Why do so many medical entities use the wrong symbol?

A guy posted a tweet about a mural on a medical building that shows someone who presumably represents medicine fending off death, while holding a staff with wings at the top and two snakes wrapped around it. Pretty normal, right? Except that the staff with wings and two snakes has nothing to do with medicine at all — it’s called a “caduceus” and it’s associated with Hermes the messenger (or Mercury, if you are Roman instead of Greek), who is associated with commerce and other things. What this medical god should be holding is the rod of Asclepius, which has no wings and only one snake.

Despite this, lots of medical iconography, especially in the US, uses the caduceus instead of the rod of Asclepius. The US Marine Service started using it in 1857, and in 1902, it came to represent the US Army Medical Service and the US Public Health Service, which adopted it in 1881. Why did they choose the wrong one? Probably because it looks more impressive. After all, it’s got wings. And two snakes instead of just one. Way cooler 🙂

There are also theories that the two-snake rod became popular as a symbol representing medicine because early medications used mercury, and from there it became associated with pharmaceutical side of medicine, and then later was used to represent all of medicine. But some medical professionals don’t like to use the two-snake staff because it is primarily associated with commerce, rather than with the healing arts in general.

How to create literature by George Saunders

George Saunders is an author — his books include Tenth of December (a Finalist for the National Book Award) and Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize — and a professor in the creative writing program at Syracuse University. He writes a Substack newsletter called Story Club, and this comes from one of his responses to a would-be author’s letter:

“Even a person raised alone, fed by a machine, out in a cave somewhere, exists in this atmosphere of pressure – because that pressure is intrinsic to the human mind.  The mind makes the pressure, the tension, the longing, the hope. We want this thing, we get it…and then we want more.  We always feel slightly off, somehow. We find ourselves at peace but not the right kind of peace. And so on. This is what drama is, really: it comes out of the truth that nothing is ever enough for us, that every human situation (even a quiet one, even a happy one, even a deeply contented one) always teeters on the brink of change, because of the restlessness of the mind. And that right there is the stuff of literature.” 

There’s no such thing as a fish

Stephen Jay Gould was an American geologist, paleontologist, biologist and popular-science author who spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. At some point (it’s not clear exactly when) Gould — who had spent a lifetime studying evolutionary biology — declared that “there’s no such thing as a fish.” This comment became the name of a popular podcast spun off from the QI TV series, in which the hosts discuss interesting facts. But what did Gould mean? Obviously there are things called fish. Was this some attempt to be funny, like the guy who tried to convince people that birds aren’t real?

Not exactly. What Gould meant was that the term “fish” doesn’t really have any scientific or categorical meaning per se. In other words, lots of things that are defined as fish — many of which even have the term “fish” in their name, like the hagfish — are not really similar enough to be considered part of the same category of living things. As the Wikipedia entry for the podcast notes, a salmon is more closely related to a camel than it is to a hagfish, for example. All the things that we might believe to be common to fish — living underwater, having gills, fins, giving birth via eggs, etc. — are not universally true for everything that is usually thought of as a fish (also, there are lots of things called fish that aren’t, including the cuttlefish, starfish, crayfish, and jellyfish).

Continue reading “There’s no such thing as a fish”

Where the names of colours came from

Some of these are quite amazing, and in some cases a little bizarre:

— Azure is a misspelling of the Latin word “lazur” which comes from the stone “lapis lazuli”

— Orchid is Greek for “testicle”

— Turquoise means “Turkish” in Old French because that’s where the mineral came from

— Magenta is named for a battle during the Second Italian War of Independence

— Porcelain comes from the Latin term for “young pig,” because the colour was supposedly similar to the colour of a young pig’s genitalia

— Vermillion comes from the Latin for “small worm” because that’s where the dye of that colour originally came from (similar for Crimson)

— Persimmon comes from a Powhatan word that means “he dries berries”

— Sepia comes from the Latin word for “cuttlefish” because the color originally came from cuttlefish secretions

Elon Musk’s desperate search for revenue at X

When asked about the future of X, Elon Musk spins a fanciful tale of an “everything app” where hundreds of millions of users not only post videos but do their online banking, bet on sporting events, hook up with other users on dates, and even search for jobs a la LinkedIn. Is any of this actually happening? No (apart from users posting videos, that is). What is happening—a reality Musk may be trying to obscure with his flights of fancy—is that ad revenue has tanked, brands are staying away, and, according to Fidelity, X’s market value has likely declined by over 70 percent since Musk bought it.

One of Musk’s first big bets is on a pivot to video. To draw attention to this effort, he convinced Jimmy Donaldson, the YouTuber known as MrBeast, to post one of his videos on X last month. While Donaldson said the video made him $263,000 based on more than 150 million views, he also said the stunt was “a bit of a facade,” and that some advertisers likely bought ads on his video only after it was promoted. A number of X users said they saw the show in their feed multiple times, CNBC reported, but it was not marked as an ad.

According to a blog post by the company, a new video feature similar to TikTok’s infinite scroll has over 100 million daily users and more than half of them are from Gen Z, which X says is the fastest growing audience on the platform. The company also talks about letting users publish longer-form videos, and bragged that in December, users watched 130 years’ worth of videos 30 minutes or longer (although it’s not clear what “watched” means). X has announced video deals with celebrities such as CNN news host Don Lemon, and of course former Fox News host Tucker Carlson has a show on X.

Note: This was originally published at Fortune magazine

Continue reading “Elon Musk’s desperate search for revenue at X”

The Kee to Bala will never die

Cottage Life magazine recently republished a great piece from 2012 about the Kee to Bala, a legendary music venue perched on the edge of Lake Muskoka, a former 1920s dance hall where everyone from Count Basie to Snoop Dogg have played. For some strange reason — maybe the location, on a beautiful lake two hours north of Toronto in cottage country — it became a must-play location for tons of great bands over the years, some of whom would fly to Canada specifically to play the Kee. Maybe part of the attraction, as the article explains, is the feeling when the venue is packed to the rafters and the whole structure (which is made entirely of wood) is literally bouncing up and down.

It’s embarrassing to have to tell him, but the sound check was, well, impenetrable. “That’s the sound check,” Sam Roberts says, looking remarkably unconcerned. “As soon as the people come in, something magic happens. It’s literally a chemical reaction. You’ll see tonight.” A buzz goes up, and suddenly, it seems, the main floor is thronging with people, a true crowd for the first time. Sam and the boys have been spotted coming in by boat to the Kee dock. Five minutes later, the buzz becomes a roar, and the pit area is packed. At precisely 11 p.m., the Sam Roberts Band walks onto the stage and hits its opening chord. It is as the leader himself said it would be. The bodies absorb the reverb, oscillating in the pit, bobbing in place and holding their hands up like a giant grade one class, and the band’s sound is loud and pure. 

The article quotes Steve Manchee, whose family owns a trio of old cottages on a point across the bay from the Kee — the bands often rent one of the family’s cottages, and Steve often drives them across to the venue in his boat. As it happens, our family rented one of those cottages for a couple of weeks in the summer for a number of years, and we could often hear the bands warming up and performing, the sounds wafting across the bay to Manchee Point.

I remember sitting on the point listening to David Wilcox (I think it was) playing one night on a crystal clear evening when the wind was just right. And more than once, I paddled my kayak the 20 minutes or so across the bay — with a bike light on so people could see me — and sat bobbing in the lake underneath the deck, listening to whoever was playing.

A friend of a friend said he did some work for one of the bands playing at the Kee (I think the mirror got knocked off the Tragically Hip’s tour bus and he had to weld it back on), and he got invited to stay for the show. So he sat backstage and watched as a couple of guys periodically had to shove these huge wooden shims into the stage to keep it level, because the bouncing of the building during a show was so violent that the stage was literally coming apart. Amazing place!