalids. It is also pretty nigh impossible to engineer a hammock for comfortable long term use by two people at once. In the home, therefore, the hammock has been relegated to the same niche of peculiarity as the bean bag chair, more so really, since the great majority of folks consider hammocks suitable for outdoor lounging only.

In this 1964 episode from the first season of the popular TV show Gilligan’s Island, Gilligan and The Skipper, played by Bob Denver and Alan Hale Jr. respectively, have trouble adjusting to hammocks in their new circumstance of being marooned.

What a shame then that the better quality sleep and more comfortable lounging afforded by hammocks is experienced by many only on summer days in their backyard or on vacations to warm resorts. Though a soothing experience, it’s not entirely idyllic. Going to sleep outdoors under the stars makes for a good snooze until the small hours, when it often gets chilly and dewy. For those lucky enough to have a deep, covered porch on their house, the six to eight foot deep kind that is styled more properly a veranda, and is rarely built even on expensive houses anymore since the general adoption of air conditioning, those lucky folks can sling hammocks outdoors under the eaves, which help to keep the dew from settling on them as they snooze happily away, perhaps pulling a light blanket closer around them to ward off the chill before dawn. A comfortable hammock, a book printed on paper, and a tall, cool drink make summer heat bearable, and all three can be a respite from the technological world we inhabit now.
— Techly

 

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The Impossible Takes a Little Longer

 

You can fool most of the people most of the time, and whoever is left will fool themselves the rest of the time. A great many foolish beliefs are relatively harmless, such as the idea that handling toads will give you warts, though the toads may hold different opinions. Other opinions are foolish and yet not harmless, among them the idea that climate change is not a real threat, and anyway it’s not caused by human activity. Again, the toads may have opinions at variance with that.

Don Quixote 1
An 1863 engraving by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) used to illustrate an edition of Don Qixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. The caption for this plate is taken from the text, and reads “A world of disorderly notions, picked out of his books, crowded into his imagination.”

Scientists and journalists have been tap dancing around the reasons why some folks seem more susceptible than others to fake news stories, especially ones that confirm their beliefs about a subject. They refer to the lack of “cognitive ability” in people who have “confirmation bias”. In plain English, stupid people will believe what they want to believe, and they don’t want to be confused with the facts. Is the Earth flat, despite readily available evidence that it is a sphere? You betcha it is! Is the Earth a mere 6,000 years old, according to some Christians? You know it is, and pay no attention to all those much older fossils – they’re fake news! Is Spanky the Pussy Grabber, aka the Philanderer-in-Chief, getting a free ride from the same white, evangelical Christians who roasted Bill Clinton at the stake for similar behavior 20 years ago? Yer darn tootin’ he is, and he will continue getting a pass as long as he stocks the federal judiciary with anti-abortionists and signs off on tax breaks for rich, white, evangelical Christians.

There’s little anyone can do to convince some folks, roughly a third of the population, that truth, justice, and the American Way exist outside their bubble, and that they’ve been falling for one April Fool’s joke after another much of their lives. Such folks will stubbornly burrow even deeper into their bunkers, popping out occasionally to take pot shots on Twitter at the latest targets of their fevered conspiracy dreams, up to and including schoolchildren who survived a mass killing taking a stand against America’s fetishistic gun culture.

The Smothers Brothers deliver a sideways take on “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.
As with everything in life, there’s a sliding scale to the relative harmlessness or harmfulness of foolish ideas and impossible dreams. Shades of gray can be difficult for some people to adjust their eyes to, and they would no doubt prefer the ease of differentiating black from white and leave it at that. Believe in the Easter Bunny? Fine; it’s hard to see how anyone’s hurt by a bunny heralding spring. Believe that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, was so evil that, based on rumors on internet forums, she was in charge of an indecent criminal enterprise based in a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant, and in consequence grab a gun and barge into the restaurant to break it all up? That’s delusional thinking, and combined with some other poisonous ideas, it’s dangerous. Next time, take a little longer to stop and think whether something is impossible, or even likely.
— Techly

 

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The Root of the Matter

 

Growing ginger (Zingiber officinale) is not all that difficult in most parts of the United States as long as the grower understands that except in the warmest zones of the country, ginger is unlikely to produce mature rhizomes. Ginger has a nearly year long growing season, and in three fourths of the country that means it will only produce baby ginger rhizomes even with assistance from the grower to keep the plant warm at the beginning and the end of the growing season. Baby ginger is catching on in culinary circles, however, where it can be used to lighter effect than the full grown type.

Ginger plants
Ginger plants (Zingiber officinale). Photo by Ramjchandran.

The portion of a ginger plant generally used in cooking and medicine is the rhizome, which is technically an underground stem, but to most people it appears to be a tuber or root, and for practical purposes it makes little difference to them what that part of the plant is called. Like a potato, the ginger rhizome has eyes which are starting points for new growth and indicate to gardeners where to divide the rhizome when propagating the plant. Cut up the rhizome with one eye to each section and then plant the sections. In cases where a gardener is concerned with growing only enough ginger for home consumption, the simplest method of planting is one section of rhizome each to wide, shallow pots, which the gardener can move easily from indoors to outdoors and then back again over the course of the 8 or 9 month growing season.

Why go to even that much trouble for a non-native, tropical plant? There is after all a distant relative that is native to North America, known as wild ginger (Asarum canadense), which Native Americans had used in the past as a spice and a medicine, much like its Asian relative. The difference is that scientists have determined American wild ginger can be poisonous, while Asian ginger is safe to consume. In addition to its salutary effect in food and drink recipes, many people believe Asian ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, and anti-nausea properties. Scientists have not necessarily agreed with all those assessments, though they recognize that in the amounts typically consumed by most people there is no harm to eating ginger spiced foods or imbibing ginger infused drinks.

Asarum canadense 03
Wild ginger plants (Asarum canadense). Photo by Michael Wolf.

Djindjipe
A ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome on a Delft blue European porcelain plate. Photo by Lucyin.

Of all the South Asian and East Indies spices that are well known to Europeans from earliest trading days, only ginger rewards the gardener who attempts growing it outside its native region or outside tropical climate zones without resort to expensive greenhouses. Start it indoors in late winter on a sunny windowsill and keep it there until mid-spring, when it should be safe to move it outdoors, but always with an eye toward nighttime temperature dips. In the fall, bring the potted plants back indoors and start harvesting baby ginger to last the winter while enjoying the beauty of an unusual houseplant with a tropical feel and a warm, spicy scent.
— Izzy

 

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