Tuesday, May 31, 2022

African Founders, initial reaction

Fischer's book arrived this afternoon, and I'm glad I bought it hardcover rather than kindle, since several of us will probably be reading it at the same time. So far it has lived up to my expectations. I've learned a lot.

Off guard

Back in 1990 John DeArmond wrote an article for "Midnight Engineering" called "Suing the Bastards or What Not to do with Bad Debts." In 1993 he reprinted it in the alt.computer.consultants newsgroup. I can't find it anywhere, possibly because DDG doesn't have newsgroups and google and archive.org don't go back that far--or because he wrote "all rights reserved" and enforced it.

SciTechDaily has a story "A new method of lie detection shows that lie-tellers who are made to multitask while being interviewed are easier to detect.". This is probably not a surprise. If I may quote a part of the article:

You find a lawyer whose first words are "That will be a $5,000 retainer and please, do have a seat, and what was your name again?".


Your lawyer gets to go first. He asks your opponent the standard "name, rank, and serial number" questions and then after peering solemnly over his lawyerly half-glasses, says "Mr X, when you were 3 years old and you got a handful of feces from your diapers and you smeared it all over your little sister, did you enjoy licking your fingers afterwards?" (His - your - Private Investigator discovered that tidbit - for more bucks) Your opponent will say "I'm not going to answer such insulting questions".

Your lawyer will slide his glasses down to the tip of his nose, peer over them and say to opposing counsel, "Counselor, please instruct your client to answer the question". He'll do so. If your opponent still refuses to answer, the attorneys will call each other names (they have drinks together afterwards - it's just a game) and maybe they'll pull out the speakerphone (all lawyers have speakerphones) and call a judge who will decide whether or not your opponent has to tell whether or not he likes the taste of crap. This will go on for a couple of days. Then your lawyer will do the same thing to the other guy's expert witnesses and any other witnesses they've slated to testify. And then the tables turn and you get it ALL back. Except that the other lawyer is now play-pissed at YOU (never at his drinking-buddy) so HE asks YOU if the crap stuck to YOUR teeth!

A couple of days later, you have a pile of transcripts that are big enough to use as a printer stand along with a court reporter's bill that is strictly COD. THEY know how the system works too. You and your attorney sit down (you know the old $5k line by heart by now.) and do a post-mortem of the transcripts. You then realize why lawyers ask you about the taste of crap - it serves as a diversion to make you drop your guard for when they ask the real questions. The thought "Did I REALLY say that?" recurs over and over. You spend a LOT of time trying to figure out damage control.

UPDATE: Douglas2 found the link, in the comments.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Amazonian cities

They were living on mounds in the flood plain in the Amazon basin--well, not always flooding. Lidar shows reservoirs, so maybe it wasn't always flooded. (or maybe the reservoirs were built late, during a drought?) In fact, if they grew corn, that can't handle above 2 weeks of flood, and then only at certain times in growth. Cassava isn't fond of flooding either.

They fortified two of their towns, and some points along the causeways. Maybe outsiders, or maybe they had a history of civil war? Look at the lidar image, and imagine where wooden structures might go. People don't usually live inside fortified areas much of the time--it's crowded and unsanitary. I'm guessing that there'd have been wooden houses not far from the causeways. The image is from the above ArsTechnica article:

The group in question seems to have started going sometime around 500AD, and abandoned things about 1400AD--pre-Columbus=pre-known-epidemics. Climate change, perhaps? "This'll only last a century or so"--but technology can vanish in a generation.

The Amazonian civilizations made "geoglyphs", which were supposedly for ceremonial uses. "The count is three and two, two men on, ... and he calls time."

This is from Nature: article "articles/s41467-018-03510-7"

Unfortunately thorough excavation and analysis will probably take decades, but it should be fun to see what we learn in the meantime. I assume there was some trade across the Andes, and it looks like feathers (The influence of Amazonia on state formation in the ancient Andes It is argued that Arawak expansion in the Amazonian lowlands, completed by c. AD 500, was a prerequisite development for stimulating the rise of Andean highland empires, which were heavily dependent upon imported prestige Amazonian feathers.) might have been an important item. I wonder if it was easier to trade with the Aztecs and their precursors.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022


"view or treat a person (or group) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself"

Abortion involves an extreme form of "othering" a family member.

Sunday, May 22, 2022


"Evil things come from within and defile the person"
7 (8) deadly sinsDefiling evils
GreedGreed, thefts
Lustsexual immorality, adultery, indecent behavior
(bearing false witness)deceit
evil thoughts

I think games have a place in our lives--they do in children's--though I know some great people disagree. I figure that Jesus was talking about deliberately choosing foolishness when wisdom is called for.

"Defiling" isn't the first thing I'd have thought of in connection with foolishness. It makes you less than you ought to be, and opens the door for all kinds of other sins and disasters. Jesus says it makes you unclean by itself. Most of the other "evil things" are about relations with other people, but evil thoughts and foolishness can be solo activities.

Have I done some foolish things today? In the broad sense, yes--wasting time with trivia. Doing deliberately stupid things--maybe not so much. How broad did Jesus mean the word to be?

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Mobs hint at something?

I ran across, but cannot give proper attribution to(*), an observation summarized as "Man loves, men hate."

A man can love, but groups of men (and women) do not; the emotion that comes most easily is hate. And fear.

It seems as though when your face vanishes in an anonymous mob, the face that shines through is that of a demon.

Maybe people can be both individuals and a collective organism. That collective could be the bride of Christ, but it looks like the default is someone else.

(*)Quote is from Ralph Peters

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

more wendigo

Following up a bit on the wendigo aspect of the Walam Olum post: Nathan Carlson wrote an analysis of witiko=wendigo phenomena with several cases described. There were often physical symptoms, notably swelling, associated with the condition--sometimes at the onset, sometimes later. He asked rhetorically if mental illnesses could be contagious.

Can they be? I don't mean meme-contagious, I mean in the traditional microbe or virus sense. To be clear, I probably have a number of pathogenic organisms living in and on me now, but without some opportunity or stress they won't do much.

Clearly some of the symptoms are culturally shaped, but swelling and cold (testified to by others)? This wendigo-ness isn't something shared by other tribes, as far as I can find, so either the physical symptoms are culturally shaped too, or the tribe is more susceptible genetically than other tribes. So suppose one had an endemic infection that susceptible individuals succombed to in times of starvation or panic, that left the brain in a confused state that the culture gave a name and shape to--cannibal wendigo. I assume it's possible--I don't know if it is either remotely likely or possible to prove or disprove.

Alternatively, the disease isn't very contagious except when the victim is heavily afflicted, so the victim becomes doubly dangerous, as an attacker and as a vector.

On the "disprove" side, there are other sources of stress besides starvation and panic--the infection should come forward at other times as well, though possibly the madness would be given a different cultural shape. I haven't heard of anything. AmerIndians have high rates of mental illness, but given the general stresses involved you can't conclude anything about that except that feeling poor and useless is really bad for your health.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A new chancellor

The UW is replacing the outgoing chancellor with a UCLA law school dean: “Under her leadership, the school has enhanced the quality and diversity of the faculty; seen an increase in the credentials and diversity of the student body; set records for philanthropic support; built and expanded impactful, innovative programs in several disciplines; and achieved its highest-ever rankings,”

She also seems to be part of the web of connections: “It was great to meet you and Melissa last month, and I very much appreciate your following up and sending along the attached syllabus,” she wrote in an Aug. 9, 2019, email. “I think this offers some very exciting possibilities, and I look forward to seeing what we may be able to do.”

Maybe UCLA has picked up on Hollywood-esque "love the story" brushoffs, but she handed off Hunter Biden's proposal to teach a course on drug policy to another law school official, so maybe she was serious. This was in early 2020, pre laptop revelations--Hunter's ethical issues weren't public knowledge yet.

Just a glimpse through the keyhole...

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Walam Olum and other stories

A book on Ojibwe culture and history confidently cites the Walam Olum as part of their history, testifying to their antiquity in the land. There are reasons to believe the document is a hoax, among which is something I hadn't thought of: "The typical Native American mythology assumes that 'the people' have always lived here, or emerged from one or more worlds underneath the earth. For this reason, many traditionalist Native Americans regard the Asian land bridge migration theory in the same way that fundamentalist Christians feel about Darwinism."

Fake? On one hand an Ojibwe chief's son endorsed it and Schoolcraft said it matched "transcripts I have obtained from bark scrolls." On the other, modern Lenape speakers found it puzzling, and that it used English idioms translated into Lenape--and Rafinesque's original manuscript shows evidence that the translation was really English to Lenape. I'm not persuaded that modern scholars automatically have better insights than earlier ones, but the manuscript evidence seems damning.

And the description of the journey to the midwest from the east doesn't mention plagues.

The actual Ojibwe book says the tribal stories are of three kinds, for amusement, for history, and for morals--and that they want the student to infer the message rather than have it Aesop-explicit. So when you're trying to use a legend in your own novel, you should figure out which category it is. I think we're OK with a slight variation...

One of the searches this evening turned up wendigo psychosis.

According to Algonquian reports, the following symptoms were signals of a potential witiko condition: stupor; catatonia; depression; paranoia; anorexia or the inability to hold down food; nausea and vomiting; emaciation; awry or glazed-looking eyes; swelling of the face, trunk, or limbs; and violence and shouting—in some cases with unusual vocal sounds.


others—particularly children or relatives—appear as animals that were normally hunted for food (such as beavers, moose, or game birds). The most diagnostic indications of witiko, however, were cannibal impulses and the subjective perception of a freezing heart or formation of ice in the chest or viscera, as reported by the victim or perceived by eyewitnesses.

Liquid animal fat might be a cure, but in practice the majority of victims (of 70 reported cases) were killed to keep them from attacking others.

It's interesting how culture can so strongly shape mental illness.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Information and energy?

Is information energy, and can you measure the energy of information? "Experimental protocol for testing the mass–energy–information equivalence principle" by Melvin Vopsona says maybe. SciTech Daily linked to an article about this, or I'd never have heard of it. The premise is that information carries a certain amount of energy, over and above the energy of the object.

Were that true, and if an (e.g.) electron carried some information about itself, then he proposes that electron/anti-electron annihilation should release that energy in the form of a couple of infrared photons in addition to the familiar .511 MeV photons. To be fair, he recognizes that the presence of extra photons is a strong assumption, though I suspect he doesn't realize how strong: considerations of spin with extra photons would turn the .511 MeV emissions into a spectrum--which we don't see.

I'm not quite clear what sort of self-information he's talking about. Things like spin direction are relative to other things, and it's rather banal to note that the relationship of an electron to its surroundings will involve a certain amount of energy.

He estimates how the mass of a 1TB disk drive would change if the information were erased (far too small to measure), but what is information? If your compressed x-ray telescope data (which looks pretty random thanks to compression) is overwritten by my home movies (which are also compressed and whose bits look pretty random), you would say information was lost and I would say it was gained. It looks like a naive definition of information is relative too. If all the bits were in one direction, you could get different energies than if they were random, but that's not what Vopsona is talking about.

Is the premise crazy? Maybe not. This approach won't test it, though.

Loose lips

I watched one of the Reagan/Mondale debates, and I couldn't believe what I heard come from Reagan's lips about the Shah of Iran and what we owed him: "he did our bidding."

Even if it's true, you never ever say something like that. It gives the "client"'s subjects reason to complain, and puts him in a position where he has to do something counter to our interests just to prove he isn't a puppet. It weakens him and weakens us. I thought it a breathtakingly stupid thing to say. The next day I mentioned it, and was surprised that nobody else noticed.

I don't know if anybody pays any mind to what Biden says, but he's not the only one in DC talking about "regime change" and "getting rid of Putin." The world would probably be a slightly better place with Putin cultivating his garden, from above or below--though his replacements might be little improvement.

But how does someone distinguish between a wish and a commitment? And if regime change in Russia is a commitment, what options do we have that don't flirt with war?

Quite a lot of politicians can't shut up--they have to show how wonderful they are no matter how many people die.

Can we require that before they can be put on the ballot, would-be candidates must survive a six-month retreat with the Trappists without bursting?

The Trappists would complain...

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Russian tanks

I don't watch TV news, or a lot of youtube news about Ukraine. (If you are curious about the details, Rantburg has had Russian summaries, Ukranian summaries, "Perspective from the Breakaway Republics" summaries, and a few misc stories if you want to try to tease out the facts on the ground from the claims and counterclaims. I haven't tried.)

Clickbait on Russian tanks getting blasted is everywhere. They are dramatic, David beats Goliath, and many have a strong bit of gee-whiz look-at-US-technology.

Russian tank designers weren't idiots. Autoloaders are very useful things, even if they sometimes try to load your arm and having the propellant out in the open is a pop-top risk. The fewer people you have to stuff in a tank the lower the profile can be, and the harder to hit it will be. There are tradeoffs, and when used as designed their tanks are reasonably capable. Of course, the issue is "used as designed." They don't do well in a column with enemies at the side--nobody's do. The Ukranians have managed to shape the battlefield in some places to tanks' disadvantage.

It might be interesting to plot a density map of Russian tank and armored vehicle losses over a map of where they've been deployed. I've got a suspicion some places have much lower loss rates than others.

And with respect to the gee-whiz stuff--I strongly suspect that by the next war there'll be countermeasures for those anti-tank missiles. (I gather Russian pilots are getting around misfeatures in their military GPS by taping commercial units in the cockpit.) And unless the political officers are able to remain dominant, I'll bet the Russians will be rethinking some of their army and navy structures. And I'm very curious what sorts of countermeasures people will be developing for drone recon and drone swarm and drone attacks.

Washing machine heads up

Whirlpool (or Kenmore) washing machine may fail with an error code of F-51. That's generally the Rotor Position Sensor--a little 3-pronged board with Hall probes to measure when the magnets in the rotor for the motor swing past. They can fail, or even break. Or...

The screw holding the bottom of the assembly in place may start to come unscrewed, so the probe and rotor aren't close to each other any more. Tighten it up, and done--no replacement parts needed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


Lucia di Lammermoor is one of Youngest Daughter's favorites, and she was surprised to find that the New York Met was planning to reset it into the US Rust Belt.

I like to try to solve the puzzle myself before "looking up the answer in the back of the book". Lucia wanted to marry outside her mother's wishes--who had a plan to help strengthen their clan. She was fragile, and didn't take the deceptions well.

If they wanted it in the modern US, maybe a topical social justice setting would be in an immigrant Brahmin family whose daughter wants to marry outside the caste. Or a Boston Cabot or Lodge, though that might be a bit dated.

Ah--just the thing: The daughter of a NY publisher and a Harvard sociology professor wants to marry a Republican. Although--that choice of settings might reduce donations and bequests, so maybe it needs to be flipped around--for purely artistic reasons, you understand. Reactionary industrialist whose daughter wants to marry a union organizer? I'm not sure where you find reactionary industrialists anymore, though.

So, downscale it from nobility to down-at-heels middle class--somebody deplorable. The conflict? Political differences still work. Racism would work for them--all deplorables are racist™. Edgardo is a tenor, so that rules out another option. I wonder what source material they'd use to learn about those strange people.

Peeking at the back: It isn't obvious. It looks like they are using scenery, and not trying to match the social setting--except insofar as the Scottish setting was semi-barbarous.

Resetting Rigoletto to Las Vegas seems perfectly reasonable--the powerful do whatever they like no matter where they are.

Saturday, May 07, 2022


I wasn't expecting 40% of the world's dolmens to be in Korea. They have several varieties, and theories about whether the notion was from southeast asia or northeast asia or home-grown.

The patterns seem simple enough that parallel invention seems plausible--however, note where dolmens aren't found in significant quantities.

Maybe there's sampling bias at work. Do sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas have menhirs?

The wikipedia list is not complete. It leaves out Korea, there are deer stones in Mongolia/Siberia, and others. However, it mentions Ethiopia, though that's close enough to the MidEast to have had a lot of influence from there. And there's a tribe in South America that erected some menhirs--clearly independently of anything in the Old World.

Of course there are plenty of examples of South American stonework--far more sophisticated than simple megaliths--but not as old.

My intuition was that kids building things out of rocks would be inspiration enough for adults to build their own: medium-sized first for keeping critters out of the cairn and then big for monuments. If you built earthworks first the assembly wouldn't be so bad--the headache would be finding and moving the appropriate stones. But making the big ones--the ones that last--takes a minimum amount of manpower. If dolmens are too ugly, or the religion doesn't honor stones in relevant way, or if the local culture is too small or too poor--no, you'd not build them. If you had tools for shaping stones to your liking, you'd not bother with anything that crude.

Finding none in such wide areas? I have to guess that my intuition was wrong: they spread with the "idea" of dolmens, and possibly even then only with information about technological tricks for making them. And there'd be a window of opportunity. Too early and you don't have the manpower, and too late and you'll have nicer ways to make monuments.

When you try to cross-check things, you find ever expanding temptations to rabbit-track. I ran across claims of ancient Indian stone structures in New England--some of which seem to be attested and others seem to be wishful thinking. There's an interesting site nearer to me that unfortunately has to have its location kept secret. And some things look extremely fake.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Identity politics as a spiritual quest

"the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God." Bruce Marshall

An interview with Joshua Mitchell. He quotes Democracy in America: "In the distant future I can imagine a time where we will think of ourselves as greater than kings and less than men." I've been meaning to read that book...

"The more and more isolated you become, the more you have a demonic imagining of who the other person is."

"We’re living in a world of Christian categories without the Christian architecture."

if identity politics doesn’t prove that we’re not living in a secular age, I don’t know what will. We’re using all these theological categories. This is not a secular world. This is a world where we’re searching for answers to the problem of transgression and innocence without God and forgiveness.

and about Bob:

He says, “When I go into a town, I go to the barber shop and I say, “Who do you go to when things are bad?” We’re not saying go down the welfare agency, but who is the person you go to? They’ll invariably, after talking to 10 or 12 people, there’ll be two or three people that you identify and he goes and meets them. He says, “What’s your secret?” He hears these incredible stories, oftentimes of regeneration from alcoholism or prison or whatever, it completely transformed their life, they become the pillars of the community.

Monday, May 02, 2022


BBC has an article/editorial about grass lawns and why we have them and why we shouldn't--even though they do help with things like rainwater runoff, and CO2 use, and so on.

Quite a bit of the appeal is status and expectation, as the author says (repeatedly). Some is aesthetics--it looks nice.

I wonder though--did the author ever watch little kids playing on the lawn? It's a more forgiving surface than dirt, and the kids track less of it into the house. And the tall grass the author suggests can hide things. Ever wonder why African villages have bare earth? Traffic is part of it, but it's nice to be able to see snakes before you step on them.

We didn't throw chemicals on the lawn, and about half of the old lawn is now taken up with gardens of one kind or another--but gardens need a lot of tending--including, it turns out, rescue from the encroachments of said lawn. Convenient, attractive (so long as you don't look too closely--and if you care that much, fix it yourself!), comfortable for the kids--and it's green™.

Sunday, May 01, 2022


Many of the metal ends (rostrums) on the end of Roman and Carthaginian rams survived, and a previously unlocated naval battle is now known. One end of the rostrum was a hollow socket to fit on the end of the wooden prow. The front of it was split into several shovel-like spikes for poking holes into other ships, with gaps between to help snag the enemy's oars if you wound up skimming alongside instead of hitting squarely.
Strangely, the divers have found that the hollowed-out insides are often filled with small objects such as coins. This, he says, is the work of octopuses, who have turned the rostrums into temporary dens. They have a magpie-like tendency to pick up treasure – and fill their homes with trinkets. "They are inveterate collectors," he says. "They'll take anything they can get their hands – or tentacles – on."