Monday, April 29, 2024

Temple Passovers

A book cited Josephus The Wars of the Jews telling us that during the reign of Nero a Jewish population estimate was made based on the number of Passover lambs sacrificed. That was counted to be 256,500 (some rounding likely). (And for the census, the resulting estimate was 2.7 million.)

The sacrifices were supposed to only be done from the ninth hour until the eleventh (3pm to 5pm, very roughly). That's a pretty tight window; almost 36 every second, almost 2200 every minute!

From this source I picked up a description of the temple passover (different from Moses' and from the current one) that seems consistent:

The paschal lamb was slaughtered in three groups… when the first group entered and the Temple court was filled, the gates of the Temple were closed. A tekiah, teruah, and again a tekiah were then blown on the shofar. The priests stood in rows, and in their hands were basins of silver and basins of gold. … An Israelite slaughtered his offering and the priests caught the blood. The priest passed the basin to his fellow priest, and he to his fellow, each receiving a full basin and giving back an empty one. The priest nearest to the altar tossed the blood against the base of the altar. While this ritual was performed the Levites sang the Hallel [Talmud Pesachim 64a].

I don't know how old the lambs were, but a 50 pound lamb would have something over a quart of blood (6% of body weight), and assuming that only about half of that is taken, and half of that is actually thrown on the altar, that's about 64 cubic meters of blood to drain (and wash!) away. From this site: "Beneath the floor of the Azarah courtyard, near the southwestern corner of the Altar, was a cave. Access to the cave was by means of a 2-foot square hole that was covered by a marble slab. In the floor of the cave was a natural system of drains that led the blood of the sacrificial Altar out into the Kidron Valley below the Temple Mount."

In two hours--call it three because drains can be slow--that's a lot of drainage. I'd heard it said that the result, including the necessary rinsing, would have made blood and water flow visibly, which John noticed in Jesus--a connection I wouldn't have thought of.

If the people stood 300 abreast, with the "bucket brigade" (I'm sorry, that's what it sounds like), that leaves only a few seconds for them to slaughter the lamb and move out of the way for the next people. I think you'd need several rows of people all at work at once. I guess it could work, with good traffic management and thousands of priests.

I remember when a delayed Delta flight disgorged into the Paris airport. It looked like complete chaos at the desks, but somehow we all got processed quite quickly. They got used to this sort of thing, and knew how to manage it.

Still, wow.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Cotton Kingdom 2

A few years ago I read Olmstead's Cotton Kingdom, but found only volume 1. Project Gutenberg has remedied that problem.

Much of the book consists of his travel experiences, going on horseback through Texas and Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. Rarely was he able to stay in a hotel, and had to rely on the hospitality of strangers (for a consideration). One of the slaveowners stood out from the rest: his slaves had a great deal of freedom, education, and his admiration.

The great cotton planters were not so wealthy as appeared, and thanks to perverse incentives were frequently ruining the value of their land and their slaves in a fixation on cotton sales.

The latter part of the book is his analysis, economic and sociological, of the claims for the wisdom and beneficence of slavery that were current in his day.

A few snippets:

"Visited sixty families, numbering two hundred and twenty-one souls over ten years of age; only twenty-three could read, and seventeen write. Forty-one families destitute of the Bible. Average of their going to church, once in seven years. Several, between thirty and forty-five years old, had heard but one or two sermons in their lives. Some grown-up youths had never heard a sermon or prayer, until my visit, and did not know of such a being as the Saviour; and boys and girls, from ten to fifteen years old, did not know who made them. All of one family rushed away when I knelt to pray, to a neighbour’s, begging them to tell what I meant by it. Other families fell on their faces, instead of kneeling."


"I was told by a gentleman in Washington, not long ago, that he was travelling in a county not a hundred miles from this place, and overtook one of our citizens on horseback, with, perhaps, a bag of hay for a saddle, without stirrups, and the leading line for a bridle, and he said: 'Stranger, whose house is that?' 'It is mine,' was the reply. They came to another. 'Whose house is that?' 'Mine, too, stranger.' To a third: 'And whose house is that?' 'That's mine, too, stranger; but don’t suppose that I'm so darned poor as to own all the land about here.'"


"Were there no Free States, the white people of the South would to-day be slaves."


"There is one other characteristic of the Southerner, which is far more decided than the difference of climate merely would warrant, and which is to be attributed not only to the absence of the ordinary restraints and means of discipline of more compact communities in his education, but unquestionably also to the readiness and safety with which, by reason of slavery, certain passions and impulses may be indulged. Every white Southerner is a person of importance; must be treated with deference. Every wish of the Southerner is imperative; every belief undoubted; every hate, vengeful; every love, fiery. Hence, for instance, the scandalous fiend-like street fights of the South. If a young man feels offended with another, he does not incline to a ring and a fair stand-up set-to, like a young Englishman; he will not attempt to overcome his opponent by logic; he will not be content to vituperate, or to cast ridicule upon him; he is impelled straightway to strike him down with the readiest deadly weapon at hand, with as little ceremony and pretence of fair combat as the loose organization of the people against violence will allow. He seems crazy for blood. Intensity of personal pride—pride in anything a man has, or which connects itself with him, is more commonly evident. Hence, intense local pride and prejudice; hence intense partisanship; hence rashness and over-confidence; hence visionary ambition; hence assurance in debate; hence assurance in society. As self-appreciation is equally with deference a part of what we call good breeding, and as the expression of deference is much more easily reduced to a matter of manners and forms, in the commonplace intercourse of society, than self-appreciation, this characteristic quality of the Southerner needs to be borne in mind in considering the port and manners he commonly has, and judging from them of the effects of slavery."


There really was something which, with some sort of propriety, could be termed a gentry in Carolina and Virginia in their colony days; yet of the names which are now thought to have belonged to it, as descended of brave, loyal, and adventurous cavaliers, some I once saw in London upon an old freight-list of a ship outward bound for Virginia, with the addition of tinker and tailor, poacher and pickpocket, all to be sold for life, or a term of years, to the highest bidder when they should arrive. A large majority of the fathers of Virginia were unquestionably of this class.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Blogging as essay format

"For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you're taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays." The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis

I wonder what he'd have thought of blogging. He wrote a pretty fair number of essays himself, many still eagerly read.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Magic servants

If you didn't have electricity, or natural gas/oil, or gasoline, how many servants would you need to maintain your current lifestyle? (Setting aside things like e.g. air travel) There are lots of things that we don't have to do ourselves because our magic servants do it for us.
Cooking?Somebody needs to chop the firewood, and maybe cook for the others
Hot bath?Chop wood, heat water and bring the water to you
Washing clothes?Part time washer, maybe more to wash for the others. Hot water needed too
Driving?Somebody to maintain the carriage, take care of the horses, clean up
Internet?Somebody to run to the library to ask your questions
Warm in winter?More wood chopping, and you might a lot of it if your house is big. Also extra cleaning because of smoke residues
Cool in summer?Need a big house for tall rooms, big windows, which implies extra cleaning from critters and pollen getting in
Phone calls?Messengers
Water the lawn?Fetch lots of water from the well

At first it looks manageable--you don't need a full-time wood chopper in summer--but washing and cleaning time adds up, and since you're providing lodging for them you need more servant time to take care of the others. Maybe you and your neighbors could board horses in a single neighborhood facility and split the costs, but your current lifestyle presumes the convenience of instant use of a vehicle.

I'm guessing at least 3.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


A cousin spent some time digging around her family trees. The oldest record she found was a court record from England several centuries back. An (probably, records aren't always reliable) ancestor of hers had blocked off a public road and was charging tolls.

I just paid the second of the Houston toll bills. We've been using I-Pass, but Texas doesn't recognize that, and Houston has at least two independent toll systems.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Self sealing fuel tanks

I'd read about them in WWII history. Here's a history.
One of the chief difficulties encountered in cooling gasoline by dropping dry ice into it lay in the fact that as the dry ice extracted the heat from the gasoline, gaseous carbon dioxide was liberated and in the process caused heavy boiling of the gasoline. While we could reach the desired temperatures very quickly by using adequate amounts of dry ice, we were limited to the amount which would not cause all of our gasoline to bubble away and be lost. ... This same effervescing of the carbon dioxide from the cold gasoline caused us no end of trouble in keeping filling connection caps on the tanks during gun-firing tests.

Yes, they had to test the self-sealing in cold as well as hot; rubber gets brittle in the cold.

The British shot down so many German airplanes over England that it is reputed that they were in a position to supply the Turkish Government with spare parts for the airplanes which the latter had procured earlier from the Germans.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Teaching mathematics

"Every working mathematician knows that if one does not control oneself (best of all by examples), then after some ten pages half of all the signs in formulae will be wrong and twos will find their way from denominators into numerators." version

(The Cours de M Hermite so highly praised here seems not to be in English.)

Prince Caspian

While checking a pacing question, I read a bit of Prince Caspian last night(*). It was never my favorite--the kids didn't have much to do except issue an improbably accepted challenge, and the long flashback was offputting the first time I read it. This writer explains more precisely. It's better than the movie, which is a low bar. I get the attempt to illustrate "You need not fight in this battle; take your position, stand and watch the salvation of the LORD in your behalf" sort of ideas, but it doesn't make for a very interesting story.

At any rate, the answer to my pacing question is that I have a bit of revising to do.

(*) Bronchitis makes composition, or much of any creative work, hard.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

When fighting starts

Buffet said that when the tide goes out you discover who was swimming naked.

I've not learned much in the past few years to encourage great faith in our upper level defense establishment. I'm not a prophet--I don't know how wild this is going to get--but I suspect that if things get bad we're going to learn some unhappy things about our military. (Including the "even if you have overwhelming force stashed somewhere, it takes a long time to position it" law that lots of us civilians forget about.)

We've some nice hardware, but Ukraine should have warned us that a war runs through supply really fast. The Houthis were running through some of our ships' defense material pretty fast--can we resupply quickly?

I wonder if we'll learn the right lessons. Screw-ups and heirs-of-screw-ups are generally good at plausible excuses, if nothng else.

I wonder if Arthur Clarke's short story Superiority is required reading in military colleges.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024


I missed last totality--my wife had had knee surgery and couldn't travel comfortably. We showed the partial off to people around us last time, in 2017. It seemed odd to me that in downtown Madison, there were adults walking about who had no idea what was going on that day, and who were astonished and pleased to be able to see it through a pair of those goggles.

My wife's experience was different. She was working with an ESL student, going over some exercises and helping keep the lady's daughters entertained by looking at the eclipse from time to time. Other kids came by. "Kids under 11 thought looking through the glasses was cool. Girls over 11 thought looking through the glasses was cool. Boys over 11 looked at their Big Bug to make sure looking would be cool, and when he demurred, they went on their way. 15 minutes later one of the boys showed up alone and begged to look, and 10 minutes after that a second one came."

This year I was the sick one--nasty persistent cough. However, I noticed that it was worse when I lay down and better sitting or standing, so we headed for Taylorville Sunday afternoon (and got there rather late). We got up at 5 to leave at 7 for the revised destination of a state park south of us, realized it was not quite in the centerline (and some of it was closed to boot!), and went back to our original target of Olney. Traffic proved quite light. In town one Baptist church advertised an "Eclipse party" but we stuck with our idea of trying a natural area so we could hear the wildlife, so we went to the wildlife refuge at the east edge of town. So, over the course of the day, did a number of other Wisconsin-ites, and Champaign-ites, and Decatur-ites. I'd picked Olney as a big enough town and roughly equidistant from metropolitan areas, and it seemed to work out fine.

There was a bit of a line for the restroom, but not terrible, and plenty of room to spread out--though latecomers had to park on the road. As occultation began we carried our chairs into the woods to a clearing where Merlin had ID'd a dozen birds, and we'd seen a few silent ones (e.g. a heron) as well.

The light changed, and my wife got pictures of buds and sunning turtles and trees in different lightings. When it got too dark the flash went off for her picture and the turtles scampered into the lake.

It's funny how much we count on some things just being there: it feels like a more profound loss than just light as the "wolf eats the last bits of the sun". What would we do without it? The shadows on the clouds moved in. (There was a light haze above us.)

A friend said he felt a little breeze as totality began; we didn't. He said the birds went silent. Most did, but the tufted titmouse didn't miss a beat. It makes a huge noise for such a little bird. (We used the Merlin recording feature to hear the birds before and during totality to be sure.)

And we got to see the Sun with her hair down, and a couple of little pink pyramids of light just above the Moon's surface. I was awed and fascinated enough that I forgot to take pictures--it would have seemed like a distraction.

Afterwards we hung around town for another hour, and then went to the town park to see if we could see the famous white squirrels of Olney (my wife knew about them; I didn't). We spotted a few draped on branches high above the recent infestation of dogs and urchins in the park.

The traffic back home was mostly not terrible (except in a few places), but not good either, and we didn't get to bed until 1:30. The cough is worse, unfortunately, so I think I'll post this and go back to bed again.

And yes, somewhere across the lake it had sounded like someone was firing a shotgun to scare away the wolf eating the sun. I guess they succeeded.

A not-so-good example

I've heard the wheelbarrow story for ages. You know the one: a tightrope is stretched across Niagara Falls, and a daredevil walks over and back with a pole. Then he does it without a pole. Then he does it pushing a wheelbarrow. Then he does it balancing the wheelbarrow on his head. Then he does it pushing the wheelbarrow full of a couple hundred pounds of bricks. The crowd cheers each time. He asks the crowd, "Do you believe I could push a man across the falls in this wheelbarrow?" "Yes," is the answer. He addresses the nearest man who said yes: "Get in the wheelbarrow."

The lesson drawn is about faith, and the difference between thinking something and being willing to follow through.

OK, ok, but look at it a different way. What's the benefit? The daredevil gets acclaim when he pushed the bricks across the falls--"What a wonderful man to be able to do that!"--but nobody cares about the bricks. If you get in, the daredevil gets the glory, and you get the "He's a very trusting soul" reaction. And the downside is that every now and then you get a wind gust, and a very intimate view of the falls.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Looking backward

I cleaned up a shelf of accumulated documents yesterday, and among the items I found a 50-year old notebook of mine, with essays on this and that, a talk I was going to give, the beginnings of a few stories, and some math problems that amused me at the time.

We've a grandkid almost as old as I was when I wrote that.

I was struck by a few things--how much better my handwriting was then, and how pompous some of my phrasing was. I'd write on those topics much better now--and did, sometimes several times. I was young enough to know everything, I guess. The story fragments weren't memorable, and I know how organizations work much better now. And the math problems were going at them the wrong way.

It feels strange; would I have liked the old me if we met now? I didn't care for his work; trashed it.

Thursday, April 04, 2024


The World War 2 Museum in New Orleans was worth visiting. Yes, it took more than a day to cover. If it had told the viewpoints of more countries it would probably have taken weeks.

I gather that they have a large collection of personal stories--many of which are integrated into the displays. We didn't see all of the displayed ones. I should contact them and see if there's internet access to their archives.

In one auditorium they ran video distillations of interviews with concentration camp liberators and inmates. Horror and anger and disbelief on one side, and joy, numbness, and disbelief on the other. One stuck with me:

An American told a hungry Jewish prisoner that he was free to leave the camp now, and that he'd be happy to take him to get some food. The man thanked him, and in the interview told us the rest of his story, as he explained it to his liberator. (My quotation will not be perfect.)

Here I was a slave. Not a Jewish slave; a slave. If they gave me non-kosher food, I had to eat it or die. If they said work, I had to work or die. If they said work on Shabbat, I had to work on Shabbat or die. But you have come, and now I am a free man. It is Shabbat, and a free man does not have to travel on Shabbat. I will stay here one more day.