Wednesday, May 12, 2021


"God has us fight besetting sins to remind us of how ugly the unnoticed ones are." I can't recall the attribution. This is a paraphrase--from some of the Eastern fathers, I think.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Essays in Idleness

I've been a fan of David Warren (currently recovering from heart surgery)'s "blog" Essays in Idleness. Given his breadth of reading, I should probably have looked up the reference, but had no clue until he pointed it out that there was a famous older work by that name Tsurezuregusa, or Essays in Idleness.

One Yoshida Kendo, apparently unhappy with his life serving the Inperial court, retired to become a Buddhist monk, sometime between 1330 and 1332, and wrote this classic.

"Essays" in this case are thoughts ranging from a sentence to a few pages, on subjects from popular supersitions to friendship. It is called of the Japanese classics. Some is humorous, and much of it illustrates the "vanity of vanities." Some of his attitudes towards propriety and aesthetics seem to still flavor Japanese thought today.

For a dedicated Buddhist, he held very strong opinions about proper ritual and beauty and love affairs and other ephemeral things.

"things thought but left unsaid only fester inside you. So I let my brush run on like this for my own foolish solace; these pages deserve to be torn up and discarded, after all, and are not something others will ever see."

"It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met."

"A certain recluse monk once remarked, ‘I have relinquished all that ties me to the world, but the one thing that still haunts me is the beauty of the sky.’"

Kinyo no Nii had an elder brother called Abbot Ryōgaku, who was very hot-tempered. A large hackberry tree grew alongside his hut, so people called him ‘the Hackberry Priest’. Offended by this, he cut the tree down. The stump was left, so he was then called ‘the Stump Priest’. This made him angrier still, and he dug the stump out, leaving a large hole that filled with water. So then everyone called him ‘the Ditch Priest’.

If you're curious about Japan, read it. There are several translations. The above is one; Wikipedia links to a scan of a different one.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Does the lawn really need mowing?

For when boys or soldiers or poets, or any other blossoms and prides of nature, are for lying steady in the shade and letting the Mind commune with its Immortal Comrades, up comes Authority busking about and eager as though it were a duty to force the said Mind to burrow and sweat in the matter of this very perishable world, its temporary habitation.

Is October difficult?

When Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal, he suggested that perhaps Baal was asleep, or taking a leak, or on a journey.

It seems that the Japanese tenth month is the month without gods, when all 8 million of them go on vacation (pilgramage?) to Izumo Shrine. I don't believe the wikipedia attempt to fiddle with the etymology--I'd guess that the spoken language's usage would dominate, not the spelling.

After the Japanese adopted the Gregorian calendar, October became the problematic month. Interpret as you please.

Why? It's hard to tell--the suggested "plausible" explanation suggests that it began as a family reunion and match-making discussion session, but the background info isn't enlightening.

How old is dreaming?

"Since alligator tastes like chicken, what does chicken taste like? Dinosaur."

We dream, dogs dream, cats dream, mice dream: "the brain patterns were so similar they could tell what part of the maze the rats were "dreaming" of."

Apparently zebra finches dream too: "humans cycle between SWS and REM sleep roughly every 1.5 hours, but birds appear to do it every 10-15 minutes."

Maybe dreaming for memory consolidation is fundamental to animal brain design. Sleep is certainly important: "A good night's sleep improves young birds' ability to learn new songs". But, of course, "birds initially struggle to replicate and remember songs when they first wake up." They lack coffee.

What would a T-rex do first thing in the morning? Shake his head and mumble "Was I really such an idiot as to fight a triceratops in a thunderstorm? What is a triceratops anyway?"

Friday, May 07, 2021

The Elephant's Foot isn't forever

Radioactive materials release energy. I don't know if you've ever wondered where it goes. At the end of the day most of it gets turned into heat, but the paths the energy takes along the way can be interesting.

Radioactive decay in naturally occurring substances results in 4 types of particles flying out: electrons/positrons, photons (gamma/x-ray), alpha particles (He nuclei), and neutinos. The neutrinos escape and don't heat things up nearby--ignore them. As alphas pass through matter they ionize nearby atoms--so much so that they lose energy quickly and slow down, grab a few stray electrons and turn into a He atom. The ionized atoms recombine with nearby electrons, releasing low energy photons and generaly shaking things up a bit locally. Shaking means heat.

The electrons/positrons and photons mostly interact with other electrons around the atoms of the material they are passing through. Both typically travel much farther than an alpha, spreading their ionization along a longer track. The same sorts of things happen to the ions--they recombine, releasing lower energy photons and shaking things up a bit locally. Heat.

Sometimes the electron going through kicks the atom's electron hard enough that it in turn starts flying through the material. If the energies are high enough you can get a cascade going--and pair-produce electron/positron pairs as well. One single high energy (much higher than radioactive elements produce, btw) electron can produce a shower with thousands of particles.

Fission--let me make a little digression here. The higher the number of protons in a nucleus, the higher the fraction of neutrons you find in stable isotopes. For example, the most common iron has 26 protons and 30 neutrons: ratio is 1.15. Uranium-238 has 92 protons and 146 neutrons: ratio is 1.59 When uranium fissions, two smaller nuclei fly away from each other, with more neutrons than is good for them--and neutrons can come from the primary fission as well. The smaller nuclei try to shed neutrons, either directly or by emitting electrons (and neutrinos) to turn the neutrons into protons. So in fission you get the ordinary kinds of radiation, plus neutrons.

So, fission produces neutrons--and being neutral, neutrons don't interact much with the electrons. But they do bounce off nuclei. Bounce=random movement=heat. But in a solid, each atom has a particular place in the local lattice. If a neutron kicks its nucleus, that atom is now dislocated, and there's a gap where it originally sat. You can imagine how this effects the solid. If enough atoms get dislocated, the material tries to swell.

Neutron embrittlement can be a big problem in reactors. Designers have to choose materials carefully. I didn't see "design for replacement" anywhere, but I assume that's a factor too.

Solid structures sustain microscopic battering wherever the neutrons fly.

It had not occurred to me that other artifacts might suffer the same fate, but in Chernobyl's melted reactor, blobs of radioactive lava are disintegrating. "Early on, an FCM formation called the Elephant’s Foot was so hard scientists had to use a Kalashnikov rifle to shear off a chunk for analysis. “Now it more or less has the consistency of sand,” Saveliev says." And that results in lots of dust, too. Cleaning the place up looks very complicated.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich

He makes several claims:
  1. Our knowledge, and to some degree even our intelligence, is strongly social
  2. Our social intelligence/culture co-evolves with our bodies

His favorite examples of social intelligence are the young children vs chimps in problem solving. When both are young enough, the chimps are faster at figuring out simple problems, but even at that age the children completely outclass the chimps in learning from others. (Once language is involved, no creature comes even close to human performance.) Another is the explorers starving--or being slowly poisoned--in the midst of plenty of food they just don't know how to prepare. South American preparation of cassava is intricate; African methods are somewhat simpler--and chronic cassava poisoning is a problem in some places. The primitive toolkit of the Eskimos would take someone with plenty of time on his hands years to develop--and a castaway typically has no leisure for figuring out a good material for binding together a fish spear.

Humans predigest our food, so we don't need as large a large intestine as other creatures--and it isn't as large. We have a vast amount of cultural knowledge for our clan members to pick up, and it turns out that humans take far longer to mature than similar creatures.

He noticed that some South Pacific tribes have taboos that have subtle safety effects. Women are forbidden certain fish, which it turns out often carry parasites that can harm unborn children.

Here I wonder if he's cherry-picking the data. Dr Harley's Native African Medicine with Special Reference to its Practice in the Mano Tribe of Liberia summarized the local treatments as being roughtly 1/3 effective, 1/3 neutral, and 1/3 harmful. Is there a systematic analysis of the taboos Henrich mentions?

He tries to explain how culture can literally evolve. Hang around near high status people to pick up either status or knowledge, depending on how they got their status. Over time, status from knowledge grows knowledge and reproductive success.

He admits--insists on--the fact that this sort of knowledge/culture growth is delicate, and information can be lost (forever as far as your tribe is concerned) in a famine or plague or dead end approach). He gives a New Guinea example--a tribe forgot how to fish. And forgot lots of other things too.

Hmm. It seems so delicate, and takes so long, that one comes away with the impression that this kind of cultural/physical evolution isn't possible. There should have been more signicant culture earlier or much more rapid physical changes recently. Or a combination gift.

I'm not sure what their algorithm is doing

I searched for tribes of the liberian hinterland, and the search returned Schwab's book. That's good.

It also returned, in order: "Azure Moon" CD, "Cybertela Only God Can Judge Me T-shirt", "Manscaped groin hair trimmer", "Stay strapped or get clapped T-shirt", "Cephalofair Games Gloomhaven board game", "Honeywell redLink to internet gateway", "people who tolerate me on a daily basis T-shirt", "Spin Master Games Santorini board game", "realistic LED candles", "Mansions of Madness Board game", "Lubridem Men's unscented lotion", yet more realistic LED candles, "Empire of the Summer Moon (good book, BTW)", "Five Tribes board game", "Czech Games TZolk'in", "Calliope Tsuro board game".

6 board games, 3 novelty T-shirts, 2 flameless candles, 2 "shaving"-related products, 1 network connection setup, 1 music CD and a book about the Comanches.

I guess it picked up the business about tribes and flagged a bunch of board games with something "tribe" in their description. Maybe it chopped "hinterland" to get the trimmer and brought along the aftershave as an obvious add-on. Aside from that, I'm stumped.

Do I need to say that none of these come close to anything I've searched for? I picked up the Comanche book second-hand, not on Amazon.


The ship l'Utile with French sailors and Malagasy slaves wrecked on a deserted island. The story starts with a "trigger warning," which just means that people back in 1761 acted like people back in 1761, for good and for bad.
When Dutch merchants chose to establish settlements in the Mascarene Islands in the 17th century, particularly Mauritius, they faced the uncommon colonial dilemma of finding no local population to enslave. There were plenty of dodos, but no humans. The dodo being unsuited to hard labour, the Dutch set about driving the birds to extinction and importing the forced labour without which no self-respecting colony could survive.

The Indian Ocean slave trade is less well-known than its Atlantic counterpart, but it flourished for at least as long and formed its own complex ecosystem.

Archaeologists have been uncovering the stone buildings left behind. It's a long story, but worth the time.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021


You know the phrase "whitewashed wall". Even now this is a beautifully painted wall--compare it to the peeling paint on the wall of the building in back.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Computer woes

From A Canticle for Leibowitz
“Well, Domne, they say your predecessor was fond of gadgets, and it is convenient to be able to write letters in languages you yourself can’t speak.”

“It is? You mean it would be. That contraption — listen, Brother, they claim it thinks. I didn’t believe it at first. Thought, implying rational principle, implying soul. Can the principle of a ‘thinking machine’ — man-made — be a rational soul? Bah! It seemed a thoroughly pagan notion at first. But do you know what?”


“Nothing could be that perverse without premeditation! It must think! It knows good and evil, I tell you, and it chose the latter. Stop that snickering, will you? It’s not funny. The notion isn’t even pagan. Man made the contraption, but he didn’t make its principle. They speak of the vegetative principle as a soul, don’t they? A vegetable soul? And the animal soul? Then the rational human soul, and that’s all they list in the way of incarnate vivifying principles, angels being disembodied. But how do we know the list is comprehensive? Vegetative, animative, rational — and then what else? That’s what else, right there. That thing. And it fell. Get it out of here — But first I’ve got to get a radiogram off to Rome.”

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Variable weather

Beneath this stone--a lump of clay--
Lies Uncle Peter Dan'els
Who too soon in the month of May
Took off his winter flannels.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Breakthrough oddity

From the CDC, on "breakthrough cases":
Total number of
vaccine breakthrough
infections reported to CDC
Females 4,580 (64%)
People aged ≥60 years 3,265 (46%)
Asymptomatic infections 2,078 (31%)
Hospitalizations* 498 (7%)
Deaths† 88 (1%)

*167 (34%) of the 498 hospitalizations were reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.

†11 (13%) of the 88 fatal cases were reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.

This is curious. Why would more women than men be reported as having the disease after vaccination? Rates of unvaccinated infection are reported as being the same, though men are more likely to get a bad case. Maybe the false positive rate is greater for women. If so, the "Asymptomatic" group should be almost all female. Or maybe women are just twice as likely to get themselves tested, in which case the "Asymptomatic" group should be 2:1 female to male. (I'd guess this is the explanation.)

It's a pity they don't break down the data more for us. They have the data (assuming their form is filled out), and they state "To date, no unusual patterns have been detected in the data CDC has received." Maybe, but I'd like to see for myself.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Zero Hour

While helping my wife research a technical detail (did "Tokyo Rose" boast about American ship losses in 1943?), I discovered a world of research on Japanese propaganda in WW2. This thesis is one of the more thorough. They broadcast quite a bit to the US, and one of the curious features of the 1942 broadcasts was a substantial amount of attention paid to "post-war" relations. Leonard Smoll (author of the second thesis) figured that whoever won the war, the peace table afterwards would be decisive. They broadcast messages from selected POWs--some Americans listened and sent letters to the relevant families, to make sure they got the message. This was illegal--it wasn't illegal to listen to Japanese radio, but it was illegal to disseminate it.

Ann Pfau notes that there is a vast descrepancy between what soldiers said they heard (and sometimes wrote home about) and what was recorded/transcribed from the Zero Hour broadcasts and she (and I) suspect that the soldiers' testimony should get more weight than it is currently fashionable to give them.

That first link gives the history of several different Japanese propaganda campaigns, of which "Zero Hour," aimed at American servicemen, is the most famous. It began in March 1942. POWs were invited to help participate (with a warning that their safety couldn't be assured otherwise). They apparently attempted to somewhat defang the propaganda, which had to be sandwiched in with entertainment. First 20 minutes, then 45 minutes, then 75 minutes: "5 minutes of prisoner messages read by Cousens and the fifteen to twenty minute "Orphan Ann" spot, a light music spot for which Iva was the DJ, and read a script prepared for her by Cousens. The "American Home Front News" which followed, was written by Japanese and read by Ince. It was given a five- to ten-minute slot, but frequently there was not enough material to fill the slot and it ended with more light music records."

There were plenty of grievances for the Japanese to try to exploit: India vs Britain, blacks in America, and old American vs British attitudes--and they tried to take advantage of them all. It isn't obvious that they had much luck in the US. On the other hand, every little bit helps.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Sports song

Youngest Daughter asked me if there were more songs about baseball than "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and Centerfield (I never saw the movie). Naturally I completely went blank. (I'm good at that.)

Steve Goodman, of course. Talkin' Baseball. Right Field (my position), and bunches and bunches of others.

Are there football songs (aside from school fight songs: On Wisconsin, etc)? Yes; though I've never heard these. (I have to filter out a lot of soccer anthems.) Google has "You'll never walk alone" classified as a football song; apparently because it is popular with "association football" clubs.


Tennis--The Tennis Song wasn't exactly about tennis.

Golf seems more comic.

Maybe the songs for team sports are less ironic. Score one for team sports, then.

Never stopping for breath

Birds warble without taking breath. They need lots of oxygen to fly--how do they manage?

SciTech Daily has an article which shows how air gets pushed through their looped lungs. ("Rectification" in this case means making things flow in one direction.) "back-and-forth motions generated by breathing were transformed into one-way flows around the loops." This lets them use the whole lung loop efficiently, with no dead air areas.

Eat your heart out, Frank Sinatra...

Saturday, April 24, 2021

A class of dreams

Some people say they dream of being naked in public, others that they realize they have an exam that morning that they haven't studied for. A quick net search suggests that the various "Josephs" doing interpretation don't quite agree on the meaning of these.

I don't generally remember dreams, and when I do about half the time they have more to do with random events from the previous day than any theme.

When there is a theme, it's always the same one. I've a task to do--somebody to pick up or something to deliver--and somehow I forgot the map, or the phone number, or the trunk key. Not to worry--there's somebody I can ask. But they're not in. The situation slowly and steadily unravels: the rental car is towed, the theater closes, now I have 4 people to find, the clock is ticking--and I wake up wondering how to salvage the confusion.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Answer to AVI

AVI posted a question about what things look like in high energy physics and invited me to comment. I can try to explain what I see.

I wish it were otherwise, but I think Hossenfelder is more right than Motls--at least about this.

There are several competing approaches to unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics--string theory being far and away the most popular. One of the implications of string theory as currently envisoned is something called Supersymmetry. (I've joked that it has been a super-cemetery of careers.)

It needs a little explanation.

We have a small suite of fundamental particles, which for these purposes we divide into two types according to spin (an angular momentum that is intrinsic to the particle--you can't get rid of it, just change its direction). It turns out that the smallest unit of angular momemtum you can change is ħ=h/2Pi, where h is Planck's constant. That means that fundamental particles will have intrinsic spin in some units of ħ=h/2Pi. 0, ±ħ, ±2ħ are obvious values, but a little thought will persuade you that another possible set of values is ±ħ/2, ±3ħ/2, etc. (ħ/2 - ħ = -ħ/2).

As an example of the latter, a photon has spin ħ, and an electron has spin ħ/2. If the electron emits a photon, the size of its spin will stay the same, but the direction will be negative to what it was before. You get the same spacing between rungs of the ladder, but the origin differs.

That difference between integer and half-integer turns out to be significant--the two types of particles have a different symmetry. The most famous difference is that there can't be two half-integer (fermion) particles in exactly the same state, while there can be an infinite number of integer (boson) particles in a single state.

In quantum mechanics you must take into account ephemeral particles--a photon flying blythely along may temporarily split into an electron and positron, which recombine to make a photon again. There are differences between the contributions of fermions and of bosons, and some calculations produce infinities. I take that to mean that there's something wrong with the way thing are calculated, but I don't know what.

Anyhow, one framework that lets you do the calculations nicely, and comes up with good answers, requires that every fermion have a partner boson of otherwise similar type, and every boson a partner fermion. That's supersymmetry. I'm told it's beautiful.


If those particles exist, that's fine. Decades of looking have only found limits. One problem is that with so many new particles, you have so many new masses to tinker with as parameters of your theory. If the mass of X is bigger than that of Y you might get X decaying into Y, but if the mass hierarchy is reversed things might go the other direction.

Those masses could range from next-to-zero to almost up to the (unachievable with any foreseeable technology) Planck mass, and the theory offers no guidance.

But some SUperSYmmetry models are prettier than others, and those suggest relatively light particles--which we should have seen. But so far--crickets.

Arguments like the seesaw mechanism say that if we have neutrinos with next to zero mass and another clump of particles with mass millions of times bigger, one should have others way more massive than those in turn. (I oversimplify.) We're not likely to ever see those directly.

Arguments from beauty in the equations suggest we should have lots of those SUSY particles within -- if not easy reach, at least easy effects. Particles too heavy to create directly can still have a detectable impact on lower-energy interactions.

So far, nothing. I'm far from expert in string theory, but it seems like a very promising approach--except that it hasn't worked yet.

Everybody expected the Higgs to be there, and at roughly that mass. There were effects that suggested it was there--sort of like a mountain leaves a shadow far away from it. I was rooting for it to not be there and leave us with some new puzzles--but that's just me.

Many of us were expecting SUperSymmetric particles to appear at Fermilab, and at LEP, and at the LHC--but the limits just got tighter and tighter. There aren't any shadows of SUSY particles showing up. People have been muttering for years now.

And then there's dark matter. Maybe. If so, there are a few possible SUSY particles that might be candidates for dark matter. But we haven't seen them.

Do we keep building bigger machines to keep looking? I'm not involved in the arguments about that, but they get pretty bitter. I remember the howls when LEP was told that their hints for a Higgs weren't going to be good enough to delay the schedule to let them run an extra year. That turned out to be the right decision--the "shadow of the Higgs" they found was a statistical fluctuation and the real Higgs mass was far too large for them to have seen.

The cost of the new machines is far from trivial, and the time required to build one is a substantial fraction of a physicist's career. Nobody wants to waste money and time, and nobody wants to just barely miss the breakthrough--pick one.

UPDATE: "Limits" in this context means "We did not see any sign of particle X, and if it had a mass less than 120GeV/c^2 we're confident we should have seen it, so we conclude that if it exists, it must have a mass greater than 100GeV/c^2. Maybe we can look again with a different experiment." For me "limits" translates to "We didn't find it."

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Notes on power

"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline" "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power in the Holy Spirit" "holding to a form of godliness, although they denied its power"

What is this power--as it applies to us? I gather John thought it could resemble fire.

Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works. (Farrar)

Resurrection is certainly a tremendous power, not remotely like anything we can do.

Purification needs a form of power too.

How do we walk in the works He created for us without being double-minded?

Jesus spoke of fruitless branches being pruned and of fruitful soils--there's more to the Christian life than going to heaven. There's advantage to living a life with some fruit, not just having a deathbed conversion. That power isn't just the resurrection to new life; it has impact and fruit.

Some fruits of the Spirit appear in action as well as in internal state. Or they appear in not-doing; and some appear in contrast to a particular situation. Patience never becomes visible until there's a need for it.

"You gave me all these talents and warned me that I'd better show some return on using them!"

"You only know how to use them for worldly fruit. You haven't the power. These other things aren't little. They have My power and love."

Joy seems to be a bit of a special case. It doesn't appear much in action, or in inaction, only in our internal state. Is that our hoped-for state when the rest of these are appearing as they should? Maybe we should focus on the rest of the list.

We famously need help in order to show love to some people, and a double helping of power to do so whole-heartedly.

There's a difference between not knowing how disastrous the situation is and knowing and being confident in God. (It seems to be more fun to be panicky and angry.) I don't know about you, but I get distracted away from peace very easily.

Patience is nobody's favorite fruit--except in somebody else. I often could use some input from the eternal to get me through a chunk of painful time.

These don't seem very dramatic. Power isn't the first word that comes to mind with "goodness" or "gentleness", though if I work backwards from "self-control" it is clearer why it's needed.

"One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And one who rules his spirit, than one who captures a city."

It's just not very dramatic.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Chauvin jury

The Babylon Bee: "In Closing Argument, Prosecutor Tearfully Addresses Each Juror By Name, Phone Number, And Street Address"

That's a little too close to the bone to be very funny. If every juror doesn't already know that the media will compete to be first to disclose each one's name if they render the "wrong" verdict, they're probably not smart enough to be jurors.

It's an old problem. Conflict sells, a little wink-wink nudge-nudge will generate some new stories for them.

Simple and robust

The Soviet space program's physics was the same, but their implementation differed from the US's
The launcher used by Russia today appears almost identical to the original R7 and is imbued with Soviet design simplicity. Not least its ignition system.

With five rocket motors and 20 combustion chambers, as well as 12 smaller engines used for steering, it’s essential that all the engines light at the same time. If not, fuel could pour out of an unlit engine and cause a potentially catastrophic explosion.

This synchronicity is achieved by using giant matches. Once the Soyuz is on its launch gantry, engineers place sticks of birch wood with two pyrotechnic electric ignitors on the end into the rocket nozzles. These are bound together with brass wire.

Just before launch, the ignitors fire and the flame burns through the wire. When all the wires are severed it indicates that there is a burning flame within each nozzle and it’s safe to open the propellent valves. The system ensures that fuel is only released when these giant matches are all lit.

Friday, April 16, 2021

University implosion

AVI posted recently on the "lot of ruin in a university", and a fine example popped up this week.

Laurentian university got a judge to declare them insolvent, and cut 69 academic programs and 110 faculty jobs (and 36 administrators--so I think they're serious). "The university estimates that 10 percent of undergraduates are affected by the program closures."

If you want a weepy description "This is Canada's big mining town. Right? This is the mining university for Ontario. And I see that they haven't cut that part of the university." That's supposed to be a bad thing, BTW. and "Francophone students are being told that their education, language and culture aren't worth saving." and "These cuts counter the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Call to Action #16: 'We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.'"

The university argued in court filings that its operations are inefficient: There are too many faculty, too many programs and classes are too small. More than half the university’s courses have fewer than 15 students, the court documents say. So almost 1/3 of the teachers are let go, and the U. claims this touches only 10% of the undergrads.

It has debts of nearly $100-million from a building spree that didn’t produce enrolment gains and it ran deficits in the range of $2-million to $5-million a year for several years, according to its court filings. It also spent millions in grants earmarked for research to keep the lights on, owing in part to the practice of having just one bank account where incoming funds from various sources were mixed.

That's a couple of big red flags--I think the latter might be fraud. And when you look at the list of closures it looks like they bit off more than a college of 6000 could chew (Biomedical Physics, three different Environmental programs).

The image of program cuts at the daily nous seems to differ from that above--Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies cut but Equite, diversite et droits de la personne (both languages) stays, as does Criminology in both languages, and Motion Picture Arts goes away. I'm not sure how to reconcile those lists. "Women’s and Men’s Varsity Swimming and Hockey programs will be discontinued", but basketball, soccer, golf, etc remain. AVI found their current undergrad program list. I'm not sure how a few of the Econ courses will be without some math courses to back them up: Mathematical Economics looks like quite a semester's worth.

They had a "tricultural mandate." English, French, and Anishinaabemowin. This sounds spread very thin.

Of course the Prime Minister is talking about this, and I've no notion of how the dust will finally settle. If I were deciding the cuts I'd have chosen differently, ashcanning more of the gender/diversity stuff and trying to keep their famous midwifery program, but I suspect most of these were made with a simple #students/#faculty threshold. That probably hits francophone courses harder. C'est la guerre.

My take-away is that the current administration decided they didn't want to spend years talking to faculty and not meeting payroll, but decided to bite the bullet and see if they could save something from the university, at the cost of some of their semi-sacred cows. They'll get a lot of flack--I wonder if they have the spine to hold on. Either way the result could be interesting. Wild card--how many of the current decision-makers were involved in the misuse of research funds?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Panic mongering

For today's exercise in looking behind the headlines, consider this vaccine story.


Headline of the linked article "Israeli data shows South African variant able to ‘break through’ Pfizer vaccine"

Subhead: "Strain is more effective than original COVID and the British variant at bypassing the shot, Israeli scientists find, in first-of-its-kind, real-world study"

Paragraph 3-4: "A team from Tel Aviv University and the Clalit healthcare organization sequenced the swabs of 150 Israelis who tested positive for COVID-19 despite having been vaccinated. ...the prevalence of the South African strain among vaccinated individuals who were infected despite their inoculation was eight times higher than its prevalence in the unvaccinated infected population."

Paragraph 5: "we would have expected just one case of the South African variant, but we saw eight". It does not say if they presented with symptoms before being tested--that matters.

Pfizer: "vaccine effectiveness was at least 97% in preventing symptomatic disease" based on Israeli data. "94% against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2"

Note that the numbers involved in the new study are extremely small and statistical fluctuations can be significant. In addition, there's reporting bias (bad news is news). But just for laughs, take the numbers at face value. And lets assume that this was random testing, and not people presenting with symptoms.

For the original strain, the Pfizer is 94% effective at preventing infections. If you continue to get 8x as many cases with the new strain as you expect, that would mean the vaccine is about 52% effective (plus or minus a large number which we'll ignore for now).

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is reported to be 66% effective at preventing infection (and "high efficacy at preventing hospitalization and death in people who did get sick". So the Pfizer is slightly worse with the new strain than the J+J is with the old strain. Maybe. If this group of 150 had symptoms the relevant Pfizer number is 97%, and its effectiveness against the new is 76%--better than the J+J.

So walk back up the headlines. The subhead is technically accurate, but doesn't give any idea of the scale ("more effective ... at bypassing shot"). The headline is misleading ("able to break through"). The clickbait headline ("can't stop ... strain") is a lie.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Prince Philip praises

I have been exercising the American privilege of ignoring the UK's royal family, and so know very little of the man. I read a couple of obits, in which he seemed like a good guy with a strong sense of duty and a tendency to rub modern reporters' fur backwards--all pluses.

It seemed that he was most praised for what he refrained from doing--instead exercising a lifetime of self-discipline/self-control. For that matter, when people have written about Queen Elizabeth, she seems to be praised for the same thing. They both took a role and didn't try to extend their power.

The only "public servants" we have of comparable lifetime are judges, and when they haven't gone political their critics usually have, so I don't think we'll be praising any of our leaders in the ways Philip is.

I wonder about the rest of us. Self-control is supposed to be part of our lives, but rarely are our temptations so obvious to others that they'd praise us for not giving in. We mostly don't know each other well enough to do that. Accurate praise might be refreshing sometimes, though inaccurate praise might be problem.

Exploding beer

Those of us who drink beer (I'm not among them) may not be surprised, but beers with extra sugar can continue to undergo fermentation on your shelf.
It takes a lot of additional fermentation for a can or bottle to break its seal and literally explode, and even then the concern is usually more the mess than an actual hazard.

Some breweries that can these beers count on the consumer to understand fermentation science and realize they’ve just bought a four-pack of aluminum beer grenades. Labels usually warn, “Keep cold! Live beer!” — a scientifically sound way of slowing fermentation but an ethically questionable way of passing the onus onto the consumer.


The beer in question is Bernie Brew, a pastry stout honoring U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders that was brewed with Vermont maple syrup and delivered to outlets around the state ....

The morning of April 2, MBC posted a warning on Facebook that it had received reports of bulging cans, unacceptably foamy beer and even one can that “literally blew up” in someone’s kitchen cabinet, ...

To MBC’s credit, by that afternoon, the brewery decided to recall the beer, saying it had heard the sharp questions and criticism in the comments of the post.

That those comments were largely met with hostility by people defending the brewery — some directly invoking MBC’s politics — speaks to what Minocqua has cultivated in Wisconsin and a unique vulnerability to this kind of crisis.

From the start, MBC’s self-distributed drops of “progressive beer” in Madison had the ring of a gimmick. The brewery was selling $17 four-packs of Biden Beer with the image of a new president — one who famously does not drink alcohol — along with the promise of donating $5 from each four-pack to MBC owner Kirk Bangstad’s political action committee.

I suspect this news will make the beer more popular, not less--and less likely to be refrigerated.

On the other hand

I suppose design could be worse: It isn't clear if the design of the Brain Health center is meant to encourage the sense that "I must be in trouble--I really need those people" or is an inadvertent warning not to come near.

Two cheers for brutalist concrete

Gov. Tony Evers ordered emergency repair work to Van Hise Hall after concrete slabs broke off the UW-Madison building earlier this week and an engineering company found the building’s remaining panels “pose an immediate threat to public health, welfare and safety.”

Just looking

Odd that I've never seen it before: A chickadee perched on a lattice, bent down under it to sip from a drop dipping below the wire. I suppose the water drop is handy, and drinking while perching lets the bird watch for danger in all directions. The birdbath blocks more of the view.

I guess the natural equivalent would be sipping from water drops on twigs, and those are generally high enough that I can't see what the birds are doing.

Thursday, April 08, 2021


My wife suggested I watch a documentary on the Vasa: later parts aren't ready yet.

The expert said that, lacking calculus and a firm theory of bouyancy, it was customary with new designs that one take a ship out on a trial run, and then bring her back and modify her. For example, if a ship was topheavy, one could "girdle" her by nailing on more planks--increasing the "belly" without increasing weight that much. Or shortening masts, or even, in extreme cases, removing the upper deck.

The Vasa was just an extreme case, only lasting an hour before sinking.

You do have an option that doesn't involve calculus, though it's quite hard--make a scale model. Planing down strips to the right thickness to model planks and making sure you have taken all the other weights (cannons, sailors, etc.) into account would be a long and finicky job, but if you're trying a brand-new design it might save a lot of modification effort. I'm not sure how you'd mock up wind, but maybe just pushing would work.

If the design didn't work, you could scavenge it for part or gussy it up and use it for advertising or sell it.

I wonder if ship designers did make such test models. Search engines get swamped by modern models:

Wednesday, April 07, 2021


You know about the storm surge in a hurricane. The low air pressure lets high pressure elsewhere in the ocean push the water level up within the low pressure area, and the high winds pile it up ashore. The latter causes most of the problem ashore, but the sea level rise matters too.

The atmosphere can sustain huge waves too. We tend not to notice--the scale is too large--but if they go in the right direction at the right speed for long enough enough energy can be transferred to water to make an "earthquake-less" tsunami.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Seasons within seasons

The flowerpots no longer live like cats: wanting to be inside, no, wanting to be outside, no...

And now one risks cooking the lettuce in the coldframe instead of freezing it.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Beware of squirrels

A friend told us tonight that his Easter egg hunt this morning failed. Squirrels had a 2-hour head start at finding the plastic eggs with chocolates inside, and devoured the lot. The play-money auction also failed, because the girls printed themselves more money than the boys did.


The "too proud to take aid" is a famous stereotype, and like many stereotypes has roots in reality. But pride might only be part of it--part might be a folk-memory that aid comes with strings attached.

Maybe the string is as simple as glorifying your patron, or maybe as dangerous as borrowing from the Mafia, or maybe as complicated as a hospital built with American materials and American labor that simply demands that you be able to staff an American-style hospital using all the nurses in the country. These days, read "Chinese" for American.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

A little invention that stayed popular

The water organ, driven by water or by water-compressed air, was invented at least by 220BC, and apparently the use of the machine was never lost, with descendants (via the Byzantines and Muslims) appearing in Italy by the 13'th century. It sounds as though people figured ways of making it auto-play tunes early on.

Thursday, April 01, 2021


Brad Edwards thinks social media are toxic by design, that we need mediating institutions, and that the reason secularism (which he considers a Christian heresy) is growing is that the church, especially evangelicalism, is infected by individualism and had lost a sense of the need for formation. Unfortunately he doesn't describe what he wants here, but Dallas Willard does. The spiritual disciplines don't get a lot of attention as such, and finding ways to make faith tangible is hard. We've had ongoing relationships with some local schools to provide some resources and support, and we try to get the youth involved in annual service days. We're kind of spread out. And you don't hear much about fasting or other disciplines from the "pulpit."

Maybe I need to break out the notes from last time. Maybe I should practice them a bit more first.

Did they read the calendar?

The New York Metropolitan Opera (I keep thinking Texaco) has offered free nightly streams of recorded operas for the past year's lockdowns. This week's theme is "Love Triangle." (This is Holy Week for a lot of us.) Good Friday's evening offering is Werther.

I wonder if the schedulers didn't notice, or if they didn't quite get John 10:18, or if they knew quite well what it would look like.

To be fair, finding appropriate offerings from the standard repertoire might be hard.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Psychiatric emergencies

This City Journal article says that
The number of patients seeking emergency psychiatric care has risen rapidly in the past few years, and the hospital frequently operates beyond its regular capacity, issuing “single bed certifications” and allowing people to rest on cots in the hallways and mats on the floor. The severity of the cases has increased, too. Beall estimates that, as recently as a few years ago, only 20 percent of patients needed inpatient treatment; now that figure is between 50 percent and 60 percent.

I'll trust his numbers for now. I don't think the US population has risen quite that much.

What drives this? Drug use? Vulnerable people who lost their family/network support and wound up on the street and got way worse? Were they always here and somehow found ways of managing until now? Fewer facilities increases the burden on the remaining ones? Minor changes in definition plus low statistics? Something in the water? No, I'm not being flip.

The local school has seen a very significant rise in the number of children needing extra attention, but I've no idea if that's related.


a description of how PR worked in 2005 The tools differ somewhat today, but do the same sorts of things.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Back Home by Bill Mauldin

His Italian campaign Willie and Joe cartoons for the Stars and Stripes are deservedly well known.

I knew he'd gone into editorial cartoons later--seen a few. Back Home shows his transition.

There wasn't economic room for the vast numbers of demobilized men, transition to civilian life wasn't trivial, and the army wasn't always done with you yet--he illustrated them all. Some of our collective memories of the era in our own country are more than a bit gilded, and people were literally starving to death in Europe.

It's worth reading. Don't expect work as compelling as the war cartoons.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Something is missing here.

This would prioritize looking at more-isolated groups or languages, that may not have had time to adapt the new tools, or by looking back in time at past languages using ancient written sources.

Supporting this expectation, subordinating conjunctions, like "after," "before," and "because of," may have evolved only recently, in historical times, and are probably no more a feature of human language than composite bows are a feature of human technological repertoire. The tools of subordination seem less well developed in the earliest versions of Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, and Greek. This makes these languages slow, ponderous, and repetitious to read. Subordination tools seem also to be missing in some living languages, including languages found in Australia (e.g. Warlpiri), the Arctic (Inuit), New Guinea (Iatmul), and the Amazon (Piraha).

This is from The Secret of our Success by Joseph Henrich.

Let's check. Pick a few languages.

"The combination of clauses is in Sanskrit in general of a very simple character; much of what in other Indo-European languages is effected by subordinating conjunctions is here managed by means of composition of words, by the use of the gerunds (994), of iti (1102), of abstract nouns in case-forms, and so on." Sort-of point to Henrich, though I don't think anybody has tagged Sanskrit as ponderous.

There's a .doc file on Navajo that claims they use that gramatical construction. They were isolated from Eurasia long before the Greeks started writing. No points to Henrich.

I started looking up Xhosa and got swamped with English tutorials--and they've had enough contact to have picked up all sorts of things over the past few thousand years--at least one word from Arabic...

So far I'm not thrilled with this section. When he wants to show that one language is more primitive than another, he uses sign languages and whistle languages as examples. I was told that however small the vocabulary of a language was, it was always possible to communicate new concepts even if you had to define new words--so you could translate Plato into any language. Is that true? Still reading...


Do not put your trust in princes and Cursed is the one who trusts in man turned up in the readings on the same morning.

Hmm. Are there any princes/leaders I put my trust in? Nah. Opinionators? I tend to review their stuff myself. So how does this warning apply?

Looks in the mirror and wonders when all his hair went...

As the kids started growing we changed some of our entertainments. Partly this was because we couldn't afford some of them, and partly because they might mislead. As a simple example, you have to read the kids fairy tales before you let them see Fractured Fairy Tales. In the right order you can fully enjoy both; in the wrong order neither.

Of course the kids learn from others as well. We were fine with Harry Potter, so some of our kids traded books with friends whose parents were opposed on principle to Harry Potter but didn't seem to mind Anne Rice.

I took some directions my life thanks to examples found lying around and from trusted sources. Some of those directions proved costly.

In the past year I heard the story of a man who had shaken off an addiction to marijuana--until he found a bag of weed dropped behind a seat in church.

I wonder in what things I have slipped up, and failed those who trusted me. One of these days I'll find out--may God forgive me.


"All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water; but they naturally object to confessing them while other people, who have also committed the same crimes, sit by and laugh at them."

Why should CRT be so popular? Fragments here and there seem plausible at first glance, but as an overarching explanation it falls flat. As implemented it demands that people confess sins they haven't committed, and spread the "dysangelion" that your neighbor is also a fiend. There's no redemption for an individual.

Maybe we all know we're guilty of something, and this taps into the thirst Chesterton wrote of. Plus, this kind of confession is abstract enough to not sting much. And we can enlist others to force the sitting laughers to kneel and confess too.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Broken sprayer

I have a deep aversion to throwing useful stuff away. If it is fixable, I want to fix it. If I can't fix it, maybe somebody else with more skill/tools can--pay for it done, or free to good home. The trash can is a last resort.

An airless paint sprayer that rattles loudly and doesn't suck up any water is bad enough. When it decides to trip the GFCI too, I figure something needs replacement instead of cleaning/ oil/ solder, and the cost is probably worse than a new machine.

Trying to find parts for older hardware isn't trivial...

On sleeping on it, I think when I receive or buy something I feel like I'm taking responsibility for it somehow, and trashing something useful violates that responsibility.

Odd primes

We've probably all seen the "proofs that odd numbers are prime" as done by different professions:
Physicist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is an experimental error...

Engineer: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime...

Modern physicist using renormalization: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is ... 9/3 is prime, 11 is prime, 13 is prime, 15 is ... 15/3 is prime, 17 is prime, 19 is prime, 21 is ... 21/3 is prime...

Quantum Physicist: All numbers are equally prime and non-prime until observed.

Professor: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, and the rest are left as an exercise for the student.

This site has the largest collection I've seen, together with a picture of a disputed calendar tool or list of primes?

The latter link is part of a Mathematicians of the African Diaspora set of web pages. A quick perusal suggests that they claim way too much--trying to infer non-euclidean geometry theorems from artwork, for example. It brings to mind an interesting question--is Egypt part of Africa? By geography and if you want an impressive history, obviously yes--but if the subject is politics and quotas, no.

Monday, March 22, 2021

"Ancient invention"

BBC has a story on an "ancient invention" that opened the world to games. (Spoiler: dice) It's an interesting story--read it. But a little note: mancala is a pure strategy game--at least the versions I learned were. (Bao looks hard)

See an online version

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Choosing between customs

Great Slave Lake got its name from the Cree, who named it in "honor" of the Athabaskan tribes among whom the Cree used to raid for slaves.

The French apparently were respectful of indigenous Cree customs, and named the lake "Grand lac des Esclaves" in translation.

'It has been suggested that the lake be renamed as well, particularly because of the mention of slavery. "Great Slave Lake is actually a very terrible name, unless you're a proponent of slavery," says Dëneze Nakehk'o, a Northwest Territories educator and founding member of First Nations organization Dene Nahjo.' He seems to be Athabaskan himself, and of course would prefer a native Dene name. But he calls himself cis-Indigenous, so I'm not sure how representative he is of the Dene.

Indigenous customs seem to conflict here: Cree vs Dene. The Canadians could draw on the liberal Western tradition and put their finger on the scales in favor of changing the name. Of course, that would be a form of cultural imperialism.

Think what other options there are: Leave the name alone because changing the maps is expensive, let Cree and Dene each pick a name and use both, let Cree and Dene pick a name and pick wrestlers to fight it out, go a different direction and name it St. Kateri Lake, name it Lake George Floyd, sell naming rights (and end up with Toyota Lake?)--on and on. You could find support and/or tradition for all of those.>

Swiss Army Knife

I don't remember if I was 11 or 12. My father had a slim little brown pocket knife, single blade and very sharp. But I was fascinated by the bright red Swiss Army knives the Lebanese proprieter displayed in his shop. Five dollars was a lot of money, though. I certainly didn't have that much.

One day my father brought home a beautiful knife. It had a main blade that I could barely pry out with my fingernail, a sharper small blade, a screwdriver/bottle-opener, a can opener, a pair of scissors, toothpick, tiny tweezers, corkscrew, and a hole-poker thing that I never knew the name of. I carried it everywhere.

I was playing with the other MKs in a tree. When I came home the knife was gone. I retraced my steps and searched thoroughly, but nothing showed. Other people had gone by in the interim; it was well and truly lost--at least as far as I was concerned. No doubt somebody knew where it was.

I was disconsolate, of course. My father let things stand for a while--possibly to drive home a point about keeping track of things. About three months later, he gave me another, smaller knife--without the scissors or tweezers or toothpick (a silly thing -- how would you keep it clean?).

The logo fell off years ago leaving a little hole, and the plastic has a little crack at one end. The finish is matte now after 53 years of pocket riding. The corkscrew has been in two corks--it's really too short for that sort of thing--but has pulled hundreds of staples and started any number of drill holes. The hole-poker thing is the only one that is hard to prise out these days--it has done a lot of reaming and making holes in cardboard and soft wood. The knives and screwdriver have seen lots of use, and the can-opener has a tip tiny enough to work into a lot of phillips screws. The frame has a dent where I used it to pound on a stuck lever. (Nothing else was handy.)

I never did get the hang of, or interest in, whittling--except when I needed to get something to fit. I did remember the "always cut away from yourself," and I think I jabbed myself once (lightly) in all those years--with the corkscrew. And when I was reaming the pokey tool bit me once. That's not too bad for years of food cutting, box opening, scraping, fingernail cleaning, screwdriving, prying out broken lightbulbs, screwing a NIM crate into a relay rack, and other obvious jobs.

A lot of my life is connected to my father's gift. It has always been "just there"--I'm pretty sure it was in my pocket on my wedding day.

Yes, it went to school with me. But not to Switzerland.

Friday, March 19, 2021

"All Gaul is Divided" by Anonymous

Letters from Occupied France, 1941

Letters smuggled out of France during 1940 tell of the interactions with German soldiers, officials, and refugees; and with their own countrymen and strangers.

The writers of these letters are old friends of mine. They are deeply rooted in the French soil and know thoroughly the peasant life which they describe... Elizabeth Morrow, Next Day Hill, Englewood N.J.
  • Letter I "It is obvious that the invaders wish to accomplish their task with a minimum of friction."
  • Letter VI. "The Germans have decreed that no restaurant shall serve more than three dishes to a customer. Last night, having consumed my three meager rations, I remarked to the waitress, 'I guess that is all I am to be allowed.' She breathed cozily into my ear, 'Step across the street and come back. I won't recognize you, and you can eat three more.'"
  • Letter IX. "Trust the Good German Soldier... When this poster first appeared in late August it was promptly defaced and torn down. Grammar school girls, enraged at the idea, were the commonest vandals. But second and third copies were affixed by the patient thought conditioners, together with hand-size announcements that interfering with German advertising is sabotage, punishable by death."
  • Letter XI. "The lack of butter, lard, beef suet, olive and arachide (peanut) oil makes a big hole in the larder. ...I had a barrel of winter-grade motor oil, which we tried in the kitchen. A hearty man can stomach it about twice a week, on a cold night. We also experimented with melted candles. Worse."
  • Letter XIII. "I find myself shocked to discover the extent to which many of my intimates and relatives have been converted to Hitlerian dogma."
  • Letter XIV. "quoted verbatim from the letter (from the Head of the Clan) 'If you do not support the admirable old soldier (Petain) you are a traitor. ... And if you do not share this patently sound view, from now on our paths had better separate."
  • Letter XV. "For the harvest I hired a sailor, wearing a pair of khaki trousers and a BVD. He slept in a box stall, ate like a pair of mules, and was the best worker we have ever had on the place... as he pedaled into the pines he called back 'Cheerio,' and began to whistle 'There'll Always be an England. In this matter I do not want to speak heedlessly. But something resembling the underground railway of the Dred Scott era has come into existence just inside the shore line."

Divided into three parts by the Germans, divided by their reactions and relations with the Germans, with all news tightly controlled, shortages everywhere--how does one live?

It's 94 short pages, and I can't find it online (thanks, Disney...) If you find it, read it.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Hitler's Beneficiaries by Gotz Aly

In April 1945, a German-born British officer named Julius Posener returned to his former homeland, traveling from the lower Rhine region to the bombed-out city of Cologne. He had previously fought on the Italian front, "where in the hard winter of 1944-1945 Neapolitans had starved to death on the streets by the hundreds" and where the people, "even from the upper echelons of society, were broken, pale, and hopeless." The war had been relatively benign in France, Posener wrote, "but that was nothing compared with the rows of lovely girls dressed in white" in Germany, "taking an evening stroll past the ruins of the city."

Although the extent of the damage exceeded his expectations, Posener, who was a construction engineer in civilian life, had been prepared for the destruction of cities. What surprised him was the way the people looked: "The people did not fit the destruction. They looked good. They were rosy cheeked, happy, well-groomed, and very well dressed. An economic system that had been propped up by millions of foreign hands and the total plunder of an entire part of the world was here displaying what it had achieved."

This book documents that. Nazi means National Socialist, and they took the latter part extremely seriously. They promised equality and to support the common man--and they did, provided he was German. And they were rewarded with loyalty. They didn't need a great deal of internal coercion: In 1937 the Gestapo had 7000 staff, while the Stasi later would employ 190,000 and an equal number of volunteers.

From the beginning the Nazis played financial games to keep the goodies coming, and when they launched their wars they were careful to make sure that as much of the revenue as possible came from looting--Aly estimates 70% (Revenue is not the same as expenditures.). They had determined not to finance more than 50% of their war effort from loans, and to keep taxes as low as possible, in order to keep full support of the German people. This was obviously never going to be stable, and only a "blitzkrieg victory" would keep financial collapse away. But in the meantime, they found many ways to loot.

One clever scheme was RKK certificates. They were sort of like marks, but they couldn't be spent in Germany. When the German army needed to requisition a horse, they'd pay the owner in RKK. These were redeemable in the local currency by the local banks (or else). So the farmer doesn't object too strenuously, or hide all of his stuff or refuse to grow crops--because he gets paid, and gets French francs for his stuff, even if it's inconvenient. The French bank and government get stuck with the bill redeeming the RKK notes. And that eventually has to come out of the farmer's hide, but that comes later.

He explains how schemes like this, occupation cost charges, and manipulation of international clearing accounts worked in the different occupied countries.

Demanding that Jews turn over all assets and buy Reich bonds looks superficially legal, though they made sure nobody would live to collect. Stealing 100% from a few percent of the people actually has a noticeable effect on revenue--for a year or two. Aly goes through country by country to show how the extermination of Jews supported the Wehrmacht. It enriched corrupt people along the chain too, but most of the money wound up in the German treasury. Aly claims that the preoccupation with exterminating Jews wasn't a detriment to the war effort, and didn't divert resources. Salonika Jews were robbed of 12 tons of gold--which he traces to being used (for a change!) to try to prop up the Greek banks instead of the German, since the drachma was in free fall and Germany needed a working economy to provide the resources Germany needed to steal.

The Holocaust will never be properly understood until it is seen as the most single-mindedly pursued campaign of murderous larceny in modern history.

The campaign against Jews grew in intensity as losses grew and the need for money grew.

He describes slaves a bit, and forced labor a bit more. The latter was paid: 1/2 to 2/3 the going rate. But of course, most of the money was used to buy Reich bonds on the laborer's behalf, and then there was room and board to pay, and a tax for services, and and and

Food was another thing to be stolen, on a huge scale. Even allies like Italy came out on the short end. Soldiers were informally allowed to ship home what they could buy or steal. Back home, things were not bad at all--better than in Britain.

Later, when the fighting was over, the fateful collaboration of millions of Germans vanished, as if by magic, to be replaced by a wildly exaggerated--and historically insignificant--record of opposition to Hitler.

Even if the Nazis had won, they'd have run out of other people's money, and the way they treated captive peoples wasn't going to generate prosperous economies they could tap into.

Belgium comes off well--they often refused to cooperate.

Lessons learned: it isn't hard to buy a people's support for a while. When the bill comes due, those purchasers can turn hideously ruthless to stay in power. Theft can be very devious. Beware of politicians promising the moon.

The Nazis screamed that the Jews were economic bloodsuckers of the world. It proved to be the Nazis who were.

The book might have benefitted from some reorganization, with sections divided into "summary and human interest", followed by the details of how the schemes worked out in each region if you wanted to read those too.


How did the Humanities Building wind up so awful? And it is--it is hard to navigate, has lousy acoustics for concerts(!), single-pane windows to face Wisconsin winters, and it's uglier than homemade sin. How?

Step 1: Brutalist architecture. Step 2: Cut the budget.

"I always tell people, 'Look, it's a really cool piece of architecture, but it doesn't function,'" Brown says of Humanities. "And it really hasn't functioned from day one."

At SIU, Faner Hall, another Brutalist "masterpeice", needs a map. It used to house campus student computing, with IBM 370s and lots of noisy card punches. The curious are invited to try to trace a path through the halls from one end of the second floor to the other.

At UIC the Physics/Chem/Bio building is by no means the oddest architecture on campus. One building--I think it was art--had a layout in which the main hall went up and then down, and rooms branched off upwards from it. The campus once had an amphitheater sort of arrangement by the student center that reached down through the two-level walkway system, the latter presumably to expedite draining buildings in a hurry. For UICC (now UIC), probably the most brutal part was the eminent domain destruction of an ethnic neighborhood that had just undertaken major renovation. I was told that for years a student who showed up in one of the few remaining local businesses could stand waiting for hours.

UPDATE: "the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th floors on the northwest side of the Humanities building will be closed to staff, students and the public effective at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 30". "an expansion joint on the 6th floor of the west side of the building has failed"

Monday, March 15, 2021


The 2020 baseball season will have an asterisk by it. So will plenty of other sports and awards. It's the era of the asterisk. Was that book or song really the best--or even within shouting distance of being the best? Who knows--the praises don't generally mention quality.

Unexpected detectors

"As it turned out, the spray of debris was coming from Juno’s expansive solar panels — the biggest and most sensitive unintended dust detector ever built." "Dust grains had smashed into Juno at about 10,000 miles (or 16,000 kilometers) per hour, chipping off submillimeter pieces." Is the zodiacal light dust Martian? Maybe.


The report that an ice core into the ground under the ice in Greenland turned up bits of plants seemed very odd. After all, most of Greenland's actual land is below sea level. If all its ice melted, Greenland would look like a lagoon--and it would take a long time for the land to rebound. That works both ways, of course--it takes time to subside. So when would there have been time to grow tundra?

The place the cores were drilled is part of the area that wouldn't be underwater, so I think it makes sense--probably the glaciers filled the lower areas and pushed outward, or just accumulated (almost a mile of ice on top of 400,000 to 1,000,000 year old landscape). Because this is fairly high up, it says something about the overall ice sheet but not everything.

BTW, scientists have been looking at this for a while: this is from 2014.

Saturday, March 13, 2021


Is it easier to hear something when someone unfamiliar says it? I like his image of the twisted trees. He left out the warning that the twisted trees must also be careful comparing themselves with the protected ones, though.


I've always had trouble connecting names to faces. Sometimes it caused me more than just a little embarassment. Politics was never a career option.

Names in the news befuddle me. Is Markle a German Prime Minister, a TV talking head, or a basketball player?

I grudge the effort spent skimming the article only to discover that this is a generic celebrity, and one from a family I thought we fought a war for the right to ignore.

Now Q. Elizabeth II seems like an interesting character, for her laudable devotion to duty--and even for just her long path through British history. But the rest of the clan leaves me glad we aren't saddled with them.

I guess a lot of us like royalty--because I remember there being fascination even when the royal house wasn't such an obvious trainwreck, and William Brann had hot acid words about American adulation of a wastrel prince.

I don't think actors quite fill the emotional bill, and politicians' role is allegedly public servant rather than ruler.

Christopher at AVI referred to a British love/hate relationship with their royal family. I wonder if monarchies are all like that to some degree: people longfor the great and admirable, and "Who died and made you God?"

Sometimes they're good for entertainment. Years ago there was a rumor that Prince Charles had converted to Islam. Since that family is related to Muhammad (via Spain), wouldn't it be wild if he were to claim custodianship of the Two Holy Mosques?

Friday, March 12, 2021

March thaw

It is the season of discovery.

The snow is gone, and the cans appear: soda, energy drinks, and something I don't recognize--not beer, I think. Straws and bags, of course--and a glove. And its mate, 60 feet away. Several USB cables, and the control for someone's home sound system. A circle around our neighbor's porch is paved with four months of preserved dog droppings, as I found when I went to retrieve a barrel that had blown away.

One year a battered swivel adapter for a 3/8 socket appeared in a crack in the pavement at my bus stop. It works fine.

The ground's still too soggy for a pickup sweep.

It felt a little odd to be standing around while others did all the shoveling--2 yards of dirt arrived at 9. But my shoulder won't take it, and as supervisor I taught the grandkids a few handy hints about how to dig with less effort, using ramps, why getting a wheelbarrow tire pumped up is good, and so on. They got good practice.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

In his steps

I watched a (to me) interesting 17-part documentary in which a couple of Coptic monks at St. Anthony's explained their life and the reasons for it--and the purpose of tradition. I found this episode ironic: they extoll the blessing of being able to put your feet where St. Anthony put his.

In a way this is the exact opposite of detaching yourself from attachments to the world. The highest things for them should be the mass and prayer, with nothing between them and God. That St. Anthony walked there is a mere accident in comparison.

But it's natural to sense a connection with other people through things. "This was my great-grandmother's lace." "My father gave me that knife." "My granddaughter made that card for me." "This is where Degas used to sit and paint." "Her icon is a window to Saint Magdalene."

I think it was meant to be that way; that we were meant to incarnate love through action in the world. Because God is love, that means that we have a role in making God immanent in His world, a role in creation. (This isn't "free-form" "love," of course.) Grandfather's gift is an incarnation of his love, and through him of God's love.

To aim for complete detachment in a cave seems wrong to me. It is ungrateful--unwilling to put love into and receive love from the world. We weren't put in a desert, after all, but a garden. But the other side, clinging to souvenirs rather than holding them lightly for God, is clearly wrong.

I, of course, tend to cling and detach exactly backwards from what I ought.

Jesus built a number of things, which I assume all wore out long ago. He also healed a large number of people, fed a lot of people, produced quite a lot of very good wine--all long gone, except from God's presence. What would you do if you could get one of the yokes Jesus made? See Justin Martyr From the fact that none seem to exist anymore, I guess people used them for what He made them for. I wonder which approach He would prefer.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Fittingness of ads

I was watching a documentary in which Coptic monks explained living in the desert the way the old Desert Fathers did, and why emptiness was important. Flashy ads for the newest cell phone and vacation homes and the latest dating show frequently interrupted them.

I know how they would have interpreted these interruptions. Maybe I should too.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Currently reading

I just started Hitler's Beneficiaries by Gotz Aly. This may take a while. I keep finding parallels with today's feckless social justice leaders. I'll have to dig deeper to decide if that's deliberate on the author's part, but I suspect it goes with the territory. It does seem easy to buy support from the favored group:

How best to use my time

As I sit looking out the window at a blocked-off street, I'm listening to emergency dispatch. I'm told our home doesn't face the home where the murder suspect is hiding, so I may very well see nothing except empty street, even if something happens. The sun will set soon.

I'm curious, of course, and I'd like a few extra seconds heads-up if something starts to go south (literally in my case). But I've got huge blind spots out there--the neighborhood wasn't designed for defense.

Maybe doing the dishes is a better plan.

UPDATE: The dishes got done, and they arrested the guy without incident.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

History of the Incas

Never mind the rabbit track that led to Sarmiento's book, The History of the Incas. I found it very interesting--and it certainly puts the lie to claims that Indians were pacifist before Columbus. It is every bit as bloody as Cross and Crescent in the Balkans (I was trying to fill up some large gaps in my knowledge). He asked various Incan historians for details, and ran his treatise by them afterwards to make sure he had the story right.

I don't think his Incan sources would have approved of his purpose in this book: to demonstrate that the Spanish king had the right to rule them.

But as the devil saw that this door was shut, which he had begun to open to introduce by it dissensions and disturbances, he tried to make war by means of the very soldiers who resisted him, who were the same preachers. They began to make a difficulty about the right and title which the kings of Castille had over these lands. As your invincible father was very jealous in matters touching his conscience, he ordered this point to be examined, as closely as possible, by very learned doctors who, according to the report which was given out, were indirect and doubtful in their conclusions. They gave it as their opinion that these Incas, who ruled in these kingdoms of Peru, were and are the true and natural lords of that land. This gave a handle to foreigners, as well catholics as heretics and other infidels, for throwing doubt on the right which the kings of Spain claim and have claimed to the Indies. Owing to this the Emperor Don Carlos of glorious memory was on the point of abandoning them, which was what the enemy of the faith of Christ wanted, that he might regain the possession of the souls which he had kept in blindness for so many ages.

All this arose owing to want of curiosity on the part of the governors in those lands, at that time, who did not use the diligence necessary for ascertaining the truth, and also owing to certain reports of the Bishop of Chiapa who was moved to passion against certain conquerors in his bishoprick with whom he had persistent disputes, as I knew when I passed through Chiapa and Guatemala. Though his zeal appears holy and estimable, he said things on the right to this country gained by the conquerors of it, which differ from the evidence and judicial proofs which have been seen and taken down by us, and from what we who have travelled over the Indies enquiring about these things, leisurely and without war, know to be the facts.

(That bishop would be Las Casas, about whom many of us have much more sympathetic views.)

Inca Yupanqui re-invented the Assyrian approach to pacifying his rebellious empire: Chapter XXXIX: mitimaes--population transfers.

His son expanded the empire more, and tried his hand at searching for gold to the West (very much like some others to his east were starting to do). "Tupac Inca navigated and sailed on until he discovered the islands of Avachumbi and Ninachumbi, and returned, bringing back with him black people, gold, a chair of brass, and a skin and jaw bone of a horse. These trophies were preserved in the fortress of Cuzco until the Spaniards came. ... The duration of this expedition undertaken by Tupac Inca was nine months, others say a year, and, as he was so long absent, every one believed he was dead." "Black people?" Fiji is probably well over 5 months travel to or from, which doesn't leave a lot of time to go exploring when you get there. Maybe some of the Polynesians looked black to the Incas.

The Incan kings are credited with remarkably long lives: Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui "laid his head upon a pillow and expired, giving his soul to the devil, having lived 125 years."

Without money, the Incans had to come up with other ways of rewarding conquerors:

"Tupac Inca ordered the seclusion of certain women in the manner of our professed nuns, maidens of 12 years and upwards, who were called acllas. From thence they were taken to be given in marriage to the Tucurico Apu, or by order of the Inca who, when any captain returned with victory, distributed the acllas to captains, soldiers and other servants who had pleased him, as gracious gifts which were highly valued."

His introduction to the history has to be read to be believed. He starts way back with "Noah and his wife Terra or Vesta" and includes Hercules and Atlantis.

If that doesn't entice you to read it, I don't know what will.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Trireme followup

Last year I asked why the stern of a trireme was always peaked. That peak had to be good for something. The image I selected to go with the post had ropes holding the sail in place, and also holding the mast--though not in a very robust way.

From Isaiah 33:23 "Your ship’s tackle hangs slack; it cannot hold the base of its mast firmly, nor spread out the sail."

The phrase "cannot hold the base of its mast firmly" is evocative. The frame of a trireme was flexible enough to demand a strong cable connecting the back to the front--a strange kind of keel. If you want the mast to stay put, and it can't be tightly held by its socket, maybe cables fore and aft connecting to the prow and stern would give enough downward force to keep it in place. You really want three points instead of just two--maybe port and starboard cables at the same position as the mast would suffice. The connection of the mast socket to the frame of the boat has to be very strong, so I'd guess there'd be something solid to attach to at the side of the boat. Or maybe the socket was deemed good enough to constrain side-to-side motion of the mast, so long as it could be held in it.

Such cables would help spread the force from the sails to the back of the boat as well as the middle, and in bad weather keep the mast from coming loose. Of course the downward force would tend to bend the boat, demanding an even stronger tensioning rope (hypozomata) to counteract that.

Where does Ancient Astronomy Begin?

If you know nothing of astronomy: The first thing you notice (after day/night, of course) is the phases of the moon. That's pretty easy to figure out. Eclipses happen now and then--without a little math and a lot of measurements over time it's hard to predict those, and maybe they don't matter a lot, since everything seems fine afterwards. (I'm not talking about seasons and weather--you learn subtle signs about those independently of understanding the sky.)

The next thing you notice--if you are far enough north--is that the days aren't the same length all the time. At 5 degrees north or south, the difference is about an hour. That may or may not be very noticeable, but by 10 degrees it is 2 hours and I think that's enough of a difference that you can tell. The Sun isn't always in the same position when it sets, though if you live in a forest you might not be able to see that. If you live in the mountains it can be very obvious that sunset is at a different place on the distant slope than it was last month.

The ancient "observatory" closest to the equator seems to be the Chankillo towers at about 9.56 degrees away--and it is in an area with high hills and mountains.

If you live at the equator, unless someone has given you a reason to look, I don't think you'd spontaneously notice the changes with the sun. The planets are another matter, of course.

VR time travel

If you haven't seen it yet, AVI has an interesting post on leveraging VR for "travel". We already have snippets of VR travel for viewing undersea life, and for fantasy worlds--such as the Universal Studios Harry Potter rides.

If you could generate the detail (and the resolution--what I've seen hasn't been very crisp!) for a walkabout of several blocks in Paris or Pompeii, and associate that with some live-action interaction at a cafe or thermopolium you might have a very attractive alternative to trying to build your own time machine.

As AVI notes, it could serve as an alternative to actual travel for those with small budgets and not a great deal of time. You could take a trip to San Francisco without having to dodge needles and feces, or visit the pyramids without wondering if your tour bus is going to get shot up.

Typically you'd want to spend a lot more than a few hours to explore odd corners of a foreign city, whatever strikes your fancy, so this wouldn't be more than a taste of a place.

The physical infrastructure would be very expensive (a city block's worth of space? Unless everybody is seated in their own little booth and never walk anywhere...), and each environment would be complicated and expensive to produce, but only the individual's hardware would wear out quickly. The cafes and other vendors would have to be cycled in and out with each new environment too, but that's easily designed for.

I can see possible issues with authentic environments--slaves, crippled beggars, different ideas about modesty and so on, but nothing that couldn't be dealt with using either slightly varied VR environments or a rating system.

I've never been to Universal Studios (some family have). It might be something up their alley.

As a proof of principle, how about a VR tour of a museum? Start with a single room, and let people get as close to the Mona Lisa as they like. The online stuff that I've seen doesn't let you see fine detail--certainly not in binocular vision. It's nice to know what's in the Vatican Museum, but I can't really see it well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021


Can you guess what this might be?

The rest of the picture:

Tuesday, February 23, 2021


I went down a rabbit hole trying to figure out where a "stone" came from. British units seem to combine elegant binary simplicity with random lunacy. It turns out that a stone was even weirder than I thought: not just 14 pounds when talking about people's weight, but 8 pounds for meat (the 6 pound difference from 14 pounds for live weight was assumed to be the butcher's share), 12 pounds for lead, 8 pounds for spices, and 5 pounds for glass. "in practice varied according to local standards" It's easy to think of England as a single country--this is a sharp reminder that it wasn't so for a long time. And, of course, there's no guarantee it will stay a single country forever.

So of course that leads to money and the Charlemagne system that the Brits used until 1971: 240 denarius to a silver pound (1 solidus = 12 denari). Charlemagne's denarius would be about $1.30 worth of silver--and recalling that the daily income for much of the world has been O($2/day), the New Testament denarius = day's wage fits right in. (His silver pound was about 3/4 of our pound.) So what's with the guinea, ringing in at 1 pound and 1 shilling? It looks like that was an artifact of trying to maintain both a silver and a gold standard simultaneously. They started out the same, but the price of gold went up, and after a while they fixed it back down to the current standard of a pound and a shilling. Gold was more high-toned than silver, so even after the coins weren't made anymore prices for high-toned stuff was in guineas.

Lengths are goofy. 3 barleycorns to the inch, 12 inches to the foot, 3 feet to the yard {looks like we're doing 3's instead of powers of 2 but it isn't crazy yet}, 16.5 feet to the rod {what??}, 320 rods to the mile {at least it's a round number}, 5280 feet to the mile {who can remember that?}.

16 ounces to the pound {nicely binary}, 14 pounds to a stone {??}, 8 stone to the hundredweight {but it isn't a hundred anything!}, 20 hundredweight in a long ton {2240 pounds}. There's lots of fossil history broken up and and jammed together in that head cheese of a system.