Mimsy Were the Borogoves

For the wisdom of the wise are the criterion of your madness.

Abraham Lincoln’s conservative principles—Monday, November 5th, 2018

This election is exactly 158 years from Abraham Lincoln’s election as United States President—on November 6, 1860. Sometimes it seems as though our United States are as disunited now as they were then.

I’ve been slowly reading through Abraham Lincoln’s letters and speeches, and one of the really striking things about them is how durable the basic tenets of conservative political thought have been. The right of people to be just left alone whether you agree with them or not; the necessity of equality under the law; the right each individual has to the fruits of their own labor. This would not have been called conservative at the time, as the labels we apply to political movements have changed since then. But they are clearly the conservative philosophy as we now understand it, and were the bedrock of Lincoln’s political philosophy.

Just as striking is how alien these principles were to the enemies of conservative thought, to the beltway class. If you thought slavery was wrong, you believed in setting the slave over the non-slave. If you disagreed that slavery should spread, your disagreement was the same as—or worse than—violence. And if you believed that everyone had the right to the fruits of their own labor, you were a hypocrite who believed that the national government should regulate everything from cranberries in Maine to oysters in Virginia.

There was no sane ground for Democrat politicians then as now. If you’re not for banning effective self-defense, you’re for blood in the streets. If you’re not for government control over health care and doctors, you’re for bodies piling up in inner cities. There is no understanding of the universal benefits of a democratic republic, of letting people buy, sell, and work the way they want, of ensuring that the law is simple, understandable, and evenly applied, of just letting people be.

Equality of opportunity, as we call it today, simply didn’t register then with the Democrat leadership then any better than it registers with them today. As soon as Lincoln talked about equality of opportunity, Douglas heard equality of outcome. Equality of opportunity was so alien, then as now, that they simply couldn’t understand what Lincoln was saying.

I’m pretty sure this has not been the case uninterrupted between then and now. I’m pretty sure JFK, for example, was neither a Stephen Douglas nor an Elizabeth Warren.

National Sandwich Day: Do-it-yourself bread slice guide—Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Owning a bread machine means slicing my own bread. There’s a reason “best thing since sliced bread” became a popular saying. It’s very hard to get evenly sliced bread the same width at the top as the bottom. This is especially true for people who can’t draw a straight line to save their life—like me.

There are a lot of bread slicing guides available on Amazon and other places, and the reviews for all of them seem to be all over the map. It occurred to me that making one by hand shouldn’t be too hard, and I could do it with scrap wood left over from making bookshelves.

Mine consists of five parts—five pieces of wood, plus, of course, however many nails you feel necessary. I measured the width of a loaf from my bread machine, and that became the width of the inner part of the slicing guide. Since the scrap wood was ¾-inch thick and the slicing guide has two walls, the width of the base was the width of a loaf of bread plus twice that, that is, plus 1 ½ inches.1

The space for the guide is the width of my electric carving knife blade. The two sets of walls are that distance from each other. Something you can’t easily see in the photos is that I’ve also sliced a guide partly through the base, about an eighth of an inch deep and the same width as the blade. This allows the knife to go below the bottom of the bread without wearing itself out on the wooden base. I did this by raising the blade on the table saw only about an eighth of an inch, and cutting a groove through the base that way.2

I have neither dyed nor lacquered the wood, because I haven’t found a wood dye or lacquer that I trust to be food-safe. Or which a clumsy woodworker (me) isn’t likely to screw up. The general advice for staining wood to be used on food is to use stain and then seal it to keep the non-food-safe stain out. But that doesn't seem to me to work when you’re using a blade that is going to cut through the lacquer. In this case, it seems to me that an electric carving knife is likely to break through any lacquer or laminate.

The wood needs to be cut into five parts. I used scrap leftover from 7 ¼-inch wide boards.

  • (1) base: 6 ¼ inches wide by 16 inches long with a groove at 10 inches.
  • (2) loaf-side walls: 6 inches long by 7 ¼ inches tall.
  • (2) slice-side walls: 3 ½ inches long by 7 ¼ inches tall.
Was table-top gaming inevitable?—Monday, October 22nd, 2018
Runequest cover

Today, Gods & Monsters in its public form turned 18. On October 22, 2000, I posted a link to “The Game” on rec.games.frp.misc asking for Blues Brothers-style constructive criticism. Eighteen, of course, is only significant in gaming terms or adulthood, and in the former case only for those games that use 3d6 for stats. Combined with a sad event from two weeks ago, it has me thinking again about role-playing history and how lucky we are to have had Dungeons & Dragons in particular and tabletop fantasy roleplaying in general.

The other event is that Greg Stafford died on October 12. He founded the Chaosium in 1975 to publish his fantasy board game. Through it he published, in 1978, the highly influential RuneQuest game, set in the highly influential Glorantha world, which used the same world that his earlier board game did.

It is hard for someone who wasn’t quite there—I started gaming in 1981—to describe just how influential Glorantha and RuneQuest was, the idea of basing the rules on the setting.

In his tribute to Stafford, Zenopus relates a fascinating and telling story about how Greg Stafford was introduced to D&D:

I used to work for Bergamot Brass Works, a belt buckle company out of Lake Geneva, WI after high school. Real hippy job. I'd take buckles, hitch hike around and sell them to shops, etc. After a while, though, I moved to California. My friend of the time remained there, selling buckles (we were called Buckle-itis).

Through various circumstances I'd decided to publish my first boardgame, White Bear & Red Moon, on my own. As I was finishing up work on it, I got a package in the mail from my old partner Jeff. His cover letter said, "I was picking up my catalogues from the printer the other day and there was this guy waiting for his stuff. I asked what it was, and he said it was a fantasy game. I said, 'Hey, my buddy in California is doing one too! Can I buy one from ya?'"

Of course the guy was happy to, and so Jeff sent me this strange little booklet called Dungeons & Dragons.

Sydney, Nova Scotia: Ed’s Books and More—Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

Ed’s Books and More is a great unpretentious used bookstore on the main street just up from the docks in Sydney. If you’re looking for it coming up from a cruise ship you can’t miss it.

Organization is spotty; shelves are well-packed; and they have a wide variety. They have a lot of old science fiction paperbacks from the likes of Andre Norton and Leigh Bracket; a lot of biographies; and popular literary fiction.

Somewhat ironically, I found a copy of Mark Steyn’s America Alone. Ironically, because the reason I was in Sydney was for the SteynAtSea cruise, and I’d expected to pick up a copy of this book from the Steyn team. But the cruise was set up as entertainment for the guests, not as a way for Mark to hawk his wares, and so they didn’t have his books on sale there. If only they’d had a copy of Broadway Babies Say Goodnight!

None of the other books were on my list, but Ethan Canin is always a good read, the concept of Joseph Gies’s Bridges and Men seems like just the right way to cover the history of bridges, I’ve been meaning to read more Haggard, and Newspaper Row sounds like a great companion to Deadlines & Monkeyshines: The Fabled World of Chicago Journalism.

The store appears to be a bit of a local hangout. I sent an hour and a half browsing books—deciding what was worth dragging down to Boston and then across to Texas—and it seemed as though every couple of minutes someone would walk in and be greeted by name.

He was also friendly to strangers. When he added up my purchases, he rounded everything down to the nearest dollar—and then threw in the most expensive book (which wasn’t expensive at all—only $4.50 Canadian) for free. If I am ever back in Sydney, I will make sure to visit Ed’s again, and to have more Canadian cash in my wallet—and more space available in my luggage for books. It may well be that if I visit Sydney again it will be because of Ed’s.

Up to this point I had managed to restrain myself from overloading on books, mindful of the flight home. These five, three of them hardcovers, filled the remaining space in my tote bag to the top. I had to be very picky at the rest of my stops, after shopping Ed’s. If you’re a book-lover and you find yourself in Sydney, you owe yourself a stop at Ed’s.

Innovation in a state of fear: the unintended? consequences of political correctness—Wednesday, October 10th, 2018
King Ludd

There is always a culture clash between those who understand how productive industry actually works and those who gape at it like savages, believing it to be some kind of Heap Big White Man Magic. And where there is Magic, there are Sorcerors and Demons; for most people, particularly those of the primitive mindset, the large cloud of Unknowns is filled in by their imaginations with malice, conspiracy, and deviltry.7

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how the software built into self-driving cars is racist. But the problems we’re facing are not that the software is racist, nor that the programmers are racist. Most, if not all, of these problems would be solved long before the technology were placed in a car if it weren’t for two potentially huge problems in software development today. Self-driving cars are at the forefront of both: a top-down desire to computerize and control on the part of the left, and a growing fear among innovators of research and technologies that might draw the attention of social media mobs.

Software that can discern which shapes and colors in its sensors are persons and which are not is a problem with myriad applications. Under normal circumstances, that problem would be solved for less dangerous applications long before the technology were used in vehicles. Unfortunately, there is a growing fear in the technology industry of making gadgets that accidentally offend, resulting in a social media crusade against either the company or the individual programmers that made the gadget or software.1

Both of these are part of a a bigger problem, which is that progressives for the most part despise progress. The only progress they support is toward more government power, which is usually a regression to barbarism, not progress toward civilization.

Anything that improves the human condition—abundant food, cheap energy, easy travel, water management—is an evil that must be stopped. Even to the point of regretting the invention of fire. A big example from recent memory is California’s water shortage after a relatively short drought. In sane times, California would never have had a crisis just because of normal cyclic changes in rainfall. They would have built the dams they needed, decades ago, to withstand an easily foreseen temporary reduction in rainfall.

The Southern Living Cookbook Library—Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

The Southern Living Cookbook Library is probably the series of books I rely on most when looking for new recipes. I found the first of these cookbooks, the Cookies and Candy Cookbook, at one of the local flea markets about four years ago. It was filled with great recipes; it seemed impossible to make a bad recipe from the book. So when I happened to see the Meats Cookbook in Franklin, Tennessee, I picked it up. And then the Holiday Cookbook a few months later in Birmingham. I then quickly picked up several more on a pre-Hallowe’en run through Franklin and Nashville.

As I came to rely more and more on the books in the series, I picked up new ones whenever I ran across one; of all old cookbook series, they seem especially scarce. I have a feeling that people don’t get rid of these books when they start culling their collections.

I have not been able to find any official list of the books in the series. There are a couple of lists online, but these lists each miss at least one of the books. By my count, which could easily be wrong, there are twenty-two books. I made this count by searching for various permutations of Southern Living cookbooks; there are a couple of collections for sale with the spines out.

Molasses ginger sandwich cookies

Molasses ginger sandwich cookies from the Cookies and Candies book. Easy sandwich cookies, very good. Buttery.

Glazed donuts

Glazed donuts from the Holiday book, made in a bread machine and deep-fried.

Popovers with butter

Popovers from the Holiday book, made in the bread machine and then slathered in butter.

The cyclic transmogrification of the Republican Party—Wednesday, September 26th, 2018
Lincoln: half slave and half free

“[They will allow us peace only] if we will all stop and allow Judge Douglas and his friends to… plant the institution [of slavery] all over the nation…”

Following the election of a “coarse”, “vulgar clown” of a Republican, “a man of no intelligence”, to the presidency, establishment politicians got together in Washington to save the policies he threatened to destroy. Republicans were begged by a tearful resistance—and establishment—to betray the extremists who elected them. Many Republicans listened more to the establishment than to the voters who elected them. Republicans loyal to the President feared—and Democrats and establishment Republicans hoped—that the electoral college would interfere and block this radical “ignoramus” from the White House. “Wise statesmen” reminded the Republican president-elect that he had been elected without a majority of votes cast and implored him to maintain the policies of his Democrat predecessor.

Mobs ruled the streets protesting the election. The country was as literally divided as it could ever be.

The year was 1860; the candidate was our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. And the Democrat’s policy that the DC establishment tried to save was slavery. Republicans who opposed slavery were disparagingly called “ultras” by the DC establishment. That is, extremists, outside the pale of cultured Washington. When real extremists had earlier raided Harper’s Ferry in then-Virginia, the Democrats and their press tried to pin the violence on Republicans.1

The resistance outside of the government did their best to undermine the new administration. Copperheadism flourished in “areas that had been solidly in favor of the Democrats… treasonous activities of all kinds were prevalent in these sections.”2

And the deep state resistance within the government? They did whatever they could to undermine the new president, even going as far as to “strip Northern armories by sending materials of war into the South…”.3

Security questions will always be insecure—Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
You are talking to a stalker

Would a real person on the other end accept this answer or escalate?

The purpose of insecurity questions and answers is to bypass not knowing the password. The more they’re treated like passwords, the more useless they become for that purpose.

Insecurity questions are those questions you’re forced to answer when you create an account just in case you forget your password. The answers are about some aspect of your life. Your mother’s maiden name. Your first date. Your most inspirational teacher. Your favorite actor.1 Public information that is hopefully obscure enough to identify you in the unlikely event that you forget your password, but at the same while keeping the mass of potential hijackers out.

Insecurity questions are sometimes called security questions, secret questions, out-of-wallet questions2, or knowledge-based authentication. These questions by their nature require awkward security tradeoffs. Sometimes I think the reason password recovery questions are referred to with misleading names like “security questions” and “secret questions” is to gloss over the fact that they are horribly insecure, not at all secret, and do little to ensure authentication. The questions aren’t secret. They’re shown to anyone attempting to bypass not knowing the password. The answers aren’t secret. That’s the whole point, that they are information about a person that the person won’t, like their password, forget.

Calling them security questions obscures the fact that they specifically reduce security. That’s their entire purpose: to provide alternative access to a protected service, in a way that doesn’t require knowing the account owner’s access credentials. The more avenues we provide for accessing a protected service without knowing or having the pass information, the easier it is for the hijacker. Two different access paths will always be less secure then one path, even if both paths are secure—and insecurity questions are by design not secure. That’s their whole point, that you’ve lost access to the secure path.3

Older posts.