"Hello, 911? Could You Send A Deputy To Supervise My Parenthood?"

Is it worse that our culture's faith in parental authority has become so weak that this seemed plausible to someone, or that our faith in governmental authority has become so strong?

Sounds like the deputies wish you'd just take care of it on your own. That's easy to understand: "Watch me spank my daughter" is the sort of request that could only make one uncomfortable.

"Comrade 'Skynet,' You Say?"

Moscow tests battlefield robots, armed with machine guns.

Now all they need is a device to permit automated nuclear... oh, right. They've had one all along.

Well, we'll just wait for AI, then. I'm sure it'll go fine.

Islamic Hackers Inconvenience Bristol Bus Passengers

...but only slightly.

UPDATE: Oddly enough, they were not the biggest morons in the news today.

Aye, And If You Can't Do That...

...here's Mazzy Star, who can stand good for you no matter what you can do.

Time To Steal His Song

If you can. Kris Kristofferson shows the way, following Johnny Cash: but that doesn't mean you can do the same.

Devils are hard to beat. But if you can't, shout out. It may be there are some gathered here who can help you.

There can be only one

An entertaining explanation of the dastardly tools of the cholera bug.

Won't lovers revolt now?

In struggling to transliterate some ancient Greek inscriptions, I spent some time today looking for internet explanations of what looks like an upside-down "M."  Not much luck, beyond something called an "Old Northern" rune that surely isn't to the point, but I stumbled on several interesting if frivolous sites.

Here is a nice summary of the Greek alphabet, its origins, its pronunciation, and its traces in modern European languages.  It's interesting to see the first letters of the Greek alphabet as successors to older Semitic letters meaning ox, house, camel, and door:  all the basic stuff right up front.  Also, I never noticed before that omicron (ordinary o, as in "doll") and omega (o with a circumflex over it, as in "toad") came from o-micro (o-minor) and o-mega (o-major).  Apparently "psilo" was another word for small, and formed part of epsilon (e-minor, short e, as opposed to eta or e with a circumflex, which was a long e or "ay" sound) and upsilon (u-minor, as in "duh," as opposed to double-u, too complicated to go into).

This site collects palindromes, more than I've ever seen in one place before.  It got snagged, I guess, because of the idea of inverting strings of characters and still being able to read sense into them.  Not interested?  Yawn a more Roman way!

The search term "upside-down character" also led to this amusing discussion of linguists' struggles to transliterate the Greek "iota," also known variously as a jot, yot, or yod, sometimes rendered by adding an upside-down "breve" (little sideways parenthesis thing) to an "i":
So the 19th century philologists needed a symbol for [j]. When they were doing their work, the IPA wasn't around, so they couldn't have used that. In fact, even when the IPA was invented, historical linguists studiously ignored it anyway: they have never been interested in consistency with other subdisciplines, with the exasperating result that each proto-language has its own transcription conventions. (That's what we can blame the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet on.) Moreover, it would be unthinkable for philologists to explicate Greek forms using the Latin script: Greeks were the foundation of Western civilisation—so any historical linguistics to be done with Greek would keep the Greek script: any [j]'s would just have to be tacked on to it. (Of course, the same philologists didn't have compunctions about transliterating Sanskrit; it was not European, after all. Not sure what the excuse was for transliterating Old Church Slavonic, but I'm sure they could come up with something.) To this day, IPA is unknown territory for Ancient Greek historical linguistics.
So if you wanted a character for [j], you searched close to home. As Haralambous documents [§1.2.2], if you were working in the German tradition, you used j, which happens to be the German grapheme for [j] (and which also ended up the IPA's choice, much to the chagrin of Americanists). If you were working in the French tradition, you used y, because it wasn't German. Haralambous observes that more recently French scholars have switched to j, because it's in the IPA; given the year I'm writing this in, I suspect it has the added advantage for the French that even if it is German, at least it isn't American.
Finally, this site lets you type upside-down, a useful bookmark if ever there was one.  But I still don't know how to transliterate my upside-down Greek M's.

Not sure if you'll be able to see this small attachment, but try Eric's right-click trick.  The character appears where we'd apparently expect an ordinary M; the Greek gurus at Project Gutenberg are drawing a blank on why they'd have been inverted.

ETOUS Ê O PH[**numerals; date] MÊNEIXANDIKÔ.

The image cut off the last line, but it's not important.  The ellipses correspond to areas where the original inscription was worn away and illegible.

Don't Get Worked Up About White Supremacists

Some advice from a Southerner to all those in the press and various interest groups who are fulminating about white supremacist groups right now: if you're really concerned about these groups, your attention is counterproductive.

The main beneficiary of this whole set of stories about Rep. Scalise was David Duke. While it doesn't help the Republican brand to be mentioned in a dozen stories alongside "former KKK leader David Duke," ultimately even the worst stories made it clear that the group had an unlikely name for a hard-right white supremacist group ("EURO"), and the best stories make clear that the original tale was probably untrue. It's unlikely you convinced anyone that establishment Republicans were closet racists who didn't already believe it, and if you bought the story whole hog you did it at some damage to your brand's credibility.

On the other hand, for David Duke it was great. It's been years since he got any significant press. The Washington Post argument for worrying about white supremacist groups should make that clear even on its own terms.
What is the group that Scalise addressed?

It is called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO. It was founded in 2000 (under a different name) by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader. This group is best known for being Duke’s “latest vehicle,” Potok says, and has not been particularly active in recent years.
So, his 'latest effort' started a decade and a half ago, and it has been largely inactive for years! Wonderful way to give revitalizing attention to a withered field.

Furthermore, the whole episode gave Duke and his cohort a chance to do their favorite dance on a national stage for a good part of a week. "Why would you ever be offended by a group celebrating European heritage and traditional Western notions of political rights?" they got to ask in the national press. "You wouldn't treat Black or Latino groups that way."

Great job, all around.

Reading further into that Post piece, you see that the real story of white supremacism in America is one we counterinsurgents would call "disaggregation." That's a good thing, if you've forgotten: it means the insurgent groups are falling apart.
How many white supremacist groups are there right now?

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the United States, estimates that there are a little more than 930 such groups in the country right now. Most of these are white supremacist groups or white nationalist groups, according to Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC.

Is that more groups than there were recently? Fewer groups? Give me some context.

That number is up from 602 hate groups in 2000, according to the SPLC. That is “steady, significant growth,” Potok said Tuesday, but it pales in comparison to the growth among other groups the SPLC tracks....

How have these white supremacist groups changed since 2000?

If anything, the groups “were much better organized” in 2000, when there were several major groups, Potok said. Even as their numbers have grown, these groups are “constantly at each other’s throats,” which means they are not tremendously well-organized, he added.
So this "growth," in other words, is made up chiefly of larger, better-organized groups falling apart and fighting among themselves.

The story you want to tell is of how white supremacism and racism are flourishing among Republican America in response to a black President and a rapidly growing illegal immigrant population that is depressing labor participation and compensation in a long-slog recession. I can see why that story would sound plausible! One might easily imagine that this would be the case.

It just happens not to be. The facts don't support it. Middle America has rejected racism root and branch, and is not making any move to return to its embrace in spite of what might seem to be likely factors to spur a growth in racism. It just isn't happening.

In defense of John Boehner

From Andrew Klavan, who draws my grudging attention to the accomplishments of this unappealing statesman:
You can’t get more anti-government than Ayn Rand, so here’s Jack Wakeland writing from an Objectivist perspective on the sequester Boehner stuffed down the president’s throat: “The sequester is the only policy that has reduced spending by the federal government. In fiscal year 2013, total federal spending decreased 1.5% to 2.0% in real, inflation-adjusted dollars. And it promises to do so again in 2014. The FY 2013 sequester is the first time in my lifetime that federal spending shrank in absolute terms. After the ramp-down from WWII, the only decreases in federal spending were decreases as a percentage of GDP, e.g., during the Clinton-Gingrich term in 1995-96. These occurred only because GDP expanded more quickly than spending.”
Now, okay, Boehner may not believe everything hardcore conservatives believe… or in fact, he may and may simply find it useful not to say so. But his job is not to lead the nation. His job is not to inspire the base. His job is not to stand as a beacon for our ideals. His job is to organize and mobilize an enormous collection of scorched cats (aka Republican congressmen) into a political guerilla army so that they can blow up the tracks beneath what once looked like a Progressive juggernaut — and is now beginning to look kind of like smoking wreckage. If the speaker equivocates, if he deals, if he horse trades, compromises, accepts losses where losses are inevitable and makes a virtue out of necessity where virtue itself is not available — well, yeah, it can make a true believer crazy, but it may actually get a lot of practical and important stuff done, too.

When trade was more exciting

From an account of a late 17th-century side trip by some English merchants to the ruins of Palmyra (with some paragraph breaks added; they didn't use them much!):
July 23. we rose by One in the Morning, and Travelling most East, we came to a large Plain, where we saw before us, on a high Mountain, a great Castle, call'd by the Arabs Anture. When we had travelled two or three Hours in this Plain, we espied an Arab driving towards us a Camel, with his Launce, so fast, that he came on a round Gallop, and we supposed him sent as a Spy: being come up to us, he told us he was of Tadmor [Palmyra], and that his Prince, the Emir Melkam, had that Day made Friendship with Hamet Shideed another Prince, and that together they had four hundred Men; so he kept us Company an Hour or two, and enquired of our Muletters if we were not Turks disguised, with intent to seize on Melkam; for we travelled with a Bandiero, the Impress being a Hanjarr or Turkish Dagger, and a Half-Moon. We told him we were Franks, which he could hardly believe, wondering that we travelled thus in the Desart, only out of Curiosity.
Being come near to Tadmor, he went a little before us, and on a sudden run full speed towards the Ruins, we not endeavouring to hinder him. Our Guide told us he was gone to acquaint the Arabs who we were, and that we ought to suspect and prepare for the worst; so we dismounted twenty of our Servants, each having a long Gun, and Pistols at his Girdle, and placed them abreast before us: we following at a little distance behind, on Horse-back, with Carbines and Pistols. In this order we proceeded, and came to a most stately Aqueduct, which runs under Ground in a direct passage five Miles, and is covered with an Arch of Bastard Marble all the Way, and a Path on both sides the Channel for two Persons to walk abreast; the Channel it self being about an English Yard in breadth, and 3/4 of a Yard in depth. At 20 Yards distance all the way are Ventiducts for the Air to pass, and the holes are surrounded with small Mounts of Earth to keep the Sand and Dust from falling down. We marched close by these Mounts, which might serve us for Defence, expecting every moment that the Arabs would come to Assail us, having the disadvantage of Sun and Wind in our Faces: wherefore we Traveled hard to gain an Eminence where we might Post our selves advantagiously, and stop and repose a little, to consider what we had to do.
The Arabs finding us to come on with this Order and Resolution, thought not fit to adventure on us, so we gained the Hill, from whence we might discern these vast and noble Ruins, having a Plain like a Sea for greatness to the Southwards of it. Here having refresh'd our Men, we fetch'd a little Compass and descended by the foot of a Mountain, on which stands a great Castle, but uninhabited. Here two Arabs came to us with Lances, one being Chiah to Melkam, and we sent two to meet them; they gave the Salam alika, and ours returned the Alica salam, and advancing to our Company, told us the Emir had understood of our coming, and had sent them to acquaint us that he was our Friend, and that all the Country was ours. We sent back with them our Janizary and a Servant to visit the Prince in his Tents, which were in a Garden.
In the mean time we dismounted at a watering Place amidst the Ruins, but did not unload till our Janizary and Servant returned with the Emir's Tescarr, assuring us of Friendship and Protection, a Writing which the Arabs were never known to violate before. With them came also one that belonged to the Sheck, of the Town, for whom we had Letters from Useffe Aga the [Emeer] of Aleppo. He desired us for greater Security to pitch our Tents under the Town Walls, which is in the Ruins of a great Palace, the Wall yet standing very high, the Town within but small, and the Houses excepting two or three no better than Hog-sties. So we pitched in a deep Sandy Ground where we found it exceeding hot. Here we waited till three of the Clock without eating any thing, expecting the Sheck should have presented us according to the usual Custom of the Turks to their Friends, and have given some answer to the Letters we brought him; but on the contrary we found by the gesture of the People, that we had Reason to suspect them.
Hereupon two of our Company believing that the want of a present to the Emir was the cause thereof resolved to adventure to give him a Visit, and taking the Janizary and one Servant, they carried him a Present of two pieces of Red Cloath, and four of Green, and several other things: Being come he welcomed them into his Tent, and placed the one on his right Hand and the other on his left. Melkam was a young Man, not above Five and Twenty, and well Featur'd, and a most Excellent Horse-man; Hamet Shideed, the other Prince, was more elderly, as about forty Years of Age, and was not in the Tent, but sat under a Palm-Tree near it. He treated them with Coffee, Camel's-flesh and Dates, and enquired of their Journey, and the Cause of their coming: They told him 'twas only Curiosity to see those Ruins; he said that formerly Solomon Ibnel Doud Built a City in that Place, which being destroyed, was Built again by a strange People, and he believed, that we understanding the Writing on the Pillars, came to seek after Treasure, he having but six Moons before found a Pot of Corra Crusses.
After this he went out of the Tent, leaving them smoaking Tobacco, to the Janizary and Servant, and told them, that never till that Day any Franks had been at that Place, and that now we knew the way through the Desert, we might inform the Turks to their Ruin and Destruction, so that 'twould be convenient for them to destroy us all: But that we coming as Friends, he would only have 4000 Dollars as a Present, else he would hang them and the two Franks up, and go fight the rest. This Message being brought them, they wish'd they had excus'd themselves from this Embassy, and answered, they could say nothing to that Demand, not knowing our Minds, but if he would permit them to go and speak with the rest, they would return an Answer. Hearing this, he threatned present Death, but at length gave leave to our Janizary to carry us a Letter from them, wherein they shewed the danger they were in, and earnestly entreated us to redeem them, the Price set on them being 2000 Dollars, one half in Mony, the other half in Goods, as Swords, Cloaths, Tents, &c. which the Emir promised to estimate at their Worth.
This Letter amazed us mightily, and a little before it arrived, we understanding a little, and fearing more ill Treatment to our Friends, were getting ready to free them or die with them. The Garden where Melkam lay, was about half a Mile from the Tents, full of Palm-Trees, and had no Walls, but loose Stones piled up Breast high about them, so we designed to have gone suddenly and given two or three Volleys on them, e'er they could get to Horse; and the Arab know not how to Fight on Foot. And though they bragg'd they had 400 Men, we supposed 200 might be the most, and they not all Lances. But on receipt of this Letter, and the Servants telling us that they would certainly be cut off, if we endeavoured their Rescue, we began to examin what Moneys we had, Cloaths and other Trade, and found we could not near make up that Sum. In this Confusion came two Arabs to receive the things, and immediately Word was brought that the Emir would come and Visit us; we sent him Word, that if he came with more than two followers, we would not admit him: so he came with 2 Servants only; and in conclusion, we made him up in Money and Goods to the Value of 1500 Dollars. He valuing our Things as we pleased; his Design being not so much to compleat the Sum, as to take from us all we had.
After this, about Sun Set, he returned us our two Friends, when the Sheck of the Town invited us to Lodge within the Town; which we found afterwards was with a design to have forced something from us: But we giving him to understand that the Emir had taken all already, and had left us only our Arms and the Cloaths on our Backs; which if they would have, they must Fight for: That Resolution daunted them, and away they went, promising us Barley for our Horses in the Morning. We kept good watch in the Night, and when Day broke, we began to consider how to clear our selves; we expected the Barly till Nine in the Morning, when it came, and the Emir himself came and gave us the good Morrow: We feared least they should pretend to stop some of us in the Gate-way, so we placed six of our Company to secure the Passage, 'till all the rest were got out, under pretence of taking an Inscription that was over the Gate. Being all got clear, we returned by the same way we came and arrived at Aleppo July 29. in the Morning.
This Melkam told us, That if we had not submitted our selves to his Demands, he was resolved to Fight us after this Method: Loading 50 Camels with Baggs of Sand, and making small holes in the Baggs for the Sand to drop out, he would drive these Camels abreast upon us before the Wind, that the Sand might blow in our Eyes, and we spending our Bullets on the Camels, might so be easily overthrown; we answered, that we believed he would not venture his Camels and Horses to such a Combat. He wondered extreamly when we talk'd of Shooting Birds flying, and Hares running.
This and other the like Violences used by this Arab Prince, made the Bassa of Aleppo resolve to destroy him; and not long after he cajolled him with the Hopes of being made King of the Arabs, and to draw him near the City, he veiled and caressed some of his Followers: Which having its effect; the Bassa surprized him in his Tents by Night, and soon after he was put to Death: This those People were willing to believe the effect of their so abusing the English, and might much contribute to the Security and good Usage they found, that went the second time on this Expedition.

Happy New Year

I've been seeing a lot of Back to the Future fans posting silly fashions from the sequel movie, which was set in 2015. Have faith, you Sci-Fi believers. It's only a phase. In 2019, the restoration comes.

Southern accents

I wish this audio clip were longer.  A woman explains the sources of a handful of common Southern accents by slipping effortlessly in and out of their linguistic ancestors.  She's really good at it.

How May of These Categories...

...could you nail just by reading the Bible?

An Excellent Example from Nashville PD

While the civic culture in New York shows troubling signs, we might take some comfort from this letter from the chief of the Nashville, TN police. He is responding to a citizen concerned by the protests arising from the several recent cases of civilian deaths at police hands resulting in no indictments. The citizen worries that the police failure to stop the demonstrations is eroding faith in public order as the demonstrations are often cases of trespassing, leading to a spectacle of the police being cowed into not enforcing the law. Not so, the chief says:
First, it is laudable that you are teaching your son respect for the police and other authority figures. However, a better lesson might be that it is the government the police serve that should be respected. The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views.

Later, it might be good to point out that the government needs to be, and is, somewhat flexible, especially in situations where there are minor violations of law. A government that had zero tolerance for even minor infractions would prove unworkable in short order....

In the year 2013, our officers made over four hundred thousand vehicle stops, mostly for traffic violations. A citation was issued in only about one in six of those stops. Five of the six received warnings. This is the police exercising discretion for minor violations of the law. Few, if any, persons would argue that the police should have no discretion. This is an explanation you might give your son.... Nashville, and all of America, will be even more diverse when your son becomes an adult. Certainly, tolerance, respect and consideration for the views of all persons would be valuable attributes for him to take into adulthood.
This is generally my sense of how policing should be done. The point is not to administer punishments, but to ensure the common peace. This is especially true in difficult moments, when it requires care and discretion.

CDR S on James Fallows

It's a thoroughgoing response to that Atlantic piece about America being a 'chickenhawk nation,' so I'll just post the conclusion up front.
1. Fallows needs to get over the draft guilt he's been working on a long time. Enough. You were an arrogant, selfish, physical coward as a youth. You've got a lot of company. You're absolved, so carry on and don't burden younger generations with your generation's sin. From all indications you've led a good life and are a patriotic American doing your best to serve your nation in the way you believe is correct, that is good enough and more than most.
2. We are a representative republic that has no natural need or desire for a large standing army. Neither you nor I would want to live in a republic that used the police power of the state to randomly put its citizens (due to the small numbers needed and that could be afforded, a draft would be far from universal, and an exceptionally arbitrary lottery) under bondage without an existential threat just to make a socio-political point - or as Mike Mullen puts it - force pain on the population by intentionally keeping the nation weak until crisis. Let me be clear; a draft in peace is an anathema to a free society and is tyranny without an existential threat breathing at the door. Full stop.
3. If you don't like professional politicians and their habits, then work for term limits so more people, including perhaps those with military experience, have openings with a realistic opportunity to win a seat.
4. If, rightly in my mind, you find the senior military leadership lacking, then root and branch work to change the system that produced them. Decimate the Beltway bureaucracy and nomenclature of the Department of Defence. Let Goldwater-Nichols go in to the dustbin of history and replace it with a new, modern system that best fits the needs of this century.
5. Lastly, go to Harvard, Columbia, and the other deepest blue parts of the country where those who have gained the most from our nation live and educate their children. Help build a culture there that expects much from the elite, where wearing the uniform is the price they must pay, we expect, and the duty they want, to justify their high position in society. Shame the selfish who, like you in your youth, let others do the work for them - made excuses so others would go in their place. Reward those who, however short in time or modest of service record, chose to add their name to the roster.
Discuss, if you like.

Keeping the peace

New York cops are engaged in an unofficial strike, sending the number of arrests plummeting.  Is mayhem around the corner? Timothy Carney at the Washington Examiner argues that we overestimate the role of the police in preventing crime.  I'd guess it depends on the neighborhood, how long the police have to withdraw enforcement before things go wild.  For lots of people, the presence or absence of police has almost nothing to do with whether they're likely to steal or start shooting up the place.  In other neighborhoods, it doesn't seem to take much to spur looting and drive-by shootings.  I suspect we're about to collect a lot of interesting new data.

What are semi-conductor chips?

Semi-conductors are materials in which nearly all the electrons are paired off and inert, but a very few electrons are sailing for the New World or taking jobs as pirates on the open sea. The exact impurities ("dopants") added to the original material (which is often but not always a crystal) affect the band gap that inhibits an electron from bolting. When semi-conductor materials are combined into the form we call a transistor, its band gap controls the precise amount of light or electric current needed to goose the transistor into its "on" position. ("Transistor" is a special form of semi-conductor that's sandwiched and wired up a particular way, but the terms are linguistically related: a transistor neither transfers nor resists indiscriminately, just as a semi-conductor neither conducts nor insulates completely. Instead, like an efficient doorman, they both let through just the electrons we want to pass.)

Tiny electrical-current devices that can be efficiently switched on and off with tiny amounts of electricity lend themselves to compact logic circuits. Transistors can be hooked up so that their output connections feed back into their inputs, an arrangement called a "logic gate." A transistor in one of these arrangements stays on even when the base current is removed, but when a new base current flows, the transistor flips back off, then on again with a new current, and so on. This is called a flip-flop, which amounts to a simple memory device that stores a zero (when it's off) or a one (when it's on). It is the basic technology behind computer memory chips. They are simple or complex depending on our ingenuity in constructing the interactive logic gates.

Modern, miniaturized logic circuits are laid down on a chip by a kind of etching process. For instance, a tiny little light pattern can be shone on the chip, and then a circuit material is painted on in an incredibly thin coat that sticks differently depending on where the light hit the surface. Chip-makers have gotten so good at this miniaturization that they're approaching the nano-scale--still bigger than an individual atom, but getting near that neighborhood. The smaller the wavelength of the light, the finer the pattern we can achieve. Visible light is in the 400-700 nanometer range, but of course wavelengths get smaller and smaller as you move up into the ultraviolet and gamma-ray ranges. If we can get the etching pattern down to the atomic scale (1/10 of a nanometer), we'll obviously be able to pack a lot more circuits into a small space.

I think I always had the notion that silicon chips were made of the same material as beach sand. Sand is really silicone dioxide, though, whereas the silicon in chips is elemental, crystallized silicon, which looks a bit like a silvery metal.

What is electric current?

It's something else I've never understood: what is electricity, anyway? I was always told it had something to do with loosely affiliated electrons moving around, but it's not quite like totally free electrons scooting along a pipe. As I understand it, electrons very rarely behave in ways that are analogous to the ballistic movement of large particles, and when they do it's generally in a vacuum (as in a cathode ray tube--the "rays" are projectile electrons), not in a solid material like the copper in an electrical wire.

To start with, we look at electrons in their most characteristic state, all staid and settled down in orbit around a positively charged atomic nucleus. I guess there are, on average, about the same number of electrons in the world as protons, and most of them have found a nice girl and moved to the suburbs with a 9-to-5 job. Electrons in a fully completed atomic shell or "band" don't produce an electric current; if they're "moving" in some sense, it's not the same sense as a movement along an identifiable path that we call an electric "current."

The outer shell of electrons around an atom is called the "valence band," and is associated with the kind of chemical reactions that we learned about in school: +2-valence atoms like to pair up with -2-valence atoms, and so on, until together they've achieved a stable, full valence band that conducts no current. But if a bit of energy shoots into a full valence band and juices up a particular electron enough to bounce it out so that it's still nearby, but not quite nailed down any more, we call its new hovering location a "conduction band." It's out there cruising around trying out new musical acts, starting up new tech ventures, and looking for girls, and it's capable of conducting electricity if circumstances are such as to line it up with a lot of other similarly bored, disaffected electrons.

The difficulty in bridging the gap between a stodgy suburban valence band and an exciting urban conduction band is called the "band gap" for that particular material. In good conductors like metals, the two bands may overlap, so there is no identifiable band gap; in that case a high percentage of electrons may wander around like ronin. In good insulators, the band gap is hopelessly huge; hardly anyone escapes the gray flannel suit. In certain very small or very pure samples of materials, however, there is a nice, clear band gap, fairly small but of slightly variable size, which can be affected by clever things we do to it. "Tuning" the band-gap produces little nano- or quantum-objects with various useful properties. Quantum dots, for instance, drink in all flavors of light, then spit out a single color consistently, depending on how hard the dot is squeezed into a smaller and smaller space, and therefore how big the band-gap is and what wave-length of light will be "fit" in it. More traditionally, a transistor has a characteristic band gap that controls what kind of current is needed to overcome its electrical "gate."

Republicans past and present

There was a lot of talk about the 2014 Republican sweep, particularly how it was the largest R majority in the House since 1928.  Michael Barone points out that the Republican and Democratic parties of today are quite different from their early 20th-century incarnations.  The earlier Republican party was dominated by Northerners, political heirs to 19th-century Republicans who pushed for the Civil War.  After WWII, they backed the expensive Marshall Plan.  They passed the Taft-Hartley bill over Truman's veto, limiting the power of labor unions in ways that have lasted to the present.

The modern R-D split is still geographical, but characterized by a thin strip of D on each coast and a huge field of R in between.  The Democrats by and large favor a strong central government; the Republicans are uneasy about the size of government but lack a unified strategy to alter it.

I see a 3-way split:  big-tent strong government (populist/nanny state), small-tent strong government (crony capitalist oligarchs), and big-tent small government (libertarian/free marketists).

Designer elements

To start with some corrections to my previous post about nanotechnology: First, it was not George Smalley but William Shockley, one of the inventors of the transistor in 1947, who made the "amplification" analogy about the bale of hay attached to the mule's tail.

Second, I'm still struggling with the concept of the location of an unlocatable electron. The truth, it seems, is that the electron does very much have a position, but in the odd sense that there is a wave function describing its location at any particular time as a varying probability. (Just as a sine-wave-ish function describing a water wave has an amplitude that corresponds to the height of the water, a Schroedinger wave function describes the probability of an election being somewhere at a particular time.) That is, it may not be in our power to pinpoint where an electron is at any particular moment, but there are many areas where the electron is so unlikely to be that you can pretty much ignore the possibility. The areas of likely location may be more or less confined and comprehensible, such as the surface of a rather small, fuzzy sphere in an identifiable neighborhood.

On to more wonders about nanotechnology: I was surprised to read that all atoms, from tiny one-proton hydrogen to obese, unwieldy uranium with its 92 protons (we can ignore larger atoms, which are too unstable to stay together long), are roughly a tenth of a nanometer in diameter. Despite the difference in the size of their nuclei, all the atoms in the periodic table have an effective "size" that corresponds to the cloud formed by the outer layer of their electrons. The negatively charged electrons are all being sucked into toward the nucleus by their electrical attraction to the positive protons, but at the same time the electrons are fiercely repelling each other, so they stand off from the nucleus in the stable positions permitted by the mysterious laws of quantum mechanics. (The protons in the nucleus try to repel each other, too, but there's an attraction between protons called the "strong nuclear force" that, at extremely short distances, vastly overwhelms the repulsive electric force.) For whatever reason, the stable positions for the outermost orbiting electrons are pretty close to the same distance from the nucleus no matter how many of them are packed in below; there's an awful lot of empty space in there, and a very powerful electrical attraction keeping things tight.

It's the outer layer of electrons that concerns us most in daily life. Just about everything we normally experience as the properties of atoms has to do with their outer shell of electrons; that's where the phenomena of chemical bonding and the absorption or reflection of light mostly take place. That's one reason elements in the same column of the periodic table have such similar properties: the difference in atomic weight and number is often less important than the similarity in outer electron shells.

That brings us to artificial atoms. According to this terrific Wired article from several years ago, when we manufacture quantum dots, their electron clouds act a lot like ordinary atoms, despite their hollow cores.  For instance, they can make pseudo-chemical bonds just as the electrons in normal atoms do. But artificial atoms need not simply mimic elements number 1-92 on the periodic table. Their electron shells don't necessarily have to be roughly spherical, as those of natural atoms are, because we are shaping them with a variety of forces that need not be as simple as the radially symmetric pull of a nucleus. That means that there may be bazillions of artificial atoms available to us, each with its own chemical and spectral behavior. What's more, we may be able, by doing something as simple as altering the shaping magnetic field, to alter the electron shell and therefore transmute one artificial element instantaneously into another.

A Man After My Own Heart

But, of course he is.
Milius, who wrote... Apocalypse Now and... directed Conan the Barbarian... is there when Pauline Kael arrives. Kael is the liberal New Yorker film critic. To her, a Milius film is only slightly better than a slime mold.

Milius has had some wine. He has an intermediary tell Kael that he would like a “conference” with her. A message comes back: Kael wants to know if Milius, who in meetings with executives was fond of displaying pistols, is armed.

“Tell her I’m not armed,” Milius says. “But I myself am a weapon.”
His greatest stroke in Conan was in getting Basil Poledouris to do the score. It wouldn't be a tenth the movie it is if it had the ordinary score of a Sword & Sorcery film.

Some Advice From The World of Chivalry

So there's this article about a guy trying to turn frat boys into gentlemen.
“What I find, when I ask [what it means to be a good man] of men, is words like honor, integrity, doing the right thing, standing up for the little guy.” All of which are crucially different, in Kimmel’s mind, from the words they use to describe “being a man”—words like to win, get laid, get rich."...

By way of contrast, he says that he might very well be able to persuade fraternity members to show respect for women by urging them to “live up to the ideals you yourself profess in your charter.” He quiets down a little. “I think I can sell that.”
Those fraternity charters are by and large artifacts of 19th century college culture. This model of what it means to be a gentleman was self-consciously drawn from medieval sources, but the extraction was troubled by this very question. The part the 19th century proper gentleman admired was the honor, the courtesy to ladies, the moral uprightness (which I notice our left-leaning gentleman has substituted with 'standing up for the little guy'; but since it was an explicitly Christian sort of moral uprightness that the Victorians wanted, the substitution is not ridiculous).

What the knights and their ladies themselves wanted, if you go back and read the Medievals directly, was first and foremost prowess. The quest to win is not severable from the quest to be a good man.

The Medievals wanted the other things too. Honor in doing one's duty was the very foundation of their civilization, which was much more fragile than ours if people lied or cheated. Keeping one's word was deeply important. Lancelot, in the long vulgate prose stories from Middle French, is so willing to be obedient to ladies that he allows himself to be kept in prison without resistance for a long time at the orders of a woman. She values his prowess, though, recognizing that it is somehow at the core of his being a good man and a good knight: when battles or tournaments occur, she paroles him to go and fight. In return, he meekly returns to resume his imprisonment after his victories.

What they were able to do, which we have not so far been able to do, is to resolve the conflict between 'developing and proving prowess' and 'being nice to the little guy and to ladies.' Those things are definitely in conflict -- one is about pursuing your own interests, and the other about relinquishing some of what your power could have claimed in order that others may be happier. Still, this conflict is not necessarily a logical contradiction.

If you want this to work, you have to be smarter than the Victorians, and as smart as that Medieval lady. If you try to force them not to win, to drive out this ethic of prowess and competition with one another, you will fail. They will not buy that at any price. This is too much at the essence of manhood.

They can strive mightily in war and competition, and yet gently in service to the lady who respects and honors them for their striving. You should want them to strive for prowess and for victory, as a precondition and training for striving for moral uprightness and kindness. Institutions, faiths, civilizations can make headway on this ground if they do not make the mistake of trying to turn this into a bloodless ethic. It is the ethic of blooded men.

A Tale of Two Thomases

On an allied topic to the repetition of the Herod story in the tales of King Arthur, Universalis notes that scholars sometimes make a similar argument for two early figures. "The prophets Elijah and Elisha are a bit of an embarrassment," they note, because they have not only such similar names but reputed miracles that are often so similar in character that scholars argue there is really one story here that somehow got divided in two in the record, rather than two lives more or less accurately recounted.

Since this is the feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury, they note a similar coincidence:
A learned and worldly man called Thomas, a close and trusted friend of King Henry, is appointed by the king to a high office where he is expected to be loyal... Thomas suffers an interior conversion and resolves to follow his conscience, God's voice within him [which] leads to a conflict with the king, who feels betrayed by his trusted friend....

Are we talking about Henry II of England and Thomas à Becket? Or Henry VIII of England and Thomas More?
A fair argument! Sometimes the rhymes are in history itself, and not just in our stories about our history.

Last snowflake of the season

Artificial atoms

My mission this winter has been to understand electronics a little better, and in aid of that I listened to an excellent Great Course on nanotechnology.  What a stunning field!  The course fully delivered in terms of explaining what might be accomplished by nanotechnology in the near future in terms of things like cameras, medical treatment, and solar power.  It fell down considerably in the more difficult task of explaining how these things can be accomplished, frequently reverting to jargon and ill-defined terms.  In one breath, the lecturer was unsure whether his audience had heard of the periodic table of the elements.  In the next, he was throwing around terms like "quantum dot" and "band gap" as if they meant something to the average layman.

So with my free time today, I tried to run down popularized sources that would help me understand semiconductors, microelectronics, and quantum dots in a way accessible to people who have no command of the mathematics of wave mechanics.  Here are some of the things I found out.

Any popular discussion of nanotechnology is going to throw out all kinds of exciting possibilities of quantum dots, but what are the little thingummies?  The definition is often given as something like electrons confined in a space measured in a fairly small number of nanometers. But what do we mean by "confining" the electron, exactly?  We've been told we can neither stop them nor ever know exactly where they are.

The answer apparently lies in the same sort of thing that goes on when we say an electron is in orbit around an atomic nucleus.  One of the quandaries that led to the development of quantum mechanics was our inability to visualize how electrons behave in an atom.  In classical mechanics, an oscillating or rotating electron should be generating an electromagnetic wave.  In other words, it should emit light and, in so doing, lose energy.  It should therefore spiral gradually into its nucleus after a while, but it doesn't.  What gives?  Apparently the thinking is that electrons in certain kinds of permitted energy states, which we call "orbits" (though they're not like planetary orbits), are stable and neither emit light nor lose energy and fall into the center of the atom.  If they gain or lose just the right amount of energy, they can jump up or down into the next permitted energy state, but until that happens they're on autopilot.  I gather we don't know why this is so, only that it's the way things happen.  So it must be that electrons in certain states can hang out more or less indefinitely under the influence of a particular atomic nucleus, and that's what we mean--loosely--by their "confined location."  I gather further that a quantum dot pulls off something like the same trick, but without benefit of a nucleus.  In that sense, a quantum dot has been called an "artificial atom."

How does a nanotechnologist confine electrons in a dot, without using an atomic nucleus as an ordering device?  He relies on the special qualities of the materials we call semiconductors.  These are materials that neither freely conduct electricity, as metal does, nor totally insulate it, like glass.  Instead, they allow a very tiny amount of electricity to pass, but only if we excite the system very slightly, such as by introducing a tiny charge or some light.  As I understand it, natural semiconductors tend to be crystalline structures formed from elements with four electrons in their outermost 8-type shell, which form covalent bonds with other similar atoms.  The addition of trace amounts of elements with either 3 or 5 electrons in their outer shells creates a situation in which the crystal is either slightly short of electrons or slightly overstocked with them.  (Something about the regular array of the crystal is conducive to the electrons moving about in a useful way.)  The movement of the spare electrons, or the movement of the missing spaces where an electron should be (as in the case of those little puzzles that are solved by moving around the "hole"), or both, function as the carriers of electric current.  We have developed considerable ingenuity in adding just the right sort of this or that to produce the excess-electron materials ("N"-type) and electron-depleted materials ("P"-type) that we need.  When we sandwich N and P materials together, we find that we can precisely control when current will and will not pass across the boundary between them.

One very handy semiconductor device is a diode, or rectifier, which basically is some N-material stacked against some P-material that functions as a one-way valve:  electric current will go through on one voltage but not on its opposite.  This is what we use, for instance, to convert AC current to DC.  An even handier device is a transistor, which is in essence two diodes back to back.  It is a sandwiching of electron-oversupply and electron-undersupply materials (N-P-N or P-N-P) in such a configuration that applying a tiny current to the middle part of the sandwich permits a current to pass through the whole shebang.  That is, the transistor is either an off-switch or an amplifier, depending on whether it's put in the "on" position by a small current.  (Electrical switches weren't new when transistors were developed, of course, but the old style required a big "gate" of conducting material that could be opened or shut by brute force.  The "switch" in a transistor can be tiny and energy efficient.)

Even cooler, when the current passes through the transistor, it has been amplified.  How does the amplification part work?  George Smalley, one of the winners of the Nobel Prize for nanotechnology in the 1990s, used this analogy:  Tie a bale of hay to the tail of a mule, then put a bit of effort into striking a match to light the hay, and observe the level of energy expended by the mule.  A transistor is a device in which a lot of current is ready to flow once an initial stimulus has triggered it.  Until the trigger happens, nothing flows, but after the trigger happens, the information contained in the trigger is transmitted in vastly louder form.

It turns out that judicious manipulation of semiconductor materials permits us to shave away the crystalline structure in which electrons are permitted to flow until, at last, they are confined to a plane (a "quantum well"), or to a long, narrow tunnel (a "quantum wire"), or a little cube or sphere (a "quantum dot").  Why bother?  Well, to take the case of quantum dots, it turns out that we can fine-tune the size of the dot in order to exert a precise control over the size of the little packet of energy that's required to enter the system and bump the electron to another level.  When it falls back down, it will emit a tiny bit of light at a precise and controllable frequency.  This is proving handy in the development of TV screens in the form of extremely thin layers that emit bright, clear light in any color we like upon the application of an extremely small current.  It's also possible to construct medical nanoparticles that combine antigen-like recognition particles and light-emitting quantum dots, so we can let them roam in the bloodstream until they encounter a microbe or a cancer cell, then emit light that's color-coded to let us know which problem they found.  They can even be programmed to release a toxin to destroy the microbe or cancer cell with minimal effects on surrounding tissue, which should not only decrease side-effects but also lessen the ability of the problem cells to develop resistance.  In the context of solar power, quantum dots hold the promise of something very much like artificial photosynthesis that produces electricity rather than sugar.

It's perfectly amazing how far this field has advance in the last couple of decades.

That's Not What They Mean, Volokh

I generally have a lot of respect for Eugene Volokh, but he's fighting a straw man in his post on regulating guns like cars. The people who argue for this have in mind especially two ordinary car regulations they would like to see applied to guns, neither of which he mentions.

1) Registration of all cars with the government at time of sale or transfer,

2) Mandatory insurance to cover likely potential costs should you operate it in a way that causes harm.

So that would mean universal registration of firearms, as well as mandatory (and rather expensive) insurance for each and every firearm you intend to operate.

In other words, the proposal is for a much stricter regime of firearm regulation than currently common across the country -- not a lesser regime.

Richard Fernandez: Adapt, Survive, Profit

I thought this was an excellent piece.
One of the most salient characteristic of American culture is “can do” — its ability to find a way around obstacles placed in its path. Reuters recently reported that ice-cream shops in Venezuela are closing due to the unavailability of milk. In America the outcome may have been the invention of a source of artificial milk. Instead of closing the shops they might have reopened as artificial ice cream parlors.

American oil and gas companies reacted precisely in this way to government discouragement. The industry simply invented new technologies which made America the biggest oil producer in the world.

In the United States failure appears to be a profit opportunity.... Take for example the case of New York City resident Nicolas Karlson. The Affordable Care Act gave him the shaft.... So what does Karlson do? He adapts by hiring an adviser named Brett Sigler of Client Focused Advisors in New York. Brett will get him a deal somehow....

Obamacare will be great for guys like Sigler.
That seems like a strong insight. Government creates problems, but that means there's money to be made solving the problems created by government. I've been worried about automation putting people out of work, but here's a near-endless source of potential employment: developing workarounds and fixes for the idiocy that government devises.


Today is apparently the "Feast of Holy Innocents," meaning those children Herod had killed in his attempt to eliminate Jesus. In Le Morte D'Arthur, Malory has King Arthur repeat this infamy in an attempt to eliminate Mordred, about whom he is warned by a prophecy of Merlin's.
THEN King Arthur let send for all the children born on May-day, begotten of lords and born of ladies; for Merlin told King Arthur that he that should destroy him should be born on May-day, wherefore he sent for them all, upon pain of death; and so there were found many lords' sons, and all were sent unto the king, and so was Mordred sent by King Lot's wife, and all were put in a ship to the sea, and some were four weeks old, and some less. And so by fortune the ship drave unto a castle, and was all to-riven, and destroyed the most part, save that Mordred was cast up, and a good man found him, and nourished him till he was fourteen year old, and then he brought him to the court, as it rehearseth afterward, toward the end of the Death of Arthur. So many lords and barons of this realm were displeased, for their children were so lost, and many put the wite on Merlin more than on Arthur; so what for dread and for love, they held their peace.
I've always read this part of Malory's tale as being a reiteration of the Biblical story, and a rather implausible one. I'm not sure whether a Jewish king, with the backing of Roman soldiers, might have really carried out such an order. Perhaps the Romans would have been willing to sustain him on his throne against the outrage it would merit, as it would weaken and divide a subject population. Perhaps the kingdom was at that point so inflected by the kind of tyrannies common to that region in that time of the world that it was not out of order.

It is just the sort of thing, though, that the British tradition in Malory's time could not have accepted. Kings would and did ask for hostages from powerful families at times, as a guarantee of good behavior. But they treated them well and raised them so long as good behavior was assured. To have killed the hostages, not of one family but of many across the kingdom, would have brought open war from the nobility against the king. Certainly in Malory's own day the Wars of the Roses -- in which he had some part -- showed that the dignity of royalty was not unlimited if they abused their authority.

In any case today we are supposed to reflect on them, and all innocents killed for someone else's purposes, convenience, or benefit. It would seem we have quite a score of our own to admit to on this day.

How To Start a Fight in One Easy Step

Actually there are ten, but the first one is enough if, as a man, you follow the advice to 'confront men' about it. By the time we get to telling other men's sons how to grow up thinking about their 'male privilege,' you'll be lucky if you don't get worse than a fight.

I realize that with society structured as it is we need women to do this kind of thing. We even give female soldiers medals for it now. As well we might, given that fighting sexual harassment is now the Army's "primary mission." Why wouldn't you give out medals for the soldiers who are at the forefront of aggressively pursuing your primary mission?

Still, let's be clear about the limits of your 'male privilege.' What you're suggesting is well into the realm of female privilege. I'll listen to women talk about these things with great courtesy if they really want to discuss it. If you as a man come up to me and tell me I shouldn't prop my feet up in a chair at Starbucks because it might possibly make some woman somewhere feel uncomfortable, though, you're asking for trouble. I'd give the woman the chair I was sitting in, unasked, if chairs were short in supply. If she refused to take it, I'd stand anyway rather than sit while a woman stood. As Lewis Grizzard used to say, if I didn't do it my ancestors would come up out of the grave after me.

But if you as a man undertake to go about lecturing other men about it, that's a privilege you don't have. You'd better well know it.