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"
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Saturday, June 26, 2021
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.
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 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.
Friday, June 25, 2021
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
What are the Federal holidays?
- New Year's Day
- Inauguration Day
- Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Washington's Birthday
- Memorial Day
- 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
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
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
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
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
Jesus used the moment to talk about the power of faith. Again.
|Passage||Nearest mountain||Possible action|
|Matt 17:20||The mount of transfiguration||moved|
|Matt 21:21 and Mark 11:23||Zion: Jerusalem and the temple mount||thrown 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
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.
Friday, June 04, 2021
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.
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
Wednesday, June 02, 2021
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.