Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

Newaygo, Michigan: Bay Leaf Books—Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

With a population of under 2,000 the last time anyone checked, you could be excused for thinking there’s not a market for a great used bookstore. It is the definition of a sleepy little town. There are a lot of such towns in Newaygo County, and throughout this area of Michigan. I grew up in one, and it did not have a used bookstore or new bookstore. I got my comic books at the local grocery (which meant I missed a lot of issues in multi-issue stories) and for books I had to wait until we drove into Muskegon to shop at the supermarket there.

However, Newaygo is known for its antique stores that attract tourists, and perhaps that improves the odds of a bookstore making a successful go at it. If you are antiquing in Newaygo and you love books, you should stop into Bay Leaf Books.

The first time I visited them, I found two books on my want list that I’d been looking for for a long time: The Best of Leigh Brackett, and the Best of Frank Russell.

Both times I’ve visited I’ve found books that weren’t on my list but which would have been had I known about them.

They have a very nice science fiction section, as well as a whole lot of other books. They also have a local history section if that sort of thing interests you.

There’s no question, if you enjoy used bookstores, that you’ll want to stop at Bay Leaf when you’re near Newaygo.

Bay Leaf Books
79 State Road
Newaygo, MI

Dec. 1, 2015

Green Magic Jack Vance $1.75 mass market paperback
Intellectuals and Society Thomas Sowell $9.00 hardcover

June 9, 2015

Seven Footprints to Satan A. Merritt $1.00 mass market paperback
Conan the Rebel Poul Anderson $1.50 mass market paperback
The Fox Woman & Other Stories A. Merritt $1.50 mass market paperback
The Best of Eric Frank Russell Eric Frank Russell $1.75 mass market paperback

While you’re in town, if it happens to be a Tuesday, stop off at the Newaygo Library. At the time I’m writing this (and both times I’ve visited them) they were open on Tuesdays from 11 to 2. The Virginia Ciupidro Bookstore isn’t very big, just a small room, but it’s worth stopping at. Due to their limited hours I’ve only been there once, but that day involved picking up four hardcovers, including two by Advise & Consent author Allen Drury.

I generally wouldn’t recommend pulling off of the highway for one, but when you’re already in the area the local public library will often have a decent room of used books for fundraising purchases. And unlike bookstores, libraries usually have web sites.

Did government funding help keep Flint’s water unsafe?—Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Among the people excluded from blame for not discovering the various government agencies were hiding Flint’s water problem are reporters. And for good reason: reporters don’t generally have access to the labs that could have told them the water was bad.

But there are a lot of people who do have access to labs, who regularly monitor health problems, who genuinely care about people’s health, and who understand the statistics necessary to know when a problem is a problem. This is a group of people well-versed in monitoring water supplies, public health issues, and who have often in the past shown light on government-caused health problems in developing countries.

That would be universities, colleges, and even private organizations with a public health focus. They have the tools and the expertise and the track record to find and publicize exactly these problems. But they also have one other thing in common: they rely heavily on funding from some of the very agencies at fault in Flint. Their jobs depend on favor from the government bureaucrats they’d be criticizing.

Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who tried to get the word out last fall, doesn’t blame them for keeping quiet:

The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill—pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index—and the idea of science as a public good is being lost.

In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem. What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?

I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.

If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government.

At least this time it didn’t take thirty years for the news to get out. There are two obvious ways to fix the immediate problem in Flint. One is to privatize water delivery; if government agencies aren’t managing water delivery, both those government agencies and other watchdogs have no government-caused incentive to hide or ignore water problems.

Is Iowa the end of the game, or the beginning?—Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

I’ve been hearing a lot from pundits about how low-polling candidates should leave the race now that the Iowa caucus is over. I think that’s wrong. For pundits, Iowa looks like the end of the game because the guessing is over, and the results are coming in. But while, for pundits, Iowa is the end of the game, for everyone else it’s the beginning. Non-pundits and non-candidates haven’t been focused on the election, and are only now starting to care who their choice should be.

For the candidates, everything up to Iowa has been practice. It’s all been pre-game up to this point. Iowa is the beginning of the actual race. You don’t leave the game at the end of the first play. At some point, the math will start to become impossible, and a little after that the math will actually be impossible. But as it stands today, 99% of delegates remain up for grabs. Leaving the race now, just because of a loss in one state, would be non-presidential. A campaign that can’t afford to continue has not spent its money or resources wisely—and it’s the candidate who ultimately is responsible for that. We, or I at any rate, want a president who can budget for the whole game, not spend everything at one play at the beginning.

Right now the pundits are saying that the Broncos are going to lose on Sunday, and the pundits are probably right. But the only way to know for sure is to play the game.

So while I join those joking about Kasich and lower from the Iowa results keeping their chopping hands out of the debates, his loss in Iowa is no reason for Kasich to leave, nor should he. His chances of winning are tiny. But his chances are far less if he leaves the race.

This does not mean, of course, that pundits who have chosen sides can’t try to convince candidates to leave the race if they think that candidate’s supporters will go to their own preference. That’s all part of the game. But falling for it is pretty much proof you weren’t right for the part.

Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy—Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Basic Economics is a very readable book on economics. It’s an important topic, because unlike every other complex field, “from botany to brain surgery”, we cannot avoid taking part: while we can, and usually should, refuse to perform brain surgery, we should not refuse to vote for politicians who have wide-ranging economic effects. In some states we even get to vote on initiatives.

This book is “a citizen’s guide” because it helps citizens—specifically, voters—understand the tradeoffs between particular economic decisions. Too often, the solutions proposed by politicians are unlikely to reach their stated goals. This book teaches economics in a simple manner that still shows people how to understand cause and effect.

The basic definition of economics that the author uses is that “economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.”

The hardest lesson in this book is that there are no free choices. “Because an economy deals with scarce resources that have alternative uses, every benefit has a cost in the alternative uses that could have been made of the same resources that created a particular benefit.”

What a “free market” does in an economy is spread the cost-benefit analysis out to the people who produce and consume those resources. The alternative, an economy in which everything is run by an elite, “has thrown away much of the knowledge, insights, and talents of most of its people.”

What Sowell shows, using examples and logic, is that when the market is unobstructed, “…resources tend to flow to their most valued uses.” When governments try to obstruct the market, it is because they want to elevate their values above the values of the people in their polity.

Prices coordinate the use of resources, so that only that amount is used for one thing which is equal in value to what it is worth to others in other uses. That way, a price-coordinated economy does not flood people with cheese to the point where they are sick of it, while others are crying out in vain for more yogurt or ice cream. Absurd as such a situation would be, it has happened many times in economies where prices do not allocate scarce resources. The Soviet economy, for example, often had unsalable goods piling up in warehouses while people were waiting in long lines trying to get other things that they wanted. The efficient allocation of scarce resources which have alternative uses is not just an abstract notion of economists. It determines how well or how badly millions of people live.

Cargo cult climate science—Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Thomas Sumner, in the December 26 Science News end-of-year round-up of the “Top 256 Science News stories of 2015”, writes in the round-up of story 5:

A supposed pause in global warming that has been fodder for climate change doubters never really existed, researchers reported in 2015.

The fuss began when studies showed that decades of warming appeared to have level off in 1998. From that year through 2012, Earth’s yearly average surface temperature increased at one-third to on-half the average rate from 1951 through 2012. This warming “hiatus,” as it came to be known, had climate scientists scratching their heads and climate doubters gloating.

In June, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that they had finally found the cause of the hiatus, and it wasn’t shifting winds or pint-size volcanic eruptions as some scientists proposed… The slowdown never existed. The biggest culprit, the scientists found, concerned measurements of ocean surface temperatures.

That’s all horribly not science. Evidence that contradicts theory is not “fodder for doubters”, it’s fodder for the theorists, if the theorists are scientists. Scientists are joyful when they find something that doesn’t fit their theories, because altering theories to fit the evidence is how scientific fields advance. Altering evidence to fit the theory isn’t science. But according to Sumner, instead of looking for where their theory has gone wrong, climate researchers been jumping from demon to demon trying to find the demonic interference that keeps nature from proving them correct. It can’t be that there’s something wrong with their theory because they don’t acknowledge the possibility of being wrong.

But in science, if you don’t acknowledge the possibility of being wrong, you’re also disavowing the ability to be right. Being wrong is how you advance.

Imagine if the tobacco companies’ theory that smoking was good for you (seriously, go back to their literature in the fifties) had been treated this way. Rather than take a second look at the theory after the clear measurements, they instead pointed to bad winds and then volcanic eruptions and then hidden cancer in the waters and then after all of that turned out not to help them, just decided, well, you’ve been measuring it all wrong. We’re going to stick with our theory, because our theory is true and any attempts to prove it false are just “fodder for tobacco health doubters”.

We would have discovered a new propulsion mechanism: they would have been laughed off of the planet.

Benson, Arizona: Mary Ann’s Mostly Books—Tuesday, January 26th, 2016
Mary Ann’s Mostly Books

It looks like the kind of storefront that would have a pickle barrel and a couple of old men in rocking chairs out front.

When driving on I–10 in Arizona, I often stop in Benson in order to eat at Reb’s Cafe—the fried chicken, the biscuits & gravy, the meat loaf, most of the diner-style food on the menu is great, and it’s a nice, friendly place to relax going between San Diego and Las Cruces. Recently I thought to do a search of nearby bookstores, and found one right nearby: Mary Ann’s Mostly Books.

Mary Ann’s is a mess—cluttered, disorganized, books everywhere—but there are some great old books hidden in the mess. As I recall, there are shelves full of a lot of southwestern history, especially ghost towns, and I found some interesting old science fiction books on that small shelf.

I also found some older political books. People talk about how Barry Goldwater was an early form of libertarian, and I’ve been wanting to pick up something of his. After reading Murrow and Advise & Consent, Why Not Victory? seemed like an obvious choice. It appears to be a book that argues that we don’t have to give in to Soviet tyranny in order to have peace; in the Murrow book I ran across several politicians and bureaucrats who believed, in 1963, that the Soviet planned economy must by its nature outpace a free American one. It will be interesting to read an opposing view.

So it is now officially On The Table. That table is beginning to groan like Atlas under the weight. I just checked with Goodreads; so far I have read 106 books this year. Checking my database of books, I have purchased 162 this year. That is, as the environmentalists say, not sustainable. I’m gonna need a bigger table.

If you regularly travel I–10, you know how barren it is of pretty much anything. Mary Anne’s is definitely worth stopping at; especially if you stop at Reb’s, which is also definitely worth stopping at.

Besides Reb’s, if you’re in Benson you might also want to check out Singing Wind Bookshop. They have a lot of books; they tend toward newer books rather than older, and they have a slightly progressive bent. They are at the end of a long dirt driveway masquerading as a road, donkeys on the left, and a wide vista ahead. It’s on the owner’s ranch, literally off in the middle of nowhere. If you are in Benson and you have the time, it’s worth checking out at least once.

Should Apple enable exes to access their ex-spouse’s iPad?—Friday, January 22nd, 2016
New Orleans man on phone

“Hey, Apple, give me a second. Yup, now she’s dead.” (Saddboy, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Chris Matyszczyk complains that Apple wouldn’t give a woman the password to her dead husband’s iPad, even though all she wanted to do was play card games on it.

“Even showing the company his death certificate”, reads the summary, did no good in getting his Apple ID password.

But she didn’t show his death certificate. She showed a copy of his death certificate.1 It’s a document that is easily forged, and, for that matter, varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. There is no way for a company in Cupertino to know what a valid death certificate in British Columbia is supposed to look like or how to verify that it’s real.

Imagine this scenario:

A man calls Apple and says that his wife recently died. He provides a copy of her death certificate and a copy of her will, and then uses this to access the iPad he stole from his ex-wife—who is not dead after all—and use her contacts list and passwords list to harass her both socially and financially, eventually driving her to poverty and death.

Apple would be excoriated, justifiably so, for having relied on such easily forged documents.2

Matyszczyk writes in the article that:

Those blessed with common sense might wonder that digital assets are no different from any other possessions. If you bequeath your things to someone else, that person should have the automatic rights to those things.

I am not familiar with Canada, but in the United States, we do in fact require courts to be involved with the distribution of physical assets after a death. That’s what an executor is for, to act as a liaison between the probate court system and the inheritors. It isn’t “extreme” for Apple to want a court to be involved in the official transfer of assets after death. It is the normal process. Apple should be wary of anyone asking them to bypass the normal process. That’s a sign that this could be a social engineering attack.

Bill Gates’s education—Wednesday, January 20th, 2016
Equality Donuts

Remember the days when going out looking for a job meant you might miss the call from another potential employer? If you were born after the eighties, you probably don’t, because you carried your phone with you. You are richer, and more employable, than previous generations, simply because you have access to technology that only rich people had before you were born.

Paul Graham has been writing lately about income inequality, and how it’s the wrong metric to measure if we want to reduce poverty. He pointedly says that the only way to reduce income inequality is to reduce the number of startups we have, which will mean reducing jobs and retarding progress—both technological and economic, that is, reducing poverty.

Here, he’s in direct opposition to most progressives, who believe that reducing income inequality is more important than reducing poverty. President Obama famously said that he would raise the capital gains tax even if lowering it would increase tax revenues, “for purposes of fairness”.

The problem is, progressives don’t like progress. The vast progress made since I was born has greatly increased economic inequality—while at the same time vastly decreasing real poverty. In order to keep government functionaries in business, we’ve had to redefine poverty as something that the poor of past eras would have considered rich.

More economic inequality clearly does not mean more poverty.

But there’s something else, more an aside, in Paul Graham’s response to Ezra Klein that is even more important.

Some measures for decreasing poverty could well increase economic inequality. For example, if you gave every child in America the same quality of education Bill Gates had, that would surely decrease poverty. But you would then create a lot of new Bill Gateses as well. These kids wouldn’t all stop short at middle class. The more ambitious ones would shoot right out the other side.

That would be a great problem to have, you say? I think so too.

If every child in America had the same education Bill Gates had, economic inequality would go up, and poverty would go way, way down.

And what education did Bill Gates—and for that matter, his rival Steve Jobs—have? Doing things. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropped out of college to do things. That’s how children learn. As Mike Rowe eloquently wrote in his post about the Dixon Ticonderoga, we have confused qualifications with competency. Wealth is grown through competency, and poverty is dispelled by wealth.

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