Lesson #346: Tree Lobsters

We got here by way of an infographic I was reading that talked about islands around the world where specific animals live en masse. Among the animals listed was the tree lobster. I legitimately said, out loud, “what the hell is a tree lobster?” Because seriously? Tree lobster?

It turns out that tree lobsters are not the awesome thing I had created in my imagination; they’re a species of stick insect that live on Lord Howe Island in Australia.

The tree lobster had once been used as fishing bait, but were thought to have been eaten into extinction by the early 1920s by black rats introduced to the island when the S. S. Makambo ran aground in 1918. But it turns out they didn’t actually go extinct; they just went into hiding for a couple generations before being rediscovered in 2001.*

An adult can grow to 15cm (roughly 6″) in length — which is terrifyingly large for a stick insect, thank you — and looks like it’s got a lobster’s exoskeleton.

For more, you can read this, this, or this.

*This is called the Lazarus Effect.


Lesson #345: Why Your Nose Runs in the Cold

We’ve had an unusually cold winter this year. Now, as someone who grew up with cold winters, you’d think I’d be okay with this.  But I’ve had ten fairly “warm” winters in four different cities. You kind of get used to that. To be honest, the cold isn’t horrible (except in how it shows itself in my heating bill); it’s just that I know what my city’s winters are usually like.* By mid-March two years ago, my friends and I were patio-ing our beer.** I want that kind of a winter.

Instead we’ve had a barely double digits winter (except at the weekend when it was 60F/14C). And as soon as I step outside, my nose starts running. I obviously know that this is the normal reaction and probably a sign that my body’s doing something it’s supposed to, but I don’t know why.

Short answer: your nose runs because cold air is very dry.

Long answer: your nose runs because cold air is very dry and the purpose of your nose is to make the air you breathe warm and wet for your lungs.*** In order to provide the moisture your lungs need to be happy in the cold, your nose has to produce extra fluid. The result of this is that your nose starts to run. To add to the problem, what you see when you see your breath is moisture and when you exhale through your mouth, that water recondenses and some of it (obviously, one feels) ends up on your nose.

For more information, see here.

*In fairness, this whinging would probably annoy a friend who lives in a particularly northern city in my homeland. Then again, he’s currently spending a week in El Salvador, so I don’t have that much sympathy for him.

**And, as previously noted, everyone knows that outdoor beers always taste better than indoor beers. That’s a fact.

***Tangentially, this also explains why when it’s very, very cold out (for those of you who have never had the pleasure of stepping outside when it’s -40) it physically hurts to breathe. 

There will be no new posts until…

…after the Olympics are over. What I really mean by that, obviously, is “there will be no new posts until the hockey is over.”

My schedule is a bit mad right now — lots of sitting at my desk for 12 hours at a time, not a lot of free time. And my coming weekend is going to be a bit crazy. I’ll be working on Saturday and provided Canada beat the US tomorrow, my Sunday will involve going out EARLY (puck drop is at 7) with a couple of my hockey fan friends and then a Spurs match.

Lesson #344: Clerical Celibacy

Don’t worry; I’m not here to argue for or against clerical celibacy, as it has absolutely no impact on my life. I am neither a male looking to enter the priesthood nor a Roman Catholic.

Today’s lesson came out of a fact I learned today about how Pope Pius II wrote the best-selling book of the 15th century; it’s a book of erotic fiction called The Tale of Two Lovers. This then made me wonder when, exactly, the Catholic Church made clerical celibacy a requirement, rather than an option. Because, even in the middle ages with fewer available literary choices than we have now, surely a priest with zero sexual experience won’t have the ability to write bestselling graphic eroticism.

And besides that, as I’ve touched on in previous lessons, more than one of the medieval Popes had children. They also did all manner of other totally awesome stuff; there is no soap opera better than the medieval Papacy! It’s all sorts of illegitimate children and imprisonment and simony and murder and exhumation for trial.

But it seems that the indoctrination of celibacy was already in place in the West by the time Leo I became Pope in the mid 5th century. The 33rd Canon of the 304 Synod of Elvira delivered the first edict on the subject and suggested that “bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from procreation of children. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office.”*

However, although it was the preferred state of those holding clerical positions, celibacy wasn’t compulsory until the Gregorian reforms of the 11th century. This edict on celibacy was a direct result of the “Rule of the Harlots,” the term given to the period between the ascension of Sergius III to the Papacy in 904 and the death of Gregory IV in 1048.** (I feel it should also be mentioned that the Gregorian reforms also eliminated simony. Presumably, Gregory VII didn’t need to say anything about murder and the exhumation of former Popes.)

So the answer to the question is the mid-11th century and Pius II was either writing outside of his experience or was practicing outside the faith.

For more see here, here, and here.

*Hilariously, the 35th Canon says that women should stay out of cemeteries at night because some of them “engage in wickeness rather than prayer.”

**There’s a very interesting article entitled Popes and Pornocrats that addresses this period that can be read here.


Lesson #343: Biathlon

Once every four years, I remember that I think biathlon is effing awesome. Because it is effing awesome! Honestly, most of the time between Winter Games is spent forgetting that biathlon even exists, but ten days out of every 1461, I’m super excited about the sport. I will seriously watch biathlon for hours; I find it soothing in the same way I find watching fish soothing. And much as I love hockey (a lot, despite my favourite player’s old-age absence from the Canadian squad this go), I care who wins in hockey. In biathlon, I could not care less who wins medals or which country’s flag they’re wearing. I can watch without an elevated blood pressure and a constricted chest. So I do.

Four thousand years ago, the Norwegians — or at least the people living in what is now Norway — drew us some pretty pictures on rocks depicting people on skis hunting with spears. To be honest, I’m not sure what more information you need. We’re talking about an Olympic sport that people were effectively participating in 4000 years ago. Out of necessity, sure, but still participating. The first written mention of hunting on skis comes from Virgil ca. 400 BCE. Later, because the Scandinavians are kind of good at the whole ski-across-the-country thing*, militaries began adapting the sport for their own purposes. The Finns, for example, put the military aspect of the whole skiing/shooting thing to good use against the Russians in the Second World War. But the practice itself has been noted for a couple millenia; the historians Xenophon, Strabol, Arrian, Theophanes, Prokopius, and Acruni all wrote of soldiers making use of skis.

Etymologically, biathlon is derived from the Greek (obviously), meaning dual contests.**

And I guess it probably matters that the first recorded competition in biathlon as we know it took place in 1767 near the Swedish/Norwegian border. Its Olympic debut came at Chamonix in 1924. Just like a certain other sport I wrote about four years ago.

As an aside, the Russian military runs a tank biathlon competition. Because of course they do.

For more, see here and here.

*Two years ago, the Swede took part in the Vasaloppet, the world’s longest cross-country race at 90km. A mutual (also Swedish) friend of ours is currently training for this year’s women’s race.

**If you’d like to expound on this, it’s the same with pentathlon (seven contests) and decathlon (ten contests). 

I assure you…

…I am not dead. Things have been busy of late (except for the snow day we had on Thursday, which I completely wasted by doing exactly nothing except take a long shower*, cheer on Hockey Canada, read some Kundera, and watch Tom Hiddleston be awesome). 

I’ve sort of inadvertently made 2014 the year of being more social. Long story short, I’ve got a bunch of new friends. Long story longer, a friend of a friend moved to town, I found a supporters club for the football club I cheer for, I reconnected with a friend whose phone number I’d lost last winter when my phone ate itself.

Why that matters here: because I’m doing all this socialization (and watching a TON of football), when I have a couple hours to myself, it’s time I want to cheer on Hockey Canada, or read some Kundera, or watch Tom Hiddleston be awesome. 

So…I currently have two full days in which I am not required to be in the presence of other people. I will get a couple of posts up. One of them will be about biathlon. Because biathlon is my favourite thing about all of the Olympic events.

*It was a victory shower. 2014 has not been a good year for water chez Disquisitive.