Friday, October 30, 2020


Everybody knows the argument that if we knew the future in at least moderate detail, we would not be as motivated to work hard. Perseverance would turn into something entirely different—more like a willingness to follow a script than courage.

Free will changes nature into something we can't wrap our minds around. Let that go for now.

What about the gifts of the Spirit? How would they grow? (assuming there weren't different ones that I can't wrap my mind around)

  • Love: There might be some plus to knowing how it would grow. OTOH, if love is willing the good of another, the "scriptedness" of life would seem to diminish the "will" part of love.
  • Joy: Would joy in the present be diminished by the knowledge of problems ahead, or increased by the knowledge of greater joy later?
  • Peace: This would depend on what we chose to concentrate on: the waterfall in the crags or the precipitous path to get to it. And perhaps, whether our earthly goals will be ultimately frustrated.
  • Patience: This becomes meaningless.
  • Kindness: Why would this change? Maybe if we knew in advance that some of those we were kind to would be ungrateful, we would have less of the spirit of kindness in those actions.
  • Goodness: Why would this change?
  • Faithfulness: What would this mean anymore?
  • Gentleness: Like kindness; maybe it wouldn't change.
  • Self-control: This might weaken. Que sera sera

The future pain might discourage, or the future victory encourage—it would depend on you.

Faith, Hope, Love: Hope isn't entirely about this world, so knowing the future doesn't make as huge a difference as you'd expect. Faith—maybe less.

I've said that if before my wedding you'd told me the bare bones of what I could expect , I'd have run screaming. And I'd have been wrong, because the troubles were worth it. I would have "known" the future, but not known it well enough.

I suspect God designed the universe just fine. Though I'd really like a little sneak preview on a couple of vexing questions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Different kinds of wealth

And he began thinking to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and I will store all my grain and my goods there. And I will say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years to come; relax, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!”’

Image from Alfons Morales via Unsplash

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Public health expenditures

You will be shocked (Shocked!) to learn that there may have been some mishandling of COVID-19 (Wuhan 2019A ?) funds in Liberia.

The headline says that millions vanish into thin air, but of course the story itself differs: A bit less than a million in earmarked funds was "co-mingled" with Department of Health funds and some of the spending isn't properly accounted for.

They allotted US $1800 for "Rumor Management." That's either way too much or way too little for Liberia. Be that as it may, look at some of the approved expenditures:

I suppose a lot of people from out of town have to come to Monrovia to work on the project. I don't see Thinker's Village in that list. I wonder if they're still open.

Monday, October 26, 2020

A little different take on China

David Goldman wrote about China, and his take differs from others I hear.
Western observers often attempt to draw a bright line between the good Chinese people and the nasty Chinese government. That is an unsubtle form of condescension, and wholly misguided. The character of China’s state is shaped by the ambitions of the Chinese people.


The emperor is not a revered demigod on the Japanese model, or an anointed sovereign claiming divine right, but simply the emperor whose job it is to prevent all the other emperors from killing each other.


At a closed-door conference in Beijing with senior government advisers not long ago, I asked the Chinese group if they felt nostalgic about any of their past rulers. After all, the Jews pray thrice daily for the return of King David’s dynasty. Medieval British romances call Arthur “the once and future king.” Similar tales are told about the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Charlemagne, and others. Folklorists call this motif the “king asleep in the mountain,” and it is encountered from Portugal to Japan—but not in China. None of the Chinese officials in attendance could name a government they would like to see return. On the contrary, the Chinese are happy to see the back of every one of their dynasties. They tolerated them when they were useful and turned on them when they became corrupt or weak, which takes a couple centuries in the best cases, and a couple of decades in the worst.

Interesting. I will probably look for the book.

I'm curious what he thinks of the man surplus there. Will they be spent in war, or colonial projects, or is the enthusiasm for China Uber Alles only skin-deep in the families with only a single child?

The US has a long history of being friendly with China (although not always Chinese immigrants), interrupted by Mao et al. I wonder how well that will survive the expansionism and influence-buying spree they've been on lately.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Death of Meaning

AVI has a Quilette link on his sidebar, and yesterday's article was "Elder Millennial Metalheads: Our Shrinking World of Dark Thoughts and Bad Jobs". It's quite sad.
Everywhere I looked, it seemed all of the cool people had the same message. The American Dream is a sham. You’re better than that.

... We were too clever for the assembly lines, too principled for Wall Street, too vulgar for academia. Find glory or die, because this middle space of strip malls and mortgages is worse than death.

So we did what we could, and tried to find a purpose in a world that seemed more excited about a new Olive Garden than teaching us how to be good men.

What think you of that charge? We're offered buybuybuy, with a side order of sex, and if that's not enough meaning for you you're welcome to embrace the "magical progress of history" and signal how virtuous you are. We get some rules about tolerance and treating the environment nicely, but what about courage or justice (unqualified) or wisdom?

Still, the author has agency:

We all shared a common disdain for the dehumanizing economic machine set to absorb us. We were average young suburbanites struggling to make a living at mindless service and factory work. For many, death really did seem preferable.

...Aspiring to transcend the system, we were living in a kind of economic limbo, choosing low-paying, low-responsibility work that allowed us time off to rehearse, record, and tour.

OK... I think I detect some choices here.

I love America. I love this land that birthed the artists whose works give me life. This is the country that molded all of my sick, glorious heroes and friends. I don’t want to see it torn apart. But the anger, this rage I’ve seen growing among youth, I do understand it. Among all the things in this world that have baffled me since I can remember, anger might be the one thing I understand.

I will hold fast to self-reliance until my hands are cold and my heart is lifeless meat. I will honor the memories of fallen brothers. And for others, this is my plea: Our problems are complicated, so don’t fall under the sway of ideologues who offer answers that are simple. You know better than that. Be who you choose to be, be beautiful, be yourself. No one has magical access to sacred knowledge, religious or secular, that can save you. Only death is real.

It sounds like the heart of self-definition is sawdust in a silk wrapper, with no meaning or power to inspire.

Voter Letters

My wife and youngest daughter have been getting a stream of "Center for Voter Information" letters, warning them that "Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you vote is public record." It includes the general election voting record for the rest of the household.

I haven't gotten one.

One of the letters mentioned how important it is to have women and minorities "have their voices heard."

I think I know why I haven't gotten a letter.

This seems like a faintly intimidating approach. "We will know whether you voted!"

The Center for Voter Information is a "nonprofit, nonpartisan organization." And no doubt they also have ocean-front property in Kansas to sell us.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Phosphine on Venus

The announcement that phosphine (PH3) might be present in Venus' atmosphere generated a lot of skepticism, though you might not know that from the news stories about "life on Venus."

Re-analysis of the 267-GHz ALMA observations of Venus: "No statistically significant detection of phosphine."

To be precise: ALMA looked at Venus in this region because another observer had suggested phosphine might be there. Nothing in the above report deals with the other experiment at all--just ALMA's result.

But oh my... The ALMA spectrum is, of course, horribly jagged. How do you figure out what the background is for a given feature? For that matter, how do you tell what's a feature?

The upper left plot is the ALMA 15-σ signal. The other 5 are from the skeptics performing exactly the same procedure on other eyeballed "features." The black curve in each one is the result of a 12th order polynomial(*) fit to a region around, but not including, the feature region. They get, as you can easily guess, apparently quite significant signals from noise. A more conservative background estimator gives a much less significant PH3 signal.

Results: We find that the 12th-order polynomial fit to the spectral passband utilised in the published study leads to spurious results. Following their recipe, five other >10 sigma lines can be produced in absorption or emission within 60 km/s from the PH3 1-0 transition frequency by suppressing the surrounding noise. Our independent analysis shows a feature near the PH3 frequency at a ~2 sigma level, below the common threshold for statistical significance.

(*) John von Neumann said "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Getting past politics

I read Mark Steyn's tribute to Herbert Kretzmer this evening. (his "songs of the week #391") I'm lousy with names, and I'd no idea how many songs he'd worked on. One was "Hier encore" ==< "Yesterday When I Was Young;" not a translation but an inspired-by; and better than the original.

One sad thought is that I know several people who would love the article, but wouldn't be able to get past his politics on the sidebar.

Maybe there's sampling bias involved, but it seems that this "unable to get past his politics to appreciate his other work" belongs more to the sociopolitical "left."

Not entirely--I am not interested in John Wayne Gacy's poetry, no matter how good it may be (assuming he wrote any). I was curious about Hitler's paintings in a "What if?" way, but I'd be revolted if somebody were trying to market them. And I don't think I could read Marion Zimmer Bradley's work the same way--or perhaps even again.

I can see being unwilling to give money to people who hate you, but the effect extends to cases where there's no cost involved.

One could use a flattering description, and say that the left are more "integrated" and the right more "partitioned", and that an "integrated" life finds evil anywhere unendurable. Or you could try flattering the other direction and say that conservatives are more "just" and willing to give credit where due.

Maybe one could better say that "evil" attitudes and ideas more often have importance equal to evil actions for the "left" than they do for the "right."

Or maybe "the worst believer is better than the best unbeliever."

Movie structure

Eve Tushnet wrote that The Song of Bernadette "follows a classic horror-film structure in order to make a theological point."
Horror movies, especially supernatural ones, often turn on questions of authority.

I hadn't thought of that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

At sea

I saw a news squib about the return of the USS Stout after a 9 month deployment, with a comment about how sturdy those sailors must be.

There's another way to look at the matter.

When I was young I read of a Navy where a vast amount of sailor time was spent painting or chipping paint. When the ocean is always trying to dissolve your boat, I suppose that makes sense. At any rate, I was never eager to go to sea.

I guess they don't do that anymore.

Sawdust and wood chips

The last tree, another silver maple, was so bark-shaggy that we called for an arborist to tell us if it was OK. He said that was normal, and suggested a root treatment to keep the tree's canopy from growing so fast.

I'm a suspicious sort, and I got on a ladder (not a trivial exercise in that location) and jammed a skewer into the lowest crotch of the tree here and there. I found a deep hole, and some soft wood nearby.

We called for tree removal. A few days later I found a mushroom lying beside the tree, and a week later my wife noticed one growing in that lower crotch.

So we bit our nails during the wind storm, and then came the day for it to come down.

Yep, that section was going rotten--but so was another section unexpectedly high up. That would have landed on our neighbor's van.

So now we have a 10x8 foot divot in our (and our neighbor's) lawn, and no time to try to grow grass. When we bought the place there were 7 trees on a 90 foot city lot--4 in front and 3 in back. One of those was a Russian olive. (Never get a Russian olive, especially if you have kids. The branches are low and inviting, but spiky. And they die quickly.)

A maple every 15 feet probably seemed like a good idea at the time. The "leaf forts" in autumn were fun.

The front yard will look strange for a while, and the car will get hot in the driveway next summer. I hardly remember the other trees anymore.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

BBC and "La Consulaire"

The BBC reports on the possible repatriation of "La Consulaire" to Algeria. That's a 7 meter long cannon the French captured back in 1830. (It got the name from the French consul who was shot out of it by the Algerians back in 1683.) "It was in fact Hassan Pasha, the Ottoman ruler of Algiers in the 16th Century, who commissioned the giant cannon in order to protect the city from repeated attacks by the Spanish, French and Dutch." Hassan Pasha sounds very put upon, doesn't he? The BBC ignored a little bit of context.

Is that enough of an omission to make the story a lie? If not, it comes very close.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Politicians and mortal sin

I'm not Catholic, so there may be some subtlety I'm missing.

I gather there is some dispute in Catholic circles about giving communion to pro-abortion politicians. Some distinguish between those who vote for abortion and those who make it part of their platform, but I'm not convinced that this distinguishes much. At any rate, the argument against is that they are complicit in mortal sin and not in a state to receive communion, and the argument in favor seems to be that even though the politician might be (is) complicit in mortal sin, for pastoral reasons it is better to give them communion to keep them in the church.

I've heard darker suspicions--the kindest being that some bishops are happy enough with the other programs their politicians support that they look the other way about abortion.

There's another of the mortal sins that gets overlooked a lot: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." I don't know that going to confession is all that useful if you fully intend to go back out and keep lying about your political opponents. (I'm told that actually repenting is part of the process.)

And if I understand the moral calculus used, since the lies are intended to do serious harm to another's reputation, they're mortal and not venial.

Especially around election time, it would seem that a priest could assume, until proven otherwise, that politicians are "in a state of mortal sin" and should not recieve communion. This would apply to the partisans as well, but they're not as easy to name as the elect.

One section of that catechism, number 2477, seems to be talking of Facebook use. Or perhaps of the newspaper. Certainly of politicos...

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them

Interesting: 2284 and 2285 "The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter." We hear the most scandalous lies this time of year, and the temptation to rash judgment and sharing them.

Why do politicians get communion?

Yes, I know you can find some who try to keep on the straight and narrow. I wish we had more of them.

Monday, October 12, 2020


When watching a video about ancient forest management in England, I got to wondering if the Chippewa (Anishinaabe) had gone in for coppicing. They used a lot of small branches, and that would seem like a good way to make sure you got a good stock of the right size.

But... The population density around here wasn't that high, so maybe forraging was easy enough. And how would they cut the trees without metal tools? Pounding the bejabbers out of a trunk with a stone axe seems like a way to induce rot, not new growth, in the stump. So maybe they didn't.

But reading around tells me that it was done in central America, and in California they had "Fire, Pruning, and Coppice Management of Temperate Ecosystems for Basketry Material".

I hadn't thought of fire, but that could work. So maybe they did. I'll ask if somebody knows.

Along the way I found Plants Used by the Bois Fort Chippewa Indians, which describes food, medicinal herbs, intoxicating herbs, and a revolting recipe for seasoning wild rice: though some of us buy kopi luwak and Black Ivory Coffee.

One finds the strangest rabbit holes sometimes. About hazel: "If you have never tasted a hazelnut, there is no way I can describe it.... Softly erotic, it's like making love in a sauna, heated by burning birch." Maybe the hazelnuts I ate weren't the special ones.

Sunday, October 11, 2020


From time to time I have extremely realistic dreams: dreams that seem so real that on waking I have to mentally go through the day to force a realization that I was not at the grocery store yesterday, so I could not have been dancing on the potato bin. One dream was especially awkward to deal with, as it simulated memories that supposedly were from many different days.

I suppose that says something about how memories work in my brain.

In one sense I'm not responsible for my dreams--I've no conscious control over them. In another sense--they draw on the raw material of what I have been thinking about or exposing my mind to, so I sort-of am responsible. Which is a disconcerting thought.

Of course, the overwhelming majority are the usual sorts of things: blenderized fragments of the day. Though--quite a few of the longer dreams have had the same theme playing out: cascading problems where one attempted fix causes other problems without fixing the old, and no way to try again.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Vision Zero

From earlier this year: Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced Thursday the launch of the city’s Vision Zero initiative, which seeks to eliminate traffic-related deaths and injuries in Madison by 2030. "“We must prioritize safety over speed. We must prioritize safety over shaving a few minutes off our commute,” Rhodes-Conway said."
Fiore said the Police Department’s traffic unit will ensure that Vision Zero does not have a negative effect on communities of color. The unit focuses mainly on hazardous driving behavior and moving violations, he said, rather than “income-based violations” — such as expired registrations or unlawful vehicle equipment — to reduce racial disparities among police stops.

The first step, to stop racing is "speed limits on portions of East Washington Avenue in Madison will be lowered by 5 to 10 mph to combat dangerous driving." (One driver was clocked at 110 mph.) We all know that drag racers will slow down when they realize the posted speed limit is now lower. I suppose they'll have to, since their obstacles (the rest of us) will be going slower.

The next step is to slow down a stretch of Milwaukee Street. Vision Zero is nominally a "data driven approach", but I wonder what they're trying to get the data to say.

The problems I've seen have been due to people racing a stupidly timed light on E.Wash and 1'st, and inattention elsewhere (e.g. crossing against a light) The auto/pedestrian accidents I've read about have usually involved alcohol or stolen cars.

But I suppose if the speed limit is Zero, the traffic-related deaths and injuries will be Zero.

Mike Royko had his own take back in '86. "I was slapped with a speeding ticket by a trooper in Kentucky. Although it cost me a few dollars, I accepted it cheerfully. That`s because my heavy right foot has saved me countless of hours of traveling time, thus letting me avoid dozens of nights in drab motels and potentially fatal meals in roadside diners."

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Not without honor except

In Matthew 9 we read that Jesus "came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.

Later on, He said "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household."

Part of that is familiarity, of course. "We have known Josh from when he was a toddler, so we know all there is to know about Josh. He's one of us, not someone greater than us." Lewis wrote about that in The Four Loves already, and I won't try to better him.

There might be another aspect too. In the first passage, He came to his own city. He knew the people there--it wasn't a big city (maybe 500, maybe as many as 2000). He would have already known the paralytic. Why didn't He do anything about him before?

"It wasn't time yet" isn't going to be a very satisfying explanation.

Why didn't God send a Moses earlier? Moses was eager to help; why did he, and the slaves, have to wait another 40 years?

"If you're for real, why didn't you help sooner?"

I can imagine that getting in the way of believing--especially if the one you cared about died before Help came.

Signs of the times

AVI has been counting presidential election signs in and out of cities, so I thought I'd toss in some data points.

In Madison and my town Biden dominates, though here and there a Trump sign survives. In the countryside, Trump appears 2-5 times as often. In Algoma (population a bit over 3000), Biden appears twice as often as Trump. Parts of the town are trendy. It has its own Bahai group--in a town of 3000!--so it may not represent small towns well.

The Menominee reservation had very few signs, and they were all Biden--or "Pow-wow the vote" signs, usually in conjunction with a Biden sign. I wonder if they had some tribal discussion on the matter.

Most signs are standard issue, but some are home-made, especially ones about vets, and those are often fairly creative.

I don't think the democrats are going to make Hillary's mistake this year. Back in 2016 I recall rather few Hillary signs--almost as many old Bernie ones. This year they're pushing hard.


Watching the water billow over rocks is soothing and eye-bending. Your eyes want to follow the water flowing by, and also to stay on the formations it makes--and you flicker back and forth between the two. Then when you look at the stone wall you are sitting on, it wavers.

Seen in Door County

A tank truck with:
----'s Septic

Friday, October 02, 2020

No evidence

For the past few months she's been held up as an example of racial animus in Madison. She said 4 men sprayed something flamable on her through her car window and set it on fire--and she presented with genuine burns.

But the picture of her car at Gorham and State shows nobody nearby.

I was dubious from the get-go. The description of the "attack" didn't sound like something that would work unless you were not just standing next to somebody, but able to keep them from fleeing. 4 pedestrians, from the side of the road, spray bottle, though the driver's window? No.

The article includes a line "Bernstein said the attack happened at around 1 a.m., or about 20 minutes after a group of people threw a Molotov cocktail through a window of the City-County Building in the Downtown, starting a small fire." The molotov cocktail part isn't particularly relevant--the photos show her car coming down Gorham from a bit farther east, and if she'd been involved the hospital would have been easier to reach from John Nolan.

So she lied. The burns were real--and were presumably from something she didn't want to explain to people. It doesn't seem likely to have been the firebombing--and gasoline would have probably made much worse burns.

Update: If you're curious, the police records are here. Personal info, including medical, is redacted from the documents, which makes the some of the documents pretty useless to us. The police also included testimony from people who claimed to have information--one woman was told by the Holy Spirit who the culprits were and where to find them. They found some residue on her shirt consistent with lighter fluid, but no burns in the car. A quick googling turned up a possible alternative to her story.

Thursday, October 01, 2020


Quillette talks of Pasha Glubb and the fate of empires.

Screwtape mentioned the problem: "Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same."

For "democracy" put "empire" or "industry" or even "culture"--the principle remains. Self discipline and an ideal of the greater good dissolve in prosperity. Leo Nicolletto has some suggestions for keeping the NATO "empire" from suffering the fate of all others, but none of his prescriptions would be organic anymore, and therefore would need to be imposed. And imposing radical changes merely hastens catastrophe. David Warren is a better guide. You won't get what you want unless you want something else more.

Advice to composer/performers

Spike Jones Jr.: “One of the things that people don’t realize about dad’s kind of music is, when you replace a C-sharp with a gunshot, it has to be a C-sharp gunshot or it sounds awful.”

A lot of the stage business was funnier in context of the expectations of that age, and leaves me untickled. But the music really did take a lot of skill.