Thursday, July 31, 2008

161 years

The 26'th of July was Liberia's 161's Independence Day. It hasn't been an easy time: decades of poverty and corruption and stagnation, and in recent decades civil war and poverty and corruption. But they don't seem to lose hope.

After Ethiopia was conquered by Italy Liberia became the oldest independent country in Africa, and it is a matter of pride. This year's National Oration was by Sakui Malakpa (a blind lawyer), who I gather was paid by the word:

Salutation (To be modified based on guests present)
Your Excellency, Madam President;
(Any foreign head(s) of state);
Your Excellency, the Vice President;
Honorable Cabinet Ministers and members of the Executive Branch;
The honorable Speaker of the House, Honorable President Pro Temp of the Senate, and Honorable Members of the National Legislature;
Your Honor the Chief Justice and Honorable Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, and Honorable Members of the Judiciary;

The Doyen and members of the diplomatic core;
Prelates, Imams, and members of the clergy;
Heads of autonomous agencies and academic institutions;
Heads of our political sub-divisions; chiefs, zoes and bardios;
The ever-industrious market women;
Students; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen!

Expression of thanks (which also could be modified for time)
Indeed, it is difficult to overemphasize my heart-felt thanks and profound gratitude for the invitation extended us to give the national oration for Liberia's 161st Independence Day Celebration. Madam President, I thank you for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The people of Wozi, my hometown, thank you. The people of Zorzor District, the people of Lofa County, and yes, the people of Liberia thank you. The union of people with disabilities thanks you.
I am also thankful to many who helped me along the way. Though deceased, I remember my loving "fathers and mothers" especially Malakpa, Godoe, Yasa Kortoe, and Luopu Yorgbor as well as my uncle Chief Mulbah Yawkaw.
I am exceedingly grateful to:
The Rev. Dr. & Mrs. Gerald Currens
The late bishop Payne and the Lutheran Church in Liberia
My brothers and sisters and the great people of Wozi.
I am especially thankful that my mother Kebbeh Yuufulu lived to see this day. Likewise, in this public manner, I must express profound gratitude to the late President Tolbert who, with the help of female police Sergeant Tulu Hilton, picked me up in Bomi Hills and sent me to Freetown on his personal scholarship. I owe a lifetime gratitude to that great Liberian.
(Greetings from wife and children)
Madam President, distinguished guests, given the influence of the great people before me, I know it is customary to start such a presentation with a blessing. With your indulgence, I will do so now. (Blessings in Loma and Kpelleh)
It was a century, six decades and a year ago this month when the architects of our great republic signed the Declaration of Independence drafted by Hilary Teage. Since that momentous occasion, Liberia has effectuated, and has been impacted by, prodigious and multifarious changes. The relics and consequences of these changes are ubiquitous, including those among our sister nations of the international community. These experiences show that, however we perceive or welcome change, it is axiomatic that change is inevitable. It is an ongoing process in our personal lives, our families, and our nation. This immutable process propels us to challenges, and affords us opportunities to be players or spectators. Thus, Madam President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, relative to our nation's interest, I will speak on the topic, "Coping With the Inevitability of Change: Our Challenges, Chances, and Choices."

From there he goes on to give a history review, complain about the character of famous Americans and colonists for whom parts of Liberia are named, and suggest revising the history books and renaming the capitol Monrovia to Dukweleh (or possibly Christopolis). He ends with exhortations to unity, respect, support for Ellen, and the rule of law and with a poem he wrote in '92.

His annoyance with famous figures from the past (Clay, Monroe, etc) is quite understandable, as he would have certainly been the target of their racism had they ever met. Still, they provided the opportunities he celebrates, for whatever motives of their own, and perhaps it is not entirely inappropriate to recognize and even celebrate them. With eyes wide open, of course.

Suing over Global Warming

From AP CBS-13: a water-bottling plant is a threat to the planet.

Attorney General Jerry Brown on Tuesday said he will sue to block a proposed water-bottling operation in Northern California unless its effects on global warming are evaluated.


David Palais, Nestle's Northern California natural resource manager, said the company already was planning studies on air and water quality, hazardous materials, traffic conditions and climate change for a new environmental review of the bottling plant.

I'm agnostic about anthropogenic global warming. I'm not agnostic about the effects of "global warming" legislation: it is an invitation to officials to control whatever they like. Think "wartime austerity and controls," without the excuse of a war. At least you can establish the existence of a war, and even get some clues as to when it is over. But AGW...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I'm not exactly a fan of rap, which seems to bear roughly the same resemblance to music that sawdust does to furniture, but you should take a peek at The Large Hadron Rap. Before you ask: No, I don't know any of the performers. If the business about dimensions seems a little odd, that's because it's a bit hard to explain without some serious hand waving. String theory isn't the only theory that involves extra dimensions, by the way.

Concert in the Park

We went to the last Concert in the Park for Sun Prairie this summer. The air was clean and mildly cloudy, the breeze strong enough to keep mosquitoes at bay, and the band tuned up in a shelter on the hill. Large trees dot the grounds, and to the north there was a riot of different shades and textures of green darkening into the shade.

The band had practiced well, and treated us to Sousa and Rogers and Hammerstein and more recent compositions. The conductor had offered other band members a chance to conduct, and so from time to time she would take a different instrument and someone else would conduct (or try to conduct and hold onto the music in the breeze at the same time). We lounged in camp chairs and talked to a few friends during the intermission.

The last number was "On Wisconsin," for which we were urged to sing and clap; but the skies started clapping too and we packed up quickly. We walked by a clarinetist trying to disassemble her instrument before it got wet.

There was room for many more people, and there weren't as many kids as I expected, but otherwise it was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting: citizens enjoying an amateur music show.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Youngest Daughter brought the opera Carmen home from the library. Her two loves at the moment are horses--she's got a part-time job at a stable--and opera. She has a wealth of opera detail at her fingertips which she uses to try to initiate conversations with a "Did you know that" or "I don't know why they do X instead of Y." She tends to pace wildly when listening to exciting passages, especially daggers-drawn and mad scenes. With Carmen playing she alternates between sitting and reading the notes and imitating an ideal gas molecule rattling around the living room and hall.

So we are once again marinated in Carmen: the sound of the music and the tentative efforts at analysis YD makes--usually starting with overgeneralizations. Maybe I should try.

Every Carmen plays differently: freedom-loving, out-of-control, fey; but over the years my attitude towards her has changed a bit. At the climax she rejects her suitor/stalker Don José and proclaims her freedom, and he stabs her. Tragedy, of course. But, as a judge reportedly said about an assault with a golf-cart kickstand by a jealous husband, this is just one of the more readily foreseeable consequences of her actions.

The more thorough the conquest Carmen makes, the more of her worshiper the man becomes--and the more he will feel that she is betraying him when she leaves. So long as she sticks to dalliances with men who don't care about her she's relatively safe from sharp objects, but trying to make somebody really care invites trouble. If her professed "freedom" isn't being wasted in meaningless time spent with men who don't care, it is breaking men who do. Like a man demanding the freedom to eat gravel, she violates her nature and suffers accordingly.

And so for me Carmen has become less of a dramatic tragic figure and more pitiably foolish.

Not that Don José is a paragon of wisdom...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

James Cone Black Theology and Black Power

I have earlier notes about Cone here and here. I promised to try to finish the book and report back.

Life is short. Some say (unscripturally) that all sins are equal in God's eyes. Be that as it may, not all evils are or can be equal in man's eyes, and I find hatred viler than greed. Perhaps Cone's other works are less marinated in hatred, but the interview I linked to suggests not. It is hard to read a book where every other page seems to affirm something you hold dear, except that the author means something entirely different. It would be less effort to try again to read the Koran, where the author(s) are honest in denying Christianity.

Instead of my own review, read this short essay on "the American Heresy" (afflicting both "liberal" and "conservative" denominations) and notice that Cone also expounds a materialist man-centered faith.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Yorker

I don't subscribe, and when I do have the chance to read it the only things I bother with are the cartoons. So when I saw the famous Obama cover, the first thing that came to mind was "why are they dragging all that stuff up?" I'd bet most of the folks who walk by the magazine rack know less of the rag than I do, and I'd guess most of them thought the magazine was being serious. Until all the news stories about it.

If you're going to be so ironic that people lose track of what's supposed to be satire, you might want to rethink your approach. Maybe they could bring in a 5-year-old to assist the editor?

Of course they might be deliberately courting controversy--last I heard (a few years back) subscriptions were down.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I’m driving a rental Peugeot. They said an automatic transaxle was the same price as a stick shift, so I went with the automatic—negotiating these small roads is bad enough without the hassle of unfamiliar controls.

The car is fairly fancy: the power lock folds the outside mirrors against the car, it has digital radio, etc. Front and rear have different temperature controls for the air system.

But I can’t find a blower, so I have to live with whatever flow rate the system thinks I need—which is quite inadequate for cooling me off when I’m dripping sweat and the car’s been in the sun.

And the transmission is very odd—and unpleasant. It handles first and second gear, albeit in a very rocky way. The last time I drove an American car with such a lousy gear management I traded it in rather than try to fix it.

And third and fourth gears: ah, there’s a curiosity. If you let the engine race long and hard enough it will reluctantly shift into 3’rd, but it really expects you to bump the shift lever forward in the slot to up the gear or back to gear down—manually. It is far easier than manipulating a standard shift, but not quite fully automatic, making it a kind of hybrid, and not a very smooth one. Apparently there are quite a few varieties of hybrid transmissions. I’m not sure why they picked this one.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Satan casts out Satan

The NYTimes reports that researchers have "developed a material that can capture the mercury released from a broken fluorescent tube." In order to capture the mercury, they propose bagging the tubes in cloth impregnated with "nano-particles" of selenium.

I hope there's a slightly safer approach...

Monday, July 07, 2008


Campanile is in the Patriarch of Ferney-Voltaire, and I'm camped here for a few days. As is my habit, I sent out for a walk this evening to see what there is to see, and try to locate the laundromat described by the desk clerk.

Did I mention that this is where Voltaire's house is? (What gave it away?) He bought land here and decided to make the village his project.

There are, of course, many apartment buildings here, but they often abut farmland. So you can find snails on the sidewalk and hear cowbells. At 8:00 not all the restaurants are open, and not many people wander about, though one fellow was walking two dogs--one of them a medium-sized bear. The grocery store doesn't stay open late, nor do the realtors, insurance agents, banks and similar establishments that litter the central area. All of which made it disconcertingly quiet for such a light time of day.

When I reached the Buffalo Grill (decorated with a mural of various American West images) I realized that there was no sidewalk along the main road, and backtracked. The school looked just as dreary from the other direction--warehouse city.

Voltaire is everywhere--a statue here, a bust there, a Rue Voltaire, an Avenue Voltaire, le chateau Voltaire, the Hameau Voltaire, a butcher shop, this shop, that shop--everything except a Voltaire Lingerie, which was probably too horrible a concept even for these Voltaire-mad city fathers. I wonder if he would have been flattered. Probably...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

As seen from above

When we flew out of Amsterdam I had a window seat, and finally got a look at the place. It is pretty flat but otherwise looks a lot like Wisconsin or Iowa, except ... I think those watercourses aren't really streets.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


If a pun is a chestnut, would you say call it "groan old?"

Friday, July 04, 2008


I'm a scientist, but I have some of an engineer's taste for efficiency and dislike of waste. If something is broken and can't be fixed, at least reuse the parts in other things. The little red wagon may have been in sad shape; but varnish a little plywood for a new seat and tighten it up, and it is as good as new. And the leftover plywood patches a hole in the basement ceiling, with some left over to make a base to repair a hole in the wallboard.

The first time I remember thinking about that I was at Ricks helping get the supper table set. I'd unwrapped a stick of margarine and put it on the dish and was about to toss the wax paper when my father stopped me, took a knife and scraped a few ridges of margarine off the paper. At first I was a bit annoyed at being corrected, but a little light bulb went on when I realized how much I'd been about to throw out--enough to butter at least one slice of bread. In the grand scheme of things perhaps a tiny amount, but why throw it away when it is so easy to save?

And ever since I've tried to find the most efficient ways to use material, and even use time--consistent with the limitations of the tools at hand. If I have to concentrate on one thing at a time, so be it; but if I can do several things at once so much the better.

Sometimes that approach bites back, as a "filler" task turns out to demand more attention than I expected. OK, maybe it happens rather often.


Granted the story about bird evolution investigated by genetic analysis is very ill-reported. Compare these two statements: Point 2 "Perching birds ... are closely related to parrots and falcons." Point 8 "Owls, parrots and doves have few, if any, living intermediate forms linking them to other well-defined groups of birds".

The sweeping conclusions they draw about relationships leave me dubious. The shape of a creature will relate to its occupation, so scions of different families occupying the same niche are going to look similar. So classification by morphology is open to some hazards. Still, such sweeping reorganizations make me hunger for some predictive power to the techniques. Is there anything we can say about members of the same family--that transplants are more reliable, or that specific body structures will be more similar to each other than to non-family species?

Without that, I'm not sure how much more accurate genetic taxonomy is going to be than morphological taxonomy. The theory sounds good, but where can we find some cross-checking?

Obscure. OK: morphological taxonomy is figuring out what species are related to each other by looking at details of the organs and seeing which have parts more like others.
Pointing North

I hadn't realized that the Earth's field wasn't everywhere even approximately northward, but following up on this article about changing fields pointed to this one mentioning patches of reversed field more than a hundred years old.

I suppose Boy Scout difficulties in orienteering are minor compared to the satellite failures we'd get when the Earth's field drops too far and the solar wind starts toasting them. I wonder how long this reversal is going to take. It could get interesting--might even be some subtle weather changes if more cosmics reach far enough to provide ionization trails for condensation--more clouds or wispier and higher clouds?

Supernova remnants

The Astronomy Picture Of the Day for 4-July is a multi-spectrum picture of the supernova remnant from the year 1006 supernova. The shell is about 60 light years across.

And that's interesting, because the shell looks moderately uniform. I'd expect it to have enveloped several neighboring stars, each with its own stellar wind. The blast of wind from each star should make dimples in the shell. If we could compare the positions of the neighboring stars with distortions in the shell, we might be able to cross-check estimates of the relative power densities of the supernova blast and the stellar winds.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cultural attractions

The Jefferson County Fair ad came today. I had no great interest in going, but I opened it at random.

The 5th Annual Cricket Spitting contest will be held at the 2008 Jefferson County Fair on Friday, July 11th at 1:00 pm during Kids' Day.


Participants must spit the cricket while standing within a 3-foot diameter circle within 10 seconds of when they put the cricket in their mouth. Participants can use any technique they choose as long as the cricket remains completely intact.

I never heard of such things when I was growing up, but that turns out to be no surprise. The official world champion is from Madison. Ought I be proud?