Friday, August 26, 2011

We Saw This Coming

I was assigned recently to read two of the Federalist Papers for my Government class, specifically #10 and #51. Both concern Constitutional Principles in different aspects. I'll cover #51 later, but for now I have a few comments to make relative to #10.

The essay can best be summed up as 'the madness of crowds and a Republic's means of dealing with it.' Faction, as it is referred to in the essay, is a highly dangerous force in straight democracy. Mob mentality makes people accept things that on reflection they might find abhorrent, but due to the illusions of acceptability conferred by consensus, said reflection very often simply never occurs.

I know it is generally considered taboo to use this example for anything, but Nazi Germany is a fine example of these sorts of issues. Before a charismatic sociopath came to power, Germans by and large tolerated, if not particularly liked, the assorted peoples persecuted through Hitler's reign. There was resentment for the international treatment post WWI, but they had neither the will nor the power necessary to seek recompense. Forward came a man capable of wielding absolute power in Germany, who played on the fears and resentments of the populace and gave them an outlet for their frustrations, and the vast majority of Germans either participated or accepted this.

I have heard the argument that the actions of the Fuhrer were not reflective of the people. This is absurd. Considering real power to be the ability to enforce your will on your own, he was powerless. The power he wielded came from the consent of the governed, and the might of the military.

Most modern opinion clearly finds Hitler abhorrent, and I would say rightly so. Most every modern German is in agreement.* If a run of the mill German citizen in 1939 were transported to the present, odds are they would not call for the same things they supported in their own time. Mobs are a frighteningly pervasive and persuasive element of society.

The interesting thing that crops up later is the application of faction and mob mentality to the governing body. The proposed solution is simple. The US is big enough that, in theory, there will be enough factions competing that none of them are rendered effective.
The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project,** will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State
Here enters our modern problem. How many true factions exist within congress? While they may subdivide into RINO, Blue Dog, Tea Party, Libertarian, Green, etc, the two broad categories are of course Democrat and Republican. In an increasing percentage of votes, especially on financial matters, the vote distribution is entirely partisan.

The nature of a two party system is dangerous. Both parties now are relatively indistinguishable, and neither serves as an adequate check against the other. Neither has achieved their end goals because the balance of power see-saws back and forth so frequently. When in agreement on an issue, the American people have little option in redress. Take the following.
The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice.
Taxes are indeed by international standard fairly low. This does not change the fact that they are ridiculously high. Increasingly we see a government bleeding it's constituency dry and offering nothing substantive in return. Both parties are guilty.

The Tea Party seems then the best thing to happen in a long while. While other parties have attempted to break the two party system, none have received the backing and numbers of the Tea Party. The upcoming elections will likely increase the foothold already established. Even if you don't agree with their politics, adding another layer of difficulty and obfuscation to passing a law, not through bureaucratic but diplomatic means, can only be a good thing.

Our government no longer has the benefit of the entire nation at heart. Their methods of social engineering are failing, and taking the country down with them. This should come as no surprise to anyone. The institutions of the constitution so freely ignored today are specifically designed to prevent this.

Of additional gripe, there is an entire faction of huge import no longer represented in congress. The 17th Amendment took the election of Senators from the state governments and handed it to the people. This rendered the two houses largely identical, and increased the potential for popular mob rule to carry law significantly.

One closing point. Kevin Baker points out that this is it. The US is the hill to die on. I don't believe we are quite to the point of open revolt, though it seems not inconceivable within the next 3-5 years. I think we can still make a recovery through the mechanisms in place through the US Constitution. Repeal the 17th Amendment. Elect constitutionalists who will restore the workings of this country to their proper form. Remove the propaganda and indoctrination of public education.*** Do not stand by and watch the country crumble. If revolution comes it means we as an American people have failed as thoroughly as our government has failed us.

*Note that the Most I am referring to in both cases excludes mostly crazy people, neo-nazis, and white supremacists. These factions are not, for the moment, representative of any meaningful group.

**Note how many of these things are being actively supported if not already firmly in place, eg paper money.

***For those who think this makes me crazy, go read Kevin Baker on modern educational failings

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Meme on

I give in to peer pressure.
The NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels with the ones I have read in bold:

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (I have read Dune, but none of the others)

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

23 out of 100 - That's just plain embarrassing. I may have to use this as a required reading list now.

Black Listed

I've been black-listed and I'm proud.

I've read bits and pieces of a great many of those blogs, and most seem at least worth a look. Go see. It's been added to the blogroll.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Scouting Spirit

Some of you may know that I made Eagle Scout recently. If not, now you do. After 11 years of scouting, I am now officially graduated and moved on.

Scouting has, on the whole, been good to me. I've learned any number of valuable skills, and I think I am a better person for the messages and lessons of the Scout Law and Oath.

I got into both fishing and firearms through scouting, one through the riflery merit badge, the other through getting a fishing pole in reward for selling popcorn. I do both competitively now, though I haven't been able to shoot such for quite some time. I write this blog, started because of my interest in firearms. Even my major, Mechanical Engineering, has some factors from scouting. It's everywhere in my life.

Scouting teaches young boys how to be men. Done right, it teaches the assorted skills necessary to be self sufficient in life, from finances to cooking to communicating. It also teaches the proper uses of those skills. Communication skills can just as easily be turned to deception and ill as honest purposes. Scouting seems a near perfect learning tool, far better than modern public education.

Why then do only one in four boys across the nation ever join the scouts? Those numbers are down far from their former highs. I can't pick out any single cause for this shift. Contributing factors probably include the plethora of other activities available to people, the increase in schoolwork, and the modern style of parenting. Shorter version, Scouting is not the cool thing to do.

The other baffling thing to me is why so many scouts never finish the road and become Eagles. 99 scouts out of a hundred will not make Eagle. I think that this is probably also multifaceted, maybe even moreso than enrollment. On the one hand, all the assorted reasons to not join in the first place still apply. Adding to that the true difficulty of the rank, and some institutional problems, and I can understand a high rate of attrition. 1% completion is not a good sign though. (Yes, this assumes that Eagle is 'completion' but really, it is. It's the last stage in the natural course of scouting)

Scouting is worthwhile. Scouting looks good on resumes because it legitimately means that the applicant has marketable skills. The army automatically promotes Eagle Scouts to Private First Class on enlistment. Over 75% of men at the Military Academies are Eagle Scouts. Scouting helps people.

If you have kids, or are yourself of scouting age, I recommend scouting.

That being said, I have some bones to pick.

First, to just get this out of the way, the BSA stance on homosexual leaders is just silly. Homosexuality does not equate with pedophilia. Gay leaders are no more a threat than woman leaders, which are widely accepted. It also rings a little disingenuous with the spirit of scouting, which leaves no room for unjust discrimination.

Second, certain sectors of the scouting administration seem to have lost sight of what said spirit is. My troop has been criticized and examined because we have had an extraordinarily high retention and Eagle rate. More boys in our troop make Eagle than not by a healthy margin, due to truly exemplary leadership. Instead of greeting this record with praise, appreciation, or good will, it is treated with suspicion, because perhaps we are cutting corners and doing things the easy way out. We're not.

Also, I have seen firsthand and heard countless other counts of Eagle Projects hijacked. National requires an adult coach, and my council required a mentor. In many cases, the coach and mentor overstep their role as advisors and helpers into planners and doers. The project becomes more theirs than the scout's. That is screwed up. If Eagle is supposed to be a sign of true leadership potential, then why are these leaders taking away that role? Also, the projects that the scouts put forward may not be professional quality work, but that's proper. The scouts aren't professionals. It should be a good project, well done and useful, but it doesn't need to be professional grade. Similarly, contracting out the building or design to professionals seems counterproductive.

Scouting is hurting right now. There are things that can be fixed, on a national, council, troop and individual level to help. The councils and national both seem to be getting bureaucratic to an unhealthy level, and unconcerned with the ideals and spirit of scouting. I hope the 100th anniversary can serve as a rejuvenation period, and stop some of the problems that are cropping up. I have my doubts

All that being said, the balance is still towards scouting by a huge margin. The problems are small. Society would be well served with more scouts, and scouting itself would be likely to benefit, with some of the problems adjusting for the new impressions, scouts, expectations, and pressures. If you're involved in scouting at all, I commend you.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I'm All Growed Up!

Today I got my first semester course registration completed, and consequently my full status as a student at the University of Texas at Dallas. So far, so good. It also means I get to change the top banner to reflect my new status. The relative freedoms in reslife here compared to high school are remarkable. It's going to take some getting used to that I can be out and about after 10:00.

A quick proof that this college is awesome. This afternoon we had a snowball fight. In Texas. In August. In triple digit temperatures. Snow cones are useful for more than staining mouths.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Moved in

I've managed to move in fairly well, and I don't think I forgot anything major. My dorm is quite nice, better than any other I have heard of in fact. So far so good. That's all for now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I am slowly managing to get the last pieces of my life in order for the move to Texas in the morning. I'm not sure I want to see another box for at least a week, but no luck there.

I'm simultaneously excited about the move, dreading it, and a touch nervous.

The excitement comes from moving out of Illinois, starting a new chapter, and all that good stuff.

Dread comes because I am not what many would call an organized person. Moving to and from my high school every year was hassle enough, and when I inevitably forgot something important, I could pop back the next weekend and bring it then. Now, if I intend to use it in the next three months, it needs to come now, or be shipped. Add to that a pathological desire to avoid packing and unpacking, and avoid chaos, the next half-week isn't likely to be particularly fun.

The unknowns make me nervous. That's pretty much to be expected.

Posting is likely to be light for a little while as I get acclimated and over the move. I've got a few things lined up that might make an appearance in the next week or so.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Breda has up a post concerning the participants of SlutWalks, and their apparent take on women's self defense. Since reading it, I've had a few nagging thoughts about it I thought I'd share. I can't figure out how to embed the video, so y'all will have to wander over to Breda's to see it.


Ok. First and foremost, these techniques are physically ineffective. As Weer'd points out, no full contact martial arts allow men and women to fight, and all are heavily divided into weight classes. All the martial training in the world can be overcome by being bigger and stronger than your opponent. Put simply, these palm-strikes and eye-pecks are going to do just about diddly.

The main thing that has been bothering me isn't the ineffective nature of the defense. In the instruction, the woman makes special note that you must shout "No" during the attack. I find this bizarre on several levels.

These techniques are supposed to be used on rapists, yes? Is this rapist supposed to hear the woman say 'no', and say, 'oh, oops, I guess she doesn't want to be raped. I'll just leave now.' What then is this shout supposed to accomplish? It's doing squat to change the attacker's mind. Yes, indicating the lack of consent is wise, but don't rely on that changing anything. Rapists don't care about the wishes of their victims. If they did they wouldn't be rapists.

It also violates the separation of the talking stage and the laying on of hands stage. For an excellent discussion of that separation, head to Lawdog, specifically the line
"This doesn't happen with all arrests -- but, during the "laying on of hands" the talking part is over and done. There is no negotiation, making deals, or asking for co-operation once the talking has failed."
The same applies to personal defense. If you find yourself having to use force, you use force until the threat is gone. Be that by the perp running away, curling into a ball and whimpering, knocked cold, or well ventilated doesn't matter right here and now. Why ventilated is better is a later post. Mixing the talking and fighting bits just ends up unpleasant.

When I brought this point up to a friend, she said she had always thought it was more to get attention than anything else. This surprised me too, because the English language has a much more appropriate word for getting help in that circumstance, being, well, 'help'. Shouting 'no' may get the attention you want, but may also be disregarded. Shouting help is actively requesting that attention, not just hoping to get it en passant.

It seems to me that in attempting to put the blame where it belongs, with the goblins, SlutWalks has accidentally ignored some of their own social responsibilities and proper self-preservation. Saying it's not your fault if you get raped is not an excuse to be unprepared to defend yourself. Counting on anyone else to save you is foolhardy and unfair to the people you are begging. Your safety is your own responsibility.

To sum up, talk when time to talk. Make sure the goblin knows this is not consensual, especially important in date-rape and other similar circumstances. When talking fails though, all vocalization should be attempts to get help, not negotiating. And, to quote Weer'd, "Carry your damn guns!"

To clarify, I do not even remotely blame the women for finding themselves victimized. The only party at blame in a rape case is the rapist. I support that part of SlutWalks. I do think the women will be best able to get through the encounter by being sensible.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Peppers a la Scrib

6-7 Large Green Poblano Peppers (technically you only need one per person, but this makes a lot of stuffing. They keep well)
1 Can Sweet Corn
1 Can Black Beans
1 Can Seasoned Tomatoes and Green Chiles
1 Can Salsa Verde
1 Large Onion
1/2 Sweet Potato
1 lb Taco Steak
Queso Quesadilla
Queso Cotija
Meat Seasonings (I recommend Penzey's Arizona Dream)

First, fine chop the onion and sweet potato and begin frying in a large (largest you have) pan. Once the onion is starting to carmelize, and the potato is starting to soften, add in the tomato, drained and rinsed black beans, and drained corn. turn to low heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally. In a separate pan, cook the taco meat with seasoning to taste. Add to pan with rest of stuffing, and stir together. Keep on heat until most tomato juice has been absorbed or evaporated.

This sounds more complicated than it is. The peppers must be roasted and peeled. Turn your oven broiler on, and place peppers on a cooking sheet as high as it will go in the oven. Keep turning the peppers. After a short time, the skins will start bubbling and cracking, separating from the flesh of the pepper. Turn them such that the skin is fairly uniformly removed. Remove from sheet and place in a paper bag to cool.

When cool, peel skins off (they will shred easily. it is not necessary to remove it all) and cut a slit into each pepper. Remove the ribs and seeds, and as much of the interior of the stem as possible. Rinse under cool water to remove lingering seeds. Place the peppers alternating directions in a glass baking pan. You will have extra stuffing, which makes a tasty side

Bring it all together:
First lay out a generous layer of your quesadilla cheese in the bottom of each pepper. Then spoon stuffing in, making sure to reach into the corners around the stem. When full, you should be able to close the slit to about 1-2" wide. Coat the entire pan in a thick layer of quesadilla cheese and place in the oven at 325 for about 15 minutes, just to warm the peppers and melt the cheese. Remove pan from oven, drizzle salsa verde over the whole ensemble, and sprinkle with cotija cheese. Serve and enjoy. Pairs well with fruit salads, guacamole and chips, horchata, prickly pear margaritas, and cornbread.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Home again

I am now, regrettably enough, home from Michigan. I'd like to say this will mean more posting, but I leave again for Texas a week from today. I have a bunch of ideas rattling around in my head, but finding time and mental wherewithal to put them into being may prove troublesome.

Reentry has been relatively gentle for me, but less so for the actually employed people. Exiting again is proving more problematic. I am decidedly not looking forward to packing my life into boxes to travel a thousand miles.

Shooting apples with a .38 is fun.

Shooting berries with a .22 is rewarding.

My freshwater tank can't come with me to Dallas, which is disappointing, but I am setting up a Marine picotope down there, which is exciting.

I made dinner tonight. Stuffed poblano peppers. Before any readers get the mistaken impression that this means I can cook, I know how to make this recipe, pasta, toast, bacon, and if i'm lucky a sandwich. I've noticed in the last two times i have made this recipe though, the peppers have been unusually hot. I am wondering whether they are sold riper later in the summer, with corresponding increase in heat. In any case, it's still pretty much my signature recipe.

I can't leave well enough alone and follow a recipe. I take after my dad in that, but the poblano stuffing I invented, and i seem to have accidentally reinvented Oaxacan horchata. While at the Mexican market today for ingredients, I found Prickly Pear Cactus fruit, and decided to try it out. After plucking a few dozen tiny needles from my fingers, i skinned them (with the help of the internet) and found the flesh to be sweet, fruity, yet still green tasting, and altogether quite pleasant, if loaded with seeds. Dad juiced the uneaten bits, and made prickly pear margaritas for the alcohol drinkers, and I added some of the juice to the horchata out of curiosity. I thought I had invented something fantastic until the internet told me that it is one of the more common serving styles for horchata.

I will post recipes for both horchata and peppers tomorrow, hopefully.