Lightning rods

Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod, they told me in school, and ever since then we’ve had lightning rods to protect us.

So where are they all?

The Ukraine war

It shouldn’t be that hard for people who sympathized with Putin to turn around and sympathize with Ukraine now, and it can be done with complete intellectual consistency, but few seem to be managing it. It’s like telling a woman that she shouldn’t taunt her man, and then switching to her defense when he snaps and starts chasing her with an axe. Yes, you’ve been proven right, but it’s no time for gleefully saying “I told you so”. Some provocations should not be given, but some reactions are far more than the provocation deserves.

Virtual-reality lynch mobs

Back when Facebook bought Oculus, there was lots of talk about them having some master plan for integrating virtual reality into Facebook: for making virtual reality “social”. There was no real need to suppose they had any such master plan: an alternate explanation was that they found the technology interesting and promising, and wanted to be on top of it, wherever it was going. At any rate, if they did have some master plan, we haven’t seen much of it in the intervening years. There have been some offerings: one gives people the sense of being in a conference room and seeing crude 3D avatars of the other participants. It doesn’t really give Zoom much competition. But now we are to have the “Metaverse”: whatever that is to be, Facebook will be putting lots of time and money into its development. To emphasize its significance they are renaming the whole company “Meta”. And indeed there are things that can be done with more time and money.

One of them is enabling online lynch mobs.

Putting a vaccine out quickly, part 3

If anyone had been in the mood to argue with my previous missives about getting a vaccine out quickly, they could have easily found an objection. “You’re only addressing testing”, they might have said, “and the real problem is manufacturing. It’s fine to test a vaccine fast, but the real struggle is going to be in the process of gearing up to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses. Even most of the regulatory work deals with details of manufacturing. And since we can do testing in parallel with gearing up for manufacturing, and the gearing up for manufacturing will take longer, we don’t need to do testing as fast as you suggest.”


I’ve forgotten where I read it, but Von Moltke (senior), after winning the Franco-Prussian War, had a flatterer compare him to Napoleon (the original Napoleon, of course, not his nephew Napoleon III whom they’d just defeated). Von Moltke demurred, saying that he had only proven his skills in advances, while Napoleon had been good at retreats, and that retreats are much harder.


“See this newspaper,” he told me, picking it up from a stack of free newspapers. “It’s the Weekly Worker, the Communist newspaper. They used to be the Daily Worker, but after the fall of the Soviet Union they fell on hard times.

“This article talks about socialized medicine. It says that socialized medicine is unpopular in the US, so its supporters should switch to saying ‘single-payer’ instead.

“You watch and wait. All the media will switch.”


“If I had to make my literary Will, and my literary Acknowledgements, I would have to own that I owe more to Macaulay than to any other English writer.” – Winston Churchill to R. V. Jones, as related in Jones’s book Most Secret War

“Lord Stanhope once gave me a curious little proof of the accuracy and fulness of Macaulay’s memory. Many historians used often to meet at Lord Stanhope’s house; and in discussing various subjects, they would sometimes differ from Macaulay, and formerly they often referred to some book to see who was right; but latterly, as Lord Stanhope noticed, no historian ever took this trouble, and whatever Macaulay said was final.” – Charles Darwin, in his autobiography

Those two endorsements were what lead me to check out Thomas Babington Macaulay’s History of England. I had thought I had read good history books, but this one is on an another level entirely. It’s the only book which I liked so much that I took the Project Gutenberg copy, read through it and corrected some scanning errors, and put it up on this website. Before starting it, Macaulay wrote that he was “acquainted with no history which approaches to [my] notion of what a history ought to be”; and as far as I know there is still no other work of history anywhere near as good, despite many attempts at imitation.

The Carrington Event: not something to worry about

One of the things that is widely regarded as a menace that might destroy civilization, or at least be enormously damaging, is a repeat of the “Carrington Event”, the September 1859 geomagnetic storm. Back then there was hardly any electrical infrastructure, but there are stories of telegraph offices catching on fire and telegraph operators experiencing electric shocks. Now, it is said, with all our electronics, we’d be devastated. Even NASA has gotten into the act, forecasting trillions of dollars in damage from a repeat of such an event, and talking about it “disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket”. But taking a hard look at the mechanism for such harm, really the danger is quite small.

Testing some expired iodine stuff

I got to looking at my “prepper” sorts of supplies recently, and found I had some well-out-of-date iodine products – out of date enough that back when I bought them the movement was called “survivalist” rather than “prepper”. So out of curiosity I decided to test them to see whether they were still any good.


5G, the “fifth generation” cell phone standard, has been in the news a lot. There are people suspecting 5G of causing the coronavirus, and even reports of some of them burning cell phone towers in the UK. But this bizarre suspicion was by no means the start of the bullshit about 5G. Indeed, it’s a natural reaction to the previous over-hyping.