Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

Origin vs. Destination sales taxes: where should Internet taxes go?—Wednesday, April 1st, 2020
Texas taxes

Destination-based sales tax means knowing the exact color of every dollar sign, or face fines, court costs, even imprisonment.

I’m still discovering amazing ways that Texas does things right, such as zero-based budgeting. It uses the remarkably sane, for politicians, rubric of starting a budget with how much money you have, not how much you want to spend. Recently, I discovered that Texas also uses what are called origin-based sales taxes instead of destination-based.

I didn’t know anyone was using this when I wrote in Punishing low-tax states back in 2006 that the obvious solution for Internet taxes was levying sales taxes based on the seller’s location rather than the buyer’s. It’s great to hear that my home state uses the simpler, more intelligent system.1

An origin-based sales tax is simpler to calculate, harder to pass the buck on, and more protective of our privacy. So, of course, politicians hate it. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar wants Texas to change to the more complicated system:

…as e-commerce continues to grow, more and more taxpayers will begin to ask why they are paying local sales taxes that are not going to their local communities and instead are going to some far away city.

This makes no sense. When someone drives from Round Rock to Burnet to buy something, they are not confused about where the sales tax goes. The same should be true of buying something from a Burnet seller online.

According to the article, “Texas is an origin-sourced sales state, meaning taxes are remitted where the seller is located.” That’s the natural way to assume that sales taxes work. Making taxes go to where the purchaser lives rather than where the seller lives is the confusing policy. It makes no sense, it complicates the otherwise simple process of multiplying one number by one other number.

Destination-based sales taxes, especially on the Internet, require all sorts of anti-competitive spaghetti laws to implement. My guess is that’s why the big Internet companies have stopped trying to fight them. Destination-based sales taxes make it harder for the smaller competition to Amazon, eBay, and other big sites to survive.

Media Scare Machine: The Sky is Falling—Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

… the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. — Thomas Jefferson (Letter to John Norvell, June 14, 1807)

I was in a cab, these blog posts always start, but in this case it was a Lyft rideshare from downtown Raleigh to RDU airport two weeks ago on Friday the 13th. The driver started talking about how people were panicking and hoarding things that shouldn’t, objectively, matter, and I made the point that people shouldn’t have to be experts on the biology of obscure Chinese diseases. That’s what a healthy news media is for. But we don’t have a healthy news media. We have a sick media and so we have runs on toilet paper for no apparent reason.

This got the driver going off about how horribly the press, in general, was acting during this pandemic. How they seem to have no idea how biology works, or statistics, and how they pass on lies that deliberately create panic.

She was right. If you heard that the United States no longer has a response team for pandemics, as the Washington Post incorrectly reported, you might reasonably panic about needing to load up on medical supplies. If you heard that there was going to be a national curfew, as CNN incorrectly reported, you might decide to stock up on essentials. If you heard that Trump told the states they were on their own, as the New York Times incorrectly reported, you might very reasonably decide that hoarding the essentials is necessary.

And when I say “incorrectly reported”, I mean lied. There was nothing ambiguous about what they reported on. They took statements from the White House confirming that federal response teams had the states’ backs, and reported the opposite. They took a common-sense reorganization that strengthened our ability to respond to pandemics, and lied that it removed our ability to respond. And they completely made up the curfew rumor, as far as I can tell.

All to deliberately cause a panic to sell papers and feed their hatred of the President.

So it was kind of darkly funny that the first social media meme I saw after returning from Raleigh was a couple of media outlets trying to convince us that “the media didn’t tell you to” do all these panicky things, they just told you to “wash your damn hands”. Shaye Ganam of Global News tweeted, shared via Nick LaFave of WZZM Michigan in my case:

Lemon icebox pie for Pi Day—Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

I was in Chattanooga last year and happened upon a little place called Zarzour’s. Their dessert special for the day was lemon icebox pie. I haven’t had icebox pie for decades; it was even better than I remembered it, so of course I searched out a good recipe once I returned home.

I found a great one in Betty Crocker’s New Dinner for Two Cook Book. This is a really nice general-purpose cookbook designed literally for the life of the reader.

If you are a bride, a business girl, career wife, or a mother whose children are away from home—this book is for you.

The final chapter highlights how long people were expected to maintain a library. They could expect to use this cookbook both at the beginning of their family and for cooking for two after “your family is grown and has gone away” and “you face the task of learning again to cook for two.”

The first recipe I made from it is a salisbury steak recipe much like mom used to make. It’s a great book for cooking for one, as well, and focuses not just on small meals but on dishes that can be saved for later, such as… frozen lemon pie.

California never had a free market power failure—Wednesday, March 4th, 2020
San Onofre Nuclear Nipples

A monument to regulatory sclerosis.

Now that California’s state-managed power grid is yet again failing, I hear again how deregulation failed back in 2000. But I was in San Diego, at the brunt of the damage. There was never any deregulation. There was never any attempt to bring a market economy to electricity in California. We never had a choice of power generator, nor did the people we bought power from. I remember looking at the various options we had, and looking at the mix between green and non-green power generation, compared to the average; every option, even options supposedly focused on green power generation, had exactly the same mix percentage-wise.

According to Green Mountain’s three-fold flier, what they did that made them green was donate to clean energy solutions. At the time I thought that was silly, but it didn’t occur to me it was indicative of a larger problem with the system. It was only afterward, when I learned how the system worked, how micromanaged it was by California, that I realized why power companies did it that way.

They had to. There was no market where Green Mountain could go buy green energy and sell it to me. Instead, we had an exchange run by California bureaucrats that funneled all the same power from one side, the electricity producers, to the other side, the electricity sellers. The politicians claimed it was a means of simulating a market economy, but if you looked at it, it was clearly designed to deny a market economy. Long-term contracts were forbidden. Negotiating prices was forbidden; well, technically not forbidden, but the power sellers didn’t get to pay the price they negotiated. The formula decided the price they were going to pay, and it was designed to run high. Everybody paid the same price, what the bureaucrats, not the end customers, decided was the market price. They used a formula that heavily weighted the highest bids, making it an easy system to manipulate.

This was what Enron did. They looked at the formula and manipulated the inputs to the formula, forcing all consumer-side sellers to pay high prices for power. They, of course, passed the formula’s costs on to us. That wouldn’t have worked in a market economy, because we could have chosen to switch to different power generators, and we’d have negotiated prices with them already anyway so that faking high prices wouldn’t have altered our contracts.

Friends of the New Braunfels Public Library Annual Book Sale—Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Like most library sales, it could be better organized. But also like most of these sales, it’s a bit of a free-for-all with people crowding around open tables. Even an organized table will become unorganized after an hour or so of book fiends pawing through it.

There wasn’t a whole lot of older science fiction/fantasy here, but there was a decent range of other books, as you can see from the list of what I picked up—far more than I planned to buy.

There are two sections: the main floor, where books are priced according to format—$2.00 for hardcovers, $1.25 for softcovers, etc.—and the stage, where somewhat more collectable books are priced individually. The most expensive and the least expensive books I acquired here came from the stage. In the cookbook section on the stage, there was a basket of free pamphlets, and I found The Gourmet Foods Cookbook there. It’s a 1955 cookbook with amazing retro artwork. Potentially some good recipes, too—Luscious Pistachio Cake, for example—but I mainly picked it up for the cover and interior art.

Next to it I found Ruth Berolzheimer’s The United States Regional Cook Book. My aunt from St. Louis has gotten me interested in Gooey Butter Cake recently, so I browsed through it looking for an early version of that. However, since its first copyright is 1939, that’s probably a bit early for it to have filtered through to national cookbooks and in fact I find nothing under either Gooey Butter Cake or Chess Cake (as Wikipedia somewhat apocryphally claims it is also sometimes called). So I put it down. But with a Michigan Dutch cookery section and a Southwest cookery section, I couldn’t resist picking it up again. Anybody for some San Diego Date Crumbles?

My haul was also a bit Mark Steyn-themed. Besides the book by him, I also found a very large collection of Jack London stories. I’ve recently become interested in reading some London after Steyn used some of London’s short stories for his Tales for Our Time audio book series. Coupled with a recent trip to Alaska, Jack London had moved to the top of my want list, and now I probably have more Jack London than I really needed. It’s a thick book.

I hadn’t really planned on picking up the recent volumes of Food & Wine’s annuals, but their recent decision to stop publishing them post-2017 caused my collector mentality to kick in. And they are, so far, great collections.

Is the Catholic Church pro-human trafficking?—Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
No sanctuary without walls

Last August, the Deacon at our church gave the sermon, and in a list of bad things, he included “immigration control” and immediately followed it with “human trafficking”. Both were things we need to fight and pray against.

This is very common among Church officials today. Bishops ask us to oppose human trafficking, and then in the next interview—or the next breath—ask us to let everyone cross the border without any questions or barriers, and disparage attempts to verify that those crossing the border are who they say they are and are not human traffickers.

This is obviously, completely, crazy. There is no getting rid of human trafficking if we don’t control it at the border. Being against immigration control is necessarily being in favor of allowing human trafficking to flourish within the illegal immigration community. How can any law be enforced at the border without immigration control? How can a lack of immigration control, or twisting immigration control to require no proof of parenthood, age, or persecution do anything but encourage human trafficking, sex offenders, and persecutors to cross the border and continue harming their victims?1

This is not a Holy Mystery. It’s dangerously close to a pagan belief in the power of good intentions, a magical thinking that if you appease the spirits of the world you have acted sufficiently.

The wide road is easier to walk; the narrow road requires judgement. But we are being asked by the Church to take the wide road. That even though human trafficking is bad, showing judgement about who is and is not a human trafficker is worse. That even though refusing sanctuary is bad, showing judgement about who needs sanctuary and who causes the need for sanctuary is worse. That is the wide road. The narrow road requires judgement.

Sanctuary is a Catholic word, but the Catholic Church seems to have forgotten what it means. It isn’t sanctuary when you let in the persecutors with the persecuted. It isn’t sanctuary when you release children into the hands of human traffickers. It isn’t sanctuary when you reward and encourage rapists and others who prey on the vulnerable.2 It is insane that the Catholic Church, long the source of sanctuary in the world, would redefine sanctuary to mean its opposite.

Sanctuary requires hard choices, and there is no evidence that Church officials, or the border charities that the Church supports, are making those choices.

The left doesn’t believe red flag laws stop crime—Wednesday, February 5th, 2020
Red Flag Flamingos

Red flag laws have got to be one of the stupidest ideas to come out of the left since banning firearms based on what they look like—unless the left isn’t sincere about who these laws are meant to target. Red flag laws don’t make sense. Not if you take them at face value.

Even given the assumption that lawmakers on the left are being sincere, these laws are another example of the left blaming the weapon rather than the criminal. Here they have a person they think is going to kill lots of people, and they’re so afraid this person is going to kill lots of people that they want to take that person’s firearms immediately.1

And then, specifically and deliberately, their law leaves the person free to kill lots of people with other firearms, or other weapons entirely such as gasoline, bombs, poison, and vehicles.

The more cynical take is that the left is more interested in ways to take away our guns than in stopping actual mass murder.

Because there are ways to keep criminals from committing murder. Most of the red flags that we learn about after a mass murder is committed are actual criminal acts that should have resulted in putting or keeping the criminal in jail.

Paying attention to those red flags would have kept the murderer from committing the murders that the left uses to justify red flag laws.

The real concern of gun control

Other red flags are symptoms of serious mental problems for which there are already laws in place for committing the person to restricted care.

That also would keep them from actually committing the murders.

But the red flags that the left enshrines into law aren’t flags at all. They’re just one person complaining about another person, sometimes even anonymously. It’s Facebook social dysfunction brought into the real world.

Red flag laws are yet another example of criminals committing crimes, and the left wanting to take self-defense weapons away from everyone else.

They are yet another example of the left looking at laws not being enforced—criminals allowed to go free—and wanting more laws against the law-abiding rather than enforcing the laws that would have stopped the criminals.

Sealing the bread slice guide—Wednesday, January 29th, 2020
Side view of bread slice guide

The original, without mineral oil.

My scrap wood bread slicing guide had only one problem: I didn’t know how to protect it or stain it. In the comments, Charles the Simple suggested:

…common mineral oil will seal your slicer. Available at any drug store, just wipe on when necessary.

I got some cheap mineral oil from Walmart—their store brand—and wiped it on several times over several days letting it soak into the wood after each application. The wood, as you can see in the photos, looks nicer now than in the original. In fact, the after-photo doesn’t do it justice. It looks a lot nicer than it used to; I am not a professional photographer (as any reader of this blog is painfully aware) and cannot get the photo to look like the real thing.

I wiped it on by pouring a little oil on the wood, and then spreading it using a paper towel; when done, I used another paper towel to wipe away any obvious excess. Even after wiping the excess away, the wood does make the wood feel oily until it soaks in. It takes a day or two after each application for the wood to start feeling normal again. I did not use the guide for slicing until then, because I didn’t want any bread to soak up mineral oil. While drug-store mineral oil is labeled as safe to eat, it’s usually found in the laxative section. I enjoy whole-grain breads but I don’t need to enhance that aspect of it.

While the main purpose of the mineral oil is sealing the wood— protecting the wood against humidity in the air and from any water in the breads I slice on it—it also highlights the wood grain. It resembles a very light stain. Every once in a while I put more on—just as I would with a wooden breadboard or rolling pin—and every time I do it gets better looking. So if beauty is truth, then this is a necessary step in making a bread slice guide.

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