Sunday, September 29, 2019

In plain English

Intersectionality: "It reallyN sucks to be me, and it's All Your Fault™!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Tall tales

I like to distinguish a tall tale from a legend. Both may have exaggeration, but the tall tale isn't really meant to be taken seriously, and the exaggeration is the point. We all know stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and other American characters, but how common is the genre elsewhere?

Wikipedia says, not surprisingly, that Canada has a number of tall tales, and Australia, and it mentions others from Europe (e.g. Finn MacCool creating the Giant's Causeway), but doesn't mention anything outside the Euro-Anglophone west.

It seems unlikely that other cultures wouldn't have them too. But...

I remember reading a book on Chinese humor (though I don't remember a lot from it), and finding some examples quite opaque. If I can't always recognize humor, I'm probably not enough in tune with the nuances of the literature to spot when something is exaggerated for humor. Or possibly some cultures don't use "tall tales," finding something else funnier instead. Or maybe I should broaden my definition to include "just-so" type stories like the Anansi stories.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The worst believer

Let me revive a point from a 16-year-old post.

If your religion is more one of orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy, then:

The worst believer is better than the best nonbeliever.

Because your relationship with God is infinitely more important that your relationship with anyone or anything else, it follows that even a wicked believer is better before God than the most virtuous person who rejects God.

(A Christian might object that you can't hate your visible brother and still love the invisible God--which brings in a bit of orthopraxy.)

The principle applies in many religions--including only-formally-secular state worshipping religions like Communism. And do you recall how many women jumped to Clinton's defence--even excusing him? Clinton was orthodox in his support of abortion, and that mattered more than taking advantage of interns. He was a believer.

You can classify these as instances of AVI's tribes, and fruitfully examine them that way, but I think looking at things from a religious standpoint makes it easier to see how some of the extreme positions can get their self-righteous power.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

What helps congregational singing?

Assume a congregation of not-very-trained singers.

Has anybody done any research on what sorts of stage mixes elicit the best singing response from the congregation?

I know you have to hear your own voice, and some lead singer, and your neighbors. But do drums really help? Is it better for the lead singer to be a soprano or a baritone--or is it good to have a mix so every voice range has something to listen to? Lots of instruments? Only a piano?

You also want the Least Astonishment--the worshipper should be able to predict fairly well where the melodic line is going. People will sing the familiar more confidently. But that's a different issue.

And a third time

If this is what the whistles have been blown about, I'm afraid I don't quite see the smoking gun. There's an ambiguous phrase, but in context it doesn't seem to have a nefarious meaning.

I admit that I was dubious about this from the get-go. I've been listening to "impeach"/"25th amendment"/etc for several years now, with varying claims but the same goal. The accusers have called wolf so often that I can no longer assume good intentions and different values--they have lied too much.

I'm old enough to remember the Clinton's impeachment. "Lying under oath and obstruction of justice." Yes, he was plainly guilty of both. The former doesn't quite seem to fit the "high crimes" and the latter was done through means that seem quite common in DC--means that are legal and unethical and bipartisan. Yes, I read the Starr report, and drew my own conclusions.

(Clinton was, in his prime, a superb politician--and I mean that in the worst possible way. His wife, not so much, as was obvious years ago when she bungled the medical care reform effort. She doesn't seem to have learned much since.)

The shoe's on the other foot, and once again, the impeachment is driven by politics and not by any finding of serious crimes. That was true for Andrew Johnson's, too. It seems to be a habit of ours--and like smoking in bed, it may catch up to us someday.

The Trump years have been full of panic and outrage. I suppose that's a handy weapon to have, and maybe it's use is a policy decision not related to its target: "Scream till their ears bleed!"(*) Sometimes I think I detect a more personal motive, though. Trump has made fun of them, and gotten away with it, and they cannot endure to be mocked. AVI noticed that some traditional forms of humor are being squelched too, with very similar fervor.

(*) We changed the way we judge a person's character some while back, and now consider the person greater if their passions are greater--not their control of passions. Obviously if they can't control their passions, it is because their passions are too great. So if I exhibit fantastic outrage, it is because my sensitivity and character are much greater than those of you dull and lazy sorts.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bless me, Daisy, for I have sinned

Everybody noticed when UTS students confessed to plants. "The chapel was held as part of Professor Claudio Carvalhaes’ class: “Extractivism: A Ritual/Liturgical Response,” in which he and students develop liturgical responses to our climate crisis. It was a beautiful, moving ritual."

True, the Babylon Bee succeeded in a limited parody of the fiasco, but the ritual was such a reductio ad absurdum that you have to wonder if anybody participating was serious. I hope not. Psalm 115:8, anyone?

A liturgy is for public worship. It involves more than one party--maybe there's only one worshipper, but there's also the god. If you have a framework of acceptable practices, it isn't implausible that you can vary this--provided your fellow worshippers agree. And that your god agrees.

But how do you create a liturgy from nothing, with no knowlege of what your god wants from you?

  • Do you claim to be a prophet, who brings messages from god? About that--show credentials, please...
  • Or do you simply think it doesn't matter, because whatever is good with you, will be good with your god? Who gets to be the god here?

Maybe I have "experimentalist's bias," but if your theory leads you to do stupid or wicked things, maybe your theory is incomplete.

Dale Matson, commenting on this article wrote: "'A sin confessed merely to a plant is a sin which cannot be forgiven...' Now I know what the unforgivable sin is."

Friday, September 20, 2019

Protests across from the bus stop

The singer's sound system was nice and clear, for a change, but "We are the ones we've been waiting for" repeated over and over doesn't constitute a particularly compelling song--to me, anyway. The audience cheered it, though truth to tell about half of the youth standing outside the Capitol were talking to each other or looking at their phones--and one duo was tossing juggling clubs back and forth.

The signs held by the Youth Climate Action Team called for a climate strike--which seemed a little strange at 3:50 on a Friday afternoon when everybody was going home anyway.

The WSJ says they called on Gov Evers to declare "a climate emergency." I'm not quite sure what that means. Perhaps the teenagers think it would give the governor dictatorial powers, and that he would necessarily do the right things thereafter. They also want MG&E to "reach 100% renewable energy by 2030 instead of the utility's goal of hitting net-zero carbon electricity by 2050 that was set in May." 2050 is a pretty aggressive goal, given current technology. 2030 is a joke.

When we look for policy goals we always look to our teenagers, right?

Richard Armour. (from The Medical Muse)

Who knows each illness, knows each cure?
Who never doubts, is always sure?
Who gives advice to learned scholars
And shrugs aside their thanks and dollars?

Who is this awesome fellow, friends?
Who is the chap who condescends
To chat with men like Mayo?  Who?
It is the intern, young and new,

Who knows more than all other men.
He'll never know so much again.

Monday, September 16, 2019


The attack on the Saudi oil facilities brings questions about drones back to the public eye again. Over the years I've thought a little about the consequences of the use of drones in warfare and in civil disturbances: "Enjoy it while you can", and "Drone wars".

I did come up with a not-altogether-unserious proposal for mitigating internal misuse of arial drones by mobilizing our distributed civilian expertise and firepower: Hunt drones. In peacetime nobody would buy in, but maybe the virtues of the idea are a little more obvious now.

Sell hunting licenses for them. A downed drone becomes the property of the hunter. Within city limits, allow birdshot or launched nets only; a few other minor restrictions seem reasonable. Damage or injury caused by the crash is the responsibility of the most recent controller of the drone. Sorry, Amazon; yours are targets too.

Yes, I know nighttime hunting wouldn't be popular, and the machines are useful in finding out what's going on in disasters.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Class enemy

Have you noticed the exact parallel between the phrases "white privilege" and "class enemy?" They're used for the same ends, by the same kinds of people--just in different eras.

BTW, Grim recommended a New Criterion essay about Solzhenitsyn; I second the suggestion.

Rings of shells

We say "hunter-gatherer" and have a picture of a subsistence society. They may be nomads, or migrate with the seasons or with droughts, but not much otherwise.

But with some hunting and gathering skills, and enough of a surplus, why couldn't somebody travel, e.g. for trade?

Science News says a grave site shows signs of not just trade but people's customs reaching from Superior to Georgia--and possibly the people themselves. The article says that this kind of interconnection was supposed to have only begun about 2000 years ago, but the Georgia site is 2000 years before that.

Trade and travel might have come and gone over millenia, with the fall and rise of unfriendly cultures along the routes. Or bad harvests that cut down on surplus food for travel reserve.

I'm not at all well versed in the various American Indian stories. I wonder which cultures have stories of traders. They'd be fairly recent stories, not 4000 years old, but they might shed a little light on how long distance trade might have been done.

So much for being a prophet

I predicted that Saudi oil facilities would be targeted by internal dissidents, probably Shia. The world is a lot more complicated, isn't it?

Let me try again. This won't be the last such strike. I wonder how vulnerable our refineries are. I'd hope there's some inconspicuous AA equipment operating, but I've heard of other vulnerabilities in other energy producing/distributing that make me wonder. Generals famously try to fight the last war, and politicians tend not to notice unsexy stuff. Salamander frequently complains about infrastructure shortcomings in the Navy--simple stuff but not sexy.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Unintended consequence #437

Police body-cams are a good thing, right? They show what really happened--at least partly.
Attorneys are quitting at least partly because they’re swamped by the amount of video footage they have to review from police body-worn cameras.


“It is completely overwhelming,” said Robert Moody, a public defender in the Newport News office. “There’s no way physically possible I can watch the (video) data dumps they give me.”


“It’s a razor thin wire, because you’re looking to be sure your client’s due process rights are preserved,” he said. “On the other hand, I have 120 other clients. I have to preserve their due process rights too.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The brighter side of trickery

We have had some picky eaters at our table from time to time. My wife devised a scheme for making spaghetti sauce. Part of the vegetables go through the blender and are indistinguishable from the rest of the sauce. The rest appear in little chunks. Picky eaters may remove the little chunks from their serving, confident that they will not be eating icky vegetables.

Life and death

Suppose a patient explained firmly to Dutch doctors that he was not interested in euthanasia and wanted to live his life come what may, but contracted dementia and begged to be killed. We all know what they would do--it happens--in the name of compassion, they would say that now he understood the situation and kill him. On the other hand, someone who, when of clear mind, said she wanted to be euthanized but "that she wanted to determine the right time", when she resists, may be legally held down and poisoned.

Only one choice seems to be respected, and it has nothing to do with your state of mind.

Remind me not to get sick in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Stolen cars

Madison has been afflicted with quite a number of them lately--with repeat juvenile offenders stealing a noticeable fraction of those where the perp is identifiable. Unfortunately, since they're juveniles, we never get to see what they look like and who to watch out for.

Apparently quite a lot of people leave their cars running--in the summer and fall! In winter--that I understand, though I'd never do it. Cars sometimes need to warm up a bit.

In one recent incident there were 4 stolen cars in a single parking lot--stolen from a variety of jurisdictions. I get the impression this isn't just joyriding (or joy-crashing), and it doesn't seem to be chop-shop or resale that much either. Probably dealers and armed robbers and "We need to give them a warning" shooters want "burner cars." We're seeing a rise in those last 3 crimes too.

I wonder how much the thieves get per car.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

The first one

Problems that great mathematicians spent years on are assigned to students to solve by the end of the week. Or sooner. I know I've spent quite a bit of time on a problem that, after I solved it and cleaned up the framework that led to it, looked remarkably simple. Knowing the problem is solvable, and knowing the framework for it, are huge advantages.
Kipling's The Explorer may not sit well with everybody. But I like it. "Anybody might have found it -- but His Whisper came to Me!"

No St. GKC?

Back in '13 Bishop Peter Doyle opened an investigation to see if GK Chesterton might be a saint. Last month he said no. "Chesterton lacks a “cult” of local devotion, the lack of a “pattern of personal spirituality” that could be discerned through his writing, and charges of anti-Semitism in his writing." ... "Doyle praised “Chesterton’s goodness and his ability to evangelize” but said he could not open the cause at this time."

Oh well. That would have been a very interesting exploration of what sainthood means--and I think a useful one.

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Psych studies

Go have a look at Graph Paper Diaries' summary of "what we know now" about some famous psych studies and cases. Of the four cases she mentions, 2 studies were not reported on with integrity, 1 was the most dramatic of 19 and therefore the eyeball-catcher, and the Kitty Genovese murder wasn't what the textbooks say it was.

Thursday, September 05, 2019


Now that we know what most of us suspected--that Alexa et al listen more than is altogether proper, perhaps the next generation will double-down on that feature and be called Boswell.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Virtual gaming

"Man Tells His Kids About The Good Old Days When You Played Your Own Video Games Instead Of Watching Other People Play Them On The Internet". The Bee, of course.

The number of video games I played as a youth was, of course, 0. And as a young adult--you could number them on your thumbs. It was an expensive hobby, and would clearly suck far too many quarters away from my second-hand book fund.

That particular non-predilection seems not to have been hereditary, though perhaps the gene was merely latent.

I get the appeal in playing the games, and if I spent the time to get involved, I would probably get involved.

And I suppose kibitzing is a grand old tradition, made more attractive by the greater emphasis on storyline in video games.

And who has 30 hours to devote to solving a new game? Or \$60 that doesn't have a better home?



Some leaves (pine needles, holly leaves) are quite stiff and hard, a few (like buds, but that's not a fair comparison) are soft, and most are in between. Flower petals seem like a kind of leaf--are they ever hard? It was pointed out that on some plants they fold up, so those would have to be pretty flexible. My botanical knowledge is limited, and I can't think of a flower with hard petals. Are there any?

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

To whom it may concern

I was, for once, not attempting a pun. I did not hear the short I in "D. Min program" as a short I, but as an uh, and was sincerely curious how it got the nickname.