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