Friday, July 30, 2021

Details, details

The Cana Island Lighthouse is, as you would expect, a popular wedding site--but not so much recently. It seems that lightning preferred to strike the power and light poles rather than the lightning rod atop the lighthouse, and the park hasn't replaced the system. What's a DJ to do without power?

The causeway was only 8 inches underwater when we went, but they told us that last year's lake levels had it almost 3 feet deep. The tractor engine was high enough not to flood, but I could imagine that some long dresses in the hay wagon got wet.

Thursday, July 29, 2021


Top ten video game sequences, ten worst video game presentations, ten worst generals, ...

I'm sometimes curious about history-related evaluations--I figure I might learn something--but almost none of these sorts of things involve any action. Top ten home laptops--yes, we had to buy one recently. Best washing machines of 2021--maybe, if something else breaks. Top five vacation destinations--no, we don't have that kind of money. Ten most livable cities in the US--if you don't have to live there. (It turns out that livability is measured differently when you're on a fixed income.)

Even an interesting list leaves a bad aftertaste. The "worst ten" sorts feel a bit ghoulish, and even the "best five" judge their subjects on limited grounds and don't seem quite fair. Even Satan's chewing gum in Inferno doesn't seem perfectly just: Judas fits the bill, but I'll bet you could find better candidates for the honor than Brutus and Cassius.

Snippets from travel

"Lakeshore Baptist Church" shares a building with "Next Level Salon and Spa." Heavenly beauty care?

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial Park

It's real--a one-acre park in Door County in Wisconsin. "The arched entrance to the Memorial Park welcomes you to the "Walkway of Remembrance", a path paved with tribute stones. This walk wraps around the court yard making a loop to represent the never ending circle of life." For some reason the walkway is square instead of round like a motorcycle wheel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Pass it on

Overheard today: "As soon as I yell 'I'm mad about this!' and express myself, I move on and I'm not angry anymore."

"Conductor, when you receive a fare..." Or, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can ..."

Monday, July 26, 2021


Psalm 144:13-14 prays that our flocks multiply and our cattle bear without mishap or loss.

Since the psalmist is talking to God, why doesn’t he ask instead that new cattle appear like manna from heaven? For God, the one is no harder than the other. He made the world to work the way it does, and doesn’t seem to care to change it without good reason.

One thing does change in the psalm—the meaning of the fertility. It isn’t to be mere good luck—it would be a working-out of God’s love for the psalmist.

The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, etc—appear as physical actions with supernatural meaning. Laziness isn’t patience, though when you’re standing in line they may look similar.

St Therese said it well—our goal shouldn’t be to do great things, but to do small things with great love (The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much.). Jesus said that anyone who gave a cup of cold water in His name would not lose his reward.

Meaning matters.

We are told that “God is love.” The converse isn’t always true—what we call love is usually, as Lewis emphasized in Till We Have Faces, so polluted by self-interest that it’s presumptuous to call it love at all. But perhaps I can say that insofar as it is right, and is love, then God is there—in a different way from His “ordinary” omnipresence.

This is not to say that we in ourselves have the power to make God incarnate in the world, but we have the opportunity to let His love become physical and bring Himself more deeply into creation.

To be clear, I take it that God, though "simple" in Himself, is present in the world in different ways—in Jesus, in the Lord’s Supper, through the Holy Spirit living in us, in our neighbor (the least of these), and of course in His omnipresence that even the philosophers recognize. I think that He is also present in our obedient acts of love.

I emphasize obedient, because we’re good at fooling ourselves. It’s the same kind of problem as “How do you worship God?” Worship somehow has to be commensurate with our nature—or we couldn’t do it. I can’t worship God the same way a star would if it could. Unfortunately all kinds of idolatries also seem to fit. The rules need to come from God.

They can be rules of action or renunciation. Fasting is a classic. It is a sacrifice and self-discipline, oriented to our need for God and understanding that the physical/mental world isn’t all there is. Some people fast for a while from the news, or from entertainments. In contrast, things like the ancient Syrian eremites who stood with outstretched arms day and night, or those Buddhist monks who starved themselves into mummies—these don’t pass the test. They point away from love in action, and imagine that the body itself is evil.

In the opposite direction I hear: “love is Love.” No, it isn’t; it's not good enough without righteousness to orient it. Dante depicted this nicely.

The orthodox doctrine says that in the resurrection we will be not merely disembodied ghosts, but returned to a (repaired) physicality. We will be images of God in physical form and physical action.

Jesus called many to follow Him in special ways. But He told the Gaderene demoniac (who wanted to follow!) to go home and tell what great things God had done for him—go evangelize! “Take up your bed and go home.” “Go and sin no more.” “I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel! … Go”

Is the renunciate life better? Paul seemed to think so, but he was careful to admit that this was simply him speaking: wisely, since Jesus sent people home sometimes. How often we don't know, but there were only about 120 at Pentacost and He'd had thousands of followers.

It seems to me that making God’s love incarnate in the world through ordinary living is also a high calling.

Both require the power of God to fulfill.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Close, but...

Youngest Daughter observed that the verb "fash" seemed mirrored in the noun "fashion", but it turns out their etymologies differ. Evocative, none-the-less...

Monday, July 19, 2021

Rabbit tracking

I took to wondering about hinges. I've heard of leather hinges, which despite a certain lack of durability seem actually to have been used--within living memory--to hang doors. (Read the comments on that article.) What did the Romans use?

"Roman doors opened and closed on pivots connected to the top and bottom of the leaf. These pivots were inserted into bronze turning posts that were cut into the threshold". Doors, curtains, partitions and the like didn't survive, and even in Pompeii not much was left. But there's still quite a bit to learn about. One detail: "lower quality materials were preferred in the front of the house, in the areas most accessible to visitors and guests, while the finest materials were reserved (for) the areas surrounding the secluded back garden." Perhaps they didn't want the tax man to get too grand an idea of their wealth.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

So that you don't waste as much time as we did...

If you are missing a lightweight strap made partly with velcro, and it's not in any logical place, check the laundry. It might have stuck to your clothes.

11 rescued so far

Tracing a news story: Starting from the beginning: "A vessel build in Liberia named “NIKO IVENKA” has been dedicated and is prepared for full operation. The vessel was produced by a company called HYLAEA INCORPORATED." A second story explains why it was considered "Made in Liberia:" "The NIKO IVANKA was locally built by HYLAEA INC. in Marshall, Margibi County in four months...could address the deplorable road challenge being experienced in the Southeastern region."

Three years later, the cargo ship (not authorized to carry passengers) was in trouble: The vessel was advised on so many occasions not to sail, FrontPageAfrica gathered.

It started to sink: 11 rescued. The picture in that story suggests a calm evacuation (there'a a photographer there!), so I don't know why 15-17 should still be missing, unless they had reason to want to be not found, or they were never there to begin with.

Who to blame? "We are commissioning an investigation into how a vessel that was detained for failure to meet rudimentary safety requirements managed to get on the sea with passengers and cargo," Nagbe said.... "The vessel's owner, a Chinese national, was arrested on Sunday afternoon"

I don't expect reports about passenger count to be accurate--certainly not right away.

It isn't obvious where the name Hylaea came from, but the hint in an earlier paragraph suggests Hylaea Inc is a Chinese firm.

I didn't know Liberia had a shipyard. Neither, apparently, does Google.

According to UNCTaDStat Liberia had no significant ship-building in 2019. The 2019 report only mentions 2017--I can't find info for 2018. And when I look up a satellite map of Marshall, I don't see any obvious shipyard infrastructure.

The ship was "built in Liberia"--in specific in Marshall. That just doesn't look plausible (look at the map yourself). The claim could be a complete lie, of course. Or it might have been partly true--the ship might have been finished in Liberia (but who'd send an unfinished ship around the world?), or it might have been superficially refurbished there--redoing the pilot house, wiring, and the paint job on a worn-out tub. I'd guess the third option is the likeliest--a quick refurb of a junker and a big press release. OK, maybe not new wiring Building a freighter in four months seems a bit of a stretch for Liberia--even in a wartime economy in the US after optimizing for speed it took a month and a half--it had taken nearly a year when we started.

And the old tub didn't hold up very well. (I can't figure out which "cargo ship" it might be here--maybe it's too late)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Who told them this was a good idea?

A Lego gun? It's a Glock encased with panels that look like Lego blocks. Lego has demanded that they cease, and as of today they have (having sold fewer than 20). Naturally the news stories play up the notion that kids will think it a toy and shoot themselves, etc, etc. The sheriff's office is only quoted as calling it "concerning," though I imagine they could elaborate at length if the WaPo allowed it.

It isn't a useful tool. Imagine trying to get that snaggy thing out of a holster. It's a grownup's toy. And it looks like a kid's toy. Some will be stolen, of course. So now: You're a cop, and a suspect teenager turns and points this thing at you. Choose quick--is it real?

I gather there's a federal law to keep toy guns from looking real--so kids don't accidentally spook people and get shot. This is the opposite--but the same sort of idea applies.

Spiritual "concierge"

A quick duck-duck-going will find you plenty of kings and queens who had a personal confessor. They undoubtedly had great need for one.(*) Some of them took their jobs quite seriously, and prescribed penances that our era finds startling--and those kings and queens did as bidden.

I suspect there are no significant penances in the world of "spritual concierges", who handle crystals, sage burning, "full moon intention ceremony," and other services to residents of these condos. My church doesn't go in for exorcisms much, but since I can't afford to live in one of these places anyway it doesn't matter.

I remember arriving in the Paris airport way early, and seeing signs for a room for religious use and meditation. I was pleasantly surprised, and eventually found the tiny pair of rooms. At that hour they were empty of people and full of Muslim literature, and showed little wear. It didn't look comfortable, and suggested unhappy possibilities about travelers.


But many a king on a first-class throne,
If he wants to call his crown his own,
Must manage somehow to get through
More dirty work than ever I do,

Sunday, July 11, 2021


"So all his manhood's strength and pride One sickly dream had swept aside."

AVI has been thinking about the effect of the abstraction of social media on children. First thoughts, "Is development missing something?", and Grim's thoughts on disembodied sex. Perhaps the physical environment isn't that attractive.

Puberty is confusing enough when there are clear sex roles ("What do I say?"), but without them, and with the understanding that there's no reason not to have sex--isn't the pressure and confusion going to be even higher? We have little lectures now and then about "your right to say no" but I don't think those make much headway against fashion.

If I try to imagine myself as a teen girl (it takes some doing, obviously), I think I can see the interest in declaring for a new gender variety that can turn off the pressure, and for hanging out electronically.

For a boy, maybe porn is a big deal. Real people don't seem to act much like the porn actors. If the boy is young enough, will he recognize himself in the male actors in the ubiquitous porn, or will the action seem alien and arbitrary? "If that's what a man wants and I don't, maybe I'm something different." Even boys can be put off by the expectation for sex. And some find the physical environment hostile--because they don't quite fit or because ideological parents or other kin disdain boys, or some such. I'd guess the pressure is worse for girls, but I can imagine boys getting confused too.

Clearly this confusion is new--suicide rates are up, not down with greater acceptance of "gender diversity." If this was something that had haunted humanity since forever, and only our wonderful enlightenment had discovered the truth, you'd expect the reverse.

Sumptuary Laws

Althouse posted on a NYT article, highlighting a comment: "I believe all National Parks should be closed to visitors unless they have been invited. There should be a selection process..."

Some people aren't worthy of being in the parks, or the royal forest. They are, though not in so many words, considered low class.

A very similar air accompanies the calls to live more densely and abandon the use of cars, and to avoid using energy. The exhorters typically don't set the rest of us an example--they're a different class.

The old sumptuary laws were nominally for our own good, to cut down on 'keeping up with the Jones'" spending spirals, keep the balance of trade under control, and to inspire proper humility, but something always showed through: "declare our utter detestation and dislike that men or women of mean condition, educations, and callings should take upon them the garb of gentlemen, by the wearing of gold or silver lace, or buttons,"

The attitude still shows.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Dog parallels

During conversation after dinner, our birthday guest mentioned that border collies were highly intelligent, but if not given adequate training and stimulation, would become destructive. Naturally this reminded me of college students. "Due to their demanding personalities and need for mental stimulation and exercise, many border collies develop problematic behaviors in households that are not able to provide for their needs. They are infamous for chewing holes in walls and furniture, and destructive scraping and hole digging, due to boredom." The parallels seemed obvious.

A more detailed explanation of what makes border collies tick suggests that this isn't perfectly comparable, though.

With friends like this

Some years ago I was asked to lead a study based on The Prayer of Jabez. I firmly declined.

It reminded me strongly of the apocryphal (I hope) sermon based on Genesis 27:11.

While looking for options for a new study (so far no consensus from the group), I scanned a catalog of Christian books and teaching aids, and found... Do I need to comment on this?

The Heart That Grew Three Sizes -- DVD Curriculum Rediscover the gift of Advent this year by looking at a familiar holiday classic through the lens of faith! In this 4-session study based on Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rawle explores Christian themes including the growth of the Grinch's heart, why Christmas saved him, and how the things we despise can sometimes change our lives.

The catalog also offers some other pop-studies "The 40-Day Sugar Fast", some mediocre-sounding studies, a number of renowned commentaries and other tools, and a number of studies that are actually good. Curiously enough, the catalog omits quite a few of the Christian classics. Possibly they feel they can't compete with CCEL.

I'm not saying that secular works can't point to Christ. One key step in my journey to Christ was reading a secular poem by Lewis Carroll. But seriously--is it honest to make 4 lessons of this?

Friday, July 09, 2021


I was once tapped to do a Bible study on Ecclesiastes. I'm rather fond of the book. Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is?" would be a perfect intro -- if 4 minutes weren't forever opening a Sunday School class. The "break out the booze" might have raised a few eyebrows, but if the peice had been shorter I'd have used it.

It's fun--you can read the book three different ways: purely secular, God's around somewhere, and from a New Testament perspective. But even in the New Testament era, sometimes Ecclesiastes-days come.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

What's of value in the end

Tarnished beauty under silver hair
Bloodless wrinkles framing dimming eyes
Golden conversations lost in haze
Whispered random words and unsaid "Why?"s

The book is closed.
The gifts are spent.
And grateful friends recall:
Her gifts bought us blessing

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Inventing liberty

Donald Sensing reran his post on "How Jesus invented individual liberty." If you haven't read that, do. He highlights how radically different Jesus' demands stood against the honor/shame culture of the land. Even those who want to overturn their Western culture take it for granted. We shouldn't.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Ancestral memory?

When you recline in a recliner chair, the foot rest unfolds up to form a rest for you, and the sides which protected the seat parts jut out below it. From your point of view this is a comfortable foot rest, but from below this makes a little cave just right for a small enough dog to curl up in.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

More travel notes

You are never 100% involved in someone else's life, and the tributes at the funeral will hold some surprises, from people who were part of her life but not yours. Not bad surprises; more of "I wish I could have been there too."

Sometimes family you haven't seen in years have a great deal to talk about.

OTOH, one sometimes finds great opportunity to hold one's tongue. (They mean well.)

Dogs can be remarkably patient wrt toddlers pulling on their noses.

Billboards sometimes seem to assume that you've watched TV. When I see "Live mas" I think "Dead weight," but that's probably not the meaning. (A famous taco chain)

At first I thought the hotel had invested in heated toilet seats, and wondered how that worked in such inexpensive-looking plastic fixtures. It turned out they had some plumbing problems with their hot and cold water tanks--and the latter wasn't working at all. Hot water everywhere.

Cell phones are easily portable, and also easily lose-able.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Chesterton again

He can be amazingly timely: "A child has a difficulty in achieving the miracle of speech, consequently we find his blunders almost as marvellous as his accuracy. If we only adopted the same attitude towards Premiers Presidents and Chancellors of the Exchequer Representatives, if we genially encouraged their stammering and delightful attempts at human speech, we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper."

And when writing about detective stories: "We may dream, ..., and that it would be harder and more exciting to hunt their virtues than to hunt their crimes"

Saturday, June 26, 2021

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

"If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed."

What Twain actually published was: “Often, the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth.”

(If you prefer a more recent source: “It’s better to be uninformed than misinformed. I even doubt some of the pictures I see in the papers.” (Orville Hubbard) )

A commenter at Chicago Boyz wrote that he tries to interpret news stories using a simple procedure: determine the bias, and then assume the opposite of what the story claims. As a rule of thumb it has the obvious problem that every now and then a liar tells the truth. Benny Hinn does not appear to be honest, no matter how much the WaPo hates him. AVI has some thoughts about liars here.

How do we figure out what’s real?

We can go to our trusted sources, and trust them: Just like everybody else does. How do I verify my own sources? “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” (Feynman)

We’ve lots of news sources. Sometimes they tell the truth. How do I know when?

Truth is generally binary, but unfortunately the probability that I trust a story is on a spectrum. If I have seen the scene myself, I consider it very true. OTOH, I don’t always know the context, and … “There’s a Bene Gesserit saying,” she said. “You have sayings for everything!” he protested. “You’ll like this one,” she said. “It goes: ‘Do not count a human dead until you’ve seen his body. And even then you can make a mistake.”

If the story is from a known liar on a topic which he has lied about in the past and has an interest in lying about again, I judge the probability small. But not zero—as Twain noted, you can lie telling the truth—just leave out important context.

I can ask: suppose the bare facts of the story (strip out the emotive stuff) is correct. What context is missing? Sometimes I can infer the missing context from "What would X be likely to do, and how would CNN interpret that?"

I can assume that if CNN reports on politics or social mores the report is false; either false in its facts or false in its framing. But what if they report on a storm, or a revolution in Chad, or a new business? They have no obvious reason to lie, except of course the reporter’s need to have an interesting story on a deadline. NYT and Daily News reporters have been known to make stuff up—not that long ago, either.

And sometimes politics and corruption invade what ought to be non-political realms. Remember Lysenko? Stories about his work might have seemed like science, but behind the scenes it was ideology down the line. Stories about this business or that (especially green ones) are sometimes puff pieces designed to spur investment in the bubble.

These will probably trip me up, unless I have some prior knowledge about the situation. Often if you remember prior stories about the same topic, you’ll notice that the “breakthrough” is incremental at best and rate the story accordingly. I don’t know about you, but my memory isn’t that prodigious.

I can estimate that if a report is consistent with what I have heard and believed already, it’s probably true—but those who believe the NYT and CNN do the same. I need to be sure I’m not in an echo chamber.

I can cross-check. Do I hear the same elsewhere?

The masters of smear and of advertising have learned how to spread their stories around so that they appear to be verified independently. Sometimes many outlets grab the same press release independently. Can I tell what the source was from reading the story? Sometimes yes. If I can’t figure out what the source is, that counts against the story’s veracity.

Can I check the source? I’ve had a hobby of researching science reports in the media and comparing them to the originals—and a depressing hobby it is, too. By the time the telephone game plays out to the clickbait headline, the research often isn’t recognizable.

Does the story make sense? Someone (haven’t found the quote) wrote that an Englishman would commit any crime, do any treason, before he would walk Trafalgar Square without his pants. I was solemnly told back in 2016 that there was pedophilia dirt on Trump that was being kept secret. Tell me that Hitler regularly vacationed in London in 1943; it’s just as plausible—the secret couldn’t be kept.

Similarly, we were all solemnly assured that Vladimir “my country stays afloat with hydrocarbon sales” Putin wanted Donald “fracking” Trump to win the election in 2016. Nope; that’s an obvious lie. The advantage of it is that I could note who trumpeted it and put them on my liars list.

At end of the day, unless I’m willing to put in work to find out the truth, I’m not going to get it.

Maybe a case history showing how I tried to understand a story would be helpful. Or interesting. Or boring.

Let me use a relatively simple story: Wuhan 2019A aka Covid-19 aka Wuflu aka horrible plague aka “nothing-burger.” (I have family and friends who were knocked down for 3 months with it. That’s not trivial.)

The first stories were about Wuhan, the Diamond Princess, and the Italy disaster.

Wuhan reports were of a contagious and dangerous virus, and that the government was using extreme measures to halt it. They had a motive to lie—The same one all dictatorships do—underplay the problems, trumpet the good things. Announcing problems is against interest; we could assume the problem was at least as bad as they claimed. The Chinese released a RNA sequencing of the virus, which sounded like they’d been working on it for a while, but were offering info in good faith. And they claimed some success using hydroxychloroquine. Since they were confessing problems, and seemingly acting in good faith, I could give some credence to the early stories.

The Diamond Princess showed that it was deadly, but only a few percent would die, even in a population that skewed older. It was a nice controlled environment for testing, with few confounding issues. Some people stayed sick for a long time (see personal experience above). The Diamond Princess owners would have had a great incentive to lie about illness aboard their ship—bad PR—but the Japanese didn’t. It seemed trustworthy information.

Reports from Italy sounded like a true disaster. Unfortunately, they didn’t come with the demographic details that would let one compare it to the Diamond Princess numbers. How much excess capacity did Italy have? If none, any plague will have people dying in the halls. Things sounded bad, but when you started asking questions about rates, the numbers weren’t there. The Italians didn’t seem to have a reason to lie about it, so the information was true—but not complete or useful.

I did not listen to the news. I gather from its effects on other people that the media played up the danger-danger-danger aspects.

Hydroxychloroquine seemed a very odd medicine to treat a virus. (I had taken it weekly for years as a malaria prophylactic.) So I went to Google and looked up the papers that dealt with that. (I trusted Google not to hide the information. Why would they lie about medicine? Politics, sure, but why bother to lie about this?) I skimmed the papers I found, and learned to my surprise that the drug has been used against viruses too, and that the Chinese tests against Covid were preliminary and low-statistics, but positive.

A doctor claimed positive results in Europe, in another low-statistics sample. A later study using it on gravely ill patients found no benefit—I hope to no-one’s surprise here. So far, these reports seemed reliable within their limits, and didn’t contradict each other.

At this point I started taking a little more note of the news and found that chloroquine was now claimed to be both useless and dangerous (heart issues—actually retinopathy is the more common risk). From what I knew now, neither claim could be justified. Chloroquine had been proved not to be a miracle cure for the dying, and the heart risk was far lower than the risk of the disease. From a reporter I could expect such exaggeration, but these came from health officials—or at least the officials never seemed to correct a misinterpretation. Somebody was lying.

Why would they lie? Just because Trump had said the drug might be useful? That’s an unworthy motive, but I sounded a sample of acquaintances and concluded that they were prejudiced to believe that anything Trump said was a lie and must be opposed. I could no longer trust that NYT/CNN and even the FDA/CDC could tell the truth on what ought to be a non-political question.

At the same time, I started frequently reading the chloroquine was a miracle drug and anti-Trump people and big-pharma in search of expensive new drugs were suppressing it. (Chloroquine hadn’t been proven useful yet—that would take a large study. I looked at one of the meta-studies that asserted that it wasn't useful, and wasn't impressed.) Oops. I couldn’t trust the “right-wing” media either. (The claim about big-pharma isn’t easy to prove or disprove.)

Skipping to the present—YouTube and Facebook have been caught deleting stories about the disease. They claim this is merely deleting dangerous misinformation. No doubt some of it is—but how do I know that? I can’t rely on the search engines to find unskewed information. I can’t even rely on DuckDuckGo: it turns out to rely on Bing, and Microsoft has already been caught censoring stories on China’s behalf.

I am not advocating utter skepticism. A lot of the news stories are more or less accurate--or would be if they were ever followed-up on. My stint on a grand jury gave me an appreciation for how inaccurate crime reports can be.

But I try to cultivate a "not proven" attitude to the news--especially early reports.

Continual parricide

The coarsest and bluntest knife which ever broke a pencil into pieces instead of sharpening it is a good thing in so far as it is a knife. It would have appeared a miracle in the Stone Age. What we call a bad knife is a good knife not good enough for us; what we call a bad hat is a good hat not good enough for us; what we call bad cookery is good cookery not good enough for us; what we call a bad civilization is a good civilization not good enough for us. We choose to call the great mass of the history of mankind bad, not because it is bad, but because we are better. This is palpably an unfair principle. Ivory may not be so white as snow, but the whole Arctic continent does not make ivory black.

Now it has appeared to me unfair that humanity should be engaged perpetually in calling all those things bad which have been good enough to make other things better, in everlastingly kicking down the ladder by which it has climbed. It has appeared to me that progress should be something else besides a continual parricide; therefore I have investigated the dust-heaps of humanity, and found a treasure in all of them. I have found that humanity is not incidentally engaged, but eternally and systematically engaged, in throwing gold into the gutter and diamonds into the sea.

He would have understood the statue-toppling, and come up with a good description of it.

The Infamous Mark 14

If you are curious about the infamous Mark 14 torpedo which submariners were saddled with in WW-II, have a look at the Bureau of Ordnance's chapter (p 90 =#108 in the reader)).

The submarine version's problems are fairly well known (ran low, magnetic exploder (which they were ordered to use) didn't work, impact exploder didn't work). The torpedos used by torpedo bombers faced other problems--propellers that failed, exploders that armed in the air--and it was hard to get the angle of attack into the water to go just right. "In the spring of 1942 the best available solution seemed to be biplane extension stabilizers bolted to the torpedo vanes."

The Bureau also experimented with electric torpedos. They made progress after finding a working German model, but it had issues: "hydrogen tended to form within the compartment. After extensive experimentation with various catalysts, the Bureau endorsed the use of coils in the top of the battery compartment to burn off the excess hydrogen. Each day the coils were lighted, air was blown in to support combustion, and the dangerous gas burned off. The expedient worked, but submariners were suspicious of the procedure. On at least one occasion, enough heat was generated to make the Torpex warhead melt and run."

Politics tried to get in the way of procurement (p 125 =#143 in the reader), and the report concludes with a protestation that overall they did a good job on the Mark 14--"Quantity and quality were both admittedly inadequate, and those were deficiencies which could not be corrected quickly enough to avoid the creation of an atmosphere compounded of controvery and recriminations." "During the course of the first year and a half of war, however, almost every one of the plaguing defects was elminated."

Other people had a rather different view of the history of that "first year and a half"--that it was mostly filled with "not listening." The Mark 14 was developed during the Great Depression, and testing focussed on retrieval/reused of the expensive machines. The resulting tests did not address the real problems of the weapon.

Well, of course...

AP headline: "Intel report is inconclusive about UFOs" U=Unidentified, right?

Friday, June 25, 2021

Pollen abetted virus transport

"On pollen and airborne virus transmission" models how pollen w/ viruses adhered can distribute the virus farther than models of simple virus transport. (Hat tip to SciTechDaily).

The correlations illustrated below encouraged them to think about this kind of transport.

Also, RNA viruses have been found in "pollen pellets" before. The maps above are interesting, but you can famously find correlations between deaths by swimming poll drowning and Nicholas Cage movies. Careful checking and modeling are in order.

They put together what looks like a nice careful model, but on first reading through their paper I only found this for the critical part: "some of these contaminated droplets have a high probability of attaching to a surrounding pollen grain and thus being transported." What's that probability? Everything else hangs off that. To be fair, this is a "what if" paper that assumes that contamination. Modeling the adhesion rate would be a different paper.

Adhering to a pollen grain might help keep a virus from drying out as fast, since it would be shielded on one side, so transport isn't the only benefit the virus would get from piggy-backing. And Wuhan 2019A isn't the only disease with a seasonal rate. This seems like it might be a promising research direction. "Mold spores are also released in autumn, and become more common in the air as decaying leaves and other vegetation fall to the ground". Maybe not just pollen...

Thursday, June 24, 2021


Sometimes I wonder if we've been invaded by planet Goofy. If the news media may be believed (I know that's a stretch), Ikea got itself in trouble for proposing to celebrate Juneteenth with a menu involving some "stereotypically black" foods, which are also stereotypically Southern, and which, if my eyes do not decieve me, are quite popular in the South and North (except maybe for the candied yams). I haven't quite figured out whose ox is supposed to have been gored here. If you prefer to celebrate with BBQ, or can't handle the carbs of mac&cheese--whatever; if Ikea wants to sell food they'll figure it out quickly enough.(*)

What are the Federal holidays?

  • New Year's Day
  • Inauguration Day
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Washington's Birthday
  • Memorial Day
  • Juneteenth
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

I wasn't aware Inauguration Day was a Federal holiday. That seems like a straightforward patriotic holiday, like Independence Day, Washington's birthday, Memorial Day, and Veteran's Day. Although at least in theory, and probably in the past, days like Independence Day or Memorial Day might include "a bas the Brits and other enemies", but I don't recall ever seeing any of that--and I've been around a few years. Parades might have an honor guard with flags from bygone wars, but we just took off our hats. We didn't yell "Remember the Maine!" The holiday wasn't against anybody.

Christmas is Christian, of course, and fewer of us are--but it isn't "against" anybody. Thanksgiving is generically religious, but even a non-religious man can (and should) spend some time being grateful.

New Year's Day is generic generic--neither for nor against anyone.

Columbus Day was pushed for by Italians who quite reasonably felt not-quite-part of the culture--they figured everybody could rally around the famous Italian. Unity was the point.

Labor Day was not unlike it--labor unions pushed for a celebration of the working man. In theory this could be "against the big capitalists," but I've not heard that. Maybe back in the 1800's it was there.

Martin Luther King Jr's birthday was established recently enough that a lot of us remember--peaceful change was his signature. And it offered to blacks, who quite reasonably felt not-part of the society, an honored proxy. I remember hearing quite a few people who were unhappy with the choice--who thought MLK a communist, or disengenuous about his goals. On the whole, people seemed to be fine with the choice, and it wasn't commemorated as being against anybody--somehow or another everybody seemed to retcon their personal history into one of support.

I'm not sure yet what exactly Juneteenth will be. Will it be a celebration by Republicans and blacks against the history of the Southern Democrats? (There's that "against".) Will it be a blacks and politicians only event? (There's that "against" again.) Unless somebody other than the usual suspects takes the lead, I fear this won't be a uniting holiday. Or will (as with Labor Day), most people just not care about the details, only whether there are enough buns for the hot dogs? And enough watermelon. On a hot June day, watermelon is wonderful.

(*) Where did those foods come from? Chicken--Southeast Asia, Watermelon--Africa, mac&cheese--MidEast for pasta & Europe/CentralAsia/MidEast for cheese; potato--South America; collard--Mediteranian; yams--Africa/Asia/Caribbean


We have a birdbath in back. Adult robins splash enough to almost water the nearby flowerpots for us. Generally they perch, hop in, splash like mad, hop out, and then fly somewhere to preen.

Not the teenagers. They monopolize the birdbath for maybe three times as long, as they stand there preening in the bath.

At least they don't use all the hot water.

Sunday, June 20, 2021


Under the circumstances, I should write about my mother instead of my father.

When my mother was a young girl she felt God was calling her to be a missionary—she thought in Japan, which would have been a challenging field during the runup to the war. After the war they needed nurses, and she decided she could do the most good as a nurse. She could have become a doctor, but I gather she felt that would limit her.

During nurse’s training she met a young man in seminary. After she graduated (nursing students weren’t allowed to marry), she married him. She kept working as a nurse and he as an accountant until they found themselves called to be missionaries together. The best match for their talents turned out to be on the other side of the world from her original goal—in Liberia, where the indigenous church asked for people to help them.

In Liberia they raised their three children. She served as the nurse at Ricks Institute, where she also taught. Their ministries changed over time, and eventually she taught writers, taught preachers, and mentored students in media. She produced indigenous movies (and she taught the local writers and actors) for the local TV station and she wrote a well-known anti-AIDS pamphlet. Coordinator of BaPSWA, etc

When the civil war in Liberia drove them out, they moved to the Ivory Coast where she worked with translation and training of writers. Liberia was always home for her, even after they retired to Louisville.

She had a puckish sense of humor, read extensively, and was endlessly creative. More important than these, she connected with people easily and was kind and encouraging. She was like a mother to many.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

All the Way

On the trip down, as part of the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy (I should probably see that sometime) the system played the song "Go All The Way."(*) Almost 50 years after hearing it the first time I now hear something the band didn't intend. The song was about the "mating dance": "What we're doing now has a logical progression; let's follow it to the end."

Except there's more that Eric Carmen left out. Gratitude... humility... fertility

We haven't "gone all the way" yet. We're getting there.

UPDATE: Another song says it too

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Changing the specs

It causes bloatware, cost-overruns, and products with odd quirks. "We forgot to tell you--the web page needs to have a calculator function, and support both kinds of virtual keypad."

I was introduced to this early.

When we lived in LA, my mother would dry clothes on the clothesline. When other matters occupied her, and I seemed to the uninitiated eye to have time on my hands, I was instructed to take the clothes down and bring them in.

I was only 7, and therefore something short of my full adult height. Reaching over my head to unpin laundry was fatiguing, so I developed a more efficient way of removing the clothes. The clothes came off briskly, the clothesline would dance in pleasing vibrations--sometimes even harmonics of the natural period--and the clothes pins sometimes followed fascinating trajectories.

Only after the job was done was I confronted with a change in the job specifications: I must not only bring in the laundry from the line, without accidently dragging items in the dirt, but I must also bring in all clothes pins and parts thereof, and refrain from tugging on delicate items.

Was that fair?

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Mountains and fig trees

Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree that was advertising first harvest fruit but had nothing. Then He cleansed the temple and the next time the disciples saw it, it was withered. I suppose the object lesson wasn't lost on them.

Jesus used the moment to talk about the power of faith. Again.

PassageNearest mountainPossible action
Matt 17:20The mount of transfigurationmoved
Matt 21:21 and Mark 11:23Zion: Jerusalem and the temple mountthrown into the sea

When Jesus said "whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea'", the "this mountain" was right beside them. It had a city and the holy temple on it. I doubt that throwing Jerusalem into the sea would have ever crossed their minds, and here Jesus is implying that even the temple is secondary, even disposable. Jesus used some truly shocking illustrations.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Multiple views

AVI has a post up on "Negotiated Truth" and ALL CAPS. I generally took all caps to be trying to say "You've not been paying attention, dummy," though a touch now and then helps the skimmer pick out the vital bit. Which, now that I think of it, may reflect the conservative tendency to think their opponents are stupid, in contrast to the leftist bias towards thinking their opponents are evil. FWIW, I joined Braver Angels (aka Better Angels before lawyers got involved), and that's certainly a tendancy in the groups. So I'd predict that liberal sites would use all-caps less. Just my impression.

I remember when I first tried to read Aquinas. The style drove me up the wall--I much preferred the direct style of mathematical proof. This business of "thesis, objections, argument for thesis, reply to objections" left me a bit dizzy. It didn't help that the words didn't always mean what I expected them to mean: simplicity, for example. The approach makes more sense now. The subject matter isn't suited to mathematical precision.

The notion that there might be different ways of looking at things seemed part of the air at home--not that I always looked for different ways. I remember trying to help a journeyman missionary with some of the logistics of a service he was supposed to lead, and discovering that what I thought was innocuous some others in the congregation would have considered horribly presumptuous. I didn't get around to any kind of detailed comparison of flavors of Christianity until I researched for a book for church youth (and concluded that the Southern Baptist assertion that the Eucharist is simply symbolic didn't hold water).

History textbooks were (and still are) deeply now-centric, but the Will and Ariel Durant history spent the time to describe each era and culture as itself, and not in relation to now. You could love or hate it, but a different culture had its own ideas, and they weren't always crazy. Wicked, sometimes. I wonder if learning Latin had the same sort of effect. The only texts were ancient, so you had to look at a universe of different attitudes. The student would be given other prisms to look at life with--whether he used them or not.

Not that everything is fluid--even Tevye ran out of other hands. I can look at ancient Greek religion and affirm that Christianity is better (and an awful lot of ancient Greeks thought so too), and conclude that other things that derived from the pagan worship are also worse. But even that framework doesn't constrain everything.

Of course if Christianity weren't here, history tells me a lot of the principles our fellow-citizens take for granted wouldn't be here either. They have seized on little bits of the legacy and look at the world through them. Chesterton: "The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone."

AVI distrusts the single-viewport descriptions of society, especially racial or tribal ones--our side good; your side not so good; now and forever amen. So too are economic viewports that define a person by the integrated contribution they make to the economic machine, or how good a warrior he is.

How does one cultivate multiplex views of the world--and still make decisions? Or perhaps I should ask--how do we teach our children that? The nominal grownups who find their value, or perhaps their bread-and-butter, in single-viewports won't be enticed. The current educational approach is supposedly about diversity, but it seems to only result in a single allowed viewport--everything is "this-now-ideology" centered, and the kids don't learn what really makes groups diverse.

AVI mentions the book of Hezekiah. Dad referenced that one a lot, along with 2 Jezebel. Maybe he picked that up at seminary. Dad went to seminary expressly to become a better layman. He had no call to be a pastor or preacher and he knew it.


From time to time I wonder if the focus on the hate-whitey psychiatrists and health care journals and so forth by the media and defense of them by highups represents a masochistic madness that is trying to nudge us to civil strife, or if somebody is cynically manipulating the stories to distract us from other things going on--like the corruption stories that keep vanishing from the news.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Warm ice

Every now and then I run into a story that puzzles me and won't let go.

A recent report says that warm (near melting) ice deforms and breaks differently than cold ice.

The article mentions two effects.

If you stress a chunk of cold ice, it will bend, but then return to its original form when you release the pressure (with a quick and a slow relaxation time). Warm ice can stay bent.

They also show a picture of magnified ice structure with a trans-granular fracture across the grains of tiny ice crystals (at least some of them). I wasn't sure what to make of this, but apparently ice typically breaks differently, in inter-granular fractures where the crack goes along the boundaries of the tiny ice crystals.

I gather that the "transgranular fracture" across the grains is the most common--the cracking occurs not at grain boundaries but along the crystal lattice planes within grains. It's just that that's not the way ice usually breaks.

I think I understand the "Bending and staying bent" bit. When the ice is this close to melting, when you start twisting the grain boundaries one end will feel separation and the other compression--and compression can lower the melting point. So I'd guess that the grains might melt a little bit at the compressed end, with the liquid migrating a little distance away--probably into the "pulled" part of the grain boundary. If you release the pressure, the "damage" is already done--not much at any one location, but spread out over the whole ice sheet that could be a measurable effect.

The cracking change seems a bit more puzzling. You'd think that at grain boundaries where there's a bit of melting, there'd be more opportunity for breaking--but those are exactly the places where the grains are forced most tightly together. Perhaps if the boundaries become a bit more plastic the relative rupture risk switches to the still-brittle cleavage planes? Maybe the pictures are misleading. Or maybe I'm not experienced enough with materials science to have a good intuition for the problem. Hint: probably the latter.

At any rate, if warm ice doesn't bend and break the same way cold does, it might result in different kinds of load when it accumulates. I'm not sure that it makes a huge difference in practice. Ice build-up around a spillway seems likely to stay stressed as long as the water is flowing, so returning to the original shape or not wouldn't seem to matter.


This isn't the lesson I would have drawn from that passage, but....

The Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated a $30K electrification of the campus (solar powered--they can't rely on the grid). Dr. Momolu Massaquoi said

“in March of 2020, I was walking from my house during the night and the entire campus was very dark then I said to myself what can we do to have this place electrified so believing in our teamwork here, I knew that we can put light on this campus remembering Genesis 11 when the people decided to built the tower of Babel and the Lord himself saw the power oneness.”

Somebody needs to have a talk with the photographer about reflective safety vests.

There are still a few names I know...

UPDATE: Unknown found the video

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Different impacts

In case we forget: things like 25% higher shipping rates and contention for carriers are an annoyance for us, and cause quite a bit of pain for JIT businesses, but can be an existential issue when a 10% jump in rice prices means you eat less.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

The details changed, but it still seems the same

When I lived there, I didn't drive. I didn't have to think about traffic, or arriving on time. I could just watch, or try to read, or talk with other passengers.

The shops are all different, the goods for sale are different, and there are traffic cops instead of traffic lights--but the ambience is the same, the appropriation of the sidewalks as sales floor is the same, the get-ahead-any-way-you-can drivers are the same. I don't remember traffic being quite this slow when I was young, but last time I visited (2006) some streets were horribly congested--and at one point our driver decided to take a one-way street the wrong way. (We hadn't found parking and were trying to kill a little time waiting for my mother to get some money from a bank. I guess that was as good a way of going nowhere as any.) I remember there being more young boys with trays of candy and cigarettes and whatnot--nowadays phone cards are a big item, and when I was there so were bags of water.

It's only a few blocks on this map. There's a new road on the map--a bridge that would have been useful long ago.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Benedict Arnold backstory

Smithsonian magazine traces his history. "The American Revolution as it actually unfolded was so troubling and strange that once the struggle was over, a generation did its best to remove all traces of the truth."

Revolutions typically bring exactly the wrong people to power, and personal enmities matter more than the public good. We lucked out in the end, but the history isn't always pretty. "In limbo like this, Arnold was dangerously susceptible to seeing treason not as a betrayal of all he had held sacred but as a way to save his country from the revolutionary government that was threatening to destroy it."

Memorial Day

Memorial Day isn't a personal one for my family.

We have veterans: My father was in the Navy in WW-II, my wife's father in submarine service in WW-II, one of my uncles was infantry in Korea, another was career Air Force, one of my wife's uncles was a doctor in a forward aid station in Korea (the ones that fed the MASH units). The generation before was mostly too old, too young, or in critical industries. Of those who served I don't know of any that didn't make it home. We have the war diary of one of my wife's ancestors--U-boats came close but the troop ship arrived in time for the Armistice. One of my brothers-in-law was in the Navy in VietNam. (My experience is limited to registering for the draft. I was classified 4H: 4A but Holding. The VietNam war was winding down.)

For reasons having to do with research for a novel the lunch conversation turned to the battle of Midway and the fate of Torpedo 8, and I reminded the youngsters around the picnic table that every one of the men who died that day was younger than they. My wife reminded me that the officers were generally older than the rest, but even of them I think most were younger. I hoped they could imagine how life and death and the fate of millions rested in the decisions of men who didn't live to see their own young ages.

We'll forget them: even when we make the effort it's hard to remember. But One remembers. May God have mercy on them. And on us, who might just as easily have been in their boots.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Does that explain them?

If taking a photograph steals a bit of your soul, what happens to movie stars?

Apparently I'm not the first to notice...

Saturday, May 29, 2021


UFO's are in the news, with some wild-sounding behaviors. They supposedly can travel ultra-fast, change direction easily, and show up visually and on radar.

I like science fiction, but the first thing that comes to mind isn't aliens, but spoofing. Suppose you had a drone with radio gear aboard that rebroadcast the radar signal with a slight delay. It would appear to the radar to be farther away than it really was, and its speed (and acceleration) would appear proportionately greater too. Your eyes can see it, but it isn't easy to judge distances of strange objects.

That would be rather worrisome. If hostile drones can spoof their locations, our warships are more vulnerable than we think. And so, of course, are land installations--though land installations could more easily use info from multiple locations and triangulate the real position.

I imagine you could do some cute things with retransmitting a "locked-on" radar signal to try confuse a missile. You couldn't confuse it as to direction--the signal would stil be coming from your drone--but if the missile has the distance wrong it could detonate too late.

Friday, May 28, 2021


I was curious about the Mandaeans. I'd heard they consider John the Baptist to be the Messiah.

That seems not to be an ideal description of them. They regard him as the last and greatest of the prophets, but I don't think John would recognize them.

They're the last of the ancient gnostics. Baptism is an important weekly ritual. They have a curious sacred book--the Ginza Rba, which is divided into two parts: a Right and Left Ginza, printed on alternate pages upside-down wrt each other. The Right's current version seems to date from "early Islamic" era; the Left's is much older. If you want a sample: The Book of John the Baptist is a collection of "proverbs", such as straightforward ones like "The first of your care is: know your account and then speak." and "The unjust is like a pomegranate, showing a resplendent face from the outside, but inside is full of mold." and some that are confusing "The words of the wise man at the gates are like pearls on a pig." I gather that "at the gates" has to do with the gates of ignorance and evil--did I mention that they are gnostics?

Their funeral ceremonies--The Mandaean Ṭabahata Masiqta--are complex, involving raisins in water, a pigeon, and many rituals, some of which seem vaguely Egyptian (they have an opening of the mouth, etc). This is a diagram of part of the ceremony. The new body is in the Light-world, of course.

Apparently a Mandaean who marries outside the faith is deemed to have left it, and nobody is allowed to convert into it, so it's a strictly ethnic religion at this point--and a persecuted one.

If you are curious about what the ancient pagan rituals were like, you could do worse than read that funeral exposition. It seems so wildly different from what you usually think of when you hear "gnostic" that I wonder if it came from merging two different religions--maybe a long forgotten compromise. "We aren't going to choose between the old cult and the new elite gnostics--we'll do both"

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Long meetings

Do you know someone who doesn't believe he has had the last word unless he has had the last hundred?

Amnesty law

Would a "war crimes court" bring justice and closure to Liberia?

Maybe, though I doubt it. I think the price tag would be too high.

There's a reason the amnesty act was passed in 2003. It hasn't been all that long, and the warlords are still around. Would you care to bet that they forgot where their weapons caches are?

Warlords are honored legislators; their crimes stay unpunished. And will.

We have it good here--most places. We even have leisure to worry about posthumous punishments.

He must have wanted privacy

We heard the cry of a red-tailed hawk on the back porch yesterday. I wondered if the bird feeder had attracted a different kind of bird feeder. When we looked, a blue jay was splashing in the bird bath. He jumped out and gave a red-tail's cry, and jumped back in. Lather, repeat, until the water level in the bird bath got too low.

Programming pasta

Carnegie Mellon University had an idea for making flat pasta turn into shaped pasta when you cook it.

Why? Curly/hollow pasta holds more sauce than flat does. OTOH, flat pasta can be stored much more compactly. (As one of the commenters notes, small is not necessarily beautiful when you need to catch the customer's eye at the grocery store.) So if you need to store a lot of pasta but don't want to lose the curly-factor, it would be nice if the pasta curled up when you cook it.

They tried stamping ridges on one side of sheets of flat-rolled pasta.

It works.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Rooting for laundry

We aren't at British soccer fan levels of sports "loyalty" (though NBA victory riots may come close), or the Blues and Greens dividing along every possible preference. Different political partisans can still support the same baseball team, at least as of 2020.

I've never been excited about sports, unless I was playing, and not always then. At the SuperBowl parties I've been to I spent more time in the kitchen with the snacks and good conversation than in front of the TVs. And what I don't care about I'm tempted to deprecate.

But we're not overburdened with things that bond us.

The Cubs aren't just Chicago, they're regional--Oak Park-ians can call them "our team" as easily as 4'th ward-ians. It may well be the only thing that links them--a trivial thing, but better than nothing.

The "laundry" isn't just a team symbol but a symbol of "membership in my region," and it's an American sort of ideal that you can change regional membership.

I'll try not to disdain "rooting for laundry."

And cat videos--anything benign that draws the disparate tribes together is beneficial. They won't cure our problems, but despising the little things is worse.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Browsing around a bit more

on the site I used for the previous post, I found other curiosities about songs...

Mahna Mahna

I knew the Muppet Show version (much more polished than the Ed Sullivan Show version), but I'd no idea how recent the base song was, nor where it came from.

Herod's Song

Try it and See was the first use of the tune--not as good as the Jesus Christ Superstar version.

Girl from Ipanema

(Adam Neely analyses it) Believe it or not, I'd never heard Amy Winehouse sing this--or anything, actually. Not sure I missed much.

Eres tu

Did Calderon copy an older work? It sounds like he picked out a theme, but developed it completely differently. Is that enough to make it derivative?

Pass me by

My memory's a bit fuddled sometimes. I thought I remembered hearing Peggy Lee's Pass Me By on the car radio in California, but the song came after we left. The notion of telling the world to "pass me by" and leave me alone is an attractive one, but somehow the world isn't generally inclined to do that. I like the first version better than Sinatra's or Lee's--the percussion is more realistic. "The whole darned world" gets a vote.

Saturday, May 22, 2021


Hank Campbell has a suggestion for helping Africa (it isn't quite as simple as he makes out, though), and a reminder that smears are easier than real arguments.

I don't know what local reporting is like in your area, but here they're little better than national media at doing background checks on the NGOs that produce the press releases. "Their mission statement wants a greener and more equitable world. Good enough--they're trustworthy, put 'em in the rolodex."

Friday, May 21, 2021

Home office sights

A chickadee on one of the clematis trellises was hopping gently about, flapping its wings slowly from time to time as though it were trying to attract attention. Binoculars established that it had a large green caterpillar dangling from its beak--a bit too large of a mouthful to handle on the fly, as it were. Was it signaling for its mate? (or "displaying happiness"?)

After a while it did attract attention--a female cardinal (quite a bit bigger). After the cardinal hopped still closer the chickadee decided it had urgent business elsewhere--not in the direction of its nest box.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Folklore Fights the Nazis by Kathleen Stokker

Subtitle: "Humor in Occupied Norway 1940-1945" Let me get the bad bits out of the way quickly: She hammers way too hard on the point that humor helped stiffen resistance. The book's prose and structure are somewhat academic.

That said, the recorded Norwegian humor differs in tone from that I read of from You Call This Living? (Banc and Dundes) in Soviet and Nazi lands. It was more confrontational, and less concerned with ubiquitous snitches (though there were collaborators and the Germans were not kind).

A farmer received a threatening letter about his failure to produce enough eggs. He wrote back saying, "Have submitted your document to the individuals concerned, but inasmuch as they refused to comply, they have been court-martialed, placed before a firing squad and executed."

Compare the tone with

Two guards walked their rounds down empty streets. The first asked, "Tell me truthfully. What is your opinion of the regime?"

The second replied, "The same as yours, comrade."

"In that case, said the first, it is my duty to arrest you."

As the war turned sour for the Germans, the local Nazi (NS) party, never huge, started to suffer.

Have you heard they're awarding prizes to those who can increase Nazi party membership? Anyone who can get 5 people to join will be allowed out of the party. And those who can get 10 people to join will recieve written documentation of never having been a member.

Imbedded in the book is quite a bit of history of the war from Norway's perspective.

The "quick-witted putdown" is apparently something of a cultural tradition, and Norway was more homogenous than many of the countries appearing in You call this living, so perhaps that might contribute to the more direct tone. Needless to say, most were not told to Germans--though some actors skated very close to the line.

Many of the jokes are given in Norwegian and English--the puns are explained, and if you read Norwegian you get the full benefit.

I thought it interesting. Don't expect to be rolling on the floor laughing, but read it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Masking the vaccinated

The CDC announced what was intuitively obvious if vaccines did any good at all (and Israel's numbers say they do): the vaccinated don't need to wear masks indoors. The state said fine, we'll go with that.

Dane County is heavily progressive, and therefore behind--they'll let the current mandate expire 2-June instead of repealing it. This is in one of the most heavily vaccinated counties in the country.

Perhaps this is the usual allergy to admitting that anything you may have decided needs to be changed..

Monday, May 17, 2021


BBC has a bit on myths and legends and disasters.
In Brittany, the story is about the city of Ys, ruled by King Gradlon, which was protected by a complex series of sea defences that required gates to be opened at low tide to allow excess water to drain off the land. One day, the king’s daughter, Dahut, possessed by a demon, opened these gates at high tide, allowing the ocean to flood the city, and led to the abandonment of the city.

They also mention Austalian stories, which I commented on before. I don't know if there's a selection bias in what gets reported, but imagine which would be remembered longer--a log of where the highest tide had been for the recorder's grandfather, for his father, and for him--or a story of Ngurunderi chasing his wives?

Some colleagues have expressed annoyance at dramatizations of famous discoveries/discoverers, in which ahistorical conflicts or love interests were introduced. Tell the straight story--and see which one people remember. I'll bet it's the story with the demon-possessed princess.

The calculations change when you have contemporaries writing matters down, but there's still a bias towards "story."

Sleep on it

A one-off software system quit working at work. I'd been trying to figure out why before I went on vacation today.

I woke at 3 this morning with a simple answer: one technical bit of prep hadn't happened. I didn't want to wake anybody up getting up to fix it, so I made a mental note to deal with it first thing on getting up and went back to sleep. Hurray for sleeping on a problem!

I didn't get back to sleep at once--and ten minutes later realized that it would have never worked in the first place without the prep. That hadn't been the answer.

Middle-of-the-night realizations have never been correct for me. Nor have midnight plot ideas worked.

Some people's dreams are useful. Not mine.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Justice of the Peace, back in the day

From Bill Nye, back in the 1880's:
The justice of the peace is sometimes a peculiarity, and if someone does not watch him he will exceed his jurisdiction. It took a constable, a sheriff, a prosecuting attorney and a club to convince a Wyoming justice of the peace that he had no right to send a man to the penitentiary for life. Another justice in Utah sentenced a criminal to be hung on the following Friday between twelve and one o'clock of said day, but he couldn't enforce the sentence. A Wisconsin justice of the peace granted a divorce and in two weeks married the couple over again—ten dollars for the divorce and two dollars for the relapse. Another Badger justice bound a young man over to appear and answer at the next term of the Circuit Court for the crime of chastity, and the evidence was entirely circumstantial, too.

Another one, when his first case came up, jerked a candle box around behind the dining-room table, put his hat on the back of his head, borrowed a chew of tobacco from the prisoner and said: “Now, boys, the court's open. The first feller that says a word unless I speak to him will get paralyzed. Now tell your story.” Then each witness and the defendant reeled off his yarn without being sworn. The justice fined the defendant ten dollars and made the complaining witness pay half the costs. The justice then took the fine and put it in his pocket, adjourned court, and in an hour was so full that it took six men to hold his house still long enough for him to get into the doors.

Friday, May 14, 2021


I remember wondering about Leeuwenhoek's amazing lenses that let him make his not-reproduced-for-a-century observations using the weirdest looking microscope ever. He refused to tell anybody how he made them.

At TU Delft they put one of his microscopes in a neutron tomography system to get a non-destructive look at the details.

It was a simple process, already known--melt a glass rod and led a bead form on the end. Use that bead.

I guess the secret was just patience and quality control. I suppose that's still a useful secret.

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.