Politics (5) Machiavelli Ideals

A reliable source suggested I check out a thread of postings on web site by an author and scholar, starting with this on Ex Urbe.  As was predicted I was strongly ambivalent about it.  The series presents a view of Machiavelli as a person worthy of study, with sizable portion of praise.

Long ago, I abandonned any view of Machiavelli as real person.  I now see him as an ideal.  And I an easy enraged by people quoting “the end justifies the means”.  Most who use that line appear to have not the slightest inkling of what it means.  Maybe, the translator responsible for English version of his masterpiece distorted it, but I equate that phrase with the Biblical admonishment “You will know them by the fruits of their labours”.

As I understand it (and preach it), your objective in any course of action cannot of itself provide any moral justification for your actions.  As a learned, rational person (as might have learned from the master Machiavelli), you are to look to the historical record for an outcome or outcomes that match your objective.  If such an outcome exists, then clearly you are to use one or other of the methods that produced the desired outcome.  Absent that outcome being actually achieved at some point in history, then look to the outcomes that resulted from each method you consider to know which to avoid more strongly.  You have no justification for expecting a result that never happenned from the application of any method.

The ideal Machiavelli was a champion of empiricism.  We study the master in his ideal form that we may become more like that ideal.  The evidence of history is always more compelling than any model derived from it.  Models (mathematical, algorithmic, narrative, analogue, etc.) that do not match historic outcomes are trash, while the great ones go beyond matching to accurately predicting outcomes.  Such models are the sources of human power.


Stories (1) O Jerusalem

I was going to call this thread “Books” but I realised it was really about the telling of stories.  I was going to start the thread as I have started my other threads, by anticipating where I was going to go with my rants and setting up the appropriate background.  This thread will be different.

I admit to being a very slow reader, and one who spent much of his reading budget on non-fiction; I allowed video to be my primary medium for fiction.  My family reads together and discusses stories; this has boosted my intake of fiction.

We read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice  by Laurie R. King (LRK) and liked it somewhat.  I had not read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but had gotten quite a few stories via movies.  After reading this one together, I went off to read some of canon from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (SACD).  I found this latter day extension (fan fic) to be a slight improvement on the original.  This is damningly faint praise, for the hundred years between the two sets seems inadequately expressed as improvement.  The canon (that I have so far read) is not up to modern standards, yet for each predecessor to show the way to SACD there have been many hundreds for LRK to look to — and her work does not show that much improvement.

Nonetheless, we followed the first in the Mary Russell series with the 5th, O Jerusalem, which interestingly is set in the middle of the first.  In many ways, this installment is an improvement on that first one, specifically in the story continuity, the character development, and pacing.  Yet overall, the product was lacking.

I found myself a little distracted in the middle of the story by what I saw as mistakes in her representations of some weapons.  I expect that it would bother few readers.  What was ruinous to the story, so much so that I fault the editors for having allowed it, is the complete inadequacy of the final chapter.  The plot is resolved by a cheap trick played out so as to violate the nature of the characters, without providing a justification (the villain’s purpose), followed by a complete lapse of reason (and corresponding incongruity of personality) by all the major characters in the closing scenes.  It is as if LRK was tired of the story and ended it as quickly as possible; a miserable ending to an otherwise fine bit of story telling.

We will probably read more from LRK, even more in the Mary Russell series, but we are left unassured that those stories will all be worth the time.

The publishing industry has changed so much.  So few authors can earn a living from their books.  Given this constraint, we have to ask what is the author’s motivation if not to tell a well crafted story.


Random Thoughts (2) Food Precision

I like food.  I have fairly sensitive tastes.  I hate being lied to about what is set in front of me.  Specially, I have issues with the following list of foods:

  • Margarine is not butter and can never be.  So do not pretend otherwise.  Margarine has its place and in that niche butter is a poor substitute.  (There is trick to making cookies that involves mixing the butter and the margarine.)
  • Miracle Whip is not mayonnaise so do not pretend otherwise.
  • A hamburger is a sandwich made in the style of Hamburg as defined by a pair of brothers in a stall at the Hamburg World’s Fair, specifically a bun or roll with a cooked beef sausage patty (13% fat by weight).  It has nothing else in the patty, no onion, no bread crumbs, no eggs, no horse meat, no ham, ….
  • Pesto is a puree of basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil.  Do not pretend you are free to use parsley instead of basil, nor cashews for pine nuts, nor some other hard cheese.  Do not pretend that you can add sun dried tomatoes.  You can make all sorts of purees but they are not pesto.
  • Ketchup (or catsup) is not tomato sauce.  That condiment should have lots of vinegar in it, and then I would not want it on my pasta.
  • Blancmange is not custard.  Custard is made with eggs; mock custard is made with corn (maize) starch.
  • Red tea is not tea.
  • Pepsi is not Coke (I have always been able to tell them apart).

I am well aware that there are plenty of people with food allergies, and I believe that things should be properly labelled for them. I refuse to limit my diet to match their handicap. Do not confuse things with imprecise labels. If you want to help those with an intolerance for eggs, then make some products with “mock custard”; leaving out the “mock” only makes them more at risk from exposure to the real thing.

I do not appreciate people attempting to protect me from problems I do not have. Do not ever try to take away my sugar, my caffeine, my gluten, my eggs, my alcohol, my meat, my pork, my lactose, etc.  I want my caesar salad made with raw eggs. I want my steak tartare made with raw beef. I want my sushi made with raw fish (or not as is appropriate to the variety).

I want to re-experience culinary treats that I have grown fond of.  You offend me when you lie about what you are serving.

Onset Issues (3)

I have made enough progress that now I need to address content and contacts.  The later is the prickly one, and it comes in two major sub-issues.  How do I the word out to people that I am posting, and then how do I let those people know that I have put out a new post?  The content issue may be just a matter of my putting in the time, and may also be a driver of letting people know about updates.

I am currently averaging more than one post per day, and if I continue at that rate people (assuming anybody cares) can just get their “daily fix”.  Other options include getting them to use RSS, sending out email, using twitter, or some other gimmick to let them know there is something new.

There is also a question of how big each post should be, how small is too small to be worth the look, how big is too much to read at one sitting.  I am looking for comments on this.  My current guideline is for the word count to approximate 200, with a slight skew toward making larger.

How should I estimate the size of the readership?


Onset Issues (2)

This blog platform, WordPress, has room to improve, especially in the area of documentation.  Besides the packaged documentation, I have borrowed several texts from the city library, including the entries from the series: Sams Teach Yourself, For Dummies, and Smashing.

I found I wanted to do several different types of entries, publicly available chronicles (like this post), publicly available reference material (like FAQ), private notes about what I intend, and possibly others.  WP readily provides at least the three well articulated needs.  I spent too long trying to figure how to share the reference material, that is, how to throw something on the top/front page to enable easy navigation.

WP has a lovely dashboard.  The dashboard has a link to a menu manager.  The menu manager offers the ability to view and edit menus.  But I had difficulty figuring out how to place those menus for the reader to access.

WP seems to suffer from a failure that plagues the industry: the failure to state the obvious.  Here it was that WP was already showing a pair of menus on the front page.  I could not see them because they were empty, completely.  To make matters worse, these empty menus were named outside of the normal name space, so that the menu manager did not offer them for update.  To add to them, I needed to create conjure up a name for a new menu and then “locate it” in one of the existing but empty menus.  When I figured that out, I was able to produce a menu called ‘Nav’ that included links to the abstract page and the FAQ page.  Locating ‘Nav’ in the ‘primary menu’ caused it to appear, not quite where I expected it nor quite where I wanted it, but in an adequate location.


More meta posts (1)

A meta post is a post about posts.

This blog framework, like I expect all blog frameworks, will make it trivial to organise thoughts chronologically while making it difficult for readers to find threads of coherent thought.  My ideal would be the reverse, AISI the real value to be found in my work would be if coherency was maximized, allowing them to glean insights without having to wade through all of everything I manage to capture.  Besides, even if I capture something astute, that does not mean that it will be presented in its most digestible form.

I expect to tag each title to reflect the topic thread it continues.  I will look for a format to breakout the links and dependent ideas from earlier post that are foundational to each entry, as I have no way of knowing which fragments any reader has already seen.

Onset Issues

There are many issues that have come up in establishing this blog.

  • GoDaddy provided a user experience even worse than that provided by JetStar before they wised up.  Thus I went with IWantMyName.
  • Pricing is both wacko and bad.  My domain cost $11.38 for the first year, but it is expected to jump to $64. next.
  • My friend Tom is providing the host, so I only needed to point the registration at his machine.  This was a small button with a less than clear title; this also meant navigating to avoid all the other extra cost services from the registrar.
  • Tom has been using WordPress, about which I have no documentation yet, and no previous experience.  I have done several things with setting up web servers, including setting up a couple of WikiMedia sites complete with writing exotic extensions in PHP.
  • My first attempt at publishing a page was the “about” page, which WP says it published but I do not yet know how to “see it” from anywhere other than the administrators dashboard.
  • This is my first blog entry.