Saturday, December 29, 2012

Four Strong Winds

"Four Strong Winds" by Neil Young from his album Comes A Time (1978):

I blew my chance to see Neil Young around this time at a small Madison venue called The Church Key because I was under 18 (I could have snuck in). I just love this song and the feeling it evokes. Young's version is a cover of Ian Tyson's song (another Canadian). I once read somewhere that Neil Young loved this song so much as a teen that he used to play it over and over on the jukebox while playing pinball.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

SCOTUS is like the New Testament

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. ~Ecclesiastes 1:9 (KJV)
The Supreme Court echoed Ecclesiastes' "new thing under the sun" language in a case concerning the patentabilty of oil-eating bacteria, i.e., a species of living things engineered by humans. The decision recited:
The Committee Reports accompanying the 1952 [Patent] Act inform us that Congress intended statutory subject matter to "include anything under the sun that is made by man."
~Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S., 303 (1980)
Compare "there is no new thing under the sun" with "anything under the sun that is made by man."  Novelty was inherent in the Supreme Court's phrase because they were construing 35 U.S.C. § 101, which provides:
Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.*
SCOTUS affirmed that micro-organisms constituted a composition of matter within the meaning of the statute.

Can we reconcile SCOTUS with the Old Testament?  Yes, if we consider Ecclesiastes to refer to matter per se and not to compositions of matter. New chemical compounds, even living organisms, are just old atoms put together in new ways.

On the other hand, SCOTUS was also saying that there was such a thing as something new under the sun, so long as it was made by man.
*Emphasis added. The language came from Jefferson, but he originally used the term "art" for "process."

Friday, December 28, 2012

New York's Alright...

New York's alright
New York's alright
If you like tuberculosis...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What do La Befana, Santa Claus, & Bronco Bama all have in common?

The answer is that they were all named by children. La Befana derives from l'epifania which means The Epiphany in Italian. The story is Italian folklore, and tells of an old woman who was visited by the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. She declined to go along when invited, but later changed her mind and now spends eternity seeking the Christ child. She is/was the traditional Italian Santa Claus, bringing gifts to good children on the evening of January 5th, the night before the Feast Of The Epiphany. Here is her story in a little video I made to accompany the vinyl LP I knew as a child:

There has been some hand wringing that American-style Halloween has co-opted La Befana's image:

La Befana was obsessed with sweeping, which explains the broomstick. Now I'm wondering where/how the Halloween witch/broomstick came into popular American culture. Anybody?

Santa Claus needs no introduction -- his name derived from Dutch as Sinterklaas which itself came from Saint Nikolaas. Dutch children believe that Sinterklaas brings gifts on December 5th, the night before St. Nicholas Day. If you say Saint Nicholas very quickly as a child might do, you get to Santa Claus. Curiously, the traditional Saint Nick was a rather slender individual and wore blue rather than red. Did Coca-Cola intentionally rebrand him as an obese flyover state type? Recall that red used to be the Democrat (Deep South) color.

"Bronco Bama" of course was coined by a six-year old during the 2012 Presidential election; I draw no intentional similarities between Barack Obama, La Befana, and Santa Claus.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dank U Sinterklaasje!

The mean old network Grinches have blocked high quality YouTube versions of "The Miracle On 34th Street," an old TV staple around this time of year. I did find my favorite scene of the movie--it's the scene when a young Susie (Natalie Wood) overhears Kris Kringle (Edmund Gween) speaking Dutch to a young orphaned girl from Rotterdam. Susie had been skeptical up to that point, but this scene convinced her of his authenticity.  Gween won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year (1947).

The scene is rarely translated (at least when I've seen it, but I haven't seen it lately).
Kris: Hello! I'm glad you came.
Dutch Girl: Oh, you are Santa Claus!
Kris: But of course!
Dutch Girl: I knew, I knew for sure that you would understand!
Kris: Of course, just tell me what you would like to have from Sinterklaus.
Dutch Girl: Nothing, I already have a lot--I only want to be with this nice lady.
Kris: Will you sing a song for me? 
The video rudely cuts off here, but here's the rest, and a translation of the lyrics:

Sinterklaas kapoentje, 
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje, 
Gooi wat in mijn laarsje, 
Dank u, Sinterklaasje. 

Christmas capon,*
Throw something in my shoe,
Throw something in my boot,
Thank you, Sinterklaas.
*The use of capon is interesting:  According to the Wiki:
In one way or another is the name of Klaas Capon transferred to Christmas capon. That a bishop celibate and no sexual life is like a capon, will have contributed to the association, but more important is probably that "shoe" rhymes with capon.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Californication of DC

Glenn Reynolds links to Megan McArdle on the crazy housing market in Washington, DC.  We lived through such housing value puffoonery out here in San Diego, ca. 2000 to 2007. Speculation based on what?

It's not just the housing prices, but the irreversible landscaping of the whole region; I noticed this back here: link

Friday, December 21, 2012

First New Day In The House Of The Rising Sun

The days are getting longer now--can you feel it or is it too soon? Temperature is a lagging indicator so it may be a while before the frigid days pass us by.

Another Quantum of Solstice...

Rutherford and Bohr
[this story continues in part from here.]

Ernest Rutherford discovered the atom's very kernel, the nucleus, but his tiny solar system model of the atom failed. It failed because it had a fatal flaw according to classical electromagnetic theory: Viewed side-on in the plane of the ecliptic, the orbiting electron oscillates charge from side to side and should behave like a miniature transmitter, broadcasting electromagnetic energy like a Marconi transmitter. Giving off energy, bit-by-bit, the electron should spiral into the nucleus. Rutherford never explained that away.

The Importance of Being Near Ernest

Luckily, Rutherford confided his 1909 experiments to young Niels Bohr prior to publishing them. Rutherford had invited Bohr to Manchester to study physics after a brief (and apparently unsuccessful) stint at Cambridge. Inspired,* Bohr spent the summer of 1910 and the subsequent spring (taking time off to marry and to honeymoon), devising his own theory which he published in 1913 (two years after Rutherford finally published his planetary model in 1911).

Bohr got around Rutherford's electron death spiral problem by postulating that it didn't happen! That may sound audacious and even glib, but he overcame "illogical leaps" by solving a bigger mystery which had puzzled generations of scientists: he explained the long-known but little-understood signature hydrogen lines observed in the spectra of stars (recall that stars are mostly hydrogen). According to Bohr, the lines represented quantum leaps in units of energy. He did the math for the hydrogen atom to prove it. The simplistic hope that atoms and the universe were fundamentally similar -- the too small to be seen and the too big to be noticed were whirling masses in motion or "turtles all the way down" -- shone briefly.

According to Bohr's new 1913 theory, electrons encircled a nucleus, but only in stable, fixed-distance orbits (shades of Bode's earlier but discredited planetary law?) but without the continuous death spiral energy radiation. Bohr called his quantized orbits "stationary orbits" (whence my title). A quantum of solstice or standing still.

Electrons in Bohr's stationary orbits still gained or lost energy -- but only by jumping from one orbit to a bigger orbit and vice verse. That was revolutionary. Bohr's math worked out too and depended on Planck's constant which was only 13 years old then.

Planck quantized radiation and Bohr quantized matter--viz, electrons. Scientists struggled in subsequent years with the question of whether electrons were waves or particles and whether light rays were waves or particles. They worried about the meanings of such apparent dichotomies until they gradually realized that they were fighting about language and not about science.
*Inspired is an understatement


My inspiration for the "Quantum of Solstice" is here at Victoria's old blog, to whom I dedicate this blog post.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Scene At Althouse

We protect our mayors with men with guns; we protect our governors with men with guns; we protect the House and the Senate and the President, with men with guns; we protect our courts, our banks, our jewelry stores, our sports arenas, and our pawn shops, all with men with guns.
However, our most precious possessions, our children, we protect with a piece of paper and a sign (the Gun Free Zone law).
Now, in response to the slaughter of 20 innocents, we propose to punish those (gun owners) who are innocent, and protect our most cherished possession, our children, with a another piece of paper (a new gun law). Link
I hope it goes viral

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #31

...How many letters have I written up to now? Thirty-eight according to my calculations, today's included.  In August you wrote me that you keep a mail book, a real file of pen pals with their addresses and peculiarities, the dates you became acquainted with them, and how the friendships fared. It amused me greatly.  Did you add the picture which I sent you to your file?  My mail book is too inaccurate; your bookkeeping is probably better than the little marks I make in my pocket calendar. After all it doesn't really matter whether I wrote you 36 or 37 letters.  I am number five among your pen pals.  It must be very interesting to read all the letters you have received.  They come from all theaters of the war, don't they?  When the war is over, you will have a magnificent volume of memoirs in letter form. This year, at Christmas, we wanted to meet each other for the first time in Karlsruhe. Nothing came of it. The future also looks bleak to me, very bleak.  I see almost no hope. 
Thank God, I have gotten around to saying it. There won't be any meeting; even the date for the coming year can't be kept.  Dear girl, what a fizzle! The stupid thing is that all one can do is look on; that's what's slowly driving me crazy.  If only I had toddled off for home in September, when I caught that shrapnel in my arm.  But I wanted to be around when we captured Stalingrad, and I have often regretted this crazy idea since. 
They were pretty funny letters you received from me;  I have always been a joker, as you can testify.  But jokes won't help us along now; things are getting serious. 
What will you write down in column six of your mail book?  In any case, don't write "He died for Greater Germany," etc., for that wouldn't be true.  Write "for Hanna on such and such a date" for all I care.  I hope you won't find this tone frivolous.  I mentioned your other pen pals.  One of these days, a few of them will go out of commission too. But their circumstances are different.  They will just stop writing all of a sudden.  Their letters will just stop coming.  But I give you formal notice. Fräulein Hanna, this is more or less my last letter, as it were. Farewell. The hope of seeing each other some day is being sacrificed to this idiotic and totally one-sided struggle. Farewell, and as a good-bye, my thanks for the time which you have lovingly devoted to me. At first I meant to write "wasted," but I thought better of it. It was not a waste of time, I got a great deal of pleasure from your letters.
A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Das Sturmgewehr!

(I haven't done a gun-related post in a while but there are ten of them here, all nested under the "guns" tag)

The assault rifle is under assault again, despite its minimal actual involvement in heinous domestic crime. I think I know why it's targeted: it's got a hellacious moniker which actually traces back to Adolf Hitler. He named the novel weapon das Sturmgewehr (the assault rifle). The original assault rifle had the defining characteristics: light weight, medium cartridge size, & short range. The original Sturmgewehr was both semi- and fully automatic.

Here's a short video on the history of das Sturmgewehr:

Automatic weapons are illegal in most states.  Not in Nevada.  I fired a Thompson (Tommy gun) in Las Vegas and my son shot an MP5 last year.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Am Constant

I remember this one from early 1970's FM Radio in Madison:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Who Was In My Room Last Night?

I've linked this video a couple times on other blogs; it never goes out of style for me. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is the chemist/barkeep, but who is the redhead?

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #27

The war came back to Germany
...What a misfortune that there had to be a war!  The beautiful villages fell victim to it and were destroyed. And the fields are not tilled anywhere. And the worst is that so many people have died. Now they lie buried in enemy country. What a great misfortune this is! But you should be glad that the war is in a country far away and not in our beloved German homeland. It must not ever come there and increase the misery!  You must be thankful for that and thank the Lord on your knees. We are standing here on the banks of the Volga and keep watch. For you and our home. If we did not stand here, the Russians would break through and demolish everything. They are very violent and many millions strong. They are not bothered by the cold. But we are terribly cold.

I am lying in a hole dug in snow, and it's only in the evening that I can slip into a cellar for a few hours. You wouldn't believe how good that is. We are on guard, so you don't have to be afraid. But we are getting fewer and fewer all the time, and if things continue this way, soon there won't be anyone here. But Germany has many more soldiers, and they will all fight for their country. We all wish that there will be peace soon and that we shall be victorious. That is the main thing. Keep your fingers crossed.
A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Ecce Homo, Caravaggio (1605)

Behold the HOMO (Highest Occupied Molecular Orbital), seeking reception;
Behold the LUMO (Lowest Unoccupied Molecular Orbital), offering reception.

Chemical reactions are electronic transfers. I don't mean electronic transfers like PayPal is (although there are similarities between electricity and money). I mean electronic transfers like oxidations and reductions, substitutions, proton transfers--which all involve electron donors and acceptors.  I still think that BH3NH3 best illustrates how chemistry is like sex: link

Presumably, the chemistry of memory has some donor and acceptor aspect at the molecular level. Long term potentiation. Learning is also like transubstantiation--words becoming neuronal flesh and all that. But there is more to learning than replication.  As Plutarch noted, learning is less like bucket filling and more like igniting little fires; Jefferson echoed that same thought: knowledge is contagious.

Here are some mnemonics for today's lesson:


You can guess the rest.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #26

...I still must tell you that we went to the movies on Thursday. It was not a regular show, otherwise you might think that we have more time than we knew what to do with. We saw "Geier-Walli;" all sat on the floor on their helmets or squatting like Negroes. It is a very nice film. You wrote me that I should be careful with girls. But, Maria, there aren't any girls around here. We were all by ourselves, close to two hundred men. The movie came from the propaganda company. They play in the barn every evening; only yesterday, so have I heard, the Russians fired into the village. I had planned to see "Geier-Walli" earlier in Dresden and Hanover, but I couldn't make it then. In Stalingrad I finally succeeded and saw "Geier-Walli." What a joke. If I go on leave, I am going to see "Geier-Walli" in a real movie house. I hope they will play the film in Dresden. Even in the barn the film was quite beautiful. Only the sound couldn't be heard properly, and then the others made so many jokes, and smoked so much, you couldn't anything for smoke. Some also used the show to get warm and to get some sleep. "Geier-Walli" in Stalingrad. I'll never forget it.
"Wally of the Vultures" (1940) IMDb.

A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die (well perhaps #26 didn't have a clue). I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Especially In Michigan

A favorite song of mine dedicated to those who know who they are:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Downside Of Trade Unionism

Walter Reuther (1907-1970)
My dad belonged to a union--albeit a very weak one--The International Typographical Union. Printing technology undermined the ITU.  But he (and we) no doubt enjoyed bargained-for benefits.  I have fond memories of the annual summer "Company Picnic" at Hoyt Park in Madison, which his union partially sponsored.

The history of American unionization is pretty bloody--like the rest of world history. Walter "The Redhead" Reuther started growing Detroit's UAW beginning around 1934 until his death in 1970. For a readable account of him, see William Manchester's "The Glory And The Dream" beginning on p. 388. Men like Reuther were fighting for living standards and basic equity back then. They played offense and they mostly won.

Private sector unions like the UAW grew first and the public sector unions--always lagging in growth--followed. Decisions like Wisconsin's to allow public sector unions to collectively bargain led the way in 1959.

I'm old enough to be grounded by memories of the days when public sector workers were not the best paid workers on the block--we called them "State Workers" in Madison--but they gained steadily. Teachers, professors, clericals, even janitors.

When trade unionism in the private sector began to ebb, it exposed inequalities enjoyed by State employees. Here in California, state employees built a cozy relationship with the California State government which may have peaked but has not subsided. It's not really the fault of individual state employees that they enjoy benefits away and above others--it's a collective thing.

We saw a violent defensive play in Michigan today.  Gone are the days of playing offense in a growing economy. The general public--if they get the facts--will not sympathize like they did in the 1930's. It's just the wrong time of the life cycle.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pedaling Uphill

US Patent No. 6,293,874
I'm staying away from here days [lol] and elsewhere next week, putting in several hours a day studying for an exam I plan on taking in January or February.  I'll be back for the solstice and for the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar.

Perhaps The Sun Will Shine Again Tomorrow*

Vielleicht Scheint Morgen Die Sonne Wieder* by Werner Stelly is a beautiful short story I first encountered in a college German class. It was in a book called Lebendige Literatur. Here is the opening paragraph (my translation):
When the young man went up the stairs, the sun was shining through the colorful windows. Every time the sun was out and the young man came home in the afternoon, he saw the bright reflection of the window on the wall, and he thought how happy they could be. And a warm feeling flowed with his blood to his heart. Flecks of red, blue and green light scattered on the wall of the staircase landing, and he was almost cheerful, happy and satisfied.
The story continues, telling of the young man's wife and their son, all of whom show disparate feelings--anger, sadness, and hope--yet gather each day for their daily rituals. In the end, the father hopes that his son will one day too see the same beautiful resolution of sunlight on the wall.

Here is the original German:
Als der junge Mann die Treppen hinauf ging, schien die Sonne durch die bunten Fensterscheiben. Jedesmal, wenn die Sonne schien und der junge Mann am Nachmittag, wenn er nach Hause kam, den bunten Widerschein der Fenster an der Wand sah, dachte er, wie glücklick sie sein könnten. Und ein warmes Gefühl strömte ihm mit dem Blut zum Herzen. Ein paar rote, blaue und grüne Flecke an der Wand des Treppenhauses machten, daß er beinahe heiter, glücklich und zufrieden wurde.    
A string of 11 German words, all having English cognates, struck me the first time I read them back then:
Und ein warmes Gefühl strömte ihm mit dem Blut zum Herzen
I parsed that sentence, making each word a clickable link.

George Orwell wrote in Politics And The English Language:
Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ('time and chance') that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.
Orwell was writing about bad writing in English, not translating. But the same lesson holds. Some words have ordinary meanings deeply rooted in the past. But some ideas will not translate literally, like "a pair of three color stains on the wall" in Stelly's story. But others remain unchanged through time and across languages.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Soon There Will Be No More

I'm too busy to write a new post about it today and the anniversary crept up on me. Here's a link to what I wrote last year about Pearl Harbor: link

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How To Skin A Cat

Hüsker Dü was another 80's band who made an impression on me. Here's a song that pays forward, perfectly capturing the perpetual motion machine (something for nothing) aspect of modern economics.
We feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats
And get the catskins for nothing
At the time, I think the Hüskers thought they were mocking capitalism somehow. I see the modern lesson in terms of Obama era economics--the hopeless jump starting of the private sector using public sector command economics.

I put the lyrics below the video window because they're almost inaudible and yet are the whole song.

We are starting a cat ranch and taking one hundred thousand cats
Each cat will average twelve kittens a year
The catskins will sell for thirty cents each
One hundred men could skin five thousand cats a day
We could be dealing a profit of over ten thousand dollars
But what should we feed the cats?
We will start a rat ranch next door with a million rats
The rats will breed twelve times faster than the cats
So we can have more rats to feed each day for each cat
But what should we feed the rats?
We will feed the rats...the carcases of the cats
After they have been skinned
Now get this!
We feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats
And get the catskins for nothing
We feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats
And get the catskins for nothing
We feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats
And get the catskins for nothing
We feed the rats the carcases of the cats
After they have been skinned
We feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats
And get the catskins for nothing
Rats to the cats and the cats to the rats
And get the catskins for nothing....

Something Wild (1986)

One of my favorite 80's bands, The Feelies, played a cameo in Jonathan Demme's "Something Wild" (1986). Watch for Ray Liotta (before he had all that bad work done).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Que Sarin, Sarin

Sarin is in the news, or should I say Syrian sarin is in the news. Odd how only that event struck my interest and how quickly I can see its insidious nature.

Sarin blocks an important enzyme which hydrolyzes esters. When I look at its structure, I see the makings of a transition-state analog for the hydrolysis of a carboxylic acid ester:

For non-chemists, let me try and explain what I'm seeing without dumbing it down.

An enzyme catalyzes a simple displacement reaction:

A—B   +  C   --->    A—C  +  B

Think of a couple divorcing or swapping partners. A begins bonded to B but winds up bonded to C and B is freed from bondage to A.  A is the central player--always bound to at least one other. Now there is a crucial moment (not shown but implicit in the reaction arrow, -->) when A simultaneously binds to both B and C; it's the unstable moment before A fully lets go of B to fully clutch C. It's an ephemeral moment or "state," requiring A to partially bind one more atom than it's used to doing: B--A--C has an awkward, fleeting existence. Because A ultimately binds C more strongly than B, A will momentarily contort "uphill" to ultimately wind up more stable with C.

The enzyme's job (or more generically, the catalyst's job) is to stabilize the awkwardness of the transition state: B--A--C. In the divorcing or partner swapping analogy, the social milieu, (acceptance, enablement) will facilitate the transition. In the absence of a catalyst, the displacement would face a much higher barrier.

Back to sarin.  The sarin molecule closely resembles the transition state for the normal enzymatic process. Sarin looks just like hypothetical "B--A--C" transition state.  Sarin goes into the enzyme and monkey wrenches the whole process: A—B never gets a chance to react with C because sarin comes in and blocks the whole transaction. And Sarin sticks like glue to the enzyme.  Life processes end.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sonic Youth--Candle

No reason except that I was thinking about a commenter named Candle who used to come around here and that I still miss her.

The song "Candle" is buried here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cultural Metamiction

The term is synonymous with "cultural rot" but avoids the loaded politics and challenges the reader to hunt the meaning of the term. Once cornered, the quarry yields a new gem, asking only for meaning in terms of change versus status quo.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #24

...Now that I know where I stand, I release you from your vow.  This has not been easy for me to do, but the differences between us were too great. I looked for a wife with a generous heart, but it wasn't supposed to be that generous. I have written to Mother already and told her what she has to know. Please spare me the trouble of naming witnesses and mentioning the circumstances which gave me proof of your infidelity. I feel no hatred for you; rather I advise you to choose good grounds for divorce and speed up the procedure. I have written to Dr. F___ that I agree to a divorce. And if I am back home six months from now, I do not wish to be reminded of you by anything.
I shall pass up my leave in February or March.
A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #23

...We have had to swallow a lot; will swallow this too! Stupid situation. You might say, devilishly difficult. Beats me how we are to get out of here. Not really my business though. We marched in here on orders, shoot on orders, starve on orders, die on orders, and will march out again all on orders. Could have marched out a long time ago, except the grand strategists haven't come to an agreement yet. Soon it will be too late, if it isn't already. One thing is sure, we'll march again on orders. In all probability in the direction originally planned, but without weapons and under a different command. 
Kemner of the heavies right next to us has been shooting craps with Helms...Pay gone, watch, ring and an IOU, even his piano in home sweet home. Around here people get the most idiotic ideas. Am curious about the legal title to that gambled-away piano. Little Fatso won back his watch and ring. Perhaps he will win the summer-house tomorrow. But if both kick-off, how will the estates be probated? Would have liked to know all that, but there won't be any time. Am ignorant of many things, will probably get over that too. As I said in the beginning, we've had to swallow a lot. Tell it to Egon. Title: "Troubles of a Second Lieutenant in Stalingrad." When the chips are down--seems to me that will be soon--we'll be in there shooting.  Shoot guns even better than craps.
A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Death Letter

Deborah links a very good version of Son House's Death Letter:

What The Future Sounds Like

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #22

...Dearest, I think of you all the time. Today, standing in the chow line, I thought of you again. Of the wonderful food you used to cook. My socks are in shreds, too, and I can't get rid of my cough any more.  No pills are available for it. You could send me cough syrup, but don't use any glass bottles. Have you caught a cold too? Always put on something good and warm.  Do you have enough coal? Just go and see A__, he got lumber from me for his furniture. Let him give you coal for it now. I hope Uncle Paul has nailed the weatherstripping to your windows; otherwise it will be too late for it this year.  I did not celebrate Christmas here.  I was on the road with the car, and we got stuck in the snow because we went the wrong way. But we soon get out again. I have decided that next year we will celebrate a real Christmas, and I am going to give you a beautiful present.
It is not my fault that I can't give it to you now. The Russians are all around us, and we won't get out again until Hitler gets us out. But you must not tell that to anyone. It is supposed to be a surprise.
A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Who, What And Where Are California's Economic Conservatives?

An old reference from the 1960's gives a concise analysis of the mechanics of one-party politics in Jim Crow South:
A politics that lacks coherence, i.e. that is insufficiently structured to give voters a meaningful choice or to impose responsibility to voters both when campaigning and when in office, tends to impede the formation of aggressive popular majorities and to play into the hands of the adherents of the status quo. Consequently the principle beneficiaries of southern one-partyism have been those groups and interests which are cohesive, alert, informed, well-organized, well-financed and capable of effective action, and which have a tangible material stake in government policies to impel them to political activity. The adverse effects of the one party structure on state politics, in short, have been borne most heavily by the disadvantaged elements of the population, by "have not" persons who score low on the characteristics just cited. It is well to remember, in connection with subsequent analysis in this paper, that economic conservatives have a considerable stake in maintaining politics at a low level of clarity and coherence.
Sindler, Allan P. "The South In Political Transition." in The South In Continuity And Change, edited by John C. McKinney and Edgar T. Thompson, Duke University Press (1965), p. 302.
Sindler's analysis dates from 1964, but relates to any one-party political state like Mexico, Cuba, or Venezuela. Sindler's message is that two-party competition is good in politics. Note especially the term "economic conservatives" which back then meantand still does meanvested interests; there is an alliance between political power and economic power.

Apply Sindler's analysis to modern day California politics. Who are the modern day "have nots" in California and who are the modern day "economic conservatives"?

The "have nots" are still the traditional minorities, but now also includes the young, and single-parent families, etc. They are the so-called low information voters in modern political parlance. And they were largely Obama voters in the last election. A growing class of "have nots" is anyone caught out without a job or a decent pension.

Who are the modern day "economic conservatives"? Nationally, we know who they are--"evil republicans" like Mitt Romney.  But who are they in California, where one-partyism is even more entrenched than ever? Are they just the wealthiest Californians--the ones with the greatest economic stake in the state?  The same ones vilified in the last election? Yes and no. According to Sindler's analysis of one-partyism, economic interests align with political power. It boggles my mind that "economic conservatives"those in favor of the status quoare the Bay Area and Hollywood moneyed elite, even though they fit the description of being aligned with the one-party political class.

Another choice for "economic conservatives" are the California State Employee Unions members--the teachers, firefighters, prison guards, University employees and the coterie of supporting administrators spread liberally throughout the State and clustered in Sacramento. Their political influence is gaining in strength--they are the real vested interests here. And they are conservative in the sense of being opposed to change in the status quo.

Split Rock Lighthouse

photo by Ron Winch
What good is a lighthouse in broad daylight?
Who needs such enlightenment in an age of modern communications?
The lighthouse is just an icon to admire--a quaint beacon of a bygone era.
I bought that print many years ago on eBay, perhaps from the photographer. I'd like to contact him to get his permission to use here, but I can't seem to find an address on the Web.

The photo reminds me of my father and the times we spent together along the Minnesota North Shore which I blogged about in a series called Revisiting Highway 61.

The photo juxtaposes many opposite compositional elements.  Here are a few that I see:

Black vs. white
Vertical cliff vs. plane of water
Wet vs. dry
Deep unknown vs. known clarity
Living trees vs. inorganic rock
Chaos (rubble) vs. order (monolithic cliff)
Near vs. far.
Darkness vs. lightness
Soft vs. hard
Edge/boundary vs. continuity

[As a comment, MamaM added: Two different cloud types. High cirrus in foreground and low cumulus close to horizon. Changing weather perhaps?

Two opposite diagonals. Tree trunks slanting one direction, cloud lines another.]

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Harpoon*

The Harpoon has become a favorite cocktail around our house. Of course we modified it, substituting gin for vodka:

1½ oz gin
½ oz orange liqueur
¼ oz lime juice
enough cranberry juice to color

Mix and shake over ice.  Pour into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lime.
*Originally blogged by EBL, here.

The Harpoon is related to the Maggie, but less limey. Also, the Maggie looks different, lacking the socialist red hue.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Something I forgot which still upsets me:

I left this at Sissy Willis's blog:

Dick Dale briefly emerged from his latest bout with cancer and had something to say about this at the show I saw last Saturday. He gave up his beach life decades ago and has since lived alongside the USMC at Twentynine Palms. He dedicated the last song in what I pray is not his last show to the men and women fighting in Afghanistan. He derided what he called an insane policy of our soldiers not being able to fire back unless being fired upon with rockets. I don't recall his exact words but he said something along the lines of "These are our kids we're sacrificing-if I were there I'd want to shoot back." Then he launched into a free-style version "Amazing Grace." link

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Color of Blues

Lots of people of pallor claim to have been inspired by Muddy Waters, but only one, Johnny Winter, stepped up to the plate when the man was down. Listen to Winter's rousing background vocals in this rendition of "Mannish Boy" from Waters' 1977 comeback album "Hard Again:"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #25

...Just now the master sergeant told me that I cannot go home for Christmas. I told him that he has to keep his promise, and he sent me to the captain. The captain told me that the others had wanted to go on leave for Christmas too, and that they too had promised it to their relatives without being able to keep the promise. And so it wasn't his fault that we couldn't go. We should be glad that we were still alive, the captain said, and the long trip wouldn't be good in the cold winter anyhow. 
Dear Maria, you must not be angry now because I cannot come on leave. I often think of our house and our little Luise.  I wonder if she can laugh already. Do you have a beautiful Christmas tree? We are supposed to get one also, if we don't move into other quarters.  But I don't want to write too much about things here, otherwise you'll cry.  I'll enclose a picture; I have a beard in it; it is already three months old and was taken in Kharkov by a friend. A lot of rumors are going around here, but I can't figure them out. Sometimes I am afraid we will not see each other again.  Heiner from Krefeld told me that a man must not write this; it only frightens his relatives.  But what if it's true! 
Maria, dear Maria, I have only been beating around the bush. The master sergeant said that this would be the last mail because no more planes are leaving. I can't bring myself to lie. And now, nothing will probably ever come of my leave. If I could only see you just once more; how awful that is!  When you light the candles, think of your father in Stalingrad.
A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Conversations with Henry

Jack Halpern

Henry: Jack Halpern did that beautiful mechanistic work on rhodium you mentioned.

Me: Yes I know. It was pure blind luck that Chuck Casey handed me those papers by Jack--before I even knew how to read them. That guy could write. You know, I almost went to work for him.

Henry: Did you know I helped him get that job at Chicago? I knew him from Canada...back when he was at UBC in Vancouver.  He called me up in '62, asking if I could help him find a job. I said, "why don't you apply here?"
Jack said, "there's a position at Chicago?"

Me: You hired him?

Henry: No, he replaced me!  I hadn't told anyone yet but I was moving to Stanford.

Happy Thanksgiving and "Heh"!

Instapundit wrote:

I’M PRETTY SURE THE SCOTS-IRISH VERSION OF THIS STORY WOULD END “So then I went in, and the sumbitch at the door will be politer, next time. If he lives.” It would be a lot shorter, too.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Metal Heart

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1996

Best Albums:
Nomad ~ Aqua Velvets
Odelay ~ Beck  Favorite song: Jackass
Sublime ~ Sublime

Best Singles:
Pepper ~ Butthole Surfers
1979 ~ Smashing Pumpkins
Real Solution #9 ~ White Zombie

If You See Her, Say Hello!

Expired Terms

Sixty Grit raised an interesting point back here about substituting everyday chemical substances for commercial products.  This is a very DIY approach and reminds me of a thriving barter economy.

It also reminds me of a Jeffersonian Ideal.  In his view, patents were a sort compromise: monopoly rights granted for a fixed term in exchange for a full disclosure into public domain.  The latter is never emphasized, and yet the Patent Office essentially publishes an online "how-to" manual for many many useful inventions. They all come with expiration dates, the one date which is rarely emphasized.  Why do you suppose that is?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Parable Of The Doorkeeper*

Franz Kafka (1915):
Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in sometime later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” The gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try going inside in spite of my prohibition. But take note. I am powerful. And I am only the gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I cannot endure even one glimpse of the third.” The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this first one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud; later, as he grows old, he only mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has also come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things considerably to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know now?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is it that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it."

The original:
Vor Dem Gesetz

Vor dem Gesetz steht ein Türhüter. Zu diesem Türhüter kommt ein Mann vom Lande und bittet um Eintritt in das Gesetz. Aber der Türhüter sagt, daß er ihm jetzt den Eintritt nicht gewähren könne. Der Mann überlegt und fragt dann, ob er also später werde eintreten dürfen. »Es ist möglich«, sagt der Türhüter, »jetzt aber nicht.« Da das Tor zum Gesetz offensteht wie immer und der Türhüter beiseite tritt, bückt sich der Mann, um durch das Tor in das Innere zu sehn. Als der Türhüter das merkt, lacht er und sagt: »Wenn es dich so lockt, versuche es doch, trotz meines Verbotes hineinzugehn. Merke aber: Ich bin mächtig. Und ich bin nur der unterste Türhüter. Von Saal zu Saal stehn aber Türhüter, einer mächtiger als der andere. Schon den Anblick des dritten kann nicht einmal ich mehr ertragen.« Solche Schwierigkeiten hat der Mann vom Lande nicht erwartet; das Gesetz soll doch jedem und immer zugänglich sein, denkt er, aber als er jetzt den Türhüter in seinem Pelzmantel genauer ansieht, seine große Spitznase, den langen, dünnen, schwarzen tatarischen Bart, entschließt er sich, doch lieber zu warten, bis er die Erlaubnis zum Eintritt bekommt. Der Türhüter gibt ihm einen Schemel und läßt ihn seitwärts von der Tür sich niedersetzen. Dort sitzt er Tage und Jahre. Er macht viele Versuche, eingelassen zu werden, und ermüdet den Türhüter durch seine Bitten. Der Türhüter stellt öfters kleine Verhöre mit ihm an, fragt ihn über seine Heimat aus und nach vielem andern, es sind aber teilnahmslose Fragen, wie sie große Herren stellen, und zum Schlusse sagt er ihm immer wieder, daß er ihn noch nicht einlassen könne. Der Mann, der sich für seine Reise mit vielem ausgerüstet hat, verwendet alles, und sei es noch so wertvoll, um den Türhüter zu bestechen. Dieser nimmt zwar alles an, aber sagt dabei: »Ich nehme es nur an, damit du nicht glaubst, etwas versäumt zu haben.« Während der vielen Jahre beobachtet der Mann den Türhüter fast ununterbrochen. Er vergißt die andern Türhüter, und dieser erste scheint ihm das einzige Hindernis für den Eintritt in das Gesetz. Er verflucht den unglücklichen Zufall, in den ersten Jahren rücksichtslos und laut, später, als er alt wird, brummt er nur noch vor sich hin. Er wird kindisch, und, da er in dem jahrelangen Studium des Türhüters auch die Flöhe in seinem Pelzkragen erkannt hat, bittet er auch die Flöhe, ihm zu helfen und den Türhüter umzustimmen. Schließlich wird sein Augenlicht schwach, und er weiß nicht, ob es um ihn wirklich dunkler wird, oder ob ihn nur seine Augen täuschen. Wohl aber erkennt er jetzt im Dunkel einen Glanz, der unverlöschlich aus der Türe des Gesetzes bricht. Nun lebt er nicht mehr lange. Vor seinem Tode sammeln sich in seinem Kopfe alle Erfahrungen der ganzen Zeit zu einer Frage, die er bisher an den Türhüter noch nicht gestellt hat. Er winkt ihm zu, da er seinen erstartenden Körper nicht mehr aufrichten kann Der Türhüter muß sich tief zu ihm hinunterneigen, denn der Größenunterschied hat sich sehr zuungunsten des Mannes verändert. »Was willst du denn jetzt noch wissen?« fragt der Türhüter, »du bist unersättlich.« »Alle streben doch nach dem Gesetz«, sagt der Mann, »wieso kommt es, daß in den vielen Jahren niemand außer mir Einlaß verlangt hat?« Der Türhüter erkennt, daß der Mann schon an seinem Ende ist, und, um sein vergehendes Gehör noch zu erreichen, brüllt er ihn an: »Hier konnte niemand sonst Einlaß erhalten, denn dieser Eingang war nur für dich bestimmt. Ich gehe jetzt und schließe ihn.«
*Doorkeeper or gatekeeper?  The original German is Türhüter, a compound word meaning door + guard.** German has two words Tür and Tor which mean door and gate, respectively. Both stem from the same root and are obviously cognate with "door." Kafka would have used doorkeeper instead of gatekeeper, but the metaphorical gatekeeper is more entrenched in English.

**hüter is cognate with the English word/concept "to heed."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

That Which We Call Rhodium By Any Other Name Would Have Been As Sweet

I introduced my favorite element back here.  Known to others since 1804, I met rhodium around 1982 or so. Rhodium drew my attention as the center of a specific type of molecule, then thought to be the closest man-made thing to an enzyme. Rhodium catalysts made unnatural amino acids such as L-DOPA. What was surprising was that it didn't make d-DOPA.

Back in the late 1970's and early 1980's asymmetric catalysis was a hot new topic. The thinking was that we could imitate nature and mimic enzymes.  Those were audacious and heady times. I can still smell how sweet it was.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Correcting A Misconception

A recent article in Science dismayed me. The authors wrote one of those "perspectives" articles describing the gist of one of the real peer-reviewed research articles later on in the magazine.

"Getting Moore from Solar Cells" by David J. Norris and Eray S. Aydil, Science 2012238, 625.

After describing some new and interesting materials for solar cells, the authors state:
"Although this sounds exotic, these materials are known to behave like semiconductors, allowing them to absorb the sunlight and create electrons"
At the risk of sounding pedantic, electrons are not created--nor are they destroyed. They are there in the dark in the beginning, and they are still there after the lights go out.  The electrons are merely excited by the light.

Photons knock up electrons and then leave the seen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The First Day Of the Fiscal Cliff

I got news yesterday that my position will end Jan. 1.  The severance offer is generous, but of course limited in duration.

I immediately called an old colleague who may be able to line up some free-lance intellectual property work.

I have a small window to retool myself for the brave new world.  I'm thinking of returning to teaching and/or research for the longer haul.

Everything's on the table except the turkey.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

If At Day's Dawn Dies...

If at day's dawn 

My dear love dies, 

Tell not the day, 

Lest the laughing eyes 

Of the day grow dim 

And the bird-song cease. 

Until eventide 
Let her lie in peace.
If at day's death 

My dear love dies,
My own hands 
Will close her eyes,
And the rising moon 
And the stars shall shed 

Their silver tears 
Round her white death-bed.
Captain Ivar Campbell,
1st Seaforth Highlanders
Died of wounds received in action,
8 January 1916, aged 25,
No known grave

Letters From Their Eleventh Hour: Ivar Campbell (1891-1916)

Captain Ivar Campbell wrote this while fighting in the trenches of France:
France, 1915: 
The sputter of shrapnel, the red squeal of field guns, N.E.; the growl of the heavies moving slowly through the air, the cr-r-r-r-ump of their explosion. But in a bombardment all tones mingle and their voice is like machinery running not smoothly but roughly, pantingly, angrily, wildly making shows of peace and wholeness. 
You perceive, too, in imagination, men infinitely small, running, affrighted rabbits, from the upheaval of the shells, nerve-wracked, deafened; clinging to earth, hiding eyes, whispering "O God, O God!"  You perceive, too, other men, sweaty, brown, infinitely small also, moving guns, feeding the belching monster, grimly, quietly pleased. 
But with eyes looking over this land of innumerable eruptions, you see no line. The land is inhuman. 
But thousands of men are there; men who are below ground, men who have little bodies but immense brains. And the men facing West are saying, "This is an attack, they will attack when this hell's over," and they go on saying this to themselves continually. 
And the men facing East are saying, "We have got to get over the parapet. We have got to get over the parapet--when the guns lift." 
And then the guns lift up their heads and so a long, higher song. 
And then untenanted land is suddenly alive with little men, rushing stumbling--rather foolishly leaping forward--laughing, shouting, crying in the charge... 
There is one thing cheering. The men of the battalion--through all and in spite of that noisy, untasty day; through the wet cold night, hungry and tired, living now in mud and water, with every prospect of more rain to-morrow--are cheery. Sometimes, back in billets, I hate the men--their petty crimes, their continual bad language with no variety of expression, their stubborn moods. But in a difficult time they show up splendidly. Laughing in mud, joking in water--I'd "demonstrate" into Hell with some of them and not care. 
Yet under heavy shell-fire it was curious to look into their eyes--some of them little fellows from shops, civilians before, now and after: you perceived the wide, rather frightened, piteous wonder in their eyes, the patient look turned towards you, not, "What the blankety, blankety hell is this?" but "Is this quite fair? We cannot move, we are like little animals. Is it quite necessary to make such infernally large shells to kill such infernally small and feeble animals as ourselves?" 
I quite agreed with them, but had to put my eye-glass fairly in my eye and make jokes; and, looking back, I blush to think of the damnably bad jokes I did make...
Captain Campbell was killed in action in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), January 8, 1916, aged 25 years. Prior to his service, he had been educated at Eton and at Christ Church College, Oxford, and had traveled to America.  I blogged another letter of his last year as part of a series "Letters From Their Eleventh Hour" in remembrance of 11/11/18. Link

Campbell's family published an entire series of his letters posthumously.  This one came from a collection of British soldiers' letters called "War Letters Of Fallen Englishmen." More about this remarkable book here. Link

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Nickel and Diming US 'Til Death Do US Part

1913 Indian Head (Buffalo) Nickel, designed by James Earle Fraser.

1913 was an odd year, seeing the introduction of the Buffalo (Indian Head) nickel, and also the ratification of the 16th Amendment which introduced the permanent Federal Income Tax.

I recently finished reading a scholarly paper about the history of the 16th Amendment called "The Ratification Of The Federal Income Tax Amendment" by John D. Buenker.  There's a PDF copy here. The article is old (1980) but still relevant, especially in view of the subsequent Reagan Revolution and the more recent Obama Revanche. I took note of quite a few themes and arguments, because they never seem to go out of style. I want to write something further on this topic and this is just sort of a place keeper.

Ligation Was His Religion But His Love Was Platonic

A relatively obscure Swiss chemist named Alfred Werner won the Chemistry Nobel Prize in 1913. In retrospect, it was ironic (but coincidental) that someone from a neutral country won for ostensibly organizing things, a year before things really started to fall apart in Europe. Stockholm did the same thing the following year when they awarded T.W. Richards, an American, the prize in the midst of the Great War. They even gave the prize to a German, Richard Willstätter, in 1915 for his seminal work on chlorophyll (which happens to an example of a magnesium-ligand complex: link). Then the Nobel Prize was suspended for two years until 1918 when another German, Fritz Haber won it, despite his innovations in poison gas warfare. But back to Alfred Werner.  What did he do that so moved the committee?

For starters, he reorganized the Periodic Table and he taught generations of chemists how to think about it. Secondly, he got chemists to think beyond carbon and the tetrahedron--to octahedra and polyhedra. What le Bel and van 't Hoff did for carbon, Werner did for everything else. He introduced the general notion of the coordination complex, merging the novel concept of a central atom surrounded and ligated with ligands arrayed like classical Platonic solids. Something new and something old.

An elderly professor once showed me the carefully preserved remnants of Alfred Werner's laboratories at the University of Zurich. They're stored under lock and key these days, partly out of lack of space, partly out of lack of interest. And yet Werner's long forgotten contributions changed chemistry as much as any of his peers.