Monday, August 28, 2006

Philadelphia through the Eyes of Nineteenth-Century Muckrakers and Snake-Oil Hucksters


The frequently fascinating and always aesthetically pleasing BibliOdyssey, a compendium of scans and images from public-domain books and the like, is now featuring reproductions of lithographs of nineteenth-century Philadelphia. Many of the pictures, as BibliOdyssey implies, are ads for now-defunct establishments or artist's conceptions for incendiary news stories, but some are lovely and surreal renderings of still-existing landmarks. Above is a depiction of Eastern State Penitentiary, which, though no longer operational, is open to the public in all its panopticon splendor in the middle of a fairly dense residential neighborhood.

Indexed by tags Philadelphia, art, lithographs, 1800s, Eastern State Penitentiary.
Image credits:
The Eastern Penintentiary, J.C. Wild, via the Library Company of Philadelphia, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.


The last couple weeks were not good for accuracy in reporting here at the Good Reverend. Not only did the world fail to end on Tuesday, but also the solar system went from rumored expansion to contraction, losing Pluto as a planet. Pluto, along with Ceres and Xena, is now a dwarf planet, which, as Language Log's Benjamin Zimmer points out, is only a planet in the sense that Welsh rabbit is a rabbit and Rocky Mountain oysters are oysters. My very educated mother just served us nonplanets.

We apologize for any planning for the end times by purchasing real estate on Charon the erroneous reporting might have caused.

Indexed by tags news, correction, science, politics, Iran, August 22, Pluto, dwarf planet.

Friday, August 25, 2006

"Why Don't You Major In Scientology Instead?"

The Grave Digger
Recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students were surprised to find that evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study.

The National Smart Grant list, available here (via the New York Times) jumps from line 26.1302 (marine biology and biological oceanography) to line 26.1304 (aquatic biology/limnology).

Typographical erorr? Mabye.

Mr. Nassirian said people at the Education Department had described the omission as “a clerical mistake.” But it is “odd,” he said, because applying the subject codes “is a fairly mechanical task. It is not supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation.”

“I am not at all certain that the omission of this particular major is unintentional,” he added. “But I have to take them at their word.”

Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. “It’s just awfully coincidental,” said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University.

As I have a personal policy of promoting evolution, I find this troubling. However, maybe I should broaden my perpectives and take a look at the evolution of the banana over the internet.

Indexed by tags news, education grant, evolutionary biology, Department of Education, typo, .

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cataloguing Shopping Carts in Their Native Habitat


I don't understand why Julian Montague has yet to be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame, but I expect it will happen soon. Montague has made a contribution to society of a magnitude unmatched by all but a very few: he has invented a method for identifying stray shopping carts.
Until now, the major obstacle that has prevented people from thinking critically about stray shopping carts has been that we have not had any formalized language to differentiate one shopping cart from another.

In order to encourage a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon, I have worked for the past six years to develop a system of identification for stray shopping carts. Unlike a Linaean taxonomy, which is based on the shared physical characteristics of living things, this system works by defining the various states and situations in which stray shopping carts can be found. The categories of classification were arrived at by observing shopping carts in different situations and considering the conditions and human motives that have placed carts in specific situations and the potential for a cart to transition from one situation to another.
Link (via Neatorama).

Indexed by tags art, shopping cart, identification, Julian Montague, taxonomy, catalogue.

Random Movie Quote Thursday

They all did it.
But if you wanna know who killed Mr. Boddy,
I did.
In the hall.
With the revolver.
All right, Chief,
take'em away.
I'm gonna go home and sleep with my wife.

Indexed by tags movies, quotes.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ebu Gogo No Mo'? Flores Man Just a Short, Diseased Human

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, spoil-sport scientists from Indonesia and the United States pooh-poohed the idea that the tiny skeletons found on the island of Flores were from a new species of hominid, H. floresiensis, perhaps the ebu gogo of local legend. Instead, they argue, the bones are just from a pygmy human with a brain disease:
The international team of paleontologists, anatomists and other researchers who conducted the study was headed by Teuku Jacob of Gadjah Mada University, who is one of Indonesia’s senior paleontologists.

In the report, Dr. Jacob and his colleagues cited 140 features of the skull that they said placed it “within modern human ranges of variation.” They also noted features of two jaws and some teeth that “either show no substantial deviation from modern Homo sapiens or share features (receding chins and rotated premolars) with Rampasasa pygmies now living near Liang Bua Cave,” where the discovery was made.

“We have eliminated the idea of a new species,” Robert B. Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics at Penn State who was a team member, said in a telephone interview. “After a time, this will be admitted.”
Link. If there isn't going to be any more ebu gogo, I can't imagine what tomorrow will look like.

Indexed by tags science, nature, cryptozoology, Homo floresiensis, ebu gogo, Flores, human, Teuku Jacob, Robert B. Eckhardt.

Today's the Last Day before Armageddon

If you've got any last minute stuff to do, now's the time. Iran's about to go judgment day on everyone it dislikes.
In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time--Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.
Link. If the world really does come to an end, the best place to get a first-hand account might be Mr. Ahmadinejad's blog (click the American-English flag in the upper right to switch from Farsi to English).

Indexed by tags news, politics, Iran, August 22, armageddon, religion, isla and maraj, Mordad, Rajab, Saladin, Islam, Muhammad, Ahmadinejad, blog.

Fun with Anthropomorphic Bananas


Indexed by tags Internet, movies, video, banana, bananaphone, peanut butter jelly time, Rejected, Don Hertzfeld, Family Guy.

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

The courthouse's Marguerite daisies are in bloom, and man are they ever yellow.

Indexed by tag Montrose.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Economy Reacts to Shocking Dead Creature News

Crude oil prices fell Thursday upon news that the Maine Creature had finally been killed.

Indexed by tags economy, nature, Maine Creature, cryptozoology, oil.

Comprehensive List of MacGyver Solutions

Now that Wikipedia has a list of problems MacGyver has faced and dealt with, I think I'll memorize it to be able to get out of any sticky situation. Speaking of sticky situations:
With an old, bullet-ridden Jeep his only means of escape, MacGyver must patch up the Jeep's radiator to get it working again. Remarkably, he does the job with nothing but water and egg whites. First he dumps some water in the radiator and jump-starts the Jeep, causing the water to heat up. A few minutes later, he dumps in the egg whites, which the water cooks. Once cooked, the egg whites naturally plug the holes in the radiator, making the Jeep temporarily usable.
Link. MacGyver would likely be proud of the science, if not necessarily practicality, involved in this Eepybird Mentos–Diet Coke stunt:

Indexed by tags television, MacGyver, problems, solutions, Wikipedia, Eepybird, Mentos, Diet Coke.
Video credits: "The Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments," Eepybird, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Pet Stacker, Arrested on Pet-Stacking Charges, Set Free

Greg Pike, Southeastern Arizona's resident performance artist–beggar, was set free last month after being arrested on suspicion of loitering to stack animals and conspiracy to stack animals without a license. City and county prosecutors were apparently afraid of facing the wrath of a tall stack of domesticated animals.
Greg Pike has been a familiar presence on the streets of the Southeastern Arizona city of Bisbee since he moved there from Colorado about 11/2 years ago. The "performance artist" takes donations from people who see Booger, Kitty and Mousie perched atop each other. He has plenty of support in the colorful community.
Link. This whole thing smells like the old lady who swallowed the fly. Speaking of which, how exactly would anyone expect that a goat would catch a dog? It doesn't make sense.

Indexed by tags crime, nature, animals, pets, stacking, Greg Pike, Bisbee, Arizona.
Image credits: Greg Pike, Ted Morris,
Sierra Vista Herald, courtesy Arizona Daily Star, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Subtle Gesture Says It All

If your house building project were continually interrupted by a neighbor upset that you were encroaching on his back wall and partially obstructing his view of the mountains, you might take him to court, or you might attempt to work out a compromise. But if you were Darren Wood of Riverton, Utah, you would probably opt to point a decorative, "abstract art" window directly at your neighbor's property.

Link (via Fark).

Indexed by tags law, property, housing, neighbor, dispute, window, Riverton, Darren Wood, Stan Torgersen, middle finger.

In Planet Definition Battle, Pro-Pluto Faction Wins

All other important questions about the universe answered, the International Astronomical Union is meeting today in Prague to define planet, and it has decided to not only include underdog planetoid Pluto in that definition but also add three new planets, none of which are really what one would think of as a planet:
Among the chosen few within the solar system would be not only Pluto, whose status has been challenged in recent years, but also Ceres, the largest asteroid; 2003 UB313, nicknamed Xena, an object discovered by Dr. Brown in 2005 orbiting far beyond Pluto in the outer solar system; and even Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.

In addition, at least a dozen more solar system objects are waiting in the wings for more data to see if they fit the new definition of planethood, which is that an object be massive enough that gravity has formed it into a sphere and that it circles a star and not some other planet.
Link. In Roman mythology, Ceres was the goddess of agriculture. In Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman granting passage into the underworld. And in syndication, Xena was a warrior princess. My very educated mother carefully just served us nine pizza-calzones, Xavier.

Indexed by tags science, astronomy, planet, Pluto, Ceres, Charon, Xena, International Astronomical Union.
Image credits: Pluto, courtesy Disney Archives, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

The Sounds of Words Like Nouns and Verbs

Cornell's Morten Christiansen has discovered, through the miracle of science, that different parts of speech sound different:
The researchers took the sounds of more than 3,000 words in English and subdivided each by its phonetic features—what a person does with their mouth to produce the sounds of each word.

"We could then represent each word in a multidimensional space," Christiansen told LiveScience. . . .

The nouns were closer to other nouns, and the verbs were closer to other verbs. About 65 percent of all nouns have another noun as its nearest neighbor and about the same percentage of all verbs have another verb next door, Christiansen said.

. . . .

To demonstrate that people were sensitive to this fact, the researchers timed volunteers while they read words of a sentence, appearing one at a time on a computer screen.

They measured how long it took to read each word. The researchers found that volunteers had an easier time processing verbs that sound more like the typical sounding verbs, such as "amuse." The same went for nouns that were more "nouny," like the word "marble."
Link. Of course, this finding comes as no surprise to those of us who have known since the midseventies that nouns sound like this and verbs like this. Yet, as Geoff Pullum at the always interesting Language Log notes, some of us still have trouble with these tricky parts of speech:
The linguistic point, and I do have one, is that at one stage in [Jon Stewart's] rambling and oddly unfunny remarks, apropos of almost nothing but near some confused stuff about war, Stewart said this:

We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror -- it's not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I'm sure we'll take on that bastard ennui[.]

. . . .

The traditional definition of the term "noun" has a fantastically strong hold on the public imagination. In old-fashioned grammar books it is usually the first line of the first section of the first chapter: "A noun," it will say, "is the name of a person, place, or thing." What Jon Stewart has dimly perceived is that terror is not a person, so we can't assassinate it; it is not a place, so we can't bomb it; and it is not a thing, so we can't find where it is and blow it up—it has no spatial location.

. . . .

The way to tell whether a word is a noun in English is to ask questions like: Does it have a plural form (the terrors of childhood)? Does it have a genitive form (terror's effects)? Does it occur with the articles the and a (the terror)? Can you use it as the main or only word in the subject of a clause (Terror rooted me to the spot), or the object of a preposition (war on terror)? And so on. These are grammatical questions. Syntactic and morphological questions. Not semantic ones.
Link. I agree. It seems pretty obvious at this point that we are at war with something that has a plural form.

Indexed by tags science, language, noun, verb, sound, linguistics, terror, Jon Stewart, war, politics.

Pointillist Wisconsinites Reenact La Grande Jatte

The people of Beloit, Wisconsin, who, like paintings by Georges Seurat, are made up of little tiny dots, decided to fulfill their destiny last month by impressively situating themselves in a park á la Seurat's masterpiece:

Indexed by tags art, painting, photograph, Seurat, Beloit, Wisconsin, A Sunday on la Grande Jatte.
Image credits: "First Impressionism," OldOnliner, courtesy
Flickr, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Random Movie Quote Thursday

I know how alone you feel—
alone in all that cold blackness
but I'm there in the dark with you.
Bud, you're not alone.
You remember that time—
you were pretty drunk, you probably don't remember
the power went out at the old apartment,
the one on Orange Street,
and we were staring at that one little candle,
and I said something really dumb like that candle is me,
like every one of us is out there alone in the dark in this life.
And you lit another candle and put it beside mine and said "that's me."
And we stared at the two candles, and then we—
well, if you remember any of it, I'm sure you remember the next part.
Bud, there are two candles in the dark.
I'm with you.
I'll always be with you.

Indexed by tags movies, quotes.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Full House: The Script from Every Episode

When I was younger, I loved Full House as much as the next headcase kid. Yet when I watched an episode a few months ago in syndication I realized it had lost some of its magic. Why? Every single episode is the same thing over and over: each character quoting his respective catchphrase ad nauseum. I began to wonder if the writers ever actually wrote more than eleven lines of dialogue. Recently I discovered the reason: every single episode used the same script and merely rearranged the dialogue order with the help of a random number generator. Below is the template, which was originally written January 14, 1987. No other script for Full House was ever written.



DJ is sitting on the sofa, reading a magazine. DANNY strides
through the front door.

Guess what Deej?


Wake Up San Francisco is hosting a free Suzie Q
concert, and I got you and Kimmy some tickets!



Give me a hug!

DJ gives Danny a huge hug.

Studio audience fawns.

STEPHANIE and MICHELLE burst in through the kitchen door,
arguing loudly.

I want some ouse-cream!

Studio audience laughs and says “awwww.”

How rude!

Studio audience laughs and applauds.

JOEY and JESSE hurry down the stairs into the living room.

(gesturing hilariously)
Cut . . . it . . . out!

Studio audience laughs uproariously.

Danny puts his hands on his hips in disapproval.

Have mercy!

Studio audience laughs.

KIMMY bursts through the front door and immediately takes
off her shoes.

Have mercy!

You got it, dude!

Studio audience laughs and makes cooing noises.

(eyeing Jesse)
Whoa baby!

(gesturing hilariously)
Cut . . . it . . . out!

Studio audience dies laughing.

(continuing, in Bullwinkle
voice, gesturing incredibly
Cut . . . it . . . out!

Studio audience implodes in laughter.



Indexed by tags television, eighties, nineties, Full House, Tanners, cut it out.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

At the Children's Fishing Derby, children ages four to fifteen can fish on Pages Lake with the supervision of their parents. No word yet on what beer they serve.

Indexed by tag Montrose.

Friday, August 04, 2006

William Wallace Doesn't Have Any Problems with Jewish People


It’s been several days since a friend’s Facebook status first announced that she was “really disappointed in Mel Gibson right now.” My feelings for Mel Gibson go beyond disappointment. It’s one thing to get wasted and go cruising down the streets of a sleepy California beach community, putting countless celebrity lives at risk. Any old alcoholic could do that. But it takes a special kind of alcoholic to go the extra mile and allow his vino to veritas his views on Jews, wars, and the perfect combination of candies and female body parts. With Mel going on anti-Semitic and misogynistic tirades and Tom Cruise jumping on couches to proclaim his allegiance to the most blatantly fake Hollywood relationship of all time (I mean seriously, has anyone really confirmed that Suri is alive and well and has ten fingers?), whither movie-star hunks of the nineties? What’s next, Denzel Washington joining NAMBLA and wearing studded leather in public?

Some have suggested that the best way to express disapproval is to boycott Gibson movies, and with Apocalypto looking as bad as it does that seems like a fairly easy option. But the problem is, I liked Braveheart. And I liked the Lethal Weapon movies—some of them, anyway. I liked Chicken Run, too, and some people will think I’m a drooling moron but I also enjoyed Signs. I would additionally boycott the carelessly anti-antidepressant Cruise if he hadn’t made Rain Man and Minority Report and that final scene in Interview with the Vampire where he adjusts his sleeves and grabs the steering wheel to the opening bars of “Sympathy for the Devil.” [Incidentally, that’s the best pairing of final movie scene with rock song since Fallen used the same tune. Except Fallen was actually a few years after Interview. But I digress.] I won’t have any trouble avoiding spending money on The Passion of the Christ, but only because I didn’t think it was very good in the first place. I suppose that film is a true-blue Mel Gibson movie, top-to-bottom, with Mel personally raking in most of the profits. But the earlier movies, even when he was directing—those were pretty good movies that happened to have Mel Gibson attached to them. Hundreds of other people made those films what they are. Am I supposed to boycott Danny Glover too?

The problem is that Hollywood fantasy has been spilling over into reality. People go to see movies because they like movie stars, and, believe it or not, people like movie stars because they read about them and hear about their every move. Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie? I better go see Mr. & Mrs. Smith. This is insanity—go see Ocean’s Thirteen because you liked the first two and think you are going to have a good time, not because you thought Shiloh Nouvel was the prettiest baby ever. But the line between the Hollywood screen and Hollywood Boulevard has always been a blurry one, at least since Clark Gable affected t-shirt sales and Marilyn Monroe went mad. It probably can’t be avoided, but it would be nice to sit through Payback without thinking “That Mel Gibson is one hardass mofo, but man does he ever hate the Jews.”

Indexed by tags , , , , , .
Image credits: (1) "Mel Gibson: The Mug Shot," via Smoking Gun, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes; (2) "Couch," via Lermanet, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Strange Things Are Afoot on My Radar Screen

Would you rather be surrounded by a "milky sea," which is probably sea water filled with bioluminescent bacteria, so large it can be seen from space . . .
. . . or a gigantic swarm of mayflies so large the National Weather Service monitors it?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Indexed by tags , , , , , , .