Spreading Word

When a Western scrub jay discovers the body of a dead jay, it summons other birds to screech over the body for up to half an hour. It’s not clear why they do this — the birds are territorial and not normally social. Possibly it’s a way to share news of danger, concentrate attention to find a predator, or teach young about dangers in the environment.

The gatherings are sometimes called funerals, though we don’t know enough to understand the reasons behind them. But UC Davis student Teresa Iglesias said, “I think there’s a huge possibility that there is much more to learn about the social and emotional lives of birds.”

Something Else

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Einstein_blackboard.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

During a visit to Oxford in May 1931, Albert Einstein gave a brief lecture on cosmology, and afterward the blackboard was preserved along with Einstein’s ephemeral writing. It now resides in the university’s Museum of the History of Science.

Harvard historian of science Jean-François Gauvin argues that this makes it a “mutant object”: It’s no longer fulfilling the essential function of a blackboard, to store information temporarily — it’s become something else, a socially created object linked to the great scientist. The board’s original essence could be restored by wiping it clean, but that would destroy its current identity.

“The sociological metamorphosis at the origin of this celebrated artifact has completely destroyed its intrinsic nature,” Gauvin writes. “Einstein’s blackboard has become an object of memory, an object of collection modified at the ontological level by a social desire to celebrate the achievement of a great man.”

Going Up

The world’s largest vertical maze is the Al Rostamani Maze Tower in Dubai. Designed by Adrian Fisher, it rises 57 stories from the entrance at the bottom to the goal at the top.

The facade of the 12-story car park presents a second maze.

Caution

When Ralf Trylla, environmental commissioner of the small Icelandic fishing village of Ísafjörður, wanted to slow traffic on a narrow street, he took inspiration from a project in New Delhi (below) that imparted a three-dimensional effect to a traditional zebra crossing.

Trylla partnered with street painting company Vegmálun GÍH to create a similar crossing in Ísafjörður, and they’re assessing the effect as they consider whether to apply it to more of the town’s crosswalks.

(Via My Modern Met.)

In a Word

belua
n. a huge or monstrous creature or beast

pervagate
v. to wander through (a place)

cibation
n. taking food, feeding

epichoric
adj. characteristic of or peculiar to a particular country or district

From October to December, a herd of elephants walks through the lobby of Zambia’s Mfuwe Lodge to reach the fruit of a wild mango tree.

At least three generations of one family has returned to the lodge to visit the tree.

Heavens

https://books.google.com/books?id=94oXAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA440

In 1770 Scottish sexologist James Graham moved to America and offered the “celestial bed,” a 12-foot “wonder-working edifice” in which “everything is done to assist the ethereal, magnetic, musical and electric influences, and to make the lady look as lovely as possible in the eyes of her husband and he, in hers”:

“On the utmost summit of the dome are placed two exquisite figures of Cupid and Psyche, with a figure of Hymen behind, with his torch flaming with electrical fire in one hand and with the other, supporting a celestial crown, sparkling over a pair of living turtle doves, on a little bed of roses.

“The other elegant group of figures which sport on the top of the dome, having each of them musical instruments in their hands, which by the most expensive mechanism, breathe forth sound corresponding to their instruments, flutes, guitars, violins, clarinets, trumpets, horns, oboes, kettle drums, etc.

“At the head of the bed appears sparkling with electrical fire a great first commandment: ‘BE FRUITFUL, MULTIPLY AND REPLENISH THE EARTH’. Under that is an elegant sweet-toned organ in front of which is a fine landscape of moving figures, priest and bride’s procession entering the Temple of Hymen.”

For 50 guineas a childless couple could occupy the bed for one night; it would “infallibly produce a genial and happy issue.”

He quickly ran out of money, sold most of his belongings, and decamped back to Edinburgh.

(From Roy Porter, Health for Sale: Quackery in England, 1660-1850, 1989.)

The Church Cipher

In 1775, an enciphered message was intercepted en route from colonial physician Benjamin Church to a British officer in Boston. Part of the message appears below. What does it say?

https://www.nps.gov/articles/decoding-benjamin-church.htm

Click for Answer

“The New Europe”

https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/ss:19343441

P.A. Maas, son of a Viennese publisher, offered this proposal after World War I. “Does anyone really seriously believe that the consequences of the peace negotiations so far have secured eternal peace?” he wrote. “Does anyone really seriously believe that the revenge of the individual peoples has been satisfied by the consequences of the present peace negotiations?”

Instead he proposed to divide the continent into 24 wedge-shaped “Kantons,” each named for a prominent city. These would meet at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, center of the new union’s capital, which Maas envisioned as “a large, wide garden city, hygienically designed and expanded.” The Kantons would cut across cultural and ethnic lines and across the old national borders, and each one would include at least two of Europe’s “Nations” — Romans, Germans, Slavs, and Magyars — so that “racial hatred does not prevail as before, but the love of the people prevails.” The three-year presidency would rotate among the Nations, all colonies would be jointly owned, everyone would speak Esperanto, and everyone over 20 (except married women) could vote.

“To many a reader this work may appear as the result of over-excited imagination; someday, though late, the knowledge of truth will gain the upper hand, and perhaps many things which have been stimulated by me here will be realized.”

(From the Cornell University Library.)