Monday, November 16, 2009
  Random stuff

(1) Something odd must be in the air around Spokane. In the last two days, two unconnected 56-year-old hikers fell. The first one sprained her ankle, spent a cold night in a ditch, and was fortunately rescued. The second one fell down a long hill and unfortunately died.

(2) A CBS news item about Palin's book mentioned denials by McCain staffer Nicole Wallace.
In an interview with CBS News, Wallace said none of the conversations Palin quotes in the book ever took place.

Obviously the word quotes here is meant to be taken with a grain of salt, but how in the world would you express the salt?

In writing:
...none of the conversations Palin "quotes" in the book ever took place.

Verbally:
...none of the conversations Palin, and I quote, quotes, end quote, ever took place.

Or in McCain's own style,
...none of the conversations Palin quote quotes in the book ever took place.

This is the sort of recursive notation that drives programmers crazy.

(3) In one 1942 episode of Information Please, which was the best entertainment ever regularly produced, the special guest was biologist Julian Huxley. The show's editors always saved appropriate questions for special guests, so Huxley got a question about mating rituals in various animals.

Host Clifton Fadiman: Now let us suppose that three male admirers are courting their girls, and these girls are all girls in the animal kingdom. The first one waved a large claw in the air, the second offered a package of food as part of his courting, and the third showed his intended some building material.

Huxley: The first would be a fiddler crab; he'd be waving his large colored claw in the air. He has one large one and one small one. He keeps the small one for eating. The female has two small ones. (Audience laughs)

Fadiman: And what does the female do when she watches this claw-waving? Does she wave back?

Huxley: No, she keeps it to herself, but sometimes she gives in. (Audience laughs)

Fadiman: You've apparently watched this sort of thing going on? By the way, what is the female fiddler crab called?

Huxley: She's just called a fiddler crab.

This is an interesting category error by Fadiman, who was a lover and analyzer of words. And it's the sort of error that makes you realize the true category after you hear it. The exception that reveals the unwritten rule. Common domestic mammals and birds do in fact have separate names for male, female and child. Bull, cow, calf; dog, bitch, puppy; cock, hen, chick. And most of these male animals have accessories of various types or distinct colorations, while the females mostly "keep it to themselves". So the analogy was irresistible, but Fadiman clearly didn't realize that the rule only applies to domestic livestock.

Here's the whole show, which also features the absolutely delightful Jan Struther.

(4) And speaking of arthropod courtship rituals, here's a bird that sings by vibrating its wing feathers, similar to the stridulation of crickets and other insects. Appears to be the only higher animal that uses the method. Wonder why? The sound isn't special; other birds make similar sounds by the regular old air-driven flute (syrinx) method.
 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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