XKCD speaks

These are posts from "Not Exactly Rocket Science," by the way.

In The Guardian, the author of the XKCD comic strip interviews an astronaut.  Did you watch the movie "Gravity" and pick it apart?  I didn't like that someone in a low-Earth orbit who wanted to catch up with someone else in the same orbit, but on the opposite side of the Earth, accelerated to catch up.  The XKCD and his astronaut had different problems.  For one thing, apparently the movie producers sometimes had Earth rotating in the wrong direction in the background.  The astronaut noted in passing that, when he was in orbit, he had to get used to the idea that north wouldn't always be up.

All-Around Education

That's the etymology of "encyclopedia."  The Atlantic is running an article about the habit of creating these works, starting with Pliny.

Sure-Fire Electoral Success

Republicans are in dismay over the primary. S. E. Cupp apparently thinks they ought to throw the election to keep Trump out of the White House -- but how hard can they really throw it?
For Democrats, particularly those who must defend President Barack Obama’s record on foreign affairs and terrorism, there is no good news. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News survey, seven in 10 Americans now describe ISIS as a major threat to national security. Another 44 percent of respondents believe another attack inside the United States at some point in the next few months is “very” likely, greater than at any point since October 2001. 57 percent of those polled disapprove of Obama’s handling of the issue of terrorism. According to Gallup, 67 percent believe future “acts of terrorism” inside the United States are either somewhat or very likely. Gallup further revealed that confidence in the government’s ability to keep its citizens safe is lower than it has ever been since the 9/11 attacks. Simultaneously, a majority of Americans fear they will be the next victims of that forthcoming attack for the first time since 2001. Perhaps most ominously from a Democratic perspective, satisfaction in the direction the country is headed has not been this depressed since November of 2014 when Republicans rode a wave of voter dissatisfaction to pick up control of the U.S. Senate.
It is in this environment that both their President and their front-runner for the party's nomination have decided to make their party's main issue obtaining unilateral authority to strip Americans of the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms without due process.

Saturday Medieval song

Was able to see these ladies last night in one of their last concerts. (They are retiring). At least they made a lot of recordings.

A Footballer's Ave

He's a man of more than one talent.

Dying young

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.

John Keats (1795-1821)

That Would Be The -Clinton- State Department

DHS whistleblower says that the State Department crushed his investigation and destroyed database materials that could have stopped the Berdoo attacks.

Apparently the concerns came out of a union of the Clinton State Department and DHS's office of Civil Rights / Civil Liberties. That there was a network bringing in known radical Muslim preachers to American mosques was not a proper concern for Customs and Border Protection, apparently. His work, which had documented the extent of the network and that included the mosque attended by the Berdoo shooters, was deleted from the DHS systems following State Department complaints.

Immigration's a Big Deal

Even if we're not talking about refugees or the structure of Islam, the biggest part of the problem remains. Why aren't we asking whether the immigrants we are bringing in are good for America?, asks the Atlantic magazine.

Say, Who's Up For An 'Assault Weapon' Ban?

The New York Times asks the question as part of their regular poll with CBS, having just run a front-page editorial to fulminate on the subject. Now 'assault weapon' isn't a real category based on function, but a scary name invented to make the guns easier to ban during the Clinton Administration. We all remember the Clinton-era ban, and that it was allowed to sunset after ten years because it accomplished nothing whatsoever. Even the Brady folks couldn't muster anything positive to say about it.

Given that the name was invented for the sole purpose of being scary enough to sell gun control, the poll has always before found that a majority of respondents agreed to ban such guns. Not this time. The highest opposition on record for the poll was 34%. Now a clean majority oppose such bans.

In Fairness, I Thought He Was Talking About -Us-...

Clinton receives some negative feedback from 'Muslim advocacy organizations.'
“We appreciate that you forcefully condemned the proposal put forward by Donald Trump to ban any Muslims from entering the United States — but we are concerned that your campaign is sending mixed messages when it comes to Islamophobia,” the letter reads. “Just months ago, one of your prominent campaign surrogates, Gen. Wesley Clark, called for the internment of some American Muslims. We call on you to make clear that you find such extreme proposals unacceptable by immediately removing Gen. Clark from his role as a surrogate for your campaign..."
Former Supreme Allied Commander -- Europe, Clark wasn't talking about "Muslims" per se, but about "disloyal Americans." He was speaking in the wake of the Chattanooga shooter, of course, whose motive is completely unknown. Maybe he was a right-wing fanatic.

The Game Theory of Terrorism

In 1960, at the height of the Cold War, Nobel Prize-winning American economist Thomas Schelling [5] introduced the world to his “theory of strategy,” an adaptation of game theory to the world of international relations. In his book, The Conflict of Strategy, Schelling coined the concept of a “focal point” (now known as a “Schelling point”) to describe how individuals and nations reach an agreement when bargaining with each other. The process involves anticipating what the other person or country might do. To demonstrate, in the 1950s, Schelling asked a group of students to pick a place in New York City where they could meet a stranger without having coordinated a place and time beforehand. Without knowing what any of the other students said, most of them not only picked the information booths at Grand Central Station, but nearly all chose to arrive at noon.

Schelling later conducted a second experiment. He gave a group of people sheets of paper with 16 squares. He promised a prize if they all checked the same box. Statistically speaking, only six percent should have checked the same one. In reality, 60 percent checked the top left square. This means that people can reach the same conclusion when properly motivated without having even spoken to one another.

Although Schelling certainly could not have foreseen the application of this idea to defeating ISIS, it is eerily appropriate. If we apply the 16 squares scenario with radicalization, what we are trying to prevent is, in effect, this “psychic moment,” as Schelling calls it, when likeminded individuals all come to check the same box: engage in terrorism. Around 20,000 plus foreign fighters, many of whom grew up in prosperous, democratic countries, have already done so.
The suggestion that the theorists reach is one we agree with independently -- the Caliphate must be destroyed.

Incompleteness and Physics

Physics makes heavy use of math, and that means that it inherits some of math's fundamental problems.
In 1931, Austrian-born mathematician Kurt Gödel shook the academic world when he announced that some statements are ‘undecidable’, meaning that it is impossible to prove them either true or false. Three researchers have now found that the same principle makes it impossible to calculate an important property of a material — the gaps between the lowest energy levels of its electrons — from an idealized model of its atoms....

Cubitt and his colleagues showed that for an infinite lattice, it is impossible to know whether the computation ends, so that the question of whether the gap exists remains undecidable.

For a finite chunk of 2D lattice, however, the computation always ends in a finite time, leading to a definite answer. At first sight, therefore, the result would seem to have little relation to the real world. Real materials are always finite, and their properties can be measured experimentally or simulated by computer.

But the undecidability ‘at infinity’ means that even if the spectral gap is known for a certain finite-size lattice, it could change abruptly — from gapless to gapped or vice versa — when the size increases, even by just a single extra atom. And because it is “provably impossible” to predict when — or if — it will do so, Cubitt says, it will be difficult to draw general conclusions from experiments or simulations.
In fairness, there's also a huge gap in getting other more-or-less accurate predictive physical models to predict exactly once all the complications are worked in. As James and Eric H were remarking the other day regarding the Russian airplane, calculating for a vacuum is going to yield very different results than when you input calculations for air resistance on an crumpled airframe. The differences in what must be accounted for across the operation may be so immense as to make the calculations practically impossible.

Yet a practically impossible calculation is still different from one that turns out to be impossible in principle. The one we might hope to overcome with better tools. If it's impossible in principle, a better tool alone won't fix the problem. The principles have to change -- and changing the principles of mathematics while preserving its predictive capacity is not easy.

Americans: Really Not Fans of Islam

According to a YouGov poll, even Democrats are more than half again as likely to dislike Islam. Only 17% have a positive view (~2% are themselves Muslims).

I've been thinking about this for a few days, occasioned by the most recent controversy. It seems to me that Islam has both structural and doctrinal commitments that are going to make it problematic for a modern state like the United States, Russia, or any European nation. That's not to say that there are no versions of Islam that are compatible with modern states, to be sure. I mean to say only that it's a harder religion for a modern state to digest.

Structurally, Judaism is universal in the sense that it aims to regulate every aspect of your life. Not every Jew practices it that way (or even close to that way), but if you are ultra-Orthodox, your relationship with God according to the Law will govern everything from what you wear to what you eat to how you pray. Islam is also universal in this way.

But Judaism does not expect non-Jews to live according to the Law: the Law as it envisions it is a part of the special relationship between their nation and the Lord. That others do not do these things is, if anything, a source of pride. Islam does not agree. Legally its stricter forms hold that a few religions (including Judaism) may be tolerated in a subordinate status, provided they accept their submission and pay a tax. Other religions, including animist religions like those common to Africa, or Japanese Shinto, are to be completely suppressed whenever possible.

Structurally, Christianity is universal in the sense that it considers itself to be the one true faith. Islam is like this as well. But Christianity accepts the existence of a secular sphere -- Jesus himself said, "Render unto Caesar" -- and the modern state falls easily into the role he assigned to the Roman empire. Rome can protect the religious liberty of other faiths, and can occupy a space in which many questions are settled otherwise than religiously where religions dispute the proper outcome.

Islam is universal in both the Jewish and the Christian sense. That makes it hard to digest if its adherents take it seriously. In a way, that's a strength of the faith: both Judaism and Christianity have seen many of their mores digested and eliminated by secular Western states. In another way, it's a problem for a modern society. You can't have freedom of conscience if people are free to convert to Islam but not from it on pain of death. You can't have freedom of expression if people are unfree to criticize the faith's leading figures or their doctrines. You can't have a free press that lives in terror of blasphemy laws (again, on pain of death -- not just according to radicals, but apparently according to the inherited law).

These radical interpretations of Islam are not implausible. Indeed, the interpretations given even by nonviolent radical groups -- Hizb-ut Tahrir, say, which claims to be nonviolent but nevertheless finds in Islam a necessary commitment to overthrowing secular states and replacing them with sha'riah -- are not only plausible but obvious. In many cases they are giving the most obvious reading of the tradition.

That it is the most obvious reading doesn't make it the best reading, to say nothing of the only reading. We have the Bible, but also the Summa Theologica. We have a huge tradition of Christian philosophy on how to understand and interpret the Bible. We have the Catechism to help bring those lessons forward in a more understandable way. In Judaism, they have the Torah but also a vast tradition of Rabbinical scholarship. They have a deep, dense, fascinating literature on how to interpret Torah and make it a part of your life.

Islam has a similar road open to it. Indeed, it once had a much more active philosophical tradition. One of the most regularly cited sources in the aforementioned Summa Theologica is Averroes, whom Aquinas calls "the Commentator." It's possible to get there, but the structural and doctrinal issues make it a harder road.

Still, remember these guys. It's a cherry-picked set of examples, sure. But in terms of their numbers, they're no less representative than the radicals are.

America has a right to ask some things of Islam insofar as Muslims would be Americans. Some of those most-obvious interpretations are simply not compatible with the American project. In return, though, a United States Marine with eight tours of duty under his belt has a right to ask some things of America, too.

Shakespearean Carols

Not ready for Christmas music yet, but hearing it at every place you go? Just memorize a few of these, and you can sing along until Advent is over and the Christmas season truly upon us.

"The Rare Geppetto Checkmark"

The Washington Post's fact checker, which typically issues one to four Pinocchio marks for political lies and distortions, finds a claim it has no reason to dispute.

What does it matter WHO he supports?

So this story amused me to no end.  Not because the incident is funny, but because of the comments.

Now I know, I know... never read the comments.  But I did this time on a hunch, and that hunch paid off.  So in the story we're presented with a clearly drunk 19 year old who attacks a Muslim woman, yelling racial epithets and such, and when they investigate his social media, they find he is a Bernie Sanders supporter, who has some pretty harsh things to say about people who are anti-LGBT and the Confederate flag.  So in the comments, there's a ton of "What does this have to do with Bernie?"  And "This is just awful that they're trying to say this reflects on Bernie Sanders!"

But now, just imagine for half a second that he was a Trump supporter.  Do you not think (even a little) that this would have made national news?  But I guess it's a nothing story, huh?  Just some random crazy person with no broader implications than that.  Move along.

'It's Not Me, It's You'

Headline: "Modest ISIS Leader Credits Promotion Entirely to Drone Strikes."

From America's finest news source, of course.

Stalking Horse

Isn't it strange how the "no Muslims at all, even US citizens" controversy broke right when it would be most helpful to President Obama's narrative of how Americans are horrid haters of Islam?

Turns out, it's not the first time he's rescued the Democratic narrative at a critical moment. Suspicious, maybe.

For a long time I thought he was just a Clinton Stalking Horse. Now I'm not so sure, but it remains a workable hypothesis.

Not "Viking Age," But Still Pretty Nordic

A recipe for roast duck and caramelized potatoes that are apparently a major dish in Denmark. Potatoes are of course a New World phenomenon, but I suppose the Vikings can claim a connection there (more the Norwegians via Iceland than the Danes, though).

In any event, this aspect of the recipe gives it some legitimate Viking cred:
"Then add the potatoes, holding a pot lid as a shield to prevent the hot caramel from spattering onto you..."
Very festive, and appropriate for a holiday feast in the Mead-Hall.

Speaking of which, I started a batch of Christmas mead not long ago. The yeast is making merry in big steel cauldron even now.


Headline: "Muslims have more DNC delegates than Montana, Utah and Oklahoma put together."

I assume that they actually are delegates from states, but still. Muslims are less than 2% of the population, but they've apparently become deeply involved in the DNC.

Finding a Balance

So, on the one side is the guy who just won't say the words "radical Islam." On the other, the guy who wants to refuse entry to the United States to all Muslims, period -- even US citizens.

In a way replacing the one guy with the other would represent a kind of balance, but is it possible that we could find another way?


This story is perfect on so many levels. A mass shooting stopped by a concealed carry permit holder. Who was an Uber driver. In Chicago.

Pearl Harbor Day

We have problems of our own this year, but it is important not to forget our ancestors in the American project. They came through hard things, too.

The No-Fly List

If you are unsure about what exactly can cause you to end up on the no-fly list, there's an article on the subject here with links to the official government document. If you just want to read a pithy summary of the problems, one is here.

Of course, that's the standard for when the President is trying to get Islamic terrorists to stay off airplanes. Once the power expands to keeping his political enemies unarmed, I assume that an already-terrible standard will become unimaginably worse.

Also, you have to give up your data to the State. For security. As someone whose every secret was hacked in the OPM data theft, I find that hilarious. But of course, it's not my security they care about.

Medieval Gingerbread

Yes, you can make it.
Before you make this recipe, listen up. This does NOT taste like modern gingerbread. The texture is very different, and it is way spicier.
Duly noted.

What A Deal

In response to the President's speech, the NRA has dropped the price of a lifetime membership from a grand to less than a third of that -- just $300. As a reader of the Hall you may prefer organizations like Gun Owners of America, which is certainly understandable as they take a more hard-core line. Still, it's something to consider if you don't want to invest in a new rifle. Guns & ammo sales will be the best rebuke, but right behind that would be a major increase in NRA numbers.

We Just Shot That Down Yesterday

The President of the United States:
To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.
Oh, it's a matter of national security, is it? I guess we should just yield up our Constitutional rights just because you suspect us, then.

If you had any idea what your office was for, you'd resign just for having said that. Congress ought to impeach you for having said it, as it is at least malfeasance, a recognizable misdemeanor directly relevant to the performance of your duties. The only reason not to do so is that it would excite an ignorant public too much. The only reason not to impeach you, in other words, is that it isn't worth the trouble.

I think I'll go buy an AR-15. I've never had one. The only rifles I've ever owned have been old lever-action cowboy guns. I qualified expert on the M4 carbine, though. Why shouldn't I have one?

Well, stop me if you can. If anyone wants to contribute, to be a part of the Grim's Hall AR-15, let me know. We might build a really nice one.

Friars Are A Late Innovation

Innovation isn't always bad -- consider the humble Friar. Or the 1969 Dodge Charger R/T. Or the Harley Panhead... but I digress.
The word “friar” is from fraire (from the Middle Ages — the fraire Provençal), which means “brother.” The word arose with the creation of the mendicant (traveling/preaching) orders in the late Middle Ages, most predominantly by Saint Francis (Franciscans) of Assisi and Saint Dominic (Order of Preachers, or “Dominicans”). These “new religious” were no longer tied to monasteries and convents but went out among the people, to preach and to pray, to educate and to serve the sick.
We owe a lot to the mendicant orders. Sir Walter Scott explains:
I’ll give thee, good fellow, a twelvemonth or twain,
To search Europe through, from Byzantium to Spain;
But ne’er shall you find, should you search till you tire,
So happy a man as the Barefooted Friar.

Your knight for his lady pricks forth in career,
And is brought home at even-song prick’d through with a spear;
I confess him in haste—for his lady desires
No comfort on earth save the Barefooted Friar’s.

Your monarch?—Pshaw! many a prince has been known
To barter his robes for our cowl and our gown,
But which of us e’er felt the idle desire
To exchange for a crown the grey hood of a Friar!

The Friar has walk’d out, and where’er he has gone,
The land and its fatness is mark’d for his own;
He can roam where he lists, he can stop when he tires,
For every man’s house is the Barefooted Friar’s.

He’s expected at noon, and no wight till he comes
May profane the great chair, or the porridge of plums
For the best of the cheer, and the seat by the fire,
Is the undenied right of the Barefooted Friar.

He’s expected at night, and the pasty’s made hot,
They broach the brown ale, and they fill the black pot,
And the goodwife would wish the goodman in the mire,
Ere he lack’d a soft pillow, the Barefooted Friar.

Long flourish the sandal, the cord, and the cope,
The dread of the devil and trust of the Pope;
For to gather life’s roses, unscathed by the briar,
Is granted alone to the Barefooted Friar.

Dear President Obama: Get Used To Losing

The country has moved beyond you. You're so removed from the reality of this nation that your words are empty. You bring these proposals to the people a day after the Senate rejected them? Had they passed the Senate, they'd have died in the House; had they passed Congress, they'd have died in the courts. The Friday before last, Americans bought enough new guns to equip the Marine Corps. You aren't even connected to the world we live in.

Islamophobia? We should always want to be fair to anyone, as a simple matter of justice. May we not ask, though, whether Islam doesn't embrace a view of women that is incompatible with the American view? If it is not, why not? Is it bigotry to ask about the concept of jihad, or the problematic parts of the Koran? We might thereby come to an Islam we could accept, but perhaps only thereby. Why ban the road that might lead to a compromise we could accept? Do you really think the American people are motivated, this week of recent weeks, by a desire not to ask compromises of Islam?

You live in a distant world. The chief peril now is not that you might win, but that the reaction to you will elect Donald Trump. Your last year is going to be embarrassing to you. I only hope it does not do too much damage to the nation you pretend to lead.

Another Ball Cartoon

Apparently this cartoonist is not an "anarchist" exactly, but something called a "minarchist."
Minarchism (also known as minimal statism) is a political philosophy and a form of libertarianism. It is variously defined by sources. In the strictest sense, it holds that states ought to exist (as opposed to anarchy), that their only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and that the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts. In the broadest sense, it also includes fire departments, prisons, the executive, and legislatures as legitimate government functions. Such states are generally called night-watchman states.
That actually sounds pretty plausible. I tend to favor the Jeffersonian/Jacksonian approach that goes further, toward a state that uses its mechanisms to preference situations in which individuals own their own means of production, i.e., yeoman farmers or small businesses. I agree with their analysis, which is Aristotelian, that such a state avoids the chief problems of human politics.

However, I will state that this alternative doesn't sound so bad. Nozick is cited as a source for it, though, and he walked back his commitment to these principles later in life. I gather he felt that such a state didn't provide enough to ensure the protection of genuinely common goods, e.g., air quality or public education.