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Inspirational Reads

Friday Morning Latin Lesson: Vol CXIII

April 22, 2016

In case you're living under a rock--and if you are, hey, more power to you, I don't judge (freak)--you know of the untimely passing of Prince yesterday.  The diminutive yet iconic rock star was only 57 when he shuffled off this mortal coil. 

This past December, I turned 40.  I'm definitely into my middle ages (yea verily and a hey nonny nonny to you); I'm not sure when it happened, but it did.  I turned into an adult and, though my memories continue to keep me trapped in a continuous loop as a younger, more vibrant version of myself, I am sometimes reminded that I have been alive and cruising through this plane of existence for four decades.

As a middle-aged man, my childhood was stretched across the 1980s, though I still consider the early 90s (when I was in high school) to be the wheelhouse of my musical preference and formative years.  Yes, grunge rock has risen and faded, leaving its fingerprint on the current alternative music universe, and though the heyday of alternative may be behind us, I still love it.  However, to ignore the influence that artists like Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince had on my musical tastes would be ludicrous.

Isn't she supposed to be wearing
not much more?
When Michael Jackson died (again, shockingly and suddenly), I realized that my youth was behind me.  Those halcyon days were past; MJ's death took a little piece of me with him.  Not only was I reminded of my own mortality, but I was shown that the icons of my childhood were no longer titanic and immortal.  With time, all things would pass, and even those giants of my youth would be beginning to slip away. 

It's already been well-documented how much 2016 has sucked as far as losing talented and well-beloved celebrities.  It may be a quick summation of those we've lost, but there are a few that stick out in my mind above all others.  Earlier in the year, we had the double gut-punch of losing both David Bowie and Alan Rickman to cancer.  Abe Vigoda finally changed the website tracking his mortality to "yes." Merle Haggard has also passed.  And yesterday, of course, we lost Prince.

I will be honest:  growing up, I was never a huge fan of Prince.  I knew his music and I liked most of it; there were times, though, when I grew tired of the constant replays that pumped out over the airwaves in the upper corner of Northeastern Indiana (a land renowned the world over for being a hotbed of musical variety).  It got worse as we slumped toward the end of the millennium and 1999 seemed to be on an endless loop. 

As I have grown older, and my children have suddenly discovered the music of the 80s, I developed a new appreciation for Prince (and Michael Jackson, but that's because my kids treat him like I treated the Beatles growing up...talk about feeling old...).  The only Prince I was ever exposed to growing up was what I could pull in on my little clock radios; Prince was "too weird" to be allowed in my house growing up.  But now, when I'm surfing through the stations, and I hear Prince on one of them, I stop.  I listen.  I remember.  Most importantly, I appreciate.

Another important thing is that Prince had a long career, influencing and making music for our enjoyment.  He was a celebrity, an icon, a leader in the industry, and a musical genius; however, you never heard anything from him that was remotely scandalous.  The biggest issue was his fight with the music companies and when he changed his name to a symbol.  Think about that today, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, where those icons we pay a little too much attention to say or do something wrong or dumb or downright stupid.  This never plagued Prince.  Prince was always just Prince.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

With that being said, Purple Rain is still a fucking awesome song.

Princeps mortuus est; vivat princeps!
Pronounced:  "Prin-keps more-too-us est; wee-what prin-keps!"

Hovertext for the translation; bottom of the screen for mobile translation.

I still love this pun.  Animaniacs was the best.

The word "princeps" was used in Rome to mean "first man" or "leader" or even "chief."  Rome, somewhat notoriously, began as a kingdom, where the word "rex" was used for the title "king," although it probably meant something more along the lines of "chief" in those early days.  Once the kings were overthrown and the Republic was formed, the idea of becoming a king in Roman eyes was deplorable, at best, and cause for murder, at worst (see: Caesar, Julius).  As the Roman state moved away from the Republic and more into the rule under one man, the term "rex" was not used to avoid linking the Emperors with kings (Jennifer Lawrence's "okay, yeah, right" .gif goes here); instead, the title "princeps" was used to designate the leader, or the first man of Rome.

The term later moved through various iterations to become the first man in line to inherit the throne after the king.  A shortened version of the word became the title a king's heir received, whether it was his son or his brother or even his uncle--looking at you, Scar--and thus prince entered into the English language (thanks to the Normans).  In case you were wondering, principissa was the feminine version of the word, with the feminine and diminutive forms tacked on the end.  It's more of a "New Latin" construct, but it does mean princess.

I realize, given the shock and fondness that many people had for Prince, it's an easy pun to make, but I do think that this weekend as we reflect on the passing of a rock and musical genius, we all know what it sounds like when doves cry.

Translation:  "(The)Prince is dead; long live (the) Prince!"

Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesday: Alcohol!!!

April 12, 2016

In chemistry, we teach you that there are five simple reactions:  synthesis, decomposition, single replacement, double replacement, and combustion.  Synthesis is bringing two or more pieces together to form a new unit.  Decomposition is shit falling apart.  Single and double replacement reactions are pretty straight-forward:  they're just switching things out for something new.  Combustion reactions, however, are the stuff of dreams.  Or the dreams of Tuesdays, at the very least.

I have a new lab assistant.
Within chemistry, there are different divisions which add a different layer to the five basic types of reactions.  Myself, I'm an organic chemist.  Despite what several of my dates have thought over the past years, organic chemistry has nothing to do with being a perv.  Yes, I've been accused of being "like that" when I tell a woman I'm an organic chemist.  I mean, take a spin around my blog and you'll know that I'm "like that," but usually not on the first date.  Or the first fifteen minutes of the date.  Maybe.

Organic chemistry is the study of the element carbon and all of its myriad fascinating compounds...with the notable exceptions of carbon dioxide and calcium carbonate (and other metallic carbonate salts...mostly...sort of...um...let's move on).  These compounds are usually considered to come from non-organic, or non-living, sources...even though animals exhale carbon dioxide and plants take carbon dioxide and form it into sugars.  Oh, and sea creatures make a literal shit ton of calcium carbonate that we use to build things with and as decoration.  Um...again, let's move along.

One thing about organic compounds is that they feature carbon and hydrogen.  Usually, they feature a lot of carbon and hydrogen.  We chemists, always a clever lot, refer to compounds that feature a lot of hydrogens and carbons as "hydrocarbons."  Brilliant, eh?  I thought so, too, as did many of my predecessors!  Now, when you mix together hydrocarbons and oxygen and add in just a touch of flame, something wonderful and enchanting happens!

*inhales deeply*  Magnificent!

What you are seeing here is the mixture of ethanol--yes, the same ethanol that causes you text some gorgeous red-headed girl in the middle of Pennsylvania at three in the morning--vapor, oxygen, and just enough of a heat source to get this thing going.  Since the neck of the vessel is narrow, the fire cannot reach all of the vapor at the same time, so that's why you see that lovely cascade of fire sliding down the insides of the plastic bottle.  The ethanol has pooled a little in the bottom, which is why the bright yellow flames dance in the middle of the bottle once the cascade has reached the bottom.  Heat from the fire has caused the air to warm and rise toward the opening of the bottle, which is why the dancing flames are climbing toward freedom as the fire begins to extinguish itself.

Now, I know I just talked about hydrocarbons, and technically ethanol is not a hydrocarbon; it's an alcohol, which means it has an oxygen inserted between one carbon and one of its hydrogens.  In theory, you could do this with any hydrocarbon with a low enough boiling point that it's a vapor at room temperature.  Butane comes to mind.  As does gasoline (octane)--both of which are hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately, I personally would not try that; the combustion reactions of these gases are pretty spectacularly exothermic (they're hot), and that could cause some issues.  What kind of issues?  Let's find out.

Caveat time:  the "whoosh bottle" is a pretty simple experiment, but you need to make sure you're safe doing this.  After you swirl the ethanol around inside the bottle, dump out the excess liquid.  Make sure the bottle is not cracked or structurally compromised.  And, for the love of God and anything else you might find even the slightest bit holy, be fucking careful.

Why?  What happens if you're not careful and don't follow the instructions?  You'll end up like this dipshit here: 

Fortunately, no one was hurt.  I don't know if the bottle was cracked or if there were any other issues, but the excess ethanol was not dumped out.  That left way too much fuel for the fire and the expansion of the gasses trapped inside the bottle was too rapid for the bottle to hold together.  Thus, kaboom.

In the top experiment, the phenomenon witnessed is called "deflagration," where the fuel is ignited and burns away until no more fuel is left to consume.  It's like a very fast, very hypnotic, very pretty log burning in the fireplace.

The second is a detonation, because the container couldn't hold it and everything went boom.

And notice, aside from some bad glasses on the teacher's face, no safety equipment was used (although flannel shirt girl did have the fire extinguisher ready and handy for the teacher to use).  Safety first...or, somewhere in the top five.

JAK (Part 1)

April 11, 2016

When I was in the 8th grade, I had a crush on three different girls at the same time.  These polyamorous leanings probably weren't that unusual given that in the average 13-year-old's body, there's a raging maelstrom of hormones swirling around and anyone who smiles at you or even lets their gaze linger for a few moments is crush-worthy. 

To be fair, the first girl I had a crush on, Jody Rupert (as usual, names are disguised just enough to avoid lawsuits), I had crushed on since the beginning of 7th grade.  That was the year that the new students from Lancaster Elementary were incorporated into Salamonie Elementary and Middle School, where I had attended since the first grade.  Jody sat behind me in science class, and I turned around to talk to her one day early in the school year and it was love at first sight.  She didn't really say anything, but she had the most beautiful green eyes that I had ever seen.  Or maybe they were "hazel," since I have a difficult time discerning between green eyes and hazel eyes sometimes--especially when twenty-eight long years have intervened and tampered with the memories.

Jody had blonde hair and slightly vulpine features--high cheek bones, a bit of a pointed nose--and a delicate, albeit non-feminine, frame.  Her hair swayed back and forth--almost bounced--when she walked.  She was kind and friendly...though she was annoyed with me almost immediately.  I know that she was kind, though, because she tolerated me turning around and talking with her every day after I finished my in-class work.  Plus, she was pretty smart, too, which really appealed to me, especially when coupled with everything else.  However, she was quiet and not nearly as voluptuous as I tend to prefer, but she was still pretty and kind and didn't shank me in the middle of frog dissection, so all those things were a bonus in my mid-pubescent mind.

The second girl I had a crush on was Angie Submachinegun, whom I fell for one day in algebra class.  She was also a Lancaster transfer, but my lecherous thoughts did not begin until the middle of the 8th grade.  I was sitting in the back of the room one day, which happened to be right after we had gym class, and for whatever reason, Angie Submachinegun decided to wear a thin, white t-shirt after we had finished with gym.  Again, for reasons that escape my memory, she went to sit down in her seat which was one seat ahead of me and to the right.  When she went to sit down, she was turned 180 degrees from how she would normally sit, resting her right knee on the seat and gripping the back of the chair with her hands.  This caused her arms to push her breasts together in a manner most magnificent; when coupled with her thin, white t-shirt, this really put her sub-machine guns on display.  It was instant lust from there on out.

Angie had light brown hair that was curly.  She had big, blue eyes, rounded cheeks, and the kind of mouth that always seems to smile.  Despite it being only the 8th grade, she had an hour-glass frame.  She was short, too, so all that feminity was really packed into a nice, neat little package.  She, too, was friendly and nice.  She was a little more outgoing and bubbly and friendly than Jody.  Unlike Jody, I don't think Angie has or had any idea that I crushed on her so. 

The last girl I crushed on was Kim Firebolt.  She was kind of a blend of both Jody and Angie.  She had wavy dark blonde hair, green eyes, and her mouth always looked like it was smiling because I think her mouth always WAS smiling.  She was taller than Angie, shorter than Joy, and though her breasts weren't nearly as large as Angie's, they were still finely shaped.  She was very athletic, and so she had a great ass to go with the rest of the package.

The thing about Kim was that she was very, very extroverted.  She went beyond friendly and bubbly.  She was loud.  She loved to laugh and she had a great sense of humor--maybe not as dark and twisted as mine, but it was still a good one.  She was fun.  Kim did have a couple of drawbacks, however.  One, her older brother was one of my good friends; he's one of the few friends of mine that have had hot sisters.  The other drawback was that the Firebolt family were big Purdue fans.  Big. 

Unlike Jody, I never asked Kim or Angie out or to go with me or whatever the fuck stupid dating ritual middle school kids did in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest.  Shuck each other's cobs?  I don't know.  I'm sorry that last joke was so corny.

Of course now, almost thirty years removed from those halcyon days of middle school awkwardness, I could never see myself with any of these girls.  I've grown as an adult and changed and--

Oh, who am I kidding?  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I broke my own rules and did Facebook searches for all of them.  Jody is stunningly gorgeous and Kim still has awesome boobs and is still smiling.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find Angie, but I found ten thousand women with the same name, many of whom I wanted to see naked. 

However, the important thing is that these three were the last crushes I had in middle school; despite never letting Kim nor Angie know and despite countless rejections from Jody, they were the three that I focused on the most as I made that transition from the awkward days of middle school into the really awkward days of high school.  In addition, these three young women introduced me to a part of my psyche that I would eventually embrace fully as I grew older...albeit, somewhat unintentionally.

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. CXII

March 18, 2016

As referenced earlier in the week, this is a busy and fun time of the year for people who enjoy classical history and dipping into the hagiography of the Catholic church.  Which is true:  I haven't been quite this busy blogging for three or four years, at least.  Four entries in one week?  Amazing.

And what have I talked about?  Oh, the usual things.  I've just rehashed the fact that I like desserts (especially pie), drinking, and redheads.  Nothing new here, I know.  Hope you were sitting down for that shocking revelation.

I glossed over the murder of Caesar for the Ides of March post in favor of the murder of Odoacer, Rex Italiae, since I felt like mixing things up a bit for the Ides of March post this year.  Same with St. Patrick:  I didn't so much discuss Patrick's life, legend, and legacy so much as I focused on some of the peripherals that are associated with Irish "history" and St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Anyway, as is known, Julius Caesar was murdered in the Theater of Pompey on the Ides of March--March 15th--because various senators were worried that he had accrued too much power for himself and the Republic was moving toward rule by a single citizen...which, of course, happened a few years after Caesar's murder.  His murder was the thing that precipitated the end of the Republic; I think we call that irony.

Caesar was stabbed 23 times, and according to some "forensic" studies I've read, only one of the stab wounds was really deep enough to kill him.  It may have been that murder was not what was on the senators' minds when they attacked him, but more just to teach him a lesson.  Although, 23 stab wounds is quite a lesson.  What they didn't tell you is that there was one last senator in the group who had a bunch of lemon juice to pour in those wounds.  Talk about cruel and unusual punishment!

Famously (thanks in part to Shakespeare's dramatization of the event), Caesar withstood the attack until he saw his friend Brutus among the attackers.  In the play, Caesar asked aloud "Et tu, Brute? Then here falls Caesar."  In actually, he probably said "Kai su, teknon?" (according to Roman historian Suetonius, at least), which means "And you, child?" in Greek.  Whichever is more correct is debatable (not like we can ask anyone, unless the Doctor shows up to clarify Caesar's final moments), but I like to think that right before asking either of these questions, Caesar queried the senators as such:

"Estne pugio in toga, an solum tibi libet me videre?"

Pronounced: "Est-nay poo-gee-oh in toh-ga, ahn so-loom tee-bee lee-bet may wee-dare-ay?"

That's no dagger.
Translation in the hovertext (I remembered how to do it).

Pugio was the Latin term for a dagger.  It's related to the word pugno which means "I fight" or "I combat" and several terms in English have been derived from this root, including "pugilist" which is a fancy word for "fighter" or "boxer."  To tie this all up together, my beloved Fighting Irish play their opening round tournament game today against the hated skunkbears from Michigan.  In Latin, the term for "Fighting Irish" would be "Hibernii Pugnaces," ergo I shall be watching the game tonight and shouting "Imus Hibernii Pugnaces!" at my computer screen.

Well, not really, but you get the idea.

In case you can't hovertext:  "Is that a dagger in your toga, or are you just happy to see me?"

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

March 17, 2016

If I were a better writer, I'd track down what iteration of the Saint Patrick's Day post this is.  I am not that person, however, so I'll just roll with it.  Pretend the Germans just bombed Pearl Harbor.

I've discussed in the past how Patricius (the man who would become Patrick) was a Roman citizen of Brittania who was probably a member of some minor noble family.  He was already a Christian when he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland, where he served as a slave for several years before escaping and making his way to mainland Europe.  After a trip to Rome, he returned to Ireland and drove out the snakes (symbolism for the pagans) and converted the Irish to Catholicism.  He then went on a spree of church building through the British Isles and ended up in Northern Indiana where he founded the greatest Catholic University on the Face of the Planet and Possibly the Universe.  That last part might be apocryphal.

Or he might have been a composite mixture of another Irish saint, Palladius, who also made a lot of churches but isn't nearly as tied in with the weak excuse to drink Guinness and behave like an asshole on the 17th of March.

As far as stouts go, Guinness is a pretty weak one.  Thanks to the craft beer revolution here in America, I can think of at least ten stouts that are far better than Guinness.  Stouts are actually a subset of porters, which are dark brown ales that are made with roasted malts, giving them the darker color.  They're typically stronger than their lighter-toned cousins, and the strongest of porters came to be known as "stout porters" and eventually just "stouts."  Nowadays, stouts are typically just the darkest of beers and the word "stout" has little to do with the actual alcohol content (for instance, Guinness, the "best" stout, weighs in at a paltry 4.3% abv, per the wiki entry).  And here's the real kick in the teeth for those who want to link Guinness (certainly a true Irish brewer) and stouts with Ireland:  Porters were first developed and named in London, England.  The dark color, thicker consistency, and affordability of porters made them popular with--sit down for this--porters (men who carried things).  Since the beer was cheap to make and was somewhat undesirable (philistines), it was shipped to Ireland where it quickly grew in popularity.  To lower costs even more (hooray, free market capitalism!), Guinness began brewing porters in the late 1700's and by 1780 was one of the top producers of this kind of beer.

So, not only is Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland from the British mainland, so too is the national beer of Ireland an English import.

Best damned leprechaun ever!
Well, the leprechaun has to be a true Irish symbol, right?  Well, yes and no.  The leprechaun, for all its connotations with being Irish, rarely appears in Irish mythology.  When the leprechaun does pop up, it is typically a mischief-maker, but more commonly is associated with being a loner who moves about the countryside repairing shoes.  A leprechaun is more similar to German sprites and gnomes than it is with any of the pantheon of Irish mythology.  In fact, the leprechaun appears so rarely in Irish stories that it's assumed to be a later addition to Irish lore than more traditional Irish spirits, such as the Banshee or the Tuatha de Danaan (which is a whole wide range of Irish spirits).  There is even confusion with what to do with a leprechaun, should you manage to catch one.  He (they are almost invariably male) will either give you his pot of gold (another property of the leprechaun that seems to be a late addition to the story) or he will grant you three wishes.  Most depictions of leprechauns center around the stereotypes of the Irish, especially in America, and many traditional Irish people look at leprechauns as just a prop for tourism.

Well...if Patrick isn't all that Irish and Guinness is a British import and a leprechaun is just a symbol for anti-Irish propaganda, what about the color green?

Green, White and Orange
has never been sexier!
Finally, we've found something that does seem to be a true symbol of Ireland...ish.  Ireland, of course, is known as the "Emerald Isle" because of the lush, verdant fields and the magnificent greenery that can be viewed in the countryside.  It makes sense, then, that the Irish national color would be green and that they would march into battle or rally behind a green banner, right?  Sure...except the green flag of Ireland is actually younger than the flag of the United States.  The "traditional" Irish flag featured a lot more blue than any other color for most of its history (Ireland, of course, being a loose conglomeration of kingdoms until the British conquests).

It wasn't until the late 1700's (Guinness is actually older than the green flag) that green began to be used as a symbol of Ireland.  Inspired by the French Revolution (and probably a little by the American Revolution), the United Irishmen raised a banner of green with a harp emblazoned on the field (the harp actually is a traditional Irish symbol) sometime around 1790.  Part of the choice of the color green was to stand in opposition to the orange color associated with the Orange Order, which was a symbol of King William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  William of Orange, of course, was an "English" king and was thus a symbol of British rule over the Irish.  After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the modern Irish flag with the green, white and orange was introduced as a hopeful means of bringing a peaceful end to hostilities between the Catholic majority (the green) and the Protestant minority (the orange) of Ireland, with white being the symbol of peace in between the two groups.

Well, fuck.  It seems as though all the things we naturally associate with the Irish and Saint Patrick's day aren't all that Irish.  Unfortunately, leprechauns, the Irish spirits that most Irish want to disassociate with their Irish heritage, are the most Irish of all these symbols.

Next, you're going to tell me that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a school in Northern Indiana with a French name by a priest of Romanian heritage isn't all that Irish either!  The nerve!!!

However you decide to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, just remember to lay off the brogues and drink responsibly.  Maybe enjoy some basketball and don't make an ass of yourself.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!