Poets Ranked by Beard Weight

alex atkins bookshelf booksPoets Ranked by Beard Weight, a leaflet privately published in England in 1913 by Upton Uxbridge Underwood (1881-1937), is a classic of Edwardian esoterica. Like his other works focused on pogonology (the study of beards), The Language of the Beard and Whiskers of the World, Poets Ranked by Bear Weight is extremely rare and consequently prized by bibliophiles — whether bearded or clean-shaven. Underwood, who wore a hideous variation of the Hulihee (think of the Wolverine’s beard, with long extensions at the base of the jaw that look like tusks made of hair), developed the Underwood Pogonometric Index (UPI) that ranges from 6 (very, very weak beard) to 60 (a perfect beard). Underwood believed that the beard made the bard, that is to say, there was a direct correlation between personal appearance and artistic proficiency. The higher the score, the more “poetic gravity” that the particular poet possessed. 

Underwood believed that a beard possessed an “odylic” (or “od”) force that was conveyed through a human by means of a nervous fluid, which in turn imbues the poet’s beard with “noetic emanations” and an “ectoplasmic aura.” Further, Underwood believed that the od force generated magnetic waves that could be measured by special laboratory equipment. Undoubtedly, if Underwood were alive today, he would be a perfect candidate for Scientology. The readings gave rise to his UPI scale; the average bearded individual had a score of 10-24. 

Here are the poets, ranked by beard weight (poet’s name, type of beard, followed by beard weight according to the UPI scale):

Walt Whitman (Hibernator): 22

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Dutch elongated): 24

Sir Walter Raleigh (Van Dyck): 27

Henry David Thoreau (Wandering Jim): 29

Lord Alfred Tennyson (Maltese): 33

James Russell Lowell (Queen’s Brigade): 34

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Italian False Goatee): 38

John Greenleaf Whittier (Full Velutinous): 38

Edwin Markham (Box): 39

Sidney Lanier (Spade): 41

John Burroughs (Claus-esque): 43

William Cullen Bryant (Van Winkle): 43

William Ernest Henley (Spatulate Imperial): 47

Joaquin Miller (Forked Elongated): 51

Samuel Morse (Garibaldi Elongated): 58

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For further reading: Poets Ranked by Beard Weight (The Commemorative Edition) by Upton Uxbridge Underwood


How Filthy is Your Money?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaHow often do you handle money, specifically paper currency? Do you typically wash your hands after you handle it? Read on and you just might be reaching for a bottle of hand sanitizer at the very sight of money. And you will certainly feel pity for the bank teller that has to handle cash all day long. Consider that paper currency, made of 75% cotton and 25% linen, stays in circulation for 5 to 15 years. Imagine wearing a pair of jeans or shirt that long and never washing it. Gross! Let’s take a look at just how filthy money is…

Biologist Julia Maritz and her intrepid colleagues from the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at New York University wanted to find out just how filthy paper currency is. Their study, “Filthy lucre: A metagenomic pilot study of microbes found on circulating currency in New York City” was published on PLOS One on April 6, 2017. The researchers swapped circulating $1 bills (since they have the highest volume and shortest lifespan of all currencies) from New York City bank in the winter and summer of 2013. They utilized metagenomic sequencing to profile the microbes found on the paper currency’s surface. “So what did they find?” you ask. You may not want to know. The researchers identified more than 397 bacterial species, including the following:

Bacteria from the skin
Propionibacterium acnes
Staphylococcus epidermis

Bacteria from the mouth
Micrococcus luteus
Streptococcus oralis
Rothia (R. mucilaginosa, dentocariosa)

Bacteria from the mouth or stomach
Veillonella parvula

Bacteria from the vagina
Corynebacterium aurimucosum
Gardnerella vaginalis
Xanthomonas campestris

Opportunistic pathogen
Acinetobacter baumannii

Bacteria associated with dairy production and fermentation
Lactococcus lactis
Streptococcus thermopiles

If that isn’t enough to make you heave, Jonathan Oyler and his colleagues at the National Institute of Health published a study in 1996 that found traces of cocaine in 79% of $1 bills from cities across the United States. Other studies have identified the presence of Escherichia coli (E. coli), salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus. Are you completely disgusted by now?

One thing is for sure — you’ll think twice the next time someone asks: “what’s in your wallet?”

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For further reading: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0175527

The Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsEleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was a national treasure. As First Lady of the United States (holding the record for longest period served, from 1933 to 1945), humanitarian, politician, and activist. Although she had a difficult, unhappy childhood, but she overcame monumental obstacles and setbacks to live a very rich, fruitful, and fulfilling life. In her tireless support of women’s rights, civil right, and global human rights, she earned the respect of the entire world; Harry Truman referred to her as the “First Lady of the World.” In a Gallup poll conducted in 1999, Roosevelt she was ranked the ninth most admired person in the 20th century. Not only did she have an insatiable curiosity, she was extremely generous with what she learned; she was always willing to inspire others with her wisdom. In his eulogy for Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson remarked, “What other single human being has touched and transformed the existence of so many? She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.” Bookshelf presents the timeless wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt:

Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.

One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.

Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart.

Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual; you have an obligation to be one.

Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.

Only a man’s character is the real criterion of worth.

You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life, and what you’ve become yourself.

Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Your ambition should be to get as much life out of living as you possibly can, as much enjoyment, as much interest, as much experience, as much understanding.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.

You must do the things you think you cannot do.

We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.

One thing life has taught me: if you are interested, you never have to look for new interests. They come to you. When you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.

In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.

When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.

Autobiographies are only useful as the lives you read about and analyze may suggest to you something that you may find useful in your own journey through life.

With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.

The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
The Wisdom of Maya Angelou
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks
The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz
The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt
The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

What is a Tu Quoque Argument?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesA tu quoque (pronounced “too KWOH kwe” or “too KWOH kwee), from the Latin “you also,” is an informal logical fallacy, often used as a red herring tactic, that identifies hypocrisy as a way to refute an argument. That is to say, an opponent’s argument would be refuted by asserting that the opponent does not behave in accordance with their argument. For example, Person A could claim: “It is morally wrong to drive cars that increase our dependence on fossil fuels and not renewable energy. Person B responds: “How can you say that driving fossil-fuel cars is morally wrong when you drive a gas-guzzling SUV?” Another example, at the heart of our country’s founding, is this: person A states: “All men are created equal.” Person B responds: “How can you say that all men are created equal when you are a slave owner?”

Like the ad hominem argument (attacking the character, attribute, or motive of an opponent), the tu quoque argument is a fallacy because the specific actions of an opponent are irrelevant to the logic of an argument. Although the opponent can be clearly exposed for being a hypocrite, it does not make his argument wrong, and your argument correct. The resolution of the argument has to be based on the presentation of supporting facts and ideas.

Closely related to the tu quoque argument is whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) that refutes an opponent’s argument by directly accusing them of hypocrisy (or some wrongdoing) without directly disproving their argument. Danielle Kurtzleben, a journalist at NPR, describes it succinctly: “Party A accuses Party B of doing something bad. Party B responds by changing the subject and pointing out one of Party A’s faults — ‘Yeah? Well what about that bad thing you did?’ (Hence the name.)” Denise Clifton, a journalist for Mother Jones, likens whataboutism to a defensive child’s playground cry: “Look at what she did!” What about them?” “See what my opponent did!”

Whataboutism was one of the key strategies of Soviet and Russian propaganda during the Cold War (about 1947-1991). In the essay, “Come Again, Comrade?” the editors of The Economist elaborate: “Soviet propagandists during the cold war were trained in a tactic that their western interlocutors nicknamed ‘whataboutism.’ Any criticism of the Soviet Union (Afghanistan, martial law in Poland, imprisonment of dissidents, censorship) was met with a ‘What about…’ (apartheid South Africa, jailed trade-unionists, the Contras in Nicaragua, and so forth).” Unfortunately, under Putin’s current leadership in Russia, whataboutism is making a big comeback. When Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in the Ukraine, Putin employed the whataboutism strategy to defuse (or more accurately, dodge) the charges of human rights violations. Recently when Megan Kelly questioned Putin about interference in the US election, Putin instinctively responded: “Put your finger anywhere on a map of the world, and everywhere you will hear complaints that American officials are interfering in internal election processes.”

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, a cloud of suspicion has hung over him and members of his staff alleging that they colluded with the Russians to interfere in the presidential election. While many are disturbed about Trump’s glowing assessment of Putin, only a few journalists have noted that his greatest compliment to his Russian counterpart is his adoption of whatboutism (indeed, as the English cleric Charles Caleb Colton once observed,  “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”) NPR’s Kurtzleben notes: “President Trump has developed a consistent tactic when he’s criticized: say that someone else is worse. This week, when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Republicans’ health care plan would leave 24 million additional people uninsured in 2026, Trump’s first move wasn’t a direct response. Instead, he took to Twitter to blast the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare), criticizing how much was spent on promoting it and asking people to tweet their own criticisms.” Dmitry Dubrovsky, an expert on Russian politics and professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, believes that both Putin and Trump have similar political impulses; he explained: “[They] are both populist leaders. They always try to be as uncertain as possible. And for a populist that’s important. Whataboutism is a very substantial part of populism rhetoric… It is very childish. That’s why the populist is speaking in this language. Everyone understands it quite well. The strategy is to avoid any argument and to sound like you speak from your soul.” But Mother Jones’ Clifton believes that Trump takes whataboutism to a whole new level: “In Trump’s version of whataboutism, he repeatedly takes a word leveled in criticism against him and turns it back on his opponents—sidestepping the accusation and undercutting the meaning of the word at the same time.” [emphasis added]

Beyond being a very powerful and effective rhetorical device, whataboutism has a very dark side. Because it is employed by several leaders around the world, it has a very sinister global agenda; Dubrovsky adds: “Trump, as well as Putin, as well as others, have followed this populist path. Russia was a pioneer of this global shift in narrative. The situation globally is to destroy the principles of human rights or democracy or international dialogue. Or to deny that such principles exist at all. [The real agenda of whataboutism] is to destroy the democratic values of the truth.”

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For further reading: http://www.economist.com/node/10598774

Famous Last Words of Celebrities

atkins bookshelf quotations“The tricky thing in the ‘last word’ business, as in so much else, is timing. Do you think of something clever years before and try and remember it to trot out at the appropriate time? Do you rely on last-minute inspiration?” writes Sir Richard Stilgoe in the introduction to The Bedside Book of Final Words by Eric Grounds. “How can you control your last seconds so that you say your pithy sentence, check that someone’s got it down accurately, then die?” Fortunately for biographers and collectors of last words, many famous people have said some very interesting things — some a bit haunting — that were actually recorded in one form or another for posterity. And, of course, with the prevalence of social media, we now have a record of final tweets or emails. Here are famous last words of celebrities:

Kurt Cobain: “I love you. I love you.”

Princess Diana: “Oh my God, what is happening?”

Whitney Houston: “I’m gonna go see Jesus, want to see Jesus.”

Michael Jackson: “More milk.” [By milk, Jackson was referring to propofol]

Steve Jobs: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Heath Ledger: “Katie, Katie, look…it’ll be fine, you know, I just need to get some sleep.” [Speaking to his sister over the phone.]

Leonard Nimoy: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP. [Live Long and Prosper]” [His last tweet]

Bill Paxton: Thanks for the good wishes. It will help me face this ordeal. [Final email before heart surgery.]

Elvis Presley: “”I’m going to the bathroom to read.” [Spoken to fiancé Ginger Alden; Elvis was reading The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus by Frank Adams published in 1972]

Frank Sinatra: “I’m losing it.”

Paul Walker: “We’ll be back in five minutes.”

Amy Winehouse: “I don’t want to die.”

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For further reading: The Bedside Book of Final Words by Eric Grounds (2014)
What Book Was Elvis Reading When He Died?

An Eloquent Defense of a Liberal Arts Education

alex atkins bookshelf educationIt’s bad enough we live in the Age of Google when we are awash with too much information to process. Tidal waves of information wash up on our shores every day. To complicate matters, that information is now tainted by the Trumpian twisted notion of truth — each day the water is polluted with alternative facts, fake news, and spinglish (the deceptive language used by professional spin doctors). In short, the Truth is under assault — and as many pundits point out, we’re in really deep shit. So what can we do?

Enter Clayton S. Rose, a former professor at Harvard Business School and the 15th president of Bowdoin College (established in 1794 in Brunswick, Maine), to don a suit of armor and take arms against a sea of deception and distortion. In an essay for Time magazine titled “Why We Need the Liberal Arts Now More Than Ever,” Rose fiercely and eloquently defends a liberal arts education and the obligation to serve the common good:

“I couldn’t help pondering where we are today in the worlds of politics, of government and of the media — imperfect but essential institutions for a healthy democracy. We have evolved to a most distressing place — to a place in our society and world where intellectual engagement is too often mocked.

Facts are willfully ignored or conveniently dismissed. Data is curated or manipulated for short-term gain rather than to test or illuminate aspects of the truth. Hypocrisy runs rampant and character appears to no longer be a requirement for leadership. Instant gratification and personal aggrandizement are celebrated as virtues over the work of tackling hard problems that ultimately serve the public interest and common good.

This is decidedly a nonpartisan problem. We have evolved to this place over a long period, and there is more than enough blame to go around to all sides. Whatever one’s political and world views, we should all be alarmed. A system where skill, expertise, data, judgement, discourse, respect and character are in short supply is a system in trouble.

A liberal arts education can play an important role in correcting this problem. [A liberal arts curriculum should] create an environment where students can be intellectually fearless, where they can consider ideas and material that challenge their points of view, may run counter to deeply held beliefs, unsettles them or may make them uncomfortable. We do this to prepare our graduates to effectively tackle.. issues that polarize us today.

In a liberal arts setting, intellectual fearlessness is achieved through the development and enhancement of competence, community and character.

Competence comes through a rigorous education — one that builds and sharpens the skills of critical thinking and analysis; the ability to understand the political, social, natural, ethical, cultural and economic aspects of the world we inhabit; the ability to continue to learn; and the disposition to be intellectually nimble, to exercise judgment and to communicate effectively.

We don’t tell students what to think. We strive to teach them how to think, to give them the knowledge and skills to develop the courage to think for themselves and shape their own principles, perspectives, beliefs and solutions to problems.

We also provide students with seemingly endless ways to serve the common good — the notion that we have an obligation to something bigger than ourselves. This serves to strengthen our community and to make our students part of other communities, helping them better understand what binds each of us together.

We want our students to understand and celebrate their wonderfully diverse identities, experiences and backgrounds, while also enjoying and appreciating the deep bonds of being a part of our college community. Being part of a strong and diverse community requires an ability to talk honestly with one another about the real issues. That’s why we push our students to develop skills and an ability to engage in thoughtful and respectful ways with those who have varying perspectives, and with whom they may disagree — sometimes profoundly.

We also seek to promote character — principled lives, work and play that have integrity, an acknowledgment of the gifts we have been given and respect for others and ourselves. Liberal arts colleges are steeped in opportunities to engage intellectually and to reflect deeply across all disciplines about what character means, why it matters and how one might live it. And there are many chances over four years for students to actually engage in challenges that test and develop their character.

At this challenging moment in our society and world, it would be easy to despair. But I do not. I am optimistic because I know the power of competence, community and character. The liberal arts matter now more than ever.”

Amen, brother. Next challenge: can we just make a liberal arts education affordable for every young person in America?

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For further reading: http://time.com/4920389/bowdoin-college-liberal-arts-education/

Choose the Way You Want to Spend Your Limited Time on Earth

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIt is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.

Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), Latino civil rights activist, labor leader, and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association (United Farm Workers union). Chavez won numerous awards for his passionate advocacy of social justice, including the Pacem in Terris Award (1992) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously in 1994). His personal motto “¡Sí se suede!” (translated from Spanish: “Yes, it can be done!” or “Yes, we can!”) was adopted by the United Farm Workers in the 1960s and several decades later by Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.

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