Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

Crony vs. Crony—Wednesday, May 4th, 2016
George Washington goes to war

Perhaps my standards are too high. (SharpWriter, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

I’m writing this before the Indiana primary returns come in Tuesday evening, but given that Indiana’s is an open primary, and Donald Trump does well in open primaries, I’m guessing he’s going to win it. So by Wednesday morning when this post goes live the Republican primaries may well be decided in Trump’s favor.

One of the strangest conspiracy theories I’ve been hearing ever since Trump entered the race is that he’s a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton, to keep the Republicans from taking the White House in a year where it seemed impossible for them to lose.

It’s an understandable theory. Trump has supported leftist policies far more than conservative policies, and he’s supported crony government for most of his career, if not all of it. Further, Trump comes across less as a conservative and more as a caricature of what the left thinks conservatives are. It’s as if he’s a Democrat playing the role of conservative.

More recently, however, in keeping with Douglas Adams’s dictum that once you think you understand something it will be replaced with something even more bizarre, there is the competing theory that Trump is really a conspiracy of the Republican establishment. They were looking at an almost guaranteed win in 2016, which would have meant responsibility. Worse, the guaranteed winner might even have been a conservative anti-establishment figure!

They needed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and who has bigger jaws than Donald Trump?

But while the establishment has certainly warmed to Trump lately when the alternative has been the strongly conservative and anti-establishment Ted Cruz, I doubt that either of these conspiracy theories is true. I think it’s more likely that Trump wants to be President, and he looked at the Democratic Party’s system of super delegates, saw it would be practically impossible to beat Hillary Clinton there even with a majority of votes, and so decided to run in the Republican primaries instead.

The reason he looks like the establishment is that its who he hangs out with in DC. Like most of DC, he has no other perspective.

In a Persian Kitchen—Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

The subtitle is “Favorite Recipes from the Near East”. I have four recipes from In a Persian Kitchen in my make often list:

  • Hot yogurt soup, from page 38
  • Eggplant sauce with chicken, from page 90
  • Yogurt & curry sauce chicken, from page 101
  • Spinach orange sauce chicken, from page 104

And I haven’t even tried all the recipes that I want to try. This is the cookbook that convinced me not to remove the skin from eggplant.

There’s an amazing-looking squash stew with nutmeg and beef, a peach stew with paprika and chicken that looks like the food of the gods, and many, many more. There are a lot of lemons, limes, and other fruit, and a lot of wonderful spices.

Maideh Mazda was initially raised Persian in Baku, Azerbaijan, back when it was part of the Soviet Union, and returned to Persia when she was still a child. She talks a little about her experiences, but not much; most of the book is filled with wonderful recipes. There are appetizers, soups, stuffed vegetables and fruits, pilafs, sauces for pilafs, egg casseroles, specifically meat dishes, desserts, and salads.

The sauces are basically stews, and have so far been uniformly amazing. Most of the recipes contain beef, lamb, or chicken; the “meat and fowl” section focuses on kababs and meatball-like recipes.

You can pretty much open the book at random and find something enticing and amazing. I just tried it and found a stuffed apple; the apples are stuffed with yellow split peas, ground beef, cinnamon, and so forth. This is one of my favorite cookbooks and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Insecurity Questions enable harassment and abuse—Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
You are talking to a stalker

I bet they’d still let them in if the stalker called with a good sob story about being stalked.

I complain a lot about insecurity questions in other articles about organizations wanting to rely solely on them and not on human intelligence. For example, wanting banks to ignore that the person owning the account is listed as a woman but the voice is clearly a man’s.

The reason insecurity questions suck so much is that they don’t just enable hackers to persecute us. Most of us live in the serene knowledge that we are too inconsequential to matter to hackers, and even when hackers randomly choose one person to steal money from, we’re still just one in three hundred million in the United States, and one in seven billion in the world. The odds, we think, are in our favor.1

Insecurity questions suck because they enable easy hacking by precisely the people we do have to worry about: the abusive ex-boyfriend, the crazy ex-girlfriend with a penchant for boiling rabbits, the stalker, the shady brother-in-law who is always in debt. Insecurity questions rely on personal information that are already known by the people we most have to worry about. Even those answers that are not widely known among our acquaintances are easily knowable simply by engaging in normal conversation among our web of friends. And the people you have to worry about have access to the edges of your web of friends. All they have to do is innocently start talking about high school to someone they know went to high school with you, and they’ve got your high school. Your pet’s name probably has already been posted to Facebook and is easily accessible by a friend of a friend who is not your friend at all.

The entire reason for insecurity questions is so that someone who does not have your password can reset your password without having to talk to a human. The selling point is that they are for helping you when you don’t have your password. But they’re just as useful for anyone else who also doesn’t have your password.

Round Rock, Texas: The Round Rock Public Library—Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Round Rock Public Library sculpture

The Three Amigos welcome you to the Round Rock Public Library!

Public libraries are also often, somewhat paradoxically, very good bookstores. You would think that a place that loans books for free would not be a great place to locate a bookstore, but people who love to read books also love having books, and often end up having to trade out books they once loved to make room for new books on their bookshelves. These folks make up the Friends of the Library.

The Round Rock Public Library’s Friends of the Library Book Nook is not very big, but at least by my judgment it makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Since moving to Texas I’ve picked up eleven books there, from Andrew Breitbart and P.J. O’Rourke to Andre Norton and a Robert Heinlein.

And Martin Greenberg’s Dinosaur Fantastic collection isn’t the best science fiction I’ve read lately, but it is filled with dinosaurs! Can’t hardly go wrong with that.

They also have an entire bookshelf dedicated to a handful of high-selling authors such as Richard Patterson and Janet Evanovich.

The Book Nook appears to have a pretty good turnover rate, as, despite it’s size, I’m always finding something new.

There are two sections to the Book Nook. As you walk in the main entrance, the children’s and young adult section is directly around the corner on your left as you enter the library. The larger Book Nook is in a room up the stairs, also around the corner to your left as you leave the stairs.

The Round Rock library is currently right downtown, though they are considering moving it to the outskirts of town.

Is it better to tax incomes or purchases?—Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
Zucchini squash salesman

Should I have been collecting sales tax on these zucchini? How does the fact that we paid sales tax on the seeds factor in? What records do I have to keep to prove it? What happens when a seven-year-old fails to keep those records?

Every election season, tax simplification becomes popular. Once the election is over, it disappears.1 This year, some sort of federal sales tax is being promoted by a lot of people as a solution. Sales taxes, though, don’t seem to fulfill my own tax requirements of simple, obvious, and unobstructive when compared to income taxes.

The big problem I see with sales taxes is that they are paid for by consumers but not levied upon them. Like corporate taxes, sales taxes are not paid by businesses but by consumers and by employees. The title is bullshit, and meant to misdirect what sales taxes really are. Sales taxes are not sales taxes, they are purchase taxes. The seller is not taxed when they sell you something. You are taxed when you purchase something. It’s just that for political and logistical reasons governments prefer to rope the seller into collecting that tax.2

Sales taxes are also too complex to be levied against the person paying them. Unlike income taxes, which could be—in fact, theoretically are—levied against the employee who is paying it rather than the payer’s employer, the sales tax must be handled by the merchant, not by the person paying the tax. There is simply no reasonable way for taxpayers to track all of their thousands of inconsequential purchases. Even though they’re the ones paying the tax they are not the ones interacting with the taxing authority, and it’s hard to imagine a workable solution in which they are the ones talking to the taxing authority.

Popular Greek Recipes—Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

From the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society of Charleston, South Carolina, this comb-bound cookbook of Popular Greek Recipes is worth taking a look at even if you normally skip such organizational or regional collections. According to the copyright page, they first published this collection in 1957, it was revised in 1965, and my copy is from the sixth printing in 1970.

I picked my copy up last year at Half Price Books’s annual sale—the same one where I picked up the O’Donnell Angel Food Cookbook and I’ve been slowly going through it. My first attempt was Skordalia, a potato-garlic sauce. I made the mistake beating it with a food processor instead of an electric mixer as the recipe calls for, and ended up with potato goo. Until then, I didn’t know you could overblend potatoes!

After leaving enough time to forget what potato goo tasted like, I tried again, and it’s a great mix. Technically, it’s a sauce, but it’s very good on its own, and even fried into potato patties.

My real favorite recipe from this collection, however, is the rice pudding. This is a creamy, easy-to-make pudding that I’m already getting hungry for just writing about it. It requires standing over the stove for about fifteen minutes, but the result is worth it and I haven’t managed to screw it up yet. I have long been a fan of rice pudding, but my own attempts have been either grainy or runny. This version “cheats” with corn starch, but the result is very much like the rice pudding I used to pick up at Trader Joe’s.

There are also, of course, various stuffed vegetables such as stuffed grape leaves or cabbage, rice dishes such as lamb pilaf, filo candies such as baklava, seragli, and cigaretta. And there is a special section for Greek Lenten foods, which are interesting because the Greek Orthodox Lenten fast is stricter than the Catholic fast I’m used to: some days mean no fish as well as no meat, for example. But,

For occasions other than Lent, most of these foods may be prepared with butter and served with roasts and chops.

There are lots of meat dishes, such as an interesting pot roast where the sauce is used with spaghetti; as a fan of feta cheese, I’m looking forward to trying Chicken with feta stuffing. Many of the stews require “cooking slowly” for one to three hours—they would be perfect for a crockpot.

I keep this cookbook on the short shelf where it’s easy to reach. If you like Greek food, you should definitely take a look.

You want your party back; so do Trump supporters—Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
Establishment morale

The Beltway Party.

Janet Reid, an agent I follow, posted a political rant on Facebook recently:

THIS IS A POLITICAL POST. Fair warning.

Tonight my ride home was provided by a nice man in a yellow cab. His accent had a moderate French inflection and I asked him if he’d come here from another country.

Well, yes indeed, as a young man he came to America 22 years ago to seek his fortune and make his way in the world. He came from Ivory Coast, a country on the west coast of Africa. West of Ghana, east of Guinea and Liberia, south of Mali, and Burkina Faso. A country rich in history and pretty much unknown to most Americans.

17,000 people from Ivory Coast live here now, he told me in the course of our conversation. Not a lot, as New York standards go, but a significant number.

They’re all working hard, raising families, paying their taxes and this man in particular was frankly providing a service tonight that I really wanted (a nice quick ride home—he drove like the wind!)

When politicians tell me they want to ban immigrants of all stripes and kinds, I think of men like this taxi driver and others. All they want is what America has to offer: a stable economy, clean water, food, and an opportunity to make a living and support a family.

I asked him if he had a preference in the upcoming presidential race. It will surprise none of you to learn he is not supporting any of the Republicans although he is himself a businessman and in favor of many of the things the Republicans used to stand for.

I really want my party back.

That is eloquent and true. It also misses the root problem. Longtime blog readers know I agree with what Janet wrote about immigration. But having grown up in Michigan I have some understanding of Trump’s supporters’ views as well. Until we can understand why this rhetoric works with voters we will not be able to change its success.

When politicians talk about “jobs Americans won’t do” and how that means we need to support illegal immigration, I know from experience that Americans will do those jobs. My mom worked in the fields before illegal immigration spread to Michigan. My mom, not my dad, not my brothers (although we did some baling hay, too), my mother and many other housewives in our area.

San Diego, California: Footnote Books—Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

This place is well on its way to becoming a Bookman’s Corner. He has more books every time I go in, but not more space. There are piles of books in front of piles in front of shelves. This is a very small bookstore, but there’s a very good selection inside.

The short list of books here is not because I haven’t bought that much from Footnote; it’s because I started buying books there well before I started keeping a database. I’ve picked up several game books there, and quite a bit of science fiction. And a lot of books from their outside dollar boxes. I just don’t remember which books were purchased from which bookstore back then. I’m pretty sure that I picked up more political books there than just the ironically-named Palace Guard.

They have a lot of science fiction and fantasy, history, cookbooks, and more. It’s well worth the trip if you’re in the area. They’re a little off the beaten path—you need to walk several blocks down from the Fifth Avenue/Fourth Avenue center of Hillcrest. When you get there, however, you will be rewarded with not just Footnote, but also a comic book store and a thrift store.

This is also the only bookstore I’ve been to that is adamant about keeping any bags you might be carrying, so be forewarned that you’ll need to give it up.

Footnote Books
1627 University Avenue
San Diego, CA

Oct. 23, 2015

Saga of Old City Gary Gygax $3.00 mass market paperback

March 25, 2012

The Palace Guard Dan Rather, Gary Paul Gates $1.00 hardcover

Prehistory

The Joy of Creative Cuisine cookbook

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