Caught My Eye, Shared it with the Kids

I keep thinking I should revive the ‘cool things I’ve found online this week’ sort of blog post. It’s nice to review and share the stuff I’ve shared on Facebook and to consider why it is that some things catch my fancy and stay with me. These are all things I’ve shared with the kids, too– or will share with them when I finally remember to seize the moment. So consider this a little hyperlinked addendum to my learning notes post, just a potpourri of links and videos: bits of music, poetry, history, linguistics, science, ecology, archaeology, and constitutional law.

1. The Amazing Dinosaur Found (Accidentally) by Miners in Canada

The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

For paleontologists the dinosaur’s amazing level of fossilization—caused by its rapid undersea burial—is as rare as winning the lottery. Usually just the bones and teeth are preserved, and only rarely do minerals replace soft tissues before they rot away. There’s also no guarantee that a fossil will keep its true-to-life shape. Feathered dinosaurs found in China, for example, were squished flat, and North America’s “mummified” duck-billed dinosaurs, among the most complete ever found, look withered and sun dried.

2. A video tour of a computer reconstruction of Ancient Rome in the time of Constantine.

3. Via Egnatia to Rome and Byzantium

A journey down the ancient Via Egnatia, the Roman road that led from Rome to Constantinople. Part history lesson, part modern geography, a fascinating piece.

Two thousand years ago, just as today, the shortest distance between Rome and the Bosporus was a straight line, mostly over land. From Brindisi near the southeast tip of Italy’s bootheel, that line crossed the Adriatic Sea’s Strait of Otranto to the Albanian shore. From there it passed through the mountains of ancient Illyria, Macedonia and Thrace to arrive, more than 1,100 kilometers later, in Byzantium, as Constantinople was called before Roman Emperor Constantine gave it his name in the fourth century ce, and before it became Istanbul in 1930.

This line is traced by two of Rome’s most famous roads: the Via Appia, from Rome south through Italy, and the Via Egnatia, east through the Balkans to Istanbul. If the Via Egnatia was the Roman Empire’s main route east, in use long after the empire fell, it gained new life under the Ottomans—even before their 1453 conquest of Constantinople—who reversed traffic and made it one of their primary corridors west, especially during the Balkan conquests of the late 14th century. As a result, today many mosques, markets, charitable kitchens (imarets), caravansarais (hans) and baths (hammams) along the route date from this time, when in Turkish it was known as Rumeli Sol Kol, literally “Balkan Left Arm.”

Thus it is as much history lesson as it is road trip to walk and ride by taxi, bus and car the full 1,120 kilometers of the Via Egnatia, which is more than twice the length of the Via Appia. From the Adriatic coast to Istanbul, the route passes through four modern countries—Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey—and several dozen towns—some in ruins, others still thriving. The road today is considerably less busy than it was in the time of the Roman orator Cicero, who delayed his departure from Thessaloniki for Rome in order to let a multitude of travelers clear from the overcrowded mansios. Yet the quality of its construction and periodic repair is still evident, and lines written by Procopius, chronicler of the reign of the sixth-century ce Byzantine Emperor Justinian, ring true today: “The paving stones are very carefully worked so as to form a smooth and even surface, and they give the appearance not simply of being laid together at the joints, or even of being exactly fitted, but they seem to have actually grown together.”

4. Derek Walcott reads the first book of his epic poem, Omeros.

I just love hearing poets read their own work. Walcott has a lovely, powerful voice. To hear the poem with the right inflections and pronunciation is a treat. I wish he’d recorded an entire audiobook.

5. This recording of the Carolina Chocolate Drops singing Leaving Eden.

I love the instrumentation and Rhiannon Giddens’s voice. And it’s such a haunting variation on the traditional lullaby form: “Mama’s buying you a mockingbird to lull you through the night.” I’ve often sang ‘Mama’s Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird’ to my own children.

“and the mockingbird can’t sing like the crying of a dove / and I can’t tell my daughters all the things that I am scared of.”

And here’s a live performance that gives a sense of all the performers.

Some background on the band: Carolina Chocolate Drops: Hooked On Old-Time Sounds

Country Girl: An Interview with the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens

6. The Most Complicated Word in English is Only Three Letters Long Three little letters, 645 meanings.

You might think it’s absurd (and maybe it is), but Oxford English Dictionary editors recently revealed that “run” has indeed become the single word with the most potential meanings in all of English, boasting no fewer than 645 different usage cases for the verb form alone. The copious definitions of “run” featured in the OED’s upcoming third edition begin with the obvious, “to go with quick steps on alternate feet,” then proceed to run on for 75 columns of type. This entry, in all its girth, took one professional lexicographer nine months of research to complete. How could three little letters be responsible for so much meaning?

Context is everything. Think about it: When you run a fever, for example, those three letters have a very different meaning than when you run a bath to treat it, or when your bathwater subsequently runs over and drenches your cotton bath runner, forcing you to run out to the store and buy a new one. There, you run up a bill of $85 because besides a rug and some cold medicine, you also need some thread to fix the run in your stockings and some tissue for your runny nose and a carton of milk because you’ve run through your supply at home, and all this makes dread run through your soul because your value-club membership runs out at the end of the month and you’ve already run over your budget on last week’s grocery run when you ran over a nail in the parking lot and now your car won’t even run properly because whatever idiot runs that Walmart apparently lets his custodial staff run amok and you know you’re letting your inner monologue run on and on but, God—you’d do things differently if you ran the world. Maybe you should run for office.

7. The surprising pattern behind color names around the world

I’ve shared other pieces on the topic of language and color before. The topic fascinates me. This short video has some interesting short interviews with researchers, and good overview of the timeline of various scholarly positions. The kids really enjoyed watching it, too.

8. Hidden in one of New York’s oldest subway stations is the final remnant of the site of the bizarre Shakespeare Riots.

On May 7th 1849, a riot broke out at the Opera House over a simmering dispute over whether English actor William Charles Macready or American born Edwin Forest could better perform Shakespeare’s principal characters, Hamlet and Macbeth. At the heart of the riot was a long standing discord dating back to the Revolutionary War, between the American born natives, and their former colonial overlords. Pamphlets were handed out asking “SHALL AMERICANS OR ENGLISH RULE THIS CITY?” Edwin Forest was championed by the Bowery gangs of the infamous Five Points, whilst Macready was championed by the more Anglophile upper classes. As violence broke out on the night of the performance the city ordered armed militia to quell the riots. With soldiers firing into the crowds of over 10,000 protestors, at least 25 civilians were killed. The Tribune reported that, “as one window after another cracked, the pieces of bricks and paving stones rattled in on the terraces and lobbies, the confusion increased, till the Opera House resembled a fortress besieged by an invading army rather than a place meant for the peaceful amusement of civilized community.”

9. One Man Single-Handedly Plants Forest Bigger Than Central Park

Rather than sitting idly by, waiting for strong river waters to destroy his home and push his family inland, Payeng planted trees.

He started in 1979, scattering seeds and stabbing the bare earth repeatedly with a stick to forge holes deep enough for the delicate roots of young saplings. The goal was to grow a forest to stave off erosion in the area.

But as his trees grew bigger, Payeng says it dawned on him they were going to be increasingly difficult to protect.

“The biggest threat was from men. They would have destroyed the forest for economic gain and the animals would be vulnerable again,” he said in a documentary about his forest.

He quietly continued planting trees on Majuli for 30 years until he was discovered by nature photographer Jitu Kalita in 2009.

10. Introduction to Renaissance Wind Instruments.

A series of videos from the Piffaro Renaissance Band.

Piffaro delights audiences with highly polished recreations of the rustic music of the peasantry and the elegant sounds of the official wind bands of the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. Its ever-expanding instrumentarium includes shawms, dulcians, sackbuts, recorders, krumhorns, bagpipes, lutes, guitars, harps, and a variety of percussion — all careful reconstructions of instruments from the period.

11. The Bad Grade That Changed The U.S. Constitution

The amendment had been proposed almost 200 years earlier, in 1789. It was written by James Madison and was intended to be one of the very first constitutional amendments, right along with the Bill of Rights.

But it didn’t get passed by enough states at the time. To ratify an amendment, three-quarters of state legislatures need to approve it.

And it turned out that the 200-year-old proposed amendment didn’t have a deadline.

Watson was intrigued. He decided to write his paper about the amendment and argue that it was still alive and could be ratified. He turned it in to the teaching assistant for his class — and got it back with a C.

Watson was baffled. He was sure the paper was better than a C.

He appealed the grade to the professor, Sharon Waite.

“I kind of glanced at it, but I didn’t see anything that was particularly outstanding about it and I thought the C was probably fine,” she recalls.

Most people would have just taken the grade and left it at that. Gregory Watson is not most people.

“So I thought right then and there, ‘I’m going to get that thing ratified.’ “

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