Friday, March 31, 2017

Element of the Month: Zinc!

March's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 65.38 amu
Melting Point: 419.53 °C
Boiling Point: 907 °C

Paracelsus, the great sixteenth century Swiss doctor, was full of really great ideas about health and healing! For example, he advanced the idea that it was better to clean wounds than to pack them with animal excrement! He felt that different diseases should be diagnosed and treated differently, rather than relying on a single treatment for "whatever ails ya!" He even thought that diseases might somehow be outside entities that affected the human body, rather than an imbalance within the body! So, he definitely sounds like the doctor you would ask for if you were a wounded Venetian soldier in 1522. Although, full disclosure, along with the stuff that has turned out to be key insights in the development of medical science, he also had plenty of beliefs that sound batshit crazy these days. We'll ignore those.

Another thing about Paracelsus: he was, as Wikipedia plagiarizes from Ervin Reffner's 2015 The Esoteric Codex: The Alchemists, or perhaps vice versa, "one of the first medical professors to recognize that physicians required a solid academic knowledge in the natural sciences, especially chemistry." This is how he set the stage for our modern cutthroat Organic Chemistry classes in any college with a pre-med major. He also did some dabbling in the alchemical lab himself, which is how he came to name our Element of the Month. He called it Zinke (in German) or maybe Zinkum (in Latin); we in the English-speaking world call it... wait for it... Zinc!

Now, it must have been called something before it was called Zinc. It had already been used for at least 4000 years, alloyed with copper to make brass, so it must have had plenty of names. I don't know them, though. Nor do I know whether much happened on the study-of-Zinc front until the immortal Andreas Sigismund Marggraf isolated pure Zinc in 1746 -- or at least that's what they WANT you to think! In fact, William Champian was isolating Zinc on a commercial scale in England by 1738. Heck, Champian was isolating Zinc so well, through his patented Zinc-isolating process for heaven's sake, that he dramatically lowered the price of Zinc, brass, and many metal goods, thus creating powerful commercial enemies who would ultimately crush his enterprise and make sure he died in poverty, in the benign spirit of good old-fashioned laissez-faire capitalism. Meanwhile, the prominent Swedish geologist and chemist Anton von Swab isolated Zinc in a scientific setting in 1742. Everyone seems to know all this, but Marggraf is always mentioned first. Apparently this is because he kept especially good notes. I applaud Herr Marggraf his systematic approach, but can see where the Champian and von Swab partisans might be kind of pissed off by the whole business. I mean, isn't enough that Marggraf laid the scientific foundation for the entire sugar beet industry? Can't anybody else get a little credit for anything? Just saying.

The Centerfold!

But I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Hey, Michael5000, is it true that large doses of Zinc compounds can cure me from, or prevent me from catching, the common cold?" The medical literature is cautious in its approach to this perennial question. A 2012 review of studies in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggested that people taking Zinc supplements might have a shorter duration of cold symptoms, by as much as a day and a half. The real answer, however, is less encouraging. It is: "of course not, what, for crying out loud, were you born yesterday? Take all the Zinc and Vitamin C you want if it makes you feel better, and you'll be fine in a while, there's not really much you can do about a cold."

The famous brainy Italian scientists Galvani and Volta messed about with Zinc. It is commonly been used in batteries (Volts!), and applying a thin coating of Zinc is a way of providing other metals with a protective surface to prevent corrosion (galvinization, although Galvani didn't really have a bit to do with it). It is still, after all these millennia, alloyed with copper to make brass. It is what a Copper penny is made out of, mostly. And, well, it's a common material that has been known throughout history.  As you would expect, it has a zillion household uses.

You have a couple of grams of Zinc in your body, roughly the mass of two paperclips (the satisfying "jumbo" paperclips, not the annoying smaller ones. I frankly have no use for those.). That's not a huge proportion of your body -- although, you are looking pretty slim lately, have you been working out? -- but it's not two paperclips you would want to do without. Zinc molecules are a key working component of many enzymes, and are part of the mechanism by which proteins recognizes DNA sequences. In layman's terms, this means that -- well, I have no idea really, but obviously it would be pretty damn dire if your enzymes and proteins crapped out on you. To summarize a number of long lists, I think it's fair to say that a major dietary source of Zinc is food. If you are getting enough food, and assuming that you are not a complete idiot about what you are eating, you should be just fine.

Some Zinc compounds are important pigments in a painter's arsenal, as for example Zinc White.  This
1959 piece by the American painter Franz Kline is called
Zinc Yellow, and that, in a sense, is
what it is about.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Third-Round Elimination: GRUDGE MATCH: Piero di Cosimo v. Picasso!

We're used to Grudge Matches in Second-Round Elimination -- although their frisson of simmering resentment is always exciting -- but has there ever even been a Grudge Match in Third-Round Elimination?  Yes, there has.  Bazille v. Beckman, January 2014.  Beckman defended his advantage with a big 9-7 victory.

This week, Piero di Cosimo has a second encounter with Mr. Pablo Picasso, who beat him nine votes to four in the Second Round, back in January 2016.  Grudge Match rules, ladies and gentlemen: a tie will belong to Picasso on the strength of his original win.  To stay in the Tournament, Piero di Cosimo must win outright.

Leaving us this week are Jackson Pollack (2-2; 18 vf, 25 va) and Pisanello (3-2; 28 vf, 26 va).

Piero di Cosimo
1461ish - 1521


Pablo Picasso
1881 - 1973


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Wednesday Post

The Disillusionment of Jigsaw Puzzles
Now to octopi band!

The first Wednesday Post giveaway in, like, forever!

Every three years or so, whether I need to or not, I like to offer up a few completed jigaw puzzles.

This time it's one of Cezzane's famous series of "French Guys Playing Cards."  It has 1000 highly squiggly pieces, and although they are on a regular grid I must warn (or entice) you that the limited color palette makes this a real butt-thumper among jigsaw puzzles.  Here's a poor photograph!

If you would like to have this impeccably artsy puzzle sent to you -- perhaps by the Wednesday post! -- just say so in the comments.  If you kind of want it, but someone else seems to have already claimed it, then it is only sporting to advance a counter-claim.  If you dislike jigsaw puzzles, there's nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Tamayo v. Teniers!

Rufino Tamayo
1899 - 1991

Beat Yves Tanguy in Round 1.

David Teniers
1610 - 1690

Beat his contemporary Gerard Ter Borch in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The New Monday Quiz Celebrates... the 27th!!!

1. There are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet. What does it have that the English alphabet doesn't?

2. The historically most successful team in major league baseball has won 27 World Series. What's that team?

3. The "27 Club" refers to a surprising number of successful musicians who have died at that unfortunate age. Name a few of them!

4. What's the cube root of 27?

5. Rescued from a World War I battlefield, he went on to star in 27 motion pictures and became one of the most successful and highest paid animal actors of all time. He was a German Shepherd. What was his name?

6. What is Element 27? I'll give you a hint, it's one of these: Aluminum, Astatine, Cobalt, Hydrogen, Mercury, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Radon, or Xenon.

7. If you were listening to a Symphony #27 in G Major, and the program notes told you it was "K. 199/161b," you'd know it was by what composer?

8. On the other hand, if you were listening to a Piano Sonata #27 in E minor, Op. 90, and the program notes told you it was written in 1814, you could assume it was by whom?

9. The 27th most populous country has the 11th wealthiest economy, a population that is 20% Protestant, 16% Buddhist, 8% Catholic, and 57% not religiously affiliated, and only one land border but that one a notoriously tense one. Also, a stand-in head of state at the moment. Name that country!

10. Today is the 27th birthday of Nicolas Nkoulou, a defender for one of the historically most successful African national soccer teams. He was born in the capital, Yaoundé. From what country does Mr. Nkoulou hail?

Answers go in the comments!  Bonus point for an interesting observation about how the number 27 is significant in your own life!

Two weeks ago, The New Monday Quiz wished happy birthday to a bunch of folks who were all more famous than you are, unless you're fairly famous. The answers were:
1. The artist was Georges de la Tour
2. When the Pope said that  “the poor were his nephews," he meant that he wanted the Church to help the poor, and eliminate nepotism?
3. Abigail's hubby was Millard Fillmore.
4. Grand Viziers were the heads of the Ottoman Empire, although often not for long.
5. Percival Lowell predicted Pluto, albeit ineptly.
6. Al Jaffee wrote for Mad Magazine
7. That's a map of Honduras
8. That's a still from Fargo
9. High school band made good: U2
10. Mr. Lázaro plays for Milan
Non-UnitedStatsean UnWise Owl got a gimme on #3, since Millard Fillmore is like the... I dunno... George Reid of American politics, maybe.  Anyhoo, Mrs. still came up with the win after her ammendment gave her a perfect slate of answers.  She may choose between massive shaggy white forepaws or being like Millard Fillmore... whatever that might entail.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Turner v. Twombly!

J.M.W. Turner
1775 - 1850


Cy Twombly
1928 - 2011


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Game of Reading Redux, Redux

It's time once again to revisit The Game of Reading!  What, already?  It's only been a month!  But nevertheless.


A few weeks ago, I finally played Card #263 from the 2016 deck, The Bridge on the Drina, and I've been reading it steadily along with other stuff every since.  The card I drew up was a bit mischievous on the part of my Christmas Eve self, the guy who set up this year's deck.  It was Card #527: "MRtB."

You probably don't know, or have forgotten, that I theoretically have another online periodical, older than this one, called Michael Reads the Bible.  I seem to have forgotten it myself, as it turns out I hadn't written anything for it since August of 'aught fourteen. So, what Card #527 meant was: "Read a book of the Bible, and write it up for that other blog."

A spot of research revealed that I was two posts into the Book of Daniel, and that I had written a third but never posted it.  In obedience to the card, I finished Daniel and wrote up a post, which should be running today.  Here: go take a look!  If you like what you see, there's another post coming soon about some material that is in some Books of Daniel, but not others, and also has racy pictures. There are also 150 back episodes.  Knock yourself out!  Make Comments!

What Happened with the Cards I Was Holding on February 24
Card 263 [2016 Deck]: The Bridge on the Drina.  I'm currently reading it!
Card 498 [2016 Deck]: Ask J***.  I've still got the same issues with this card as I did before, viz. not liking the book that J*** assigned me.
Card 273 [2016 Deck]: The Time Traveler's WifeI've currently got in on my headphones.
Card 78 [2016 Deck]: Rabbit Redux.  I listened to it -- or rather, Rabbit, Run -- a few weeks ago.
Christmas Free Book!  I used this one on an audiobook version of The Semi-Detached House, a Victorian light comic novel.  It was OK, but not worth a Free Book.
Card 457: Other Non-Fiction.  I used it for Stuff Matters, a well-reviewed book about materials science that turned out to be a bit on the lite side.
Card 397: Unrestricted New Book.  I used it to for Logicomix, a graphic novel, or graphic non-fiction I suppose, about Bertrand Russell's work in mathematics and logic.  More fun than it sounds. 
Card 320: Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.  Happily, I was able to return this one to the deck with a "Return one card to the deck and draw two" card.
Card 321: Resurrection Men (Inspector Rebus, #13).  I invoked the serial fiction rule and used this one to listen to Standing in Another Man's Grave (Inspector Rebus, #18)
Card 396: Unrestricted New Book.  Having read Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool to satisfy a "Reread Something from Before You Were Using Goodreads" card, I then used this card to read the recent sequel, Everybody's Fool.
Ninety percent turnover, not even including nine cards that have come and gone in the interim!  Backed into a reading corner, I have not been.

The Cards I Have In My Hand Right Now
Card 498 [2016 Deck]: Ask J***.  Still a problem card, as discussed above.
Card 514: Shakespeare.  I decided to use this one on Merry Wives of Windsor, then discovered it's not on my Shakespeare shelf!  That's no way to run a railroad.  So, I've bought a copy.  You'll probably get a write-up here. 
Card 354: Unrestricted New Book.  I might use this to read Universal Harvester, a horror novel by the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle. 
Card 557: Reread Something pre-GR.  I might use this to re-read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.
Card 480: From the Spanish.  I'm excited about this one -- I have a copy of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 on order.  It looks great!  I hope I like it!
Card 110: Watchman.  A book from early in the career of a detective writer, without his famous detective.  I've apparently read it before, but I have no memory of it.  I look forward to it with little enthusiasm.
Card 470: From the French.  Okay, I'm really tempted to use this one to re-read Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual.  If I do that, though, there's a risk that I'll draw Card #281: Life, a User's Manual.  What happens then??? You can see my hesitation.
Card 210: Kate Atkinson, Emotionally Weird.  I just picked it up at the library tonight.  A treat!
Card 378: Unrestricted New Book.  This is what I drew when I started on the Book of Daniel.  I suppose it is a card of virtue rewarded.
Card 43: Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.  Really, a pretty terrific history.  I fondly remember listening to it during the great run-cation of 2012.  It might be a bit heavy to take on again, or, maybe it would reinforce my learning.  At my age, do I still need to bother with reinforcing learning?  Well, it can't hurt I suppose.
The problem with the hand is that there's lots of great stuff to eye-read, but not much ready to roll when I finish my current audiobook.  I suppose I could lay off the headphones, like I did the first 38 years of my life, but that would be weird.  I might have to sacrifice some of the Unrestricted and less restrictive cards in order to keep the ear-reading going, which would ordinarily be a real sacrifice but perhaps less so when the other holdings are so rich.

I Always Like to Ask

Anyway, that's where things are at in my reading life!  What are YOU reading?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, First Elimination Round #57/64

Faceoff #1: Riopelle v. Stella

Jean-Paul Riopelle
1923 - 2002

Tied with Bridget Riley in his first stab at the First Round.
Lost to Adriaen van Ostade in a second try at Round 1 by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!


Frank Stella
born 1936

Lost to Dutch master Jan Steen in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Faceoff #2: Stuart v. Stubbs

Gilbert Stuart
1755 - 1828

Beaten easily by Clyfford Still in Round 1.


George Stubbs
1724 - 1806

Made short work of by Graham Sutherland in Round 1.

Vote for the two artists of your choice! Votes generally go in the comments, but have been known to arrive by email, by postcard, or in a sealed envelope.

Please note that you may vote only once in each face-off.  Opining that both of the artists in one of the two face-offs is superior to the other is fine, but casting your votes for two artists in the same face-off is not permissible.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Disillusionment of Wednesday VI

Wednesdays have been haunted
By this game of poetry criticism.
This is the last one.
I promise.

Under the Sea

The key to Wallace Stevens's odd poem "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" is hidden in plain sight.  It requires only a simple anagram operation on the first letters of the otherwise opaque lines to render Steven's message meaningful. What we find, after sorting out "tbnooonwaptodci," is a manic zest for nautical daring-do. "Now to octopi band!" Stevens announces, like a kind of ancient submariner ready to lead us to our own destruction, or perhaps redemption.

With this key in hand, much that seemed arbitrary is now clear, in particular the "old sailor" who seems so intrusive in a naive reading.  The seaman stands revealed -- or rather, reclines revealed -- as the author himself, catching some intoxicated rest before the adventure begins. "Red skies at night," as everyone knows, are a "sailor's delight," and a man happily catching tigers on land tonight may well be happily be catching -- or collaborating with -- octopi tomorrow. What otherwise seems like just so much silly babbling nonsense about contrasting colors, similarly, suddenly becomes recognizable as the dreamlike loveliness of the undersea spectrum, with its purples, greens, and occasional yellows (but never reds). Note too the witty deployment of the word "rings," which is obviously a synonym for the octopi "band" but also a clear reference to the tentacular suckers characteristic to the animal and perhaps, even, a reference to its overall radial symmetry. Needless to say, octopi do not require decorative socks or sashes; the very idea is absurd, and this is perhaps a weak point in the poem as properly understood. Stevens is only being direct, however, when he announces that "People are not going to dream of baboons and periwinkles." They certainly are not: there will not be time for such reveries on our journey to the octopus lair.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Still v. Sutherland!

Clyfford Still
1904 - 1980

Beat American Gilbert Stuart in Round 1.

Graham Sutherland
1903 - 1980

Defeated George Stubbs in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Through History With the New Monday Quiz: the 1400s

Many important historical things happened in the 1400s.  Let's start the tour!

1. The Kingdom of Kongo was founded sometime in or around the 1400s, and would survive until the late 1800s. Where?

2. This map of the world, called the Kangnido map, was made in about 1402. Like most map-makers, the Kangnido cartographers had a bit of a hometown bias. Where did they live?

3. Andrei Rublev is considered one of the great masters of his country’s artistic tradition. Here’s a work he completed in around 1405. Where do you suppose Mr. Rublev hailed from?

4. Timur, AKA Tamerlane, was “the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe.” Having crushed the Dehli Sultanate in the late 1390s, he sacked Armenia, Georgia, and Syria in 1400, then Baghdad in 1401 and again in 1402. He began a planned conquest of China in 1405, but fell ill and died before the attack could begin in earnest. This was a lucky break for the Chinese, as being defeated by Tamerlane was seldom good news -- massacre of city populations was a commonplace, and it’s estimated that 17 million people, around 5% of the world’s population, were put to his sword.

And yet, many people in Europe thought that Tamerlane was just great! Why were some Europeans glad that this brutal conqueror had shown up?

5. In 1405, Zheng He (AKA Chang Ho) began the first of his amazing adventures. What would these amazing adventures consist of?

6. Construction on this building got underway in 1406. These days it is a museum of art and history, probably the most-visited museum in the world. We have an odd name for it in English: Name that Building!

7. Game of Thrones 1407: John the Fearless, angered that he has lost influence at court, has 15 henchman waylay the King’s brother in the street and stab him to death. This begins almost three decades of civil war between the staunchly feudal Royalist Armagnac faction and the English-allied Burgundians, who favored a less centralized social and political system. In what country did this all go down?

8. The Moa were several species of flightless bird that stood up to three and a half meters tall. Before humans arrived, their only enemy was the Haast’s eagle, a more aerial creature of similar mass, up to 230 kg or 510 pounds. But then humans arrived, and sometime around 1400 both the Moa and the Haast’s eagle went extinct. What group of humans failed to manage their bird hunting on sustainable principles?

9. Since 1378, there had been two rival claimants to the Papacy. In 1409, the Council of Pisa was convened to resolve this problem and reunify the Church. What was the outcome?

10. In 1409, a young sculptor named Donatello finished this sculpture. It is considered an early version of a more famous one he would make in bronze thirty years later. Who is the subject?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1390s

1. The Byzantine Emperor went to Western Europe to try to round up support against the Ottomans.  He was fairly successful, but the support that got sent was a big fiasco.
2. Vytautas the Great ruled imperial Lithuania.
3. The Book of Ballymote is from Ireland.
4. Kaffa is the southern highlands of Ethiopia.
5. The mad king and his ruined party were in France.
6. Tenochititlan was in Central Mexico.
7. The curious thing about Boniface IX and Benedict XIII is that they were Popes at the same time, or at least had competing claims.
8. The conquerer is Timur, or Tamerlane.
9. The three countries of the Kalmar Union were Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
10. Mysore became part of independent India in 1947.

I was hoping there would be a tie this time, so I could riff on the "competing claims" theme, but quiz victory, like medieval Lithuania under Vytautas, was basically a one man show.  UnWise Owl returns to Quiz victory after, oh, who knows how long an absence.  But... can he stand up to the fifteenth century? 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Toulouse-Lautrec v. de Troy!

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
1864 - 1901


Jean-François de Troy
1679 - 1752


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Eastward the Course of the Avatar Makes Its Way

It's been a while since we checked in on the running Avatar. Remember him? The insubstantial little guy who, as I jog in plodding little circles around town, is out exploring the great continent at the exact same pace? We last saw him in January 2016, in central Missouri. What has he been up to since then?

Well, for a few months after that, he was running vigorously southeast.  Then various things happened, and he sputtered along fitfully for a while.  Then, some other things happened, and there was a three month stretch (August 11 to November 10) when he made it fewer than 15 miles down the road.  And so it was that he found himself languishing just north of Cairo, Illinois, a city that we can safely say has not lived up to the expectations of its founders.

The three months since then, though, have been pretty good!  As I've gone through a mostly-successful running "reboot," the Avatar has explored western Kentucky, visited Paducah, crossed the ferry back to Illinois at Cave-In-Rock, and bopped back and forth across the Illinois-Indiana border a few times.  And now he is in Vincennes, on the banks of the Wabash. He says hi.

We haven't looked at the Avatar's journey as a whole since December 2014, so let's get a little context here:

Knox County, Indiana, is his 93rd.  The colors represent years, with the dark purple clump showing the Avatar's initial tour of the Willamette Valley in late 2012.  The little bulls-eyes show counties where the Avatar has been, but I haven't.  There will be a lot of those from now until he gets to Pennsylvania.  And, I bet he'll be dipping his toe in the Atlantic by Summer 2018!  Assuming I am still around myself, naturally.