Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two Observations:

First, on the Fugio Cent, the first American coin, supposedly designed by Benjamin Franklin. It occurs to me that "Mind Your Business" is a much more American motto than "In God We Trust" or "E Pluribus Unum". When I'm unanimously elected Transitional Dictator of the United States, the new Great Seal will be that on a scroll, clutched by a cranky-looking wild turkey.

From General interwebs

Second, on wikiwandering to the disambiguation page for "mind your own business... It's extraordinarily depressing to think that there's a generation of Americans who think TSR stands for "That's So Raven".

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You've started to believe the things they say of you...

So there was a brief tempest in a teapot in Oklahoma, when Federal Reserve examiners ordered a private bank to remove religious displays from their premises:

...the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter and buttons that say "Merry Christmas, God With Us." were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank's Internet site also had to be taken down...

Specifically, the feds believed, the symbols violated the discouragement clause of Regulation B of the bank regulations. According to the clause, "...the use of words, symbols, models and other forms of communication ... express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion."

The feds interpret that to mean, for example, a Jew or Muslim or atheist may be offended and believe they may be discriminated against at this bank. It is an appearance of discrimination.

Two things:

- This is incredibly stupid. I'd be ranting about regulatory creep and the inevitable end result of attempts to legislate morality and social change if this particular story wasn't so staggeringly trivial and petty. The regulators were clearly just being holier-than-thou tin gods, the First Amendment clearly protects the business's right to display religious slogans, and the Fed seems to have already reversed its ruling in a weasely way obviously intended to avoid a challenge to its rules.

- All that said, when you're distributing buttons to your employees that say "Gott mit uns", you should probably take a really deep breath and consider that maybe you're taking all the Jesus stuff a bit too far.

But when he threatened your life...

So. In the US, 40 states out of 50 either issue permits to carry concealed handguns to all applicants with clean records, or don't require a permit at all. In several of the remaining ten, you can still get a permit with little trouble if you live in a jurisdiction with a gun-friendly chief of police. Our Supreme Court has recognized handgun ownership as a fundamental right, and has strongly signalled that it will rule similarly on the fundamental right to carry handguns. We are a gunned-up nation that's said unequivocally--outside the liberal bastions of tolerance and equality--that we trust every free person to have a semiautomatic .45 caliber handgun hidden on his person in public.

So why in the name of all that is holy do 35 states prohibit their citizens from carrying concealed switchblades? And another three have strict length limits, presumably intended to limit their usefulness as weapons.

The real reasons are clear, of course: pop culture painted them as "the weapons of juvenile delinquents" during a time of irrational moral panic. And edged weapons, being an order of magnitude cheaper than guns, tend to be favored by people who are easier to disenfranchise than gun owners. But come the hell on. In a nation where you have a fundamental right to concealable firearms, is there even a way to pretend that knife laws have any rational basis whatsoever?

Friday, December 17, 2010

...then have a night of efficient German sex.

One of the core Keynesian-style arguments for government control of business is an emphasis on efficiency. If government manages financial industries, the unanimity in decisionmaking--so goes the hypothesis--will benefit the people in the form of reducing inefficiencies created by self-interested individual businessmen and companies. It's the Wal Mart model writ large, essentially: prosperity through strict control of waste. And Wal Mart has definitely proven that the model can work spectacularly, at least in the short term.

I'm primarily concerned about this for philosophical reasons (freedom is more important than efficiency, in my opinion, and preoccupation with efficiency through regulation is inherently at odds with regard for the individual's autonomy), and because I think it's unrealistic to believe that government agencies won't gradually accumulate bureaucratic entropy that will eventually eat all those efficiencies and then some. But there's another concern that I think is often overlooked.

The more efficient a system, the less resilient it is in the face of unexpected complications. Less efficient systems have a margin of safety, while hyperefficient systems jam up with the slightest obstruction:

A split-second power disruption at a Toshiba Corp. factory in Japan could hurt shipments and raise prices for one of the world's most widely used computer chips, a mainstay of devices like smartphones, tablet PCs and digital music players.

Toshiba said the power outage could cause a 20% drop in its shipments over the next two months or so...

A power interruption overlapped with a failure of Toshiba's backup power system for seven one-hundredths of a second at one factory, and the consequences of that will be ongoing until February. For fuck's sake, what would happen to the global economy if a real crisis hit the computer industry? We saw just recently the spectacular cascade that can happen when banks similarly threw away their margins of safety in the name of maximizing efficiency--hell, since then we've had people screaming from the rooftops that governments need to step in and prevent them from doing business that way.

Believers in better living through government often rebuke libertarians with some flavor of "yeah, well if you want the benefits of the modern efficient integrated marketplace, you have to accept extreme government regulation!" I'm good, actually. I could deal with small business prices in the absence of the Wal Mart business model. The loss of the familiar race between businesses to be the leanest, cheapest, safety-netlessest shop on the street is not especially terrifying.

The combination of a population unable to cope with recessions and a competitive marketplace that knows elected governors are politically unable to let megacorporations fail means that, realistically, this kind of brinksmanship just won't stop being the norm until too much falls apart at once to be propped up, so the debate is honestly kind of pointless in practice. But man... Cautionary tales about how deregulation would mean we don't get to live in a Wal Mart world that falls apart at the slightest crisis are not the motivator collectivists seem to think they are. A Darwinian marketplace that slows progress and decreases efficiency by rewarding economically conservative behavior is pretty attractive, actually, when we see that the alternatives are the grinding sloth of socialism or the inherently unstable balancing act of government-administered economies.

I suggest spreading the meme that a libertarian utopia would be infested with sasquatchtopuses. That's freakin' scary.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So, to sum up my mother's experience over the last two years:

- Her dog spontaneously goes blind in the space of about a week.

- Her cat dies of kidney failure.

- Her blind dog goes deaf.

- Her husband is suddenly diagnosed with severe brain cancer, and loses a subsequent year-long battle with it.

- And in the space of about a week, her blind, deaf dog succumbs to kidney failure.

She had to put the poor mutt down last night.

Hokay, blind forces of chance, I think she's had enough now. Feel like easing up a bit?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weird Science

Just caught the Mythbusters episode in which President Obama asked them to revisit their test of the Archimedes mirror experiment.

They committed enormous resources to retrying an experiment that had failed miserably before, with only trivial variation. They set the threshold for success unrealistically low, but still managed to fail utterly in an embarrassing anticlimax.

Yup. It was an Obama episode.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tir na Nog? The Nog Hammadi library? W'gah Nog-gle fhtagn?

Another December, another batch of George Washington's eggnog. It takes a few days to a week to set up, so I'd better get ready early this time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Oh, it's not so bad..."

Marian Anderson on the "separate but equal" provisions of US segregation laws:

Somebody doesn't always come right up to you and say, "You can't have this, you can't have that,"...It's just as though there's a hair that blows across your face. Nobody sees it, but it's there and you can feel it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's lonely behind the sofa.

Much like the law of conservation of ninjutsu, there's clearly a Law Of Inverse Dalek Scariness, though it's not strictly linear.

One Dalek is scary. Two Daleks are scarier. Three Daleks are scarier still, but diminishing returns start to set in. By the time you get to half a dozen Daleks, it's clear that the Doctor is going to come up with some clever or technobabbly solution that neutralizes all of them at once.

Come and knock on our door...

Along with our shocking success dismantling gun control in the US, these days we're also seeing what might--might--be the very earliest hint of the old anti-polygamy laws beginning to erode. Starting yesterday, Canada's Supreme Court has been hearing testimony in a case challenging the constitutionality of their marriage law, which was written to dissolve the marriages of Mormons fleeing to Canada to escape persecution in the States.

The Stop Polygamy in Canada blog* has been covering the proceedings from their charming perspective on the side against equal protection under the law. They report that Craig Jones, the British Columbia AG's attorney, is walking a very, very fine line, trying to argue that the law doesn't target a religion, while also trying to insist it only applies to Mormons:

- Most challengers of s. 293 propose the broadest possible definition; grey areas include same sex multiple partners, polyandry (rare), and polyamory claiming that they practice “good” polygamy.
- Polygamy must be restricted to polygyny and not polyandry, polyamory, etc.
- Almost all of the harms that we are going to demonstrate are the harms of polygyny.
- Legislators often use a general term to mean a specific term; e.g. polygamy = polygyny; laws about animal abuse—animal does not mean human.

So. If I read this correctly (and I haven't been able to track down a more reliable source yet, so grain of salt), he's suggesting that Canada's prohibition on polygamy is acceptable, because it would only apply to the "bad" kind of polygamy: polygyny. Which would seem to mean that a man could marry a man and a woman, or a woman could marry two men or two women, but it would be a crime for a man to marry two women, or a woman to marry a man and a woman.


This is starting to make US gun laws look straightforward and well-crafted.

[* - It's one of those things you see a lot of when you're a New Jersey gun owner in a sexual minority: groups of narrowminded busybodies that exist solely to slander you, equate you with monsters, and advocate for undermining your rights.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gonna buy me a Thompson 'chine gun...

Paul Helmke, president of the anti-gun Brady Campaign, is trying to revive the "assault weapon" meme*. Not that I blame him; if my organization hadn't had a win in sixteen years, I'd probably grasp for whatever worked last, too. The problem with the "assault weapon" meme, though, is that it can't work the same way again. The ban was passed in 1994 largely because the Bradies managed to use implication, innuendo, and outright lies to convince the public that the AR-15s, AK-47s, and Uzis they were targeting were fully-automatic military machine guns, when in fact they're ordinary semiautomatic civilian firearms. Today, AR-15s are so overwhelmingly popular that most Americans outside the super-liberal enclaves own one or know somebody who does. Between that and the internet, the Bradies can no longer conceal the pedestrian nature of these guns.

That means the only way forward is a new strategy: trying to convince people that pedestrian guns are so ultra-deadly that we need to add more restrictions to the mountain of US gun laws:

No, the NRA bosses are all tied up in knots because [hardcore Illinois gun-ban advocate and President Obama's choice for ATF director Andrew] Traver didn’t make it clear enough to the TV audience that a fully automatic weapon (like the one the reporter apparently blasted) can get a few rounds out more quickly than a semi-automatic and is not as readily available to the general public (although they would like it to be).

Yes, amazing, but true. The NRA bosses, who use the cover of law-abiding hunters and gun owners, now seek Traver’s scalp over a difference that has little distinction.

Semi-automatics are only a little less deadly than fully automatics.

It's rare that I can say this, so kindly imagine a blaze of trumpets here:

I agree with Paul Helmke.

Fully-automatic firearms are only trivially more effective at their job than semiautomatics, if at all, because full-auto fire is very difficult to aim, and for the most part just makes you miss faster. And if you're concerned about stray fire, remember that a dirt-common pump action hunting shotgun can blast out .32 caliber projectiles much faster than any Skorpion that ever haunted Diane Feinstein's nightmares. As full-auto enthusiasts like to say, they're machines for turning money into noise. The primary applications of full-auto firearms are military suppressive fire (which isn't intended to hit a target), and making your light AR-style carbine do a passable shotgun impression at very short ranges. For all practical purposes, a select-fire military AR and a semiauto civilian AR are the same weapon.

Of course, this isn't an argument for stricter gun control. If Americans aren't prepared to ban all the ordinary civilian semiautomatic rifles we've been using for a century (and believe me, we're not), then this line of reasoning in fact demonstrates the absurdity of the 1934 National Firearms Act's extremely strict machine-gun control. If the difference is so slight, it most certainly doesn't call for federal intervention that restricts expression of a Constitutionally protected human right.

I don't actually advocate for overturning the NFA in real life. Whatever the reality of the situation, machine guns are very, very dramatic and scare the crap out of the mainstream. Large numbers of smart, generally gun-friendly people find that machine guns fail their sniff tests. It doesn't matter how right we are; we're just not going to overcome this perception right now, and ignoring that reality can only give the anti-gun crowd the traction they've been desperate for. And frankly, that's not the end of the world. The machine gun restrictions are stupid, but by the nature of their uselessness they leave us all the alternatives we need to fulfill the ends of the Second Amendment. But man, if we ever get around to fighting that battle, it can't possibly hurt to have the president of the Brady Campaign on record saying that machine guns are basically the same as "normal" guns.

[* - Or, more likely, he thinks it's a good way to fill some blogspace and appeal to the dudes who decide where Joyce Foundation grants go. Being president of the Brady Campaign is probably the easiest gig in Washington, so even though it's obviously doomed, who can blame him for trying to stretch it out as long as possible?]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let me tell you how it will be...

Just a damned minute.

So Browning can sink the development and tooling capital into producing a .22 caliber 1911 that, for some incomprehensible reason, is shrunk to 80% size, but no gun company can afford to engineer a smaller-framed revolver for the .327 magnum cartridge?

Come the hell on, people! This is a good cartridge, with the potential to revitalize revolver carry much more than an expensive plastic frame, or a bolted-on laser. It's being wasted just squeezing another round into .38 sized frames.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

WAR-- Hunh!

likes to point out, when some Americans get to using "liberty" as a synonym for "conservatism", that our reluctance to ever question military spending might just be contributing a bit to the tax burden that preoccupies conservatives.

The Telegraph has up an infographic about US military spending. And it's an infographic, so there's obviously some simplification going on. But still, seriously?

The US spends more on its military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined.

There's no earthly way you can justify spending that much on the military unless you're at war with the world. And man, any time you find yourself at war with the world for half a century, it's probably time to reevaluate your foreign policy. Because at that point, your sphere of influence is probably so big the Vandals will start finding nice, big holes in your defenses.

I'm super, thanks for asking

It's an unfortunate fact of the gun rights community that, along with the folks who care passionately about liberty, we also have a handful of people who love authoritarianism as long as it only oppresses the choices they don't like.

Case in point. Uncle points out the historical context shared by segregationists, gun controllers, and anti-gay advocates. The internet belched this back:

And a funny thing happened on the way to our new Gay States of America: As the vote on Prop 8 in California showed, most brown and black members of the Rainbow Coalition are not terribly fond of the idea of gay marriage in particular and homosexuality in general.

Buddy, respecting gay Americans' right to marry doesn't make us the Gay States of America any more than respecting your right to speak makes us the Asshole States of America.


In case anybody's interested, the text of our wedding ceremoy and vows is online.

I wouldn't ordinarily go in for such self indulgent wedding-blogging, but ours was, after all, 50% cuter than the average wedding.

Life's but a walking shadow

So. CBS News is pimping their poll, which they claim shows that 81% of Americans approve of the TSA's new policy of electronically strip searching passengers, and groping those who refuse.

And you know what? I'm completely in favor of it. In fact, I think the TSA should start doing actual strip searches, in public, along with a body cavity search. Assholes on the internet (and in the TSA, and in Congress) keep saying "we need to provide the best security"--well, you can't have the best if you don't go all the way, can you?

People are far, far too willing to give up liberty for safety, and our government has become very, very good at eroding liberty so slowly that people don't get outraged enough to do anything about it. The way the modern federal and state governments piss on the Fourth and Second Amendments, the way modern urban cops abuse and intimidate citizens, the routine, casual, and open disregard the feds show every day for the Constitutional limits to their powers... We've fought revolutions over shit like this. But bring it on slowly over the course of a century, and people accept the safety-and-security excuses and think it's normal.

It's only when a government bureau sets new records for rampaging corruption and disdain for the citizens they "serve" that anybody takes enough notice that our rulers are forced to overcome institutional inertia and castrate the offending organ of the state. If the TSA backs down on the strip searches and goes back to "merely" stealing from luggage, imprisoning people who decline searches, keeping secret lists of citizens, and doing "regular" pat-downs of anybody who displeases them, people will lose interest.

Hell, take away the TSA Retaliatory Grotchgrab that's starting to get people really pissed off, and everybody but those crazy fringey libertarians will probably be totally chill with the electronic strip searches at every airport, police station, and courthouse in the US in a half a decade or so.

So go, go, TSA! Cling to the belief that you're the only line of defense between the great horde of ungrateful slobs and a world of terrorists who'd kill 'em all without your vigilance! Keep secure in the knowledge that you know what's best for them, and that anything you want to do is justified. For security. Damn the "civil rights" whiners, brothers, and full steam ahead.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Russia with Love

Though less well known today than the iconic Colt Single Action Army, the Smith & Wesson Model 3 is every bit as much a classic American handgun. The Model 3 was a top-break revolver, which automatically ejected all spent shells on opening, a significant advantage over the one-at-a-time ejection and reloading of the Colt. And while the .44 S&W cartridge wasn't in the same league as Colt's powerful .45 round, it was solidly in the range of modern defensive ammunition, and more powerful than most other revolvers of the time. Tastes and beliefs about its relative simplicity and reliability made the Colt slightly more popular in the domestic big-pistol niche, but the Model 3 is a fine gun, and enjoyed respectable success among American soldiers, frontiersmen, and target shooters.

While it lived in the shadow of Colt's revolver back home, the Model 3 was a superstar overseas, where it was adopted by foreign militaries and widely copied by foreign manufacturers; a full two thirds of Smith & Wesson's first-decade production of the revolver was made for export. It was eventually selected for issue by the Imperial Russian army, which requested a handful of changes to the design. The most significant were a switch from the .44 S&W cartridge to the new .44 Russian, and the addition of a dramatic spur to the trigger guard:

From General interwebs

[image source:]

The new cartridge was an unqualified improvement. The trigger spur, not so much. Elegantly Victorian as it looks, and as much as it makes me want to load up a train of porters and set out for Kukuanaland*, its usefulness is dubious, to put it generously. The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson describes it thus:

It certainly makes the gun very difficult to cock without changing the hand's position on the grips, unless the shooter is endowed with orangutan thumbs.

There are several hypotheses about the utility of the trigger guard spur. Some contend that it was simply a rest for the middle finger of the shooting hand. Others have reported that it was utilized as a hanger, to secure the pistol when tucked through a waist sash. Bill Powell reports a theory that it was originally called a Parry guard, intended to allow a revolver-wielding Cossack to deflect a saber slash with his sidearm and still retain all his fingers. My personal favorite, at least in terms of creativity, is the theory that military tactics of the time called for cavalry to charge with revolvers already cocked, and the spur provided a gripping surface for the trigger finger in such a situation (don't try this at home!). Be that as it may, the spur was often considered cumbersome by American users, and specimens are not infrequently found with this enhancement lopped off.

A feature specifically added to an already well designed gun, which gives a very minor advantage at best and harms the gun's ability to do its primary job well. All par for government work, but why did they keep it up? Imperial Russia ended up buying well over a hundred thousand of these revolvers, and never listened to all the shoters who told them it was getting in the way of efficiently recocking the gun?

I never understood this until this morning, when I was linked to a post at Backyard Safari about Russian pistol stances. The blog is auf Deutsche, but the gist of it is that Russians followed a pretty questionable pistol doctrine before the Revolution:

From General interwebs

That there is not a man who's especially concerned with quick and accurate followup shots. I've been told that most of the world didn't take handgun marksmanship as seriously back then as the Americans and British did, and this does little to dispel that perception. If all you're concerned about is looking elegant while you slow-fire at the Gospodin Outdoorsmen's Social Club, a triviality like actual combat effectiveness is unlikely to cause you much insomnia. There may also be a hint of the reason for that spur:

From General interwebs

Those are definitely not Model 3 Russians, but there's still something weird going on with the shooters' middle fingers. The image and era would suggest they're probably Nagant revolvers, which don't have trigger-guard spurs. Anybody have any idea what's up with that unusual grip?

[* - Yes, yes... Allan Quatermain carried a Colt. Sue me.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I... I...

One of our wedding guests, an attorney, just sent along an incredible message:

"Please tell Genvieve, Michael, and Danielle that my gift to them will be drafting a legal document that enables all of them to have equal protection in issues of property, illness visitation, and substituted judgment. It would not be a standard document, obviously, since the commitments they have made to each other are not the standard kind of commitments..."

I don't know what to say, except that I'm extraordinarily grateful.

Monday paleo update

Eight weeks in now, and as expected, the wedding weekend has wrought havoc with my progress. The unpaleo feasting has resulted in a gain of four pounds since last Monday.

As of today, I'm back on the paleo horse, where I expect to be permanently. With any luck, I'll be back on track soon.

I'm now twice as married as when last I blogged.

Many, many thanks to all our friends, whose support has meant the world to us.

Also to our supportive family members, whose love and acceptance we treasure.

And of course, to Viktor Devonne, our friend, officiant, soundtrack mixer, dancemeister, and all-around seneschal, without whom the ceremony would have been considerably less awesome.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wedding in T minus two days and counting.

Everything is is readiness.

And damn, you just can't not look good in a waistcoat, lemmetellya.
It's probably a sign that I've spent too long scanning database entries when my brain starts reading "incomplete" as "Paraguay", isn't it?

Turning and turning on the widening gyre...

It's Veterans' Day. Take a minute to remember the fallen and the unfallen.

That also means it's Armistice Day, now the ninety-second anniversary of the end of the War to End All Wars. Take a minute to remember the lessons we've learned about war and history since then.

Something is still slouching towards Bethlehem today, but I doubt anybody alive really knows what it is.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guilty Pleasure Guns

Jay at MArooned posts about his guilty pleasure guns, firearms he'd love to own even if they're useless or silly. Predictably, he's getting lots of replies. Guns are pricey, so not many of us can afford to buy them "just because", but a lot of us are obsessive enough to have a won-the-lottery wishlist.

Off the top of my head, my list of useless but awesome guns looks a bit like this:

- A Freedom Arms revolver in .454 Casull. Hand artillery. It's no longer the "world's most powerful handgun", but who cares? And it can chamber the lighter .45 Colt cartridge for those times when you don't want to punish your wrists for their sins.

- A Ruger No. 1 in .450 Nitro Express. A shoggoth gun. I will never have any earthly need for a rifle this powerful, and if i did, it would be met better by a modern .50 BMG rifle. But nothing beats the retro charm of the Nitro Express line. [If we're talking serious fuck-the-world money, make this a handmade bespoke double rifle, instead.]

- While we're talking about expensive old-man guns: a handmade bespoke side-by-side shotgun, with some understated engraving. Again, there's no earthly need. If I'm taking up fowling or clay shooting, a cheap Stoeger over-under fits me like a glove. But man, I covet the art guns of the Gin and Tonic Hunters' Society.

- Down the class scale a bit, I have an insane and irrational love of sawed-off shotguns. I want a set of three: an over-under, a side-by-side, and a single-shot. There's a very good chance at least one would be in 20ga. In a just and sane world, this would be a cheap arts-and-crafts project. The world being what it is, I'll need to ask the ATF for permission and move out of New Jersey.

- Way, way, way down the scale of practicality, I want a North American Arms mini-revolver. Danielle has one, and it's pretty neat. But hers is chambered in .22 magnum, and is already a distressingly weak handgun. Me, I want the version chambered in .22 short. It's tiny, weak, and nearly useless for any purpose whatsoever, and I freakin' love it. Thumbing those bitty little cartridges into the cylinder puts a big, dumb smile on my face. If money was really no object, I'd buy it a laser sight, a shoulder stock, and a tiny little bayonet.

Phnglui wgah'nafh R'publc-ans R'lyeh w'gah-nagls fhtagn...

"US Republican mid-term victories doom Planet"

That's the title, verbatim, of an article over at "Media With Conscience".

I won't comment on the content of the article, except to say that when you look at your monitor and realize you've just typed the sentence "It is not hyperbole to suggest that the Republican mid-term victories spell doom for the Planet", it's very likely time to take a step back and reevaluate your approach to your advocacy.

Last minute preparations

I know it's only three days to the wedding, but I really think Danielle should order a new dress. [NSFW]

Her current dress is red anyway, so it's practically the same thing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wedding in T minus four days and counting.

I consider myself blessed. It's a very lucky person whose friends and family are so overwhelmingly supportive of his family, alternative as we are.

But are we all that alternative, really?

Abraham had Sarah and Hagar.
Jacob had Rachel and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah.
Esau had five wives.
David had at least eight.
Gideon had so many wives, they bore him 70 sons.
According to the Book of Kings, Solomon "had seven hundred wives of noble birth and three hundred concubines".
Honestly, I'm an underachiever.

It's not my fault if all these godless liberals today have forsaken the Biblical family model and redefined marriage to justify their deviant one-spouse relationships.

Monday paleo update

A day late, but measurement taken yesterday.

Well, I've learned that Mark Sisson's 80-20 rule does not work for me. Last week was a bit of an inadvertent experiment with adding more non-paleo food to my diet. I was still comfortably in the 80% paleo guideline, but managed to halt all weight loss and put one pound back on.

This weekend will be a bit of a paleo killer, as we'd already planned some extensively unpaleo meals for the wedding. But after that, it's right back on the wagon. I've gotten used to being pleased when I look at the scale.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Rhetorical Balance

It isn't, by itself, an insult to say that gun control advocates keep their goals guarded and try to achieve them incrementally. Every political action group, from gun control to gay equality to anti-abortion advocates need to take it step by step. The mainstream doesn't approve of their end goals, so they need to focus on small steps, let them become the new normal, and then get more small steps. It's just simple prudence.

But that kind of incremental progress puts the advocate in a strange place: you need to defend the steps you've already taken while simultaneously presenting them as grossly inadequate. This is very, very difficult for the amateur bloggers who are better at hyperbole than strategy. In the comments to an anti-gun blog post, Anti-Gun Comment Posting Unit Jadegold gives an outstanding example:

Yes, we have some gun laws in this country. Does it amount to gun control? No.

You and I both know that anyone in this country can open up a PennySaver or classified ad and purchase most any firearm. We do not have to provide ID and we can be felons, mentally ill and/or illegal immigrants.

The point is obvious: reconcile the failure of our century's worth of accumulated gun control laws with the anti-gun movement's prescription of more gun control laws. The problem, though, is that by getting emotionally involved and overstating the case, JG has implicitly agreed that the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, and the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1995 do nothing to deter criminals from getting guns.

More skilful anti-gunners have worked out the rhetorical balance, and know how to imply that our current gun control laws work, but that more would work better. It isn't true, but it's far more likely to work than agreeing with gun rights advocates that our current system is pure burden with no advantages.

"Go and get another Michael from the warehouse"

...Aaand, from anti-gun clone #32 Jadegold:

Elmo is wrong on so many counts.

First, he boldly claims there were no gun laws in the US in 1900. It isn't true but let's suppose it is--so what? Do we really wish to return to 1900 when women couldn't vote, segregation was the law of the land, and working children in unsafe conditions was the norm?

Second, Elmo seems to believe that everything is ok if we just punish a miscreant after the act. The way criminals get guns is because we have no gun control. As a result, tens of thousands of US lives are shattered each year, we all get to pay more for healthcare, taxes, and consumer goods because Elmo feels terriblt oppressed by having to be fingerprinted.

I invite anybody interested to read New Jersey's gun laws, and decide for themselves whether Jadegold's bizarre assertion that "we have no gun control" has any validity, or whether she's just trying to antagonize.

I also invite them to decide for themselves whether calling out a hundred-year history of increasing failed gun control policies means I want to deprive women of their right to vote, or whether, again, it's just empty rhetoric.

I like to document...

...when I take the effort to bang out replies to moderated blogs.

A reply from MikeB:

Dear Elmo, Thanks for coming by. I think you said on another blog that you used to comment here under another name [note: I used to comment simply as "Michael", back when I could still give Mike the benefit of the doubt], so I guess we know each other already.

Your question: "You think that taking those two minutes to add a tiny bit of insurance against a low-probability/high-consequence emergency is "abominable", "sick and paranoid", and has such a deleterious effect on other people that I should be ashamed of myself?"

My answer is yes. Yes, because it doesn't stop at your cozy little home where thank goodness nothing went wrong this past Halloween. It's you and your justifiable situation multiplied by millions or tens of millions. A percentage of them is not as responsible as you, but you support them, you enable them, you allow them to continue doing damage by doing your little part in keeping the "gun rights" what they are in the States.

So, yes I blame you, Elmo, and Bob, and the rest of you, and I say you would be ashamed if you weren't so biased and self-interested.

And my answer:

So it's the old "partial responsibility" meme again? The worldview in which responsible gun owners who oppose burdensome gun laws are partially culpable for murderers, car owners who don't lock their vehicles are partially responsible for ensuing deadly police chases*, and presumably women who dress immodestly at night are partially culpable for rape?

If my situation is justifiable, then you have no business intruding on it. You and your friends want to pass laws that overwhelmingly affect me in hopes that they'll have some small affect on criminals... And you've _succeeded_. That gun I own I was able to buy only after a ridiculous number of fees and legal interventions, fingerprinting, police investigations, employer notification, and... [checks records] a 68 day waiting period. And despite going through the license-to-carry procedure in other states, I'm still forbidden from taking my gun out through the front door of my home (unless I'm going directly to and from the range with no stops) under penalty of a felony conviction that's significantly stricter than the penalty for actually assaulting somebody with a gun.

You and your buddies have won substantially here in New Jersey, and you're still telling me that exercising the tiny sliver of a fundamental civil right that I have left is "abominable", "sick and paranoid".

In 1900, we had essentially no gun laws. If you misused your gun, you were punished for it. And that wasn't good enough for people like you. So over the next century we accumulated a crushing burden of legislation, and it still isn't good enough. You leave no reason to believe anything ever will be.

The next step is a British-style system with complete handgun bans and discretionary permits to own non-repeating shotguns. And even in Britain, people like you are still campaigning for even stricter gun laws, and pontificating about how the few remaining sport shooters are "part of the problem".

The criminals are the problem. Period.

[* - This was a direct example MikeB used back in the old days to justify his "partial responsibility" theory. It was one of the things that made it clear to me what kind of erson I was really dealing with.]

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You don't need a gun, friend citizen.

A large part of the anti-gun strategy is trying to paint the ownership and carrying of guns as paranoid, delusional, and ever-obsessed with violence. Self defense is all well and good, sure, but you should only improvise with what you have on hand, never prepare. It's the same phenomenon as the asshole who believes people should practice safe sex, sure, but still calls a woman a slut for carrying condoms.

Part of this is just prudence: there's no good case for gun control based on the facts, so a good ad-hominem is one of the only options open. But I think a lot of these people are really just projecting their own issues onto people they'd rather see as caricatures. Recently, a gun blogger posted about an armed push-in robbery on Halloween, discussing the prudence of keeping your gun handy at home. A couple of us commented about our decisions to keep guns handy that night, and one of the usual anti-gun suspects responded thus:

I find it an abomination of American values to imagine Elmo and Weer'd and I guess yourself opening the door to trick-or-treaters armed like that. It's sick and paranoid and if it only affected you I wouldn't mind. But you guys are part of the problem, and that problem affects many of us.

Let's sum up.

The probability of a push-in assault, on Halloween or not, is extremely low. The consequences of such an assault are quite high. I already own a gun and a holster for it. It costs me zero dollars and two minutes to holster the gun and pull an overshirt over it. And spending those two minutes to take one small precaution against a low-probability/high-consequence emergency before settling in to watch crappy movies and hand out Reese's peanut butter cups to kids in Spongebob costumes? That's "an abomination", "sick and paranoid", and such a terrible danger to others that I should be ashamed of myself.

Either Mike is just trying to fill space in his blog and solicit backpats from his fellow anti-gun obsessives, or he really does think that having a gun secured on my body (as opposed to its usual home by the bedside) is an enormous, toweringly significant corrosive presence that justifies all that hyperbole.

Me, I don't freight the gun with all that angst. My little .380 makes pocket carry so unbelievably easy that carrying is essentially a zero-effort proposition. The probability of a violent encounter in an average day is vanishingly small, but the cost in effort of preparing for it is nonexistent, so preparedness wins that equation.

Unless you bring your own fetishistic freight of the gun as a MACHINE OF MURDER to the table, carrying a firearm for self defense in a safe neighborhood is exactly as paranoid as putting on your seatbelt to move the car across a parking lot. Sure, the chances of a lifethreatening accident are almost nonexistent, but why take the chance when a bit of insurance is so cheap?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mil-spec Mythos

In 1945, the US distributed an edition of Lovecraft stories for Army and Navy personnel. There's cosmic horror, and then there's tactical cosmic horror:

From General interwebs

Because, man, nothing will keep morale up like tales of the vanishing insignificance of mankind in a tractless cosmos of incomprehensible malignity.

The pictured copy is for sale for sixty bucks by Hang Fire Books in Brooklyn. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Amazed, the populace that rites attend,

Believe whate'er they cannot comprehend

Here in New Jersey, in addition to the fun of voting for representatives, we were asked on Tuesday to approve or deny a state constitutional amendment:


Constitutional Amendment to Dedicate Assessments on Wages by the State to the Payment of Employee Benefits

Shall the amendment to Article VIII, Section II of the State Constitution, agreed to by the legislature, which: prohibits collection by the State of assessments based solely on employee wages and salaries for any purpose other than providing employee benefits; dedicates all employer and employee contributions collected for any employee benefit fund, and all returns on investments of those contributions, to the purpose of that fund; and prohibits any transferring, borrowing, appropriating or using of those contributions or returns for any other purpose, be approved?

Interpretive Statement
This proposed constitutional amendment prohibits the collection by the state of assessments based on employee wages and salaries for any purpose except paying employee benefits (or making other employee-authorized or federally required payments, in the case of the State's own employees), dedicates all contributions made to the unemployment compensation fund, the State disability benefits fund, or any other employee benefit fund, and all returns on investments of those contributions, to the purpose of that fund, and prohibits the use of those contributions or returns for any other purpose. The requirements of this proposed amendment do not apply to the gross income tax, which is exclusively dedicated by the Constitution to the purpose of reducing or offsetting local property taxes.

You'll be happy to know it passed 80% - 20%.
Desirable possibility A:
Republicans take control of House and Senate.
Democrats realize Obama is a liability and run a moderate candidate in 2012.
Unnamed Democrat wins the election, keeping the Legislative and Executive branches at odds.

Desirable possibility B:
Republicans take one chamber of the Congress and nearly take the other, leaving Democrats scared in one and disempowered in the other.
The Democrats stick with their incumbent in 2012.
The Republicans fuck up less than usual and win the 2012 election, but still end up without control of both branches.

Scale of Desirability:

Scale of Likelihood:

Given fulfilled prerequisites in 2010, potential for disastrous unilateral control in 2012:

All things considered, Tuesday's results are close to ideal.

If it bleeds, we can kill it

The ever-awesome Dice Creator has made a D6 that uses the self-destruct countdown numbers from Predator. Awesome.

From General interwebs

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ah, strange, blobby masses floating around in waterways.

No way that could be ominous.

You can get anything you want...

You know, if one state, just one state decides people can carry guns without a permit, people may think it's really sick and they won't listen to it. And if two states, two states do it--in harmony--they may think they're both faggots and they won't listen to either one of 'em. And three states do it, three, can you imagine, three states all deciding that free people can carry guns with nobody's permission... They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine a fourth state electing a governor who promised in his campaign to sign another Constitutional carry bill into law... And friends, they may think it's a movement.

Open letter the day after election day

Dear Democratic party,

See what I mean?

You hammered through a chunk of that hard-left holy grail of government-run medicine and yet another slew of pointless regulations aimed at the evil monocled capitalists, and it was so not-good-enough that your core stayed home on election day, handing control of the House to the Republicans. And, though you're likely to keep your Senate majority, if any of your remaining Senators are smart, they'll be pretty badly shook up.

Let's level with each other, man: people who look to government to solve their problems will never be satisfied with you, and you know it. Whatever they regard as the current biggest problem in their lives? They'll make it your problem. Trying to please that constituency will have you constantly running on a thankless treadmill, booted capriciously in and out of power by a bunch of people you simply can't make happy. Look at Canada: they have the whole socialized medicine shebang, and their liberal parties are still fighting tooth and nail to hold onto power election to election. Nothing you do will ever be enough, and again, you already know it.

Look, DP, last week and weekend I got very little sleep and ran around like crazy wearing myself out with moving and wedding planning. And yesterday morning I was miserably exhausted and coming down with something flu-like. But I still got up before sunrise on a cold, damp morning to drive out of my way and vote for a party I don't like, all because I think you're doing too much work.

One more time, guys, give it some thought. You can constantly run like hell to just barely touch the expectations of an unpleasable bunch of planned-society voters, or you can please people like me by doing a dozen times less work. All I ask is that you go out there every day and give ten percent, and I'll vote for you every time. Hell, even the laws I'd like you to pass would almost all decrease your responsibilities! No more making excuses about "gridlock" preventing you from getting shit done--you can brag about how much time you spent playing Minesweeper and downloading porn on the House computers! We'll laugh about it, have some beers, and I'll send a check to your PAC. And if the Republicans catch on and try to please me, too, you'll be in competition with them to see who can do the least work! Doesn't that sound better than the shit you have to deal with now?

Seriously, there's just no way you're gonna get a better offer than this. Slack the vote!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Open letter on election day

Dear Democratic party,

Hi there. We haven't spoken in a while, so I don't blame you if you don't remember me. But back in the day, we were really tight. Back in the days of George W. Bush, you convinced me that you were the party of civil rights and of opposing the creeping intrusion of the imperial Presidency, and I voted for you down the line in every election. It was good times, and we got along really well. But then you got into power, and I saw more of you than I really wanted to. It happens sometimes with friends.

So we've drifted apart, and today I went and voted for the Republicans, just like I did back in 2008.

I'm guessing you'd rather I voted for you. Honestly, the way elections have been going lately, with the winner squeaking by in a "landslide" of 52 percent of the vote or so, you really can't afford to rely on your narrow minority of solid supporters any more than the Republicans can. Each election's being won or lost by the swing voters like me, and these days you need me more than I need you.

And those Tea Party guys... Your solid crew thinks it's a simple deal, but I know you really don't know what to make of the Tea Parties. Are they just a Republican-electing machine like the "anti-war" movement is for Democrats, or do they really take all this small government stuff seriously? Dude, I'm as curious as you are, and we're gonna have to wait and see together. But man, almost half of 'em are independents or Democrats. No matter what the deal is with the Republican half, that's a hell of a lot of folks who really want a smaller government, and that's gotta have you thinking about how to do your math from here on out.

And here's the thing: as one of those Americans who agrees with the stated small-government position of the Tea Parties, I'm actually a hell of a lot easier to please than the folks whose votes you're used to chasing. I just want you to stay the hell out of private life, and I'm not too hot on war and international maneuvering either. Think about that for a second. While your usual faithful are turning their backs on you, disillusioned that you haven't pushed enough through the united Republican opposition, I'm offering you my vote if you'll just go out there every day and do less work. Dude, you ain't gonna get a better offer than that.

Give it some thought.

Love and kisses,
Quite frankly, I'm scared to believe that Americans still care more about liberty than about being taken care of.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday paleo update

Six weeks in, down another three pounds for a total of 19.

Friday, October 29, 2010 is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...

Bob S. blogs about an exchange between Texas Congressional candidate Stephen Broden and interviewer-unit Brad Watson, n which Watson tries to represent the candidate as a violent extremist:

Watson: “So you would include a violent overthrow of the government by saying, if the framers said that don’t work, revolution?”

Broden: “No, I would say that to whatever extent that we can alter, or adjust, or abolish it –”

Watson: “Well, what does by any means necessary — doesn’t that include violence?”

Broden: “Well that’s part of the scenario, but that is not the first option. And it obviously wasn’t the first option with the Declaration of Independence.”

Watson: “So you would include some kind of violent overthrow of the government by including revolution?”

Broden: “It is not the first option –”

Watson: “It is an option, though, in your eyes –”

Broden: “The first option is to alter it or abolish it, it is a part of the scenario. And we as Americans must understand that our founding fathers included that in the scenario.”

Watson: “But violence is an option as you view –”

The correct response to this kind of silliness is "it's never an option in your worldview?"

There's a disturbing undercurrent in the modern first world of seeing all violence as inherently unacceptable. Of thinking that all problems can ultimately be solved with enough talking and turning of cheeks. And worst of all, thinking that governments are controllable and under control as long as there are elections, and that elections are all we could ever need to keep ourselves free.

There's nothing Mr. Watson would fight for? He'd allow a government to throw away the Constitution and do as it will, and would condemn anybody who would resist it by force? He regards the use of force as completely off the table--a greater evil than enslaving a nation? Then he's the despicable extremist, not Broden.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bad Wolf

So. Last Tuesday, an independent filmmaker claimed to have found footage of a time traveler in the special features of a Charlie Chaplin DVD:

Mr. Clarke has fallen victim to the third classic blunder: never limit your alternatives to what you can imagine.

The population of Hollywood in 1928 was around 3000--not all that many, but that still makes for hundreds of thousands of unique personal moments every single day day, even assuming nobody came in from out of town for Chaplin premiers. In the most filmed town in the world, in all the filmed events of the golden age of cinema, that's a dizzyingly enormous number of individual experiences captured forever, immortalized in film archives waiting to be seen. The idea that in all those countless moments nobody could ever find a reason to hold her hand to her head and smile except for time travel... That's an incredibly narrow view of the world. It doesn't matter whether anybody can tell you what it is. Your worldview needs to include wiggle room for the spectacular diversity of existence.

She's embarrassed by the camera, and trying to cover her face with a coin purse. It's a cold day, and she's holding a little pouched pocket warmer up to her face for warmth. She's listening to a little music box made to look like a cigarette case, a gift from her husband when he came back from that business trip to Geneva the summer before he passed away. She's one of Warner Brothers' first sound engineers, playing with a handmade miniaturized gramophone--a dead end experiment in distributing sound tracks along with film reels; it only has about ninety seconds of run time, and the lack of an amplifier means you can only barely make out her colleagues shouting dirty jokes at the recorder, but the very idea of holding something so unthinkably high-tech is a delight. The subject is actually a crossdresser, who likes the feel of his little velour clutch against his cheek. Or it is a communication device, but she's actually a wholly contemporary agent of the Mi-go, using their arcane technology to report in on her progress tracking the archaeologist who stole their engraved tablet from a Lenape burial mound.

There are literally countless possibilities in the real world, and if we're really going to open up the world of fiction the possibilities become infinite. Going all Timelord in the gaps just makes you look foolish.

Meanwhile, in Burma

So a Burmese species of snub-nosed monkeys has been documented by scientists for the first time. The scientists were introduced to a specimen by local hunters who'd brought it back for food, so the headline is "New Snub-Nosed Monkey Discovered, Eaten". This is clever, because it reminds us that the only civilized, sensitive way to eat meat is by capturing the animals alive, genetically engineering them into twisted caricatures of their wild ancestors through millennia of forced selective breeding, and then paying somebody you've never met to kill and butcher one and ship you its carcass from hundreds of miles away in styrofoam and plastic wrap.

But honestly, I'm not here to rant about hunting. No, I just want to point to the photo of the cuddly little child of the forest:

From General interwebs

Holy everloving Jesus. Maybe it's for the best that these things are hunted to extinction. It's pretty obvious even at first glance that these are actually degenerate semihuman descendants of once-decadent Lemuria, howling their foul and blasphemous rituals in the deep umbra of the jungle in honor of their hideous glutton-god Chaugnar Faugn.

If I Had a Hammer...

For those of you blessed not to live in this area, you may be unaware that Newscorp and Cablevision are having some difficulties in negotiation that have led to an impasse. Both parties are being exactly as adult and professional as you'd expect, and at the moment Cablevision customers are treated to a blackout of Fox stations and a pair of propaganda campaigns hamfistedly trying to convince us that one or the other megacorporation is being unfairly victimized.

This would be trivia beneath notice if not for the fact that by now both New Jersey Senators and Cablevision itself have asked the FCC to intervene and force Fox to end its blackout.

This clearly demonstrates one of two facts: either reliance on government force to solve your problems leads to an "all I got is this hammer" attitude in which no inconvenience is so trivial it doesn't call for intervention by a federal regulatory agency; or watching baseball and The Simpsons is one of those core necessities so crucial to life that it can't be left in the hands of marauding capitalist robber barons.


Prodomme and sex columnist Mistress Matisse opened a can of worms over the terminology of polyamory:

Some days, I miss the term nonmonogamy. I should dust it off and give it some daylight, because I'm put off by how reductive the definition of the word polyamory has become lately.

I first heard the term polyamory on a Usenet group in the early 1990s. Its appeal was obvious: Saying that one is nonmonogamous implies that monogamy is what's proper and that being nonmonogamous is a deviation, with all the negative baggage that word carries...

However, as the term became more popular, factions developed, and one of them might be called poly literalists. "Polyamory has the word amor in it, which is Latin for love," they say. "So if you don't love the other person, then what you are doing is polyfuckery, not polyamory. You're just using the word polyamory to justify your promiscuous sexual activities. And you're a dirty slut who is tainting my morally pure system of having sex with more than one person."

Okay, they usually don't say the "promiscuous dirty slut" part out loud. But it's clearly implied, along with every other sex-negative shaming strategy in the book...

...sexual- minority groups of all kinds have an unfortunate habit of eating their own young. Certain individuals in the group proclaim themselves the protectors of the Right Way, identify some subgroup within the ranks, and say, "Their way of being X isn't pure enough, we must ostracize them!" Bonus points: They then turn to mainstream society and say, "See, we're not like those people. They're bad. We're good, like you."

I'm nowhere near as connected to the sexual minority and sex activist cultures as Matisse is, and don't doubt there are dicey internal politics involved. But in my case, at least, I do think the word "polyamory" is used too broadly, and it has nothing to do with disapproving of others' relationships.

I practice an exclusive relationship with two people. This doesn't make me any better or worse than people who practice the open-relationship or swinging models of poly, any more than my distaste for onions makes me better or worse than the weirdos who love the things. My way isn't truer, purer, or morally superior to theirs; it's just different.

But it is different. Quite frankly, I think the "closed relationship of more than two people" model falls closer to monogamy than to open relationships and swinging on quite a few sliding scales. Calling it all "polyamory" actually suffers from exactly the same problem as "nonmonogamy": it defines what we are by saying what we're not. Getting rid of the negative prefix doesn't actually change the situation when you're still lumping together very different lifestyles in one big folder of "y'know, not what normal people do".

When I was working at a pharmacy in my college days, one of my coworkers was a woman from a fundamentalist Christian family who was away from home for the first time. Once she referred to a mutual acquaintance as "gay", and I pointed out that the person in question was actually bi. She gave me an utterly perplexed look, like I'd just grown tentacles out of my head: what's the difference? Aren't all those people equally distinguished by being not-us?

Gay isn't better than bi and bi isn't better than gay, but we don't define them all as unstraight, or lump them all into one unstraight category with a more pleasingly obfuscatory name. I don't much care who gets to use "polyamory", and certainly don't want to freight healthy, fulfilling relationships with a deliberately dismissive word like "polyfuckery". But it would be nice to have good words that distinguish between these very different kinds of relationships.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Monday" paleo update.

Was away from home yesterday, so "Monday" paleo update today.

Down one pound, for a total of 16 pounds in five weeks.

The much lower loss was expected, as the end of the week was highly unpaleo. Pizza for dinner on Friday; leftover pizza for breakfast and Afghan food with pita and rice [edit: plus Brazilian rodizio for dinner which, paleo or not, ain't gonna lose you no weight] on Saturday; with a cheeseburger, fries, and beer on Sunday.

So a bunch of cheating all at once equals _less_ weight loss. I can live with that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jersey logic

"Castle doctrine" laws are a Very Good Idea that protects citizens who defend themselves from being second-guessed by civil and criminal courts after the fact. Since a peaceful person thrown into a dangerous situation doesn't have the time and leisure to reflect on levels of risk and legal complexities that the court enjoys, it's despicable for laws to make said peaceful person risk a life-ruining felony conviction when a criminal sustains the injuries that are and should be an inherent risk of his chosen profession.

Not everybody agrees. New Jersey Democratic State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney comments on the possibility of a castle doctrine law in the Garden State:

"All residents must be able to protect themselves in their own home when they feel their life is in imminent danger, as our laws currently do," Sweeney said in an e-mailed statement.

"However, there is a difference between legitimate self-defense and shooting someone on the way out the door with your cell phone."

"Don't you understand?! We _have_ to put innocent people at terrible legal risk for defending themselves! A thief could get _killed_!"

Shifting mental gears

I read my share of gun blogs and my share of sex blogs. Which makes it a bit disorienting when the wrong type of blogger starts talking about the problems with oil-based lube.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Road trip!

fearsclave picked up a mild case of the memes this morning, and it turns out to be a strain I'm particularly vulnerable to:

Which five events in history would you choose to experience in person, and why?

Events? I dunno. But there are definitely some times and places in history I'd give a lot to see. This is off the top of my head, so no promises of historical accuracy.

- Alexandria. Freakin' Alexandria. The most cosmopolitan--and second largest--city in the Roman world, designed on an elegant plan reportedly by Alexander himself, filled to bursting with art and architecture looted from all over Egypt, the center of trade between the Roman and eastern worlds, and home to what must have been a riotous mix of cultures, with temples to every god imaginable and even one of the world's largest Jewish populations, after the destruction of Jerusalem. She was legendary even in her own time, and today there's nothing left above ground except but a single late Imperial pillar. I _ache_ to see the Mediterranean and Mareotic harbors with their unthinkably prosperous emporia, the Paneion on its man-made hill, the tomb of Alexander (the trip might need to be timed to before Augustus knocked his nose off), the palaces of the Ptolemies, the luxury island Marc Antony moped away his last days on... And I understand they had a nifty lighthouse and library, too.

- Tenochtitlan. The capital of the Aztec empire, built in the middle of a lake and reached by boat or by one of a few stone causeways. The Spanish conquistadors called it the City of Dreams, carefully build on a civilized grid, paved with polished flagstones, studded by enormous pyramid temples and peppered with markets selling goods from all over Mesoamerica. Though it's easy to think of the metalless Aztecs as primitive, they carefully administered their civilization and city, to the point of dividing the lake into fresh and saltwater sections. There was peerless and alien art and architecture shoulder to shoulder with viciously brutal subjugation of other cultures and human sacrifice. I can't begin to wrap my mind around how alien that place must have been to a European mind--a metropolitan center to a whole region-spanning civilization with no common roots for thousands of years back. After taking the city by force, Cortes had the entire island leveled. There is, for all practical purposes, nothing left. This is the second place I'd point my time machine.

- The Colosseum. But not, actually, during the Roman games. I want to visit the Flavian Amphitheater in the middle ages or Renaissance, when it was a neglected ruin on the outskirts of a much smaller Rome. In those days it was overgrown with plants; according to some, it included exotic foreign plants brought in on the animals killed in the games. Wandering alone through a place so quiet and thoroughly abandoned, but with such a visceral and inescapable connection with massive shouting crowds of people and a staggeringly complex civilization so long gone-- There's no way I'd pass it up.

- Rome in the first century. In part, this is just because it's an important time and place that's worth seeing. But I'm going to cheat a little and arrange to bring along a crew of historians to document the period. We're blessed to know as much as we do about Rome, but the long time and monastic filter have badly damaged our understanding of the time and people. We'd make a point of sticking our noses into the Mithraic mysteries. It was a foreign cult whose development and growth in popularity closely paralleled Christianity's, but which wasn't monotheistic. By some estimates, Christianity took the decisive lead practically by the flip of a coin. Had that race gone the other way, the ascendant Mithraists almost certainly wouldn't have rooted out and obliterated Rome's pagan tradition as the Christians did, and the world would be an unrecognizably different place. And for all that, we know very little about Mithraism. I'd love to change that.

- Along the same lines, a multi-year trip to Judea in the 20s and 30s, again with a documentary crew. Our understanding of who Jesus was and what he said and did is based, the best we can tell, on only two non-eyewitness sources (Mark and the Q source), plus what Luke was able to pick up through association with the apostles long after the fact. And from a skeptic's point of view, those sources are clearly contaminated with quite a bit of popular folklore and Greek and Levantine mythology. For one of the most influential human beings who's ever lived, that's a maddeningly sparse record. I would absolutely spend two decades in the backwaters of Galilee if it meant expanding the record.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

So what's the deal with paleo, anyway?

My buddy Jay sent along a Reuters article relevant to my paleo updates:

Starch grains found on 30,000-year-old grinding stones suggest that prehistoric man may have dined on an early form of flat bread, contrary to his popular image as primarily a meat-eater...
The findings may also upset fans of the Paleolithic diet, which follows earlier research that assumes early humans ate a meat-centered diet.

This handily illustrates one of the two problems with the core paleo philosophy that prevent me from really being a cheerleader for the diet. The idea is that humans evolved to make use of a diverse diet made up primarily of animals and plants (and insects, but that's one irrational food taboo I flatly refuse to breach), and that the neolithic shift to a simple diet based on grain carbohydrates and dairy products has increased our numbers while destroying our health.

Again, these assumptions have two big issues. The first is that it's highly debatable (and possibly unknowable at present) just how much humans have biologically adapted in the intervening tens of thousands of years to take advantage of the new diet. The second, as illustrated by the article, is that it's hard to be confident in what a paleolithic diet actually looked like in the first place. Was grain consumption common, or was it an anomaly confined to a few groups? Did the grains account for a huge portion of those groups' daily calories (as they do for most modern humans), or was it one small part of a diverse hunter-gatherer menu? I don't know that we can draw reliable conclusions at the moment.

So I'm keeping an open mind about what's causing my weight loss. At one end of the spectrum, it may be that grains and dairy are poisons that rapidly destroy our bodies and chain us to lives of ill health, as a couple of the fringe paleo gurus say. It may be that grains are a non-ideal food source that we, as highly adaptable omnivores, can deal with but are a poor basis for a diet--the attitude of some of my preferred paleo authorities. It's also possible that all the benefits I've seen have been a direct result of cutting out sugar and removing my ability to just grab a fast-food burger when I'm hungry.

Whatever it is, I'm losing weight very efficiently while eating as much as I want when I want, and feel much better than I ever had before, with almost no exercise. I'm neither weighed down with excess bodyweight and post-meal heaviness nor hungry and relying on willpower to resist overeating. I'm not on a meal clock--I can get all my daily calories in one big afternoon meal, or browse throughout the day, and neither bothers me. Whatever the deal is with paleo, it seems that my body really does have a functional system for telling me how much food I need and making good use of that food, but that system only works when I'm not eating grains or sugar both. It may be impossible to draw strong conclusions about the assumptions of paleo from the results, but I intend to stick with what's working.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday paleo update

Down another four pounds, making fifteen pounds in the first month. Still haven't done any exercise to speak of.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Life in the crazy house

I don't know of a better way to sum up New Jersey's gun laws than this observation over at Ian Argent's place:

Also, note that the possession charge is much more serious (second-degree crime) than the assault charge (fourth degree); and can be punished much more harshly (5-10 years vs. 18 months).

In the Garden State, the law punishes merely possessing a gun more harshly than actually attempting to harm somebody with it.

Is it even remotely possible to pretend anymore that gun control is about public safety?

You don't help us at all!

Japanese TV is like Jackass, but without the inherent respect for human dignity:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Here Come the Judge, Here Come the Judge

Tam at A View From the Porch has some unkind words about a popular handgun:

The continued sales success of the Taurus Judge and its spinoffs is the most damning condemnation of the general firearms and ballistics knowledge level of the average American shooter that I have ever seen.

And it's true. the Judge is a big, clunky, ponderous handgun that--contrary to what you'd assume about a "handheld shotgun"--fires some of the weakest shotgun shells around, 2 1/2" .410 cartridges, which are notably less powerful than common defensive handgun rounds. Taurus' attempt to fix this problem, the Magnum Edition Judge, makes the gun even longer and heavier, comically so, and manages to bring it up into the power range of a standard .45 or .357 handgun round. It's a gun that does nothing particularly well, and yet it sells like hotcakes to people who hear nothing more than "handheld shotgun".

But I'm not dismayed by the Judge's success. I think it's awesome. People buy all kinds of things based on hype and cosmetics without properly researching them. What the Judge's popularity means isn't that Americans are getting less literate in ballistics; it means that more guns are being bought by people outside the gun community. It means the market for guns is becoming a bit more like the market for cars and cameras and toasters. If there's one thing Americans can learn from foreign countries like Great Britain and New Jersey, it's that when only devoted enthusiasts are buying guns, gun rights are in serious danger. Long live the Judge, and long live underinformed consumers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I had no idea...

...that Simpsons opening sequence was designed by Banksy.

Smell like a monster

Old man gun safety

Talk guns with an obsessive gunnie for a little while, and you'll become aware of a conflict in the gun world: casual gun owners and gun manufacturers are in love with a multiplicity of safety mechanisms, while more devoted gun aficionados don't like all the superfluous mechanical devices complicating their serious tools. Smith and Wesson has generated plenty of grumbling by including an internal trigger lock in all their revolvers, for example, and gunnies will go on and on about the new "lawyered-up" versions of the Ruger MkII pistol, which have added a magazine safety and a loaded chamber indicator. The only real safety, they say, is between your ears. All the doodads just create opportunities for malfunction and teach you bad habits.

It turns out this is nothing new. British firearms enthusiasts were arguing about the value of "safety" features in guns at least a century and a half ago:

In this respect Mr. Adams's pistol excels all others that have hitherto been made. It shoots with one action. That, in fact, is the first requisite of a good military pistol--namely, that it can be seized with one hend, right or left, and fired in a moment with a single draw of the trigger finger. To pull up the hammer, as in Colt's, is a superfluous and most disadvantageous drawback; while a double action, as in Tranter's [which used a second trigger to cock the hammer], is a similar error, as one cannot be expected to play the fiddle on a pistol when in action. But it is said that a pistol is more dangerous when it can be fired by a draw of the finger. Exactly; and that is the very reason that it is the best. The sharpest razor is the most dangerous for children or persons who do not know how to use it. But the sharpest razor is the best because it is the sharpest. And so it is with Adams's pistol. The very quality which makes it preeminently good for service is the quality that makes it dangerous in the hands of boys or bunglers. A pistol that requires two actions to fire is more safe in a house than one that requires only a single action; one that required three would be still more safe; and one that would not go off at all, as sometimes happens with those that have complex and fanciful notions attached to them, would be perfectly safe. Adams's pistol is not constructed for what is absurdly termed safety (which is procured by blunting the razor), but for action--for the most rapid action that can be executed with the simplest effort. It is the elementary pistol, and the best for military service because it is elementary.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Consumerist has an odd readership. On the one hand, they have a faction of stereotypical modern-US-liberals, prone to seeing racism and evil robber barons as the root of all ills, and sometimes seeming unable to conceive of any solution to any problem that doesn't involve government intervention, even where they acknowledge the problem was caused by government intervention in the first place.

But then they can post a story about banks sending lockbreakers to bust down the doors of occupied houses, and the overwhelming majority of responders say some variation on "this will end badly. I would've shot the guy."

At the moment, there's only one person angsting about how _mean_ it would be to shoot somebody who's "only doing his job".

Now, Consumerist does also have a faction of libertarian readers who use it to help choose who to do business with and how to do business with them. But this almost unanimous consensus proves one thing: Americans believe in self defense, they aren't shy about using guns to achieve it, and that belief in self-help isn't naturally tied to either end of the liberal/conservative spectrum. We've been pushed for a long time to believe it was by a Democratic party run by anti-gun metropolitan politicians, but that mask has cracked. It's no wonder gun control can't get a foothold anywhere these days.


A Consumerist article covers this:

Kmart Warns Spanish Speakers Not to Open Stuff Before They Buy.

It includes a photo of a little handwritten note on a Kmart shelf, written in Spanish, asking customers not to open packages.

Is your first reaction:

A - "I guess in some Spanish-speaking cultures it's normal to open packages and inspect the merchandise before you buy, and some recent immigrants shopping in that store don't yet know that it's a faux pas in the US. Interesting cultural difference."

- or -

B - "That's racist!"

I thought the first. The majority of Consumerist readers seem to think the second. Are they overreacting, or is my white male privilege blinding me to the daily oppression of the Latino shopper?

On Headlines

Because it's much punchier than "twentysomething female undergraduate psychology students from Ontario self-report more culpability than twentysomething male undergraduate psychology students from Ontario":

This just in! Women apologize more than men!

And this week's flash in the pan...

Alan Baird, blogging at Salon, did the usual gun-owners-are-stupid-lunatics, they-should-all-shoot-themselves dance. The usual immune response kicked in, the gunnies jumped in with the usual debunking, and he flounced out in the usual petulant snit. No news there.

But there's one little thing that should be noted. Weer'd quotes* Baird's flounce thusly:

[When I posted my original article], the idea of concealed-carry did not really bother me. If a gun-toter was smart enough to recognize that the open display of a weapon drastically tilts the perceived power balance between two individuals, then... live and let carry.[...]

But these barbarians who roam the Internet and try to pick fights have now convinced me that NOBODY should have a gun. If they feel that personal attacks, libels and death threats are appropriate behaviors in the 21st century, how can they be trusted with guns? They shouldn’t even be allowed to carry sharp sticks.

Baird doesn't realize it, but this kind of statement is very, very good for us. Gun bans do not fly with the American public. Even in New-freakin'-Jersey, most people I meet who are worried about "gun violence" still believe in the individual's right to have effective guns for self defense. The more the antis admit that they want extreme restrictions, the more we win. The only time they ever gain ground is when they can push the illusion that they only want fine, minor, "common sense" changes to our gun laws.

Push the point that only a complete ban will make it any more difficult for criminals to get guns. Don't think that attacking the halfway measures will invite more ambitious attacks on our rights. The more publicly ambitious our enemies are, the better off we are. Every time we can make people like Baird show their true colors--every time we can take away their middle ground and force them to defend their actual extreme positions--we win a bit more.

It's fundamentally impossible to prevent all criminals from getting guns. It may be possible though, as the antis believe, to _decrease_ the number of criminals with guns. But, halfway measures being so childishly easy to circumvent, the only way that's remotely possible is with a universal ban. As long as law-abiding citizens can have guns, any criminal who wants one will get one easily. That fact doesn't damn us; it's our most powerful weapon.

[* - I'd usually link directly, but Baird is already shenaniganing his old entries; Weerd's quote will be more stable.]

Monday, October 11, 2010

Paleo update

Down another four pounds.

That's a total of eleven pounds so far, from a week of halfassed transition, and two weeks of paleo diet.

In that time my total exercise has been stagehanding for three burlesque shows last weekend, and two half-hour walks. I've done no portion control whatsoever, eating when I'm hungry until I'm not hungry any more. This is also allowing for small quantities of non-paleo foods, so I haven't completely abandoned cheeseburgers.

It's way, way too early to decide that this is a miracle that will keep working forever. This may just be my body adjusting to a dramatically different diet. And even if it keeps working--nutritional science being so fundamentally complicated--that doesn't necessarily vindicate the hypothesis paleo is based on. Maybe I owe these results just to cutting out sugar.

But right now? It feels like a miracle.

Friday, October 8, 2010

That word...

A US President exaggerating the threat of terrorism for his own political purposes? Inconceivable!

The Devil You Say

HANGMAN, n. An officer of the law charged with duties of the highest dignity and utmost gravity, and held in hereditary disesteem by a populace having a criminal ancestry. In some of the American States his functions are now performed by an electrician, as in New Jersey, where executions by electricity have recently been ordered--the first instance known to this lexicographer of anybody questioning the expediency of hanging Jerseymen.

--Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

TIme machine disembarking

pointed out by Knirirr:

Before World War II, Mrs. de Florian left her Paris apartment and moved to the South of France. She never returned, but faithfully paid her rent for 70 years, the apartment remaining completely untouched.

Mrs. de Florian passed away earlier this year, and the apartment was opened for the first time in more than half a century.

The appraisers found a three million dollar painting, sure, but far more amazing is all the little things left just as they were, in a little time capsule. What would you give to root around in there?

The aptly named Paris Apartment blog has more photos.


Y'know, it's been so long since someone pointed a good unhinged armchair-psychoanalytic rant at me that I was beginning to think nobody cared.

An excerpt, from the comments over at James's place:

But you don’t want to touch that point, now do you? You sure as hell didn’t in your response, despite how it’s the main thesis of my comment. Your response has almost nothing to do with that point; in fact, due to your lying misrepresentations, it appears as if you’re *trying* to not just avoid it, but cover it up and distract people from it.

Which is likely why you tried — and failed — to criticize what I said by deceitfully rephrasing it in your own grossly exaggerated misrepresentation. The odds are it’s because on some level you realize that you can’t defend your own position honestly and fairly, and thus have to *cheat*.

To say nothing of how your laughably unconcealed attempt to fallaciously argue from authority as well only goes to further demonstrate that likelihood.

...I see you lying about what I actually said in order to knock down a couple of straw men of your own misrepresentation.

And I don’t like it, and I’m not going to let you get away with it. You owe me an apology.

Now, as a value-added service, a multiple choice test. Is the radical, abusive, chauvinistic theory I'm being so, ah, eloquently smacked down for:

A - The Aryan master race must take its place at the head of a glorious new world order.
B - The Jewish untermenschen are corroding our Glorious Republic from within.
C - The African dog must be sent back to his own degenerate continent.
D - Maybe not all single mothers are selfish bitches who abuse their children.

Like I've said many times before, it's one of the most gratifying things in the world when people you disagree with bring so much crazy to the table that they prove your point for you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Quick health update

Have begun paleo diet. Am intrigued by principle, but am maintaining healthy skepticism. At worst, is handy way to increase food-mindfulness.

In one week of transition and one week of strict paleo, have lost seven pounds and feel subjectively healthier.

Time will tell if changes are consistent and without side effects.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The man for wisdom's various arts renown'd

One more workday to slog through, and tomorrow morning we're off to Ithaca for a subculture convention, a few White Elephant Burlesque shows, and, presumably, courting Odysseus's wife.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Old Man Guns

From Propnomicon, a page of Remington ammo prices from the 1922 Montgomery Ward catalog:

Follow the link for full size.

That's some pretty cool stuff, right there. Apart from just ogling the prices (.45 ACP for $2.46 per fifty rounds?), There's some neat stuff in the ad copy.

Soft point bullets are provided with a metal patch on the point. When the bullet strikes, the patch of harder metal causes the lead bullets to expand in the animal tissue.

It's also just plain cool to see what was popular enough to go into a general-interest catalog back then. Most revolver cartridges are offered in black powder or smokeless. There's a ".22 special", which I'd never heard of before today. There's .30 Luger, for your Great War trophy, I guess. And of course, .38 ACP matter-of-factly offered between the .32 and .380 ACPs. Glorious.

But if cattle and horses and lions had hands...

NPR reports on a new Pew Forum survey showing that atheists know more about religion than the religious folks do.

Of course, this is gratifying to my atheist ego, and that's the string they pluck on in the tiny article. It's also a strong theme in the comments: we've become atheists because we were smart enough to see the absurdity of religion. It's only the dumb sheep who stayed in their worn-out communities of superstition. Hell, Richard Dawkins has written books that do little but pluck on that string.

This is obviously not true. There is and always has been a large, networked community of religious intellectuals, and a large number of religious people in intellectual communities. The hypothesis that religion is something that happens to stupid people is so easily falsifiable that I'm embarrassed for all atheists whenever I hear it articulated.

And the actual survey also shows that the picture is, as you'd expect, more complicated than the NPR blurb:

Average number of questions answered correctly out of 32:  

Atheist/agnostic: 20.9
Jewish: 20.5
Mormon: 20.3
White Evangelical Protestant: 17.6
White Catholic: 16.0
White mainline Protestant: 15.8
No particular belief: 15.2
Black Protestant: 13.4
Hispanic Catholic: 11.6

Jews and Mormons are practically tied for first with atheists.

It seems to me that the biggest determinant is how easy it is to get into or stay in your group.

Most atheists have been raised in a religious family, and made a choice to break with that tradition. And even by the most inclusive definitions, at most 15% of Americans identify as non-religious (which in this survey would include the low scoring no-particular-beliefers). Mormons and Jews represent only about 1.7% and 1.4% of the population, and have traditionally, ah,...not been welcomed with open arms by the Protestant and Catholic majority. Becoming an atheist, Mormon, or Jew and staying that way in the United States will probably take more reading and consideration of sources than just being born a mainstream Christian and staying that way in a community overwhelmingly dominated by casual mainstream Christians.

I expect that if the survey could be controlled for effort expended on religious belief, the folks who came to Protestantism or Catholicism through a long and painful journey would score just as well as or better than the atheists.