26 April 2021



(Capparis spinosa)

These grow wild around here. They are extremely annoying when we encounter them while walking in the woods, because the thorns point backwards and have a never-let-go quality: if you step into a caper bush, there follows a prickly process of delicate extrication. What's more, in winter they lose their foliage, so become almost invisible, and only the dry thorny stems remain.

But now they are in their prime. The buds are ripe for picking, and pickling, though I've never attempted to do this. The ones in our fridge are imported from Turkey. Capers grow in many climates, apparently, from around the Mediterranean to the high altitude deserts of Ladakh.

URL shortening

I was just reflecting on the fact that I've been using bit.ly for URL shortening, and that bit.ly makes a living by tracking users. For many of these, I could/should be using our organization's URL since that is anyway short, and the CMS has a built-in re-direction feature. On reflection, I already do this in a couple of instances, such as an easy mnemonic link to our YouTube channel.

On a couple of of the WordPress installations I use for organizations, Jetpack is enabled, and Jetpack includes a URL shortener of its own (wp.me), which, according to its privacy statement, does not track site visitors (only site owners and registered users (these sites don't have registered users). So it's also possible to use these WP sites for the purpose of redirection, when appropriate.

Old article

An old friend sent me back an article that I must have written and sent to him many years ago. It is about the desirability of living life without meaning. This must have been a subject that was important to me at the time, and thinking about it must have given me a sense of meaning. The major development is that it doesn't seem important these days. Meaning is inherent in an activity at the time that we are doing something. This post is meaningful while I'm writing it. Afterwards, not so much. I can move on.

Links blog

The Most Effective Malaria Vaccine Yet Discovered - Slashdot

Excellent news today: we have word of the most effective malaria vaccine yet discovered. A year-long trial in Burkina Faso has shown 77% efficacy, which is by far the record, and which opens the way to potentially relieving a nearly incalculable burden of disease and human suffering.


Algerian scholar gets three years in jail for ‘offending Islam’ | Middle East News | Al Jazeera

The scholar, author of two well-known works, was criticised for writing that the sacrifice of sheep predates Islam and for criticising practices including the marriage of pre-pubescent girls in some Muslim societies.

Biden tells Erdogan he plans to recognise Armenian ‘genocide’ | Genocide News | Al Jazeera

United States President Joe Biden told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he plans to recognise the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as an act of “genocide”, Bloomberg and the Reuters news agencies reported Friday, citing people familiar with the call between the leaders

‘Insanely cheap energy’: how solar power continues to shock the world | Energy | The Guardian

13 March, 2021


A pleasant Saturday. I set up one of the two irrigation computers for the garden; I don't think we'll be getting much more rain this season. Then I started to repair a bit of water damage in the ceiling, and fixed three of our wobbly kitchen chairs. For want of anything more interesting to write about, here's some information I've been gathering on a thorny plant that grows around here:

Sarcopoterium spinosum (Spiny Burnet)

The open country around here, if it isn't cultivated or wooded, usually reverts to a low chaparalle dominated by Sarcopoterium spinosum; in Hebrew סירה קוצנית, in Arabic نتش بلان .


Flowersofisrael.com has this to say about it:

Sapoterium spinosum, Arabic ballan, which covers countless acres of bare hillside, was used all over Israel for ovens (Ecclesiastes 7:6) and lime-kilns. Before kindling one of these latter the fellahin gather enormous piles of this plant-carried on their heads in masses much larger than the bearers-around the kiln mouth.


Lytton John Musselman, in his book "Plants of the Bible and the Quran", suggests Sarcopoterium spinosum to be the plant used for the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head. Sarcopoterium spinosum has thorns up to 4 inches long. It is a flexible plant that would be easy to weave into a crown.

Besides the uses mentioned above, there are many others. It was used for brooms, for filtering water, in the construction of domes and vaults and, paradoxically, the spiny plant can be used in mattresses (due to its springy quality).

In local folk medicine, "the plant is very popular among healers and the roots are used for the treatment of diabetes (major medicinal use!), toothaches, digestive problems, inflammation, and pain." (source)

One of the most quoted medicinal indications is the use of its root bark as a popular cure against diabetes and for dissolving kidney stones. Traditionally it is used as a tranquilizer and a potion prepared from its leaves is said to dispel fears. Green leaves, salted and spiced and soaked in saliva are used to cure eye complaints, and also as a lucky charm. Five pentacyclic triterpenoids were identified in Sarcopoterium spinosum, Tormentic acid is suggested to be the major constituent extract, and to mediate its anti-proliferative activity on several cancer cell lines.


The plant is a distant member of the rose family - in this highly magnified image, a certain resemblance can be seen:


It flowers from February to April, and is beginning to flower now. In the summer, the plant turns brown and looks almost dead.

More on the plant:
Plants of the Bible: Thorny burnet
Sarcopoterium - Wikipedia

Below are some photos I have taken during a walk on the adjacent hilltop. Three or four years ago, the slope of this hill was engulfed by fire: Everything was burned black. But the Sarcopoterium quickly rejuvinated; you would never know there'd been a fire there now. If left to itself, nature might eventually replace the Sarcopoterium with something else; perhaps a low cover of oak and terebinth, as elsewhere in the country; but I haven't seen that happen anywhere in our immediate vicinity.





Links Blog

Israel 'bombed a dozen ships carrying Iranian oil or weapons in past two years' | Israel | The Guardian
"The strikes did not sink any tankers but forced at least two to return to port in Iran, it added."

Friendly Fire review: Israeli warrior Ami Ayalon makes his plea for peace | Israel | The Guardian
“To kill terrorist leaders without addressing the despair of their supporters is a fool’s errand and produces more frustration, more despair, and more terrorism,” Ayalon realized. “The more we ‘win’ such a misbegotten war – the more we debase civil society and democratic norms – the more we turn our society into an Orwellian dystopia in which truth and lies are indistinguishable.”

Denmark under pressure to drop plans to work with Israel on vaccines | Denmark | The Guardian
“It would be a historic mistake for Denmark to cooperate with Israel as long as Israel does not live up to its obligations under international law. Instead, we should demand of Israel to provide the Palestinians with the vaccines, which they have a rightful claim to.”

LG is Cramming Ads Everywhere It Can On its TVs - Slashdot
“We live in an era when smart TVs can automatically recognize what you're watching, and TV makers are building nice ad businesses for themselves with all of the data that gets funneled in.”

Toronto swaps Google-backed, not-so-smart city plans for people-centred vision | Canada | The Guardian
““To bet the farm on technology that redesigns our entire streets and relies on apps and sensors doesn’t really jive with how human beings actually use public spaces – and how they want to live in cities.””

1 December, 2020

Links blog

There is Only XUL

✭ thereisonlyxul.org - Because we are the agents of our own salvation!

 collection of programs based on free XUL user interface language.

Among the projects listed, besides Palemoon and Basilisk browsers, is a mail client, Interlink, based to Thunderbird:

Interlink Mail & News is a free e-mail client based on open source community code built on the Unified XUL Platform. It is available for Microsoft Windows and Linux (with other operating systems in development). The client focuses on efficiency with carefully selected features and optimizations to improve stability and user experience, while offering full customization and a growing collection of extensions and themes to make the client truly your own.

Among the extensions listed are Enigmail.

The Terai region, the indigenous Tharu people who live there, and their resistance to Malaria

✭ Terai - Wikipedia
 Terai or Tarai is a lowland region in northern India and southern Nepal that lies south of the outer foothills of the Himalayas, the Sivalik Hills, and north of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

✭ Tharu people - Wikipedia
 Tharu are famous for their ability to survive in the malarial parts of the Terai that were deadly to outsiders.[6] Contemporary medical research comparing Tharu with other ethnic groups living nearby found an incidence of malaria nearly seven times lower among Tharu.[23] The researchers believed such a large difference pointed to genetic factors rather than behavioural or dietary differences. This was confirmed by follow-up investigation finding genes for thalassemia in nearly all Tharu studied.[24][25]

From History of Tharu
"The land in Nepali Tarai or plains is the rice basket of Nepal. It is most productive and sought after agricultural land. But is not much more than sixty years ago that the area was only sparsely cultivated. A hundred years ago the vast majority of the Tarai was still covered by thick, malarial jungle. At this time the area’s only full year residents were various indigenous groups, the largest of which was the Tharu. They tolerated the jungle’s malaria and wild animals, in return for which they had ample land off which to live. It was a time that old men still talk about, when a family entering a new settlement could have as much land as they could carve out of the jungle. In this environment, the Tharus developed largely self-sufficient communities in and around the jungle, with building styles, settlement patterns, religion and agricultural practices very distinctive from what is practiced in the hills or further south in the Gangetic Plains of northern India."

✭ The origin on the tharu - Himal Southasian
 ‘Forest People’ are comprised of more than one tribe and they may well have come from many regions at different times, thus contributing to the diversity of culture, facial features and customs found in today’s population; the environment then moulded them over a very long period of time into a special group of people, the Tharu, a people who, therefore, not surprisingly, are comprised of many sub-groups..."

After reading in the Mahabharata about the drying of the sea coast by the giant bird Garuda, I was wondering if these people could be the autochthonous people who came from the Thar desert. There is some theory that the Tharu people came from the Rajputs. But my idea is too much of a long shot, and there are various problems with it. "Thar" itself seems to come from a Sanskrit word for sand ridges. The Thar desert's geographical area today is not defined as meeting the coast. The desert was formed, or became drier at the time that the Saraswati river dried up, towards the end of the third millenium BC. At the time, the area was inhabited by the Harappa culture, otherwise known as the Indus Valley civilization. Some think that these were an indigenous people preceding the Aryans. Some think that they were the advanced civilization that composed the Vedas. Their hieroglyphs have never been deciphered, and nobody can say with any certainty who they were. One of the articles above quotes the Rig Veda:

“Through fear of you the dark people went away, not giving battle, leaving behind their possessions, when, 0 Vaisvanara, burning brightly for Puru, and destroying the cities, you did shine.” And in another context it is written, “The people to whom these ruined sites, lacking posts, formerly belonged, these many settlements widely distributed, they, 0 Vaisvanara, having been expelled by thee, have migrated to another land.”"

However, the Vedas are a bit like the Bible; it seems that they can be quoted to support all manner of theories.

Sri Lanka

✭ Robert Knox (sailor) - Wikipedia
 century British captain, trader and writer, held captive for 19 years in Sri Lanka. Interesting fellow. He was held captive with his father. His father was held captive too, but died of malaria. He wrote an early account of Sri Lanka

Sweet potatoes and Yams

Sweet potatoes are confused with yams in the US, but they are not related to true yams, or other edible roots sometimes called yams, but they are related to Morning Glories, some of whose seeds include a substance with hallucinogenic properties similar to LSD. One counter-culture figure advocated for their use in this way.

Also: Sweet potatoes may have crossed the pacific with pre-European sailors who spread their use throughout Polynesia. (I remember reading about that theory in Kon Tiki.)

✭ Sweet potato - Wikipedia
 sweet potato or sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the bindweed or morning glory family, Convolvulaceae

✭ Morning glory - Wikipedia
 seeds of many species of morning glory contain ergoline alkaloids such as the psychedelic ergonovine and ergine (LSA). Seeds of Ipomoea tricolor and Turbina corymbosa (syn. R. corymbosa) are used as psychedelics.

✭ Terence McKenna - Wikipedia
 Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer, author, and an advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, philosophy, culture, technology, environmentalism, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness.