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Saturday, December 30, 2017

A roundup of hangover science and cures

Some links to avoid becoming philogrobolized
Your Complete Guide to the Science of Hangovers
Infographic on the Anatomy of a Hangover
Hangover Cures From Famous Heavy Drinkers
Scientists Find a Way to Cut Wine Hangovers
5 Really Strange Ways to Cure a Hangover
Dark Liquor Makes For Worse Hangovers
How to Cure a Hangover
According to a study in the Journal of Food Science, the amino acids and minerals found in asparagus extract may alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells against toxins.
SciShow on the science of hangovers:

Friday, December 29, 2017

A roundup of hangover science and cures

Some links to avoid becoming philogrobolized

Your Complete Guide to the Science of Hangovers
Infographic on the Anatomy of a Hangover
Hangover Cures From Famous Heavy Drinkers
Scientists Find a Way to Cut Wine Hangovers
5 Really Strange Ways to Cure a Hangover
Dark Liquor Makes For Worse Hangovers
How to Cure a Hangover
According to a study in the Journal of Food Science, the amino acids and minerals found in asparagus extract may alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells against toxins.
SciShow on the science of hangovers:

Related: Ben Franklin's 200+ synonyms for “drunk”, alphabetically arranged.

Happy New Year links - history, advice and lots of hangover cures

How (Not) to Celebrate the New Year: advice from 700 AD (hint - if you dress up as a stag or a calf you'll spend 3 years doing penance). 

Strange New Year traditions around the world.

The Guardian's best photographs of 2017, with commentary by the people who shot them. Also, Smithsonian Magazine’s Most Powerful Photos of the Year and, from NatGeo, the Best Animal Photos and Travel Photos of 2017. 

The best science images and the best science stories of the year.

Some links to avoid becoming philogrobolized
Your Complete Guide to the Science of Hangovers
Infographic on the Anatomy of a Hangover
Hangover Cures From Famous Heavy Drinkers
Scientists Find a Way to Cut Wine Hangovers
5 Really Strange Ways to Cure a Hangover
Dark Liquor Makes For Worse Hangovers
How to Cure a Hangover
According to a study in the Journal of Food Science, the amino acids and minerals found in asparagus extract may alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells against toxins.

Why We Sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, and here's Mark Steyn singing and explaining the song What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Eat your heart out, New York: Boise, Idaho drops a giant potato downtown on New Year's Eve.

ICYMI, Most recent (all Christmas-related) links are here.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Before Seinfeld: The Origins of Festivus, plus my favorite Festivus song

"Happy Festivus" is the traditional greeting of Festivus, a holiday featured in "The Strike" episode in Season 9 of Seinfeld. The episode first aired on December 18, 1997. Since then many people have been inspired by this zany, offbeat Seinfeld holiday and they now celebrate Festivus as any other holiday.

According to the Seinfeld model, Festivus is celebrated each year on December 23rd. However many people celebrate it other times in December and even at other times throughout the year.

The slogan of Festivus is "A Festivus for the rest of us!" The usual holiday tradition of a tree is manifested in an unadorned aluminum pole, which is in direct contrast to normal holiday materialism. Those attending Festivus may also participate in the "Airing of Grievances" which is an opportunity to tell others how they have disappointed you in the past year, followed by a Festivus dinner, and then completed by the "Feats of Strength" where the head of the household must be pinned. All of these traditions are based upon the events in the Seinfeld episode, however, strangely enough, Festivus has roots that pre-date Seinfeld.


The Festivus idea originally came to Seinfeld writer Dan O'Keefe from a tradition started by his father Daniel O'Keefe. The original Festivus had all the markings of a crazy fun holiday. There were taped recordings and even a "clock in a bag".

The tradition of Festivus dated back to a time when Dan O'Keefe (Senior) had discovered the Festivus holiday in a book, published in 1966, that outlined obscure holidays. The book described many of the features later included in the Seinfeld episode. He was also inspired inspired by the Samuel Beckett play Krapp's Last Tape, whose protagonist tapes himself speaking at different times in his life.

The original Airing of Grievances was spoken into a tape recorder, and the O'Keefe family even retains some of the tapes.

The following is taken from a 2004 article, based on an interview with Dan O'Keefe and his father:
"It was entirely more peculiar than on the show," the younger Mr. O'Keefe said from the set of the sitcom "Listen Up," where he is now a writer. There was never a pole, but there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other rites.
"There was a clock in a bag," said Mr. O'Keefe, 36, adding that he does not know what it symbolized.
"Most of the Festivi had a theme," he said. "One was, `Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?' Another was, `Too easily made glad?'"
His father, a former editor at Reader's Digest, said the first Festivus took place in February 1966, before any of his children were born, as a celebration of the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. The word "Festivus" just popped into his head, he said from his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
The holiday evolved during the 1970's, when the elder Mr. O'Keefe began doing research for his book "Stolen Lightning" (Vintage 1983), a work of sociology that explores the ways people use cults, astrology and the paranormal as a defense against social pressures.
Here's the clip from Seinfeld:

Festivus songs, including my favorite:

It's a Pole (sung to the tune of Let it Snow)

Oh the Festivus party is starting,
And the guests are just arriving.
What's that thing over there?
It's a pole! It's a pole! It's a pole!

It doesn't require decorating,
Because tinsel is way too distracting.
It's unadorned and made of aluminum,
It's a pole! It's a pole! It's a pole!

Finally we air our grievances,
There's problems with all you people.
But if you really do it right,
Somebody will be sobbing tonight.

There's still more fun to unfold,
Cause it's time to pin the head of the household.
The feats of strength will happen now!
Move the pole! Move the pole! Move the pole!

Roundup of Christmas links

Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2017, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

In the Christmas In Other Cultures category, here's a Klingon Christmas Carol. Also, how to have a British ChristmasSweden's bizarre tradition of watching Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) cartoons on Christmas Eve, Strange Christmas Traditions Around the World, and Japan's obsession with Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas.

Holiday Hairstyles Sure To Shock Santa.

At Christmas, this town builds a Giant Yule goat and then torches it.

Great Literary Christmas Tales That Aren’t A Christmas Carol.

Virginia O'Hanlon, of Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus fame, was asked about that letter for the rest of her life.

The real history of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ - it all started with a Montgomery Ward marketing campaign in 1939.

The Real Story Behind A Charlie Brown Christmas (and why it almost wasn’t shown).

Little Drummer Boy, sung by David Bowie and Bing Crosby.

Supercut of movie Santas.

Here's a Christmas light version of Santa Claus urinating on ISIS sign.

10 Important Facts About A Christmas Story's Leg Lamp. Related: Ralphie teamed up with Flash Gordon in a deleted scene from A Christmas Story.

ICYMI, Thursday's links are here, and include printable Star Wars snowflake templates, 19th century Christmas gift ideas, all about the winter solstice (and Saturnalia and the Halcyon days), and the classic drunken fruitcake recipe.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The NORAD Santa tracker, plus the story of why NORAD started tracking Santa

On December 24, 1955, a local newspaper in Colorado ran a Sears Roebuck ad inviting kids to contact Santa. 

“Hey Kiddies!” the ad read. “Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night.” The ad listed Santa’s direct line, but the number in the copy was off by a digit. Instead of connecting to the special line Sears set up with a Santa impersonator, kids wound up calling a secret air defense emergency number.

On December 24, 1955, the red telephone at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado began ringing.
The red phone meant it was either the Pentagon or CONAD commander in chief General Earle Partridge on the other end, and their reason for calling would probably not be pleasant.
U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, director of operations at the center, rushed over to the phone and grabbed it.
“Yes, Sir, this is Colonel Shoup,” he barked.
Nothing but silence in response.
“Sir? This is Colonel Shoup,” he said.
Silence again.
“Sir? Can you read me alright?”
Finally, a soft voice on the other end.
“Are you really Santa Claus?” a little girl asked.
After a few more Santa-related calls, Shoup pulled a few airmen aside and gave them a special assignment. They would answer the phone and give callers—barring the Pentagon, we assume—Santa’s current location as they “tracked” him on their radar.

From that night on, tracking Santa became a yearly tradition, carried on by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) when it replaced CONAD in 1958. A new phone number, separate from the red phone, was established and publicized, and people were invited to call in and find out how close Santa was to their home. Every Christmas Eve, military service members staff phones and email accounts and the Santa Tracker Twitter account to keep kids up to date on Santa’s whereabouts.

Thursday links

December 21 is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year

Christmas Gift Ideas from the 19th Century.

A collection of downloadable templates for Star Wars snowflakes.

Classic Christmas drunken fruitcake recipe: Check the whiskey. Pour 1 level cup and drink. Repeat.

The Long Lost World of the Luxury Flying Boat.

Loud orgies of Mexican fish could deafen dolphins, say scientists.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the Scientific American guide to cheating in the Olympics, the anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight, how to have a British Christmas, and it's not just humans - 'High-Ranking Male Primates Keep Wafting Their Sex Stink at Females, Who Hate It".

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 21 is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year

In the Northern Hemisphere the December solstice (wiki) marks the longest night and shortest day of the year with the latest dawn and the sun at its lowest point in the sky. I seem to remember that when I was a kid, the first day of each new season was always considered to be the 21st (of March for Spring, June for Summer, September for Autumn, and December for Winter). I guess it's more accurate now.

In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

~William Blake

Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snowmen
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over lakes.
Smooth and clean and frosty white,
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue.
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing,
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.

~ Ogden Nash

I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

~ John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

“Nothing burns like the cold.”

~ George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The winter solstice (wiki) produces the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, when darkness descends over the land to its greatest extent. For centuries, humankind has greeted the solstice with mixed emotions - with fear that the darkness might not really recede; and with hope that the cycling of the seasons would again reassert itself. 

Of the winter season, American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972) complained,
"Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamn,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamn."*
* N.B. This is actually a parody of an anonymous 13th-century English song:
"Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med,
And springeth the wude nu.
Sing cuccu."
Here's a brief explanation on the mechanics of solstices and equinoxes:

And a two minute NatGeo video:

The two revolutions, I mean the annual revolutions of the declination and of the centre of the Earth, are not completely equal; that is the return of the declination to its original value is slightly ahead of the period of the centre. Hence it necessarily follows that the equinoxes and solstices seem to anticipate their timing, not because the sphere of the fixed stars moves to the east, but rather the equatorial circle moves to the west, being at an angle to the plane of the ecliptic in proportion to the declination of the axis of the terrestrial globe.

Also at this time of year:

Saturnalia (wiki):

The winter solstice festival Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days in In Ancient Rome. These Saturnalian banquets were held from as far back as around 217 BCE to honor Saturn, the father of the gods.

Saturnalia by Antoine-Francois Callet (1741-1823) Musée du Louvre
The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms.

The festival was characterized as a free-for-all when all discipline and orderly behavior was ignored.

Wars were interrupted or postponed, gambling was permitted, slaves were served by their masters and all grudges and quarrels were forgotten.

The Saturnalia would degenerate into a week-long orgy of debauchery and crime – giving rise to the modern use of the term 'saturnalia', meaning a period of unrestrained license and revelry. A mock 'king' was even chosen from a group of slaves or convicts and was allowed to behave as he pleased for seven days (until his eventual ritual execution).

Halcyon Days (wiki):

The seven days preceding, and the seven days following the shortest day, or the winter-solstice, were called by the ancients the Halcyon Days. This phrase, so familiar as expressive of a period of tranquility and happiness, is derived from a fable, that during the period just indicated, while the halcyon bird or king-fisher was breeding, the sea was always calm, and might be navigated in perfect security by the mariner. The name halcyon is derived from two Greek words: the sea & to conceive; and, according to the poetic fiction, the bird was represented as hatching her eggs on a floating nest, in the midst of the waters. Dryden thus alludes to the notion:

'Amidst our arms as quiet you shall be,
As halcyons brooding on a winter's sea.'

More on the Greek myth of Halcyon and Ceyx here.

Related posts: 

Autumnal equinox science, videos, quotes, poems, Vivaldi and Copernicus.

Spring is here: science, myths, "spring spheres" and more.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Monday links

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight in 1903.

Why Is Your First Instinct After Hurting Your Finger to Put It in Your Mouth?

How to Have a British Christmas.

So, it's not just humans - High-Ranking Male Primates Keep Wafting Their Sex Stink at Females, Who Hate It.

5 Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Someone: Backed By Research.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include how rats conquered New York City, a ‘smart condom’ that will give you more insight into your sex life than you (probably) want, and calculations showing that, if spiders worked together, they could eat all the humans in a year.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

How to Have a British Christmas

Siobhan Thompson, explainer of all things British, on how to celebrate Christmas like a Brit
From explosives at the dinner table (aka Christmas crackers) to burning letters to Santa, Siobhan Thompson looks at 10 ways Christmas differs in Britain. (Notably, they don't call them the holidays.)

Previous post: Video: If Shakespearean Insults Were Used Today - 

Here's a day-by-day Shakespearean Insults 2018 Calendar.

This Shakespearean Insult Generator has been around since early internet days. This generate-your-own version is newer and has a heck of a lot of possibilities - choose one item from each of the four drop-down columns.

December 17 is the anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight

For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field.

~ Wilbur Wright (letter to Octave Chanute, 13 May 1900)


~ Orville Wright (telegram to Milton Wright, 17 December 1903)

There are no signposts in the sky to show a man has passed that way before. There are no channels marked. The flier breaks each second into uncharted seas.

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001) (North to the Orient, Ch. 1)

Per aspera ad astra.

~ familiar Latin tag, often used as a motto

(Through adversity to the stars.)

Today is the anniversary of mankind's first powered flight, achieved at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on 17 December 1903 by pioneer American aviators Wilbur and Orville Wright (wiki) (1867-1912 and 1871-1948, respectively). The Wrights - Dayton, Ohio bicycle mechanics - become interested in aviation as an avocation and embarked on a systematic experimental program that eventually led to their extraordinary success - of which movable wing parts and a lightweight engine were the key elements. 

Via BrainFeed:
Prior To the powered flight, the brothers completed over one thousand glides from atop Big Kill Devil Hill. These flying skills were a crucial component of their invention. Through those experiments, they had solved the problem of sustained lift and more importantly they could control an aircraft while in flight. The brothers felt they were ready to truly fly. But first, the Wrights had to power their aircraft.
Zoomable version of the cutaway here.
Gasoline engine technology had recently advanced to where its use in airplanes was feasible. Unable to find a suitable lightweight commercial engine, the brothers designed their own. Using their air tunnel data, they designed the first efficient airplane propeller, one of their most original and purely scientific achievements. (Much more on the engine design here)
The Wright brothers were finally ready on December 14th. In order to decide who would fly first, the brother tossed a coin. Wilbur won the coin toss, but lost his chance to be the first to fly when he oversteered with the elevator after leaving the launching rail. The flyer, climbed too steeply, stalled, and dove into the sand. The first flight would have to wait on repairs.
Three days later, on December 17, they were ready for the second attempt. Now it was Orville’s turn. The flyer moved down the rail as Wilbur steadied the wings. The flyer was unruly, pitching up and down as Orville overcompensated with the controls. He kept it aloft until it hit the sand about 120 feet from the rail. Into the 27-mph wind, the groundspeed had been 6.8 mph, for a total airspeed of 34 mph. The brothers took turns flying three more times that day, getting a feel for the controls and increasing their distance with each flight. Wilbur’s second flight – the fourth and last of the day – was an impressive 852 feet in 59 seconds.
The most striking aspect of this anniversary is how quickly the Wright Brothers' invention led to the air and space age.  Man reached the moon only 66 years later - less than a human lifetime - and this remarkable acceleration of mankind's ability to achieve its most daunting goals is both exhilarating and frightening. 

Because satellites now do it so much better, French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry** (1900-1944) seems almost naive for remarking in 1939 that

"The aeroplane has revealed to us the true face of the earth."

Footage of later Wright Brothers' flights and an explanation of the history and mechanics: 

* N.B. Apparently, the actual time duration of that first flight was 59 seconds.

** A renowned flier, who described his experiences in vivid prose, Saint-Exupéry lost his life flying for the Free French in World War II. His most famous book is the children's story, Le Petite Prince ("The Little Prince").

Friday, December 8, 2017

James Thurber's fable "The Bear Who Let It Alone"

Thurber's fable The Bear Who Let It Alone:

In the woods of the Far West there once lived a brown bear who could take it or let it alone. He would go into a bar where they sold mead, a fermented drink made of honey, and he would have just two drinks. Then he would put some money on the bar and say, "See what the bears in the back room will have," and he would go home. But finally he took to drinking by himself most of the day.

He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

At length the bear saw the error of his ways and began to reform. In the end he became a famous teetotaler and a persistent temperance lecturer. He would tell everybody that came to his house about the awful effects of drink, and he would boast about how strong and well he had become since he gave up touching the stuff. To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows.

Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

Moral: You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cake mix cookies - lemon or orange

This works well with lemon or orange cake mix. I don't see why it wouldn't work with other flavors, but I haven't tried anything else.


1 package lemon (or orange) cake mix 
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil 
1 teaspoon lemon (or orange) extract plus the zest of one lemon or orange*

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk together (thoroughly) the eggs, oil, and extract/zest. Add the cake mix and stir well. 

Stop now and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours - overnight is fine. If you can't do this, the cookies will still work, but they're much easier to handle after refrigeration.

Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into a bowl of confectioner's sugar, roll them around and put them on an ungreased foil- or parchment-covered baking sheet. This is for easy cleanup, not because it affects the cookies. If you like scrubbing cookie sheets, feel free to leave off the foil or paper.

Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven - they won't get brown on the top, but they will on the bottom. If your oven runs hot or cold, adjust accordingly - you may also need to add time if you make bigger cookies.

*You may be tempted, as I was, to use orange or lemon juice instead of extract. Lemon juice is an OK substitutie because it's strong, but stick to the 1 teaspoon measurement. A teaspoon of OJ would contribute little in terms of flavor, and adding more liquid (like, for example, enough OJ to add flavor) makes the dough mushy and hard to handle.

Thursday links

A day that will live in infamy: It's the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor: some history, contemporaneous newsreels, and a Monty Python re-enactment.

The voice actress who played Snow White was forbidden by Disney from appearing in films, radio, or television.

If spiders worked together, they could eat all the humans in a year.

This ‘smart condom’ will give insights into your sex life that you probably didn’t want.

Do emotions related to alcohol consumption differ by alcohol type?

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra (aka Santa Claus), how Civil War soldiers gave themselves syphilis while trying to avoid smallpox, a famous French fartist from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a selection of weird nativity sets.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A day that will live in infamy: December 7 is the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor

The Island of Oahu, with its military depots, both naval and land, its airdromes, water supplies, the city of Honolulu with its wharves and supply points, forms an easy, compact, and convenient object for air attack... I believe therefore, that should Japan decide upon the reduction and seizure of the Hawaiian Islands... [an] attack will be launched at Ford's Island at 7:30 A.M. 

~ General William ("Billy") Mitchell (1879-1936) (memorandum for the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, 1924) 

I can run wild for six months... after that, I have no expectation of success.* 

~ Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (wiki) (1884-1943) (to the Japanese cabinet, circa 1940) 

December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. 

~ Franklin D. Roosevelt (wiki) (1882-1945) (to Congress, 8 December 1941) 

Throughout the action, there was never the slightest sign of faltering or cowardice. The actions of the officers and men were wholly commendable; there was no panic, no shirking or flinching, and words fail to describe the truly magnificent display of courage, discipline, and devotion of duty of all. 

~ Report by the Executive Officer of USS West Virginia after Pearl Harbor

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor (wiki) on 7 December 1941, which brought the United States into World War II. The meticulously planned and devastatingly successful operation was launched from six aircraft carriers and their escorts, which had managed to penetrate to within 200 miles of Oahu without being discovered. 

Of the eight American battleships in port that day, four were sunk or destroyed, and nine other warships were sunk or severely damaged. Over 2,400 U.S. servicemen lost their lives, including 2.000 sailors, most of whom perished on the USS Arizona (BB-39). The only bright spots were the absence of the three U.S. aircraft carriers from Pearl Harbor that day and the strange failure of the Japanese to destroy the Pacific Fleet's enormous fuel supplies, which would have been an easy target. Japan's attack on Oahu put an abrupt end to pre-war American isolationism and united the nation as it had never been before. But as Napoleon Bonaparte (wiki) noted in his Maxims of War,
"To be defeated is pardonable; to be surprised - never!" 
* N.B. Yamamoto is often quoted as having said, "I fear we have only awakened a sleeping giant, and his reaction will be terrible," but this appears to be apocryphal.

** Quoted in this form in Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two Ocean War, Ch. 3.

Here's a contemporaneous newsreel of the Pearl Harbor attack:

I realize that Pearl Harbor is a significant and serious event, but this reenactment by Monty Python, from Flying Circus: is a hoot, and much too good to pass up:
The stuff of history is indeed woven in the woof. Pearl Harbour. There are pages in history's book which are written on the grand scale. Events so momentous that they dwarf man and time alike. And such is the Battle of Pearl Harbour, re-enacted for us now by the women of Barley Townswomen's Guild (script available at the link):

Wednesday links

December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra, aka Santa Claus.

In 1909, a Door-to-Door Catnip Salesman Incited a Riot in New York.

How Civil War Soldiers Gave Themselves Syphilis While Trying to Avoid Smallpox.

A selection of weird nativity sets.

The Amazing Story of Joseph Pujol, the Famous French Fartist From the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

The Evolutionary Reason Why Fish Don’t Swim Upside Down.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and include why dark winter days bum people out, the anniversary of the end of prohibition in the U.S., how air cargo de-regulation led to Amazon, and, in the "What can go wrong" department, a spider that drank graphene and spun a web that could hold the weight of a human.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday links

Grapefruit, Animal Economics, and Big Drunk Guys. Some peculiar sociology research.

T'was the Overnight Before Christmas: The Merry Tale of How Air Cargo Deregulation Led To Amazon

Pop-Tarts alerts police about Illinois man who spreads mustard on his breakfast pastry.

ICYMI, Thursday's links are here, and include carbon paper history, people who still use iron lungs to breathe, a slingshot that launches swords, Congressmen behaving badly in 1856, and, for Winston Churchill's birthday (and related to the first link above), the doctor's note allowing him to drink "unlimited" alcohol in prohibition-era America.

Monday, December 4, 2017

'Twas the Overnight Before Christmas: The Merry Tale of How Air Cargo Deregulation Led To Amazon

Related, and this is practically a public service announcement - if you sign up for a 30 day free trial of Amazon Prime now, you can get unlimited free shipping through the holidays.

Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial

Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University Kenneth Button shares the story of how air cargo deregulation in the 1970s paved the way for low-cost, reliable overnight shipping, which in turn allowed for groundbreaking new e-commerce businesses like Amazon and eBay. These innovations enable everyone to get their presents on time for the holidays – almost as fast as delivery by Santa himself! 

‘Twas two nights before Christmas, and all through their houses
Every creature was busy, double-clicking their mouses.
Christmas was coming, but there were still presents to buy--
Thank heavens overnight shipping allows boxes to fly.
“But how can this be?” the people asked in their haze
“With so many miles to cover, why aren’t there delays?”

What allowed this to happen is a very old rule,
That deregulated air cargo - isn't that cool!
You see, express planes were smaller, unlike today.
Bigger is better, but the law said “No way!”

And if Fisherman Fred shipped lively lobsters from Maine
He hoped for some room in the belly of a passenger plane
But if Aunt Edna had checked in fifteen pieces of luggage
Fred’s lobsters would arrive days later, looking quite sluggish.

Freed from restrictions, more packages could flow
And arrive soon as promised, even in snow.
This allowed private carriers to grow and expand,
Unleashing innovations no one could’ve planned
With better shipping options, online shopping exploded,
And business inventories grew leaner: before they were bloated!

Thanks to rolling back rules that were surely passé,
Delivery is almost as fast as on Santa’s great sleigh.

Prohibition in the United States began on January 16, 1920 and ended on December 5, 1933

The precursor to the "war on drugs":

Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. 

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) (A Book of Burlesques, "Sententiae") 

Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially inactivity in the affairs of others. 

~ Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) (The Devil's Dictionary

Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded. 

~ Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) (speech, 18 December 1840 to the U.S. House of Representatives) 

The prohibition law, written for weaklings and derelicts, has divided the nation, like Gaul, into three parts - wets, drys, and hypocrites. 

~ Florence Sabin (1871-1953) (speech, 9 December 1931) 

Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.

W. C. Fields (1880-1946) (attributed) 

Prohibition (wiki) began on January 16, 1920, which was the effective date of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution: it was a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States. An outgrowth of the temperance movement, which had been gathering momentum during the entire 19th century, Prohibition got a final impetus from World War I, which prompted the Congress to pass the 18th amendment in December 1917.* Ratification (by 36 of the 48 states) came on 16 January 1919, and the Volstead Act implemented the measure a year later.** 

Prohibition - highly unpopular - was only weakly enforced by the federal government, and thousands of "speakeasies" - many controlled by organized crime - quickly appeared to satisfy the nation's thirst. The illegal importation and distribution of booze soon became a major source of income for "the Mob" and led to the infamous gang wars of the late 1920s and early 1930s. 

Several states had banned alcohol prior to the federal ban, and in Illinois there was an organized attempt by a group of women to use telepathy to influence the outcome of local votes: the Temperance Thinkers mobilized some 500,000 women to dress all in white and to direct thought waves at voters. “Women arrayed in white will assemble at the polls,” described one paper, “and by concentrated mental effort endeavor to influence the men."

On December 5th, 1933, prohibition in the United States of America came to an end with the ratification of the 21st Amendment***. After 13 years, the country's attempt to ban the booze had ended.

The video below shows a newsreel from the time, documenting the 'happy news for the grain raisers of the United States and for many others throughout the land'. I like this quote: "The problems with legislating morality soon became abundantly clear":

* N.B. To save grain for the war effort, a temporary prohibition measure was enacted just after the Armistice and went into force in July 1919. More over, the discrediting by the war of the large German-American community, strong objectors to Prohibition, diminished the opposition. Similarly, it has also been claimed that the absence of a large proportion of American men - serving in France - had a significant effect. 

** Named for Minnesota representative Andrew Volstead (1860-1947), the act defined the alcoholic products affected, stated enforcement procedures, and set out the penalties for violation. It was passed over President Wilson's veto.

In the 21st Amendment Congress gave individual states the right to regulate alcohol as they saw fit, a move that created a dazzling array of confusing alcohol control laws under seemingly arbitrary regulatory agencies.

"I do not think the state has any more right to tell me what to put in my mouth than it has to tell me what can come out of my mouth. Those two are essentially the same thing, and they are both essential elements of freedom."

My maternal grandmother was the president of the Poughkeepsie, NY chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) - there were 4 members and they met monthly (or thereabouts). Her four sons tried many times over her life to sneak a few drops of something into her lemonade or iced tea, but as far as I know they never succeeded and she went to her grave never having had alcohol pass her lips.


Winston Churchill's Doctor's Note Allowing Him to Drink "Unlimited" Alcohol in Prohibition America.

1860s series of photos illustrating the '5 stages of inebriation'.