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Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday links

July 26 is Brave New World author Aldous Huxley's birthday: here's a brief bio, audio of him narrating Brave New World, a 1949 letter from Huxley to Orwell and a Huxley vs Orwell infographic.

Why is airport food so expensive? The reasons you pay a massive markup on a water bottle are more complex than you might think.

These Sisters will make your Evil Siblings look like Angels.

Birthdays this weekend include free-market economist Milton Friedman's (July 27): here are some favorite quotes and short videos, and Beatrix Potter's (July 28): in addition to Peter Rabbit et al, she produced some gorgeous botanical drawings.

The house from The Goonies gets so many fan visits (around 1200 per day), the owner has tried to stop them coming by covering the house in a blue tarp.

Why It May Make Sense to Draw Eyes on Cows’ Butts.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the Apollo 11 anniversary, early blacklisting in Hollywood, a laser that identifies people from a distance by heartbeat, and the anniversary of the 20th of July plot (the unsuccessful bomb attempt by insiders to kill Hitler in 1944).

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Beatrix Potter's birthday

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.

Don't go near Mr. McGregor's garden: your father had an accident there, he was put into a pie by Mrs. McGregor. 

~ Ibid. 

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.

~ Potter, attributed

And the best quote ever on why you should ply your children (and grandchildren!) with good books throughout their childhoods:

For quiet, solitary and observant children create their own world and live in it, nourishing their imaginations on the material at hand.
In the UK, stamps depicting Beatrix Potter's creations
were released on the 150th anniversary of her birth.
July 28 is the anniversary of the birth of the English writer and illustrator of children's books, Beatrix Potter (wiki) (1866-1943). Most familiar as the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) and The Tailor of Gloucester (1903), Beatrix Potter was born in London and despite having no formal artistic training, illustrated all her books with simple, unassuming watercolors, while creating the characters of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, the hedgehog Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and others.  

After 1927, she wrote very little but became a farmer and sheep-breeder in the north of England. From the age of 15 until she was past 30, Potter kept a journal in a secret code that was not broken until 20 years after her death

Here's a brief documentary on Potter's life:

She also produced a series of gorgeous, scientifically accurate paintings of various types of fungi, as discussed and illustrated in Linda Lear’s highly regarded Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature:

Flammulina velutipes (Armitt Museum and Library)

Strobilomyces strobilaceus (Armitt Museum and Library)

Hydrocybe coccinea (Armitt Museum and Library)
Related links:

The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, a new story written by Beatrix Potter more than 100 years ago, featuring Peter Rabbit, was published in 2016 for the first time. She had done only one illustration for the story, so that task has been taken over by others: 
She sent the story to her publisher in 1914, saying it was about "a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life".
The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots also features an appearance from an "older, slower" version of Peter Rabbit.

The Economist had an interesting article on her in 2007.

Here's an article on her mushroom illustrations, with several excellent examples.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Abandoned in the Night Woods

A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Abandoned in the Night Woods

It may sound extreme, but it’s normal in the Netherlands.

In the Dutch scouting tradition known as “dropping,” groups of children, generally pre-teenagers, are deposited in a forest and expected to find their way back to base.

AUSTERLITZ, the Netherlands — Shortly after 10 p.m. on a recent night, a car came to a stop at the edge of the woods. The door opened to release three children: towheaded boys of 12 and 15, and a 12-year-old girl with dark pigtails and an emoji-covered backpack. Then the driver threw the car into gear and sped away, gravel crunching under its tires.

They were tiny figures at the foot of the forest, miles from the summer camp they were attending, with only a primitive GPS to indicate the right direction. Darkness was falling. And they were alone.

They peered into the night: Was this the path?

“Could be,” said Thomas, the 12-year-old team leader.

And then, because there was nothing else to do, they plunged into the woods.

This is the Dutch scouting tradition known as a “dropping,” in which groups of children, generally pre-teenagers, are deposited in a forest and expected to find their way back to base. It is meant to be challenging, and they often stagger in at 2 or 3 in the morning.

To make it more difficult, adult organizers may blindfold the children on their way to the dropping.C

Many adults look back on their dropping experiences fondly.

In some variations of the challenge, loosely based on military exercises, adults trail the teams of children, but refuse to guide them, although they may leave cryptic notes as clues. To make it more difficult, adult organizers may even blindfold the children on their way to the dropping, or drive in loop-de-loops to scramble their sense of direction.

Sometimes, they hide in the underbrush and make noises like a wild boar.

If this sounds a little crazy to you, it is because you are not Dutch.

The Dutch — it is fair to say — do childhood differently. Children are taught not to depend too much on adults; adults are taught to allow children to solve their own problems. Droppings distill these principles into extreme form, banking on the idea that even for children who are tired, hungry and disoriented, there is a compensatory thrill to being in charge.

Certainly, many adults in the Netherlands look back on their droppings fondly. Rik Oudega, a 22-year-old scout leader, recalled being pulled over by police as he drove the wrong way on a one-way road on his way to a dropping. His heart sank, he said, “because what I did was against the law.”

The officers pulled up beside him and asked him to roll down his window. They peered into the back seat of his car, where there were four children in blindfolds, which, Mr. Oudega said, “is not really allowed either.”

Mr. Oudega tried to look wholesome. “I’m here on a dropping,” he told them, hoping for the best.

“They looked at each other, then they smiled at me and said: ‘Have a good evening. And try to follow the rules.’”

The children on the dropping in Austerlitz, not far from Utrecht, walked into the woods, and the smell of pine needles rose from the sandy earth. The forest floor was patched with ink-black moss. A half-moon had appeared in the sky.

For a few minutes, there was the sound of cars on a road, but then that, too, quieted. The woods closed in, becoming dense.

That night was the first dropping for Stijn Jongewaard, an 11-year-old boy with jutting ears, who claimed to have learned English from Minecraft video games and “Hawaii Five-O.” At home, he spends much of his leisure time planted in front of his PlayStation. This is one reason his parents have sent him to camp. He has never been lost in the woods before.

His mother, Tamara, said that the time had come for him to take on greater responsibility, and that the dropping was one step in that direction.

“Stijn is 11,” she said. “The time window in which we can teach him is closing. He is going into adolescence, and then he will make decisions for himself.”

After they had been walking for half an hour, the group turned off the path and into the forest, then paused, stood in conference for a few minutes, and reversed themselves. Ten yards off the path, a huge body leapt, thrusting, behind the leaves, and the children startled. A deer.

If you peruse the Dutch newspapers with sufficient attention, you will find evidence of droppings gone awry. In 2012, German media reported that five Dutch boys on a dropping in Germany called local police to extract them from the narrow space where they had become stuck, between a rock face and a ventilation duct.

A “perilous adventure,” the Germans reported.

But Dutch journalists were unimpressed at all the fuss, mocking it as a “droppingsdrama” and “a bit romanticized.” “The dropping is often the most exciting part of a camping trip,” explained one follow-up article.

Another report surfaced in 2017, when scout leaders in Belgium dropped 25 children in the woods, then drank a number of beers and fell asleep, leaving the children wandering in the forest after their appointed pickup time. The campers finally rang someone’s doorbell and got a ride.

“The parents,” the newspaper noted somberly, “were not satisfied with the incident.”

Droppings are such a normal part of Dutch childhood that many there are surprised to be asked about it, assuming it is common to every country. But Pia de Jong, a novelist who has raised her children in New Jersey, said it reflected something particular about the Dutch philosophy of parenting.

“You just drop your kids into the world,” she said. “Of course, you make sure they don’t die, but other than that, they have to find their own way.”

Still, Ms. de Jong, 58, has begun to question whether droppings are really all that fun. “Imagine that you are lost and have no idea where to go,” she said. “It could be 10 hours, it could be the whole night, you just don’t know. It is late and long and people are a little frightened.”

She paused, in thought. “I don’t think it’s a nice thing to do to kids, actually,” she said.

In 2011 and 2014, children on droppings were fatally struck by cars while walking alongside roads. Since then, the practice has become far more regulated.

The dropping team does carry a cellphone in case of emergency, and the scouting association requires participants to wear high-visibility vests and distributes a long list of guidelines, mainly geared toward traffic safety. “Pushing boundaries is fun,” reads one recommendation, “but that, too, has boundaries.”

The scout leaders of the recent dropping, staring into the embers of a campfire, murmured about the proliferating paperwork, the way childhood has softened in recent years. “Society is changing,” Mr. Oudega said. “It’s a miracle that we are allowed to have a fire.”

But the core experience of dropping, he added, has not changed.

“It really is being on your own,” he said. “It really does make you feel that you are in charge.”

By 1 a.m., Stijn and the other campers were well into their third hour of hiking. They trudged along a paved road in single file, too drained for conversation. Fifteen minutes passed, and another 15, and there was no sign that they were anywhere near their campsite. Stijn was staring straight ahead, like a zombie.

“My parents are sleeping,” he said. “My sister is sleeping. My brain is tired. My feet are tired.”

They were bone-tired, all of them, but also adamant on finishing. One boy had asked to be picked up at the halfway mark, and that seemed to make the rest of them more determined. At that halfway mark, the children were given snacks and water, but in exchange, their GPS was taken away, and they had to follow their instincts. But no one complained, since there was no one to complain to.

“I’m going,” Stijn observed. “I don’t know why I’m going, but I’m going.”

It was nearly 2 a.m. when they stumbled into camp. There was a crackling fire, and boiled sausages tucked into soft rolls. Owls were on the hunt, and their shrieks could be heard in the tree canopy high above.

The campers wolfed down the food, stared into the fire for a few minutes, and stumbled to their tents. When Stijn emerged the next morning, bleary-eyed, at 11 a.m., he considered himself a veteran.

He no longer missed his PlayStation. And he said that someday, when he had children, he wanted them to experience a dropping.

“It shows you, even in very hard times, to keep walking, to keep going,” he said. “I have never had to do that before.”