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.