Thursday, October 31, 2019

Essence and operations

I was reading about the Monothelitism vs Dyothelitism dispute, and was strongly reminded of a joke from last century.
And Jesus said unto them, 'Who do you say that I am?'

And they replied, 'You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships.'

And Jesus said: 'What?'

We've moved away from trying to define things in terms of essence, and tried to define things operationally instead. Ask a scientist what's an electron, and you'll get what boils down to "something that acts like thus and so, with a negative charge, mass of 511KeV/c^2, etc." If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, its a duck.

Studying operations has been very fruitful in mathematics; ditto mappings. Turning from "what is it" to "what does it do" is what much of science is about. i.e. "Shut up and compute." That's helpful in designing systems, and it helps avoid arguments about a whether will is associated with a person or a nature.

Seriously--when you talk about Jesus' nature as human and divine, you have to remember that "nature" doesn't have quite the same meaning when referring to the Origin of all nature. I suppose I should spend a little time researching whether Divine Simplicity shows up in Christological analysis. The first pages didn't turn anything up, but google is hardly ideal for that sort of research.

And yet... We easily take "operationalism" too far. Twins may look and act alike, but they are different people. There's an essence-ial difference.

I don't know where it is proved that we can only know things by comparison with other things. The claim that all knowledge comes through the senses presumes that there is no intrinsic knowledge, it doesn't prove it. I think there is such a thing. So long as we are careful to understand the limits of our words (another thing philosophers love to squabble over) we should be able to say true things about essentials, and not just interactions.

You'd think this would be a more popular notion, given the current "trans" fashion that claims that their essence doesn't match their bodies, and that a little cargo-cult magic will make everything right.

Notes on a Reformation Day

I don't believe in ghosts.

I don't disbelieve in ghosts.

I hate the adult-oriented ghoulishness. It races to maximize ugliness and hatred. Even if the hatred is just make-believe, it still feels like hatred.

Do adults try to take over kid-holidays because they want to be kids, or because there aren't enough kids?

Most costumes are pre-made. Some of the home-brew ones are quite clever. Either way they are way fancier than those of my youth, but the kids are still all excited about TrickOrTreating--except the very little ones.

Decisions, decisions--do I give out plenty and risk running out, or just a few and wind up having to eat the leftovers?

I learned my lesson years ago about answering the door in costume. I tried wearing an African robe and authentic mask. The young lad shrieked and hid--I had to take off the mask and give extra, while his mother glowered at me.

One of my friends in Bible study said he would take a fire pit and grill to the front of his driveway and serve hotdogs to the parents. I don't know if making s'mores would be appropriate when people are wearing complex costumes.

The sidewalks are mostly clear, and the lawn has only a couple of inches of wet snow, but the table on the deck has 8" of snow on it.

I've been looking into Better Angels--and find that some of their techniques are ones I've been using already--not in politics, but in religious discussions. We commemorate the start of the 3rd great schism today. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

You should read David Warren's dream today. No, it wasn't a happy dream.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Evil songs

A comment in AVI's repost got me wondering about evil songs.

I don't mean songs that have been used for evil purposes, or which have evil connotations now. Dixie's lyrics aren't exactly wicked. Nor, curiously enough, are Deutschlandlied's.

And I think for the moment I'll classify those that go out of their way to praise evil as "explicitly evil." I'd lump the "I'm so bad" rap songs in here too.

I'm wondering now about the "seductively evil;" songs that seem innocent but aren't.

"Imagine" is pretty obviously a wicked song, cloaked in apparent kindness. Another that jumps to mind is "Gentle on my Mind:" abandoning the lady and expecting her to wait for you is made to seem so natural. "Different drum" has always seemed to corrode the possibility of any relationships--not just romantic.

My impression is that there are a lot of songs designed to aid in seduction; playing up the urgency of the moment and playing down conscience. And I hear of (but don't make a habit of listening to) a number of nihilist songs, many of which seem to be not-so-seductive cries of pain.

I'm not sure searching out and ranking "seductively evil" songs would be good for the soul. But maybe recognizing them is a good way to resist them. What you immerse yourself in effects you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Forgotten Liberian by Teah Wulah

Subtitle: History of Indigenous Tribes

The cover art was not promising--it is a map of Liberia divided into regions with tribe names scattered about--many in the wrong places. The internal map is better, though.


  1. there's history here that's hard to find elsewhere, including the causes of some of the inter-tribal wars. As a for-instance, the chapter "Bah Mu Joboe Bo"--The Adventure of the Tartweh Clan of Sinoe is about a dispute between the Tartweh and the Weoh. The Tartweh would send men to the coast to earn money from "kwi" trade and buy stuff to bring back, but after a while the Weoh who lived along the way started charging higher and higher "customs" ("spread your stuff out and we'll take what looks good") from village after village along their journey. The Tartweh got vexed, and decided to go to war--but were disuaded. The journey would be too long, and they'd arrive exhausted. Instead, they decided to move closer to the Weoh, so that they'd be in a better position to start a war later. After treating and trading and a battle or so, they joined forces with the Weoh to put down their joint neighbors.

    He ends the chapter with "It is the duty of every Liberian of the hinterland to fight for what their ancestors tried to achieve by sacrificing their blood for what the Kru termed "mu joboe bo." The world should be the limit. There should be no country on earth of which a Liberian is not a citizen." mu joboe bo means to go toward the sea, in context meaning to migrate for opportunity.

  2. He gives a decent shot at describing as many tribes as he can. He doesn't sugar-coat things. Slavery was part of the indigenous justice system. (Prisons? In a village?)


  1. The book could have stood some editing. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.". Sometimes a sentence contradicts the rest of the passage, and you have to reverse engineer it to figure out what he really meant to say.
  2. He gets some things wildly wrong (e.g. that slavery in the US only got really bad on the rise of abolitionism, or his history of early Christianity), but at least, though he says the West African tribes came from Egypt, he doesn't claim they were Egyptian (a welcome change).
  3. The history is, unfortunately, almost entirely history after the settlers came from the USA. There's not much record of things before that, and going through oral histories and legends would be a lifetime's work for somebody.

After giving a list of different cults (Leopard society, Water Leopard and Crocodile society, Bush Hog and Weaver Bird associations, etc), he wrote "It is not in the best interest of the reader to know the details or which tribes practice the various cults but suffice it to say that they exist in Liberia."

The meat of the book is about how the tribes and the "Americo's" got along, and how lies and oppression (including slavery) won out. Sort of. The Vai appealed to the British for protection, and so large chunks of what might have been Liberia wound up part of Sierra Leone. (This, though the author doesn't mention it, include some diamond mining areas--the Blood Diamonds might have been set in Liberia instead.). He describes several of the rebellions against the Americo's and includes a chapter of Albert Porte's description of the rice riots in April 1979 that eventually led to the coup against Tolbert.

Interestingly, Wulah sides with Tolbert about the rice price rise--in general. Tolbert had a rice farm business that would have benefitted greatly and thus a vested interest in a price rise, but there was really no other way to encourage self-sufficiency in rice, except by letting the price rise.

The tribes might have been integrated into the nation, but even if the Americo-Liberians had been interested in sharing power, the paradigm of government was wrong--you would need a model more like the Swiss than the US; very strongly federal. But given how often the tribes fought each other, it isn't obvious that even a very federal system would have worked.

Other little bits along the way: the hinterland tribes believed in reincarnation--but only about a dozen times or so.

On the issue of marriage, there is a misconception that Liberian tribes are polygamous. Accordingly, we are constantly told that at one time our ancestors had only one wife. In Liberia, as well as the United States and elsewhere, polygamy is the privilege of the well-to-do. Because of a taboo in Africa against sexual intercourse between the parents of a nursing child, polygamy is an institution that is absolutely necessary.

It may be something of a specialty interest, but it is worth reading if you have the interest.

Sunday, October 27, 2019


"There's no use going to school unless your final destination is the library. ― Ray Bradbury

I was looking for a passage from one of his short stories. An American couple is traveling in Mexico after an unspecified disaster has struck the US, and one of the men they meet explains that when he was young and stupid and lived in the city, he read the papers every day and went wild with anger. Today he lives in the country, and only reads newspapers that are 2 weeks old, and now is amused at the stupidity on display rather than impotently furious. I've remembered the gist of the passage, but not the wording, and goodreads has 82 pages of quotes from him. A few:

"Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all." - "Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher." - "You can’t learn to write in college." - "They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressure; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves."


I should always let the news age a few days, but the noise today is that Baghdadi, ISIS' nominal current leader, killed himself and 3 of his children when trapped by American forces. In Idlib. The news adds that the Russians were notified to stay out of the way.

But the area is also under Turkish control, and nothing has yet showed up about them being notified. "Age the news;" the whole story isn't out yet, and maybe never will be if the Turks did give permission for the operation. They've seemed to be pretty chummy with ISIS.

I'm trying to figure out what sorts of people will be likely to advance to be the new #1. People who unabashedly love power might think twice if they have reason to worry that US special forces will eventually find them--unless they have guarantees of protection from some powerful nation. Otherwise I think the candidates would be true believers, who don't worry so much about death--and would be less interested in negotiations with impure apostates and infidels.

Maybe we're all better off if, as seems likely to me, Turkey replaces Baghdadi with somebody of their own.

But "age the news."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Soviet Atomic Project by Lee G Pondrom

How the Soviet Union Obtained the Atomic Bomb I knew that Prof (emeritus, U. Wisconsin-Madison) Pondrom knew Ukrainian, but apparently he also reads Russian, and was able to go through a number of documents himself.

The book is just what the subtitle says. He describes the people involved, and cites memoirs and declassified documents and puts it all together with a explanations of what the engineering and physics involved looked like.

In one episode, Soviet scientists in Leningrad buried their cyclotron to keep it from being stolen or damaged when the Germans approached (the Soviet war effort would have snaffled up the parts too). While the city was still under siege, a group of scientists had to come back into the city, dig it up, and ship the parts out--to a background noise of incoming artillery. You never knew physics could be so exciting.

Stalin was, of course, very well informed about the Manhattan Project thanks to spies, and to a somewhat open environment behind-the-wire in which American scientists were encouraged to share what they were doing with each other. And he really wanted the bomb. Beria was tasked with getting one built.

As plenty of others have noted, the biggest secret was that the bomb could work at all. After reading the book, I have a much better appreciation for how hard it was, and how many details the devil hid in. And why, even after many years, our military still wanted to do nuclear tests. (It isn't to show off.)

Prof Pondrom uses a number of back-of-the-envelope calculations along the way, but you won't hit any serious math until the appendices, and even there it is just linear differential equations. That matches what the bomb-makers had--you need computers to solve the big hairy hydrodynamic equations, and nobody had them.

Some things are still classified, but there's a lot of detail here.

From Appendix F: "This presentation has been at the level of an undergraduate physics course. If the reader works through this Appendix, and follows the arguments, it does not mean that he/she can build a nuclear weapon in the basement. Weapons design drawings require much more careful analysis than is presented here."

In case you were worried...

Yes, read it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


"It is funnier to bend things than to break them- bend the fenders on a car in a comedy wreck, don’t tear them off. In my golf game, which I have been doing for years, at first I swung at the ball and broke the club. Now I bend it at a right angle. If one comedian hits another over the head with a crowbar, the crowbar should bend, not break. In legitimate drama, the hero breaks his sword, and it is dramatic. In comedy, the sword bends, and stays bent."

The site is "animation resources" and I just spent more time there than I ought.

I'm not sure I like their phrase "golden age." There was some great stuff last century, and some great stuff this. And lots of dreck in both.

"Artificial leaf"

Powered by Sunlight, ‘Artificial Leaf’ Successfully Produces Clean Gas From CO2 and Water says
A widely-used gas that is currently produced from fossil fuels can instead be made by an ‘artificial leaf’ that uses only sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, and which could eventually be used to develop a sustainable liquid fuel alternative to petrol.


Syngas is currently made from a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and is used to produce a range of commodities, such as fuels, pharmaceuticals, plastics and fertilizers.

OK, sounds interesting. I've been wondering what we're going to make plastics out of when we run out of oil...

The article in Nature says:

The perovskite photocathodes maintain selective aqueous CO2 reduction for one day at light intensities as low as 0.1 sun, which provides pathways to maximize daylight utilization by operating even under low solar irradiance. Under 1 sun irradiation, the perovskite–BiVO4 PEC tandems sustain bias-free syngas production coupled to water oxidation for three days. The devices present solar-to-H2 and solar-to-CO conversion efficiencies of 0.06 and 0.02%, respectively, and are able to operate as standalone artificial leaves in neutral pH solution.

It seems the perovskite cathodes can be sensitive to moisture, and have to be protected. Very much not quite ready, but interesting. The process does not produce CO2, which I gather is why the headline writer though it was "Clean Gas." Whether this is because CO2 is evil, or because the result is supposedly entirely syngas (betcha there's a lot of water vapor in there too..) I can't say. FWIW, the energy efficiency of photosynthesis is of order less than 1%, though that isn't usually achieved because plants aren't interested in overproducing. (Sugar cane is 3.5%) I'm not sure if that's the same efficiency as quoted in the abstract.

Vacation spots

Lonely Planet put Liberia out there as their Number 8 travel destination for 2020, along with places like Aruba and England.
Chaotic Waterside Market offers almost everything for sale, including colourful textiles, shoes, leather goods and pottery, all with a dose of foul smells and lots of noise. Haggle hard, smile, and embrace raw Monrovia to its fullest.


This lighthouse can be climbed for an outstanding panoramic view of the cape. Although no longer functional, it's on a UN base, so get permission first, and don't attempt to scale the small, slippery steps during the rainy season. Don't miss the stunning, palm-lined beach at nearby Fish Town (not to be confused with the larger town of the same name), but take care with the currents if you swim.

I'm told that the surfing is amazing. But do take care with the currents--at Thinker's Village (good food) we were told that drownings are fairly common--a few tourists a year in the country.

Ebola is gone for now, and I don't hear any murmurings about civil war these days. So, do you want to take Lonely Planet's advice?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Bears in the Bee

The Babylon Bee generally has excellent headlines, and usually has good stories, or at least mediocre stories--very rarely bad ones.
True, they may be obscure, but when you know the background, they're not bad.

Not so for "MLB To Speed Up Games By Replacing Umpires With Bears". The headline is promising, but the story is lousy. Let me do it right. Or at least better.

In response to long standing fan complaints that the game has grown far too slow, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced today that home plate umpires will be replaced with brown bears, and pitchers will be required to wear a vest festooned with fresh trout.

So long as the recently fed bear is entertained by throwing and swinging, it will usually sit watching contentedly, but if it becomes bored, or the game lasts long enough for it to become hungry again, the bear will head for the trout. The pitcher has a 70 foot head start, but the bear runs 30 miles an hour.

During face-to-face negotiations, the Major League Umpires Association voiced no objections.

Hot dog vendors will be issued Tazers.

Several stadiums are planning to expand the program and use bears to enforce their "No bringing food into the stadium" rule.

UPDATE: If the Bee wants to borrow this, they may.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Trofim Lysenko was a deadly protege of Stalin's, with widespread influence. (I'd guess that his impact on the Great Leap Forward was minor compared to the other insanities, though.)

He believed in nurture above nature. Newly acquired traits would be passed on to offspring. His supporters claimed to be able to transform rye into wheat.

Stalin liked him. "Criticism of Lysenko was denounced as "bourgeois" or "fascist"." Scientific evidence was not a defense. Critics were considered elitist opponents of the wisdom of the peasants. Many opponents were fired, some imprisoned, some executed. Wikipedia says the ban on criticism of Lysenkoism was only lifted in the 60's.

I am informed that apparently substantive differences between people can be made to vanish if the right words and role models are invoked. I am informed that punishment causes crime. I am informed that math is racist and that the experiences of the disadvantaged should play a role in math. I am informed that speech is impermissible violence and violence is protected speech. I am informed that a man is not a man and a woman is not a woman. I am informed that people are harassed and fired and fined for denying these things.

So far no executions, though.

After Lysenko's rise, a similar attack was made on the "idealist" and "bourgeois" theories of quantum mechanics and special relativity. Luckily for the physicists, Stalin wanted a nuclear bomb very badly. Kurchatov warned that the bomb could not be made without scientists who knew these theories, and when Stalin was appraised of a meeting of Lysenko-types to challenge the scientists, he famously said "Leave them in peace. We can always shoot them later." For some reason the meeting never happened. (Lee Pondrom, The Soviet Atomic Project)

Augustine and sex

I forgot one comment I'd meant to make on City of God and remembered it today.

Of the Shame Which Attends All Sexual Intercourse. Augustine never married. He had a concubine that he loved, and had to give up for his engagement, and another while waiting for his fiancee to come of age. He eventually broke off the engagement and sent away the other concubine. I wonder if that may have skewed his description of sex. "This right action seeks the light, in so far as it seeks to be known, but yet dreads being seen. And why so, if not because that which is by nature fitting and decent is so done as to be accompanied with a shame-begetting penalty of sin?"

I think he suffered a failure of the imagination here--perhaps he should have asked some married friends about the matter. Wanting Privacy ≠ Shame. For that matter, Embarrassment ≠ Shame. Even something as simple as writing poetry suffers tremendously when other people hang around--in fact it can feel embarrassing for others to see it "half-done" and "in process."

Of course there can be plenty of reason for shame if those involved are not entitled to be involved, or are indulging cruelty or vice. But the basic marital act is a husband and wife giving themselves to each other, not to kibitzers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


The orthodox view is that I am a soul-and-body unity, not a soul-haunted body. A jargon-heavy explanation... Theologians call Jesus' incarnation a hypostatic union, which is just technical shorthand for a longer description that means something similar, except with God and man instead of soul and body.

What is involved in being an incarnation? That's a union of different natures--which isn't a very useful definition. Maybe something operational...

The actions of the body have a purpose that isn't determined by the body's environment and reactions. The body expresses some aspects of the soul--and makes that expression possible.

Clearly this expression can happen through actions. But can the body express purpose or meaning through inaction? Through "just being," or "just being" in a way that is apparently determined by the body's environment and reactions?

That sounds kind of Zen, doesn't it? "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.". Undoubtedly the body is having an effect on the soul, but it isn't obviously an expression of the soul through the body.

Despite a more amazing incarnation, Jesus had about 20 "dark years" about which we know nothing directly, though we can infer from his townsfolk's reactions that nothing dramatic happened. Of course, people can get used to pretty nearly anything, and a perfect carpenter who doesn't preach might be easy to get used to and ignore. Or maybe not--but their reaction tells me they weren't expecting anything unusual.

"Do little things with great love?" Maybe that's the answer to the "just being" question: doing the "reactive" ordinary thing consciously with love. Who sees the difference? Maybe just God.

Trying to be intentional about each action tends to pull my attention away from God, so I'm not persuaded that that is a useful exercise by itself.

If I have the Holy Spirit in me, what I do and am needs to somehow incarnate that. Pew-warming is probably not the most expressive way. Study ought to reshape my mind and heart, but somehow that still doesn't quite seem fully expressive either. Maybe the best approach is concentrating on doing one thing (with love) at a time, and letting everything else be reactive. Start small. As distractible as I am, that's hard enough.

Sometimes very true

You probably know someone for whom this typo is actually true: "For Elvis, high achievements have always marred his life."

I omit the link to protect the guilty--spell-check is not your friend.

"Meat for to eat"

"The critics are, predictably, from my Who's Who Of Epidemiological Woo list above, Marion Nestle and Harvard School of Public Health, who charge that the meat paper is not valid because one of the authors got funding in the past from a group that was founded by a person who once worked at ... Coca-Cola."

One of these days I need to assemble a fecal roster of fake experts, whose use in a news story suggests that the reporter isn't doing his job. And organizations. It could get pretty long.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Laying hedges

The Internet lets me chase rabbits longer and farther. I went to look up more about cubits, and found a beautiful engineer's ruler from 3300 years ago:

That promptly led to hedgelaying.. (They apparently use the "cubit" to describe an elbow-to-finger measurement.)

I remember Tolkien writing about elves creating things out of living plants--like homes out of trees--and was pleased at his imagination.

It looks like he was expanding on familiar practices from the English countryside. You cut and bend stems of young trees to grow horizontally so they can be woven together to make a sturdy live fence. "The theory behind laying a hedge is easy. The practice is much harder, requiring skill and experience."

If you don't maintain them, they eventually grow into a messy line of trees.

There are some nice how-to pictures here.

Want to get involved? Oops, it's in the UK. Some US suggestions include: "American Hazel, Black Chokecherry, Chokeberry, and fragrant Sumac"


Some books I read once and liked but never cared to read again. Some I've gone back to several times--not always the ones I thought I liked the best, either.

Somebody is always putting out lists--The Classics of Science Fiction V5 is available. They're ranked by "citations" here. As usual, their ranking bears no relationship to how I judge the books, and there's a cutoff--I stopped having so much time to read, and I didn't spend as much time browsing the SciFi shelves of the bookstore. I never heard of a lot of their titles before.

Of their 108, I read 36 that I don't care to read again. The Left Hand of Darkness was well-thought-out and well-written and it will never again bubble up to the top of my reading list. Frankenstein was fun, but once was enough. On the other hand, Childhood's End struck a kind of mythic chord--I'll never read it again (I've had kids since then, and grown somewhat myself, and I no longer like it) but I read it more than once when I was younger. 22 of them (e.g. Canticle for Leibowitz) are on that "I read it several times" list. 6 are in the never-read-and-never-will, 25 are maybe-if-it-was-handy, and the other 19 I don't know enough about--most of them are recently published, of course.

So, about 2/3 once to 1/3 many.

"Have I wanted to re-read it?" is a slippery measure for how good I think a book is. I see different things in Canticle each time I read it, but I've re-read others simply because I was in the mood for the experience I knew the book was competent to provide. (I'm thinking of H Rider Haggard here, but there are plenty of other moods.)

Now and then I have admonished some of our kids to "Read something different!" But I get it.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The simplest thing

"For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why are you anxious about other matters?"

That bolded bit jumped out at me tonight. Being generous, I pick the long cubit, which was about 52 cm, or 1.7 nanoseconds. In one sense it is indeed a "very little thing."

In another sense, it is much easier to figure out how to lay hands on some food than to figure out how grab ahold of some new time. It turns out to be tough to postpone dying when you're in the middle of it, or have the sun stand still for a bit to keep the afternoon going a little longer. We're not designed to manipulate time that way; we are designed to manipulate stuff like fruit and fibers.

In God's eternal Now a million years is a very little thing, and He can manipulate time as He sees fit. Not me: and unless I in some way join Him in that Now, I don't see how time can ever can be little for me.


I used to wonder why rivers in Liberia weren't more often used for transport and trade. It would have to be cheaper than building roads. Wouldn't it?

It turns out lot of places along the rivers look like this. I didn't see much of that near the coast.

Want to try a portage?. Or, if you're more ambitious, here...

Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene

Graham Green decided to explore Liberia--in particular an area for which there literally were no accurate maps at all, just blanks.

He wrote Journey Without Maps about his trip, on which he nearly died.

He brought along his 23-year-old cousin. She wrote Too Late to Turn Back about the trip. She viewed things a little differently, of course.

One of the surprises she found was that it was not an "adventure"--except perhaps in the sense of being a nasty uncomfortable thing that made you late for dinner. It was tedious, and the heat and monotony drained body and mind. At the end of it all, she said it was worth it.

I spent almost all my time in the developed area on the coast, and what wasn't there was spent close to main roads and extractive industries. I never saw what she did in the interior. And the Monrovia I saw was a much bigger and richer (relatively) city than the one she saw.

Read it. And Graham's too. They each see Dr. Harley differently.

UPDATE: The waterfall they each describe can be partially seen illustrating this BBC story.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

On the City of God Against the Pagans by Augustine

This has been on my list for quite a while, and now that the bus from Sun Prairie to downtown Madison is running, I've had leisure to wrap it up.

Augustine covers Heaven and Earth, and has to pull himself back on track sometimes.

To counter people who claim that miracles ceased, he describes some he saw, and others he heard from sources he trusted--and the list is quite long.

He sometimes uses close reading of Scripture, and sometimes explains passages metaphorically. Some of the passages he closely read were ones I considered metaphorical ("Not a hair of your head shall perish"), and he used a version of the Septuagint that seems not quite precise. He knows Jerome's "new" Latin version, and cites it a time or three, but doesn't rely on it much. When his close reading hits a passage that was ill-translated, it's a bit jarring.

He cites books no longer extant--which is frustrating, since I'd really like to have learned more, but most of (e.g.) Varro's work is lost.

The earlier chapters describe details of Roman religion that didn't show up in Bulfinch's Mythology. It's a good reminder of what real pagans are like.

He chews up the pagan philosophers. That isn't hard to do--and they did it to each other with gleeful abandon too.

He has a large chunk of parallel histories of Israel and the rest of the world (Assyria is his generic term for all the empires of that region, fyi), which is interesting, even if his chronology is not 100%. OK, quite a bit less than 100%. Some things he gets wrong--I suppose nobody could read cuneiform by then, and not much hieroglyphic text either, so maybe some of the histories had been lost. I had thought that the claim that all (or almost all) the pagan gods were deified heroes was a late notion, but Augustine cites Roman authors explaining that Mercury and Isis and many others were deified after their deaths. (Isis taught agriculture to the Egyptians?)

He's eager to explain how everything in Israel's history and scripture points to Jesus, and stretches some points way beyond reasonable limits.

When he discusses prodigies, I felt a sharp wish to be able to sit him down and explain a little chemistry and physics. Yes, he mentions the salamander, and a worm that lives in boiling water--and of course the latter does exist though he couldn't know it. And on several other points (predestination) I didn't think he had a solid handle on all aspects of what he was discussing.

Nevertheless, it is interesting.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

New powers

When Herod heard of Jesus' miracles, he (or "people") said "John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him."

Of course, while he was alive, John never did any miracles. John 10:41.

So for Herod (or "people") to think John would start now says something interesting about how they viewed resurrection.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

How do you keep control of your car?

Maybe a "kill-switch" for the network is overkill, but I'd be inclined to use it. Last time I checked I wasn't into deplorable deeds of darkness that required me to keep my location secret, but on general principles I don't want other people monkeying with my stuff without my knowledge.

We bought a van without the extra bells and whistles. A backup camera would be very nice to have, but I don't like power doors (untraceable short circuits drain the battery very quickly--I learned that the hard way) and the temperature sensors get scraped off in snow banks, and I think I'd rather drive than fiddle with getting bluetooth synced at highway speeds.

Monday, October 07, 2019

It can't go on, or can it?

I got to thinking about the last post--how long before people rise up in wrath?

You'd think sooner or later people will either vote with the ballot or their feet or with surreptitious bear spray to deal with the problem. But I remembered India's sacred monkeys. They get to run wild, and even run violent, because they're sacred.(*) Our priests define vagrants as victims, and therefore also sacred.

You'd think people would notice the difference between the generic and innocuous "homeless" and the disreputable "vagabond" or "vagrant," but our priests insist on blurring the language to keep the rest of us from noticing. I'm not writing about the generically homeless here.

There seem to be Indians here and there who are fed up with being harassed, but the risks of offending the believers are high. Likewise here.

(*) Although sometimes they destroy enough crops that the governments take notice. The story is about a matching fund to save monkeys. "Killing monkeys is a sin. Those killing monkeys would invite the wrath of god and to save people from calamities, a balancing act of saving monkeys is required."

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Changing direction

It has been obvious for a while that when you try to treat homelessness as a cause rather than a symptom, especially when you couple this with very permissive attitudes towards drug use, you get an evil mess. The homeless suffer more, the rest of society pays a high price for nothing useful, and the only ones that benefit seem to be the experts-for-hire paid to fix hangovers with the hair of the dog.

We got wedged into this situation by politics, and we'll have to get out by politics.

One obvious solution is to replace the people who are busy wedging us ever harder into this mess. That's been tried--it isn't easy at all, and hasn't seemed to happen yet.

Another is to find a way for the existing elite to save face in a flip-flop. If they can find someone to blame they can change course without endangering their hold on power. They could, for example, find a crying need for mental health care among the homeless, a need that was thwarted by the callous closing of mental health hospitals by Reagan and the other evil money-hungry sorts. (That particular claim wouldn't be true, of course, but that's no bar in politics--truth seems to be an impediment to be avoided at all costs.) The homeless need hospitals, and the progressives are just the people to help them!

Of course, there would have to be something in it for the well-connected. And the existing experts-for-hire would scream unless you found ways to work them into the plan. And the elites would still be the kind of people who double-down on craziness. And they'd still need to find a way of enforcing drug restrictions without harshing the mellow of an important subset of the San Francisco voters. But if a sacrificial lamb can be procured...

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Castles in China

I was starting some research on weapon technology transfer, and found this on castles in China, and decided not to wait for my final essay.

Many Chinese cities were walled and fortified, and some of the fortifications were quite large. Pingyao's city wall approached Ninevah's in height. The Forbidden City is effectively a large castle.

But since China usually succeeded in centralizing power, it didn't need as many non-frontier fortifications as the European patchwork of mini-states did--in fact, they would be a risk to the central state. I suspect I'll learn that warlords' castles were dismantled when the new Emperor conquered them.

But there were families with fortified compounds too. There's probably a lot of history in there.

High tech and crime prevention

A man was accused of entering a North Side house earlier this week and stealing guns and a computer while holding a woman at gunpoint was being monitored through GPS and out on bond for another break-in in which he’s accused of raping a woman." ... " George L. Goins, 37, no permanent address ... "According to the complaint, he broke into a woman’s house and raped her, saying the police “can’t stop me.”"

In the earlier case "Goins was initially held on a \$10,000 cash bond, which was reduced in May to a signature bond with GPS monitoring." Now "Judge Ramona Gonzalez ordered a \$25,000 cash bond Friday, saying if he posts the cash bond he will be required to have no weapons and comply with GPS monitoring and house arrest."

I'm kind of puzzled. Isn't there enough evidence to give him a permanent address, pending trial? The GPS bracelet says he was on the woman's block then.

One thing is clear--he was telling the truth when he said the police couldn't stop him. Neither does GPS. It just makes it easier to tie the criminal to the crime after the fact. It does nothing for crimes of poor impulse control, or crimes where the criminal doesn't think he has anything to lose, or is simply feckless, or thinks himself invulnerable. A catch-and-release police/prosecute policy will cultivate that attitude in people.

I'd think that GPS monitoring would deter people from further crimes who have good impulse control, are forward-thinking, and feel they have something to lose by getting re-arrested for a new crime. I suspect those folks commit some, but nowhere near most, of the crimes.

And GPS doesn't deter fraud, or other crimes that don't necessarily require physical presence.

But hey, we've got some nice high-tech toys--they have to be useful!

What's wrong with this picture?

Here in town we have "Ginger Bread House Preschool."

"Who is nibbling at my little house?"

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Flash and bang

When I was in high school, our senior class went to the highlands in Nimba county for--I suppose it was a field trip. We were there overnight, touristing about a bit. The evening dinner was noisier than I cared for, and the cat who walked by himself went outside for a little peace and quiet.

The stars were quite clear, and the air was a bit thinner. As I watched the sky, a meteor came almost straight down at me and burst.

I heard it. Simultaneously with the burst.

No, I did not have long frizzy hair, but there was a metal wire fence nearby.

Yes, you can hear them sometimes. With a track along the sky, some people hear crackling and popping. The topic is getting more serious attention, but the effect has been observed for years: China 817AD, England 1719AD.

According to this paper the meteor track can be a meter wide. That's potentially a lot of ionized gas. If an oxygen atom boils off the meteor and is ionized, it is initally moving at about 1.1 to 7.2 E7 meters/second. The Earth's magnetic field isn't very strong--2.5-6.5 microTesla--but with such a large speed the V cross B isn't negligable. The initial force is of order 2 to 75 E-19 Newtons, which given that the oxygen atom is only about 2.7 E-26kg, gives quite the acceleration.

The full MHD solution is way harder than I can solve on the back of an envelope, but that initial acceleration sounds pretty promising.

Suppose you have a cylinder of ionized gas moving at meteor speeds. It will slow down very rapidly, but in the meantime MHD forces will push the positive ions one way and the electrons the other. When they slow down enough, they will pull back together to recombine. If this second timescale is long enough, you should get a column of postive and a column of negative charges moving toward each other, which should create a low frequency radio pulse.

The only problem with this model is that it doesn't work: radio wave generation is rare!

You can detect meteor tracks from the way they reflect radio waves, but they usually don't seem to make any themselves. For starters, this naive model assumes no turbulance, which isn't even close to reality where gas gets mixed quickly. And it doesn't deal well with a bang at the end. But it gives an idea of what some of the forces are.

Now that I think of it, I wonder how much lightning you get along meteor tracks. They're far higher than thunderclouds, but the sprites are quite high too, and there have to be interesting electric fields with the sprites. Whether the same sorts of fields exist away from above thunderclouds I don't know.

A boring history of LEP, and next the FHC

"LEP’s tunnel, the longest-ever attempted prior to the Channel Tunnel, which links France and Britain, was carved by three tunnel-boring machines. Disaster struck just two kilometres into the three-kilometre stretch of tunnel in the foothills of the Jura, where the rock had to be blasted because it was not suitable for boring. Water burst in and formed an underground river that took six months to eliminate"

In 1993 we noticed even more peculiar random variations on the energy signal during the day – with the exception of a few hours in the middle of the night when the signal was noise free. Everybody had their own pet theory. I believed it was some sort of effect coming from planes interacting with the electrical supply cables. Some nights later I could be seen sitting in a car park on the Jura at 2 a.m., trying to prove my theory with visual observations, but it was very dark and all the planes had stopped landing several hours beforehand. Experiment inconclusive! The real culprit, the TGV (a high-speed train), was discovered by accident a few weeks later during a discussion with a railway engineer: leakage currents on the French rail track flowed through the LEP vacuum chamber with the return path via the Versoix river back to Cornavin. The noise hadn’t been evident when we first measured the beam energy as TGV workers had been on strike.


took a look inside the beampipe using mirrors and endoscopes. Not seeing anything, I frustratedly squeezed my head between the vacuum flanges and peered down inside the pipe. In the distance was something resembling a green concave lens. “This looks like the bottom of a beer bottle,” I thought, restraining myself from uttering a word to anyone in the vicinity. I went to the opposite open end of the vacuum section and peered into the vacuum pipe again: a green circular disk this time, but again, not a word. Someone got a long pole to poke out the offending article – out it came, and my guess was correct: it was a Heineken beer bottle, which had indeed refreshed the parts no other beer could reach, as the slogan ran. A hasty search revealed a second bottle. Upon closer inspection it was clear that the control room operators had almost succeeded in making the beam circulate despite the obstacles: there was a scorch burn along the label, indicating that they had almost managed to steer the beam past the bottles.

And what will the future hold? "Digging a 5.6 m-diameter hole disturbs rock that has been there for millennia, causing it to relax and to move."