Monday, June 29, 2015

Masons and Liberia and Conspiracies

"Masonic craft must lead new Liberia".
Mr. Urey, who is a strong ally of former President Charles Taylor, indicated that the Free Masons must produce the next president that will build a new Liberian. sic

"We must build a new Liberia because there is a need to improve the Masonic craft and our country," he said.


He also noted that in the 2017 elections, members of the society will get involved to ensure that the right people are elected.

From the comments:

Waeyea R. Gogbeh ·( University of Liberia )
Mr. Urey don't remind Liberians of the TWP (True Whig Party) era when the government was primarily operated from "Up the Hill"! Do you want for citizens, especially children, to again see anyone in a "black car" as a "society man" and start fleeing? I'm sure you also heard that Careysburg was considered as a place not suitable to be stranded after 10:00pm those days because you would definitely disappear!

I think it was AVI who wrote that conspiracy theories are popular because conspiracies are even more popular--though most conspiracies fail.

BTW, a "society man" would have been a "Leopard Society" man, or something similar, who used body parts in ceremonies to ensure wealth or power. How many of these there ever actually were I can't guess, but rumors popped up all the time. Always from somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who saw the remains... Sometimes they made the newspapers. For what that's worth.

I'm fascinated by Urey's priorities, btw: "improve the craft" comes first.

By their fruits

One group tries to help outcasts, and another group deliberately kills them.

David Cline

I learned today that he died not long ago. He hired me after I graduated: my adviser and he were riding in the same elevator and Cline asked if he knew any candidates for a job. I've been at UW ever since.

He was not a good manager. He traveled a great deal and so his sessions for direction were rather short. In 5 minutes one day he gave me no less than 3 absolute number 1 top priority jobs. Little details like "I can't go to that conference because my wife is due then" didn't seem to register. I learned later that the proper thing to do was say "yes" and then find something related and productive to do; he sometimes forgot in between visits. (Not always!)

He was extremely ambitious, and wanted a Nobel more than anything. He was bitterly disappointed when Fermilab elected to continue fixed target work instead of trying to build a collider. His friend Carlo Rubbia shared the Nobel instead of Dave. Thomasso has another anecdote about him. When Fermilab did build a collider he was on CDF, and I was working with Atac's forward tracking chamber for Dave. The noise rates were much higher than expected and the wire crimping tool seems to have silently worn out during construction, so the detector had to be abandoned.

He also wanted to do liquid argon based astronomy; and I spent time on liquid argon time projection studies too. He wasn't happy with all of our conclusions...

I declined to follow him to UCLA--the cost of living would have been way too high. He spent some of his time there working with new accelerator technologies--plasma wake field in particular.

I eavesdropped on a conversation between him and Rubbio at lunch once. It was delightful--two brilliant and innovative people bouncing ideas off each other--most of them no good, but so many that some were...

He was enthusiastic. He often jumped the gun--once he grabbed a slide from an absent grad student's desk and wound up presenting a simulation as though it were actual results. The rule of thumb is a slide per minute: his rate was 10x that fast. And he could spot the critical features of a plot quickly too--much faster than I did. And Bob reminded me today that when Cline was still at Madison he arranged for at least one major conference a year to be held there--kept the place on the map.

He will be missed. Probably has been already--at his age he wasn't very active any more.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dante and Pharisees

AVI posted a note including the line "Jesus never called anyone out for racism or our other popular sins. He did call people out for self-righteousness"

Dante has space for all the popular sins too, but I'm not sure where he'd stick the self-righteous. Maybe the 8'th with the liars? How would you slot them in? (Niven/Pournelle created a new area for the solipsists, and found space for polluters...)

FWIW my pet detestation is liars. This makes reading the news something of a "near occasion of sin."

I suppose Jesus didn't have to call people out for the usual sins. John the Baptist did that already, and "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."


The book of Proverbs is quite a mix. Some of it sounds like thumbnail analyses of the day's court cases. Some of it seems pretty obvious:
My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them.

If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul;


These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves!

Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it.

In fact you wonder in what sort of society that advice would be necessary.

Maybe I haven't been reading enough commentaries, but it only just occurred to me the other day that this is explicitly addressed to "my son." A king isn't likely to join a common bandit gang--he's more likely to join other kings in ganging up on a land that seems worth conquering. OK, so if I treat this as a parable of wider application than just street gangs to whom else does it apply? Somebody with some power (more of us than we like to think, but not all).

Friday, June 26, 2015

High Tide at Gettysburg

by Glen Tucker.

I asked our guide at Gettysburg if The Killer Angels was a good intro. He vehemently rejected it, saying it relied too much on (Longstreet's ? memory glitch memoirs). He recommended this instead. I concur.

Unfortunately my memory for names is a bit on the foggy side, and there were times I wished the names were color-coded so I could tell who was who, but within a couple of paragraphs I had the scene correct anyway.

FWIW Tucker concludes that the biggest contribution to the Confederate loss was Lee's microscopic staff, which left him unable to keep on top of what his subordinates were actually doing. I've heard it said that victory goes to the side that makes the fewest stupid blunders; there were plenty to go around at Gettysburg.


So now we have π=3. Even the Indiana legislature didn't quite manage that. Is there anything our courts can't do?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Is leftover shrimp fermenting somewhere?

Responsible Innovation: "Responsible innovation means taking care of the future through collective stewardship of science and innovation in the present." Something about the phrase "collective stewardship of science" rings wrong. Probably somebody tried to be aphoristic and misfired. But my spider sense says "Pournelle's Iron Law" would have the "workers for the organization" in the driver's seat from the get-go. If only because the scientists and engineers would be more interested in doing real work than in running the meetings--if the folks I know are any guide.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


AVI has a post on how the focus fell on the flag at the state house.

Confederate flags do not inspire me. I don't want one about my house and they're too tied together with defence of slavery for me to honor them anywhere else. Despite having been born in New Orleans, I'm pretty much a Yankee in these matters.

I'm repeatedly told that I do not have standing to decide whether a school name or logo is offensive to local tribes or what they regard as sacred--fair enough. But by symmetry, that suggests that non-Southerners don't have standing to tell Southerners what they mean by the flag symbol. Hmm.

I've been reading a bit about the Civil War off and on the past few years, and it is abundantly clear that most of the Confederate volunteers were not inspired to fight by the defence of slavery. The powers-that-be had their own interests, but the average soldier (who owned no slaves) would more likely be inspired to fight by his understanding of liberty. That's what they often said, and one should consider the testimony of eyewitnesses over that of theory. I strongly suspect that a fear that the "meddling feds" would inspire an indescriminate slave revolt was an additional motive, but there's no reason to doubt that their understanding of liberty at the local level was a huge motivator. "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends..." I gather that quite a few people see Lee's battle flag as a symbol of that attitude. That attitude is well-hated in the centers of power (government, media, etc) if their vitriol is any guide--not surprisingly.

My own take on this is by anology. The swastika is a symbol estimated to be at least 5000 years old, meaning good fortune. But it has been so thoroughly tainted by Nazism that the old meaning is lost--whether the Hindus like it or not.


David Warren wrote a column on design that is worth reading. Thesis: quite a few old-time building (and other) designs were more robustly efficient at managing such things as heating and cooling than the one-size-fits-all with high tech that we often use. He uses air conditioning as an example--traditional home designs in Bangkok were designed to handle hot weather well, but the boxy units that replaced them had no natural ventilation and demanded extra cooling. I think he exaggerates somewhat: I revisited a home where I used to live in Liberia, and found it considerably hotter in my late middle age than I did when a teenager. But the point is real.

Suppose we built homes with high ceilings to handle summer heat. I don't know what it is like where you are, but around here in addition to summer we also get something called winter, and it isn't nice to warm a wad of air and have it waft away above your head. So suppose your rooms had a removable lower ceiling. (Yes, with some ventilation, with one panel carrying the power, etc, etc) In winter you heat the smaller volume and in summer you take advantage of the high ceiling.

Lay out streets so you can build homes that take advantage of prevailing winds. Ours doesn't--the winds tend to blow against the garage rather than the front or back.

Homes aren't designed to be easy to expand (granted there are insulation and roofing issues that make expansion complicated). Not all of us have 2.3 children; how do you take in an ailing parent?

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I've seen a number of images recently of theropods with feathers, often fairly flamboyantly colored.

Somehow or another the creature has to keep feathers clean. Try to imagine a T-Rex preening feathers with that jaw. Even with some extra "beak" there's too much that's unreachable. The forelimbs aren't much use either. What's left?

Rolling in the dust might work if the tail was flexible enough to right himself afterwards, and it would probably have to be (everybody falls down sometime).

The forelimbs might work OK for preening another T-Rex's feathers.

If the T-Rex had significant feather-ation, I suspect he'd have to roll or else groom in groups.

No need to thank me for the mental images...

Yes, I know that T-Rex would be too heavy to roll on feathers, exactly--thrash around would be more like it. And unless you're a pack hunter that herds prey into a trap, flamboyant colors on a predator seem like a recipe for fasting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Homelessness again

When I was in high school we read Bartleby the Scrivener. I was in an international school--mostly Americans, but all of us were children of working and motivated families. The poor I saw in Liberia were either working, looking, or disabled. I don't know what families did behind the scenes with members who didn't want to work. There were undoubtedly some of them--they show up in stories--because of the rule that if someone has a good job he is obligated to provide for as many of his extended family as would fit. (One firm provided very tiny houses for employees to forestall this.) Even little children have tasks.

With that background, I though Bartleby was written as a kind of abstract thought experiment.

I know better now.

The question of the story--What do we owe a man who does not give?--is too general: Why matters. Cannot (physical/mental breakdown) ≠ Will not ("let him not eat") ≠ moral issues with available tasks

I don't have general answers, of course. I haven't seen "studies" on the subject, but I'm more and more convinced that while congregating the homeless is efficient, it is bad for many of them. I probably don't see those it benefits, but the descriptions of the social environments aren't pretty and I suspect congregation with other homeless helps very few. Congregation certainly forces distance between them and the rest of us.

That, if true as I think it is, leads to a conundrum. If we want to help, we must welcome at most N people, and then be unwelcoming to number N+1. To act lovingly (and protect from predation) we have to act unlovingly.

Even saying "N" homeless is oversimple. Different issues need to be dealt with differently: two addicts might be too many, assuming your team can even work with one.

The matter is one of live interest in Madison, where the "Red Mayor"'s attempt to institute sanity in the use of the City-County building was overridden by the city council.

In randomly perusing books and posts on the web about the poor in England, I get the impression that there was supposedly a change in attitudes toward the poor after the Black Death; where before they had a role in the community with religious approval, afterwards they were often blamed for idleness. This is blamed on economic pressures and laws criminalizing conduct. But looking at some of the details, I doubt the direction of causation. Even before the Black Death people distinguished between the able-bodied and needy poor, and afterward they still took care to be generous to the disabled. What looks different is the mention of migratory workers and beggars. If they were then pretty much the same as they are now (modulo different substances to be addicted to) perhaps the laws were a reaction.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Odd question time.

I've heard of people training dogs, cats, mice, some birds, pigs, goats ... quite a list of creatures that are at least clever enough to come when called.

But I've not heard of anybody domesticating bats.

Luckily the weather has not been kind to mosquitoes so far this year, but there've been years when having a pet bat to take out the flies and mosquitoes would have been welcome. (Yes, I know there are all sorts of regulations about wildlife, but last time I checked US law didn't apply to the rest of the world.) Bat boxes outside, yes. Domestic or even semi-domestic, no. I'm not sure what they'd eat during the winter, come to think of it--but down South that wouldn't be a big issue.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Chardin's Omega Point and its poor relation The Singularity both predict a super-human future which naturally evolves. The Omega Point is pull-organized (the Omega Point pulls evolution to itself), and the Singularity evolves in a self-organizing fashion. This strikes me as like a building reaching up to heaven--not a physical thing but an intellectual/mathematical/programmed construct that grows of itself to infinite scope.

But as my office-mate mentioned about the Singularity, Godel plays a role.

A finite self-organizing system isn't going to be complete. Anything physical in our universe is going to be finite in construction and finite in the number of operations it can perform. Any finite mathematical construct which is trying to show new things can't be complete; there will be propositions within the system, really true or really false, which cannot be proven true or false from within the system. You can add more propositions, and create a larger construct, and face the same problem again. And again. But because time is also finite, the number of new propositions it can add is finite. The system will always be finite, and incomplete.

Notice something odd here. The best possible system organized in this universe, whether Omega or Singularity, is incomplete, which means that something exists which does not exist within that system. This means there are different kinds of existence, one of which--existence as an instance--can be found in our Omega/Singularity at the end of the universe (the highest form of whatever-it-is) and another of which need not.

A bottom-up tower isn't going to reach completeness.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Archaeoblog posted some notes about garum that make it start to make a little culinary sense. Fermented fish sounds dreadful at best, but the processing cleaned out the stench, and there was enough umami to make it a versatile seasoning.

I've been learning a little about umami since I decided to start trying to make my own miso soup. The miso base is generally a kelp broth with some dried fish flakes, but I've been experimenting. So far most have been OK, but ... a cook has to eat his mistakes.

Friday, June 12, 2015

White and black news

Before I start commenting on the curious aspects of a "white NAACP chapter president passing as black" I think I'll wait a few days past the juicy headlines to see how much of the story is true. I declined to get outraged by the pool party video of a few days ago, and, as I expected, more of that story is coming out. The "racist" neighbors start to look a lot less racist and a lot more justified. We'll see what a few more days brings to both stories.

The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

I was up too late last night with this page turner about an apprentice and a suave highwayman.
"You see, the hag really can do things, but if you wanted to do them too, you'd have to be the way she is--not just bad part of the time but bad all the time. I've never been able to make the effort myself; I've cut a lot of throats, but every once in a while my sense of fun comes creeping in."

"If she really can"--Mark saw vistas of limitless power--"why doesn't she take charge of everything? If I were her--"

"You'd live in a crystal castle on a golden hill with fifty princesses to wait on you."

"I suppose so."

"But she wouldn't. She'd feed the princesses to the pigs, then paint the pigs with poison. Then she'd smash your castle and sink the hill in a swamp. You see, she has taken over everything she could. You don't see it because what she took over she destroyed. She was mistress of a manor farm once, with hired shepherds and drovers to care for her stock."

Whether that is a fair description of Mother Cloot or not I'll leave to you.

As someone else said of Wolfe's work, everybody has a reason for everything they do in the story.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Big Brother is Proctoring You

Did you see the story that someone--probably the Education Ministry in Luoyang-- fielded a drone to electronically spy on high school students taking the college entrance exam? It was looking for suspicious signals of unspecified type--presumably cell-phone communications.

My first reaction was "Why didn't they just line the hall walls/roof/floor with aluminum mesh and make a Faraday cage?" But on reflection, "It would get stiflingly hot in there!" And there's no doubt that drones are cooler.

I still have no official word on what the bag limit is for drones in Wisconsin. I'll keep asking.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Integration success story

I noticed in the CSM story about the pool (actually found via Yahoo) these lines:
A descent into resegregation, with white families again moving out, is not inevitable. When the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., faced the same migration trends as Ferguson in the 1980s, community organizers worked with real estate agents to welcome minorities while reassuring whites, according to a report by The Atlantic’s CityLab.

“In Oak Park, the community chose to embrace diversity and more importantly to embrace integration and inclusion,” Rob Breymaier of the nonprofit Oak Park Regional Housing Center told CityLab. “As a result, Oak Park has prospered and our diversity is an asset, while Ferguson appears to be struggling.”

When I was in that area (lived in Oak Park for a few months, then Berwyn), the Weekly Reader (I think) had just revealed some of the details. Blockbusting had been a major problem in Chicago, and Oak Park determined that it wasn't going to happen there. So the powers-that-were leaned secretly and heavily on realtors and landlords to force them to rent/sell to blacks--but only in scattered areas. There was under no circumstances to be a concentration of blacks in any part of the city. That latter feature violated the letter and spirit of anti-discrimination laws, but the outcome was pretty much what the powers-that-be wanted: integration w/o panic.

But it wasn't quite as simple as Breymaier implies.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Beware the coming robot revolution

You have been warned


Foreign place names

See Dr. Boli on the subject. "Famous foreign places have English names—Rome (not Roma), Moscow (not Москва), Munich (not München), Athens (not Αθήνα or Ἀθῆναι), and so on. As we become more ignorant of foreign places, we lose those native English names for them one by one, and have to go back to the foreign names when we do want to talk about them."

Dr. Boli is well known for his humor, but he has some good observations too.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Castleview by Gene Wolfe

The cover blurb says this has Arthurian aspects, and so it does; but the story is not exactly parallel. As usual with Wolfe, plenty of twists and puzzles and references keep you reading. I'm reluctant to mention details (=spoilers). You'll miss a lot if you aren't fairly versed in folklore and legends.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne

Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

The book is pretty much what the subtitle says it is. The Comanche’s rise wasn’t recorded, but their interactions with the Spanish were, and the story goes on from there.

Spoiler Alert (given away by his picture on the cover): the Comanches lost and wound up on reservations. It was there that Quanah became officially the chief of the previously independent bands. He was not born yet for the peak of Comanche power, but was a clever and efficient leader during their decline, and afterwards as well.

The Comanches came to power when horses became available. They were like a cavalry Sparta in the plains: war and buffalo and horses were their pillars—they couldn’t exist without them. Their standard practices of war took no account of civilians or surrender—rather like the West’s most heinous practices. But with bow and arrows and amazing horsemanship they could easily outfight the Spanish musketeers, and infantry, and US cavalry. And because they could cover so much distance in a raid (eating their extra horses if they had to), they were impossible to find or stop. At least until Walker and Colt got together. Then the Texans could fire more than 3 shots to a Comanche’s 20-30 arrows.

After the Civil War the Feds eventually got around to recovering the land lost to the Comanches, and taking the war to their homelands. In one battle they were introduced to a gun that fired twice: howitzers firing explosive shells. They were driven back with losses, but promptly returned and attacked dispersed, having quickly learned not to congregate in any formation to give the howitzer any good targets.

Hard riding from childhood apparently increased both sterility and miscarriages, so they often captured young children to become members of the tribe. One was Cynthia Ann Parker: Quanah’s mother. She was rescued later, but was never content and early on often tried to escape back to her tribe and remaining two sons.

I was missing some chunks of Texas and of Plains Indian history; this helped fill the gaps. And though the US government’s duplicity and corruption is quite clear, there aren’t any Noble Savages to be found either. On the contrary: there was, in the end, only one possible way to deal with the war-loving Comanches—fight them until they gave up.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Odds and ends from the trip

I remembered Glacier, but fortunately Skyline Drive is, with a few exceptions, a pleasant drive—until thunderstorms hit. We saw them coming, and anyway only had time for a third of the distance. There are gentle overlooks every mile or less, and the views are great. We took a short hike on the Appalachian Trail, and we’ll only have to go back about 200,000 more times to complete it. Ran into a hiker who’d run out of water, gave him some of ours. My wife notices things like that better than I do.

It seems that the battleship Wisconsin, fitted with Tomahawk missiles, returned with 6 when all the other ships fired all of theirs.

Cruise control isn’t terribly useful in West Virginia.

Whose bright idea was it to brand a truck company “US Cargo?” It sounds so sluggish.

An Antique Mall is a bazaar.

A casino is a vampire that sucks the life away from a downtown. The roads around Wheeling look like a group of squids each arm wrestling all the rest.

We got off 70 at Richmond to try 40 into Indiana to see what it looked like—and hit the Highway 40 Yard Sale. Not heard of it before. We stopped off at one church sale that was fund-raising for Liberia; had a nice talk.

In Virginia the highway was lined on each side and down the median with trees--and along a couple of stretches they had everything down in the median and some giant tree pulpers shredding everything. Maybe they weren't otherwise harvestable.