Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

An outdated code of conduct—Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

A few years ago, researching a novel, I visited Washington DC. Since the novel is about swashbuckling journalists, I of course entered the lobby of the Washington Post. At the entrance is part of an old printing press, and this code of conduct for the press. I understand that the Post has since moved to another building; I expect they sent the code to a museum in the move, because every item on this list that isn’t outdated has been ignored for decades.

The Seven Principles for the Conduct of a Newspaper

  1. The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.
  2. The newspaper shall tell all the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.
  3. As a disseminator of the news, the paper shall observe the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman.
  4. What it prints shall be fit reading for the young as well as for the old.
  5. The newspaper’s duty is to its readers and to the public at large, and not to the private interests of its owner.
  6. In the pursuit of truth, the newspaper shall be prepared to make sacrifices of its material fortunes, if such course be necessary for the public good.
  7. The newspaper shall not be the ally of any special interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public men.

Eugene Meyer, March 5, 1935

Eugene Meyer founded the Post—I learned this from David Halberstam’s gigantic The Powers That Be. Meyer bought it in bankruptcy and built it into the powerful newspaper it is today, before handing it (and his daughter, Katherine) over to Phil Graham.

Some of the rules are still followed, if you add “in the beltway” to the end. The paper still observes the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman in the beltway. That is, while scandals, and even non-scandals, about conservatives are newsworthy national news, scandals about Democrats are private affairs, local news at best.

And, in support of beltway truthiness, the newspaper remains prepared to sacrifice its material fortune when necessary for the good of the beltway.

And much of its opinions are beltway childishness at best.

Trump and the media, the sequel—Wednesday, August 17th, 2016
Donald Trump lied

In California drought caused by lack of rain and progressive government, but mostly progressive government I wrote, in response to Donald Trump’s statements about California’s self-inflicted drought crisis:

I have no idea if Trump is just bloviating and doesn’t know what he’s talking about, occasionally randomly hitting the truth; or if he is, as Scott Adams thinks, crafty enough to realize that he has to preface truths with controversies that hook the media into reporting his statements.

Trump gets on the news where more reasoned speakers, such as Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, don’t. The media enjoys ridiculing their opponents, and does not enjoy engaging in substantive discussions.

Whether he knew it at the time or not, he’s definitely figured it out. Recently, Trump took the obvious criticisms of President Obama’s Middle-East retreat policy, that it fueled the growth of ISIS, one step further and said that Obama and Hillary Clinton “founded” ISIS.

Donald Trump got, predictably, media attention for that statement. On the Hugh Hewitt show, he affirmed that he meant “founded”. Hewitt disagreed with the term:

HH: …I think I would say they created, they lost the peace. They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say.

DT: Well, I disagree.

HH: All right, that’s okay.

DT: I mean, with his bad policies, that’s why ISIS came about.

HH: That’s…

DT: If he would have done things properly, you wouldn’t have had ISIS.

HH: That’s true.

DT: Therefore, he was the founder of ISIS.

HH: And that’s, I’d just use different language to communicate it…

DT: But they wouldn’t talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?

So Trump knows that making these outrageous statements gets him air time where more reasonable statements do not.

This is one of the bedrock conservative principles: you get what you pay for. You get the behavior you reward. The media rewards outrageous statements, so they get outrageous statements.

They claimed they wanted reasoned and calm debate, up until Fred Thompson ran. Then they ignored and ridiculed his reasoned and calm debate. It’s worth quoting Patterico’s takedown of the media from that election year:

San Diego: 5th Avenue Books and Bluestocking Books—Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

If you’re in San Diego and you love books, you shouldn’t miss the 3800 block of Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest. Since the closing of all but one bookstore on Adams Avenue, this has become book central for San Diego. While it still existed, the San Diego Book Festival moved from Adams Avenue to this block.

Alas, the book festival is no more, as far as I can tell. But these two great bookstores still face each other across the street. If this is your first time there, you’ll likely spend a good part of your day, if not your entire day, in this area.

Bluestocking Books is the smaller of the two. In the front, next to the long checkout counter, is a fine collection of cookbooks. On the right, children’s and humor books set up centrally to draw the attention of kids. Elsewhere, they have a well-curated collection of history, sociology, and counter-culture. And in the back a very nice collection of science fiction/fantasy and classics of literature.

They’re very friendly; if you need something and you’ll be in the area for a while, they will happily order it.

Across the street, Fifth Avenue Books1 is large, spacious, and well-organized, and they also have a very good selection of science fiction, fiction, and history, as well as cookbooks and art and quite a bit more. They run a bit more expensive than I normally like, but that’s mainly because they know what they have. I found two Jack Vance books I wanted to read on my latest visit. Eyes of the Overlord for six bucks and The Dying Earth for five. I ended up getting the latter, because it had a cooler cover and was a buck cheaper.

I’ve also picked up a whole bunch of Lovecraft here in their backroom, and several nonfiction books in the front shelves.

Natural monopolies: a 20-minute call for $8.83—Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

A few years ago, I received an old TV Guide from 1981 as a gift. There were a lot of fun things in it, such as Bosom Buddies, giant murals of flying horses through rainbows, the sort of stuff you expect from the late seventies and early eighties.

There was also this ad from AT&T’s “Bell System” touting the incredibly low price of $3.33 per twenty minutes. In 1981, AT&T had a monopoly on phone service. That $3.33 per 20 minutes is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, $8.83 per 20 minutes, or $26.49 per hour.

And read the fine print: that’s just the off-hours cost.

That’s any time Saturday and Sunday till 5; or, if you prefer, any night after 11 till 8 in the morning.

Today, even on AT&T, you only pay $1.40 per 20 minutes1, and you don’t have to worry about peak vs. off-peak hours. That’s if you still have a land-line. More likely, if you have a cell phone, you don’t even worry about minutes anymore.

I remember having to time my long-distance calls home in order to avoid incurring the “peak rate”: calling early in the morning, usually, because my parents went to bed before 11 PM, then remembering to say goodbye before 8 AM.

You can still see the vestige of it in AT&T’s “basic rates”, which are the rates you pay if you have AT&T but for some reason you don’t have a long-distance plan. Even those are, during off-peak hours, only $3.00 per 20 minutes. That would be as if AT&T’s highest off-peak cost in 1981 were $1.13.2

AT&T was a government-sponsored monopoly. I can just barely remember when we weren’t even allowed to plug in our own phones. I remember being happy that I could find an inexpensive “Conair” telephone when I was in college, so that we could have a phone in our apartment.

Democratic National Committee membership scam—Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
2016 DNC Membership Renewal Notice

The President is angry that I have not signed my pledge to the Democratic National Committee!

Despite having a low opinion of political leadership, especially the Democrats’ leadership, I was still a bit surprised to get a letter from President Obama and Vice President Biden asking me to renew my membership in the Democratic National Committee. This is a classic scam: send a renewal or invoice for something that hasn’t yet been purchased, in the hope that the recipient will think they’ve already made the decision to join/purchase the product.

I have never been a member of either party. I have registered as a Republican voter occasionally in order to vote in their primaries, but I’ve never joined any party. Nor any “National Committee” for any party.

To emphasize our camaraderie, both President Obama and Vice President Biden address me as “fellow democrat”:

Dear Fellow Democrat,

We’ve come a long way in the past seven years. And committed Democrats like you are the ones who made it possible.

I know that as a Democrat, you get it. So I’m counting on you to get your priorities straightened out, quit hangin’ out with hoodlums and sign your commitment to your party!

Well, perhaps he didn’t end it quite that way. It sure sounded like it, though.

President Obama was just as adamant about my current Democratic National Committee membership:

…I’m urging you to renew your DNC membership for 2016 today… [take] a moment right now to renew your DNC membership for 2016 with a generous donation.

So far, I have not received a similar scam from the Republican Party. I get a lot of letters from the Republican National Committee, but they ask me to join and donate, not renew and donate. (And I don’t do that, either.)

Obviously, the Democratic National Committee did not send this mailing to their membership list, or I would not have received it. I haven’t even sent any money to stereotypically leftist organizations (such as the ACLU) for over a decade, and never from this address. They pulled a wider membership list of people they hope will not remember if they are members or not, and scam them into joining.

Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave—Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
Frederick Douglass

In the beginning of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave, he writes about growing up as a slave and not really having a family:

I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.

Douglass didn’t know his own birthday: slavers deliberately tore out of their slaves any sense of history or future by splitting up families.

And also by encouraging living in the moment rather than planning for the future. One of his masters said so explicitly:

He told me, if I would be happy, I must lay out no plans for the future, and taught me to depend solely upon him for happiness.

On holidays, they were expected to spend their time in celebration—mainly, getting drunk. While some of them spent their holiday time building up their living quarters or putting away meat in hunting,

By far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whisky; and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters. A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. He was regarded as one who rejected the favor of his master. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas…

Slaves, when questioned, reported themselves happy—in just the way that Natan Sharansky reported in The Case for Democracy about people under dictatorships:

It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slave-holders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family. If they have any thing to say of their masters, it is generally in their masters’ favor, especially when speaking to an untried man.

The comparisons they make in their lives tends to be between what they know; there is little concept of what could be under freedom.

Are insecurity questions designed to help hackers?—Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
United Music Styles

But I don’t see plutonium rock listed.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that the main purpose of insecurity questions is to help hackers get into your account. This is a testable theory. For example, one of the drawbacks, as far as hackers are concerned, is that the number of answers is unlimited. While it’s likely to be pretty easy to guess what your favorite dog breed is just by watching your Facebook feed, it’s possible that you use an odd spelling, or don’t know what your dog’s breed actually is.

The latest twist on insecurity questions solves that problem for hackers, while making it harder for the account owner whose answers differ from the norm to remember the answers. Instead of a free-form input, you’re provided with a small number of valid answers. I discovered this the last time I went to log in to my United Airlines MileagePlus account. They required that I change my answers, and instead of being allowed to type my own answers, I was forced to choose an answer from a small list.

Now, if your theory is that insecurity questions are there to help the owners of accounts, it’s unlikely that you would have predicted this development. It’s insane, because it does little to help you, the account owner who has forgotten their password but does know your dog’s breed, and everything to help hackers. It’s even worse if your favorite genre or favorite dog is not listed as an option. You’re very unlikely to remember which option you chose in its place—or you’re going to assist hackers by always choosing an item at the top of the list.

I noticed immediately that some of the lists were ridiculously small. The list of musical genres includes only twenty-one items. Jim Fenton went through a bunch of the questions and discovered that some of the questions involve months, which means that the number of answers is a mere twelve. It’s not going to take much of a security breach for a hacker’s computer program to cycle through the choices and come up with the right combination.

If that security breach is like this one described on Stack Exchange that interchanges answers, it’s going to make the month answers ridiculously easy to hack, for example.

St. Louis: Patten Books—Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
Patten Books

Patten Books is an unassuming storefront on Manchester; you might pass it while going to the mall or heading home from the office. Don’t.

The first time I went here, I walked out with a huge stack of old-school books from my rambling want-list. The second time I went here, I was on the way back from the Greater St. Louis Book Fair. The fair was pretty cool, but I had not found anything on my list. Feeling guilty adding so many books to my shelf without being able to check anything off, I stopped by Patten’s afterward and picked up Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld.

I knew I could count on them to have something on my list.

Looking at the list of books I’ve purchased here, they are all fantasy and science fiction, and Patten does have a great selection of SF&F. But they aren’t lacking in general fiction either, nor in non-fiction. If you only go to one bookstore in St. Louis, I’d have to recommend Patten Books. They have a great selection and great prices, and are just a nice, quiet, relaxing place to browse books.

Patten Books
10202 Manchester Road
St. Louis, MO

April 29, 2016

The Eyes of the Overworld Jack Vance $3.50 mass market paperback

March 24, 2015

The Best of Fredric Brown Fredric Brown $3.00 mass market paperback
Hiero’s Journey Sterling E. Lanier $3.00 mass market paperback
The Warrior of World’s End Lin Carter $3.00 mass market paperback
The Broken Sword Poul Anderson $3.00 mass market paperback
The Shadow People Margaret St. Clair $3.00 mass market paperback
The High Crusade Poul Anderson $3.00 mass market paperback

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