Sunday, December 30, 2018

Further Further explosion followup

Footage(*) of the gas line explosion was released.

No criminal culpability was found. The widow is suing the firms involved.

Followup to an Earlier note

(*) I'm showing my age with the word "footage."

The debtor is the slave of the creditor

Taiwan News claims that China is
preparing to seize some major assets in the African nation of Kenya, as a result of debt-trap diplomacy.

African media reports that Kenya may soon be forced to relinquish control of its largest and most lucrative port in Mombasa to Chinese control.

Other assets related to the inland shipment of goods from the port, including the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi, and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), may also be compromised in the event of a Chinese port takeover.

Kenya has reportedly taken extremely large loans from the Communist government for the development of some major highways, and especially for the SGR, which forms a crucial transport link to and from Nairobi for the import and export of goods through Mombasa.

Very interesting, if true. But this makes the report sound a little over the top:

The African Stand also seems to suggest that the SGR, which is operated by the Chinese, may have been designed to be a “loss-making venture.”

With a reported loss of KES 10 billion (US$98 million) in its first year of operation, it would be nearly impossible to repay the loans taken for its construction in the time requested.

Yes, the Chinese might have been hoping for defaults so they could get hold of resources. But if that were so, with Zambia (and possibly other countries) also facing defaults, I wonder if they would be underestimating resistance to collection.

We'll see if this is hardball negotiating or new colonialism. My guess is the former.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

More Augustine

City of God is interesting. Apparently Livy reported that King Numa Pompilius wrote and was buried with books explaining the religious rites for Rome he had established. When these were accidentally uncovered, the Roman Senate examined them and ordered them burnt. Augustine draws his own conclusions.

I speculated long ago that polytheism grew naturally from compromise: I encountered the numinous at the river and you at the mountain, so let's have two gods. It naturally diminishes my worship of the rivergod to merely a rivergod when I have to acknowledge this mountain add-on, but we can worry along somehow. Sort of. After enough add-ons, though, the numinous doesn't matter nearly as much as the rites and the "what's in it for me."

So what happens when you merge different pantheons? You can try to equate Zeus with Jupiter, but there are these pesky differences in rites. You have an oceangod, and so do they, so maybe one is the deepoceangod and the other is the waveoceangod. Ok. Now add another pantheon, and you have to partition responsibilities even farther. Rome started as one city with its own gods, but had gotten to be a pretty big empire. I wonder how many pantheons it had absorbed in the process of trying to maintain civil peace. (just within Italy, before it became such a big player and could impose..)

Venilia, says this theology, is the wave which comes to the shore, Salacia the wave which returns into the sea.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas

Or, if "happy" isn't going to work this holy-days, I hope you have a joyful Christmas.

New Years' resolutions

We tried assigning each other three New Years' resolutions last year. One on my list was "write a sonnet about raising chickens." Another was to play more video games--and I've played twice as many this year as last (or 10 times, either works--I hope that counts). I bogged down on the story about a chickadee in a bowler hat, but I did get the sonnet written early on. Since it's about time to wrap things up...
They promised me an endless source of eggs
And calming gentle clucking in my yard
From happy nesters with their drumstick legs--
But not that keeping them alive is hard!
Two heatlamps for the chicks--since one must fail.
Each virus spreads like rumor through your coop.
Is 'grower feed' or 'layer' in this pail?
Does that pale eye and wattle mean the croup?
Find droppings spreading everywhere you look,
And when you didn't, tracked inside your home.
That bloody pecking wasn't in the book,
Nor just how far afield escaped birds roam.
A haze of feathers floats above the run.
A blessed fox has called the project done.

8-Jan-2018  JNB

Monday, December 24, 2018

Just a reminder

Earthquakes and undersea landslides can happen in the Gulf of Mexico too.. A map is here.

There are other hazards associated with the Gulf:

Submarine volcanoes have the ability to emit large amounts of gas into their surrounding waters. These gas emissions can happen suddenly, at any time, and are not always tied to a volcanic eruption.

If the amount of gas is large enough, it can significantly reduce the density of the water. Ships on the surface will ride lower in these waters or even sink quickly when the gas-laden waters are encountered. This hazard is one of the reasons why ships are advised to steer clear of the area around Kick ‘em Jenny when any activity is detected. Volcanic gases can also be deadly.

Kick ‘em Jenny is an unusual name for a volcano, and many people are curious about its origin. The name was once used for Diamond Island, which is a short distance away from the volcano. That name was given to the island and its surrounding ocean because the waters there can be extremely rough. After the volcano’s first known eruption in 1939, people began referring to it as “Kick ‘em Jenny” and the name stuck.

My wife's father told us of having to monitor water temperature carefully when his sub was near a Pacific volcano--if they got into hot water they could have trouble controlling their depth.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


From time to time I hear the claim that schools, and the rest of the country, went downhill after Engel in 1962--a ruling that a lot of school officials then and now take to mean that prayer is not allowed.

I don't propose to evaluate the merits of that claim--it's too big a topic. It has the attractiveness of being a clear milestone.

Slower changes, such as the spread of shopping on Sunday, don't strike one as forcibly, and can perhaps even pass unnoticed. Even so, I'd expect to hear that blamed for the decay of our culture, and I don't. Yet it was an unambiguous statement that "No god or thing may get in the way of making money," and established as the default that a worker is always available. In practice most employers make accommodations, but not always--and school sports programs quit caring about students' religious observances long ago. Office workers may have the weekend off, but not everyone is so lucky.

It seems like a small thing, but some think it very important--important enough to be a touchstone for a righteous life. A sabbath is not just a day of R&R, but a sacrifice and re-ordering of my life. A random "day off" does not have the same purpose.

Look at ourselves first.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A reminder

6 years ago I proposed hunting season for drones.

A few common-sense rules:

  • An annual license is required, with fees set by the local state, and a bag limit of no more than 5/day.
  • All incidental damages caused by a drone's crash or malfunction are the sole responsibility of the person who launched or was currently controlling the drone, not the hunter.
  • Ownership of the remains of the drone and any contents belong to the hunter, who is responsible for cleaning away the remains.
  • Shooting at military drones is forbidden, and may render the hunter liable to being shot back at in return
  • Shotgun-only using birdshot inside city limits
  • No hunting
    • Within 20 miles of a national boundary or nuclear power plant
    • Within 5 miles of designated drone hobbyist areas
    • Within 5 miles of airport approaches (unless expressly requested by the relevant authorities)

I haven't decided if police drones should be fair game.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Gatwick drones

Gatwick airport has been undergoing a denial of service attack by drones.

I warned about this a couple of years ago.. The airport authorities must not read this blog.

I gather that the police are worried about stray bullets, and disinclined to ask citizens to show up with shotguns. And that the army hasn't been able to trace the controller (if it has one--it might be pre-programmed).

Monday, December 17, 2018

Japanese shields

Last night one of the folks in our study said that the Japanese didn't use shields. That seemed kind of odd, but I'd never seen depictions of armored Japanese warriors with them, so it seemed plausible. Time to find out...

It seems that it is mostly true. The favorite weapons were bows and spears, which are a bit hard to use while carrying a shied. And their armor was quite good, so an armored samurai wasn't at a serious disadvantage without it. Footmen, on the other hand, did carry shields, like European archers did--something to shelter behind while reloading. BTW, some commenters contradict each other on that page.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Funerals and connectedness

AVI has some thoughts about funerals, inspired by a funeral that went sour that Althouse posted about. I gather the whole story isn't available. There are other points to think about anyway.

We say the funeral is about the mourners, not the dead. But that's not the whole story: consider what the words of the traditional rites say. Part of it is about us "Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death." But part is very explictly for the dead person: "O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that your servant N., being raised with him, may know the strength of his presence, and rejoice in his eternal glory; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

We're not praying to make ourselves feel good. We're asking God to take care of our dead loved one. Granted, some people don't think prayer is effectual, but they can arrange their own rites.

And what we do with the dead matters. You can holler yourself hoarse that it shouldn't matter; that the body is just the temporary housing of the soul; that the dead don't feel anything anymore. We still feel that it makes a difference.

The traditional Christian understanding of the human person is that we are body and soul--when the body dies the human person is broken, not Platonically "released." Jesus wept about this, so we needn't feel ashamed to do the same, even if we know the loved one is "absent from the body and present with the Lord." What we see before us isn't good, though good can come.

We cling to the particular. This field is where we played pirates, that ring is merely a substitute for the lost wedding ring, that person, and not a generic person is our spouse. The particular is connected to us somehow. Part of us is there--not incarnate, exactly, but really there, really connected. These things can fade, but they feel very real. A two-year-old wants his ball, not a substitute. You feel a loss when someone builds a garage over the ditch where the "pirate cave" used to be.

The particular gets meaning from those connections. Another Althouse post quotes LLosa: "At the same time, love is a private experience. If it's made public, it becomes cheap, shoddy, full of commonplaces. This is why it’s so hard to write about love in literature." In its place sex can seem holy and funny at the same time; displayed to the world is seems merely animal or even obscene. The family jokes and traditions seem empty and banal when broadcast to strangers, but the family's loves make them live. Something intangible makes a vast difference. Strict materialists have to work hard to explain it away.

We sense that the dead body is still connected to the person. The past isn't entirely past. We can't keep the body and the link is too deeply broken for us to restore the person, so we use the prayers and the burial to respectfully recognize the breakage.

A "celebration of life" ignores that breakage. It's probably harmless, but we need more.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Dictator prose

"What can we learn from dictators' literature?". Go read it.
Mao described his own propaganda department as the “Palace of the King of Hell.”


Striking, too, is their awe at the power of the written word. Many dictators had been transformed by books: Lenin modeled himself after a character in Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done? While Stalin went by the pseudonym “Koba,” the hero of the potboiler The Patricide. In his own What is To Be Done? Lenin argued that he could use a newspaper to express his will and effectively write the revolution into existence. Once the revolutions failed to deliver, dictators attempted to overwrite reality with propaganda. A side effect of this awe was a terror of the power of wrong words, resulting in language policing and strict policies of censorship.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Under the ice

A large impact crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier in northwest Greenland

The meltwater draining from under it carries sediments with shocked quartz. The radar shows a crater-like depression, with a rim about 300 meters high! (They predict 800m when freshly made.) Figure E is pretty evocative of what happens when a glacier erodes things.

The crater looks pretty recent. It can't be younger than about 12K years, or much older than a million or so. They guess the meteorite was about 1.5km diameter iron--or more if it had to pound through an ice sheet.

A core sample or 5 would be nice to have. And maybe a gravity scan.

Without a clear date it's hard to connect it with anything else. Nobody found any obvious ejecta from the crater in the ice, but with ice sheets advancing and retreating there might not be much left to find--especially if this was a grazing impact.

It's pretty dramatic:

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Whatever remains, no matter how improbable...

Holmes' rule doesn't really work. A lot of what's "impossible" is merely unlikely. If you told me that Prime Minister May walked through Trafalgar Square naked, I would call that almost vanishingly improbable--but if she'd been doing bath salts it could happen. Even then, I'd think her aides would have taken charge of her long before she got to the square. It isn't like dividing by zero, though.

At a Sonic drive-in an 11-year-old found an ecstasy pill while unwrapping her 4-year-old brother's hamburger. It is deeply unlikely that the girl put it there herself. The restaurant manager was found with three identical pills on her person. It isn't quite impossible that the girl did sleight of hand in front of her brother and by a remarkable coincidence ... but ... no. The restaurant manager is by far the most probably source.

Was the manager careless, and just accidentally dropped it in? The rest were hidden in her clothing. That makes it unlikely, but possible, especially if she had been "guinea-pigging the product." Quick googling suggests that pills might run $10 each, and most folks would be fairly careful with such items.

Was the manager playing a nasty joke? If this were an average person off the street I'd say "unlikely," but there are people like that--I've known some, who had no notion of how serious such things are. (They were teenagers at the time, and learned better fast.) And I know of at least one person who was secretly given Rohypnol (luckily she had friends around).

Was the pill meant for a special customer? It isn't what I expect from a fast-food joint, but a fast-food establishment would make better cover for drug sales than a street corner.

The most likely explanation implies that there is a drug industry that I wasn't aware of. I should have been alerted, though. Such a clandestine emporium might explain something I observed a few years ago--nothing was obviously wrong, but the clientele didn't reflect the neighborhood. I should look more closely in the future.

Probably some of you heard about these long ago--I'm still learning.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

What the machine wants

John Kass has an interesting column in the Chicago Tribune.
David Krupa, 19, who is running for 13th Ward alderman, filed 1,703 signatures of ward residents to petition to get on the ballot. Political workers went door to door with official legal papers and collected more than 2,700 affidavits of people revoking their signatures.


"We turned in 1,703 signatures. We compared them to the 2,796 revocations, and found only 187 matches, meaning only 187 people who signed David’s petitions filed revocations," Dorf said. "So, what about the 2,609 people who didn’t sign for David but who filed revocations? That's fraud. That's perjury. That's felony."

Kass thinks nothing will be done. He knows what it's like there.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Swapping definitions on us

Grim has a link to The Impossibility of Integralist Reform , which points out that Americans no longer share a common definition of "racism." Many of us retain the traditional definitions of "hatred for another race" or belief that one's own race is superior.

The latter definition might be disputed—does it need a second clause to the effect that this gives you the right to dominate others? After all, suppose noblesse oblige required the superior to help the inferior? I suspect the "inferior" would take exception to the evaluation, and consider the attitude to be racism no matter what.

But there's a new definition abroad, not viewed through the lens of the individual responsibility to respect and not harm your neighbor, but viewed in the framework of what the government can do to equalize outcomes.

That various governments did "frame mischief by statute" is unquestioned. (We forget how much of a victory that is!) That such rules ought, where possible, to be rescinded is also not really disputed (though how much influence ought the USA to have over the laws of Mexico? Really?)

But once the explicitly racist laws are undone, at what point does the effort to change end? They present no clear endpoint except for "equality of outcome."

To make it worse, I find no evidence that social forces are sufficient to produce this equality of outcome, or even to get arbitrarily close. The contrary is possible, as we know. The political philosophy, absent an endpoint for government intervention, is therefore defective.

This redefinition tries to bring the opprobrium that attaches to tribalism/racism to opponents of a defective political philosophy. This is dangerous. First, it poisons the discourse—you don't need to listen to obviously evil people, right? Second, it normalizes real racism by equating everyday political disagreement with hatred. I've complained about this before. We haven't seen the worst of this yet. Tribalism comes naturally. We worked hard in this country to minimize it, but it can and will come back. Our Diversity Czars won't fix things.

Eliot understood.

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good

UPDATE: To be just, although I know many whom Eliot's description fits to a T, I also know some who don't, who seem to partly regard the work as their share in trying to incarnate the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

When you're young...

I remember listening to an album on which one of the songs was "Oh Mary Don't You Weep"
O Mary, don't you weep, don't you mourn
O Mary, don't you weep, don't you mourn
Pharaoh's army got drowned
O Mary, don't you weep

Some of these mornings bright and fair
Take my wings and cleave the air
Pharaoh's army got drowned
O Mary, don't you weep

When I get to heaven goin' to sing and shout
Nobody there for turn me out
Pharaoh's army got drowned
O Mary don't you weep

When I get to Heaven goin' to put on my shoes
Run about glory and tell all the news
Pharaoh's army got drowned
O Mary don't you weep
I was going to link a Youtube video of it, but there are more versions than I care to spend time listening to, and none had quite the feel of the one I remembered.

I remember being puzzled by the refrain. Did it mean that Jesus' mother should stop weeping because Pharoah's men were dead (long before she was born--and weren't they taking shelter in Egypt???), or saying that this is good news and she should not start weeping, or asking if she's sad that so many went to hell? Clues were there (made pretty explicit by other lyrics not in the short version), but I didn't make the connection of Miriam=Mary until years later. Oh yeah--a spiritual, slave days, oppressor defeated and freedom arrives--stop crying.

A number of popular hymns confused me too. "My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!" Hmm. I thought sin was supposed to be bad? I learned the song before I could read. With a few more years to understand convoluted sentences, and finally reading the punctuation(*), I get it now.

And they weren't even trying to make things confusing!

(*) I often run slides for the songs at church. They generally come without any punctuation whatever. I leave to your imagination how the complex sentences read in that form, before I get ahold of them.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Galli without a cause

Among the gods the Romans worshiped was a relatively late addition: Cybele, the Great Mother. The Galli were her devotees. They castrated themselves, probably amputated the penis, and wore women's clothing. They collected alms in return for fortune-telling--or else for going away. In any case, they made their devotion to their goddess perfectly clear.

Some three hundred years ago if a young Italian boy had a good voice he might be castrated to preserve his beautiful soprano. That was brutal, but a career as a singer was more lucrative than many other available opportunities. There was a grisly point to the mutilation.

Today we have despicable hucksters hawking expensive surgery and drugs to make people into modern Galli. It makes the hucksters wealthy, but the victims have neither the honor of being dedicated to a god nor the possibility of a lucrative singing career. They become Galli in the name of finding their true selves--as though mangling yourself and drugging yourself out of your mind was ever likely to be a path to self-discovery. It's much more likely to lead to suicide, but that doesn't phase the hucksters or the fashionistas.

The fashion seems to be based on sympathetic magic--if you make a doll of something that looks like X, it becomes X. It might also remind you of the Aristotelian notion that a woman is an incomplete man--just make yourself incomplete, and presto!

We usually don't intervene in most affairs of adults, even when one party is plainly preying on the other. But they have taken to preying on children and persuading gullible parents that being a tomboy or wanting to dress like a Cavalier is a sign that the child needs to be mangled.

Be yourself..

That was the fortune in a cookie the couple at the table behind me shared. It seems curious advice without a little explanation. How would you explain it?

Be yourself:

  1. What choice do you have?
  2. You'd make a lousy Marilyn Monroe
  3. Nobody else is qualified for the job
  4. Try it, you might like it
  5. Practice makes perfect
  6. But move very slowly

Friday, November 30, 2018

Love in the cold

'Tis the time of year for noticing "Christmas" songs. Several in a row celebrated friends being together, culminating with "Let it Snow." "Still goodbye-ing," "hate going out in the storm," "all the way home I'll be warm," and so on. I tend to be a contrary sort sometimes. The first thing that jumped to mind during that song was "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden.
Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze.
What did I know, what did I know 
of love's austere and lonely offices? 

I doubt that Bethlehem had much snow, but it was a cold world there too.

Roman gods

I finally got around to reading The City of God. Augustine has fun. The Romans seem to have a few too many gods on their hands.
When a male and a female are united, the god Jugatinus presides. Well, let this be born with. But the married woman must be brought home: the god Domiducus also is invoked. That she may be in the house, the god Domitius is introduced. That she may remain with her husband, the goddess Manturnae is used. What more is required? Let human modesty be spared. Let the lust of flesh and blood go on with the rest, the secret of shame being respected. Why is the bed-chamber filled with a crowd of deities, when even the groomsmen have departed? And, moreover, it is so filled, not that in consideration of their presence more regard may be paid to chastity, but that by their help the woman, naturally of the weaker sex, and trembling with the novelty of her situation, may the more readily yield her virginity. For there are the goddess Virginiensis, and the god-father Subigus, and the goddess-mother Prema, and the goddess Pertunda, and Venus, and Priapus. What is this? If it was absolutely necessary that a man, laboring at this work, should be helped by the gods, might not some one god or goddess have been sufficient? Was Venus not sufficient alone, who is even said to be named from this, that without her power a woman does not cease to be a virgin? If there is any shame in men, which is not in the deities, is it not the case that, when the married couple believe that so many gods of either sex are present, and busy at this work, they are so much affected with shame, that the man is less moved, and the woman more reluctant? And certainly, if the goddess Virginiensis is present to loose the virgin's zone, if the god Subigus is present that the virgin may be got under the man, if the goddess Prema is present that, having been got under him, she may be kept down, and may not move herself, what has the goddess Pertunda to do there? Let her blush; let her go forth. Let the husband himself do something.

Crowded indeed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

At the study this morning

Thus says the LORD, "A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more."

Thus says the LORD, "Restrain your voice from weeping And your eyes from tears; For your work will be rewarded," declares the LORD, "And they will return from the land of the enemy.

... ...

The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Simple CIMON met an ... astronaut

I missed this story. "On Monday, July 2, the ISS received its first artificial intelligence robot" "CIMON is about the size of a volleyball and has a display built in. It can see, hear, talk, and comprehend, and its A.I. smarts mean that the more it interacts with crew members, the more abilities it will develop."

"Besides helping the crew, it’s hoped CIMON’s presence will offer researchers an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of having an A.I. assistant on board." Umm. I'm not sure how much better this is than having a human on the radio with you.

Christian Karrasch insists there’s nothing to worry about. "He's a friendly guy and he has this hard power-off button."

Friday, November 23, 2018

Confederates in the Attic

Confederates in the Attic, Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz
It is an interesting book and you should probably read it. But bear in mind that he went looking for these things—what you would see if you went might differ. The cover picture is of Bob Hodges, who plays a significant role in the book (I sometimes wondered if he existed). He’s a hardcore “reenactor,” willing to hike barefoot and eat hardtack and sleep in the rain—and not wash--in order to achieve the full experience. At one point the group march barefoot carrying live chickens to cook, and when they reach their target, they open up the mailbag to read the letters they had earlier written to themselves. These folk disdain reenactors as unrealistic.

Lots of people, not just from the USA, find the Civil War fascinating. Apparently Gone With the Wind is a huge cultural thing in Japan.

If you read nothing else, read the chapter with the interview with Shelby Foote. "In his view, those who saw the banner as synonymous with slavery had their history wrong. The battle flag was a combat standard, not a political symbol. ... But he pinned the blame for this on educated Southerners who allowed white supremacists to misuse the flag during the civil rights struggle." True or false? Read it for yourself.

Horwitz found “The South will rise again” types without apparent difficulty. As you might expect, they don’t like blacks, don’t like the feds, and don’t like Jews. In the places he found them, they don’t hide. They are part of the community, and not shy about talking to strangers. At least, so it seems—I don’t discount artistic license.

Why the fascination with the Confederacy? He found no single answer; and different people had a different mix of motives. Sympathy for the underdog, fascination with a group that fought hard against overwhelming odds and might have won independence (it was a close call thanks to Copperheads), dislike for blacks and sympathy for a group that didn’t like them either, dislike for centralized power and sympathy for a group that rebelled against it, ancestry--"these are my people", a sense of history--these great events happened right here--and fascination with the romantic heroes of the war. The Confederacy stands for a lot of different things. “Hate” and “heritage, not hate,” both.

In these “South will rise” groups, the actual veterans seemed to have a little more nuanced idea about the Confederate struggle. Surprise. The amount of historical ignorance is rather startling—one town considers itself to be emblematic of the Confederacy, when during the war it was with the Union.

The battlegrounds were in strategic places, and strategic places often remained important. The priorities people living and working there tended more to redevelopment than enshrinement. Horwitz was disappointed.

Not everything in the book revolves around reenactors or the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their ilk. He found places where the war seems to be solidly in the past. Mostly. And when he listened to the debate about the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue, he was surprised to find reasoned arguments. That says something to me about who he’d been hanging around with.

The continued existence of groups that dislike blacks and sometimes recommend violence taints relations of blacks with whites (who can you trust). On the other hand, the existence of groups of blacks that hate whites (yep, he finds them too, and at least as ignorant as their white counterparts) taints relationships of whites with blacks. By this time the extremes justify each other’s existence.

He admitted that his journeys don’t cover nearly enough cultural territory, and it is pretty obvious that it isn’t remotely representative. We’d be up past our eyebrows in reenactors if it were. The book is now 20 years old.

My experiences were all in large cities—probably “tainted with Yankee attitudes”—so I have no personal yardstick for estimating things. Wikipedia claims that the Sons of Confederate Veterans numbers about 100,000, which looks like less than .15% of the white population of the South. If you assume that similar organizations have similar numbers, maybe 1%. That’s noticeable. For comparison, about 3% of the population is either in prison or on parole. FWIW, in Wisconsin 2/3 of the prisoners committed a violent offence; so estimate that at least 2% of the population is violent. This varies substantially by race.

If you are interested in some of the aftereffects (as of 20 years ago) of the “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight,” read it.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


I seem to have started the day off on the wrong foot. I looked at the news. That's designed to induce the opposite of thanksgiving (if it bleeds...) Some things I have to know about (The Camp Fire smoke raised particulate counts so high that NERSC turned off their tape archive system--so our archiving system is stalled for now.), but most of it I can't do much about, and I can wait another day.

I think I'll make a list and do some more writing today. The original proclamation was made during wartime--and Abe found some things to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sly abuse of English

"Dear shareholders ... measurable uptick in market volatility ... In recent months, against this backdrop, global markets have given back some of the strong gains recorded during 2017 ..."

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Preschool education

This is a topic I've been trying to keep an eye on for a while. Back in 2013 I looked at Head Start's report and concluded that the program was not doing what it was advertised to do. We want something to do that job, and the obvious approach of early childhood education didn't seem to work.

Since then many professionals with more time and more money have had a look at the datasets. This essay reviews a number of them. Key finding: "Every study found something different, and it isn’t even close." In other words any positive effects were, at best, at the edge of detectability.

A longitudinal study in progress won't be ready for a few more years, but the interim results aren't promising. Tiny effects--maybe. Sometimes. When the Moon is full. It is frustrating because sometimes you seem to get good results, but in the big picture they wash out. Maybe that's just statistical fluctuations, or maybe there's some detail in the broad notion of "teaching" that we're missing.

I once asked whether the typical school structure might not be optimal for students with certain disadvantages. One problem often correlated with modern poverty is lack of home discipline. A school structure that relies on well-disciplined students won't work so well when they aren't. Some of our children did well with a fair bit of flexibility in scheduling, while others needed "a schedule so tight it squeaked." One teaching size does not fit all. What if we establish classes for the discipline-deprived?

Of course you have to be careful that lazy administrators(*) don't indulge in warehousing. And this kind of class is not a good place to put the violent, who probably can't be handled in school at all.(**)

(*) We only hear about the lazy, loony, crooked, or invertebrate. Presumably there are plenty of others that don't make the news. But we have to keep an eye on them just in case.

(**) I'm not suggesting that this is a good model, though I have heard of classes that might have benefited from the approach.

It isn't even Thanksgiving yet

One signal that winter has arrived (never mind the lying calendar) is that the car frame zaps you when you slide out of the front seat. The second snowfall of the season is also a useful indicator. But the mosquito I had to swat--perhaps that's a reminder that spring is coming? (We just have a little winter to get through first.)

I live in Wisconsin of my own free will; can't blame anybody else...

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Do cities naturally trend Democrat?

The rule says that if a headline is a question, the answer is no. I think the answer might be "maybe".

In discussions on a recent AVI post the question arose of whether cities would inevitably trend Democrat. If this is so, what aspects of Democrat philosophy and policy make it so?

To answer that, first ask what qualitative differences are there between rural and urban living?

One obvious difference is the scale. The much greater number and density of people in the city make it easier to build machines of people—whether an orchestra or a courier service or a sweat shop. These machines provide services the rural area can’t often match, and often quite fast—it’s a cliché but an accurate one that life in the city is faster.

The machines of the city can generate a great deal of wealth too. Historically the bulk of this was reserved for the elite, but when a middle class gets large the wealth gets shared around more.

Being part of a machine puts impersonal demands on you. This happens in the rural areas too: “Make hay while the sun shines,” and your animals depend on you. I have no idea how impersonal this may be—my adult life has been city-dwelling. But a city runs by the clock.

Machines need controllers. Self-organizing can work surprisingly well in the short term, but if you want a reliable machine long-term you have to have a clear organization and enforcement.

Some city-specific problems demand careful planning—waste disposal, for one thing. That’s much less of a problem in rural areas—unless you take your water from downstream of somebody’s leaky outhouse, or somebody from the city decides to dump stuff on you. City travel has to be tightly regulated. I can walk a shortcut through cornrows, but driving on sidewalks is frowned on.

I think I see one bias right off away: there’ll be a larger fraction of people in the cities who are used to being part of machines, and of people who think in terms of managing people-machines. They’d be more apt to find social and economic planning to be natural, instead of presumptuous.

In the city you are likely within a brick’s throw of hundreds of people, and a daily trip to work puts you close to thousands. (I’m thinking of taking the subway to downtown Chicago here.) I have been repeatedly assured that human limitations mean you can only know about 150 people well—and once you count your family and your “co-workers in the machine,” there aren’t a lot of slots left for neighbors. I don’t vouch for the accuracy of that 150, but it seems to match my own experience so I’ll go with it.

What that limitation means is that my actions impact a lot more people than I can actually know. In a rural area my fire pit probably won’t annoy anybody, but if it does they know who I am and can talk to me about it—and so long as they’re not my enemies we can reach an accommodation.

But in the city the complainants may be strangers, and negotiations get more complicated. I’m not as invested in the well-being or good humor of people I don’t know. I’m not certain that I can be, or should be. So instead of negotiations, we need rules.

In a mono-culture the rules can be intricate rules of courtesy, Japanese style—but that doesn’t seem to work at all in multi-cultural areas. It probably can’t—the rules of courtesy are part of culture.

That means you need codified rules—laws. Lots of them, and more all the time, because the number of possible interactions between people grows with the more different things they can do. I want to fly a drone and you want to listen to a radio--and if they use the same frequency who wins?

This obviously restricts liberty. Up to a point the restrictions come along with enough benefits from the smooth functioning of the machines that most people make the trade-off willingly. There is no natural bound to the number of laws, though, and there’s ample precedent for adding to them every time there’s another problem—however minor.

The Democrat governing philosophy matches this attitude and legal situation very well. Elect wise planners and the machines will run on time. They claim that this will be more equitable, but Acton’s Law applies—though that’s not relevant to the original question.(*)

Have you noticed that when “make a new regulation” is the default attitude, the elite tend to think that law and the good are whatever the rules are? Can you say “idolatry?”

Together with the impersonal environment and the cog-in-the-machine life, this elevation of the state to Arbiter of Good and Evil makes for a rather toxic environment for a human being. We need to be more than machine parts, and to love God and the good.

Perhaps cities have unique spiritual dangers after all.

(*) Although perhaps it is relevant. Entrenched corruption can give the same effect as the "one man, one vote, one time" rule—once the all-controlling rulers are in place you can’t get them out. I read a saying (possibly made up—I can’t find it again), that the tigers in the city are worse than the tigers on the mountain.

And it is demonstrably true that finite-minded humans don't plan well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Counting votes

If the interlocks are broken, it does not matter whether someone has been monitoring who went in and out of the radiation area. When it is time to button up and turn on the beam, a search team goes in to make sure nobody was left behind. (And sometimes the safety officer hides a dummy in the experimental hall, to keep the search team on their toes.)

If the package seal is broken on the gauze pads, the burden of proof that the contents are safe is on the person providing the material. The surgeon needs a clear chain of possession and observation with trusted agents.

The default assumptions change when security is broken. If a cracker gets into your computer system, you assume that he has everyone’s password, and left nasty files behind. I can assure you that getting that cleaned up is a lot of work.

If ballots turn up outside of the regular procedures designed to prevent fraud, or are brought in from outside those procedures, the default assumption is that they have been tampered with. The burden of proof is on the election commissioner to prove that they are not. If she fails to provide clear chain of possession and observation by the required neutral observers, the votes are tainted. If the ballots are not collected and processed in the prescribed way by the prescribed deadline, the votes are tainted.

You cannot readily estimate the effect of tampering, and all votes are questionable. You can’t just scale the numbers and say "Instead of 150 votes for the Whigs and 50 for the Tories we’ll count 75 for the Whigs and 25 for the Tories," because tampering is intended to change the balance. On the other hand, this is not adequate to prove that the vote was tampered with, so absent incriminating evidence nobody is going to go to prison.

Holding new elections in Broward for the local elections seems like a no-brainer. The state-wide elections are another matter—the partisans know how many votes they need to arrange for, and will carefully make sure they have them. It may be that a new state-wide election is needed.

I have been dubious of early voting--when you hold ballots for that long guaranteeing neutral observation and possession is hard--and I consider e-voting an invitation to disaster. "There are lots of very smart people doing fascinating work on cryptographic voting protocols. We should be funding and encouraging them, and doing all our elections with paper ballots until everyone currently working in that field has retired." Messes like this do not encourage me.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

0 to 60

Some people in church will go from 0 to 60 if you come close to disparaging their favorite political figure, but be quite cool and collected if you disparage Jesus. The obvious (and probably somewhat unfair) suspicion is that you can tell where someone's heart is that way. But I wonder if this is related to scope: God can defend His own honor but I'm responsible for protecting my family. It isn't easy to see how a powerful politician needs protection from the likes of you, though.

Or perhaps this is an assault on my integrity--I chose to support X, and you are saying I'm wrong?

Or perhaps this is a side-effect of politics becoming a good vs evil battle, and you have just announced to me that you're in favor of the devil. The astute reader will notice that this is not easy to distinguish from "making an idol of the party."

Add another little data point: I know several people who start to freak out if you suggest that MSNBC is not less biased than Fox, or that the NYT picks sides. It is like suggesting to a Muslim that some of the Koran's text is corrupt. Perhaps this is a "family defense:" I'm so familiar with these voices that they're part of my family and I have to defend them against insults.

But I worry that it is a matter of "I take my world-view and values from these people, and my identity is bound up with them. They could never lie to me. Don't you dare try to turn my world upside-down."

Repeat quietly: "Do not trust in princes..." Nor in the Prince of the Power of the Airwaves.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Suppose Germany won WWI

"As a preliminary matter, we should note that the actual outcome of the First World War was a near thing"
A reader ignorant of the history of the 20th century who was given samples from this literature that did not contain actual references to the war could reasonably conclude that he was reading the literature of defeated peoples. There was indeed insanity in culture in the 1920s, but the insanity pervaded the whole West.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

November exercise

It took 50 minutes for me to get from the end to the table through the Peano curve of voters in the gym. There were 5 workers at the first table, using a fancy new electronic recording system that was actually a bit slower than the old-style 2-books-and-sign method. (The other two tables I sped through in 20 seconds.)

One man was discovering that registering was one thing but actually voting required a picture ID. An elderly Chinese woman was voting for the first time. A little girl was fascinated with the baby in the stroller, who in turn seemed amazed to see all the strange people standing around and not doing anything. There were, of course, balls stuck in the gym ceiling apparatus here and there--including one that must have been wedged in between pipes by a mighty throw. I hope somebody recruited the kid who managed that.

Saturday, November 03, 2018


Mike Royko had a good idea a few years ago: Lie to pollsters. He called it "one of my few constructive civic endeavors."

I'm taking a different tack. Sometimes I accidentally pick up a pollster's call. I hang up on robocalls. But I'm developing a spiel I use with humans. I tell them that I believe I can help them a great deal, that I look forward to working with them, and that I bill against retainer, with a 50 hour minimum and \$120/hour.

"That's all the questions I had for you today" was the last reply.

(If one of them accepts I'm going to have to head to the lawyer quickly for a standard retainer contract form.) I've heard that some people try to sell them insurance, but this seems faster.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail

I keep seeing references to The Camp of the Saints, and so I figured I should find out what it was about. Rule 1: read it with my own eyes first, before seeing what other people have to say.

I'm about a fifth of the way through, and unlikely to ever read any further. For those who don't trust Wikipedia, here are my observations.

Thesis: The Third World (including China! written in '73) have noticed that the West's altruism is not accompanied by any love for their own culture or own people anymore, and are staging non-violent invasions. Violence would be met by overwhelming violence, but the rulers of the West have no answer for peaceful invasion--their ideologies make the invaders sacrosanct. You don't shoot women and children, or defenseless men.

With this bit of ethical jujitsu, the invaders win and, linking up with foreigners already in the West, turn and destroy the remnants of the West. Part of this is my reading, and part summary from elsewhere. As I said, I won't be finishing the book.


  • The author seems to hate Christians. So far all of them are slimy and all in favor of the poor elsewhere destroying the West. It isn't too hard to find such characters here, but they're not the majority. He is called a "traditional Catholic," so possibly he was reacting to popular ideas among clerics in France--maybe liberation theology?
  • The rulers of the West are feckless and more interested in looking virtuous than in actually taking care of their citizens. I would have thought this overblown, that when danger threatened they'd wise up, but Angela Merkel is a real-life example--and it isn't hard to find politicians here who have similar attitudes. Though what they'd really do with power is fortunately not known. Yet, or, God willing, ever.
  • The citizens of the West are mostly helpless sheep, more interested in their comforts and in looking virtuous than in standing up for anything. This may change over the course of the book, but I'm not sure. One early character kills a looter, but after that bit of useful effort spends the rest of the chapter savoring a leisurely dinner while thinking about how everything will be destroyed.
  • The foreigners within the West do not love the West, and are willing to join in attacking it. Again, it isn't hard to find examples of this. It is also possible to find counter-examples. By and large, "blood is thicker than water" is a solid rule around the world. We like to think of the USA as an ideology-based country and an exception to the rule, but the astute observer will have noticed that identity-based politics is a big thing here.
  • People value their tribe and their culture more than they do yours.
  • Although the point hasn't arisen in the book (so far), the position of supplicant is a bitter one. Gratitude isn't one of humanity's strong suits. People resent being the beggars, and the attitude the author assigns the Third World masses seems natural.

Controversy: The book is asserted by many to be racist. The accusation might be justified, although it might also just be character viewpoint-based. I haven't read far enough to be sure, but I have read enough for it to make me very tired.

Some of the characters seem rather wooden to me--in some ways this reminds me of Atlas Shrugged. There's lots of introspection, at least from the Westerners. So far there's no viewpoint except that of Westerners, whether in India or France or New York. Probably won't be, either, given the style.

Summary: Meh to the book. Takeaways from the book: other tribes don't like you much, and sometimes hate you. Your leaders are often more interested in looking good than doing good. Peaceful is not always friendly. Non-violent can be extremely dangerous.

And, as Germany shows, the book is timely.

Further explosion followup

I mentioned an explosion in town here and here

The latest word is that the gas line was improperly marked. "failed to correctly mark the gas line in the street, where it was actually located, and instead marked a spot on a sidewalk about 25 feet away where there was no gas line."

That would do it. Documentation is vital.

Moving mud pit

A mud pit is on the move.. "first 60 feet over a few months, and then 60 feet in a single day"

Yes, it is in the San Andreas fault area, and yes it is warm water that smells of rotten eggs.

"Union Pacific has been forced to build temporary tracks to avoid running trains over land impacted by the spring. Trains are now moving more slowly through the area, according to the company."

For some strange reason I'm reminded of this story we used to read to the younger kids.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Teacher union

I have said before that the industrial union adversarial model is problematic for public-sector workers--the result is inevitably adversarial, inescapably political, and as experience shows, often becomes a Praetorian Guard.

But if you ever wonder why teachers might need something to represent them, read this about Liberton teachers.. The powers-that-be demand that they teach 8 violent students (thrown chairs, injuries, police calls). 8 students, and even with 7 aides it wasn't possible to keep them from fighting. When the powers-that-be get an idea in their collective skull, there's no way to let reality intrude.

We get the same problem in this country, of course.

Trying to translate

I remember trying to read newspapers in French, and finding that I could read everything except a few key words. At the end of the article I was unsure if the minister opposed or supported the proposed law, or whether the crime report was about jaywalking or bigamy.

I have the same problem with stories in English. Some phrases have no clear meaning, and the whole story depends on them. Like "far right."

Sometimes I can figure out the meaning by tracking down the quotations--one common meaning is "nationalist," which quite a number of reporters and other sloppy thinkers think means Nazi. Sometimes it means somebody who wants to cut back hard on the welfare state. Sometimes it means somebody who wants to decentralize the government. Sometimes I can't find out what the writer means at all.

Given the propensity certain groups have for demanding ideological purity in every detail, sometimes the label gets slapped on a person who disagrees with just one item in the list. A Progressive Democrat who decides that abortion is wrong can get the label.

It's hard enough to figure out American news stories: European uses of the phrase seem disconnected from anything I'm familiar with. There's no way of easily mapping disagreements about personalities in Bavaria into American categories.

How about using categories instead? You'll find some clustering, but the smaller groups will almost certainly not cluster along the same lines as the majority parties.

Nationalism doesn't form a neat spectrum. Some think it the root of all evil. A lot of people are perfectly OK with taking care of me and mine first. Some (e.g. the Nazis) think "me and mine" have the right to dominate the rest.

Ideas about immigration seem likely to correlate with ideas about nationalism.

You'll find a spectrum rather than discrete divisions when asking how much control the central government should have.

Do they hate Jews? These days more folks on the "left" do than on the "right:" it really should be split out as its own category.

Do they advocate for one race against others?

What framework do they support for helping the sick or out-of-work?

And so on. I can understand what those things mean.

Getting clarity won't happen spontaneously. Reporters are comfortable with things as they are, and in my observation not the wisest or smartest folks around. (Good at writing, as a rule.) And who speaks for a group and when? Some groups unite on a few topics but are agnostic on others, and Schmidt will give you a different answer than Fritz. And the press releases and reporter's questions tend to focus on a few of the details, and often controntationally rather than informationally. And politicians won't sit still to answer a long list unless there's some benefit--many don't even answer the 3-4 questions the League of Women Voters asks and publishes.

Probably the nearest we'll get is by collecting the evaluations of a number of different interest groups. I wonder what google translate would do with candidate evaluations from Italian tourism promoters pushing for more money to restore Pompeii? (And which groups are actually independent of the party? It is no trick to find sock puppet groups, and others are long-time close affiliates with parties.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Question for followers

I updated the previous post (about the fellow who tried to buy radioactive poison). Did that appear as something new?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dark web trap

The Dark Web is an odd place.

First, to be clear, there's a huge amount of invisible stuff on the web. Absolutely gigantic. When you connect to a news site for a news story, it generally comes from a database--and there's lots of stuff in that database. We have thousands of pictures at IceCube, but no way for you to browse them. If you know what you're looking for, you can view it, but we have no index and the rest is not obvious--google doesn't see it, for example.

That's not what I'm talking about here. You can find details on how to access the Dark Web in a number of different places, some of them even reputable. Some reporters have ventured there and reported back what they found.

Bottom line: you need special software, and you need to know where to look. And if you've got any sense at all, you use several virtual networks to conceal where you are, and work from a throw-away virtual machine, or maybe a virtual machine inside a VM. Some people are very good at sniffing out where you are, and some of them are not nice people. Transactions run through crypto-currency. There appear to be, believe it or not, circles of trust. Vendors who cheat can be flagged. I assume lots of work has gone into figuring out how to subvert these trust networks.

What can you do there? Communicate privately with like minded people. That might be North Korean dissidents, or it might be neo-Nazis, or kiddie porn creators, or communists with an action plan.

Or you can also buy and sell stuff that you don't want other people to know about: fentanyl mailed from China, hand grenades, radioactive poisons, what have you. Even, supposedly, hits.

That's where one weak point in the chain shows up: if you want delivery of something physical, you have to give a physical location.

One of our local "frequent protestors" just got himself arrested for trying to buy radioactive substances to kill someone. Turns out the vendor was the FBI.

Ryan allegedly asked in subsequent contacts about how long would it take the poison to kill someone after ingested.

“I’m looking for something that’s very rare/difficult to get a hold of. Also that doesn’t show symptoms immediately but kills them fairly soon after,” the message said.

He also said he wanted the material to be “extremely difficult” to get so people would automatically suspect the government, and that the material would be safe to ship.

Anybody can pretend to be anybody on the Dark Web, but when you go to pick up the delivery it is pretty hard to deny that you-done-it.

Don't try this at home. Or anywhere, actually, unless you actually happen to be North Korean dissidents trying to stay alive. Even then I'd wonder.


His lawyer claims he had cancer already, and wanted to kill himself in a way that a) would be untraceable and look like cancer and b) would make people think the government did it. The claims are not entirely consistent--throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks?

Titus directives

Although you have to take a passage in context and cross-connect it with others, sometimes a close reading can be interesting.

Paul tells Titus how to direct different types of people in the church. Something jumped out at me this time. He doesn't bother directing older women to be sensible--in fact they are to be teachers themselves. But to be sensible is the only directive he gives for the young men, which included what we'd call teenagers. Perhaps his thought was that getting teenagers to be sensible was going to be a tough enough job that the rest could wait until later.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Novel approach to bank robbery

It was almost completely non-violent.

They may have known what to expect: "They has left a red bag behind that contained one hard saw, two drill machines one, one-wheel rim and 150 keys." And they may have known that the vault lock was on the fritz. But I've never before heard of herbal tea playing a pivotal role in a crime.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Cell phone call curiosity

Apropos of nothing much--I've gotten several robo-phone calls in Chinese from Chicago and LA numbers. We don't pick up, but they leave a message. The family cell phone numbers are sequential, and one of the others gets them too. Chinese spam can't be that cost-effective in the USA.

Probably it's targeted advertising--sort of like the East Coast college emails I've been getting for a year that are actually intended for a high school junior. Cheer for the almighty algorithm!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Energizing the ratchet

Performers sometimes say they're energized by the energy of the crowd. They do better than they planned, more than they planned, louder than they planned.

While no doubt almost all politicians are manipulative, I suspect quite a few get similar energy from the crowds, and sometimes depart from the stump speaches and say things that weren't on the cue cards. The morning after, some of those claims sound too wild, but they fit the moment. You can sometimes walk back things you say, though it is harder when everything is recorded.

These moments can also ratchet the wider dialog. AVI elaborated on the power of the perversion of language mentioned in Codevilla's essay. What struck me was the ratcheting--what Codevilla called the spiral. Sometimes it's clearly deliberate, and sometimes the participants have no options, but I wonder how often the ratcheting is inadvertent. The accusations just become more extreme, and sometimes it isn't part of any master plan, it just evolves.

That "energizing" seems to have a parallel in online discourse. The intensity/energy level they find in a group seems to inspire people to match it and exceed it--they must get a rush out of it, even though the mechanism is far more impersonal than is meeting face to face. Unless members of the group jump on someone who's out of line, I never see the culprit back down from an extreme claim. The morning after a bull session you can start more or less fresh, but the online conversations seem to pick up where they left off. The text is right there, just as you left it.

Without a guiding plan, with just the feeding off each other's energy, the accusations grow more extreme and the enemy more vile.

Politician meetings with hoi poloi seem to be alternately more attacked by coordinated noisy opponents, and more locked down and scripted to deal only with loyalists. Ratcheting.

Delay of game

I was trying to get to sleep with a West-Coast pennant game on the radio. No doubt the advertisers will disagree with me, but I think some minor changes would improve the game.

Every time a pitcher calls for a timeout, a ball is added to the batter's count.

Every time a batter calls for a timeout, or steps out of the batting box, a strike is added to his count.

I think the majors are probably ready for the pitch clock by now.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Gardening observations

Resist the temptation to use a chainsaw on the morning glories. It will probably damage the trellis, and will throw seeds into even more places--and nothing eats the seeds. A flamethrower is probably not allowed by city code. Seeds will get stuck in between the boards of the deck. A butter-knife can be helpful.

When the times come to harvest bindweed, you will regret having it so close to the rose bush.

There seems to be a strong positive correlation between the size of the harvest and the quantity of mosquitoes supervising the harvest.

Flower names evaporate: it is necessary to specify which pot and use landmarks other than other flowers' names when ordering a transplant.

Before and after the first frost is a dramatic transition.

Tall plants fall over.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Right Stuff

The announcer is cool and collected

Diagrams: "That was a quick flight."

Some details at Hackaday, and a followup story about the time crunch at the ISS: "ISS crews are rotated out on a six month schedule because that’s about how long a Soyuz capsule can remain viable in orbit. It has a design life of only 215 days, any longer than that and the vehicle’s corrosive propellants will degrade their tanks."

I saw Esau by Iona and Peter Opie

I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book is an updating of their older book, this time profusely illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It contains schoolchildren's rhymes, "clearly not rhymes that a grandmother might sing to a grandchild on her knee."
Tommy Johnson is no good,
Chop him up for firewood;
When he's dead, boil his head,
Make it into gingerbread


Patience is a virtue,
Virtue is a grace;
And Grace is a little girl
Who doesn't wash her face.

The second is the natural riposte to the original: "Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace; both put together make a very pretty face."

I'm a book owner, and like this one:

Who folds a leaf down,
The devil toast brown;
Who makes mark or blot,
The devil toast hot;
Who steals this book
The devil shall cook.

No, it isn't Shakespeare, and it is often rather vulgar, and some of the customs jar--"selling a wife" was a poor man's form of divorce. You probably used some variation or another of these British chants when you were little. This may help you get a better feel for the past. For the longest time I didn't understand the point of the "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief" poem, but once I learned the key it made English attitudes clearer. I remember joining in with other first graders to chant a ditty at a chubby classmate. I had no idea what exactly it meant, and from his reaction I'm not sure he did either, but it was supposed to be insulting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An old observation

The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella
But chiefly on the just because
The unjust stole the just's umbrella.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody wrote the old rhymes that the children took up. Somebody had to write the folk songs. I wonder what they'd have thought if you'd told them that nobody would remember their names, but everybody would remember their songs.

Friday, October 05, 2018

ANITA and new physics

You may have heard of the ANITA experiment results. They claim to have seen upgoing energy showers in their Antarctica balloon experiments. That doesn't sound very surprising: IceCube sees them too--but at a lower energy. At these estimated energies, pretty much nothing doesn't interact in the Earth. They estimate the chances that this is an ordinary tau neutrino to tau lepton transformation, and get of order 1 in a million.

Their paper looks at the IceCube results and finds confirmation--but they actually beg the question a bit--they assume the particles are taus and then see if this agrees with the Standard Model, rather than assuming the Standard Model and trying to estimate whether these are taus.

And though they wrote about supersymmetric s-tau ("stau") particles as a Beyond-The-Standard-Model alternative, these don't act like the usual predictions for staus. (There's some flexibility. Actually, alot. Actually there are a ridiculous number of unknown parameters in supersymmetry, so maybe they're right after all..)

Halzen said he was surprised that an acquaintance's paper refuting ANITA's first premise wasn't out already--perhaps it wasn't as easy as he thought.

ANITA looks for radio bursts in the atmosphere resulting from showers of particles . It can't see very many radio bursts coming down at it directly, but the radio waves of downgoing showers reflect off the Antarctic ice, so its coverage is actually quite wide. Thing is, a shower developing in the Earth's atmosphere will have a particular polarization. When it reflects off the ice, that switches. So if they see an upcoming shower's radio waves with the wrong polarization (and they see 2 such), they conclude that it wasn't a reflection--the parent particle was really coming up through the Earth. And the angles they see those coming from imply that the chord through the Earth is thousands of miles. And the energy of the shower they infer means the original particle that entered the Earth on the other side must have been mighty energetic: 100EeV or thereabouts. It would have interacted along the way, and the granddaughter particle that interacted for the last time in the crust would have had only about 10EeV left. That's still a lot, btw. And the probability that it could happen as described is, as noted above, very very low.

But... What if the ice isn't nice and homogeneous? Can you get an effective reflection that doesn't reverse the polarization of the radio waves generated by the shower? Then you just have an "ordinary" 10EeV cosmic ray shower. That would be my first guess, and that's Halzen's friend's estimation (so far).

Experimental glitches and surprises happen.

Thursday, October 04, 2018


I remember the conversation--monologue, actually--in which my then-supervisor, without a trace of irony, assigned me 3 different absolute top priority tasks in the space of 5 minutes. (One involved working closely with someone who was out of town...)

Other people can better that anecdote. I don't have the flier anymore, but the then-principal of our local elementary school sent home a half-page announcement that had several spelling errors and a grammatical glitch.

Opium wars

I don't sit still for podcasts, but I made an exception for the first part of Scott Adams announcing that his stepson had just died of a fentanyl overdose.

He describes the things that came together to cause this, starting with an accident his son sustained that caused brain damage, California rules that limit parental control of minor children, and the ready availability of powerful drugs and of fake Xanax (which can contain fentanyl too).

He suggests that the agents responsible for killing 30,000 Americans a year should be executed, and that if the Chinese don't do it, we should. He has a lot more faith in our ability to act inside China than I do. And faith that the society with more addicts will prevail--didn't happen last time.

This is a hard time for him. I wouldn't link to it at all, except that this is what he wanted to be public.

Fentanyl is nasty stuff. One policeman died after contact with it--apparently because he tried to wash it off with hand sanitizer, which made it much easier to absorb through skin. I gather that quite a bit of the drug is simply mailed from China, and delivered by the USPS.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Another take on The Benedict Option

I wrote some quick notes about this a few days ago.

Another blogger has a much more detailed take. Among other things the writer thinks that some of the features of a "lifetime learning university," including a campus and living space, might be useful. He worries that the modern versions of culture and state will not permit any substantive kind of isolation, and he is absolutely correct--only force of some kind will dissuade them from trying to dominate everything. He brings up the Jewish Orthodox, who use their monolithic voting block as a political force to compel the local governments to leave them alone.

However, the rule that "if something cannot continue forever, it won't" holds, and the new Western culture is deeply self-destructive. The power of the culture and state will decrease when the financial and social capital run out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Drone wars

This Small Wars Journal post about a fighter commanding two drones at once (using video feeds from them) is full of jargon. "A concern with the bifocal picture of the battle for a lone individual, is that the data overload becomes more extreme. The aim of the 3D aspects of the OODA loop construct, and doubling or more for a single actor, is to seek continuous simultaneous review of the entire space surrounding a target; however, this impacts on tactical development significantly from an informational view." = you can't concentrate on three things at once

The idea, as illustrated in the post, is that using one or more drones greatly increases your ability to scan and attack. OK, fine. Searching for the enemy is still hard, and you almost certainly can't concentrate on 2 videos plus whatever is in front of you. Maybe some algorithms for pattern recognition would help--but those probably won't work well without high resolution, and if your drones are broadcasting brightly that's something your enemy could probably home in on.

I gather that "erratic behavior" helps make your drone attacks more effective. (Dodging, zig-zag course--sounds familiar)

The picture changes in some important ways if you aren't doing assassinations, and your enemy is equipped with the same sort of technology. In that case, you have to find ways of watching your own back at the same time. It would be nice to have a few drone-spotting drones aloft, which don't bother reporting back until they see something. If technology allows, add some drone-destroyer drones.

Since you may be otherwise engaged, it would be useful to optionally let the destroyers just attack when they find a target (though deception will make them waste ammo and power). Jamming or EMP attacks could make things interesting. Smoke screens probably won't work well, because (a) infrared and (b) the volume of stuff you need to fill a large enough volume of air is going to be daunting. Too little and the smoke tells where you/your stuff is, too much and you can't carry the smoke generator. (By this time the volume of drones would probably fill a car.)

You could launch lots of unarmed spotter drones and pray that your pattern recognition algorithm is still un-trickable (scarecrow with a cigarette lighter?) and send something armed when you think you have a positive ID.

Your job is to hide yourself, and arrange for some dummy targets, and try to figure out where your enemy is. If the drones are partly autonomous, just killing the enemy may not be enough.

IIRC, in Afghanistan they found that wells were sometimes connected by tunnels of considerable antiquity. Good luck with the drones there.

Sunday, September 23, 2018


It sometime seems that when it comes to a besetting sin, there are essentially three kinds of Christians.
  1. Those that were gulled into thinking that it isn't really a sin
  2. Those that are struggling with it
  3. Those that gave up struggling and gull themselves

Me? Depends on the sin, but I hope most are in 2 or 1 and not in 3. Quite likely wrong, though.

"S. Dorotheus relates of a certain holy monk that he grieved at being freed from temptation, and exclaimed: “Am I not then worthy, 0 Lord, of suffering, and being a little afflicted for Thy love?” "

(I'm reading some of the desert fathers. Interesting mix of advice; sometimes contradictory. "It is human not to know yourself." -- also v.x.69 is fun -- also "If a diligent person lives with those who are not, he does not make any progress, for the whole point of being diligent is to prevent yourself by means of your work from becoming second rate. But if a lazy person lives with those who are diligent, he does make progress, or if he doesn't, at least he cannot get any worse." )

V.x.92. A brother asked an old man, "Father, what is the point of asking the seniors and getting good spiritual advice from them if I don't remember anything of what they say? Why ask seeing I don't profit by it? I feel as if I'm totally unclean."

There were two empty bowls near at hand, and the old man said, "Take one of those bowls, pour some oil into it, burn some flax in it, pour the oil back and put the bowl back in its place."

And he did so.

"Do it again," said the old man.

And he did so.

After this had been done several times, the old man said, "Now pick up the other bowl and tell me which is the cleaner."

"The one I put the oil in," he said.

"It's the same with the enquiring mind," said the old man. "Although you can't remember what you have been told, nevertheless you become cleaner than those who never ask any questions at all."


Perhaps I'm weird (some near and dear will heartily assent) but I found that in younger years when I was in a funk I found that reading Ecclesiastes was a good way of getting out of it. Right there in the Bible--they got it! And at the end of the day they had some hope anyway.

I'm not suggesting it as cure for depression--all I had was the blues. And I wasn't trying to cheer myself up--I was looking for something that spoke to my mood.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Rule of Thumb 17

If the product claims to be compost-able or flush-able, carefully return it to the shelf and back away slowly.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Nuclear pasta

Their models may be wrong, and the details may turn out to not quite work, but you must salute the sense of humor of the researchers trying to calculate how the crusts of a neutron star could crack or break.

The crust might break if something falls into the star, or if in-falling debris slowly piles up into a tiny mountain. "How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses?"

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

First impressions of The Benedict Option

I've been hearing about this for some time, and after AVI said he was going to be teaching from it, decided maybe it was time to get and read it.

Thumbnail: Western Christendom is in free fall, and the West is already becoming hostile to orthodox Christianity. Christians need to build Christian communities to preserve the faith, encourage and sustain each other, and most importantly worship God. Most churches are not such communities.

His view that Western Christendom is in collapse seems accurate. He doesn't address the eventual side effects of this on the secular West, since that isn't his focus, but even the best case is pretty grim for everybody but the lucky elite. "What can't go on forever, won't."

He describes the desacralization of the West (from Charles Taylor) and the changes in philosophy that led us to our current mess. He doesn't suggest that there's an intelligence behind the changes, but I think there is.

In several places the book assumes that the local church can serve as a nucleus of community-building. Looking around at a few I know, that seems a bit optimistic, and even in the book he suggests that quite a few churches are past saving already. (Who knows what God will do, though.)

He emphasizes (rightly, I judge) the importance of liturgy--that's kryptonite to a number of people I know.

Understanding our history he calls vitally important--and that's something that's been on my mind for years. I noticed that the youth weren't getting much in the way of instruction, but a lot in the way of entertainment, and decided to do something about it. That's taken a lot longer than I hoped.

Teaching your children is vital too. He mentions some things I wish we had tried, and some things we did.

He doesn't know how these communities should organize. He describes a few, but recognizes that they will have to be organic, and probably vary somewhat depending on the circumstances. They will be local; there's no substitute for being there when somebody needs you.

Prayer, focus on God, and mutual support for living, working, and teaching will be the foundations of whatever finally works. Hold tight to the truth. Tell the positive story of sex and its importance, against the deluge of trivialization and nonsense we're immersed in. (Robot sex dolls? Really?)

Discipline yourselves--fasting, fasting from electronics, learning to appreciate manual labor. Recognize now that many professional jobs will be closed to orthodox Christians, and be ready to rework your life accordingly.

He comes back over and over to the monks at Nursa and how the principles of their community point to things we need.

My thoughts: To first order, as he points out himself, the Benedict Option is essentially trying to live a Christian life in community--something we should be doing no matter what the socio-political weather.

What should I be doing? Maybe following through with the education plan, assuming I haven't wasted my time on it. Collaring a few people in the church and talking with them about this. Maybe doing some legal research on mutual responsibilities in communities.

Most plans are going to fail, and sometimes dramatically, when people are too lax or too tight with the community rules. As little hierarchy as possible is probably best--otherwise you lose the organic nature of the community and wind up with an out-of-touch elite. Some is needed.

I need to think about this some more, and learn about what's been tried.

UPDATE: Another, much more detailed, take.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Code of conduct

Linus Torvalds apparently had it explained to him that his behavior towards other developers was destructive. So the Linux development community has a new code of conduct.
"In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, we as contributors and maintainers pledge to making participation in our project and our community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation."

You noticed too? Political affiliation isn't included. (The covenant is also quite sex-obsessed, taking up almost a third of the factors.) The Contributor Covenant starts off with some explanation about how meritocracy is a very bad thing, but the actual covenant is mostly innocuous--except for the loophole you can run a barge through.

"But you wouldn't want to work with a Nazi or a racist, would you?" No, not really. But unless their beliefs change what they do, how do I really know what they think? I've probably worked with some racists--but if so they were generally quiet about their views of gweilo, so who cares? And Nazis are rare, never mind what google's HR claims. The closest approximation to Nazis around here is antifa, and there aren't a lot of them either. (*)

What matters is not what you do, or even so much what you say, or what people infer about what you believe--but what label they can slap on you.

(*) "Nazi" means something specific not just about attitudes but about plans and actions. Racists of one stripe or another are not hard to find; tribalists who try to arrange the ascendancy of their tribe are ubiquitous--racists who work to destroy other races are much less common. Maybe you're God and can judge them both alike, but I have to evaluate deeds.

"Embracing My Inner Ent"

Have a look at this medieval scholar's post "On not taking sides." "After all, if my goal had been to impress anybody, I would do much better (numerically speaking) trying to impress the friends whose views I already knew I disagreed with, at least to judge from the jokes that they tell."

Or a more recent post of hers: "Get thee to a library!"

I wrote earlier this week about how senior colleagues keep urging me to get back to my proper work, the scholarship for which I have been trained and on the basis of which I hold the professional position which I do, the implication being that I should not be allowing myself to be distracted with ephemera like, I don’t know, being slandered by colleagues in my field, but rather that I should be concentrating on the work that will last for eternity, or at the very least beyond my own lifetime.

I can hear Hamlet now: "Get thee to a library, why wouldst thou be a feeder of liars?"

But that, of course, is exactly what I did thirty years ago at the beginning of my training as a scholar—get to a library.

That is where I found all the lies!

Or look at the importance of the Scots in the world.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Paul quotes Jesus saying something not found in the Gospels: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

There turn out to be a small number of sayings attributed to Jesus, and not in the spurious "gospels" like "Thomas." Agrapha="non written"

Wikipedia has a list of them. Some of them just don't smell right at all: " Except ye make the lower into the upper and the left into the right, ye shall not enter into my kingdom." Nah, wrong style--bogus.

Others, such as "For ask for the great things, and the small shall be added to you," seem like variants of Gospel sayings.

One which Justin Martyr cites seems on the hairy edge: "In whatsoever things I apprehend you, in those I shall judge you." In other words, what I find you doing when I come or you die, will be used to judge you. That seems a bit out of tune with the rest of His words, except for Mark 13 "Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, 'Be on the alert!'" (And, of course, its parallel in Matthew 24.) And there's Ezekiel 18 too. And lots and lots of people who try to clean up their acts at the end of their lives find the principle plausible.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A difference in attitude

I don't recall much about the book, but when I was quite young I read a history which included Daniel Boone, and mentioned how he had "kilt a bar." It took the time to make the point that although many people could spell better, few could kill a bear at close range.(*) (A sentiment apparently shared by his father.)

I don't see quite as much appreciation for the accomplishments of our ancestors--there's generally a caveat reminding us of their hurtful attitudes about this or that. I can see how this is supposed to shape children's attitudes into appropriate channels, but the unwarranted feeling of superiority seems like a high price to pay.

(*) Daniel apparently could read and write well enough, and liked to bring along reading matter on his hunting trips. He apparently fancied himself as a land speculator, but wasn't any good at it. "Boone's remaining land claims were sold off to pay legal fees and taxes, but he no longer paid attention to the process. In 1798, a warrant was issued for Boone's arrest after he ignored a summons to testify in a court case, although the sheriff never found him. That same year, the Kentucky assembly named Boone County in his honor."

Saturday, September 08, 2018


I remember in a description of the USSR I read back in high school, the phrase "communist science." I thought that was an obscenity then. On mature reflection, I still think it is an obscenity. Truth is made subordinate to the desires of The Party.

Which brings me to this story. Go have a look at it. Executive summary: The author wrote an applied math paper attempting to find an evolutionary reason why males (in a vast array of species) show far greater variability than the females. This was attacked before publication by WIM, and after publication it was made to vanish from the journal.

The first question about this is, of course--is it true? The story is straightforward--were the events really that clear? I have never heard of a published article being replaced without comment before.

Was the opposition entirely driven by the fear of political repercussions? The author names names (Penn State WIM administrator Diane Henderson, Nate Brown, Mathematical Intelligencer’s editor-in-chief Marjorie Senechal) and cites quotations from them.

This is, if true, pretty damning. The loyalty of these, and presumably the rest of the WIM (Women In Mathematics) leadership (I don't know about the rank and file), is plainly not to truth but to the tribe and party. What makes this especially horrifying is that a representative of a large institution (the National Science Foundation--which--full disclosure--pays my salary) agreed.

So, what does one do--aside from forming a counter-party, which would likely degenerate the same way these have?

UPDATE: A mathematician doesn't like the paper on other grounds, but that doesn't exactly address the quoted remarks. Another party claims that the paper was only accepted on the basis of politics. The full emails mentioned might clarify things, but so far I'm still seeing politics victorious over math.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

California bail

They claim that using algorithms to estimate flight risk and not demanding bail is more equitable, since the poor have a harder time making bail. The latter is true, but I wonder about the consequences.

First, I am not persuaded that an algorithm will be less biased(*) than the average of judges.

Second, there is likely to be a difference between the sets of "flight risk" and "flight risk when you have a sizeable chunk of money at stake." The second set is going to be a lot smaller--that's the whole point of bail, if you do it right.

I figure the algorithms-that-be will screw up a lot, and in addition will deny release to a larger number of people than before. If you try to force the before and after rates of bail-denial to match, the system will have a larger number of no-shows.

Perhaps that's a feature and not a bug? More no-shows means fewer convictions which means less stress on an over-full prison system.

(*) Google "fixed" its algorithm by removing gorillas from the training set.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Soil lead and blood

There's always a little lead in the soil, but sometimes there's way too much--and it gets into the kids. The soil is much harder to deal with than walls or floors, and the safety limit for soil is "37 times higher" (or 151 for the new interior standard) than for floors. That's probably not unreasonable. But.

"In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of New Orleans, thereby creating a unique natural experimental condition not ethically possible by any scientific standard.. Ten years after Katrina, the same research team was reinstated to remap New Orleans"

Yep. Lead levels dropped in the soil, and in the kids--a factor of 2.63! (They used the same census tracts to compare apples and apples.) But, of course, it wasn't just the soil. The population wasn't quite the same, and the cleanup sometimes involved repainting. And the stuff that gets picked up may be superficial, so if you can clean up the first few inches you probably cut down on the dust and subsequent transfer by a lot.

Before you ask: phytoremediation is hard. "despite some promising preliminary studies of sunflowers’ phytoextraction of lead, more extensive research has been disappointing. Since the 1990s, plants, including sunflowers, have been shown to increase accumulation of lead when a chelating agent, such as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), is added to the soil. Although the additive raises lead's solubility in the soil, EDTA is extremely expensive. Moreover, EDTA works in combination with other soil practices, such as adding compost, which are proven, cost-effective responses on their own."

"That said, another type of phytoremediation, called phytostabilization, does work. With phytostabilization, soil amendments are added, and the contaminant is sequestered, diluted, and prevented from becoming bioavailable. “The ability to phytostabilize lead is very strong and well demonstrated,” Chaney says. “Most lead problems can be solved by treating the soil with phosphate, limestone, and organic matter.”