You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Twelve Days Without A Post

Posted in Cooking, History, Travel by Stacy McMahon on November 30, 2006

So what did I do with my two weeks? Nothing interesting enough to write about, apparantly. I don’t normally slow down much in winter, but this year seems to be an exception, or it did until I realized why I was so run down earlier this week–caffiene withdrawal! Yes, I inadvertantly bought two pounds of decaf from Dunkin Donuts; one for work and one for home. I blame my personal decaffienation for my failure to notice this until someone else pointed it out. Anyway, when I realized how severe my withdrawal was, I decided it’s time to take a break from coffee. Really I’ve known this for awhile, since I no longer actually feel a coffee buzz, but being sleep all day and ready for bed by 8pm tears it. I’m back to juice and water for awhile.

My other not-really-interesting story is our (the ‘rents and I) visit to Plimoth Plantation on Black Friday. As the name suggests, this is the historical park outside Plymouth, MA. They have reconstructed native and pilgrim villages with interpretive staff, but their real business is hosting modern and 1620-style dinners. More on that later.

The villages were interesting for their historical accuracy (I assume) but even more interesting was the contrast in political correctness. Signs on the path warned us that the native staff are “real indians” (not necessarily Wampanoag) and are not in character. Visitors are to please refrain from whooping, using words like “squaw”, “chief”, “brave” etc.–apparantly “indian” is alright. The pilgrim staff on the other hand are reenactors, are in character, and we told that they will speak with the attitudes and ideas of their day. This turned out to mean, in one case, a lecture on how the Irish are “very much like the savages”. Silly, not that it’s a big deal. But this is Massachusetts afterall.

The star of the trip was the Mayflower II, a 1950s reconstruction of the original, which was just a charter and went on to other jobs and an unknown fate after the Pilgrims’ voyage. The ship is in excellent condition and is taken out sailing a few times a year. I had the impression that it’s possible to crew on it, but will need to check into that more. If so, I know what next year’s vacation will be!

The 1620 Thanksgiving dinner was a mixed bag. The food was interesting and good, with the centerpieces being mussels saute’d in the shell, pumpkin squash, and english “cheesecake”–basically a sweet-ish quiche without the ham. There was some rather mediocre entertainment that reminded everybody (literally, all the strangers around us mentioned it) of a rennaissance festival, and the company left something to be desired. You sit at long tables as in a pub, seats assigned by last name. I was wishing for a pretty girl to sit across from me, and I got my wish–sort of. She was cute alright, but in high school and didn’t want to chitchat with someone old enough to drink. I’d have probably been the same way at her age, but it made it a long hour and a half. My mom told me later that a guy my age sitting near her was from Alexandria. I knew I should have taken the inboard seat!

Nothing Going On

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on November 19, 2006

I haven’t been posting because I haven’t had much of anything to post about. This weekend went approximately like this: wake up, make coffee, get breakfast, feed cat, go to friend’s house and veg in front of tv for 8 hours, come home, play online, go to bed. It was great!

Next up is Thanksgiving, which involves a trip to New Hampshire. I’ll be leaving Gizmo there until Christmas, which will give me a chance to clean up the livingroom and get some stuff done, as well as wake up later than 7am. It will also give my mom a chance to harass him, though she promises not to make him gain 3 lbs like last time.

I have an update on my stereo situation too, but I want to take pics for that and am far too lazy to do so tonight. See, I’m saving good filler material for coming days!

Iraq

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 15, 2006

Watching CNN “analysis” of General Abizaid’s testimony in front of Congress. Hillary Clinton says “Hope is not a strategy”, to which Abizaid replies “Despair isn’t a strategy either, and when I come to Washington that’s what I hear”. He says his staff, field commanders and soldiers, and the Iraqi leadership doesn’t feel despair. CNN then cuts to a British guy saying that there is still violence, that Iran is actively supporting the insurgents (apparantly someone finally hired a military history undergrad as a consultant) and there are still casualties. He concludes that General Abizaid must be talking about a different Iraq.

Kid Rock semi-famously said “it ain’t bragging if you can back it up”. It’s not bragging to say I know more about world history than most of the people in Congress, and I’ve followed Iraq closely enough to understand and appreciate the strategy that’s being followed over there. Of course the war isn’t being reported by me, it’s being reported by the most ignorant people in the west–reporters. When the definitive history of the Iraq war is written 40 years from now, the conclusion is going to be that the generals, the soldiers and the Iraqis were winning on the ground right up until the political establishment, finally overwhelmed by negative media coverage, pulled the plug. Funnily enough, that makes the “it’s another Vietnam!” crowd right–just not the way they think.

One more note: if that happens, I will become an isolationist and anti-interventionist. I will do that not because I think either of those things make any sense, but because I will have had it proven to me that in spite of the basic fortitude of American people, the American government can no longer keep up a project that lasts more than a couple years.

Politics Again…

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 13, 2006

Reading this review-of-a-review in Reason shows a very sensible point in defense of the skeptical American brand of conservatism.

to say we should “rely on tradition” doesn’t actually relieve us of the responsibility for making our own moral judgments, for much the same reason the argument that the argument [sic] that we need religious texts as a guide to morality doesn’t go through. There are multiple traditions to choose from, and multiple strains within each tradition, so an apparent “deference to tradition” always still involves the exercise of one’s own judgment. (In the same way that you may outsource your health decisions to a doctor, but you’re still responsible for finding a wise doctor.)

So unlike, say, the Iranian mullahs (or European tories), American conservatives are not actually harking back to some imagined golden age of righteous autocrats and moral purity. They are instead demanding (like an old Porsche ad I remember) that “change must, without fail, bring improvement.” Of course, finding the change that brings improvement involves testing your ideas–this is where deference to tradition still involves exercising your own judgement. It’s also the part where a conservative is skeptical of people who think they’re going to come up with a clean-sheet design for human society:

Hayek’s argument is meant to show why tradition’s evolved rules are likely to produce better results than a wholesale constructivist rationalism.

The human race, like the natural environment we live in, is too complex for all of human knowledge to fully grasp, let alone an individual person such as the authors of the great 20th century totalitarian ideologies. Unfortunately, there’s a strong strain of “paleoconservatism” that rejects even an incremental approach to progress and prefers the realists’ definition of stability as enforced social and political stasis. That worldview shows up in the comments.

The Iraq War was a very unconservative venture based on pie-in-the-sky “we can remake the world!” ideas

No, it was based on the idea that centuries of “realistic” engagement with dictators (which amounted to propping many of them up, given the disparity in resources between the west and the rest of the world) had failed and created mass discontent that was now being channeled into terrorism and fascist political movements. The long-term solution was to abandon the pragmatic approach and actively overturn authoritarian governments, starting with those that actively supported violence against Americans. This was an incremental approach, not a constructivist one, because (media assertions aside) nobody suggested trying to “remake” Afghanistan or Iraq as a clone of America. The idea was simply to sweep aside the totalitarian regimes and give the people some breathing room to establish their own brand of representative government. Not to put too fine a point on it, the American public doesn’t know this because the Bush administration didn’t make its case, and reporters are too ignorant to understand the difference.

The worst result of the midterm elections isn’t the accession to power of communists and plain dolts, but the return to policymaking of the Republican realists, last seen counseling Bush I to abandon Shiite Iraq to its fate following the Persian Gulf War. Between Nancy Pelosi, Frank Murtha and Bob Gates, “cut and run” is now a virtual certainty. That could change, and hopefully will, but at this point we should all be ready to see the helicopters on the embassy roof in Baghdad.

Hitting Ned Devine’s

Posted in Entertainment, Social Life by Stacy McMahon on November 12, 2006

We came on the sloop John B., my grandfather and me,
Around Nassau town we did roam

Drinkin’ all night, got into a fight
Call up the captain, I wanna go home.

No, last night doesn’t truly compare to that song, but it reminded me of it. D&D (a couple I know), their friend E and I went out to Ned Devine’s in Sterling last night. I’d never been there before, but it’s in the same building as the old two-screen dollar theater from when I was growing up in that area.

I like the layout. You show your ID outside the door to a guy who looks like Steve the bouncer from the Jerry Springer show, and pay the cover ($10–this better be good!) at the box office. Once inside, the “quiet room” is where the projection rooms used to be, and the auditoriums have been combined into one big space, retaining the movie screens a la the late, lamented Bardo’s. They have lasers and everything, even fog to cover up the awful geeky white people “dancing”. Both because of that, and because the music was monotonously the same soundtrack from those days, we were all reminded of high school dances. That was good for some funny conversation, but sort of left me feeling like I should be wearing a cardigan and walking with a cane.

Luckily around that time the dance floor finally provided some entertainment. A couple guys and some girls got into a fight, complete with shouting (inaudible over the worse-than-normally loud music) and getting thrown out the back door by multiple bouncers. We’d barely started making fun of the ‘fighting irish’ when several bouncers ran past us heading for the front door, where the dumbasses were apparantly trying to come back in. Since we were waiting for the girls to come back from the bathroom, D and I got a slow start heading out to watch the fun, but I did manage to hear a very slurred voice yelling “what’d I do!”

When we finally gave up and left, vowing to go to DC to a real club next time, the parking lot was full of cops, with some scantily-clad girls in handcuffs getting misty in the summer rain and trash-talking the officers, who looked like they missed the good old days when Loudoun County didn’t have a bar to its name. Call up the captain…

Cavtel

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on November 11, 2006

At my old apartment, I had my house phone and DSL through Cavalier Telephone, a CLEC based out of Richmond. They were professional, reliable and (for the day) cheap at $75/mo. So when I moved to the condo I didn’t even shop around, just moved my service with me. Well, forget professional. First they told me I needed to start a new order. Then it was ok to transfer my service. The craziest condition was that I couldn’t have two accounts active at the same time, which eventually resulted in me reverting to a brand-new service order and a new phone #. What if I’m a landlord who is keeping the utilities at my properties all under my name? Thinking about it now, it probably was because I wanted to keep my phone number, but their people didn’t bring that up at the time.

I could have dealt with all that incompetence though, if the service worked. It didn’t. After being assured that the DSL modem they gave me for the apartment would also work in the condo, it took a month and several claimed-but-probably-never-done technician visits for them to figure out that I was in an area with a different type of service and needed a new modem. To make up for it, they promised me three free months of service. After five months, I started to wonder why I wasn’t getting any statements in the mail, but the remembered pain of dealing with their customer service kept me putting it off until… I came home Thursday night to find my service cut off. Of course in their minds (and their computers) this is due to nonpayment, but it’s hard to pay a bill that’s never sent to you. The problem seems to be that they have the wrong city associated with my address. This both is and isn’t their fault. It is their fault because back in the spring I corrected my address with them over the phone at least twice. But given the particular mistake they were making with it, they may not be responsible for the mailing problem since I’ve noticed Verizon’s FIOS website also chokes on my address and wants to “correct” it to the same wrong city. So maybe it’s a problem with error-checking software. Anyway, whatever the problem is, it’s one problem too many and this once-good telco has permanently lost my business. As irritated as I’ve been with them this year, that still makes me sad because I remember when they were a good alternative to overpriced cable or Verizon DSL.

Freeholding

Posted in Economics, History, Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 8, 2006

This is a big topic, but I’ll keep the post short. Reading about WWI battlecruisers the other day, I got curious about the titles of nobility in the German ships’ namesakes; things like Graf (Count), Freiherr (Baron) and soforth. Looking those up, I unexpectedly came across a term I’d never heard before: allodial title, which is a kind of land ownership. I’ve seen a few different versions of the etymology, including old Latin for “all property” and “subject only to God” but the gist is that the holder of allodial land is a free “state” unto themselves, not subject to any municipal government but granted directly by the national government (state government in the US, if it were possible to have a real allodial title or land patent) This is why it’s associated with nobility–if you’re a landed aristocrat, you aren’t part of any municipality or administrative subdivision. You are your own administrative subdivision; a county of your own, with yourself as Count!

If you google the term, you will come up with all sorts of pages telling you how wonderful it is to have an allodial title, and various schemes (all BS with no legal recognition) to obtain one. It seems that such things existed in the early days of the republic. Among other things, records from that time contain many references to “freeholders” and “smallholders” (the German term above, Freiherr, literally means Freeholder or Free Lord) and at least some of these people may have owned their land in allodium, subject not to a town or county but directly to the state. As mentioned before, they are basically their own county. Which brings me to why it’s hilarious that libertines and tax-dodgers are the ones seeking allodial title to their land. It may be the ultimate form of freedom for the title holder, but it also literally means serfdom for anyone who lives on their land, since the allodial titleholder is the only political authority below the state government. The US Constitution prevents you from calling yourself a Baron, but a Baron you would be, and anyone living on your land, even owners of real estate (a legal subset of an allodium) would be subject to YOU as their local government. Cool for you, terrible for them.

Of course, you can’t truly get an allodial title as far as I know. Nevada apparantly had a program for that at one point. They did exactly what a rational actor in their position should do–they would give you an allodium in exchange for the expected future value of the property taxes on your land. So Warren Buffet can buy himself a barony. The best you and I can do is to assemble all the property rights (mineral rights, water rights etc) associated with our land until there are no deed restrictions. But we’ll still be part of the county or city, which is the true allodial titleholder. That said, it would be sweet to be my own county!

Hot Spiced Cider…

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on November 6, 2006

…with a nip of brandy is damn good. Also, it saps all my motivation. Well, that and the 1600 yards I swam after work. I am really enjoying the swimming again, after a hiatus of nearly ten months. There is one thing Chinquapin doesn’t have that Lee District Park did though: a hot tub. I miss the hot tub. Of course if I miss it enough there’s always the jets in my own tub!

Advice Bleg

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on November 5, 2006

(for those who don’t know, “bleg” = blog + beg)

I need some new home theater equipment. Let me stipulate first that I am not a gearhead when it comes to this stuff, so for example I have no particular bias towards having a separate component for everything versus an all-in-one system, etc. Anyway, I currently have the following stuff: 27″ flat-tube HDTV (broken), 20″ flat-tube SDTV (works), $35 dvd player (works but has issues), Sony 5-disc 5.1/DTS surround system (dvd video output is effed, everything else works fine, too old to play mp3/wma) What I want is to get back to where I’m able to watch movies without skipping, in surround sound. I also want music in my bedroom. At some point I want an HD monitor too, but that will be step 2. As I see it, my options are:

1.) New dvd player, new 5.1 receiver and two new front speakers, moving the old all-in-one and its front speakers to the bedroom. This will involve adapting the +/- speaker wire connection from the (unpowered) subwoofer to an RCA plug for the new receiver. Is that easy?

2.) New dvd player, use the all-in-one system as a receiver and buy a bookshelf stereo for the bedroom. I was doing the livingroom part of this setup for awhile with the cheap dvd player and it worked (aside from the cheap player sucking)

3.) New all-in-one system, and move the old all-in-one to the bedroom.

Anyone have any thoughts? I believe option 2.) is the only one that’s significantly cheaper, since it involves minimal new equipment. I may take that route since I’m thinking of getting a plasma tv. 1.) and 3.) are probably in the same total price range, assuming I get a decent-quality system. I don’t think I’m going to invest in a completely new set of speakers, so I wouldn’t be getting a high-end receiver either as the high-end ones today are all 6.1 or 7.1.

A Little Too Personal

Posted in Silly/Funny, Social Life, The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on November 3, 2006

Awhile back, I signed up on Yahoo! Personals. Yeah yeah, I know. After a couple months I canceled my paid membership, but since I still have a Yahoo! account, my profile, searches etc. stayed around and I still get emails from them from time to time. Today I get an announcement that “Who Viewed Me? has arrived!”. So I get to see who’s looking at my profile. This could have some value, if only for anthropological interest. Sadly, I didn’t think of this possibility:

Dang.