Ludwig von Mises, Supporter of Fascism

Von Mises is one of the political economists the “libertarian” right is particularly fond of. They often point to his anti-fascist sayings in an attempt to refute any criticism that his ideas pose a right-wing threat to freedom.

Well, it turns out those sayings are mostly a case of selective editing and after-the-fact buyer’s remorse. Back when fascism was a shiny new thing, von Mises was a happy buyer. That doesn’t mean he was himself a fascist, just that like many on the non-fascist right he believed fascism would prove to be a temporarily useful iron fist with which to smash labor unions, socialists, communists, and anarchists.

He believed that fascism would prove self-limiting and thus ultimately refrain from pursuing the many of the other destructive and dangerous things it advocated. The end result would be a (in his eyes) beneficial purging of social elements he found to be distasteful and which threatened the power and ascendancy of his beloved capitalist ruling elite.

In that, his views were proven to be even more dangerously naïve than the standard view of most conservative enablers of fascism, which was that the non-fascist right would somehow be able to control and limit the the fascists once the latter gained power.

Demodulating ACARS

ACARS is a digital protocol used by aircraft to transmit messages. It’s been around since the late 1970’s and is decodable using nothing but a sound card and the right software. But, after helping a friend (a technologically-sophisticated one; like me, he has a ham license) who has previously had no luck decoding the messages, it’s clear there’s some tricks involved.

  • Don’t use squelch. Squelch will chop off the first tiny fraction of information in a packet, causing decoding errors (typically, messages simply won’t decode). There’s no need to use squelch, anyhow. Squelch exists to prevent humans from being annoyed by listening to the background noise when a frequency is not in use. Computers don’t care about being forced to analyze static, and can easily distinguish between static and an ACARS packet.
  • Use a wide bandwidth. A big part of my friend’s problem was that he was using the default AM bandwidth on his communications receiver, which was apparently too narrow. I have myself tried using both the wide and narrow filters on my receiver; only the wide one works. ACARS is apparently a wide-bandwidth mode, and a narrow filter throws away critical information needed to decode a message.
  • If using ACARSD, configuration is critical. ACARSD is the most popular freeware package for decoding ACARS. Alas, it’s not exactly user-friendly. To install it you must first configure the installer and manually tell it to create the directories it needs. To configure it you must use a separate program that (re)writes the necessary .INI file. Moreover, that program doesn’t always default to reasonable values as advertised. It claims ACARSD will use the default sound card if none is specified. I found it necessary to explicitly specify the sound card for the default one to be used on my friend’s computer.

My Old Boss Just Quit Today

Just by chance I met him as he disembarked from the ferry, and he shared the news with me. The short story he gave (it had to be short, as the ferry loaded soon thereafter) is that hs was demoted, saw that as completely unacceptable, and walked out the door for good.

My educated guess is that he was demoted for failing to achieve the impossible: bringing some of the least-maintainable code I have ever seen up to snuff. The only way to fix its problems is a complete rewrite, which is something that may in fact not be possible given the resources available to the firm in question. At any rate, it’s something that firm is unwilling to seriously entertain. The latter two facts were some of the things that was playing through my mind when deciding it was time to part ways myself.

The upshot of this news is that things would have gotten significantly worse had I decided to stick it out (he’s definitely one of the best people I’ve reported to, odds are the next guy wouldn’t be so good, plus morale and continuity would have suffered). I’d probably either be quitting myself of soon be asked to leave under that alternate scenario. In turn that would have put me in pretty much the same scenario I am now, but without the benefits of being able to make that late-season trip to Wyoming.

It all goes to show that honesty (with oneself as well as others) is almost always the best policy. Buying into a lie that there was a future in the work I was doing there would have simply made me worse off.

Taleo Sucks

Taleo is a software-as-a-service (SAAS) package that some business’s personal departments use. As the title of this post implies, it sucks. I’m hardly alone in having this opinion, either. Just type “Taleo sucks” into your search engine and see.

I used to put up with its suckiness (clunky menus, duplicated data, bad browser compatibility, excessive use of crap Javascript, inability to view job description and application form at the same time, etc.) in the name of doing a more diligent job search. No more; if a link (or redirection) to Taleo happens during an application process, it’s game over.

I’m hardly alone in having this policy, either; if you read some of the hits you got in your search engine exercise above, you’ll find that others act as I do.

What tipped the balance for me was the realization, at the start of this current job search, that I have never received as much as a preliminary phone screen from any of the dozens of firms I put up with Taleo to apply for jobs at. That’s right, never. Not once. It’s as if my data vanish into a black hole.

My theory is that Taleo sucks not only for the applicant, but also for the person on the other end. Why shouldn’t it? Bad design is generally not confined to just one or two places in a software system; if it exists, it tends to be pervasive. As such, personnel departments also generally avoid using it. Thus, the way to land a job at a Taleo-using company is via some other channel.

But why should I? By the virtue of choosing Taleo, they’ve demonstrated their organizational incompetence by choosing to waste money on a demonstrably bad product. And I have no interest in working for incompetent organizations.

Back from Wyoming

More precisely, back from a nearly 2-week road trip that went as far east as western Wyoming. It involved seeing a part of the country I had always wanted to see, revisiting the place I finished up my college degree, helping a friend collect environmental sensors from the field, a quick swing through Yellowstone National Park, seeing a significant chunk of Montana for the first time, and visiting some of my companion’s friends in rural Idaho.

I had always wanted to see the Malheur basin ever since the area caught my eye on highway maps as a teen. Alas, it’s been a dry year, and the Federal government is still (understandably) jittery that right-wing extremists will try re-occupying the refuge headquarters, which meant that:

  • The area was nowhere near as lush as I imagined it; water levels were sufficiently low that many of the wetlands had dried out, and
  • It was impossible to see Malheur Lake itself, because the only road providing access to it passes through the headquarters compound, which is still very much off-limits.

Before we got there, I was studying the DeLorme Atlas of Oregon while my companion drove and noticed a place called Glass Butte that our route would soon skirt. I surmised (correctly) that the name alluded to obsidian deposits, so an impromptu side-trip was scheduled in the hopes that it might prove to be the place where one can find the rare red-and-black obsidian I’ve seen in collections from Oregon (as opposed to the more common plain black kind). Indeed it was.

I did then visit a real oasis in the desert: the Cache Valley of northern Utah and southern Idaho. It’s an area I’m very familiar with, having attended Utah State University for two years. It was a nice surprise that the valley was still very much rural and had not filled in with houses. The extensive wetlands in its bottom were, in contrast to the mostly dried-out ones at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, very lush and green.

The college campus had of course changed a lot since I had visited, but I chose to focus on what had not changed. The administration has done a good job of preserving the integrity of the more historical parts of campus, focusing on putting the new buildings where large parking lots used to be, so many campus views were precisely as I had remembered them.

It’s little-known except by locals, but that region also has some of the most spectacular fall colors in all of North America: in the surrounding mountains, the red and oranges of maples and the clear gold of the aspens contrast with the sombre green of firs. Nowhere else I can think of has all three elements (northern New England comes close, but doesn’t have the large numbers of aspens). Alas, it’s a short display that comes early, and true to form a storm and cold spell the week before had already left the trees mostly bare and blasted, despite it being the first week of October.

Then it was on to western Wyoming to collect the data loggers. That’s a place I visited a few times on day trips in my college years, so I got to see what Kemmerer (not much different) and Jackson (lots of new construction) looked like after about thirty years. That involved learning the hard way that my partner will call just about anything a “pretty good road,” even a rough track only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles (my truck is only two-wheel drive and not suited for such routes). No lasting harm was done, and he did readily agree to cover the resulting towing bill. The weather was cold with snow flurries.

Then a short trip through Yellowstone. We spent a day watching geysers and saw about ten different ones erupt. They were all frequent performers. I can’t really be disappointed that it fell short of what I saw thirty years ago. That involved a simultaneous display of four major geysers (including Giantess, which erupts only irregularly) jetting hundreds of feet into the air.

I wish I had studied the maps more on the following day. Had I known we were going to pass through Butte, I would have scheduled a detour to some labor history sites, including the grave of Frank Little. My efforts at trying to do something impromptu were frustrated by it being both a Monday and a holiday; both the visitor information center and the labor history museum were closed.

We camped just east of Lolo Pass and that night were treated to the heaviest snowfall of the trip. That may sound dramatic, but even that just amounted to a light dusting. There was actually more snow at our campsite than there was at the summit of the pass! Highway 12 west of the pass has to be one of the loneliest highways in the lower 48 states; we drove for hours through forested mountains before we finally reached the small town of Lowell. Traffic was very light, maybe one vehicle every five minutes.

After spending the night with my travel partner’s friends near Riggins, we resumed driving west. It was a relief to see the sign welcoming us back to Washington as we crossed the bridge from Lewiston to Clarkston, even though it was the opposite side of the state and many more hours of driving lay ahead. It was nice to see things get progressively greener and greener with each passing mile from The Dalles to Cascade Locks.

My travel partner lives in Portland, where I had planned to spend the night. After hearing about the series of storms due to hit (high winds, heavy rain) I changed those plans and decided to rest a few hours then press on and try to beat the worst of the weather. I’ve been unpacking and tidying up since and after spending over a day doing so, it was time to type in this post.

It was fun, but it was also time to end when it did.

Trump is Back to Being Trump Again

I was about to retract what I had posted earlier about the leopard (Trump) not being able to change his spots (lack of self-control). Trump has, up until the debate, managed what is for him an extraordinary streak of self-control.

While that was contrary to what I had predicted, I had also alluded that if he could do that, his chances would improve markedly. And true to that claim, Trump rose in the polls.

Now it seems to be over. Hillary Clinton calculated — correctly — that she could use Trump’s lack of self-control to her advantage in the debate.

It will be interesting to see how the two next debates play out. My instinct is to doubt that Trump will ever cease to be so easily provoked, but my instinct also doubted he’d be able to stay on message as much as he did the past month or so.

Ms. Clinton needs to start strategizing what to do if her baiting fails to achieve the desired result in the next debate. It’s foolish to assume that one’s enemy is incapable of learning from experience and thus will remain vulnurable to what previously proved a successful tactic.

So, How Harmful Is I-732, Anyhow?

Revisiting a previous post of mine, it’s time to answer the question asked therein:

The question to ask, I think, is: How much harm will the proposed law actually do [emphasis added]? Note that this is a very different question from asking how far it falls short in addressing race and class issues, even though global warming almost certainly will harm the disadvantaged more.

Addressing the latter really isn’t the purpose of the legislation. Such issues should be addressed, of course, but the proper way to address them is via other, separate actions. On the other hand, if the measure does itself do harm to the disadvantaged, then that is a valid argument against it.

I’m going mostly on three articles run early last month by the Sightline Institute, a voice I generally respect: one, two, three.

The answer to the question seems to be “Some, but overall not very much.”

The Sightline articles (particularly the second one) assume the measure will be revenue neutral, as much as can be ascertained. On that, I’m skeptical. I’m generally inclined to trust the Department of Revenue’s estimates more than Sightline’s in most (but not all) cases. In particular, Sightline is assuming an all-but-inevitable court challenge will go their way, when by their own admission according to history challenges of that particular nature generally do not. However, even given that, it must be pointed out that it’s a small revenue shortfall.

Yes, I-732’s drafters failed to reach out to the disadvantaged. Shame on them — to paraphrase a humorous work of fiction I once read, organized environmentalism is the whitest movement since the Klan. While that may be hyperbolic, it is the case that environmental organizations tend to be drawn from a very historically privileged background. But, while the drafters’ lack of awareness was shameful, it was not actual harm and thus falls short of the standards I set forth in my earlier post.

To their credit, I-732’s drafters did recognize how shamefully regressive Washington state’s tax structure is, and attempt to do something about it. Unfortunately, the law was overly simplistic and there’s cracks in the law through which some of the poor will slip (and thus end up paying in the order of hundreds of dollars more taxes per year).

I-732 also fails to actively spend more money on renewable energy and conservation. Given its revenue shortfall problem, that’s probably a blessing in disguise. Also, this again falls short of my standard of doing harm: sins of omission are not sins of commission. Finally, it’s not as if the economic incentives created by the taxes won’t alter behavior and cause private parties to make such investments (in fact, that’s a huge part of their purpose); the investments may not happen directly by government action but they will happen nonetheless.

So to sum up, the actual harm done by I-732 is that it:

  • Makes the state’s recurring budget crisis slightly worse by being slightly revenue negative.
  • Makes a minority of the poor end up paying more, not less, in taxes, even though most of the poor will pay less.

At this stage in the game, I do not think that the total harm outweighs either the good the measure will do, or the harm that rejecting it will do. The latter is likely to taint carbon taxes with a stench of failure, thereby causing even more delays in attempting to address the most profound crisis that mankind has ever faced.

How to Disable That Darned Adobe Updater on the Mac

If you ever install Flash, there it will be. A stupid updater process that pops up and runs whenever you least want such a thing to run, typically when your computer is already busy and slow. And the Adobe Updater is itself a booger-eating fat pig that will pork up resources and make your computer run even slower.

There’s no instructions from Adobe on how to remove it. Of course not; they have delusions of grandeur: they think their software is so important that its updater is more important than you are. In fact, they think it’s about the most important thing there is. Definitely more important than Apple’s own update checks, which manage to run unobtrusively and generally when you’re not using the computer much.

Thankfully, it’s easy enough to remove the darned thing. Just open a shell window and type the following commands:

cd ~/Library/LaunchAgents
launchctl remove `basename com.adobe.ARM.* .plist`
rm com.adobe.ARM.*

Et voilà! The Adobe Updater virus program should no longer run itself automatically.

Not to belabor the obvious, but if you choose to do this, it becomes your responsibility to check for and install updates. And with Flash, that’s important, because Flash security fixes come out all the time.

Thanks to the Life of a Computer Scientist blog for coming up with the solution and posting it.

An Encouraging Trend in (and of) Resistance

New insights which should have happened to me long ago (given how obvious they are) keep happening to me. Take yesterday, for example. There was a solidarity rally for the Standing Rock Sioux and their struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in downtown Seattle then which I happened to attend.

One insight that’s not new to me is that ecological consciousness can be a struggle to adopt on a widespread scale in the United States because we are such a new nation. We don’t have a long history of inhabiting the land here. 200 years is a long time and 500 years is an extremely long time. Yet even 500 years isn’t very long at all when one takes geological or ecological time scales into account. Americans simply lack anything approaching the long-term view that one needs to adopt a truly sustainable society.

Of course that’s only really true for the majority that is descended from primarily European settlers, which is the delayed insight that I had. Native Americans have been living here for thousands of years. While they don’t have a long history (history is a written record, the vast majority of tribes were pre-literate, and the few that were literate had virtually their entire corpus deliberately destroyed), written records are not the only records. There are oral records, something which every people has.<

Yes, oral records are imperfect, but so are written ones; the latter are typically distorted by servitude to power and authority (freedom of expression is a relatively new invention, and even in open societies there is a lot of self-censorship and acquiescence to power). Moreover, the orally-transmitted knowledge of how to live and survive on the land tends to be accurate, because it is continually subjected to a process of testing; if such knowledge becomes faulty, the outcome will involve hardship at the least.

The process of social contact with Europeans was extremely traumatic for most tribes, and they are only now starting to bounce back from it. Many tribes have had success winning back ignored treaty rights in recent decades, then came the economic success of tribal gaming (no small thing; it’s been a source of funds free of the paternalistic and bureaucratic encumbrance of Federal sources), and now in the NoDAPL struggle we finally see a degree of Native American unity really starting to develop; tribes that have historically (and prehistorically) been enemies have joined forces in this struggle.

The latter is an amazing and encouraging accomplishment, one that I think offers all of us, Native American and not, some real hope. We need the voices of those who have lived with this land the longest.

It’s Over

On schedule, my current (soon to be most recent) stint of employment is all over as of today. It’s a relief that it’s happening on schedule: I’m already starting to make plans for the next month or so, and a delay in the start of any free time would complicate them.