Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

Round Rock vote to terminate Redflex contract—Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

I’m on the mailing list for Texas Campaign for Liberty, and just learned that the Round Rock City Council is considering “a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute a letter terminating the contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc.”, on this coming Thursday (tomorrow, that is, October 8, 2015). This is the letter I’ve written; I also plan to show up at the meeting, at 7 PM at 221 East Main Street.

Dear Mayor McGraw:

There are better alternatives to red light problems than red light cameras. Wherever they are tried, red light cameras tend to increase corruption, and, eventually, the temptation to reduce safety is too great to resist. Red light cameras tempt the camera company and local officials to reduce yellow times to dangerously low durations so as to increase revenue—currently millions for RedFlex, according to KXAN’s news reports. And the very nature of the revenue-sharing method that red light programs use is a temptation to bribery and other forms of corruption. Wherever they are tried, it seems, eventually somebody falls.

I used to live in San Diego; it is a fine city with fine public officials. But when they brought in red light cameras they lowered yellow times so low in places such as Mission Boulevard that people driving the speed limit would be unable to stop before the light turned red!

RedFlex, the company we currently use, is notorious for both increasing the dangers of intersections by reducing yellow times, and for corrupting local officials. They have been found guilty in Chicago for “one of the biggest bribery scandals in the city’s notorious history”, and according to the Chicago Tribune one of the witnesses said bribery is standard practice for the company across several states. Given that independent investigations, as reported on KVUE, show little if any improvement due to the red light cameras, it would be best to sever ties with this company.

There are several technical solutions that should be tried before risking red light camera corruption:

Another victim of climate change: science reporting—Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

The latest Science News has another example of how climate change is killing science reporting. I don’t mean to pick on Science News. It’s the science magazine I subscribe to and so they’re the one I’m familiar with. As far as I can tell, they’re the best general science magazine available; that’s why I chose to subscribe to them.

In the Notebook section of their September 19, 2015 issue, they report on a Weather, Climate and Society article that says U.S. agriculture could save $2.2 billion “Estimated annual savings to U.S. agriculture by 2100 from aggressive carbon emissions.”

… economist Brent Boehlert of MIT and colleagues estimate that large-scale climate action would save farmers about $980 million annually by 2050. More modest cuts would net savings of around $390 million annually.

The notebook entry is missing one very important piece of information: a comparison to give that number meaning. There is an entire branch of science devoted to giving measurements meaning; I learned that in a previous issue, which reported that scientists are attempting to create a more precise means for measuring mass.

Now, at most of the levels that matter for a general science magazine, mass will always be more precise than economics. But the notebook entry just above the climate change entry is on virus infection, an area just as bound by statistics as economics. That article reports on research into how vomiting helps noroviruses spread.

… Depending on pump pressure and the virus concentration in the throw-up, as few as 36 and as many as over 13,000 virus particles were released by the mechanical spewing.

Those numbers are just as meaningless as the millions and billions in the climate change article. How many viruses does it take to cause an infection? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? Without that information, the “36 and as many as over 13,000” numbers are worthless. To provide context, author Sarah Schwartz adds:

Just 20 norovirus particles can cause infection, so vomiting can probably spread norovirus to more unfortunate victims.

Certainly one could quibble with the comparison provided and the lack of specificity to it—what does “can cause infection” really mean, and how often do 20 particles cause infection? But this is a notebook entry, not a full-page or multipage article. It needs some context, not complete context, and the magazine provides it. Twenty particles can cause infection, and vomiting puts over thirty in the air.

A compromise proposal for Kentucky Quakers—Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
Required carry licenses

Should county officials also be required to grant carry licenses, despite opposing the constitutional right to bear arms?

I want to emphasize what was just a footnote in the parent article. That hypothetical Quaker already exists. He exists today and has existed for years. What gay marriage activists are going through in Kentucky is already the case for gun owners throughout the United States. In some states, such as California, carry licenses are denied simply because the county official who grants them doesn’t agree with the explicit constitutional right to bear arms.

Nor are states required to treat out-of-state carry licenses with the “full faith and credit” required for marriage licenses.

The left has asked us, what if a Quaker refused to grant carry licenses, like the Kentucky clerk refuses to grant marriage licenses?

They seemed surprised to learn that conscientious objection has a long tradition in the United States, and they seemed to have no idea that what they proposed already exists. While I agreed that, in my opinion, the Kentucky clerk should issue licenses or resign, certainly accomodations can be made, in the tradition of conscientious objectors, for both the Kentucky clerk and the hypothetical Quaker. At the same time there is no reason for an Orwellian five-minute hate publicizing her private life, nor for the pronouncements from people outside her religion telling her what her religion means.

The fact is, what gay marriage activists experienced in Kentucky is precisely what gun owners experience every day, in states like California, in states like New York and New Jersey, and in individual counties, cities, and municipalities across the country.

Those couples could not have received a carry license in San Diego County, California, where I lived for many years, nor in Los Angeles County to the north. And even if San Diego or Los Angeles granted them a carry license, it would not be valid throughout the United States. New Jersey and New York have both been in the news recently for arresting people with carry licenses from other states who carried across their state line, and treating them as criminals simply because politicians on one side of the line recognize a constitutional right, and politicians on the other side deny it, and punish them for it.

The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert—Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

I’ve had this book on my want list for so long I can’t remember where I heard about it. I finally found it at Lamplight Books in Seattle, and from there it went into my to-read pile for five months.

I pulled it off the pile two weeks ago because I just finished the first draft of my own novel about Washington, DC, so I’m looking at how other authors have handled the town and the political class that inhabits it.

I was immediately drawn in to Ward Just’s semifictional strata. These are some of the most depressing stories I have read in a long time. They are stories of old hands moving in and out of power, provincial progressives never quite accepted by the political class, always looking at power from the margins.

Other descriptions I’ve read say that it’s about the quest for political power, but that’s not quite right. Most of these people have either already quested for it and succeeded, or have quested and failed. In either case, they’re now on the other side of the hill, the downward slide. Superficially, they don’t think they deserve it, deep inside they know they do. It’s a lot like Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library for the DC class.

If there is any common theme in these stories, it is about the addictive draw—and futility—of maintenance. That is, in fact, the title of one of the stories.

He was obsessed by the weather in Vermont, being a connoisseur of bad news.

Then there’s the story of a man who befriends a local celebrity—a local Vermont weatherman—shooting up the heroin of the closeness to power T.H. White spoke of—all the while the weatherman himself is about to lose his job to a younger, prettier, more vacuous member of the new generation. She doesn’t even know how to convert between Fahrenheit and Celsius! She cares nothing for our Canadian friends across the border!

These are statesmen who don’t trust each other, for whom talking is the same as acting, who deceive their wives as blandly as they deceive the public or the enemy. And often as successfully.

The human voice travels at 740 miles an hour and listening to them in the evenings was to gain a fresh perspective on the science of ballistics.

Honestly, it’s a work I’d love to not love, these are people I’d really rather not care about. But the writing is phenomenal, and it makes it all worthwhile. If you’re looking for beautiful, stylish prose to wind out your autumn reading with sadness, I doubt you’ll go wrong to add Ward Just to your library.

Women are writing science fiction!—Sunday, September 27th, 2015

The back-cover blurb to Margaret St. Clair’s Sign of the Labrys

When I was in at Musicians Institute, one of the instructors, Tommy Tedesco, I think it was, told us that when he was with his Jazz friends, he played blues; and when he was with his Blues friends, he played jazz. Thus, everyone thought he was a brilliant musician.

I’ve occasionally wondered if Alice Sheldon wrote under a male pseudonym less to avoid sexism which, while it certainly existed in 1967, did not stop Leigh Brackett (1940–1976), Andre Norton (1951–2005)1 , and Margaret St. Clair (1956–1974), and more to take advantage of her unique perspective using a name that wasn’t expected to have it.

Most likely it was just an effective disguise; she seems to have been a very private person. When she wrote under a female pseudonym she was easily found out, but under a male pseudonym she kept her privacy.

Then again it may have been to avoid this sort of breathless Wiccan/feminist prose, from the back cover of Margaret St. Clair’s 1963 Sign of the Labrys:

Women are writing science-fiction!

Original! Brilliant!! Dazzling!!!

Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel.

Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is The Sign of the Labrys, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites…

Fresh! Imaginative!! Inventive!!!

I wouldn’t be surprised if St. Clair wrote this herself. She was, according to Wikipedia , into the occult and Wicca.

There have been several women’s renaissances in Science Fiction/Fantasy, and they all seem to forget their predecessors.

Voting should be special, not stupid—Thursday, September 24th, 2015

There is a general rule of thumb in psychology: the easier you make it to do something, the less that something is valued. If you can do it any time, why do it now? If you can do it from anywhere, why do it from here? If there’s nothing special about it, who cares?

The way to fix voting is to make it special again. It should be something worth doing and worth taking seriously.

Expanding voting day to voting week and voting month; widening the voting booth to the voting mailbox; and computerizing the voting ballot so that there is no artifact of voting given away; all makes voting something so stupidly easy that it isn’t surprising few people take it seriously.

Block any and all attempts to safeguard elections from vote fraud, and you’re saying that voting isn’t worth safeguarding.1

Who hasn’t heard supposedly smart people say that voting is a waste of time? That’s because the value of voting is, for them, so low that the time spent doing it, even though it’s easier than ever, exceeds that value.

We are long past the days of poll taxes and armed Democrats keeping blacks away from the voting booth. Voting has become so easy that it’s not valued. The fix is to turn voting into something that must be thought about, and make it a day when it can be celebrated.

Now, obviously, election day should be secured from vote fraud, because when vote fraud is easy, people legitimately believe that their vote doesn’t matter. But it’s also important that voting should be a single day, a day when everyone votes. This turns it back into a celebration, and it also turns it back into something to be planned for, an end date for research.2

Absentee ballots should be limited to those for whom it truly is a physical hardship to get to the voting booth. A refusal to adjust your schedule to come to the voting booth on election day means voting is not your priority. If voting is not a priority for you, you don’t deserve an absentee ballot. Having to go somewhere special to vote helps make voting special.

For the Love of Mike: More of the Best of Mike Royko—Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Mike Royko remains funny as hell, and I laughed a lot while reading this collection. But the problem with a collection like this is that it juxtaposes articles that the author must have hoped would never be juxtaposed. Consistency was never one of Royko’s qualities.

For example, in 1968, when an anti-Israel nutcase named Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy, Royko blamed it on violent movies. In 1981, when Nancy Reagan blamed Hinckley’s assassination attempt on violent movies, Royko blamed it on Reagan.

Not all of his contradictions are reprinted. For example, when Bush chose Dan Quayle there’s an article on the horrors of a vice presidential candidate who was a draft dodger, in which he shoots down the idea that the zeitgeist of the sixties was for draft dodging; but they don’t reprint his later article absolving Clinton of draft dodging because, after all, the zeitgeist of the time was for draft dodging. It makes Clinton a sixties guy, and is a “badge of honor”, not a minus.

But get past that, and he’s still a brilliant writer for his time, joking about high rises, race relations, and especially Chicago politics.

Reading this now, while Donald Trump is high in the polls, it becomes a little easier to understand why Trump is high in the polls. A lot of people like Daley-style politicians who speak unfiltered and openly graft. I can easily see Trump saying something like “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

And despite complaining about Daley a lot, Royko liked that style, too. He complained about the son—and then when the same came around to run for mayor, he supported him.

In fact, one failing Royko might have had is that he was so steeped in Chicago-style politics he had no idea that winning isn’t the only thing in politics.

In November of 1995, in preparation for the 1996 presidential election, he wrote an article about how Republicans had voiced so many worries about Colin Powell’s disagreements with Republican principles that Powell decided not to run for President against Clinton. Powell, Royko correctly writes, was a sure thing that year, there was pretty much no way he could have lost. However, while I don’t actually know much about him, simply because he didn’t run and get scrutinized, the way Royko describes Powell, the guy was practically Bill Clinton without the draft-dodging. Name a conservative position and, according to Royko Powell was on the Democrat’s side, from abortion to quotas to gun control1.

Why not support government unions? You support NFL unions!—Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

There’s a meme going around asking, “you support this union, why not this one?”

On the top is a football team, and on the bottom are teachers.

The answer is the difference between private sector unions and government unions.

One of these is a violent gang who will destroy property and drag you into the street if you anger them.

The other plays football.

That’s not tongue-in-cheek if you’re in Wisconsin. It literally happened. Really, literally. In bed, literally, with a member of the teacher’s union, Democrat John Chisholm had police break down doors with battering rams, guns drawn on entire families, stealing everything they could, dragging political opponents off to jail in front of their neighbors, all with “no reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.”

Here’s the difference between those two unions:

  • The ones on the top negotiate with their bosses for more of their bosses’ money. Their bosses want to hire and retain good employees so as to increase their own profits, but also need to make sure that the team doesn’t go bankrupt. Anyone who decides that they want to watch another team or even another sport can do so with no backlash.

  • The ones on the bottom negotiate with politicians for more of the taxpayer’s money, which they use to donate to the politician’s election campaign. It is in each side’s interest to spend more taxpayer money and then complain about lack of funding. Teacher quality barely enters into it, because good teacher or bad teacher, parents can’t choose another “team”. And anyone who supports changing the system runs the risk of men with guns breaking down their doors and dragging them off while their neighbors watch.

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