Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Birthday books

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge, set in the same universe as A Fire Upon The Deep
Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson, the events in The Weapon told from a different point of view

Turning 46

Happy birthday to me. Breakfast in bed, yum. Diana had scattered half a dozen new books around for me to stumble across as I went through my morning resurrection. A "Run Like A Dog" exercise shirt from Josh, woof! When I got to work, on my desk were several thousand calories of jelly beans, sugar cookies, and more.

I've gotten congratulations in my innovative use of alternative power sources, i.e. using birthday candles to heat the house; and I've been compared to that famous Chinese scholar, Yung No Mo.

Dinner at the Mayflower Cafe on 34th Street, which is a Turkish place. Hummus and fresh pita bread, and something made with phyllo, feta and spinach. Very good, and quick; we'll be going back again, possibly as soon as lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tax Day Tea Party

A Tea Party is planned for 11:00 - 1:00 on April 15 at Town Center, Virginia Beach, across from Senator Jim Webb's office.
Note: If you're in Virginia's Fourth District--Chesapeake, Suffolk and parts west--you are fortunate to have Randy Forbes (R) as your Congressman; Randy is one of the few to have voted against all of the half dozen major Bailout / Porkulus bills. On the other hand, if you're in Virginia Beach, that's Second District and Glen Nye (D) is your Congressman.

If you don't know who your rep is or what he's up to, check GovTrack. Elected officials are like three year olds--you need to keep an eye on them.


"They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people better.
I don't hold to that. So no more running--I aim to misbehave."
--Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring in the Marsh

The dividing line between winter and spring is that you can now look over the marsh grass and, by exercising an optimistic imagination, persuade yourself that there's an underlying tinge of green to be seen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"I support the troops, but..."

Once again today I saw someone say "I support the troops, I want them to come home". I wouldn't complain if he'd said "I wish we hadn't gotten into this war, but since we're in it, I want to win"; but what he was saying was "I want to quit now".

No, you don't support the troops. Our troops are all, every single one of them without exception, volunteers. They signed up knowing that their job was risky, and that they were offering to carry out the lawful orders of our government despite that risk. That is what they are doing. Undoubtedly, they all want to come home--but the honorable ones want to come home after they finish their job. If they come home before they finish their job, well, the word for that is "defeat". If you are advocating defeat, you are not supporting the troops.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I'm hardly a carpenter, and it shows, but the gardening boxes are built. Now we just need to haul 20 cubic feet of compost, topsoil, peat moss, perlite, soda cans, sand, whatever, and fill the boxes, mutter about pH testing, then start planting. Except tomatoes, which will wait a few weeks--Last Frost for this area is supposed to be mid-April.

Meanwhile the Bradford pear trees are in bloom, dark gray trunks showing off the chalk and ivory blossoms. The water elms are starting to show leaves.

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Dr Jerry Pournelle wrote this essay in 1983. Excerpts:

"Republics stand until the citizens begin to vote themselves largess from the public treasury. When the plunder begins, those plundered feel no loyalty to the nation ["going John Galt"--ed.]—and the beneficiaries demand ever more, until few are left unplundered. Eventually everyone plunders everyone, the state serving as little more than an agency for collecting and dispensing largess. The economy falters. Inflation begins. Deficits mount. Something must be done. Strong measures are demanded, but nothing can be agreed to. "


"A new friend of the people comes forth. He will end the babble of political parties and factions and class war He will give meaning to life; will lead a crusade against poverty, squalor, ugliness; will transform the nation into a land beautiful and shining. He will be the Hero..."

Monday, March 23, 2009


From Anathem
"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said. "We have a protractor."

On this day

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry gave a speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses, ending with: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

Of course, in an event which is a little closer to us, this is also the day that, in 1933, the German government passed the Enabling Act. This Act gave Chancellor Adolf Hitler the ability to create laws directly, without the legislature's participation.

Star Fruit

One of my New Year resolutions was to do something new every week. It doesn't have to be something major, like our trip to Portugal last year, just something different. I was grocery shopping yesterday and noticed a bin of star fruit, so that was this week's micro-adventure. The texture is something like a firm grape, and the taste is also similar to a grape but more citrus.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mongolian Beef

This recipe is originally from Pink Bites, but I'm linking The Crepes of Wrath version, which has good photos. Hat tip to Instapundit.

1 lb of flank steak or cube steak, thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 cup of cornstarch
3 teaspoons of canola oil
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger (about 1/2 inch piece)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 -3 large cloves)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 large green onions, sliced
Rice, for serving

1. For the meat, make sure the steak slices are dry by patting them with a paper towel. Slice them into strips, then add the cornstarch to the beef. Place the slices in a strainer and shake off excess corn starch. Begin to cook the rice while you prepare the rest of the meal.
2. For the sauce, heat half of the oil in a large wok or pan at medium-high heat and add the garlic and the ginger. Immediately add the soy sauce, water, brown sugar and pepper flakes. Cook the sauce for about 2 minutes and transfer to a bowl. Don’t worry if the sauce doesn’t look thick enough at this point. The corn starch in the beef will thicken it up later.
3. Place the meat in the same pan and cook, stirring until it is all browned (this is a quick thing). Pour the sauce back into the wok/pan and let it cook along with the meat.
4. You can cook down the sauce to reduce it to thicken or leave it thinner. Add the green onions on the last minute so the green parts will stay green and the white parts crunchy. Serve it hot with rice. Serves 2.

Plus bob's comment from that blog:

"use 1 tsp. of baking soda in the meat prior to cooking. that is the trick to get meat as tender as in the restaurant. you’ll have to add a bit of salt as well, just a 1/2 tsp. baking soda will mellow the salt flavor in the soy sauce."


I'm starting a separate blog, which I'm calling Ficton--not "Fiction"--because I expect it to be primarily fragments and ideas. Some of these may eventually become complete stories, others are probably doomed to stay fictons. Almost all of them will be science fiction or fantasy, a children's book, Silly Sheep, which is what I'm starting with.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Beauty in Front of You

It broadened, brightened, and crept up the mountainside, setting fire to individual trees that had changed color early. It was a ray coming through a gap in the weather far to the west, levering up as the sun sank.
"That is the kind of beauty I was trying to get you to see," Orolo told me. Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways."
--from Anathem, by Neal Stephenson 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Japanese proverb

"Death is a feather; Duty is a mountain."

edit: This reminds me that a politician recently said that AIG executives who took bonuses should resign or commit suicide, in the Japanese tradition. I don't think that was proper to say...although if he were saying it to Congress, I'd have a hard time complaining.

Banquet from Hell

Note that these are all foods that people eat voluntarily. Well, some people...I'm not all that adventurous on the culinary front.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Power corrupts

"Power corrupts; absolute power...is really neat."
--attributed to various politicians of the party opposed by the attributor

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Now Reading

It's been busy the last few days, what with getting the material together for the garden boxes, doing home repairs, and dealing with finances. This afternoon we bought supplies--dried and canned food, batteries, flour, powdered milk--and added it to what was already in the storage closet. We've been maintaining stocks for a while, in case of hurricanes or terrorist attacks or whatever else might happen; I hadn't expected Congress to launch an attack on our economy, but I guess that counts as part of "whatever else". I recently read a comment on someone's blog to the effect of "if our government leaders knew they'd be hanged on Jan 1, 2010, if the Dow wasn't above 10,000, they'd become tax-cutting, pro-business libertarians overnight."

Speaking of which, I ran across For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto in a used book store. I've just barely started reading it; based on the comments at Amazon, it looks like a winner.

I've also been reading The Moon Goddess and the Son, which weaves a girl who loves the Moon, an engineer and his son, plus the Mongol influence on Russian law, a mathematician, the space race, a gamer designer, the Cold War, Middle Eastern antiquities, and other threads to form a dense, complicated, highly enjoyable novel. I have to re-read a Donald Kingsbury book to find out what I missed the first time; and they're good enough that I'm ready to start re-reading them the minute I finish them.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Raising a successful child

When you praise a child by telling him how smart he is, he tends to avoid challenging tasks, to give up easily when something is difficult, and to be competitive with his peers. When you praise him for how hard he works, he tends to seek more difficult puzzles and pays less attention to whether he's doing better than others. Intelligence is passive, in that you don't control how much you have; whereas effort is active.

And persistent effort is valuable, because "many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years."

Incidentally, I picked up these from Schlock Mercenary, specifically the artist's blog. Where would you expect to find this sort of information, if not in a web comic about space mercenaries?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Real Life Super Heroes


"a growing number of lower profile yet visually arresting altruists began serving their fellow citizens by taking on local thugs, helping stranding motorists, volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and participating in blood drives. They call themselves Real Life Superheroes, or Reals for short, and as their name suggests, their inspiration comes not from elected officials, religion, or the Kiwanis Club, but rather Batman, Spider-man, and the countless other icons of spandex-clad virtue."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fairness in the Alarishi Constitution

I was finishing P.J. O'Rourke's Eat the Rich and had two thoughts on fairness. I'll break this into two posts.
A normal contract is bilateral, in that the seller and buyer both agree to the deal, and both come out ahead. It doesn't matter who initiates the transaction. By contrast, a transaction for the sake of "fairness" is unilateral. If Alice has $500,000 and Bob has nothing, Alice can initiate giving Bob $250,000, in which case she derives $250,000 worth of satisfaction from the deal; or Bob can initiate taking $250,000 from Alice, in which case she gets no benefit. The situations are not moral equivalents. The first is a gift, the second is theft.
If the government is taking on Bob's behalf, it's still theft. Ultimately taxes come down to "you will give us money or we will put you in jail"; if they were voluntary, they wouldn't be taxes. And it's a safe bet that Bob isn't even going to get the full $250k out of it either.
If the government wants to have "fairness", it should to give an incentive for charitable gifts, rather than promote a mentality that theft is socially sanctioned.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Josh is home for spring break. He came in, expressed mild surprise and dismay about my having shaved--"I think I can see the seam of your human mask"--and then headed upstairs to install Dawn of War and start conquering the universe for the glory of the Emperor.

After days of cold rain followed by a freeze and a dusting of snow, we've now gotten some decent weather for a few days. The last frost of the year is usually in early April, so I'm not expecting this weather to last; but while it does, it's pleasant to be able to lounge on the deck and enjoy the afternoon sun while wearing a polo shirt rather than a parka.

And with warm weather, people think about gardening. That is, some people do; normally I'm not one of them. And when I do get an urge, once every few years, to commit premeditated horticulture, I generally sacrifice a Boston fern and that is more than sufficient. This year, however, the economic climate is also a factor, and I'm finding myself thinking about peat moss and compost and canning tomatoes. We're in a condo with about 50 square feet of deck usable, so we're hardly going to be self sufficient. But every little bit helps, and we'll be getting practice towards the time when we have more room.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Virginia Beach on a winter's night

Tonight there's ice glittering on the grass, and frosty clear skies. Orion stands bold overhead. To the south, paired green and red lights rise above the horizon as fighters rumble up from the Naval Air Station and bank into their flight patterns.

Somewhere in this city a soldier is blowing on his hands as he stands watch through the night; a homeless man is curling up in a blanket and not really caring whether he'll make it through the cold; a newlywed is cuddling with her husband; an executive is deciding to skip the bar and go home to his family; a single mom is wondering whether to give her landlord notice or try to eke out one more month; a teenager is chatting online with her friends in Australia and California and Germany; a man is kissing his beloved goodbye for the last time; a woman is stripping for a man who doesn't care for her; a couple is trying sushi for the first time; a Coast Guard crew is heading home, having given up a search; an artist is delighting in her painting; a boy is wondering at the stars.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Alarishi Constitution

Somewhere around 1982, one of my roommates ran a game which he called Balance of Power. Each player ran a country, directing its economy, military, intelligence and research efforts, and conducting diplomacy with the other players. What made it interesting is that you designed your own country, applying 100 points to buy ratings in 20 factors, such as Area, Population, Cultural Unity, Military Size, Military Skill, several natural resources, and so forth. You could put a 5 into every category, or you could improve some abilities at the expense of others. Bruce Glassco pointed out that extremes are more interesting than the average is--they don't make movies about the average shark, or archaeologist, or con artist; they make Jaws and Indiana Jones or The Sting. From that idea, a few of us decided to buy our countries with every rating being either a 10 or a zero. I designed Alarish, a nation with a 10 for Defensible Terrain, Science Skill, Military Skill, Government Legitimacy and other things, and a zero for Area, Coastline, Navy Size, Navy Skill, and so forth. My country was a tiny enclave of top notch scientists and commandos living in Himalayan mountains.
Around 1995, I started playing Full Thrust, a game of starship combat by Ground Zero Games. The official background had several major nations and their navies, but it was generally accepted by the publisher and the fans that players could either flesh out the existing nations or design their own. A lot of people did their own variants of Scotland or the Confederate States or such, which struck me as unimaginative. I decided to translate my Balance of Power country to the GZG universe. This led to the libertarian monarchy known as the Alarishi Empire, which controls a group of three M stars with no habitable planets, but lots of asteroids.
The Alarishi Empire has been described as an orbiting collection of experiments in social Darwinism. The Imperial government will generally let you start your own local government and run it however you like, as long as you pay your lease on time and refrain from blowing up your neighbors. If your local government and social system works, you'll thrive; if not, that's your problem, and the Imperial government feels no obligation to bail you out. Think of it as federalism on steroids.
The point of this is that it gives me a background for thinking about government in terms of "what is theoretically workable and just" rather than "what's politically possible given the mess we're in and all the history behind it." I'll be considering various issues from the point of view of "if I were making the rules, I'd say....". Comments are always welcome.

Raise the Black Flag

Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, raise the black flag, and start slitting throats.
--H.L. Mencken