Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

The candidate we deserve—Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Remember one thing about democracy. We can have anything we want and at the same time, we always end up with exactly what we deserve.—Edward Albee

One of the things that amazes me about this election is not just that Republican voters keep nominating candidates who think the press will treat them like Democrats. What amazes me is that such candidates still exist. Even after Dan Rather’s attempted October surprise lie against Bush, McCain and Romney weren’t ready for the lies made up about them. But at least they didn’t try to act like Democrats. Even after McCain and Romney were vilified by the press as Satan incarnate, Trump seemed to think that if he acted like a Democrat, the press would let him get away with it and treat him like a Democrat. That since the press isn’t searching out forty-year old documents in which Hillary Clinton said that a twelve-year-old rape victim was asking for it, they’re also going to give his own ancient history a pass.

Literally just being old made John McCain’s health an issue during the 2008 campaign and he never collapsed while leaving a ceremony early.

Democrats a huge advantage in an election with two really bad candidates. When Republicans nominate a bad candidate, many Republicans don’t pretend this candidate is great. Some will, in fact, not even vote for this candidate.

Democrats who nominate a careless and unreasonable criminal who is also a horrible person will not just continue to vote for that candidate; they will praise her. A Republican President whose potential successor had violated public records law like Hillary Clinton did would have asked that successor to resign. President Obama, however, “remains enthusiastic” about her even after her blatant violations of the law have become clear.

The reason Democrats had no problem screwing over Bernie Sanders and his supporters is that they knew his supporters would vote for them regardless.

For example, I recently saw this description of Hillary Clinton in a discussion about how bad the choices were this year among the two mainstream candidates:

Why government-funded cancer research is dangerously unlike the Manhattan Project—Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
Nagasaki mushroom cloud

Congratulations! Your cancer has been destroyed.

One of the problems that came to light with the Epipen scandal is that companies are allowed to take taxpayer money for research without making the results of their research open and free for use by all.1 No government-funded research should be hidden from the public. If a researcher wants to hide their data sets, they should not take taxpayer money. And it isn’t just health care companies doing this—academic researchers do it all the time, too.

Maintaining a strong separation between public and private spheres is a very conservative idea, and a vitally important one for technological advancement, such as improving medicine. It’s part of what President Eisenhower meant when he warned us against the domination of the nation’s scholars by a scientific-technological elite:

A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government… Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity… The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

The massive amount of money that government can throw at a problem makes it very difficult for researchers to look at solutions that compete with what government bureaucrats think is the right path. It’s very difficult to follow an innovative path if it means foregoing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in grants. The least we can do to overcome that tendency for government funding to encourage monopolies in both the market and in research is make sure that government funding does not result in government-created monopolies on the results of the research funded.

Verbatim Bluetooth Folding Keyboard—Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
Verbatim Bluetooth Folding Keyboard

The Verbatim folding keyboard provides a fairly standard keyboard, at near-standard sizes. The main problem is that half-width SHIFT key on the right.

While it seems to have been sadly discontinued, the three-in-one solar-powered Logitech K760 that I reviewed in A Tale of Two Keyboards is still going strong. The iWerkz has, sadly, developed problems. Some of the keys don’t work unless I play at the keyboard every time I turn it on, and some of the keys never do start working during some sessions.

I’m pretty sure that the problems were battery-related. I’ve gotten so used to the durability of built-in batteries on Apple products that I forget, sometimes, why people like to be able to change batteries out. Because they lose power over time. The iWerkz customer support people were very responsive, but, as a writer, I need to have a keyboard that works not one that I can get working if I try hard enough.

So when I went looking for a replacement, I specifically looked for a keyboard with replaceable batteries. That’s a tall order, because portable keyboards also need to be small. This Verbatim folding Bluetooth keyboard solves the problem by putting the two AA batteries into a ridge on the left, that folds over into a groove on the right.

The Verbatim does not come with a handy iPad/iPhone stand. It does have a slide-out stand for iPhones, but it’s designed for older iPhones with the wider pin connector: the slide-out has a dummy piece of plastic sized to fit into the wide pin connector and hold the iPhone up that way. It won’t work with newer iPhones, and it won’t work with iPads, newer or older. While the older iPads also have that connector, the slide-out stand won’t support the greater weight of the iPad. Rather than a plastic case that doubles as an iPad/iPhone stand, as the iWerkz ingeniously has, the Verbatim comes with a leather-like pouch to protect the folded keyboard from battering while traveling.

The lack of a stand doesn’t bother me, because I already have an articulated stand that I occasionally used when using the Logitech with the iPad.

Economic misterminology: recessions that never end—Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

I’ve been reading a lot about how the Great Recession is over in the United States, and that, therefore, Americans should not feel as economically pessimistic as we do. The most recent was an article by James Pethokoukis in the October Commentary.

The problem with this line of reasoning—the recession is over, thus everyone should be happy about it—is that it misuses economic terminology. The meaning of recession for economists is very different from the colloquial use of the term. This is not necessarily the fault of the journalists misusing the terms. Economic terms seem to be designed to cause confusion. If you read this blog regularly, you’ve read my complaints about how politicians use the term “austerity”. Countries raise taxes and sometimes even increase spending, their economies fail to recover and often get worse, and therefore, austerity has failed. Which is only true because austerity has been defined to include raising taxes and spending more. Raising taxes and spending more is not what most people mean when they use the word “austerity”.

The same is true of recessions. And it’s not completely the fault of economists. Determining when a recession begins and when a recession ends should mean having a long and probably rancorous discussion about what caused the recession and how long it took that cause to have an effect. This would inevitably lead to passing blame, because whatever those causes were, someone had a hand in creating them. For whatever reason, economists avoid this by using a purely mathematical definition of when a recession started and when it ended.

When was the economy doing the best? That’s when the recession started. When was the economy doing the worst? That’s when the recession ended. I’m not exaggerating that. Once the determination has been made that we are in a recession, economists look back to when we were doing best, and that’s when they define the recession as having started—even if that point comes before the event that triggered the recession. Once the determination has been made that the recession is over—which, itself, is a purely mathematical determination that does not have to have any connection with what people think a recession means—economists look back to when we were doing the worst, and that’s when the recession ended.

That’s literally it: around September of 2010, the National Bureau of Economic Research decided that the recession had ended. They then looked backward for the “low point”, which they found in July 2009:

The bureau took care to note that the recession, by definition, meant only the period until the economy reached its low point—not a return to its previous vigor.

Who creates more jobs, Democrats or Republicans?—Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
Job creation in congress by party

Whether across an individual house or across both houses, more jobs are created when Republicans are in control than when Democrats are.

There’s a very odd meme going around purporting to show that Democrats create more jobs than Republicans, by showing the number of jobs created when each party held the White House. It’s an odd graph because it deliberately hides its data. For example, rather than showing us the year, it only shows us the President. What about Congress? We can’t tell, because whoever made the graph deliberately hid that info.

I’m also not sure that the methodology is sound even given that: it counts jobs from the passing of the first budget in September (in the modern era), as if the mere passing of the budget, rather than its effects, is what allows the private sector to create jobs.1

The real problem with this graph, however, is how much it legitimizes Jonah Goldberg’s claim that the left are fascists at heart. The graph focuses on a single leader rather than on the legislature. It’s typical of the left to look to an imperial executive rather than to the legislature. It’s the legislature that actually creates policies that affect the ability of businesses to start and expand. The legislature doesn’t always match the White House, and in fact often doesn’t.

So, what happens if we look at the same data given the same constraints for the House and Senate, as well as for when Congress doesn’t match the White House? The data is available for download into a spreadsheet from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.2

The Best of Henry Kuttner—Tuesday, September 27th, 2016
The Best of Henry Kuttner

While I have been a fan of Lewis Carroll for slightly longer than I’ve been a fan of Henry Kuttner (or Lewis Padgett, as I knew him—and his wife and co-author, C. L. Moore—when), my blog isn’t named only after Lewis Carroll’s nonsense rhyme from Through the Looking Glass. It’s also inspired by Kuttner’s most famous short story, about an educational toy that taught too much.

Kuttner, in a Douglas Adams-like twist, surreptitiously purloined Carroll’s poem and turned Carroll into the one doing the copying—it’s amazing what you can do with time travel.

I probably read the story first in the amazing Science Fiction Hall of Fame collection edited by Robert Silverberg. Unless you are extremely well read in early science fiction, that collection is strongly recommended. It contains some of the best and most influential short stories of pre-Nebula years of science fiction, from 1929 to 1964. Besides being an education in great science fiction, it will give you a great idea of who from that era you will enjoy reading further.

I, unfortunately, didn’t see much Kuttner afterward; he died in 1958 so that by the time I started reading science fiction his books were too old-hat to show up in the local supermarket, my only source of books outside the library—which itself had only a handful of science fiction books.

Thanks to used bookstores, I’ve since managed to pick up most of the Ballantine/Del Rey best of collections from the seventies, and recently found The Best of Henry Kuttner. The collection starts with Mimsy Were the Borogoves, and then moves on.

Mimsy Were the Borogoves is still brilliant forty years later. My blog does it little justice.

The book has an introduction by Ray Bradbury, five years younger than Kuttner; Bradbury claims Kuttner gave him the advice that got him writing: “shut up”. That is, stop wasting your stories talking about them, and start writing them down. Bradbury says he was 17 at the time, so Kuttner would have been about 22. I’d have to say after reading Kuttner’s stories that there’s likely an influence one way or the other, or both, between the authors. There is a family resemblance in the sort of whimsy they use, at least in their short stories.

While the book is a “best of Henry Kuttner”, at least ten of the seventeen stories were originally published either under a pseudonym used by both Kuttner and Moore—such as the Lewis Padgett pseudonym they used for Mimsy—or under joint authorship with each other.

Should we hold regular elections for Supreme Court Justices?—Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
Supreme Court Building

Let’s choose Justices by the same process we use to choose the President. That should reduce the polarization surrounding the Supreme Court.

There’s an idea floating around about switching from appointing Supreme Court judges through a contentious dialogue between the White House and the Senate, and instead have a contentious national election. The idea is that since the Supreme Court is acting more like a legislature today, we should make it even more like a legislature.

If I weren’t liberally quoting the proponents in that explanation, I would think this is a satirical position: the Supreme Court is bad because of X. Therefore, we should do more X.

The problem, that the Supreme Court is acting more and more like a national legislature, is part of a bigger problem of nationalizing more and more things that ought to be decided locally. This means that issues that would not be contentious at the local level, because different localities could come to different decisions, become very contentious at the national level. Because these decisions are being made at the federal level, the federal Supreme Court must occasionally make decisions on whether those decisions are proper under the Constitution, as well as whether the implementation of those decisions by the executive is according to the law as written by the legislature.

Adding more national elections will only exacerbate that problem. It’s going to be much more difficult to localize decisions when voters become invested in deciding such problems in the Supreme Court.1

Our presidential elections are so polarizing because the federal government and the executive directly control so many aspects of our lives. The reason Senate and House elections are so often nationalized is the same: much of our lives are controlled by the federal government and so everyone everywhere has a stake in everyone else’s representative. The reason Supreme Court decisions and judges are controversial is that they are ruling on laws that literally control how we spend our paychecks and how we all, individual, handle our health care.

Our system of government was designed to localize politics; it’s taken a long time to get this far off course. We have all of one national election: the presidency. The next level in federal elections is the statewide election of Senators, and next to that is the community-wide election of House members.

Capitalism is not an ism—Wednesday, September 14th, 2016
Man Controlling Trade

“Man Controlling Trade”. This Washington, DC statue is how the establishment sees trade: a malevolent peasant forcing a recalcitrant beast to heel.

Capitalism is not a system. Capitalism is the lack of a system to keep people from trading their resources freely. The lack of ability to control other people’s actions is why progressives hate it.

Capitalism is a word made up to hide the fact that what it describes is not a system like other economic isms. Even the simplest and most noble utopianisms of the golden age of utopian idealism required people to set it up and make rules for it. Capitalism is not a system in the sense of something put into place, like socialism. It is just what people naturally do when they get together peacefully.

“You do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.”

That’s capitalism.

It’s don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.

Even Marx seems to agree that capitalism is not really an ism:

Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist.1

That is, while democratic countries do have “external coercive laws” about capitalism, these laws are not the result of experts controlling individuals, but rather are inherent in the nature of individuals, whenever people are allowed to trade what they have for what they want and are encouraged to do so peacefully.

Capitalism is not about forcing people to trade, it’s about letting them safely trade.

What Marx and other ismists don’t seem to have done is take the logic a step further. If the “laws of capitalism“ are imposed on men by their nature, then attempting to replace capitalism with man-made isms will result in natural catastrophes: black markets, corruption, and violence as nature attempts to move around those artificial boundaries.

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