Wednesday, February 22, 2012


For an explanation of what these are doing here, see this.

Mullah Nasruddin is a possibly real character from Turkey, who may have lived in the 13th century. Like many folk figures, he has drawn to himself all sorts of tales about clever fools and getting the better of others through your wits.

Nasruddin and the donkey

Nasruddin’s neighbor once came by to ask if he could borrow his donkey for an unexpected errand. Nasruddin obliged, but the next day the neighbor was back again—he needed to take some grain to be milled. Before long he was showing up almost every morning, barely feeling he needed a pretext. Finally, Nasruddin got fed up, and one morning told him his brother had already come by and taken the donkey.

Just as the neighbor was leaving he heard a loud braying sound from the yard.

“Hey, I thought you said the donkey wasn’t here!”

“Look, who are you going to believe?” asked Nasruddin. “Me, or some animal?"

(back to sermon)

Termite mounds

Macrotermitine termites construct mounds that maintain a constant internal temperature due to their structure and interaction with the local environment, rather than use of expensive, external energy sources. Several factors allow mounds to stay 87° F inside--the optimum temperature for the fungi these termites cultivate--while the temperature ranges from 35° - 104° outside. For instance, the mounds' thermal mass has sufficient heat capacity to buffer the internal environment from heat gain during the day with cold accumulated over the night; narrowing shafts rising through the mound channel and accelerate the release of warm internal air out vents at the mounds’ top; and openings at the base of the mound allow cooler, denser air to flow in replacing warmer air as it rises. …

“These remarkable structures are not the residence for the colony--very few termites actually are found in them. Rather, they are accessory organs of gas exchange, which serve the respiratory needs of the subterranean colony, located about a meter or two below the mound…Functionally, these mounds are devices for capturing wind energy to power active ventilation of the nest. They are adaptive structures, continually molded by the termites to maintain the nest atmosphere. This ability confers on the colony emergent homeostasis, the regulation of the nest environment by the collective activities of the inhabitants."
(from here)

(back to sermon)

Nasruddin and the pots

One day Nasruddin’s neighbor, a notorious miser, came by to announce he was throwing a party for some friends. Could he borrow some of Nasruddin’s pots? Nasruddin didn’t have many but said he was happy to lend whatever he had. The next day the miser returned, carrying Nasruddin’s three pots, and one tiny additional one.
“What’s that?” asked Nasruddin.

“Oh, that’s the offspring of the pots. They reproduced during the time they were with me.”

Nasruddin shrugged and accepted them, and the miser left happy that he had established a principle of interest. A month later Nasruddin was throwing a party, and he went over to borrow a dozen pieces of his neighbor’s much more luxurious crockery. The miser complied. Then he waited a day. And then another . . .

On the third day, the miser came by and asked what had happened to his pots.

“Oh, them?” Nasruddin said sadly. “It was a terrible tragedy. They died.”

(back to sermon)

Both Naruddin tales are taken from their retelling in David Graeber, Debt: the first 5,000 years, pp. 192-93.

There's a rather different take on Nasruddin's character in this version of the story.

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