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January 20th, 2015
04:53 pm

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Improved parking signs
A tale of private initiative and government cooperation.



Link thanks to GeekPress.

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11:22 am

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Looking for books about men and women living well with each other
I just read The Just City by Jo Walton*, and it's a spectacular book.... but there's rather a lot about rape (of women by men), and about women getting stuck with most of the childcare, and I find that I'm tired of reading about misogyny.

In some moods, and moreso in the past, I've wanted to read about societies where women are oppressed, and about women getting revenge, with a special fondness for C. J. Cherryh's "The Haunted Tower"-- that's the one about the far future mayor of London's mistress and the ghosts in the tower of London, but the last time I read it, it had worn out. It's not that I want those stories to go away or that other people shouldn't read them.

I expect there's fiction about societies where it's the default for men and women to treat each other well, but my mental filing system isn't turning them up. Any suggestions?

*I just realized I'd been recommending a non-existent book called The Good City. I hope google will make up for my lapse.

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January 9th, 2015
08:02 pm

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The triumph of the geeks
People are buying electronics instead of high-end jewelry.

Offhand, I can't think of any downsides to this, except for a loss of craftmanship. Can you think of any downsides?

One more downside-- jewelry isn't a great store of value, but it's better than electronics.

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January 8th, 2015
11:36 pm

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Spiced cabbage with scrambled egg
some of this spiced cabbage
3 eggs
about an ounce or so of pancetta
half a quince, chopped up
some black pepper
some cream
salt

That half quince had been in the refrigerator for a few days, and I thought it might be a little dry-- quince is the driest fruit I know of, even when it's fresh.

I heated some olive oil and water, and put in the quince. When almost all of the water was gone, I put in the thinly sliced pancetta and the pepper. (Pancetta is something like bacon, but fattier.) I tried a very low heat, but the pancetta was barely making any progress, so I went to medium high.

Then I lowered the heat and mixed the cream and eggs together and put them in. Salt was added at some point.

This was really excellent, and perhaps better because the weather is cold.

Quinces aren't all that available for most of the year around here. A tart apple might be a good substitute.

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11:31 pm

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Spiced cabbage and fish
Either I wasn't as hungry as I thought, or this is *very* filling.

Large cabbage, chopped medium fine
Juice of one lemon
1 pound of mahi mahi
olive oil
salt
soy sauce
mild curry powder
ras-el hanout
forbidden rice noodle ramen
a couple of handfuls of roasted sunflower seeds

Heat olive oil in skillet on medium heat. Put in cabbage and lemon juice.
(I had a lot of cabbage, it filled a 12" skillet.) I added the spices
while the cabbage was cooking, but they could have gone in with the oil. I
added the sunflower seeds late, too, and they might have benefited from
being toasted in the oil at the beginning.

Put large pot of water on to boil.

When the cabbage is partly cooked, put in the fish, and cover. When the
fish is cooked, uncover and turn the heat off.

When the water is boiling, put in the ramen. Cook according to
instructions, I guess.

Add soy sauce to taste when it's done. I put on more than I intended, but
it tasted good.

Notes: I was underwhelmed with the ramen-- I may have overcooked it. One
ramen certainly isn't enough for that much food, and I think I'll cook
rice to go with the rest of it.

Forbidden rice is a black rice. When it's good, it tastes like brown rice with a stronger brown rice flavor. When it's mediocre (I mean Whole Foods house brand) it's a black rice that tastes like brown rice but costs more.

Also, that's way too much cabbage for the amount of fish. I'm planning to
cook the rest of the cabbage with egg when I run out of fish.

The fish wasn't great-- I don't know whether mahi mahi shouldn't be steamed.

I'm still fairly happy with it-- the mild curry/ras-el hanout/soy sauce
combination on the cabbage is a big win.

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January 6th, 2015
12:03 am

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Government, the poor, and driver's licenses
http://www.npr.org/2015/01/05/372691918/how-drivers-license-suspensions-unfairly-target-the-poor

If you get caught drinking and driving in Wisconsin, and it's your first offense, you lose your license for nine months. For a hit and run, the punishment is suspension for one year.

But if you don't pay a ticket for a minor driving offense, such as driving with a broken tail light, you can lose your license for two years.

"It's an incredible policy," says John Pawasarat of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. It's "a policy of punishing people who can't pay their fines."

The practice – repeated in states across the country – is mostly impacting the poor and creating a spiral of bad consequences.


Anyone know how driver license suspensions are handled in countries other than the US?

More about how normal operations of the US government keeps a good many people trapped in poverty-- basically escalating fines and jail time (and fines for being in jail) for minor offenses.

There are a good many people who mistrust business much more than they mistrust government-- the arguments seems to be that you have better tools for changing government than you have for changing businesses, and that government is motivated by the public good (do I have that part right?) while business is motivated by the desire for profit.

I see two problems with this argument-- one is comparing businesses (in a range between the worst businesses and real world business in general) to a somewhat idealized vision of government, and the other is neglecting the fact that while there are more tools for changing government, in the short and medium run, it's easier to get away from a business. Also, governments specialize in violence more than businesses do. Okay, more than two problems. If you find dealing in money somewhat revolting, it might be worth considering that while governments don't exactly make a profit, they still have a streak of trying to maximize revenue.

As you may gather, I'm not fond of government. However, I'm inclined to think my emotions are not entirely well-calibrated on the issue. What I believe rationally is that government and business are the only methods the human race has developed for doing large projects, and the seven billion of us are dependent on large projects. Neither government nor business are reliably benevolent, but we can't live without them.

Neither of them is completely evil, either.

I wouldn't mind (at least I don't think I would mind) if the world switched over to something friendlier and less hierarchical, but no one has figured out how to make that work stably and on a large scale, and not for lack of trying.

I've wondered whether the steady drizzle of contempt for government (from one set of people) and for business (pretty much from another set of people) discourages conscientious people from going into business and government and/or from being ambitious to do much in business or government.

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January 4th, 2015
08:37 pm

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Question for liberals and progressives, and possibly some conservatives
American banks are closing the accounts of small businesses near the Mexican border from fear of laws against money laundering.

As a libertarian, my opinion is easy to come to-- laws controlling drugs and forbidding immigration are bad and this problem wouldn't exist if it weren't for those laws. This might even be evidence that they're bad laws.

However, if you believe that the government should regulate business to prevent public harm, is this over the line? Would you change the laws about money laundering, and if so, how? Is this an example of people having to make sacrifices for the public good?

If you're a libertarian or have libertarian-flavored politics and would like to explain in more detail about why those are bad laws, go for it, but I'm definitely interested in hearing from people with other political orientations.

Meanwhile, I'm working on a theory about laws against remote harms are a problem.

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January 1st, 2015
09:28 pm

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Engraving found on half-million year old shell
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429983.200-shell-art-made-300000-years-before-humans-evolved.html?full=true#.VKYB3THF-Sr

If you want to see the image in the article at a reasonable size, right click on it, then choose "view in new tab".

A shell etched by Homo erectus is by far the oldest engraving ever found, challenging what we know about the origin of art and complex human thought

THE artist – if she or he can be called that – was right-handed and used a shark's tooth. They had a remarkably steady hand and a strong arm. Half a million years ago, on the banks of a calm river in central Java, they scored a deep zigzag into a clam shell.

We will never know what was going on inside its maker's head, but the tidy, purposeful line (pictured above right) has opened a new window into the origins of our modern creative mind.

It was found etched into the shell of a fossilised freshwater clam, and is around half a million years old – making the line by far the oldest engraving ever found. The date also means it was made two to three hundred thousand years before our own species evolved, by a more ancient hominin, Homo erectus.


Link thanks to Mick Clancy, who usually posts excellent landscape photos.

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08:02 pm

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The map and the territories
The publisher HarperCollins has been accused of publishing a book used by schools in the Middle East that contains a map in which Israel has been omitted.

I don't think they've just been accused, I think they've done it.



When I first saw the headline, I was hoping it was a weird computer glitch, but HarperCollins has defended it.
However, Collins Bartholomew, a subsidiary of HarperCollins, said that supplying maps including Israel would be “unacceptable” to customers in the Gulf countries and that the map was a response to “local preferences”.

Update: HarperCollins is withdrawing the atlases
“HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas," the statement from the U.S.-based publishing giant says. "This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologises for this omission and for any offence caused.”
I expect that the atlases which were distributed will become collectors items. I wonder what HarperCollins will do to supply atlases for the Gulf countries, or if they'll bail out on the contracts.

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December 26th, 2014
12:00 am

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So I saw The Interview
I rather liked it.

I'm not sure how much is that I'd heard that it was awful, so I wasn't expecting much. Also, it's better than the unspeakably evil The World's End.

It surpasses Lebovitz's Moral Minimum-- there is no coercive interrogation by the good guys. There isn't even any coercive interrogation by the bad guys.

I seriously appreciated that there was so much screen time of people who were revolted by the idea of killing. I don't watch a lot of movies, so I don't know if there are a lot of other examples.

It has some utterly gorgeous landscapes (maybe I should watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again?) and a tiger.

The humor ranged from meh to mildly amusing, though I think I laughed at one or two things.

Nice acting by Rogen, Kaplan, and Park (Kim Jong Un). The women actors didn't have good writing to work with, but my sympathy went out to Agent Lacey for having to work with nitwits.

I'd say that technically speaking, Kim Jong Un isn't assassinated.

I realize there will be efforts to get the movie into North Korea, and the bits about their government lying and Kim Jong Un being dangerously flaky and unworthy of respect might register, but the movie is so much about American weirdness that I'm not sure it will make much sense there.

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