Article 15—“Débrouillez-vous”

June 20th, 2018

A jaunty passage from Ed Yong’s essay “The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?” in The Atlantic magazine:

If [the disease outbreak does return], is there any protective equipment at the hospital? “No,” she tells me.

Mikolo laughs. “Article 15,” he says.

Article 15 is something of a Congolese catchphrase, referring to a fictional but universally recognized 15th article of the country’s constitution, “Débrouillez-vous”—“figure it out yourself.” I hear it everywhere. It is simultaneously a testament to the Congolese love for droll humor, a weary acknowledgment of hardship, a screw-you to the establishment, and a motivational mantra. No one’s going to fix your problems. You must make do with what you’ve got.

The sub-headline on that essay says:”The epidemics of the early 21st century revealed a world unprepared, even as the risks continue to multiply. Much worse is coming.”

BONUS (related): Catch-22

The numbers 15 and 22 will be among those explored in the special NUMBERS issue (vol. 24, no. 4) of the Annals of Improbable Research, coming later this year.

Experimental Evidence That Stripes Do Not Cool Zebras, by Ig Nobel Winners

June 19th, 2018

The prize-winning researchers who discovered why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses has now probed a classic mystery about zebra stripes. They published this report: “Experimental Evidence That Stripes Do Not Cool Zebras,” Gábor Horváth, Ádám Pereszlényi, Dénes Száz, András Barta, Imre M. Jánosi, Balázs Gerics, and Susanne Åkesson, Scentific Reports, vol. 8, no. 9351, 2018. The authors explain what they did, and what they reasoned from it:

“There are as many as 18 theories for the possible functions of the stripes of zebras, one of which is to cool the animal. We performed field experiments and thermographic measurements to investigate whether thermoregulation might work for zebra-striped bodies.

“A zebra body was modeled by water-filled metal barrels covered with horse, cattle and zebra hides and with various black, white, grey and striped patterns. The barrels were installed in the open air for four months while their core temperature was measured continuously. Using thermography, the temperature distributions of the barrel surfaces were compared to those of living zebras. The sunlit zebra-striped barrels reproduced well the surface temperature characteristics of sunlit zebras. We found that there were no significant core temperature differences between the striped and grey barrels, even on many hot days, independent of the air temperature and wind speed. The average core temperature of the barrels increased as follows: white cattle, grey cattle, real zebra, artificial zebra, grey horse, black cattle. Consequently, we demonstrate that zebra-striped coats do not keep the body cooler than grey coats challenging the hypothesis of a thermoregulatory role of zebra stripes.”

Here’s a video news report about the zebra-stripe research:

The 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik, and Hansruedi Wildermuth, for discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.

REFERENCE: “An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat,” Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas and Susanne Åkesson, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 277 no. 1688, pp. June 2010, pp. 1643-1650.

REFERENCE: “Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery: The Attraction of Sympetrum species (Odonata: Libellulidae) by Horizontally Polarizing Black Grave-Stones,” Gábor Horváth, Péter Malik, György Kriska, Hansruedi Wildermuth, Freshwater Biology, vol. 52, vol. 9, September 2007, pp. 1700–9.

BONUS: RICHÁRD HEGYESHALMI gives the news study a quick study, writing in the Hungarian journal Index: “What Are the Zebra’s Stripes Good For?

On the etiquette of eating placentas

June 19th, 2018

The author of the Murrmurrs blog discusses placenta-eating:

The very day I first heard about placenta-eating, I mentioned it to a man and woman who joined us for beer-thirty, and scored a hit right away. It was the man who had eaten the placenta. It wasn’t his wife’s, either. It was at some sort of hippie community event. Sauteed placenta canapes with toothpicks in them, or something. He explained that he ate the placenta because he was polite. “You don’t get offered someone’s placenta and say ‘yuck,'” he said. “That would be rude.”

(Thanks to Jennifer Oeullette for indirectly bringing this to our attention.)

Good appreciation of the best appreciators of bad art

June 18th, 2018

There’s a good new appreciation [in Portuguese], published in Folha de S.Paulo, of our collaborators at the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA). Translated into English, the headline is “Get to know the masterpieces of the Museum of Bad ArtInstitution in the Boston area brings together two physical galleries and almost 800 works of dubious taste.”

The appreciation reproduces quite a few of the masterful pieces from the MOBA collection, of which we reproduce, in tiny form, this one:

The inconsistencies of animal-based insults in German and English

June 18th, 2018

If you call an English person ‘a mole’ will it carry the same weight as if you call a German person ‘ein Maulwurf’? The power of insults that are based on the names of animal species can vary quite dramatically across different languages and cultures. Prof. Dr. Dagmar Schmauks who is a supernumerary professor at the Technical University of Berlin (and whose research interests include pragmatics, man-animal-relationship, and orientation in space) writes of such things in the scholarly journal Semiotica 2014; 198: 93 – 120. ‘Curs, crabs, and cranky cows: Ethological and linguistic aspects of animal-based insults’

The professor lists many animal-based insults that can have similar and yet in some cases significantly different weights and meaning(s) in German and English. For example :

● smelly: billy-goat [Ziegenbock], fox [Fuchs], skunk [Stinktier]
● slimy: jellyfish [Qualle], snail [Schnecke], snake [Schlange]
● cruel or ruthless: hyena, vulture [Geier], wolf
● sly: fox [Fuchs], rat [Ratte], snake [Schlange], weasel [Wiesel]
● dishonest: magpie, steal like a magpie [Elster, stehlen wie eine Elster]
● deceitful, deceptive: snake (in the grass) [Schlange]
● evasive: weasel [Wiesel]
● wretched: cur [Köter], worm [Wurm]
● subversive: mole [Maulwurf]

Photo credit: The photograph of Scalopus aquaticus linnacus (a mole) is courtesy of Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University, US.

Note: The paper is dedicated to Professor Reinhold Aman, a prominent figure in the field of Maledictology, and editor of the much missed journal Maledicta.

Bonus Assignment [optional] :  Speciesism : is the human use of insults based on animal names insulting to animals?