Monday, October 25, 2021

Ever wonder what they drink

at the South Pole? Wonder no longer. Raul Rodriguez devised a way of making a well in the ice and snow. After it gets unwieldy, it then serves as a waste repository.

But if you follow the link (and subsequent links) you'll see how complicated a simple idea can get. They wound up using TNT at one point (not entirely successfully--and from the sound of the video some things broke that weren't supposed to).

And yes, they need to add some salts. I'm told of one fellow who got paranoid and tried to drink meltwater straight. After a while he had some other problems as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2021


At the end of Albion's Seed he promised to write about black history in the US. I wonder if this will be the promised book.


I've been interested in the progress in population genetic work over the past years. But now and then I've had a niggling worry at the back of my mind: How tightly connected it is to history? Every now and then something comes up: Mexicans with Filipino ancestry. It seems out of place--but Filipino slaves were brought in during the 17th century.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

From a 13 year old's point of view

A friend's 13-year-old has COVID. He has to stay home from school, have food brought to him in his room, is excused from all chores that would take him out of his room, and can play video games most of the day. The only price he has to pay is a mild dry cough (and having a cotton swab stuffed up his nose every few days for the testing).

His siblings are likewise told to stay home. My friend has had the bug himself (not fun at all), and then been vaccinated (even worse reaction), but rules are rules and with the bug in the house he can't go to work. He's catching up on bathroom remodeling.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cold fusion

I remember reading a fax of a fax of Steven Jones' paper looking for excess neutron flux. It looked reasonable--when dissolved in palladium the effective density of deuterium is high enough (albeit still miniscule) that the nuclear wavefunctions can overlap to a degree that allows muons from cosmic rays to catalyze fusion. He found neutrons from that. The poor guy went kind of nuts as a 911-truther later. The Pons and Fleichmann razzle-dazzle overshadowed and unfairly tainted his work.

Can one do something similar deep inside the earth? Fukuhara et al say yes, one could fuse heavier nuclei than deuterium.

According to google the density near the core is only about 10g/cm^3, which is a bit over 3x the usual density for calcium carbonate. Why do I mention calcium carbonate?

This hypothesis suggests that heavier elements result from an endothermic nuclear transformation of carbon and oxygen nuclei confined in the aragonite CaCO3 lattice of the Earth’s mantle or crust, which is enhanced by the attraction caused by high temperatures ≥2510 K and pressures ≥58 GPa in the Earth’s interior

... 2(C) + 2 (O) + 4e∗ + 4𝑣̄𝑒 → 2(N2)↑ + (O2)↑+(H2O)↑ + 2n − 10.58MeV ...

The above-described reaction is favored by the physical catalysis exerted by excited electrons (e*) that were generated through stick-sliding during the evolution of supercontinents and mantle conversion triggered by collisions of major asteroid, and anti-electron neutrinos (𝑣̄𝑒) coming from the universe, epecially from the young sun, or by the radioactive decay of elements such as U and Th and nuclear fusion in the Earth's core that is described later.

(I adjusted their formula: Assume the standard O-16, C-12, and N-14.) Where do I start?

I suppose one starts by following their references in the hope that something might turn up. (What are "excited electrons?")

In it appears that he is talking about "electron capture." Amusingly enough, that's generally capture of inner orbital electrons, not the more likely to be excited outer ones. It also claims that the C-O bond distance in the lower mantle (0.085nm) would be about 35% smaller than at normal pressures, which makes sense, and is getting near what Jones got. But their density is a bit higher than I saw elsewhere.

There are, of course, almost no muons at that depth and what there are are highly interactive on their own account. So what does Fukuhara propose for the catalyst? Neutral pions, which result from photon interactions, and then interact with the electrons about to be captured. He says they observed fusion reactions in a liquid lithium cavitation experiment, but the abstract for that doesn't seem quite as compelling. Bombarding cavitating liquid lithium with deuterons is an interesting approach. But I don't see where they are supposed to get a significant density of deuterium inside the target for the d-d reactions. Hydrogen solubility is less than 2%, though maybe you'd get bubbles of D2 close to the beam spot if the beam is intense enough.

Anyway, back to the main subject. The rate seems mighty small. C + O + 2(e*) + 2(nu_e) → N + O + H + n - 5.29MeV(if I can dispose of the irrelevant chemical bits) still demands 2 neutrinos handy at the same time. They show up about 110/cm^3, so in a region .17nm on a side the rate for 1 at at time is quite low: 1.5E-21. Square that for 2 at a time. My atomic physics and nuclear physics are both a bit rusty, and I'm not sure I could come up with a good rate for electron capture in these circumstance.

The Earth is pretty big and has been around a while; even so I'm not sure the rate works for a significant amount of nuclear synthesis. And 5 MeV is a lot of energy to have around loose in chemical interactions, even at high pressures.

The first paper goes on to try to show that the internuclear distances are also small for Al, Si, etc in common rocks, but it also declines to estimate production rates.

My impression, based on the use of chemical equation balancing (bolded equation above) instead of the nuclear one (italics), and the use of the phrase "excited electrons", and the absence of overall rate estimates, is that the authors are somewhat outside their expertise, and maybe should have called in some help.

Sunday, October 17, 2021


the Art Institute of Chicago fired all of its docents, or trained volunteer museum guides and greeters, for being "mostly older white women of above-average financial means."
According to the Wall Street Journal, on Sept. 3, Veronica Stein, an executive director of learning and engagement at the museum, sent an email to the more than 100 docents the museum has, firing all of them. "In gratitude for their long, unpaid service—averaging 15 years each—the Art Institute offered the involuntarily retired guides a two-year free pass to the museum,"

Cheesing off the demographic that provides so much of your donor pool must be the latest management fad.

Wouldn't you expect that volunteers would be older (children grown), above-average financial means (have leisure), women (men usually supporting the family)?

Certainly that reflects the demographic of the secular volunteers I've seen, and it would seem to plausibly explain the dramatic skewing of volunteer groups. It clearly isn't the whole story, though--the same economic/family issue that select for older and better-off women should also select for high-income minority groups as well--Japanese, Chinese, Indian...

So, off we go looking for rabbit holes.

The abstract for this paper is interesting.

... we analyze survey data on volunteerng, which show that whites volunteer more than blacks. We ask how much of this difference is due to the way human capital is distributed in the population. We develop a theory of volunteering that acknowledges that, besided human capital, social and cultural resources play a role in making volunteer work possible. Black Americans tend to be better endowed with these kinds of resources than whites, which partially compensates for their shortage of human capital. However, blacks are less likely than whites to be asked to volunteer, and less likely to accept the invitation if it is made. ... for all kinds of volunteering except the entirely secular, black volunteering is more influenced by church attendance than is white volunteering ... while socioeconomic differences ahve a smaller impact on black volunteering. Among volunteers for secular activities, church attendence has a negative effect on volunteering, but only for whites.

"Volunteering is a collective behavior" "The volunteer role is part of their identity"

The "collective behavior" aspect suggests to me that if social spheres don't overlap enough, people won't get asked.

As for the "church attendence has a negative effect on volunteering" I wonder if there's a "tapped-out" effect at work.

Political attitudes can play a role in some forms of volunteering: "Blacks are more likely than whites to believe that the government should help fund and organize programs for the poor and more likely to believe that charitable organizations are doing work the government should really be doing."

Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, among blacks who attended church less than once a month, those who felt their religion was important to them were less like to volunteer than those who didn't think it was so important. (kidding themselves?) This was not the case among whites--not sure why.

The paper is from 2000, and the data are, of course, quite a bit older. But though my simple resource model is partly ok, it clearly has limits.


Iconoclasts, if one may dignify them with such an idealistic label, have been taking down statues and trying to erase history.

It has seemed, though I haven't done statistics on the matter, that these are preferentially of great figures of the War of Independence and the Civil War. True, those are the most common, so perhaps there's nothing to see here, but one commonality of both the Confederate and early American figures is that they were both revolutionaries. One set won and the other lost (thankfully), but both believed it was legitimate to rebel against what they saw as usurpation.

I'd have thought that a revolutionary movement would try to claim the honor of their revolutionary predecessors for their own: "We're just like them!" Not this time. Whether as enforcers, or as brownshirts in internal power struggles, it smells as though they represent the elites. Do BLM's gender goals reflect average black american concerns? Hint: not that I've ever heard

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sunscreen degradation and improvement

The headline read Scientists Warn: Sunscreen That Includes Zinc Oxide Loses Effectiveness and Becomes Toxic After 2 Hours I've learned to be suspicious of headlines, but this isn't entirely wrong.

The researchers made up their own sunscreens from the usual sorts of chemicals and exposed them to standardized fake sunlight. Some of the chemicals in sunscreen protect you by disintegrating themselves (and thus becoming ineffective), but "We were surprised to find that all five of the commercially relevant small-molecule UV-filter mixtures were mostly photostable."

But it seems that zinc oxide changes things.

The plot on the left is for ZnO micro-particles, and the one on the right for ZnO nano-particles. The blue curves are before and the orange curves are after UV exposure. The drop in absorbance at longer wavelengths (the UV-A region) is pretty dramatic. Interestingly, there's a rise in absorbance for nano-particle ZnO mixtures--so the mix gets better at blocking UV-B.

They also dosed embryonic zebrafish with the various before and after mixtures. It looks to me as though sunscreen isn't good for zebrafish, old sunscreen is worse, and defects really start to kick in with ZnO sunscreen and get really bad for old ZnO sunscreen--especially the nano-particle version. Of course the doses are huge.

They say zebrafish have "significant gene homology to humans", but I'll bet the 5-day turn-around for "more rapid screening" was the decisive reason for the choice. And everybody uses them (probably because of the quick growth).


The phrase, at least in the old meaning, comes from just what you might expect. "Will he or n'ill he" was what I thought, and it wasn't far off.

Radiation hormesis

is the theory that small amounts of radiation (well, maybe not alphas) "exercise" the body's/cell's repair mechanisms and leave it better off. There's evidence for and against this. There still seem to be radon spas; it isn't just an antique fad.

It turns out to be quite hard to do animal experiments or human epidemiological studies with appropriately small levels of radiation. I suppose one could do comparisons of longevity and cancer rates of tribes living at different altitudes, but there are probably confounding differences in diet, and maybe lower air pressure adds stress to the body? Cell cultures are all well and good, but sometimes it is the whole organism that responds to an irritant.

And so, there are proposals for an Ultra Low-Level Radiation Effects lab. Underground, of course.

One group has been working with human lung and bronchial cells. They cited earlier research.

"For example, Planel et al (1987) incubated paramecia underground in the Pyrenees mountains at the Centre National Recherche Scietifique (CNRS) and showed growth inhibition of cells within incubators shielded at 0.2mGy/year; they were able to recover growth rate to control levels by exposing the underground cells to 60Co (4 mGy/year)."

The human cell group went on to check for "heat shock proteins" as a marker for stress, using human lung and bronchial cells.

shielding cells from natural levels of radiation upregulated the expression of two of the three stress proteins, and follow-on exposure to x-rays further upregulated expression.

Their Figure 2 does show striking differences. I won't say I'm sure what that means, though. There might be other functions for those proteins.

Though the data variability was relatively high, the three indicators of cell growth demonstrated that cells grown underground were inhibited and grew increasingly so with increasing time underground

Don't take this as an excuse to drink Radithor. That's not a small dose. But you might feel better about buying your kids a Gilbert's Atomic Energy Lab. Just make sure they aren't buying thousands of lantern mantles for some project in the shed.

Back in the day

A Canadian group looks for radioactive artifacts in museums. One such was the Revigator, designed to infuse radioactivity into your drinking water. "According to the manufacturer, the radiation could treat or cure ailments ranging from arthritis and flatulence to senility and poisoning. "The Revigator was an attempt to mimic spa, or spring water," explains Epstein. "People figured that spring water was radioactive, and it seemed to be good for you, so why not make your own?" " The team described in the second link found that the water had plenty of radon, but the radon probably wasn't as big a threat as the dissolved arsenic, lead, vanadium and uranium. At those radiation levels I don't think you'd get significant disinfection of contaminated water, so you don't even get that possible benefit.

But you could take more significant doses. They mention Eben Byers and Radithor, and also

“People would drink radium water at parties and stand behind the screen and look at each other’s organs,” Secord said.

I can see the appeal--if you don't know about the dangers.

UPDATE: We can't forget Gilbert's Atomic Energy Lab. I never got one--possibly because I wasn't born until well after they went off the market.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Seen in Saugatuck

In a tiny grass spot next to the city hall is a boulder with a plaque:

"In Memory of The First Indian Burying Ground 1800 to 1850"

There's a story there, right?

Per Waymarking: "The remains of the Indian cemetery were excavated during some construction, in 1930, at the Saugatuck centennial celebration, a boulder with a bronze plaque in "Memory of the First Indian Burying Ground, 1800 to 1850" was dedicated and a few remains were reburied in a mound nearby."

OK, that makes sense. I didn't see any mound, though; not by the new City Hall or the Cook Park entrance or the yacht club.

Nope, no mound. Per "Between thirty and fifty burials were encountered during excavation work for the construction of a new community hall." There should have been something to see.

The bones which were found in the burial grounds were gathered together and reinterred beneath a small mound of earth near the southwest intersection of Butler and Culver Streets across from the Village Hall. Nearby a stone "to the memory of the old Indian burying ground..." was dedicated with ceremony at the 1930 celebration of the centennial of Saugatuck. Johnson Fox, then just a boy, remembers being the one who actually spoke the words of dedication dressed in an Indian outfit made by his mother. The burial mound was leveled during street widening in the 1970s, and for a few years only the curved sidewalk which had gone around the mound showed its former position. Eventually even that was removed, although the memorial rock remains.

The artifacts on the second floor of the Saugatuck Village Hall were on display for several years. but, according to old-timers, since the museum was totally unsupervised, many were stolen. The rest were eventually, according to the newspapers, given to the brother-in-law of one of the town officials who was a collector of such things.

Ottawa, though sometimes there were Potawatomi in the area, in case you were interested.

Some people meant well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


The first covid shot left me a bit tired and with a sore arm 12 hours later. That didn't last too long.

The second left me pneumonia-level fatigued 24 hours later. That lasted about 8 hours.

The booster left me fatigued and fevered 36 hours later (during the night).

Extrapolations are left as an exercise.

I spent the day testing gravity.

Given that the stuff has to be kept cold and deteriorates when warm, I wonder how much variation there is in the actual dosage. Early-birds get the big kick, those near the end of a batch get a lighter one? It might have some bearing on reactions.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Somewhat more in-depth reporting than usual

A local man shot a policeman not far from where I work. The policeman will be ok. One wonders why he was out on bail from so many charges. The court commissioners and judges could do with a little more monitoring, I think.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Aboard the SS Badger

Route 10 across the lake...

From Manitowoc to Luddington was windy and sunny, and we stayed out on the top (third) deck the whole way. When the sun went down, the sky was clear all the way down to a little haze at the horizon--excellent conditions for looking for the green flash. And for the first time, I saw it, about half a second's worth just as the Sun slipped below the horizon. Unfortunately, a bug flew in my wife's eyes at just that moment, so she didn't see the flash. I hope the people around us were using the "sports" setting on their cameras--human reaction time isn't quite that good.

The return trip was substantially windier and colder. We stayed in what used to be the car deck (still the third level) and watched through the windows, not venturing out much.

Before the ship cast off, a young woman took selfies outside with the harbor as a background. She looked so radiantly happy--until the "shutter" click, and 20 knots of chill crumpled her happy smile into glumness. The contrast was startling--and I got to see the on/off transformation about half a dozen times until she was satified with the result.

The ship didn't roll more than a few degrees in the wind, but it was enough to bounce me off a table and a few chairs during my much-shorter-than-usual peregrinations. And the "paint-mixer" effect made me glad I'd had a very light breakfast. I suspect I won't grow up to be a sailor.

The ship turned most of us into toddlers again. The real toddler wasn't that happy trying to walk either.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Souvenirs to remember what?

While touring a small (and extremely pricey) tourist town I won't name, we were struck by the nature of the knicknacks for sale. I asked my wife if there was an analog for "kitsch" for the terminally self-satisfied. I've seen plenty of friendly or pious plaques in people's homes, but not often the vulgar or nihilist types. She offered smug--maybe "smugtchke" would work intead of tchotchke.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Laughable Stories

Bazarjamhir: "How beautiful patience would be if it were not that life is so short"
Dr Boli warned that his Eclectic Library could devour time, and this ill-titled collection of anecdotes is certainly capable of that.
When Kikobad the king died, one of his wise men said, "Yesterday the king spoke volubly, but today he being silent admonisheth [us] with greater effect."

Another sage said, "Hardihood is the vice of youth even though it driveth it to virtue."

Another sage said, "Make not a friend of thy house the man whose relatives make him a stranger unto them, for they are better acquainted with him than thou."

Another sage said, "Now, as concerning those who argue madly with each other in the debate, if they sought the truth they would never strive, because truth is a thing by itself, and truth and striving do not agree. But if they do not seek the truth but victory, then the contest must increase between them, for one of them cannot conquer unless the other be overcome."

Another of the sages said, "The members of a man's household are the moth of his money."

A certain prince had a little servant who used to learn with him in school, and who suddenly sickened and died. And when the king said to him, "My son, thy servant is dead," he replied, "Yes, he is dead, and he hath escaped from the school."

Another ascetic said, "It may be known that this world is a world of tribulation and wickedness, from the fact that there is no man in it who doth not seek to be something very much better than what he is."

When another ascetic saw a certain man giving alms in the sight of men, he said unto him, "If thou wishest to lay up treasure for thyself carry it secretly, lest when men see it they plunder it."

Monday, October 04, 2021

Election petition

The school electors meeting went on for 3 hours. The strategy report was overlong, and not entirely relevant. And not encouraging--lots of buzzwords. I think I see where they could save a chunk of change. Last year was pretty weird, of course, and this year the legislature has said they should balance their budget out of Federal ESSER-2 funds--which are explicitly NOT for balancing budgets, but for helping kids make up lost school time.

Attendance was high because of a petition to change the way school board members are elected. Currently all 7 are at large; the proposal said 1 at large and 3 each from the two new high school districts. The attorney was asked several times about what would happen next year, when 3 of the 6 West-ers are up for re-election. Apparently the clerk has to sort that out--which gives a little more power to the clerk than would seem reasonable.

To support the petition the partisans brought up the arguments that the diversity would be increased, that "the community" has a different reality, and that the school board was "stale" with little turnover.

The petition has nothing to do with the third point, the second isn't very relevant either, and the first fell to the floor when it was pointed out that the high school boundaries had been crafted to equalize ethnic, racial, and economic diversity on both sides. The partisans didn't notice, though. And, to make matters more interesting, the high school boundaries were drawn to equalize the number of high-school students, not the number of households or voters, which aren't equalized.

They'd have done better to argue that in smaller districts you are more likely to actually know your representatives, rather than just know their names.

I guess there'd been a lot of debate already, and people knew each other, because the pro-change speakers had a clapping section in the back right, and the no-change speakers' clappers were in the middle left. We went to find out, though I admit I have a "if it ain't broke" bias. Was the system broken? Not in a way they would fix. You aren't going to get people who don't have time to attend meetings to run for school board just by changing district boundaries.

The elephant in the room sat silently. Spring elections have low turnout, and the largest voting block is the teachers. I figured there was no point in opening that can of worms. This was the largest turnout at an elector's meeting that I've ever seen, and the first where teachers and administrators weren't the majority.

It lost 52 to 114. I did my part.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

The book begins with Egyptian sorcerers and gypsies, quickly branches into time travel, and Coleridge. A scholar from 1983 finds himself in London in the 1810, where he, broke and friendless, finds magical and non-magical enemies--and he knows a few key facts about a few key people. (The creature isn't a werewolf--it would be a nicer being if it were.)

The plot is fast and complex, with a heavy dose of Egyptian mythology/magic and attention to detail. Powers plays fair with the reader.

I'm afraid I didn't like it as well as it deserves. You might.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Looney Tunes

AVI noted how the Looney Tunes used a variety of music in sophisticated ways, and Aggie commented that their humor was often aimed more at adults than children. I liked it, and I'm still fond of Rocky and Bullwinkle too.

Someone has probably done a thesis applying Myers-Briggs to cartoon characters and drawing deep conclusions from the frequency with which certain traits appear. Maybe certain personality traits just don't lend themselves to types of humor. Academic tool meets pop culture--and maybe says something interesting/useful?

Pop culture meets pop culture might be a bridge too far, for a thesis on D&D classifications of Looney Tune characters. Bugs Bunny as a Chaotic Good Bard?


"The doors of the library were nuzzled open and a white horse walked in. ... The historians paid him no attention. Horses did not walk into libraries." Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

“I think I have not found any authoritarians on the left because if there ever were any, most of them have dried up and blown away….” wrote Bob Altemeyer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021


You've seen the stories suggesting that an meteor air-burst destroyed Tel el-Hammam, which might have been Sodom, as well as trashing Jericho--though less emphatically. The combination of shattering, intense heat, and traces of odd minerals does seem to suggest something not within the military technology of the age. Pottery doesn't melt very easily--but have a look at what confined heat can do. People do worry about fire damage in tunnels and how to avoid/repair damage.

Tunguska would have been unpleasant to be underneath too. "Recent estimates place Tunguska-sized events at about one every thousand years." Um. The statistics are low, but spotting 2 in 4000 years, subject to a) not happening over the ocean and b) happening where people would notice, suggests to me a rate at least 10 times higher.


Via comments at Chicago Boyz: a CIA-written parody of The Hunt for Red October. No doubt I missed a number of in-jokes, but I got the gist.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Educational software in Africa

While looking up Ricks Institute info, I found that they're using an African-sourced software platform for e-learning. Ashcon turns out to be an extension of Wordpress and Buddypress which serves a customized set of free instructional videos, pre-downloaded. This is organized to match the school's (Ricks' here) curriculum. The history of installing their software at Ricks is interesting. Try to buy a server and find that unless you wait (too long!) you have to buy local at 2x the normal price. A large fraction of the downloaded demonstrations demand java or flash--problematic. Iowa State warned them that some of the simulations might have minor flaws, but they worked. Khan Academy has lots of material they could use.

All of this educational material is easy to find and use--if you have good internet connectivity. The value-added with Ashcon is pre-downloading the material to a local server and simplifying the access. It developed thus:

"Whilst in my first semester in Ashesi, I developed a simple website with educational videos from Khan Academy and hosted it on my laptop. This was in response to the many requests I received from fellow students to copy the videos for them onto their flash drives. These were videos teaching topics related to the introductory courses we were taking that semester. Students who had seen me watching Khan Academy videos wanted to use them to revise for the upcoming mid-semester exam. Over that weekend, my classmates downloaded about a thousand videos, which motivated me to develop the site further. This gave birth to AshCon."

A little good news in the world...

Children's games

AVI has a post about children's games in England and the US.

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but at Ricks I remember boys playing soccer--with a ball if they had one, with an orange if they didn't--and I remember the jump-rope games as girls' games. I could be mistaken there, though. The jump-rope games were quite complicated, resembling "Chinese" jump rope. I'd bet the Liberian versions were independently developed.

Me? I tripped.

There were also some catch games, but I don't recall that they were especially different from "catch" anywhere else.

These days: You recognize some of these games as imports, and some as adaptations. FWIW, in the "hoop game" you guided the hoop--you don't "follow it" unless it got away from you. Or at least, that's what I saw. I remembered "na-foo" but didn't remember that it was "knock foot" or how it was played.

"Kickball" demanded a big soft ball (pitch is a roll, hit is a kick, otherwise just like softball), and so was more of an organized sport than a pick-up game.

The school had a basketball court too, which saw some action.

FWIW, Ricks has a policy that students are forbidden to bring cell phones or tablets onto campus. It's a boarding school.

Should have known

I've written before on how, after the fact, we can see that God always was a suffering servant in some sense.

If love means willing the good of another, and if existence, as such, is good, then at least to that degree of willing something to exist, a Creator is loving.

John makes the degree clear.

Joseph and Potiphar's wife

I'd heard that the Koran(*) had a different version. Muhammad's version describes 2 attempts, the second a fairly public challenge with her lady friends present, after Potiphar has already determined Joseph's innocence.

I'd also heard that Muhammad borrowed heavily from local Jews and some Christian monks (he seems to have had very friendly relations with some of them), so I looked for a midrash on Potiphar's wife. It includes several different speculations to flesh out the narrative: Joseph is about to succumb when interrupted by a vision of his father, Joseph discourses on death with Potiphar's wife Zulycah to discourage her, Potiphar was homosexual... And the little detail I'd always missed, that Pharaoh gave him "Asenath daughter of Poti-phera" who may or may not have been the same as Potiphar.

If the same, that would seem to make for extremely awkward in-law relations, though the rabbis worried more about Joseph marrying a non-Israelite, in violation of the (much later) Sinai law. In one "explanation" Asenath is Joseph's neice in what strikes me as a very unpleasant story. In another analysis, Joseph realizes that he is still technically a slave, and he has seen Pharaoh's favor turn on a dime. If he marries Potiphar's daughter, his children will be Potiphar's grandchildren--and Potiphar would never enslave his own grandchildren, so they'd be safe, even if Joseph winds up enslaved again.

As to my original question, the Jewish versions I read don't match Muhammad's, so he either invented it or those monks had a freewheeling attitude towards Genesis.

(*)I've tried reading the Koran a couple of times, but never succeeded in getting very far.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Parkinson's Law: Injelititis

Have I recommended this before? Never mind, I recommend it again. Each chapter is a tongue-in-cheek but insightful look at organizations and how they fuddle things. The first is a famous observation about the growth of management.

From Parkinson's Law, Chapter 8: Injelititis, or Palsied Parlysis:

If the head of the organization is second-rate, he will see to it that his immediate staff are all third-rate; and they will, in turn, see to it that their subordinates are fourth-rate. There will soon be an actual competition in stupidity, people pretending to be even more brainless than they are.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Lies, Damned lies,..

"Junk DNA" has a purpose, something most of us probably guessed was true from first principles, though we couldn't predict what it would be. The link tells of some progress they're making on figuring out what its roles are.

But one sentence jumped out at me:

“If you look at the chimpanzee genome and the human genome, the protein coding regions are, like, 98 percent, 99 percent identical,” she says. “But the junk DNA part is very, very different.”

You've heard that 98% stat over and over again, haven't you? But unless you dig into the details, you never learn that said "98%" covers only 1.5% of the DNA. I'd never dug into it before myself. I need to be more suspicious--I figured it was just a matter of complexity. Nope, hubris: "If we don't understand it, it doesn't matter."

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

What David did...

Matthew 12:3-4 "Have you not read what David did ... entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat..." It seemed an odd reference--to history rather than the law, and to an incident in which David, on the run from Saul, lies to Ahimelech the priest at the tabernacle about his errand. That's a pretty odd precedent to rely on.

I think I get it now, though. Ahimelech gave him permission, and Jesus was affirming that. Jesus' next example is also about the priests in the temple, who do work (and hard work it was) on the Sabbath--unlike everybody else. Jesus then claims to be superior to the temple, which the priests serve, so if a priest can intepret, even more He can specify the applications of the law.

Monday, September 20, 2021

If you have time on your hands.

The "Great Books of the Western World" is prefaced with a volume describing "The Great Conversation." Some of the writers are arguing with each other and coming up with better ideas (and worse ones), others descibe people using plays or novels (and what they regard as important to explain varies a lot over time), and others come up with new approaches to science. One of the things their approach emphasizes is that while math may have a right answer, what makes a good king?

Or a good writer of constitutions? FWIW, they've had arguments about what should go in the list of Great Books too, and made changes.

There's an ancient parallel tradition of debate. The section linked is 8 chapters discussing the ramifications and limits of the rule that one must leave the corners of your field ungleaned so that the poor can harvest something. (The corner is the "peah".) The first teacher says:

These are the things that have no definite quantity: The corners [of the field]. First-fruits; [The offerings brought] on appearing [at the Temple on the three pilgrimage festivals]. The performance of righteous deeds; And the study of the torah. The following are the things for which a man enjoys the fruits in this world while the principal remains for him in the world to come: Honoring one’s father and mother; The performance of righteous deeds; And the making of peace between a person and his friend; And the study of the torah is equal to them all.

"No definite quantity" The very next teacher wrote:

They should not leave peah of less than one-sixtieth [of the field]. But even though they said, “there is no measure for peah,” everything depends upon the size of the field, the number of poor people, and the extent of the yield.

"Great Conversations" involve a lot of "wait a minute, you forgot about X," don't they?

Another text, a midrash on Genesis, interpolates a great deal of speculation into the sacred text about Abraham and Isaac and Mt. Moriah. Perhaps this is "what if" to illustrate different possible ways to interpret the simple text. Another set of analyses on the creation of man has Adam naming God!

Just a note: the formatting at is not always ideal. In the same paragraph you can find an opinion, and then another author citing the opinion in order to clarify it--without indentation or different fonts to help guide the eye.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Surely they didn't look quite like that...

I grew up thinking Greek and Roman statues were mostly plain white, though even back then they knew some had been painted. We now know most of them were painted, and this is a nice collection of examples. But the reconstructions, pretty much one and all, looked like cartoons. Some of those statues have amazing detail and texture--would the sculpter have been satisfied with the flat colors we've tried to slap on? Granted, those flat colors are the color of the residues we found, but I'd bet that at least some of the more realistic statues got additional detailing and shading on top of that base. The author of that peice agrees with me.

John Deandrea does painted sculpture now. I'd bet the Greeks, trying to immortalize (almost literally--e.g. an Olympic winner carved to look like Zeus) their model, would have gone in for all the detail they could.

Of course, over time the detail would fade or erode, and maybe some of them planned for that.

"Isochoric" freezing

Have you ever thawed out some frozen tomatoes for use in a recipe? Freezing messes up the texture--you wind up with tomato juice and some skin and a little thin pulp. Suppose you could freeze the tomato--or at least get it down below freezing to preserve it--without freezing it solid?

It can be done. (The article is about energy savings thereby) I'd forgotten about the consequences of this graph. That line from the upper left, between the I and the Liquid shows how.

Some of us remember what happened when you left a full pop bottle outside in the winter. If you were lucky, it popped the cap and produced a pillar of frozen pop. If not so lucky, you had to pick broken glass out of the yard. Water expands when it freezes, so the pressure goes way up if you try to keep it confined. It'll just bulge a pop can, but if you use a nice strong cannister, the contents will partly freeze and partly not. That line I mentioned shows the temperature and pressure at which both ice (ice-I, to be picky about it) and water coexist. If your tomatoes happen to be the in the part that doesn't freeze, they get to stay freezer-cold without the unhappy side effects of water crystal growth shattering cells and generally munging up the texture.

Don't try this at home. If you eyeball the numbers on that graph, you'll see that to keep your goodies at -2C your cannister will have to stand of the order of 3000 pounds persquare inch, and at -20 30,000 psi. Even if your freezer survived the burst, opening the cannister too soon could be problematic. This seems to yours truly more of an industrial-scale job. Scuba tanks use about 1/4 inch of metal to hold 3000 psi, and the pressure here could easily go over that with a small temperature drop. I'd prefer the pressure tank to be below ground level.

This isn't new. Some places use this method to supercool food. When the pressure is released, the water in the food freezes, of course--but so quickly that the crystals are small, and less damaging. But you need strong systems to do it.

Isochoric means "constant volume." No, I didn't know that either.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Drugs against COVID

I've read that Chloroquine and Ivermectin are used in tropical areas, and that the rate of COVID is significantly lower in sub-Saharan Africa. This correlation could be indicative of something, if the disease rates were accurately reported. I'll stipulate for the moment that the per cohort rate is lower, but you may color me very dubious.

"Used" is a tricky word. How often are they used?

Anti-malarials aren't part of the normal weekly regimin in the malarial parts of Africa--and chloroquine isn't as useful as it once was. The link is to a study proposing monthly doses for children. When we lived there, we took one weekly.

Also, this meta-study of regular antihelmenthics on schoolchildren implies that these are not given what I'd call very regularly. Some of the studies used quarterly doses, some bi-annually. WHO advocated annual dosing.

It would seem likely that the anti-malarials or antihelmintics are only present in sub-Saharan Africans' blood periodically--probably on an as-needed basis. It isn't obvious that even if chloroquine or ivermectin provided prophylactic protection against COVID, that the residue from months before would make any difference. Desethylchloroquine has a half-life in the bloodstream of about 4 days. I'll take that as a proxy for the oral varieties. Ivermectin, per Merck, has a half-life of about 18 hours.

Maybe they help, but the correlation doesn't seem to help prove it.

On the other hand, I heard of one clinic that somebody who came in sick with anything remotely resembling malaria was automatically given an anti-malarial, on the grounds that they probably had that too. If that protocol is widely used, there could still be a relationship.

The devil is in the details--including the details of your assumptions.

Sunday, September 12, 2021


Scorned wife raids ex-husband’s cryogenics lab stealing frozen brains of people who hoped to be brought back to life

I don't particularly care that the corpses and brains of the people (and pets--lots of pets) were thawing out. They'll rise in the general resurrection or not at all; the business is a scam. But this is scary: "“While attempting to steal our dewars, this nitrogen was spilled, most of the nitrogen was poured onto the ground,” added Aleksey Potapov, an expert with KrioRus." If you look at the size of those dewars, that's a lot of spilled liquid nitrogen, which would quickly boil off and change the proportion of oxygen in the air. I wonder what precautions they took to keep from suffocating themselves.

Saturday, September 11, 2021


I arrived at work thinking nothing amiss. Matt passed me in the hall and said "It's your fault!" He always had a cockeyed sense of humor, but this was even odder than usual. I turned on the radio for some music, and it wasn't. The BBC web site was snowed under, as was the NYT. I kept trying, but one thing was clear through the conflicting reports. This was war.

The bulk of my adult life the country had been at peace, modulo a skirmish here and there--and the skirmishes were far afield.

I knew history well enough to know that state couldn't last; wouldn't last. It hadn't. I tried to imagine my 8-year old son going off to war in ten years. It wasn't easy. 20 years later, it still isn't.

I didn't like seeing the flags at half staff. It was war--fly it high.

It still is. The war is cold for now, but that won't last.

Future plans

The Milwaukee Public Museum wrote to remind us that our subscription had expired, and they were grateful for our support before which, among other things, enabled them to "make progress on our future plans."

It would be cool to have a museum that worked backwards, that preserved knowledge of the future for us. I'd like to have an idea of what I'll be planning in the future.

Friday, September 10, 2021

You always wondered, didn't you?

Do the chemicals in your breath vary depending on what kind of movie you are watching? Does sex clear up nasal congestion? Do beards help protect your jaw in a fight?

For answers to these, and many other questions, refer to this year's igNobel Prizes.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Sitting by the fire

The Bear stretches out a claw; the Swan turns its head; the Archer's arrow flies skew. The great ones of the sky are reshaped for a time--not by the proud building a new tower to heaven, but by the humble safety lights of lonely travelers.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Is a pandemic like a war?

I may update this list from time to time as I think of (or am instructed about) new aspects.


  1. You have an identifiable enemy that is killing you.
  2. You have reasonably clear and achievable objectives. To be accurate, the USA has not fought with clear and achievable objectives for several wars now, but that’s because we’ve been idiots.
  3. You need collective action to achieve those objectives.
  4. Some of your people are going to die, and a lot are going to suffer, and the means you devise for the “fight” will cause some suffering, lots of opportunity costs, and probably some deaths.
  5. Reaching your objectives requires money. The more your economy is crippled, the harder it will be to reach your goal—and you will have additional deaths because people rely on that economy. For the USA that can mean crippled transportation systems that don’t provide cities the food/fuel/medicines they need; for a poorer country that can mean that farmers starve because the army has confiscated their crops.
  6. ”The enemy gets a vote.” You have to be ready to adjust your plans.
  7. You will do unhappy and unjust things: seizing goods, locking people up ("quarantine" comes from a 40-day detention)--and in war killing people.
  8. Your means need to be commensurate with the threat. Scorched-earth may be an appropriate tactic when Germans are invading the USSR, but it wouldn’t be appropriate if Mexico were invading the USA.
  9. Some people will get rich off the new requirements, whether drug or ammo manufacturers. You may have to intervene to keep this from getting out of hand, but you need them to benefit to keep supplies coming. “Useful profiteers.”
  10. Some people will try to use emergency powers to enrich themselves or entrench themselves in control. “Evil profiteers.” The tools and restrictions intended for defeating the enemy can be turned against your own people.
  11. Internecine quarrels about means and promotions and whatnot will be ugly, cause a great deal of damage, perhaps lose you your war—and are unavoidable.
  12. You need accountability for the results. If marching men out of the trenches into no-mans-land just gets them machine-gunned, somebody needs to be told to stop that.
  13. Wars are full of lies trying to nudge the population, cover up screwups, and prevent panic.
  14. You have to make decisions without enough information.
  15. You are afraid. Too much fear is bad--you lynch Germans during WW-I or fail to press on against the Confederates at Yorktown. Too little and the Barbarossa plan catches you by surprise.

  1. There is nobody who can surrender. You can kill enough human enemies to make them stop whatever they were doing. You can’t kill all the viruses. Smallpox was an exception—it was easy. Ebola is hard.
  2. As a consequence of the above, either the infectious agent or the treatment will keep on killing some number of your people forever. If you can reduce the rate to something small, your emergency is over. 0 deaths is not possible with dangerous disease.
  3. Everybody dies. You can defeat one foreign enemy, but one of the domestic ones (cancer, heart disease, murder) is going to get you sooner or later. The temptation for mission creep and battling the next disease ("it's almost as dangerous!") will probably be overwhelming.
  4. In a war, if you didn’t have a dedicated enemy when you started, you do now—you can’t just say “Oopsies” and stop. If you find a pandemic to be less of a problem than you thought, you can “just stop.” The hard problem will be getting the powers-that-be to admit they were wrong.
  5. Against an epidemic, your tactics will always partake of "scorched earth," damaging your economy and future. In wars, that's only sometimes true.

Yes and No
  1. It depends on the intensity. A mild disease is more like the random Muhammadans going on solo jihads in London. You can let the existing systems (police in one case, medical in the other) take care of the problem. A more dangerous disease is comparable to them being organized and funded, as with 9/11. You need to bring new tools to bear on the problem. Ebola would be like an invasion.

Obviously the tools differ: chemicals, quarantines, research, crash programs to redo HVAC (for airborne pathogens) vs the familiar trucks, bullets, and bombs. But they’re both expensive and have huge opportunity costs.

As a thought experiment, imagine a disease spread by contact, with a week-long incubation period during the last three days of which the victim is contagious, with a 40% death rate.

The disease appears in Sao Paulo, spreads quickly, and is quickly identified.

You’re the director of Epidemic Security. Congress has just voted a (possibly merely the first) 30-day state of emergency. The country is going to be “invaded.” What do you do?

Just a few quick ideas: shut down the borders and all international travel until quarantine centers are built. Plan for 2+ week quarantines—1-week is the average incubation period, not an exact one. Unauthorized border crossing is an existential threat, and met with deadly force. Ration bleach, alcohol, peroxide, etc. Begin construction on inter-“zone” quarantine stations designed for isolation and disinfection. With luck you won’t need them, but you probably won’t have any luck.

Does that sound Chinese to you? It should also sound Italian, and French, and so on—people take deadly epidemics deadly seriously.

Once the disease appears inside the country, you have to become radical—otherwise 40% means a lot of people die. Isolate infected zones. Within the zones, nobody goes outside for a week or so. (This will kill some people—not enough food, not enough meds, uncooperative.)

The economy takes a huge hit. Even after it’s all over, lots of jobs will be gone forever, and you’ll have more poverty. But then, 40% death rate would do even worse.

Now modify the situation. (Parallel extreme cases sometimes help illustrate principles.) Suppose the death rate is 99%.

Borders close. No admittance, whether or not you’re a citizen. Civilian monitors augment the Coast Guard watching the coast. Preemptive inter-“zone” traffic stops at boundaries for 20-day quarantines. Civilian monitors watch back roads. People starve. Measures get even harsher if the disease gets a foothold in the country.

Now modify the situation to its opposite. Suppose the plague will only kill everyone over 100 with heart disease.

Would you do anything at all? Maybe invite the likely victims to live in bubbles, if that. This doesn’t qualify as a public emergency.

The typical year's annual flus don't meet the threshold for an emergency. We're fortunate that the medical system has vaccines that help, but even without them it hadn't been a disaster-level problem. That's not comforting to my friend's wife--he died from the flu a few years ago.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Some thoughts about surviving when things go south

from LawDog, a former lawman who spent some of his youth in Africa. It is not wise to wait for the US Embassy to help you.

On a closely related topic, reports say 112000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan. I don't know how many were US, other NATO, Afghan, or what. Using the news reports, I'm estimating 15 days. I don't know what the average capacity of the planes leaving was: 300 might be a bit high. You can squeeze a lot of people in a cargo plane, but I presume they had smaller ones too. If the rate was steady, and the operation took 15 days, that comes out to a minimum of a plane every hour. Scale for different estimates: 100/plane gives a plane every 20 minutes. 7 days for the push (assuming it took a while to ramp up capacity) and 100/plane gives a plane every 10 minutes--which I'm not sure is plausible.

I wonder how many of the evacuations were land-based, and what it took to get them through.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Persistence of vision

I remember reading decades ago that dogs didn't seem very interested in movies. They were alert to sounds, but the motion on the screen meant nothing to them.

On the other hand, dogs can watch TV and cats can too. From the latter: "Yes, cats can watch TV but process images differently than humans. TV images are tougher for cats to identify to see because they process at a rate of 70 – 80 Hz; faster than what TV’s show. Cats can see many of the same colors although some red colors are desaturated." Dogs do not see as well, and have fewer colors.

There's a difference between modern TVs and old projection movies. The movies projected images one after another and relied on human persistence of vision to have the images blend together rather than flicker. Nobody likes to watch flicker, and dogs and cats seem to need higher frame rates than people do (predator eyes?). So movies wouldn't be so attractive.

But old-style TV's used glowing phosphors--would their fading overlap the next image? Not really. Different colors have different fading times, but they're generally less than 1/1000 second. The monitors I used to use at work had refresh rates of 60-80 Hz: good enough for me, but maybe marginal for a cat. LCD displays can have refresh rates of over 5/1000 second. That's plenty fast enough to keep it from flickering for a cat.

Of course the pixel colors are designed to look realistic for human eyes. I don't know exactly how to map that for cat vision. If cats are nearsighted (per the link), then the "everything-in-focus" world of a nearby TV screen might be especially fascinating.

Parasite on a parasite

I missed this story when it first came out: the zombie-ant fungus has a parasite of its own.

You probably know of the fungus that infects some ants, scrambling the ant's brain so that it wanders out to die and grow a mushroom out of its body. The ants try to defend against it by grooming each other, but it turns out that another fungus in turn infects the first one, cripling its fruiting body and making the resulting mushroom less contagious to ants.

I wonder if this new parasite is in some way cultivated by the ant colonies.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayetu Moore

She was a little girl in Liberia; one of the daughters of a university teacher and a mother studying in the US on a scholarship.

Civil war came to Caldwell and the father, three daughters, and two grandparents fled on foot for weeks until they reached an isolated village where they had family. Because the last leg was by boat, it was inconvenient for the war to reach the village--but if they needed medicine the war could still touch them.

The back cover tells you that she survived, and came to the US, and went back again--to find an angel. (Not her words.)

The first part is a child's eye view of life in Liberia, and worth reading just for that. Just a hint--her father doesn't want to tell her about gunfire, and so she uses the word "drums" because that's what she thought it was.

She describes her teenage self as painfully aware of being black and different in the USA: trying to "find herself" and trying to "fit in"--not an easy circle to square.

She dreams of Satta, the rescuing rebel soldier, over and over, and finally decides to go back to Liberia to find the rest of her family again. The last part of the memoir belongs to her mother, telling her part of the story.

The Dragon is legion: a prince who tries to chase the monsters out of the forest becomes a dragon in his turn, to be chased by others later. Doe, Prince Johnson, Charles Taylor--and others. She finds racist dragons in the US too. The women are the women she knew, and perhaps herself as well. The Giant--I'll let you learn that yourself.

The memoir speaks of great losses and confusion, and hard choices, and confesses to some stupidity. But courage and love move through it.

Thank you, Ann

Sunday, August 22, 2021

With months to plan...

We have a history of trying to use the military for "social goals". (*) I gather that the social goals of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity are in the running for our militaries' the highest priority--perhaps not officially, but effectively.

I have no proof that DIE-based promotion priority had a bearing on the magical thinking Afghan withdrawal plans. (We've seen years of magical thinking in military planning--the LCS, Zumwalt-class destroyer, etc--and plenty of specialized trade-offs that assume that you can know which cave to shoot a small missile into.) But it seems at least possible.

In an environment where politics matters most--well, CYA killed a lot of people at Chernobyl. I suspect that we'll soon suffer worse things than the Afghan debacle, even if we try to flush the brass and suits tomorrow morning. There are undoubtedly plenty of other places where our plans have little to do with reality.

In our less powerful future, how can we train and promote people who'll keep their eyes on the ball and test their theories? Who won't believe every "transformative technology" pitch that comes their way? Of course there's the reverse problem--fighting the last war and believing bigger battleships will always win in the end is a way to lose. Still, things like the Zumwalt suggest that we don't have enough believers in iterative improvements. Maybe a machine shop course in which officer candidates make improvised weapons, repeating with improvements during the course. And maybe another to focus on the dangers of using stupid metrics (McNamara again). Find a way to honor the men who find the flaws in the plans in time to fix them.(**)

(*)"The poor of America have not had the opportunity to earn their fair share of this nation's abundance. They can be given the opportunity to return to civilian life with skills and aptitudes which will reverse the downward spiral of human decay". The book says McNamara was pushing this before the recruiting crunch, so he may actually have believed it.

(**)That may be impossible. There's a bias that regards coders as productive for a company's bottom line and testers as a sometimes necessary evil.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Speaking of luxury beliefs

Who Will Save Us From Racist AI?

Machine learning can find patterns (although not meanings!) in data, and often improve the accuracy of a diagnosis, and sometimes its precision (as the article says). A paper stirred up a lot of controversy when it found that from chest x-rays, computed tomography, and mammograms the AI program could very accurately predict a patient's self-reported race. I'd heard that a forensic pathologist could identify a corpse's race from the long bones with about 80% accuracy (or was it 90%?) (at least in the USA), but chest bones are new.

This instantly provoked angry complaints that "AI Has the Worst Superpower…Medical Racism."

One of the methods used to test a patient’s kidney function measures glomerular filtration rate (GFR). However, several studies have found that blacks have higher baseline GFRs than whites, so the test has to adjust for this factor depending upon the race of the patient. Graduate student activism led to several institutions removing the racial adjustment or replacing it with a different lab test, ostensibly in the name of addressing “systemic racism.”

In other words, for the sake of their luxury beliefs, the grad students pushed to reduce the quality of care for African Americans.

"One thing we noticed when we were working on this research was that there was a clear divide in our team. The more clinical and safety/bias related researchers were shocked, confused, and frankly horrified by the results we were getting. Some of the computer scientists and the more junior researchers on the other hand were surprised by our reaction. They didn’t really understand why we were concerned."

"You've got to be carefully taught..."

When I first heard of "Marxist-Leninist Physics" I thought the notion obscene. I still do. And my opinion of those administrators and grad students is not printable.

It's quite easy to screw up machine learning, and train it on the wrong things, as with the infamous case of the "horse recognition" algorithm that was trained on pictures of horses taken from an organization's portfolio. The alborithm trained not on the horse but on the logo. A medical algorithm trained only on whites may not do as well on blacks. Looking for skin cancer precursors with a system trained on brunettes may not work so well with freckled red-heads. And it is harder to get a comparable training set with a minority than with a more common group. E.g train on 10,000, test on 10,000. It's easy to find those numbers when the population is a million, but if there are only 5000 to begin with? You can't get statistics as good.

Those are real problems. But that's not the complaint here--the ideologues want to squelch real findings in favor of their beliefs.

I know some people who believe the Earth is less than 7000 years old. Let's squelch carbon-14 dating in favor of something that lets dates fall within that window--just to keep them happy.

That isn't quite a fair comparison. The Young Earth Creationists generally have a lot more redeeming features than the Social Justice Warriors--they've been much more eager to help their neighbors, for one thing; even neighbors who don't agree with them. And their belief is harmless.

Ignorant, Dumb, Stupid

Why some of the smartest people can be so very stupid

The essay distinguishes between “dumbness” and “stupidity.” The former is lack of intellectual horsepower (and not the same as ignorance, which is the universal human default, though curable). The stupid apply the wrong model to the problem at hand—and don’t learn better.

Sometimes this is because the old model used to work, and the new problem sort-of looks like the old. He uses the example of Gen. Haig in WW-I:

British high command during the First World War frequently understood trench warfare using concepts and strategies from the cavalry battles of their youth. As one of Field Marshal Douglas Haig’s subordinates later remarked, they thought of the trenches as ‘mobile operations at the halt’: ie, as fluid battle lines with the simple caveat that nothing in fact budged for years. Unsurprisingly, this did not serve them well in formulating a strategy: they were hampered, beyond the shortage of material resources, by a kind of ‘conceptual obsolescence’, a failure to update their cognitive tools to fit the task in hand.

Stupidity needn’t just come from obsolete models “that used to work”; it can also come from adopting fashionable models from another context. His example is the currently fashionable “social justice” models from the US, which are being adopted in lands whose history isn’t remotely like ours—and whose social problems have different sources.

Education as such won’t fix “stupid,” since one of its attributes is unwillingness to change models even after painful experience. It might make the stupid worse, since the subject will now think himself more clever than usual. Stupid might even spread: “There are some things so stupid only an intellectual can believe them.” And they do.

Another essayist more charitably calls these “luxury belief systems.”

“Once upon a time, it was more advantageous to know the facts of the world than not to, so we developed science. Today, our beliefs are less a reflection of our reality than a means of identifying our respective political tribes and negotiating our status within them.”

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

I’d not read his last Diskworld novel yet, and figured a little light reading was what the doctor ordered.

Creative but uncontrolled—I’m afraid he was slipping. Characters get preachy, and inconsistent, and Pratchett tried to explain too much. It violates the Chekhov’s Gun principle “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.” Don’t bother.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Gamma gardening

When I was little I read about using radiation to try to induce useful mutations. I heard nothing more for decades. They're still doing it.
Modern genetic engineering has replaced the need for atomic gardening, but the legacy is still carried forward by the Institute of Radiation Breeding in Japan, which currently owns the largest, and possibly the only surviving gamma garden in the world, at Hitachiōmiya in Ibaraki Prefecture. The circular garden measures 100 meters in radius, and enclosed by an 8-meter high shielding dike wall. Species within are irradiated with gamma rays from a cobalt-60 source placed inside a central pole.

The blurb for the Rio Red grapefruit somehow doesn't mention exactly how "scientists tried to breed" it, but wikipedia says they used thermal neutrons instead of gammas (as the first link says--though maybe the gamma source is just the last one running).

I wonder why the USCitrus site is cagey about that... It couldn't be because some people freak out when they hear the word "radiation", could it? "Frankenfood" ... "Godzilla in your juice glass" I wonder how Godzilla would taste sauteed in olive oil with a little pepper and garlic.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Pagan ritual

What was it with beans in the ancient world? From Ovid's Fasti:
 This day they call the Feralia because they bear (ferunt)
Offerings to the dead: the last day to propitiate the shades.

See, an old woman sitting amongst the girls performs the rites
Of Tacita, the Silent (though she herself is not silent),
With three fingers, she sets three lumps of incense
Under the sill, where the little mouse makes its secret path:

Then she fastens enchanted threads together with dark lead,
And turns seven black beans over and over in her mouth,
And bakes the head of a sprat in the fire, mouth sewn up
With pitch, pierced right through with a bronze needle.

She drops wine on it too, and she or her friends
Drink the wine that’s left, though she gets most.

On leaving she says: ‘We have sealed up hostile mouths
And unfriendly tongues’: and the old woman exits drunk. 

(I wonder if by Ovid's time anybody remembered the "why" for any part of that ritual.)

Pythagoras had odd beliefs about fava beans. Romans had an odd anti-ghost ritual that involved black beans:

When midnight comes, lending silence to sleep,
And all the dogs and hedgerow birds are quiet,
He who remembers ancient rites, and fears the gods,
Rises (no fetters binding his two feet)
And makes the sign with thumb and closed fingers,
Lest an insubstantial shade meets him in the silence.

After cleansing his hands in spring water,
He turns and first taking some black beans,
Throws them with averted face: saying, while throwing:
‘With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine.’
He says this nine times without looking back: the shade
Is thought to gather the beans, and follow behind, unseen.
Again he touches water, and sounds the Temesan bronze,

And asks the spirit to leave his house.
When nine times he’s cried: ‘Ancestral spirit, depart,’
He looks back, and believes the sacred rite’s fulfilled.
Why the day’s so called, and the origin of the name,
Escapes me: that’s for some god to discover.

Compare and contrast neo-pagan ritual.

I think Wright spotted a couple of contradictions in neopagan thought:

Two major paradoxes loomed in their worship. The first was that real pagans honored and obeyed their fathers, and revered the household gods, and worshipped the gods of the city and the marketplace, and respected their ancestors and founders. The poor neopagans were the children of evangelicals, so the gods of city and agora were Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and the ancestors and founders of THIS nation were monotheists, all stout Christians with an odd Deist, Jew, or Freemason thrown in for flavor.

This places the diligent neopagan in the odd position of being obligated by ritual and tradition to offer due reverence and worship to the altars of his fathers and the temples of his gods, but those altars are Christian, and those temples are cathedrals.

Related to this was the problem of the Asatru — the True Men — who were allegedly worshippers of Odin and Thor, but only one of them volunteered for service in the military, which, alas, he survived intact. Those not falling in battle were doomed to the “straw death” and an afterlife in Folkvangr rather than Valhalla, hence not to stand with the gods at the Last Battle.

The second paradox was that the Old Gods were actually quite strict about sexual morality. A Vestal Virgin caught coupling with a man was buried alive. To the North, the adulterers were sent to Nastrond at death, not Valhalla.

Lewis did a fine takedown of ignorant admirers of the pagan. "You that have Vichy water in your veins and worship the event Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune)."

Algebra and Geometry

From a post in honor of Fr Koterski:
“Do you prefer geometry or algebra? You can tell a lot about someone based on whether they prefer geometry or algebra.” ... He had noticed that there was a difference between people who work backward from the answer and people who seek the unknown.

I don't think he was right. High-school algebra was a set of tools for manipulating unknowns to try to learn their values. Geometry was a different set of tools, coupled with some disciplines for proving that statements you think are true actually are true--in this case about geometry, but the same disciplines appear repeatedly through the rest of math.

In math quite a bit of progress happens when someone is noodling around on a set of problems, finds something that looks like a useful pattern, and then sets out to try to prove the relationship.

Problem is, it might not be as universal a relationship as he thought. He winds up "proving it" in the old sense--testing it. Unknowns abound.

FWIW, both courses were straightforward and fun.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Fans in the stands

"Playing professional football games in empty stadiums had a hugely negative effect on the success of home teams, with home advantage almost halved, new research shows."

Is anybody surprised? Stage fright's a real thing, and so is getting "energized" by a friendly crowd. It makes a difference in how you play if Dad is watching the softball game. Or your girlfriend. How could a crowd not have some effect? Well, maybe...

Sunday, August 15, 2021


I haven't written much about Afghanistan and the war there. I've thought that Afghans would be foolish to help us: we don't keep secrets and we leave without keeping promises. I've thought that "take revenge and leave" would have been a good strategy, especially since we couldn't/wouldn't deal with the Taliban financiers in Pakistan. Yes, I know that doesn't satisfy the criteria for a "Just War." It would still have been better than what we did.

Our policy makers were so willfully blind on so many fronts and for so long that it hurts to think about it. Other people have already gone into aspects of it in detail. We were fighting a religious war without admitting it or planning accordingly. We were trying to build an Afghanistan where there never has been a "nation"-loyalty. We weren't willing to tear Pakistan a new rectum for ISI's support of Taliban/AlQaida. We never looked closely at how reliable our local allies really were. And on and on, down to details about tactics that I can't comment on.

We are rich enough to trade money for blood. We use expensive technology to magnify the power of our soldiers. That's good, but it seems to have shaped our thinking into technology-based paradigms (by, as Commander Salamander likes to point out, influencing which people get promoted). Train and drill the Afghans with the best stuff and best ways of thinking about countries and their armies, and they'll be a cohesive force for stability. That just costs money and time. But it didn't address their tribalism. Very little could; that's a core human value.

A generation of planners seem to have just doubled-down on "more of the same." Whenever we had talk of leaving, we got stories about the people who worked with us and would be abandoned, and what would happen to all the schools and girls under Taliban, and "never tell the day you're going to pull out" (excellent advice, of course; pity we didn't take it).

Iraq was different--they had at least some history of nationhood, and it was at least theoretically possible to hope for a not-unfriendly government there at the end of the day. We didn't keep our eye on the ball, and in retrospect I'm not sure the hope was possible after all. But Afghanistan?

I can see why some people think in terms of conspiracies and war profiteers. 19 years of stupidity is hard to believe in. (I'm leaving out the first few months of the war--those didn't seem outrageous.) But there it is.

It wasn't just that the war took so long--long wars seem to be pretty common.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Conservation of Complexity

Software always involves abstraction. I'd be happy to hear clarification from genuine information theorists, but I think there's a "convervation of complexity" in using a toolset. (Or in trying to solve a problem with laws and regulations.)

For instance, if you have a server farm of identical systems, it's nice to have some simple procedures for standing up a new system automatically, or wiping one whose system disks failed and reinstalling. There are lots of tools for that.

Such a tool will let you collect all the common stuff together, and let you customize the details for different servers with different purposes. Compute servers, disk servers, DNS, wiki, database servers--we have patterns for them, and customizations for the patterns. The same database server software, loaded in the same place, with the same admin--and each instance adds different users and tunings and backup times.

You can get some huge gains in productivity at first. Then those pesky corner cases bedevil you. E.g. a new software version isn't backwards compatible with the old. You need both old and new. Do you break commonality and add a new class to your management tool, or add lots of "if"s into your scripts? The former means you have to manage changes in two places at once; the latter makes the code complex and bug-prone. You get complexity either way.

Containers and clouds are all the rage in computing, and something like Kubernetes is wonderful for making certain classes of service resilient and easy to scale. Not everything fits in that model. I've listened to the people trying to make that work. I think I'll be retired by the time disillusion with that magic bullet sets in. I also noticed that the big clouds aren't 100% reliable in availability or in integrity (parler). It's nice to have hardware of your own in the back room, and a manager you can collar without waiting for the ticketing system.

I've heard stories of corporate deciding to use a new wonder-software that requires redoing workflow, and losing all the putative productivity savings in the expense of the changeover.

Abstractions always leave out bits of the real world. When you try to stretch it too far the real world always wins. sometimes people die

Thursday, August 12, 2021

"Prestige" and "Colloquial"

The author of this short peice explains why rhetorical language exists (hint--it isn't for prestige).

"Spending eternity"

"For $2 Million, a Chance to Spend Eternity Next to Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Hefner" I'll skip that, if I may. The only thing "next to" both Circle 7.2 and Circle 8.1 is Geryon. (or perhaps Circle 7 Ring 3)

I wonder who writes these headlines...

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Culture-wide cognitive distortions

This is way outside my zone of expertise: an attempt to use cognitive distortion phrases in books to see if there can be society-wide patterns. Apparently "I am a" is a phrase that doesn't occur much in normal conversation, but appears much more frequently in the speach or writings of someone with depression. (That makes sense--how often do you think about yourself? Even Walter Mitty thought about himself in action, and let his imagined audience be the judge.)

The authors use a set of phrases which I gather are well-known in the field, and prepared similar sets for German and for Spanish (which they meant to use as a control). They were looking for (A) catastrophizing, (B) dichotomous reasoning, (C) disqualifying the positive, (D) emotional reasoning, (E) fortune telling, (F) labeling and mislabeling, (G) magnification and minimization, (H) mental filtering, (I) mindreading, (J) overgeneralizing, (K) personalizing, and (L) should statements.

They used "the third version 2019 release of the Google Books n-gram data" and the google tools, and prepared plots of 125 years of frequency of these classes of phrases appearing in books, by year.

They see a spike in German starting in about 1943, which sort of makes sense--it was starting to become clear that the thousand-years was likely to be quite a bit shorter, so you might see more people expressing "cognitive distortions." -- Although I'd have guessed that the full-court press of Nazi propoganda starting in the 30's might have appeared in some of their categories. That's probably a naive view, though.

Anyhow, Spanish was meant to be a control because it is so wide-spread that one single culture shouldn't dominate. That may not have been a good guess.

Never mind WWII, though. Almost every category except the "Should statements" shows a dramatic spike in the rate starting in the late 90's. That's a curious change in style--and it's found in all 3 languages.

The obvious question is "Can a culture experience cognitive distortions?" My intuitive answer is "Sure, cultures can go mad," and I could proffer the daily news as proof. Are they seeing a culture of twisted thinking in our printed media?

I'd like to hear what real experts think.

Monday, August 09, 2021

The last trump

Watchman Nee has an interesting take on reconciling Luke 21:27-34 (and Mark 14: "Stay alert!") and 1 Thes 4:16-18 about being caught up in the clouds. Will we welcome the moment, or be too caught up in the world to answer the call?

The trumpet shall sound, and "I purchased a field and I need to go out to look at it" or "I just got married" or "Let me finish my comment on this post."

Sunday, August 08, 2021

The 3D Gospel by Jayson Georges

The premise of this short book (hat tip to AVI is that there are three main approaches to "transgressions": fear (vs power), shame (vs honor) and guilt (vs innocence). The guilt/innocence paradigm dominates the West, shame/honor the MidEast and East, and fear/power is typical of animist cultures.

The thesis is that although the gospel addresses the needs and fears of each of these, the typical Western apologetic around individual sin and satisfaction of justice doesn't fully reach people whose paradigm is different.

He cites Ephesians to illustrate the gospel confronting the different culture types: sin and punishment: Eph 7:1, 2:5; honor within a new family: 1:5, 2:19 (vs 2:12-13); and power against evil spirits: 1:19-21 etc. I leave as an exercise finding references to sins forgiven, welcome at the banquet of God, and power over evil spirits in the gospels.

On the whole I thought the little book useful, though two things bothered me a little.

I'm a Westerner, and not a member of an "honor culture," so I almost certainly don't have a good feel for how the gospel can be taught most effectively in one. I suspect that would come through people from within those cultures, and I, and Georges, are second-guessing. It feels that way, anyhow.

The bad news that comes before the good news is that we're sinners, and the implication for a family-honor based culture is much more dramatic than for a guilt/innocence based one. It isn't merely you who are shamed by sin, but your family, no matter how they may have hidden their shame before. It isn't just what the rest of the society sees that matters, but what God sees.

It would seem (to this outsider) to be a very great wrench to accept the claim that your clan has been living in shame. On the other hand, once you accept that, it is a very great incentive to redeem your clan's honor by turning to God.

But as I said, I'm an outsider.

The other itch was that when addressing fear/power animist societies he seems to be saying that the charismatics and pentacostals speak their language better than other denominations. The Orthodox and Catholics do exorcisms and blessed icons too.

And yes, he does explain that all instances of cultures are blends of these principles.

Have a read. What do you think?

Saturday, August 07, 2021


Hank Campbell writes about the "new european colonialism. "NGOs in rich western countries are creating financial dependency while evoking claims of 'food sovereignty', but that is leaving out the desires of farmers and people, who very much want to not have the boom and bust of fickle nature." ... "Europe has made it plain that they want European laws to be earth's laws. If a developing nation uses a safe pesticide that Europe has still chosen to ban, Europe will put them in their economic ghetto, along with imports from Israel." This has the possibly unintended side effect of making them dependent on European products. No doubt the rank and file are well-intentioned.

Hank's claim that "NGOs exist to do one thing only - stay in existence" is a bit overstated--he doesn't discuss the religious ones--but someone who went to study abroad for a year who wanted to work with NGO's upon graduation returned with what seemed a much less idealistic attitude towards them and a different career plan. (Still donates to carefully selected NGOs)

Friday, August 06, 2021

Disposing of a frightening reminder

Photo of Chamberlin Rock, KAYLA WOLF, STATE JOURNAL

"an object ... also served as a daily reminder of a more recent troubling past". It is indeed troubling to be reminded of the mile-thick ice which aggressively invaded from Canada, forcing out the native inhabitants and thrusting pre-Cambrian intruders into the peaceful land.

Earlier posts: Post 1 and Post 2 and Post 3

"The rock will be placed on publicly accessible university-owned land southeast of Madison near Lake Kegonsa, where it will continue to be used for educational purposes by the geoscience department." Thanks to the Wisconsin State Journal for the photo and story.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Mishearing it better

Sometimes I misremembered a song or slogan, and my version made better sense. To me, anyway.

"Imagine" is back in my news feed again. I dislike the song, but I admit that the lyrics are pretty clear. Nevertheless, I always mis-remember the line as "Nothing to live or die for And no religion too."

I think my version describes the outcome of his imagination better: anomie.