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Wednesday, 31 October 2007

AIDS as an agent of natural selection

According to recent statistics, AIDS is taking the lives of four school teachers and two police officers every day in Zambia. Statistics like these are responsible for the life expectancy in many African countries now being below 40 years. A 15-year old Botswanan boy has only a 10 per cent chance of staying AIDS-free that long.

Did you ever stop to wonder why AIDS, which was originally diagnosed exclusively in white men in North America, and was later found to disproportionately afflict black men from Haiti, is now most closely associated with black people of both sexes dying in Sub-Saharan Africa? Has any other disease in history done this sort of transmigration? If AIDS actually originated in Africa, as is commonly thought, why was it necessary for it to incubate in America and Haiti before returning to wreak such devastating damage in the continent of its birth?

It's actually a matter of Natural Selection. AIDS can only thrive in societies that nurture the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (also known as the HIV). The societies in North America that are very hostile to this virus--along with some who nurture it, but try not to let it spread--have been able to minimize the spread of the HIV. Should all societies within North America take an equally aggressive stance against its spread, it could go extinct locally within a couple decades. But important to the containment of the HIV is an understanding that it is a deadly agent that must be killed whenever possible, and whose spread must be contained, even at considerable cost (as an example, many Americans are now prohibited from donating blood through public blood banks because they haven't entered the universal tracking system that was set up to contain the spread of the HIV through blood transfusions).

In direct contrast to this approach, the societies among which AIDS runs rampant, whether they be on the African continent or in the Diaspora of Slavery, do not recognize the HIV as the true enemy. As one person recently returning from a month traveling through Southern Africa put it:

The reason why AIDS is such a killer in Southern Africa is due to the fact that people do not connect their behavior with getting AIDS. If they come down with AIDS, they are convinced that it is because someone with stronger magic than theirs has put a curse on them. The only approach they take to preventing AIDS is to wear the most powerful charm that they can buy whilst continuing to engage in behavior that is likely to bring on the disease.

There you have it, folks. AIDS is an agent of Natural Selection, removing animists from the gene pool. Africa is rapidly becoming less and less animist as a result.

2013: There is a follow-up post found here.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

An exercise in the textual criticism of a cyberscript


Finding an email in the break room (evidently a first-generation copy of "Webex A" below), I quickly noticed that the scrambled word "phenomenal" was misspelled, making it harder to decode. My daughter said it was the only word she couldn't decode in the whole pericope, even though, as it turned out, several others were misspelled too. I decided to find a few other exemplars of this cyberscript and do a little textual criticism. I suspected that I would find the text exceedingly corrupt, given the limited power of the human mind to accurately copy something not written phonetically.

I was right. Taking 3 exemplars off the internet, I christened them Webices A, B, and C according to their diminishing length. I used Webex A as the diplomatic text, on the theory that cyberscribes are more likely, when tediously keying in nonphonetic characters, to omit rather than to add. To make it a little easier on the typist (me, since I lack any graduate assistants to whom I could assign the task), I left out the opening and closing commas in each exemplar while preparing the critical text. In fact, due to the aforementioned difficulties and the great chance that I would only add a few more errors of my own, I skipped compiling a critical text altogether and simply gave my reconstruction of the original, before an authorized redactor had prepared the archetype of which these exemplars are multiple-generation copies. Mark that I also did not bother to try to form a genealogical schema, given the paucity of evidence and lack of provenance.

Without further ado, here are cyberfacsimilies of the three webices:

WEBEX A (representative of the "Eastern Establishment" Text)
I cdnoult blveiee taht I cloud aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdgnieg!
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosnt mttaer in waht oredrthe ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipromoatnt tihng is taht the firist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae! The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid does not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe! Amzanig Huh?

WEBEX B (Representative of the "Orthodox Corruption" text)
Ddni't tinhk taht you cloud aulactly uesdnatnrd waht you aer rdanieg did you? Phaononmneal pwoer of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabdirge Uivervtisy, it denos't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipromoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. the rset can be a taotl mses and yuor mnid can slitl raed it wouthit a porbelm. Pettry amzanig, huh? And I awlyas tguhot slpeling was ipmorantt.

WEBEX C (Representative of the "Wild West" text)
Aoccdrnig to rseaecrch at Hravard Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipromoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Or, it cuold be bcuseae too mcuh parytnig has totlaly msesed up yuor mnid.

And now, the critical edition, leaving out the obvious later additions to the text:

Webex A

Aoccdrnig to a1 rscheearch2 at Cmabrigde3 Uinervtisy4, it deosnt5 mttaer in6 waht oredrthe7 ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipromoatnt tihng is taht the firist8 and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae! 9 The rset can be a taotl mses and you10 can sitll11 raed it wouthit 12 porbelm. 13 Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid does14 not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe! 15Amzanig Huh?

Webex B

aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabdirge Uivervtisy, it denos't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipromoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. the rset can be a taotl mses and yuor mnid can slitl raed it wouthit a porbelm. Pettry amzanig, huh?

Webex C

Aoccdrnig to rseaecrch at Hravard Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipromoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

1. a B, C omit
2. rscheearch C rseaecrch
3. Cmabridge B Cmabdirge C Hravard
4. Uinervtisy B Uivervtisy
5. deosnt B denos’t C deosn’t
6. in C omit
7. orderthe B, C order the
8. firist B, C frist
9. The . . .porbelm C omit entire verse
10. you B yuor mnid
11. sitll B slitl
12. - B add a
13. Tihs . . . wlohe B omit
14. does C deos
15. - B add Pettry; C omit entire verse

And now, for my carefully prepared reconstruction of the original text, with marks of doubt in the footnotes:

According to research1 at Cambridge2 University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place! The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole. 3Amazing, huh?

1 This may have originally been 'a researcher', but textual evidence (an extraneous 'c' in one text and a 'ch' in another) does not support this. Both variants probably arose because of poor spelling.

2. The question is whether "Cambridge" or "Harvard" is original. Since Oxford is better known for linguistic research, "Cambridge" is the harder reading for a British original. "Harvard" is probably a Western corruption, as it is not known for linguistic research, but prestigiously speaking, Yarvard are analogous to Oxbridge.

3. This last verse appears not to have been original to the Pericope. The core passage concludes with the Abrupt Ending (verse omitted), the Long Ending (Pretty Amazing, Huh) and the Short Ending (Amazing, huh). But 'Pettry' does not fit with the style of the author, who never transposes only a single pair of letters in a multisyllabic word. We would expect something like 'ptetry'. So this word has less claim to authenticity than 'amzanig'. However, given their absence in one cyberscript, it is most likely that both the Short and Long ending were added by a later author trying to replicate the style of the original. Of course, the possibility exists that the original ending has been lost; perhaps the Clipboard wouldn't hold it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Memorial Day Story

I get a lot of viral emails (also known as forwarded emails) from a person very dear to me (otherwise I probably wouldn't read them). This one aroused my curiosity, because it seemed very verifiable. Dates and names are given--a rarity in such emails. Let's start with the text:

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey's for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever -- the heat and humidity at the same level -- too d***ed high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, '69 or '70 model Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking slot at a snail's pace. An old woman got out so d***ed slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell. I couldn't help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste:
"S***! She's going to spend an hour, my d***ed hip hurts like h*** and I'm ready to get the h*** out of here right, b*-***, now!"

But my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the "in" gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour. I broke Post Attention. The hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch.

I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman's squint. "Ma'am, can I assist you in anyway?"

She took long enough to answer. "Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers. I seem to be moving a tad slow these days."

"My pleasure Ma'am. "Well, it wasn't too much of a lie.

She looked again. "Marine, where were you stationed?"

"Vietnam, ma'am. Ground-pounder. '69 to '71."

She looked at me closer. "Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I'll be as quick as I can."

I lied a little bigger. "No hurry, Ma'am."

She smiled, and winked at me. "Son, I'm 85-years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let's get this done. Might be the last time I can come. my name's Joanne Wieserman, and I've a few Marines I'd like to see one more time."

"Yes, ma'am. At your service"

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn't quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918.

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek. She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC, 1944. She paused for a second, "Two more, son, and we'll be done."

I almost didn't say anything, but, "Yes, ma'am. Take your time."

She looked confused. "Where's the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way."

I pointed with my chin. "That way, ma'am."

"Oh!" she chuckled quietly. "Son, me and old age ain't too friendly."

She headed down the walk I'd pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She place a bunch on LarryWieserman USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman USMC, 1970. She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn't make out.

"OK, son, I'm finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home."

"Yes, ma'am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?"

She paused. "Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephan was my uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines."

She stopped, whether she had finished, or couldn't finish, I don't know. And never have.

She made her way to her car, slowly, and painfully. I waited for a polite distance to come between us and double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by the car. "Get to the out-gate quick, Kev. I have something I've got to do."

Kev started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her, she hadn't made it around the rotunda yet.

"Kev, stand to attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead."

I humped it across the drive to the other post. When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny's voice:"Tehen Hut! Present Haaaarms!" I have to hand it to Kev, he never blinked an eye; full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud.

She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Okay, to begin with, this is not the version I got by email (the cuss words had been removed, along with a few minutiae, and "Deville" had been translated as "Cadillac"). But I found this on a website dated June 19, 2002, so it must be one of the "oldest and best" copies in the electronic manuscript stream. Note that Mrs.Wieserman is 85, which puts her birth no later than 1917, just before her father would have gone off to war. The story could be a little older than that, naturally, but we are obviously dealing with a vorlage of at least five years' antiquity.

One of the first suspicious items in the story--and there are several--is the strange juxtaposition of names. Stephen (especially Stephan) and Davidson are English names--therefore not very likely to be Catholic, but the middle initial X is very likely Xavier, a typically Catholic name. Nothing too strange so far, except that Miss Davidson married a man with a typically Jewish last name. But maybe he was a Catholic convert, because her behavior at his tomb is much more in keeping with Catholic ceremony than Jewish.

Let's try to flesh out a timeline here.
Donald S. Davidson--probably born sometime before 1892-95. Killed 1918 at age 23-26.
Stephen/an X. Davidson--could have been born as late as 1910 or so. Killed 1943, at least in his 30's.
Stanley J. Wieserman-- probably born around 1915. Killed 1944 around age 29.
Joanne Davidson--born no later than 1917. Married around 1937.
Larry Wieserman--born before 1942, killed 1968 around age 26-30.
Darrel Wieserman-- born before 1942, killed 1970 around age 28-30.

The first thing we notice is how old these Marines were. The majority of soldiers killed in combat are less than 25 years old (ETA: a list of the 11 Marines killed on active duty during one week in July 2011 yields a range in age from 21 to 29, with a mean of 24.8 and a median of 24; none were 25). All of these were older than that. As old as Stephen was, he would most likely have been a high-ranking noncom; men that old rarely qualify to enlist as a Marine recruit. Thus his tombstone for sure, if not all tombstones, would have borne a rank, if I understand military tombstone policy correctly. So another blow is struck to the authenticity of this story.

The final blow, though, comes from the Vietnam War Memorial. It shows no one named Wieserman killed in the war:


Misspelled the last name? That dog won't hunt, either, although some recensions of this legend have tried it:


So, we have here a classic example of pseudohistory: A short story, penned anonymously, and promiscuously passed on as a first-person account. Easily checked for veracity, but with an emotional appeal that discourages such a crass approach.

By the way, "Present-Arms" is a command that can only be given to a soldier under arms. "Sa-lute" is the appropriate command for an unarmed soldier. So this legend, at least in its majority text version, wasn't even written by a real Marine.

* * *
I came across another text of this cyberscript that appears to be more original. A little fact-checking could help, since the source is actually named in the text. At any rate, the core dialog of the pericope is intact, but it is told in the third rather than the first person (making the cuss words a later interpolation). Here it is:

The story is told often. I first heard it in a sermon by Dr. Robert H. Schuller of "Hour of Power" fame at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. You probably know about him through his many books on the "Power of Possibility Thinking." So for a moment, let's share the spirit of Thanksgiving in Dr. Schuller's simple story passed along to him by a dear friend years ago.

A simple story

Here's the story as Dr. Schuller tells it:

Two retired U.S. Marines were a bit overweight and had some creaking in their hips, but they still wore their dress uniforms when they were assigned to take charge of the Marine Corps cemetery. This day they couldn't wait for the day to end. They were ready to close the front gate when they saw a large old Cadillac drive up with an old woman behind the wheel.

This is what my friend writes: "I thought, oh gee, here goes another 15 minutes before we can lock up."

As she pulled her car into the curb, she got out slowly and said, "Son." I said, "Ma'am, can I help you?"

She took a long time to answer. "Yes, can you help me carry some of these flowers?" And she had five little bouquets of flowers. She said, "I move a little slow these days." Then she asked, "Son, where were you stationed?"

I said, "Vietnam, ma'am, ground pounder. '69 to '71." She looked at me more closely. "Wounded in action, I see. Well done! Marine, I'll be as quick as I can."

I lied. "No hurry, ma'am." She smiled and winked at me and said, "I'm 85 years old, I can tell a lie when I see it. My name is Joanne Wieserman and I met a few Marines and I'd like to see them one more time."

"Yes ma'am, at your service." She knew exactly where she wanted to go. She headed for the World War I section, then stopping at a stone, she picked one of the bunches of flowers out of my arms, laid it on top of the stone and murmured something I couldn't hear. But then I read the name on the marble, Donald S. Davidson, USMC France, 1918.

Then she turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section. Stopping at one stone I saw a tear roll down her check. She put more flowers on the stone with the name, Steven X. Davidson, USMC 1943.

Then she went further in the same row and laid another bunch of flowers on a stone with the name Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC 1944. Wieserman - that was her name! She paused for a second, and then said, "Two more, son, and we'll be done and you can go home."

I didn't say anything but "Yes, ma'am, take your time." Then she looked confused, "Where is the Vietnam section? Son, I seem to have lost my way." So I pointed, "That way, ma'am."

"Oh," she chuckled quietly, "me and my age don't get along too well once in a while." And she headed down the walk, stopped at a couple of stones, then she found the ones she wanted and there she placed a small bouquet of flowers at the stone of Larry Wieserman, USMC 1968 (that's her name, too). And then near it, she placed the last cluster of flowers on a stone with the name Darryl Wieserman, USMC 1970. She murmured a few words that I couldn't hear. "Okay, son, all finished. Just get me back to my car and you can go home."

"Yes ma'am. If I may ask, were these your kinfolk?" She paused, "Yes. Donald Davidson, 1917, France, was my father. Stephen Davidson was my bother. And Stanley, you recognized the name -- it's my name, he was my husband. And Larry and Darryl were our sons. All were killed in action! All were Marines."

She didn't say anything more as she kept walking to her car, opened the door, then closed it quietly. I watched. I waited. Then, as her car began to leave I quickly rushed to Kevin, my overweight Marine Corps buddy in his dress uniform. I ordered, "Get to the front gate! Quick. Take the service road. We need to get to the front gate before her. We have got something we must do. So just do what I do. Don't ask any questions."

Kevin could see I was very urgent so we rushed ahead and got to the front gate before her car rounded the cemetery drive and aimed for the front gate. Kevin stood at his post and I stood at mine. As the car came slowly to the gate, I shouted: "Attention! Post arms!" We both saluted and as she drove through, I thought I saw her salute us back.

Duty, honor, service. None of those whose graves she visited had given more than she did.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

A Religious Test of Office

Dennis Rawlings is the editor, publisher, and prime contributor to DIO, a whistleblowing journal that focuses on the historical side of psuedoscience.
Inasmuch as this area is my specialty, I thoroughly enjoy reading about such things as the debunking of both Peary's and Byrd's claim to reach the North Pole.
However, as I read further, I realized that I am interestingly disqualified to submit articles to this journal myself. Here is what the journal states as its policy:

DIO is primarily a journal of scientific history & principle. However, high scholarship and/­or original analytical writing (not necessarily scientific or historical), from any quarter or faction, will be gladly received and considered for publication. Each author has final editorial say over his own article. If refereeing occurs, the usual handsome-journal anonymity will not, unless in reverse. No page charges. Each author receives 50 free offprints.
The circumstance that most DIO articles are written by scholars of international repute need not discourage other potential authors, since one of DIO's purposes is the discovery & launching of fresh scholarly talent.
Except for equity&charity reply-­space material, submissions will be evaluated without regard to the writer's status or identity. We welcome papers too original, intelligent, and­or blunt for certain handsome journals. (Dissent & controversy are per se obviously no bar to consideration for DIO publication; but, please: spare us the creationist-­level junk. I.e., non­establishment cranks need not apply.)

As a crank who is outside of the establishment, I am barred from submitting an article in my own name. This is a religious test of office.