Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Item 2: After it's on, don't touch it."

[h/t to DooT.]

Gun fires from girl's purse in Cheyenne Starbucks

Police in Wyoming say nobody was hurt when a small [derringer] that was inside a girl's purse fired while she was in a Cheyenne Starbucks.
The bullet went through a chair and into a wall and narrowly missed several customers.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported that the girl's father had given her the gun and encouraged her to carry it for her protection. According to police records, she hasn't had any formal firearms training.

Anybody who's read my blog knows I think it's a great idea for young women to carry guns for protection. And while I think "formal firearms training" is great, it's really not the necessity many people assume it is. There's only a tiny bit of knowledge involved, and the controlling factor in using guns safely is overwhelmingly individual temperament, something unlikely to be changed by a classroom course. You could fit everything a person needs to know to carry safely on a three by five card, in large print, with room for a flashy logo up top.

This woman and her dad obviously needed such a card. The first bullet point would be "use a damned holster," and somewhere down the list would be "never carry a traditional derringer."

I know folks who love derringers, and obviously "I want one" is the only reason a body needs to own one. But they're terribly inferior to the alternatives for self defense, and the common Remington style dealies aren't drop safe. Leave the derringer at home, and carry a proper, safe handgun with more than two rounds.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Calibrating expectations

Philmo shares an article by Justin Alexander from 2007 that shows me I've been thinking about D&D all wrong for a very long time:

D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations

There’s a common fallacy when it comes to D&D, and it goes something like: Einstein was a 20th level physicist. So, in D&D, Einstein – that little old man – has something like a bajillion hit points and you’d need to stab him dozens of times if you wanted to kill him. That’s ridiculous!

The problem with this argument is that Einstein wasn’t a 20th level physicist. A 20th level physicist is one step removed from being the God of Physicists. Einstein was probably something more like a 4th or 5th level expert. [Emphasis mine]

This can be a little bit difficult for some people to accept, so let’s run the math. At 5th level an exceptional specialist like Einstein will have:

+8 skill ranks
+4 ability score bonus
+3 Skill Focus

In the case of our 5th level Einstein, that gives him a +15 bonus to Knowledge (physics) checks. He can casually answer physics-related questions (by taking 10) with a DC of 25. Such questions, according to the PHB description of the Knowledge skill, are among the hardest physics questions known to man. He’ll know the answers to the very hardest questions (DC 30) about 75% of the time.

And when he’s doing research he’ll be able to add the benefits of being able to reference scientific journals (+2 circumstance bonus), gain insight from fellow colleagues (+2 bonus from aid another), use top-of-the-line equipment (+2 circumstance bonus), and similar resources to gain understanding of a problem so intractable that no one has ever understood it before (DC 40+).

(This 5th level Einstein can also be modeled with as few as 5 hit points – 1 per hit die...)

Alexander goes on to run numbers on a variety of performance benchmarks that back up his thesis:

5th level is right at the dividing line between legendary real world performances and the impossible realms of the superhuman.
Almost everyone you have ever met is a 1st level character. The few exceptional people you’ve met are probably 2nd or 3rd level – they’re canny and experienced and can accomplish things that others find difficult or impossible.

If you know someone who’s 4th level, then you’re privileged to know one of the most talented people around: They’re a professional sports player. Or a brain surgeon. Or a rocket scientist.

If you know someone who’s 5th level, then you have the honor of knowing someone that will probably be written about in history books. Walter Payton. Michael Jordan. Albert Einstein. Isaac Newton. Miyamoto Musashi. William Shakespeare.

So when your D&D character hits 6th level, it means they’re literally superhuman: They are capable of achieving things that no human being has ever been capable of achieving. They have transcended the mortal plane and become a mythic hero.

I've been guilty of level inflation myself, and this is a serious gear shift for me. I'm going to have to reassess how my players fit into Alexandrian society.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas shopping, 18th century style

Thanks to Le Loup for posting a fascinating link to the Hudson's Bay Company's 1733 price list for its operation in Fort Albany in Ontario.

One beaver pelt could buy a handkerchief, a hat, a file, a blanket, a pair of shoes, two pounds of tobacco, two hatchets, a gallon of brandy, a pound and a half of gunpowder, five pounds of shot, eight knives, twelve dozen buttons, or three quarters of a pound of colored beads. Four pelts bought a pistol, and ten to twelve bought a musket.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and may all your traps be full.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


[h/t to Jay G]

In some circles, the Northeast US is synonymous with intrusive nanny-state politics--or with caring governments that shepherd individuals unable or unwilling to look out for their own best interests, if that's the way your political compass swings.

Either way, the generalization is grossly unfair. Do-as-we-say politics exist in the Northeast, but only in certain parts. Much of the rest is hardcore butt-the-hell-out territory. And in such a small space (relatively speaking), this can lead to some very interesting borders.

New Hampshire, for example, is very comfortable treating its citizens like adults, free to make their own decisions and their own mistakes. Massachusetts, not so much. On the NH side of the borders, you're in a shall-issue concealed carry state that recently overturned all of its knife laws, acknowledging that the legal distinction between a pocket knife and a "switchblade" is absurd. You can open-carry firearms with no permit at all. There's no mandatory seatbelt law, and a motorcyclist can decide for himself whether his head is worth protecting. You can use a cellphone while you drive. Fireworks are unrestricted. Try driving into Massachusetts without a seatbelt while talking on your phone, openly carrying a pistol, and towing a trailer full of fireworks, and you'll get a warn welcome from the Massachusetts prison system. I don't approve of MA's laws, but then they never asked my permission to pass them. With the exception of the weapons laws it's the prerogative of her people to accept a nanny state if that's what they choose.

The problem is that it's quite easy to cross that border without meaning to, and without even knowing you've done it. Little back roads between towns may cross several times with no signs. The state line cuts through communities and even individual plots of private property. You can be walking through town minding-your-own-business at one step, and committing-a-felony at the next.

To address this problem (and, let's be honest, to needle Massachusetts) some state GOP politicians have proposed a law that would allow local businesses to put up signs saying "Warning: Massachusetts Border 500 Feet".

I hope it goes through. What a photo op.


Farhad Manjoo at Slate brings an unbelievably angsty editorial about Nerf guns:

Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing with some of the new Nerf guns, and I’ve tied myself in knots thinking about whether ultrarealistic weapons are just harmless fun or whether they reveal something terribly wrong with modern American boyhood.

Holy hell, dude--unclench before you sprain something.

Given that previous generations of American boys were running around with BB guns and learning respect for and proficiency with real .22 rifles, I agree: the proliferation of "ultrarealistic weapons" made of bulby, primary-colored plastic that shoot bits of foam in a short arc does indeed reveal something terribly wrong with modern American boyhood.

On the American election

Last time 'round, I voted for John McCain. This was not because I thought he was a good candidate; he was a terrible candidate. It was primarily because these days my choice between Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich comes down overwhelmingly to the candidate's position on Supreme Court appointees.

The American system of government is built to limit the power of the federal government, leaving a great deal of sovereign power to the states, where the people can more easily influence the policies that most affect their lives. In a country this large and diverse, it doesn't make sense to allow an omnipotent federal government to mandate one-size-fits-all policies on everybody. So the Constitution grants the feds a very narrow set of powers, leaving all other powers to the states or to the people themselves. Creating a nationwide UHC scheme is clearly outside any honest reading of federal power, for example, but Massachusetts' medical insurance mandate is absolutely legal.

On top of this, passing laws at the federal level was designed to be difficult: the two Houses within the Legislative Branch need to agree on a proposed law; the President, representing the Executive Branch, must agree to sign it into law; and if a controversy arises over its Constitutionality, the Judicial Branch determines whether the other two branches have overstepped their bounds, and can strike down overreaching laws. Everything about this system is intended to make federal laws difficult to pass, placing liberty ahead of legal efficiency.

Our chiefest problem (among very, very many) has been that since the early 20th century, the Judicial Branch has flatly refused to do its duty, routinely making excuses for clear federal overreaches, allowing the other two branches to brazenly and habitually ignore the restrictions on their power, and winking and nodding at an unprecedented expansion of federal power that's badly undermined our civil rights and the very foundation of the American system of government. It's not as though the Court never strikes down unconstitutional laws, but its respect for Constitutional limits on federal power is mostly limited to those restrictions found in the Bill of Rights, and it's far too deferential to precedent. If a federal abuse has been around for a while, and has grown three or four bureaus dedicated to expanding and deepening the abuse, then the Court is loath to question it.

So in short, I weigh a Presidential candidate's philosophy for appointing Supreme Court justices higher than any other factor.* Our system is so badly broken that just about the the only way we can possibly fix it (and certainly the only way to do so in under a century) is by appointing Constitutional-originalist Presidents to rule during terms when SCOTUS justices retire or die. And given the ages of our current Court, this next election looks likely to decide who presides over one of those periods.


President Obama has followed through on at least one campaign promise: he put politics ahead of law in his Supreme Court appointments. Even if that was his only failing, I'd be desperate to vote against him. This should be a sure vote for the GOP, even if I have serious reservations about their candidate. Punishing a bad incumbent has value, even if the alternative isn't much better.

But I can promise you one thing: If those stupid bastards make Newt Gingrich their candidate, I'll be protest-voting for a writein, or refusing to vote for my first time ever.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich came out swinging Saturday against the nation's legal system, pledging if elected to defy Supreme Court rulings with which he disagrees and declaring that a 200-year-old principle of American government, judicial review to ensure that the political branches obey the Constitution, had been "grossly overstated."

Courts "are forcing us into a constitutional crisis because of their arrogant overreach," Mr. Gingrich told reporters in a Saturday conference call. He repeatedly blasted federal judges for imposing "elitist opinion" on the rest of the country.
...Mr. Gingrich said Saturday he proposes "a floating, three-way constitutional system" in which any two of the three branches of federal power—the executive, legislative and judicial—could effectively overrule the other.

I can always hope one of the parties will put the good of the Republic ahead of political bureaucratic jockeying, and field a candidate with a lower profile who-- ... Heh. Sorry: failed experiment. Wanted to see if I could type that out with a straight face.

[* - A person's position on gun control is an excellent quick indicator of how he sees the relationship between government and the individual, and it's an issue that affects my life more directly and regularly than most other specific issues, but it's not the deciding factor. Give me a candidate whose mental gymnastics allow him to both wish he could ban guns and understand the crucial importance of appointing justices who will strictly enforce the Constitution as written, and I'll vote for him.]

Paging Dr. Godwin...

Attorney General Eric Holder, who's been doing everything in his power to derail an investigation into a Justice Department scheme that coerced US gun dealers into selling rifles to Mexican narco-terrorists, and then tried to use the resulting carnage as a pretext to undermine Americans' Constitutional civil rights...

...Says his critics are attacking him because he's black.

Want to know why outraged rhetoric about race and sex doesn't get the traction it once did?

[This whole thing was a bit of a shock to me--not because it's strange for a liberal politician to cry racism when caught breaking the law, but because, getting almost all my news from print sources, I had no idea Holder was black.]

Friday, December 16, 2011

Poly drama in ancient Greece

A further example of civic amphimetric strife can be seen in the dispute between the two wives that Socrates held concurrently under the concession of c. 410, which allowed Athenians to marry two wives to compensate for the oliganthropy caused by the Peloponnesian War (Xanthippe, mother of Lamprokles, and Myrto, mother of Sophroniskos and Menexenos): These women joined battle with each other, and only stopped to attack Socrates for not stopping them from fighting.

--Anton Powell, The Greek World

The story is disputed--even in ancient times, there was disagreement over whether Socrates was technically married to Myrto, or merely lived with her, supported her economically, and had children with her, which is obviously different.

The excerpt is most noteworthy for the gorgeously obscure phrase "amphimetric strife," which even the mighty American Heritage 4th edition couldn't help decode. I'll let Mr. Powell explain:

'Amphimetores' are groups of siblings born of the same father but different mothers. Such groups could never be at peace with each other in the Greek world (whereas full siblings almost always co-operate), and the different mothers and their respective sons' interests were closely identified as they struggled for precedence and attempted to bastardize competing lines. 'I will never approve of men who keep two beds, nor amphimetric children...strifes and grievous pains for houses..."(Euripides, Andromache 465-7)
In practice, different wives and their children must always be kept separately in different houses; the idea of bringing two women together under one roof is in poor taste; worse, the principle that one set of half-siblings may help and support another is a contradiction of the principle of amphimetric strife so prevalent in Greek culture...

Not for nothin', founders of western civilization, but it sounds to me like your women might not actually be the problem.

Dita Von Teese at the Sleep No More NYE soiree

They've had Alan Cumming, En-Pee-Aitch, and now Dita Von Teese.

My understanding is that Harris and Cumming didn't perform in the primary show, but hid away in locked rooms and had one-on-one scenes with audience members who were brought to them by the actors. This may be how they use Von Teese, too, but everybody's tight lipped about it. Maybe she's playing a main role--maybe a unique role--maybe she's performing at the party and not in the show. We'll find out in 2012.

I'm not a hundred percent sold on the celebrity casting, but so far all the guest stars have been outspoken fans of the show, so it doesn't feel to me like stunt casting.

Our coinage system is completely bonkers

I've bitched about the US coinage system on this blog before, but in case I wasn't clear, it's completely bonkers. Michael Zielinski at Coin Update sums up, in a gently-worded article about the "unusual" state of our circulating coinage:

The cent and nickel each cost more than their face value to produce and distribute. The quarter dollar is in the midst of a lengthy circulating commemorative program, although unfortunately the coins are nowhere to be found within circulation. The half dollar continues to be minted [for collectors] but is not issued for circulation. The $1 coins are issued in five different designs, while at the same time paper $1 bills are issued for the same denomination. After recent developments at least four of the $1 coin designs will no longer be issued for circulation.

Most of the problem coins, of course, don't even need to be struck, due primarily to the fact that we as a people have more resistance to changing our coinage than to letting our government inflate away the value of our currency.* Pennies and nickels are struck in huge numbers** at great cost, transported all over the country at great cost, used by merchants to make change, and lost, discarded, or saved up by consumers to eventually be redeemed for a small amount of paper money. All to facilitate splitting transactions down to absurdly fine fractions, so that nobody feels like he's been cheated out of three cents by a rounding system.

The system is absurd. Kill the penny. Kill the nickel. Kill the dollar bill and the five, and strike a five-buck coin (which would have about the same buying power as a mid-20th century 50 cent piece, so no bitching about how hard it is to "lug around" a few coins). Such a system will hold its usefulness in the face of inflation at least long enough to make the whole argument academic when physical money goes out of fashion entirely.

And as long as I'm dreaming, let's get the dead Presidents off our coins, too. Our traditional Liberty motifs would be best, but even a wholesale switch to silly looking cartoon Indians would be preferable to the current crop of Emperors. All this apotheosis of Presidents is unseemly in a constitutional republic.***

[* - This may not be entirely fair. More specifically, the public-opposition/government-incentive ratios are way off. Even if Americans were twice as opposed to inflation, it's less visible and there's an enormous incentive for government to keep doing it. Keeping the coinage system in its current broken form represents a very small cost for government.]
[** - The Mint has already passed four and a half billion 2011 pennies, and the machines are still running.]
[*** - It's also, incidentally, another source of resistance to fixing the system. Worshipers at the Church of Lincoln are for some reason incensed at the idea of their culture-hero losing his place of honor on the world's lowest-value coin.]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg's new gun "loophole"

While most of the US gun control groups are going down in a death spiral, reduced to shouting insults on Twitter, the only serious public threat to our Second Amendment civil rights is New York City's Mayor Bloomberg and his Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which opposes illegal guns and supports making as many guns illegal as possible. Bloomberg may be many things, but stupid he is not. The man isn't currently getting any more traction than the aforementioned hysterical Twitter busybodies, but if anybody can do it, it's him.

Which is why I'd like to take just a moment of your time to discuss his new push: trying to stir up fear of "online gun sales."

The sound bite version is that Bloomberg hired private investigators to pose as prohibited persons and buy guns online, a task at which they succeeded in 62% of cases.

NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tries to paint this as dangerous, unexplored new ground:

. "When the world learned that Lee Harvey Oswald purchased his weapon through the mail, there was a huge outcry and the Gun Control Act of 1968 regulated the sale of guns through the mail. We shouldn’t have to wait for the assassination of a president or the killing of a police officer to dismantle a conduit bringing illicit guns into the city."

It's obvious we should extend the existing regulations on snail-mail sales to the world of online sales, right?

Ah, but we already do. The 1968 GCA locks all commercial sales into a highly restrictive (and expensive, and choice-limiting) brick-and-mortar only model. Ordering a gun online today is subject to exactly the same restrictions as ordering one from a catalog in 1969. My very first handgun, I "bought online" at a popular site called Gunbroker. Because of GCA '68, I had to pay the dealer for the gun and have it shipped to a gun shop in Jersey so that I could make a brick-and-mortar transaction there, complete with background checks (with fees), state permits (with fees), four-month waiting period, paperwork, state registration, and extra transfer fees charged by the NJ shop.

What GCA '68 doesn't do is pile all that BS on private citizens who are not gun dealers who want to sell or give their own guns to other private citizens who are not gun dealers (both must be residents of the same state). This is not a "loophole"--it's a decision made consciously at the time the law was passed. What Bloomberg is complaining about is not sites that sell guns Amazon-style (which would be dealers, forced to do business as I described above), but that some sites give private sellers a place to tell potential buyers what they're trying to sell. You may as well demand Congressional regulation of Internet forums. For safety.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Bloomberg's press release writer tells us what the Princeps wants:

Federal law should require a background check for every gun sale.

The "gun show loophole" in new clothes. Because those private sellers who "failed the integrity test" by illegally selling to prohibited persons surely wouldn't violate another law requiring them to run a background check.

If we're being honest, background checks are pointless security theater--the TSA of gun control. Everybody knows at least one person with a clean record who can act as a straw buyer. As long as guns are legal, any halfway motivated criminal will be able to get a gun. But background checks are popular policy, and make the general populace more comfortable. Why oppose them? Because our current background check system is badly broken, to the point that universal background checks would create a nationwide gun registry, which is illegal and off the table. Agree or not, American gun owners will not stand for gun registration, full stop.

If Mayor Bloomberg really wanted universal background checks, there are compromises (like a free check system that asks only for the identity of the buyer without demanding the gun's serial number, or a simple "allowed firearms purchaser" endorsement on driver's licences) that could make it happen while addressing gun rights activists' concerns, and even get a lot of them on board with the proposal. But those compromises would reduce the burden on lawful gun ownership, not increase it. That Bloomberg ignores the surer, easier path to universal background checks should tell you a lot about what he's actually after.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

God, guns, and e-cigarettes

The left, at the moment, is fairly agog at Senator Buttfroth's comment that science should get out of politics.

My response to this is nuanced--I actually do think we'd be better off with a hell of a lot less science-based policy for complicated reasons, but Santorum is still clearly wrong here. He doesn't want less science-based policy; he wants to replace it with religious policy, which is far wronger. Government force should never, ever be used to enforce taboos.

Just don't dislocate your shoulders patting yourselves on the back, leftward blogoshpere. Banning e-cigarettes because they look like real ones, or filling an international news article with hysterical comments because a nation is considering a very slight decrease in the burdens of buying hunting rifles by subjects who already own shotguns is just as much an exercise in taboo enforcement as shutting down bars on Sundays.

Peoples is peoples, and people are tribal. Think your tribe has transcended magical thinking and signalling? You're almost certainly wrong.

Influenza and jury nullification

Sorry I've been incommunicado; life has been unrelenting for the last few days. Apologies to the folks who've been Occupying the Inbox.

Big holiday road show (mit Krampus burlesque!), then Genevieve came down hard with the flu, then jury duty all day yesterday.

With regard to that last one, it was a bit surprising how much of the juror orientation was an apology for having summoned jurors, or alternately scolding jurors for complaining about having been summoned. It can be an expensive pain in the ass, sure, but as duties to a free state go, it's one of the least expensive and burdensome.

There were also two conspicuous moments during the orientation in which we were led to believe or told outright that we were required to render a verdict according to the law, whether or not we approved of the law, which is flatly untrue in the United States.

The courts may not like jury nullification, and I understand that many people value consistency too highly to be comfortable acquitting a person who did in fact violate an unjust law. Me, I'd prefer to live in a United States where prosecutors knew they could never get convictions in cases of decent people charged with simple possession of drugs, possession of defensive firearms, or punching out a TSA groper.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sleep No More New Year's Soiree

I remain, evidently, America's clearing house for info on the Sleep No More NYE celebration.

The "Thane of Cawdor's assistant" sent out an update last night, and as of this morning these are my top ten search terms:

sleep no more new years
sleep no more soiree
elsie pea
sleep no more royal performance
sleep no more royal performance and soiree
"sleep no more" new year soiree
+45 caliber sawed off rifle
elephant gun
food new years eve sleep no more soiree

Fiddling with Google, I suspect it's because I'm one of the only people on the Internet to use the production's own language. Search for sleep no more new years party, and I'm on page 4. It's sleep no more new years soiree that I doth powne.

If you're here looking for content about the Soiree Performance Food at Sleep No More's New Year's Royal Soiree Performance in Chelsea New York, well... Tickets are sold out. They were really expensive. There will be a banquet, a cocktail party, and a performance of the show. "In recognition of the King, guests are to be attired in gold and silver". Doors open at 11:00. And if you're going, I'm happy* for you.

For info on the Ruger LCP, I direct you to my review from last January, which still reliably rakes in hits.

If you're here looking for content about a 45 caliber sawed off rifle, you have a few options. You're probably looking at either a lever-action in .45 Colt or a semiauto in .45 ACP. If you're set on a short barrel, it'll require a load of aggravating and pointless paperwork and a $200 "tax" stamp,** and since it fires a low-velocity round, it still won't be great for longer ranges. Where pistol-caliber carbines are concerned, I lean towards high-velocity rounds like the .357 magnum, which gains quite a bit of velocity from the extra inches of barrel in a carbine versus a handgun.

[* - "Unspeakably jealous."]
[** - Unless you get a short-barreled black powder revolving rifle, which isn't a gun under federal and most state laws. And would be awesome. A BP revolver with a removable stock also fits the bill, and my even be more awesome. Guns like these that don't use self-contained cartridges aren't subject to gun control laws in most parts of the US, and can be bought over the counter or mail ordered.]

I literally lolled at how they labeled the Red Bank area

[Click to embiggen]
From General interwebs

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

That's not funny.

Deconstructing Baby It's Cold Outside into a date-rape song.

Living with that much angst must be suffocating.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Loeb Classical Library in World War II

From Harvard's brief history of the Loeb Classical Library:

In 1939 World War II broke out in Europe. Although the ambitious Loeb Classical Library publishing schedule continued, the war hindered efforts to import books from England, making new editions difficult to obtain in America. While 38 new volumes were published from 1939 to 1945, they were not always available in the United States, particularly as the war dragged on. Only 10 of these 38 new volumes were published in the last three years of the war, an average of about three a year (considerably fewer than the approximately 10 per year average in the early and mid-1930s). In 1944 there were no new volumes added to the Loeb Classical Library, making it the first year without a new edition since the Library’s founding.

The war also had a direct impact on Loeb Classical Library stock. In the late spring of 1940, approximately 200,000 volumes sat in the London warehouse of J. Burn & Company. Until this time, shipments to the United States had been made in small batches of several thousand at a time, but as prospects for England looked increasingly grim, William Smith (then Business Manager at Harvard University Press) placed a substantial order of 122,675 volumes to be shipped to the United States. On the treacherous trip across the Atlantic, one ship with over 9,000 volumes on board was sunk by a German U-boat. The rest arrived safely, adding 113,032 volumes to Harvard University Press’s stock.

This Loeb Classical Library shipment arrived just in time. On July 10, 1940, the Germans began a protracted air attack on Britain and in the autumn of 1940, a bomb hit the J. Burn & Company warehouse, destroying nearly half the Loeb volumes housed there. In 1941 another German bomb hit the same spot, destroying the remaining volumes and leaving Heinemann’s stock nearly depleted. Meanwhile, in the United States, Harvard University Press continued to sell the volumes that William Smith had rescued and sales actually increased during the war. By the war’s end, however, Harvard had also run out of stock on 158 of the 369 volumes that had been published to date, with no way to reprint or restock from England.

That's a hell of a vivid image, isn't it? Imagine working to translate, publish, manufacture, and ship our inheritance from ancient western civilization while the barbarians' bombs fall around you, and the future of western civilization doesn't look anywhere near certain.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Might stop a hole to keep the wind away

NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg, who recently had the City's term limit laws changed so that he could run a third time, on his position in the world:

"I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world. I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have.

Whoa there!

Good lord, aren't we already deep enough in the Roman metaphor already? I did not wake up this morning thinking I needed images of NYPD battalions alea-iacta-esting their way across the Potomac.


We now have pet rats. They're the cutest things ever, et cetera. Seriously, domesticated rats are like tiny dogs. They're the anti-hamsters. Their names are Duncan, Malcolm, and Banquo.

On an unrelated note, I still use a small, keyboardless folding phone, and rely on T9 text prediction for text messaging.

T9 does not know the word "Banquo." This isn't surprising; it's not exactly a standard dictionary word. What is surprising is that its suggested alternative is "Aborto." Which I'm pretty sure is Jhonen Vasquez's new superhero comic.

Kids and guns

In Idaho, Toys For Tots (a Marine Corps Reserve program that collects Christmas gifts for needy children) holds a fundraising turkey shoot (which doesn't actually involve shooting turkeys).

A prominent* anti-gun blogger links to the story at Democratic Underground, trying to play the kids-and-guns card...

And is overwhelmingly (it looks like unanimously) dismissed by the lefty commenters, who soon switch tracks into comparing the guns they were given for Christmas as kids.


There are times I'm very pessimistic about the future of my country; there's a hell of a lot to be pessimistic about. It can get a bit overwhelming now and then. But every once in a while I see something like this, mentally compare it with the usual responses to anti-gun rhetoric in European forums, and get the tiniest glimmer of hope.

More Like This Please.

[* - Relatively speaking, of course. He probably gets the most traffic of any anti-gun blog, which means he's less widely read than any mid-tier gun blogger. And by the looks of things, most of his traffic comes from gun rights advocates who want to argue with him.]

[h/t to Bob S.]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is love. Is not safe.

Over at Facebook, Erin Pallette muses:

I have a strange desire to write a fanfic involving an ill-fated romance between Lyudmila Pavlichenko and Simo Häyhä. Perhaps call it "Love in the Crosshairs."

This is awesome and terrifying. It's terrifawesome.

...And you know I think that's adorable...

And over at Kotaku, some interesting set-fail.

The topic is on feminism and stereotypes and patriarchy and oppression, et cetera, so I won't be discussing the rightness or wrongness of any of the underlying viewpoints involved. That way lies the void. The comment thread on that article is exactly what you'd expect: an unreadable pissing match between the offended, the offended that others are offended, and the offended that others are offended that others are offended.

In the specific, there's just one little tangential detail that struck me as interesting:

Critic Tom Bissell:
"If you have no idea what the Elder Scrolls franchise is, you are probably either (a) an adult woman, or (b) the sort of person who once beat up the sort of person who likes the Elder Scrolls franchise...

Aggrieved Facebook commenter Jessica Price:
Between this and the NYT "Game of Thrones is for boys" article, I'm curious as to what, as an adult woman, I *am* allowed to like.

Facetious conflation of trends with permission aside, there's an odd bit of misinterpretation here: the critic didn't say the set of "adult women" doesn't know what Skyrim is. He said the set of "people who don't know what Skyrim is" is made up mostly of adult women and let's-call-them-jocks. His "joke" didn't carry any particular claim about what Ms. Price or any woman thinks about the game; it's consistent with a hypothetical world in which four people haven't heard of it--two adult women and two jocks.

I wouldn't bet that's what the critic meant to say; given the quality of the joke, I doubt much thought went into it at all. I just similarly doubt much thought goes into the majority of righteous identity-indignation.

[Full disclosure: I am an adult man who's seen about 90% of the episodes of all Star Trek series and plays tabletop RPGs now and then, and until last week I had only the vaguest idea what the Elder Scrolls series was. I probably would have guessed it was an MMO. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.]

Today is a good day...

io9 speculates on Star trek 2 casting:

As for the other big rumored addition to the cast, Benicio del Toro is reportedly still in serious talks for the role, and it seems likely that he will be end up being cast, but his deal is still pending. He's thought to be in line for a villainous character that will be familiar to Trek fans, which many are interpreting as meaning either Khan or a Klingon of some sort, and the majority of recent reports suggest Klingons will be involved. Since sources seem to be saying it's the character, not the character's race, that will be familiar, this might mean we'll see del Toro playing a particular Klingon, the leading candidates for which would probably be the "Blood Oath" trio: Kang, Kor, and Koloth.

A familiar Klingon character of the Kirk era?

Colonel Worf, obviously.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Pro, on the big screen

The Farrelly brothers are shooting a movie version of the Pro!


... Well, not exactly, but close enough for Chapin music.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Supreme Court of British Columbia: Polygamy still illegal

theweaselking points to the British Columbia Supreme Court's ruling on its polygamy case.

-B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman rules that the ban against polygamy is constitutional
-The Judge says the law violates the religious freedom of fundamentalist Mormons, but the harm against women and children outweighs that concern.

Read it as you will:

- Expressing disapproval for the out-group was more important than respecting enumerated civil rights.

- Mormons are so evil that it's necessary to suppress unrelated minorities just to punish them.

- The Court decided that civil rights have to be ignored when a minority of people expressing them behave badly. For the children.

In any case, it's hard to think of a right as a right when your courts have a policy of ignoring it when they don't like its policy implications. C'est la vie. Maybe next time.

[For the record, I don't say this with any hint of superiority. In our recent Heller decision here in the US, all nine SCOTUS justices agreed that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental right to keep and bear arms, but four liberal justices still dissented from the final decision, claiming that something as trivial as a Constitutional right couldn't restrain D.C. from completely banning the possession of functional arms, even in the home. And that's just one example I happen to be particularly familiar with. I'm not about to go throwing any stones over the northern border.]

Countdown to Canada's polygamy ruling

It will be released at either 10:00am or 1:00pm today, depending on what source you're reading.

I wouldn't know how to begin to predict this one. I'm told that the polygamists have a very good claim under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but that politically the Canadian establishment really wants to express its disapproval of the conservative Mormon out-group, while it simultaneously doesn't want to openly discriminate against liberal alternative families--but I have no way of assessing which parts of that statement are true, nor of whether the Supreme Court of Canada generally rules sociopolitically (as ours too often does), or based on an honest application of the law.

I'm very, very anxious to see how this goes.

Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep.

Among my top ten search terms this week are:

- sleep no more new years
- sleep no more new years eve
- "sleep no more" "new year's"
- newly entitled thane of cawdor
- royal performance of sleep no more.

I guess not too many people are blogging about it.

There's also somebody hoping I can tell him about "pellet gun laws in wisconsin," for some reason.

The race of characters

Regarding that last post, I note a particular thread of comment. Here's the first one:

No, please - look, I know that the sex/race swap thing has creeped into the Doctor Who Hive Mind over the last decade or so - and when you're talking about a show with a thousand year old man flying around the universe in his magic phone booth, there's no logical reason why you should be able to do something as simple as flip a chromosome or tweak the skin color - but I don't like the the idea.

You wouldn't make James Bond a chick, would you? Or a black dude? How about Sherlock Holmes? They should just leave the Doctor as an English (or occasionally Scottish) white dude.

Every time a prominent character in pop culture has his race switched, this comes up. Some folks say it's offensive political correctness, and other folks call those folks racists. Who's right? It depends on whether it is offensive political correctness. Casting a black actor because you want to pander to people who think it's progressive is stupid and offensive. When the best actor who auditions for the job is black, casting him is the only reasonable thing to do.

The only time an actor's race should matter is when the script calls for the sociology of race to be an issue. So Othello, for example, should usually be chosen based on race.* But Bond? Unless you intend to do a self-aware revisionist Bond movie that comments on the sex and class assumptions of the Fleming stories, why the hell _not_ a black or female Bond? And for that matter, you can use a black or female actor to lampshade those themes or play it straight and focus on what makes Bond awesome without fixating on -isms. I've never felt the need to see a Bond movie in the theater, but if the next one stars Isaiah Mustafa or, say, an actress who can pull off a vibe like Jenette Goldstein's Vasquez in Aliens? I'll show up opening night.

Sherlock Holmes, though, is another story. Sherlock Holmes shouldn't be played by a black actor, because Robert Downey, Jr. is not black.

[* - And even then, it's not certain that he should be black--just that he should be a race apart in an otherwise unicolored environment. Patrick Stewart played Othello against an otherwise all-black cast, which is brilliant. Being the only white character in a black setting isn't identical to being the only black character in a white setting, but the differences between those scenarios can say interesting things about both.]

"Ejiofor. Doctor Ejiofor."

I never watched much Doctor Who before the 2005 revival, so I never had a favorite Doctor. In fact, if you'd asked, I probably couldn't have pictured anybody except that-guy-with-the-really-long-scarf-you-know-who-I-mean. So my first Doctor was Christopher Eccleston, who I thought was brilliant and left the series too soon. I was not a fan of David Tennant's spastic squinting, and stopped following the show after his first season.

But when Tennant was replaced by Matt Smith, I knew I could never be fair to him however good he was, because my friend Willow had ruined any future Doctor for me: she passed along a suggestion that the perfect Doctor would be played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. And it's absolutely true. Watch him back to back in Serenity and Kinky Boots to see him show the science fiction chops, the cool competence, and the utter love of humanity that need to spin together to make a proper Doctor, and it's hard to be excited about anybody else getting the role.

It looks like I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Sleep No More New Year Soiree

We've known for a while that Sleep No More was going to have a special show for New Year's Eve. Their ticket schedule was updated a while back with another extension into January, and instead of the usual Saturday evening shows, it showed a single 7:00 show with no ordering info. There was just note to await word through their newsletter.

Today, I got a formal invitation from the assistant to the Newly Entitled Thane of Cawdor, to "a royal feast in the presence of the King in celebration of the new year," to be held in the grand ballroom of the McKittrick Hotel, elegant dress required.

I about broke a finger forwarding the email to the ladies.

We'd all been assuming that as soon as this email went out we'd have to make a quick decision and order, since Sleep No More shows sell out fast. I just didn't realize they'd make this decision so easy for us.

The cost to attend the "His Majesty's feast...followed by a royal performance of Sleep No More, succeeded by the new year soiree" is $600. Per person.

I wish them the best, hope that the attendees get their money's worth, and hope furthermore that they sell out the event and are persuaded to keep on extending this cash cow.

Bada-big boom.

The deal done, Forbin set out for Thebes, and Belzoni received another visitor to the consulate. He was a Major Moore, who was pausing in Cairo while carrying dispatches from India to London. To entertain him, Belzoni took the major to the top of the Great pyramid and while there discussed the enigma of the neighboring second pyramid. "What a pity it was," he said, "that in an intelligent age like the present, it had not been opened, so that the interior remained quite unknown." Others thought so too. Several Franks living in Cairo had proposed launching a subscription to raise [20,000 pounds sterling] to fund blasting into the pyramid with gunpowder...
--Ivor Noël Hume,
Belzoni: The Giant Archaeologists Love to Hate

Ho-ly crap.

It was a hell of a romantic age, but damn. They had very different ideas of how to do archaeology.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Gizmodo article discusses the smell of the moon:

One of the things I loved about the AMNH's Beyond Planet Earth exhibition was a seemingly gimmicky, but quite surprising device: a machine that allows you to sniff what the Moon smells like! It was... weird.
Apollo 16's Charlie Duke and Apollo 17's Gene Cernan described the smell as "spent gunpowder". Duke said it was really strong. Talking to Mission Control, Cernan pointed out that it "smells like someone just fired a carbine in here", referring to the Lunar Module.
In any case, you have to try it yourself. You can visit
Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Or, I suppose, you could just fire a carbine.

Clearly, ancient Rome needed its own DOMA.

It was once the custom for senators to enter the senate-chamber with their sons dressed in their praetextae [a kind of toga worn by, among others, boys who had not yet come of age]. When some business of greater than usual importance was being discussed and it had to be put over until the following day, the senate resolved no one was to report the matter under discussion before a decree had been passed. The mother of young Papirius, who had been in the chamber with his father, asked her son what business the senate fathers had transacted. the boy replied that he had to keep silent and wasn't allowed to speak of it. The woman became yet more eager to hear: the matter's concealment and the boy's silence goaded her to press her inquiry, and so she asked with greater urgency and force. Pressed by his mother, the boy conceived a witty and playful lie: he said the senate was considering whether it would be judged more expedient and in the public interest for one man to have two wives or for one woman to be married to two men. Hearing this, his mother became panic-stricken, left the house all atremble, and brought the report to all the other married women: next day saw large contingents of matrons streaming to the senate. In tearful supplication they begged that one woman be married to two men rather than vice versa.

Macrobius, Saturnalia
Translation by Robert A. Kaster, from the excellent Loeb Classical Library edition.

This must be why the Empire fell. First this, then before they knew it the senate was debating a patrician's right to marry a clepsydra.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

HR 822 passes in the House!

HR 822, the concealed-carry reciprocity bill that would allow a permit holder to carry in every state that allows concealed carry, passed in the House, with an overwhelming vote of 272 for and 154 against.

Representatives from the handful of states that deny the rights of ordinary people but hand out permits "by discretion" to wealthy and politically connected cronies are predictably soiling themselves, and trying desperately to settle on some meme that makes their opposition look reasonable.

Now we continue the march into the Senate. Based on the yea votes from the last time this bill came through, plus the new commitments we've gotten, it should have enough votes to pass, but the politics are of course more complicated than that, and we can expect a lot of behind-the-scenes arm twisting over this vote.

The Obama administration really, really doesn't want this bill to come to his desk so close to the election, as the President will have no good options. He's put a decent amount of effort into telling people he's totally not anti-gun, and trying to preemptively undermine the NRA's effect on his reelection bid,* so vetoing a major piece of civil rights legislation like this would stand to do his campaign a whole lot more harm than good. We have a robust gun culture that will go to the polls in force against an anti-gun Chicago Democrat, an ever-growing number of American moderates who care about gun rights and an ever-dwindling number of American liberal voters who give a damn about gun control. The electoral math does not favor a veto.

On the other hand, the petulant children who run the political machines in the major liberal strongholds care quite a bit about gun control, in what I'm increasingly convinced is little more than a big "but they won't respect my authori-tah!" temper tantrum. And the President needs them to get their machines working to generate votes for him. Signing a bill that they'll consider a slap in the face won't turn the Bloombergs and the Emanuels into Republican boosters, but it just might make them less likely to help when he needs them.

Very interesting times. I wouldn't bet money on HR 822 passing the Senate, but if it does, it's really win-win for gun rights in this country. If President Obama signs it, we can finally do away with the perplexing (and expensive) web of reciprocity agreements, and put one more nail in the coffin of discriminatory "discretionary" licensing. If he vetoes it, he significantly hurts his chances of reelection, which may actually be better for gun rights in the long run than winning this issue at this time.

[* - Not that this has been difficult, given the NRA's public message. I get that they're reaching for a sound bite when the threat is too complex to express in a sound bite, but "OBAMA GUN BAN COMING" is childishly easy to mock, given that the only directly gun-related bills the President has signed have been pro-gun.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Neglected K-Frame

Over at Brigid's, Marko comments about Snith & Wessom K-frame revolvers:

You just don't see too many K-frames in CCW holsters anymore these days. Most folks who tote a wheelgun carry a small-frame snubbie, and most folks who carry a 30-ounce gun opt for higher capacity than a six-shooter.

The S&W K-frame revolvers were arguably the most popular handguns of the 20th century. The Military & Police model--now called the Model 10-- was extremely popular with cops and private citizens. They were the ultimate in "basic", with a bare minimum of features and controls, and a size and power perfectly suited to most people's needs and preferences. They were the Glocks of their time. I bought one a while back for our very small household battery, just because it was the Platonic ideal of the double-action revolver (a niche for which we didn't then have an example), and fit our hands nicely.

But today, they've gone badly out of fashion due to changes in the market. When Danielle and I went to the NRA convention last year, we asked at every holster booth in the seven acres of exhibitors, and not one of them was offering a holster for a K-frame. I was shocked. I knew they weren't popular any more, but none?

Danielle had a much easier time finding a shoulder holster for her snub-nosed J-frame, picking one up at a ridiculous last-hour-of-show don't-want-to-pack-it-up discount. She got it home, adjusted it for fit, holstered her snubbie... And it almost fell out. Because the holster was sized for a K-frame.

I gave her the revolver. It was probably the best thirty bucks she ever spent.

All linkey...

I sometimes get to feeling like all I do on this blog is quote Blunt Object, but come the hell on--this stuff is gold:

Okay, just informally, let’s have a show of hands: who thinks it’s a great idea that the Executive has

"...the power to target — in total secrecy and with no checks or due process — their fellow citizens for execution: specifically, assassination-by-CIA
and likes to use it?"

Mainstream progressive think-tank the Center for American Progress? Nice of you to stand up and be counted. Yes, I know; targeted killing without due process would be evil awful bad no-good totally wrong if Dubya was still in office, but like Communism it works if only the right people can be put in charge.

Republican Presidential nomination slate at the foreign policy debate? Well of course, all y’all probably creamed your pant-oh, Ron Paul, you’re such a kidder!

"It took Ron Paul — whom every Good Progressive will tell you is Completely Crazy and Insane — to point out to the GOP the rather glaring inconsistency between, on the one hand, distrusting government authorities to run health care, but on the other, wanting to empower the President to kill whomever he wants with no transparency or due process."

Seriously now, Dr. Paul, let’s get with the program of killing brown guys with scary ay-rab sounding names. No? Where’s your bipartisanship, Dr. Paul? Don’t you want to reach across the aisle to those CAP folks and show America that the Party of Lincoln is ready to compromise on important foreign-policy issues?

To be fair, I think we need a reevaluation of the legitimate rules of engagement in a world where warfare has changed to the point of being unrecognizable to, say, the participants in the Hague convention. But in the absence of an explicit consensus on those rules of engagement, I'm very reluctant to accept "the President can just kill folks he thinks need killing" as a substitute, and certainly not in total secrecy with no obligation to provide any evidence that the target is a legitimate one.

The Snow-lek

Today's Teefury shirt had better inspire thousands of snowsmiths this winter:

From General interwebs


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weird stuff found in the woods

A few bloggers have pointed to a post on a Pacific Northwest outdoorsmen's forum about the weirdest things people have found in the wilderness.

Among the obvious corpses, illicit crops of recreational flora and, the, ah... artifacts you might expect a tool-using, sexually-reproducing species to leave behind, there's a surprising wealth of "we found an altar covered in animal heads in this backwoods region known for its shady locals who don't like outsiders" stories.

Good to see the Cult of Dagon is thriving on the west coast after the FBI drove it from the east.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

A group of professional burglars broke into a Brinks warehouse with great cinematic style.

They covertly imported a cellphone jammer (legal in the UK, but banned by the feds in the Land of the Free) and cut the building's phone lines to disable the alarm system, waiting nearly an hour to make sure the cops didn't show up. Wearing black jumpsuits and galoshes over street clothes, they cut holes in the roof and climbed in, disabling security cameras as they went. Opening the bay doors, they backed in a rented cargo truck disguised with the shell of an RV, and unloaded their gear, which included magnesium rods for cutting through the vault, plus their own ventilation equipment and a generator to make them independent of the building's power. They epoxied the exterior doors shut to delay discovery, scattered cigarette butts harvested from a local homeless shelter to send the police after false DNA leads, and set to work cutting through the vault door.

And promptly set the money on fire.

Monday, November 14, 2011

From that first day...

Yesterday, the ladies and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

Now, according to the Wiki page, the first anniversary is either the "paper" or "clock" anniversary, or "cotton" in metric.

Since our floors are already groaning under the weight of our books, and cotton and clocks are lame, I decided it would be more interesting if the first anniversary was the Rifle Anniversary:

From Firearms

[Two-cent piece for scale.]

Now all you ladies out there know what to ask for!

[For all the bullshit in the polyamory "debate", one thing is undeniable: it definitely makes anniversaries more expensive. Nota bene, before starting up that harem.]

Friday, November 11, 2011

A libertarian metaphor: Government is like

I've noticed the phrase "antipathy for government" being used a few times, specifically in reference to a particular Republican sideshow candidate. And I think we should take a moment to discuss what exactly libertarian-ey folks--and the politicians trying to court them--think about government and its proper role.

I don't hate government. If I did, I'd be an anarchist, not a libertarian. I'm about ninety percent sure we need some amount of government, and about ninety percent sure we need taxes to support that government.

The thing is, a government is like a rifle: there are certain tasks for which no other tool will do. There are certain tasks you can do with other tools, but the rifle does them better if used with care, so using it is wise. But there's a world of tasks out there that it's terrible for, and trying to use it for those purposes will end up breaking the thing you want to fix and catching your neighbors in the stray fire. So you keep careful track of where you point the thing, and keep your finger off the damn trigger.

So I don't hate government any more than I hate rifles, but I respect the damage both can do, and insist on keeping strict muzzle and trigger discipline. When you've built a government with a hundred-thousand employee strong bureau dedicated to regulating every aspect of agriculture and food, with an attitude of such pervasive, granular control that it thinks nothing of creating a "Christmas Tree Checkoff Task Force" to "strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States", you're waving your damn rifle around with your booger-hook on the bang-switch, and other people on the firing line are right to be concerned.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Poly rights in Canada... Maybe

Remember that polygamy case before Canada's Supreme Court?

The Court publishes its decision on November 23.

I've got my fingers crossed.

Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse the curtain'd sleep

Nota bene:

Playing Dead Rising 2 at night while obsessing about Sleep No More is a recipe for some really special dreams.

It doesn't help that we've been having a thick November fog roll in at night, making our apartment complex look like Silent Hill.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pro patria vigilans

Blunt Object discusses the similarities and divergence of liberalism and libertarianism, yadda-yadda.

The reply in the comments from perlhaqr demands reposting:

Blunt Object:
[The problem with this otherwise laudable motivation is,] liberalism sets up government specifically as the biggest kid on the block and assumes away the need for any other institution to hold power over it to keep it in line. The very existence of a sovereign regulatory body suggests that powerful actors (occasionally) need to be bullied into behaving themselves, but the only provision for bullying that sovereign body into behaving itself is a vague wave of the hand at "elections" and "democracy". Sure, that works well in this best of all possible worlds. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

*contemplates a new t-shirt design*

"Ego custodiet, motherfucker."


[I happen to agree with the Object, BTW; the largest individual failing I generally identify when talking to liberals is the belief that voting is sufficient to keep abusive governments in line, no matter how hard it fails in the real world. "Sure, it's an abusable power we're handing government, but if they abuse it, we'll just vote them out in four years!" "Uh-huh. And how'd that work out for killing Bush's Patriot Act?" "..."]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Irony, illustrated

I intend at some point to visit Lexington and Concord. It's where my country began, symbolically, and the difference between the historical fact of how those battles played out and our national mythology about them is vividly illustrative of who we are as a people. It's the kind of place I feel a need to stand in and soak up.

On a practical level, they're an inconvenient distance, sitting at about four and a half hours' drive away. It's too far for a day trip, and is much more the kind of thing we'd do as a day's stopover while heading further north for a longer vacation in Maine, Vermont, or New Hampshire. But we won't be doing it that way.

See, going on two and a half centuries ago, The people of Lexington and Concord were prepared to come out under arms by the thousands to violently repel a group of government employees intent on seizing their military weapons. That the majority of their small arms and ammunition had already been hidden away--leaving Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith only a few heavy siege cannon to dig up and destroy before withdrawing--doesn't seem to have discouraged them. The Colonials of Massachusetts had previously made it clear that attempts to disarm them would not be borne with good humor.

Today, though, Massachusetts requires licensing and registration of all firearms, prohibits possession of arms without such permission from the state, and the FOPA only protects us during nonstop transit. If we stop to see the ground where our forefathers fought a tyrant to retain their arms, we'll be in violation of Massachusetts' draconian gun control laws.

The European civilizations in America are very young in historical terms, and when you've been reading a lot about Rome, it's easy to get in the habit of thinking of the American Revolution as a very recent thing. The fact remains, though, that on the scale of human lives two hundred thirty-six years is a long time--time enough for a civilization to fall a very long way.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Gizmodo, discussing the naked mole-rat, expresses a common sentiment:

From General interwebs

This creature can live 30 years. Are you terrified? Me too.

I have to admit to an enthusiastic double standard about scary critters: mammals are okay.* I can know that hippos are filthy, vicious murderers, but they don't make my skin crawl like spindly-legged creeping insects. I can instinctively recoil at the thought of cephalopods or the milky-eyed, needle-toothed abominations of the deep ocean, which are generally tiny and live well outside my world, but this guy?

From General interwebs

That's a jaguar. A giant cat. House cats are arguably the most successful predators on the planet--our friends only because we're too big to be food. And this cat can grow to over 300 pounds.

They live in North America. They're strong enough to drag cows up into trees. They're ambush predators that can stalk in absolute silence before attacking with blinding speed, usually exploiting the victim's blind spots. And while they're capable of causing severe head and neck injuries with a paw swipe; or biting through your throat; or paralyzing you with a severing bite from behind to the cervical vertebrae; their preferred method for killing mammals is to use their impossibly strong jaw muscles to drive their teeth through their dinner's skull. This critter will sneak up and bite you in the brain.

It is death on mittens.

But it's a mammal. So who's-a-kitty-you-are-yes-you-are.

It's possible my threat assessment is less than ideal.

[* - Also my general rule for food.]

I see no reason

In preparation for Guy Fawkes Day, The Old Foodie shares this recipe from The lady's own cookery book, and new dinner-table director (1844) by Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury:

Tongues, to cure. No. 1.
Take two fine bullocks' tongues; wash them well in spring water; dry them thoroughly with a cloth, and salt them with common salt, a quarter of a pound of saltpetre, a quarter of a pound of treacle, and a quarter of a pound of gunpowder. Let them lie in this pickle for a month; turn and rub them every day; then take them out and dry them with a cloth; rub a little gunpowder over them, and hang them up for a month, when they will be fit to eat, previously soaking a few hours as customary.

I recall reading speculation once that black powder may have been accidentally invented in a Chinese kitchen due to each ingredient's historical use in culinary pursuits, but I expect Mr. Occam would have some words to say about that.

[h/t to Le Loup]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When the penny drops

Note this incident in Portland, Oregon, in which a mom down on her luck was hassled for trying to pay for her groceries with 32 bucks worth of quarters.

Comments and coverage vary from populist rage to "this is news?"

But it also illustrates one of my pet issues: the US coinage system, because it's gone unchanged despite serious inflation, is comically out of step with the value of the dollar.

The Portland woman racked up a modest 32 dollar grocery bill, or 128 quarters' worth of sundries. In 1950, according to the Westegg Inflation Calculator, those same groceries would have cost $3.57. or six half-dollars, two quarters, a nickel, and two pennies.

The lady's purchase was of a level traditionally paid for with coins--just not with our current ludicrously valueless coins.

They're the modern stone aged family

On Monday, LabRat pointed to an article on NPR blogs that sought to dismiss paleo dieting on a variety of collectivist all-seven-billion-of-us-are-in-this-together grounds, with a dash of anthropology thrown in for credibility. But the author--a doctor with some serious anthro training--seems to be going off a bit half cocked in her halfassed snark:

Our ancestors began to eat meat in large quantities around 2 million years ago, when the first Homo forms began regular use of stone tool technology. Before that, the diet of australopithecines and their relatives was overwhelmingly plant-based, judging from clues in teeth and bones. I could argue that the more genuine "paleo" diet was vegetarian.


"X predates stone tool use, and Y is only common after hominids started using stone tools. Therefore, X is more authentically paleolithic than Y."

Didn't think that statement through very carefully, did'jya, doc?

Who will bemoan her?

We all know the legend of the Trojan War, supposedly fought for Helen, the world's most beautiful woman.

It's not an uncommon trope in world mythology, and it turns out there's a similar story in Armenian legend. Around the ninth century BC, so it goes, the ruler of Nineveh demanded the hand in marriage of a pretty young thing called Ara the Beautiful. Denied the demand, Nineveh went to war to claim Ara, setting off a long story of war, gods, magic, diplomacy, and mistaken identity.

The things dudes will do to get chicks, amirite?

Ah, but in this story the ruler of Nineveh with the raging libido is the sorceress queen Semiramis, and Ara the Beautiful was the king of Armenia.

If this story isn't already a shojo manga series, there's definitely a buck to be made there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Walking in a fimbulvinter wonderland

Eight inches of snow is not a big deal for New Jersey.

Eight inches of snow in October, it turns out, is.

We're without water, and have to shovel snow into the toilet tanks to keep them flushing. This is a minor annoyance compared to the people all around us; we never lost power for more than a few seconds at a time.

On my way to work this morning the towns I drove through were dark and there were lanes closed from fallen trees and power lines. At one point four utility poles in a row had been dragged down into the right lane.

Thanks for the early reminder, nature.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book mircroreview:

I certainly wouldn't call myself a survivalist; I'm nowhere near prepared enough. But I'm a bit of a survivalist enthusiast. People who can do stuff are interesting, and the skills survivalists talk about are often fascinating, so browsing their blogs is an entertaining way to pass some time.

So when Dave Black's new book, Survival Retreats, came across my desk, I gave it a flip through.

I'm no expert on survivalism, but I know guns reasonably well. Let me give you an excerpt from his section on defense and security:

Die-hard survivalists insist on the necessity for the immediate availability of weaponry for a hard response. While going without weapons certainly causes no harm and eliminates the threats of family suicides and homicides with those weapons, the absence of those weapons in an [end of the world] bedlam situation would increase the likelihood of successful victimization.
Of all the topics in the survivalism realm, armament is by far the most controversial. The mere possession of a firearm in the home enormously increases the likelihood that you or a loved one will be killed by it. While I have spent much of my life with weapons in the home and did twelve years in the military, in my seven years as a paramedic in the American West, I encountered hundreds of gunshot wounds, and by far, the majority of them were suicides. The rest were accidents or resulted from domestic disputes. None of them were defensive in nature, a fact which pretty much verifies the statistics the gun-control crowd is using...
Unless there's an imminent danger of attack, guns should be stored, unloaded, with trigger locks in place. Ammunition should be stored and locked up separately.

This, incidentally, follows immediately after he's discussed the possibility of stopping intruders with buried IEDs and booby trapped foyers that can be flooded with toxic gas.

He goes on to suggest loading your defensive shotgun with birdshot to "mitigate overpenetration", recommend the Hi-Point 9mm pistol as a practical budget option, and to say that if you insist on using "assault-type" rifles because you're drawn "like ants to sugar" by their "romantic silhouettes", then you should consider using frangible ammo.

This is before recommending the Ruger 10/22 as a ".22 caliber sniper rifle".

Flipping further on, I noticed a picture of a certain trendy handgun:

"The perfect traveling companion? The Public Defender variant of the Taurus handgun, "The Judge," is a five-shot revolver that shoots a .45 caliber round or a .410 shot shell. It's small and light, built and promoted as a concealable self-defense or home protection weapon...Loading a Public Defender with alternating .45 and WSE .410 rounds results in a formidable close-quarters personal defense weapon.


I don't have the expertise to assess his other sections on history, location selection, food and energy sustainability, and home security, which may be above reproach. I'm not in the market for a survivalist retreat, myself. But on the off chance that you are, dear reader, I'd suggest that--on the chance that Mr. Black brings the same knowledge and wisdom to those topics that he does to firearms--you may want to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Who wants some physical Bitcoins?"

"Physical Bitcoins! Getchyer physical Bitcoins here! Get 'em while they're hot!

Get 'em before the feds decide they're a competing currency and bust up the seller's business!"

...deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

Approval of Congress falls to 9%.

Nine percent.

That's not just a joke about how crappy the Congress is; that's nine-damn-percent.

King George had a higher approval rating than that.

In 1775, we literally went to war against terrible odds to kick out a government that was less intrusive and more well loved than this one. Today, we have people demonstrating in the streets to give the Congress they hate more power.

Good to live in a more enlightened age, huh?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I vant to, ah...

Handling The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to True Blood at work.

Among the various and sundry Nosferatus and Interviews With the Vampire, one finds that ageless classic... Emmanuelle Vs. Dracula.

Let not your ears despise my tongue for ever

Sleep No More has been a slow hit in Chelsea, drawing as much attention and success as you can expect from a weird show in a strange format that can only accommodate about 300 people per performance. Reviews are universally positive, every show is a full house, and it has a loyal following in addition to a steady stream of new attendees, but its visibility in the larger culture is limited.

I wouldn't exactly say that's on the verge of changing fundamentally, but Sleep No More is about to get its first appearance in mainstream mass media... in the November 14th episode of Gossip Girl.


You have troubles?

From General interwebs

(Yoinked from The Weasel King.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

And that distill'd by magic sleights

Continuing with my obsessive Sleep No More blogging, vague acquaintance Deborah Castellano blogs about the show from a Neopagan perspective very different from my own: Sleep No More as theatrical Hellenistic religious initiation.

Which brings us to initiatory experience, magic and theater. Let's talk some truth talk here, to get any kind of Pagan/Occult experience to have a certain level of theatricality, you're still dealing with your regularly practicing group and you're probably in someone's living room...Neo-Paganism, like it or lump it, has more in common presently with coming from the sixties radical movements than when theater and religion used to mesh together in Greece.

The closest to that Greek theater/nitiatory experience that I've gotten is seeing Sleep No More. Firstly, you're wearing masks and you're not to speak. Secondly, each room is amazingly detailed as it took over 400 volunteers to put together the rooms. Thirdly, they separate you from whomever you came with so that you can have a solitary experience that is exactly what you want to do at all times.
And after a certain point, it's hard to tell where you've been and what you've seen and things that are similar but not exactly the same and who is observing who and the fatigue that starts to give over to the ecstatic experience as it becomes harder and harder to tell what's real and what's dreamed. The *only* way you can ever experience such a ritualistic immersive experience is this way - to pay for your ticket and for there to be a cast of nearly a thousand people who have put this together to be so detailed and choreographed and the cast of thousands of devotees who have started their own strange rituals (like leaving their own hair samples in the room full of the four hundred volunteers' samples) happening under the sanctity of the production, just like it's happened in religion since religion started.

It's an ecstatic, spiritual experience that is not like anything you'll ever be able to experience again (and even people who have gone five or seven times have different dreamlike experiences each time) so as Ferris once said, If you have the means, I highly recommend it. If it gets extended until the end of the year, I'll sell whatever organ I have to so I can go again. It's been two weeks and I'm still dreaming and thinking about it.

Again, a very different perspective from mine, but spot on. Having been a religious person myself, I agree that in me, at least, this show pushes a lot of the same brain-buttons.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chief nourisher in life's feast

Michael Abbott at Brainy Gamer says Sleep No More is:

the first time that both strands of my life’s work--theatre and video games--have coalesced to form something that feels at once deeply familiar to me and breathtakingly new.

The hardcore gamer's take on the show is an illuminating one.

SNM is an incredibly stimulating sandbox, chock-full of fascinating characters, artifacts, and narrative events. Throughout my time there (I saw it twice), I was struck by a familiar sense of open-world freedom, bound by intentional designer-imposed limits, but ultimately responsive to my desire to test those limits, tweak the system, and observe the results.

At the second performance, I found myself digging to figure out how the system works; looking for the seams; seeking ways to give myself an advantage over the other audience members; developing strategies to overcome the system’s rules.

In other words, I played Sleep No More like a game, and its design encouraged that behavior. SNM isn’t a sender-receiver event. Like all great games, its system responds to player actions, including those that would seem to fall outside the “acceptable” range. SNM gets more interesting the harder you play with it.

It's possible I'm pulling together a Google doc of show information to guide my next trip.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Time is marching on

James Pethokoukis claims that income inequality in the US is a myth.

I take no position on his statistical arguments (the situation amounts to two groups with different numbers each insisting that their numbers are the right ones), or on whether they add up to the thesis in his title, for that matter.

I just wanted to separate out his fifth point for a moment:

Set all the numbers aside for a moment. If you’ve lived through the past four decades, does it really seem like America is no better off today? It doesn’t to Jason Furman, the deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council. Here is Furman back in 2006: "Remember when even upper-middle class families worried about staying on a long distance call for too long? When flying was an expensive luxury? When only a minority of the population had central air conditioning, dishwashers, and color televisions? When no one had DVD players, iPods, or digital cameras? And when most Americans owned a car that broke down frequently, guzzled fuel, spewed foul smelling pollution, and didn’t have any of the now virtually standard items like air conditioning or tape/CD players?"

No doubt the past few years have been terrible. But the past few decades have been pretty good--for everybody.

I've had disagreements with people that I think boil down to just this point: in order to assess a person's wealth, you need to realize that cheap and easy access to resources is itself a form of wealth that needs to be considered in the total.

If Bob has money worth the equivalent of $4500 and can buy an Apple II* with it, and Frank has money worth the equivalent of $400 and can buy an iPhone 3G with it, which is holding more "wealth"? The ubiquity of extremely powerful pocket computers today indicates some amount of wealth, whether those devices were all bought dearly, or were sold for next to nothing.

To illustrate the point with an extreme, consider the future culture with perfect replicator technology, where anybody can have anything he wants at any time: everything is almost free, so most people will have very, very little money. Does that mean they're dirt poor compared to us?

It's undeniably true that there are a lot of poor people in the US, and (and it feels like I can't emphasize this enough, things being as they are) there are real-true grievances against our system I don't intend to dismiss. I simply mean to say that, while juggling the numbers to look at income trends in the US, it's important not to forget that those trends don't account for the mindboggling increase in the quality and power of the tools we buy with those inflation-adjusted dollars. Whether that adds up to an overall increase or decrease in the standard of living, I don't feel qualified to say.

[* - According to the The Inflation Calculator, the Apple II's $1300 MSRP at its introduction in 1977 would be $4622.20 in 2010 dollars.]

In a way, you're *both* wrong.

Common observation: "Those Occupy Wall Street hippies can only do what they're doing because they're a bunch of jobless layabouts."

Counter-observation: "That's the point. They're angry because they can't get jobs while all these companies are [colluding with government to screw workers]/[operating in a decadent capitalist system]."

Reality intrudes: "The vast majority of demonstrators are actually employed, and the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%)."

Blunt Object reminds us that 9.1% is the official rate, based on the number of people who report they're looking for a job. Counting those who have given up, the actual number is probably just about 15%, give or take.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's your dime.

Bill introduced in House of Representatives that would authorize the Mint to celebrate the 75 anniversary of the March of Dimes with a special commemorative... silver dollar.

Methought I heard a voice cry

This past Saturday, the ladies and I went with some friends to see Sleep No More in Chelsea.

Following are two reviews, one of which is completely spoiler-free. The other has "format spoilers", but no serious plot spoilers--a concept that only vaguely applies to this show anyway.

Spoiler-free review: If you're at all able to do so, and enjoy things that range from "weird" to "damn that's fucked up", see it.

That's about all that can be said. If you want to go in completely cold, that's all you get.

Format-spoilers review: Sleep No More is an immersive theater production performed in "The McKittrick Hotel", a hundred-room performance space installed in the five floors of three adjoining warehouses. Audience members come in off the street, check in at the front desk, and are pointed down a dark, winding hall (I had to navigate by touch) which opens into a smoky, dreamlike 1940s lounge. In small groups, they're allowed into a tiny vestibule where they're given white masks, told a short list of Hotel rules, and herded into an elevator which discharges them in randomly selected groups onto random floors. It's recommended that you experience the show solo, and parts of it are designed to break up groups. The stagehands wear black masks--except those disguised as audience members--and the actors alone are unmasked. There is no photography allowed, no removing of masks, and absolutely no talking.

As an audience member, you're free to go anywhere you please and to touch everything. The actors use the audience-filled rooms as sets, and simply ignore or push through spectators--there are no designated performing areas and viewing areas. In my three hours there, I was moved exactly once, and that was because I was seconds away from being kicked in the face by a performer vaulting over the speakeasy bar I'd wandered behind. The masks are a brilliant touch; they make the scenes even more bizarre and dreamlike, and act as a barrier, simultaneously making you feel more removed from the action and bolder: with my shy temperament, I would never have explored behind the bar with my face out.

The primary story is based on Macbeth--or at least a 1940s inspired fever dream of Macbeth--with significant extra material inferred to be happening offstage in Shakespeare's play, plus characters and events inspired by Hitchcock movies and historical Scottish witch hunts, all performed (mostly) wordlessly. The story repeats three times, resetting on the hours, so that an audience member has more opportunities to see different scenes. At the end of the third performance, the black masked stagehands silently herd the entire audience into the grand ballroom for the finale.

With so many scenes going on at once, and so many rooms to poke around in, it's impossible to see everything. I spent the first hour and a half just exploring the set, and the remaining hour and a half hunting for scenes, and still managed to completely miss Hecate's lounge, a uniquely strange room where at least one significant scene takes place.

The set itself is glorious and intimidatingly spacious. The grand ballroom doubles as Birnam Wood, complete with wheeled trees that are moved on and off (or pressed ominously inward) as scenes demand. Most of the fifth floor is a nightmare of a mental asylum. The battlefield ruins, graveyard, and witches' forest are all kept cool and humid, with their matte black walls lost in the perfectly designed lighting, so that most of the time you honestly feel like you've stepped outside, or are dreaming about having stepped outside. In many places they've hauled in dirt for the floors or even paved the floors to complete the illusion. The Hotel level has the Macduffs' apartments, a restaurant, and a coat check, and old fashioned pay phone niches in the lobby that ring randomly and give little details to whoever picks them up. The Macduff children's room has big mirrors on one wall made of one-way glass. Cup your hands to them, and you see through into another room furnished exactly the same way, but with the bedclothes torn away and a large bloodstain on the mattress.

And the depth of the set goes well beyond "you can touch it". Among the extremely strange detail that's just there to set the atmosphere, there's also a seemingly endless amount of detail that informs and builds on the story. One floor (dominated by Hitchcock themes) centers on a simulated grimy street with "storefronts" that can be freely entered and explored. One of these is some kind of police or private investigator's office, with one wall covered in cubbies of evidence and one covered in filing cabinets piled high with loose files on top. Tucked in a corner on top of the filing cabinets is a safe. If you open that safe, it's full of feathers, nests, and eggs, but there's also a stack of envelopes on the top shelf. Stand on your toes, take an envelope, and open it... And you find a handwritten letter in fountain pen from the Thane of Glamis approving a request to go birdwatching on his lands, but warning the petitioner to stay away from the hut in the woods and to "be sure not to try our generosity". Details like this are everywhere, in drawers, chest, jewelry boxes--or fitted into hollowed-out Bibles--and usually have little to do with any of the performed story lines; they're just there to give extraordinary depth to a set and production that everyone involved obviously put a huge amount of work into.

The second floor houses the lounge that you entered through, and it remains accessible throughout. There's (quite good) live forties-style music, a bar, and a masks-optional and discussion-allowed policy that lets you to take a break from the show if you want to. In the first hour, some of the sets (most notably the graveyard, the ruins, and the entire asylum level) were unnerving enough that I rushed through them, and the lounge was a nice respite. By the third hour, I felt at home in every part of the performance space, and was ill at ease stepping into the lounge. If you want to feel how easily people get lost in Carcosa, this is an educational experience.

The performances themselves are done in a mix of pantomime and modern dance, which seems like it could get tedious after a while... and it sometimes does. But it only gets tedious when the performers involved want you to move along and see something else. You're only actually told to go to a certain place at the finale, but throughout the show the performers expertly use pacing and your own sense of urgency to keep you moving. The "vocabulary" of the performance is matched perfectly to the needs and feel of the show, and I say that as somebody who usually dislikes modern dance. The performers, incidentally, are impossibly good at what they do, timing their performances, entrances, and exits using only the phonographey forties soundtrack that plays throughout the set to guide them, and doing some seriously impressive near-acrobatic performances using the set itself. Even more impressive, most of the performers know multiple roles, and they often switch for a given performance.

To see the plot play out, many people follow the actors from scene to scene. And the actors don't wait for them. When Macbeth runs furiously up a flight of stairs and through the halls of the asylum and the and mazelike woods to confront the witches, the fifty or so people following him had just better keep up. By the third performance, most people have started following performers, so that wherever you go you find claustrophobic crushes of spectators, madly rushing mobs, or nearly empty rooms. The maze of rooms is equipped with hidden, lockable doors and concealed bolt holes that the performers use to slip away from the following crowds, leaving them to disperse in confusion.

The performers mostly ignore the audience. They'll move people in their way, and will occasionally interact for specific reasons (dancers in the ballroom scene that resets the show will pull in partners from the crowd, and a grieving Macduff implores the audience to hold up his dead wife, for example), but for the most part they give the impression that they're living in a world of shades that they're dimly aware of but are uninterested in. Once in a while, a performer will pull a single person out of the audience, take him into a locked room reserved for the purpose, and play out a one-on-one scene. There's a consensus on the Internet that there's even an entire sixth floor kept secret, that's seen by only a few audience members per performance.

Hecate alone, who stays almost exclusively in her lounge, makes it clear that she's always conscious of the audience, freely interacting with them and sending some of them on errands.

You can see the show in your own way, exploring the set or following the performances or both (it may be best to follow the actors earlier rather than later, as everybody gets this idea towards the end). You can find a comfortable or significant room and hang out there for a while, watching the scenes that come and go. In the speakeasy on the fourth floor, you can play a bizarre card game that involves nailing the face cards to the wall.

Seven of us went, three of whom had been there before, and even after comparing all our notes, I'm certain we have much, much more to see. When together, we've talked about little else since.

Sleep No More was intended to run for six weeks, but has now been extended four times. It runs every day except Sunday, with an additional late performance on Friday and Saturday,* and I believe they have a full house for every show. If you can scrounge up the ninety bucks and a trip to the City, and have a tolerance for the weird (and some moments--particularly in Hecate's lounge--are really, really weird), see this show. It isn't the kind of thing that can go on tour after its Manhattan run. See it while you have the chance.

[* - The five "arrival times" you can buy tickets for are all for the same show, which ends at the finale regardless of when you arrived. Get the earliest one you can, because even the full three hours won't be anywhere near enough time.]