3.08.2010

Washington Square Park Burial Ground (The Intermediary, Slightly Unnecessary Chapter)

If you did your homework last time, you already know that Washington Square Park served as a mass burial ground for indigents, slaves, and victims of yellow fever/cholera epidemics of the early 19th century. The site was leveled 1825 after having been closed two years prior due to health concerns and lack of space (slash the fancy people moving northward didn't want dead paupers and slaves for neighbors) and by 1827, construction had begun on townhouses around the Square. Within a few years, Greenwich Village and Washington Square were transformed into a residential haven for New York's elite, their sordid past buried under stately brick houses...along with the 20,000 bodies still lying six feet under.

But of course we all know what happens when you repress your bad memories - they inevitably come back to haunt you! (Especially when they involve dead people...)

On April 30, 1889
(just in time for early Sigismund Schlomo Freud! See: repression, above)
nobody in the United States wasn't celebrating the 100th anniversary of George Washington's inauguration

left: G.W. taking the Oath at Federal Hall on Wall Street
right: Federal Hall was razed in 1812 and the Sub-Treasury building was constructed - which is where Obams went to yell at the financial industry this past September! Yay Obams! You tell 'em, mister!




12.27.2009

Washington Square Park Burial Ground

I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of watching my dear friend, former roommate [:(] and fellow blogger, the inimitable Becky Abrams, perform in an improv show at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre. Aside from all the hysterical laughter that one inevitably enjoys when in the presence of Ms. Abrams, the group that went on before hers did a game show sketch with NYC-themed trivia, giving me a pretty fascinating fun-fact to take home and tell YOU lucky kids about:

Did you know that there are about 20,000 bodies buried underneath Washington Square Park?
CAUSE I SURE AS HELL DIDN'T.
Curious? I bet you are.
DEFINITION OF THE DAY:
potter's field: a piece of ground reserved as a burial place for strangers and the friendless poor.
(origin of use: 1520-30)


...wondering about the etymology of the phrase? you're not the only one...
Dale, from Aurora, OH, asked Yahoo! the same question on 11 jun 2003: 
dear yahoo!:
where did the term potter's field come from?
dale, aurora, oh
dear dale,
...the term "potter's field" probably derives from the gospel of matthew. in the book, after judas iscariot betrays christ, he repents and returns his payment of 30 pieces of silver to the priests before hanging himself. the priests called the coins "the price of blood" and did not want to put them in the temple treasury,  so
they took council, and bought with them the potter's field to bury strangers in.
(matthew 27:3-8)
wiki note: the site of aforementioned field is thought to be the valley of hinnom, a source of potter's clay.
so what does this have to do with washington square park?

11.28.2009

Twins Twain

So I'm in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, and my dad's girlfriend mentioned to me that I might enjoy the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Pronounced Mooter, the Mütter Museum was founded in 1859 thanks to a generous donation from Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a popular professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College.

Just months before his death, Mütter gifted his extensive medical collection of over 1700 items - papier-maché models, anatomical illustrations, surgical tools, and medical specimens - to the College, along with an endowment of $30,000, on the condition that the College make the museum fire-proof within five years of its founding. Mütter is also known for being one of the earliest American plastic surgeons: he's renowned for his operations on clubfeet, cleft palates, and other congenital anomalies. For his use of the posterior cervical flap for grafting purposes in surgery, the flap was renamed the Mütter flap.

(Note: cervical doesn't necessarily mean what I bet you think it does. Cervical actually means anything related to the neck... the more common use of cervical refers to the "neck" of the uterus. But the posterior cervical flap [or Mütter flap, as it were] is a section of skin found on the neck. The Mütter flap is now used regularly in reconstructive surgery.)

Once the Mütter Museum was up and running in 1863, their collection grew rapidly. In 1874, the museum acquired a plaster cast of Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twins from Siam (now Thailand - but the term 'Siamese twins' arose from the Bunkers' fame).
The Bunkers were born connected at the sternum in 1811 to a Chinese father and a half-Chinese, half-Malay mother. King Rama II of Siam ordered that the twins be put to death, deeming them a bad omen for the country, but the order was stalled, and the twins eventually fell into favor with the king's son and successor, King Rama III, who named them ambassadors.

(Side-note: both King Ramas had insanely long names. Here's King Rama II's full name: Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthramaha Isarasundhorn Phra Buddha Loetla Nabhalai. No big deal.)

In 1829, a British trader named Robert Hunter discovered the twins swimming, and, seeing a lucrative opportunity, brought them to the United States to display them in sideshows around the world.
Ultimately, the twins joined P.T. Barnum's circus until 1839, when they retired, purchased a plantation (complete with slaves and all) in North Carolina, and changed their last name to Bunker. In 1843, they married sisters named Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates (Chang took Adelaide, with whom he had 10 children; Eng ended up with Sarah Anne - they had 11), much to the chagrin of local townspeople, who wanted the twins surgically separated (I guess the wives were into it, though, because they protested, and Chang and Eng remained connected). The sisters fought constantly though, so eventually the twins bought another house and began spending three days a week with one wife and the rest of the week with the other.
On January 17, 1874, Eng awoke to find Chang dead from pneumonia. He refused to be separated from his brother and he died a few hours later. Now a plaster cast of their bodies is on display at the Mütter, along with a chair that was specially designed for the twins to sit in, and their liver, the only conjoined organ between them.
The Bunkers inspired Mark Twain's 1869 short story, "The Siamese Twins". Here's an excerpt:

"The Siamese Twins are naturally tender and affectionate in disposition, and have clung to each other with singular fidelity throughout a long and eventful life. Even as children they were inseparable companions; and it was noticed that they always seemed to prefer each other's society to that of any other persons. They nearly always played together; and, so accustomed was their mother to this peculiarity, that, whenever both of them chanced to be lost, she usually only hunted for one of them-- satisfied that when she found that one she would find his brother somewhere in the immediate neighborhood. And yet these creatures were ignorant and unlettered-barbarians themselves and the offspring of barbarians, who knew not the light of philosophy and science. What a withering rebuke is this to our boasted civilization, with its quarrelings, its wranglings, and its separations of brothers!"
Twain was very close to his brother Orion, which might explain his life-long fascination with conjoined siblings, and their appearances in much of his work. Some people mistakenly assume that the Chang and Eng were the only models of conjoined twins that Twain worked from; in fact, later in the century he became aware of another set of conjoined twins whom he immortalized in his writing: the Tocci brothers.
Born in Italy in 1877 with four arms and two heads, but only one set of legs and reproductive organs between them, Giacomo and Giovanni Batista Tocci began touring the world at four months old, billed as "The Greatest Wonder of Nature". Throughout their lives, the Tocci brothers were the subject of intense medical examination, and a December 1891 Scientific American article describing their behavior endures to this day: according to the article, Giovanni was the more artistic and extroverted of the twins, and drank lots of beer, while Giacomo was introverted, prone to temper tantrums, and liked mineral water. They never learned to walk with their two legs, so instead they would walk around on all six of their limbs. In 1908, or thereabouts, they stirred up controversy by marrying two separate women in spit of their only having one set of genitalia.

In 1893, the Toccis prompted Mark Twain to set about writing "Those Extraordinary Twins", the story of Luigi and Angelo Capello, a pair of conjoined twins from Italy. In the preface, he says:
"I had seen a picture of a youthful Italian "freak" or "freaks" which was—or which were—on exhibition in our cities—a combination consisting of two heads and four arms joined to a single body and a single pair of legs—and I thought I would write an extravagantly fantastic little story with this freak of nature for hero—or heroes—a silly young miss for heroine, and two old ladies and two boys for the minor parts."
But "Those Extraordinary Twins" posed frustration for Twain - he meant for the story to be humorous and light, but as he developed the narrative, he found himself more interested in the minor characters he had created, whose plots, he felt, merited a more serious tone. In his remarks at the end of the story, he writes:
"As you see, it was an extravagant sort of a tale, and had no purpose but to exhibit that monstrous 'freak' in all sorts of grotesque lights. But when Roxy wandered into the tale she had to be furnished with something to do; so she changed the children in the cradle; this necessitated the invention of a reason for it; this, in turn, resulted in making the children prominent personages--nothing could prevent it of course. Their career began to take a tragic aspect, and some one had to be brought in to help work the machinery; so Pudd'nhead Wilson was introduced and taken on trial. By this time the whole show was being run by the new people and in their interest, and the original show was become side-tracked and forgotten; the twin-monster, and the heroine, and the lads, and the old ladies had dwindled to inconsequentialities and were merely in the way. Their story was one story, the new people's story was another story, and there was no connection between them, no interdependence, no kinship. It is not practicable or rational to try to tell two stories at the same time; so I dug out the farce and left the tragedy."
That tragedy evolved into his 1894 novel Pudd'nhead Wilson, and "Those Extraordinary Twins" was left as a short story. Set in the early 19th century in Dawson's Landing, Missouri, Pudd'nhead tells the tales of David Wilson, Thomas Driscoll, and a fair-skinned slacw named Roxy. Wilson, an eccentric doctor from the North with a penchant for fingerprinting, moves his practice to Missouri, but is not well-received by the townspeople - they dub him "Pudd'nhead" (nitwit) and refuse to take advantage of his legal services. Meanwhile, Roxy switches her infant son, Chambers, who is as light-skinned as she, with Tom, the infant son of her master, so that Chambers will be safe from slavery. Chambers grows up as an entitled white slave-owner known as Tom, while Tom is raised as a black slave by the name of Chambers.
***SPOILER ALERT***
After two decades, her master having died, Roxy finds herself freed. She saves money by working on river boats, but her bank fails and she loses all her earnings. She returns to Dawson's Landing and admits to Tom that she is in fact his biological mother, blackmailing him into giving her financial support. Also in Dawson's Landing at the time are the final incarnations of the Capello brothers: Luigi and Angelo are identical (separated) twins from Italy who make a living doing sideshows.
Tom, who is knee-deep in gambling debts, decides to make some fast cash by burglarizing his uncle, Judge Driscoll. Disguised as a woman, and brandishing a valuable Indian knife that he stole from the twins, Tom breaks into his uncle's home and winds up murdering him. Luigi and Angelo are within earshot of the judge's screams and rush to the scene, but they are too late - Tom is gone and Judge Driscoll is dead.
The townspeople discover the twins standing over the bloodied corpse, their knife lying beside it, and the brothers are immediately presumed to be the murderers. Pudd'nhead Wilson represents Luigi and Angelo in their trial, and, using forensic evidence gathered from fingerprinting (a fairly novel technique for the time), proves both the twins' innocence and Tom's guilt. Tom's true identity as a slave is revealed, and he is sold down river to pay off his debt. Chambers, meanwhile, regains his status as a white man, but, having been raised as a slave, never really adjusts to the change.

Well, that's probably more than you ever wanted to know about famous conjoined twins in American history, but if it makes you feel any better, I'll probably never talk about them again.

11.26.2009

Emulated Arachne


If you ever plan on becoming a crossword puzzle master (as, DUH, I do), you really have to get a good grip on your Greek mythology. The girls are especially prevalent:


Erato and Clio, two of the nine Muse sisters (the ladies responsible for inspiring creativity and the arts), make frequent crossword appearances. Erato's name, which means "desired" or "lovely", shares its root with Eros (the god of sex -
you might better recognize his Roman appellations: Cupid and Amor. [Classic crossword clues: "Greek god of love", "Roman counterpart of Eros", etc etc. So write 'em down!]).
It's fitting, then, that Erato be the Muse of erotic poetry (and just lyric poetry in general, but erotic poetry sounds so much more exciting).

I always like Clio the best, though - she's the muse of history, which she must have gotten from her titaness mom, Mnemosyne, the deity of memory.

Medea also shows up a lot -- best known, of course, as the protagonist of Euripedes' tragedy, Medea, (which he produced in 431 BC along with three other plays, winning him third prize at the City Dionysia festival that year-
-hang on a sec, there were theatre festivals in ancient Greece? Who knew?! Gonna have to look into that...


Ohhh duh, ok, obviously it was a part of that big religious festival honoring Dionysus...
(see, I always pictured that looking more like this...:

video
thank you disney! thank you youtube!
...but that must have been what they were doing on Mount Olympus or something.) In Athens, it worked more like this:
At some point Athenians rejected a statue of Dionysus and he gave the men some kind of genital disease. So, at the beginning of Spring for about 700 years, Athens would throw a week-long party to honor the god (and, more importantly, keep their genitals disease-free).
FESTIVAL SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:
Day 1: Pompe and circumstance! In a massive parade called the pompe, Athenians from far and wide head up the Acropolis to the Theatre of Dionysus, bearing, amongst other things, the wooden statue of Dionysus, wine, bronze and wooden phalluses (natch), and, then comes my favorite: a cart pulling a giant phallus (where can I get that job?). After the procession, there are singing, flute-playing, and poetry competitions, followed by sacrificing bulls and a giant feast for all of Athens (who was doing the catering?!). As if that weren't enough, the feast gives way to another huge parade dedicated to carousing drunkenly through the streets (they really don't hold back at all, those Athenians)!
Day 2: In a ceremony known as the proagon, the three playwrights announce the titles of their plays and the judges are selected.
Days 3-5: On each of the days, one of the three playwrights performs his three tragedies and one satyr play.
Day 6: Five comedies are performed.
Day 7: Another parade. Winners are announced by the judges, and receive a wreath of ivy (can you imagine how pissy actors would be nowadays if they put on four plays in a day and just got a plant on their heads?).)

There's actually so much more to look into on this front, but we've really gotta press on - I haven't even finished telling you about Medea!
SO, the super-abridged version of Medea's story is this:

Jason is the rightful king of Iolcus (modern-day Volos), but in order to take the throne, he's charged with the task of producing the Golden Fleece (literally - the fleece of a golden winged ram; see image on left), which was in Colchis (modern-day Georgia). So Jason sets off (on his ship, the Argo - also popular in crosswords), and eventually lands in Colchis.

In Colchis he meets the sorceress Medea, who falls in love with him and promises, in exchange for his hand in marriage, to help him find the Golden Fleece. This involves protecting him from a fire-breathing oxen, letting him know that the secret to defeating an army of warriors grown out of a set of dragon teeth is throwing a rock at them (they become confused and turn on each other. How did you not know that, Jason?), and finally, giving him the potion to make the Sleepless Dragon, who guards the Golden Fleece, to pass out.
Jason and Medea sail off with the fleece in tow and her father and her brother at their heels. Don't worry -- she manages to lose Dad and cut her brother into pieces, so that takes care of that. They eventually make it back to Iolcus, but the king still refuses to give Jason the throne. So Medea takes it upon herself to convince the king's two daughters she can make him young again if they chop him up (girlfriend has a passion for slicing and dicing). The girls believe her, do as instructed, and, go figure, there's no coming back for the king.

THEN Jason and Medea (or at this point, more like Bonnie and Clyde) are exiled for the murder of the king and flee to Corinth, where they settle down and have two kids.
Here, Euripedes' play begins (Apollonius' Argonautica covers most of the adventure up to this point). Creon, the king of Corinth, offers Jason his daughter Glauce's hand in marriage, which obviously Jason accepts, seeing as it gives him a chance at a throne and that's clearly what he's been after all this time. Medea fliiips though, sending Glauce a dress and crown covered in poison. As Glauce is dying, her father rushes to her side, comes into contact with the poison, and also dies. Then, to really get Jason's goat, Medea kills their two children (she really takes that thing about revenge being a dish best served cold pretty seriously). In the end, Medea flees to Athens and Jason dies alone and miserable on the Argo, crushed in his sleep by the collapse of the rotting ship.

So, as far as Greek women, Erato, Clio, and Medea all tend to appear fairly frequently in crosswords. A less common one, though, is Arachne. She doesn't show up in a lot of Greco-Roman mythology - it isn't until Ovid shares her story in the sixth book of Metamorphoses that she becomes a household name (Medea's story is told in the seventh book). 

Now I'm no Ovid, but here you go:

Arachne is a mortal from Lydia who is apparently really good at weaving. So good, in fact, that she claims to be a better weaver than Athena, who, among her many talents, is the also conveniently the goddess of weaving.
Well, Athena doesn't like this at all, so, disguised as an old woman, she suggests to Arachne that she might want to tone down all her gloating. But Arachne holds her ground, and challenges the old woman to a weaving contest. At that, Athena removes her disguise and weaves the scene of her victory over Poseidon. Arachne shoots back with an impeccably woven tapestry depicting 21 different stories in which the gods tricked mortals by disguising themselves. Then Athena really loses it: she destroys the tapestry and attacks Arachne, demanding that the impertinent human bow before her. Arachne, too proud to submit to the goddess, elects to hang herself instead. Athena doesn't want Arachne to have the last word, though, so she turns the noose into a web and Arachne into a spider.

Besides the Metamorphoses, Arachne's legacy is manifold:
- In Canto XII of Purgatorio, the second part of the Divine Comedy (post-Inferno, pre-Paradiso) Dante mentions running into Arachne on the first terrace, where the proud are forced to carry rocks on their backs.
- The image on the above left is Gustave Doré's etching of Arachne for the Commedia. (In 2003, Grammy-winning Texan rock band The Mars Volta used the famous illustration for the cover of a live extended release album.)
- And here's a paper written by a student at Collegiate in 1997 that suggests Dante identifies with Arachne because they are both artists so skilled they seem to be challenging the gods.
- But the best part is that arachne became the Greek word for spider, and then that became the root for one of my most beloved taxonomical classes, the eight-legged invertebrates: Arachnida! Clearly Zeus didn't make Athena read Be Nice to Spiders as many times as my dad made me.

Ohhh how I wish I could get into some good spider stuff with you right now, but the tryptophan's doing its thing and I've really gotta hit the hay. But at least now you know - if ever you run into Arachne in a clue, I can almost guarantee that the answer will be spun or wove! À demain chickadees! And happy Thanksgiving! 





      11.24.2009

      Mallory Real World JCrew


      Anyone else remember Mallory Snyder, the virginal soccer star from Iowa -- the hottiest hottie on Real World Paris? 
       
      (AKA the 2003 season when they worked at Frommer's  and Ace, the tool from Georgia State, was in a permanent state of culture shock? And I guess this guy Adam was on it - I totally don't remember him but someone PLEASE get the man a job as Obama's body double.)

      I  didn't really pay much attention to this season (I was, thankfully, just getting out of my Real World phase---
      (I really only ever liked Real World Chicago anyway, and that was just cause I was really into serial monogamist/antidepressant-popping Cara (I thought she had good hair and felt I could identify with her as a small Jewish girl - and she went to Wash U, which I kind of wanted to apply to for a second).
      Cara's full name, btdubs, is Cara Kahn Nussbaum, but she drops the Nussbaum for her stage career (??). While the Chicago season was airing, she appeared in the May issue of Stuff Magazine (much to the delight of the snarky-tv-blogging vanguard of 2002 - they just ate it right up when she was quoted as saying "I admire women who masturbate"). If you feel so inclined, you can look at pictures from the shoot here but it's nothing special. Just her looking trashy in frosted lipstick and ugly shoes.
      What IS special is the fact that it's not on Stuff's website but on Maxim's! BECAUSE the same people who publish Maxim published the U.S. Edition of Stuff, but in October 2007 they decided to absorb it as a special section in Maxim. The publishers sent their 54,522 subscribers the following message:
      "This is a note to inform you that Stuff Magazine has ceased publishing with the Oct 2007 issue. The balance of your paid subscription will be fulfilled with Maxim. If you have any questions, please contact us at: Maxim / P.O. Box 420234 / Palm Coast, FL 32142-0234." :( sad face
      If you wiki Stuff Magazine, the link to the U.S. Edition will just lead you to Maxim's site. And don't get too tripped up on the fact that there is also a U.K. edition of Stuff [the best-seller in gadgets magazines and 6th best-selling men's magazine in Britain - complete with a video website and podcast!], a Singapore Stuff [started in 2004 - best-selling men's mag], AND a Stuff India [well, not a best-seller in anything, but was just launched in 2008 - he's still a babay!].

      If you wanna be able to look at the original article that appeared in Stuff, you're gonna need to get it for $9.99 on EBay. Or if it's gone by the time you get there, you can buy it for $15 (from this really sketchy site called Wonder Club? I dunno, this is so absurd: it's super vintage-looking and claims to be "dedicated to sharing their thirst for knowledge with the world". Which means they have three semi-decent fact pages specializing in the Wonders of the World, Wildlife, and Geography. I mean, I like a good fact page, and these aren't actually bad at all [although the Wildlife page has THE randomest selection of animals ever], so that's something I can get behind, but WHY the REST of the website is dedicated to hawking movies, celebrity posters, jigsaw puzzles, and back-issue adult men's magazines is completely beyond me.)
       Well, just to get back to Cara for a quick second: since Real World, besides her appearance in Maxim and her flourishing acting career, I can't say she's done a whole lot. According to one blog, she wrote an article called "Reality Check" for a magazine called Topic, but the only good hit I get for "Reality Check" by Cara Kahn is that blog post.

      Meanwhile the link for Topic takes you to a scary-looking page that says the account has been suspended. UNLESS she has been writing for Topics Online Magazine for English learners, or Topic, the British literary review that hasn't published a new issue since 2003, OR Topic, a quarterly non-fiction magazine published by über-hip NYC design duo Giampietro+Smith (I actually do recommend taking a look at Rob Giampietro's site, Lined and Unlined - it seems kind of in keeping with the ideology here at Curiouser...), then I really can't speak much to Cara's recent accomplishments. 

      However, the Vows section of the Times did run a pretty substantial article on her 2006 wedding to opthomologist Dr. Jared Fudemberg, whom she began dating just before she started the Real World season. When the article was written, the newly-weds were living in Kansas - Jared was doing his residency, while Cara was working retail in a clothing boutique called Serendipity. That was three years ago, though, and her Facebook profile says she's in the Philly network, so maybe they've moved onwards and upwards... Either way, mazel tov to the happy couple. I think I'm over my Cara thing now.)
      ---BUT I was always a little fixated on Mallory, probably cause the boy I liked mentioned once that he thought she was hot...and then I'm like 93.4% sure I saw her when I was in London for New Year's 2005. 

      And she really was that hot I guess... she modeled for the 2005 and 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions, and has appeared in advertisements for Abercrombie. Her work garnered her a sexiness rating of 83, a success rating of 76, a reader's rating of 88, and an editor's rating of 79 on her askmen.com profile.
      She's still signed with Marilyn modeling agency (her portfolio is available there), but the only press she's gotten in awhile was for her Spring 2008 appearance in the J. Crew catalog. 
       
      Other than that, you might (MIGHT) be interested to know that Mallory's friend Christa Hoffarth photographed her earlier this year while she was pregnant with her first child (another mazel tov in order!), and her Twitter reflects her love for Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus. Oh! And her cat gave birth on September 20! (One more mazel tov before we go to bed? Why not? Maz!)

      p.s. i used the word "really" 8 times in this post. i should probably work on my vocabulary.

      11.23.2009

      those goddamned ducks

      It won't take you long to figure out that I'm a huge animal freak. Always have been, always will be. I'll be honest, though, for a long, long time, I really just couldn't get myself into birds. Well prepare yourselves for lots of bird posts, folks, because that has changed in a serious way, and you have two Jersey boys to thank for that.

      The first is a guy who will be showing up a lot around here, so much so that it's really pretty fitting that he be included in the inaugural post. Anyone who has watched the Sopranos pilot (if you haven't, that's a bandwagon you just need to get on, no questions asked) knows full well how moved Tony was by the ducks in his pool - literally, their departure provoked the panic attack that sent him to therapy in the first place. His second session with Melfi establishes the ducks as an enduring trope as they discuss a dream he had the night before, in which the ducks made a furtive appearance:

      I do adore Tony for being such an animal lover: it's just one of the many things we have in common.

      So I'm at the Bronx Zoo this August with my brother (aka Jersey Boy #2), and we're just getting our bearings and figuring out our route as he points out a big old duck pond. I dismiss his suggestion that we check them out, because why hang around watching ducks you can see anywhere when you're at the BRONX ZOO?! He protests, though (I think "but I love water fowl!" were his exact words - at that, I obliged, because a line like that deserves rewarding).

      Anyway, we ended up spending a good half hour there, watching the ducks, and I've gotta give the kid credit - he was right, they were kind of great. They did look pretty much like the ducks I've seen around here my whole life, but these ones seemed so much more fascinating all of a sudden! I had never noticed that, for instance, they have these lovely iridescent purple racing stripes under their wings! And they're like, GORG. I couldn't find the nameplate with the species information but I refused to believe that any New Jersey duck I'd ever seen ever had swanky purple stripes like those.

      A few weeks later, I introduced my best friend to the Sopranos pilot (doing my duty to spread the gospel), and I noticed that the ducks in the Sopranos' pool boasted those same racing stripes as the ones from the zoo. Those goddamned ducks... It was time to investigate.

      Sopranos ducks species wasn't especially helpful--
      (although this is a great NPR blog post about the Alice's hummingbirds that had taken up residence in the author's window, 





      and here is a cute little article about a mom duck and her brood waddling around the Fox News Corp building in L.A.)


      --nor was bronx zoo ducks...it was time to go macro:

      WIKI DUCKS.
      Vocab lesson: The word duck comes from the Old English word for "to dive or bend down", dūcan, because of dabbling ducks' tendency to feed by sticking their heads underwater. In German and Dutch, the words for duck are Ente and eente, which probably derived from the Older Old English word for duck, æned - a cousin of the Latin anas, Lithuanian ántis, and Sanskrit ātí- all descendants of the Proto-Indo-European language. Also, I'm going to start calling female ducks hens and males drakes, okay? Because I can. And because you should.

      Normally I'd never steer you away from anything as amazing-looking as the mandarin drake:


      ...but we've gotta try to keep our focus here, people. As it turns out, Tony's ducks, the Bronx Zoo ducks, and pretty much most of the ducks I've at least ever seen in my life belong to the species known humbly as The Mallard. Apparently I've been living under a rock because I was always under the impression that mallard exclusively referred to the male everyday ducks with green heads. Who knows where I got that idea; it's true, mallard drakes have that nice green head with the yellow beak and brown feathers (ALSO: 56–65 CM LONG, 81–98 CM WINGSPAN, & WEIGHS 0.9–1.2 KG) but the light brown hens are mallards too, it turns out.


      a mallard right?!


       
      when drakes are in breeding 
      plumage they rock some nice red and white stuff







      So, that's good to know, I guess. I also learned:
      • all domestic ducks (with the exception of 1 species - the Muscovy duck, which we just can't get into right now) are descended from mallards
      • mallards breed on every continent except Antarctica and South America (although they also spend time in Central America and the Caribbean)
      • mallards lay clutches of 8-13 eggs that hatch after about 4 weeks
      • mallard ducklings are precocial (they can swim and feed themselves upon hatching) and fly the nest at 50-60 days old (precocious ducklings=one of nature's cuter offerings. press play.)
      • not to ruin your precocious duckling mood or anything, but you should know that mallard drakes are notorious rapists: the ones that end up without a hen-friend will band up to harass isolated single ladies, pecking and chasing them until they are too weak to fend off the males when they're taking turns having their way with her -- a phenomenon referred to as flight rape* 
      *MAJOR ASTERISK: mallard drakes are also known to turn their rapey tendencies on one another. it was news to the world, though when in 2003 dutch ornithologist kees moeliker, published the first recorded observation of homosexual necrophilia in mallards. In 1995 moeliker was sitting in his office in rotterdam when he heard a bird crash into the window - within a minute he found himself in front of a male mallard, copulating with the corpse of the hapless drake that had broken its neck on the glass. for his discovery, moeliker was granted the Ig Nobel Prize in biology (the ig nobel prizes are run by improbable research - an organization committed to the celebration of "research that makes people laugh and then think"). at a later date, be prepared to little more about improbable research (because it's interesting), a good amount more about kees moeliker (because he's dutch, looks kinda like my roommate, and this picture is juuuust...) and a lot more about homosexuality in non-human anymules, (because it's one of my favorite things).*
      I digress, I digress. I can't help myself- this is all such great stuff! But for our purposes today, here's the real jackpot: speculum feathers. (No, ladies, not like the gyno tool - speculum just means reflective/mirror-like.) Speculums are colored patches found on the remiges (wing feathers, basically - I can't get into like feather anatomy with you guys right now) of some bird species - especially, you guessed it: DUCKS!


      Blue Winged Teal pair, Bronze Winged Duck & Pacific Black Duck

      And here's what you've all been waiting so patiently for:


      a mallard drake shows off his left set of speculum feathers
       
      mallard hens also get nice ones!
















      OMG ok, that was really going to be all, but I have to let you guys know that as I was reading this over before going to post it, looking at the word mallard so many times made it start to sound really weird... and I realized that while I know (and you do too, now) where the word duck came from, I didn't do my due diligence on the etymology of mallard! Well, how bout this for absurd:


      The word mallard originated in the early 14th century from the Latin mallardus, which came from the word Latin masculus (MALE). "THE ORIGINAL SENSE WAS PROBABLY NOT OF A SPECIFIC SPECIES BUT OF ANY MALE WILD DUCK."

      boy do i feel vindicated.

      11.20.2009

      don't be hatin' - everybody googs

      At the beginning of this month, in attempt to extend transparency to users, Google released Google Dashboard, a new tool that allows Googlers to view all the information Google has collected about them. Now, Google has taken a lot of heat for all its data-collecting: I guess, if you're one of those people that's squeamish about privacy, the fact that someone out there pretty much can keep tabs on every aspect of your life might be a little paranoia-inducing. If maybe, you're Aaron and Christine Boring, for instance, a couple from Pittsburgh who attempted to sue Google in April 2008 for invasion of seclusion when pictures of the Borings' house were made available on its "Street View" mapping feature. Well, Lawsuit Fail: the case was dismissed. A., had the Borings chosen to take advantage of Google's very flexible "opt-out" function, the company would have gladly taken down the pictures. And b., as the nice people at Google pointed out, satellite imagery of the entire WORLD is available at this point... If a view from space can hang out online, why not a more grounded perspective as well?

      The Old Boring Home.
      Although their ultimate prerogative seems to be to make as much information as available to the world as possible, the creation of Dashboard shows us Google is not deaf to privacy concerns. Collecting onto one page all the data Google has learned from its logged-in users' web activity, Dashboard allows us to see exactly what Google knows about us, and to browse through and delete our past searches. According to the Official Google Blog, "the scale and level of detail of Dashboard is unprecedented," and is a further illustration of the company's commitment to their pithy little motto: "don't be evil".

      However noble its professed intentions, a quick googling of Google Dashboard will mostly produce negative responses to the new tool. As PC Magazine EIC Lance Ulanoff futzed around with his Google Dashboard for the first time, he was suddenly struck by the scope of information Google has access to; he's even a little worried prosecutors might be able to subpoena Google for the defense's search history...
      (to be fair, he does acknowledge several important realities:
      1. it's pretty unlikely that Google employees (or anyone else, for that matter) are looking specifically at any individual's data, least of all his.
      2. it's even more unlikely that Google is going to start receiving subpoenas anytime soon.
      3. if Google DOES start getting subpoenaed, and you're a criminal, you can conveniently erase your search history.
      4. if you're still all that worried, get your ass off Google!)
      What Mr. Ulanoff found more perturbing than the legal implications of Google Dashboard, though, was the degree to which his search history served as an unintentional diary of the past few years - a meticulous record of momentary musings that even he had since long forgotten. Realizing that such embarrassing information as his having searched for teddy bear images on June 19 had been logged somewhere in cyberspace prompted him to delete any similarly unseemly searches. Over at Slate, Michael Agger also found his Google Dashboard to feel like an all-too-revealing journal, "a place where [he] regularly [confides his] fears, insecurities, and dreams: 'cell phone cancer link', 'michael agger slate', 'pennsylvania farm for sale'.

      Ok, well I have news for you guys (and I swear, we're getting to the point here): call me crazy, but I've actually been working concertedly to maintain a Google Diary for over a year now.

      Let me explain:
      I'm juuust one of those people that likes to save everything. One of things I JUST SO HAPPEN to value most highly in this world is the ability to point to a moment and remember its details. This has manifested itself in various ways -- a fairly comprehensive set of all my airplane stubs, a shelf overflowing with my grandma's moth-eaten cashmere, shoeboxes upon shoeboxes of pictures, letters, mementos all and sundry - and of course, journals dating back to 1997.  It might qualify me as a packrat
      (though if you do your research, you'll learn that pack rat really refers to "a trade rat or wood rat, any of several species in the genus Neomotoma".
      Found in the Western U.S. and Northern Mexico, pack rats are known as such because of their tendency to collect assorted items to add to their middens (complex nests structured out of twigs) .
      Disambiguation of the term pack rat will lead you inevitably to its more familiar connotation, compulsive hoarding - defined by the DSM IV as the acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be of useless or limited value.
      Out of the cyber age has evolved a new breed of compulsive hoarder: "digital pack rats". These guys, known as infohoarders, take full advantage of the inexhaustible internet, overloading their hard drives with gigabytes upon gigabytes of data.
      Now I'll admit, I can identify a little here, because I don't get rid of NOTHIN'. But should I apologize for the fact that I've saved IM conversations from the digital days of yore? Is there really any harm in perusing my ten year-old, long-abandoned Yahoo mailbox every once in awhile? Personally, I prefer to think of my behavior not as compulsive hoarding, but deliberate archiving. It is thus that I say without shame that beginning last November, upon noticing how well my handy-dandy Firefox Google search box could function as a record of my passing thoughts, I stopped deleting my cookies. A few months later, having at that point collected a mind-boggling array of searches, I thought it would be a good idea to start writing them out in a list. Ten minutes later I realized what a pain in the ass it would be and gave up, but I didn't stop deleting my cookies. Then, after several conversations this summer about the strangeness of our new-found facility for obtaining arbitrary information, I decided that my Google searches would best be adopted into an epic poem. I set about copying down my searches anew, this time succeeding in creating a 29-page list of the most random assortment of scrawled out phrases that I, at least, have ever seen.

      Looking them over, I found myself recalling the stories behind the inquiries, and the bits of knowledge I gained as a result. This didn't feel like the makings of epic poetry, but it did feel like something. Finally, it hit me: OBVIOUSLY the ideal vehicle for a record of my digital life is the Internet itself. I began looking for blogs and sites that were equally aimed at disclosing our adventures in wondering-land, but even the Official Google Blog wasn't doing it for me. At last, in this wide world, which has proven to me time and time again that nothing has not been done, a void to fill!

      The seeds for Curiouser and Curiouser had been planted, but naturally, obstacles presented themselves: first of all, HTML and CSS is a lot harder than it looks, and all the formatting BS was pretty frustrating. On top of that, every time I tried to weave my searches into a coherent narrative, it all started sounding stupid... So once again, blog create FAIL.

      But the concept lingered, and more than in the back of my mind. And admittedly, between hearing an Talk of the Nation podcast about Ken Auletta's new book Googled, and coming across the release of Google Dashboard on CNN.com, things were starting to feel a little timely. I'm not one for superstitions, but I learned at an early age the importance of following signage,  and it sure as hell seems like Google, the ultimate infohoarder, has positioned itself perfectly for deliberate archivists like myself to take advantage.

      Unlike Messrs Agger and Ulanoff, I don't feel an iota of embarrassment over [the majority of] my Google searches, and with sound reason: the reality is that at least 85%* of the time I type out a search term, Google offers me exactly the phrase I was looking for. Do you know what that tells me? That tells me that someone, somewhere, sometime, found themselves making the very same query. More than that, in all likelihood, LOTS of people in LOTS of places at LOTS of moments made the same query - at least enough for Google to be confident in its suggesting powers. Never forget, folks, there's no such thing as a stupid question - you all should know that by now, because I know you've been asking them too. It's no secret: you do it, I do it, everybody does it. Nowadays, everybody googs.
      *Percentage based on absolutely NO real data.

      So here we are, at long last, ready to set forth into unabashed search history disclosure. I'm not entirely sure how it's all going to work, I think we'll need to play it by ear a little bit - originally I was just going to go off my original 29-page master list from 11.08-08.09, but now that I've got Google Dashboard, there are, after all, years and years of Google searches for me to unearth. I sort of don't know where to begin. Maybe we can do some sort of fun thing where you name a date and I'll tell you what I learned that day, or we can do a letter-of-the-day type deal, or you can even vote on topics you wanna hear more about. I dunno, we'll see - sometimes democracy has its downfalls. I do think that I can promise a little something for everyone, and posts that aren't as agonizingly long as this one. I highly recommend indulging as much as possible in all the linkages and giftlets with which I provide you (press play below, for starters) for best browsing experience. BTW, if ever you feel like I'm pushing the whole intimate details thing too far (I do have something of a blindspot for boundaries), and it makes you uncomfy, please let me know - not saying I'll necessarily hold back, but I'll for sure take it into consideration. Finally, I'm not above begging for comments and feedback. Please, I beg you. We clearly are not gonna be shy around here. Oh, and finally finally, while I would like to officially lay claim to Curiouser and Curiouser's mission as my own, I fully recognize that a lot of the content on this blog will be borrowed from around the netborhood... I don't know too much about online copyright infringement law, but I'm hoping it will suffice for me to say right off the bat that anything that's not obviously mine is not mine, and I have no illusions about that. Feel free as a bird to take what you want from me, just make sure you link on back here!

      And with that, kittens, I leave you with this:

      video
      Credit goes primarily to Disney, obv, and secondarily to vivalajuicy16 at YouTube