120 - Hip to Be Square: the Land Ordinance of 1785

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The United States expanded westward in ever more rectangular fashion, leading to states out west that are so square, they’re only recognisable in their geographical context.


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This map dates from the beginning of that expansion of ‘square-ness’, and provides an insight into the method of surveying, claiming and taking possession of new territories, as it was done in the US of that day.

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In 1785, the US Congress adopted the Land Ordinance Act in order to raise money: under the Articles of Confederation, Congress couldn’t tax US citizens directly, but could raise money by selling land in the recently acquired Northwest Territory.

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The Land Ordinance also provided for the division and organisation of the land to be sold, provisions that remained central to US land policy until the Homestead Act (1862). Those provisions were:
\n• Surveyed land was to be divided into square townships
\n• Each side of such township squares was to be 6 miles long (or 480 ‘chains’: 80 ‘chains’ to the mile)
\n• Each township was to be subdivided into 36 sections of 1 square mile (640 acres; 259 hectares) each
\n• Section #1 would be the northeasternmost one, the numbers then adding up westward. In the second row, the numbers would then again run west to east, zigzagging like this all the way down
\n• Each section could be further subdivided for sale to settlers and speculators
\n• Some sections were reserved for specific purposes. Public schools were often established in section #16 of each township. Sections #8, 11, 26 and 29 were at least in theory reserved as compensation for veterans of the Revolutionary War.

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This map taken here from the Official Federal Land Records website of the Bureau of Land Management (US Dep’t of the Interior), the text based on the relevant Wikipedia entry.

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​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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