Tuesday, October 15, 2019


The orthodox view is that I am a soul-and-body unity, not a soul-haunted body. A jargon-heavy explanation... Theologians call Jesus' incarnation a hypostatic union, which is just technical shorthand for a longer description that means something similar, except with God and man instead of soul and body.

What is involved in being an incarnation? That's a union of different natures--which isn't a very useful definition. Maybe something operational...

The actions of the body have a purpose that isn't determined by the body's environment and reactions. The body expresses some aspects of the soul--and makes that expression possible.

Clearly this expression can happen through actions. But can the body express purpose or meaning through inaction? Through "just being," or "just being" in a way that is apparently determined by the body's environment and reactions?

That sounds kind of Zen, doesn't it? "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.". Undoubtedly the body is having an effect on the soul, but it isn't obviously an expression of the soul through the body.

Despite a more amazing incarnation, Jesus had about 20 "dark years" about which we know nothing directly, though we can infer from his townsfolk's reactions that nothing dramatic happened. Of course, people can get used to pretty nearly anything, and a perfect carpenter who doesn't preach might be easy to get used to and ignore. Or maybe not--but their reaction tells me they weren't expecting anything unusual.

"Do little things with great love?" Maybe that's the answer to the "just being" question: doing the "reactive" ordinary thing consciously with love. Who sees the difference? Maybe just God.

Trying to be intentional about each action tends to pull my attention away from God, so I'm not persuaded that that is a useful exercise by itself.

If I have the Holy Spirit in me, what I do and am needs to somehow incarnate that. Pew-warming is probably not the most expressive way. Study ought to reshape my mind and heart, but somehow that still doesn't quite seem fully expressive either. Maybe the best approach is concentrating on doing one thing (with love) at a time, and letting everything else be reactive. Start small. As distractible as I am, that's hard enough.

Sometimes very true

You probably know someone for whom this typo is actually true: "For Elvis, high achievements have always marred his life."

I omit the link to protect the guilty--spell-check is not your friend.

"Meat for to eat"

"The critics are, predictably, from my Who's Who Of Epidemiological Woo list above, Marion Nestle and Harvard School of Public Health, who charge that the meat paper is not valid because one of the authors got funding in the past from a group that was founded by a person who once worked at ... Coca-Cola."

One of these days I need to assemble a fecal roster of fake experts, whose use in a news story suggests that the reporter isn't doing his job. And organizations. It could get pretty long.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Laying hedges

The Internet lets me chase rabbits longer and farther. I went to look up more about cubits, and found a beautiful engineer's ruler from 3300 years ago:

That promptly led to hedgelaying.. (They apparently use the "cubit" to describe an elbow-to-finger measurement.)

I remember Tolkien writing about elves creating things out of living plants--like homes out of trees--and was pleased at his imagination.

It looks like he was expanding on familiar practices from the English countryside. You cut and bend stems of young trees to grow horizontally so they can be woven together to make a sturdy live fence. "The theory behind laying a hedge is easy. The practice is much harder, requiring skill and experience."

If you don't maintain them, they eventually grow into a messy line of trees.

There are some nice how-to pictures here.

Want to get involved? Oops, it's in the UK. Some US suggestions include: "American Hazel, Black Chokecherry, Chokeberry, and fragrant Sumac"


Some books I read once and liked but never cared to read again. Some I've gone back to several times--not always the ones I thought I liked the best, either.

Somebody is always putting out lists--The Classics of Science Fiction V5 is available. They're ranked by "citations" here. As usual, their ranking bears no relationship to how I judge the books, and there's a cutoff--I stopped having so much time to read, and I didn't spend as much time browsing the SciFi shelves of the bookstore. I never heard of a lot of their titles before.

Of their 108, I read 36 that I don't care to read again. The Left Hand of Darkness was well-thought-out and well-written and it will never again bubble up to the top of my reading list. Frankenstein was fun, but once was enough. On the other hand, Childhood's End struck a kind of mythic chord--I'll never read it again (I've had kids since then, and grown somewhat myself, and I no longer like it) but I read it more than once when I was younger. 22 of them (e.g. Canticle for Leibowitz) are on that "I read it several times" list. 6 are in the never-read-and-never-will, 25 are maybe-if-it-was-handy, and the other 19 I don't know enough about--most of them are recently published, of course.

So, about 2/3 once to 1/3 many.

"Have I wanted to re-read it?" is a slippery measure for how good I think a book is. I see different things in Canticle each time I read it, but I've re-read others simply because I was in the mood for the experience I knew the book was competent to provide. (I'm thinking of H Rider Haggard here, but there are plenty of other moods.)

Now and then I have admonished some of our kids to "Read something different!" But I get it.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The simplest thing

"For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why are you anxious about other matters?"

That bolded bit jumped out at me tonight. Being generous, I pick the long cubit, which was about 52 cm, or 1.7 nanoseconds. In one sense it is indeed a "very little thing."

In another sense, it is much easier to figure out how to lay hands on some food than to figure out how grab ahold of some new time. It turns out to be tough to postpone dying when you're in the middle of it, or have the sun stand still for a bit to keep the afternoon going a little longer. We're not designed to manipulate time that way; we are designed to manipulate stuff like fruit and fibers.

In God's eternal Now a million years is a very little thing, and He can manipulate time as He sees fit. Not me: and unless I in some way join Him in that Now, I don't see how time can ever can be little for me.


I used to wonder why rivers in Liberia weren't more often used for transport and trade. It would have to be cheaper than building roads. Wouldn't it?

It turns out lot of places along the rivers look like this. I didn't see much of that near the coast.

Want to try a portage?. Or, if you're more ambitious, here...

Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene

Graham Green decided to explore Liberia--in particular an area for which there literally were no accurate maps at all, just blanks.

He wrote Journey Without Maps about his trip, on which he nearly died.

He brought along his 23-year-old cousin. She wrote Too Late to Turn Back about the trip. She viewed things a little differently, of course.

One of the surprises she found was that it was not an "adventure"--except perhaps in the sense of being a nasty uncomfortable thing that made you late for dinner. It was tedious, and the heat and monotony drained body and mind. At the end of it all, she said it was worth it.

I spent almost all my time in the developed area on the coast, and what wasn't there was spent close to main roads and extractive industries. I never saw what she did in the interior. And the Monrovia I saw was a much bigger and richer (relatively) city than the one she saw.

Read it. And Graham's too. They each see Dr. Harley differently.

UPDATE: The waterfall they each describe can be partially seen illustrating this BBC story.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

On the City of God Against the Pagans by Augustine

This has been on my list for quite a while, and now that the bus from Sun Prairie to downtown Madison is running, I've had leisure to wrap it up.

Augustine covers Heaven and Earth, and has to pull himself back on track sometimes.

To counter people who claim that miracles ceased, he describes some he saw, and others he heard from sources he trusted--and the list is quite long.

He sometimes uses close reading of Scripture, and sometimes explains passages metaphorically. Some of the passages he closely read were ones I considered metaphorical ("Not a hair of your head shall perish"), and he used a version of the Septuagint that seems not quite precise. He knows Jerome's "new" Latin version, and cites it a time or three, but doesn't rely on it much. When his close reading hits a passage that was ill-translated, it's a bit jarring.

He cites books no longer extant--which is frustrating, since I'd really like to have learned more, but most of (e.g.) Varro's work is lost.

The earlier chapters describe details of Roman religion that didn't show up in Bulfinch's Mythology. It's a good reminder of what real pagans are like.

He chews up the pagan philosophers. That isn't hard to do--and they did it to each other with gleeful abandon too.

He has a large chunk of parallel histories of Israel and the rest of the world (Assyria is his generic term for all the empires of that region, fyi), which is interesting, even if his chronology is not 100%. OK, quite a bit less than 100%. Some things he gets wrong--I suppose nobody could read cuneiform by then, and not much hieroglyphic text either, so maybe some of the histories had been lost. I had thought that the claim that all (or almost all) the pagan gods were deified heroes was a late notion, but Augustine cites Roman authors explaining that Mercury and Isis and many others were deified after their deaths. (Isis taught agriculture to the Egyptians?)

He's eager to explain how everything in Israel's history and scripture points to Jesus, and stretches some points way beyond reasonable limits.

When he discusses prodigies, I felt a sharp wish to be able to sit him down and explain a little chemistry and physics. Yes, he mentions the salamander, and a worm that lives in boiling water--and of course the latter does exist though he couldn't know it. And on several other points (predestination) I didn't think he had a solid handle on all aspects of what he was discussing.

Nevertheless, it is interesting.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

New powers

When Herod heard of Jesus' miracles, he (or "people") said "John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him."

Of course, while he was alive, John never did any miracles. John 10:41.

So for Herod (or "people") to think John would start now says something interesting about how they viewed resurrection.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

How do you keep control of your car?

Maybe a "kill-switch" for the network is overkill, but I'd be inclined to use it. Last time I checked I wasn't into deplorable deeds of darkness that required me to keep my location secret, but on general principles I don't want other people monkeying with my stuff without my knowledge.

We bought a van without the extra bells and whistles. A backup camera would be very nice to have, but I don't like power doors (untraceable short circuits drain the battery very quickly--I learned that the hard way) and the temperature sensors get scraped off in snow banks, and I think I'd rather drive than fiddle with getting bluetooth synced at highway speeds.

Monday, October 07, 2019

It can't go on, or can it?

I got to thinking about the last post--how long before people rise up in wrath?

You'd think sooner or later people will either vote with the ballot or their feet or with surreptitious bear spray to deal with the problem. But I remembered India's sacred monkeys. They get to run wild, and even run violent, because they're sacred.(*) Our priests define vagrants as victims, and therefore also sacred.

You'd think people would notice the difference between the generic and innocuous "homeless" and the disreputable "vagabond" or "vagrant," but our priests insist on blurring the language to keep the rest of us from noticing. I'm not writing about the generically homeless here.

There seem to be Indians here and there who are fed up with being harassed, but the risks of offending the believers are high. Likewise here.

(*) Although sometimes they destroy enough crops that the governments take notice. The story is about a matching fund to save monkeys. "Killing monkeys is a sin. Those killing monkeys would invite the wrath of god and to save people from calamities, a balancing act of saving monkeys is required."

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Changing direction

It has been obvious for a while that when you try to treat homelessness as a cause rather than a symptom, especially when you couple this with very permissive attitudes towards drug use, you get an evil mess. The homeless suffer more, the rest of society pays a high price for nothing useful, and the only ones that benefit seem to be the experts-for-hire paid to fix hangovers with the hair of the dog.

We got wedged into this situation by politics, and we'll have to get out by politics.

One obvious solution is to replace the people who are busy wedging us ever harder into this mess. That's been tried--it isn't easy at all, and hasn't seemed to happen yet.

Another is to find a way for the existing elite to save face in a flip-flop. If they can find someone to blame they can change course without endangering their hold on power. They could, for example, find a crying need for mental health care among the homeless, a need that was thwarted by the callous closing of mental health hospitals by Reagan and the other evil money-hungry sorts. (That particular claim wouldn't be true, of course, but that's no bar in politics--truth seems to be an impediment to be avoided at all costs.) The homeless need hospitals, and the progressives are just the people to help them!

Of course, there would have to be something in it for the well-connected. And the existing experts-for-hire would scream unless you found ways to work them into the plan. And the elites would still be the kind of people who double-down on craziness. And they'd still need to find a way of enforcing drug restrictions without harshing the mellow of an important subset of the San Francisco voters. But if a sacrificial lamb can be procured...

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Castles in China

I was starting some research on weapon technology transfer, and found this on castles in China, and decided not to wait for my final essay.

Many Chinese cities were walled and fortified, and some of the fortifications were quite large. Pingyao's city wall approached Ninevah's in height. The Forbidden City is effectively a large castle.

But since China usually succeeded in centralizing power, it didn't need as many non-frontier fortifications as the European patchwork of mini-states did--in fact, they would be a risk to the central state. I suspect I'll learn that warlords' castles were dismantled when the new Emperor conquered them.

But there were families with fortified compounds too. There's probably a lot of history in there.

High tech and crime prevention

A man was accused of entering a North Side house earlier this week and stealing guns and a computer while holding a woman at gunpoint was being monitored through GPS and out on bond for another break-in in which he’s accused of raping a woman." ... " George L. Goins, 37, no permanent address ... "According to the complaint, he broke into a woman’s house and raped her, saying the police “can’t stop me.”"

In the earlier case "Goins was initially held on a $10,000 cash bond, which was reduced in May to a signature bond with GPS monitoring." Now "Judge Ramona Gonzalez ordered a $25,000 cash bond Friday, saying if he posts the cash bond he will be required to have no weapons and comply with GPS monitoring and house arrest."

I'm kind of puzzled. Isn't there enough evidence to give him a permanent address, pending trial? The GPS bracelet says he was on the woman's block then.

One thing is clear--he was telling the truth when he said the police couldn't stop him. Neither does GPS. It just makes it easier to tie the criminal to the crime after the fact. It does nothing for crimes of poor impulse control, or crimes where the criminal doesn't think he has anything to lose, or is simply feckless, or thinks himself invulnerable. A catch-and-release police/prosecute policy will cultivate that attitude in people.

I'd think that GPS monitoring would deter people from further crimes who have good impulse control, are forward-thinking, and feel they have something to lose by getting re-arrested for a new crime. I suspect those folks commit some, but nowhere near most, of the crimes.

And GPS doesn't deter fraud, or other crimes that don't necessarily require physical presence.

But hey, we've got some nice high-tech toys--they have to be useful!

What's wrong with this picture?

Here in town we have "Ginger Bread House Preschool."

"Who is nibbling at my little house?"

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Flash and bang

When I was in high school, our senior class went to the highlands in Nimba county for--I suppose it was a field trip. We were there overnight, touristing about a bit. The evening dinner was noisier than I cared for, and the cat who walked by himself went outside for a little peace and quiet.

The stars were quite clear, and the air was a bit thinner. As I watched the sky, a meteor came almost straight down at me and burst.

I heard it. Simultaneously with the burst.

No, I did not have long frizzy hair, but there was a metal wire fence nearby.

Yes, you can hear them sometimes. With a track along the sky, some people hear crackling and popping. The topic is getting more serious attention, but the effect has been observed for years: China 817AD, England 1719AD.

According to this paper the meteor track can be a meter wide. That's potentially a lot of ionized gas. If an oxygen atom boils off the meteor and is ionized, it is initally moving at about 1.1 to 7.2 E7 meters/second. The Earth's magnetic field isn't very strong--2.5-6.5 microTesla--but with such a large speed the V cross B isn't negligable. The initial force is of order 2 to 75 E-19 Newtons, which given that the oxygen atom is only about 2.7 E-26kg, gives quite the acceleration.

The full MHD solution is way harder than I can solve on the back of an envelope, but that initial acceleration sounds pretty promising.

Suppose you have a cylinder of ionized gas moving at meteor speeds. It will slow down very rapidly, but in the meantime MHD forces will push the positive ions one way and the electrons the other. When they slow down enough, they will pull back together to recombine. If this second timescale is long enough, you should get a column of postive and a column of negative charges moving toward each other, which should create a low frequency radio pulse.

The only problem with this model is that it doesn't work: radio wave generation is rare!

You can detect meteor tracks from the way they reflect radio waves, but they usually don't seem to make any themselves. For starters, this naive model assumes no turbulance, which isn't even close to reality where gas gets mixed quickly. And it doesn't deal well with a bang at the end. But it gives an idea of what some of the forces are.

Now that I think of it, I wonder how much lightning you get along meteor tracks. They're far higher than thunderclouds, but the sprites are quite high too, and there have to be interesting electric fields with the sprites. Whether the same sorts of fields exist away from above thunderclouds I don't know.

A boring history of LEP, and next the FHC

"LEP’s tunnel, the longest-ever attempted prior to the Channel Tunnel, which links France and Britain, was carved by three tunnel-boring machines. Disaster struck just two kilometres into the three-kilometre stretch of tunnel in the foothills of the Jura, where the rock had to be blasted because it was not suitable for boring. Water burst in and formed an underground river that took six months to eliminate"

In 1993 we noticed even more peculiar random variations on the energy signal during the day – with the exception of a few hours in the middle of the night when the signal was noise free. Everybody had their own pet theory. I believed it was some sort of effect coming from planes interacting with the electrical supply cables. Some nights later I could be seen sitting in a car park on the Jura at 2 a.m., trying to prove my theory with visual observations, but it was very dark and all the planes had stopped landing several hours beforehand. Experiment inconclusive! The real culprit, the TGV (a high-speed train), was discovered by accident a few weeks later during a discussion with a railway engineer: leakage currents on the French rail track flowed through the LEP vacuum chamber with the return path via the Versoix river back to Cornavin. The noise hadn’t been evident when we first measured the beam energy as TGV workers had been on strike.


took a look inside the beampipe using mirrors and endoscopes. Not seeing anything, I frustratedly squeezed my head between the vacuum flanges and peered down inside the pipe. In the distance was something resembling a green concave lens. “This looks like the bottom of a beer bottle,” I thought, restraining myself from uttering a word to anyone in the vicinity. I went to the opposite open end of the vacuum section and peered into the vacuum pipe again: a green circular disk this time, but again, not a word. Someone got a long pole to poke out the offending article – out it came, and my guess was correct: it was a Heineken beer bottle, which had indeed refreshed the parts no other beer could reach, as the slogan ran. A hasty search revealed a second bottle. Upon closer inspection it was clear that the control room operators had almost succeeded in making the beam circulate despite the obstacles: there was a scorch burn along the label, indicating that they had almost managed to steer the beam past the bottles.

And what will the future hold? "Digging a 5.6 m-diameter hole disturbs rock that has been there for millennia, causing it to relax and to move."

Sunday, September 29, 2019

In plain English

Intersectionality: "It reallyN sucks to be me, and it's All Your Fault™!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Tall tales

I like to distinguish a tall tale from a legend. Both may have exaggeration, but the tall tale isn't really meant to be taken seriously, and the exaggeration is the point. We all know stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and other American characters, but how common is the genre elsewhere?

Wikipedia says, not surprisingly, that Canada has a number of tall tales, and Australia, and it mentions others from Europe (e.g. Finn MacCool creating the Giant's Causeway), but doesn't mention anything outside the Euro-Anglophone west.

It seems unlikely that other cultures wouldn't have them too. But...

I remember reading a book on Chinese humor (though I don't remember a lot from it), and finding some examples quite opaque. If I can't always recognize humor, I'm probably not enough in tune with the nuances of the literature to spot when something is exaggerated for humor. Or possibly some cultures don't use "tall tales," finding something else funnier instead. Or maybe I should broaden my definition to include "just-so" type stories like the Anansi stories.