Monday, January 31, 2011

Spartan Landscaping?

On the drive home this evening my better half noticed a truck labeled "Spartan Landscaping." We speculated what that spartan landscaping might be:

  • Bare dirt?
  • Zen garden?
  • Fenced with spears?
  • Minimal trimming?
  • Maintained by helots?

The firm's owner might have picked a more auspicious name; this one makes me suspicious.

Not severable

The second judge was correct. The first judge ruled that making buying health insurance mandatory was unconstitutional (which it obviously was), but struck down only that provision, despite the lack of severability in the law. The second judge struck down the whole thing.

While I am strongly tempted to claim that nobody in the House and Senate read enough of it to notice the lack of the usual clause (and I still don't believe any human could master the complexities of the law plus regulations)--this time I think they left it out deliberately. The bill--any health care bill--has to balance changes, and if one leg got knocked out the result would be predictably unbalanced and disastrous. Best to can the whole thing if something goes wrong.

So kudos to Judge Vinson for doing the right thing, and a salute to Congress for leaving that potentially disastrous severability provision out.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Nobody is asking my advice there, but if some of the police really joined the protesters as reported a few days ago, Mubarak should have read the handwriting on the wall and decamped. Of course he may not be very familiar with the Old Testament... He's long overdue to leave.

I hope the Egyptians can do better than a marriage between the Muslim Brotherhood (fountainhead of several flavors of Sunni extremists) and Mohammed ElBaradei (client of Shiite Iran). Even the army would probably be better than that.

I wonder what the MB would look like in power. Perhaps the day-to-day management duties would temper the rhetoric. I'm not sure how amenable Egyptians (the descendants of the founders of the world's oldest recorded civilization) would be to Bamyan Buddah activity, or even to making life hard for the infidel tourists that bring so much money to the country. I'm pretty sure the MB would declare the treaty with Israel to be a dead letter, but whether that would be rhetoric only or the start of trouble again I don't know. If they don't feel strong enough to harass Israel they'll take it out on more local targets.

Short term I'd say "trouble." Especially for Copts.

Friday, January 28, 2011


There are several ways to think about hell, and I've been puzzling through one approach. I'm not able to wrap my mind around the nature of God's knowledge--never will be--and that's pivotal to this approach. I'm not saying the juridical model of judgment is wrong--it may prove to be the best description our minds can handle. But there are a few details that have me looking at another view.

Works like this: Creation and maintenance are the same operation viewed different ways. I assume we have free will in some things, which means our decisions play a role in that maintenance--we are "co-creators." Some of our decisions have been evil--contrary to our nature and to the nature of God, whom we have thereby tried to involve in our crimes. The customary view is that these are redeemed in Christ for those willing to accept it. No problem there, but I wonder what happens with the evil that refuses to be reconciled. Is it endured, or is the new heaven and earth (and the destruction of death and hell) a remaking of the world with the old evil judged and in some sense stripped out? You see where understanding God's knowledge comes in here--understanding in what sense He can eternally know about and endure evil.

The view of judgment that God endures the wicked until the day of judgment at which time He will endure them no more is a view that is easy to understand, and useful enough for encouragement and warning; but it leaves the world as we have made it as something that He timelessly endures eternally. (Time-based language is hard to work with.) An eternal hell containing rebels is also maintained by God, and also in some sense endured by Him.

Our evil is such an integral part of history that the only way to get it out demands a complete remake of the world. If our lives are one of the things we "co-create" what then becomes of the actions and decisions that have made up our lives; our selves? There've been a few people, if you contemplated getting rid of what was evil and what was ignoble, would leave you wondering what was left. (When I think how many OK things I've done with mixed motives, I wonder what that rule would do with me.) In such a case hell is the judgment and destruction, and then the evil is not and never was. And then the evil one is not and never was?

I don't know. Maybe I should spend a little time with Psalm 131.


Youngest Daughter asked me why I kept referring to "aldercritters." I told her it was historical: I lived through the days when we were introduced to the concept that words like "policeman" and "alderman" were sexist. Faced with that sort of lexical intrusion you can comply, keep to the traditional usage, or make fun. Anybody who knows me knows I'd pick door number 3. So, what to do with "alderman?" "Alder" sounds excessively botanical, and "alderthing" makes them sound like things instead of living creatures. "Aldercritter" makes it clear that we're talking about living breathing animals here, is gender-neutral, reasonably gentle, and carries the connotation of small rodents scampering around gnawing on the wiring.(*) Just what the doctor ordered.

To be fair, they do often deal with extremely hard and boring work. I suppose the occasional resolution to ban the use of nuclear weapons within the city limits or some such is a way of relaxing. At least I hope that's what those things are. Please? If not I'll have to come up with another word...

(*)Or eating through the veggie garden

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Quantitative Easing(*) came up at the table, and the rest hadn't heard the explanation, so ...

Actually, I am starting to suspect that inflation is intentional--coining "solves" a lot of problems for the Fed and CA and IL.

(*) Not by that name

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kitten on the Keys

I heard the song on the radio, and decided to see what it would really sound like. Actually, we tried with several different cats over the years. The answer is: it is a very short composition. You get one chord, and then the cat jumps off.

I guess cats only want to make noise when they want to make noise.

Math Urban Legends

On the lighter side, via Not Even Wrong, look at some math oopsies.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Disrespecting Music

I read years ago (and cannot find the bookmark, will add later if I find it) how music was being "flattened," with the dynamic range taken out. Soft passages were made louder, really loud passages a little softer, so that the whole was of a very similar loudness.

I think I realized why this evening when driving. (Quiet driving is a really good time to think.)

We use music differently than a century ago. We don't go to a quiet hall to hear a concert, or a quiet room to hear a recording. We carry music with us, in the car or bus or down the street. That means ambient noise, and quite a lot of it. Quiet passages are lost in the road noise (as I found when we tried to listen to Beethoven when driving to Louisville) unless you turn the volume way up--which makes the forte parts problematic. So you do some flattening yourself with the volume knob. Sound engineers can do it better--they know what you need for your aural shield, and how to fiddle with the sound to make a passage sound sort of pianissimo when it is really loud enough to be heard over a garbage truck.

I wrote this in a waiting room, with soft voices behind the glass shields, a faint hiss of air handlers, and a not-so-dull roar from the highway nearby. The music playing was soft and slow--and I could hear the muted trumpet, but not the piano line or the rest of the horns. To flatten the piece would spoil the effect--so I lose either way, unless I can find it again and listen in quiet; giving the music the respect it deserves.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ivory Coast

I haven't been hearing much about diplomacy and negotiations for the past few days. I think that's a good sign. The serious stuff is usually quiet. If the idiots at Wikileaks don't spill the beans, there's a chance that maybe Gbagbo will take a flight to one of his villas and let the country settle down.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Not this again

More Obama birth certificate noise? Crud.

Anybody remember what happened to the movie Bedtime for Bonzo when Reagan was president? You couldn't find it. After he left office, it surfaced again. The movie didn't make him ineligible for office, but scenes of him working with a chimp might have been a little undignified. Ditto the "missing" long form birth certificate; probably some dumb typo or says his race is "white" or such triviality.

I wonder if this nonsense will end when his term's up, or if it will linger on like a dead mouse in the wall or Kennedy conspiracy theories.

Baby Doc

Color me puzzled. (Not for the first time...)

Why would Baby Doc return to Haiti? I can only think of three reasons: he thought he had a base of support that would let him take a role again, even if only a token role as "big man bringing some aid"; he is dying and wanted to die there; or he was delusional about what the reaction would be. It didn't sound like the French were pushing him to leave, and I gather he still had a few francs in his pocket (Wikipedia says he had fallen on hard times, but I'd bet he's still richer than me.)

I wonder if he had voodoo advice before coming.

UPDATE: It was suggested that he might have hoped for enough disarray to be able to come in and leave unmolested after a few days. It seems the Swiss have a new law to prevent the release of disputed maybe-national funds to fugitive leaders. If Baby could persuade the Swiss that Haitian inaction meant they weren't serious about arresting him, then he wouldn't be a fugitive and he could lay hands on the money. Not a risk I'd care to take...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Word Processors with Attitude

My better half is struggling with automatic numbering in Word. She finally figured a way to turn off the unwanted tabbing/numbering: use a colon after the number.

The software obviously knows whats best for you and insists that you get it good and hard. She says it is a Madison liberal program.

I know there's a way to turn off that nonsense, and probably a way to make Word do something sensible, but it takes time to go look it up, time that we'd both rather use doing the real work we're sitting here to complete.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sight of the evening

Middle Daughter brought by two youngsters she was babysitting, and we provided toys and dinner. The three-year-old was rocking in the rocking chair, and a sweater draped over the back would swing forward and tap his back on each forward swing. Each time it did he'd say "Stop that!"

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Arizona vs Pakistan

Both places had murders of high officials in the past week. In Pakistan a bodyguard assigned to the Punjab governor by a political rival murdered him (while the rest of the bodyguard stood by and watched) and boasted of it, claiming divine sanction; and is widely cheered. In Arizona a leftish (but too weird for any party) nutcase with a violent past shot a Representative and killed a judge and a child and several elderly bystanders and others. Everybody condemns him, though I notice the usual suspects are trying to make political hay of it.

I'd rather live in Arizona. There will always be crazies, in all parts of the world; and they often hunger for notoriety instead of respect. But when murders are driven by political gangsters, the whole civil society is shot. And when the murder is done because the politician wasn't fascist enough; and people throw rose petals at the killer--stay far away; there's a generation of horror growing there.

Update: Rather than just accept my take on motives or follow partisan theorizing, check out some data on political violence. There are only 8 cases mentioned, but that beats 0 by a wide margin.

Tyranny of Good Intentions

The New York Times reports about the unintended consequences of declaring a site to be a "World Heritage Site."

In order for everybody else to enjoy the cultural history of Djenne, the inhabitants are asked to live with the same mud floors and tiny rooms their ancestors had. They get to be the inmates of the zoo. Quelle surprise--they're not thrilled with this sort of "some animals are more equal than others" attitude.

Old World Wisconsin is staffed with volunteers who get to go home to clean beds at the end of the day. If you're going to make a place a "World Heritage Site" to be preserved for all time, maybe you'd better admit that it is going to be a museum. Nobody lives in a museum: face the problems of what the current inhabitants want to do, and how you're going to fund and staff the place. Don't just demand that the people unlucky enough to have a great heritage become serfs to the tourist business.

The story says that St. Louis in Senegal has a similar problem. I wonder which section that was.

The Big Game

When I see Packer fans geared up (or hair-dyed!) for the game, or Brewers fans collecting their paraphernalia for the outing, or the cheering in the streets in videos after the game in New Orleans; I'm glad the USA has so many different types of ball game. Can you imagine the frenzy if all the enthusiasm now spread out among baseball and basketball and hockey and football were concentrated into soccer matches? We'd put British soccer fans to shame. And the stadiums would have to be perhaps four times bigger. Already they seat more people than live in my city.

The owners of the huge facilities wouldn't want them to stand idle the rest of the week--I wonder what they'd think of to entice people there with? Partitioning the place for music venues?

Saturday, January 08, 2011


I thought an ad man's job was to understand the cultures, figure out what people valued, and try to make images that linked his client's products to things people valued; in the hope that they'd be moved to buy the stuff. OK. Somebody at Frito-Lay's ad group seems to have little more cultural insight than a baboon. Christians value communion, so the ad group decided to make a commercial replacing the Catholic wafers with Doritos.

You'd think somebody in the group would have run the idea past a few Catholics, or Lutherans, or Baptists. It is a bit worrisome to think that maybe they didn't know any. It'd be even more worrisome if they did, and had.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Ammonite teeth

This story from the BBC is cool: Xray studies of ammonite fossils reconstruct their teeth--and the last meal for one critter. The team says ammonites could not tear off large chunks of meat, but with so many 2-3mm teeth (and presumably tentacles to hang on with) I imagine they could gnaw into something shell-less fairly effectively. I'd not stick my finger in its mouth...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

"Where your treasure is"

"there your heart will be also." It seems blindingly obvious now that he pointed it out.

We have other treasure than cash, most notably time. Some of us not overburdened with cash, or who are careful with money, spend time in (cheap) ways that exactly parallel how others spend money. Because I don't own a big screen TV and don't spend every weekend watching the big games, or because I don't drop benjamins at the theater or movies every other night doesn't mean that entertainment isn't a big part of my life. I read a lot, and a substantial portion of it can only be classed as entertainment. In other words, "me, me, me."

Some time I spend on necessities (like sleep and home maintenance), and some on work to earn the daily bread. About half a year ago I noticed that spending time on seemingly simple things like reading the comics or news blog sites engendered a sense of entitlement; so much that I'd get annoyed if interrupted. I backed off, and only read a handful of web sites (Internet Monk, Assistant Village Idiot, and a few others), and I think my attitudes have improved a little. Still, even the news sometimes seems to have a hold on me. Most of the time I can do nothing about the events of the day, and most of the time they have no effect on my life. (Obscure counterexamples include some stories about Liberia, Senegal, and Cote d'Ivoire.)

I can read about Sarkosy and the euro or...I have some writing to do.

What you use your time on shows where your heart is.

Bird calls

I gather that some categories of bird calls owe their complexity to some simple structures in the bird's throat. A simple muscle maneuver easily produces a variety of different frequencies.

The team were able to replicate a number of bird-songs, such as Bengalese finches and vireos, and were able to closely model the song of zebra finches.
This doesn't make the calls less remarkable or beautiful; it just means that the instrument is both simple and versatile. And I expect birders and proprietors of bird feeders will be buying versions of these within a few months.

Neanderthal diet?

The BBC reports that some researchers have found "cooked plant" residue stuck in Neanderthal teeth, suggesting a strikingly different diet than conventional wisdom help ("Meat, meat, meat for to eat!")
Chemical analysis of their bones suggested they ate little or no vegetables. This perceived reliance on meat had been put forward by some as one of the reasons these humans become extinct as large animals such as mammoths declined. But a new analysis of Neanderthal remains from across the world has found direct evidence that contradicts the chemical studies. Researchers found fossilised grains of vegetable material in their teeth and some of it was cooked.

I can't find details--such as how big the grains were. If they were very large then we have the interesting situation that Neanderthal knew how to harvest and cook but not brush their teeth.

Of course there's always the possibility that the grains were introduced post mortem--I've heard reports of cannibalism with Neanderthals. If they did eat veggies, somebody has some explaining to do with the chemical studies. Note to reader--beware of vast inferences drawn from a single result. Such as, for instance, descriptions of relationships between animals based on genetic analysis. You never see the assumptions that went into the analysis, so you and I aren't in a position to find possible problems. Only a cross-check with some other different kind of analysis can validate the results.