Grip the Raven

Charles Dickens’s pet raven Grip helped inspire Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven.

In the first half of the 19th century Charles Dickens had a pet raven named Grip who, by all accounts, was quite the handful. Grip was talkative, bossy, and aggressive. She intimidated the family’s mastiff Turk (she would steal food from his bowl) and would also bite the Dickens children. Eventually Dickens exiled Grip to the shed where, being a mischievous raven, she got into a can of white paint (which contained lead). On March 12, 1841 Dickens wrote to his friend, the illustrator Daniel Maclise, that Grip had died.

Because he loved Grip Dickens had her stuffed and mounted in a case complete with a woodland setting of branches and leaves. He also had Maclise create a portrait of her. Despite Grip’s difficult personality it didn’t put Dickens off to having more ravens as pets, the next of which he also named Grip (who, according to Dickens’s daughter Mamie, was also a handful).

Grip the raven inspired by Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe.

Quoth the Raven …

In 1842 Dickens and his wife traveled to America. As part of his tour around the states he met with Edgar Allan Poe who had favorably reviewed Dickens’s 1841 novel Barnaby Rudge. In the novel the titular character of Barnaby Rudge has a talkative pet raven whose name just happens to be Grip. Poe was particularly interested in Grip, whom he described as “intensely amusing” and liked that Grip the character was based on Dickens’s own real pet Grip.

A few years after learning about Grip, Poe would write his most defining work, 1845’s The Raven. In the poem a raven flies into the room of the grief-stricken narrator, tormenting him that he will never be reunited with his lost love. It’s widely believed by Poe scholars that the inspiration for the bird in the poem was Grip the raven (both the real Grip and the fictional Grip). There are numerous similarities between the bird in The Raven and Grip the raven in Barnaby Rudge.

the Free Library of Philadelphia

After Dickens died in 1870 Grip was sold at auction. She was eventually bought by Colonel Richard Gimbel (a wealthy member of the Philadelphia department store family) who was an avid collector of both Dickens and Poe. He also purchased the Philadelphia home of Edgar Allan Poe which was later donated to the National Park Service. Grip, as well as the rest of the Gimbel collection of Dickens and Poe artifacts (including the only known copy of The Raven written in Poe’s hand), were bequeathed to the Free Library of Philadelphia in 1971. Today Grip can be found, still in her case, at the end of a series of hallways on the 3rd floor of the Central Library in the Rare Books department.

Grip at the end of the 3rd floor hallway in the Rare Books department of the Philadelphia Free Library
Grip sits in her case at the end of the hallways in the Rare Books department of the Philadelphia Free Library central branch on Vine Street.
Plaque from the Friends of Libraries

Grip the mischievous raven inspired two literary giants. The Raven the poem then went on to inspire untold others including the naming of the Baltimore Ravens (the only football team named after a piece of literature).

Added info: Grip was not the only Dickens pet that had a life after death. After Bob the family cat died Dickens had one of his paws turned into a letter opener.

Also, while crows and ravens are fairly similar there are some easy ways to tell them apart. It’s frequently written that “ravens are larger than crows” but without seeing the two side-by-side it can be difficult if you haven’t previously seen both species. Perhaps the easiest way is the tail feathers which, when in flight, the feathers of a raven come to a point like a “V” (like the “v” in “raven”). A crow’s tail feathers are more of a straight line.

Color Blindness

The visual condition that changes what colors you see.

To start, being color blind almost never means someone is blind to color, as if they’re living in a black & white movie. “Color blind” usually just means someone doesn’t see the full spectrum of colors like the rest of us. To understand color blindness we have to understand two concepts: light and our eyes.

Let there be light

The colors that we see are photons moving at different wavelengths/frequencies. They’re part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The full electromagnetic spectrum ranges from Gamma rays (the shortest, highest frequency waves – quite dangerous) to radio waves (the longest, lowest frequency waves – not so dangerous). What we call visible light is radiation in a particular range of wavelengths. Within this bandwidth the colors of violet and blue have the shortest wavelengths while oranges and reds have the longest. Through evolution we have developed two small biological machines capable of detecting this range of wavelengths … our eyes.

the electromagnetic spectrum
The electromagnetic spectrum ranges from gamma rays to radio waves, photons moving at a variety of wavelengths & frequencies.

Doctor My Eyes

Our retinas have two kinds of photoreceptive cells: rods and cones. Rods see light & dark while cones see color. We have about 120 million rods per eye and but only 6-7 million cones per eye. Instead of just one kind of cone cell we have three and each kind is tuned to a certain range of wavelengths (short, medium, and long). To put it another way, our three kinds of cone cells are each tuned to see certain ranges of colors – blues (short), greens (medium), reds (long).

Bringing it all together, color blindness is when one (or more) of your cone cell types are either defective or missing entirely. The result is that you are unable to properly see certain wavelengths of colors.

Color Blindness

Why does color blindness happen? While color blindness can be an acquired condition most of the time it’s genetic. The most common forms of color blindness are carried on the X chromosome and because men only have one X chromosome, if it’s defective they’re out of luck. This is why men are more commonly color blind than women. Women have two X chromosomes so a functioning X chromosome will compensate for a defective one. As a result around 8% of men are color blind compared to only around 0.5% of women. That said color blindness isn’t evenly distributed across men – it has a higher prevalence amongst Caucasian men than other ethnicities.

red-green color blindness is the most common form of color blindness
Red-green color blindness is a group of different kinds of color blindness. It’s the most common form of color blindness.

Because cones come in three varieties, and those cones can be defective or absent, the various combinations of factors means there are many forms of color blindness. The most common type is “red-green” color blind (which is a few kinds grouped together) where reds and greens aren’t seen properly and shift to look more like yellows and browns. This is the result of the medium and long (green and red) cone cells being defective or absent. Red-green color blindness accounts for about 99% of all color blindness with about 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women having it.

Blue-yellow color blindness is where blues and greens aren’t seen properly. It’s also genetic but it’s not carried on the X chromosome so men and women are affected relatively evenly. It’s quite rare – around 0.01% of men and women are blue-yellow color blind.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

The effects of color blindness range from the benign to the dangerous. Accidentally wearing clothes that don’t match can be embarrassing but confusing “stop” for “go” on a traffic light can be dangerous. Color blind individuals can have difficulty determining the ripeness of fruits & vegetables. They can see sports jerseys as similar and have difficulty tracking games. The designer shorthand that red means error/bad while green means success/good (the traffic light analogy) can make a variety of safety features, dashboards, and websites more difficult to use. One positive is that color blind individuals may be better at detecting camouflage.

What do other animals see?

The concept of “color blindness” is relative. What most humans consider normal is not what most bees would consider normal, or dogs, or any other species. So when people say that most other animals are color blind, it’s just that they can’t see the same spectrum of colors that humans normally see.

To start, most mammals are red-green color blind (which to them is normal). They tend to only have two cone cell types, lacking the third we have to see a wider range of colors. So when a dog can’t find the green tennis ball in the green grass, it’s probably because they really can’t see it (especially if it has stopped rolling). Dogs rely on movement to distinguish between things more than we do. That said dogs have more rods than humans so when it seems like they’re looking at something in the dark, and you can’t see anything, they’re probably seeing something beyond your vision.

The old idea that bulls dislike the color red is untrue – they’re red-green color blind. When a matador waves a red/pink cape to attract a bull the bull is responding to the motion of the cape, not the color. Dolphins and other marine animals see even less due to having only the long wavelength cone type and are monochromatic. Deer are red-green color blind but can see more shorter wavelength colors than we can including some amount of ultraviolet which to us is invisible. Some laundry detergents contain brightening agents that are intended to brighten the colors of your clothes but can make clothes look bright blue to deer. The result is that, even if your clothes are camouflaged, the deer probably saw you long before you saw the deer.

Even beyond seeing ultraviolet, some animals can detect/see the Earth’s magnetic fields. It’s believed that robins can see magnetic field lines as a darker shading on the normal colors they already see, but they can only see it through their right eyes and only on clear days. When cryptochrome molecules in their right eyes are struck by blue light the molecules become active and allow robins to see magnetic fields which they can use to navigate as they migrate north & south. Interestingly, non-migratory bird species seem to have less sensitivity to magnetic fields than migratory birds.

Finally, contrary to popular misconception, bats are not blind and some actually have quite decent sight. While they are red-green color blind like most other mammals they have an ultraviolet sensitivity that helps them hunt as well as detect predators. All of this in addition to echolocation means they are quite capable of seeing and navigating the world around them. That said, some species of bats as well as other nocturnal animals have no cones at all and are really truly color blind.

Corporate Jargon

The intentionally confusing language of business, politics, and advertising that helps the speaker fit in, lie, and pretend to say something when saying nothing.

After WWII there was increasing interest in the sociology of leadership, how groups of people interact, etc. The military as well as corporations (such as General Electric, AT&T, IBM, etc.) wanted to know the most efficient ways to run their organizations. They wanted to know how workers could find personal fulfillment in the workplace while also increasing profits. They turned to researchers and consultants to help them manage their growing workforces. This was the dawn of corporate jargon.

Corporate jargon (e.g. customer-centric, CSAT, flywheel, hard stop, disrupt, in the loop, stakeholders, value added, value stream, synergy, restructure, disrupt, circle-back, think outside of the box, paradigm shift …) is a product of post-WWII consulting. Corporate jargon is the language of white-collar business – it’s metaphors, acronyms, euphemisms, and other linguistic tools used to dress up ideas.

Mid-century consultants peppered their advice with this new business speak. Their clients heard these terms and used the same jargon towards their coworkers, who then told other coworkers, etc. Over time the business lexicon changed & grew as it spread around the world like a virus.

Doublespeak

Corporate jargon is a form of doublespeak and doublespeak is designed to deceive. It’s a way to obfuscate the truth. George Orwell’s ideas of “doublethink” and “newspeak” in Nineteen Eighty-Four are the basis of our modern idea of doublespeak. You find doublespeak not just in business but in politics and advertising as well. It’s a way of speaking that can make it seem like you’re saying something when you’re saying nothing at all. It can make the simple seem complex. More dangerously it can make intolerable concepts seem benign – “downsizing” instead of “we’re laying people off”, “gaming” instead of “gambling”, “collateral damage” instead of “we accidentally killed/hurt civilians.”

In the closing of his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language (which you can download here) Orwell says that “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Doublespeak isn’t about communication it’s designed to achieve conformity, or as Joseph Goebbels said, “We do not talk to say something, but to obtain a certain effect.”

The court of King Louis XIV found numerous ways to emulate him including unneeded anal fistula surgery.

The in-crowd

Despite knowing that corporate jargon is nonsense people keep using it, and not just to lie or confuse. Using this kind of speech can serve as a signifier that you’re part of the powerful in-crowd, that you’re a serious member of the workplace. Linking right back to how corporate jargon spread in the first place, people use the words & phrases they hear their manager say and they, in turn, use the same words when talking with coworkers.

Using corporate speak is but the latest example in a long line of things subordinates have done to curry favor with their superiors. In the mid 17th century French King Louis XIV began to lose his hair (a side effect of syphilis). He turned to wearing a wig to hide this problem. Soon other members of court also took to wearing wigs so as to copy the style of the king and seek his favor. More extreme is when Louis required a surgery for an anal fistula and, again to be like the boss, other members of court also got the surgery (even if it wasn’t needed). In the court of Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette some women got special pouf hair styles constructed to advertise that they had been inoculated against smallpox just like the king & queen had been — people finding ways to signal that they are (or want to be) like the people in power.

People have always found ways to appeal to those in power and to signal their membership in a tribe. People want to be a part of the in-crowd. While corporate jargon is relatively new the motivations behind it are nothing new.

Bonus: have fun (while a part of you dies) using a corporate jargon generator.

The king, George Carlin on soft language and doublespeak.

On the usage of corporate jargon.

Diamonds are not forever, but pretty close

Diamonds very slowly degrade into graphite … but the sun, the solar system, and many of the black holes will have died long before then.

When thinking about diamonds we can think of the Shawshank Redemption line that, “Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really… pressure… and time”. Diamonds mined from the Earth are carbon atoms that have been compressed over long periods of time (in the billions of years) under enormous amounts of pressure.

The sands of time

The underground pressure that forms a diamond also holds it together. Once removed from the ground the carbon atoms very, very, slowly rearrange into graphite. Graphite is a more stable arrangement of carbon atoms than a diamond, but “more stable” is extremely relative. Under normal conditions a diamond sitting in your house would take an estimated 10 to the power of 80 years (1080 years) to become graphite, which is:

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years

One with 80 zeros after it, years. To put that in perspective, the universe is only around 14 billion years old, or 14,000,000,000 years old. A wildly shorter period of time.

The slow death of the universe

So what will life be like when diamonds begin to lose their luster? Nothing lasts forever, including our sun and the universe as we know it. Our sun is scheduled to become a red giant star, expanding in size to engulf Mercury, Venus, and probably Earth, in about 5 billion years. But before that happens the increasing brightness of the sun will kill off all life on Earth in about 1 billion years.

If humanity takes its diamonds aboard a spaceship (with standard Earth like conditions), and sails the universe through space & time, it will theoretically take until the Black Hole Era for the diamonds to become graphite. The Black Hole Era will be from 1043 to approximately 10100 years from now. Leading up to the Black Hole Era the stars will have burned out and the planets (and your diamonds) will have decayed because their protons fell apart. In this time of darkness the black holes of the universe will decay and evaporate into nothingness … and then, finally, your (theoretically still existent) diamonds will have become graphite.

Added info: in 1947 De Beers launched the marketing campaign that “A Diamond Is Forever” (which they used to create our modern idea of the engagement ring). Also learn more about the carat measurement of diamonds (and the other karats, carets, & carrots).

Crash Course Astronomy discusses the long … long, future in store for our universe.

And because it’s an incredible song, and it mentions diamonds (albeit as a metaphor), and it will surely be the soundtrack of our interstellar space travels … Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

Friday the 13th

The superstition that’s the combination of two separate superstitions (and a lot of magical thinking).

Superstitions are ideas that unrelated things are connected in some supernatural way. They’re frequently practices that are thought to bring about good or bad luck. Knocking on wood, walking under ladders, black cats, four leaf clovers, etc. are all classic western superstitions. Astrology and other fortune telling methods have a similar kind of magical thinking. The superstition of Friday the 13th is a combination of two separate superstitions: Fridays + the number 13.

From the Norse gods, to the Last Supper, thirteen people at a table has made 13 an unlucky number.

The unlucky number

One of the earliest examples of 13 being an unlucky number comes from Norse mythology. Loki was the uninvited 13th god to attend a feast following the recent slaying of the god Baldr (who died because Loki had tricked the blind god Höðr into inadvertently killing him). Another unlucky dinner with 13 members was the Last Supper where Judas betrayed Jesus. This spurred yet another superstition that dinners with 13 members are unlucky. The first person to rise from the table will be in store for ill fortune (akin to how Judas was the first to rise from the Last Supper and was met with ill fortune). However various workarounds include dividing the guests across two tables or just having everyone rise at the same time (which seem like pretty simple hacks).

Another reason 13 is considered unlucky is that it throws off the satisfying “completeness” of 12. There are 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the western zodiac, there were 12 gods of Olympus, the 12 labors of Hercules, the aforementioned 12 Nordic gods in attendance at the the meal following Baldr’s death, 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, etc.

Over time western culture’s fear of 13 has spread to a wide variety of outlets. Over 80% of tall buildings skip counting the 13th floor and instead call it the 14th floor, hotels sometimes skip having 13th rooms, the 13th card in the major arcana of the tarot deck is the card for death, the 13th loaf of bread in a baker’s dozen was sometimes said to be for the Devil, cruise ships tend to skip having a 13th floor, in Florence some houses which should have an address of 13 are given 12 1/2, etc.

The superstition that Friday is unlucky is largely because of the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus as well as other Bible stories.

It’s Friday I’m in … trouble

The fear of Friday has mostly Judeo-Christian origins. Jesus was said to have been crucified on a Friday (or perhaps it was a Wednesday). The start of the Great Flood and the confusion at the Tower of Babel were both said to have taken place on a Friday. Eve supposedly tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit, and the resulting expulsion from the Garden of Eden, took place on a Friday. Further Cain killed Abel on a Friday. Unfortunately the Bible is silent on what calendar system was in use in the Garden of Eden or how they had Fridays at all.

Eating meat on a Friday is considered unlucky because it’s reminiscent of death and the crucifixion (but eating fish is apparently exempt from this bad luck somehow). Cutting your nails on a Friday is also considered unlucky for similar severing of the body related reasons. Over time Fridays became an inauspicious day to begin or finish things. Starting a voyage, starting a new job, finishing the production of an article of clothing, moving house, getting married, giving birth, etc. on a Friday have all been considered unlucky.

That said if you die on a Good Friday there’s a superstition that you go right to Heaven.

The 1868 Friday the 13th death of Rossini is one of the first instances of Friday the 13th being unlucky but the superstition became popular during the 20th century.

Two great tastes that taste great together

Bringing these two superstitions together seemed inevitable, the super-superstition of bad luck on Friday the 13th, but it’s relatively new. Friday the 13th is first mentioned as unlucky in the 19th century with the most famous example being the Friday the 13th, November 1868 death of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini.

Friday the 13th didn’t become more widely unlucky in pop culture until the 20th century. Most people credit the 1907 Thomas Lawson novel Friday, the Thirteenth, about a stockbroker who chooses that date to manipulate (and crash) the stock market, as the popularization of the Friday the 13th superstition.

But like all superstitions, an unlucky day & date combination is inconsistent and culturally specific. While English speaking countries think of Friday the 13th as unlucky, in Spain and Greece it’s Tuesday the 13th that’s supposed to be unlucky, but in Italy it’s Friday the 17th.

It’s all in your mind

Ultimately the idea that Fridays, or the number 13, or the combination of Friday the 13th, are in any way unlucky, is nonsense. If they were real they’d be universally held beliefs (not to mention some objective proof). Instead these three superstitions are mostly just inconsistent western ideas – people in the rest of the world are going about their lives unaware of the danger they’re supposedly in (and somehow surviving).

There is no evidence that Friday the 13th brings about an increase in unfortunate incidents or accidents. A 2011 study in the The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reviewed hospital emergency admission rates and found no significant difference between Friday the 13th to other days. In fact a 2008 Dutch study demonstrated the opposite may be true, that people are more cautious on Friday the 13th and as a result there are fewer road accidents.

The Friday the 13th movie franchise capitalizes on the superstition. Interestingly in Spanish speaking countries the movies are sometimes called Martes 13 (Tuesday the 13th) in keeping with the Spanish superstition around Tuesday the 13th, instead of Friday the 13th. Finally, the most important metal band of all time Black Sabbath released their eponymous debut album on Friday the 13th, February 1970.

Black Sabbath, the most important metal band of all time, released their debut album on Friday the 13th, February 1970.

There are highs & (many) lows to the Friday the 13th movie franchise, but the disco theme song for Part 3 is something else.

the May 8, 1977 Barton Hall Concert

One of, if not thee, greatest Grateful Dead concert of all time (thanks to taping).

Having over 2,300 concerts to choose from, to try and pick just one Grateful Dead show as the best is both subjective and impossible (as well as controversial). That said, one show that is mentioned over and over as one of (if not thee) best is the May 8, 1977 Barton Hall concert at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The band were in especially good form during the 1977 tour. The Barton Hall concert is a legendary show partially because the music is accessible – it’s enjoyable for hardcore Deadheads and casual fans alike. But perhaps even more importantly the show is accessible in a more literal sense. Grateful Dead audio engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson recorded over 1,000 tapes of live concerts for the band and the Barton Hall show is one of her most famous recordings. The “Betty Board” recording of the Barton Hall concert is of excellent quality, without which the concert likely would not be held in such high esteem.

The Betty Board recording of the Barton Hall concert by Betty Cantor-Jackson has helped make the concert one of the most famous Grateful Dead shows of all time.

“Everybody’s favorite fun game, move back …”

Recording Grateful Dead concerts, and the Shakedown Street style trade of concert tapes, is an entire sub-culture of the band. More than 2,000 of the estimated 2,300 concerts have been preserved by tapers. The non-profit Internet Archive has an entire section just for Grateful Dead recordings with over 16,000 entries. Instead of being anti-piracy the band embraced tapers, giving them their own space behind the mixing desk. As drummer Mickey Hart said “We can’t be cops.” The decision inadvertently worked like a viral marketing campaign. Fans would record shows, they would trade tapes with other people, and in the process millions more people were exposed to the band’s music. Today the band’s website has a “Taper’s Section” devoted to highlighting taped recordings from each week’s concerts in the band’s history.

In 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the Barton Hall concert Tompkins County, NY (where Cornell is located) declared the day “Grateful Dead Day.” In 2011 the Barton Hall Concert was entered into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress alongside other culturally significant recordings such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc.

Added info: you can purchase the Cornell 5/8/77 concert as a 3-CD set, or you can listen to the concert for free on archive.org.

A mini documentary on the magic of the Barton Hall concert.

In 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the concert the Cornell Chimes performed a concert on the bells.

Cinco de Mayo e Jalisco

The holiday celebrating a victorious military battle (not Independence) that’s become a celebration of Mexican culture (and especially Jalisco culture).

In 1861 after multiple wars, a nearly bankrupt Mexico was in debt to Britain, France, and Spain. President Benito Juárez instituted a temporary moratorium on foreign debt payments which France used as a justification for invasion. France wanted to expand their empire by seizing Mexico, and Mexico’s unpaid debt was an excuse to do so. The French fleet launched an invasion at Veracruz and marched westward toward Mexico City. On the way to the capital the Mexican army engaged the French near the town of Puebla.

Despite being outnumbered 2 to 1, on May 5, 1862 the Mexican army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla. This is what Cinco de Mayo celebrates – a Mexican victory over the French. Unfortunately the Mexicans eventually lost the war and in 1864 the French installed the Austrian born Emperor Maximilian I as ruler of Mexico. By 1867 though the Mexicans rose up and took back the country, executing Maximilian on June 19, 1867.

General Ignacio Zaragoza led the Mexican forces to a victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo … nos Estados Unidos

Today Cinco de Mayo is more popular in the United States than Mexico. Outside of the state of Puebla most of Mexico pays little attention to the holiday (which in Mexico is not called Cinco de Mayo of course but is “El Día de la Batalla de Puebla” or “The Day of the Battle of Puebla”). One reason for its popularity in the US is that the Mexican-American community uses the holiday as a cultural holiday honoring their Mexican heritage, much like what Irish-Americans do with Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s become more of a celebration of Mexican culture than of a military victory over the French.

Many of the things people associate with all of Mexico really come from just the state of Jalisco.

Jalisco es Mexico

On the Pacific coast of Mexico, sits the state of Jalisco. While Jalisco had little to do with the Battle of Puebla it has a lot to do with modern Cinco de Mayo and what we think of when we think of Mexico. The first mass produced tequila, mariachi music, the iconic folk dresses with large ribboned skirts, jaripeo bull riding, wide-brimmed sombreros, and the national dance “Jarabe Tapatío” (“Mexican Hat Dance”) all come from the state of Jalisco. As a result the state’s motto is “Jalisco es Mexico” (“Jalisco is Mexico”).

Similar to how many of the things people associate with Germany really just come from the Bavarian region, many of the cultural elements that people associate with Mexico are just from the state of Jalisco. As such every Cinco de Mayo Jalisco’s contributions to the Mexican cultural identity loom large as they appear in homes and restaurants around the United States as people celebrate Mexico.

Added info: Mexican Independence day is called “Grito de Dolores” (“The Cry of Dolores”) which is when Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave a speech to his parishioners and rang the church bell as a call to arms. This was the 1810 start of the Mexican War of Independence and is celebrated every September 16th.

Bock Beer / Goat Beer

The German beer whose name is a pun.

In the 14th century the northern town of Einbeck, Germany was producing some great tasting beer with higher alcohol content than typical lagers. The beer was brewed by individual households (in citizen brew houses) but the town owned all of the beer making equipment and hired hundreds of master brewers. This helped maintain a consistently high-quality product throughout town. As Einbeck joined the Hanseatic League they exported their beer around Europe and the popularity of their beer grew. In 1521 Martin Luther said that “The best drink anyone knows is called Einbecker beer” and later served it at his wedding.

In the early 17th century the master brewer Elias Pichler was lured down from Einbeck to Munich by Duke Maximilian to help the Bavarians make the Einbeck beer, or “Ainpöckisch bier”. The Bavarians changed the name a bit and with their southern pronunciation Ainpöckisch bier became “Oanpock bier” which was eventually shortened to just “Bock bier”. Soon the Einbeck style of beer was known by the name created by the brewers in the south.

a collection of bock imagery
Goat imagery has been tied to bock beer for years.

The Goat

As the centuries progressed bock beer posters, signs, and bottle labels tended to have a common visual motif – the image of a goat. No other style of beer has had such a consistently universal visual element. Goats have been used as imagery for bock beer across breweries, across time, and across countries. The reason is that “bock” in German means “male goat” (among other things). So Einbeck could be “ein bock” or “a goat”. Goats selling bock beer is a visual pun. It’s a multi-century dad joke.

Added info: there are different styles of bock beer including Maibock which is a seasonal beer made in the Spring for the month of May (hence the name, “May bock”). The Sly Fox Brewery in Pennsylvania hosts an annual goat race where each year’s Maibock is named for the winning goat.

Also Doppelbock (“double bock”) is an even stronger bock brewed for Lent and the strong beer season.

Persian Decision Making

The idea that ancient Persians would make a decision drunk then make it sober to see if the two match.

Herodotus was a 5th century BCE Greek whose Histories changed how world history is recorded and earned him the title of the “Father of History”. Histories contains a record of the Greco-Persian Wars as well as other stories and information from around the ancient world. Some things he got right, some he got wrong. He did the best he could, but he also wasn’t an impartial recorder of events which meant some things became exaggerated or biased. One such example is his account of how Persians would make important decisions.

Drunk History

In Histories Herodotus reported that the Persians had a peculiar method of decision making. Supposedly they would get drunk on wine and come up with a solution to a problem. Then, the following day while sober they would think about the problem again and consider if the previous night’s decision was still a good idea. This process could also be done the other way around – sober first, then drunk. In either order, if the two decisions agreed then the decision was adopted. If they did not, the Persians would have to think on the matter some more.

At face value this a Persian version of the Latin phrase In vino veritas or “In wine, there is truth”. It’s also a bit like an ancient version of the misattributed Hemingway quote “Write drunk, edit sober” (which is actually by humorist Peter De Vries). The Persians would use wine to come to the truth of a dilemma and confirm the truth when sober. While a fun anecdote, it seems unlikely they did this in the way Herodotus describes.

To start, it’s improbable that the Persian empire was in the regular habit of making all important decisions twice. Further this story says more about Herodotus than it does about the Persians. The Greeks drank their wine diluted with water but the Persians drank their wine undiluted (as we do today). Drinking undiluted wine was seen by the Greeks as decadent and even barbaric, and Herodotus uses this story to depict the Persians as less civilized than the Greeks. There’s also a double standard in how he portrays Persia’s wine & wealth as a negative (again as decadent), even though a similar wealth amongst the Greeks would be seen as a positive. Further, while they may have drank wine differently, the Greeks enjoyed wine just the same as the Persians did. More than anything though, this is an account of Persian culture by a Greek. To get a more accurate portrayal of Persian culture we should look to the Persians themselves.

Persian Wine

Wine has been an important part of Persian culture for thousands of years (far longer than its recent prohibition). One of the world’s earliest known wine-making artifacts originates in Neolithic Persia (in modern day Hajji Firuz, Iran) from around 5,000 BCE. According to Persian folklore the legendary Shah Jamshid (who lived for 700 years) is said to have inadvertently discovered wine after one of his harem women found and drank from a jar of old fermented grapes.

At the time of Herodotus wine was a staple of Persian society. It was safer to drink than water (which was true around the ancient world), but more importantly people enjoyed it just like we do today. Wine was enjoyed at all levels of society from royalty to commoners, at social gatherings, meals, and political meetings. Given how common wine was in Persian society, perhaps the wine being drunk while making decisions was incidental to the decision making and not the focal point as Herodotus would lead us to believe.

Added info: the Persian region of Shiraz had a long history of wine production and was once Iran’s “wine capital”. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution however, alcohol was banned throughout the country and Shiraz no longer makes wine. Also the wine type of Shiraz is not named for the region, and Shiraz and Syrah wines are the same thing.

the Myth of 8 Glasses of Water

You don’t need to drink 8 glasses of water a day.

In short: you only need to drink water when you’re thirsty. For millions of years humans and our human ancestors survived using thirst as an indicator that it’s time for more water. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the idea of drinking 8 glasses of water a day began.

We all need water to live but liquid water isn’t our only source. Coffee, tea, juice, soft drinks, fruits, vegetables, etc. all contain water. Depending on your diet you can get around 20% of the water you need just from food. Then because coffee, milk, juice, tea, etc. are mostly water, you’re probably already getting all the water you need each day without having to drink 8 more glasses of it.

… But Maybe You Do Need More Water

Daily water consumption is about maintaining balance: you need to replace the water you lose. If you live in a hot climate, or you’re sweating from exercise, you lose water faster than someone sitting still in a temperate climate. As such you need to replace water faster than normal which means drinking more water.

Also, should you be lost on a hike somewhere, you should ration sweat not water. Try to limit your physical exertion and sweat less but drink when you need to. A common mistake is that you should ration your water which, while it’s true you don’t want to waste a limited resource, if you’re thirsty you should drink. Your water isn’t doing you any good sitting inside a bottle.

Water water everywhere

On the flip side it’s possible to drink too much water. Exercise-associated hyponatremia is where you’re engaged in an endurance activity such as running a marathon, you sweat out water and sodium, but then you only drink water. In drinking regular water you manage to replenish your lost water but not your sodium. The result is low blood-sodium levels. This imbalance can cause poor nerve communication which leads to poor muscle control, poor performance, etc. Athletes with hyponatremia can feel nauseous, develop muscle cramps, and become confused leading some to think they’re dehydrated and drink even more water (making the situation worse).

Hyponatremia is becoming more prevalent in sports as an increasing number of novice athletes participate in long-distance endurance activities. For example in the 2002 Boston Marathon 13% of runners were found to have hyponatremia from drinking too much water. Athletes need to replenish their sodium levels along with their water. Part of the solution (pardon the pun) is to drink sports beverages that contain electrolytes (which are salts and can replenish sodium levels). This is why sports drinks boast about having electrolytes.

So, if you’re thirsty, drink some water and if you’re engaged in an endurance sport remember to get some electrolytes along with your water.

Added info: to bust another myth, consuming caffeinated beverages won’t dehydrate you. While excessive caffeine has a number of downsides, drinking coffee or tea is an acceptable a way to hydrate.

Adam Ruins Everything dives into the myth of 8 glasses of water a day.