...to learn that some children at his school have some of these in their hair:
To see more fun electron microscope images (my personal favorite is the maggot), go here.
These are organic, heirloom carrot plants, gone to seed. Once the seeds are dry enough, we're going to harvest them, save them and plant some of them. If what's happening in Europe is any indication, it may not be long before doing this is against the law:
"Under the new law, it will immediately be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been tested and approved by a new “EU Plant Variety Agency, who will make a list of approved plants. Moreover, an annual fee must also be paid to the Agency to keep them on the list, and if not paid, they cannot be grown."
Yes, I know. There is now an exemption allowing home gardeners to "...save and swap unapproved seed." "Save and swap"? How about "sell"?
Is there anyone my age who ever thought they would live in a world where governments controlled what kind of food people could eat, grow, sell? I sincerely hope that younger generations don't just think this is normal or acceptable. But given everything else the state exercises control over, who knows?
I know I said I wasn't going to write political articles or posts this year, but it's getting to the point where I can't write about much of anything without there being a political angle to it. And that is a pretty damning indictment of the world we live in. I'm going to have to revise my resolution a bit. Meanwhile, join the Revolution while you still can!
...something pretty big actually. And I'm feeling pretty silly for having missed it.
A reader wrote in:
Bretigne, you ask "What's the point? What's the point of using Bitcoins, or opening a Bitcoin exchange, if you're going to give up on the goal of anonymity?"
Anonymity - to be precise, pseudonymity, because bitcoin is not truly anonymous - is only one of bitcoin's great advantages over both fiat money and gold. One advantage over fiat money is that the money supply is fixed and cannot grow beyond 21 million bitcoins. Another huge advantage is the ability to transport capital across borders without restriction. The is an incredibly enabling tool for those escaping oppression or simply seeking foreign investment, or charity. When I travel to India, I'm often shocked how draconian their capital controls are. Those controls have no power whatsoever in a world where bitcoin is widely adopted. Travelling into or out of India carrying even a few gold coins is incredibly difficult. Entering or exiting India with the equivalent of millions of dollars of bitcoins is trivial. Furthemore, capital can be transported at great distance in a matter of moments. How does one donate a gold coin to a child in Bangladesh? Sending a bitcoin to them in a world where they might be able to afford a cell phone is very easy.
Being able to move money across borders without restriction is huge. As someone who once had to smuggle her entire life savings (it wasn't much, but a lot to me at the time) out of a country with exchange controls, I should have realized this. And anonymity - while always helpful - is not necessary in order to accomplish this.
When I first read this, my reaction was "well, yes, but that's still just a function of the transaction mechanism, not of the nature of the currency itself." But that's not really true. What separates crypto currencies from other forms of money, quite apart from their capability for anonymous transactions, is their ability to be transported securely anywhere in the world, even across political borders. This is emphatically not the same as being able to transport a deposit certificate or bank account information for money or precious metals, etc. that sit somewhere geographically distant.
To appreciate the significance of this, think of the European Jews trying to flee Nazi-controlled countries. By a certain point in time, Jews were having assets seized, and any Jewish people who emigrated legally were required to hand over all but a small pittance of what they had. Some of those who had seen this coming established secret bank accounts in neutral Switzerland. Others buried valuables in their back yards, or found other creative ways of hiding them. But even those who were able to secure their wealth in Switzerland had to get to Switzerland (or have someone get there for them) in order to have access to it. Imagine how different it would have been for these people had they been able to retain their actual money - not a claim to money held in an account somewhere, but the money itself. They might have used it to purchase a ticket on an ocean liner bound for Shanghai, or to bribe someone to look the other way as they crossed a border. The ability to hold on to actual currency, in a secure way, could have saved a lot of lives back then.
This seems so obvious now that I think about it - it's a tremendous advantage that crypto currencies have over both fiat money (which is subject to capital controls, even when moved electronically) and precious metals. As my reader continues:
As an Austrian, and fan of gold for investing, I think bitcoin is unquestionably superior to gold in its characteristics as a medium of exchange. The one advantage gold has on its hand is thousands of years of history. But technology can overturn historical precedent very quickly.
That's not entirely true. History isn't the only advantage gold has over Bitcoin - there's also the small matter of the regression theorem - Mises' explanation of how money comes to have value, that it must begin as some kind of good that is already valued for some purpose other than as money. Gold and Silver, for example, had uses in society before people started using them for money. Mises' regression theorem shows that only goods that are demanded in the marketplace on their own merits can eventually become money.
So there is a big debate regarding whether or not Bitcoin satisfies the requirements of the regression theorem. There are those who assert that it does, that it does have a value independent of its value as money. And there is an interesting argument for why Bitcoin itself does not need to have a value outside of its money value, because it regresses back through existing currencies, which originally came about by virtue of commodities with independent value. There are also those who just say that the regression theorem is wrong.
I'm just starting to look closely at this debate, so I'm not sure what I think yet about Bitcoin vis a vis the regression theorem. But here's my initial, gut reaction:
Isn't it possible that Bitcoin (or, more accurately, crypto currencies) satisfies the requirements of the regression theorem by virtue of its unique - and valued - characteristics as a secure and (potentially) anonymous means of making transactions, storing wealth, and transporting wealth even across heavily enforced borders and government checkpoints? While these characteristics have arisen as an aspect of Bitcoin as money, they are characteristics separate from its money-ness. (Unless, I guess, you interpret the "easily transportable" quality of money very broadly.)
Again, I'm not very deep into this debate, so I'm kind of just thinking out loud. But I'm curious what others think about this. Is it possible that the unique security aspects of crypto currency are sort of a "good" in themselves, and constitute the part of Bitcoin that is valuable separate from its value as money?
(The real question of course is, regardless of whether Bitcoin and crypto currencies satisfy the requirements of the regression theorem, can it become widely accepted enough and stable enough to become "real" money and ultimately subvert state control of money - and of our lives.)
"One thing you quickly become aware of at this conference is the number of virtual currency competitors Bitcoin has. There are many, though Bitcoin has most of the focus. I asked the doc and the engineer which virtual currencies they were most impressed with beyond Bitcoin, The names they threw out included DevCoin, NameCoin and BitcoinX, though they emphasized that Bitcoin has about 99.9% of the virtual currency market."
That's pretty cool. However his biggest takeaway is this:
"The sense I am getting is that the Bitcoin world is going to end up very heavily regulated. Many of those involved with Bitcoin here at the conference are talking compliance with the government. Even the Winklevoss twins brought this up as something that will be necessary. The libertarian dream of anonymity seems like a distant memory to this crowd. It will be name and social security number in the not too distant future for anyone trying to open a Bitcoin account to buy or sell bitcoins through an exchange. Thus, Bitcoin, if it is not completely closed by government, will be no more than a faster PayPal type system, with a fluctuating value."
So here's my question: What's the point? What's the point of using Bitcoins, or opening a Bitcoin exchange, if you're going to give up on the goal of anonymity? The whole point of Bitcoin is to subvert state control of the money supply and of money.
When the state controls the money supply, it is able to debase the money supply to its own advantage (this is nothing new - see the photo of clipped coins at the top of this post) - and to the detriment of the rest of society. You know, those who actually produced the wealth that the state now bleeds away through inflation and outright destroys through the cyclical booms and busts its manipulations create. On top of this fundamentally parasitic behavior, the state is also able to take even more wealth through taxation of everything it can get its hands on: Income, purchases, death...
So the holy grail of those who seek an end to government control of the money supply (and of money) is twofold: 1) The establishment of a currency that is independent of the governement's fiat currency (and no, "local currencies" don't accomplish this, as they are generally denominated in dollars.); and 2) Anonymity, so that the state cannot simply confiscate money either at the point of a transaction or from an account, regardless of the form that that money takes.
The first part of this already exists, in the form of precious metals. The problem is that the government makes it difficult for people to conduct transactions in precious metals - both by outright harrassment and prohibition (witness the experiences of e-gold and the Liberty Dollar) as well as by legal tender laws which tend to drive good money out of circulation as people prefer to hang on to it and to spend the "bad" money.
So it is not really a new form of currency that was needed, but a new form of making transactions and of keeping that money such that the state could not get access to it - or even know who had it or who had made the transactions. This is where Bitcoin comes in. What is potentially revolutionary about Bitcoin is not that it is a new currency independent of government manipulation - that already exists, and in forms that have withstood the test of time. What is revolutionary about Bitcoin is its potential for being a truly anonymous way of making transactions and of storing wealth. Had e-Gold been peer-to-peer, it might still be in existence and Bitcoin might never have arisen. I know, Bitcoin isn't able to offer genuine anonymity yet - particularly at the point of transfering BC into other currency. Maybe it never will be. But it is more than likely that some digital currency will.
Getting back to my question: What, then, is the point of getting into the Bitcoin business if you're immediately going to cave on the issue of anonymity? What is the value of the service you would be providing (as an exchange service, for example)? Why would anyone want to use a Bitcoin exchange that kept records of account holders and their transactions? There might be some slight currency advantage vs. using US dollar accounts, and as the US dollar gets deeper into trouble that advantage will grow. But why not just have gold exchanges then? Why take the additional risk of dealing with an untested digital "currency" when you could do the same thing with gold or silver?
I personally think that untested digital currency can work. But there is nothing about it that makes it any better than gold or silver or platinum (or e-gold, e-silver, e-platinum, etc.) What is special about Bitcoin - so special that it could change the world - is its potential for providing anonymous transactions. If you're going to throw that away, why even bother?
From Messy Nessy:
Here’s one they left out of the history textbooks. A recent French film, Free Men, brought to light the remarkable true history of how Muslims gave sanctuary to French Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris during Second World War. An untold “Oscar Schindler” story, the film is inspired by actual events and in this case, our ‘Schindler’ is Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris until 1954.
Underneath the fortress of mosaics and tranquil gardens occupying an entire city block in the Latin Quarter, it is revealed the mosque’s underground caverns once served as a refuge for resistance fighters and French Jews, where they could be provided with certificates of Muslim identity. Meanwhile upstairs, Benghabrit, a wise Algerian-born religious and political leader, was giving tours of the mosque to Nazi officers and their wives, unaware of what was transpiring right under their feet.
Read the rest, and watch the trailer for Free Men here.
The photo album from our honeymoon is up, here. We went to Chincoteague Island for the annual pony roundup. Something I'd been dreaming of for many many years. Yes, my husband is a very very good sport for going along with this. And yes, Miles was there with us.
My husband and I braved the arctic May weather of darkest Minnesota, got up on the porch of my sister's Bed & Breakfast, exhanged vows and rings and plunged into the rest of our lives. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. No idea that five months later - to the day - our son, who had been on that porch with us, would die a week before he was due, the cord wrapped three times around his neck. No idea that our next son would be as beautiful, brilliant and full of life as he is, or that he would sound so much like an adult when he speaks that I would have to remind myself not to treat him like one. No idea that his sister would be born with a chromosomal abnormality that has given her seizures and made the most basic communication a tremendous challenge. No idea of the sweetness that would emanate from her with no need for words.
I don't feel a lot of gratitude lately. I feel stress, anxiety about the future, and sometimes a blind rage about the direction the world seems to be taking. But when I look at the pictures from our wedding, eight years ago today, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the people who were there to launch us on this journey. Our spectacular friends who flew in from all over the world to be there for us, and even my crazy family - each member of which knows he or she doesn't really belong there with the others. And I am grateful for my wonderful husband, for being my wonderful husband. And for our two magical children. I think if anyone had told me on my wedding day what my life would be like eight years later, I might have run screaming. From the outside it looks very different from how it really is. There is one significant thing I would change if I could, a few details I'd like to tweak, but other than that there is no place I'd rather be.
I'll be updating my wedding album in the next few days and linking to it here so everyone can see what it was like to walk barefoot on the frozen tundra that is springtime in Excelsior, Minnesota.
UPDATE: The wedding album is here and I'll be adding even more pictures later.
I'll start off by saying: Don't be fooled by the picture. Yes, I've been in the Tardis, but I am no Dr. Who expert. My take on this could be completely lacking in the needed context and I may be completely off base here.
I've seen all of the most recent incarnation episodes (Doctors 9, 10 and 11), but only a few of those preceding them. Yes, I know the quality of both writing and production has been mixed, and yes I've seen the Douglas Adams episodes (what do I look like?) Here's what I've gleaned from my limited viewing: The whole "thing" about the doctor can be summed up in this exchange, from one of the earliest episodes ("The Expedition"):
Ian: "They (the alien people they have befriended and who are threatened by the Daleks) have one great disadvantage: They have no arms or ammunition!"
The Doctor: "Well that's alright young man, the mind will always triumph!"
For me, Doctor Who is all about the mind triumphing over brute force. It's not always explicit, and the good guys don't completely disavow violence. But at its best, this is the theme that drives the show. And at its best, the Doctor and his companion/s are thrown into impossible situations out of which they must extricate themselves using their brains (and sometimes dumb luck.) This is what makes for some of the best drama.
What makes it even more compelling though, and especially with Doctor #10 (David Tennant), is what emerges as the core of the Doctor's character: His passionate love for humanity and his rejection of violence.
When Doctor 10 regenerated, Doctor 11 (Matt Smith) took some getting used to. But once he found his feet, my husband and I came to like his geeky goofiness. He was never Doctor 10 though, and now I think I know why.
Recently, my friend Darwyyn Deyo sent me this article, "How Moffat Ruined Doctor Who for My Little Sister." I admit the sexism hadn't caught my attention (although had I watched it as an eleven-year old girl, I'm sure it would have. One is more attuned to such things at that age), but I found myself nodding along to the comments about plot inconsistencies, why River had to stay locked up, the credulity-straining breakup and getting back together of Amy and Rory, and Moffat's apparent need to "make everything Epic all the time, there’s an explosion an episode."
For me, the Moffat episodes, while full of explosions and lots of plot details, are lacking in what makes The Doctor The Doctor. I love some of Moffat's work: "Blink" is one of the best Dr. Who episodes ever - although not for the reasons that make The Doctor great. And I am a fan of "Sherlock". But I think Moffat brings too much of Sherlock to Dr. Who. And the two characters could not be more different.
It hit me in a recent episode, where the uninteresting (as compared to previous companions) Clara confronts The Doctor regarding his relationship to humanity, asking "what are we to you?", wondering if all of our accomplishments, our lives, mean nothing to him. I knew immediately what the 10th Doctor's response would have been: "You are everything." The 11th Doctor's response was that of a bad boyfriend. A very bad boyfriend. The kind who reads too much Sartre and is very impressed with his own cleverness. His response was that of the Cecil Vyse of time-travel:
"You are the only mystery worth solving."
I may not be an expert in the domain of Dr. Who, but I know this is not how The Doctor would respond. This is how Sherlock would respond. And Doctor Who is not Sherlock. He is brilliant, yes, but that is not what makes him special. His relationship to humanity is not one of an investigator or a scientist trying to "figure out" the mystery of humanity. He is an advocate of humanity. His aim is to protect and care for humanity - and he is effusive in his appreciation of it along the way, whether or not he fully "understands" us.
So here's what I think: I think Moffat is better suited to the Sherlock series. I think he doesn't get what makes The Doctor great. It is not the same thing that makes Sherlock Holmes great. A mystery - no matter how interesting - is not enough to make a compelling character. The mystery of who Clara is and why she seems to keep coming back from the dead may seem fascinating on the surface - but it is not enough to make her as interesting to us as the shop assistant Rose Tyler, or the temp from Chiswick, Donna Noble. Nor are explosions and "epic" situations enough to make a show great or a hero compelling. For now, we're still watching the show. We like Matt Smith, we're invested in the 'verse, and it's not awful. But I can't help feeling that it is no longer Doctor Who.
UPDATE: It has been mentioned to me that Dr. Who has been "ruined" before, and has managed to bounce back with stunning success. I believe this, and I believe that the series - and the underlying idea - is strong enough to do it again. So I'm not too worried. I'm just not crazy about the direction it's taking right now.
I've added a new category to my blog: Special Needs. I sometimes post about special needs issues in my "Personal" category, because of our daughter's developmental issues. She has IDIC(15), a rare chromosomal anomaly, and is severely delayed, especially in the areas of language and cognition. I've added the new category though, because of some long-term projects my husband and I are going to be working on, both to assure her long-term care and to help to provide care for others with similar conditions. One thing we are looking at creating is a community home for adults with IDIC(15) (or closely related syndromes.)
I hesitate to use the word "home" because of the truly horrible and institutional connotations this word has. We are really looking to create a small community. So part of the research I'm doing is to look at what others are already doing. I found this community, a special needs kibbutz-based community in Israel, to be particularly inspiring. (You can read more about it here and here.):
The picture, BTW, is from this site. So if you really do want a recipe for Mamoul cookies, you can find it there.
(Courtesy of Daniel Hooper (Creative Commons) (link).)
It's happening this weekend in Mountain View. It's stuff like this that makes me wish we still lived in Palo Alto. I don't know what the minimum age requirement is for this workshop, but my little boy would be all over it. Sigh...
Thanks to Walter Grinder for the article.
There are some spaces that just seem magical when you are in them. When we visited the Cambria Lodge Gardens last year, I literally felt as if a weight lifted off my shoulders as we walked in. Here are some pictures.
I've just posted a photo album of our trip to the Hotel del Coronado, here. This was a really charmed trip, for many reasons: We went to San Diego to meet Guy's best friend Ed, who was there from England for a literary seminar. They hadn't seen each other in a few years, and Ed hadn't yet met our children. It was wonderful to see him and our son especially enjoyed spending time with him.
I was really sick - still getting over my nasty cold from a few posts back - and really needed to rest (San Diego friends, this is the reason we didn't call any of you to meet up on this trip. Next time.) If you have ever traveled with children, you will know that the two do not go hand in hand. So I was a little terrified of the whole venture, but in fact ended up getting quite a lot of rest in. Don't ask me how - I chalk it up to dumb luck and an amazing husband. And speaking of luck, we somehow got upgraded to rooms in their newer "village" section which we would never have afforded otherwise. I balked at first, wanting to be in the original old victorian hotel, but was very quickly won over by the massive bathtub and gorgeous view from our balcony. When we finally made it over to the old hotel, the tragic hallway carpeting choice was enough to convince me that we had made the right decision in accepting the upgrade.
So here's what I love most about the Hotel: When I was a teenager, my dad's lawschool had its faculty retreat here for a few years. I would spend hours just wandering the hallways, finding all the nooks and crannies and sketching them. I love wandering around old buildings, and old hotels especially. In Shanghai, I wandered around the old Peace Hotel, and what used to be the Astor Hotel but had since been turned into a youth hostel and then later, temporarily, the Shanghai Stock Exchange. I loved imagining what had gone on there, what function the rooms used to serve, how they had changed over the decades. I especially love going up to the very top and looking out over the rooftops. There is something mysterious, enticing and sometimes a little creepy about the details of those upper areas - what used to be the servants' corridors, the ceilings always a lot lower than down below, little tiny windows peeking out over the rest of the grounds, odd little passageways and cupboards where you least expect them. I didn't have a whole lot of wandering time on this trip, but did get some pictures of some of these nooks and crannies.
You start out by making your own homemade Nutella - a delicacy whose name translates roughly as "food of the gods." Here's mine:
...and here's what the finished muffins looked like. They were pretty yummy - I give them a B- - but not one of my favorites:
This is an awful picture. When I make this again I'll post a better one. But I wanted to get the recipe up here before I forget it:
Saute an onion until browned, then add some mushrooms and cook until they're soft. Add chopped garlic and chipotle powder (quantities to taste).
Set the above aside, and cook three eggs in a pan. When they're about halfway done, add the mixture and some jarlsberg cheese (quantity to taste). Cook until the eggs are done and the cheese is melted.
Add a bunch (I hate the word "dollop", so I'm not going to say "dollop". Use this word at your own discretion) of full-fat plain yogurt with cinnamon sprinkled on top.
This is amazing.