Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Thursday, June 29, 2006


    Think Bigger

    This article from the LA Times is off to a good start. Problem is, they just don't think big enough:

    Each shuttle mission costs about $450 million for a few days in low-Earth orbit. An awe-inspiring blastoff by Discovery on Saturday could make many people forget about the price. But it won't change the fact that the shuttle is an unsafe, expensive way for humans to explore space just a few hundred miles above Earth. The problem with the shuttle isn't chunks of foam, it's the shuttle itself. NASA should mothball the program and put the nation's scientific and technological expertise to better use.

    Go one better. Mothball NASA and give Burt Rutan a tenth of its budget. Or better yet, return it all to the taxpayers.

    Posted by Tom, 6/29/2006 6:45:09 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Slapdown!

    The Supreme Court has slapped down the Bush administration's "military tribunal" strategy for Gitmo guests. It's about time.

    Posted by Tom, 6/29/2006 6:55:38 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 28, 2006


    The Obstacle

    The Mises Institute has a good -- scratch that -- great article in defense of Wal-Mart. It illustrates the problem freedom advocates face when trying to advance the cause. Often, it's not enough to simply make the principled argument and let it stand on its own merits. Instead, we find ourselves having to educate the opposition before any real discussion can take place. The ignorance of many regarding the true nature of wealth alone is enough to halt all rational discourse until it's been properly explained and understood on all sides.

    Paul Kirklin does an admirable job giving readers a crash course in economics as he makes his defense of Wal-Mart. It's just too bad that few of the people he's arguing with will take the time read and understand it. Too many are comfortable with their ignorance.

    Posted by Tom, 6/28/2006 6:08:06 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, June 27, 2006


    Kudos...

    ... to Warren Buffett. His decision to give away most of his wealth has at least generated some new awareness and conversations in the press about philanthropy. I hope his example does what the linked article suggests, and inspires others to give generously.

    Posted by Tom, 6/27/2006 5:41:35 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, June 25, 2006


    What the...?

    Can this woman be serious? She's actually saying, with all earnestness, that a global gun ban will solve the problems in Africa. Seriously. People are hacking off children's arms with machetes, and gun control is gonna stop all that. The mind boggles.

    Let's try a little experiment, shall we?

    People in Africa want to kill each other with guns.

    Setting aside all disbelief, let's assume we can take guns out of the equation. What's left?

    People in Africa want to kill each other.

    Oh yeah, that's much better.

    When all you've got is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.

    Posted by Tom, 6/25/2006 9:59:07 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, June 24, 2006


    Comments on hold AGAIN...

    ...and this time you can thank/blame the dog.

    If you or anyone you know is contemplating the adoption of a wolf hybrid, don't.

    I've written of the war between Zeus and myself. He has recently upped the ante and came very close to getting himself shot for his trouble. Yes, I say that (half) jokingly, so don't get your panties in a wad. Though I did fear for his safety and longevity while waiting for the wife-unit to get home and see what he'd done to her house.

    After spending an inordinate amount of time and money building him the best doghouse any dog has a right to desire, this is how he repays me:




    That is what's left of my back door. Zeus decided he wanted to come inside, but since nobody opened the door for him, he decided to open it himself. It is wrecked in such a way as to be leaking air, so it's not insulating anymore.



    Yes, those are teeth marks in the doorknob. Zeus' jaws are supposedly 3 times stronger than a normal German shepherd. I wouldn't call that a lie; I've seen what he can do.

    And people wonder why I'm hesitant to agree that animals have rights.

    So anyway, about the comments... Looks like next weekend. THIS weekend I have to go shopping for a new door. After I nail up some plywood like I'm preparing for a hurricane.

    Posted by Tom, 6/24/2006 10:10:26 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, June 22, 2006


    The Church vs. Intellectuallism

    In a recent conversation with a fellow Christian over some disagreements we had with one another's doctrine, I was vehemently accosted out of nowhere. I was called the most vile thing that this other person could think of: an intellectual. Among other things, they stated that "intellectualism denounces God in every way shape and form". With that statement, they rubbed salt in a very old wound.

    I was raised in a church which apparently believed that intelligence was a sign of Satanic influence. It was a small, independent Baptist church in Ohio. I remember one guest speaker in particular, who stated the following in regards to role-playing games (paraphrasing here): "they're too complicated -- too perfect. No human being could possibly come up with this. It must be inspired by the Devil."

    At the time, I was an honor-roll student in the National Honor Society and on my way to becoming a National Merit Scholar. I also enjoyed playing such games with my similarly gifted friends. I was -- to put it mildly -- absolutely shocked that anyone could say something so profoundly stupid in Church. I braced myself for the inevitable derision that surely must be coming from the learned leaders -- our Deacons and Trustees and Pastor. My mind immediately filled with examples of things far more complicated than the rules of Dungeons and Dragons or Star Frontiers... computers, the laws of the United States, the internal combustion engine, radio, and television, to name a few. If the underlying premise were true, then surely all of these things and by extension all technology were of the Devil as well. The notion was just preposterous, and anyone could see that. Couldn't they?

    But whatever I was waiting for, it never came. Instead, everyone nodded sagely, as though such a statement was perfectly in keeping with not just church doctrine, but reality. My parents acted on this information and forbade any further playing of RPG's, which only indicated to me that they too believed intelligence is Satanic. This of course created all sorts of emotional conflict for me any time they would praise my academic achievements. I could rant on this at length, but the upshot is that the whole anti-intellectual thing gave me the fuel I needed to rebel and try to find something that actually made sense.

    See, I fundamentally do not and cannot believe that God is anti-intellectual. And when the problem is stated in such stark terms, most Christians I encounter agree, at least on the surface. But then I get involved with a church or a group of Christians, and more often than not it pops up again. I'm told, "You're thinking too hard. Let go. Let God." Or they quote Proverbs 3:5 at me, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding", ignoring the fact that Proverbs 3:5 is wrapped up in an entire book exhorting us to seek knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. I think what they're really trying to say is that I need to trust THEM and THEIR interpretation, and if I question it's because I don't trust God. In other words, they're equating themselves with God. I seem to recall that being a bad thing.

    In recent years, I have had an incredible amount of conflict with what I perceived as a horrible anti-intellectual bias in our church. There are things I want to discuss. There are issues that should be addressed. But there's nobody to discuss or address them with. I've tried talking to pastors, fellow believers, "elders", and so forth. Some listen politely, others don't have the time or the energy. And the same message comes down from the pulpit: "don't think about God... feel God. Thinking is putting yourself in God's way. Deny yourself and let God work."

    Then there are the others... people whose intelligence I deeply respect, but who can't be bothered to try and untangle this stuff. For them, Christianity is apparently little more than a social club with some mystical traditions that no rational person would ever take seriously. I get answers like "oh, you can make the Bible say anything if you really want to", or "nobody really believes that stuff, we just use it to justify our point of view". These people have all the ability to engage in the hard questions (like, "how would Jesus vote?" or "would Jesus vote?"), but have taken the lazy way out.

    It's not that I don't believe that we all have a lot of work to do with regards to the question of whether we are serving ourselves or serving God. It's that I don't believe God wants us to not think. He gave us these wonderful brains, yet somehow I'm supposed to believe that we're not actually supposed to use them. As I said before, the book of Proverbs repeatedly exhorts us to seek knowledge and wisdom, for example:

    Proverbs 3:13-14
    Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
    the man who gains understanding,
    for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.

    Proverbs 4:7
    Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

    Proverbs 4:13
    Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
    guard it well, for it is your life.


    There's more, but you get the idea. My frustration at this whole conversation (the one that started this post) led me to do a quick Google search on "God intellectualism". I'm pleased to find that I'm not alone in my concern about the Church and its anti-intellectual streak. This excerpt at ChristianityToday from Rick M. Nanez's Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? : A Call to Use God's Gift of the Intellect has given me some measure of peace. In particular, I found that the following two pieces really resonate with me in my experience.

    The second doctrine of Pentecostals that may promote anti-intellectualism is that of "the verbal gifts": word of wisdom, tongues and interpretation, word of knowledge, and prophecy. The very idea that foreign languages, the future, deep insights, and information, all otherwise unknown, can be mainlined into the soul and then gush forth through the lips of a believer can become a potent catalyst for anti-intellectualism.

    One may think it frivolous, or even futile, to expend inordinate volumes of valuable time dissecting the twisted twines of history or forecasting the sociological trends of various mission fields if "revelation knowledge" falls from heaven like manna. Furthermore, Spirit-filled people can be dissuaded from burning the midnight oil in order to parse Hebrew verbs or poke around in heady hermeneutics if God freely grants his "informational gifts" of past, present, and future to the truly spiritual.

    The teaching that these gifts bypass the intellect can easily promote an anti-intellectual bias. Think about it: It's tempting to forego meticulous intellectual exercise if God is inclined to provide the greatest of mysteries through disengaged minds. In fact, the very nature of this provocation is likened to the original temptation, which promised enlightenment, knowledge, and wisdom without participation in God's school of lifelong learning (Gen. 3:46).


    I can't even begin to describe the amount of pain that others who embrace this attitude of bypassing intellectual effort have caused me. My devotion to learning is seen not just as weird, not just as a waste of time because God will supernaturally give me whatever knowledge I really need, but as a sin. If I *try*, my effort apparently blocks and rejects God. By reading and investigating and debating, I'm somehow spitting in God's face.

    The second bit that really touched me is this:

    The fifth doctrine courted by Pentecostal/Charismatic believers and apt to entrench anti-intellectual biases is that of "altar theology." The idea that an instantaneous blessing of cleansing and power can be received by faith rather than by the arduous process of "seeking" was heavily promoted from the 1840s forward. Donald Dayton says of this doctrine, "This teaching tended to evaporate the spiritual struggle more characteristic of 18th-century Methodism and encouraged immediate appropriation of the experience." This ideology carried over into 20th-century Pentecostalism and has manifested itself in numerous ways.

    Americans in general are almost unhesitatingly seduced by convenience, pragmatism, and instantaneous results. In short, we strive to become a thoroughly microwaveable society. Add to this the belief that "the baptism," healing, salvation, and deliverance can all take place by depositing the problem on the altar, and you have a philosophical structure that can easily lend itself to a "gain with no pain" mentality. Closely related to expectations of immediacy at the altar is the whole idea of casting Satan and his influence from an entire city or nation in one fell swoop. If this simple formula is viable, it seems that Jesus would have used it for his beloved Israel.


    As my most trusted friend and mentor once told me, "we must not confuse our faith in God with a belief in magic." God is not a magic trick, and does not perform on command. I was bitten by this idea upon my return to the faith. I thought that my re-conversion was something that would magically cure all of my personal, emotional struggles. I thought I would no longer have to struggle with my temper, for example, and would just be a calm guy for the rest of my life. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that so many around me were encouraging me to believe in it. "Doing the work" of learning to deal with my emotions in a healthy and productive manner was failing to trust God, and any time I encountered problems with my temper, it was because my faith was faltering. But as I've seen in reading the Bible, God doesn't tend to do things the easy way. So I've started doing the work. Does that make me less of a Christian? I'll allow for the possibility that these others are right, but to use their own methodology against them, it certainly doesn't feel that way.

    The conflict remains. The Church in general and many individual Christians in specific are apparently engaged in a war with intellectualism. Intelligence is still a sign of Satanic influence to far too many of us. I'm sure some of it is simply the fear that if one engages in debate with another, one might lose. But since when was that a good excuse? I say we should engage anyhow. If we approach debate in an attitude of love and charity for one another, we ought to be able to have some meaningful and productive discussions. If we're not careful, we might even learn something.

    Posted by Tom, 6/22/2006 7:01:39 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Teaching the next generation

    I've never thought that I would really like to work with kids, until now. The Mises Institute has a great article up by Arthur E. Foulkes about his efforts to teach the extreme basics of economics to 5th-graders. He describes his lesson plan and some of the reactions he got from the students. I must say that I'm so intrigued by the idea that now I want to do it too. I can think of some adults who would benefit as well.

    Posted by Tom, 6/22/2006 6:34:22 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006


    Another Africa/Angelina Article

    This one even takes the time to smack around journalists in general and CNN in particular. How cool is that?

    Even more than Bill Gates or Bono, [Angelina Jolie] signals a shift in mores among the hyper-rich. After 25 years of ever-escalating exorbitance, the pendulum has swung toward conspicuous nonconsumption. Extravagance is measured not by how much is spent, but how much is given away.

    And that can't be bad. Ms. Jolie may be susceptible to extreme gestures (it was only a few years ago that she wore a vial of her husband's blood around her neck and a tattoo of his name on her arm and elsewhere), but her current obsession is a lasting fancy that is impossible to fault. She has adopted two orphans (she revealed that she and Mr. Pitt are planning to take in a third), traveled extensively for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and lavished time, money and her fame to a difficult cause.


    I'm done singing her praises; I don't want this to turn into a fawning droolfest. I just wanted to say once again how good it is to see a celebrity doing more than just going through the motions.

    Posted by Tom, 6/21/2006 5:47:52 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006


    Props...

    ...to Angelina Jolie. I think it's quite admirable for her to be doing the work that she's doing for Africa, and trying to keep it in the spotlight when it's so easy to forget. I watched the portions of her interview that are online at CNN, and it's obvious that she truly feels the horror and immense sadness that permeates the various conflict regions. At times, she's utterly speechless as she tries to comprehend the things she's seen, as when she describes meeting a 3-year-old in Sierra Leone who had both of her arms hacked off by machete-wielding gangs.

    Take a moment and try to wrap your mind around that. Not just in the dismissive, "oh that's horrible" way we Americans tend to use. Imagine it was your 3-year-old daughter. Think of all the things she's been robbed of in her life to come. Try to comprehend the kind of mentality that would lead a person to do such a thing. After all, it's one thing to just kill a child. It's quite another to deliberately leave them alive, mutilated in such a way as to be robbed of almost any means of meaningful labor. It's killing by long slow starvation, a death sentence to a lifetime of begging. I find myself feeling ashamed to even be of the same species as the monsters who did this.

    Then I ask myself if I really have any problems.

    Posted by Tom, 6/20/2006 10:29:38 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Don't look surprised...

    ...we always knew the robots would eventually rise up and overthrow their human masters. Now we know how it'll come to pass:

    Microsoft sets its sights on OS for robots

    Now not only will your software dial up Microsoft to make sure it is still "genuine", but it will also have the hardware beat the crap out of you if it isn't.

    On the bright side, with Microsoft's abysmal record on security, and the legions of hackers constantly writing viruses for their software, it'll probably be a cinch that we'll win the war with the robots because half of them will be locked up and unable to function.

    So there ya have it, folks. The future of humanity depends on Microsoft's software remaining crappy.

    Posted by Tom, 6/20/2006 5:27:07 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Net Neutering

    I've been meaning to write something up on this whole "net neutrality" boondoggle, but just haven't really found my muse on that topic yet. And now I don't have to. Evan has pretty much said everything I wanted to say. And awhile back, the Mises Institute covered it as well.

    If you're too lazy to follow the links, here's the upshot: deregulate the telecommunications industry and make them compete with one another. Then if one starts playing games with bandwidth, another will steal its customers.

    I'll consider the topic done for now.

    Posted by Tom, 6/20/2006 6:21:42 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, June 19, 2006


    Update

    I've got the forms I need in place for posting and maintaining entries. I have a few management functions left to do, but those will probably wait until last.

    I know how integral the user comments section is to the blog, and it's next on my list. I think I've got everything else nailed down enough to where it should only take a couple of hours to put that feature in.

    The sharp-eyed will have already noted that there's the beginnings of an honest-to-goodness RSS feed over there on the left. I don't know that it's fully baked yet, but so far it looks pretty good.

    I'm running behind my anticipated schedule (I was to have it completed this last weekend), because it seems like every time I sit down to work on it, or want to work on it, someone else lays claim to my time. I may be able to get some free time this week, and there's really not much left to do, so with any luck I'll be able to get those comments working soon. Hang in there.

    Posted by Tom, 6/19/2006 6:39:42 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sin City

    Clayton Cramer doesn't like Sin City. He's permitted his opinion, of course, but he only watched 20 minutes of it. I think he's making a premature judgment.

    I was wandering through the cable channels yesterday, and I ran into a movie titled Sin City. I watched about twenty minutes of it--and that was enough. Imagine a film that makes you wish that you were watching hardcore porn, because of how much more uplifting to the spirit it is.

    He is right in a way about the movie being hard to watch. There's a whole lot of darkness in the movie, but he doesn't equate it, as one might think he would, with movies such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, ie, "just another slasher flick". Maybe because it's not.

    Sin City is a world of darkness. The parts he complains about are a backdrop against which are displayed bits of color and light, much like the visual style of the movie. Yes, there is evil, and it seems as though Frank Miller has taken the worst examples of criminal activity and made a place for each of them in his world. But there is also good. His heroes are not caped crusaders, flawless supermen with nary a blemish to their character. They're deeply flawed men who do what they see as right despite the fact that it could (and often does) cost them their lives. By only watching twenty minutes of the film, Cramer most likely missed the things that Marv, Hartigan, and Dwight tried to do to make their world a better place. Ultimately, their actions change very little about the way the world works. But for those they fight for (and against), the world changes a lot.

    For me, the movie is a reminder that no matter the mistakes of the past, it's never too late to do the right thing. It's never a bad thing to practice integrity, even if it costs you everything. And while not all of us can change the entire world, we can all make a difference to someone.

    Sin City is dark, bleak, and violent, much like our own world. But it's also optimistic. It shows that it doesn't take much good in a person to make a difference. All it takes is the willingness to act, despite the cost.

    Posted by Tom, 6/19/2006 6:27:55 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Best. Thumb Drive. EVER.

    Now that's a Keeper.

    Posted by Tom, 6/19/2006 5:56:36 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, June 17, 2006


    Changing perspectives

    A lot of times, when I'm talking to someone, and the opportunity comes to give out my website address, there's a question about it.

    "Why is your website called CenterDigit dot Com?"

    To which I must truthfully reply,

    "Because MiddleFinger.com was taken."

    You can imagine where the conversation goes from there.

    Well, here's the story.

    About 10 or so years ago, I was adrift, morally speaking. A lot of the values I had been raised with were suspect in my mind, because they had some severe inconsistencies I couldn't easily reconcile, for example:

    "Premise 1: God loves everybody. Premise 2: God hates homosexuals and wants them to rot in Hell. Homosexuals are a subset of 'everybody', therefore one of these premises must be false. But which one?"

    I was convinced that the simplified version of things taught in the church I was reared in could not possibly represent a valid morality system. Being unable to engage anyone with my questions due to some sort of inherent hostility to critical thought, I started looking elsewhere. I began devouring books by various sociopolitical commentators -- the kind you find in the 'Ann Coulter' section of the store, all of which may as well be titled "Everyone on the other side is evil". The blatantly partisan ones didn't thrill me, so I dug deeper, looking for some kind of theme other than "I'm a mouthpiece for this or that party". I discovered that the only books discussing things from a perspective other than "this is right because my party says it's right" were what I would later identify as libertarian books, such as James Bovard's Freedom in Chains. Here at last were some authors who actually seemed to put some thought into the issues at hand.

    Eventually a friend turned me on to Ayn Rand. I read Atlas Shrugged as well as several of her nonfiction books. I still consider The Virtue of Selfishness to be a fine book, though it has its problems (Rand cannot bring herself to give up the State's monopoly on force).

    It was somewhere about this time that Ted Nugent got himself a morning radio talk show in the Detroit market, where I was living at the time. Ted was a conservative/Republican at the time (I've heard he's identifying as a libertarian nowadays), and while there were things I disagreed with, his message was one that grabbed me. Ted had a personal vendetta against drugs, apparently because so many of his fellow musicians, contemporaries, and personal friends had killed themselves that way (Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, etc.). He was/is also very pro-gun and pro-hunting, anti-tax, and so forth. He preached a message of resolute defiance against any and all people who want to deplete your quality of life, by either selling you drugs, preventing you from defending yourself and your family with firearms, destroying/confiscating your wealth with taxes, and the like.

    Ted's message to kids was simple: if someone tries to get you using drugs, give them the finger. His message to people fighting for gun rights was equally simple: if someone tries to take your guns, give them the finger. And then start shooting. Or maybe it was the other way around. Anyway, there was always a finger involved.

    So there I am, having searched for a moral compass for many years, and this comes on the radio. I was impressed. Finally, there was a guy who wasn't afraid to take a stand on something and say "this is good, that's bad, here's why" and it actually made a great deal of sense. Moreso at least than the aforementioned God loves/hates quandary. And any time someone jumped in with a mealy-mouthed whimperfest of "well, we have to understand why gangbangers act the way they do" and so forth, Ted would shut them down. "We have a right to expect a certain level of behavior from others," he'd say (paraphrasing here). "If people cannot meet that minimum standard, we have every right to defend ourselves. Pull out your 10mm Glock and put 'em down hard. Next."

    Throughout it all, the middle finger was Ted's symbol of righteous defiance in the face of evil. When I finally came up with the idea of doing a website exploring my beliefs, even though Ted had been off the air for a while at the time, I decided to pay him an homage by registering MiddleFinger.com. Alas, it was taken. So I got the next best thing, and now you know the rest of the story. CenterDigit.com is about standing in righteous defiance to the things, people, attitudes, and practices that I can readily identify as evil.

    Now, in the past 3 years, I've done a fair amount of maturing. I no longer believe that shocking people is the right thing to do if we want to get their attention. I don't believe anymore that purposefully offending people serves any great purpose. I'm headed in the direction of de-emphasizing the CenterDigit name altogether, though to some that's how I'll always be known. As I've begun circulating in more polite company, I've had some trouble with the idea of telling, for example, my pastor and his wife, that my website is CenterDigit.com. It's getting to be time to move away from that. So I registered another site about a year ago, and through some fun little scripting trickery, have created an almost seamless joining of the two sites. Same content, same links, same blog, but a much more socially acceptable domain name: LibertarianChristian.com.

    So if you're the type who might ordinarily link to me or tell a friend about this site, but have hesitated due to the not-so-subtle reference to a crude gesture in my domain name, try that on for size. I like it, and I hope you do too.

    Posted by Tom, 6/17/2006 10:08:22 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Mail Call!

    I got a nice little email from the guy who runs libertarian Christians dot Org. I've added his site to the list at the left. He has a lot of good third-party articles linking Christianity with libertarianism, so if that's a topic of interest to you, check him out.

    Posted by Tom, 6/17/2006 12:06:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, June 16, 2006


    Uploads complete

    I've finished uploading the old archives, having fixed the bug in the import program that prevented certain entries from being added. All entries should now be online.

    On the left, at the bottom, you'll find links for looking at historical items by month. Here's another little trick you can use if you want to search for something. Just go up to your address bar, and enter something like this:

    http://www.surlycurmudgeon.com/blog/default.asp?search=Heinlein

    Poof! All of my entries that mention Heinlein. Want to see my reviews of the Honor Harrington novels?

    http://www.surlycurmudgeon.com/blog/default.asp?search=Harrington

    Currently it only works for a single word, and I don't have a search form up yet, but bear with me. It's all coming.

    Posted by Tom, 6/16/2006 10:10:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Making the world a better place

    The following is a slightly edited text of my thoughts in response to the idea that Finland has achieved a socialist paradise. This is my view of how a better world can be achieved without involving the State and the violence that the State necessarily implies. Some of the comments are out of context, but I think the meaning remains clear.

    It starts with an economy where the lowest rungs of the economic ladder have been restored, allowing people the freedom to create their own businesses and pull themselves out of poverty. This is not a small point. Wealth MUST be created, and it must be created continuously.

    Economically speaking, there are only 3 ways to create wealth: investment, entrepreneurship, and "workin' for a livin'". They produce returns known as interest, profit, and wages, respectively. Wages are a means to exist at a certain level, and unfortunately it is the only level that most people ever seem to look at. Socialist systems are almost entirely preoccupied with wages. But wages do not create much wealth, relative to the other mechanisms. Interest is probably the next most productive, but in order to generate interest, one has to have savings, usually generated by "living below one's means" and setting aside a portion of wages. The true powerhouse of wealth creation is entrepreneurship, though it suffers from the same problem of being a second-tier method like interest in that one has to have either saved capital or borrowed it from someone who did.

    Wealth creation through entrepreneurship is the motor that runs the world. Without it, we'd be starving to death in abject poverty. For an example, see Africa. All of the things we take for granted nowadays, including the computer you're reading this on and the internet it exists in, were created through entrepreneurship. (Yes, I realize that the internet was originally a product of the US government, but it took entrepreneurs to make it what it is today.)

    So finally we come to the question of what to do with the wealth that's been created. Well, as one wise man wrote, there's only three things you can do with money: you can spend it, you can invest it, and you can give it away. Spending it is a lot of fun. For some of us, it's too much fun. But as he also wrote, you can only eat so much lobster (pardon the expression) before it starts to taste like soap. Spending money is only fun for a while. Investing can also be fun, but after a certain point it's just a number.

    Hands down, the absolute most fun you can have with money is giving it away. There is no joy comparable to giving money to those who truly need it. I'm not talking about charities or churches or causes or political parties or any of that. I'm talking about giving a significant portion of the money earned with the sweat of your brow to another individual or group of individuals in need. I've read multiple books about why it feels so right, and I still can't explain it.

    There is nothing particularly edifying about being forced to pay taxes. I don't feel a little halo forming over my head when I read my check stub and see all the money pouring into the coffers of government, even though some of it is going to those on the dole. I've experienced the other end, too, and there's nothing particularly edifying or uplifting about receiving a check in the mail for not doing any work, either. Yes, some small fraction of the wealth forcibly extracted from me by the government does go to those in need, but the government steals more than my money when it does so. It steals a significant portion of my ability to go out and experience that kind of joy.

    The world CAN be a much better place. All it takes is for each of us, individually, to lift our heads up out of our own little problems for a while and focus on the problems of someone else. No centralized organization can ever hope to match the incredible power of person-to-person giving. There have been countless people, rich and poor alike, who have realized this and made it their own personal mission to make the world a better place through giving -- Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Cannon, Dave Ramsey, Bill Gates, etc. Yes, there are a fair number of jerks among the wealthy. There's also a fair number among the poor. Wealth doesn't change your character, it only magnifies it.

    But it all starts with wealth creation and wealth management. Without it, we are all doomed to living on subsistence wages, drinking vodka until our livers rot, and committing suicide to end the misery. OK, maybe not that melodramatic. But hopefully you see my point.

    Anyway, it occurred to me upon further reflection that the two key principles here are decentralization and empowerment.

    Decentralization is the reason the internet works. It's the way modern supercomputers are built. It's the way my own software is written. We engineers avoid centralization whenever possible, because centralization creates bottlenecks and what we call a "single point of failure". A single point of failure is the place where, if this one thing breaks, the whole thing doesn't work. Sometimes it's unavoidable, like when we build an automobile (at least presently). Usually, as in the case of the automobile, it's because we're looking at the wrong scope to decentralize. Other times centralization can be avoided, and it is. Instead of building bigger, better, faster single computers, we build clusters of somewhat less capable computers, and while each individual computer does less work, the entire cluster does more work than any individual computer is capable of doing.

    The internet is the same way. If one computer goes down, the network continues to function. If we consider the internet as a model, we can see how decentralization provides resiliency and what engineers like to call "fault-tolerance" -- the ability to recover relatively easily from error or disaster. The main problem is the inability to control the entire system as a cohesive unit, as we've also seen with the internet. The main issue is the desire for control. In order to have the advantages of decentralization, we have to be willing to give up control over the outcome.

    And thus we come to my vision of an economy that improves the state of the world. We can centralize, as socialism suggests, and provide Murphy with a single point of failure, or we can decentralize, as capitalism suggests, and be resilient. If a terrorist nuke takes out whatever agency prints the checks, or their computers wind up with a virus, or their bank's computers do, or some other unforseeable calamity occurs, the single point of failure suddenly has a lot of people begging for spare change. But if an entire nation is engaged at the individual level in the creation of wealth and the person-to-person redistribution thereof, it's incredibly difficult to destroy.

    But in order for the individual nodes of a decentralized system to accomplish anything, they need to be empowered. The little worker computers need to have access to the data they're working on. The people engaged in wealth-building need to be able to start businesses, offer products, hire and fire employees, and so forth with as little interference as possible. The people earning wages need to be able to take those wages home with them and care for their families and immediate needs without having those wages confiscated at gunpoint. Investors need to be able to determine the rates of interest they will charge. Yes, there will be failures... in the aforementioned supercomputers, as many as 10% of the nodes are doing nothing at any given time. Some of them probably even crash. But the system is resilient and recovers more easily than it would if there were a crash in a single-node supercomputer.

    The problem I run into when trying to explain this to those of the statist mindset is that they fundamentally believe, for whatever reason, that the individual nodes -- in the case of economics, people -- MUST be forced to behave a certain way, or the whole thing goes to crap. In their worldview, the only people who care about other people are the statist types agitating to have the State to force everyone to be nice to everyone else. Private charity doesn't exist, and would never ever be sufficient to meet the needs of the poor. Simple math suggests to me that this isn't true. I don't know what it is that must be done to overcome this... this... massive blind spot, but it seems like something I should probably ponder awhile.

    And so as not to leave my fellow freedom-lovers unwhacked, one last comment. There seems to be a lot of libertarians out there who rally to the cause, and do the ol' "yep, yep, private charity, that's the way to go", but who then do anything and everything to rationalize why they personally shouldn't have to do anything to help the less fortunate. I'm not pointing any fingers, just saying we should all examine ourselves. And if you're one of the types who do this, please don't "help" a fellow libertarian when they're making an argument for private charity. The best leadership is still by example. Again, I'm accusing nobody. I've been guilty of it myself, and had my conscience seared when I saw the example someone else was being. So I'm just encouraging soul-searching, and if you come up short, action.


    Posted by Tom, 6/16/2006 6:57:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006


    Saying goodbye to Blogger

    It's been a long run with Blogger, but I'm done. Can't take it anymore. There have been too many problems with publishing and formatting, too many long load times for what should be a simple page, and far too many issues with the Blogger interface being down for maintenance, so I'm rollin' my own, baby! What you see here is my blog being fed by a MicroSoft SQL Server database, which will eventually be fully searchable by keyword as well as date.

    I have a few things that I need to wrap up. I need to finish importing all of my historical entries, I need to get comments working for my small but dedicated cadre of fans, and I need to get a real interface put together for managing the whole thing. I expect to be done sometime this weekend, so sit tight.

    Posted by Tom, 6/14/2006 11:05:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Honor Harrington, Book 11

    At All Costs

    This is it. This is the book we've been waiting for. Want to see Honor Harrington takin' it to the Peeps? Want to see the Mother of All Battles? Want to see Honor get her personal life squared away for a change? This is the book you're after. Need some teasers? Some carrots to lure you through the endless diplomacy of War of Honor? How about this:

    350 Havenite ships of the wall
    Honor Harrington in command of Eighth Fleet
    2.2 million military casualties
    New tech upgrades for both sides
    Space battles from start to finish
    Major characters killed on both sides

    Interested yet?

    My only criticism is that the book ended rather abruptly, without the usual "military debriefing" we see in the other books. Instead it ends with a little bit of personal wind-down for Honor. Which is good, don't get me wrong, but it feels unfinished. Indeed, there's still plenty of butt that needs kicking, so here's hoping that Book 12 is on the way. Hear that, Weber? Get on it!!!

    Incidentally, it would probably be a very good idea to read the short story "Fanatic" in the anthology The Service of the Sword, the short story "From the Highlands" in the anthology Changer of Worlds, plus possibly the novels Crown of Slaves and The Shadow of Saganami before you read this book. I didn't, and I think I missed some major points by not doing so. My next task is to go back and rectify this situation.

    Posted by Tom, 6/14/2006 6:27:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, June 11, 2006


    La Casa de Perros

    Hola, and welcome to la casa de perros!!!


    La casa de perros is 64 square feet of luxury accomodations for the large and furry among us. It includes a private entrance...



    (note previous accomodations in background)

    ...as well as the "servants entrance"...



    Here we see spokesmodel Zoe as she prepares to demonstrate the operation of the private entrance.



    La casa de perros has plenty of room to stretch out, as Zeus demonstrates.





    ... and it is even large enough for the whole family (left to right, first picture: Zeus, Zack, Zoe)...




    La casa de perros even has an electricity run tapping off the main house...




    ...which is buried in PVC conduit for the protection of its guests...



    ...and includes a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt receptacle in case of any problems.



    Of course, one might wonder why, given the nature of its residents, la casa de perros needs electricity at all. Well, for one thing, the "staff" doesn't have eyes as good as the residents, so there was some need for lighting.



    But the real reason for the electricity is for the comfort of la casa de perros' guests.

    (yes, that's an air conditioner)



    And of course, in the interests of saving energy, all of the walls and ceiling are fully insulated



    We hope you enjoyed your short tour of la casa de perros. Below you will find a brief breakdown of the construction costs.



    Shed kit$700
    Insulation$150
    Lumber for interior walls$300
    Electrical materials
    (includes tool rental for big honkin' masonry drill)
    $200
    Electrician$50
    Paint (not yet applied), hardware, odds & ends$100
    Air Conditioner$100
    Doggy door$100
    Shingles$50
    Total:~$1750


    Posted by Tom, 6/11/2006 3:50:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Developments Developing

    Stay Tuned.

    Posted by Tom, 6/11/2006 10:20:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, June 9, 2006


    About Freakin' Time

    Microsoft's Developer Network (their documentation site for API's and such) is debuting a Wiki-style format. Now if only Apple would do the same.

    Posted by Tom, 6/9/2006 6:50:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 7, 2006


    I.E.D.

    Improvised Explosive Device? No, not this time, but close. Today we're talking about Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which is apparently being tapped as the root of so-called "road rage".

    Road rage, temper outbursts that involve throwing or breaking objects and even spousal abuse can sometimes be attributed to the disorder, though not everyone who does those things is afflicted.

    By definition, intermittent explosive disorder involves multiple outbursts that are way out of proportion to the situation. These angry outbursts often include threats or aggressive actions and property damage. The disorder typically first appears in adolescence; in the study, the average age of onset was 14.


    The article goes on to discuss how underdiagnosed the problem appears to be, with a little alarmism, brow-furrowing and hand-wringing thrown in for good measure:

    "It is news to a lot of people even who are specialists in mental health services that such a large proportion of the population has these clinically significant anger attacks," [health care policy professor at Harvard Ronald] Kessler said.

    And then we get to the meat of the matter:

    ...the disorder involves inadequate production or functioning of serotonin, a mood-regulating and behavior-inhibiting brain chemical. Treatment with antidepressants, including those that target serotonin receptors in the brain, is often helpful, along with behavior therapy akin to anger management...

    Frankly, I find all of this very disturbing, but probably not for the reason the article wants me to. As near as I can tell, from this article and others printed since the study was released, I'm a pretty good candidate for having the problem.

    I remember a very early incident from my childhood. I know where we were living, so I was between 2nd and 6th grade, or about age 8 to 11. My brother, who is a year younger, had discovered and picked the absolute largest dandelion we had ever seen. I thought it was kind of cool, but then something happened, I don't remember what, and I wound up sitting on the sidewalk in a bit of a funk. Maybe Dad yelled at me or something, I don't know. Anyway, my brother was sitting next to me, poking the flower at me, trying to get me to smell it. I think he was trying to cheer me up. Suddenly something just boiled up inside me and I grabbed the flower and broke it.

    I can still see his sad little face as he went bawling to Mom, and hear him telling her that I broke his flower. I can hear my parents demanding an explanation for my actions, which to this day I'm unable to give. I've replayed that scene countless times in my head, and I still don't understand what it was that made me do it. I've been tortured by it for years now, and on several occasions have almost blurted out an apology while talking to him on the phone. But I've always held back because it feels foolish to bring something up 25 years or so after the fact. I've convinced myself that he doesn't even remember it. And yet, there are times when I wake up in the middle of the night and all I can think of is that sweet little kid trying to cheer up his big brother, and having his heart broken for his troubles. I want so badly to be able to go back and undo that moment.

    In the years since, there have been other moments like it. Everything will be just fine, and something small will happen that irritates me in just the wrong way. The anger rises like a wild beast, a roaring plume of red-hot lava flowing up from somewhere deep in my guts. Many times it's all I can do to just express it in a way that minimizes damage to my surroundings. All I can know or feel is the burning rage, the absolute need to destroy something with my bare hands if at all possible. I don't know if that is somehow expressed chemically in my brain or not. Maybe there's a sudden shortage of one chemical or overabundance of another. Maybe all it would take is a pill of some kind to make it all go away. That would be so nice.

    It's also something I will fight to never do. No pill is ever going to tame me, if I have anything to say about it. I proceed from an absolute conviction that I -- meaning the Mind that is me -- am ultimately responsible for my every action. I cannot and will not accept that I am a victim of some random chemical process. Subjectively, it feels as though I'm being run over by a freight train when the red hot lava beast awakes. But my entire worldview depends on the unwavering belief in the fact that I have a choice. I can choose to stand in the path of that freight train and try to stop it. I can choose not to blow up. I can choose to remain calm. And if I do not choose to do any of these things, then I have chosen my subsequent actions.

    I. Am. Responsible.

    I will not allow some chemical to dictate my moods and behaviors. Brain is a wonderful thing, but I remain convinced that Mind is more powerful. If it does boil down to chemicals and hormones, then the interface is two-way. If chemical A makes you think one way, then thinking another way will produce chemical B. If you've seen A Beautiful Mind, you've seen a man with a different problem, but the same solution. John Nash is my hero in this regard. Nobody has forced me to do the things I've done. I own it all. And in claiming responsibility for my screwups, I gain a measure of freedom that drugs would deny me.

    It's been a long hard road. Some times are easier than others. I've fought compulsive behavior that arises out of this problem or some common root. Some of those behaviors I've defeated. Some I'm still working on. It's easier to shut down the beast nowadays. As it says in James 1:20, the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Sometimes all I need to do is remember that verse, and I'm OK. So I say screw the pills.

    And Jim, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I broke your dandelion.

    Posted by Tom, 6/7/2006 9:48:00 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    From Zero to Hero

    Here is a fascinating article about Blizzard's rise to power in the computer gaming world. The article skips over the juggernaut that was (and in some ways still is) StarCraft, but manages to tell the story fairly completely otherwise. Without identifying it as such, the author touches on what I believe to be one of the keys to Blizzard's success: iterative design.

    Like Burt Rutans of the computer game industry, Blizzard constantly questions its own designs, reviews, tweaks, modifies, and ultimately tries to perfect everything in their products. They do it over and over and over again, each time trying to get it even better, always looking for the iteration where they can't think of any way to improve it. In my experience, they pay much more attention to user interface than any other game company, making games that are generally easier to play from an interface standpoint than any others.

    Getting the computer out of the way of the game is a tall order but a critical one, and most companies don't spend nearly enough time on it. I can't remember the details, but I played Westwood's Command & Conquer at the same time as WarCraft II, and the interface just felt... unfinished by comparison. That's why I wound up playing WarCraft III (and ultimately WoW) but not the later iterations of Command & Conquer.

    Anyway, the article sums it all up quite nicely with this line at the end:

    Blizzard has succeeded largely by consistently identifying what it is that makes gamers want to play a game, and then amplifying that all the way to 11.

    I couldn't agree more.

    Posted by Tom, 6/7/2006 6:38:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006


    Too funny

    I-Mockery has a blow-by-blow review, with screenshots and animations, of the hilariously bad 1980's movie Gymkata. I laughed so hard I cried.

    Posted by Tom, 6/6/2006 7:13:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, June 4, 2006


    Whole Albums

    There are only a few albums that I can listen to from start to finish without getting annoyed at one song or another. Usually I wind up fixating on one song as either being good or bad, and I either listen to that song exclusively or hate listening to the whole album because of it. Anyway, in no particular order, these are my faves:

    U2 -- The Joshua Tree: Can't beat it with a stick. It has a mournful tone to it, and is just a really great sound for me when I'm feeling very peaceful or contemplative.

    Huey Lews & the News -- Sports: Just a fun, exuberant celebration of life. I listen to it when I'm in a good mood.

    Blues Traveler -- Four: The opening track, "Run Around" gets me kicked up a notch, and the rest of the album is just really soothing. Unfortunately, it's so soothing it's completely forgettable. I find it good coding music, because nothing really jars your senses and the music just kind of flows past your consciousness and provides a nice background for slamming out code.

    Metallica -- the "black" album: Often criticized by "true fans" as being too commercial, it's the only Metallica album I can listen to all the way through without getting a pounding headache. Yes it's toned down a tad from "Ride the Lightning" or "Master of Puppets", but I think that's the point. Doesn't mean the songs don't kick butt.

    Rush -- 2112: The ultimate blend of science fiction and rock & roll. It's kind of hard to code to, but it's great music for driving, as long as I use the cruise control (it tends to get me speeding).

    Guns 'n' Roses -- Appetite for Destruction: The only way to fly when what you're after is headbanging wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am heavy metal.

    Prince -- Purple Rain: What can I say? Still his best album ever, even though every girl I've ever known named Nicki/Nikki/Nicky absolutely hated it for obvious reasons. That opening monologue to "Let's Go Crazy" always gets me ready to rock.

    Third Day -- Offerings: The album (and band) that convinced me Christian music doesn't have to suck. It was recommended to me because I liked hard rock, though their sound is closer to Pearl Jam than Metallica.

    Anyway, that's my list. Meat Loaf isn't on there because I already dedicated a whole entry to him. I can't think of any I missed. If you're the commenting type, let me know about yours.

    Posted by Tom, 6/4/2006 8:31:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, June 2, 2006


    Microsoft vs Apple

    Evan's got some good comments about the OS wars today:

    What would cause Microsoft to start failing? Has it developed such a corrosive corporate culture that it's simply incapable of developing products that customers want? It's hard to create great software when you spend more of your energy blocking competitors than building things people actually want to use. Companies that lose sight of the customer do so at their own peril.

    There's also some juicy text about Microsoft threatening to sue an existing customer in order to secure new consulting business with them. Check it out.

    Posted by Tom, 6/2/2006 6:18:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, June 1, 2006


    The "wondrous gift" from above that is fiat money

    Zimbabwe presents us with a case-in-point of why it's bad to let the government control the money supply:

    A NEW $100,000 banknote will be issued in Zimbabwe today. With a value of about 67p, it is worth only the price of a loaf of bread.

    Its introduction comes as the economy buckles under the highest rate of inflation in the world, currently at 1,042 per cent.


    Yes, I'm aware that the USA's inflation rate is "only" 4% or so (we think -- the actual rate is not determinable). This is a difference in degree, not in kind.

    Posted by Tom, 6/1/2006 6:43:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More on Global Warming

    Clayton Cramer digs up another one. Love the spin in the article he references. Do these people ever stop?

    Posted by Tom, 6/1/2006 6:37:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    What an idiot

    Matthew Miller is a doctor who seems to think medical training makes him an expert on gun ownership. Observe:

    Miller, a physician with training in internal medicine, medical oncology and medical ethics, has been the Associate Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center since the year 2000.

    ...

    Your father did a great job keeping his firearms hidden from you -- but as the study that Frances Baxley and I conducted shows, most children, even those as young as five years old, know where their parents household guns are stored...

    In one study, boys aged 9-15 were strongly warned not to touch guns. However, when left alone with a gun, about a quarter touched and played with it. Almost all then denied doing so when they were asked. None of the boys touched any other forbidden item after being warned against doing so. "The results of the current study indicate that guns hold a unique allure and cast further doubt on the ability of gun admonitions to keep children safe around guns"


    Here's a brain-buster for ya, doc. My brother and I grew up playing on the rug in front of my grandfather's gun cabinet, with all sorts of firepower within easy reach behind a simple glass door. Yet despite all your blather, we never even thought about touching them. Guess why. Go ahead, guess.

    ...

    ...

    ...

    Give up? One word: Discipline. We knew that touching those things without permission would earn us the worst thrashing in the history of our young lives. And that was just from Gramps. When Mom and Dad found out it would only get worse.

    The doc goes on to trot out the usual crapola and junk science that's been discredited time and time again. Moronic stuff, like how it's supposedly impossible to defend yourself with a gun unless you kill the bad guy (bad guys apparently never break off attacks just because a gun is pointed at them). The anti-gun movement keeps getting new mouthpieces, but they keep telling the same lies.

    Next.

    Posted by Tom, 6/1/2006 6:16:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...