Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Absurd beliefs

With a hat tip to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, what belief do you actually hold which intelligent people around you would consider absurd?

I believe that the spoken word can influence what events happen. For instance, I think it's more likely the die will turn up a 1 if, before rolling, I say "roll a one". I don't think it guarantees an outcome, just that it changes the probabilities. If I'm speaking of an undesired event, I don't say something like "in case I'm run over by a truck"; instead I say "in case I'm trampled by rabid wombats." The odds of a wombat stampede in Virginia Beach are low enough that I don't mind increasingly them slightly.
I have no suggestion on a means by which speaking of an event might make it more likely, and no proof that it does, but I still believe it.

Another example would be "the American Empire will begin to collapse by 2050."

What do you believe, that other people might think absurd?

(Feb 21, 2011 note: this is the most-viewed post on my blog, but only one comment...)


Called my mom's father this afternoon, to wish him a happy 94th birthday. Such a small thing, but he really appreciated it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to become rich

You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich.

Gnomes of Zurich

According to an article on Inside Science, a study of the ownership of nearly 25,000 stocks in 48 countries reveals that the majority of a country's market capital is controlled by "surprisingly few" shareholders. The description isn't clear and there are no links to the methodology, so there's no way to judge whether the conclusion is valid or meaningful; the study may merely be saying "the companies with lots of money have lots of money". But it's interesting.
The title comes from one of the power groups in the game Illuminati.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Life in Zambia

From Mom:
Double and Divide are doing fine. They are going to the private Christian School and I think their English is improving maybe a little bit. The problem is that when they are not in school they speak Tonga. Of course, their mom speaks no English so they are not learning as quickly as I would like. They are two cute little kids. A few days ago, Double came to the door crying as his 38 yr old uncle died. I didn't ask, I just assumed it was HIV/AIDS. I went to his village to pay respects.
Double and Divide stay in a different hut from their mom. The roof has to be renewed each year as the straw is not thick enough to keep the rains out when the rainy season comes. The boys have a bed. I did not sit on it so I don't know what it feels like but it is a bit larger than a twin size. The only other thing in their room (it is only one room) is a hen's nest and it had one egg in it. The door is a piece of plastic that looks like a used feed sack.

I cannot imagine how it feels to be cool right now. We have a fan in the bed room and thankfully the electricity is on and I still woke up wet with sweat. It is 2 am so it cannot be that hot....My husband seems okay with the heat so far but it gets much hotter usually in October. It was around 100 in total shade yesterday. I try to do everything I can early in the morning and get out of the heat by about 9:30 am. It starts to get a tiny bit cooler by five or six. The winds blow but it is the dry season and the dust flies like crazy.

The water thing is such a problem. The river beds are dried up. This happens every year so they manage but I don't know how. I really don't. We use old dish water to water the flowers. Rule: waste no water.
This past week there was suppose to be a baptizing in the church. The baptistery was filled up on Friday for that, but on Sunday when it was to be used, the water was all gone. I guess someone needed it for other purposes. The candidates for baptism went to the dam and that was difficult but they managed.
Yesterday a couple I know came to my door and needed water. I had put some aside in a bucket (you need a reserve) and they had none, so I gave them mine. I wondered what in the world I was thinking when I gave it away but the Lord provided. After bible study last night the water was running and electricity also so I was able to refill my own supply. I thought how precious the Lord was to do that. Most of the time I try to hang on to what I have because you just never know when the water is coming or not. (I don't mean that to brag but I am just thankful HE resupplied me!!).
There is a restaurant that is completely good to start--it has been complete for two months--but there is no water to run it. They have a well but it is totally dry. Of course, the water supply should have been the first consideration but it was the last. So there is a wonderful restaurant and no water. You would think they would figure that one out having been here for years, but evidently not. The Christian school has been with no water for well over a month and all those kids every day. So, the school has to have water hauled in daily by the barrel fulls. There have even been years when the hospital had to have water brought in from the capitol. Now imagine that. The capitol is 5 hrs away. That was the hardest time in Zambia as they had years of drought. We were here in 1991 for that. What gardens there were, dried up. People were very hungry. Thankfully we are not in drought years now. Thankfully. It is dry season but not drought.
When the rainy season comes it is reverse, big time. More water than you possibly
know what to do with. The roads are impassible mud at times and the river beds over flow.
It is hard even to get the clothes dry. The rain comes in sheets and sheets of water. The rainy season will be here soon - either begins in November or December.

I have to learn patience. For example if you want to do laundry you may have water but no electricity. Then again you may have electricity but the water will be off. Eventually, you hit a day when you have both! It happens but you have to learn to wait. And everyone here is in the same boat - so get over it.

When I re-read this email it sounds like a LOT of whining - not meant to be, however. I am just letting you know reality here and please be thankful for what you have. As Americans we have a lot to be thankful for. A lot.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Heisenberg for Men

The Uncertainty Principle as applied to women: You can interact with them, or understand them. Not both.
--source unknown

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Best Dating Site Slogan

Tag line for a hypothetical dating site for Schlock Mercenary fans:
"Ladies: the odds are very good, but the goods are very odd."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Use it well

It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.
--Rene Descartes

Weekend expeditions, African version

Diana writes:
The weekend was phenomenal, great safari like digs, expats running it and sending 13 orphan boys to school. I met Peter, Noli, and Nawa & learned much from them (all in grade 9).
The Falls are magnificent, three times as high as Niagara, and at the top before the edge, people were wading and playing, very uncommercial. Outside there were
tenacious vendors.
The other two families were really nice and great travelling companions, especially as one of them was raised in Livingston. He ran into a close old friend who runs the crocodile farm, so before leaving we had a cook's tour of it, including croc pie (delicious).
After the falls, Dad had arranged a sunset tour for the three of us , which was marvelous, except I kept turning to feel your arm and share the whole experience with you. We saw hippos, wildebeest, elephants, kudu, and multiple birds. Sunday we all set out for the border, crossed into Botswana and into our rented land rover with a guide. Several hours watching zebra, herds of buffalo, elephants, giraffes et al. Opportunity of a lifetime, truly thrilling
We took a boat trip next and drew right up to crocs--reach out and do not touch style--and also the chimpanzees, who can be very big and dangerous.
The roads to and fro are being constructed by the Chinese, so Zambian workers with Chinese equipment and overseers...interesting. The trip was six hours, and the condition of most of the roads was bad enough that I banged my head on the roof seven or eight times.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekend expeditions

Diana went to Victoria Falls and a Zimbabwean game park--report to follow. I was a little less adventurous. A friend of ours has an interest in a farm near South Boston and invited me to go out with her and the owner of the farm. The owner is putting the farm up for sale, and I think our friend wanted to show it off while she could. This place is 107 acres, hillier than Virginia Beach but less than the Blue Ridge farm where I grew up.
There are several fields, each surrounded by woods and brush. The house is a nice double wide trailer ("nice trailer" sounds a little odd but it's much better than a couple of houses I've lived in); there's a second house, about 1600 square feet, that's framed and roofed but not finished past that. We spent most of the time
taking the four-wheel ATV up and down and back and forth, seeing the
upper field and the lower fields, and the old slave house and tobacco drying shed and such.
There's a pond with bluegill and catfish, and we fed cheerios and puffed rice to the fish.
I hit a few targets with a .22 rifle; when it came to the shotgun, we very nearly hit several clay pigeons. In the evening we sat outside, watching the stars and occasionally putting another log on the campfire. It was a very pleasant, peaceful weekend.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hiding the evidence

Taken from one of Wikipedia's articles on Health Care Reform:

The CBO said: [...] Although both theory and evidence suggest that workers ultimately finance their employment-based insurance through lower take-home pay, the cost is not evident to many workers...If transparency increases and workers see how much their income is being reduced for employers’ contributions and what those contributions are paying for, there might be a broader change in cost-consciousness that shifts demand.[...]

Peter Singer wrote in the New York Times that the current exclusion of insurance premiums from compensation [i.e. it's deducted before the worker gets his paycheck--Ed.] represents a $200 billion subsidy for the private insurance industry and that it would likely not exist without it.

Of course, our income taxes and Social Security are deducted too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Halfway through Africa

Diana's trip to Africa will total almost exactly 500 hours, from the time we entered Dulles to the time her plane lands (assuming that's 1:55 pm on September 27, as scheduled). As of right now, we're halfway through.
(Diana travels a lot, and I always count the hours till she's home. I don't count minutes because the number is depressingly large, and I don't count days because that number doesn't change often enough).


I've just watched two superhero films: last night was Hancock, and Daredevil the night before. Both were okay but neither was worth watching again. Hancock's problem was that they didn't know what story they were trying to tell. In Daredevil's case, it may be because the storyline was taken from the 1980's comic books drawn by Frank Miller; there's probably no way to create a film with the clarity and power of Miller's artwork.
Next on the list is Cellular. I saw the trailer years ago--the film was released in 2004--and never forgot the situation: you get a call from a woman you don't know, and she's begging for help. What do you do?
After that is The Fifth Element, which is one of my favorite films of all time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Diana from Africa

She wrote:
We are going to leave here Saturday morning and go to Victoria Falls, and then into Zimbabwe to a game park and river sunset cruise, returning Monday. It sounds wonderful. We are going with6 other people, Americans here at Macha.
I have sent off 25 postcards, and have labels for more as soon as I can purchase them.
I am living a dream here--I realised it this morning walking, near the Fires, that I have imagined this over and over for years.
You would love the fresh bread here, and the quiet and the vastness of the sky, and the simplicity of life.

Meanwhile, I'm walking the mutt, going to work, coming home, and walking the mutt again. There are roses and crepe myrtles by the pool, and they have the same color petals. The Canada geese are flying north (yes, north--presumably half of them can't read a map and the other half won't stop and ask for directions). Silence except for a clock ticking and a cricket chirping, but every now and again there's the whistle of sharp wings slicing through air, and the rumble of fighter jet engines, and you know our guys are prowling overhead.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This weekend's adventures

My shoulder is much improved, so I got the kayak out for the first time since June. High tide was at 4:30pm so I didn't see much wildlife--you usually see more in the early morning--but it was nice to get out on the water for an hour. I did see, in the middle of the river, an inch-long crab swimming just under the surface; and on my way back there was about ten seconds of wild splashing over by the bank. Maybe something pulled a seagull under? But gulls don't usually get to close to the banks, I didn't see any ducks around, and if something is big enough to grab a heron, then I should be taking a harpoon next time.

Old Dominion University had IndiaFest this afternoon, so I made the trek to Norfolk to see it. Lots of clothing and jewelry for sale, a program that kept the stage occupied with dancing and yoga, plus a couple of tables set up for the Nawab Restaurant and Rajput Indian Cuisine. I had goat (and goat bone) biryani (saffron rice with onions, tomatoes, and raisins) and gulab jamun (spherical donuts with a sugar syrup) ; I also brought home allo tiki chat (potato patties topped with chickpeas, tomato, onion, and mint).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Diana from Zambia

On to Macha....beautiful,dry and dusty, and heartwrenching at the Fires where the patients' families camp, and in the hospital Wards.
You can walk everywhere and see life unfolding, people are always in tandem or clusters, friends and families alike.There is movement all the time, carrying babies, bicycles, oxcarts, makeshift wheelchairs, cows wandering into the paths, schoolchildren walking miles to school to arrive by 7am. And always people are carrying things, food, firewood, bedding, lanterns, chickens, vegetables, you name it.
There is a garden out back with papaya, lemon, and banana trees, .I've been shelling peas, and we have tomatoes, broccoli, beans, all the majors . There is no lack of food for us, but hunger all around.
This morning mom and I went to the school, which is Kindergarten through Grade 3, American run, Zambian staffed. CBN has given funding to the school. The kids are far freer to run and play than at the Montessori school where I taught, and there is very little friction. There is a fair amount of rote learning, but more language and manners than dumbing down. After their singing and dancing welcome to me , I taught the assembly using flexible straws, a spritzer bottle , and the account of Jesus calming the storm. It seemed to go well. Then I read to each class a different book, 1/2 hr per class. They have the same books as in the US, and were very attentive.
Here we are, Dad just home for lunch & power nap, bringing a patient with him for medicine from his new stash! Bina is here cleaning, the gardener was here, the seamstress was by, and the next wave is sure to follow soon. Far more social than home.
Last eve, Lynette, a doctor from Honduras & US, disassembed her spare bed and we brought it next door here for me. She did this eagerly after her evening rounds with the HIV ward, where a 19 yr old girl was in danger of dying before morning, one among so many.
I have recovered my strength, but there is so much to process and learn that I am simply going with the flow, mom is fantastic with providing me all the info and benefit of her time and relationships, also tips on those who seek to take , and take , and take--same as at home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


A film starring Milla Jovovich as a would-be mother and implausibly superhuman combat artist, set in a dystopian world with lots of neat gadgets. I particularly liked the printer for disposable phones, the gravity normalizer that lets you treat a vertical surface as if it were horizontal, and some of the instant dye jobs for hair and clothing. And of course if one likes a bare tummy, this film is for you--Milla has an attractive midriff and her costumes display all of it.
The less said about the plot, the better; one suspects the writer said "I need a fight scene and a plot twist about every eight minutes" and didn't worry too much about making sense.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Another first

I'm over forty-six years old and, for the first time, someone offered me a joint.

It's been raining off and on today, and it was becoming increasingly "on" as I was driving home from getting groceries. When I saw a couple trudging down the sidewalk, I turned around and offered them a lift. In token of their gratitude, the fellow invited me to come in for a beer; when I declined, he matter-of-factly said that they had some weed and he'd be happy to share that.

I laughed and said no, but it amazed me that he'd make the offer to someone on the basis of four minutes' acquaintance.

Royal Navy

Ryan Schultz and I had three rounds of Jack Greene's The Royal Navy today. First was Scenario 3, Scheer vs Glasgow off Madagascar in 1941. This is a night action at close range. I took the German ship in the first run through. At game start, I immediately launched torpedoes and then maneuvered to keep the range open. The British gunners were better than mine-my main guns never managed to find the target--but my torp scored a good hit which crippled Glasgow, enabling Scheer to limp off, barely afloat.
In the second round we switched sides and played the same scenario. I closed aggressively and ran into a hail of German shells which shattered my hull; however, I did have time to get off one shot in reply, and by great good luck my gunner managed to hit the enemy magazine. Scheer exploded at the same time Glasgow was going under; that counted as a British win.
For the third round, Ryan's Vichy French force of three fast destroyers and three cruisers tackled my HMS Renown and three light destroyers. I took my destroyers in close to the enemy while Renown maneuvered to avoid torpedoes. All three cans were sunk, but they took two Vichy with them; my heavy ship then doubled back, narrowly escaping another spread of torps, and closed to close range with the French. Renown took a pounding, even through her heavy armor; she crippled, but didn't sink, all the French cruisers, so that ended up as a draw.
The Royal Navy's combat system can be a bit fiddly. You get a base Die Roll Modifier from the range, but then you add or subtract modifiers for Under Fire and Acquired Target and Spotlights and Lost Fire Control Room; then you roll percentage dice to figure out how many hits you got, percents again to see what the damage was for each hit, and if you have an armored ship (like Renown) you have to check whether the shells penetrate the armor (which they mostly didn't). But all the chrome is in the combat system; the movement is about as simple as it can be. It wouldn't work for a large multi player game, because you'd have two people resolving combat and everyone else drumming their fingers; but for small, two player scenarios, it's a lot of fun.

Off to Africa

Diana's off to Africa. We drove up to Northern Virginia yesterday, took Josh out to lunch, and then went to Dulles. Then we stood around a while, waiting in front of the British Air counter to get checked in. Then we shoved the suitcases forward a few feet and stood some more. And then we stood around some--it took an hour and twenty minutes to get her checked in. This is without much of a line, mind you, as there were only about ten people in front of us when we got there; by the time we got done there was quite a line, and I wouldn't be all that surprised if some of those people are still there. Josh said that if he ends up going to Australia as planned, and if he has to go on British Airways, he'll be sure to arrive at the airport a day early and bring a sleeping bag.
Diana actually had a couple of sleeping bags, plus about 170 pounds of medicine, bandages, syringes, clothes and shoes for the locals, and food. She'll arrive at Lusaka around midnight Monday, US Eastern time, after about 26 hours of travel.
She'll be home in 490 hours, mainly because "20 days" doesn't go by fast enough and "29400 minutes" is just too depressing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oil and spice

Our deck garden is still producing tomatoes, chard, peppers, chives, rosemary, basil, and so on. We dried a handful of rosemary--it lasts longer in oil if it's dried rather than fresh--stuffed it in a small bottle and added olive oil. Next I'll do sesame oil and dried hot peppers; after that, I'll see whether I have thyme for more.

Reading list

On my bedside table right now: