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The War on Suffrage

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“Nine little Suffergets,
Finding boys to hate,
One kisses Willie Jones,
And then there are Eight.”

Ten Little Suffergets tells the sad tale of ten little girls who lose their pro-suffrage leanings when they spy shiny objects like toys, men, and the Sandman. The 1915 picture book ends with the final baby suffragette cracking her baby doll’s head open. “And then there were none!” ends the book on a gleeful note.

The suffrage movement, both in America and England, involved angry debates about the ideals of womanhood, the power and purpose of government, and how much beer everyone should be drinking. The debate continued until the passing of the 1918 Representation of the People Act in Britain, and in the U.S. with the 19th Amendment in 1920. While often overlooked today, the anti-suffrage movement attacked the power-hungry, unnatural women (as they saw the suffragettes) with word and policy and pen and ink. Below are some of their biggest complaints about the suffragettes, and how they articulated their point of view.

Suffrage Isn’t Sexy

The suffrage movement was part of the larger debate known as “The Woman Question” in Victorian and Edwardian times, when people were discussing what a real woman looked like. Lisa Tickner, in The Spectacle of Women, explained how the sexual ideals of the time period in Britain affected the political policy.

“Anti-suffragists drew heavily on the Victorian ideology of ‘separate spheres’… Their use of it led to the claim that female enfranchisement would sexualize politics and unsex women, confusing the proper boundaries of masculine and feminine, public and private, domestic and political, by which the natural complementarity of a harmonious social order was maintained.”

In other words, letting women get a chance at the polls would destroy the society.

This attitude was reflected in the suffragette caricatures drawn in newspapers and magazines. According to Tickner, depictions of spinster suffragettes were normally slender in a time when curves were celebrated; their faces likewise were severe and gaunt, “the lines of disappointment etched deep by the illustrator’s pen.” The spinster suffragette’s clothes and physical appearance emphasize that she is a failed woman and wannabe man. The lady wants to vote because she couldn’t get a date.

I Am Woman Voter, Hear Me Roar!

Political participation didn't just make women unattractive, anti-suffragettes argued. It wasn’t natural behavior for women to get their hands dirty in politics. “The nature of most women is not attracted by the contentious spirit in which political warfare is conducted,” declared Dr. Ernest Bernbaum of Harvard in 1916.

Another Massachusetts woman, writing in 1916, expressed concerns on the effect of the suffrage movement on women’s character. Suffragism appeared overtly aggressive to many critics. “It is surely not making them any more lovely, or pleasant in their lives. They grow bitter, aggressive, and antagonistic, liking the excitement of campaigning and finding their natural, proper duties ‘flat, stale, and unprofitable.’"

Suffragism made women mean-spirited, many opponents believed, and the cartoons and caricatures they produced reflected this.

Babes and Booze

Beer divided and united the anti-suffragettes in the United States. In her book A Dangerous Class, Betty Stevens tells the story of beer-sellers who feared that women would vote for the prohibition of alcohol. They went and warned the husbands of suffragettes to get their wives off the campaign trail before the husbands lost their jobs.

Other anti-suffragettes, who were pro-temperance, published materials trying to prove that states with women voters sold more mugs of beer. “The only two states in the Union that adopted woman suffrage last year are known as the ‘wettest’ states in the country, Montana and Nevada,” stated one 1915 pamphlet from the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association. “These two states have more saloons to their population than any other state in the forty-eight.”

The government officially prohibited the sale of alcohol with the 18th amendment in January 1920. American women received the right to vote with the 19th amendment in August of the same year.

Women of the World, Don’t Unite

Still other anti-suffragettes believed woman’s suffrage didn’t make political sense, both for women and the nation as a whole. Grace Duffield Goodwin wrote Anti-Suffrage: Ten Good Reasons in 1912. She points out that women are exempted from political and legal responsibilities like serving in the army or sitting on juries. Many heavy responsibilities, like “providing for family,” paying debts and going to jail for minor crimes are spared the female sex. If a wife “engages in illegal business the law holds [the husband] responsible, and not her.” Why would women want to give up that kind of legal protection for equal voting rights?

Moreover, politically it didn’t make sense for women to vote when they wouldn’t be able to fulfill the voting requirements. Molly Seawell, writing in her 1913 treatise The Ladies’ Battle, said, “No electorate has ever existed, or ever can exist, which cannot execute its own laws.” Women were physically incapable of fighting their way to the polls, and could not serve in law enforcement. Seawell believed that if half the electorate was unable to enforce the laws, the government would become unstable in an unprecedented fashion.

A small minority believed that woman’s suffrage wouldn’t make government unstable enough. Emma Goldman, a famous anarchist in the early 20th century, thought that the established political systems were so oppressive that women should focus their energies on finding true liberation from the oppression of government, Church and societal expectations. “Are we to assume that the poison already inherent in politics will be decreased, if women were to enter the political arena?”

The Singing Defense

While the suffrage movement certainly inspired protest songs (left), the suffragettes were not mute in defending themselves and their beliefs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, known for her short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” wrote many songs for the suffrage movement. In “Females,” she compared the females of other animal species and finds that they were all equal to the male members. That is, except for one particular: homo sapiens.

“One female in the world we find
Telling a different tale.
It is the female of our race,
Who holds a parasitic place
Dependent on the male.”

Comic poetry was another outlet for suffragette retaliation. In Are Women People?: A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times, Alice Duer Miller listed 12 common reasons for anti-suffragette belief. On the next page, she writes, “Reasons Women Should Not Have Pockets.” These reasons include:

1. Because pockets are not a natural right.
2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did, they would have them.
3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.
4. Because women are required to carry a great number of things without pockets as it is.

Responding to the claim that women would be placed in danger while visiting the polls, the author mimics an equal-opportunity anti-suffragist.

“You must not go to the polls, Willie,
Never go to the polls,
They’re dark and dreadful places
Where people lose their souls.”
* * * * *
"Well now, thank goodness that is over...," wrote Mary Ward, a member of the British anti-suffrage coalition writing after the movement failed in 1918. "Now the question is what the women will do with the vote."

Today there are 143 women elected to House of Commons, the greatest number in the history of the institution, and 90 women currently serving in the U.S. Congress. Some might argue those numbers are too low, but it turns out women weren't distracted by the puckered lips of Willie Jones after all.

Image Credits: CORBIS, Bryn Mawr College Library, Michael Nicholson/Corbis, CORBIS, Rykoff Collection/CORBIS, CORBIS, David J. & Janice L. Frent Collection/Corbis

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]