Saturday, October 31, 2015

Leviticus 23:22

When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

I know this helped provide for the poor, and gave them the dignity of at least partly providing for themselves.

It also is a reminder that in the final analysis we don't own the fields or their produce, God does--and not claiming it all for ourselves drives that home.

I think some of us might find it usefully applied to their time as well. Kipling wrote "If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds full of distance run..." That phrasing has always had an unpleasant kick to me, and properly so, but some of us plan out our days without margin, and where then is the room for someone who needs some of their time?

I'm afraid I have more waste in my time than I should, and don't need to put in more--though maybe I should resist the tight timing of buses and not hurry so much. It is often "hurry up and wait" anyway, and there are generally plenty of people on the street.

Friday, October 30, 2015

School conflicts

What happens when the country school schedules conflict with the grade school schedules? The country devils have been coming out, and clinic staff are disconcerted. "According to traditional elders, when a Country Devil comes out of the bush, non-members of either the Poro or Sande societies hide to avoid being forcibly initiated into one of the societies for a period of three to six months." I gather that not all staff members have been initiated--and hiding makes operating the clinic difficult.

Things get more complicated during the school year. So the government came up with some rules.

In June 2014, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) reviewed the licenses of Poro and Sande societies, with the involvement of elders and chiefs and stated that violators would bear the full penalty of the law.

The Bureau of Customs and Cultural Affairs of the MIA in collaboration with the National Council of Chiefs, Elders and Zoes urged their council members throughout the country to carry out their functions within the confines of traditional laws and guidelines governing the practices of Poro and Sande societies.

However, the MIA reiterated that no Poro, Sande or Zoe conductor shall initiate any child or any student into a grove during the normal school year.

I suspect that the thousand-year-old Poro (for boys) and Sande (for girls) society leaders consider the MIA to be upstarts. I'd be almost sympathetic--but both societies have some ugly practices; for example the Sande is reported to be heavily into FGM.

Three years ago there was talk of banning the Sande, but as that article says:

But some town elders say the government’s efforts to suspend Sande are just “mouth talk” and there is a way around everything in Liberia.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe

The title turns out to have several meanings, one rather ironic.

In the prologue the priest explains to the penitent that he also was a murderer. The rest of the book is the priest's autobiography, and no, that particular crime isn't the climax of the story. The beginning of the story is set in a monastery in Cuba a few years from now, and from the fact that the cover shows a pirate at the helm of a sailing ship you can guess where the rest of it is set. Don't look for an explanation of the transition. After all, it might all be just his imagination, right?

Wolfe did a lot of research when he wrote the book, and it flows quickly and cleanly. A lad alone in that environment wouldn't have many options, and after a mischance or two his direction is fixed. On the other hand it isn't at all obvious how he's going to become a priest at the end of it--until the end.

Read it. Maybe you'll find it for a penny plus shipping at Amazon too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

School breaking the rules?

The principal of Ricks Institute (Dr Olu Menjay) complained about comments by the Minister of Education who claimed that Ricks wasn't abiding by the rules and regs : "Minster Werner made three allegations on ELBC Radio insinuating that the motives of the parents of Ricks students were not clear; that “one or two” students at Ricks have been abused; and that Ricks receives significant government money and, therefore, should be in compliance with every mandate from the Ministry of Education (MOE)."

Yes, I gather it does receive significant government money: the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare coughed up a goodly chunk of change to educate 30 girls for 5 years, though when I looked up Rick's fee schedule it looks like the amount is less than the full rate. (When I was last there the school had just started allowing children of the village on-site to attend for free. Menjay doesn't mention that in challenging the claim of elitism--I wonder if they still do it.)

The article above gives the Ricks side of the story. That isn't quite fair; even a Minister of Education deserves to have his side heard. This one gives both. "Minister Werner said although stakeholders at the last consultative meeting agreed for schools to promote 9th and 12th graders, but should not have graduation ceremony; however, Ricks chose to violate and charged students US$200.00 as graduation fee." That sort of shenanigans is par for the course in Liberia, though I'd be disappointed in Menjay if he was extorting money. But the report also says "Commenting on Ricks' recent graduation ceremony, Minister Werner said the school acted the way it acted because of the support of parents currently working in government."

So at least some of the parents wanted a graduation. Or maybe the school went in for extra work to make up for the Ebola hiatus: the usual end of the school year is in June. This year all schools were supposed to close 31-July; the graduation seems to have been 18-October.

Ricks used to (and may still) be one of the best schools in Liberia, and did have children of government figures attending. In between school pride and pressure from well-connected parents (and a dislike of centralized mandates), I think I might have poked the MoE in the eye too. I lived on the campus for a while but I didn't attend Ricks: it was good wrt Liberia but not wrt USA standards. I went to ACS.

Sleep differences

Black and white sleep patterns differ? "Whites in the study slept an average of 6.85 hours; blacks slept an average of 6.05 hours." and "“Notably,” the study reads, “these associations remained evident after adjustment for sex, age, study site, and [body mass index].”" and of course "(It should be noted, however, that researchers concede their attempts to control for economic indicators are far from perfect. “We know our measures for adjusting for socioeconomic status are still somewhat limited,” says Redline. “Sometimes the variation isn’t great enough.”)"

Not everything is well thought-out: can you say "a proxy for race?" Also notice that "There is a consensus" drops in without any reasons why.

ON THE QUESTION of how to explain the black-white sleep gap itself, researchers have a number of related theories. (There is a consensus that innate biological differences between blacks and whites are not a factor.) The stress caused by discrimination is one strong possibility. In the San Diego sleep study, Tomfohr’s team knew, going in, that slow-wave sleep is very sensitive to stress—which is, in turn, our body’s signal to remain vigilant against perceived threats, including discrimination. “That was our thought: If people are feeling really discriminated against, then of course they are not going to want to get into a really deep stage of sleep,” she says.

On the grimmer side of things, sleep apnea is more common, 12.8 vs 7.4% This is comparable to the obesity rate difference, and might be due to it, but it seems to be less frequently treated than among whites--and sleep apnea leads to lots of problems.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Star Destroyer

It is about 290 million light-years away, so we don't get a very detailed look at the proceedings, but it looks like a black hole just destroyed a star.

A suspicious hand goes up in the back row: "How do you know that? It is so far away you can't see anything but a dot."

Good question. What do you expect to see if a star gets too close to a black hole? Tidal forces would stretch it out--and do you wonder what you get when the pressure on the core gets smaller? That burst probably pales in comparison with the energy released as the plasma gets squeezed into new shapes around the black hole--some flying off and away and some falling in and some twisting into orbit.

You get a flash of light; visible, UV, X-ray. Where there was nothing much before--just an ordinary start--now there's a burst across the spectrum. Of course this doesn't matter at all if the black hole is very active and blowing jets; you only notice if it has been lonely and quiet up till now.

But there's more. Some of the plasma winds up in rapid orbit around the black hole, and doppler shifts turn some of the light bluer and some redder depending on whether the plasma in question is moving towards us or away. From the blue-shift you can estimate speeds, and from the time it takes for changes to happen you can estimate how big the distances are. (You can estimate blue shifts because light is absorbed by gas at certain frequencies {or emitted}, and from the spectrum you can see how much these gaps or bumps have shifted.)

Unfortunately, they noticed a flash and then turned the scopes on the spot, so all they saw was the cooling down of the plasma: it would have been cool to see the whole process.

Variability within the absorption-dominated spectra indicates that the gas is relatively close to the black hole. Narrow line widths indicate that the gas does not stretch over a large range of radii, giving a low volume filling factor. Modest outflow speeds of a few hundred kilometers per second are observed, significantly below the escape speed from the radius set by variability. The gas flow is consistent with a rotating wind from the inner, super-Eddington region of a nascent accretion disk, or with a filament of disrupted stellar gas near to the apocenter of an elliptical orbit.

"Relatively close" is an interesting phrase: they estimate 17 million km at the "innermost stable circular orbit." That's closer than Mercury is to the Sun.

(One of the experiments studying the star is called ASASSN: All-Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Everything old is new again

I remember when the late Prof. Cline wanted to loft liquid argon time projection chambers in balloons to look for quark nuggets, a hypothetical kind of quark matter with a large fraction of strange quarks in addition to the usual up and down. That's "bare" strange quarks, not the strange/anti-strange pairs that you get all the time in nuclei. I thought the idea was insufficiently motivated to dedicate money to, and so apparently did the funding agencies. (I did some simple simulations/visualizations of a liquid argon TPC for the Icarus experiment, but one kindly scientist pointed out that the program I was using didn't handle slow μ- interactions with nuclei correctly, so I'm not sure how useful it all was.)

At any rate, there had been a fire in the balloon making factory, and so NASA wasn't going to be lofting any balloons for a year or so, so Cline decided to see if he could loft liquid argon detectors in satellites, and maybe piggyback a search for quark nuggets on top of a SDIO project to distinguish (hold your hat) incoming Soviet nuclear missiles from dummy missiles by the prompt radiation you'd get from neutrons emitted by your own nuclear blast in space.

In other words, his SDIO proposal was: you see incoming missiles; fire off your own nuke in space; the neutrons from it make uranium emit gamma rays; you detect the gamma rays in your own detector system in the few milliseconds before the neutrons hit your detector system and blind it; you compute where the gamma rays all come from and tell your anti-missile system which are the real warheads. (Never mind that the EMP pulse knocks our your own communications satellites, the Soviets probably already did that to you anyway.) Ummmm. No. No on several levels: I noticed that the gamma ray pulse from your own nuke would create some slow-decaying atomic states in the argon that would still be glowing like one of those green stickers just at the time when you needed the system to be sensitive.

So much for quark nugget detection.

They're back. This time as dark matter candidates. And, of course, the first thing you ask is how do you detect these quark nugget "macros"? If they're big enough (still way smaller than anything telescopes can see), you could see them streaking through the sky like other meteors or making odd craters--and we don't see anything really anomalous. Yes, if you don't know where you dropped them, you start looking for your missing keys under the lamppost. You ask about big things first. Then you try to figure out how to look for small blobs.

I haven't studied quark nuggets. If wikipedia is an accurate guide (cue the snickering) one theory holds them to have equal numbers of up, down, and strange quarks--which would make them neutral. That would be kind of weird stuff--the normal electromagnetic force fields that make regular matter bounce off other stuff (and that hold you up in the chair) wouldn't be as much of a factor. A macroscopic chunk would act a little like a conductive surface as far as charges are concerned--attractive, but since an electron would be trying to push quarks around (much more massive), the attractive force would be small. I don't know which way W/Z exchange would push--an interesting problem, and one that's actually worth looking at. Somebody must have solved that already for the ordinary nuclear case. The nucleus/chunk bounce is even more complicated: W/Z exchange and pion exchange and maybe a splatter or merge. If I was reasonably familiar with the models I'd guess it would take at least a year to work up a model of the interactions. A year to figure out the interactions of a hypothetical particle that I have no reason to believe exists? Not happening.

Though maybe that's a bit hypocritical--I've spent a lot of odd hours on the mathematical aspects of a model I'm pretty sure isn't useful. The math is kind of interesting, though, and tantalizing--there has to be a pattern in the symmetries.

Honesty and faithfulness

From Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth E. Baily p143:
First, biblical languages (and modern Arabic) have no word for honesty. Honesty is a Roman concept, and the word has roots in Latin, Old French, Italian, and Spanish. It has to do with commitment to an impersonal ideal. The biblical word is faithful, which requires a person to whom one is faithful.

Does this have Sapir-Whorf-like consequences?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sci Fi Aliens

In the previous post I linked to a story The Man too Lazy to Fail from Heinlein's Time Enough For Love. I think it was in reading that book that I started to realize that Heinlein wasn't writing about human beings. His heroes/heroines had a sense of duty and street smarts and courage when they needed it--cool, you probably know people like that. But when it came to sex, they were never possessive, never jealous, mentioned taboos only to break them--in TEFL the main character beds himself and his mother--no, as attractive to a young mind as the notion of easy sex was, this book wasn't talking about the kind of people I knew or even that I heard about. (Margaret Mead was fooled.) You'd have to sort of cross your eyes and pretend a lot.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hunter/gatherer sleep

Research unveiled on Thursday showed that people in isolated and technologically primitive African and South American cultures get no more slumber than the rest of us. Average of 6:25. Apparently they stay up "late" (after the mosquitoes go to bed?) and wake up early. The environments vary a bit, so that source of bias should be missing, but none are of latitude high enough to have radically different winter and summer hours. That'd be an interesting effect.

If this pans out--or even if it doesn't, I expect to hear lots of new experts explaining how much sleep we really need. What with waking up an unreasonable hours, their average is probably close to mine...

One advantage of civilization is that you don't have to worry about so many different things, and usually don't have to work quite so hard.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In case you were wondering how these things worked

Poro Devil Wanted for Alleged Torture, Murder.
It all began when the late Samuel Mansuo’s son, Nentor Mansuo, got into a dispute with one of his friends in Zuaplay over a parcel of land which he (Nentor) accused his friend of illegally taking.

During the dispute, Nentor vandalized the house his friend was building on said land.

Based on that report, the citizens of the town held a traditional trial. Samuel stood trial for his son Nentor, who by then had absconded. He was found guilty of violating the town’s rule against fighting and violence and ordered to pay a fine of a pan filled with rice along with cattle.

According to the police, the man begged for time to allow him find the items with which to pay, but some members of the town refused and demanded that the man pay the fine at once or be arrested by the devil.

It was based on this demand that the devil’s chairman, Saturday Womengbah, ordered the arrest of the man, tied and tortured him until he died.

It had earlier been reported that 27 persons were arrested in connection with the killing, but police later confirmed that 24 were arrested, of which 14 were charged and 10 set free.

The devil remains at large.

Ain't it the truth.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Different reactions

When I was at SIU we had Iranian student groups. I think I counted 5, each of which denounced all the rest as agents of SAVAK. I suspect they were all correct--all infiltrated, at any rate. They were all angry and all militant and, at least officially, not happy with America or Americans. Which made them uncomfortable guests.

The BSU had a reputation of being friendly to international students, and there were one or two Iranians on my floor. My roommate and I were able to freak them out a bit by posting notes to each other on our door written in runes. Yeah, paranoid.

They weren't as bad as they'd been on another campus, though, if testimony of a friend at the time may be believed. He told me that at that school the Iranian student marches had progressed to the point of harassing other students. (Sorry, I don't recall the institution.)

After a few weeks some Iranians made a serious strategic blunder, and harassed a black woman. Two nights later a number of cars came full of black men not seen before on campus, and the next day the Iranians were quiet as mice, and my friend said they remained so.

To every thing there is a season.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Why would they think of that?

Mealworms can eat styrofoam? (As always, verify that this is true and repeatable.)

What comes immediately to mind is an elementary school project with mealworms that starts leaking mealworms out the bottom of the cup--and a parent investigates. I wonder what really happened.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Come quickly, Lord

Your will is definitely not being done on earth as in heaven.


If Jesus endured the horrors of our world for us, I suppose we can endure its horrors a while ourselves for the sake of the saints yet to be born.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Spotting spies

Does anybody know if this is true? The article claims that CIA spies were readily identified because of the different ways agents and normal State Department personnel were treated: for example, agent positions never changed in local embassy reorganizations, their recruitment age ranges differed, and agency officers could come and go as they pleased. The story claims that Yuri Totrov figured this out, and as a result the KGB regularly identified agents around the world.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Word meanings

AVI reminds us that we have no right to happiness What the word "happiness" means isn't fixed, of course. One writer whose work I can't quickly locate said the Declaration of Independence's "pursuit of happiness" clause meant something more like "trying to find your role in the world" to the signers than "trying to find pleasure." I suppose you can't sell as many vacation timeshares to people who look for satisfying duties as you can to those who measure happiness by a "goodies count."

Somehow happiness, in the sense of pleasure, is now an expectation. Pleasures are so common in our wealthy land that it seems they're taken for granted. And as Screwtape notes, "love" is warrant for any sexual conduct and any broken promises. If you remonstrate you're accused of opposing love. Of course no society regulates love, but all regulate sex (even ours still regulates some). But that's an inconvenient observation.

Part of the shift lies in the connotations of words. Take the word "heterosexual." It is generic--there's no connotation of monogamy. Instead the sense is of willingness to have sex with any receptive woman. Male point of view here, reflect as needed "Bisexual" is similar, but the connotation of action pretty much guarantees infidelity. If such terms are the only ones in the discourse, there's a bias against considering fidelity.

I propose a modification of the weaker Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.(*) Language shapes our thinking, but we spontaneously modify the language to suit our needs, so the shaping need not be overwhelming or permanent--unless someone is able to keep pushing the desired usages.

If I and my friends compose a nuanced phrasing that defines something precisely, we can communicate accurately with each other, but if this usage isn't shared by the popular media we're immersed in, it won't spread. As a trivial example I give you Blackacre, about which many precise things are said that are unintelligible to non-lawyers--though they're not hard to understand. True, nobody pushes the standard fuzzy meanings about ownership, but nobody tries very hard to teach them either and they're not matters of our usual daily round.

Less benignly, think of the campaign to replace the word "gambling" and its connotations of risk with the word "gaming" and its connotations of innocent fun. In Wisconsin, at least, the latter seems to have pretty much displaced the former, and one finds it harder to find people who object to gambling in principle. Whether there are fewer who object to gambling as a form of fleecing the poor I can't tell; I wasn't paying a lot of attention years ago.

(*) Should we call it the Sapir-Whorf-Confucius Hypothesis? "If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success."