Monday, July 31, 2023


Patrick Kurp passed along the detail that William Topaz McGonagall was "the worst poet in the world." I tried reading his The Tay Bridge Disaster and my eyes hurt too much to finish. I think he bests The Sweet Singer of Michigan (perhaps best known now for a little tweaking she got from Twain in Huck Finn(*)) for the title of worst.

(*) I had no idea she inspired Ogden Nash.

Vehicle inspection firm

The story asserts that traffic accidents caused by improper maintenance can be blamed on government corruption. A new facility, given official concession by law, was effectively replaced by another company which lacked the inspection facilities and just happened to be owned by a crony of the President.

A few thoughts come immediately to mind--the trucker whose ill-maintained truck killed Lucky would probably have found it cheaper to bribe than repair, and the accident would still have happened. The other is that although I much prefer to get several sides of a story before passing judgment (though I may report on it in the interim), corruption is so much a part of the scene in Liberia that one may assume it as the default. I don't think I have to bother hearing the protestations of Sudue et al that there were sound reasons to block LTM (a private firm with official concession) from operating.

By the same token, if a representative of FPA/NN were to claim that LTA had gotten its concession by chicanery, I would probably credit that accusation too.

It doesn't seem right to accept the story this way, without further investigation, but it's an efficient and quite accurate shortcut for stories about corruption.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

"You make me sick!"

Perhaps literally. "some people claim that their skin gases provoke allergy-like reactions in people in their near vicinity." The linked study says that the people in question seem to have higher levels of toluene.
When active smokers smoked a single cigarette, within 15 min, toluene was detected in skin samples collected immediately after the smoking event, together with numerous tobacco-specific chemicals, including nicotine, 3-methylfuran, 2,5-dimethylfuran, and 3-ethenylpyridine12. ... However, the emission amounts of these chemicals in the PATM group were considerably higher than those in the non-PATM group: approximately 12 times for 2E1H, 39 times for toluene, and four times for m,p-xylene on average.

Years ago I was mildly curious about what would be needed to study human odors down to very low concentrations, but not curious enough to dig in to find out what people were actually researching. Quite a lot, it turns out. My naive search must have used the wrong keywords.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Easy to fool yourself

We've all heard this passage from Luke 10:
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

It struck me the other day as curious that his question was about the second commandment, not the first. Its phrasing suggests that he thinks he's already pretty good with "loving his neighbor", and wants to be sure he has the parameters right. (Or he wanted to find out where Jesus stood on his theological spectrum, and didn't really care about the answer.)

It's easy to think you love God when you say the proper things and think the proper thoughts at the proper prescribed times. But since we can't see God, are we sure we haven't left some things out? "All your strength" might turn out to be pretty expansive. Why not ask for clarification?

I wonder if the lawyer was self-sure, or afraid to ask. (Or if he was just testing Jesus, and didn't really care about the answer.)

Of course if he started to realize he wasn't doing such a bang-up job on the lesser commandment, maybe he'd become a bit less confident about how he was doing with the greater one.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


What shall we make of things like "South Carolina Republican Rep. Nancy Mace ... asked about whether the U.S. government has recovered “non-human” bodies from “crashed crafts” in its possession. ... answer was a “Yeah.”"?

Technically, that answer would apply to Project Pigeon relics.

I will be very skeptical about reports of crashed alien spacecraft, and super-skeptical about intimations that we picked up new technology from them.

If we really had, what would be the reaction of our adversaries when they learned of it? Would we want that reaction?

Monday, July 24, 2023

Sunday, July 23, 2023

A century in a day

I started looking up references to "fairy-land time". We hear that a day in fairy-land can be a year of ours--and there are rarer stories that tell the reverse. Maybe Lewis borrowed from a legend about Mohammed. Legends about such time differences, and the problems associated with them, seem to appear from Japan to Spain, in Russia, Vietnam, India--and Germany, of course. (There are other pages in that sequence.) I don't know if this is a Eurasian genre or if the author simply didn't sample stories from Africa or the Americas. Most of the stories I'd never heard of before, like this one:
a man at Dornoch, in Sutherlandshire. He was present at a funeral in the churchyard on New Year's Day, and was so piqued at not being invited, as all the others were, to some of the New Year's festivities, that in his vexation, happening to see a skull lying at his feet, he struck it with his staff and said: "Thou seemest to be forsaken and uncared-for, like myself. I have been bidden by none; neither have I invited any: I now invite thee!" That night as he and his wife were sitting down alone to supper, a venerable old man entered the room in silence and took his share of the delicacies provided. In those days the New Year's feast was kept up for eleven days together; and the stranger's visit was repeated in the same absolute silence for six nights.

At last the host, alarmed and uneasy, sought the priest's advice as to how he was to get rid of his unwelcome guest. The reverend father bade him, in laying the bannocks in the basket for the seventh day's supper, reverse the last-baked one. This, he declared, would induce the old man to speak. It did; and the speech was an invitation--nay, rather a command--to spend the remainder of the festival with him in the churchyard.

The priest, again consulted, advised compliance; and the man went trembling to the tryst. He found in the churchyard a great house, brilliantly illuminated, where he enjoyed himself, eating, drinking, piping and dancing. After what seemed the lapse of a few hours, the grey master of the house came to him, and bade him hasten home, or his wife would be married to another; and in parting he advised him always to respect the remains of the dead. Scarcely had he done speaking when the grey old man himself, the guests, the house, and all that it contained, vanished, leaving the man to crawl home alone in the moonlight as best he might after so long a debauch.

For he had been absent a year and a day; and when he got home he found his wife in a bride's dress, and the whole house gay with a bridal party. His entrance broke in upon the mirth: his wife swooned, and the new bridegroom scrambled up the chimney. But when she got over her fright, and her husband had recovered from the fatigue of his year-long dance, they made it up, and lived happily ever after.

F377 if you want to look these sorts of stories up elsewhere. Well, D1950.1 and D2011 too, I suppose.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Civil War and marriage, first note

I'd read of Confederate war widows--so many young men had died that there was little hope of remarrying. I'd also heard that a recent shortage of men in a community (when a significant fraction of them are in prison) had unhappy effects on sexual competition for the remaining men. If that's a reasonable hypothesis, similar attitudes should have appeared after the Civil War, especially in the South. It might be a trifle harder to document, since people weren't so proud of that kind of competition then.

I have no results yet, but I did find this:

but "approximately 92 percent of southern white women who came of marriage age during the war married at some point in their lives." Although war casualties significantly impacted the number of young southern males, Hacker, Hilde, and Jones point out that the resulting marriage gap among southern women soon shrank because some young women married older widowers, some married beneath their social status, and some dared to marry northerners.

UPDATE to keep reference handy

Stingless bees

A rabbit track, as usual--I was curious if AmerIndians domesticated goats (seems not), and found a list that included stingless bees. That sounded interesting--it might help get around objections to bee-keeping in the city.

Unfortunately, they are tropical or subtropical only. Their honey is expensive (\$100/pound or thereabouts). It apparently contains more flavonoids than the usual honeybee's output, and all sorts of wonderful claims are made for its medicinal properties. "stingless bee honey has antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and natural moisturizing properties that aid in wound healing. Moisture content, water activity, pH, peroxide, non-peroxide, phenolic acids, flavonoids, vitamins, and enzymes are likely to be the components of stingless bee honey that contribute to fast wound healing".

Boaring in Berlin

Authorities there claim that the lioness they'd been looking for in the southwest of Berlin was probably just a wild boar, and they're calling off the search.

Apparently "the animal looked more like a boar, which are common in the region".

I'm not sure that's the most comforting thought for the residents. Wild boars apparently don't kill a lot of people, though they do attack, but the notion that they're common enough in the city area that the authorities don't care...

Granted, packs of feral dogs could be worse.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Cruise ships

When you're 8 years old, a freighter is a fine enough cruise ship, provided the weather is good--which it mostly was. I've not taken a trip on anything like the new cruise ships. The SS Badger, yes.

It seems like just the thing if you like being around lots of people: 7600 passengers and 2350 crew. Most of it is "below deck." The number of passengers goes as the cube of the length, but the area exposed to the sky only goes as the square, and the gangway space only as the length. That looks like a nice fat gangway, though.

Nevertheless, "the sunlit lands" seem fairly extensive--I ballparked about 35 square feet per passenger(*). On the SS Badger I liked being on deck or at least by a large window (why else are you on the water?), but some people like indoor amusements--which might be enlivened by common experiences along the trip. I'm not a huge fan of crowds, but possibly fellow traveler friendships might make the crowding less of an annoyance.

A cruise trip like that is a bit too pricey to enjoy, but it doesn't seem entirely crazy--on a smaller ship where you could get to know a few people. Something this big seems too easy to get lost on.

(*) For comparison, our bedroom is 120 square feet, or 60 each.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Grumpiness about lyrics

The song Crown Him With Many Crowns has a line that drives me nuts: "Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own." Um... What's the point of creating at all if everything comes out the same? Immortal, Invisible says "in all life thou livest, the true life of all," which seems much more fitting--there are many expressions of life or music with the same enlivening life and music in them all.

I can't complain too much--the rest is great and I've composed nothing comparable. But some lines catch me sideways: e.g. ""And now I am happy all the day!"

A lot of hymns are aspirational, not descriptive; I have to cut some slack.

Friday, July 14, 2023


A wise note from "National Apostasy"
As to those who, either by station or temper, feel themselves most deeply interested, they cannot be too careful in reminding themselves, that one chief danger, in times of change and excitement, arises from their tendency to engross the whole mind. Public concerns, ecclesiastical or civil, will prove indeed ruinous to those, who permit them to occupy all their care and thoughts, neglecting or undervaluing ordinary duties, more especially those of a devotional kind.

Of course this also can be taken to extreme--"Am I my brother's keeper?"--a community implies some involvment and responsibility, though there's radical disagreement on how much.


Taking the week's writing prompt challenge:

“If I had known that busker would sit by us I would have demanded that we eat indoors.” Maron gestured with his wine-glass. “He has hit the right note only five times and he cannot keep the tempo.”

“Consider it part of the atmosphere of a modern city and ignore him. He’ll go away if nobody drops anything in his guitar case. And, to be fair, we use a different musical scale.”

“The way he plays blasphemes Euterpe,” Maron snapped. “You didn’t summon her, but I can take revenge on her behalf.”

“Be kind, be kind,” Samay urged. “The powers are no longer the same, and you must tread lightly. Have you tasted anything like these pastries before?”

“Not even the finest honeycakes were like these,” Maron agreed. “They are worthy of the tenth, Mageirema.”

Samay set down his fork. “A tenth?”

“There are twelve of them, not nine. And I cannot abide that clumsy crow any longer.” Maron rolled up his sleeves. “I shall set his instrument on fire and make him eat it.”

“Let us not draw attention to ourselves. There is much to learn and enjoy yet, and others would quickly send you back. Think of the beauty, please.”

Maron sat back in the sidewalk chair. “True, I want to stay a while.” He grinned. “Nevertheless..” He waved his left hand delicately in the direction of the player.

Suddenly the chord was muffled and the playing stopped. The guitar was filled with daisies.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Curious description of Revelation

From the Library of Congress' description of a German block print circa 1470:
This work, printed in Germany in 1470, includes part of the text of the Apocalypse of Saint John, the last book of the Christian Bible, also known as the Book of Revelation. The book is based on letters written to church members in Asia Minor that describe Saint John's heavenly visions and revelations. It tells the story of the great heavenly warfare between good and evil, Christ's return to earth, the punishment of the wicked, and the reward of righteousness.

The description sounds like it was written from third-hand reports. The book also includes a summary of John's life. The illustration of Jesus appearing to John is somewhat less than awe-inspiring. Probably nothing could adequately convey the vision, but having a sword clenched in His teeth seems awkward.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Strained ruling

Judge Diane Schlipper "said the legal language in the ban doesn’t use the term “abortion” so the law only prohibits attacking a woman in an attempt to kill her unborn child."

The Wisconsin statutes involved are a bit mixed thanks to Roe. The original 1849 statute, preserved in 940.04, was clearly written to prosecute abortionists while leaving the erstwhile mothers unprosecuted:

940.04 Abortion
(1)  Any person, other than the mother, who intentionally 
destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a 
Class H felony.
(2) Any person, other than the mother, who does either 
of the following is guilty of a Class E felony:
 (a) Intentionally destroys the life of an unborn 
 quick child; or
 (b) Causes the death of the mother by an act done 
 with intent to destroy the life of an unborn child. 
 It is unnecessary to prove that the fetus was alive 
 when the act so causing the mother's death was committed.
(5) This section does not apply to a therapeutic abortion which:
 (a) Is performed by a physician; and
 (b) Is necessary, or is advised by 2 other physicians 
 as necessary, to save the life of the mother; and
 940.04(5)(c)(c) Unless an emergency prevents, is 
 performed in a licensed maternity hospital.
(6) In this section “unborn child" means a human being 
from the time of conception until it is born alive.

Statute 940.13 makes this exemption of the mother explicit.

940.15, post-Roe, attempts to protect viable babies by regulating abortionists.

The judge, as far as I can tell, ignores the sense of 940.04(1) (the title of the section is "Abortion"!) and claims that the only restriction is that of 940.04(2): feticide. The latest addition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court was quite upfront with her intention to make sure abortion was permissible in Wisconsin again--if this decision is appealed I know how she will vote already, law or no law.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Winnebago history

I'm mostly interested in the Wisconsin Winnebago tribes.

The article I read begins

For as long as anyone can remember, the Winnebago lived in the vicinity of Green Bay in northeastern Wisconsin. The most powerful tribe in the region, they dominated the western shore of Lake Michigan from Upper Michigan to southern Wisconsin. As part of major climatic change in North America sometime around 1400, three closely related tribes - Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa - began moving west along the shore of Lake Huron ...

Read the article for yourself. Apply a little "temporal symmetry" to the wars and alliances and counter-alliances--the past before records was probably like the past after records were made.

Smallpox has been blamed, but the Winnebago say the disease turned their people yellow suggesting it was something else.

The Winnebago emerged from this with less than 1,500 warriors and 4,500 people. They were also starving since war and epidemic had made it impossible to harvest their crops. As mentioned, the hostility between the Illinois and Winnebago must have existed for many years before the refugees began to arrive. Perhaps motivated by a need to form an alliance against the newcomers who were also overrunning their territory, or even pity for an old enemy fallen on hard times, the Illinois sent 500 warriors and food to help the Winnebago. This proved a serious mistake. The Winnebago welcomed and held a feast for them, but in the midst of the dancing and celebration, they secretly cut the Illinois' bowstrings. Then they fell upon their benefactors and killed all of them to appease the spirits of Winnebago warriors killed earlier by the Illinois.

It took the Illinois some time to learn what had happened. In the meantime, the Winnebago had anticipated retaliation and retreated to an island in the middle of a lake where they built a fort. A sensible precaution, since it was impossible for the Illinois to bring their heavy dugout canoes overland with them to attack the Winnebago. The Illinois proved patient and waited a year to take revenge. When the lake froze that winter, a large Illinois war party crossed over the ice to attack the village only to find the Winnebago were absent on their winter hunt. After a six-day pursuit, they caught up with the Winnebago and, during the slaughter which followed, almost annihilated them. Few Winnebago escaped to find refuge with the Menominee. About 150 Winnebago prisoners were taken back as slaves to the Illinois villages and, after several years of hard usage, released to return to Wisconsin. Less than 500 Winnebago survived to provide a future for their people, but their near-extermination was the second serious mistake made by the Illinois. Despite the circumstances which had caused it, the Winnebago never forgave or forgot what had happened.

UPDATE from Winnebago stories

"The Winnebagoes always encouraged one another to die on the warpath, because, if one dies in battle, the person would not really lose consciousness, but simply live right on in the spirit, and death would seem to him as if he had stumbled over some object. So they would say. If you wish to have a happy life as a spirit, do not die in your house. If you die in your house, your soul will wander over all the earth in want, and when people eat the four-nights' wake, you will not get anything. If they drink water, you will remain thirsty. It is said that people not dying on the warpath will, as spirits, have to content themselves by pointing to food and drink, and licking their fingers.

Those that die in battle have a village four days' distant from the general village the souls. They are in need of nothing, as they plant and raise their own food, and have so many clothes that they look as if they were covered with furs. They play ball and have lots of fun, ride horseback, and dance. If any of them should desire to return to the earth and become alive again, they can do so. The wounds, however, from which they died, remain with them in the spirit world. Those who lost their scalps are without scalps. Some are without heads, and some without scalplocks. They can see their relatives here on earth whenever they with to."

Saturday, July 08, 2023


A largish proportion of the complications in data archiving and retrieval had to do with authentication and privileges (those are not the same animal). I was a little surprised at the bank yesterday.

I'll omit identifiers.

I've been the treasurer of an association for a few years, largely because I was willing to take the not-very-onerous job. A new and more experienced volunteer appeared, and the minutes of the meeting approving a new treasurer were finished. So the old and new treasurer trooped down to the bank.

The bank's small business rep was new to me and I to the rep, but the rep took me at face value, and the minutes at face value. The rep wanted the ID of the new treasurer, but seemed quite content to remove one of the signatories on an account without reference to either my ID or my signature, and add a new signatory without authenticating the minutes.

I pulled out my drivers license anyway, part way through the exercise, to show that I was the person registered in the account and referenced in the minutes. I hope it was a learning experience.

Maybe my honest face was good enough.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Titan musings

I've some not-quite-connected thoughts about the thing.

There's a transcript going around allegedly from the fatal dive. You may have seen it. While waiting for my tea to cool down I watched an engineer comment on it. He claimed that the reported depths show that the craft was descending far too fast, which is consistent with the transcript being a fake. (Or that his estimates were naive--"descend fast at first and then more slowly when you get close" is a plausible approach.) Perhaps ship-to-craft questions were mainly for crew health and not for information, but if I had a hand in the design there'd be as much telemetry monitoring on the craft as the bandwidth would carry; you'd hope they'd not need to ask the crew for wattage numbers. Granted they sometimes lost communications, so the bandwidth wouldn't be great, and a relay system would be quite difficult and expensive to build and position.

So, if you could only send a few numbers, what would they be? Depth and a summary hull health value?

The business about ascending very slowly after dropping the ballast doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. If they succeeded in dropping all the ballast they should be as on buoyant as on the previous trips. The devil is in the details, of course, and I don't know what was in the tail cone--I figure it was just for streamlining and let water in freely. But just based on the crude schematics google shows me, I suspect the slow ascent isn't true and the transcript is fake.

But while listening to the engineer, it occurred to me that cracking and hull failure could begin non-catastrophically. If the seal at one side leaks just a bit, and water seeps in at an edge to begin to delaminate the outer half mm or so of the carbon hull, it might crackle quite a bit. There was some (unfortunately) unknown safety factor in the hull design, so I assume they could lose a bit of the outside and live. There were edges at the endcaps, but also at every perforation. If delamination aggressively peeled up sheets of the outer hull, could those bits puncture or otherwise interfere with the operation of the systems outside? I can't think of a good reason why the power should fail without a short or a severing. Assuming the power did fail this time. It did fail on earlier tests.

Though--the batteries were where? I find the schematics online to be less than useful. If they were outside, and since they had battery problems before, it sounds like they had an issue with protecting the batteries.

At the scale of fractions of a mm I don't think the difference between a round hole through the hull and a flat edge at the endcap makes much difference to delamination of the glue layers. I'd guess that it was harder to verify the seal on a small perforation than on a big flat edge, though the big one has more edge to worry about.

Once again, I don't find the detail I'd prefer--but what goes through those perforations, and is it robust against a small leak compressing the contents?

I assume they designed the parts so that the titanium caps would compress by almost the same amount as the carbon/epoxy body. This was a custom carbon-fiber mix, so I doubt that whatever I find online for bulk modulus is going to be relevant--and the body's compressibility won't be the same along the axis as it will "squeezing the can". (Plus the bulk modulus value changes with pressure) If the cap and body compress differently, the joints between the two get stressed as the body bows in or out.

Just trying to chase some low-hanging fruit gets me into nit-picky research details. I assume those "50yo white guys" are familiar with these things--and charge accordingly.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Effigy Mounds

In Aspects of Winnebago Archaeology Radin tries to show, among other things, that the effigy mounds were built by Winnebago, some of them as recently as the 18'th century, and were clan property markers. They didn't have radiocarbon dating then, though they did have the testimony of Winnebago elders who died over a hundred years ago and are no longer available for interview. Those elders also unanimously said that they have never known how to make the stone arrowheads found all over the place--those were made by earthworms. They sometimes used them, but only when found.

I have a nagging suspicion that "earthworms" was a euphemism for something secret.

Circumstantial evidence can be unreliable, but so can testimony.


"Now it is a well-known belief among the Winnebago that if you fast too long, one of two things will happen, either you will die while fasting, or you will obtain blessings of such power that they will eventually destroy you."

The subject of Radin's article is distinguishing between "myths" ("what is old") and "tales" ("that which is told"). One useful distinction is that frequently the myth tells of actions that horribly violate Winnebago cultural standards--and there is no repudiation of the actions. That should sound quite familiar to anyone who remembers Greek myths about Zeus.

Monday, July 03, 2023

National Security 60 years on

Althouse noted that RFKJr complained that the JFK assassination records haven't been released. Biden decided to maintain secrecy, as did Trump before him. "National security"

Naturally, most comments speculate about embarrassment to people who want to hide our government's stupidity or culpability. One sympathizes; the government seems to generate surpluses of those.

“When everyone is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before."

60 years is quite a while. I assume all the most deeply involved players, known and unknown, are either dead or far into at least their 80's and not active movers and shakers any longer. I'd think that close enough for Kipling's rule to apply.

Given that very different presidents were persuaded that there actually were national security interests at stake in revealing all the evidence and ways it was acquired, let's pretend that's true. What sort of reasons could there be?

One obvious reason isn't quite so critical now that the Soviet Union is no more, and since 9/11 told of one limit. Suppose Oswald was closely enough directed from Moscow to lead people to believe this was ordered by the Kremlin. We obviously didn't go to war over that, but we don't want the discussions about that to become public (or even be discussed much)--how much can an enemy get away with before we go big?

Others pointed out that individual spies of the time are no doubt dead, but the channels they used may still exist. It seems unlikely, given the number of moles we've heard about, but weirder things have happened.

Or perhaps it is very simple: the default of generations advisors has been "We might use that method again someday, so keep it secret".