The Expected Happens

Published at 09:44 on 25 June 2022

Nothing happened yesterday that wasn’t expected to happen this month. As to what happens in response, it pays to revisit something I posted here last month.

But so much for the response. Let us now consider the follow-ups the Right is planning:

  • Banning same-sex marriage (source).
  • Banning contraception (ibid.).
  • Re-criminalizing homosexuality (ibid.).
  • Re-federalizing abortion policy, in order to ban it nationwide (source).

Because, really now, why wouldn’t they? They have (or are likely to have) the power, and the Left is across the board to incompetent too stop them, despite having a majority behind us on all three issues. Politics is about pursuing power to get what you want, and presently every last little bit of evidence points to the Right having the ability to successfully pursue that power.

Don’t like it? Learn to act more strategically and forcefully.

The Difference in the Situation

Published at 21:26 on 20 June 2022

There are two differences, one in favour of the West, and one in favour of Russia.

The difference in favour of the West is that Russia is not the USSR of old: it may be a nuclear power, but it is not a superpower. Russia is a huge country, but its economy is smaller than Italy’s… and that was before the sanctions imposed on it in response to the Ukraine invasion.

The difference in favour of Russia is that the USA is not the USA of old: it is still a superpower, but it is one in a process of accelerating decline, and teetering on the verge of a transition to a fascist regime with a Russia-friendly government.

I would be very surprised if Putin has not figured that latter point into his current strategy. More than likely, he his hoping to tread water in that war until the USA completes that transition and the alliance against the Putin regime collapses.

This also means that the long-term prognosis for Russia in this conflict nowhere near as obviously bleak as the Establishment pundits agree it is.

The Tide Turns in Russia’s Favour

Published at 07:02 on 18 June 2022

It’s pretty clear from the stories that Russia is now making territorial gains. This is not a surprise; revisit what I wrote as the conflict was just getting underway:

Finally, another warning: the tide can turn. Odds are, in fact, tilted towards things not always coming out as much in Ukraine’s favour as they have been so far. Remember the part above about Russia doing badly? No nation deliberately tries to do badly. The Russian forces are at this moment certainly trying to correct their mistakes. Not all of these measures will fail. Therefore, Russia is all but sure to, at least at times, start faring at least somewhat better than they have so far. Virtually every conflict has its advances and retreats; no side is immune to setbacks or missteps.

Russia is making gains. Slow, incremental, ones but gains nonetheless. This is largely due to Russia shifting its strategy to the one that was always clearly the most practical one.

But again, the battle is not the war. Russian forces have already been badly degraded by Russia’s earlier pursuit of foolish and unrealistic strategies, and this damage cannot easily be undone. Staying the course means the long term outlook is of Ukraine likely prevailing. Even in the best analysis, this thing is likely to be long and painful.

Finally there is a major difference between the situation of the West in the present time and the situation of it during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. More on that later.

A Tantrum Is Not a Software Design Principle

Published at 09:11 on 16 June 2022

Or rather, it should not be considered one. Alas, sometimes it is.

I first ran into this when I encountered the Git revision control system. It was just so disheveled, haphazard, counterintuitive, and disorganized compared to the older revision control systems I was used to. It was even so compared to other “third generation” systems like Mercurial. It still strikes me as such, and is the main reason I self-host my personal projects using Mercurial.

Then I read that a major inspiration for Linus Torvalds to write it the way he did was just to be different from CVS, because he hated CVS. Design by tantrum, in other words.

Around a decade ago I became aware of the then-experimental Go programming language. A lot of it sounded like precisely what is needed: a more modern language than C++, without all the design cruft caused by attempting to graft a modern object-oriented language onto a non-OO systems programming language from the 1970’s, that compiles down to machine code for fast execution.

But, wait. No exceptions, despite how useful they were. No generics (a deficiency that has been fixed). No conditional expression. No support for functional programming. And, due to overall design choices, no easy way to add such support. It all forced one into a very staid, unimaginative, and limited-productivity imperative programming style.

Now I read that one of the motives for making it all that way was that the language’s designers all hated C++ (I can’t blame them) so decided to make the language as unlike C++ as they could whenever faced with a decision they couldn’t sort out via alternative principles. More design by tantrum.

Not everything about CVS was bad. Just because CVS organized its commands and concepts the way it did does not make this organization bad. CVS’s problems lay in a centralized design and poor support for branching and merging. Its overall paradigm organization was actually pretty good. Unfortunately, a temper tantrum about the bad parts of CVS prevented Git’s author from appreciating its good aspects.

Likewise, not everything about C++ is bad. Just because C++ has some feature whose absence can be coded around does not mean said feature is harmful and should be deleted. C++ was, after all, motivated by a very real desire to make C into a more powerful and expressive programming language.

The problem is that choosing to focus on how bad something is can easily get one into a mindset that prevents appreciating the good aspects of it.

Resolved: while disgust at the inadequacies of some existing software system will always serve as the inspiration for attempting to create something better, a tantrum should not be allowed to be a design principle.

Tecsun PL-330

Published at 20:47 on 7 June 2022

Yes, I bought a new radio. Yet another one. Why, when I already own so many? Because this one was inexpensive, highly-reviewed, and compact, so it would encourage me to toss it in my pack on trips for which I would not want to spend the effort (or allocate the space in my bags) to a larger, more-capable radio.

First impressions follow:

It’s Small
Like, really small. Maybe the size of two decks of playing cards (but a little thicker). And surprisingly light. On the latter point, probably not too durable. But it is easy and painless to take with me. Just took it to the neighbourhood park, and it’s amazing how low the noise floor is once you get even a short distance away from houses and power lines.
It’s Somewhat Counterintuitive
No surprise here. It’s a software-defined receiver. Since it’s controlled by software, user interface is bound to suffer somewhat.
It’s Sensitive
Surprisingly sensitive, in fact. I picked up Saudi Arabia on 15170 kHz without much difficulty. New Zealand came in in 15720 kHz almost like it was a local station.
The Built-In Antenna Works Surprsingly Well
I did not use any external antenna in these tests, or antenna extensions. I tried the latter, and it seemed to overload the receiver, so I disconnected the extra wire.

Questions About Lasqueti Island

Published at 22:31 on 30 May 2022

I just got back from a (quickie, not nearly enough time) trip there, and it begs a number of questions. Namely is it a paradise or a Potemkin village, a model or a cop-out?

On one hand, the general vibe there is amazing, even if the place is more developed and technologically-impacted than I had imagined. Yes, there are more cars and roads (which, although almost entirely unpaved, are wider and better-travelled by motor vehicles than I had imagined), but it is still a beautiful place with an amazing aesthetic.

On the other hand, there is basically nothing definitive to rule it out being Santa Cruz North. (The latter is a small coastal city just south of San Francisco that has huge pretensions about being some sort of alternative and model for the rest of the country, but the reality beneath the veneer is that most of the worst dysfunctions of American life remain, in spades, and are largely not being challenged by its residents. The overall pattern is more of escapism and self-delusion than of an alternate model.)

There are, in fact, some worrying signs, first and foremost amongst them the growing proliferation (the structures are mostly new) of “snob gates” — very fancy gates across driveways on the main road, gates that do far more than just demarcate a private road to a private home. These are gates that literally scream “You may not be able to see my fancy house, but you better believe I have one behind those trees. Look and me and give my owner the social status his money entitles him to!”

The reaction of the one Lasquetian I pointed the gates out to on the ferry ride back was also troubling. He seemed taken aback about my very use of the term “snob gate;” it all gave me the distinct feeling I had committed a faux pas by traducing his blessed island. He evidently could not perceive the troubling trend.

The choice to use the term accidental Eden in the book I read while staying there (plus the largely self-congratulatory close to that book) could also be troubling. It all mirrors a lot of how Santa Cruz residents see themselves.

As one of my travel partners pointed out, it’s also all White people there. At least, all the people we saw were White.

Ultimately “back to the land” can be a sell-out. It can legitimize using one’s racial and class privileges to disengage from a world that desperately needs engaging (and changing). It is not enough to merely “live by example” (and what sort of example does an almost total lack of racial diversity say)?

Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong about building hippie havens… if they are somehow used as a base with which to engage the world. This can, at its simplest, be merely to function as a refuge from that wider world where those in need of such can recuperate and repair. But the danger of refuges is that they can very easily lead to escapism.

So far, however, the jury is out. To reiterate, it was a quickie trip. There just wasn’t enough time to do the sort of investigating to see which attitudes and trends predominate.

Democrats Keep Dropping the Ball

Published at 23:23 on 16 May 2022

So, there was yet another mass shooting last weekend, this time in Buffalo. No doubt you heard about it already.

In response to this, top Democrats have… issued the standard pleas for more gun control.

Yes, the Democrats are being that pathetic.

I mean, really now. The dynamics have not changed. Gun control couldn’t pass in the wake of any of the previous mass shootings, and it’s not going to pass in the wake of this one, either.

By contrast, this is a golden opportunity to set the narrative that the Republicans are a dangerous party of fascists and fascism enablers. It is easy to do this because it is true. (Witness how one of the worst offenders in this regard hails from upstate New York). And it just might help the Democrats in the coming elections.

It is this sort of mind-blowing incompetence that makes me conclude that just like there is no better Republican Party, there is also no better Democratic Party. The two parties are not equally evil but they are nonetheless co-responsible for the direction the USA is heading.

What It Will Take for Me to Revise My Pessimistic Assumptions

Published at 18:32 on 11 May 2022

Basically, it will take a significant fraction of the American public acting in ways that demonstrably falsify these assumptions.

We can start with various forms of sustained resistance to the impending Supreme Court decision. The American public being diverse, the resistance will naturally take diverse forms, all the way from electoral politics to nonviolent direct action to armed actions that many would label terrorism.

On the latter part, yes, that is pretty much inevitable. Just look at what recently happened in Wisconsin. There will be more from where that came from. (This is not an endorsement; it is merely an observation.)

It all boils down, again, to the sophistication of that same public. They don’t have to like the violence. They don’t even have to support it. All they have to do is realize that there is a difference between supporting every last tactic used by any person striving for a goal, and supporting that goal itself.

It is possible to oppose political violence while still agreeing with those using violence about some common cause. Martin Luther King managed to very eloquently do this in the Sixties; here is one such example.

But if the overall reaction is, “I’m going to vote Republican because I don’t like the small subset of the Left that is being violent,” well, we are right back to the American public being stupid and ignorant again.

Remember, unlawful violence has been used on the anti-abortion side, too. (And that is aside from all the violence we saw on January 6th of last year!) So what this really would amount to, is a hypocritical double standard, in which the Right (and only the Right) is given a pass on political violence.

In that case, what we have is basically a fascism-friendly public, and as a result fascism is basically inevitable; given enough bootlickers, ample opportunities for boot-licking will be furnished. Ending this state of affairs will then have to be the job of younger generations, who as usual will be made to pay for the sins of their forebears, unfair as that is.

Despite all the hand-wringing about violence discrediting the cause, it is really a red herring. Assume a world in which the violence did not happen. This would also be a world in not much of anything happened at the grassroots level, per the principles in the second paragraph. In other words, a world where the task of opposition fell to the so-called “opposition” party, i.e. the same people who failed to effectively oppose the increasingly fascist GOP for decade after decade. It’s pretty obvious how that would play out.

So yes, the public reaction is critical. The Democrats are so institutionally incompetent that there is no way they will effectively lead on anything. They might, however, be dragged into following a lead from the public. If, that is, the American public surprises me and proves me wrong.

Why I Am Generally Pessimistic

Published at 21:19 on 10 May 2022

  1. There is no better Republican Party. It is a gang of fascists and authoritarians, and is unlikely to change.
  2. There is no better Democratic Party. It is weak and incompetent, and is unlikely to change.
  3. There are no better American voters. They are generally ignorant and stupid, and are unlikely to change.

I will post in a day or two about what it would take for me to revise any of these assumptions.

Cut the RBG Admiration, Liberals

Published at 00:55 on 6 May 2022

Get it straight: RBG is a big part of the reason why we are where we now are!

Oh, yes she is. Obama tried to drop hints to her that it was time to retire, but she would have none of it. You see, it had been a lifetime goal of hers to serve until age 90, and she wasn’t going to get a little thing like a cancer diagnosis — pancreatic cancer, mind you, one of the worst kinds — dissuade her.

By any measure, such behavior should be regarded as short-sighted, unstrategic, and selfish. That doesn’t make her evil or anything, just deeply flawed and complicated, and clearly unworthy of being lionized as some sort of judicial demigod.