Saturday, December 30, 2023


From Roger Angell, a famous sports writer:
Sports are too much with us. Late and soon, sitting and watching - mostly watching on television - we lay waste our powers of identification and enthusiasm and, in time, attention as more and more closing rallies and crucial putts and late field goals and final playoffs and sudden deaths and world records and world championships unreel themselves ceaselessly before our half-lidded eyes.

Dance and drummer

I wrote about a Gbande man's book in which he said that the dancers follow the drummers rather than the other way around.

This is contradicted by the singer/dancer Madam Yatta Zoe, who said the drummers gave subtle cues to the dancers. I defer to her expertise in the matter, though perhaps the Gbande sometimes do things differently.

"A chat with Madam Yatta Zoe" is a bit hard to follow sometimes--she switches languages from time to time. One of the songs is in English but the meaning is incomprehensible without knowing what "lasso" is (and I didn't). It turns out that the admonition for young women to "not drink lasso" is actually telling them not to poison themselves after they've been unlucky in love.

The interview was done on a porch, and the rain comes and goes in the background.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Before you ask

I wouldn't know either of them from Adam's off ox. I vaguely recall something about the Hartley episode, but didn't make the connection with UW. I had almost no dealings with the LaCrosse branch of the University. In fact we rarely even drove near the city; there were other camping areas we liked better.

Chancellors don't have a lot of contact with most of the staff. Which, under the circumstances, is a good thing.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Santa Claus Boys

Santa Claus looks a bit different in Liberia. The Poro and Sande societies have associated mask and raffi-covered “devils.” Many of the societies delegate certain of these to go (with burly assistants) into the villages to requisition provisions for the village youth currently sequestered in the bush school. On the other hand, some “devils” are entertainers—their musicians play and they dance, sometimes even on stilts. They don’t entertain for free.

Somewhere along the line, possibly in the 40’s from American servicemen working in places like “Smell no Taste”, some tribal Liberians heard of Santa as a magical being. A spirit going around to homes giving things to children didn’t quite make sense, but they figured out a logical category for him, and ever since, in December, the Santa Claus boys go about.

A collection of boys follow a figure completely hidden in rags, and they sing and play improvised drums and kalimba while “Santa” dances. One of the boys sings the situation (abbreviated here):

“Santa Claus was flying on a 707 from New York to Paris, but the plane broke and he fell into the ocean. A fishing boat helped him out, but it sank at Freetown. He swam to shore and took a bus to Monrovia, but the bus went off the road to miss a snake and lost a wheel at Zagbo. He waited by the road, and a generous taxi driver stopped and gave him a ride to Gbangba Town. The poor man has walked all the long way from Gbangba Town, and he needs small small money to get to Robertsfield, and small money to get a plane to go back home.”

At this point one rattles a tin can suggestively.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Happy Holy Days!

I hope to be otherwise occupied for a few days--though there's a point or two I've been puzzling over and if I get inspired I'll post. Staring at a screen can get tiring, too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Kingdoms of the world

Remember the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness?

"showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You"

"I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish."

I notice that Jesus doesn't bother to refute the devil's claim that he has the power to give the kingdoms of the world to whoever he pleases. We are confident that God can work everything for good for those who love Him, of course (well, we're supposed to be confident).

The supposition that the devil has a hand in selecting rulers and officials has a certain explanatory power for understanding history and current events.

UPDATE: Note that this applies to your guys as well as the ones that don't like you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Judges gone mad

I'd heard about Judge Clark some years back. There's a book showing what happens when unlimited power joins with utter ignorance.

One could easily list other examples.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Satanism and the Iowa Capitol

You've all read the story that "The Satanic Temple" was allowed to put up a shrine to Baphomet in the Iowa Capitol, in order to not discriminate against religions. And that the statue was damaged by a Mississippi man who had posted earlier comparing the removal of a statue of Thomas Jefferson to the erecting of one to Satan.

On what grounds does the state decide that some belief is a religion, worthy of respect by others even if those others do not believe it? Because this represents noble beliefs of some large group of people who try to live their lives by it, benefitting all of us thereby? Because a lot of people give money to the founders to be purified using primitive lie detectors? Because I had a dream and really really believe that the First Potato is the sacred source of all existence?

We're remarkably generous in defining religions in the US. Some places are more skeptical.

There was never a reason to put the shrine up in the first place. A religion defines what is the most important thing in the universe--the thing from which all else depends. Perhaps it is a god; sometimes it is a principle (e.g. Theravada Buddhism). The emblems are of the "most important thing" or aspects of its action (e.g. no images in Islam, but words are OK). If you're polytheist you might have a problem picking one, but generally there's something believed to be behind them all.

If the group actually worshipped Satan--Satan doesn't make sense outside of a Christian context, in which Satan is not the most important thing (though he may be the most important thing in your life). In that case the image is not of the most important thing in the universe, and there's no reason for non-co-religionists to offer it any respect.

If, as this group claims, they don't believe in god and use Satan as a symbol of their rejection of religious rules--once again, there has to be a something for Satan to reject, and the symbol again fails to specify something primal.

The state is a human institution, no matter what delusions of grandeur its directors may develop. It won't always recognize truth, and there are not infrequently good reasons to oppose some aspects of its mandates. But rule rejection as a principle isn't good, and should not be honored with a shrine in a public building.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Wooly dogs

I'd done a cursory search on Indian dogs a few years ago. Updating: one group bred dogs for wool, and apparently kept the strain separate from the rest of their dogs. The lineage is pre-colonial.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Watching sunsets in a time of war

when her brother had remarked that "Sybil seemed very mopy". She had been shocked when she heard this by a sense of her disloyalty, since she believed enjoyment to be a debt which every man owes to his fellows, partly for its own sake, partly lest he at all diminish their own precarious hold on it.

Charles Williams, The Greater Trumps

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Judgment Day

is only a lifetime away.

Why argue calendars?

Saturday, December 09, 2023

One use of terror

Absalom staged a coup against his father David. Once David and his family and friends were on the run, Absalom asked the smartest guy he knew for advice. From 2 Samuel 16:
Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your advice. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

Absalom's message to his supporters was: "If things get tough I won't cut a deal and hang you out to dry." To those who didn't support him, it was: "Fear me. I stop at nothing."

That may sound familiar. In the more recent events another factor applies, which wasn't so relevant to Absalom/David: "The measure of their violence was taken to be the measure of the injustice done to them": they wouldn't do such horrible things if they hadn't been even more horribly mistreated.

The core message seems the same as Absalom's: "I mean there to be no possibility of compromise; nothing will be forgiven on either side."

Friday, December 08, 2023

When in trouble...

A poster quoted Robert Frost "the best way out is always through" (kind of a grim poem; never saw it before, and Frost isn't obviously endorsing the sentiment). I've heard "When you're walking through Hell, don't stop."

Sometimes. I think there's a time and place for repentence, though. I remember trying to follow directions after dark to a party outside Gex, and miscounting the number of exits a walled roundabout had. Ten minutes of following directions later I turned onto what surely was the driveway I sought, but eventually proved to be a cowpath--luckily not populated at the moment. I suppose I could have tried to "go through," but I think slowly exercising the reverse gear while trying to miss trees was the right choice. And then finding a random bar with lights on and asking for help in miserable French. pre cell-phone days..

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Kings and wanna-be's

History is a popular hobby in our household. My wife is far better at remembering names, so her description of an event is more fun to listen to, though I flatter myself that I'm more efficient at conveying the core. It turns out that's not the summum bonum of conversation, though.

She, while listening to a program on some Tudor archaeology, mentioned to our daughter that "The Stuarts and Tudors are my favorite soap opera." I told her they represented my favorite reason why households should have battle rifles. Some societies are best viewed from a safe and well-defended distance.

Modern food

Is modern food lower in nutrients?

Too big a question, impossible to answer. Try again.

Is modern wheat grown in England lower in certain nutrients?

That, thanks to a 180-year-old project, can be sort of answered.

Yes. High yield wheat strains grow more carbs quickly.

"The increase in carbohydrates dilutes other grain components, including minerals. So although we see higher yields, the grains themselves are poorer in micronutrients: average concentrations of zinc, copper, iron and magnesium in the grain of the newer varieties were 19–28% lower than those of the older ones."

So the same pound of bread, presumably made from larger but fewer grains, has less magnesium. It shouldn't bother the wheat any--a seed should still have all it needs, it's just bigger these days.

So a second slice of toast is indicated.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Making progress?

I spent very little of the day out of bed. When you can't sleep for coughing, and you can't concentrate enough to read, and you haven't the strength to do any of the growing list of chores, what do you do?

I finally managed enough energy to finish watching a youtube series I've been watching(*): unfortunately he's only about 3/5 done with it.

I think it was Erma Bombeck who wrote that being pregnant was like taking a cruise in at least one respect: you might just be sitting in a chair watching the ocean, but you're making progress.

As long as I sleep a little longer, and cough a little less, I suppose I am.

UPDATE: My teaching daughter said 2/3 of 3'rd grade was out sick yesterday.

(*) Including "the square root of a vector". The series is much more accessible than the titles suggest, though you do need to have a little matrix theory under your belt. He repeats everything, and uses simple examples. It's nice to see an explanation of Clifford algebras, and how spinors can be represented in them, but it isn't transparent what gain we then have in comprehensiveness, new physics, or simplicity.

Sunday, December 03, 2023


The problems spiked today, so I took the advice of the on-call folks and went to ER. (They were swamped, and stayed so.) I was pretty sure I knew what it was, and that's what they told me: bronchitis. Except that the take-home packet didn't say "bronchitis", it said "chronic bronchitis." Of which this is a flareup. It makes sense, I suppose; I've gotten it over and over for years, and my O2 levels are traditionally a bit lower than normal.

Breathing exercises, I suppose--and no mountain climbing.

Friday, December 01, 2023


I figured a week of not getting better (for my wife it has been 10 days) was enough to merit a call to the doc.

Reception wanted me to take a Covid test and they'd get back to me. I asked if they were understaffed; she said no, there were just lots of people with this bug. I suppose the Covid test requirement gives them a plausible reason for not calling back quickly, but they could really be swamped. Something has been going around.

I don't know what it is about 2 in the morning to bring on a few hours of coughing. Maybe some med or another wears off.