Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

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.

New Orleans: Beckham’s Bookshop—Wednesday, January 15th, 2020
Beckham’s Bookshop storefront

I finally made it back to New Orleans! I had some great food, saw some great sights, and managed to buy far more books than I’d planned on.

I was last in New Orleans a year before Hurricane Katrina; and the one store I worried about was Beckham’s. I remember it being a ramshackle bookstore in the French Quarter, with well-spaced piles of book lining the floors as well as the shelves—something easily wiped out by water damage, even if the actual flooding of the French Quarter was mostly news hysteria.

Beckham’s may smell a little mustier now—or it may not, I get used to the smell of mustiness in bookstores and don’t pay attention to it—but it’s still a ramshackle bookstore in the French Quarter, with well-spaced piles of books lining the floors as well as the shelves. It’s a great place to browse both in-order books and out-of-order books. There’s also a decent record store on the top floor.

That last time I was in New Orleans, I bought more at Beckham’s than just the role-playing book listed here. But this was before I’d started my database of books; I remember buying the role-playing book there vividly because I found it haphazardly located in one of those piles lining the floors. It was a memorable find. I don’t play Call of Cthulhu, but the Dreamlands are a great resource for any game. And it’s a beautiful hardcover; the cover art inside and out is phenomenal.

Whatever other books I bought there, I found in the shelves, and unlike the floors the shelves are easy to navigate. So they were less memorable finds.

This time around, I picked up a great Victor Davis Hanson book, Who Killed Homer? as well as an old-school slow-cooker cookbook from Better Homes and Gardens. I recently picked up the Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies Cook Book and it has been phenomenal. The series doesn’t look like it’s going to rival the Southern Living collection I reviewed last year, but it has potential. I won’t be collecting the series because the series includes Better Homes and Gardens topics I’m uninterested in, unrelated to food; but I will be looking at any books I see in the library from the era.

While you’re in the area, you might also check out Dauphine Street Books; it is, however, not nearly as easy to browse. The shelves are cramped and would be difficult even if the floors weren’t also filled. There are good books there, however.

The Year in Books: 2019—Wednesday, January 1st, 2020
The Bookstore at Library Square

If you find yourself in Little Rock, the Bookstore at Library Square is a great place to browse and relax.

It has been a very good year for books, and I even made a dent in my to-read pile. According to my database, I acquired 136 books this year, and according to Goodreads I read 145.

Since my to-read pile is a double-wide bookcase, I should be through it in about twenty years.

The Goodreads “year in books” is an interesting summary, but some of its categories are antiquated. In the era of ebooks, I don’t know that “shortest book read” makes a lot of sense. The shortest book I read this year was, of course, a short story. It was a very good short story, Lauren Pope’s1 fun Just Another Oppressor. Sadly, as far as I can tell it’s no longer available.

The longest book was IBM’s Early Computers, a fascinating look at the history of digital computers through the growth of a company that could have been destroyed by them. IBM was a mechanical device company. They made typewriters, and card readers, all mechanical devices for aiding in data collection and analysis. All of them destined for the junkyard. Had IBM not completely shifted their focus, they would have gone out of business.

The most popular book was a science fiction book, Dune. I read Dune ages ago, along with Dune Messiah, but never got around to finishing the trilogy. This year I vowed to read the full three books, and did so. It is not surprising that this science fiction book is incredibly popular and remains so. It touches on just about everything that it means to be human.

The least popular book I read varies, because I read several books that “0 people also read”. What that means, of course, is that zero people read them and then notified Goodreads. Currently in that slot is Instant BASIC. It’s filled with public domain art and era-specific jokes

I continued reading a lot of late seventies/early eighties computer books this year, which meant a lot of BASIC. The very first book I finished in 2019 was 24 Tested Ready-to-Run Game Programs in BASIC.

Have a Merry Scripting Christmas with Persistence of Vision—Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

Some of the best Christmas mornings I remember are mornings when I holed myself away and built things. On earlier Christmases, it could have been Legos, or off-brand erector sets, or a model train. Later, it might have been building characters or adventures using the new Dungeons and Dragons Basic or Expert boxed set I found under the tree.

When sitting at the computer, every day was Christmas, and in many ways it still is. As you can see from the majority of this blog, I’m still finding joy in the ASCII art script. So why not a touch more joy on Christmas morning? Consider this my erector set gift to you.

Except for this image, all of the ASCII art created using the asciiArt script in 42 Astounding Scripts came from photographs or drawings. That is, a human hand was involved in its creation.

This Christmas image, on the other hand, was nearly completely scripted. Obviously, the version with Linus’s Bible quote over the Christmas scene came from the asciiArt script, but the Christmas scene itself came from the Persistence of Vision raytracer. The only hand-placed part of the image was the phrase “Merry Christmas” in the upper left.

Persistence of Vision is a lot of fun to play with, Christmas morning or any morning. Or, as was often the case for me (and still often is) late into the night.

Remember to install brew and then “brew install povray” as described in the bubble cake example if you haven’t already. To create an image from this POV-Ray script file, run the povray program on it, as you would any other command-line script or program.

  • $ povray Christmas.pov

This will create, by default, an 800 by 600 PNG image with the same filename as the .pov file but with the extension .png. In this case, if you name the file “Christmas.pov” as I did, the file will come out “Christmas.png”.

You can adjust the width and/or height using the Width= and Height= command line options.

Epstein didn’t kill himself, and other tales of the swamp—Wednesday, December 4th, 2019
Epstein didn’t kill himself

You’ve probably heard all of the unbelievable coincidences surrounding Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Cameras not working, inexplicably quick removal from suicide watch1, guards sleeping on the job, fellow inmate removed.

It’s not surprising that people are creating a conspiracy theory around it. It’s incomprehensible that any organization could be that incompetent. In a sense, conspiracy theories like this are an example of how much trust we still have in government. We trust it to be basically competent, and therefore assume there must have been a deeper reason for the apparent screwup.

The problem, however, is that this was a government institution, and government institutions are that incompetent every day. It’s standard operating procedure for government programs. It’s what government bureaucrats do to all of us. There is nothing unbelievable about it. The same forces that make DMV offices into a shining example of government competency, and that encourage VA officials to falsify documents with no repercussions—except for the dead veterans—also work on prisons.2

The common rejoinder to the incompetence theory is that nobody’s been fired for incompetence. But that also is common practice among government organizations. It’s only in the private sector3 that employees are fired for gross incompetence. In government jobs, they’re promoted, or sidelined but continue to collect paychecks and benefits.4

One of many reasons that conspiracy theories are so compelling is that it’s always more comfortable to believe in a competent government than an incompetent one. But government bureaucracies are never competent over the long-term. At best, they don’t become blatantly corrupt. Given the necessity of government bureaucracy, we’d prefer that they be DMVs rather than VAs.

A free market in union representation—Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

I tend to disagree with most conservatives about unions. For one, they tend to lump all unions together; but there is a huge difference between real unions, who negotiate with owners on behalf of their employee members for more money and better conditions from the owners, and government unions, who negotiate with employees on behalf of other employees for more money from taxpayers. This is critical, because real unions have an incentive to make sure that the business their members work in stays competitive. There is no such incentive for government unions. Both ends of the table are negotiating with other people’s money.

Outside of government unions, however, the problem with unions is that they are set up as monopolies. Monopolies tend toward maintaining their monopoly rather than providing better service to the people forced to buy from them.

When people have a choice about what services they buy and who they buy it from, when services must compete, the people paying for those services are better off. They receive better service at a better price. When a service has a monopoly, when people are forced to buy that service and forced to buy it from one provider, the service always suffers, and badly. Worse, the people buying the service have no idea what they’re missing.

People had no idea what they were missing under AT&T's monopoly. Or under airline monopolies.1 Or electrical power monopolies. In every case so far, removal of government-sponsored monopolies in favor of choices has resulted in better products, better services, and better prices2. Even though in every case, many people complained that the change would be for the worse, that in this case a monopoly was necessary. They couldn’t see the benefits behind the forest of their fears.

There’s no reason to expect union monopolies to be any different. We have no idea what we’re missing because unions are monopolies. But history tells us that what we’re missing will be so amazing we won’t be able to remember how we lived without it once the monopoly ends.

Conservatives who oppose all unions instead of just government unions make the same mistake from the other end. They recognize how bad union monopolies are for workers, but have no idea what a healthy free market in union services would do for workers or the economy.

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