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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'.