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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fuel Prices in 1856, What You Don't Know, and Washington's Corset

A few tidbits from Scientific American:

I wonder if there were worries about peak wood and peak coal during the energy crisis in '56:

FEBRUARY 1856 FUEL PRICES—“The fuel required to cook a dinner in Paris costs nearly as much as the dinner itself. Fuel is very scarce, and the American is surprised to find shops all over the city, fitted up with shelves like those in shoe stores, upon which is stored wood, split in pieces about the size of a man’s finger, and done up in bundles, like asparagus. Larger sticks are bundled up in the same way, and sell at a frightful price. Hard coal being nearly as expensive as wood, can be bought in the smallest quantity at any of these fuel shops.”

Brad Delong has more on the next one, including a more extensive explanation and an interpretation in terms of risk versus uncertainty:

BEHAVIOR, The Devil You Know: Experimental economists know that people prefer games involving known risks, not ambiguous ones. Now they have a better idea why. Researchers from the California Institute of Technology had volunteers play two games while undergoing brain-imaging scans. In one game, subjects could take a small sum of money or potentially win a larger sum by guessing the color of a card drawn from a deck they knew was split evenly between two colors. The second game was identical except that subjects did not know the proportions of the cards. This more ambiguous game activated the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, brain areas associated with emotion processing, whereas the game of known risk did not. The result lends credence to a model in which people caution themselves to avoid the worst possible outcome, as opposed to coolly identifying the best strategy, according to a commentary in the December 9, 2005, Science.

Males were corseted? I did not know that. This is from an article on reconstructing George Washington's face and full body shape at various ages:

Constructing the Body: ...both the statue and the paintings portrayed a form somewhat different from what we expect to see in a 20th or 21st-century male physique. I discovered that in keeping with an 18th-century custom common among English families of status, Washington’s body had been corseted until about the age of five. I have not been able to find an example or even description of such a corset, but it would have differed from that used on girls and women to pull in the waist, because the effect altered the male body to look like a ballet dancer’s. The shoulders were pulled back, puffing out the chest and flattening the area across the shoulder blades, as well as down, creating a long slope from the neck on each side; the natural inward curvature of the lower back was further accentuated, which then pushed the belly out. (As I also learned, Washington had been a fabulous ballroom dancer. In fact, he kept meticulous notes on each type of dance.) Once the growth trajectory of the body had been changed in the boy, the new shape would have persisted throughout life, which is why portraits of 18th-century English gentlemen, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence, have a distinctly different look to them than portraits of important men of later centuries. [picture - you may need to click on lower right corner to enlarge and make the print legible.]

    Posted by on Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 12:07 AM in Economics, Science | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (0)


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