Monday, January 19, 2015

Word Processor Advice Wanted

I have been trying to get the third edition of Machinery of Freedom done and have encountered problems coming from what appear to be bugs in Microsoft Word 2011 Mac. They include:

My sections have the headers set up as different first page, different odd and even pages. The program shows odd numbered pages as even, even as odd. This isn't a big problem in itself, since I can always adjust formatting accordingly, but I suspect it is evidence of a bug that is causing more serious problems.

The program sometimes inserts an invisible page, so that page number 16 is followed by page number 18. If I save as pdf, the invisible page shows up as a blank page in the pdf.

The program insists that the page number for a page I want to number 4 must be either 3 or 5. If I adjust the starting number for the page by 1, the number that appears changes by 2.

It's possible that with enough kludges I can work around all these bugs, although I have spent quite a lot of time so far trying without success. But I'm worried that even if I manage to produce a pdf to send in that appears correct, some one of the bugs will keep biting me. For one thing, judging by past experience, the proof copy of the book will have multiple errors that need fixing, despite all my efforts to get it right in advance, and every time I change anything ...  . Hence this post.

1. Is any of my readers sufficiently expert in Word to diagnose the problem from my description? I will be happy to send the first chunk of the book, which shows the problem, to anyone who is. 

2. Alternatively, do people have suggestions for an alternative word processor that I should switch to? Desiderata are:

Can import from Word keeping most of the formatting reasonably close to the same.

Does indexing and table of contents. It would be a big help if the words marked for indexing in the Word document stayed marked when the file was imported to the new word processor. 

Lets me format page numbers and headers in a way that alternates which side of the page the number is on, so that it is always on the outside edge.

My final recourse would be to simplify my layout until it is so simple that Word can get it right, but I would prefer not to do that if I don't have to. The current layout is designed to look reasonably similar to the second edition, although not identical. 

On another topic ...  . If Anarchei is reading this, would he please get in touch? As I explained in a comment on an earlier post that he may have missed, he and one other person did the covers I liked best and I want to correspond with both of them about the possibility of improved variants.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlie Hebdo, the New York Times, and Tribal Politics

I have seen and heard a good deal of talk about the decision by the New York Times not to reprint cartoons from Charlie Hebdo. The official explanation is that they do not want to offend their Muslim readers. Their critics point out that they have been willing to publish things offensive to other groups of readers in the past, and attribute the policy to the fear  that publishing the cartoons might result in violent attacks on the Times or its staff. They go on to argue that refusing for that reason is, if not admirable, at least understandable, but that the Times ought to have the honesty to admit that that is what they are doing.

I think both explanations are wrong. What is really going on, as I interpret it, is tribal politics, as described by (among others) Dan Kahan and Scott Alexander, both of whom I have linked to in the past. A considerable part of the U.S. population identifies with either the red tribe (Republicans, conservatives) or the blue tribe (Democrats, liberals), choosing positions and interpreting evidence accordingly. 

Both tribes are, of course, opposed to Muslim terrorism and the murder of journalists. But the blue tribe version amounts to "Muslim terrorists are bad people, but we should not let their offenses prejudice us against the vast majority of Muslims who are not terrorists or give us a negative opinion of their religion." The red tribe version concedes that not all Muslims are terrorists but sees Muslim terrorism as part of an us vs them conflict, with "us" the west and "them" the Muslim world. The same split shows up in views of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The blue tribe, or at least its hard core members, sees the Palestinians as the oppressed, the Israelis as the oppressors. The red tribe sees the Israelis as part of us, the Palestinians as part of them.

The New York Times is the nearest thing the blue tribe has to an official organ. The Charlie Hebdo case is a red tribe story. The Times cannot deny that it happened, cannot refuse to cover it, cannot defend the killers. But it also cannot identify with victims who, from its (unstated) point of view, were on the wrong side of the red/blue split over Islam, deliberately provoking Muslims with their cartoons.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Evidence of how Stupid Partisanship Can Make You

An online friend well to my left, one of the more reasonable people I argue with on FaceBook, recently posted the following. The link is from


Could this be more stupid? No. No, it could not.


After listening to the video and failing to persuade him that host said nothing of the sort, that the post and his response were evidence not of her stupidity but of how eager partisans are to think badly of members of the enemy tribe, I made a transcript of the relevant part of the conversation:

Host: “We are now going to bring in a former FAA insider saying that the different way other countries train their pilots may be the real reason Air Asia flight  has gone missing. Joining us now on the phone is former FAA official Scot Brenner. Scot thanks to be with us.”

Scott: “Good morning.”

Host: “Let’s talk about the differences. I mean even when we think about temperature it’s Fahrenheit or Celsius. It’s kilometers or miles. You know, everything about their training could be similar but different, right.”

Scott: “Correct. Yeah, what I think you see it could be a large reliance on automatic pilots and the requirements that pilots use that automatic pilot … “

Host: So it’s not just differences in the way we measure things, it’s difference in the way our pilots are actually trained. Is it not as safe in that part of the world …
The host offers differences in measurements as a simple example of difference, with no suggestion that that particular difference was responsible for the crash. Which doesn't prevent not only multiple left-wing web sites but my pretty reasonable friend from reading into it what they think she must have meant. And claiming she said it.

Stupidity, yes. But not of the host.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Icelandic Turkey: A Culinary Experiment

My family is fond of a recipe that I first encountered in a recipe collection included in a medieval Icelandic medical miscellany, hence refer to as "Icelandic Chicken." A scholar who studied it and a group of related manuscripts concluded that they were all daughters of a lost original, probably from southern Europe. So the recipe is Icelandic in the sense of having been in a written text in Iceland but  did not originate in Iceland and may never have been made there. 

To make it, you cut a chicken in half, roll out a flour and water dough, cover it with sage leaves, cover those with bacon, and wrap each half chicken. Each ends up enclosed in successive layers of bacon, sage, and dough. You then bake it. The dough, especially the dough under the chicken that gets the drippings and the bacon fat, is yummy, the meat  juicier than with an ordinary baked chicken.

This Christmas we decided to experiment with Icelandic turkey. The bird was about fourteen and a half pounds, that being the smallest we could get for five of us—my immediate family and my wife's mother. Out of respect to Christmas and Thanksgiving tradition I used the whole turkey instead of cutting it in half. 

I made the dough with about ten cups of flour and three or four of water, enough to be kneaded into a soft but not wet dough. The turkey was stuffed, the dough covered with sage less densely than the chicken usually is, due to not enough sage leaves. The half of the dough that went under the turkey was covered with bacon strips, the rest of a pound of bacon went on top of the turkey and the other half of the dough on top of that. The two halves of the dough were sealed together. 

The pan we usually use for roasting turkey in being unavailable, I put the wrapped turkey in a large oval Le Creuset pan, into which it barely fit. Then the whole thing was baked in a 325° oven, that being the temperature we use for Icelandic chicken. From time to time I basted the top with drippings. It ended up breast down, not by my intent but because once it was wrapped it was unclear which side was which.

It came out pretty well—the meat a little better than with our usual version of roast turkey. The bread on top of the bird was distinctly crunchy, the bread underneath soft and tasty. Next time I will do it in a larger pan and probably use more sage and bacon. 

Anyone curious about the Icelandic chicken recipe can find it in How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg, and Armor a Turnip: A Thousand Years of Recipes, webbed as a pdf on my site, available as a hardcopy from Amazon.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advice on an Index

I'm currently working on the index for the hardcopy of the third edition of The Machinery of Freedom, which raises a variety of minor questions. I suspect that many readers of this blog are familiar with the book, so thought I would collect opinions on one (and perhaps others later).

When referring to anarcho-capitalism in the index, should I use "anarcho-capitalism," "anarchy," or "A-C."? The first is a bit clumsy on the scale of an index. The second is potentially misleading—it's the only form of anarchy I discuss in the book, but obviously there are others. The third feels a bit in-groupy, but by the time a reader gets to the index he is part of the group of people familiar with the term.

Also, I have one minor irritation with MS Word's indexing function, useful though it certainly is. It alphabetizes "feud" with quotation marks, the word, at the beginning of the index. So my entry for the explanation that "feud" has nothing to do with "feudal" will have to be put in without the quotation marks, then the marks added to the index entry when everything is done. Any readers who work for Microsoft take note.

Working with the indexing software reinforces the conclusion I reached after writing my second book, using a word processing program on my first computer (an LNW80). Prior to the invention of word processors, no books were written. It's just too much work.

At least, none with indexes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Nice Example of Scientific Ignorance

Someone in an online discussion posted a link to what was claimed to be an experimental demonstration of global warming by a young student. It was presented by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Clean Air Conservancy.

The experiment consisted of filling one jar with CO2 and one with ordinary air, illuminating both with heat lamps, and observing the temperature. The temperature in the jar with CO2 went up more. The experimental design was imperfect, since the lamps might have differed a little in intensity or placement, but that's not a serious criticism given the age of the experimenter.

The real problem is that the experiment does not demonstrate the greenhouse effect. That effect depends on selective absorption, on the fact that CO2 is more transparent to the short wave length light coming down from the sun than to the long wave length light coming up from the Earth. The experiment showed that CO2 was less transparent than ordinary air to long wave length light but provided no evidence at all of its transparency to short wave length light, hence no evidence in support of the greenhouse effect. To do it right, it should have been repeated using a source of short wave length light such as sunlight. If that didn't heat the bottle with the CO2 more than the other bottle, that would have provided evidence of selective absorption, hence support for the claim that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

My conclusion is that the people who webbed the video were ignorant of the science they claimed to be demonstrating. The student who did the experiment was equally ignorant, which suggests, but does not prove, that whoever taught him was as well. The case of the student or the Clean Air Conservancy isn't all that surprising, but it is a little disturbing that the Cleveland Museum of Natural History would post a video based on a complete misunderstanding of the science it purports to demonstrate.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Drought and Bias (Mine)

It has been raining pretty heavily for a while now in California, where I live. That ought to be good news, but one would not know it by the news stories I see. They typically say two things:

1. The heavy rains may lead to flooding, mud slides, and similar problems. 

2. The drought is not over. 

My initial reaction to that pattern, in part due to spending too much time arguing climate issues online, was that the news media were pushing the orthodox line—climate change is bad—by focusing on the bad features of current weather and dismissing the fact that the increased rain signaled the end of a serious three year drought. My wife offered a different, and probably more nearly correct, interpretation. The claim that the drought is not over, taken as a statement about the weather, is false, since rainfall appears (casual observation—I have not seen comparative data) to be back up to at least its normal level. But it is an accurate description of the implications for humans. Three years of drought have left reservoirs very low and it will take more than a few weeks of rain to refill them. 

The claim that the drought is not over, in her view, is designed not to reinforce climate worries but to persuade people to hold down their use of water, since the less is consumed the faster the reservoirs will refill.