The Flag Today

“Protocol for flying the American flag on Memorial Day includes raising it quickly to the top of the pole at sunrise, immediately lowering it to half-staff until noon, and displaying it at full staff from noon until sunset.”

Library of Congress

Flying the flag but doing it improperly is, to my mind, worse than not flying it at all. It is about symbolism, after all, and that implies ritual.

The Next Four Months Have Boring Names

Why is it that four of the months have never been named for anything but a number, while the first eight months of the year are named for someone or something?

January is named for Janus (that two-faced guy); February after februa, a celebration of purification and forgiveness; March for Mars, the god of war. April comes from aperire, Latin for opening, as in the opening of buds in the spring (or possibly from Aphrodite); May is named for Maia, the goddess of plants; June for Juno, the goddess of marriage and well-being.

Then along comes Julius Caesar and he has the gall in 44 B.C.E. to rename Quintilis (for fifth month, as it was then) to Julius (July). Not to be outdone, Augustus renamed Sextilis (for sixth month) to Augustus (August) in 8 B.C.E.

So, why did it stop 2020 years ago? I mean, there are September (seven), October (eight), November (nine) and December (ten) just sitting out there like blank billboards waiting for a clever new name. (And the numbers are no longer even correct!)

Surely, Julius and Augustus can’t be the last two guys in Western culture with enough ego to rename a month after themselves.

Or more fit for our times, commercialize the names of the months; the rights could be purchased like bowl games. It’s not the Orange Bowl anymore, it’s the FedEx Orange Bowl. It’s not November anymore, it’s Toyota November; it’s Bud Light December. Just think, their logo on every calendar.

Labor Day 2012

155.2 million
Number of people 16 and older in the nation’s labor force in June 2012.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Percentage of full-time workers 18 to 64 covered by health insurance during all or part of 2010.
Source: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, derived from Table 8

26.3 million
Number of female workers 16 and older in management, business, science, and arts occupations in 2010. Among male workers, 16 and older, 23.7 million were employed in management, professional and related occupations.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey, Table C24010

5.9 million
The number of people who worked from home in 2010.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey, Table B08128

$47,715 and $36,931
The 2010 real median earnings for male and female full-time, year-round workers, respectively.
Source: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010

Leap of Faith

Why do we have leap year anyway?

The regular calendar has 365 days, but it takes 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds for the Earth to orbit the sun. That means the calendar falls behind the seasons 348.75 minutes every year.

Who cares if the calendar falls behind the seasons?

The people of Arizona and, until recently, parts of Indiana.

How does leap year fix it?

Every four years we are 1395 minutes behind (348.75 times four), so we add a day (1440 minutes).

Wait, 1395 doesn’t equal 1440, aren’t we adding 45 too many minutes?

You are wise beyond your years. Every 100 years (25 leap years times 45 minutes) there would be 1,125 minutes too many. Eliminating leap year every 100 years tips the balance back toward even. That’s why there wasn’t a leap day in 1700, 1800 or 1900 and won’t be in 2100. But we did have a leap year in 2000 (and will again in 2400) to tweak it back a bit the other way.

Does that do it?

No, even then the intelligent design is such that the calendar will be off by a day in a few thousand years. Nothing’s perfect.

Creatures That Say No to Sex

As if being able to re-grow a tail isn’t cool enough, some species of whiptail lizards (genus Cnemidophorus) have another trick: They can clone themselves. These species actually consist completely of females able to reproduce by parthenogenesis.

The original sexless females, known as parthenogens, come from the hybridization of two separate lizard lines. The parthenogen has one copy of chromosomes from its mother, and one analogous but slightly different copy from its father. It can give rise to offspring that are their exact clones, without their two genetic copies recombining.

Some researchers hypothesize that the ability of sharks to reproduce via parthenogenesis is what allowed them to become one of the oldest species on the planet: When males were scarce, females could just make progressively younger copies of themselves to wait for Mr. Right Shark to come around.

DISCOVER Magazine has more.


… fear of Friday the 13th

Excerpted from Jon Bowen, writing at Slate:

So where does it come from — the fear of 13? Its origins can be traced to Norse mythology and a dinner party at Valhalla, home of the god Odin, where Odin and 11 of his closest god-friends were gathered one night to party. Everyone was having fun, but then Loki, the dastardly god of evil and turmoil, showed up uninvited, making it a crowd of 13. The beloved god Balder tried to boot Loki out of the house, the legend goes, and in the scuffle that followed he suffered a deathblow from a spear of mistletoe.

From that mythological start, the number 13 has plowed a path of devastation through history. There were 13 people at Christ’s Last Supper, including the double-crossing Judas Iscariot. The ill-fated Apollo 13 lunar mission left the launching pad at 13:13 hours and was aborted on April 13. Friday hasn’t been much kinder to us. Friday was execution day in ancient Rome — Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Put it all together, and Friday the 13th spells trouble for triskaidekaphobics. It’s a testament to the phobia’s prevalence that Hollywood was able to parlay our fear into a hugely successful series of slasher movies starring a hockey-masked guy named Jason.

But triskaidekaphobia isn’t an exclusively American affliction. Italians omit the number 13 from their national lottery. There is a hush-hush organization in France whose exclusive purpose is to provide last-minute guests for dinner parties, so that no party host ever has to suffer the curse of entertaining 13 guests.


When a full moon and a lunar eclipse collide with Friday the 13th, do more accidents really happen? – Atul Gawande — Slate Magazine (1998) has pages of background on the superstition.

And Urban Legends has a lengthy page.

Root Root Root for the Home Team

Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC today released its 2011 College Home Listing Report (College HLR), which ranks college towns across the country in home affordability. The report provides the average home listing prices for three-bedroom, two-bathroom properties that were listed for sale on between August 2010 and August 2011 in markets home to 117* of the 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Least expensive are Memphis and Muncie (Ball State). Most expensive are Westwood (UCLA) and Palo Alto (Stanford) — their average listing is over $1 million.

* Tucscaloosa is not included because of tornado damage. Bowling Green (the one in Ohio) and Bloomington (Indiana University) did not have enough listings to make the list.

Coldwell Banker Data

Dolphins Are Deep Thinkers

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. …

Go read about Kelly and see what she does.

“Mankind has always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars, and so on — while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy