Monday, 26 December 2016

Another day, another ten things I've found for you to enjoy

What happened in the Thirty Years War?
via The Economist by P.C.

The tensions in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia (ruled by the Sunni Saud family) and Iran (the leader of the Shia camp) have led many commentators to draw parallels with Europe’s Thirty Years War (1618-48). That was a conflict that had devastating consequences for central Europe, with around 20% of the German population being killed. The war had religious roots as the Holy Roman Emperor (initially the Habsburg Ferdinand II) tried to reassert Catholic hegemony over the Protestant areas of the empire. The Reformation had begun in Germany in 1517 with the theses of Martin Luther and many princes of the Empire (which had a quasi-federal structure) had converted to the Protestant cause.
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Video of a jewel-studded mechanical robot caterpillar, 1820
via Boing Boing by Mark Frauenfelder
Swiss watchmaker Henri Maillardet created the "Ethiopian caterpillar" in 1820 (or thereabouts) for a wealthy Chinese collector. It's covered in gold and encrusted in jewels and peals. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 2010 for $415,215.
Video of it moving is here

From teaspoons to tea-sots: the language of tea
via OUP Blog by Simon Horobin
Tea was first imported into Britain early in the seventeenth century, becoming very popular by the 1650s. The London diarist Samuel Pepys drank his first cup in 1660, as recorded in his famous diary: “I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before.” The word tea derives ultimately from the Mandarin Chinese word chá, via the Min dialect form te. The Mandarin word is also the origin of the informal word char, heard today in phrases like a nice cup of char. The Chinese origin of the plant is remembered in the idiom not for all the tea in China, meaning “certainly not,” “not at any price,” which originated in Australian slang of the 1890s.
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When Plants Go to War
via 3 Quarks Daily: Mike Newland in Nautilus
Compared to the hectic rush of our bipedal world, a plant’s life may appear an oasis of tranquility. But look a little closer. The voracious appetites of pests put plants under constant stress: They have to fight just to stay alive. And fight they do. Far from being passive victims, plants have evolved potent defenses: chemical compounds that serve as toxins, signal an escalating attack, and solicit help from unlikely allies. However, all of this security comes at a cost: energy and other resources that plants could otherwise use for growth and repair. So to balance the budget, plants have to be selective about how and when to deploy their chemical arsenal. Here are five tactics they’ve developed to ward off their insect foes without sacrificing their own well-being.
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What was rail travel like in 1830?
via The National Archives Blog by Chris Heather
Drawing of the first Liverpool and Manchester railway trains (catalogue reference: COPY 1/374/31)
Today we tend to take the railways for granted. If we talk about them at all it is usually to complain about trains being late, overcrowded, or cancelled. Train travel seems to have have lost its magic for many people. Familiarity has bred contempt because for as long as you have been alive there has always been the option of travelling on a train.
But imagine what it must have been like 180 years ago when the first passenger steam train was introduced, and riding at high speed through the countryside was a new and exciting experience.
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The phosphene dreams of a young Christian soldier
via OUP Blog by Justin Skirry
On a blustery St. Martin’s Eve in 1619, a 23-year-old French gentleman soldier in the service of Maximilian of Bavaria was billeted near Ulm, Germany. Having recently quit his military service under Maurice of Nassau, he was new to the Bavarian army and a stranger to the area. The weather and lack of associates motivated the youth to remain alone in his room for days at a time. It was a comfortable room, warmed against the bitter cold by a porcelain stove. One can imagine that such cozy solitude might provide occasion for the young man to reflect on his course in life. He had studied law at Poitiers and military science at Breda but had yet to decide on a career. Perhaps, he hoped for some guidance as he crawled under the covers for a warm winter’s nap. That young soldier was Rene Descartes and, as legend has it, guidance came on that fateful night of 10-11 November 1619 in the form of three dreams.
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David Hume, the Buddha, and a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment
via 3 Quarks Daily: Alison Gopnik in The Atlantic
In 1734, in Scotland, a 23-year-old was falling apart.
As a teenager, he’d thought he had glimpsed a new way of thinking and living, and ever since, he’d been trying to work it out and convey it to others in a great book. The effort was literally driving him mad. His heart raced and his stomach churned. He couldn’t concentrate. Most of all, he just couldn’t get himself to write his book. His doctors diagnosed vapors, weak spirits, and “the Disease of the Learned.” Today, with different terminology but no more insight, we would say he was suffering from anxiety and depression. The doctors told him not to read so much and prescribed antihysteric pills, horseback riding, and claret—the Prozac, yoga, and meditation of their day.
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These 15 Fascinating History Sites Make the Past Come Alive
via MakeUseOf by Saikat Basu
It is difficult to make sense of time isn’t it?
Then let’s pause and reflect how utterly impossible it is to do the same with 5000 years of recorded human history. The mind boggles at the thought. Right now, even the birth of the Internet seems ages ago. The Sumerians captured history in their own way, and we in the digital age are doing it with bits and bytes.
A single genome is spilling the beans on what our ancestors were up to thanks to The Human Genome Project. But some fascinating history websites also manage to combine interactivity with storytelling to bring our past alive. If you didn’t like history in school, you can make up for those poor grades by enjoying the fifteen sites below.
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The exceptional English?
via OUP Blog by George Molyneaux
There is nothing new about the notion that the English, and their history, are exceptional. This idea has, however, recently attracted renewed attention, since certain EU-sceptics have tried to advance their cause by asserting the United Kingdom’s historic distinctiveness from the Continent. In political terms, this argument is dubious – even if the UK were exceptional in various past epochs, this would have little logical bearing on the desirability or otherwise of its participation in future European integration. The fundamental problem with the exceptionalist line is not, however, political illogicality, but historical naivety.
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Before Europe’s Intrusion
Via Arts & Letters Daily: Paula Findlen in The Nation
 A 17th-century map reinforces what few other than historians of China have known: It was an open and diverse world with a long tradition of maritime commerce.

On a cold, wet day in January 2008, Robert Batchelor decided to take a peek at a map in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, an old and venerable collection founded in 1602 and filled with arcane treasures. Anyone who has ever used the library may recall the oath that all readers are required to take (formerly in Latin, but nowadays in English, I think) not to remove, deface, or injure any of the library’s books, let alone bring in any fire or kindle one – a great temptation in a library originally devoid of any artificial heating source, especially for a generation that had just discovered the lure of Virginia tobacco. Batchelor, a historian of Britain and Asia, was about to fly back to the United States, where he teaches at Georgia Southern University, but this unusual item – “A very odd mapp of China. Very large, & taken from Mr. Selden’s” – beckoned. With the help of the Bodleian’s curator of Chinese collections, David Helliwell, he retrieved it from the bowels of the library. The map was in a fragile, indeed ruinous state, disintegrating on the stiff linen backing that had deformed it during a botched preservation job a century earlier. Helliwell would later recall that he had seen the map before, but without recognizing its full import. Batchelor was enchanted and enthralled. Here was a hand-painted map of East Asia and parts of Southeast Asia and India that raised a myriad of interesting questions.
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Sunday, 25 December 2016

And ten more interesting stories for this holi day

What was Prohibition really about?
via 3 Quarks Daily: Kelefa Sanneh at The New Yorker
The war on alcohol united Progressives and Protestants, federal agents and Klansmen.
People have known since the Stone Age that sugary liquids, given time, have a salutary tendency to ferment, transforming themselves into something like beer or wine. Distillation, a more sophisticated process, was perfected only in the past few hundred years, and wherever it went it upended social customs. In “Deliver Us from Evil”, a crisp history published in 1976, Norman H. Clark explained that nineteenth-century temperance movements in the U.S. distinguished gin, whiskey, and other distillates from milder beverages, which were considered part of the common diet. “Many Americans of the New Republic simply did not regard beers and wines as ‘intoxicating,’ ” he writes. By contrast, hard liquor was prohibited in some American territory even before the country formed: in 1733, James Oglethorpe, the founding governor of the British province of Georgia, banned “the importation of ardent spirits”.
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Shakespeare and Islam
via OUP Blog by Matthew Dimmock
Without Islam there would be no Shakespeare. This may seem surprising or even controversial to those who imagine a ‘national bard’ insulated from the wider world. Such an approach is typified in the words of the celebrated historian A.L. Rowse, who wrote that when it came to creatively connecting with that world, Shakespeare, the ‘quiet countryman’, was ‘the least engaged writer there ever was’.
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Coventry “Can Take It”: surviving the Blitz
via The National Archives Blog by Emma Down
Shortly before the bombing raid on Coventry in October 1940, the film London Can Take It, in which American journalist Quentin Reynolds paid tribute to the people of London enduring the Blitz, was released in the United States. The aim of the film was to gain American support against Nazi Germany. After the night of 14 November it became apparent that Coventry also ‘could take it’.
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Public domain illustrations from old books
via Boing Boing by Rob Beschizza
Old Book Illustrations is a search engine and browseable library of – you've guessed it! – the engraved illustrations and litho prints found in old books.
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WARNING: Allow yourself hours not minutes. This is stunning.

The day that changed the 20th century: Russia's October Revolution
via OUP Blog by Geoffrey Hosking
The October Revolution was probably the determining event of the twentieth century in Europe, and indeed in much of the world. The Communist ideology and the Communist paradigm of governance aroused messianic hopes and apocalyptic fears almost everywhere. In all European countries from the 1920s to the 1980s there were Communist parties – except where they were forbidden because of the fears they aroused, and even then some of them survived underground. Fascism and Nazism, vehemently nationalist and anti-Communist, became widely popular largely because of that fear.
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The free-will scale
via 3 Quarks Daily: Stephen Cave in Aeon
It is often thought that science has shown that there is no such thing as free will. If all things are bound by the same impersonal cosmic laws, then (the story goes) our paths are no freer than those of rocks tumbling down a hill. But this is wrong. Science is giving us a very powerful and clear way to understand freedom of the will. We have just been looking for it in the wrong place. Instead of using an electron microscope or a brain-scanner, we should go to the zoo.
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Museum Specimens Going Online
via Research Buzz Firehose
Terrific article from The New York TimesMuseum Specimens Find New Life Online. “Mr. Kroupa and 14 colleagues are in the midst of a vast undertaking: digitizing and publishing online the museum’s entire collection of insects, including high-definition 3-D images of thousands of particularly important specimens. The researchers here are not alone. Museums around the globe are trying to harness the power of digital technology to make available collections that have long lain dormant on shelves and in dusty cabinets.”

The Irish Trollope
via OUP Blog by John McCourt
There are times when it feels like Anthony Trollope’s Irish novels might just as well have fallen overboard on the journey across the Irish Sea. Their disappearance would, for the better part of a century, have largely gone unnoticed and unlamented by readers and critics alike. Although interest has grown in recent times, the reality is that his Irish novels have never achieved more than qualified success, and occupy only a marginal place in his overall oeuvre. Yet Ireland was central to Trollope, both as a writer and a civil servant, and he had no hesitation in acknowledging his genuine affection for the country and its people.
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How the World Looked to Roman Geographers When Jesus Was Born
via The Lone Wolf Librarian: Sarah Laskow in Atlas Obscura
Two thousand years ago, around the time that Jesus of Nazareth was born, the second Holy Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. The Great Pyramid at Giza was already 2,500 years old, but the Library of Alexandria was still around. In Rome, the Colosseum hadn’t been built yet.
It’s a bit uncanny to think about the political geography of a time and place that’s also the setting for a timeless story–the birth of Jesus Christ. Because that story is so often told, its context feels familiar. And, in the part of the world that Jesus lived in, the best knowledge about the rest of the world was, in some ways, thorough and accurate. But there were profound differences, too: most importantly, the Mediterranean Sea was still a geographer’s main point of reference, if not the center of the world.
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The secret world of hidden independent nations
via Boing Boing by Rob Beschizza
Raymond Brooke / CC BY-SA 2.0
The BBC casts an eye over countries that do not exist – not just the odd slivers of land with tentative claims on micronationhood, but the superimposed quasi-countries that cohere because of ethnicity, politics, or because of something really weird going on on the Internet.
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Friday, 23 December 2016

Another ten delightful items for you

Past, Present and Future: The Book (of Hours)
via Scholarly Kitchen by Jill O'Neill
While I did not choose it as my 2015 Book of the Year (see Part I of the Chef selections here), I want to draw my colleagues’ attention to Eamon Duffy’s work, Marking The Hours: English People and Their Prayers 1240-1570 (Yale University Press, 2006). The Irish historian documented the emergence and historical development of the medieval Book of Hours which were, at one time, produced in greater volume than copies of the Bible itself. At the height of their commoditization, they were crudely printed volumes, but many museums and libraries value and preserve specific examples as rare works of art. Such volumes may have been produced with a certain intention as to use (that of devotional aid), but Duffy writes of the historical value of these artifacts in some other contexts – that of luxury good or status symbol, as a form of documentation indicating family position in relation to power, as a marker of an individual owner’s existence in a specific time and place.
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Scholarly Kitchen is one of my favourite reads but one that rarely contains items suitable for the non-work posts. Work or not I could not resist sharing the image.

How is snow formed?
via OUP Blog
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, but it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up to find yourself in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?”
First Snow by J. B. Priestley
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English really is weirder than pretty much every other language
via 3 Quarks Daily: John McWhorter in Aeon
English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.
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Shakespeare's encounter with Michel de Montaigne
via OUP Blog by William M. Hamlin
Some people sign their books but never read them. Others devour books without bothering to inscribe their names. Shakespeare falls in the latter category. In fact we don’t truly know whether he owned books at all; just six Shakespearean signatures are considered authentic, and they appear exclusively in legal documents.
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Paris Was Wild, Once: Luc Sante’s new book looks longingly back at a more sinful time
via Arts & Letters Daily: Anna Weiner in New Republic

Today’s Paris contains multitudes: Segway-shod tourists cruising docilely to Versailles, children squirming on the streets of the Marais, Minnesotans snapping selfies with the Venus de Milo. There’s glamour, too, and romance; fine art, music, food. But before the photogenic swept streets and trimmed gardens, sometime between the 1700s and the 1920s, Paris was also a city of secrets and filth, of sin and entropy. This is the version of Paris that Luc Sante illuminates in his latest cultural and literary history, The Other Paris: a Paris that predates the whitewashing of urban renewal and institutionalized infrastructure; a city rich with fringe economies, insurrections, micro-societies, and raveled streets; a city that does not—cannot—continue to exist.
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The Ultimate Guide to the Many Languages of Star Wars
via MakeUseOf by Dave LeClair
If you want to make sure your knowledge is up to par, check out the infographic below that explains all of the languages in the Star Wars universe. As it turns out, there are quite a few, and they’ll all spoken by different groups.
Check it out for yourself

The Banker Who Lost His Head
via 3 Quarks Daily by Paul Braterman
If Isaac Newton is the father of modern physics, then Antoine Lavoisier is the father of modern chemistry. Newton was knighted, and died in his bed at age 84. Lavoisier died at age 50, on the guillotine.
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Creatures avoiding planks
via Boing Boing by Rob Beschizza
creatures avoiding planks
Creatures Avoiding Planks is a web toy demonstrating natural selection. Wee blobby creatures wander around avoiding floating planks, which kill on touch. If one lives long enough, it reproduces, passing on slight variations of its own movement behavior to the offspring.
The brilliant work of @hardmaru, I can't watch it anymore because I feel so sorry for them.

Mentalizing in groups
via OUP Blog by Sigmund Karterud
‘Mentalizing’ is the new word for making sense of oneself, others, and intersubjective transactions in terms of inner motivations. It can be fast and intuitive (implicit mentalizing), as in most informal and routine interactions, or slow and elaborate (explicit mentalizing), when one steps back to indulge in reflective thinking. “Why did she say that?” The thought is such an integral part of being human that it is most often taken for granted. Yet it is an evolutionary achievement.
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The continuing relevance of On the Beach
via 3 Quarks Daily: Beverly Gray in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

“It frightened the hell out of me. I’m still frightened.”
These words mark the reaction of a young Australian named Helen Caldicott to a story of the aftermath of mistaken nuclear war, in which those who never even took sides were faced with the slow advance of deadly nuclear radiation on their shores. On the Beach, first a best-selling novel and then a major Hollywood film, confronts the viewer with a number of questions: How would you behave if, in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalyps, you knew you only have a few weeks or months left to live? Would you carouse riotously, knowing the end is near? Deny that the entire thing is happening? Hope against all logic for a miraculous reprieve? Try to maintain a core of decency in the face of imminent death? Wish that you had done something long ago to prevent nuclear war in the first place?
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Definitely the next book I should read. It’s on my bookshelf along with all of Nevil Shute’s other novels.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Holidays start today! Trivia from now until next week.

Shakespeare and Holinshed's Chronicles
via OUP Blog by Paulina Kewes
Where did Shakespeare obtain material for his English history plays? The obvious answer would be to say that he drew on the second edition of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1587), a massive work numbering no fewer than 3,500,000 words that gave rise to more Renaissance plays than any other book, ancient or modern.
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Wer and Wyf, Man and Woman
via Daily Writing Tips by Maeve Maddox
In Old English, the word man had the meaning of “human being” or “person,” male or female.
Note: Old English is the earliest form of English, brought to Great Britain in the fifth century by Germanic settlers. The first literary works in Old English date from the seventh century.
In OE, the word man occurs in proverbs in the sense of “one,” “a person” or “people”.
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It’s time to re-think St Paul and St Augustine
via 3 Quarks Daily: Rowan Williams at The New Statesman
Paul of Tarsus and Augustine of Hippo are usually regarded as pantomime villains by right-thinking moderns. Any number of historical outrages and injustices have been laid at their door, jointly and severally; patriarchal oppression, collusion in slavery, the Inquisition, the collective Christian neurosis about sexuality – almost everything except the common cold. What is most interesting about these two books is that two seasoned and scholarly authors without any religious axes to grind are arguing that this profound suspicion warrants significant qualification. Neither Karen Armstrong nor Robin Lane Fox would want to absolve the two great theologians from every reproach: Paul and Augustine are men of their age, using the familiar rhetorical forms of their cultures, marked by the patterns of power they live in, uncritical of much that we would indignantly repudiate. But what both these books do is to show how, although neither Paul nor Augustine existed in a timeless world of liberal virtue, they still offer an intellectually and imaginatively serious perspective on our humanity as well as theirs and that of their contemporaries.
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Dickens’ fascination with London
via OUP Blog by Daniel Tyler
At the height of his career – during the time he was writing Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend – Dickens wrote a series of sketches, mostly set in London, which he collected as The Uncommercial Traveller. The persona of the ‘Uncommercial’ allowed Dickens to unify his series of occasional articles by linking them through a shared narrator. Travelling the streets of London he describes and comments upon the city, its inhabitants, commerce and entertainment. Scenes of poverty and social injustice are interwoven with childhood experiences and adult memories. In the interactive map below, you can explore the areas of London visited by Dickens throughout his travels.

3,500-Year-Old Grave in Greece is Filled with Bling and Mystery
via Big Think by Robert Montenegro
Article Image
A team of giddy archaeologists has uncovered a lavish and mysterious tomb in the ancient city of Pylos on the western coast of Greece’s Peloponnesian peninsula. The tomb dates to 1500 BC and thus presents a glimpse into the rise of European civilization. The researchers hope it can help shed light on the region's clouded past beyond the scope of Homeric history.
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The Caffeinated Lives of Bees
via 3 Quarks Daily: James Gorman in The New York Times
Caffeine improves learning and memory in bees, as it does in people. Scientists know that. But, one might wonder, what do these laboratory findings mean in terms of the actual lives of bees? It’s not as if a flower meadow is sprinkled with coffee shops. Except that it is, in a way. Up to 55 percent of flowering plants are estimated to have caffeinated nectar. So any meadow or forest is going to have lots of places to stop by for a jolt. Margaret J. Couvillon of the University of Sussex, who studies the behavior of honeybees, wanted to see how caffeine affected bees’ behavior.What she found was that bees were drawn to caffeine like office workers to a coffee cart and that the favorite drug of so many human beings changed how bees evaluated nectar quality.
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Marie-Antoinette and the French Revolution
via OUP Blog by Thomas E Kaiser
Although most historians of the French Revolution assign the French queen Marie-Antoinette a minor role in bringing about that great event, a good case can be made for her importance if we look more deeply into her politics than most scholars have. Perhaps the best way to frame the question to be resolved here is: why did Marie-Antoinette come to embody so much of what seemed so wrong about the Old Regime that her removal from power, and ultimately her execution, seemed necessary to achieve the goals of 1789?
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Elegance, illustrated: heliocentrism vs geocentrism
via Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow
In a gorgeous animation, Malin Christersson shows how much simpler it is to plot out celestial mechanics when you assume that all the bodies in our solar system are in orbit around the sun, rather than the other way around.
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Great Power: a 'bridge too far' for India?
via OUP Blog by Bharat Karnad
Think of it. India was there when the Pharaohs ruled Egypt. It interacted with the Ancient Mesopotamian empires on the Tigris and the Euphrates. India was the mystery Alexander of Macedon set out to conquer. Indian spices and precious stones, finely woven cottons and silk, and peacocks, were the luxuries and the exotica craved by Imperial Rome in the age of the Caesers. Much of Southeast and offshore Asia had Hindu kingdoms, and absorbed Indic values and culture, even as Tibet, Central Asia, China, and Japan came under the thrall of Buddhism emanating from the subcontinent. The Ramayana lore so forms the cultural core of countries in this “Farther India” that the 800-year old Thai monarchy still has its historic capital of Ayuthhaya, an ancient form of Hinduism is still practised in Bali, Indonesia, and the adventures of the great Monkey King with mythical powers journeying to the “Western Kingdom” – India – remains the stuff of traditional stories dear to the people of China. So, India is and has always been a civilizational presence and cultural magnet. Alas, that is a far cry from being a great power in the modern age.
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Why do so many corpses found in Europe's peat bogs show signs of violent death?
via 3 Quarks Daily:Kristen C. French in Nautilus
One Saturday in the spring of 1950, brothers Viggo and Emil Højgaard from the small village of Tollund, in Denmark, were cutting peat in a local bog when they uncovered a dead man. He looked as though he had only just passed away. His eyelashes, chin stubble, and the wrinkles in his skin were visible; his leather cap was intact. Suspecting murder, the brothers called the police in nearby Silkeborg, but the body wasn’t what it seemed.
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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Let's have a mid-week look at non-work stuff

Sexual deception in orchids
via OUP Blog by Alun Salt
Alfred, Lord Tennyson once said “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”, but he could have said the same for insects too. Male insects will be following the scent of females, looking for a partner, but not every female is what she seems to be.
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The Nightcap: 1955
via Shorpy Historical Photo Archive – Vintage Fine Art Prints by Dave
August 1955
“Actress Marilyn Monroe in bed”
Color transparency from photos by Milton Greene for the Look magazine assignment The New Marilyn Monroe
Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Collection
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The mysterious machine behind the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew
via Boing Boing by David Pescovitz
At The Atlantic, Daniel Gross looks at the factory behind 85 years of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books and the assembly line represented by the authors on the iconic covers, Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene, who never existed at all.
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Ten facts about economic gender inequality
via OUP Blog by Paola Profeta
Gender is a central concept in modern societies. The promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment is key for policymakers, and it is receiving a growing attention in business agendas. However, gender gaps are still a wide phenomenon. While gender gaps in education and health have been decreasing remarkably over time and their differences across countries have been narrowing, gender gaps in the labour market and in politics are more persistent and still vary largely across countries.
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The Caveman’s Home Was Not a Cave
via 3 Quarks Daily: Jude Isabella at Nautilus
It was the 18th-century scientist Carolus Linnaeus that laid the foundations for modern biological taxonomy. It was also Linnaeus who argued for the existence of Homo troglodytes, a primitive people said to inhabit the caves of an Indonesian archipelago.
Although troglodyte1 has since been proven to be an invalid taxon, archaeological doctrine continued to describe our ancestors as cavemen. The idea fits with a particular narrative of human evolution, one that describes a steady march from the primitive to the complex: Humans descended from the trees, stumbled about the land, made homes in caves, and finally found glory in high-rises. In this narrative, progress includes living inside confined physical spaces. This thinking was especially prevalent in Western Europe, where caves yielded so much in the way of art and artifacts that archaeologists became convinced that a cave was also a home, in the modern sense of the word.
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Study suggests more gender equality in pre-agricultural age
via Boing Boing by Caroline Siede
The Croods
A new study from University College London argues that gender equality may have been the norm in the earliest days of human society.
“There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated,” says Mark Dyble, the anthropologist who led the study. “We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”
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Like Humans, Birds Are Smart Shoppers
via Big Think by Dustin Petzold
If you've ever been described as "birdbrained," don't feel bad; it's not as much of an insult as you might think. A study out of Seoul National University revealed that some birds have mastered a surprising trick that helps them make the most of their trips to the feeder. The birds in the study demonstrated the ability to distinguish heavier peanuts from lighter ones, even when the peanuts were still in the shell.
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End of the World Literature – Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
via Abe Books by Richard Davies
ISBN: 0345311485 On the Beach by Nevil Shute
Things can always be worse and you can rely on novelists to put that phrase into cold, hard words on the page. Noah’s ark and the flood that wiped Earth clean of wicked mankind is an early example of post-apocalyptic writing but the modern genre of end of the world literature can be traced back two centuries to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man published in 1826.
Even though Shelley, famous for Frankenstein, and a few other writers were able to imagine doomsday scenarios in Victorian times, the genre blossomed - if that’s the right word and it probably isn’t - after World War II. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed humanity had the tools for global self-destruction. The 1950s was a decade where the end of world could be found on the end of our bookshelves.
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The Not-So-Feminist History of Wonder Woman
The superheroine’s polygamous creator exploited the love and labor of the women who were his inspiration.
via Arts & Letters Daily: Emily Greenhouse in The Nation
When Stephen Gaskin passed away last July [2014], his local paper eulogized him as a “tie-dye-clad hippie philosopher, a proud ‘freethinker’” with “crystalline blue eyes.” Those of my generation who are familiar with Gaskin know him as the founder of the Farm, the 44-year-old intentional community in Summertown, Tennessee, where Gaskin’s wife, Ina May, started a movement of authentic midwifery and female body-empowerment. The Farm has 180 residents today – in the early 1970s, between 200 and 300 people traveled to Summertown in a caravan of painted school buses to create it – and maintains a focus on green community. Beyond its Ecovillage Training Center, the collective’s furthest-reaching project is a “woman-centered” approach to childbirth. Last year, a doula in Santa Cruz who runs the blog Yogini Momma posted a TEDx Talk by Ina May and praised her as midwifery’s “grandmother guru”.
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When the oil runs out, what do we do with all the tankers?
via Boing Boing: Adele Peters in Co Exist
<p>In a future world without oil, we'd end up with thousands of unusable massive oil tankers, some as long as 40-story buildings.</p>
In a future world without oil, we’d end up with thousands of unusable massive oil tankers, some as long as 40-story buildings. Instead of sending them to scrapyards, a team of architects wants to turn them into floating neighborhoods.
The supply of ships isn’t hypothetical: Every year, as old tankers wear out, they’re already being scrapped. Most end up in shipyards in places like India and Bangladesh, where workers are paid a few rupees a day to attack steel hulls with blowtorches. It’s dangerous – hundreds of workers have died from falling steel or explosions over the last decade in India alone – and the ships themselves are considered toxic waste. But by giving the hulls new value in development, the architects hope to change the disposal process.
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Monday, 19 December 2016

Dreaming the Impossible Dream: Low-Income Families and Their Hopes for the Future

an article by Joanna Lucio (School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA) and Anna Jefferson and Laura Peck (ABT Associates, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) published in Journal of Poverty Volume 20 Issue 4 (2016)


This article considers how some individuals and families who are low income think and dream about their futures and compares their thoughts with classic notions of the American Dream.

Drawing on intensive interviews with individuals and families, the authors analyzed interviewees’ observations about their hopes and thoughts for the future.

Five main themes emerge: stability, agency, and control; ideal home life; values about the home; aspirations for children; and obstacles to achieving dreams.

In brief, the authors find that the low-income participants in our research have dreams that individuals and families who are more affluent might take for granted and that they appear to adopt neoliberal assumptions about achieving those dreams. These are dreams of getting by and have important implications for the expanding category of individuals and families who find themselves in similar economic situations.

Household debt in midlife and old age: A multinational study

an article Noah Lewin-Epstein and Moshe Semyonov (Tel Aviv University, Israel) published in International Journal of Comparative Sociology Volume 57 Issue 3 (2016)


This article examines the prevalence of household debt in middle and old age, in the context of rising consumption, the weakening welfare safety net, and the ‘democratisation’ of credit. We aim to address theoretical propositions concerning household correlates of mortgage and financial debt, as well as the relationship between the two types of debt.

We utilise data gathered on populations, aged 50 years and older, in 15 countries that participated in the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) project. We find considerable levels of mortgage and financial debt in advanced stages of life, as well as significant differences within and between countries.

Controlling for country variation as well as individual and household attributes, we find a positive relationship between the size of mortgage debt and financial debt across most countries. We test alternative explanations for this relationship and discuss the implications of our findings in the broader context of the risks faced by older cohorts in consumer societies with shrinking welfare expenditure.

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Sunday, 18 December 2016

And yet another ten interesting items I've found

The Intriguing Case of GK Chesterton (And Other Would-Be Saints)
via 3 Quarks Daily by Leanne Ogasawara
Not far from Amman, located just outside the city of Salt is the shrine of the Old Testament Prophet Joshua. It is a simple building containing nothing but a tomb. But what a tomb it is; for at about ten meters long, it makes quite an impression!
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Why you often believe people who see the world differently are wrong
via Boing Boing by David McRaney
In psychology they call thinking that you see the world as it truly is, free from bias or the limitations of your senses, naive realism.
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How Long-Necked Dinosaurs Pumped Blood to Their Brains
via 3 Quarks Daily: Brian Switek in Smithsonian Magazine
Living large isn’t easy. The sauropod dinosaurs – the biggest creatures to ever walk the Earth – required rapid growth rates, skeletons that were both light and strong and copious amounts of food, just for starters.
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Burgess and Maclean: revelations
via The National Archives Blog by Dr Richard Dunley and Andrew Holt
Burgess and Maclean. The names have been etched into postwar Britain history, synonymous with espionage, intrigue and scandal.
The files released today [15 October 2015] at The National Archives show for the very first time the inside story on the investigation into these men, and reveal fascinating insights into who they were, why they betrayed their country and how they remained undetected for so long.
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What Sam Phillips heard
via Arts & Letters Daily: Jonathan Bernstein in Oxford American
Since the early seventies, veteran music journalist (and longtime Oxford American contributor) Peter Guralnick has been one of the foremost authorities on mid-twentieth century American music. From his early collections of artist portraits like Feel Like Going Home and Sweet Soul Music to later titanic biographies of Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley, Guralnick has spent the past fifty years writing about, and celebrating, the history of soul, blues, r&b, country, and rock & roll music with feverish care and devotion.
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Mathematics: Logic and Lewis Carroll
via 3 Quarks Daily: Francine F. Abeles in Nature
In 1855, Charles L. Dodgson became the mathematical lecturer at Christ Church College in the University of Oxford, UK. His job was to prepare Christ Church men (for it was all men) to pass examinations in mathematics. Dodgson (1832–98) would go on to publish Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) under the pen name Lewis Carroll, but he also produced many pamphlets and ten books on mathematical topics.
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"Long-lost" 1928 Disney animation with 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit' found in BFI archives
via Boing Boing by Xeni Jardin
Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny's long-lost, long-eared ancestor has been discovered in the National archive of the British Film Institute.
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Willoughbyland: England's Lost Colony
via 3 Quarks Daily: Adrian Tinniswood at Literary Review
Here are two things you might not know about Suriname, as the lost colony of Matthew Parker's title is known today. It boasts the largest ants in the world; and in spite of a widely held belief that it lies somewhere in the South China Sea, it is in fact on the northeast coast of South America.
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'Abrahamic religions' – From interfaith to scholarship
via OUP Blog by Guy G. Stroumsa
Together with Ulysses, Abraham is the earliest culture hero in the Western world. More precisely, as Kierkegaard, who called him ‘the knight of faith,’ reminds us, he has remained, throughout the centuries, the prototype of the religious man, of the man of faith. The wandering Aramean from the Book of Genesis, who rejected his parents’ idols and native Mesopotamia to follow the call of the One God to the land of Canaan, started a saga reverberated not only in early Jewish literature, but also in the New Testament (Galatians 3: 6-8), and in early Christian literature. Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) is also a leading figure of the Qur’an, where he is called ‘God’s friend.’ From the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an, the figure of Abraham became paradigmatic for Jews, Christians and Muslims. In particular, all argued they were following Abraham’s original conception of religion, and all claimed to be the true followers of Abraham’s religion, his only spiritual heirs. As is so common in families, a common father proved to be an element of discord, not of unity. Much in the sad, long, and complex story of religious intolerance and violence between Jews, Christians, and Muslims goes back directly to the inheritance of Abraham’s original religion. This is also true, of course, about the many other religious groups issued from the Abrahamic trunk, such as Samaritans, Bahais, or Mormons.
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In Praise of Ardor
via 3 Quarks Daily by Mara Naselli
One evening in February 2012, I was in a Chicago noodle shop looking for a table for one. The television was on – a news report from Syria. The Syrian Army had begun its attack on Homs. The frame of the screen, jostling in the confusion, captured the faces of a woman and a boy. The woman was distraught. The boy, bewildered. I watched agape, for an instant transposing myself in the place of the woman and my own sons in the place of the boy. Children cannot take in their shattering world. The slight young man waiting tables that evening must have seen something in my expression. He changed the channel to a soccer match.
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Friday, 16 December 2016

The Role of Universities in International Response to Pandemic Threats

an article by David W. Chapman and Kaylee Myhre Errecaborde (University of Minnesota, USA) published in Higher Education Studies Volume 6 Number 4 (2016)


Faced with increasing pressure to generate more of their own budgets, universities in low and middle income countries are increasingly banding together as country and regional-level networks to bid on and subsequently implement externally funded development projects (a pattern already seen in high income countries). While working as a network may offer a competitive advantage in bidding on international contracts, it also introduces a new set of dynamics in cross border collaboration among higher education institutions.

This paper examines the dynamics of university networks, drawing on the experience of one regional and four country-level networks in South East Asia which were created to promote better national preparation and response to pandemic threats. Findings suggest that, in many universities, university efforts to work through networks is a source of considerable controversy as it pushes institutions and individuals into new roles and often conflicts with existing institution-level incentive systems.

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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Human Capital Externalities: Effects for Low-Educated Workers and Low-Skilled Jobs

an article by Lourens Broersma, Arjen J. E. Edzes and Jouke Van Dijk (University of Groningen, the Netherlands) published in Regional Studies Volume 50 Issue 10 (2016)


Investments in human capital are essential themes in many policy programmes. Besides the direct private returns of education, there is evidence of positive human capital externalities at the level of regions and firms.

The results in this paper show that both production and consumption externalities have positive effects on wages. Production externalities are transmitted at the level of firms and not at the regional level. For workers in low-skilled jobs, consumption externalities dominate production externalities.

Workers on low-skilled jobs earn higher wages when working in cooperation with workers in high-skilled jobs, while for low-educated workers such cooperation with high-educated workers is negative.

The dangers of educated girls and women

an article by Vaughn M John (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) published in Education, Citizenship and Social Justice Volume 11 Issue 1 (2016)


Why do educated girls and women constitute a danger in some societies and for this face extreme danger in their educational endeavours?

This article argues that historical and contemporary educational discrimination of girls and women is the hallmark of a violently patriarchal society, and this stubborn injustice is exacerbated under conditions of poverty and political power struggles.

After considering two recent examples of violent exclusion, deeper exploration of historical exclusion of learners in South Africa helps to reveal a web of gender-based injustice and violence created at the intersections of patriarchy, poverty and political power struggles. Interventions require the acknowledgement of these underlying causes as well as their systemic and complex interactions.

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Skill composition of immigration flows and the measurement of education-occupation mismatch

an article by Jacques Poot (University of Waikato and IZA-Institute for the Study of Labor) and Steven Stillman (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and IZA-Institute for the Study of Labor) published in IZA Journal of Migration Volume 5 Article 18 (2016)


Recent papers have found that often immigrants are overqualified relative to native-born workers when comparing an individual’s education to the ‘average’ education in their occupation. We show that these results are sensitive to differences in the education distribution between immigrants and the native born.

Using data for New Zealand, which has an immigration policy that favours skilled immigrants, we find that this approach leads one to conclude that immigrants are, on average, overqualified for their occupation. However, once we account for the fact that immigrants are on average more skilled than natives, we find that immigrants are, in fact, less over-educated than natives.

JEL classification: F22, J21, J61

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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

PISA 2015 country note for the United Kingdom

from the OECD

In the United Kingdom education policy is devolved across four jurisdictions: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Key findings

• By age 15, students in the United Kingdom perform above the OECD average in science (509 score points) and reading (498 points) and around the OECD average in mathematics (492 points). As is the case across OECD countries, the average science, mathematics and reading performance of 15-year-olds in the United Kingdom has remained stable since 2006.

• A greater proportion of students in the United Kingdom achieved the highest levels in the PISA science assessment – the major domain in 2015 – compared to the average across OECD countries (Table I.2.2a). In 2015, 29% of students in the United Kingdom expect to work in a science-related occupation by age 30, and the country saw the second largest increase on this measure since 2006 across all countries (Figure 1.3.4).

• As in many other countries, socio-economically disadvantaged students in the United Kingdom are less likely to succeed at school than their more advantaged peers. However, equity in education outcomes in the United Kingdom is better than the OECD average, as 11% of the variation in student performance in science is attributed to differences in students’ socio-economic status (the OECD average is 13%) (Table I.6.3a).

• Students with an immigrant background (first or second generation) in the United Kingdom, as in many other OECD countries, do not perform as well in science as students without an immigrant background. However, once socio-economic status is accounted for, there is no difference in science performance between non-immigrant and immigrant students in the United Kingdom (Table I.7.4a).

• In the United Kingdom, boys and girls are equally likely to score at Level 5 or 6, the highest levels of proficiency, in science (12% of boys and 10% of girls) (Table I.2.6a), and they are equally likely to expect to work in a science-related occupation at age 30 (29% of boys and 30% of girls hold such expectations) (Table I.3.10b).

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Old-age employment and hours of work trends: empirical analysis for four European countries

an article by Arjeta Aliaj, Xavier Flawinne, Alain Jousten, Sergio Perelman and Lin Shi (University of Liège, HEC-ULg) published in IZA Journal of European Labor Studies Volume 5 Article 16 (2016)


For the last two decades, the increase of employment among individuals aged 50+ has been a policy objective on the European employment agenda.

The present paper focuses on the case of Belgium, France, Germany, and The Netherlands over the period 1997–2011.

First, we provide descriptive analysis of older workers’ employment using data from the European Union Labour Force Survey.

Second, we use econometric techniques to explain the different employment and hours of work patterns for various sub-groups of older workers over time. We find evidence of catching up of older generation’s employment rates—with no rupture at the financial crisis in 2007.

Third, we use micro-simulation techniques to decompose the effects of structural changes, as well as extensive and intensive labor supply changes.

JEL Classification: J08, J21, J26

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1 in 5 unemployed persons in the EU found a job

Eurostat newsrelease 233/2016 25 November 2016

Out of all persons in the European Union (EU) who were unemployed in the first quarter 2016, 63.2% (12.6 million persons) remained unemployed in the second quarter 2016, while 19.5% (3.9 million) moved into employment and 17.3% (3.5 million) towards economic inactivity. Economically inactive individuals are those neither employed nor unemployed. Examples are students, pensioners and housewives or -men, provided that they are not working at all and not available or looking for work either.

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Friday, 9 December 2016

Ten interesting items for you, some quirky, all SFW

Businessmen are always the villains
via Prospero by P.C.

Some of the most memorable scenes in films have revolved around money. Think of Michael Douglas declaring “Greed is good” in “Wall Street”, Leonardo DiCaprio’s share scams in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and, most memorably, Jimmy Stewart’s desperate attempts to save his local bank in “It’s A Wonderful Life” (pictured).
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Mars, Pluto… and beyond
via OUP Blog by Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams
The story of our solar system is developing into one of the most absorbing – and puzzling – epics of contemporary science. At the heart of it lies one of the greatest questions of all – just how special is our own planet, which teems with life and (this is the difficult bit) which has teemed with life continuously through most of its 4.5 billion year lifetime? Not all of the answers are to be found here on Earth. Our world must be understood in context, by comparison with other planets, near and far. New information has recently come in from one of our nearest neighbours, Mars, and from our most distant one, that heavenly body Pluto, that used to be known as a planet. The information is puzzling and astonishing in equal measure.
Continue reading even if the "recent" is over a year old!

First Demonstration of Photonic Intelligence
Next time you need to choose, why not let a photon make the decision instead?
A View from Emerging Technology from the arXiv

Imagine walking into a casino to play the one-armed bandits. You’ve heard that one of them pays out more than the others, so your goal is to find out which. But how much of your resources should you pour into exploring the machines before you decide to exploit one of them?
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Dental Picks
via Cool Tools by Kitty Hill
Dental picks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. First recommended to me by my art teacher in 1982 as a great tool for picking out small bits in tight areas of woodcuts. I found them to be excellent for just about anything you could imagine: lifting out gobs of hair stuck in a drain, cleaning the grooves and fine lines in my antique stove, reaching into small areas to retrieve slipped objects, clearing scraps of jammed paper in a copy machine. I got my first one from my dentist who looked at me rather oddly and I assured him I would not be doing my own dental work! I believe they throw them out anyway.
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Most Italians did not speak Italian
via 3 Quarks Daily: David Gilmour in delanceyplace
In 1861, when the Italian peninsula was finally united into a single political entity, only 2.5 percent of “Italians” spoke the Italian language. In fact, the citizens of every major Italian city – Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, and others – each spoke a different language. The situation was similar in the other countries of Europe: “The posthumous role of Dante Alighieri in the development of Italian has long been treated with reverence and solemnity. The great Florentine poet was, according to one scholar, not only ‘the father of the Italian language’ but also ‘the father of the nation and the symbol of national greatness through the centuries’. It is doubtful that Dante would have thought the second part of the description applicable to him, especially as he believed Italy should be part of the Holy Roman Empire and not a nation by itself. Yet he did write The Divine Comedy (or, as he himself called it, simply La Commedia) in Italian and extolled the virtues of the vernacular, the ‘new sun’ that would put Latin in the shade, in De vulgari eloquentia, a book he wrote in Latin.
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Fannia falanghina
via Times Online by Mary Beard
Another of my favourite Roman inscriptions, which I have mentioned before and talked about at Bard, is what may be the tombstone of a couple, known for business purposes (one presumes) as Calidius Eroticus and Fannia Voluptas. All those names are individually well attested at Rome, but together they roughly equal Mr Hot Sex and Mrs Gorgeous (though Fannia in Latin does not mean what you might imagine). So it seems highly unlikely that they were the names the couple were born with, but the one’s they took to brand their bar or cheap lodging house.
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A pauper's life in their own words
via The National Archives by Katie Fox
It is generally accepted that primary sources detailing paupers’ experience of the 19th century are largely written about the poor rather than by them.
This is true. However, at The National Archives we estimate there to be thousands of documents written by paupers within our record series MH 12. These ego documents (meaning autobiographical writing) take the form of letters, petitions and signed depositions that came into the Local Government Board and its predecessors, the Poor Law Commission and the Poor Law Board. So within one (admittedly huge) record series we can find documents setting out the pauper experience written by paupers themselves.
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A wonderful museum and some very odd notices
via Times Online by Mary Beard
I have just been stunned by the new museum at Ephesus, which I think only opened a few months ago, funded largely by the Austrians. I hadn’t been to Ephesus for about thirty years, and it was a flying visit back then, which certainly didn’t include the museum. I got the impression that most people going to the site now don’t take in the museum too: a big mistake. Go there if you get the chance.
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It’s OK to Be a Luddite
Mocking people who fear technology’s dehumanizing creep is easy. Here’s why they have a point.
via Arts & Letter Daily: by David Auerbach in Slate
Technology will save us!
Technology sucks!
Where today’s techno-utopians cheer, our modern-day Luddites, from survivalists to iPhone skeptics to that couple that dresses in Victorian clothing and winds its own clock, grumble.
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This underwater nightmare scorpion was Earth's first “big predator”
via Boing Boing by Rob Beschizza
Meet Pentecopterus decorahensis, the creature that would have eaten you were you a tasty fishy 460m years ago: “It was obviously a very aggressive animal. It was a big angry bug.”
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Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Are changes in the dispersion of hours worked a cause of increased earnings inequality?

an article by Daniele Checchi (University of Milan; Irvapp-FBK and IZA), Cecilia García-Peñalosa (Aix-Marseille University and CESifo) and Lara Vivian (Aix-Marseille University) published in IZA Journal of European Labor Studies 2016 Volume 5 Article 15


Earnings are the product of wages and hours of work; hence, the dispersion of hours can magnify or dampen a given distribution of wages. This paper examines how earnings inequality is affected by the dispersion of working hours using data for the USA, the UK, Germany, and France over the period 1989–2012.

We find that hours dispersion can account for over a third of earnings inequality in some countries and that its contribution has been growing over time.

We interpret the expansion in hours inequality in European countries as being the result of weaker union power that led to less successful bargaining concerning working hours.

JEL Classification D31 J22

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Work-related boredom and depressed mood from a daily perspective: the moderating roles of work centrality and need satisfaction

an article by Madelon L. M. van Hooff (Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands) and Edwin A. J. van Hooft (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands) published in Work & Stress: An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations Volume 30 Issue 3 (2016)


This study aimed to advance insight into inter- and intra-personal processes that may affect the associations between work-related boredom and employee well-being.

We employed a daily perspective to examine
  1. the relations between work-related boredom and depressed mood at the end of the workday and at the end of the evening after work;
  2. whether these relations were stronger for employees with high work centrality (the importance of work to the individual); and
  3. whether the indirect association between work-related boredom and depressed mood in the evening (via depressed mood at the end of the workday) was smaller on days during which employees’ basic psychological needs were satisfied after work.
Data were collected by means of a 5-day diary study among 106 employees in various occupations in The Netherlands. The results showed that work-related boredom was positively related to both depressed mood at the end of the workday and depressed mood in the evening, but only for employees with high work centrality.

Furthermore, daily need satisfaction after work mitigated the indirect relation between work-related boredom and depressed mood in the evening. Based on these findings it can be concluded that work centrality and need satisfaction should be taken into account in order to understand the association between work-related boredom and employee well-being.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sharing Resource Revenues: Common Mistakes and How to Get it Right

from the International Monetary Fund: Public Financial Management Blog (Making Public Money Count)

Posted by Andrew Bauer and Sofi Halling

In nearly every country, subnational governments receive public funds, either through direct tax collection or intergovernmental transfers. But in more than 30 countries—from Bolivia to Canada to DRC to Indonesia—policymakers have chosen to create a special revenue sharing system to distribute non-renewable natural resource revenues (see map below). A recently published report by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) examines this important topic.

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Friday, 2 December 2016

Playing games at the Library: Seriously?

an article by Cécile Swiatek (Université Paris II Panthéon Assas, France) and Myriam Gorsse (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris) published in Liber Quarterly: The Journal of the Association of European Research Libraries Volume 26 Number 2 (2016)


During the past ten years, libraries have been developing gaming activities from library board games to mystery games and immersive role-playing games. This article aims at giving a general overview of gaming issues in French academic libraries.

General gaming theories are quickly reviewed, basic keys are given about how and why to set up a gaming service and department at the academic library, concrete and recent initiatives are presented.

This article focuses on non-virtual and public-oriented games that were already organised in and by libraries. More generally, it underlines how to use gaming activities for promoting organisational innovation.

It concludes on the necessity to settle a strategy for gaming activities, to enforce management practices, and on the importance to publicise the initiatives by establishing a public gaming policy and programme, and by formalising communication plans, staff training and knowledge management. The results of this fact study highlight how gaming activities are becoming a new reality for libraries, which requires a proper management perspective.

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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Ten items of interest

Wine and the Metaphysics of Time
via 3 Quarks Daily by Dwight Furrow
Wine is useless. It bakes no bread, does no work, and solves no problem. The alcohol loosens tongues and serves as social lubricant, but wine is an inefficient delivery system for alcohol – there are faster, cheaper ways of getting drunk. No one needs wine. Wine does nothing but give pleasure.
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When flower power turned sour
Rob Chapman’s history of Psychedelia and LSD sees California dreaming become the nightmare of the Manson family murders
via Arts & Letters Daily: Ian Thomson in The Spectator
Aldous Huxley reported his first psychedelic experience in The Doors of Perception (1954), a bewitching little volume that soon became the Newest Testament among the happening people. One spring morning in 1953 the 58-year-old Englishman ingested four-tenths of a gram of mescalin in his Hollywood garden and waited for the visionary moment. When he opened his eyes he saw pure California neon dust. ‘I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his own creation.’
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How Can I Know Right From Wrong? Watch Philosophy Animations on Ethics Narrated by Harry Shearer
via 3 Quarks Daily: Josh Jones at Open Culture
The history of moral philosophy in the West hinges principally on a handful of questions: Is there a God of some sort? An afterlife? Free will? And, perhaps most pressingly for humanists, what exactly is the nature of our obligations to others? The latter question has long occupied philosophers like Immanuel Kant, whose extreme formulation – the “categorical imperative” – flatly rules out making ethical decisions dependent upon particular situations. Kant’s famous example, one that generally gets repeated with a nod to Godwin, involves an axe murderer showing up at your door and asking for the whereabouts of a visiting friend. In Kant’s estimation, telling a lie in this case justifies telling a lie at any time, for any reason. Therefore, it is unethical.
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Clerical celibacy
via OUP Blog by Hugh Thomas
A set of related satirical poems, probably written in the early thirteenth century, described an imaginary church council of English priests reacting to the news that they must henceforth be celibate. In this fictional universe the council erupted in outrage as priest after priest stood to denounce the new papal policy. Not surprisingly, the protests of many focused on sex, with one speaker, for instance, indignantly protesting that virile English clerics should be able to sleep with women, not livestock. However, other protests were focused on family. Some speakers appealed to the desire for children, and others noted their attachment to their consorts, such as one who exclaimed: “This is a useless measure, frivolous and vain; he who does not love his companion is not sane!” The poems were created for comical effect, but a little over a century earlier English priests had in fact faced, for the first time, a nationwide, systematic attempt to enforce clerical celibacy. Undoubtedly a major part of the ensuing uproar was about sex, but in reality as in fiction it was also about family.
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How pee brought us the modern world
via Boing Boing by David Pescovitz
Urine is golden so it must have some link to gold, thought medieval alchemists seeking to devise methods to transmute base metal into gold.
Not quite, but they did discover that pee is rich with the miraculous bearer of light, aka phosphorus. (American Chemical Society)
Video here

The Clandestine Adventures of Alice in Saudi Land
via Arts & Letters Daily: by Jasmine Bager in Narratively
At a discreet all-female book club in a shadowy Saudi café, women subtly push for societal change – with a little help from an imaginative heroine who turns 150 this year.
Since Saudi women still can’t take control of the wheel, I step out of the backseat of my shared family car, my long black abaya spilling onto the street as the call to prayer lingers in the cool Saudi air and the sun dips behind the horizon. I walk towards the sand-colored building holding a notebook, and adjust my headscarf with my free hand. The car drives away. The male workers inside the family-owned heritage store nod at me as I enter. I nod back. I go up the stairs alone, my abaya wiping away my footsteps as I climb higher.
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The Dustbin of Geography
via Big Think by Frank Jacobs
Article Image
That picture of you standing astride the stainless steel Meridian Line in Greenwich? It's a lie: You dont really have one foot in either hemisphere. The real Prime Meridian runs 334 feet (102 m) east, cutting an imaginary north-south line through Greenwich Park. It is marked unceremoniously by a dustbin [actually it’s a litter bin].
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Bias Detection
via CommonCraft by Lee LeFever
If you are not familiar with the CommonCraft way of presenting learning then you are in for a treat. If you are then this video is one that was published just over a year ago.
It’s all about understanding and detecting bias.
And you can see it here but you need to be aware that if you are not familiar with the concept of bias you may find this a bit too glossed for your liking.

Cameron’s World
via Boing Boing by Rob Beschizza
A beautiful and strangely haunting trip to a compilation of the Geocities-era web, made of carefully-rearranged bitmaps & bitrot.
The work of Cameron Askin, with javascript by Anthony Hughes and music by Robin Hughes, it's "a love letter to the Internet of old."
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Tone Poet: The musical universe of Béla Bartók
via Arts & Letters Daily: George B. Stauffer in The Weekly Standard magazine
The concept of “The Three Bs” in classical music has been with us since 1854, when the writer Peter Cornelius coined the phrase while suggesting that Hector Berlioz should join Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven in the highest realm of composers. Berlioz fell from this pinnacle later in the century, however, when conductor Hans von Bülow proposed a different set of Bs, a musical Trinity consisting of Bach, the Father; Beethoven, the Son; and Brahms, the Holy Ghost. This sacred triumvirate stuck, as every student of classical music knows, despite the fact that Wagner, disturbed by the veneration of his conservative arch rival Brahms, proposed replacing him with Anton Bruckner​​ – ​​a suggestion that no one other than brass players has ever taken seriously.
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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Does temporal and locational flexibility of work increase the supply of working hours? Evidence from the Netherlands

an article by Daniel Possenriede and Wolter H.J. Hassink (Utrecht University School of Economics and IZA) and Janneke Plantenga (Utrecht University School of Economics) published in IZA Journal of Labor Policy Volume 5 2016 Article 16


In recent years, many employees have gained more control over temporal and locational aspects of their work via a variety of flexible work arrangements, such as flexi-time and telehomework. This temporal and locational flexibility of work (TLF) is often seen as a means to facilitate the combination of work and private life.

As such it has been recommended as a policy to increase the average number of working hours of part-time workers. To the best of our knowledge, the effectiveness of this policy instrument has not been tested empirically yet.

We therefore analyse whether flexi-time and telehomework arrangements increase the number of actual, contracted, and preferred working hours. Based on Dutch household panel data, our results indicate that the link between TLF and working hours is quite weak.

Telehomework is associated with moderate increases in actual hours, but not in contracted or preferred hours. Flexi-time generally does not seem to be associated with an increase in hours worked. Despite positive effects on job satisfaction and working time fit, we do not find any convincing evidence of a positive effect of TLF on labour supply.

JEL classification: J22, J32, M52, M54

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What about time? Examining chronological and subjective age and their relation to work motivation

an article by Jos Akkermans and Paul G.W. Jansen (VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Annet H. de Lange (HAN University of Applied Sciences, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Radboud University, Nijmegen; and University of Stavanger, Norway), Beatrice I.J.M. van der Heijden (Radboud University, Nijmegen; Open University of The Netherlands; and University of Kingston, London, UK), Dorien T.A.M. Kooij (Tilburg University, The Netherlands) and Josje S.E. Dikkers (Hogeschool Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands) published in Career Development International Volume 21 Issue 4 (2016)


The aging workforce is becoming an increasingly important topic in today’s labor market. However, most scientific research and organizational policies focus on chronological age as the main determinant of successful aging. Based on life span developmental theories – primarily socioemotional selectivity theory and motivational theory of life span development – the purpose of this paper is to test the added value of using subjective age – in terms of remaining opportunities and remaining time – over and above chronological age in their associations with motivation at work and motivation to work.

Workers from five different divisions throughout the Netherlands (n=186) from a taxi company participated in the survey study.

The results from the regression analyses and structural equation modeling analyses support the hypotheses: when subjective age was included in the models, chronological age was virtually unrelated to workers’ intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and motivation to continue to work for one’s organization. Moreover, subjective age was strongly related to work motivation. Specifically, workers who perceived many remaining opportunities were more intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, and those who perceived a lot of remaining time were more motivated across the board.

The findings indicate that subjective age is an important concept to include in studies focussing on successful aging, thereby contributing to life span developmental theories. Further implications for research and practice are discussed.

Payday lending in the UK: the regul(aris)ation of a necessary evil?

an article by Karen Rowlingson (University of Birmingham, UK), Lindsey Appleyard (Coventry University, UK) and Jodi Gardner (Corpus Christi College, Oxford, UK) published in Journal of Social Policy Volume 45, Issue 3 (July 2016)


Concern about the increasing use of payday lending led the UK's Financial Conduct Authority to introduce landmark reforms in 2014/15. While these reforms have generally been welcomed as a way of curbing ‘extortionate’ and ‘predatory’ lending, this paper presents a more nuanced picture based on a theoretically-informed analysis of the growth and nature of payday lending combined with original and rigorous qualitative interviews with customers.

We argue that payday lending has grown as a result of three major and inter-related trends: growing income insecurity for people both in and out of work; cuts in state welfare provision; and increasing financialisation.

Recent reforms of payday lending do nothing to tackle these root causes.

Our research also makes a major contribution to debates about the ‘everyday life’ of financialisation by focusing on the ‘lived experience’ of borrowers. We show that, contrary to the rather simplistic picture presented by the media and many campaigners, various aspects of payday lending are actually welcomed by customers, given the situations they are in.

Tighter regulation may therefore have negative consequences for some. More generally, we argue that the regul(aris)ation of payday lending reinforces the shift in the role of the state from provider/redistributor to regulator/enabler.

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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Ethnicity, gender, deprivation and low educational attainment in England: Political arithmetic, ideological stances and the deficient society

an article by Carl Parsons (University of Greenwich, UK) published in Education, Citizenship and Social Justice Volume 11 Number 2 (July 2016)


Attainment data on England’s school pupils are more extensive in coverage, detail, quantity, accessibility and of higher quality than monitoring statistics routinely available in other European countries. These data facilitate investigation of low attainment in England’s schools and its relationship to ethnicity, gender and poverty.

This article reviews longitudinal sample studies and extends this with simpler presentations of England’s national attainment statistics for education over 5 years up to 2014. The analyses show recurrent correlations of low attainment with specific ethnic minority groups, with gender and most strongly with low-income sections of society.

There is a strong case, from these data and other research, that these inequalities are rooted in social and economic factors outside the school, created and sustained by neoliberal economic practices and elitist structures. It is argued that reducing the proportion of children growing up in poverty will have a bigger impact on raising average attainment levels than focusing on in-school factors.

Religious Diversity and the Challenge of Social Inclusion

an article by Gary Bouma published in Social Inclusion Volume 4 Number 2 (2016)


As societies have become religiously diverse in ways and extents not familiar in the recent histories of most, the issues of how to include this diversity and how to manage it, that is, questions about how to be a religiously diverse society have come to the fore.

As a result religion has become part of the social policy conversation in new ways.

It has also occasioned new thinking about religions, their forms and the complexity of ways they are negotiated by adherents and the ways they are related to society, the state and each other.

This issue of Social Inclusion explores these issues of social inclusion in both particular settings and in cross-national comparative studies by presenting research and critical thought on this critical issue facing every society today.

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The Global Gender Gap Report 2016

via South West Skills Newsletter (The Marchmont Web Flash) November 2016

Through the Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum quantifies the magnitude of gender disparities and tracks their progress over time, with a specific focus on the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.

The 2016 Report covers 144 countries. More than a decade of data has revealed that progress is still too slow for realizing the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.

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An institutional theory of the informal economy: some lessons from the United Kingdom

an article by Colin C Williams (Management School, University of Sheffield, UK) and Ioana Alexandra Horodnic ('Gh. Zane' Institute for Economic and Social Research, Romanian Academy Iasi Branch, Romania) published in International Journal of Social Economics Volume 43 Issue 7 (2016)


The purpose of this paper is to propose a new way of explaining participation in the informal economy as resulting from the asymmetry between the codified laws and regulations of a society’s formal institutions (government morality) and the norms, values and beliefs of the population that constitute its informal institutions (societal morality). The proposition is that the greater the asymmetry between government morality and societal morality, the greater is the propensity to participate in the informal economy.

To evaluate this institutional asymmetry theory, the results are reported of 1,306 face-to-face interviews conducted during 2013 in the UK.

The finding is a strong correlation between the degree of institutional asymmetry (measured by tax morale) and participation in the informal economy. The lower the tax morale, the greater is the propensity to participate in the informal economy. Using ordered logistic regression analysis, tax morale is not found to significantly vary by, for example, social class, employment status or wealth, but there are significant gender, age and spatial variations with men, younger age groups, rural areas and Scotland displaying significantly lower tax morale than women, older people, urban areas and London.

Practical implications
Rather than continue with the current disincentives policy approach, a new policy approach that reduces the asymmetry between government morality and societal morality is advocated. This requires not only changes in societal morality regarding the acceptability of participating in the informal economy but also changes in how formal institutions operate in order for this to be achieved.

This paper provides a new way of explaining participation in the informal economy and reviews its consequences for understanding and tackling the informal economy in the UK.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Sustainable lifestyles for all? Disability equality, sustainability and the limitations of current UK policy

an article by Deborah Fenney Salkeld (University of Leeds, UK) published in Disability & Society Volume 31 Issue 4 (2016)


In recent years, various environmental threats have been highlighted in relation to disability. Growing knowledge of the effects of climate change and particular impacts on disabled people have been highlighted by a number of authors, including a recent critique of disabled people’s ‘vulnerability’ with respect to environmental hazard.

This article focuses on the issue of citizen involvement with climate change mitigation – and more broadly individual and household-level efforts to reduce our impact on the environment. These more mundane aspects of climate change mitigation, for example through transitions to more sustainable lifestyles, also have significant implications for disabled people.

The article argues that disability equality is a key component of sustainability. Limitations are demonstrated in policy designed to address these issues using the example of current UK policy, and it is suggested that policy approaches to sustainability should also be a concern of disability studies.