Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Preparing for life in the twenty-first century. Uh, and a half.

The Parable of the Primary—Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
George Washington goes to war

You want George Washington with a Maxim gun. You’ll settle for a brash businessman with a helicopter. But you’ll get just another crony government politician. (SharpWriter, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The strong lineup among Republican presidential contenders and the media—and voter—fascination with Donald Trump is reminding me a little of the joke/parable of the man caught in a flood.

“Lord, why did you not send us a good candidate to save us? We cried and complained from the rooftops for one! We had to put our backing behind a Democrat with a big mouth and a helicopter!”

I sent you a quiet fighter who in a blue state overcame the biggest and richest Democrat special interest group of all—government unions—in both a recall election and a re-election. I sent you a firebrand from Texas who almost single-handedly kept the government health care takeover in voter’s minds as a Democrat-only policy and handed Republicans a Senate victory a year later because of it. I gave you a determined outsider who could articulate conservative values like Reagan, who ran a company bigger than most states, and who overcame health issues and gender issues during a year when the press wants to focus the election on both. What in the hell were you waiting for?

This year has the best candidates running for the nomination that I’ve seen in a long time. I absolutely get the fascination with Donald Trump, and I’m not at all doubting that Trump can win the general election. My doubt, and it’s a strong one, is whether he’ll govern as a Conservative, or even as a Republican instead of as the crony Democrat he’s been up until now. He’s not even running as a Republican—he’s running against the Republican Party as much as he’s running against his opponents in the Republican Party and he’s making no promises about accepting the results of the Republican primaries.

He’s promising to be the candidate that gets things done. Well, there is more than one way of getting things done. President Obama gets things done by bypassing Congress, using executive orders as if they were legislation, ignoring the courts when they go against him, and coercing businesses into making his policy their policy. If Trump becomes president, I’m worried he’ll continue governing as President Obama does, as a corporate cronyist.

Election 2016—Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

The Presidential election is starting far earlier than I’d like it to. And it’s loud enough that I’m already having some thoughts on it.

Later.

Safe to use around pets and children…—Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

I recently bought some toilet bowl cleaner “drop-in tablets”. They’re blue disks you drop in the back of your toilet to turn the water blue (and hopefully keep the toilet bowl clean).

Reading the instructions, I’m not sure if this is an example of a copywriter with a good sense of humor or a product safety lawyer with a good sense of paranoia.

Safe to use around pets and children, although it is not recommended that either be permitted to drink from toilet.

Humor or paranoia? I prefer to believe the former.

What if we’re wrong about global warming?—Thursday, August 20th, 2015
Corn pump

“Last year, 40 percent of corn grown in the US went to fuel instead of food. If all the land used to grow biofuels for the EU in 2008 had instead been used to grow food, it could have fed 127 million people for an entire year.”

Progressives are often charged with one-dimensional analysis: not taking into account the indirect costs of their policies, but only the direct costs compared to direct and indirect benefits. That is, doubling the good or halving the bad.

I recently saw a cartoon get sent around about a “Climate Summit” in which some angry guy says, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”, talking about global warming. It listed:

  • Energy independence
  • Preserve rainforests
  • Sustainability
  • Green jobs
  • Livable cities
  • Renewables
  • Clean water, air
  • Healthy children
  • etc. etc.

In this meme, they’re literally using zero-dimensional analysis. They’re counting as benefits things that have nothing to do with fighting man-made global warming, and ignoring not just the indirect costs, but the direct costs of fighting it. It isn’t just that corn in gasoline has the indirect cost of clogging up engines. They’re not even counting that corn in gasoline cannot be used as food, and claiming healthier children even though the reality is starving children.

In this particular meme they’re also conflating two completely different things. Fighting global warming has little to do with energy independence. We are achieving energy independence with oil; activists for a static climate oppose that, because it’s oil.

Fighting global warming has literally nothing to do with making cleaner air and making people healthier. Carbon dioxide is one of the good gasses. If we want a bigger rainforest, we want more carbon dioxide to feed it. Cleaner air is a grand goal, but cleaner air is mostly about other chemicals in the air: carbon monoxide, sulfur, and so on. Cleaner air has also mostly been achieved. And its been achieved by balancing the costs—in jobs, lost opportunities, and higher prices—to achieve it.

Eugenics and Other Evils—Tuesday, August 18th, 2015
G.K. Chesterton

Gilbert Keith Chesterton: Those of you who read Neil Gaiman may recognize him as Fiddler’s Green from Sandman.

Chesterton’s complaints in this pre- and post-Great War book could easily be re-used today almost verbatim. On the one hand, you could take this as evidence that people will always complain about progress in the scientifically-managed state; or you could recognize that there will always be those who seek to better mankind by enslaving him, by attempting to regulate the very thoughts of men and take up in the mantle of enlightened government control of the individual’s health, personal economics, and interpersonal relations.

It is a system that might be symbolised by the telephone from headquarters standing by a man’s bed. He must have a relation to Government like his relation to God. That is, the more he goes into the inner chambers, and the more he closes the doors, the more he is alone with the law. The social machinery which makes such a State uniform and submissive will be worked outwards from the household…—G. K. Chesterton (Eugenics and Other Evils)

Chesterton says that he originally wrote this series of essays against eugenics and the pseudo-scientific state before World War I. When the greatest scientific state of all brought about the Great War, he put it aside, happy that his work was wasted now that people saw the outcome of eugenics, enlightened socialism, and progressivism—and rejected it.

…but men’s memories are unstable things. It may be that gradually these dazed dupes will gather again together, and attempt again to believe their dreams and disbelieve their eyes. There may be some whose love of slavery is so ideal and disinterested that they are loyal to it even in its defeat. Wherever a fragment of that broken chain is found, they will be found hugging it.

There were many times when I felt a sense of déja vu, or, I guess, déja revu. One of the most acute was reading about socialists then rhetorically asking, “what is liberty?” and then defining liberty so broadly that there isn’t any left.

Exactly the same effect which would be produced by the questions of “What is property?” and “What is life?” is produced by the question of “What is liberty?” It leaves the questioner free to disregard any liberty, or in other words to take any liberties.—G. K. Chesterton (Eugenics and Other Evils)

A tested alternative for Iranian nuclear negotiations—Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei

“On March 21, 2015, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei backed and shouted the phrase ‘Death to America’ while addressing a public gathering in Iran.” (seysd shahaboddin vajedi, CC BY-SA 4.0)

President Obama claims that his administration’s nuclear deal is the only alternative to war. This is a pretty standard debating tactic of the President’s: its his way or some broken-down highway filled with spike-covered reavers, and there’s nothing in between.

In this case, though, the alternatives are probably not that obvious inside the beltway, because they require thinking long-term and thinking about freedom. The obvious non-politico-friendly alternative is to simply wait until a better deal can be negotiated. We are giving Iran a lot in exchange for this deal. If we aren’t getting much of anything in return—if, in fact, Iran is allowed to get as close to nuclear weapons as it wishes without actually touching them, and is allowed to lie about touching them—then why give up that leverage? It may well be useful later.

But there is a third way, besides war and waiting, that has worked in the past. And that is to tie closer relations and/or lessened sanctions to their creating a more open society.

If we require that Iran free their political prisoners, this will make Iran a safer place for the greater voices it has. If we require that Iran stop cracking down on dissidents—cracking down in the old-school way of killing and maiming them—then Iran will in fact be a safer place for the people willing to speak out.

If we require that Iran allow anyone to leave Iran who wants to, Iran’s stranglehold on its dissidents is nearly completely removed.

If we do those simple things—if we believe in the power of freedom to transform—we may well end up with a repeat of the reasonably bloodless revolution that threw down the Soviet Union, as Iran responds to the now visible voices against its tyranny. But even if we aren’t, Iran will be a better place, with more voices, some of whom will end up in government and be more open to negotiating real nuclear reforms. Without Senator Jackson and President Reagan, Gorbachev would not have been Gorbachev.

I meant to write this simply because of the insights I had gained reading Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy. In researching the post, and looking for Iranians blocked from emigrating, I came across Natan Sharansky’s July 28 response to the nuclear agreement:

Photo Resize, Rotate, Flip & Compress—Tuesday, August 11th, 2015
Photo Resize, Rotate, Flip & Compress

Adjusting dimensions and compression ratio to a desired file size is easy.

I have long been looking for a good iPad app that can easily compress and resize images for my blogs. Until now, I’ve had to search out the secondary features of image-editing apps, and even then the process seemed less than secondary and more just a side-effect.

And then on my last trip, I found out the app I’d been using no longer even worked on my iPad, and had been pulled from the app store.

Fortunately, I was able to find Photo Resize, Rotate, Flip & Compress by Rowel Atienza. It’s not free, but it is only 99 cents, and it provides a simple interface for changing the dimensions of an image and choosing the compression ratio. You can use sliders to adjust compression and dimensions, and you can enter exact dimensions in the boxes provided.

While adjusting dimensions and compression, it also recalculates the resultant file size and displays it.

Photo Resize saves only as JPEG, which is appropriate since its main purpose is choosing an appropriate JPEG compression ratio.

As the app’s title indicates, it also allows flipping images vertically or horizontally, and rotating them in ninety-degree increments; however, I don’t personally have a use for those features, so I haven’t tested them.

Photo Resize would be perfect if it also handled cropping images, but the built-in Photos app on iOS handles cropping already, so the lack of it isn’t much of a flaw. A more glaring omission is the lack of visual feedback when reducing the compression ratio. The app only shows the compression’s degradation after hitting Done to send the image off to another app. Mind you, if you don’t like the results a quick tap on Back allows you to readjust the settings. And in its defense, the image quality after even high compression is extremely good.

This app is a must have for bloggers and anyone needing to resize images on the fly. I’m still amazed at how many photo apps do not let you resize or compress the images you edit, and that give no feedback on how big—in file size and thus download time—your image is. And some that do, don’t even show what dimensions you’re resizing to. Photo Resize does both, in a simple interface.

It also allows saving, besides back to the photo album, to pretty much any app that supports Open In with photos. This includes Dropbox, Google Drive, Twitter, Facebook, Transmit, Gmail, and Google+, as well as several messaging apps.

We are not free unless we fight for the freedom of others—Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
Liberty at sunset

I am coming to the belief that the old cliché that no one is free unless everyone is free has a very special, and true, meaning for the United States.

There is an old theory in psychology that I’m aware of mainly because it was my faculty advisor’s at Cornell. It is that for many of the ways we see ourselves, we observe ourselves from the outside, and make conclusions about ourselves as if we were an outside observer. If we see ourselves doing kind things, then we see ourselves as kind. If we do free work in favor of some political cause, we will assume that we must support that political cause.

Now, he wasn’t saying that we act randomly and decide what we are based on our random acts; many things we do because we are the kind of person who does them. But many things we don’t. We go along with friends or family or coworkers on things that don’t matter to us, but, his theory goes, when we go along we start to believe that’s who we are.

If we never really thought about a vacuum cleaner, and the vacuum cleaner convinces us to let him into our home, perhaps we really were interested in a vacuum cleaner. Maybe we do need a new one.

That is, we are what we do, rather than we do what we are. I think something similar works on the national level, that we see ourselves, as a nation, based on what we do as a nation. This would mean that linking, Sharansky-style, freedom under tyrants to any deals we make with those tyrants, makes us freer too because we see ourselves as a free country, in opposition to the tyranny elsewhere.

If we link beneficial deals with the USSR to their freeing and not harassing dissidents, then we will value more closely our freedoms at home. And if we position ourselves to pragmatically ignore the tyranny in Iran or Cuba in favor of short-term gain, well, we will be more pragmatic at home as well, and our freedom here will suffer.

We are not free unless we understand the power of freedom to transform.

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