E-Begging, or, Needs versus Wants

It seems as if GoFundMe requests are proliferating in my social network.

Now, if the predominant motive behind such requests were genuine instances of needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, or health care, I’d find it upsetting because it serves as evidence the economy is failing increasingly more people.

Most requests, however, are not for needs; they are for wants, things like name changes, transatlantic plane fares, recreational vehicles (that are used recreationally and not as a primary residence) and whatnot. I find that upsetting because of the whiny attitude of self-centered entitlement it represents.

Sorry, e-beggars, your wants are your problem—not mine. Figure out how to fund them yourself. I believe people are entitled to the necessities of life, but I do not believe anyone is entitled to luxuries at my expense.

That’s particularly the case given that we’re in a world where so many people are lacking basic needs, and in one where I am myself a person of limited means who can’t dream of things like taking a transatlantic vacation. And, guess what? I don’t go begging to other people to fund such luxuries which are unaffordable to me.

If I once more become able to afford discretionary donations, rest assured I will be making such donations to those who need them, not those who merely want them. After all, every dollar I would donate to fund a mere want is a dollar I cannot donate to fund a geniune need.

The Outcome Will Be Escalation

No matter how I look at it, I can’t foresee any positive outcome from the coming round of dueling demonstrations in Portland. The far right is going to come away from it all feeling even more bitter and aggrieved, and even more justified (in their own minds) in using violence.

If Portland Antifa obliges the right-wingers’ wish and attacks first, and/or attacks non-fascists (and they might, given that multiple instances of past behavior indicate the presence of hotheads in that group), then of course there will be more grievance.

But suppose the right-wingers attack first (which is at least as likely), then what? The same thing, of course. That they started it will be irrelevant; a narrative, supported by the right-wing media, contrary to the facts will be developed. The quality of any evidence will be irrelevant. Video footage, for example, can easily be selectively edited to make aggressors look like the attacked.

Perhaps the best possible outcome would be something which, like Charlottsville, clearly exhibits the violence and depravity of the poliical right, and thus serves to further alienate moderates from it and Trump. (Let’s hope it will not be as violent and deadly as Charlottsville.) But even in that case, the right will walk away feeling that they are the ones being wronged, and as a result escalate their rhetoric and tactics (see above).

This is, at best, the end of the beginning. In no way is it the beginning of the end.

China, Trump, and the Future

Per this, a big crackdown may be imminent in Hong Kong. It would hardly be unprecedented. The Tienanmen Square protests ended up in a big, ugly, violent crackdown, too.

From the standpoint of the Chinese Communist Party, that crackdown worked: single-party rule was preserved. It would therefore be no surprise whatsoever if the Party viewed this as a lesson from history that a crackdown is called for now in Hong Kong.

If that happens, expect relations between China and the West to swirl down the toilet. Trump’s tariffs won’t be scaled back; they will likely prove in retrospect to be the vanguard of a range of sanctions applied to the Beijing regime. Given the level of globalization in society, that in turn will likely provoke a recession.

Assuming a recession, Trump will be blamed for it by a significant chunk of the electorate. Presidents always are, even if they typically don’t have much to do with the recession; the business cycle exists no matter which party occupies the Oval Office. (If it comes as a big surprise to you that Establishment politics is illogical, there’s this bridge they’re selling between Manhattan and Brooklyn that I can let you have a great deal on.)

The root cause of it all was our ruling elite’s idiotic, end-of-history belief that capitalism and markets were the wave of the future, and would inevitably foster democracy and pluralism (therefore the currently-despotic nature of the regime in Beijing didn’t much matter). This was approximately as idiotic as the belief of Leninists that a socialist revolution must inevitably produce freedom, therefore any dictatorial measures pursued to secure the revolution must inevitably prove transitory (therefore so-called “workers’ states” like the USSR and Cuba must be supported). Politics and idiocy have a long history, particularly when it comes to unquestioning true believers (be they believers in capitalism, believers in Marxism, or believers in something else).

Ironically, that end-of-history belief was part of the bipartisan consensus that Trump (who distrusts globalization of any sort) disrespected and promised to overturn. In other words, the thing that sinks Trump may well prove to be something that Trump had little to do with, and not any of the evils for which he actually is culpable.

More on Which Democrat

Time to expound a bit more on some subjects raised in yesterday’s entry.

Odds Really Do Favor Biden

His lead is so significant that it’s going to be difficult (but not impossible) for someone else to overtake him. Maybe of one of either Warren or Sanders dropped out and threw their support to the other that would happen, but I don’t see either candidate doing so before the convention.

Odds Favor Warren as His Running Mate

Biden is weak when it comes to the progressive base, and the two progressive candidates together command approximately as large a chunk of the primary vote as Biden himself does. It would be extremely unwise for Biden to ignore that. Then again, Biden has done extremely unwise things multiple times during his political career (e.g. supporting the Iraq War).

But let’s be optimistic and assume he knows better. That means picking a progressive standard-bearer, either Sanders or Warren, as his running mate. And it’s not going to be Sanders, whose independent, anti-Establishment streak annoys Establishment Democrats almost as much as Trump himself does.

On top of that, Warren is a woman, so choosing her lets the Democrats tick off an identity-politics feel-good box (and doing so may well help them appeal to female voters in key suburban swing districts).

It Will Be Necessary to Save Establishment Democrats from Their Own Incompetence

Having Warren stump for him in the general election will certainly be a help, but Biden will still be a weak candidate that fails to energize the base sufficiently. This is where Michael Moore’s “Operation Orange Crush” comes in. Running progressive ballot measures on popular issues in key swing states will energize the base, who will then tend to say “Well, what the hey, since I’m here to vote for {legal pot, a $15 minimum wage, etc.} anyhow I might as well cast a vote for Sleepy Joe, too.”

This Will Conveniently Save the Progressives from Their Own Incompetence

Biden, not Warren, will be at the top of the ballot, so the Democratic candidate won’t be campaigning for something stupid and unpopular like abolishing all private health insurance. The progressive issues being campaigned for will be the initiative campaigns on issues that actually do have popular support.

Biden Will Still Be a Hot Mess

The optimistic scenario has him kicking Trump out of office. Let’s assume that happens. It still means a Democratic Party led by Joe Biden, laboring under delusions about a bipartisanship that died long ago. Biden will continually be begging Republicans to love him, and will continually be frustrated when they don’t.

That preoccupation with foolish pandering will stop Biden from being able to do anything serious about the problems that created Trump in the first place. The GOP will remain as fascistic and Trumpy as ever, and be well-poised to make big gains when the business cycle does its inevitable thing and Biden gets blamed for it.

Don’t Harbor Delusions

It’s still the bourgeois state. It still leans strongly to the political right. It’s still biased to going fascist at times. This is still one of those times. The best we can hope for from electoral politics is a temporary reprieve. Any lasting solution will have to come from more grassroots organizing.

Which Democrat?

If the primary were being held today, with the candidates polling like they are today, I would probably vote for Sanders. This would not be because I believe him to be a viable candidate, but because I believe him to be the most viable counterpoint to the most likely candidate (Biden).

On the subject of Biden, he has proved to be surprisingly resilient in spite of the damage Harris did to him in the June debates. I’m also sure he’s likely to be a Hillary-esque disaster, and if not that, a highly ineffectual president.

He’s just the sort of candidate Hillary was: a “safe” and “responsible” moderate choice who will turn off a chunk of the more progressive Democratic base while at the same time failing to enthuse enough crossover voters to win. If, despite that, he wins, the Republicans will make mincemeat of him once he’s in office, because he harbors laughably naïve delusions about bipartisanship being possible. Sorry, Joe, that era is dead. Republicans will absolutely despise you, and there is nothing you can do to change that.

Buttigieg gets it. As he said in the debate:

It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. If we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.

Buttigieg is still a moderate, not a progressive. But at least he’s far less deluded about the nature of the current situation than Biden (who seems to be living in the past) is. To some degree, he also realizes the old political center is dead (check out his plans for restructuring the Supreme Court). Alas, he’s not even polling at 10% right now, which means odds are he’s an also-ran. O’Rourke, Booker, Yang, Gabbard, Delaney, etc. basically are also-rans, and as such should be seriously considering leaving the stage.

On the subject of naïveté, we have both Sanders and Warren (and to a lesser degree Harris) going full steam ahead on single-payer health care despite the enormous pitfall of the unpopularity of making private insurance illegal, and the enormous stupidity of advocating the centralizing of something in the Federal executive branch while we’re simultaneously living a real-life example of the dangers of doing precisely that.

Anyhow, back to the subject of also-rans and viable candidates. Absent some unforeseen development, the Democratic Party nominee is going to be (in order of decreasing likelihood) Biden, Sanders, Warren, or Harris. Note that Biden currently has a huge lead, almost twice as much support as the next most popular candidate (Sanders). Therefore, odds are the nominee is probably going to be Biden.

Given that Mr. Establishment is the likely candidate, I would want Mr. Anti-Establishment, the outsider-ist candidate who isn’t an also-ran, to have as much influence as possible, to force Mr. Establishment to do a measure of triangulating to the left. That anti-Establishment candidate is clearly Sanders; he’s not even formally a member of the party under whose banner he’s running!

Of course, this is all a hypothetical. The primary is not being held today, and when it is being held, the candidates will doubtless be polling differently than they are today.

Tulsi Gabbard? I Think Not.

I don’t blame her for meeting with Assad (certainly worth a try to end the nasty civil war in Syria). I do blame her for then basically taking Assad’s side in accusations of chemical weapon use in Syria. And she sounds naïve about Putin as well.

And then there’s her interactions with Google. When her ad account there got suspended, she was sure it just had to be a deliberate conspiracy against her. As was the fact that junk mails her campaign sent ended up, surprise, surprise, in spam folders on Gmail accounts.

Let’s just say that none of the above exactly inspires confidence in her temperament or judgment.

The Case for Impeachment

It can be boiled down to this: political theater. That is because there is not an ice cube’s chance in hell that the GOP-controlled Senate would ever vote to convict.

The solution is to not ever get to the point of sending things to the Senate. Conveniently, impeachment is a lengthy process, lengthy enough that odds disfavor it being completed before the 2020 elections, anyhow. The point, to reiterate, is political theater: keep Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors in the public eye, so that moderates and liberals feel motivated to turn out in November, 2020 and vote against Trump.

Congressional Democrats can’t openly admit as much, of course. They will have to claim they are just doing their Constitutional duty of oversight, and putting that well ahead of any political concerns. Well, welcome to the real world. Please, don’t tell me that professional politicians of all people suddenly have a case of aversion to telling convenient lies.

This gets to the flaw in the line of the reasoning the majority of congressional Democrats have, that weakness and capitulation are somehow virtues. They are not, and the fact that Democrats persistently tend to think they are is one of the reasons people don’t like Democrats. Democrats are seen as the party of weakness because they are by and large the party of weakness.

There is actually plenty of public support for progressive things like a wealth tax, a $15 minimum wage, and a green new deal. Contrary to the preachings of the so-called “moderate” wing of the Democratic Party, campaigning on such things is a recipe for success not failure. (Democrats tried choosing the “safe, moderate” presidential candidate in 2016; keep in mind what that accomplished for them.)

This doesn’t mean everything the left of the party wants is a winning idea. That same poll shows that campaigning for single-payer is basically a stupid idea. Solution: don’t do that. In addition to being unwise from a pragmatic point of view, and unwise from a concentration-of-power point of view, it’s simply not necessary.

But many left-of-center ideas are popular. A rotten, rigged system gives the right disproportionate power. Start acting like it, Democrats. Stop living in perpetual fear that Republicans won’t like you. News flash: they already don’t, and nothing other than going full Trump fascist is going to make them like you. Get over your stupid neurosis about not being loved by everybody and get busy adopting some principles and fighting for them.

Or get used to losing. Your choice.

On Tyranny

The Right is fond of going on about the “tyranny of the majority” and defending systems such as the Electoral College and legislative supermajority requirements meant to prevent it.

Here’s the thing, though: If you’re a member of a minority group, and you want to see your political will prevail, now, there really isn’t any option available to your group other than brute force. (Becoming the majority via persuasion takes time.) Any reasonably open and democratic system is going to deny your group the ability to set policy contrary to the desires of the majority. If you’re in the majority, by contrast, you don’t have to choose tyranny. Democracy and openness will work just fine.

Tyranny, therefore, can logically be expected to tempt powerful minorities more than it does popular majorities.

Many of the examples of tyranny of the majority just don’t hold water. Take slavery, which is claimed to be a form of tyranny of the majority because whites outnumbered blacks. Here’s the thing, though: whites were divided on the issue, and northern whites were growing in power as the North grew in population at a faster rate than the South. The abolitionist literature of the 19th century is full of complaints about the “slave power” that allowed the South’s ruling class the ability to use undemocratic protections for their minority viewpoint. And, of course, the opinions of blacks when it came to slavery were totally disregarded as a matter of law (only white males could vote).

So it was actually the political power of the pro-slavery minority that allowed slavery to last as long as it did.

Or just look at today. If it weren’t for the Electoral College, we’d have a far less pro-tyranny president in the White House right now. That which is argued to prevent the elevation of extremist, intolerant ideas is in fact facilitating precisely that.

And this holds in general. Most hierarchical societies are ruled by and for a tiny elite, that benefits from a hierarchy that is not in the interests of the vast many. In democratic societies, this is done by deception. That is a relatively new development; traditionally, such rule has been by brute force.

Therefore, precisely as one would expect, the vast majority of tyrannies throughout the historical record have been tyrannies of a minority. Worrying about “tyranny of the majority” while ignoring this elephant in the living room is like worrying about dogs being injured by people biting them.

Yes, it’s theoretically possible for people to bite dogs, and if you search the news, you can probably find examples of it happening (the world is a large place). That doesn’t then prove that leashes and muzzles are unneeded and what really needs to be done is to add the biting of dogs by humans to the criminal code as a very serious felony.

Looks Like I’m Turning Into a Hamster

A Bellinghamster, that is. (Yes, that’s the real demonym for a resident of Bellingham.)

Seeing as how I’ve aged to the point where I’m basically unemployable in the tech industry in Seattle (type “tech industry age discrimination” into a search engine; it’s rather enlightening, or should I say depressing) I had originally planned to cut my costs by moving to Bremerton or the Kitsap Peninsula. I could probably afford an entire modest house for the equity in my expensive condo on Bainbridge Island. (My move to the Island, in fact, was predicated on the assumption that I needed to be close to the big city so I could take one of tech jobs available there.) Then I’d have an easier time with my radio hobby (unrestricted right to erect antennas) and significantly lower living costs. Major win!

I had even gone to the point of looking at properties for sale in Bremerton in order to familiarize myself with the market. Then one evening while falling asleep it hit me: what’s really most important to me is my activism for a more wild and free world, and Bremerton frankly isn’t really the best place to pursue such things. (For openers, it’s even further from Seattle than Bainbridge Island, and the ferry ride to the big city from here has been enough of a damper on my activism as it is.)

As such, I’d probably be better off if I gave up the dream about a better ham radio situation; overall, ham radio is just a hobby, not a core motivating interest in my life. This is not even a very radical or dramatic conclusion; the Radio Amateur’s Code has this to say: “The Radio Amateur is… BALANCED. Radio is a hobby, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school, or community [emphasis added].”

The two places that came to mind were the college towns of Olympia and Bellingham. The latter I almost rejected, due to it being too expensive. That was something of a pity, as I’ve always really liked Bellingham and fantasized about moving there some day. Then I remembered that: a) it’s been a long time since I sussed out the Bellingham real estate market, and b) when I did, it was with an eye on buying a small house, not a condo. As such, it was worth doing some basic research on Bellingham before rejecting it based on incomplete and only partially applicable information.

And lo, I found that there seemed to be condos in my price range on the market there. Of course, that’s just pictures and glad words on the web. There can be no substitute for actually seeing things in person. Maybe they’re far tattier once one actually sees them, or are reeking of old pet urine, or have some other show-stopper.

But, for the most part, they weren’t. They were just what they seemed to be online: modest, decent condos that I could afford to own outright. Even more surprisingly, Bellingham was actually slightly less expensive than Olympia, despite it being my first choice of a place to downsize to.

Anyhow, to make a long story a little less long, I made a contingent offer on a condo in Bellingham a couple weeks ago. One of the things that sold me on it is that it has access to an attic that antennas can be concealed inside. But it was a contingent offer, which depended on my current place selling.

Depressingly, the market seems to have slowed a lot here on Bainbridge Island in the past year. Units where I live no longer sell for over asking price within 24 hours of being listed like they have for years. I had scores of looky-loos tramp through my place, but no offers. Well, one offer, but it was so insultingly low that my agent felt free to tell the buyer to take a hike without even running his asking price by me first.

Then, today, out of the blue, not one but two offers come in within minutes of each other. Go figure. Anyhow, I decided to go with the one contingent on VA financing over the all-cash offer because that buyer was willing to pay me more money for a deal that would take longer to close. More money is definitely something I need at this stage in my life.

So, it’s really starting to look as if the move is going to happen. I hadn’t posted about it earlier due to the fear of jinxing it, but I feel fairly safe posting about it now.

Kotlin Looks Nice, But…

I’m planning on developing an Android app, and to that end I recently downloaded Android Studio. I notice it offers a second option for the programming language of a project, in addition to the expected Java: something called Kotlin.

That prompted me to take a closer look at this language. I’ve worked about halfway through the Kotlin Koans tutorial for the language, and I must say that so far I am quite impressed.

The world needs a more modern alternative to Java. Once I was hoping that C# could serve in this regard, but alas:

  • It falls victim to bigotry (anything that got its start at Microsoft is going to be sneered at in the open source/Unix/Linux world, no matter its merits, no matter that there’s an excellent open-source implementation of it).
  • It runs in its own environment, not the JVM, meaning that switching from Java to C# implies burning bridges. You can’t easily cut over by developing new modules in C# that interoperate with legacy Java ones.

I looked at Scala, which seemed to offer real promise. Then I experimented with it and ran into Scala’s complexity. I was eternally doing battle with the type system, which seemed to frustrate my every attempt to use the language’s powerful features in clever ways.

When I looked at other people’s Scala code for ideas, I was often perplexed, because it was shot through with special features I had not learned yet. Beyond a certain point, it becomes impossible to remember a language’s core feature set. When that happens, readability of code will suffer, because developers will tend to drift apart from each other, each opting to use their own personal idiosyncratic subset of the language’s features.

There is a real cost to programming language complexity, and it is clear to me that Scala is well past the point of diminishing returns when it comes to feature set size.

That brings us back to the subject of this post. Kotlin really seems to be “Scala done right,” addressing the worst of Java’s deficiencies without falling victim to excessive complexity.

Android was Kotlin’s foot in the door, because many Android devices run truly ancient versions of the JVM, versions so old that many of the newer features in Java (without which the language becomes truly dated and obsolete) are absent. The Kotlin compiler can target those old JVM byte codes, allowing one to use modern features even on legacy platforms.

So I’m going to give Kotlin a whirl on my Android app. I will let you know what my impressions of the language are after I’ve had some practice actually coding something meaningful in it.

The pity is that once one does things other than Android software development in Kotlin, the rough edges in its ecosystem quickly become all too apparent. Just out of curiosity I’ve been playing with the Ktor server-side framework. The documentation ranges from flat-out obsolete (and thus incorrect) to simply nonexistent. The result is that even simple things take hours of tedious experimentation to determine how to do.

I’m hoping that Android development goes better, but unless those rough edges get smoothed out, and soon, Kotlin may well end up being stereotyped as an Android-only thing.