Sunday, February 27, 2011

Interpreting metaphors

While I was running monitors Saturday at the second rehearsal, the soprano turned to me and said "My voice sounds dry in the monitor. Can you add a little reverb or something?"

No can do for the reverb, but I said I'd try something.

"Dry?" Raspy? Maybe she's thinking of a hissing quality? It doesn't seem that way to me, but the "customer is king" here. I eq-ed down the high end and eq-ed up the low end of the spectrum on her channel and crossed my fingers that a lower pitched sound would do the job. It did, though I wonder if a water bottle would have helped even more.

Interesting interpretive challenges in this line of work. What's the weirdest instruction you've been given recently?

Mating dances

Go read The Village Idiot on the subject of adolescents and mating rituals--and how they seem so utterly unaware of what they are doing. Really, go read it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Notes on the protests

Not all that glisters is gold… or something like that.

I heard that a prankster pretending to be a Koch called Walker and got him to discuss strategy—and that Walker had said they’d thought about bringing in troublemakers but decided that would not work well. My first reaction was that this was a despicable calculation. I mulled it over a while, and then spent the 20 minutes listening to the recording so I’d be armed with chapter and verse for my tirade. Oops.

Several things were quickly obvious: Walker didn’t know what this Koch sounded like—so much for being a Koch puppet. The harsh stuff and nasty language came entirely from the fake "Koch;" Walker’s language and descriptions were temperate. And the smoking gun turned into haze—"Koch" suggested bringing in outsiders to cause trouble and Walker said no. It wasn’t possible to tell whether Walker’s group had really contemplated agitators and Walker was giving an honest description, or if Walker was trying to politely decline without insulting a rich contributor. I like to think I’d have said "We don’t do that sort of thing," and not worried about insulting anybody, but I remember a time or three when I tried gentle contradiction to avoid making somebody feel despised. In the end I couldn’t convict Walker of anything more objectionable than failing to contradict a rich jerk.

FWIW, I haven’t found any convincing explanation of why the Koch brothers are an especially great threat to Wisconsin democracy, or unique candidates for becoming the "power behind the throne."

I also watched the complaint after the Assembly Republicans rushed through a vote on the bill without warning at 1 in the morning. That kind of maneuver is dirty pool, and there’s no excuse for it. Although the fact that this was after a record-breaking 60 hours of continuous objections and proposed amendments might have had something to do with it. I supported some of those amendments, BTW.

One thing is very clear—the bill is too large and too complex for proper debate, and I’m pretty sure it contains some very unfortunate clauses which remove oversight for Medicaid decision-making and sale of state power plants. At least the preamble says this (not in so many words), and the amendments to medical care rules seem to refer final decisions back to a single department. But I can’t be sure that the preamble is correct without reading the statutes these changes are embedded in. And knowing what the legal structures are. That needs some expert discussion which (for some unexplained reason) we’re not having.

In any event, there’s no logical reason to connect a radical (and probably necessary) change to public employees’ bargaining status to changing Badger Care rules under the direction of a new (?) "department." I predicted that Pelosi-Care would be a train wreck; inspected and far-reaching and kitchen sink as it is; and I likewise object to this sort of complicated nonsense.

Wisconsin sold off the tobacco revenue settlement for short-term cash; Chicago sold off parking meters for short-term cash and to help out political cronies. Even if we stipulate that Walker is as honest as the day is long, giving the governor the right to no-bid sales of state assets is begging for trouble. And are the power plants really a drag on the state? I haven’t heard word one about that issue. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Where’s the fire?

The Tilted Kilt became famous in column and jest as the haunt of the Democratic Senators, but I’ve not actually heard of any sightings in that establishment. (Which I’d not heard of before.) The Clock Tower Inn is a nice logical place to meet—just over the state line, close enough to keep in easy contact and with lodging and dining. I’d have picked it. I wonder how many of them knew of the other restaurant?

I’ve not been out with sign in hand. I’m not a huge fan of crowds; I haven’t come up with a short enough statement of my judgments to fit on a little bitty sign; and it feels somewhat self-indulgent(*). The lawmakers won’t pay me any mind, and the only thing I can really hope for is that some cameraman will notice me and send my message around. But the cameras point at the noisy and the crazy and the stupid. No doubt I’m underestimating the effect of mutual encouragement—but then I think some provisions are useful and I’m not sure I want to encourage opposition to those.

One other thing missing from the debates has been: What do we replace collective bargaining with? I wrote before that I thought the adversarial model was a poor one for public employees, but there needs to be some kind of just compensation. Tie it to Legislator’s salaries? Tie it to a bundle of non-government taxpayer salaries? Does somebody want to talk about this? Anybody?

Update (*) To be clear, I am not trying to impugn any of the protesters, merely explain why I'm not entirely comfortable.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Asthma and bacteria?

This study looks very interesting. If verified it suggests some possible new directions for asthma treatment or prevention.

I cannot think of any reason why people would have thought that bronchial airways would be sterile--given the amount of dust and whatnot that winds up in the lungs there have to be lots of foreign bacteria piggy-backing. And without a lot of white cells to eat up intruders, some will grow. I'd never thought about it--I guess most doctors didn't either.

The study claims that there are many bacteria in a normal windpipe, and many more varieties in some asthma sufferers who required corticosteroids. So they need to verify this, and test again with asthma sufferers who aren't under treatment, to see if perhaps the steroids make life easier for bacteria. If it turns out that some bacteria (or combinations of them) cause asthma, then maybe some misted antibiotics might be a cure. Spend a few hours a day breathing mist at the clinic for a month or so, and then breathe easy again?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Economic forecasts

Tracking down some info from a link I ran across some details about what was feeding into the high food prices in Tunisia--some of which I'd seen before but not all in one place. The post includes extraneous assertions about the President and you probably don't want to read the comments--so I'll give the gist of useful information. The great powers are printing money (the EU buying worthless Greek/Irish debt and the Treasury generating and buying empty US bonds), while in the meantime Russia's harvest is in trouble, Canada's weather means poor food exports, Australia's weather means poor food exports, China lost 1/3 of its winter wheat, and the US is turning a huge chunk of food into fuel. (And Mexico is having harvest problems) Inflation plus less food available means higher food prices--not a huge deal for us but disaster in poor countries. Bernanke's inflation isn't just robbing us; it is robbing the Egyptian poor too.

Long term things will probably adjust, next year's harvest be better, etc--but this year a lot of people are going to go hungry. Bad harvests are bad enough, but the inflation is making it worse.

Our own economic indicators aren't anything to smile about. See Kipling on the subject. We made some implicit promises to the world, and it looks like we're going to renege into inflation--and inflict misery on innocent bystanders as we go.

UPDATE: Not everybody agrees; some see bright spots. I still see inflation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Legislature and Demonstrations

I don’t like the habit legislatures and cities have of giving tax breaks to try to entice businesses. Either the business climate is good and the prospects are good, or they aren’t—and if they aren’t the state should perhaps ask itself why. So I come down on the "firmly opposed" side of recent Wisconsin "job creation" legislation—I know of no reason to believe it to be anything other than extra goodies for companies.

The cuts in school funding are vociferously objected to. But come and let us reason together—the state spends most of its money on salaries, and if you want to cut expenses that means either lower salaries (like me) or cuts (like me). There isn’t any magic category called "waste" (with the exception noted in the previous paragraph). Of course you can always try to raise taxes, but that’s not so popular with some of the fixed income folks I know. If the pain is shared at least reasonably equitably I don’t see basis for complaint.

The proposal to remove collective bargaining rights from state employees is what is really getting the attention and pulling the attention-hungry celebrities from the woodwork. I will annoy some folks with this, but I think the move is inevitable.

A public workers’ union is inescapably political. Want a raise, bennies, different job conditions? Your employer is, in the end, the people, and uses tax money which they want a say in the use of.

A public workers’ union, as implemented, uses the adversarial model. Who are the union’s adversaries? Not private business owners—the state: us. It’s kind of rich to call for maintaining a "we’re all in this together solidarity" in that sort of situation.

A public workers’ union, as implemented, has a vested interest in expanding the public sector. Period. Private sector workers’ unions are limited by the economic health of their employers, but the temptation (often succumbed to) has been to regard the taxpayers as an infinitely elastic source of money.

In good times people may be willing to ignore the conflict, but when the budgets start to really get hurt, they’re more interested in examining structural problems. Like public workers’ unions.

I think the proposal should have had more public hearing. The demonstrations would be just as angry and intense, and they’d last even longer, but it would be the right thing to do. Just like teachers bringing kids from their classes to the protests is the wrong thing to do.

UPDATE: I read elsewhere that the bill doesn't disestablish the unions, but changes the subjects permitted for negotiation, requires that unions collect dues themselves, and requires that the union be recertified periodically.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sheep and TNT

Did any players of Unexploded Cow dream that it might actually be possible for sheep to safely dispose of TNT by eating it? Stomach bacteria safely decompose it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Blogger’s Psalm: 101

From BibleGateway, 1984 NIV:

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise.

I will hunger to write of love and justice and praise.

I will be careful to lead a blameless life— when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart.

We in the "pajamas legion" will be careful to be upright in our reporting, in our analysis, and in our comments.

I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me.

Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil.

We will not try to goose ratings with stories of horror or erotic pictures. Some things are too low to comment on, no matter how famous the perpetrator.

Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.

Anonymous attacks are vile, and the know-it-all is a stench. The comment sections of many sites are too foul to look at.

My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.

I will seek out those I can learn from or rejoice with, and give full credit and honor to those who have enlightened me.

No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.

I will not repeat or applaud the lies either of the great in the world or of the trolls in the net, even if they are political kin to me.

Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the LORD.

In my daily work here I will tell the truth no matter how many or dear are the liars; taking the stand against evil and applauding the good. I will not be ashamed to take note of even the smallest graces God gives us, or of moments of goodness even in enemies.

It is not an exactly parallel interpretation, and so perhaps a little presumptuous, but ...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Moral differences in sports

Go read Golf and the Metaphysics of Morals by David Hart. Really.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Resurrection of the Son of God

by N.T.Wright

I couldn't finish this one. It is quite long and my free time was short and somebody else had it on reserve.

The part I finished (about halfway) is a thorough analysis of what Gentiles and Jews understood by resurrection in various eras before Jesus. The bottom line is that they did not use the word or concepts in anything like the senses the early Christians did.

I was not aware that academics had tried so hard and in so many different ways to try to prove that Jesus' resurrection was fictional, or understood as purely spiritual, or was a Platonic liberation from the evil body--an amazing number of subtle arguments to try to dodge around a plain story.

He was getting up into more interesting sections when I had to return the book.

I thought it was interesting, and was hoping to read more--but I may have a greater tolerance for academic details than most.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi

The subtitle is "Military Information You're Not Supposed to Know." I picked this up for 25cents at a library book sale; and I gather from the receipt within that this is a factor of a hundred less than the original price. The title is either ironic or intentionally misleading--I'm not sure which.

This is essentially a sourcebook of details about who was where and armed with what and why. Unless you actually believed that the North Vietnamese never had troops, let alone bases, in Laos and Cambodia, you're not likely to find any huge secrets revealed. But if you can look beyond the title it is a nice enough collection of short descriptions of what was going on, filling in a lot of little gaps in my knowledge and probably yours too. The pair don't seem to have any axe to grind, though they seem to think McNamara was an idiot. And are probably right.

Do you like history? Do you not care if there's no overall narrative? Go for it.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sports Chatter

Ours has been mostly a baseball house, and when we take in football it is generally watching a neighbor's TV, so I'd not run into the auctioneer-style reporting for football before. Up till now the fastest sports chatter I'd heard was the analysis for World Cup matches on French TV--though their apparent speed may have been a function of my slowness in deciphering the language. Describing the scene split second by split second is almost hypnotically fast. "Off the fingertips of Bush, incomplete, incomplete, sold to the man in green and gold!"

I like a more relaxed take.

Go Pack

I don't complain about the overwhelming attention to sports. I've said before that there are already too few things in this country that different generations do together; we can't afford to lose more. I strongly object to the Super Bowel of trivia emptying itself over the front pages and radios (I don't know about TV--ours doesn't work).

I know that even the commercials are a big deal, as this is a mucho eyeballs event and the start of many ad campaigns; but do I really want to deliberate on which ones are rejected?

The Wisconsin State Journal ran a little story about the half-time entertainment, saying that there was now a chance for a "wardrobe malfunction(*)" this year since the group was pretty girls instead of creaky rockers. 2 column inches and a picture of a woman I didn't recognize. Let me channel my outer curmudgeon and claim that a LOLcats picture would have been just as newsworthy and of more enduring interest.

Most of the kids are going to Super Bowl parties--maybe we can find one for Youngest Son too, and we two can relax. And hope the Packers win.

Pregame update For the honor of truth I must admit that I'm the caliber of Packers fan who thought Aaron Rodgers had something to do with the Southern Baptist Convention.

(*) There was no "malfunction"--the only thing unplanned in the stylized assault was the audience response.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Chernobyl Birds

This report from BBC says that birds in the hot area have 5% smaller brains, and that mammals are decreasing, and that insect diversity is less.

The insect diversity they claim to understand: "the same researchers found a way to predict which species there are likely to be most severely damaged by radioactive contamination, by evaluating how often they renew parts of their DNA." That surprised me a little--I'd previously surmised that the driving mechanism would be the rate of protein recycling. I don't think I explained my reasoning, so I'll do it here even if it is wrong: if radiation is applied uniformly, since there's more protein in a cell than DNA it will be damaged more often, and become unusable until it is recycled. Recycling proteins faster will require more food and implies a slower rate of growth. If renewing DNA and recycling proteins correlate, then I'll claim a partial verification, anyway. (They already thought of it, and call it "oxidative stress.") I still predict slower growth and overall smaller size. (Larger size would probably be better for them, but stress isn't conducive to growing big.)

But small brains... They're going to go back and look at other organs now. I wonder if there's some region that is smaller than normal, or if the shrinkage was uniform. Might be hard to tell--this is only a 5% effect, and bird brains are small, so dissection would be pretty time-consuming.

As to the fewer mammals--if I recall correctly there was a boom in population for some of the larger ones when people abandoned the area. Maybe the population wasn't at equilibrium, and they're looking at normal fluctuations. Time should tell.

Friday, February 04, 2011


Again. Luckily a semi-circular frame, so I could keep driving. For statistics.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Emerging Adults

Via RealClearReligion, the fascinating Slacking as Self-discovery. A quote:

Arnett argues forcefully that emerging adulthood is a positive development. Free from external constraints (and often supported financially by their parents), twentysomethings have the opportunity to try an array of temporary jobs, relationships, educational paths, and residences to find which of these are most to their preference. In winnowing down the options, they are also able to “find themselves,” a discovery that will serve them well as adults, assuming they ever decide to become adults.


Paying lip service to the disciplinary expectation in psychology that group behavior be universally observable to be classified as a developmental stage, Henig goes through some perfunctory hand-wringing over emerging adulthood’s narrow application to affluent Americans.

Read it.

As full-out as it can get

You've see what a rabbit looks like running full-out. Those hind legs are amazing.

Have you seen how a spooked rabbit runs in deep soft snow? Instead of getting solid propulsion out of those legs, it looks more like it is swimming along the snow. There's a wild thrash at the rear, and then surfing for a fraction of a second, and then thrashing again. If I'd been so inclined, I probably could have caught it.

Losing a country?

The headline said "Obama losing Egypt?"

Ideologues of both left and right hold a singular faith in the omnipotence of the USA. The left believes us to be the source of all the world's woes--but if we let them run the joint the oceans will stop rising and the prisons lie empty from lack of crime. The right believes that we've been the source of all nobility and freedom for the past few centuries, and that if our President speaks the right words the mobs in Egypt will go home satisfied. (Avant nous le deluge?)

So Israel is aghast at how we're treating a long-time ally? (So claimed one story out of Israel) Mubarak has known about these problems for a long time; if things have finally started blowing up there's no point in trying to play King Canute to save his sand castles for him. Nothing he can do to hold on to power now (use such of the army as will obey him, stir up counter-riots) will do more than postpone the inevitable, and will make the long term situation worse: for Egypt and for us. It is bad enough already.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Pastors' Limits

The father of a friend of Youngest Daughter burned out as a Pentecostal pastor. Everybody in the family had some role--the church was getting a lot of mileage out of hiring a single person...

So we argued use cases at supper. We didn't come to a conclusion, but I asserted, on the basis of observing how much time Better Half spends keeping up with friends, that 2 hours a month of interaction would seem the right order of magnitude for a pastor to be able to effectively guide and encourage one of his flock. If this is a full-time task, then we're talking 160 hours a month or 80 people; maybe less if you include travel time and other things. If this is part-time because the person has a full-time job already, we're talking about maybe 25. Tops.

The "pastor" of a really big church has no possible way of becoming friends in more than a superficial sense with most of the members--he's a preacher or administrator or a "bishop." (I used that word at the informational meeting about our church's proposed remote site--got a gratifying deer-in-the-headlights look from the "administrative pastor.")

Our church is trying to fill in the gap here with "small groups," but AFAICT they're not designing them as pastoral bodies. Small groups get freighted with too many expectations--they're also expected to be teaching, outreach, and fellowship. A good teacher isn't necessarily a good pastor. Some churches use deacons for this; and if you select and train them well that should work.

Chef Geek

Want some pea butter on that? Alas, our kitchen isn't very big, and I don't think our house is wired for enough amps to handle the gadgetry. My paycheck isn't wired for that many bucks either. I'm curious, though. Perhaps the price of sous vide (and the bag sealer) will drop.

You are what you eat

This report from the BBC puts a new face to that old expression. This in particular, about mice raised in a sterile environment with no gut bacteria compare to normal mice:
In studies of the animals' brains, they showed higher levels of a number of hormones, and even differences in the expression of over 170 genes.

So the gut bacteria effect hormones too. We've heard recently of fungi that infect ants and hotwire their brains to help spread the fungus, and suggestions that rats can be hotwired by Toxoplasma to let themselves be eaten by cats--and maybe the crazy cat ladies are infected too.

I wonder how much of the gut bacteria effect is simply reaction to irritation, and how much is from chemicals entering our systems directly. And there are bacteria in the nose, and ears... There's more to learn.

Whitman said "I am large, I contain multitudes."