Saturday, September 19, 2020

Media in the day

Mark Twain wrote of Journalism in Tennessee. "Do you suppose my subscribers are going to stand such gruel as that? ... Mush-and-milk journalism gives me the fan-tods."

The modern editorial (and reporting, but I repeat myself) tone is slightly more "elevated," though the intent is the same. And the modern editor/reporter never deals with consequences.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

If it walks like a duck

We love to abstract--I'm no exception. I'm good at it, which enhances the temptation.

Unfortunately we also love to abstract according to things that interest us, and not always according the the nature, or even all the details, of the thing.

Yes, that. Does it have all the functions that interest us?

Treating things operationally is powerful. And the Scholastics wasted an amazing deal of time and thought on details about intrinsic nature that don't always seem to have clear meaning, let alone objective reality.

But just because Forms aren't fashionable, and that people can ask stupid questions about them, doesn't mean they aren't real, or aren't useful ways of thinking about reality.

The huge temptation of the operational approach is to ignore anything inconvenient. If you put lipstick on the pig, it becomes pretty--if you abstract away inconvenient details. A woman is a man after various surgeries and drugs--if you abstract away inconvenient details and just look at the cartoon; the same way a sex doll is a woman.

Are we just a computation engine with some built-in mechanisms and some sensing gear? We don't live as though we are--probably we can't. I'd have thought that would be a useful datum for the likes of Hume, but he didn't take the hint.


This year's winners were announced.. The Improbable Research site doesn't have them up, so check out ars technica. Some of the winners:

Citation: "The governments of India and Pakistan, for having their diplomats surreptitiously ring each other's doorbells in the middle of the night, and then run away before anyone had a chance to answer the door."


Citation: "Ivan Maksymov and Andriy Pototsky, for determining, experimentally, what happens to the shape of a living earthworm when one vibrates the earthworm at high frequency."


Citation: "Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule, for devising a method to identify narcissists by examining their eyebrows."


A BBC story suggests that some vaccines, by exercising the immune system, help boost immune response to unrelated infectious agents as well. I vaguely remember hearing something about this before.

Male/female response is different (which, when you think about it, is no surprise), and apparently the order vaccines are given may matter.

Something to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


The sidebar at Stackoverflow can be distracting.

How long is it between the meteor flash and the meteorite hitting the ground (if it does)?

The answer: 10's of seconds to minutes! They slow down a lot--well, the small ones do. Dino killers would take about a second.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Different customs

I'm reading Captain Canot; 20 Years of an African Slaver. (He reformed.)

At one point he takes up residence in Vai (he says Vey) territory. He describes the Gree-gree bush, which is their equivalent to the Sande Society found elsewhere in the area. If his description is correct, there are substantial differences: the maternity ward, the initiation fee, and the "kept 'till marriage" are details I never heard of elsewhere. Where I was the girls came home first (painted white) and then were eligible to marry.

As the procession of novices who are about to enter the grove approaches the sanctuary, music and dancing are heard and seen on every side. As soon as the maidens are received, they are taken by the gree-gree women to a neighboring stream, where they are washed, and undergo an operation which is regarded as a sort of circumcision. Anointed from head to foot with palm oil, they are next reconducted to their home in the gree-gree bush.

Here, under strict watch, they are maintained by their relatives or those who are in treaty for them as wives, until they reach the age of puberty. At this epoch the important fact is announced by the gree-gree woman to the purchaser or future husband, who, it is expected, will soon prepare to take her from the retreat. Whenever his new house is ready for the bride's reception, it is proclaimed by the ringing of bells and vociferous cries during night. Next day search is made by females through the woods, to ascertain whether intruders are lurking about, but when the path is ascertained to be clear, the girl is forthwith borne to a rivulet, where she is washed, anointed, and clad in her best attire. From thence she is borne, amid singing, drumming, shouting, and firing, in the arms of her female attendants, till her unsoiled feet are deposited on the husband's floor.

I believe this institution exists throughout a large portion of Africa, and such is the desire to place females within the bush, that poor parents who cannot pay the initiatory fee, raise subscriptions among their friends to obtain the requisite slave whose gift entitles their child to admission.

Sometimes, it is said, that this human ticket is stolen to effect the desired purpose, and that no native power can recover the lost slave when once within the sacred precincts.

The gree-gree-bush is not only a resort of the virgin, but of the wife, in those seasons when approaching maternity indicates need of repose and care. In a few hours, the robust mother issues with her new-born child, and after a plunge into the nearest brook, returns to the domestic drudgery which I have already described.

Vote shenanigans

Trucking voters in Liberia: "Photojournalist Sando Moore was sitting at home Friday when he got word that loads of buses had begun trucking residents from Monrovia to Bomi County."
John Forkpah, 28, who is a native of Jorquelleh District in Bong County and had spent three years in Monrovia since his graduation from the William V. S. Tubman Gray High School in Gbarnga, was on board the NTA bus on Friday. He said Moye had invited them in Gbarnga to register to vote for him in December. “We are supporters of the Representative Moye and we decided to come Gbarnga to vote for him. He sponsored our trip to Gbarnga,” he said.


Peabody said they were promised US$ 50,00 by the Deputy Speaker to come Gbarnga to register to vote for him. “Rep. Moye promised to give us to US$ 50,00 if we come to register to vote for him in Gbarnga,” he said.

"Before we arrived in Gbarnga Senator Yallah had already booked a guest house for us to pass the night. He gave us US$ 30.00 after we showed our voters card to him, he (Elizabeth Collins !) said."

Clearly being a senator is lucrative there too. $30 x N voters seems like a largish investment for the area. You'll notice that some of the people are originally from Bong and some aren't.

Their vote harvesting seems to involve more transportation than ours does.

I'm regularly instructed that there is no vote fraud in the US, or not at a significant level--almost nobody is ever convicted. I gather there is no adultery in Wisconsin. It is a felony but I never hear of anybody being convicted.

Update: I forgot this quote. "We are marching to Zion, the beautiful, beautiful Zion, we are marching all the way to Zionnnn….the beautiful city of gold”, they sang while clustered at the back of a pick-up.". I don't know if the "gold" was because the reporter didn't hear it right or the singers had something else on their minds.

Non-verbal accents

BBC has an interesting story on culture-specific body language.
They found that the Americans they tested were also strangely good at spotting who was Japanese and who was Japanese-American, even though they were all ethnically the same. The subjects wore the same clothes, and were lit in the same way. When the two groups held neutral expressions, people could barely differentiate between them. But when they showed their feelings, especially sadness, something from Japan or America seemed to emerge.

I wonder what they'll find when they look at actors. Are actors better at mimicking these mannerisms? How well do they mimic different cultures after a little watching/listening?

Sunday, September 13, 2020


There's a rumor that Antifa has extended their burning program to the forests, and that many fires have started by the roads, and that witnesses have seen arsonists. It's vehemently denied, of course.

It wouldn't surprise me that such an organization would consider expanding their scope. We may find out in due course. I doubt the official denials--they came too quickly.

Sometimes I try to imagine myself as the criminal. If I were one of those who like to set forest fires, I think I'd want to join in. The other fires are a proof-of-principle that conditions are ripe, and there's plenty of confusion, perhaps making it more likely that I could get away with setting one or two of my own.

I've no specialized knowledge about this kind of crime, but I'd predict that where you have a few wildfires, firebugs will set more. Antifa wouldn't be needed to explain the outbreak.

OK, now I have to figure out where to get the information to prove or disprove my conjecture about firebugs...


The names are different.
The enlisted personnel endured lengthy and stupefying lectures on the Party, its goals, accomplishments, and plans for the future.

At our current collaboration meeting, attendance at the Social Justice Workshop is -- so far -- not mandatory.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Ship pets

My wife was listening to one of Drachinifel's "dry dock" (Q&A) episodes, when the subject of ship's pets came up. Apparently in the early 70's the Royal Navy decided that (presumably for reasons of hygiene), no ship's pets were permitted. That did not prevent sailors from trying.

How about an elephant?

HMS COURAGEOUS 1974-1979 adopted an African Elephant that someone found tethered to a bollard next to the taxi rank on Helensburghs mainstreet. They called him *Mongo* and he lived in an old Chacon that they put in their Lay-apart store just up from 6-Berth.

I can imagine sailors yarning a hoax like this--they're famous for them. I can also easily imagine them trying to do it just to prove they could. And if anyplace would be challenging to fit an elephant it would be on a nuclear submarine.

Unfortunately for the story, I can't see any easy openings in the deck big enough to sling one below, and I can't imagine a captain agreeing to keep such an attention-getting passenger on top. Maybe on a cruiser... But then it wouldn't just be the elephant acquisition method that was untrue, but the ship's name as well. Pity. It would be such a wonderful way to tell the brass where to put their rules about pets.

By the way, the text in the link about the elephant was lifted from a thread on "Rum Ration" about Ships Pets and Mascots. Somewhat more plausible mascots, including "unsinkable Sam," are shown here.

One drop rule

Grad student apologized and resigned as TA "after falsely claiming to be a person of color."
“I have let guesses about my ancestry become answers I wanted but couldn’t prove,” Vitolo-Haddad wrote in an apology posted Sunday on the blogging platform Medium. “I have let people make assumptions when I should have corrected them.”

In a second apology posted Tuesday, Vitolo-Haddad wrote that when asked if they identify as Black on three separate occasions, they did not say no.

She says she really identifies as Southern Italian/Sicilian. But "I repeated things I heard growing up from my family that I now know to be lies. I am so sorry. I take full responsibility for spreading these lies and am deeply sorry."

Clearly being black in the USA is such a burden that people have been falling over themselves to be labeled black so that they can accrue the social or job opportunities that g o with that. (Jessica Krug...Rachel Dolezal...a whole town

The Teaching Assistant's Association has announce that it will "allow people to provide more feedback about candidates, both in public forums and through anonymous mechanisms." So if someone claims to be black or hispanic (or white), some anonymous poison-pen letter can derail their position (she was co-president). This sounds familiar--a rumor that X had a black ancestor, however remote, might ruin a white man's chances a century ago.

You might argue that turn-about's fair play, or that the idea was stupid then and it is stupid now.

But about those "benefits" from being considered black (or hispanic, or whatever): I notice that the three people who got caught are all women. Granted, the statistics are low, so add in the Guardian story about the town in Ohio, and notice that the only men cited currently "identify as white."

Maybe there are social benefits to being a young black woman that aren't available to a young black man. Or maybe women are more willing to reshape their identities. (Fair or not, women have had to adjust more than men--moving to her husband's tribe; winding up war captive; whatever.) Or perhaps those benefits are only present in certain environments (she is in "Journalism and Mass Communication"). Or maybe it's just poor statistics.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Who and which

At the table tonight the question came up: "If you could have any composer living or dead create an opera with a modern character or story, who would it be and which?" My wife came up with the best of the evening: Verdi and Douglas MacArthur. Shakespeare would have fun with him too.

Thursday, September 10, 2020


The trees are all new, and there were not nearly so many then. Any surviving old ones were cut down during the time this was a UN refugee camp. The roads have been regraded, and sometimes moved or abandoned. The bright red asbestos roof in the center looks as bright as it did when new--up close it is darkened by years of wear and grime and agressive mold. (Unless somebody replaced it.) The area above the classroom/administration/library/church building on the right used to be the parade drill ground where the boys of "military age" had to drill each week. My mother was the school nurse, and would always get plenty of "sick" boys that morning. "Our" house, which was also the mission office, is at the middle left.

The little white splotch in the middle was a pile of large, and at the time sharp-edged, quartz boulders dumped there after some pre-us foundation work. Children find strange things to play on, and to try and recite chunks of Julius Caesar from. The boulders subsided and softened their edges.

The image looks like it is more recent than the last time I was there: I guess there've been even more changes since we traveled to Liberia to bury my father at the seminary. Scrolling aound, it looks like somebody finally broke up the old foundation slab I used to wonder about back in '64, and I can't see where the "new" water tower is anymore, but the dormitories still seem to be there, and the dining hall and the clinic. And the old basketball court, which looks like still nobody is taking care of it. Soccer.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes they don't tell the story. Even the old ones don't.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Blaming it on the sun

Yes, I saw the article that claimed they found a correlation between strong solar winds and earthquakes.

I'm still mulling it over. I have to try to work through their statistical model myself. My immediate reaction is that something's wrong.

Executive summary: really strong solar storms seem to be associated with higher numbers of earthquakes about a day after the peak passes.

The notion that solar weather might effect the Earth's crust seems far-fetched, but it has been around for a while. It hasn't gathered much favor, because the analyses tended to show no correlation. Early ones did, which is why people thought of it. But it isn't entirely crazy: faults aren't obviously the same as nearby rock, and an electric current induced in the fault could result in forces perpendicular to the fault--closing it tighter or opening it up, depending on the direction. One possibility is "inverse pizoelectric" forces, especially if there's a lot of quartz involved: an electric field makes the quartz crystal flex. And we've seen earthquake lights, so something electrical can happen.

But why would this happen after the peak instead of during the rise? (Rising and falling times are when you get induced currents elsewhere--steady state solar wind wouldn't.) The total current being deflected around the earth in a solar storm is pretty gigantic, but it's mostly pretty far off. But on the "stick beat dog" principle, if changes in the current in the magnetosphere caused turmoil in the plasmasphere, that might induce some electric fields in the crust. I'm not sure about the time scale, but days seems maybe a bit long. But figuring out what the conductivity of fault rock is turns out to be quite a rabbit hole--the rock type, how much water is in the area, etc etc. I gather people haven't drilled down into too many deep earthquake faults to get samples.

I still don't get why the decreasing wind would correlate better than the increasing. In fact, I'd guess there'd be more of quick fast shock and a longer slow speed tail. (It wouldn't be the first time my intuition was wrong, though.)

I think they made a mistake somewhere.

But if it were a real effect, maybe you could look at faults that trend more or less in the direction of the expected delta-B: which for places like Alaska would be north-south vs those that break more or less east-west or up-down.


Via Lead and Gold, Tom Wolfe:
From the outset the eminence of this new creature, the intellectual, who was to play such a tremendous role in the history of the twentieth century, was inseperable from his necessary indignation. It was his indignation that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority. Once up there, he was in a position to look down on the rest of humanity. And it did not cost him any effort, intellectual or otherwise. As Marshall McLuhan would put it years later: 'Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.'

Campus Covid

A number of universities re-opened to inperson courses and promptly re-closed. The cynical sorts opine that UW will try to stretch in person past the two-week full refund deadline, but I suspect the UW wouldn't be allowed to take advantage of that. It's a state school, and at odds with the legistlature from time to time.

Lab courses demand in-person presence. Science and engineering labs are, except for the intro courses, populated by students intending to take a rigorous course of study--presumably taking their studies seriously. Could this population be enriched in students who take social distancing rules seriously?

Did any of the universities try to break down the covid case spikes by major? I know HIPPA rules might make that complicated, but it would be interesting. Can you open the university for grad students and STEM majors safely?

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Public prescription

We went to try to tag monarchs at Festge Park. We ate our lunch in the picnic shelter. The other side of the shelter was occupied by a loquatious man explaining to a woman how people failed to respect him and talked in "passive-aggressive" and other bad ways, even when he tried to correct them. I don't know if "psycho-babble" is the right term to describe it: "socio-babble" might be better. When he let her have a word in edgewise, the woman suggested alternative interpretations. I figured she was his therapist, meeting outdoors instead of in an office. He was, of course, using his "outdoor voice."

Not my circus, not my monkeys--it would have been presumptuous to offer my advice. I guess he'd been getting in touch with his sensitive side, when what he needed to do was get in touch with his inner John Wayne and shut up and not care what people said.

Maybe that advice would exacerbate other problems--another good reason for me to be silent. But for someone so concerned about other people's rudeness and unwillingness to listen, he was magnificently un-selfconscious.

I wonder if the Babylonians might have had a useful way to help him:

They have no physicians (in Babylon), but when a man is ill, they lay him in the public square, and the passers-by come up to him, and if they have ever had his disease themselves or have known any one who has suffered from it, they give him advice, recommending him to do whatever they found good in their own case, or in the case known to them; and no one is allowed to pass the sick man in silence without asking him what his ailment is.

The internet serves part of that purpose now, but the one on one interactions might be useful for people with lesser issues. I know, some people have broken minds, or addictions they can't deal with. AVI has to deal with some of them. But some conditions need the aid more of a "life coach" than of a doctor. And yes, the Babylonians had plenty of doctors too.

People ahead of property

A thief appreciates property--he just wants it to be his. A vandal--not a petty vandal, but a destroyer--seems to hate the thing and what it represents. In his envy he doesn't want a garden for himself, but to destroy anybody else's garden. And time and effort and love.

The recent riots frequently associated with the protests are larded with both kinds: thieves famished for $300 sneakers and arsonists burning what they can.

In Liberia, except for the Kru who keep dogs as pets, dogs (Basenji) are tools: "Kiki (dog) will fill the pot." Either the dog will help you catch something to eat, or you will eat the dog. And yet I heard a proverb that whoever would kill a dog would kill a man. Possibly this was a Kru proverb, but I wasn't in a Kru area. And they weren't talking about the owner killing his useless dog, but someone else. The dog is "just" property--but the dog-killer is more than merely a property-destroyer. And, don't forget, mere "property" can be the difference between the owner eating and starving.

Sure, people are more important the property, but they are linked. The destroyer may just be destroying property right now, but his hatred threatens people, not just things.

German noodles

At our home, birthdays are spaetzle occasions.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

"2000 years back in time"

Like everybody else, I read about the U.C. Santa Barbara Religious Studies TA who tweeted that his priority, given a time machine, would be to kill Jesus.

The story is too good to be true, right? It sounded like a joke in bad taste that hit the media at the right time to go wild. So I tried to dig around a bit to find out exactly what he was trying to say. That's what a good blogger does, right? And it would be cool to have a scoop.

He deleted his Twit account, so I don't have any history to look at there. But he has some things out on the web already--his home page, for example. He cites a passage from Fran├žois Laruelle to describe himself, which includes this gem: "If philosophy has only been and only ever will be an opinion and a poorly thought out passion, then the question is of passing from its state of war and of competition, a state of exploitation of thought and as such of man, to its civil state, which we want to call human and democratic." Maybe the context would help dress that word salad, but hoi polloi don't deserve any context.

His areas are "Philosophy of Religion, Political Theology, Psychoanalysis", or alternatively "continental philosophy of religion, political theology, psychoanalysis, and black studies" "His dissertation undertakes a philosophical investigation of pessimism and the ethical and political significance of bad moods in the context of the contemporary climate disaster. He also thinks and writes about police."

If you attempted to read that last link, you'll have noticed that his stock in trade is redefining words.

Other little gems: “I suggest that the emergence of this figure of the malicious God is one of the many conceptual felicities of Kotsko’s general theory of political theology”, and, from Professor Watchlist, this: “Our imperative is to join the struggle for subjectivity, to struggle to speak truthfully about ourselves, to discover that relation to the outside which allows us, in accordance with Nietzsche’s injunction, to become what we are—to become, in a word, anti-Christian.”

The reporters were right. He was perfectly serious. God help him.

"Political Theology" is exactly the phrase for this sort of thing. "God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived." For some of us, that is the state, and political theory is its theology. E.g. "The greatest thing I run across regularly is humans (who have the transcendental capacity to decide), and the only thing greater than that is a whole lot of humans deciding things."

Friday, September 04, 2020

Old habits

When I was a little lad, my father taught me how to comb my hair, and after all these years I unthinkingly put the part in the same place--even though if I moved it a half an inch I'd get no silly comb-overs.

On the other hand, I didn't understand why Mom folded towels in thirds instead of halves, until my wife's father showed why that was useful--and I switched and have been doing that ever since. I guess I comb more often than I fold.

Dad also taught me that shirts should be tucked in neatly, and I still do that without thinking. All the "cool kids" let the shirt hang out over the trousers these uncertain days, and I'm trying to remember to do the same--so far not very successfully. Why give away security information?

I never did get the hang of Mom's hospital corners, though.

Presumed false

For the next two months I will be assuming that all disreputable stories about Trump or Biden are lies concocted by their opponents.