Friday, November 22, 2013


I'm not going to call the following brief collection of thoughts and rants "assorted." They're just the products of random rambles of thought. Perhaps one of them will punch one of your buttons as well.

The change to Senate rules is just one more step in the severing of the Senate from its original mission: slowing things down. The Seventeenth Amendment began this journey; it will continue on until the Senate is merely a differently-apportioned House. The Founders, who at one point contemplated denying the Senate the power to initiate legislation, are reportedly whirling in their graves.

To allege "racism" when one doesn't get what one wants is a form of bullying. Granted that it can only work with the target's co-operation, it's still just an invocation of undeserved guilt -- and no one who genuinely believes he's earned what he demands would do so.

To allege "racism" as a stroke in a political argument is an act of cowardice. Its sole intention is to preclude argument -- and no one who believes his argument is sound would do so. Take that, Eric Holder.

Data mining has become a wee bit absurd. Recently I started receiving a magazine I never asked for -- indeed, a magazine I didn't know existed -- whose mission is to solicit funding for operatic productions. It developed that its publisher sends it gratis to persons above a certain net worth. But the calculation of "net worth" includes the presumptive market value of one's house. So I'm supposed to sell my house and blow the proceeds funding an opera? Someone needs to get serious.

Inflationists habitually deny that Federal Reserve creation of money to fund the federal deficit really causes prices to rise. But it's well known -- among rational economists, at least -- that as newly created currency and credit penetrates the economy, among the first signs of deterioration is the stretching-out of maintenance schedules and the deferral of "optional" repairs. So how have the supermarket parking lots in your neck of the woods been looking?

I feel a certain sympathy for the website engineers. The visible part of the site is the least of its complexities. Non-technologists have no idea of the immense amount of work that goes into the "back end" of such a site: the processing that takes place on the web server to support operations contingent on user input. This is understandable from general observations of the American milieu. Things have gotten too easy for most of us. Most people think potatoes are dug out of large paddies flooded with gravy.

My preferred measure of a nation's degree of freedom is at how many moments in the course of an average citizen's day he's involved with The State, whether consciously or unconsciously. How often is his behavior affected by The State? How often is he breaking a "law," knowingly or not? How much attention does he give to political matters defensively: that is, because not doing so would endanger him, his loved ones, or his interests?

Find an old copy of Herbert Spencer's early opus Social Statics and ponder the chapter on "The Right to Ignore the State." It will reorient your thoughts as no other book I know except Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.

As winter approaches, an old debate has resurfaced here at the Fortress of Crankitude: generator or no generator? Virtually everything in a modern home depends on the availability of electricity, and Long Island's overhead power lines are easily disrupted by our characteristic winter disaster, the "nor'easter." But the cost, plus the lack of natural gas lines on our street, has held us back for several years. The clincher against the idea has been "But how often would we actually use it?"

Just a weekend ago, my wife was drooling over a Tesla. That might tip the argument to the pro-generator side. However, she hasn't yet figured out how she'd get Rufus the Newfus into it:

Rufus is the capping stroke in many a discussion around here.

Do other fiction writers dream about having an affair with a female protagonist? And when it happens, do they admit it to their wives?

If just one more customer representative says "But why don't you write it in [insert language or toolkit of preference here]?" to me just one more time, I'm going to punch him out. I'm the engineer, asshole! I determine the methodology. Your job is writing checks!

The Year of Our Lord 2014 will be my last year as anyone's salaried employee. I've made no secret of it. For at least three years, I've told management above my head that grooming a replacement for me should start immediately. I've repeatedly announced my unavailability-to-come, and have been ignored. Now, with new projects on the horizon that will require several years of highly sophisticated design and group supervision, management has begun to ask "Is your retirement date really firm, Fran? Do you plan to relocate? Or might we be able to get you back as a consultant?"

If you want the true measure of a man, count his enemies. Gauge as best you can the depth of their venom toward him. This is merely an old law of human nature in operation: No one attacks the inconsequential.

No storyteller has come in for more derision than Stephen King. He's shrugged it off lifelong, producing one emotionally evocative, gracefully written novel after another, and in multiple genres, at that. If his work has become a bit patterned in these latter years, one must expect that of a writer as he grows old. We don't get to keep our freshness or inventiveness lifelong. When I hear someone deride King, my rejoinder is usually, "So what have you written lately?"

The most hated columnist in America is the relentlessly genteel and witty Mark Steyn. It boggles the mind that he doesn't have an armed guard around him at all times. It says even more about Mark Steyn, especially given his extraordinary productivity and the unflagging quality of his work. None of his detractors can approach him in either dimension.

To be half as effective a storyteller as King is all I could hope for as a writer of fiction. To be half as effective a commentator as Steyn is the outer limit of my aspirations as a commentator. That having been said, I'd greatly prefer it if I could get to those levels without accumulating the enemies. Are You listening, God? Christmas is coming, You know!


pdwalker said...

Or might we be able to get you back as a consultant?"

Consider it. The last thing you want to do in your retirement is rot mentally by doing nothing.

Francis W. Porretto said...

I've already rotted mentally, Paul, so that part is "taken care of." But in truth, my great fear is that when I retire I'll have too much to do. I get away with quite a lot of procrastination today because of my day job. (I make a point of looking exhausted when I come home at the end of a day.) Once that excuse is gone, I might actually be forced to get a few things done!

lelnet said...

I'm prepared to commit the vilest heresy, and declare in public that I think Spencer's work is even superior to Hayek's, in that regard.

Had we the spare cash lying around, we'd buy a whole-house generator tomorrow. But then, around here, a house without a gas line running to it would probably not be considered legally fit for habitation, so fuel supply is less of a problem.

I'm firmly of the opinion that to be a nominal adult with no enemies in the modern world should be considered a mark of deep shame, and indeed should disqualify one from consideration as an adult in anything but the purely nominal sense. So I suspect that your wish is as ungrantable as a gallon of dry water in a quart container shaped like a circular square.

And as my wife has been having dream-affairs with _her_ protagonists since she was in high school, I feel no guilt admitting to the occasional fantasy about one of mine. :) (I get to be married to _her_, after all, which is the finest prize a man could want. They, on the other hand, get to live "interesting" (yes, in the ancient Chinese curse sense, of course) lives.)

Anonymous said...

Just a few words. "Go west young (tongue in cheek) man"

There is room here in Texas for you.

With a few acres here your Newf could run free. You could own any number of things New York finds offensive (personal protective devices, 32-44oz sodas, salt etc.)

The weather is better, the air is better. Cost of living is better.

And above all it isn't New York City or New York state.

Francis W. Porretto said...

I'd love to, Anon, but I have this attachment that keeps threatening to leave me if I should sell the house we currently live in. (She married me for the house, it seems. Or at any rate, for the closets.)

Texas looks to me like Paradise on Earth, but Beth refuses to consider it. And I must admit, packing up all the books would be a daunting chore. I wonder if that's the sort of thing you can hire someone to do?

Anonymous said...

Hiring the book packing would be the easy part.

Convincing "She who must be obeyed"? Not so easy. Maybe if you found the appropriate set of closets? Or is she one of those who believes NYC IS the universe?

One of my favorite talk show hosts (Andrew Wilkow) has finally convinced his "attachment" to leave NJ for Texas.


Adrienne said...

Most people think potatoes are dug out of large paddies flooded with gravy.

Wait - you mean they don't? Be still my beating heart.

I agree with you about Stephen King.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Of course they're not, Adrienne. they're strip-mined out of several large deposits in Idaho.

A Reader said...

I see I am not the only Texan who's been thinking you should immigrate. As much as it would please me to know you're living someplace not run by nanny-statist progressives (Is Long Island's flirtation with statehood likely to be consummated any time soon, or would you just get a different set of moral-crusade fascists?), I am not sure I can recommend Texas, mostly because of the dog. My judgement may be slanted by ten years in a semiarid part of the state with occasional jaunts to hot, humid parts of the state, but I would think long and hard about owning a cold weather dog here. Somewhere along the Okie border might work, particularly in the Panhandle. They get blizzards there. The weather in Amarillo and points north is imported from Canada. The downside is that there are very few trees. Having lived in the Hudson Valley as a child, I imagine a New Yorker would get nostalgic for trees.

Thank you for sharing Rufus the Newfus with us. He's beautiful

Anonymous said...

Fran/A Reader,
My wife and I live North of DFW on a few acres of land. We have several critters, one of which is a Great Pyrenees. He doesn't much like summer but he is good for about 9 months of the year. The Pyrenees is a common breed around here for stock protection against coyotes. We have seen a few Newfies too.

Fran you would have to endure a few Yankee jokes too. Such as what is the difference between a Yankee and a Damn Yankee? The Yankee comes to Texas for a visit, the Damn Yankee moves to Texas to live. But of course many of the founding fathers of Texas could be considered Damn Yankees.

Russell said...

Data mining has become a magic wand to many of the C-level management and their flunkies.

The results are only as good as the data and the models, points that fall on deaf ears, no matter how many times I repeat it.

But now's the time to make a killing selling snake oil Big Data/Mining solutions to the gullible!

A Reader said...

I see your point. I thought North Texas might work, but never having lived there, I couldn't be sure. Living in the Big Country really has skewed my view of things, including my definition of humid.

I think if Fran were to move, the act alone would prove him not to be a Damn Yankee. Then again, Damn Yankee and carpetbagger are synonyms to me. A Yankee is someone who just happened to be born North of the Mason Dixon line. A Damn Yankee is someone who thinks the only right way is to do things is the way they're done up North. I've met some really fine Yankees in my time, and some Southerners I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire.

We Texans should never forget that the company that fell at the Alamo came from all over these United States and that the army that whipped Santa Anna had folks in it from all over Europe. The long road west made them Texasn. We are a nation of immigrants inside a nation of immigrants.

idahobob said...

Ya know Fran, you might consider visiting the American Redoubt. Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington.

There is a major movement of liberty minded folks moving here. You would be most welcome.


YIH said...

Have to agree with A Reader on that one, large, shaggy dogs (especially with black fur) are very unsuited to TX. I live in FL and I've seen what it does to that kind of dog - it's downright cruel. Except from Dec-Mar the dog would spend most of it's time indoors just to stay out of the heat (in August it would likely be reluctant to go out even to do it's business). You and your wife would adapt to the change in climate in two years, the dog, never.

Mark Alger said...

" other writers...?"

I see you haven't read my current POS. (Piece on Sale.) (What?!) Bear in mind that the character NOW known as Mitchell Drummond started as an undisguised Marty Stu. Take a look at the "Look Inside" on Amazon. We report; you decide.


Francis W. Porretto said...

I've known about you for a long time now, Mark. Perhaps you should make an appointment to see your brain-care specialist about it.

Col. B. Bunny said...

I shied away from King thinking he wrote trash. Once I read The Stand, however, I was hooked on him ever afterwards. He is occasionally scatological, which I find odd, but he's otherwise a remarkable writer. His From a Buick 8 was an inspired take on the friendships in a Highway Patrol outpost in the context of a very entertaining SF yarn.

Heisenbug said...

Like you, Sir, I'm an IT guy. Writing code isn't my job, though I seem to do a lot of it, but big systems have been my buzz for years. Obviously the Obamacare system needs to be a monster and will have nightmarish integration requirements (insurance plans *by county*??? What idiot dreamed that up?), but three years and multiple hundreds of millions of dollars? There's got to be a snake-oil or used-car salesman in charge. Or maybe it's just another Obama ally.

What's that, Officer? I never said anything about fraud and corruption! Not me...