Friday, July 31, 2020


I've run across references to them in the Bible, and in ancient history, but until now never took the time to figure out who they were.

It turns out that's not entirely easy.

Wikipedia has an entry, and there's a Youtube series.

Very little remains. King lists in the region are not always consistent. Cross-referencing what is known from Sumer and Babylon lets scholars reconstruct a history of the kings (or the Great Regents of the Sukkalmah dynasty) and some of the wars, but the names are empty and there's hardly a hint of anybody else. "Ebarat the King. Kuk Kalla, son of Kuk-Sharum, servant of Shilhaha." You'd swear somebody was just making up sounds: "Kuk-Nashur", "Tan-Uli", "Tempti-Halki", "Shirukduh."

It doesn't help that the Assyrians did their usual number on Elam and the fragmented "kingdom" never recovered. The language slowly died out and the Medes and the Greeks and the Parthians and the Arabs defined the culture thereafter.

"I, Napir-Asu, wife of Untash-Napirisha. He who would seize my statue, who would smash it, who would destroy its inscription, who would erase my name, may he be smitten by the curse of Napirisha, of Kiririsha, and of Inshushinka, that his name shall become extinct, that his offspring be barren, that the forces of Beltiya, the great goddess, shall sweep down on him. This is Napir-Asu's offering."

Her statue is headless. For what it's worth, the name of the smasher is extinct. "There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still." They were a powerful people 10 times longer than the USA has been a nation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Interpreting numbers

Raw numbers of disease cases aren't always very informative, beyond some general "Holy cow, that's a lot of cases!" or "Is that a problem?" How many tests were done; how big is the population; and on and on. The details matter.

I wasn't expecting this detail: in reporting cases "they prioritize those positive cases, the negative cases are dragging behind a day or two or three." It makes sense, but it means that you have to use not the test numbers as given by the day of information release, but by the day the test was administered--which adds a little more complexity. And my observation of reporters suggests that they don't handle complexity well.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Why a dummy?

Commander Salamander and his commenters are musing about why Iran would spend the money on a fake aircraft carrier, and then tow it to the Strait of Hormuz. It isn't as though they're rolling in dough. The boat isn't as expensive as a real carrier, but it isn't chicken feed either.

Two interesting suggestions so far are "graft" (somebody connected has a boondoggle contract) and as an obstacle in the strait. And, of course, propaganda movies for home consumption as they blow the "American" carrier to bits.

It's a dummy carrier, but it isn't obvious what lies under the fake flat top. I'm not an expert on the strait, but maybe they're laying mines with the thing. It doesn't "look like" a mine layer, so you've got some surprise there. If they were planning an imminent attack, it could also be a "fire ship" or kamikazi. I don't think they've got the drones to use it to launch a fast drone-swarm attack. (I wonder how many drones you need to overwhelm anti-aircraft measures on our modern boats. I suppose you might do some damage with hundreds of small drones too--sort of like strafing.)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

What makes it "modern"

Youngest Daughter was talking about why the US Civil War was supposedly the first modern war. The first thing that came to my mind was air power.

Think balloons for reconnaisance.

The Union only used them from 1861 through 1863--I guess they were too awkward to supply and use.

The Confederates had one too, made of silk dresses, but it was captured by the USS Maratanza on July 4, 1862.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Young Scientists

If you've hung laundry on a line, you know that pinning up a sheet leaves it perilously close to the dirt. If you drape it over a line, the air doesn't get at both sides of the sheet easily, because you have it folded. If you drape it over two lines, you get better air circulation, but it pulls the clothes-lines close together. So, at the cost of a little more effort, you pin it to two lines, letting it dry in a U-shape.

OK, now suppose you and your sister are playing in the yard. The above-mentioned sheet looks like an interesting place to sit.

It isn't.

Suppose it is windy enough that plausible deniability is possible. Your mother pins the sheet back up and you and your sister keep playing in the yard.

Clearly the pins don't hold a lot of weight.

How much weight will they hold?

There's a way to find out. The California lawn is new, and there's plenty of exposed dirt, and a shovel leaning against a wall.

Unfortunately, the experiment gets interrupted before more than about a half dozen shovels of dirt land in the sheet--not enough weight to pull it down. So you never learn the answer.

"The Ape Who Loves"

Sarah Hoyt's essay is worth reading today. She just lost a beloved cat, and looks beyond that to the bigger picture.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Patron saint

He's not exactly a saint, but Matthew Hopkins seems a good choice for patron of the AntiRacism™ investigators.


I assume that it was unwise to discuss matters where the boss could hear, but when his nephew was hired the first question in everyone's mind was--was he hired for reasons other than competence? In Chicago, the son of an alderman's buddy faced the same unspoken question. It may have been unfair--the boss' nephew might have inherited the same native capacities that put the boss where he was. But one wondered--until the alderman's buddy's son actually showed he could do the work.

We have a new kind of "alderman's buddy" these days. And the unspoken question is sometimes unfair now too.

Landed too soon?

This morning I had the window open, and heard a loud honking. A flight of geese flew over at about 20' high--pretty low given that there's not much open space beyond the trees in that direction. About 10 seconds later, another wave flew over, between houses, this time at about 10' high.

10 seconds after them, a couple of geese ran down the road after them.

Friday, July 17, 2020

On St. George

Chesterton, of course:
If the real original St. George did find himself interviewed by a modern newspaper man, he would think that hardly anything in the newspaper was new. He would not think primarily that he had come into a strange world, far away from dragons and princesses and mediƦval armour. He would think he had got back into the old bewildered and decaying world of the last phase of Paganism, loud with denials of religion and louder with the howlings of superstition. He would find everything in Juvenal – except Juvenal. He would find quite as many absurd lady gladiators – only not so many people calling them absurd. He would be quite at home, thinking himself back in the old Diocletian Empire – and he would prepare for death.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

World views and values

"I have no filter" = "I am authentic"

"I have no filter" = "I am incontinent"

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Reluctance to endure lectures

Althouse got there first: an upscale shopping mall shut down when a BLM protest showed up. It was nominally to be a "block party" to "educate patrons on the plight faced by Black people in America."

One of the protest leaders had the nom-de-guerre Frank Nitty (real name Sensabaugh. (He claims that a "White Supremacy group" had threatened his life. I suspect a "basement email warrier" was the culprit.)

His chosen name is suggestive, though possibly he's ignorant of the original.

This, however, is perhaps more troubling: he served as apologist for a riot that burned down a couple of houses on the rumor that two missing girls were being trafficked there. (They weren't.)

UPDATE: I'm told the nuns would rap your hand with a ruler if you didn't pay attention to the lecture. I wonder about BLM lecturers...

A thought about the "Nations"

Though Yankeedom and the Deep South may have despised each other, they lived in untroubled agreement that they knew who were the elect destined and empowered to tell all others what to do. They merely disgreed on who it was.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Colin Woodward: American Nations

"A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America"

Woodward continues what Albion's Seed and The Nine Nations of North America I haven't read the latter began, with a history of the nations. "Nations" means an ethnically/linguistically/religiously coherent group--which doesn't always coincide with a legal state.

He figures there are eleven nations: Yankeedom, the Deep South, New Netherland, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, Midlands, New France, El Norte (the oldest), the Far West, the Left Coast, and the First Nation. The latter isn't all the Amerindians, only those of the far north.

This view of the history was very interesting. He brought in details of history I'd forgotten, and some I hadn't heard of, and wove them into a plausible pattern--so smooth that I started to get suspicious about cherry-picking.

So far I was eager to recommend it.

Then he got into the Culture Wars section, and eras I actually knew quite a bit about, having lived through them. Oy. He's a partisan himself. He doesn't understand religion--he seems to think it to be politics by other means. And his descriptions of nations he doesn't agree with, and things like the Tea Party--can you say "invidious?" But his take on the nations' modern history slots smoothly into his framework, which calls into question how accurately the older history really fits: how much of that did he caricature too?

I'll have to cross-check some of his claims. E.g. Appalachia didn't completely ally with Dixie until after the war. Given the name Yankees had earned in the early years of the country, I suspect he's right that Appalachia was torn between hating the Yankees and the Deep South masters.

He finds it easy to spot the ulterior motives of the movers-and-shakers in the Far West and the Deep South, but Yankeedom and the secular descendents of the Puritans are almost always on the side of the angels. Except perhaps for the time the federal budget surplus (37% !)was turned into Civil War veteran/widow/children pensions--only for Union soldiers, of course, so all the money flowed north.

If the Wikipedia article on "Nine Nations" is correct, all three books have a vast gap, one that Fischer promised to fill but never did. The black cultures in North America don't map neatly onto the "white" cultures. I'm not sure I'd rely on Woodward to fill that gap, though.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Different at the U

UW Chancellor Blank sent around an email about "Addressing Racial Inequities on Campus." Since I gather this is a public document I assume I can quote freely.

One bullet point is "Enrollment and Recruitment. We must continue efforts to increase the diversity of campus by expanding enrollment and employment among underrepresented groups."

The very next bullet point is "Campus History. Understanding our past is important to changing our future. ... A central part of this project involves confronting and discussing the history of racism and other forms of exclusion/marginalization on campus."

Imagine how much more enticing a campus will be to prospective black engineers when one of the main topics of discussion is how racist the campus has been.

And students will have to take an orientation explaining "culture, identity, and difference." I assume that eventually the faculty and staff will have to take it too. To appreciate the full absurdity of this, remember that UW-Madison is a reasearch university, and recruits students and faculty from all over the world. Wet-behind-the-ears students may not have experienced much "difference," but I guarantee the faculty and staff have.

I'm not tenure bound, so this isn't going to bother me, but do I need to explain what can happen to research groups? "This past spring each Divisional Committee added new language to tenure guidelines that recognizes the importance of community engaged scholarship and scholarly activities in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion as noteworthy endeavors to be considered as part of tenure and promotion." Virtue signalling is cheap, and quite a bit easier than research.

Granted, outreach is a good thing, and not that easy. The people I know will keep doing the same things (which reach diverse groups of students already, albeit the subset of students who are already curious about science), and modify the bookkeeping to keep track of ethnicity counts instead of just the total number of students.

I don't see 95% of the University students or staff. All I know about frats is what I read in the papers (and am thereby misinformed) and from conversations with a scientist who used to be in a frat. If you told me they were hotbeds of racism, I'd be surprised (and dubious), but couldn't contradict you.

What I have seen at the U is about as free of racism as you can get. If you can do the work, you're in: no matter whether your ancestry was from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, China, Japan, Mexico... We've had very few blacks (one Nigerian), but nobody seemed to be walking on eggshells. If there's anything structural that stops blacks from being physicists, it isn't in the physics department. It's in high school, or if my intermittent elementary school demos are any guide, quite a bit earlier.

I get it that being the only one "of your kind" can be very uncomfortable. You stand out; you're not in any of the families/groups/cliques; you can't read people--and some of those people may not like you because of what you are and you have no idea which. In my case, I also couldn't always understand the language: I never did acquire skill with Liberian English and learned about 3 words of the tribal languages.

What was liberating for me in those environments was clear expectations. In a defined environment, your family didn't matter, what mattered was whether you could kick the ball into the goal (not well, it turned out), or whatever the matter at hand was. Outside of school, in purely social environments, I was at sea. To be clear, that was and often still is the case in any purely social environment. introvert

Insofar as the university is about education, it is easy enough to make clear expections in clearly defined environments in which students can find a way to learn. Punctuality and lab courtesy and course expectations are pretty simple to define.

If the student is there for an apprenticeship, it gets more complicated, but I still think we can spell out expectations. "Research is a social activity. You are expected to have lunch with your fellow-students at least twice a month. If somebody in your group is uncomfortable discussing some subject, don't bring it up again." etc

If the student is there to make contacts (and maybe look for a spouse), thing get more complicated.

If the student is there for the modern Grand Tour, it almost seems redundant to try to teach diversity; you would hope the experiences would be enough by themselves. (If not, why bother with the U?)

I don't want to worry about "the student experience." That form of entertainment seems to be a big selling point for universities, though.

Monday, July 06, 2020

What's in a name

Dr Boli discovered a Macedonian work on linguistics that sheds some light on an old political dispute with Greece.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Civil war

Our youngest daughter has had a tradition of watching the '93 movie Gettysburg on the anniversary of the battle, and this year she persuaded us to watch it too. It seemed like a fine movie, though perhaps relying a bit heavily on Longstreet.

The first question that comes to mind is: Will we have another civil war?

The answer, of course, is yes. We're not immune to history. Will one happen in my lifetime? I don't know.

All my news-reading life I've heard of people who want us to have another one. Remember Charles Manson, who wanted to jump-start a race war and piggy-back on it to start a new society? Apparently he has company again.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

In the voids

How do you see magnetic fields when they're too far away to stick a probe in, and too weak to polarize light? Like, for example, the magnetic fields in the voids between clusters of galaxies...

One thing you can look for is gamma rays from blazars.

It turns out that light can scatter from charged particles, but it can also scatter off other light particles. The effect isn't nearly so strong, but it's there. And if a gamma ray of sufficient energy collides with one of the background microwaves, it can "pair-produce". It might just simply scatter, of course, in which case it loses energy and the microwave photon gains it. But pair-production contributes quite a bit. Now, a positron from that pair-production will often interact with an electron to produce a pair of photons, and the electron scatter off other matter and result in a photon too.

The first thing to notice here is that these new photons have lower energy than the original gamma ray (conservation of energy). The second thing to notice is that they'll be going in more or less the same direction as the electron or positron.

Now in the absence of a magnetic field, those electrons and positrons would keep going in pretty much the same direction as the original high-energy gamma ray. But if there is such a field, it will bend the particles into new directions, and the gamma rays that result from their interactions won't point back to that blazar.

Quanta has a description and picture.

So, when you look at the spectrum of gamma rays from a blazar, some of the low energy gamma rays shouldn't be there. The model say there should be more than we see.

Arguing from an absence isn't very robust--there might be some other reason for the missing gamma rays. The models can be wrong.

But if you look near a blazar, maybe you can see an excess of low energy gamma rays there, bent off into a halo around the star. It looks like you can.

The intergalactic magnetic fields they infer are tiny: of the order 10^-17 to 10^-15 Gauss. That turns out to be big enough to solve another: the universe seems to have expanded faster than you'd expect (this has nothing to do with inflation, which I don't want to try to defend).

So, a little halo of light (well, gamma-ray light) may be telling us something about a region we'll never be able to visit.

"Coconut-picking machines"

"Supermarkets snub coconut goods picked by monkeys"

BBC reported that several British companies, panicked by PETA, have "vowed to stop selling" "any products sourced from monkey labour."

Male monkeys are able to pick up to 1,000 coconuts a day, Peta says. It's thought that a human can pick about 80.

It said it also discovered "monkey schools", where the animals were trained to pick fruit, as well as ride bikes or play basketball for the entertainment of tourists.

As usual, PETA describes the worst case as normative. That's when they don't outright lie: I read what they wrote of treatment of cows in Wisconsin--did they think we who live here don't have eyes?

I gather that the companies are perfectly happy to have humans do this harvesting instead--which is much more difficult and dangerous for a human than for a monkey. Priorities, you understand...

Wasn't there once an advertising slogan "Untouched by human hands?"

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Defunding police

What do people want with the slogan "Defund the Police?"

I'm told this really means taking money from enforcement and putting it into prophylatic social services.

That would be a more plausible claim if it were what marchers were saying, but "No more cops" suggests that they mean what they say, and that those "more sophisticated people" who want to be the spokesmen are merely saying what they think would be appropriate.

I am perfectly sure that some voices are not being heard. The previous Madison police chief kept a blog of the most significant police interactions of the previous day, and in response to pressures to monitor police/minority interactions, he included the ethicity and sex of the criminals and the victims. Most of the violent "suspects" were black. So were most of the victims, and entertainments like "beating up your ex" featured prominently. It wasn't white eavesdroppers who called the cops; it was the battered black woman. I don't remember hearing a lot from those like her.

The initial question is poorly framed. Different people want different things.

  1. Some believe that policing and punishment cause crime. There are some things so stupid only an intellectual can believe them. Some of the leadership are that kind of intellectual.
  2. Some don't care, they just want the power the slogan gives them. If they got control, just like their ilk elsewhere, they'd re-create a police force under their direct control, and use it to solidify their power. We've seen it happen many times before.
  3. Some don't think about it at all. "Smart people say it's OK, so let's go with it. No punishment, no crime; win/win!"
  4. Some undoubtedly are criminals themselves, or friends with them, or just want to cause mischief, and hope for a freer hand. Yes, it isn't that hard to find people who think uppity girlfriends deserve a beating.
  5. I hear some of them saying that they consider the police to be aliens.

There is precedent for having different ethnic groups police themselves. In the USA, the Indian nations could have, at some level, their own laws and enforcement. The Ottoman empire used the millet system to manage a multi-confessional land. Each group had its own responsible officials and internal rules and taxes, and in case of conflict the laws of the injured party's millet applied--unless it involved Muhammadans, in which case sharia applied.

The alien-averse might think some laws unfair (e.g. drug laws), but most of the time they'd create pretty much the same laws themselves: don't steal, don't beat people up, etc. Their objection is not to the enforcement but to the enforcers. "They aren't our laws, they're theirs:" even if the laws are the same.

This denies "We're all in this together." It's a call for separation; and separation along racial lines. Keep calling it millet even though it isn't confessional; we want to avoid Godwin's Law short circuits.

We've seen the "We're not the same" attitude before, most memorably in the early 1860's, but it's been part of the mix all along. So long as there was some kind of frontier we could manage that more or less peacefully. Mormonism was a bridge too far, but they managed to go it alone for a while. The more central control we have, the fewer opportunities for being separate there are--and one of our political parties is OK with growing central control and the other is enthusiastically in favor of it. I don't think "benign neglect" is going to work.

If we're going to accomodate the ones who want a millet (and who has demonstrated that they are even a plurality of the black population?), we'd have to be explicit about it.

And law enforcement gets to be really complicated.

911 gets a call: "My boyfriend strangled me!" "Are you black or white? I have to know which policeman to send."

Cleanly separated enforcement doesn't seem to be very possible unless there's some pre-determined clarity about who has jurisdiction where. That suggests that you'd need a clearly defined place where the millet applies, and that for the millet to be effective, those belonging to it should move to that place, and those not belonging to it move out.

I don't like this solution--even without the inevitable historical comparisons. And there'd be a butcher's bill eventually from the arguments over who got what.

But I wonder if some of those who've jumped to support the BLM demands have though it through too, and do.

UPDATE: Example added for #4

Barn swallow

While resting on the pier by the marina on the harborwalk at Port Washington, we watched the barn swallows perching on the wires. One of them seemed to have acquired a 2" fluffy gull feather behind its feet that it could not dislodge, despite about half an hour's effort.

The feather didn't seem to seriously impair flying.

A second barn swallow kept coming back to this one. At one point it looked like there was an attempt to mate, chased off by the first.

I wondered if the feather made the first bird look receptive. "Barn swallows prefer mates with long tail feathers. In general, it is the females that do the selecting in pairing and they prefer younger, more fertile males." So, unless that was two females, with the feather making the first bird look hyper-masculine, probably not.

But the second bird wasn't usually doing anything that might look agressive, so the feather wasn't making it look like a "chase it away" alien.

Has anybody seen this sort of thing before?

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Lighter side

In Port Washington you may find a business called "Wholistic Dentistry."

I did not investigate closely: they were closed and I had places to be.

Your everyday non-wholistic dentist will urge you to make the lifesytle changes of eating less sugar and starch and flossing more often. Presumably "wholistic" adds new dimensions beyond these: perhaps a modified version of a Miskito smoke therapy that requires that the patient use cigars--that would probably be popular. Or perhaps they inject novacain into the left big toe instead of the jaw. Or they teach patients to transcend dental medication.

Or perhaps they really mean "hole-istic" dentistry.

I was accused of making Dad-jokes when I referred to Ouroboros butterflies.