Thursday, August 17, 2017

Titles

I sometimes overlook the most obvious things, for the longest time. I must have read Voyage of the Dawn Treader fifty years ago, and I only just realized the sly title Lewis gave the Governor of the Lone Islands: "His Sufficiency." No majesty or excellence is claimed or aspired to; just "sufficient." Beautiful bureaucrat-ese.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cat videos

In my youth I was a last-picked non-athlete, and I never got much into sports personally. In between other interests and a tendency to deprecate whatever was popular, I never got into sports vicariously.

And so, as a young adult, I didn't see much use in professional sports, and thought investing in a city team a terrible waste of money. Over time I started to notice that watching sports was one of the few civic bonding activities we had. Oh. Maybe this kind of entertainment serves a useful function after all...

Cat videos are a byword for triviality. But in seas of rancid virtue-signalling, perhaps they represent something we can bond on--at least a little. They aren't much at all, but every little bit helps. I won't sneer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The marchers

It was predictable, and I'm not happy to have been right. We've had one flavor of political shock troops for a couple of years--pretty soon we'll have another; maybe more than two. I'd hoped we could keep it all in the past.

I wonder whose side the driver was on. As of this time I have to take every report with a helping of salt. I can think of four different scenarios for the driver without breaking a sweat--three of them fairly likely. All I know is that somebody is supposed to have been arrested. Update: He's alleged to have been seen with the first group of marchers. As feared.

One picture showed a close group of marchers, probably the same team, carrying confederate and nazi flags. (The old Confederacy lands supplied a lot of volunteers to fight the original Nazis.) I've no reason to doubt that "heritage not hate" is a real description of the motives of a lot of confederate flag wavers--and the combination of a symbol of resistance to central control carried with a symbol of totalitarian rule is more than a little ironic. Probably the pictured group were all nazis, and used the confederate flag as the symbol of racial supremacy it is for some people. Some of the other marchers were said to be racial separatists (not the same thing as supremacists, of course), and I've no notion yet of who the rest were, or even if they knew who all the other groups were. Somebody thought it was OK to have nazis tag along, though. Or wanna-be nazis.

Words are supposed to mean something. I've always been interested in history, and WWII was not that long ago when I was young. Nazis were still the symbol of the enemy, and everybody knew why. I hear horror stories that substantial fractions of today's graduates unable to tell what side England was on during WWII (or else who are pulling the pollster's leg--but I observe a fair amount of ignorance myself). What does "nazi" mean to them? Generic bad group? "I know, teacher! I know! It means Trump and anyone who voted for him!" Similarly, racist means you wonder out loud why we import foreigners to cheaply do the jobs you can't find anymore. It isn't even so much "May as well be hanged for sheep as for lamb" as that the distinctions are blurred.

When the powers-that-be claim that noticing certain problems makes you a swamp-dweller, some proportion of you will join the swamp-dwellers. Think of labor relations early last century. Publicly noticing problems got you called communist, and a lot of noticers joined the communist swamp-creatures.(*)

I suspect that too many people have long memories for the nazis to become a significant force again--certainly not under that name. But the attitudes may come back. We had those attitudes before, and though we've had a few generations in which white racism was suppressed, anything can happen--especially when the elite are alien and arbitrary. "Cling to those you can trust"--and you can't trust Pichai, or the Mizzou administration, or HR.

I used "you," but I, and I suspect most of my readers, are in the happy situation of having skills and education that mean we can comfortably ignore some of the problems, and that, knowing the history, we know the boundaries between the ordinary and the vile. I don't worry about the swamp-creatures--there usually aren't a lot of them. We protect free speech for good reason. I worry when people stop noticing the differences. God help us.


(*) National socialism is congruent to international socialism: totalitarian, the party is the most important thing, violent expansion, have to break a few eggs to create utopia... I regard Che Guevara shirts the same way I think of Martin Bormann shirts.

Blue and Green

I remember wondering once upon a time how it was that the Blue and Green parties got to be so all-encompassing: Religion, class, politics, sports--and probably other things the histories didn't record.

I think I get it now. If I were to find a MAGA hat and pay a visit to a few selected restaurants in Madison, I suspect service would be quite slow, and I might be rebuked for producing a "hostile environment." Virtue signaling your politics or social views in your business isn't ubiquitous, but is still very common. The new restaurant in the building we rent office space from made a point of emphasizing how much they supported Planned Parenthood--even before they opened. I think you can still eat at McD's without implicitly supporting any party, but stories about restaurants refusing to serve cops keep cropping up. Typically corporate comes down hard on the offenders, but clearly the impulse is there.

Has it always been like that? I seem to recall more overlap in interests when I was younger--but the Cubs and the Sox had (overall) different classes for fan bases(*), and my Better Half remembers a visit to Finn McCools to find the band was playing "If you hate the Queen of England clap your hands." (She got by with a visit to the ladies' room and some fractured German to a belligerent inquisitor.)

(*) It was explained to me that the class difference was a side effect of being located in different neighborhoods

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pets

In the Atlantic we find: "Pets don’t actually make people healthier, according to a new analysis. Ability to own a pet does." "The cat owners appeared healthier than people without pets, but the difference went away when the researchers factored in that the cat owners were likely to be healthy for other reasons, mostly bearing on socioeconomic status."

Of course, we want to keep an eye on this to make sure that the result is true. But if it is, what's going to happen to the Emotional Support Animal industry? I haven't seen their reaction yet, but let me guess: "The study doesn't address emotional issues, only deals with children ..."

Monday, August 07, 2017

Chastity of the Mind

It is tempting to embrace every story that comes along that flatters your tribe or besmirches your opponents. After all, the stories generally fit with what you know; build on knowledge you already have.

When you know the CIA is evil and has done unforgiveable things, stories of how they engineered Tolbert’s assassination or plotted 9/11 dovetail nicely with their record of villainy. Racists abound, so when 3 black churches burn in 2 weeks you know it means racist activity is on the rise. When you know the Clintons are corrupt and ruthless, the story that a man killed himself just before he was due to testify about them obviously tells of just another rub-out among many.

Be realistic. Soldiers won’t die if you don’t retweet that bon mot immediately, or repost that quotation of uncertain provenance. You’re not really in a hurry. You may like to think that hearts and minds wait trembling for your imprimatur on the news, but people who know you can probably already predict what you plan to say.

Instantly reposting stories that go down like such sweet morsels is just virtue signaling: your judgment must be profound since you have such noble friends and recognize such a vile and deceptive enemy!

Two words: Richard Jewell. Three words: Duke lacrosse case. Four words: Day care satanic abuse.

A good scientist looks at data that supports his model, and also looks for data that would contradict it. Until it is studied carefully, it is not good for either purpose.

The first reports are usually wrong. (Sometimes later ones are a cover-up, but not so often.) Let your conclusions be tentative, if you must draw any--wait a while and see what else develops.

Yes, I’ve been bitten by that kind of mistake too. It takes practice to reserve judgment.


“There’s a Bene Gesserit saying,” she said. “You have sayings for everything!” he protested. “You’ll like this one,” she said. “It goes: 'Do not count a human dead until you’ve seen his body. And even then you can make a mistake.'” From Dune by Frank Herbert


"Do you read the papers? Of course, you do. But do you read them as I read them? I rather doubt that you have come upon my system. ... I remember once when I lived in the Capital for a month and bought the paper fresh each day. I went wild with love, anger, irritation, frustration; all of the passions boiled in me. I was young. I exploded at everything I saw. But then I saw what I was doing: I was believing what I read. Have you noticed? You believe a paper printed on the very day you buy it? This has happened but only an hour ago, you think! It must be true... So I learned to stand back away and let the paper age and mellow. Back here, in Colonia, I saw the headlines diminish into nothing. The week-old paper - why, you can spit on it, if you wish.” From “And the rock cried out” by Ray Bradbury


“[John]: 'But I must think it is one or the other.'

[Reason]: 'By my father's soul, you must not - until you have some evidence. Can you not remain in doubt?'

[John]: 'I don't know that I have ever tried.'

[Reason]: 'You must learn to, if you are to come far with me. It is not hard to do it. In Eschropolis, indeed, it is impossible, for the people who live there have to give an opinion once a week or once a day, or else Mr. Mammon would soon cut off their food. But out here in the country you can walk all day and all the next day with an unanswered question in your head: you need never speak until you have made up your mind.” From The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis

Monday, July 31, 2017

Old stories



Ngimun, Yidyam, and Barany are crater lakes in Australia. There's a story of how they came to be:

It is said that two newly-initiated men broke a taboo and angered the rainbow serpent Yamany, major spirit of the area ... As a result 'the camping-place began to change, the earth under the camp roaring like thunder. The wind started to blow down, as if a cyclone were coming. The camping-place began to twist and crack. While this was happening there was in the sky a red cloud, of a hue never seen before. The people tried to run from side to side but were swallowed by a crack which opened in the ground'....
.. After telling the myth, in 1964, the storyteller remarked that when this happened the country round the lakes was 'not jungle - just open scrub'. In 1968, a dated pollen diagram from the organic sediments of Lake Euramoo [Ngimun] by Peter Kershaw (1970) showed, rather surprisingly, that the rain forest in that area is only about 7,600 years old.

Some other stories refer to places that haven't been above water in 9000 years. "The stories tell of a river that entered the sea at what is now Fitzroy Island. The great gulf between today’s shoreline and the reef suggests that the stories tell of a time when seas were more than 200 feet lower than they are today, placing the story’s roots at as many as 12,600 years ago."

"In one of their stories, Ngurunderi chased his wives until they sought refuge by fleeing to Kangaroo Island—which they could do mostly by foot. Ngurunderi angrily rose the seas, turning the women into rocks that now jut out of the water between the island and the mainland. ... a time when seas were about 100 feet lower than they are today, which would date the story at 9,800 to 10,650 years ago."

The Aborigines apparently have some careful crosschecks to make sure stories don't change: some stories are sacred and must not be adapted by the storyteller. Some of these stories match the ancient landscape nicely--the settings match.

What doesn't quite match is the action. OK, the volcano erupting is a pretty good description of what you might see. But the ocean levels weren't supposed to rise that fast. Stories of a woman crawling along dragging the water after her, or of Ngurunderi angrily raising the sea, are dramatic. That's either something that happens within a human lifetime, or something made dramatic by foreshortening. I'm not sure what would jump a shoreline 20 meters in a human lifetime: Lake Missoula draining won't do it (I estimated about 1mm rise from that). That amount of water draining off the glaciers that fast ought to have done dramatic erosion which we don't see. Great glaciers deciding to up stakes and slip-n-slide to the ocean would have turned the southern US into a Canadian Shield. Could 20 meters happen in a hundred years? My geologic skills aren't good enough for me to say.

That leaves foreshortening. What does that mean in practice? Cast back a few millennia. Stories from 1000, 200, 100 years ago illustrated landscape changes that needed to be explained. Assuming the rock formations were already regarded as women, somebody then synthesized the revised story from the old ones. Although this isn't the sort of thing they do, remember? Otherwise how would the details have stayed intact? Which leaves the option that the story was created at that time. It had to start sometime, of course. But the faster the sea level rise was, the less time was required to keep the stories intact, and the if they didn't need to keep them intact long, the more flexibility ancient the story-tellers/memorisers could have had compared to the modern ones.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity by Mark A Noll

Executive summary: The before and after for a baker's dozen important moments in Christian history. Read it.

  1. The Church Pushed Out On Its Own: The Fall of Jerusalem (70)
  2. Realities of Empire: The Council of Nicaea (325)
  3. Doctrine, Politics, and Life in the Word: The Council of Chalcedon (451)
  4. The Monastic Rescue of the Church: Benedict’s Rule (530)
  5. The Culmination of Christendom: The Coronation of Charlemagne (800)
  6. Division between East and West: The Great Schism (1054)
  7. The Beginnings of Protestantism: The Diet of Worms (1521)
  8. A New Europe: The English Act of Supremacy (1534)
  9. Catholic Reform and Worldwide Outreach: The Founding of the Jesuits (1540)
  10. The New Piety: The Conversion of the Wesleys (1738)
  11. Discontents of the Modern West: The French Revolution (1789)
  12. A Faith for All the World: The Edinburgh Missionary Conference (1910)
  13. Mobilizing for the Future: The Second Vatican Council and the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (1965, 1974)

Obviously many of these (e.g. The Great Schism) are merely marker dates for larger and longer events. And sometimes the motivating events (e.g. The French Revolution) are external to the Church, but have an impact on it.

The approach gives a convenient framework for covering almost all of Church history. Each chapter's introduction includes a characteristic hymn from the era, and ends with a characteristic prayer. The book is quite readable. The author does his level best to be accurate and empathetic.

Read it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Olds

I wonder if there is a market for a journal reporting "the rest of the story?"

The news feed tells you what is supposedly happening right now, but anybody with an attention span longer than a day knows that those stories are almost invariably incomplete at best, and often simply wrong. I exclude celebrity gossip stories from "news."

Call it The Follow-up Gazette with the motto All the things we found out later.

  • After the drive-by shooting the police woke up everybody on the block to find out if you had heard anything: One kid was playing with his parent's revolver and accidentally shot his buddy, and they made up the "drive-by" story to try to deflect blame. You didn't hear anything because the shot was indoors.
  • The man who claimed he "just said hello to the sleeping homeless man" when suddenly the homeless man attacked him: He is sticking to his story, but nobody believes that was all he said. The homeless man was charged with battery.
  • A report that claimed that the brains of men and women are indistinguishable received a lot of admiring attention. Peers believe the authors should not be allowed out in public without a minder.
  • The Badger Ammunition facility was declared excess and slated, with great fanfare, for cleanup and transfer to other agencies. This is still going on. Cleanup takes years, and so do negotiations. Ho Chunk wants part of the land but the BIA is not on the same page with them.
  • A was standing in front of his house in his underwear when B walked up to him and shot him dead. B was charged with murder. At the trial he was found not guilty. The defense had argued that he shot A because he had reason to fear for his life.
  • Yesterday we reported that Vlad won a blue Lada in a lottery on Tuesday. We have some minor corrections: It was not blue it was green; it was not Vlad but Oleg; it was not a Lada but a bicycle; it was not Tuesday but Thursday; and he did not win it, he stole it. Aside from that the story is substantially correct. Purloined from You Call This Living?

I took a little liberty with one of the above stories, in which I don't know the complete outcome.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Making of the news

ChicagoBoyz referred readers to a story about the next stage up from press releases: story generators for hire.
On Wednesday, three major news organization published variations of the same story—about the line of succession to the Saudi throne. It seems that in June the son of King Salman, Mohammed Bin Salman, muscled his cousin Mohammed Bin Nayef out of the way to become the Crown Prince and next in line.

It’s a juicy narrative with lots of insider-y details about Saudi power politics, drug addiction, and the ambitions of a large and very wealthy family, but the most salient fact is that the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Reuters published what was essentially the same story, with minor variations, on the same day—not a breaking news story, but an investigative feature.

In other words, these media organizations were used as part of an information campaign targeting Riyadh, for as yet unknown reasons.

...

On Wednesday, the Times reported that Gen. Abdulaziz al-Huwairini had been put under house arrest by a faction loyal to Mohammed Bin Salman. On Thursday, the Times reported that he was in fact named head of a government body overseeing domestic security and counterterrorism issues.

We've known for years that some reporters simply regurgitate press releases, and that said press releases are often heavily spun ("I say it's spinnage, and I say the hell with it!"). This sounds like a simple expansion of the process.

I've no reason to doubt that there are still plenty of investigators out there--though not nearly as many professionals as there used to be. Unfortunately there's not always an easy way to tell an amateur investigator from a spinner, or worse, a fabricator. And not always an easy way to tell whether the professionals are on the mark either--except by waiting.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Crime stories and otherwise

Naked Manitowoc man catches fire after being tased. OK, it was just his beard and chest hair: the taser hit a lighter he was carrying.

Man Who Pushed Stranger in Path of Train Acquitted of Murder. Sounds pretty dreadful, on the face of it: one man pushed another off the platform and then ran, while people stood around and took movies of them both (a tabloid journalist claimed he was using his flash to warn the oncoming train--and a Nigerian prince wants me to handle his finances). Those people taking movies were the reason Davis was acquitted: the movies proved he pushed Han in self defense. Han was drunk and belligerent--I'd guess nobody helped him out because nobody wanted him attacking them and dragging them onto the tracks with him. With a train coming, you aren't going to get much enthusiasm for collecting a group to join him down there and lift him out.

Funny how much stories can differ from the headlines when you get more of the facts.

Have you seen this warning?

Proposition 65 WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

I remember buying some textured paint and discovering that sand was supposed to cause cancer. I assume they meant if I sanded the dry paint off without using a breathing mask then maybe some of the silica would find its way into my lungs along with all the other paint crud.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Order

You can't pin down where an electron is around an atom. You can say where it probably is, but no more. But it is a predictable "chaos:" random but reliable.

In a cloud of molecules some collide, and perhaps interact. Their trajectories are impossible to calculate, and you can't say which oxygen will combine with which hydrogen. It may take a lot of bouncing around to get all the bits combined. But looking at the bigger picture, you can say the oxygen and hydrogen reliably burn to form water.

There are so many molecules in a single cc of air that all the computers on Earth can't predict the trajectories in detail. It looks wild and chaotic on the microscopic scale, but on our scale PV=nRT is a very simple and useful equation.

Inside an amoeba complicated molecules move this way and that with no obvious pattern, but widen the view a bit and you see them breaking down the lump the amoeba engulfed. Widen the view some more and you see an active creature moving about and eating and reproducing.

The plant scatters seeds randomly, and hundreds of other plants compete for the same space. A cow mashes some into the mud. A falling tree obliterates another region. But the big picture shows a green meadow--with its own kind of order. And it's a robust order--or antifragile, if you prefer.

Economies seem to work similarly: disorder at one level, smoothed out to much more orderly at larger scales.

Sometimes my life seems to consist of reacting to one chaotic crisis after another, but at the end of the year it has had a flavor different from somebody else's reacting to chaotic crises.

A crystal is very orderly. Kind of limited, though. Chaos--the building material for order?

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Names In Memoriam

Sometimes a place gets a name because of something that happened there, or that used to be there.

We haven't heard the spring frogs since Nature's Preserve Office Park was built, and it looks like they cut down the trees and scraped off the topsoil to build the Wood Farm development.