Friday, December 31, 2021

Happy HollowDays!

Holidays is from Holy Days, of course, and those have clear meanings--just like birthdays. Quasi-holy days like the 4'th of July, or Columbus day, or Labor day at least theoretically retain meaning.

But New Years is arbitrary, and in practice a lot of the quasi-holy designated days are just "days off" to which we attach no significance. They are "Hollow Days."

They don't have to stay hollow. They may not have deep meaning to us, but we fill them with our own traditions, and the traditions carry their own meaning. Having phosphates on New Years Eve was one such, although since not everybody in the most recent generations likes them that may wind up replaced with making brigadeiros instead (a tradition of less than a decade's standing). My mother in law worked as a soda jerk when she was young. We still use the chocolate sauce recipe she learned there, and probably will again tonight.

I've never gotten any deep thrill out of "watching the ball drop", but playing some board games till late and having icecream (hold the soda) is just something we do. We fill in the blanks our way, with our own meanings. Not like the Advent candles...

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Fearing guns

AVI's latest got me thinking about fears. Among some people I know the reaction to guns isn't intellectual but visceral. They fear them, and not just as instruments that might be turned against them.

I think Terry Pratchett may have touched on an aspect of it when he suggested that the presence of the gun (otherwise named in his novel) could prey on your mind in an almost magical way. Perhaps for some people there's something about becoming Jupiter and throwing lightning around thats a terrible temptation. If so, I'd expect the same temptation to afflict people who like becoming Jupiter and threatening the world--but if so it gets beaten out of them very quickly because brandishers and threateners aren't part of daily life, except maybe in the big cities. Where, perhaps not coincidentally, there's more support for gun control.

Some people recognize a gun as a tool to make suicide easy, and fear that because of their own inner struggles. That gets my respect.

Perhaps the gun is a reminder that the world is a lot more dangerous than you want to believe, and that makes you afraid? I don't think this fits all of the people I know--it's not a very flattering hypothesis. When I've seen someone carrying, I wondered what they knew that I didn't. But then, I have a fairly good opinion of my own judgment about risk. If I didn't, I might worry more.

If we use the "moral foundations" framework, where does civilian gun carry fit? Look at it from the point of view that you're the person who isn't carrying.

  • Care/Harm: The gun is a tool for harming (or plinking/hunting/etc but pretend with me here)
  • Fairness/Cheating: If you believe the state/police should take care of everything, a gun is cheating.
  • Loyalty/Betrayal: Not obviously relevant. Perhaps the owner plans to protect herself against betrayal, but that doesn't have much to do with this point of view
  • Authority/Subversion: If you believe the state/police will take care of everything, a gun is subversive
  • Sanctity/Degradation: Not obviously relevant, though perhaps a gun, as a harming tool, is out of place in a holy area--if interpreted very broadly.
  • Liberty/Oppression: Not obviously relevant--from the point of view of the non-carrier.

So guns do tick a few boxes that relate to gut political attitudes.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Third day of Christmas

I know; wrong John for the day. Still, I've heard this passage so often this month that it seems worth a little inspection.

"It is he who will go as forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah"

What comes to your mind when you think of Elijah? Mine? Fire from heaven when he confronted the priests of Baal. There's nothing at all like that with John--no records of any miracles at all. Jesus said noone since Eve was greater than John -- until the kingdom of heaven.


  • Calls for a drought. Miracle
  • Provides food for a widow. Miracle
  • Raises widow's son from death. Miracle
  • Confronts Ahab and the priests of Baal.
  • Calls for fire from heaven. Miracle
  • Oversees the liberation of people from Baal.
  • Anoints the next rulers of Aram and Israel; identifies successor prophet.
  • Confronts King Ahab about Naboth's vineyard; he repents.
  • Confronts King Ahaziah about idolatry; no evidence of repentence.
  • Is taken to heaven. Miracle

Hmm. John did no miracles, which cuts out half of the incidents. What's left seems to be mostly confronting kings, overseeing conversions, and pointing out his successor.

Perhaps Gabriel has a different perspective on power than I do.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas

AVI had some thoughts about the oddity of "Merry Christmas" as an offense, which if you haven't read you should. The phrase is antique. When did you last hear, or read in a recent work, the word merry used in another context than Christmas? Across the pond they say "Happy Christmas," which means the same but with common words--though sadly it doesn't roll off the tongue as neatly as Happy Holidays.

For tradition's sake, I like to say "Merry Christmas", but sometimes I go for "Merry Christmastide" or "Happy Holy Days". Although what with the Corvid Years and work-from-home I don't get out as much.

At any rate, although it's been said many times, many ways--May you have joy in this season celebrating the birth of our humble God.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Tax and the fish

Matthew 17:24-27 tells the curious story of Jesus and Peter and the temple tax.
Now when they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma (temple) tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.

Why? Why not create a coin out of nothing, or tell Peter where one was dropped by the roadside? Why tell him to fish? Pete was a fisherman, but with nets. Did he carry a hook and line around with him, or did he have to borrow one?

This morning I was puzzling about this one, from the point of view of "Who learns what?" The explicit lesson for Peter was "don't offend without cause", but there's an implicit "fishing is going to be different for you now." Since he'd already been told that when he was called the first time, the lesson doesn't seem particularly pointed.

There are other characters in this episode. The temple-tax collectors had challenged Jesus (through Peter): "Do you support the temple or are you of a temple-hating party?" (e.g. Essenes) They're going to remember the fisherman's story of how he got the tax money, and remember this rabbi who answers a question with a wonder. Jesus could have shrugged and taken coins out of thin air to pay them, but He didn't bother. One of His disciples could do the equivalent for Him.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

aka Carol of the Bells

The first version I remember hearing was Ring Christmas Bells, and because we headed for Africa with a limited set of recorded carols, I didn't hear it again for quite some time--and heard Carol of the Bells with the merry-merry-merry Christmas refrain instead. Naturally I muddled them together. Yesterday I was pulling up some carols to keep me company while wrestling with rebellious computers, and ran across the original song: Schedryk, which is actually more of a "welcome to spring" song. Sometimes I can tell when I hear the original language--but Ukranian is different enough that I can't tell if it fits the tune better or not.

Everybody and his kid brother has covered this: sometimes incomprehensibly or in crossover or instrument-free or in a light show. Still fun.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Musical misc

Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite starts with a Waltz and then goes on to a much slower Nocturne. All five parts are fine, but I like the waltz best--and think it would sometimes be fitting as a nocturne.

When I was a youngling back in Los Angeles, I wasn't terribly excited by most of the hymns, but "Angels We Have Heard On High" was fascinating. It probably says something about my taste that it was the drama of the chorus I loved--and loved it still more because I could almost manage it myself. Or at least, I could manage it to satify my own ear--the unknown composer might have had some suggestions.

These years I tend to listen to the lyrics more, and prefer carols of hope in the middle of trouble, or of mystery. I weary very quickly of "home for the holidays" sorts of things. Some of those were hope in times of trouble too--"I'll be home for Christmas"--but that aspect seems mostly lost and a fake nostalgia takes its place.

Working from home means I'm not singing in the car so much. And half the time I'm at church I'm running sound/slides and not singing there either. Maybe I need one of these for the home office.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

"Restorative Justice" Contracts

La Follette High School "abruptly suspended" a contract with a "restorative justice" firm, without explanation beyond "disagreements with Flywheel over expectations, vision and scope of the work."

A little backstory: "school resource officers" are police who work in the school, mainly to de-escalate conflicts and provide a little backup in case things really get out of hand. In its infinite wisdom Madison decided their presence was "racist" and defunded them. La Follette High School had earned a bit of a reputation in recent years as a place for violent conflicts--though East High is a peer these days. Had I any kids in high school, I'd home school them before I sent them to either one.

A bit farther down the story one learns: "Flywheel declined to take part in La Follette’s ramped-up security initiatives in the absence of police officers known as school resource officers at the beginning of the school year, which Brown said did not align with restorative justice practices championed by the organization." "'we still need you to understand that punitive and restorative don’t mix,' Brown said."

"Last year, the group focused on training teachers in making classrooms more democratic." I'm not sure what "more democratic" means, and all the likely possibilities seem unlikely to improve education. Are kids supposed to get a vote in what they learn and how?

"This year, organizers were planning to focus on changing “policing culture” in school." And in the meantime kids were bringing guns to school, but I guess they hoped that somewhere down the road and over the rainbow that wouldn't happen anymore.

A letter signed by a "large number" of La Follette teachers complains about Flywheel and implies that they weren't supplying the people they'd contracted to. It sounds a bit like the Flywheel leadership had decided they couldn't deal with the real world and had started to back out of the contract already.

Headlines can mislead...

Russian Folk Orchestra

The UW Russian Folk Orchestra gave a performance at Grace today. They were good, and this time they had a soloist--a girl of about 7 who sang Song of Red Riding Hood and Winter Dream. After each song, the conductor announced that the next peice was something lyrical. So they were, though each came after songs with actual lyrics.

Victor Gorodinsky is a bit of a showman and deadpan comedian.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Musings on the news

"And the wind shall say: 'Here were decent Godless people: Their only monument the asphalt road. And a thousand lost golf balls.'"

"When the unclean spirit comes out of a person nation, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it then says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they come in and live there; and the last condition of that person nation becomes worse than the first."


Althouse noticed that an acrid description of a "tasting menu" had "gone viral". "'We’ve infused these droplets with meat molecules,' the server explained, and left." Perhaps the fast was in observance of Advent?

Fair is fair; let's hear the other side. The chef replied in a series of images with artwork (sometimes) and text. The text is his defence, which includes "What is art? What is food?" and "Contemporary art does not provide you with answers, but offers you great questions. Contemporary cuisine should do the same. A chef should not offer easy answers, but challenge you with interesting questions." and... "How can we respond? Only with our menu. Because we are better with food than with words." (Assumes facts not in evidence)

The first definition of "art" in the OED is "Skill; its display or application". I'm not seeing how questions or answers fit into that--or the other definitions either.

Scale armor

Via the History Blog, I learn that a Yanghai grave included some leather scale armor dated to 786–543 BC. The Neo-Assyrians (Assyrians to the rest of us) had invented this, though the climate there was such that none survived except in pictures--though Tut apparently had a very damaged/decayed sample. Another sample of about the same antiquity in a museum, of unknown provenance, was associated in the museum "with finds and depictions from the Near East, the adjacent northern steppe areas and the territory of China", so they guess it was related.
The stylistic correspondence but slightly differing functional specifics suggests that the two armours were designed as outfits for different units of the same army: the Yanghai armour possibly for light cavalry (Fig. 15B), the MET armour perhaps for heavy infantry (Fig. 15A). Such a degree of standardization of military equipment about the 8th to 5th century BCE was only reached by the Neo-Assyrian army after the reforms of Sennacherib

I.e. the two look similar enough to maybe be like uniforms, but one was a little heavier so maybe they were for different types of warrior. And because they're so similar, they're either from or closely patterned off the Assyrian model, since they were the ones standardizing at the time.

So far as we know.

Q about Q

Items like "in Dallas, hundreds of QAnon followers have gathered for about a month near Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, believing he and his namesake son are going to show up — either having faked their deaths or after being resurrected." seem a little sideways. This smells like a smear--find some nuts at an event and imply that they represent the whole group. Or maybe it misrepresents what went on completely. I'm reluctant to assume the story tells me anything about Qanon.

Has anyone researched how extensive this sort of thing is in Qanon? I'm not eager to go diving in the swamp, and if someone who has can tell the rest of us I'd appreciate it. (For the instance mentioned, my inclination would read "a hundred" for "hundreds" and flesh out the group with more of the curious than true believers. But I've been wrong before.)

On the face of it this kind of belief seems more like Heaven's Gate than a run-of-the-mill conspiracy theory. You'd think it would be hard to sustain it in the face of mockery. But if people cluster only with their own, having little secret recognition signals....

People don't seem eager to check things out for themselves. If JFK faked his assassination, he'd be ... lets see ... 104 years old by now. OTOH, that's fairly sane compared to solipsism run wild.

If all news is driven by interested parties and untrustworthy, what's left? What friends tell you? At least they're trustworthy--for some domains of trust. "Influencer" is a scary word, isn't it? Not teacher, or persuader, or example ...

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Alfred Burt

"Starting in 1942, Alfred Shaddick Burt continued the family tradition of sending Christmas carols as cards, a tradition which was begun by his father, Bates Gilbert Burt in 1926."

You may have heard of some of them. I'd heard of 4, including Some Children See Him. Alfred died at 33, with The Star Carol the last thing he wrote.

If I can mix my metaphors a trifle, 4 famous songs out of 15 is an amazing batting average. 12 of the songs are here.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Chicago Art Institute defense

You remember the volunteer docents for the Chicago Art Institute--fired to be replaced with paid docents to be named later, with the appropriate skin colors and intersectionalities. I thought then that this was a scam to provide patronage jobs to the relatives of the clout-heavy, and quite possibly the start of a bust-out scheme.

One should hear all sides. I've changed my suspicions somewhat after reading the Chicago Tribune editorial. Apparently the Institute has quite the endowment--they can drain that for a while and won't need to start selling off the out-of-sight stuff for a while.

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, said the MCA, more centered on temporary exhibits than the Art Institute, required less time of docents and “therefore you would see younger people, a different mix racially” in its docent corps.

I hadn't heard about this:

At the Milwaukee Art Museum — which has experimented with weekend and online access to docent training, to attract more volunteers — there was a paid docent program for formerly incarcerated men; it ended when grant money ran out, said Brigid Globensky, senior director of education and programs, “but it showed me a broad community who would like to docent if those resources were there.”

And there's this

James Rondeau also doesn’t want his museum “dependent on free labor,” he said. He understands an institution with the reach and influence of the Art Institute can’t operate the way it has for generations. He wants to focus on the future — though talking with him, it’s not always clear what that future resembles. Partly this is because of business jargon that he gravitates toward — new staff are not hired, they’re “onboarded,” and so forth — and partly because that future is still being mapped.

But there are clues. Docents will not be responsible for knowing everything within the museum; specialization will become more common. There will also be more of an emphasis on teaching itself, more emphasis on the “civic wellness” of the visiting public, with more “intersections” between the museum’s “community partners” and the volunteers.

The above quote is the only reference to the "visiting public." Deprecations of the prejudices of those who transformed museums a century ago--check. "Countless instances of cultural insensitivity among docents" (never quantified, of course)--check. Shifting from "lecture-based tours to more conversational, inquiry-based ways of explaining art" (not sure what that has to do with anything)--check. Complaining that the existing docents were "connected"--check.

But how this is supposed to be good for the public: crickets. "Civic wellness" can mean just about anything depending on whose mouth the term comes out of. Nothing much on what the public learns...

If you want a bit of amusing irony: Karmit Bulman, director of Minn. Alliance of Volunteer Advancement, thinks they're moving too slowly. But apparently it was welcoming enough that she "spent her childhood at the museum."

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Summarizing a year for some Liberian agencies

If you're interested in a cross-section of how Liberia (Corruption Rank 137th out of 180--lower is worse) and its institutions fare, this report effectively gives a summary of a year's headlines and things that ought to have been in the headlines. How State-Owned Enterprises, Integrity Institutions Fared in FPA's 2021 Report Card
wrt the Liberian Electricity Corporation: "US Government and other partners have contributed US$257 million to Liberia’s Energy Sector to rehabilitate the Mount Coffee Dam and restore power, but lamented: “If power theft and corruption continues in Liberia, the country will lose donors’ support.” The US envoy declared that the LEC has lost US$220 million to technical and commercial losses and unpaid bills."

I wonder where one can find similar report cards here. We've masters at sleight-of-hand and obfuscation hard at work to prevent it.

Recycling masks

Rice University Creates Effective Recipe To Decontaminate Disposable COVID Facemasks at Home. How? Heat one to 160F in an oven for 5 minutes. 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2 viruses are killed. We wonders, though. Search the original paper for the word "elastic" They have a little illustration showing what they did--cut out mask fabric for testing. I wonder how long it takes for the elastic strap to degrade enough to snap when you try to put the thing on.

In case you were wondering why they tried this, since the masks are pretty cheap: "Preston said a shortage of PPE remains a problem in many parts of the world. A simple and effective method to decontaminate masks could help many." True enough.

FWIW, you know those yellow disposables they give you at the hospital or clinic? About one time in four it tears when I put it on. I figure hospitals are dangerous places with all sorts of sick people, and a mask is probably indicated.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Flash mob attacks

Flash mob robberies are getting popular lately.

A lot of it has been jewelry, clothing, and electronics, but not all. I think it safe to assert that this isn't for personal use--someone is fencing these; somebody who could plausibly own/resell. And it isn't too huge a stretch to suspect that these coordinated robberies are lined up by the same entities that do the fencing.

The way was paved to make this easier: laws were changed to make theft more profitable and DA's put in who don't prosecute. (In Chicago some aldermen that don't even bother to hide their connections with organized crime--street gangs.)

But I think these robberies will start to die down. There's good money to be made in the protection racket. I have no idea who the kingpins are, but I think I know who their allies are.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Dire wolves

I followed a link and wound up looking up dire wolves. Generally bigger than wolves, and with the strongest bite of any canid, and hunting large animals in packs: why'd they go extinct?

They overlapped with humans (and dogs), and didn't go quite extinct until sometime after 7000BC (maybe 6000). The explanations I've seen most frequently (probably they borrow from each other) are that when the big animals died out the wolves and smaller canids out-competed them, and that some disease knocked them down.

The first might kind of work if they were slower than wolves, and the wolves caught more deer and rabbits and whatnot. I'm guessing that a faceoff of a wolf pack and dire wolf pack over an elk carcass might favor the dire wolves, but most kills were probably smaller.

The second--that dogs brought disease and the dire wolves couldn't mate with dogs (like wolves and coyotes can) to pick up disease resistance--doesn't seem to have very plausible timing. Or obvious significant fractions of dog admixtures in wolves. Maybe a disease just hit them harder, and wolves took over their niches and out-bred them.

I wonder what would have happened if dire wolves had no fear of humans. People take personal predators kind of seriously. Attacking a pack might not turn out well, but wiping out dens might be feasible.

I don't know of any Amer-Indian legends about them. Since they were so close in size to grey wolves, there might not been enough distinctive about them to merit a separate category. Or the modern Amer-Indians may have come later, after most of the dire wolves were gone. Or they just didn't keep stories that long--after all, many tribes deny they came from elsewhere.

Owl in the desert

Sometimes I like a background I don't have to pay attention to, like a live La Palma volcano feed, or a waterhole in the Namib desert. (As I type an oryx is drinking.) A few minutes ago an owl splashed in the waterhole, and then rested by the side a while. In the infrared light his eyes glared white. But when he turned to walk away and then fly off, he essentially turned invisible. Why his back feathers would be IR-neutral with his surroundings, and not the rest of him, I don't know. Blending in with visible light makes sense. Snakes, mosquitoes, fish and frogs can sometimes see IR--not all of them are relevant in the desert, or for birds.

0G and DNA repair

We all know, or could have expected, that DNA gets damaged more often in space. Cosmic rays, solar wind--it is hard to shield against these things. In fact, shielding can be counter-productive, as cosmic ray showers generate more particles than you had to start with.

That will exercise our DNA repair systems. They have some low failure rates--do they work the same up there?

A Queen's University study says that polymerases don't work quite as well in microgravity. They designed a system to carry in "the vomit comet" to make 20-second long tests of copying DNA at 0-G, and compared the error rates with runs taken without the 0-G.

If that result sounds weird to you, it does to me too.

But: convection in 0-G is different; you have to rely on diffusion. Flames look very strange and burn differently, with somewhat different combustion products.

But at this scale, why would convection matter in a mere 20 seconds?

They had some problems: "We were forced to invest much effort into improving the user-friendliness of our mini-laboratory, to make it easier to operate not only in microgravity, but also in the subsequent 2G hypergravity phase of the flight once a zero-gravity parabola has been completed," Since the experiment involved manipulating pipets, yes, some delicacy is needed.

I'd forgotten about the high-G part of the flight. The reaction should have been quenched before that stage began--it sounds like they did it right--but I wonder if vibrations and the initial acceleration (about 1.5 G) could have done some minor damage to the equipment. Their control sample was done during level flight, so take-off would have been the same. They had three 0.2ml reaction mixture tubes, and 80microliters of each of the various ingredients. That's not very big, but depending on the geometry convection might be an issue. It wouldn't be at the nuclear level, though.

Different amino acids had different transcription error rates--significantly--even for a "we only got one measurement at 0G" experiment. And there seemed to be some effect--for some of the comparisons. Their statistics are low and I don't know if their error bars are realistic.

Curious. But one run isn't quite enough.

The purchase of Cape Mesurado

A copy of the purchase contract was found: in the Chicago History museum, of course. "Caldwell worked on a part-time basis as secretary of the American Colonization Society, but he was the full-time clerk of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington. Caldwell apparently had some ACS papers at the Supreme Court when he died in 1825. Those documents were transferred to Chicago in a collection of Justice Washington’s belongings." No wonder nobody's been able to locate the document till now.

The usual narrative for the founding of Liberia is summarized here. Dr. C. Patrick Burrowes' research suggests some differences...

The local rulers who signed the purchase agreement all had English names. Did the Americans give them those names?

No, the Americans did not give them those names. By the late 1600s, there were individuals living at the mouth of the Junk River who spoke Dutch and Portuguese; there were French and Portuguese speakers near Grand Cess. Writing about the people of River Cess, one French writer said it was customary by 1667 for persons of note to take a European name. Another European visitor noted that children along the coast of what is now Liberia were usually given Western names in “grateful remembrance” of any kindness done to their parents by whites.

According to E-L-They-Say, Captain Robert F. Stockton forced the local rulers to sell the land “at gunpoint.” Is that true?

No. This myth had some appearance of credibility: Captain Stockton, a veteran of several duels, was no stranger to gun play. And he did brandish a pistol during the negotiations. Stockton pulled his gun in response to two pro-slavery outsiders who had come from Freetown seeking to sabotage the negotiations. At that moment, the Americans were far outnumbered by local forces who were armed with 60 or more muskets.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Evening readings

A few things struck me from the readings this evening. 2 Thess 2:10 "those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." They didn't already have a love of the truth. That's something we're often half-hearted about. They weren't/aren't willing even to want to love the truth. Too much risk, I guess--you can't control truth and who knows where it will lead you?

In John 9 some of the Pharisees got bent out of shape when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, when you weren't supposed to work. But how did they know it was work? It was a miracle--completely out of the ordinary--what rules apply to miracles? And how did they know who was working? If this was God's work, were they claiming that God has to be bound by the Sabbath?

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Arbery and Rittenhouse

The pundits all want to talk about race, and miss the point, as usual. The results of both trials were the same: you can't chase somebody down and try to kill him just because you think he might have done something(*). If the victim fights back and kills you, it's self defence, and if you kill him, it's murder.

(*) Note that I am giving Huber and Grosskreutz an extreme benefit of the doubt here.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

To seat a senator

FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the grand wizard of Lofa County has commissioned the head of the traditional leaders in the county to summon all the ‘zoes’ and ‘country devils’ to block the St. Paul Bridge which connects Lofa to Bong County until Senator-elect Brownie Samukai is certificated and inducted into the Liberian Senate."

Samukai was convicted of misappropriating money to pay soldier's pensions

A different source has a different take--and a picture of a devil: "the Citizens have brought out Country Devil’s and or Traditional Masks indicating a no turning back for the process"

The photo seems to be a stock photo, since it turns up on a story from a different county in which the country devil was brought out to oppose senatorial candidate Botoe Kanneh, a woman--women are not allowed to see the country devil.

In fact, the same devil is elsewhere described as being part of "A Liberian culture group" arriving at Zwedru City Hall. That makes sense--the big devils are/were more secret; photos seem unexpected.

And the picture appears over a story of a country devil stealing six bags of rice meant for Covid relief. "Police in the County are said to playing a low profile on the issue .." For reference, a bag of rice feeds a family for a month.

What a rabbit-hole... I'll close with something tangential. County Inspector Reginald Mehn imposed a fine of 10,000 Liberian Dollars on executives of the Poro for forcibly initiating a pastor of the Liberia Inland Church.

Planning to travel?

In honor of the 200'th anniversary of the settlers coming to Liberia, they are hosting a year-long reunion: The Year of the Diaspora. "After 40 years of a slow-down, Liberia is excited to welcome Africans in the Diaspora home again."

That seems a slight exaggeration. Back in the late 60's a number of American blacks came to Liberia with pan-African dreams, hoping to "come home." They found they weren't part of any of the tribes; they were American.

The group will be greeted at the airport with a welcoming like none other. Cultural dancers, drummers, and traditional activities will be the center of their welcome. The next morning will begin with a one hour service at the Providence Baptist Church (the first church build in Liberia, founded by Lott Carey) and a welcome Prayer Breakfast at Providence Island. After praying for the nation, we will have a traditional Liberian breakfast, followed by a reenactment of the coming of the African Americans to Liberia and their first meeting with the people local to the land.

Dr. Ford-Kulah said "It is the story of a land that was created for us and by us for no other reason, except for freedom and liberty." I will have to keep an ear to the ground about this. It sounds very Americo-Liberian, and other group leaders may want to make noise to keep their bases stirred up. Or not, if there's something in it for them all.

Wondering about smelting

Rabbit tracking about the bronze age, I ran across a Journal of African History article about smelting in Africa. One item of regret in the article: "Nevertheless, the study of forging or smithing practice generally has been neglected in favour of studying the smelting process. Undoubtedly, the near-indestructibility of smelting slags has contributed to this situtation, but, as was pointed out by Stanley in 1929, so has the understandable reluctance of curators to submit metal artefacts for destructive metallographic analysis."

Some scholars have been very eager to move iron smelting into the first millenium BC in sub-Sarahan Africa, but once you get away from Meroe (Nubia, in ages-old contact w/ Egypt), the evidence is pretty frail and disputed, the wikipedia article on Bantu expansion to the contrary. The chronology is muddled, but it looks as though both iron and bronze started being made a bit before 1000AD. (Coincidentally, that's about the time the Andeans started making bronze too. It seems bronze was rare and beautiful enough that they used it for ornamets rather than tools/weapons. Maybe given more time--but they didn't have time.)

The failure of iron smelting technology to spread seems to demand a little explanation. There would be two main secrets: what was the rock used, and what was the procedure. After knowing those, you could figure out the details with trial and error. And, once these were known, the technology did spread. Low grade iron ore is fairly widespread, and charcoal is not hard to come by either.

In fact, I'd think making bronze would have been the trickier thing to teach. Tin is rare. Spies in Nubia wouldn't know exactly where the ore came from (not local). There's some in what's now Nigeria, and once they figured that out they started in making bronzes--now famous. Copper -- that people already had.

At any rate, I wonder if there was an effort to keep the materials and process secret from the rest of the Africans. It would help with the Nubian balance of trade ...

The rest of Africa did learn. The way smelting was treated is suggestive: "The operations of sub-Saharan smelters were associated almost ubiquitously with extensive ritual. ... The smelter's role was identified as special, with the smelter accorded a particular status, either elevated or in some cases as a member of an outsider caste. ... The reproductive symbolism of the smelting process was often made explicit by the anthropomorphic design of furnaces found ranging from Nigeria to southern Africa." (The emergence of the bloom of iron was like a birth.)

The symbolism and secrecy could have developed independently in each place, but I suspect they were there from the start--from the first men (women were not allowed) who learned smelting. Did they pick that up from the Nubians?

I've had a hobby of trying to figure out how people with limited resources would discover things. For example, unless you have enough metal to experiment with, and possibly waste, you're not likely to try to mix metals to see what you get. Take bronze, discovered/created over 6000 years ago. Copper is moderately common, tin is rare. If you only have a little bit of tin, you'll be very careful with it.

Discovering what happens when you mix it with copper is only likely to happen by accident--if you try stirring melted tin with a copper rod, for instance. Even small amounts of bronze would be a very interesting discovery and prompt further investigation. After some trial and error, you'd discover that you didn't need much tin in your copper. Some people suggest the discovery came when copper and tin ore rocks mixed in the same charcoal fire, but a copper pot plus charcoal in a bed of tin ore rubble plus somebody being careless with the fire seems more likely.

If you are a tin producer, you might try adulterating the product, and wind up with something odd. Very odd, and maybe worth researching. And as a tin producer, you might have enough tin to research with. (On the other hand, I'd expect that you would then import copper and export bronze, but in real life the bronze producers imported tin.)

If you're rich enough to do alloy research, to try to find something as good as that famous type of copper that's so extra hard, you'll come up with some interesting things eventually. It'll take a while to find a good mixture, but even if you die of arsenic poisoning somebody else can take up the work where you left off.

I'd like to think it was the third possibility--I'm fond of basic research--but I think it might have been the second.

Thursday, November 25, 2021


I grew up far from extended family, but we always took the opportunity to give thanks. Perhaps my memory fails me here, but I don't recall the pilgrims ever being on stage at home--at best they showed up at school. In my home the focus has generally been on family and food, but with a good side of what we're thankful for now. No ancient history, either good or bad.

I see that some (e.g. the columnist that Althouse referenced) want to tip the day on its head: "don't give thanks, be angry."

You can always find something to be angry about. It's a great thrill to pass judgment.

It's also dangerous to your soul. And maybe Uncle Keith votes the wrong way and is an aggressive vegetarian and thinks you married a slacker. On the other hand, he also took care of your cousins when his sister and her husband were in that terrible accident, and he makes a wonderful lentil chili, and his daughter is a wonderful painter. Can you find something to be thankful for? No?

Maybe it's easier if you have Someone to be thankful to.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The night before Thanksgiving

Maybe we'd be happier if we just gave in and played bumper cars in the grocery store.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Google vs DuckDuckGo datapoint

Blogger is a google project, of course. I wanted to find a link to a quick review I'd done of a book, on blogger. Google should be able to keep track of it's siblings, right? The result on google was "Your search - "1177 b.c." - did not match any documents."

DuckDuckGo pointed me to the post I wanted.

The google settings include SafeSearch ON (locked on by the browser, apparently). I can't think of anything terribly unsafe or offensive about the post, and IIRC D.D.G. used a safe search by default. The results were the same w/ chrome and firefox.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Research note for self:

How uniform is COVID testing? How much does it vary from test-chemical batch to batch, and from machine to machine, and from operator to operator?

Friday, November 19, 2021


Why do soldiers wear a uniform?

They know at a glance who's part of the team; who can be trusted; who had the same basic training and knows the same things. Maybe they've had other training to--they've had the same fundamentals. Look for what's the same first, then what's different.

Commander Salamander assures us they do it the other way round now--look for what makes sailors different first.

This is an interesting experiment, although I haven't heard who approved doing these clinical trials on humans, or where the control group is.


At Astral Codex Ten: Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know

He goes over a long list of studies, evaluates the studies (throws out a lot of them for cause), and looks at the remainder. There's a residual slight preference for ivermectin, but the effect is small--and may be thanks to an unexpected confounding factor.

I may take ivermectin someday--I sometimes travel to parts of the world where it is very useful, and not just for horses.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Lyrics question

When I first heard Grazing in the Grass (on a crackly AM station) I couldn't make out what this refrain was. When I finally figured out the lyrics, I wondered how in the world they managed to sing what I found to be such a tongue-twister.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: from my observation this morning some hymns have lines that are a bit harder to sing--the syllable sounds don't make for easy transitions from one sound to another. If you have a syllable ending in "d", you need a little extra air between that and the next one that starts with a "t". I suppose syllables that blend together smoothly can be called "slurs" or something similar, but I'm not familiar enough with musical terminology to say.

Is there a term for the juxtapositions that make it harder to sing smoothly? Jackhammer words, maybe?

I suppose if the music is stacatto, these might fit better than those that allow "slurs", but most of the time, or for spoken poetry, I'd think them worse.

At any rate, I wonder what terms I should use in searching to learn more.

Treatment of the elderly

The book on the Dakotas "as they were" when they were still hunters makes for fairly grim reading. They were typically strong and tough--or rather, the survivors were. Hunting, even with firearms, was an arduous project, and since an area was easily hunted-out, they had to migrate--and that could often be an ordeal. The infant mortality rate was very high, hunters could be injured, and deadly conflicts with neighboring tribes regularly killed a few. (Not many--large scale wars were logistically quite difficult and dangerous.) The high death rate is known in popular mythology as "living in harmony with nature."

When food ran short--"The aged were, however, generally treated kindly." But not always.

According to their own testimony, a usage formerly prevailed among the Dakotas ... their singular way of disposing of those who were superannuated and unable to keep along with hunting parties. They were unable or unwilling to carry them, and had some scruples about killing them without ceremony or leaving them to perish by slow degrees; so they compromised the matter, and did what they called “making enemies” of them. The old men were armed with guns or bows and arrows and were allowed to defend themselves as well as they could, while the young men killed them with clubs. They thus gave them an opportunity to die with honor on the field of battle, and satisfied their scruples of conscience about killing them. This custom has long been obsolete,

He cites two stories they told of old women left behind to die. In one a young man rescued her, carried her on his back despite the mockery of the rest of the group, and even defended her against enemy attack when the rest of the group fled. Offered honor for his bravery, he proposed that they honor the old woman instead, which they did. In the other story, a woman was left behind to die in the fall, and in spring some passing near the place thought to bury her bones. They found her alive and well--a kindly stranger had, despite some difficulties, provided for her all winter. The hunters from her own group killed her and stole her provisions.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Rabbit tracking about mammoths

The note below reports that the Dakota worshipped mammoths, though they thought them water creatures. Hmm.

Mammoth diet seems to have been grasses and small plants (heavy on some flowers), and steppe-based. OK, though maybe they frequented sinkholes sometimes? And elephants are known to snorkle to cross rivers.

The Dakota said they had come from much farther north, and showed some familiarity with the ways of the Inuit. So... Do the Inuit have stories about mammoths?

Tracking that down isn't easy. There allegedly are stories of huge creatures with tusks that lived underground. But the stories may not be that old. In 1885 a naturalist was on a ship which met some Inuits with mammoth tusks and bones. They said the relics were not from living animals, and Townsend showed them a picture of a skeleton, and drew for them what a reconstruction would look like. That picture would undoubtedly have been widely described, if not circulated, and probably copied.

And when was the legend recorded? I haven't found that, though the Dakota's story is older than 1885.

Pity. It would be fun to find some more ten thousand year old legends.

Friday, November 12, 2021

More from "as they were"

The religion of the Dakotas consisted principally, but not wholly, in the worship of visible things of this world, animate and inanimate. Their chief object of worship was Unkteri, the mammoth, though they held many erroneous opinions concerning that extinct species of elephant, and did not know that the race was extint. They had seen bones of the mammonth, pieces of which they had in their possession, and they were too well acquainted with comparative anatomy not to know that it was a quadruped. ... as they were not seen on land and their bones were found in low and wet places, they concluded that their dwelling was in the water.

They also worshipped a thunderbird, and "Taku-Shkan-Shkan", that which moves. "men affirmed that they had seen stones which had moved some distance on level ground, leaving a track or furrow behind them." And sometimes they worshipped ghosts. They learned from Europeans: Wakantanka was the Great Spirit, but was still just the God of the foreigners. Sacred rocks were often painted red.

The hunter or traveler, stopping to smoke would fill his pipe and holding it up would say, "Here, ghosts, take a smoke and give us a good day."


I once traveled several days on foot with a chief, and when we encamped at night he made the figure of a turtle in the earth and prayed to it for good weather. ... At our next encampment ... but this time the turtle failed to respond. ... he was in a bad humor, spoke very disrespectfully of turtles, and declared that he would be revenged on the next one he met.

Advice, which has evidently been almost universally followed:

If anyone wishes to construct a consistent system of Indian mythology, such as will be satisfactory to the public, the best way for him to do it is to form a theory of his own, adopt some Indian notions, reject others, invent some himself, and not ask the Indians too many questions.


The great mass of the people evidently believed in a superintending, overruling Providence, by which the world is governed and men often rewarded according to their deeds. ... They were also accustomed to point out examples where great sins had been followed by severe punishments. These retributions they did not ascribe to any of the gods who they ordinarily worshipped in public. ... The punishment of the wicked was ascribed to Taku-wakan, that is, some supernatural or divine power, though Taku-wakan is not a proper name and had no personal signification.

When the half-breed interpreter was asked by an inquuisitive visitor what the Indians thought about another world (the land of spirit), he did not like to tell how little he knew about the matter; but he chose rather to conceal his ignorance, and to gratify the inquirer at the same time, by giving such an answer as he knew would be more satisfactor than the true one. The writer speaks from experience, having been himself thus imposed on.

The only one of Pond's reports: he was the brother of the Samuel Pond, whose book I was referencing. Also, Unktehi wasn't universally worshipped.

"As they were in 1834"

"Scott Campbell no longer sits smoking his long pipe, and conversing in low tones with the listless loungers around the old Agency House; but who that resided in this country thirty or forty years ago can pass by the old stone houses near Fort Snelling and not think of Major Taliaferro and of his interpreter?"
He was skillful as an interpreter, and perhaps more skillful as mis-interpreter. When translating for Major Taliaferro, he gave a true rendering of what was said, for the major knew the Dakota language too well himself to be deceived by an interpreter; but for those who were ignorant of the language he sometimes used his own discretion in the choice of what to say. The words of the speaker, whether Dakota or English, lost all their asperity, and often much of their meaning, in passing through his interpretation. He told what he thought the speaker should have said rather than what he did say, and frequently a good understanding seemed to have been restored, simply because there had been no understanding at all. The grievous words which stir up strife might go into his ears but did not come out of his mouth, especially when it was for his interest to restore peace between contending parties. This readiness to substitute his own language for that which he professed to translated might not be the best qualification for an interpreter, and sometimes it proved mischievous; but he doubtless intercepted many harsh and passionate words, which, if they had reached their destination, would have done more harm than good.

Perhaps, but I think truth is better.

Monday, November 08, 2021


is alive and well. From a 1965 article: "They are frequently responsible for tribal education, regulate sexual conduct, supervise political and economic affairs, and operate various social services, including entertainment and recreation as well as medical treatment." (Preserve us from their medical treatment, though.)

From FrontPageAfrica:

James Kolleh, candidate of the opposition People's Unification Party (PUP), a leading contender and the only candidate who is a non-member of the Poro tradition, seems to have gotten the worst of the campaign, which features allegations that he's a non-Poro member and shouldn't be elected as represenative.

Traditional leaders have reportedly tried to lure Kolleh into the tradition by establishing "Bush Schools" in all of the major towns in the district, a move that has prevented him from meeting residents of those towns.

Some traditional leaders, FrontPageAfrica has gathered, have reportedly attempted kidnapping Kolleh at night in Blameyea Town under the pretense of endorsing his represenative bid, but their plans reportedly failed after Kolleh received a hint by residents of the area.

Perhaps that seems obscure. If there's a Bush School in the town, they can kidnap him and initiate him by force.

"Rep. Cole ridiculed Kolleh for not joining the Poro prior to his represenative ambition, calling him a "new born baby". "Every member of the Bong Legislative Caucus is a member of the Poro."" Since you aren't considered a man until you've been initiated, the insult makes sense.

Politics gets complicated sometimes

I had never heard this claim of its origin before: From View of Sierra Leone by Frederick Migeod:

Colonel Warren was probably only initiated into the first stage, and being obliged to take the oath of secrecy any details of interest, if any, died with him. In any case without a very perfect knowledge of the Mende language, it would be impossible for him to learn much. Further, a certain length of time is necessary for the initiation, and a sojourn under conditions no European could long maintain. Circumcision must have been already performed. Nevertheless admission to the lowest grade would make him a full Poro man ; and oracles have always been workable, and yet do not yield their secrets even if they have any.

When he was initiated he received the name if Nyandebo (=Nyande-mo, fine-man) so I was informed.

Warren gives the account of the beginning of Poro as follows ; " The Mende claim to be the originators (of Poro) and there is a tradition to the effect that it was brought about by the death of the first Mende chief. Tliis chief had the reputation of being very powerful, and, on his death, his principal attendants, fearing that when his death was made known to his people there would be trouble in the country and a general split up of the Mende tribe, decided that they would keep his death secret. It. so happened that the chief had an impediment which made him talk through his nose, so a suitable person had to be found to personate him. When the person was found he was sworn on the chief's corpse and other medicines that he would not reveal the secret. So effective was this, that others were gradually told the secret and likewise sworn."

The Poro is both a secret national council and a school for the youth of the tribe. The former assembles as requisite, and a chief may invoke the assistance of the Poro as it might be a national church.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Just change some names

One of the participants at a meeting today posted a curious essay Leon Trotsky wrote about anti-Semitism in the USSR. (He said it was there, and shouldn't be.) A couple of quotes seem curiously timely.
The hatred of the peasants and the workers for the bureaucracy is a fundamental fact of Soviet life.

Strike the "Soviet" and replace it with what you please...

The privileged bureaucracy, fearful of its privileges, and consequently completely demoralized, represents at present the most anti-socialist and most anti-democratic stratum of Soviet society.

Job's friends

If being a prophet means explaining God and the divine meaning of events, then were Job's friends taking on the role of prophet?

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Book lovers

Those who spend the greater part of their time in reading or writing books are, of course, apt to take rather particular notice of accumulations of books when they come across them. They will not pass a stall, a shop, or even a bedroom-shelf without reading some title, and if they find themselves in an unfamiliar library, no host need trouble himself further about their entertainment. The putting of dispersed sets of volumes together, or the turning right way up of those which the dusting housemaid has left in an apoplectic condition, appeals to them as one of the lesser Works of Mercy.

Happy in these employments, and in occasionally opening an eighteenth-century octavo, to see ‘what it is all about’, and to conclude after five minutes that it deserves the seclusion it now enjoys ...

"I resemble that remark."

Tuesday, November 02, 2021


I've served on a grand jury (very interesting) and a petit jury (dull case but we did our duty).

I'm glad I'm not on the Rittenhouse jury. (I don't live in that county, but they could have asked for a venue change.) Just as with the Chauvin trial, the jurors will be identified and politicians will flirt with threats.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Dark sector

The Standard Model has a suite of particles and several forces: electrons, quarks, neutrinos and whatnot, and the strong force (holds quarks together, involved in holding nuclei together) and the electro-weak force: electromagnetism and the weak interaction (nuclear decay) combined. There's also gravity--see string theory and less popular theories to link that to the Standard Model.

Electrons, muons, tau, and the neutrinos all talk to the electro-weak force but not the strong force.

Quarks talk to both the electro-weak and the strong force

Both classes of particles talk to gravity.

From several different studies (e.g. the rotation of galaxies) we get some strong indication that something's missing in the picture. Either gravity is very much stranger than we think (MOND theories) or there's some kind of matter flying about that doesn't talk to either the electro-weak or strong forces.

If the Big Bang is correct, all matter and energy came from the same elementary particles--both the matter we know and the dark matter. So, if there is dark matter, somehow it has to connect to ordinary matter. But how?

Via gravity? I haven't tried to run numbers on that, but I don't see how you generate a preponderance of dark matter particles that way. I could be wrong--I haven't run the numbers.

Otherwise you need a new force. If electrons or quarks talked to the new force, we'd have seen effects--the dark matter wouldn't be dark.

But if neutrinos talked to the new force, it would be very hard to tell, since it is already hard to see neutrinos.

A new force would probably use at least one boson--like the photons we know and love--and the dark matter be at least 1 and I suspect more likely 2 fermions. The dark matter particles and the new force is called the "dark sector." If this "dark sector' exists, and if neutrinos can feel the "dark force," the effects would be subtle. We can't a priori say what those effects would be--too many unknowns (such as--how many different kinds of dark particles are there?). But we could look for anomalies.

There are some. And simple explanations don't seem to work.

I've done some naive calculations. A galaxy seems to have a distribution of dark matter that decreases with radius. Since the stars at its center are generating neutrinos all the time, scattering of neutrinos off dark matter should tend to push the dark matter farther away. The calculation's upshot was that the coupling of neutrinos to dark matter had to be less than some ridiculously large value, so I wasn't going to learn anything by trying a more precise study. Similarly with SN1987A#Neutrino_emissions, or that IceCube actually observes high energy neutrinos instead of having them scattered away.

The neutrino anomalies will probably be more fruitful.

Choruses from The Rock

by T.S. Eliot: Chorus V

O Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian: were doubtless men of public spirit and zeal.

Preserve me from the enemy who has something to gain: and from the friend who has something to lose.

Remembering the words of Nehemiah the Prophet: " The trowel in hand, and the gun rather loose in the holster."

Those who sit in a house of which the use is forgotten: are like snakes that lie on mouldering stairs, content in the sun light.

And the others run about like dogs, full of enterprise, sniffing and barking: they say, " This house is a nest of serpents, let us destroy it,

And have done with these abominations, the turpitudes of the Christians." And these are not justified, nor the others.

And they write innumerable books; being too vain and distracted for silence: seeking every one after his own elevation, and dodging his emptiness.

If humility and purity be not in the heart, they are not in the home: and if they are not in the home, they are not in the City.

The man who has builded during the day would return to his hearth at nightfall: to be blessed with the gift of silence, and doze before he sleeps.

But we are encompassed with snakes and dogs: therefore some must labour, and others must hold the spears.

There are some memorable lines in that work: 'And the wind shall say: " Here were decent godless people: Their only monument the asphalt road And a thousand lost golf balls".' or

I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know That it is hard to be really useful, resigning The things that men count for happiness, seeking The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting With equal face those that bring ignominy, The applause of all or the love of none.

Cool effect

At the hospital they said the Polar Care Cube could work with frozen disposable water bottles as well as ordinary ice, so we tried that. I popped 8 clear water bottles into the deep freeze, and in the meantime we made do with icecubes.

Several hours later it was time for ice again. I went to the deep freeze. The four bottles I picked out were crystal clear, and unfrozen. Oh well, at least they'd be somewhat cold.

In my hands, in just a few seconds, the water turned opaque white starting at the cap end and moving down the bottles. There was a little liquid left unfrozen, but at least half of the contents in each bottle had frozen solid in five seconds. Supercool!

Saturday, October 30, 2021


The hospital told us yesterday they couldn't get crutches, and were contemplating asking for donations. They did have a walker--but we'd already gotten one like it but with a seat. If you're curious about how shortages effect businesses, this man describes trying to keep an HVAC firm running in our shortage-rich environment.

Our experiment is trying to replace some computing hardware, and Dell tells us they can estimate prices and availabilities up to about 30 days out, but beyond that... Memory is through the roof too, and we tend to need a lot of it.

Can we get some injunctions on California on "restraint of trade" grounds? I know governments are usually immune, but this has gotten pretty egregious.

Friday, October 29, 2021

To err is human--to really screw things up requires a computer

Baseball pitchers threw curve balls long before scientists understood exactly how they worked. Knowing how to do it isn't knowing how it works. Skill isn't the same as understanding.

Of course you'd rather have a pro pitcher throwing curve balls than a fluid dynamics specialist. Often all you need is the skill.

Engineering lives at the boundary. Rules of thumb are excellent things, but they have limits, and understanding the forces behind the rules of thumb can save your dam.

Neural networks and AI are all the rage. Colleagues use Boosted Decision Trees and other tools. If you've many variables, and you need to parse out the interesting events from the rest, such tools can be far easier to deal with than nonlinear equations in umpteen dimensions. That gives us rules of thumb. For the honor of truth, sometimes they're very good and sometimes they're lousy, but they're generally better than nothing.

But what do they mean? Reverse engineering AI conclusions seems to be very hard. "3 from column A and 16 from column B and .... 17 from column BZ"--what does it mean? Can you tell what's going on?

Remember that face recognition (google's, I think) algorithm that classified black faces as gorillas? It's easy to guess what went wrong, but preventing that sort of oversight is hard. In retrospect, they should have trained their system on more (maybe even an equal number) of black faces, but how do you know in advance which sorts of distinctions the AI will find? Maybe it will pick up freckles as significant, and classify redheads as dalmations.

People are aware of the problem. There's active research on how to translate/interpret neural net weights, but it looks to this outsider as though that's always going to be problem-specific. One method w on't work for everything.

There's also research in how to embed problem-domain knowledge into the neural net system--once again, customization.

Weather forecasting is so complex that trying to solve the problems from first principles is hopeless. We understand the components and forces (mostly), but it's too big a problem. Rules of thumb are probably all we need to give us the week's weather--most of the time. Did Jimmy the Groundhog see his shadow? But is there about to be another Carrington Event?

Some things are just too complicated to model and solve exactly (e.g. economics, Leontief input-output work notwithstanding). You can bet your company on rules-of-thumb--people won't die. Who'd be crazy enough to bet the whole economy--without understanding it? Don't answer that; rhetorical question.

On the other hand, one application was trying to figure out which arrestees were a greater risk of fleeing/re-offending, and which could be released without bail. IIRC the result was racially skewed. Was that the result of a poorly chosen training set, or was it detecting something real? Do you dare use the algorithm without understanding the answer it gave? IIRC the upshot was that study was rejected without trying to understand the result.

Robbert Dijkgraaf is wrong. Science won't be benefiting from "the new alchemy." Technology may benefit, if we can make sure we understand the limits of the algorithms. Which is hard to do without understanding.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

X for the unknown

"United States issues its 1st passport with ‘X’ gender marker" (AP story). "the goal was to help the next generation of intersex people win recognition as full citizens with rights, rather than travel the globe". In other words, he demanded something he didn't really want.

An "X"ed passport seems less than useful for traveling the globe. The point of a passport is to identify the bearer. Removing identifying details reduces its utility. The tired and grumpy customs agent probably can't read your mind to learn that you currently identify as "X."

The last time I went through Paris there were a couple of humorless men with assault rifles standing by the customs booths.

Monday, October 25, 2021

"But because it is only Christian men Guard even heathen things."

Khaemweset took an interest in restoring the monuments of his ancestors, and Nabonidus looked for the foundations of the ancient temples of the Akkadians, and many of the Chinese tried to restore the relics and rites of the ancient dynasties. In Europe as leisure grew, so did interest in their ancestors--including their cultural ancestors.

But something new happened--perhaps because the cultural ancestors of Europe included the Jews, or perhaps because of the catholicity of Christianity--interest in other cultures' ancestors grew too. At first they collected prizes and curiosities, but after a while there was study to find the meaning of the things. This real interest in the outside--uncovering the history for peoples who had forgotten theirs--is one of the great accomplishments of the West. Perhaps other cultures are better at other things (hospitality, perhaps?), but looking outward is one thing at which the West was best.

Naturally many things were misinterpreted, but Said's position that European understandings were necessarily wrong is also wrong. Scholars often defend the conclusions of their youth all the way to their deaths, but on the whole people learned. I can't think of another culture that cared about the antiquities of strangers. Romans emulated Greek things--but then, much of Italy had been settled by Greeks and they were already cultural ancestors.

It's a shame to fragment that knowledge. Instead of accumulating and sharing the cultures and voices, the fashion seems to isolate them, so that only a mexican ought to speak of mexican things, or only a woman speak of a female painter.

We can safely presume that the Chicago Art Institute firing is a way of creating patronage jobs for relatives of the clout-heavy--it's the Chicago Way--but it's garbed in this claim that only bodies similar to the artist's can interpret the work properly.

Where did this despair come from?

Looking for ways to improve

and (spoiler) not finding them.

Robert P. Jones wrote a little essay on "Things White Christians Can Do To Address White Supremacy. He wants to get past "the paralyzing notion that the weight of this history is so enormous that meaningful action is impossible."

He proposes "seven places to start"

  1. Does "the physical embodiment of your church communicate whiteness?" I'm not versed enough in the subtleties of architecture to have the vaguest notion of what this could possibly mean. I can assure him that very many Liberian churches use lots of white paint.

    Do you "depict a white Jesus", Mary, Joseph? Well, of course. Is Jones serious? If so, take it up with the Almighty, not me. Yes, I know "Some Children See Him"

    "If only predominately white groups meet there, why is that?" Maybe because the city is predominantly white?

  2. "Does the website use predominantly white people's images?" Yes, but not proportionately.

    "is there anything communicating a commitment to be in solidarity with Black and Brown congregations?" Not spelled out, but there's support for partner congregations and specific schools.

  3. Review the children's educational materials. I think we're OK on that score, but I've seen some really unfortunate stuff. One group in particular depicted middle class white suburban 50's folk--nobody looks like that. The point of the illustrations was to make it easy to connect with the stories and interest the kids in getting the next episode. It failed.
  4. "Tell a truer history of ourselves." Um, it's not that easy to find people who know even an "official history." Most congregants seem to care more about what is right now than anything that happened before they came.

    "Why in this part of the community and not another one? In nearly all cases this question will quickly lead to issues of racially segregated neighborhoods, white flight from cities to suburbs, and land grabs from Native Americans, to name just a few." No, no, and no. One campus is where it is because of land prices, another because a developer thought a church would add to property values in a new subdivision, and the third was deliberately situated in a poor area. He seems to have been hanging out with a subset of the faithful. Some churches fission (not split) instead of moving when they get too big.

  5. "Evaluate the hymns ... Are we still singing "Whiter than snow""? I suspect Jones is being deliberately obtuse here.

    "Or the militant, Crusade-invoking "Onward Christian Soldiers"?" Yep, and more power to it. I'm really thinking Jones isn't serious.

  6. "Has your church been preaching racial justice?" We haven't been fed the BLM line, no, but the topic of racism does come up now and then in the sermons. And up until COVID we were running an annual Kingdom Justice Seminar. I attended a few; it was a mixed bag. Too many unexamined assumptions and books to sell.
  7. "Given the history and complicity of white Christian churches with white supremacy," is your church giving no-strings-attached money to black churches? This seems a bit simple-minded, on both ends of the comma. Sugar-daddies are corrupting.

Summing up: 1 and 2 are superficial. 3 makes sense. 4 isn't very relevant, 5 is stupid, 6 and 7 make some careless assumptions.

I believe the divisions in the church are from evil, but I don't think his advice is going to be particularly useful here. Maybe in the regions he's more familiar with...

Or maybe not even there. He takes objections to his ideas as a "sure sign of white supremacy." That's a bad sign. And he wrote a book about this...

This is verifying another rule of thumb: If it talks about modern American white supremacy, it isn't worth reading. (Other rules include: "Virtual tools eventually have to run on real hardware."; "People don't do 'complicated' well."; "When someone calls "Silence is violence!" look for escape routes and an improvised weapon.")

Ever wonder what they drink

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

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

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

Saturday, October 23, 2021


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


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

Thursday, October 21, 2021

From a 13 year old's point of view

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

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cold fusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2021


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

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

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

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

So, off we go looking for rabbit holes.

The abstract for this paper is interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sunscreen degradation and improvement

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

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

But it seems that zinc oxide changes things.

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

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

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


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

Radiation hormesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in the day

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Seen in Saugatuck

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

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

There's a story there, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people meant well.