Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

Failure theater in the Syrian war—Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019
A “Liberal” Surrender—Any Thing to Beat Grant

“Anything to beat Grant.”

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another which states that this has already happened. — Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

There is a theory that beltway Democrats and Republicans are not opposed to each other, that they merely delegate issues to continually fail on. Failure theater. That is, they pretend to oppose something but mean to fail. Syria calls that to mind now. Democrats, it turns out, actually want troops in Syria; they were opposing it merely for failure theater. When President Trump decided that our mission in Syria was finished, they were forced into showing their true position.

In that theory, it doesn't matter that Trump is a Republican, or that they hate him. They’d be flip-flopping even if, say, President Obama had chosen to pull out of Syria.

The other theory, of course, is that Democrats reflexively oppose whatever Trump does. They call for the firing of Comey; Trump fires him, they oppose the firing of Comey. They call for leaving Syria, Trump announces we’re leaving Syria, and they don’t call it a win for their policy, they pivot to opposing leaving Syria. They call for border walls, Trump campaigns and wins on border walls, they don’t call it a win, they oppose border walls.

Up until now, I've thought that the latter theory explains the Democrats flip-flopping better and that the former is conspiracy-theory territory. But their turn-around on Syria makes it much more believable. Most people, Democrats or Republicans, don't really care one way or another who runs the FBI or whether we have drones killing terrorists in the Middle East. But a lot of people who vote Democrat do care about whether we are engaged in foreign wars. Opposition to war overseas, especially in the Middle East, is one of the their base’s defining stances.

It reminds me a little of Lincoln's story about Illinois Democrats changing their principles based on the word from the national party. They’d been going along with the old Missouri Compromise, limiting slavery to states where it already existed. Then national Democrats sent them word that their policy had changed, and slavery should be expanded into the Nebraska territories.

Why don’t taxes go down when population goes up?—Wednesday, January 16th, 2019
Government efficiency raises taxes

In the September 2017 Round Rock, Texas, Newsflash1, there’s an article about the property tax increase, and includes the very common rationale that the increased rate “is for additional operating costs to keep up with rising costs and growth.”

Similarly, Mitchell Schnurman writes in last Tuesday’s Dallas Morning News that “capping tax revenue poses a major threat to fast-growing cities that must invest in schools, roads, and other infrastructure.”

And in our local Community Impact newsletter, Kirby Killough, Editor, “explains” taxes2 in Why do school districts hold bond election?:

On Nov. 6 voters will consider bond proposals for Round Rock and Pflugerville ISDs. Both bonds are designed to address the strain placed on the districts by fast-paced growth in the area and provide improvements for existing facilities and equipment.

Districts that are experiencing rapid growth, such as Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto ISDs, may need to hold bond elections more often to build enough facilities to keep pace with growing student enrollments.

All cities need to invest in schools, roads, and other infrastructure. Small, large, fast-growing, slow-growing, and even shrinking.

But Round Rock and Dallas, like most Texas towns, get their budget from two sources: sales tax, and property tax. Both of these rise with inflation. Both of these rise with growth irrespective of inflation. As more people come in, more houses are built and more things are purchased.

The Year in Books: 2018—Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019
Temple Public Library sale haul 2018

This was a very nice, and small, haul from nearby Temple’s Public Library sale—plus one book from McWha Books and one from Amazon. I still have three of these to read, and am currently halfway through Kip Thorne’s book, which I fully expect to be on next year’s recommendations.

According to Goodreads, I read 133 books last year; according to my own databases, I bought 134. That’s teetering on the edge of sustainability. The latter number also includes reference books downloaded to my tablet that I don’t need to read per se, and instruction manuals that I have read but that don’t get counted on Goodreads.

Which means I am making a dent in my to-read shelf/ves, albeit slowly.

According to Goodreads, the shortest book I read was Lawrence W. Reed’s Great Myths of the Great Depression. At only twenty pages, it’s a good overview of the period as seen through the eyes of the people who lived it.

The longest book was The Essential Ellison, which, unless you want to know more about Ellison’s work, I don’t recommend. Unfortunately, when I read Ellison I tend to find his introductions more interesting than his works, and this book contains other people’s introductions, not his.

The most popular book I read this year was Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which I highly recommend, preferably before you see the movie if you haven’t yet. I saw the movie and still thoroughly enjoyed the book. The sequel, Speaker for the Dead was very different and just as enjoyable.

The least popular book, not surprisingly, is a guide to a computer that was discontinued long before Goodreads was founded. Goodreads was launched at the very end of 2006, and the Tandy 200 was a 1985-era computer1. So it’s not surprising that I needed to request an update of the bibliographic data and cover for Lien’s books.

Money Changes Everything: Empowering the vicious—Wednesday, December 19th, 2018
The urge to rule

Every once in a while you see someone take time out from promoting some form of government control of the economy and jump straight to saying money itself is bad, usually misquoting that money is the root of all evil. It’s important for them, because government controlled economies or exchanges eventually do destroy the value of money or the value of whatever is in the exchange. Which means they have to denigrate money or admit failure.

But money is not the root of evil. Money is the root of civilization. Money, instead of direct bartering, makes civilization possible by freeing up everybody who is neither rich nor powerful from day-to-day subsistence living.

Two of the oldest technological advances that progressives oppose are also the most empowering: guns and money. Like guns, money is something progressives claim to disdain but make sure they have access to themselves. And like guns, money makes life better for people with less power than the anointed. The beltway class can afford armed protection; they are often provided free armed protection by the state. That the invention of firearms makes effective self-defense available to everyone else, too, goes against every vision of the anointed.

Money is the same. It empowers everyone else to save, to buy, and to sell. Money, like guns, makes life safer and easier for the average person. It especially makes it easier for them to avoid becoming the prey of the rich, powerful, vicious, and strong.

Money is nothing more than a way to make bartering easier. If you want to trade for my time as a programmer, or for something at my yard sale, you don’t have to come up with something else that I want in order to barter in exchange for what you want. You give me money, and I will use it to get whatever I would have wanted in barter. I can wait until exactly the right thing comes along, without fear that what I have to sell will go stale, or be stolen. This further encourages sellers to create what people want. Money makes it easier for them to forego what is almost what they want, and wait or go elsewhere for better quality or better prices.

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.

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