Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

Barbarism and the Global Village—Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Bill Moyers once joked that:

It strikes me that Marshall McLuhan was right when he said that television has made a global village of the world… but he didn’t know the global village would be Beirut. — Bill Moyers (The Power of Myth)

The same could be said of the European Union in general and open borders globalization in particular: that rather than advancing civilization or even merely leveling civilization to a global average, their policy of destroying national identity and national sovereignty undercuts the foundations of civilization and collapses it to the lowest common denominator.

The lowest common denominator is mobs, violence and murder as a response to disagreements. That this resembles the barbarism that refugees want sanctuary from is no coincidence. By making no attempt to sort refugees from thugs, we’re providing no refuge to refugees. We’re abandoning them to the thugs they’re fleeing.

The cynic who wrote that progressives hate civilization might argue that this is the purpose of open borders. Thomas Sowell might argue that its proponents simply can’t perceive—it cannot penetrate their worldview—that a policy with such good intentions could have such evil results.

Whether they are willfully or congenitally ignorant, the fact remains that the more we dismantle the nation-state in favor of non-existent borders, the more civilization suffers and the more it must suffer. Without national pride, there is no reason to maintain the foundations of the nation, even the good foundations such as democracy, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. These are the values of civilization, and they are not shared by all cultures. Most of them are unnatural values. They must be taught.

Democracy asserts the value of freedom; identity gives a reason for freedom… At stake is not only what your life is like but what your life is for… Without identity, a democracy becomes incapable of defending even the values it holds most dear. — Natan Sharansky (Defending Identity)

Tandy Assembly 2018—Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

I adjusted my Thanksgiving travel this year to take in Tandy Assembly in Springfield, Ohio. Tandy Assembly was started last year to mark the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the first complete computer, the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I. Of course, it wasn’t called the Model I at the time. It was the “TRS-80 Micro Computer System”. It came with everything you needed to start using a computer. It even came with its own monitor!

The monitor was a clumsily-converted black-and-white television, but it still1 provided a relatively clear display compared to most of its competitors, which used RF modulators to convert the video output to radio signals for use in a television set.

This was well-known at the time, but it is more clear now just how clumsy the conversion was, due to the deterioration of the original monitors. The big “Radio Shack TRS-80 Video Display” badge on the right side of the monitor below the red power button was loose on one of the demonstration tables. Behind it are two empty round holes, where the VHF and, probably, volume knobs were.

And of course, “using a computer” meant programming it in BASIC, as the first computer, being both first and new, had no commercial software available for it.

The show was fascinating. I haven’t seen a working Model I since I sold mine for parts after a house fire in 1987.2 There were several on display here, running ancient games such as Donut Dilemma, Weerd, and Outhouse. It remains amazing just what programmers did back then in 384 by 192 pixels—managed through 128 by 48 blocks. Arthur A. Gleckler talked about writing Weerd in assembly language for the Model I and managing to get taken on by Big Five Software just before the bottom dropped out of the Model I games market.

Hit that link and you can play Weerd in a Javascript emulator.

Has Trump forced the media into a Kobayashi Maru?—Wednesday, November 14th, 2018
Kobayashi Journalism

The news media would like to tell you that they’re sorry they have to lie so often, but Trump is forcing their hand. The latest iteration of this devil-made-me-do-it excuse comes from Ezra Klein at Vox.com; I saw it reposted on Facebook with the comment:

This makes way too much sense. In addition to the headline, it also covers the implications of both doing so and the methods being used to do so.

Klein himself writes, in the article, about “The media’s lose-lose situation”. He says the media can’t win because whenever they report on the horrible things Trump does, Trump gets to point at them and call them fake news. How can they extricate themselves from this Kobayashi Maru?1 By not reporting on Trump? He’s the president, they have to report on him!

What Klein is ignoring is why people believe Trump when he calls them fake news. If CBS hadn’t run with obviously faked documents about George Bush; if NBC hadn’t doctored the Zimmerman 911 call to the opposite of reality; if CNN and MSNBC newscasters didn’t get angry when obvious mobs were called mobs, then Trump’s claims that the major outlets create fake news would not stick.

If they weren’t even now arguing that tweeting about baseball and bad hair days is a secret code to white nationalists, or saying incredibly stupid and/or hypocritical things like “We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them.” then Trump wouldn’t be able to convince voters that the media is in opposition not just to the truth but are in fact an opposition party. They are actively manipulating their coverage as if they were Democrat operatives rather than news reporters.

This article itself is a case in point. Trump is “proto-fascist”, and only Fox News is called out for being a “propagandistic outlet”, not CNN (“the biggest terror threat in this country is white men”) or MSNBC (“baseball tweets are secret codes to white nationalists”).

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 common ground with the Democrat’s leadership then just as there isn’t now. If you’re not for banning effective self-defense, they say, 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 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.

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