Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

Showboat media and showboat killers—Wednesday, July 11th, 2018
Time-Life Assassins cover

I’m not sure how you would design a cover to play more to the narcissism of showboat killers.

This is a near-perfect example of how difficult it is to stop incentivizing showboat killers. This is why they plan and perform their over-the-top crimes: because it works. There are a handful of people right now, thinking about this Time-Life cover, seriously planning out how to top one of the pictured assassins, to get their face and name on the cover of the next special to succumb to the showboat killers’ gambit.

As I wrote earlier, inciting killers in this manner shouldn’t be illegal. It ought to be beyond the boundaries of what any sane editor would publish. Much of our problems today are not something that better laws can fix; they require more introspection on the part of the media and politicians.

It’s another example of how the Topper mentality (to steal from Dilbert) absent any sense of responsibility is not just indirectly dangerous to the public discourse, but also directly dangerous. Time-Life didn’t put out this cover and special because it’s in the public interest; they designed it specifically to be more edgy, more offensive, to break more boundaries than their past offerings. This special did not need to be presented this way to report news nor to explain history, not even news or history on this topic—they could, after all, have focused on the results rather than on the perpetrators. They wrote this special and led with this cover for the same reason showboat killers keep trying to top each other: they did it to become news.

The only thing worse than being talked about for having incited a showboat killer is not being talked about at all.

And of course it works, because unlike showboat killings, there’s no way to talk about how this cover works to create more showboat killings without talking about the cover itself. The egregiousness of this cover can’t be explained in words as well as it can be seen, in its blood-red cover and glamorizing head shots. It seems designed specifically to play to the narcissism of potential showboat killers.

There’s a lot of argument, and has been for decades, about whether or not violent media incites violence. But there’s no question that showboat media incites showboat violence. What we’re going to do about it, I have no idea. I’m not going to buy this issue. But there are enough people fascinated by showboat killers—look at the reaction to the Boston bombers (who also got a cover, on Rolling Stone)—that this issue will sell.

If we’re going to stop showboat killings, we have to find some way to break this most vicious of cycles.

The Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy, and national socialism—Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

A friend of mine recently wrote about his surprise at discovering that Francis Bellamy, who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance was a socialist.

Here’s a fun fact I bet you didn’t know: The pledge of allegiance was written by a socialist. I’m not quite sure what Francis Bellamy was thinking; although he imagined all the people of the world pledging to their various flags, the result of the exercise is inevitably nationalistic.

His surprise is that, how could a socialist write something nationalistic? In fact, it isn’t unlikely that, pre-World War II, a socialist might also be a nationalist. Many were. They wanted to remake civil society along military lines with the national leader at the top, and that would probably be considered nationalist today.

I’ve been reading a lot of Chesterton lately, and he was especially disdainful of socialists who argued in favor of what we would today call a nationalist approach to solving the world’s problems, an approach he called “the scientific state”. It put the state—that is to say, officials of the state—in control of everyday life, deciding who works where and for how much, among other things. His objection, in Eugenics and Other Evils was that you cannot trust such a powerful government.

The objection to a cataract is not that it is deafening or dangerous or even destructive; it is that it cannot stop… The State has suddenly and quietly gone mad. It is talking nonsense; and it can’t stop.

I was just reading a pre-World War II science fiction novel, Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker. Stapledon appears to be a socialist in the H.G. Wells style, and Star Maker is an appeal to both a cosmic communism and to a more nationalist socialism that would implement it.

The eye of the insulter—Wednesday, June 20th, 2018
Leadership in two photos

Cherry-picking photos requires that you understand what you’re looking at. Democrats seem to possess a pathological inability to see the value of getting down to work.

When I first saw this pair of photos pop up in my Facebook feed, I thought it had been posted by a conservative—and that it was an unfair comparison because the two photos were obviously taken at different points in the international meeting. I fully expect that there are photos of President Obama working, and photos of President Trump goofing off.

I turned out to be half right. I was very surprised to read further and discover that this was posted as anti-Trump and pro-Obama. My first impression was that the top photo looks like a kindergarten photo. The bottom photo looks like people working.

Denigrating a working photo and saying that everyone should always act like goofy happy kindergartners is, dare I say, how you got Trump in the first place.

The photo montage reminded me of a similar photo in California when Governor Schwarzenegger was running for re-election. That photo showed a sleezy used-car-salesman running against a strong, forceful Schwarzenegger. It turned out to be from the government unions, campaigning against Governor Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger won; I don’t know if the same will hold true of Trump in 2020, but if they keep with photos like this I wouldn’t be surprised. It shows a serious lack of introspection, a complete inability to recognize what other people see.

Democrats didn’t lose in 2016 because they lost the goofy class; they won that hands down. They lost because they lost the working class. Making fun of Trump because he looks like he not only is getting down to work but is convincing other world leaders to do the same seems like a losing strategy to me.1

But there’s a stranger feel to these photos. The top photo is, because I’ve recently read After America, extraordinarily Eloi-like. The playfulness is goofy when compared to a working photo. They appear, in comparison, cluelessly unserious. To paraphrase Orwell paraphrasing Kipling, they can be that unserious only because other world leaders are working behind the scenes to make the world safe. And what these photos tell us is that those world leaders only work to make the world safe when President Trump is leading them.

The photos tell us that unlike his predecessor Trump is able to convince those leaders to work together instead of dancing through the fields while, one by one, the other Eloi drown and are carried downstream never to be seen again.

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Coas Books—Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018
Coas Books, Solano

I can’t believe I haven’t listed Coas Books here yet. I found three of the Doubleday/Ballantine “Classics of Science Fiction” books here, as well as the elusive Volume IIB of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

They’ve also had some nice retro BASIC books, which have been useful now that I’ve been trying to do things with a TRS-80 Model 100.

Las Cruces is almost exactly halfway between Round Rock, Texas and San Diego, California. One of my examples of “Texas is big” is that when I drive to and from San Diego, it’s a two-day trip. One day of the trip goes completely across New Mexico, Arizona, and California all the way to the coast. The other day goes through half of Texas.

Because I make it a two-day trip, Las Cruces is the natural place to stop, and for that reason I looked for used bookstores in the area. The best, by far, is Coas, both locations. Unfortunately, because it’s at the end of a nine-hour day, whichever direction I’m coming from, I don’t go as often as I’d like. In fact, the April 24 spree you see in the list below was because I decided to spend a day in Las Cruces, and that day was spent mostly browsing books, reading books, and eating Mexican food. Because I had a day to spare I was able to hit both locations. And it made a nice break between two full days of driving.

They have a huge and wonderful selection of fantasy and science fiction, including a lot of older titles. The Solano location is smaller, so if you only have time for one, it should be the main location on Main Street. But as you can see I found some nice things in the smaller location, too. Members of my writing group have been recommending Richard Ford for a long time, and they were right; I already knew that Michael Chabon was worth reading but wasn’t aware of his semi-memoirish Maps and Legends until I saw it there.

If you’ve got a long day ahead of you on Highway 10 and you need an excuse to stop in Las Cruces to walk around a while, Coas makes a great break.

Next to the Solano location is a Mexican restaurant called El Patron. I recommend that, too.

Pluto is not a planet, and other respectable murders—Wednesday, May 9th, 2018
The Treachery of Pluto

Apparently, the scientific consensus on Pluto being a planet or not is not quite settled. For the most part, outside of the astronomical community it is settled: it’s a joke.1 But there is a serious side to this issue. Pluto isn’t the only place where a committee, or even just a small group of people claiming authority, have redefined a word or phrase to mean the opposite of that word’s common usage and then use that new meaning to claim everyone else is wrong. We laugh at it when it’s about Pluto, or that tomatoes are not vegetables, because we know they are, and no one is force-feeding us tomato-pecan pies for dessert.

It’s a lot less funny when it means we can’t remove job-killing legislation because children will lose their health care and it turns out that those “children” are 25-year-olds who are precisely the people who lost their jobs due to the legislation.2 Or that we need to raise taxes because raising taxes—but using a term that few people connect with the meaning “raising taxes”—has failed to bring prosperity. These kinds of definitions create an Orwellian imprecision in language that is easily exploited by politicians.

As I wrote in Economic misterminology: recessions that never end, this is not just bullshit but dangerous bullshit. Politicians and pundits will, for example, tell us that because austerity has failed to improve prosperity in other countries, we should raise taxes and increase spending. But the definition of austerity they’re using means that what they’re actually saying is that since raising taxes and increasing spending fails to improve prosperity when it’s tried, we should therefore raise taxes and increase spending.

They told us that since deregulation of energy resulted in a highly dysfunctional and expensive energy industry in California, deregulation is a bad idea—without telling us that by “deregulation” they meant tight-fisted control of both delivery and pricing by government bureaucrats through incomprehensible formulas in a government-run exchange.

CDC warns gun owners to beware of the leopard—Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018
Public Data: Beware of Leopard

Back in February I wrote about why people don’t trust the CDC to perform research on firearms ownership. Since then, it’s become even more blatant. It turns out that the CDC ran surveys back in the nineties to disprove Gary Kleck’s research that gun ownership was in fact very effective.

Instead, the CDC’s data showed that Kleck was right. So the CDC simply never reported on that research and it was never given front-page headlines—even now that the data has been discovered.

This makes sense, of course. The CDC is focused around disease control. Treating firearms ownership as a disease by its nature will create bad data and bad research policies. If you were doing research on cancer, and it turns out cancer causes people to live longer, then obviously you’re going to distrust your research. In fact, you’ll probably bury it, because there is clearly something wrong with your study. The problem is that this is not science, let alone good science.

Firearms ownership is not a disease, and the more research that’s done on it, the more we learn that it’s not just a fun sport, it’s also healthy and a good idea. An organization centered around disease control will never have the right perspective to research something that isn’t a disease.

I could be wrong. The CDC can prove that they can be trusted to perform research outside of disease control by publicizing the data that both supports their preconceptions and that disproves it. They can convince congress to make it a law that all government-funded data must be made public. Until they can do that, I’m not even sure they can be trusted to perform research on diseases. What happens when some new disease violates their preconceptions? Will they let people die from that disease rather than report their results?

If so, then the money we use to fund their research is better spent elsewhere. The fact is, I don’t even trust this data. The CDC’s record is so bad on firearms research that it’s hard to trust anything that comes out of them, even when it accords with independent research. In Should the government (and the CDC) fund research into gun violence?, I wrote that

…what the CDC researchers appeared to be doing was crunching the numbers in their data in different ways until they found a result that pleased them. This is the polar opposite of science.

Palestine, Texas: The Palestine Public Library—Wednesday, April 25th, 2018
Palestine Book Haul

Two of these books came from The Horse’s Mouth nearby in Buffalo; the rest came from the Palestine Public Library sale.

Last year on the way to a conference I took Highway 79 to Highway 20, to bypass all the Dallas traffic. On the way, I found a great little restaurant in Palestine, Texas. It’s hard to find good gnocchi, and they had it. So when Book Sale Finder showed a library booksale in Palestine right around when I started feeling like I needed a good road trip, I decided to go.

As you can tell from my purchases, I’m glad I did. I’ve been on the lookout for Manly Wade Wellman books, and The Old Gods Awaken has specifically been on my list. And I’ve been meaning to read Being There ever since I realized the movie was based on a book. I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, so I took the chance on both of the Ford books I saw there.

I don’t expect any of the other books to be disappointments either.

It’s a one-room sale, crowded with books—I overheard one person say that it was like Black Friday for books, which was an accurate description. Most of them are general fiction; there is a table dedicated to science fiction and fantasy, but I found the Manly Wade Wellman book and the Pournelle-Niven book in the general fiction section. I’m pretty sure I found Tom Wolfe’s book in the general fiction section, too, even though it isn’t technically fiction.1

Government Funding Disorder—Wednesday, April 11th, 2018
Shocked at government funding

The latest evidence that government dominance of research funding holds back useful progress is a complaint in a March 17, 2018, Science News article on postpartum depression.

Imagine that you are a grant-writer at a business, a college, a foundation, or some other institution that performs research, and you have the opportunity to recommend a funding request. Your choices are internet gaming disorder and postpartum depression. One has the potential to show how the Internet should be further regulated to keep people from harming themselves with Internet addiction; the other has the potential to help millions of women who suffer from a serious and sometimes deadly illness. Which do you recommend?

All other things being equal, it will probably depend on what your interests and your institution’s interests are. If they lie toward gaming or Internet issues, you may go with the first. If they lie toward maternity issues or medical sales, and you want to profit from your results, you might go with the second.

But what if all things aren’t equal? What if the majority of funds come from government bureaucracies? Then you have the real world, in which “more than four times as many [human brain imaging studies] have been conducted on a problem called ‘internet gaming disorder’” than on postpartum depression. And that compares, on one side, only five years of research, and on the other, decades.

This is a result that only makes sense in a world where government funding swamps private funding. It means government’s needs—justification for more laws—take precedence over the majority of people’s needs. It puts the desires of politicians—more opportunities to milk donations from rich industries—over the needs of everyone else.

In a sane world, we’d be complaining about the mad rush to profit off of women’s misery, not about ignoring that potential profit. The sheer numbers of potential customers for a solution to postpartum depression would turn our current disparity upside down and spike it.

Instead of pouring money and time into the latest fleeting infatuations of politicians and government bureaucracies, we’d be solving a problem that potentially affects half the population. That really sounds like government funding holding progress back.

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