Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Church by Hans Kung

I picked this up to fill out a 10 for $X at a second hand bookstore, and when I offered to lead a few lessons on the church for our Bible study I decided it was time to read it (among other things, of course). Kung is a pretty famous figure in the Catholic church--and a controversial one.

The general approach he uses assumes that the church, being made up of humans, is often in trouble and needs to get back to its roots in every age--and so he emphasizes Scripture more than Tradition. He systematically addresses the various aspects of the nature of the church. He is especially annoyed with those who focus on the true church as the church at the end of time--it isn't a very useful model to apply to the church one finds here and now on the corner.

When he gets to the section on church organization he brings in a lot of detailed history. If we stipulate that his description of the history is correct (I'm in no position to say), then it is quite plain that the hierarchical model of church structure was not only not universal in the early church, it existed only sketchily in places and not at all in others (Corinth, obviously--Paul never addresses himself to church leaders, even in matters of church discipline he assumes that the entire church has a say). Only gradually does one find a single supervisor/bishop instead of a group. He treads more softly with the pope, but the weakness of the claim of primacy, not to mention dominion, is quite clear; and Kung offers advice on how a pope should serve and which titles ought to be abandoned (pontifex maximus was a Roman pagan priest's title, but "servant of the servants of God" conforms with Christian teaching).

I'm Protestant, and he's not goring my ox. Even claims that Scripture does not exclude the possibility of a pope to head the church do not ruffle my feathers--the Bible plainly neither requires nor prohibits a pope. But I can see why he got a lot of Catholics angry.

I gather that English is not his first language. Scholarly prose in translation is thick going, and he has a little tendency towards repetition for emphasis. Quite a few interesting points are skipped over, as he refers you to some other book he wrote or relies on.

He also gives rather more credence than seems reasonable to "higher critical" analyses of the Bible that attempt to dissect which bits came from which era within a single gospel. I've never heard of anyone attempting a double-blind study of the "higher critical" method (obviously using a different book), and absent such verification I class it with homeopathy. His handling of it doesn't injure his orthodoxy, however.

I read the book because I wanted to learn, and was willing to accept the rough sledding of scholarly prose as the price of knowledge. It is an expert's book in a field in which I am not an expert. If you're interested in the church you may find it useful.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Home again

Odd bits from the travel: In O'Hare's "Halstead" restaurants one joint offers Uno's personal pizzas. I like Uno's and figured they couldn't wreck one. I was very very wrong.

When the women's rest rooms in Brussels are closed for cleaning, they have no qualms about using the men's. Neither did I.

At Friday's plenary meeting we heard a description of the quench's aftermath. All the lights were broken for a long section, the region was ODH thanks to the 2 tons of helium, and the alarm systems were also broken. (Did I mention that this is some distance underground?) Result: Until Friday they couldn't legally send in an inspection team. He didn't mention the fact that the hall is now legally, though not really, a radiation area. (They haven't injected enough beam yet to make anything significantly radioactive.) It also appears that someone deleted an online logbook entry about the quench, though it was restored later. This was admitted with profuse apologies: the accelerator division is committed to transparency, the deletion was an emotional reaction...

The Brussels Air flight from Geneva had about as much leg room as a "sept place," but I had exit seats the rest of the way, and all else (even Immigrations in Chicago!) went smoothly. Well, waiting in line in Brussels to get the new boarding passes was interesting. The people in the business class had priority, and so did the passengers trying to get on the New York flight, so those of us headed for Chicago stood in an unmoving line for 15 minutes. It figures, Chicago is the Second City again.

Oh, and the seat lights on a 767 don't click on/off like the driver lights in a car. I pushed mine, because I couldn't see the control button buried beside the cushion. I expect the blister will be gone in a day or so.

Once home I rehung the bathroom door and wound up with the screws on the inside, the hinge pins in the bottom, and the lock core unexpectedly loose. The latter shifted when I tested the door. As a result the door is a little splintered, the jamb is a lot splintered, and the latch is a little bent--but it works now. I'll redo the hinges when I'm less tired.

I'm not sure how useful the trip was. I was fuzzy with lack of sleep during the day, and too tired to sleep at night. I got the package I was working on to handle two simple tests, but instead of trying to get more test cases I started working out the output. That's fuzzy, and it showed when we tried out the package. I was able to give a little instruction on how to monitor the DAQ, but the online cluster went away for over a day while I was trying to show examples. Can't win them all...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

CMS Party

Before the LHC quench, CMS had planned to have a celebration party this CMS meeting week, in honor of the culmination of years of preparation. We had it anyway, quench or no quench. There must have been about a thousand people there. I knew a dozen, and remembered the faces of another three dozen.

The party was in the SX5 building above ground, and the acoustics are terrible in that huge work area--and so of course they had a band (the Danglers--a drummer and two other guys; plus a sound man trying to balance the sound in a hall where only the base could be heard). Luckily they kept the volume down for about 3 hours (when I left).

As I wrote this a red ambulance with yellow stripe along the middle drove up to the new hostel. After 10 minutes it left without taking anybody away. Must have been minor. Last time I saw them somebody had collapsed in his car and they were working with him for over an hour.

Virdee gave the welcoming speech, of which we could understand not a single word. Did I mention the terrible acoustics? Pity: he's an articulate and enthusiastic speaker. Posters of the experiment illustrated parts of the detector, projectors cycled through pictures of people and things, and a souvenir table offered hats and shirts and other CERN (and CMS and Atlas) paraphernalia. We used 2/3 of the hall-the other third was cluttered with lifting jigs and spools of cables and supplies. I'd really like to compare before and after pictures of the hall 10 years from now. I predict that what isn't partitioned into small high rise offices will be jammed full of miscellaneous hardware and boxes and stuff. You heard it here first.(*) (BTW there are only a handful of toilets.)

For about an hour we milled around. The beer table was perpetually crowded, and the side tables with a few hors d'oeuvre, juices, and boxed wine were roped off with caution tape. Several restaurants were represented, and eventually served up some Indian dishes, pasta, gyros, and some beef stew (It was ladled by an elegant chef and garnished by a lovely assistant--but it tasted awful.) Tables to seat about 150 were provided, and when desert finger food arrived waiters carried trays about among the crowd milling or waiting in line.

By 8 the band had started again and the volume was cranking up, and I had no enthusiasm for staying until 10. As the only one of the party who'd had no wine I drove back.

(*) The big disks are never coming out of the pit again. When the experiment is done the detector will be buried in situ: parts of it will be too radioactive to fool with and nobody wants to bother with salvaging the non-radioactive parts. So the pit lid will move so we can haul small items in and out, but we won't need the assembly area for large assembly work anymore.

Everybody knows the LHC is down until next spring, what with the combination of the broken magnets and the mandatory winter shutdown. I really don't know anything much beyond that: I've no idea whether this single point of failure is common to superconducting magnet rings, or how many magnets were damaged (they don't know yet either), or much else about details beyond what's been reported. I know there's been a lot of griping about the publicity clampdown, but given reporters' tastes for the extreme I suppose the management wanted to keep lunatic rumors from getting magnified ("Elvis sighted in black hole that ate the ring!" or "Aliens from flying saucer responsible!"). Sometimes the BBC science reporting differs from the Weekly World News only in degree.

The planning talks are all being rewritten. I read the slides for a couple of talks--one included the original slides for amusement's sake.

At the CMS party last night, I talked with a grad student from Chile who is working on Atlas. (Her CMS boyfriend brought her.) She said they were disappointed since Atlas was ready for beam, but when I answered that at least we could fix the things that weren't quite right yet, she agreed very enthusiastically. I suppose "ready for beam" means the same thing on Atlas as on CMS: "We need more time but if we really have to we can work with what we've got."

In any event, these kind of teething pains happen, and one thing I'm certain of is that the Wall Street mishaps will have a larger impact on the field, and on my career, than a simple set of broken magnets.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I’m not sure why fasting is so important in the Bible, but there’s no denying its prominence. Fasting and prayer frequently go together too. And Nehemiah calls on his group to fast and afflict themselves before heading out.

Why go hungry?

  • Hunger would seem to be a distraction from prayer, but so is eating; so I guess it’s a wash which is better as far as distractions go, though hunger lasts longer than eating does. I seem to focus better when neither hungry nor stuffed.

  • As a means of showing sorrow fasting works very well. If you’re sorry for telling your wife that her new hat looks like a cow pie, her reception will be a little frostier if you apologize while slurping an ice cream cone. It is a bit hard to convince someone that sorrow for your offenses preoccupies your mind if you are simultaneously indulging yourself.

    God shouldn’t really need convincing, though, since He already knows our hearts and knows how sorry we are. Of course that cuts both ways—He also knows just how “un-sorry” we are at the same time. Given that we have mixed motives and divided hearts, fasting and self-denial might then be ways we try to “break the tie” by adding actions to the penitent side. Of course if we get carried away with the idea that our self-denial earns us something, we defeat its purpose. Your wife won’t be moved much by the claim that she has to forgive your ill-chosen description simply because you skipped lunch.

  • To what extent does a thought or intention have reality without some kind of action? OK, that’s too huge a question, so let’s bite off smaller ones: How far should someone credit your intentions if you don’t even start to act? Is someone obedient if they are never given a command to obey?

    We can answer by asserting that “God knows everything” and that He will of course know the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is nevertheless possible that the question about obedience is not a well-posed question—that it may not have an answer. If faith without works is dead, then possibly repentance without at least an effort at changing or making amends is likewise dead.

    I’m not saying that our efforts to amend or make amends are adequate, but that the absence of even feeble efforts suggests an absence of intent; and if an intention isn’t intended then I’m not sure what it is, if anything.

    If intention without action is somewhat unreal, then fasting to show sorrow is a way to make sure our sorrow is/becomes real.

  • It is also possible that fasting was designed in from the start, and might still exist in the absence of sorrow and sin. I notice that people often seek out contrasts: going camping when they could stay comfortably at home; taking roller coaster rides when they’d have a heart attack if their car did the same things; and so on. Feasts are natural, and their contrast is a fast.

    In addition there’s the evidence of menstruation. The inconvenience and cramps give the husband and wife a regular fast from sex. I can’t speak to the cramps, but it certainly looks as though the inconvenience was part of the human organism from the start, which would suggest that the fast was part of the design from the start.(*)

    Why would there be fasting? Perhaps it serves as a regular reminder that we are more than bodies—a celebration that we transcend our bodies. It is a reminder that we are not self-sufficient or self-sustaining.

    Since by hypothesis this kind of fast is non-sorrowful, it would be a kind of celebration, and therefore ought to have been filled with something to celebrate: every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, perhaps?

For the honor of truth I have to admit—I almost never fast. I sometimes skip lunch at work, but I’ve found that there’s often a price to be paid for this in the work performance that afternoon. I’m not going to inflict my fasts on others, and I’ve been too lazy to devise a workable structure for fasting at home.

Therefore this is all observation and theory, and very little practice: an odd situation for an experimentalist. I suppose I should correct the discrepancy.

(*) Which suggests that 365 Nights, while a noble gift, might be slightly misguided.

What's up?

As you could tell from this blog’s description, this was originally supposed to be a group blog for the family. My ambition was to be more of a "content provider" a la Den Beste's model rather than a linker/commenter a la Instapundit. It hasn't quite panned out the way I expected. It became clear pretty quickly that I had to maintain at least a small amount of privacy for the kids' sake, so the reader has missed out on a lot of hilarious misadventures; and I often found that I could make some small comment on events but had nothing hugely profound beyond that.

I didn't enable comments because I don't always have time to review the site, and spammers quickly make a nice site ugly. This lack is unfortunate: many of the sites I read have lucid and valuable regular commenters. I read my email regularly, though.

I thought it might be interesting to look over the weblogs I've been reading fairly regularly, to see what has changed. The short answer is that I read fewer linkers. Some of those I used to read have quit blogging, and some changed tone or had commenters change their tone for them.

Just for laughs, and perhaps for your interest, these are some of the regulars.

Now that Middle Daughter is back from Senegal, I don't read the (no-longer-updated) blogs her friends wrote.

Do I have to say that Opinions expressed by these folks bear no necessary relationship to my own?

  • Science
    • Not Even Wrong by Peter Woit: postings on High Energy Physics doings, mostly theory, which are almost entirely general public readable. Not a fan of string theory :-). He wrote a book of the same title about string theory.
    • Resonaances: intermittent postings from a CERN theorist on events and interesting results. Fun to read.
    • John Baez: a mathematical physicist who's been writing about his and other's doings in mathematical physics for years. He has lucid explanations archived of many interesting aspects of the field, some of which I almost understand. Highly recommended.
    • Tomaso Dorigo: an Italian colleague on both CDF and CMS, writing about his experiences, a little about Italian politics (which I seriously don't understand!) and new physics results. Alas, his days as a rumor exposititor are over--some CDF folks complained about him talking about results before the results were blessed as ready, and he agreed to post only about blessed work. He was on shift during the LHC commissioning week, except that on the actual day all shift workers were replaced with "experts." He politely omitted an explanation of why.
    • SciTech Daily: Not exactly a blog, more of an aggregator of science stories, broken down into columns of "real stuff," "new books," and "opinion" (the latter is not generally valuable).
    • Cronaca: Mostly pointers to interesting articles in archaeology, which has always been an interest of mine.
  • Religion
    • Internet Monk: A Kentucky Baptist preacher with thoughtful and sometimes very personal postings on evangelicalism and ministry. He neither hides nor glories in his warts or his doubts. Highly recommended.
    • Touchstone Magazine's blog. A meeting place for all sorts, discussing modern religion and society: Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, etc. Agree or disagree, you'll find intelligent and knowledgeable commenters.
    • The Anchoress: Postings on religion and society. Recently there's been more about elections than I like, but it is still an interesting window on another part of the landscape.
    • Catholic and Enjoying it: Mark Shea also enjoys pronouncing on all manner of things. He refers to "The Evil Party" and "The Stupid Party" in America :-)
    • Unmedia, the blog of a Shiite physicist, moved and reorganized and I haven't been back to it in quite a while. Evangelical Outpost also moved and reorganized (and he'd been recycling posts and writing about politics a lot), and I've not been back there either.
  • Local (Dane County area: what's going on here that I didn't hear about?)
    • Life in the Great Midwest: A group blog writing about personal and general events. Dan is from Madison, and I've learned a few things about the area I live in.
    • Ann Althouse is a law professor at the UW, and one of the better known names in the blogosphere. She is prolific, general, quirky and personal; and popular for good reason.
    • Atomic Trousers: is the blog of a local newsman. He includes more sports than I'm interested in, and I don't watch his clips of him on TV, so I may be dropping this one.
    • There's a big Dane County blog collective, but although I've tried several times I've never found anything very interesting there. I found more interest and amusement in a single comment by "Ghost of a Flea" on Althouse than the whole collective. Your mileage may vary.
  • Humor (loosen the bowstring from time to time)
    • Lileks is a very good writer who works for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. His writing is generally personal, and keeps you interested even in things you don't usually think about. He writes on weekdays and I highly recommend him.
    • Stuff White People Like: feels like it is starting to wind down, but it has been hilarious. Look at the archives. You can guess the theme from the title.
    • I Can Has Cheezburger? shows photos (usually of cats) with humorous captions. Fun, and sometimes very good. The ratio of "Honey, come look at this one!" to the total is about 1/12, which is pretty good.
    • Iowahawk: Original satirical works, posted intermittently, generally on political or social topics. Usually good, and sometimes very good.
  • Personal Blogs
    • S. Weasel She photoshops things that amuse her and works in an animal refuge. We're amused too.
    • The Philosopher Mom: Raising 9 kids and teaching philosophy. Ever contemplated what a school morning would be like, or negotiating a family-only outing with eleven voices in the mix?
    • Eve Tushnet Literature and society from a woman who says she's "gayer than sunshine." She posts about weekly, but writes for other sites and journals as well.
  • Social Comment
    • David Warren: a Canadian columnist writing about society and posting his columns online. I learned a lot about Canada from him.
    • Winds of Change: a group blog covering society and war and events from a variety of interests.
    • Belmont Club: Richard Fernandez is a Philippine writer with a good eye for American trends and a taste for ending his columns with poetry. Thoughtful. I recently carped that he was trying to post too often, but even so he is still better than most of the pros.
    • Hog on Ice: Steve wrote Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man, so some of the blog is devoted to food, some to religion, some to society... He often throws out requests for advice to his faithful readers.
    • Classical Values: a couple of social and political observers with libertarian leanings; literate and knowledgeable. And fond of pit bulls.
    • Assistant Village Idiot: Can you resist a title like that? He works for a hospital in New England.
  • News
    • I don't have much time to read Rantburg these days. It is a good news aggregator, but it can take a long time to go through it. You won't find a lot of its news in the usual locations (see below); it pulls from sources around the world. Some of the comments are rather tart and not always friendly.
    • BBC Broad if not deep coverage around the world. Their science editor could be a little more skeptical.
    • NY Times. Their science section is usually pretty interesting, and their world coverage sometimes complements BBC's.
    • Drudge Report Matt Drudge is a famous idiosyncratic news aggregator. I'm told some newspapers spend time trying to figure out how to get him to link to a story--a link from him can generate a half million hits.
    • Wired News Techie-type news; some hard news, some nerdy, and some goofy. If you're nerdy you probably already know about it.
    • Google News. I hear this is the number one news aggregator. I actually don't find it all that useful, and will probably be dropping it soon. Most of their news categories are ones I don't follow, and their algorithm seems to pick secondary reports.

There are quite a few other good sites that I like to look at now and then (Mark Steyn, Instapundit, Chicago Boyz, etc), but who has time?

Monday, September 15, 2008

James includes the line about "Lord Jones is dead" in his list of Chestertonia below. Actually, some of the late lamented Lord Joneses in the newspaper are fascinating people, and I wish I'd heard about them sooner. Take General Hoff, for example. You'll have to wade through the whole list of obits, unfortunately, as there is no separate link to this one.
In 1958, he returned to Madison and served as a pilot in the Wisconsin Air National Guard (WI ANG) until 1989, when he retired as Air Commander of Truax Air Base and Wing Commander of the 128th Tactical Fighter Wing with more than 6000 hours flying time, including 1000 hours in the A-10 Thunderbolt II. As Commander, Hoff lead the 128th TFW back into the jet age following its near deactivation and the removal of its jets in the 1970s, giving the base its working motto, "Dedicated to Excellence." He also graduated from the U.S. Air Force Air War College in 1975 and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1978. General Hoff worked regularly with Congress in the WI ANG congressional liaison program, which he initiated. Senator William Proxmire awarded General Hoff the Reverse Golden Fleece Award in 1984, for using his own money to purchase and expedite the placement of safety clips on all Air Force, ANG and Air Force Reserve A-10 pilot air hoses to prevent inadvertent disconnect at high G forces in flight. The G-suit modification, which he designed and then implemented in a test program at Truax before receiving U.S.A.F. approval to equip every A-10 unit in the military, took three months and cost $1,100; Air Force experts had told General Hoff it would cost tens of thousands of dollars and take two years to accomplish the same result.

Mrs James


How about something completely different and unoriginal?

Some quotes from G. K. Chesterton

I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.

The doctrine of human equality reposes on this: that there is no man really clever who has not found that he is stupid.

Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.

Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

Coincidences are spiritual puns.

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.

I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.

I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.

Journalism largely consists of saying Lord Jones is Dead to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.

One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.

People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

The only way to be sure of catching a train is to miss the one before it.

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.

The one really rousing thing about human history is that, whether or no the proceedings go right, at any rate, the prophecies always go wrong. The promises are never fulfilled and the threats are never fulfilled. Even when good things do happen, they are never the good things that were guaranteed. And even when bad things happen, they are never the bad things that were inevitable. You may be quite certain that, if an old pessimist says the country is going to the dogs, it will go to any other animals except the dogs; if it be to the dromedaries or even the dragons. ... It was as if one weather prophet confidently predicted blazing sunshine and the other was equally certain of blinding fog; and they were both buried in a beautiful snow-storm and lay, fortunately dead, under a clear and starry sky.

We have a suffocating sense of luxury and no sense at all of liberty. All the pleasure-hunters seem to be themselves hunted. All the children of fortune seem to be chained to the wheel. There is very little that really even pretends to be happiness in all this sort of harassed hedonism.

Customs are generally unselfish. Habits are nearly always selfish.

When giving treats to friends or children, give them what they like, emphatically not what is good for them.

My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.

Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.

Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.

When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.

There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.

These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.

Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.

All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water; but they naturally object to confessing them while other people, who have also committed the same crimes, sit by and laugh at them.

All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive.

Savages and modern artists are alike strangely driven to create something uglier than themselves. But the artists find it harder.

Though the academic authorities are actually proud of conducting everything by means of Examinations, they seldom indulge in what religious people used to describe as Self-Examination. The consequence is that the modern State has educated its citizens in a series of ephemeral fads.

Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games which it is most attached is called, Keep tomorrow dark, and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) Cheat the Prophet. The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. Then they go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

The man who says, "My critically discerning intellect can no longer credit the doctrine of the Trinity" typically means "I'm sleeping with my neighbor's wife."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Social norms

It seems like such a little thing--but it just isn't done.

I boarded the bus in front of Imperial Gardens as usual. School's in session, and the bus was pretty full. I knew there'd be more passengers boarding, so I went to the back of the bus where there were two seats left. One was open on the left, and I'm not skinny, so I asked the girl next to it "Is this yours?" pointing at the tiny "backpack" in the seat. She glanced at it, said "Yes" and faced forward again. I was a bit annoyed--I'd used the code phrase for "I want to sit down, please pick up your stuff" and she'd ignored it. So, I picked up her (1/2 pound? lighter than most purses) pack and dropped it in her lap and sat down.

A bulky and obscene fellow student of hers announced "Dude, he totally moved your stuff!" and there was general merriment for a minute or so. She ignored them, and me.

Such a little thing...


I settled down in a seat in the back left of the bus, and pulled out Hans Kung (I can see why he is not in good odor with the Vatican) and was struggling with his prose as the bus slowed down for the next pickup. There was a slight swerving, and a little noise--and suddenly everybody on the right side of the bus got excited. One fellow dashed off the bus to help as a young Chinese student stood up beside the bus. Apparently she'd been biking without watching and turned the corner into the path of the bus. I don't see how that's possible, but there she was at the edge of the sidewalk 20 feet from the corner.

She said she was unhurt, but seemed a bit dazed--not surprisingly. The driver called his supervisor who arrived after about 5 minutes, and about 5 later an ambulance came, and then a squad car 5 minutes after that. A friend of hers inspected the bike, which also seemed uninjured. While waiting she came in the bus and the driver asked her what she had been thinking of, and insisted that she wait for the supervisor and the police.

The supervisor had questions, the cop was interviewing witnesses. Nobody on the bus was a witness. Strange but true. After another 5 minutes two number 6 buses arrived and I left the group behind.

No mention in the paper, so I guess she really was unhurt.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Downstairs Youngest Daughter is watching Lucy in the castle with sharp stuff. It is overdue at the library, so now's the time. She seems to have a fascination with tragic heroines, preferably with daggers (Carmen, Tosca, Lucia, etc). Parsifal didn't seem to get her very excited: perhaps Kundry's problems weren't clear enough.

LHC is ready: What to worry about?

At about 2am my time the LHC turns on.

I propose to worry about whether Japanese trawlers will accidentally snag and awaken Godzilla.

OK, actually I am worried about the LHC: I worry that the readout I'm responsible for will glitch again, and I wonder when we'll be allowed to turn the magnet back on after the Castor near-disaster.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Clone Wars

Youngest son and I went to the movie for his birthday.

It is a cartoon instead of live action, and is constrained by having to fit carefully inside the movie sequence, without the possibility of huge character changes. They managed a little of that anyway, which was gratifying.

It won't displace Casablanca in the list of great movies, but it was competent, which was a refreshing change from recent offerings. Without the monkey of special effects on their backs, they dedicated a little more effort to dialog and plot. Yes, there were some unrealistic notes, but it was fun anyway.

If you saw the other Star Wars prequels, go ahead and see this one.

Out of luck

In front of the Wisconsin Cheeseman factory:

Need tailgating supplies?

Closed today

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bang the chest!

Wired news has a story about how loud cars are a turn-on for women. The title says "Exotic" but that's "high performance" in the body of the story, which describes how testosterone levels (a measure of arousal) varied in men and women listening to car sounds. Women had especially high levels after listening to the sounds of a Maserati (Harleys were not tested, apparently). Men's reactions were similar but more muted. "As for the Volkswagen Polo? Everyone had less testosterone after listening to it."

Little kids put playing cards in the spokes of their tricycles to get a good wild sound. Not that they're trying to attract the ladies--not yet. But ...

Friday, September 05, 2008

From Mrs. James: I am old enough to remember when the political conventions involved horse trading, debates, real speeches instead of mantras, ballots, second ballots, and drama.

For the last 30 years, the conventions have morphed into coronation ceremonies.

At least, McCain has picked somebody interesting. Obama selected the champion bloviator of the senate.


I'm not a Republican, and don't consider it part of my duties or amusements to try to develop their strategies for them. I didn't seek out or bother studying the analyses of best Veep choices. But even I heard the name of Palin, and read it many months ago and on several short lists. I didn't know who she was (I said I didn't pay much attention to these things), but I kept running across the name.

So I was a little surprised at the choice, but not flabbergasted. What is flabbergasting is the parroting of the "unvetted" and "spur of the moment decision" lines. Even I know better, and I'm no political pundit. Do these people do any research at all?

Monday, September 01, 2008


Updated by Mrs James.

We spent most of the week at Peninsula State Park. Luckily the bronchial problems were subsiding, so those of us afflicted could actually enjoy getting out and about.

It is nice to get away from the phone and radio, though unfortunately I had some obligations in Switzerland I had to attend to--the local library let me use my memory stick to run puTTY and check that things were going correctly. The only interruptions were mosquitoes and the rock of doom. No ads, no baseball, no need to ignore the convention (of course I haven't paid them any mind in 24 years ...); just birds and buoys and powerboats. And bugs, though not frantically too many.

Oddities on the way: a banner for a short term storage firm on the side of a decrepit barn--maybe not the best ambiance for the ad? Funny how many more cars were driving away from the park than toward it--Sunday afternoon back-to-Illinois traffic.

The campsites were mostly empty, the water spigot was nearby, the showers were close and not upwind, and we broke an unholy number of plastic tent stakes. Next time I'll try steel. The campsite was fringed with poison ivy, but we successfully evaded it.

The area is part of the "Niagara escarpment," a ridge of sedimentary rock that marks the extent of some glaciers. North of it was ground down, south of it is hilly, and the boundary is a ridge in places. Not just the ground underfoot but the forest changes as you go up the trails. The cliff rocks crack in horizontal and vertical layers, like huge gray Lego bricks--that sometimes fall out and leave shallow caves. Trees that cling to the treacherous cracks sometimes wind up at the bottom.

One beach is deep (at least two inches, I didn't dig farther) in empty zebra mussel shells, another is rocky with distorted fossils, another is shallow and sandy.

The concession stand carried something no sporting goods store in Madison carries anymore--air mattress repair kits. The salesmen I talked to didn't understand why the kits had gone missing, since they generally sold like hotcakes--but the stores weren't getting any more.

Youngest Daughter says she's more of a city person and grumped about the hikes and the chores and having to set up her tent all by herself. Youngest Son claimed a sore throat when chores came around: he was more interested in exploring. He went out on the lake on a bike-paddle boat by himself and seemed to have a grand old time climbing the observation tower (went back a second time). Each of them had to start a campfire themselves, and Youngest Son got a kick out of hatcheting firewood into kindling. When out hiking, Youngest Daughter glommed a pair of binoculars and released them only reluctantly. (Luckily we brought 2.)

Better Half and Youngest Daughter went to Sturgeon Bay to see a museum, and she and Youngest Son went to an art gallery that specialized in kinetic sculptures, and she and I went to a cafe with WiFi (to discover that I'd forgotten the WiFi card).

Mrs. James reports: Sturgeon Bay's maritime museum gives a history of the shipping trade in the area beginning with a video on how to make a birchbark canoe. Sturgeon Bay boasted 4 shipyards into the 1940s, and the town doubled in size during WWII, when the 4 companies had contracts to make various smaller boats. They made sub chasers and submarine tenders, cargo ships and oilers small enough to go through the Welland Canal of that day, destroyer escorts and corvettes. There were detailed video interviews, circa 1985, of people who worked to build the boats, including a lot of women welders, who were all very proud of what they accomplished.

Now, Sturgeon Bay bristles with yacht masts. Newer cabin cruisers look like something from Star Wars. Huge and sleek and high tech. All they need is grey hulls and tractor beams.

The huge tugboat Purves doesn't hold tours on Wednesday. However, when Youngest Daughter and I asked questions of the volunteer leaving the boat with his toolkit, he gave us an impromptu tour. He was the chief engineer on this boat for 25 years. He went to a different boat when his company sold the Purves, and the ensuing years weren't kind to her. He said they cleaned layers and layers of gunk and old oil off the equipment when the museum bought her.

The engine room was huge, and there was an open space amidships where the exhaust pipes from the engine room vented out. Bob said that the men hung their laundry in there to dry. Most cabins were utilitarian, with a bunk, a dresser, and room to turn around. Two cabins were not exactly private; people had to walk through them to get to the galley. The galley was restored to 1957, when Bob first came aboard. Back to James.

In the park we wandered the trails and went to the boat launch to watch the stars at night and told stories around the fire. No smores this time (but we did have fish and shrimp cocktail on our last evening). Breakfast was summer sausage and cold hard-boiled eggs and cheese and fruit and fruit juice and a couple of Oreos. (The raccoons didn't get any this time, though they nearly got the bread.)

We toured the lighthouse too. Better Half covets a "summer kitchen," but I'd feel a little cramped living in the tiny quarters of the lighthouse. It was funny to see just how much smaller the new light is than the old--and it includes spare bulbs that automatically rotate into position, and a solar panel to charge the battery that runs it. The old one was a 2 1/2 size: the lens looked to be only about 18 inches across (we weren't allowed to get close).

The Rock of Doom: I discovered that using a chunk of dolostone to keep the kindling out of the ash is not altogether without risk--40 minutes into the fire time a loud bang put the fire out for a couple of seconds and threw burning embers onto a chair. Reactions varied from "Cool, I wonder if it will do that again" (guilty) to "Never do that again." Since we lacked some heavy mesh to keep embers out of our hair, the latter voice won.

Mrs James again: Driving down the lake shore route instead of the interstate, coming home. The old lake ports are doing their best to attract summer visitors, now that the boats are too big for the harbors. Manitowoc is still big enough for the carferry Badger, between Manitowoc and Ludington, and for 500 foot cargo ships to come in. The Saginaw was unloading grain into a Budweiser elevator across the river from the museum.

Manitowoc's maritime museum has the USS Cobia, a Gato Class WWII sub, of the same type built at Manitowoc. Manitowoc built 10 Gatos and 18 newer subs. They had to be launched sideways into the Manitowoc River, instead of endways as done in the ocean yards, and they heeled almost 80 degrees over when they went in.. They took their sea trials in Lake Michigan, then went down to Chicago and the canal to the Illinois River and Mississippi. The subs were armed at New Orleans and sent out.

Manitowoc has the Manitowoc museum; Sturgeon Bay's has Door County Maritime Museum.