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.