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.”

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Turns of phrase

People sometimes do amazing things with the language. You have heard of "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly." You can read about that here, together with such other marvels as "lithobraking maneuver" and "deconstructive deceleration" and "kaputnik."

Apparently Lady Godiva suffered "accidental excursions." As did Godiva II. ("middle melted, disks warped, and bolts stretched") Does it inspire you with confidence to read that "due to a miscalculation, Jemima was assembled with too many disks (of U235); this caused an excursion of 1.5 x 10^16 fissions"?