Russia Mobilizes

Published at 09:56 on 25 September 2022

It’s a desperate act. Putin is doing it because he has suffered big losses on the battlefield, and he’s a stubborn old man who cannot admit defeat.

Odds disfavour it succeeding. The mobilized troops will have even less training than the already ill-prepared and ill-trained ones Putin has had to work with so far. They will have even lower morale. They will be working with stocks of materiel that have been damaged and depleted by six months of fighting. Unlike Ukraine, Russia does not have a bunch of powerful, well-equipped allies shoveling new materiel its way.

It is not popular at home, and this is probably significant. One of the reasons the Vietnam War started going badly for the USA was the level of conscription it eventually prompted, and the domestic opposition that conscription provoked. Nothing prompts interest in an issue like self-interest.

The war could still go on for an unpleasantly long time. Russia is a dictatorship, and can resist popular pressure in ways that the USA could not in the Vietnam Era (and the Vietnam War lasted for a painfully long time). That said, odds still favour Russia slinking out of Ukraine in defeat sooner or later. It’s just that it may well be later rather than sooner, and later might mean a significant amount of time.

iPhone First Impressions

Published at 07:44 on 13 September 2022

It’s Small

Not quite as small as a candy bar phone, but pretty small nonetheless. About as small as I’d want to use for looking at web sites and reviewing emails. Small enough to make previewing PDF’s quite painful. (Thankfully the latter is not as important as small size to me.) That is, of course, one of the reasons I got it.

Sadly, “masses” are 5/6 “asses,” so overall small phones do not sell well, and as such the “mini” phones are being phased out by Apple. Now, even the regular-sized iPhones are smaller than most Android devices, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to minimize size, and glad that I waited for the iPhone 14 so that I could get a 13 mini at a discounted price.

It’s Surprisingly Hard to Integrate with iCloud

It literally took hours to complete this task, which was not easy or simple. Part of this, I think, is that my iCloud account is something of a mess, as a result of being one of the earliest such accounts (I got its predecessor about 20 years ago, when I purchased my first Mac.) As such, it has been grandfathered from a account to a Mobile Me account to an iCloud account, and apparently there has been some accumulated cruft along the way.

I now have two Apple accounts, one named with my full original email address, and one named with just the username part of that address. The accounts are subtly connected in various ways I still do not fully comprehend. Everything I do is as a result something of a pain, made all the worse by how some of the prompts and diagnostics on are not very clear. For example, when it wanted a non-iCloud email address out of me for account recovery purposes, it simply asked me for an “email address,” no further explanation. So of course I entered my iCloud address, which had a “problem” and was rejected. Neither prompt nor error message mentioned the requirement that the address be external.

While this is not an iPhone problem per se, it is still an Apple problem, and integration with Macs and iCloud is supposed to be a selling point of iOS devices and Apple products in general.

It’s Both Oddly Familiar and Gratuitously Different

A lot of its user interface is so dead-on identical (or nearly so) to what Android does that it’s positively uncanny. At the same time, one is continually running into things that are strangely different, to the extent that I’ve had to do a number of web searches on how to do things.

I Can Kill the Touch Screen!

This feature is “Guided Access” and is buried under the “Accessibility” settings. It is a big deal for me, and is one of the reasons I got an iPhone. I could not put my Android phone in a shirt pocket with the headset connected and walk around the house doing chores while talking, because the touch screen would get randomly triggered, activating features like randomly putting the caller on hold, muting me, or hanging up. Actually, the touch screen itself seems a tad less sensitive, which might reduce the need to do this, but I still would not want a smartphone without this feature.

Apple’s Shipping Is Weird

For some reason they shipped the phone and the accessories (sold separately) that I ordered in two separate packages. The packages moved across Canada in tandem, leaving from the same address and arriving in Vancouver in the same day. So I was expecting the FedEx guy to have two packages when he knocked on my door. He only had one. He mentioned a rendezvous in an hour to collect more packages, and sure enough, I got to say “Hi!” to him again soon enough.

On the plus side, the order got to me yesterday (the 12th). Its estimated arrival date was the 16th. This is the first time since the pandemic that I have had an order arrive earlier than first estimated.

Some Thoughts on Canada’s New Head of State

Published at 11:32 on 11 September 2022

Yes, Monarchy is Silly and Old-Fashioned

Really, no disagreement there. If this move to Canada ends, as hoped, with my getting citizenship, I will probably become active in the republican movement.

Have Some Sympathy and Respect

I know a number of people who are monarchists, and being disrespectful during the time they are feeling a sense of loss won’t help you convince them of the merits of the republican position. Plus, have some respect for the members of the Royal Family who just lost their mother. They are still human, and still feeling a sense of loss. As someone who recently lost his own mother, I understand.

Have Some Perspective

First, while the British (and Canadian) monarchy is silly, it is also pretty harmless. I didn’t fear Elizabeth II would do anything to endanger my basic freedoms in an open society, and I don’t fear that Charles III will, either. Compare and contrast with ex-president Trump and the fascist and fascism-friendly followers and enablers has in the USA. Can we please spend our time worrying about actual serious threats to liberty?

Second, Elizabeth II didn’t have much to do with imperialism. Yes, some of her predecessors did, but the second Elizabethan era was one of decolonization. Moreover, Elizabeth II was a constitutional monarch. Unlike in earlier eras, the sovereign does not play a part in British politics. Any lingering imperialism during the second Elizabethan area has been the work of politicians, not the Queen.

Those Documents at Mar-a-Lago

Published at 08:20 on 5 September 2022

There is No Material Evidence Indicating Trump Actively Participated in Espionage

There is also no material evidence indicating otherwise, but guess what? That is not how the US criminal justice system works. It is the State’s job to demonstrate the accused are guilty; it is not the accused’s job to demonstrate his or her innocence. That the accused is a particularly unlikable character does not change this. The civil rights of others do not depend on your personal likes or dislikes.

Yes, Trump probably violated the Espionage Act. That is not the same thing as actively participating in espionage. Yes, participating actively in espionage opens one up to prosecution under the Espionage Act, but that Act prohibits more than just espionage. Pertinent to this case, it also prohibits conduct that might facilitate espionage by others, e.g. mishandling classified documents.

Those Empty Folders and Envelopes Are Worrying

Those special, distinctive folders and envelopes for classified documents exist for a good reason: they help such documents be recognized at a glance. This in turn helps those who work with them treat them with the care that they require. It helps co-workers recognize mishandled classified documents.

Early in my career, I held a government security clearance. I never worked with any classified information directly myself, but I did work with people who did. The reason I was cleared was in case any co-worker mishandled classified information: if so, my running across it would not constitute a security breach. Moreover, like all employees being granted a security clearance, I was given training in how to recognize classified documents (and the standard folders and envelopes used to contain them) at a glance, so that I could report the mishandling and it could be corrected.

Folders without documents imply the existence of documents without folders, documents that are significantly harder to recognize at a glance as classified. It is, therefore, quite likely that the FBI overlooked some classified documents in their raid last month. In other words, there are still probably stolen classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Intelligence services of hostile powers know this, too. Mar-a-Lago is certain to be drawing their attention if it had not done so already.

Trump Still Broke the Law

He stole Federal property, including extremely sensitive classified documents. Those documents had strict standards for handling and storage. Those standards existed for a good reason: to protect them from unauthorized access by possibly hostile parties. After Trump stole them, those standards were not followed.

All available evidence indicates that Trump knew he stole the documents, and that he deliberately sought to frustrate efforts to recover them. Trump’s theft was intentional. As such mens rea exists. If the government were to prosecute, they would probably have a solid case.

Focusing on the Most Lurid Possible Scenarios Helps Trump

If the narrative becomes “Trump deliberately sold classified information for profit,” and it later becomes quite clear that he did not do that, Trump and his apologists can then go around proclaiming victory and accusing their opponents of being unfair to them (and of being authoritarians who want to use the power of the State to baselessly prosecute political opponents).

As such, it’s best to stick with what hard evidence indicates Trump actually did do. If later investigation uncovers actual hard evidence of active participation in espionage, additional charges can always be laid then.

Re-Thinking the JVM for GUI Applications

Published at 08:00 on 22 August 2022

I have now written two GUI applications using Kotlin and Swing, and it has left me wondering how useful the Java virtual machine (JVM) really can be for such purposes. When writing both applications, I ran into parts of Swing that simply do not work as advertised on the Mac. One thing worked for a long time, then became broken in newer versions of OpenJDK.

It’s sort of a shame. In theory at least, the JVM both insulates me from the hot mess that is the native Apple programming environment, and enables me to run my applications anywhere. The latter has been useful, since one of my applications, a clipboard manager, is enough of a productivity boost that I installed it on my Linux laptop I use for work. It just ran, no painful porting needed.

At this stage, I’m just rethinking my earlier conclusion that the JVM was the best way to write GUI applications. The Apple environment still is very much a hot mess from the programming side (always has been, probably always will be), so putting up with the JVM’s glitches may still be the preferred route. Moreover, the end result of Swing looks a lot closer to a native application than, say, GTK (which is also sometimes sold as a cross-platform GUI library) does. It’s just that the JVM is a lot glitchier than I had first imagined.

Understanding Liz Cheney

Published at 22:40 on 17 August 2022

It’s pretty obvious to me, because I have experienced it myself with Hugo Chávez, who I once (long ago) supported, until he did something that unambiguously crossed a line, then I opposed him as a dangerous authoritarian.

That line may have not seemed all that significant to a conservative or a centrist, but it was significant to me. A conservative would be likely to say something along the lines of: “Well of course he turned out to be a dangerous authoritarian, his politics inevitably led him there,” to which I would strenuously disagree.

So it is with Cheney. Of course conservative politics inevitably ended up like that, in a country where they are associated with Nixon, Reagan, and Bush the younger, all of whom broke laws and got away with it. Where else would a standard that you can get away with breaking laws in office lead? That’s all obvious to me.

For Cheney, it’s not so obvious. The line for her was obviously election denial and January 6th. She was pretty much a loyal Trumper, voting with Trump well over 90% of the time, before then. By her standards, it was OK to do all those reactionary (and even sometimes illegal) things, but if you lost an election, well game over for you, time to leave office.

So yes, she’s still a reactionary who helped get us into this mess. I agree with that.

But, she’s not a fascist like Trump. As bad as Dubya was, I never had to worry that if his team lost an election (as it eventually did, with its anointed successor), they would accept that loss. I never had to worry about being hauled off to a concentration camp for having sharply opposing views. And she is now, in her own way, and despite an imperfect appreciation for how she got us into that mess, making a good-faith effort to help us get out of it.

That part is critical, and if you cannot see it, you are pretty much doomed to babble nonsense about the current political situation.

Bourgeois democracy is hardly ideal, but it beats an authoritarian fascist state (or an authoritarian socialist one). It’s still an environment where one can fight for a better world without being in fear of one’s life. It’s still a place where one can fight for a better world without having to choose between shutting up or using violent means. That means something.

And again, that part is critical, and if you cannot see it, you are pretty much doomed to babble nonsense.

The Most Logical Explanation

Published at 07:29 on 11 August 2022

Hubris: Trump deliberately chose not to return all the documents he stole simply because he thought he could get away with it. And he did get away with it… until his hubris got to the point where he started boasting about getting away with it. Then someone who learned about this (directly or indirectly) due to the boasting chose to squeal, quite likely because the stool pigeon was himself under a cloud and cut a deal to lighten his or her likely punishment.

Given his hubris, it is conceivable that Trump allowed multiple individuals to see examples of the deliberately retained documents. This allowed the tattle-tale to be explicit and specific. This in turn allowed the authorities to verify that indeed, those particular documents were missing. Affidavits from both were then presented to a magistrate who promptly signed off on a search warrant.

This is all vintage Trump, and it does not require much speculation on anything more sinister. On the latter, I am reluctant to do that. We have seen, time and time again, anti-Trump sources being “certain” that serious dirt was about to doom Trump… only to be disappointed when it turns out that while the truth is on the sordid side, it is far less lurid than speculated.

So no, I am not at this stage expecting any of the stolen documents to contain any big bombshells.

The Worst Take of All

Published at 20:16 on 9 August 2022

“This is unwise. It will just provoke them.”

Really, now. That is what some voices are saying.

First off, this didn’t start with Trump. Trump certainly represented taking it to a whole new level, but the sickness was evident at least 20 years ago, when another president lied his way into a war and then ignored both domestic and international law and ordered suspects be tortured during interrogation. A series of crimes for which there was very little, if any, accountability.

And that happened, mind you, only after decades of the most milquetoast “opposition” to right-wing politics by the Democratic Party.

Which itself happened after another criminal Republican president got off scot-free for his crimes when his handpicked Republican successor pardoned him.

So can we shut up already about the positively moronic claim that there is nothing that can be done about the increasing lawlessness and fascism of the American Right other than continued appeasement? Get it straight: just about all that has been done is appease, appease, appease and it has not pacified them one bit.

No, the lesson has been that you can get away with it (and hey, why not push the envelope a little further and see if you can get away with even more).

Of course there is a risk of more political violence. The rub is, just about everything indicates that flinching from that risk won’t ultimately avoid violence, any more than the appeasement of Hitler in 1938 avoided a war with Hitler.

There is no safe option. The situation in the USA has been allowed to degrade literally for decades, and the payments on this backsliding are now coming due with compound interest. All that remains are various sorts of dangerous options. Making a firm stand against fascism is in fact the best and least dangerous option.

The Odds of Accountability Just Went Up

Published at 19:23 on 8 August 2022

Way up, in fact. When I wrote this, the odds of Trump being prosecuted were about 60%. I would say they are now more like 80–85%, possibly even higher.

Searching a former president’s residence is a very high-profile thing. It is, so far as I know, unprecedented. This means that the disgusting precedent of considering presidents above the law is apparently now at long last dead.

The FBI and Department of Justice would not do such a thing unless they were very sure they were likely to acquire something good and incriminating in the search. Like it or not, the bar on getting this approved was almost certainly significantly higher than if you or I were accused of stealing classified government papers.

As such, the odds are high they did find some really good dirt on Trump today. Which in turn makes for high odds that charges and a prosecution are in the cards.

Getting an iPhone?

Published at 17:59 on 4 August 2022

I have long considered Apple’s phones to be ripoffs due to their high prices and lack of features (no 3.5 mm headphone jack, no FM radio, iOS can’t do something as simple as automatically sort apps by name, etc.).

But reviews like this are making me reconsider. Note that of the top-rated smartphones, the iPhone 13 mini is the smallest. (It’s still larger than desirable, of course.)

I have a non-top-rated smartphone. It’s OK, but there has been since Day One a most annoying misfeature with the audio. About 20% of the time, it is annoyingly loud, and cannot meaningfully be turned down (even turning the volume all the way down results in only a modest reduction). About 40% of the time the exact converse is true: volume too soft, cannot meaningfully be turned up. Only about 40% of the time is the volume reasonable. It’s truly annoying and I don’t want to experience such behaviour again.

A friend of mine has a nice, small, decently-sized smartphone. Since decently-sized smartphones are niche items in this world, it is not a top-rated device either. Its nemesis is positively awful battery life.

All the above strongly indicates sticking with top-rated devices.

Then I look at the prices. Yes, the Apple devices sell at a premium. But not much of one over the top-rated Android devices. Plus, Apple commits to supporting its current devices with software upgrades and patches for a minimum of six years. For Android that period of time is more like two years (my Android phone is already no longer being supported).

The rub is, I would still be giving up those features I mentioned above, and paying a premium to do so. So I’m still thinking it over. But not for too terribly much longer; the battery on my existing phone is slowly dying and I worry that if I procrastinate much longer, I will be left temporarily without a phone.