Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why is it so hard to swat a fly?


BBC article here.

he flies that have been chased by the fast-sighted birds will be evolving faster reactions to get away. Creating an evolutionary arms race that has gone on longer even than the existence of birds.
Prey flies have been evolving faster vision and reactions to escape predatory flies like the killer fly since they evolved flight. Next time you try inanely to swat a fly, try not to be so disheartened. Your lumbering, slow motion swats are being thwarted by hundreds of millions of years of natural selection letting the flies watch your attempts in slow motion.

and the classic book "To Know a Fly" can be found here.

the book is an argument about the need to support basic science experiments, even ones that seem stupid to ordinary folks... in this case, experimenting and observing the fly.

Like taxes, the fly is always with us. As a matter of fact, there are at the latest count, about 50,000 kinds of flies sharing "our" world. They include, to mention only a few, houseflies, fruit flies, soldier flies, snipe flies, small-headed flies, stiletto flies, blowflies, march flies, dance flies, horse flies, stable flies, black flies, tsetse flies, crane flies, hump- backed flies, bee flies, flat- footed flies, big-eyed flies, thick- headed flies, sand flies, robber flies, gadflies, dung flies, and louse flies. A motley and prolific crew!
A characteristic human reaction to flies is to eradicate them....
But the next time a fly lands on the edge of the dinner table to rest and to rub its feet together in anticipation, stop before you mash it into the woodwork with a fly swatter (this is one insecticide against which a fly will never develop resistance). This little beast accomplished one thing that you and I can never accomplish; he flew there!
One of the smaller flies weighs about seven millionths of a pound. He is equipped with two reinforced membranous wings which must serve the dual function of wing and propeller. Failure to take into account this dual function of insect wings led to the famous miscalculation proving that bees could not fly. The bee had been analyzed as a helicopter. So it is with the fly. To stay airborne and move forward, the fly must beat his wings as much as two hundred times a second. By comparison, the hummingbird beats about seventy-five times a second; the rattlesnake rattles about one hundred times a second on the hottest days. The fastest repetitive muscular contractions that you and I can produce occur at the rate of about ten times a second. The fly has other wondrous accomplishments, too, not the least of which is being able to land on the ceiling.
For years, controversy raged as to whether he managed this by executing a half-roll or an inside loop. As a matter of fact, he does neither. He flies close to the ceiling in a normal position, then reaches up and back over his head with his front feet till they touch the ceiling, whereupon he somersaults over into position. The incredible nimbleness- of flies is no secret to anyone who has attempted to catch one in his cupped hand, nor is their astronomical power of reproduction to anyone who has tried to eradicate them.

Iranian protests

I had hoped that when President Obama made nice with Iran, they would respond to the lifting of sanctions by improving the country, but no, instead they continued to spread their radicals all over, and caused the Arab world to get upset to the point that Saudi tried (and failed) to buy an Atomic bomb, and started making nice with Israel on the sly.

Essentially, it's "guns vs butter"...

AlJ has a report that suggests I am not the only one thinking this way, and this might be why the protests are happening now:

Some Iranians say it is time for the government to focus on domestic issues, and to forget about Syria and Palestine. These protesters hoped the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which led to the lifting of many international sanctions, would ease their financial struggles. But life for many has not improved.
Government critics say the economic benefits have not been passed on because of mismanagement and alleged corruption.
oh yes: there it is again: Corruption.

People hoped that having a religious leadership watching the politicians would help that, but it didn't work with the Borgia popes and it didn't work here either.

And that this month's budget will cut vital social welfare programmes while giving more money to religious and revolutionary institutions.

film at the link.

BBC report here. 

Much of the information about what is occurring is emerging on social media, making it difficult to confirm anything.

getting news is hard, since the government controls the media and is able to censor the internet social media too. How many are protesting? Some reports say "hundreds"...

Is it the usual troublemakers (like we have here) or do they represent a lot of folks staying home and grumbling? That last part is important, since shooting and jailing a couple hundred people will stop a lot of protests, but if a lot of folks are fed up, it will make things worse.

The government got their own folks to protest too, but I heard the number in the protest was estimated at 10 thousand: a low number next to previous demonstrations.

In our prayers.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mindfulness is morphing to mindlessness?

UKMail article on the "mindfulness" craze, (which in effect is self hypnosis) and how the next trend is workaholism.

Mindfulness which has been hailed as the go to mental health trend has its limitations for health and well-being But studies show the practice can make narcissistic people even less empathetic
MindLESSness (focusing more on doing than being) may be the answer, says Healthspan psychologist Dr Meg Arroll
This new approach is about turning our focus outwards, in a way that is positive for both mental and physical health Becoming mindless by engulfing ourselves in activities is a good way to boost health and well-being.

even though it is theUKMail, it is a good article reviewing the technique of mindfulness, which in medicine is being pushed as a panacea by some guru type docs.

The article points out the good and the bad, and goes into the need for activity as a mental health practice.

In Christianity, this is the idea that one prays, and then one acts on one's prayers.

my take?

Mindfulness is a variation of meditation/the Jesus Prayer/self hypnosis. It is actually deep quiet concentration, often using a mantra.

Not everyone can do it, and those who go into deep trance states are easily manipulated into fantasy. (which is why so many "past life regressions" find a person was an Egyptian princess, not a manure collecting peasant). And the ability to enter into deep hypnosis with mindfulness correlates with creativity and being easy to persuade.

but you also can enter into deep concentration by listening to music, reading, watching a movie, doing art or writing etc.

And some people cannot do this: geeks, who are more concrete in their thinking habits, have less ability to be hypnotized..

and then there is the problem that a person with psychological defenses can go into a panic attack if these walls are broken down by hypnosis (or even with aggressive psychotheraputic techniques).

 as for the activity: Nice for "experts" to recognize what ordinary folks already know.

Dave Barry's end of the year review

Meanwhile the big emerging journalism story is the Russians, who, according to many unnamed sources, messed with the election. Nobody seems to know how, specifically, the Russians affected the election, but everybody is pretty sure they did something, especially CNN, which has not been so excited about a story since those heady months in 2014 when it provided 24/7 video coverage of random objects floating in the Pacific while panels of experts speculated on whether these objects might or might not have anything to do with that missing Malaysian airliner. You can tune into CNN anytime, day or night, and you are virtually guaranteed to hear the word “Russians” within 10 seconds, even if it’s during a Depends commercial.

go read the whole thing, and put coffee down first.


Headlines below the fold

Demonstrations in Iran against high food prices morph into anti government protests.

In my prayers.

update: Unlike the "green protests" which were discouraged by President Obama, Trumpie boy/Tillerson are supporting them.


BBC: Is Asia driving the Bitcoin craze? and gov'ts there are worried.

Bitcoin emerged in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. It's often seen as the currency of choice for institution-weary millennials, but has also been used by money launderers, criminals, and drug buyers and dealers. Increasingly though, more Asians are starting to see it as a way to make some quick cash, but also as a way to safeguard their savings against political crises and low interest rates.

don't tell the snowflakes: "authentic" food isn't.

"Authenticity is an illusion, and a highly overrated one. Most of the foods we think of as 'authentic' are of relatively recent vintage -- since capsaicin-containing hot peppers are native to the Americas, any spicy cuisine like Szechuan or Thai is by definition a Johnny-come-lately invention. … 
headsup Instapundit.

the US bishops affirm that chromosomes matter. (but hide that idea on their website where no body will read it).

well, maybe they heard that a BBC film that points out most of the "transgender" kids aren't really transgendered (although most are gay), but that the show was canceled in Canada for being "transphobic".

Spiked points out that saying such things will get you punished.

Another heretic slain. This time it’s Lewis Hamilton, Formula One star. Over Christmas he committed the speechcrime of suggesting boys shouldn’t wear girls’ clothes, which is to 2017 what ‘There is no God’ was to 1517. Cue fire and fury and demands that he retract, repent and, in the cry of one trans activist, make a donation to an LGBT charity. That is, he should pay an indulgence, as the old Catholic Church called them, in order to lessen the punishment for his sin. When people are instructed to cough up actual cash to pay for having had unclean thoughts, you know we’re entering dark times.

Muslim extremists attack and kill indigenous villagers in Mindanao.

A lot of the fiction of the Moro is that they want to get rid of the more recent Tagalogs who moved to Mindanao in the last century, but the Tanguray were there first, before the Moros moved in from Indonesian areas. But they are Christian, so never mind.


update: StrategyPage article has a lot about Pakistani military support of terror, but if you read down, includes a lot of information about China's economic power and their new silk road idea.

the times they are a-changing...

Many years ago, we were told that Reagan got into Afghanistan to build a pipeline by the anti war left (who seemed not to notice that the Russians had overthrown the gov't there to do the same thing). Well, now it seems that China is the one actually doing it...

Musical interlude of the day

Friday, December 29, 2017

Destroying mother Gaia: SUV's, Airconditioners, and...bitcoin?

UK Guardian article from Nov 26, 2017 discusses the energy use by smartphones and other modern computers.

A desktop PC running eight hours a day, for example, emits 175kg of CO2 in a year. So you can imagine the carbon footprint of a large city office block that has thousands of desktop PCs running for the whole of a working day. Multiply that by all the office blocks in the centre of London and you get an idea of the environmental impact of even the humble PC.
But the most spectacular illustration of computing’s environmental cost comes not from offices but from the current craze for the cryptocurrency bitcoin... According to one estimate, bitcoin mining is now consuming more electricity than 159 countries, including Ireland, Bahrain and the Slovak Republic.
UKGuardian also has an article on bitcoin here.

more here at AlJ.

everything is wonderful, but why does this make me wonder WTF it will mean for crooks?

while Bitcoin is actively traded on dedicated exchange websites and apps, a few traditional banks and exchange operators have also started to sell cryptocurrencies.South Korea, among others, is considering a ban on trading with virtual cryptocurrency operators that are not regulated by local authorities.
Here are some of the traditional banks and exchange operators that allow you to buy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
In August 2017, the Falcon Private Bank announced that it was the first Swiss private bank to provide blockchain asset management for its clients.
The Swiss bank headquartered in Zurich allows its clients to trade in Bitcoin (XBT), Etheruem (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), and Bitcoin Cash (BCH).
The Swissquote bank based in Gland, also started trading in cryptocurrencies in 2017.
Customers of the bank can trade in Bitcoin, Etheruem, Litecoin, Ripple (XRP) and Bitcoin Cash.
IG Bank started trading with cryptocurrencies in 2017. Customers can use it to buy Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash.
and then there is this: HMMM.... godsend to crooks, drug dealer, smugglers, and others who want to hide their loot:

The ability to take $1M or $100M on a plane undetected and walk into a Swiss or Lichtenstein bank and deposit it is worth a ton of $$$. So, don’t tell me Bitcoin is worthless.

and then: What happens if there is an EMP or solar flare that destroys computers? Bitcoin sites insist no problem, since they are decentralized.

don't ask me... I'm a doctor not a cattle futures expert. (warning: NSFW site).


Quote of the day

“Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”

that is from Queen Elizabeth II's 2014 Christmas speech.

(via Get religion).

Girls just can't take tests

what's wrong with this study?

PhysOrg: Women can't pass tests as well as guys in "STEM" studies, but they do just as well as men, based on....exactly what?

they got anxious when they took the tests. Poor dears: They can't handle stress. So give them easier tests and other ways to show they know the subject, and voila, no problem.

They found that female students did not underperform in courses where exams count for less than half of the total course grade.
In a separate study, instructors changed the curriculum in three different courses to place higher or lesser value on high-stakes exams (e.g., midterms and finals) and observed gender-biased patterns in performance...
This is not simply due to a 'watering down' of poor performance through the use of easy points," says Cotner. "Rather, on the exams themselves, women perform on par with men when the stakes are not so high."

no, it is watering down the tests, unless, of course, you put the same type of questions a little bit at a time on the quizes.

and there is the implication that some of their grade comes from group activities, where women do well.

The researchers point to these varied assessments as a potential reason why the active-learning approach, which shifts the focus away from lectures and lecture halls to more collaborative spaces and group-based work, appears to decrease the performance gap between students.
Right. Women work well in groups. (not really: usually they are busy cutting down the nerdy kids or the ones they don't like)...

In "group activities", the theory is that each person adds their own skills into the mix, so everyone's input is the same.

The dirty little secret?

usually one person does most of the work, and the rest are freeloaders who get equal credit.

so the experts' answer: Make the grades based on fuzzy measurements group activities where they freeload on the work of the nerds (mainly guys but also girls like me) and voila, those snowflakes will pass with high marks and enter STEM fields.


But they won't, because this was an introductory class in biology, not an advanced class in engineering or biochemistry, where you actually have to do the work.

When I was in pre med, all the girls who wanted to go into med school (and most later changed their mind) became biology majors because it was... easier.

If you were a biology major, you just had to memorize stuff.

If you took premed, as I did, you studied physics and chem and biochem with science majors: stuff that included a lot of puzzle solving, while biology majors had simplified/memory based courses, where you didn't have to think, you just had to memorize stuff.

My conclusion: if they make "introductory" biology easier for snowflake types to get good grades, they are merely setting them up for failure when they get to the more complicated courses.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

ISIS is the bad guy

AlJ has a report on those missing in Raqqa:

It has been more than two months since the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces pushed ISIL out of its former capital Raqqa and other strongholds in Syria. But the fate of thousands of men, women and children detained by the armed group remains unknown.
ISIL (also known as ISIS) operated an estimated 54 detention centres, as well as several secret prisons and interrogation facilities across Syria, with at least 7,419 detainees, according to figures released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Background about the fight on StrategyPage:

it's the Persian Empire vs the Arabs redux. And ISIS is looking for a home, probably in Libya.


Philippine news:

 They (ISIS) also were trying to move to Mindanao, (June 2017 article)... and a raid on the bad guys resulted in the Marawe seige...

but Duterte probably stopped that fantasy.

this article notes that it also meant he allowed the US military to provide sophisticated equipment and training, even though Duterte is "anti American". But that anti American site seemed to miss that both China and Russia helped, supplying weapons,  and a lot of countries also helped the Philippines defeat a common enemy there:

CLARK FREEPORT – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday expressed his gratitude to the country’s partner countries that helped in the five-month long Marawi siege.
“We’d like to thank the nations that helped us — China, United States, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, also Brunei and Singapore,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the regional security forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Read more:

but now the rebuilding is happening: and a lot of countries will help to rebuild the city:

From the PhilStar:

one does hope these donor nations will make sure most of the money actually helps folks, and not disappear into the pockets of the crooked businessmen/politicians.

Trump is not so much anti China as negotiating with China and treating them as an equal frenemy or business rival. China probably recognizes this, and probably prefers this to Obama, who was not a canny businessman but a community organizer who thought everything was political. It's not: the rule is "follow the money".

 China will push their concerns but when it comes to ISIS, they know they have a Muslim area that could easily be subverted into a major terrorist area, so they will cooperate with the US against ISIS.

one of these days, I should probably look into the details of how China is trying to pry Australia from their pro American policies, but that is an ongoing story and involves local politics there.

However, the roll of Australia in helping fight Islamic extremists in Mindanao and in Indonesia and other nearby areas is not one that has gotten a lot of publicity. But ISIS has noticed, so expect more terrorist attacks against that country.


and a side note: the (military) hit men who killed a priest who was an environmental activist have been arrested.

the real test: If they actually go to court and get convicted.

Time to retire Rudolf: shopping trends in Asia

Actually, I first started using Amazon in rural Minnesota, where the nearest Kmart was 40 miles away and the nearest decent book store was 100 miles away. (since most of my clothes were from LandsEnd, I had used catalogues to shop for clothing and other catalogues for Christmas gifts etc. for years, but the computer made it even easier). Actually, Sears (and JC Penney) had started catalogue/mail shopping decades ago, but seemed to stagnate and didn't move with the times...

And one of the under-covered stories is how Jack Ma of AliBaba copied Ebay/Amazon to revolutionize how rural China is shopping.

the latest report is that he is building a shopping mall now. 

the stories of China passing the US as the largest economy is only a problem if the US gets poorer (something Trumpie boy is trying to fix). The economic improvement in China is a good story, as is their selling stuff all over the place. The bad news: They use crooked ways to underprice local people. Trumpie boy will fight back here, but the homegrown industries here in the Philippines, not to mention African countries, have no way to do so.

But as China gets more affluent, and has fewer people of working age, will it mean that they will ship their factories to other countries, or import foreigners to work at their factories at lower wages? And what about the rural poor sent hhome because some Pinoy or Vietnamese took their job?

from the Economist:

China has long been able to satisfy its demand for labour by moving rural citizens to cities. Over the past 30 years around 150m Chinese have left the countryside to staff factories, cook in restaurants and clean homes. But with China’s population ageing, foreign workers have begun filling the gap: as many as 50,000 Vietnamese illegally cross the border into the southern province of Guangxi each spring to help harvest sugar cane.
In 2015 the provincial government started a programme to bring Vietnamese workers into local factories in one city. Off to a good start, it is being introduced in other parts of Guangxi. China remains a net exporter of labour, but the balance is shifting quickly. Over the next 30 years its working-age population will shrink by 180m.
so what does this mean to the Philippines?

more places for our OFW: Caregivers and nannies for affluent Chinese are already common in places like HongKong.

and factory workers recruited to China, as they are to Korea?

and maybe multinational companies moving their factories here.
Rappler article from 2015 describes why:

200 Japanese firms in China want to move to PH Labor strikes, wage increase, and historical issues are reasons many Japanese manufacturers want to exit China and enter the Philippines

our wage level is high, but our people often are skilled and speak English, which is why they work all over the world.

one problem is the shoddy infrastructure: in earlier posts I described the former mayor constructing covered drainage ditches right before the election, and now I have seen three collapses from cars parking or driving over the covered areas: probably shoddy concrete was the reason. Our reform mayor is cleaning up the place, and so far so good. But you see the problem: Funding for infrastructure gets diverted into people's pockets directly or indirectly by buying substandard or counterfeit stuff.

But if Duterte continues to destroy corruption and build the infrastructures, jobs will flow back to here.

as for E-commerce here: we have two companies doing this, using credit cards, and some will even deliver COD: Cash on delivery, something that they used to do in the US when I was a kid.

But most folks just don't trust it, especially those of us in rural areas. But I suspect things will change: The mall has done credit cards for years...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Silk Road Redux

Asian Times article on China's partnership with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Replacing the US, or being encouraged to invest there?

part of their one road project.

The report noted that “Afghanistan continues to seek Chinese pressure on Pakistan to assist reconciliation efforts and eliminate insurgent sanctuaries.” So the US may not shoot down China’s plan to leverage the CPEC to influence Pakistani policies. Besides, Chinese money, under whatever rubric, is useful for Afghan reconstruction. Indeed, if the CPEC enters Afghanistan via Khyber and traverses northward to cross the Amu Darya, the US might even welcome it.
The New Silk Road was originally an American idea dating back to July 2011 “as a means for Afghanistan to integrate further into the region by resuming traditional trading routes and reconstructing significant infrastructure links broken by decades of conflict.”

Typhoon news (no we are okay)

It's Christmas, so the country shuts down for a fortnight (through the feast of the three kings, our city's big fiesta).

But in the south, there has been both a bombing that killed a lot of people in a mall's top floor call center (probably due to problems in getting out, fire sprinkliers etc.), and a typhoon.

Global voices has a summary of netcitizen reports.

Note that a lot of the flooding and landslides are blamed on legal and illegal mining and illegal logging.


Why protect the environment when a small "gift" will let you do it cheaper? Of course, when it comes to mining, if you get rid of the mining companies, you end up with illegal mom and pop mining by people who don't have jobs and need money, which is even more dangerous. Ditto for logging.

so the answer is not "Stop mining/stop logging": The answer is get rid of corruption, and do these things responsibly.

But it's easier to shout "Mother Gaia" and feel self righteous and shut down the companies, and let locals starve.

Podcast of the week: Humans and robots

a follow up to an earlier post: Astronomy cast discusses human robot interaction in science fiction

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Mary in other cultures

Mary is the highest saint in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, but she is also esteemed in Islam.


the Iranian film can be viewed on youtube.



I usually dislike "religious" films because the characters tend to have the wide eyed fanatic stares of the true believers.

but a couple of films with not quite orthodox backgrounds can give us better understanding of Jesus and Mary, even if they are not strictly true to "biblical" traditions.

The movie The Young Messiah, based on an Anne Rice's novel, was based on the non biblical "gospels". The film shows a humble and loving Mary, and has a wonderful portrayal of St. Joseph, who is often left out of these movies.

and although a lot of folks get their knickers in a knot about the secular "Nativity story", again it shows a sympathetic and real Mary. The actress, who was 16 at the time, was also pregnant (out of wedlock"... when some snotty reporter told this to a Vatican official, he merely smiled and said: Yes, and that is why she appears so glowing in the movie.

then there is this older Mary, in the Passion of the Christ: played by a Jewish actress who was not familiar with the story, nor sympathetic to it. Gibson told her to play it as a mother who has lost a child, and she did...and much of his screenplay is not strictly Biblical, but from Catholic devotions like the Stations of the Cross, or the writings of mystic Catherine Emmerich.

and of course, Joey Velasco sees Mary as an ordinary Filipino girl...the girl behind the painting worked as a caddie at a local golfcourse.


Myths and story telling can tell aspects of the truth better than can cold facts. Nor do these story tellers have to be believers to do this, as long as they are inspired by love and beauty. As Tolkien's poem points out:

The heart of man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.

the Wexford Carol


related item: YoYo Ma's journeys.

factoid: He was born in Paris...and played for JFK:

and here is him playing the old Shaker hymn...

Hello Ms Robot

alJ has a report on social robots in Japan

There's fear in some countries around the world that robotics will eventually replace humans, but, in Japan, hopes are high that human-like robots can solve some of their problems. Japan's population is rapidly declining, and, according to the United Nations, its population is the oldest in the world. One of the suggested solutions is to replace workers with robots and use robots to take care of the elderly.

so Japan's population is disappearing, and even bringing back the sons and daughters of the Japanese diaspora is not enough.

They could, of course, copy western Europe and import workers from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, or they could just hire more Filipina caregivers...These workers of course could come on short term visas, like the caregivers in the Middle East: but the problem of those lovely Filipinas is that they tend to marry local men and stay there... and worse: you get mixed race children.

(this is less of a problem in the USA, where few have servants, and because, despite all the Trumpite/right wing racism against immigrants as "the other", or the rigid multicultural/antiamerican racism of the left wing that implies you are stuck in your grandparents culture for life, the dirty little secret is that immigrants to the US quickly morph into... Americans).

Caregiving robots? in today's world, like the "sex robots" sometimes discussed in the press, the dirty little secret is that, so far, such "robots" are not sophisticated...

but with the trend you can either see the robots taking over the world, or see them as slaves for the rich, without human rights

Isaac Asimov wrote a lot about the problem, including the debate if robots would be given human rights..

Or maybe they will just integrate into society, the way immigrants have done in the past: the most famous story of benevolent robot caregivers is this famous Ray Bradbury story that had been made into a Twilight zone story: I sing the Body electric.

that phrase, by the way, comes from a poem by Walt Whitman.

Some see him.

I have a Madonna and child that was carved at the Serima Mission school. If you look at Mary, you say: She is a Karanga: she has the facial features of the Karanga clan of the Mashona.

Alas, I don't have a photo of the statue, which I gave to my brother for safe keeping.

There is an article about the Serima school here: some of the students went on to be professional artists.

and here is a picture from the Zimbabwe National Gallery by an unknown artist: titled: Come let us adore him. Note the three kings at the left side.

of course, the locals disliked the primitive art, and preferred the more sophisticated stuff of the west: hopefully, as in music, they will combine both traditions as their culture evolves into today's world. Even 40 years ago, many of our nurses came from urban middle class families who owned stores etc.  One of our sisters wrote her PhD thesis on how the family structure was changing with education: I found a copy at a university in the US after I returned, and found it interesting, because she described what I actually saw in the changing society.

This was even more true when I went back to urban Liberia, where few had ties with their villages.

In other words, 90 percent of what Americans (or South Americans or Asians) think about Africa is nonsense, although the CNN reports in their "on Africa" segments are fairly good.

I mean, even my friend in Rural Zimbabwe has had a cellphone for years, and when she was teaching had access to their high school's computer.

so here are some African videos.


and so ignore that "national geographic" ideas of primitive Africa, and welcome to Nollywood:

cross posted to my Africa blog

Monday, December 25, 2017

Good orcs and bad elves? (Bright Film review)

yes, I know: Film critics have voted this as the worst film (on Netflix) of the year, but if they put it into a series, it could easily become a cult series, and the geeks seem to love it too.

Anyone who read the Simarillion knows that elves can become evil: Unlike men, who have original sin and a weakness to fall, so are granted mercy, the elves are born pure, but if they fall into sin (usually pride or wish for power) they are indeed evil. Think Hellboy 2 (yes, I know: That's Marvel but you get the idea).

But can orcs chose to be good?

In the Tolkien legendarium, the answer is unclear and complicated: Only Illuvatar can create beings: Morgoth can only twist these beings into evil. Think of  brainwashing of kids from their youth, or  taking feral street children to think this is how they should act and other beings are the bad ones, and you get the idea. (Viking Warriors, Brownshirts, Mugabe's green bombers, Ruanda's murderous gangs, the Red Guard of Mao).

Now, combine such ideas with eugenics or genetic engineering and try not to shudder (Jackson, not Tolkien, suggested Saruman did this to make the Uruk Hai).

But what about orcs? Can you reprogram them, or is their "evil" genetic?

Michael Martinez has a few discussions on the question if orcs can ever be redeemed.


It’s a bit difficult to rationalize how Orcs could be anything like the “good” races of Middle-earth, but then, the Orcs aren’t really supposed to be anything other than an aspect of the humane. They are a reflection of the worst qualities we find in ourselves. Orcs feel loyalty, express courage, and honor their oaths. But they also live in constant fear, dwell on hatred and contempt, and treat everything with absolute disregard. They are depraved, debased, and extremely selfish.
yes: Tolkien has a letter to his son Christopher pointing this out, and that he was not implying races (e.g. the Germans) were evil, but that some men, including some in the British army, would be seen with orcish traits.

a deeper essay on the orcs is here, with long quotes from Tolkiens letters, and includes this snip from Morgoth's Ring: LINK2

“But even before this wickedness of Morgoth was suspected the Wise in the Elder Days taught always that the Orcs were not ‘made’ by Melkor, and therefore were not in their origin evil. They mght have become irredeemable (at least by Elves and Men), but they remained within the Law. That is, that though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they must be fought with the utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty and treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost. This was the teaching of the Wise, though in the horror of the War it was not always heeded.
and his essay here discusses if orcs could live peacefully with men and elves, and has no clear answer. but notes:

Orcs probably had only slightly more natural inclination to seek out war than Men; most of the Orcish wars appear to have been started by Morgoth or Sauron, and when left on their own the Orcs seem to have left other peoples largely to themselves.

a long fan discussion here.

and another fan discussion of Tolkien's letter 269:

W.H. Auden asked if the notion of Orcs as an irredeemably wicked race was heretical or not. Tolkien said he lacked sufficient theological understanding to say whether or not his notion of orcs was heretical, but he did state that he felt no obligation to make his story fit with formalized Christian theology. The Lord of the Rings was intended to be consonant with Christian thought and belief. Frodo asserted that the orcs were not evil in origin.[1] We believe that of all humans, though some as individuals or groups appeared unredeemable.

Given that the warlike Mongols settled down when they became Buddhist, and the warlike Visigoths/Lombards/Bulgars/Vikings settled down when they became Christian one suspects a similar pacification program could occur... the main problem being that men, at least, have enough orc like souls (e.g. sociopaths) among them to recruit the orcs for their own purposes.

One other note: My friend in Zimbabwe, a teacher, worked to re educate the freedom fighters after that country's civil war. Part of the training was to reeducate them to find a job, and to find meaning in family, while teaching them they couldn't just point a gun at someone for stealing/rape or just a feeling of power.

This is also something being done in Colombia for the FARC fighters who came "in from the cold" after several amnesties in the past. An ongoing problem... and alas drug money lets these kids stay in the alternative of not becoming civilians but to continue with their murderous ways in gangs etc. So the problem is not just the Mafia/M19/Bloods and Crips, but that these people, mainly young men who were socialized into evil ways, must be "converted" and socialized into good.

Rev your office.


Father Christmas letters

Prancing Pony podcast on Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters to his children.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

Santa's reindeer okayed to enter the US

despite strict quarantine laws for animals, the US Dept of Agriculture has issued a permit for Santa's Reindeer.

“During this season of giving, USDA wants to do everything in its power to help Santa,” said Dr. John R. Clifford, USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “We agreed to waive the normal application fees and entry inspection/overtime costs, provided he winks his eye and wishes port personnel a Merry Christmas at the time of crossing.”
APHIS also waived the normally applicable disease testing requirements, as the North Pole is recognized by APHIS as negligible risk for all livestock diseases and at a recent inspection, the reindeer were found to be healthy and able to prance and paw with each hoof. As a condition of entry, the reindeer must be certified by Santa Claus as never having been fed anything other than hay, sugar plums, and gingerbread.
The reindeer must also be individually identified with microchips or official eartag identification, and must respond to the names ‘Dasher’, ‘Dancer’, ‘Prancer’, ‘Vixen’, ‘Comet’, ‘Cupid’, ‘Donner,’ ‘Blitzen’ and ‘Rudolph’ when interacting with port personnel. No more than one reindeer in the group may be visibly affected by ‘Rednose Syndrome’, and upon entry, port personnel will visually inspect the reindeer to ensure they are healthy and fit for continued travel.

How we get around in the Philippines


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Family news and book/film reviews

Joy arrived in Canada, and will spend the holiday with her daughter at a friend's house.

Dr. Angie held a free clinic day. She does this several times a year.

Lots of parties going on all over, and the Palenke is busy, so traffic on our street is very heavy.

Mama Cat tried to get into my closet (she is looking for a nest for when she delivers) but with the dogs sleeping here I told her to try to find a place elsewhere.

I checked out Call me by your name the film that is a buzz for the academy awards. My take? Boorrrring... dull people who are cookie cutter pretty, and lots of angst about nothing.  Heck, if I wanted to watch beautiful people with inane personalities with fake problems, I'd stick to Hallmark movies.. As for the sex scenes, they cut away just short of losing their R rating and no one seems very happy in them.... My take? I'd rather watch Lolo's old porn movies: at least in them the hookers seem to be happy and having a good time.

which makes me wonder: Aren't there any comedy movies out there? The last one I spotted was Boo2, but that hasn't been on HBO yet.

As for the latest Starwars, since Ruby isn't here, I guess I'll see that when it hits HBO in two years, although I will keep an eye out for it in the Palenke (which often gets hit movies the week before they hit Manila)...

I follow Starwars but because the prequels were boring I haven't watched them more than once.... I keep an eye on Starwars, Harry Potter, and other geeky movies, but the only ones I am an expert on are the Lord of the Rings series... hope they don't ruin that when it hits TV...

and Ruby has to read the god of small things for her high school literature class.

I read it and it reminded me of Marquez.

So did the author think: I know, I'll do a book about folks with schizoid personality disorder* who live outside of reality, put in a bit of incest, pedophilia and adultery, mix the stories so you can't follow the plot line, add lots of beautiful descriptions (the best part of the book) and the critics will love it.

(*schizoid personality disorder in wikipedia saysSchizoid personality disorder (SPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary or sheltered lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, detachment, and apathy. Affected individuals may be unable to form intimate attachments to others and simultaneously demonstrate a rich, elaborate, and exclusively internal fantasy world.)

Yup. Despite the fact she is in India, and a lot of local politics and religion are mentioned in the book, you don't get a feel for any of these things. They run a pickle factory, but you don't learn about feasts or fiestas or what they eat, or how the factory is run: indeed, you could take these out of the book and not affect the plot, which is mainly a bunch of short vignettes patched together. Presumably when you get to the end, the isolated vignettes should make a complete and beautiful picture, but I'm not very "sensitive" and sympathetic, even though as a doc I have had the frustration of working with such people (usually holding my tongue and trying not to hit them on the head and tell them to get real).

Except for the untouchable guy who seems the only sympathetic character but is mainly there to kill off in the climax, to prove: well, I'm not sure. To prove the cops are stupid? who knows?

but I guess it's pc enough for her NWO school. but it makes me mad because it doesn't contribute to my understanding of the Culture of Kerala: the characters could just as well be living in NYCity .

He's coming....

The shepards watched their flocks (in December?)

Usually modern critical bible scholars insist Jesus must have been born in the spring, since the shepherds would not be out with the flocks in the winter time, and often pointed out that lambing occurs in the spring, not the winter. Which is true in Europe and the Americas. Born in Spring, so there would be tender new grass for their mams to eat.

but TeaAtTrianon blog links to Alateia blog, who points out that no, that the sheep found in the Levant were not European sheep or modern sheep, and their lambing cycle was different, so they often produced lambs in the winter...and so the idea that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born at the time of the lambs who were sacrificed in the Temple had a lot of symbolic meaning.

well, theology and sheep are not my strong points, so let's look at sites about sheep breeding to see if the claim is true.

(Photo by Michael Willis)

that photo is from this NewZealand article.

wikipedia article. article on these sheep. (Food and Agricultural organization of the UN).

the problem is rain and food, not the cold per se: they mate in summer, and give birth five months later, when the winter rains ensure enough grass for their moms to eat.

In Awassi flocks of the Bedouin and fellahin, the breeding season is to a large extent determined by the condition of the grazing. The ewes come into heat only when the spring and summer grazing has restored the weight lost during the preceding period of drought and brought them back to a fair condition. The mating season lasts approximately from June to September, so that the lambs are born when there is enough pasture for the ewes in milk and for the young lambs...

elsewhere in the article they note:

The mean gestation period in an Awassi flock in Lebanon has been reported to be 149.5 days for male lambs and 148.6 days for females.

and earlier in the article they describe the shepherd and their flocks:
Badawy shepherd with full paraphernalia

Bedouin and fellahin shepherds know nothing of tent or house but live entirely in the open together with the flocks under their care.
They are working 365 days a year, from 13 to 16 hours a day. Their work includes shepherding, watching at night, care of sick animals, training of bell-wethers, shearing, weaning of lambs, and tying the ewes up for milking which is usually done by the women.
...  During the lambing season, lambs born in the field and still too weak to follow their dams are carried by the shepherds to the tents or villages where they remain for a few days until strong enough to join their dams at pasture.

another fact I didn't realize: unlike western sheep, which are mainly used for wool or meat, these sheep are also used for milk.

And they note in some areas, the migration of sheep into the mountains in the hot summer, and the migration back to the lowlands in winter.

That, at least, I am aware of: In Idaho, our shepherds (often of Basque ancestry-another factoid) would come to our office asking for prescriptions for several months of medicines to take with them into the hills.

NYTimes article on Herding sheep in Basque Country (Idaho).


just a side note: Were the shepherds who visited the crib local (poor) Jewish men, or where they (pagan) Bedouin?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Waiting for the food

Overseas workers in the Gulf

Migrant Rights continues the series on Ethiopian workers in the Middle east: some of the narration is what happens after they return home.

Much of this echoes the stories of the one million Filipinos who work there. Read the whole thing.

ALS and the First Gulf War

One of the terrible things done to veterans of the first Gulf war was the coverup of Gulf war syndrome, claiming no disease here, folks, just move on.

after many years, the VA made it a diagnosis, so now Vets can get help from them.

but still, most claiming this disease are being denied disability benefits.

now, however, it is acknowledged that Gulf war veterans do have an increase in the risk for ALS, although the actual number of cases is a very low percentage.

CDC article on ALS. They are establishing a registry for patients, to help figure out the cause and what treatments would help.

more on my medical blog.

Cat item of the day

the new year is coming: don't forget to change the batteries in your smoke alarm, and don't forget to rotate your cat.

How to rotate your cat.

via Instapundit

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Parol: Christmas star of the Philippines

Here they do have artificial trees and Santa, but the symbol of Christmas is the Christmas star:


but they can get really fancy:


as I mentioned, we have a reform mayor who is busy tidying up the place.
So here is our city and the decorations in the park down the street.


complete with a night market for eating (the main palenke is a block down, and also opwn at night).

the Philippines in our areas has become much more affluent in the last ten years since I moved here, and the affluence even extends to the nearby rural areas.

Tax cut? Duh

I know nothing about economics, but I do know that it's easy for the rich to hide their income so it doesn't get taxed. Lower the tax rate, cut legal deductions, and maybe some will figure it's cheaper to keep the money in the US and pay taxes than hide it overseas.

Trump, being in business, has saved lots of money using tax loopholes, so he knows these shennanigans go on all the time... the bad news: the bill was mainly written by congress, who are easily bribed by corporations etc. giving money to their reelection campaign.

gifts (aka bribes) are something rarely reported on: you know, when Trumpie boy criticized the lady senator who was trying to take out Al Franken ( so she would go up on the list for future presidential candidates), Trump tweeted that she promised him "anything" if he gave her money for her re-election campaign.

this was, of course, immediately interpreted as he said she was a slut. No, I don't think so: he was accusing her of essentially asking for a bribe, but phrased it in a witty way with a double meaning that made his tweet funny (something he often does, and those without a sense of humor usually overreact and take his jokes literally).

The way I read it was she was saying if he gave her money, she would back legislation that would help his business.

Here in the Philippines, the joke is that bribes are given above the table, under the table and with the table. So we are more prone to recognize someone asking for a gift bribe when we seen one.

and I wonder why corruption is not much of an issue in US politics: how do all those Congress people get rich while serving in Congress anyway? And this is a bipartisan problem, of course.

Space news

DavidReneke has a post about those UFO studies funded by the USPentegon.

Although, as I mentioned, when I lived in New Mexico(about 50 miles from White Sands and 100 miles from Roswell) there were a lot of UFO's, but the locals merely shrugged and figured they were testing new planes or rockets.

UFO merely means unidentifided...not only natural phenomenom, but I suspect a lot of the SR70 flights were reported as UFO's... but when a trained pilot sees one, you do have to wonder.


Post on water on Mars HERE, and also see these reports:


new theory on Dark Matter.

A theory without proof to explain the expansion of the universe, and now someone has a new idea.

and more observations on black holes.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas is family

a story of our overseas workers

Christmas is another holiday when families try to come back and see their relatives here.

Many just come from Manila but all too many travel from overseas, since well paying jobs are hard to find here, and so one or two persons will go overseas and then send money home for school fees and a decent house etc. Many are women working as caregivers or nurses (here, they advertise nursing school as a way to get such overseas jobs: IF your marks are high, it is a ticket to the US/Canada/Australia/UK, but even if your marks are lower, it means working as a nurse in the Middle East, or as a caregiver for either children or the elderly, all over the world, including affluent Asian countries like Hong Kong and Korea.

and then there are jobs in factories: Korean language schools for example, so you can work there in factories (at a lower wage than locals want to work).

Name a country, and you will find Filipinos there.

Because of lack of good paying jobs, most of our family is overseas working, but luckily most are in the UK/Canada/USA where they can bring their children with them and get citizenship. In the Middle East, where there are more than 1 million OFW's, that is not always possible, and the work is often short term contracts, although some stay for years on repeated contracts, they rarely can become citizens there.

Lolo as a doctor could immigrate, and arranged for much of his family to work in the USA after they got their MD or RN.

But his son returned to the Philippines to run the farm and rice business here, and kept his Filipino citizenship and married a local lady.

Now their daughter is in Canada in an international High school... her first year there (tenth grade), on a full scholarship, and alas very very homesick.

So her mom will fly out tomorrow to stay with her at a friends house near her school.

this is one reason I am aghast at the threat of being too strict with immigration laws and sending home those who worked for years in the USA albeit illegally. For as long as I can remember, illegal immigration was accepted by everyone, and winked at, and now they are clamping down on law abiding citizens?

podcast of the day

Brian Sibley rewrote a lot of classics for BBC radio plays and he is posting some of them on soundcloud.

today:Thurber's The Wonderful O


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Noodle triva


Stories below the fold

Mark Mallet on the decline of Canada. (caution: Religious site).

Mark Steyn Call your office.

the Pope doesn't like Satan. who wudda thot?

The more I see of the Vatican, the more I think this is just the Jansenists vs the Jesuits redux.


Atlanta airport shut down by power outage (what, no back up generators?) And those staying the night at the stadium will be fed by ChickFilA.

I suspect a lot more person to person stories will come out in later news stories.


Glenn Reynolds predicts the news will be crazier in 2018

Amtrak derailment. In Our prayers. Was it sabotage?


The "let Hezbollah help bring cocaine into the US to make Iran happy" story.

Didn't we just see this in a movie? Except that one was blamed on Bush, and the story sort of ignored they just happened to land in an airport where the governor had ties with the local southern mafia.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Romancing the past

If you train people to work overseas, you are aware that there are two types you have to avoid: First, the type who sees the new society as "different" and therefore evil/primitive/inferior.
The second: Those who see the new society as wonderful. Often they  see utopias that never existed in the new country, while condemning the land of their origin as the source of all evil.

The truth is that each culture has good and bad points.

As a doc, we have to know these cultural nuances to care for our patients.

Every time a new "society" is found, the mythmakers project their ideas onto it: Be it the Noble Savage of Rousseau or the "peaceful" Mayans.

Much of this has been debunked, but never mind: The myth continues.

The latest one to question this type of mythmaking is this article that questions the myths of the "hunter gatherer" humans of the past and present.

(headsup Instapundit)

All I can say is: Duh. I knew the high maternal and child mortality because I met docs working with the !Kung. One doc was working with the local illiterate midwives to teach them what to watch for and when the woman might need transfer to a larger clinic or hospital for prolonged or obstructed labor.

In the past, or in rural areas without modern medicine, injuries get infected (which is why their murder rate is so much higher than the rest of the world: Because they died of minor injuries without an ICU could have saved them). Cuts lead to tetanus. Kids die of diarrhea. Moms breast feed for four or five years to prevent death from protein deficiency, but if she gets pregnant too soon, the toddler often develops malnutrition and dies of minor diseases.

One history type film I saw "illustrating" why hunter gatherers settled down as farmers showed the man pointing back, unwilling to settle, but his pregnant wife pointed to the village and argued with him. Yeah. Hunting and gathering is fine when you are young and healthy; when you are eight months pregnant isn't very romantic, and all those stories about women who simply went into the forest and had their baby alone? Well, one wonders how many died during or after child birth and never returned.

Women are often left out of the stories.