Comma Lode
Entry for 2017-01-19


Diacritical geologists exploring the relationship between punctuation and crustal fault lines have unexpectedly discovered a major comma deposit in northern Nevada.

Test borings suggest that the Nevada vein is one of the richest ever sighted, and one of the highest in carbon content. Commas are a granular form of silicon graphite, normally bearing 85% to 90% carbon plus a fraction of double-banded silicon concentrated in their tapering tail sections.

Once commercial exploitation of the new lode begins, refineries will have to be built near the mine site to separate pure commas from their naturally occurring state, bound into semicolons. It's expected that the commas will be shipped to printing facilities of The New York Times, which has suffered a comma shortage since the late Sixties. The residue of periods will be sold to various publishers for use as halftone dots in reproducing black and white photographs.

A spokesman for the Times confirmed that the newspaper's style sheet will be rewritten to call for commas to separate the last two items in a series. This practice had been dropped when the paper ran short of commas as its pages increased following World War II.

The first Times articles to appear without the final comma were two 1971 items, one on famous comedy teams such as Nichols and May, Burns and Allen and Rowan and Martin and the other on advertising agencies including Benton and Bowles, Fuller and Smith and Ross and Young and Rubicam.

Guest Poet (1)
Entry for 2017-01-17

Light Verse springs from a long and distinguished tradition. Here is Jonathan Swift, writing in the early 1700s about invention of the microscope:

So, naturalists observe, a flea

Hath smaller fleas that on him prey

And these have smaller still to bite em

And so proceed ad infinitum

It's Only Money
Entry for 2017-01-15

Excerpted from Folding Money (filed under "The Skeptical Investor")
Early forms of money revolved around commodities such as tobacco, sugar, and salt. It was beans for the Aztecs, oxen in ancient Greece (pekus, thus "pecuniary"), elephants in Ceylon, feathers in the New Hebrides, cows among the Maasai.
But when you're trading in oxen or elephants, it's hard to make change. So a valuable commodity which might represent the accepted standard of value was not always the actual medium of exchange. In Borneo, human skulls were the most highly valued possessions and thus the measure of comparison for what something was worth -- like the gold standard of later western societies. But when it came time to get down to business, everyday transactions were more likely denominated in palm nuts and pigs.
As a general trend, currencies evolved from barter in directly useful goods to surrogate money of less useful and more ornamental materials, such as silver and gold. Earlier forms tend to be commodity money, measured in weights: the original pound, for example, or the drachma, which means a handful and originally referred to a handful of iron nails. Commodity money was gradually replaced by debt money -- the note or bill -- which might or might not be convertible into a specified hard asset, as U.S. bills were formerly redeemable in silver. Increasingly, convertibility was dropped, and currencies relied on confidence. One party honors a piece of currency on the assumption that the next party will accept it -- or, as one critic complained, currency is accepted because it's accepted.

The Miracle of Life
Entry for 2017-01-13

Knucklewalker's Lament
Entry for 2017-01-11

Humans and chimps are far more alike
than any two genera of beetles. Nonetheless,
animals that walk upright with their hands
dangling free are self-aggrandizingly defined
as hominids, not apes.
-- Lynn Margulis
As everyone knows,
if Shakespeare had needed
to write with his toes,
his verse would be shorter
and so would his prose.
His plays would be fewer
and Twelfth Night might be
an insupportable luxury,

as would two volumes,
or possibly all,
of Edward the Gibbon's
Decline and Fall

Fateful the day
on the plains of Afar,
after a leadership seminar,
when an ape arose,
cried, "Look at me!
Erect! My hands
and my fingers free!"

Good thing, too,
or the rest of the breed
might inhabit a zoo,
and If everyone needed
their hands to walk,
Italians wouldn't
be able to talk