Oh Yeah? Well I’ll Double Dog Sanction You!

Published at 23:26 on 23 February 2024

Frankly, that’s what this sounds like. And I doubt it will be significantly more effective than the original sanctions.

Sanctions have their limits, particularly when the world is addicted to the fossil fuels that are the sanctionee’s main export.

Three Thoughts on the Passing of Navalny

Published at 08:09 on 16 February 2024

Of course Putin did it. If Putin didn’t order it directly, he did so indirectly by having Navalny jailed and sent to a penal colony in Siberia famed for its harsh conditions. And why wouldn’t Putin order it directly? An astounding number of his opponents have suddenly, mysteriously, and prematurely dropped dead. The odds of all those deaths simply being coincidence are so small as to be safely disregarded.

The West, particularly the USA, is being hypocritical about it. There has recently been a little bit of daylight allowed to show between US and Israeli foreign policy, but the USA is still shovelling military aid Israel’s way as it ruthlessly pummels the troublesome Palestinians in Gaza. Plus the USA is now dropping bombs on Iraq with the stated aim of offing more enemies (and no doubt some innocent civilians as well). Plenty of disrespect for human life there, yet not a whole lot of concern about it. So spare me the excess sanctimony.

Trump, and many of his followers, dream of being able to do this. Because of course they do. They, and only they, are in their eyes the only “real” Americans; everyone who dissents from their politics is a threat to the nation. Trump and his followers openly admire Putin, and they do so not in spite of his tactics, but because of them. Trump already regularly uses words like “vermin” to refer to his adversaries. What does one do to vermin? What does one do to rats or roaches if one finds them in one’s house?

Starting to Win on Palestine

Published at 15:19 on 12 February 2024

This is what a win on Palestine looks like at this point.

You didn’t think the decades-long policy of backing Israel no matter what would suddenly end completely, did you? Because longstanding policies locked in by iron triangles just do not vanish in one fell swoop.

That there is any daylight now publicly showing between US and Israeli foreign policy is nothing short of amazing. That it is happening via a joint message from a US president and an Arab leader adds to the significance.

That accelerating decline in the State of Israel’s reputation of which I mentioned earlier, plus growing public sympathy for the Palestinian cause, is starting to work its changes.

Did the Dems Blow It?

Published at 20:22 on 11 February 2024

I think they might have.

One of Biden’s big weak points the last time was his age. That problem has only grown worse, since none of us are getting any younger. The Special Counsel’s report certainly didn’t help in that regard.

Biden’s candidacy was defensible last time in part because he strongly suggested he would voluntarily choose to be a one-term president, and let someone new have a chance at it this time ’round. Whether it’s love of power, or a belief that he is special and the normal aging process doesn’t affect him, he changed his mind.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the Democrats didn’t cede the narrative-framing to the other party. But they do, so here we are.

None of this proves Trump is going to win this time. It just makes this outcome far more likely than it should be.

Scruff: Every Bit as Bad as Expected

Published at 10:37 on 9 February 2024

Let me start by saying this is not the fault of anyone at Perry Street Software. They actually tried. The Scruff app has features that would enable it to be something different from what it actually is in practice… if, of course, its user base desired that. The problem is that user base. What it wants is, generally, what Scruff actually is in practice. And what Scruff actually is, is not what I want.

I had written off smartphone dating apps as, well, basically what I have now experimentally determined them to be, ever since they first came on the scene. Late last year, I came to the conclusion I was being overly dismissive and should at least get some actual evidence to base my beliefs on.

It turns out there is dismissiveness, but then again there is also the wisdom of experience. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the two. In this case, it was the wisdom of experience all along. The scene on Scruff is every bit as bleak as I had believed it to be. I did not bother checking out Grindr, but I did some research on their policies and all the evidence pointed it to being even worse, and with my current experience under my belt the latter is not even worth a chance.

You see, the main reason I do not self-identify as “gay” is that so much of the expression of gay male sexuality is the expression of typical male sexuality in general, specifically the typical male sex drive. I do not share that sex drive. My sex drive is more like the typical female sex drive; sex without a deeper personal connection is not very meaningful to me, and the few times I have had it, I have found it to be the most mediocre and disappointing sex of my life.

So much of the gay male subculture revolves around that male sex drive. (Straight men would have as much casual sex as gay men, if only straight women were as interested in it.) For me, it’s always seemed much like my junior high and high school years (where all the guys were madly obsessed over something I had little interest in) all over again.

I was hoping that by not choosing “Random Play/NSA” (NSA = no strings attached, i.e. sex without the expectation of anything more), and by writing a profile that indicated my interests, I might be able to find a kindred spirit of some sort.

Ho, ho, ho! Read the other guy’s profile. Good one. That would slow down the quest for more sexual conquests, so what’s the point? It’s all click on the pic and flirt for casual sex. Regarding NSA, approximately 98% of the user base indicates that as an interest. Because of course they do. Welcome to the gay male subculture.

I add a simple test in my profile (an unusual word that has to be mentioned at the start of any communications, to weed out those who did not read it). No new messages mention that word. None. Zero. Zilch. Oh well, at least it makes it easier to block ’em and move on.

General laziness, plus perhaps some unrealistic hope, means I haven’t yet closed my account and deleted the app. But I see that happening in the not too distant future.

Trump Stays

Published at 07:26 on 8 February 2024

After thinking about it a bit more, that is my conclusion.

First, it was inevitable that the Supreme Court would take this case, and expedite it. Not taking it would result in fifty different states with fifty different processes for disqualifying Trump. Some states would end up striking him from the ballot, some would not. Yes, there would be partisan bias at play here, but the important thing is a leading candidate that does not appear on all ballots.

Second, it would then build. Right-leaning states would retaliate by cooking up some justification for striking Biden from the ballot while leaving Trump on it. Now we have a situation where both leading candidates do not appear on all ballots.

The Court remaining silent would, in other words, be a recipe for nationwide chaos due to a profound constitutional crisis. So the Court has to rule.

Now the question is how the Court will rule. And here we get to a simple issue of expediency: it will be easier for the Court to compel all states to leave Trump on the ballot than it will for it to compel them to all strike him from the ballot. Moreover, by setting the bar really high, such a ruling will nip such chaos in the bud generally.

This is likely to result in standards that make it effectively impossible to bar an insurrectionist president from the ballot. This will of course continue the slow rot in the Republic that has turned the presidency into in an increasingly imperial position. That rot, however, is something that has been ongoing for decades, and liberals as well as conservatives have been willing co-participants in it. It is also something to easily remain in denial of due to an attitude of American exceptionalism (“that sort of thing can never happen here”). Again, both liberals and conservatives harbour this attitude, which is widespread to the point of ubiquity in the USA.

So the decision will not only come out in favour of Trump, but it will be possible for such a decision to be easily rationalized by the Court’s more liberal justices. As such, it would not surprise me in the least to see more than six votes in favour of Trump, and even a 9–0 decision is within the realm of plausibility. In fact, I would have to say that the odds favour at least one liberal pro-Trump vote, because this will be perceived as increasing the Court’s legitimacy. Chief Justice Roberts is likely to push hard for a ruling that will attract at least one liberal vote.

Note that this does not mean that all justices would issue the same decision. It is entirely possible for there to be multiple explanations issued for a pro-Trump vote, with the moderates and liberals signing onto one and the conservatives onto another.

The main point is that a decision in favour of Trump is way more likely than one against him.

Why Swift Is Not My Favourite Programming Language

Published at 22:44 on 7 February 2024

It’s the libraries, stupid.

The standard Swift library is laughably in-comprehensive. Things you can do in the standard libraries for Java, Python, PHP, C#, Ruby, and most other common modern programming languages just aren’t in there.

What you are supposed to do, from what I gather, is to use the Apple Foundation framework. There are several problems with that:

  • The framework is a hot mess. It got its start back in the 1990’s as part of the NeXT operating system, and has been incrementally hacked on ever since. The documentation is likewise a mess: incomplete, cryptic, and poorly-organized. It is fully part of the pattern that Apple products tend to be as programmer-hostile as they are user-friendly.
  • The framework is still incomplete. Support for tasks as basic as doing buffered reads from an arbitrary text file on a line-by-line basis are absent from it. (At least I think they are absent; review the part about the documentation being a hot mess above.)
  • The framework is an Apple-only thing. There is an ongoing effort to open-source the Foundation framework so that Swift programs can be more portable, but it is a work in progress.

The bottom line is that Swift is not, in fact, the general-purpose programming language it is claimed to be. Unless one is writing native-mode GUI applications for Apple products, Swift really doesn’t make much sense.

It’s a shame, as the core Swift language looks to be fairly well-designed. It could be a great general-purpose programming language if only it came with a decent standard library. Alas, that’s a bit like saying Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln could have had an enjoyable evening at Ford’s Theatre if only that hadn’t happened.

I may eventually delve into Swift for such purposes, but as things currently stand, programming in Kotlin with the Java Swing platform allows me to develop GUI tools that run on my Mac, and I don’t have to deal with all the ugliness that is Apple’s native programming environment. Swing isn’t perfect, and its rough edges sometimes manifest, but it’s been good enough for my personal use.

Selena Robinson Should Resign

Published at 13:04 on 5 February 2024

Update: She resigned, probably because she was told that she could either resign or be fired.

If she doesn’t resign, she should be fired.

Free speech is a thing, and as such she had the right to say what she did. If she had been a member of the US Republican Party, her words would have helped her reputation within her party. But she is not a member of a proto-fascist right-wing party. She is a member of a social-democratic government. Social democracy has generally been critical of imperialism.

As a minister in such a government, she had to watch her words, as should any minister in any government. If she didn’t like that, she shouldn’t have gone into politics.

Her apology said almost all of the right words. It’s just that two critically important words — “I resign” — are missing. If she was really as concerned about her previously unquestioned beliefs as she claims to be, she would want to step back from power for a while to reexamine those beliefs.

But she did not do so. As such, the so-called “apology” comes across as just that: the insincere words of someone desperately trying to cling to her position of political power.

It is a general principle of politics, going back to the time of Plato, that they who most desire power for power’s sake are those least worthy of holding it.

To reiterate: Selena Robinson should resign. If she doesn’t resign, she should be fired.

How Will the Court Rule?

Published at 16:54 on 1 February 2024

That is to say, how will the United States Supreme Court rule on whether or not the 14th Amendement bars Trump from running for president?

Anyone claiming that the Court’s conservatives “have to” rule against Trump because of the doctrine of originalism is a rank idiot who does not know even the most elementary basics about politics. Would it be hypocritical to suddenly forget about originalism the instant it becomes politically inconvenient? Of course it would! But so what?

To reiterate, anyone arguing that hypocrisy makes taking a position impossible is an idiot. Such an individual knows nothing about politics in general and right-wing politics in particular. If hypocrisy played no role in politics, politics would be so radically different as to be virtually incomprehensible.

The right-wing justices could rule in Trump’s favour with the greatest of ease, and without the slightest of hesitation, and the political right would loudly celebrate the ruling as a great blow for the cause of justice. Any attempts to point out the hypocrisy of it all would go exactly nowhere with the right. As Upton Sinclair once observed: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

The question is not whether they “have to” in the name of some imaginary principle against hypocrisy, but whether or not they will rule against Trump as a virtue of some other principle (which, given human nature, will most likely be one grounded in self-interest). And this is far more difficult to say.

On the one hand, ruling in Trump’s favour helps their political team win. And make no mistake: that would be the calculus behind the ruling. There would of course be a lot of verbiage about higher principles, but that would be a mere pretext cooked up to justify the desired action, nothing more.

If they do rule for Trump, a ruling based on the pretext of due process is most likely. That is, it will be argued that the 14th Amendment is co-equal with the 5th Amendment, and that as such the guarantees of due process in the latter still apply. Trump has not been found guilty of any seditious crimes, and therefore he will be ruled an eligible candidate.

On the other hand, Trump is acting more and more like an aspiring dictator, and dictators are never friendly to the idea of an independent judiciary. And here we have another team to consider: the judiciary in general. Government bureaucracies are many and varied, but they all have a common thread: they want to preserve themselves and their power. Those right-wing justices may be on the right, but they are also part of the judiciary branch, and want to see that branch continue to be powerful and relevant in national politics.

That this incentive exists, and could act to frustrate the evolution of tyranny, is no accident. From Federalist 51 (emphasis added):

It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other would be merely nominal. But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

If the Court’s conservatives rule against Trump, this, not originalism, is likely to be the most powerful motivator. Oh, sure, originalism will dovetail nicely with such a ruling, and that will make the conservative justices ruling so pleased with it. I am sure they will wax eloquent about originalism in that ruling, and they will do this while remaining silent about sticking up for their own power. Professed motives should never be confused with actual ones.

So this, then, is the real question: how will the justices perceive the butter on their toast? If they perceive it to be buttered on the side of a second Trump presidency advancing their interests, they will rule for Trump. If they perceive the opposite, they will rule oppositely. And there is no easy way to say ahead of time which it will be.

Hague, Schmague

Published at 15:55 on 30 January 2024

The title of this post is what an Israeli cabinet minister said in response to news of the recent International Court of Justice genocide ruling.

And the minister is correct: If, as Israel is, one is the best friend of a superpower, the Court is fundamentally meaningless. It has no means of enforcing its decisions, and courts without power to enforce their rulings might as well not exist. International law is for lesser nations (i.e. non-superpowers and best friends of same). Anyone with any doubt of this should research The Republic of Nicaragua vs. The United States of America (1986).

The key problem is, most of the world doesn’t really give a shit about Palestine. Oh, favourable noises might get made on that issue from time to time, but when it comes to anyone with any sort of power making a significant effort to actualize anything, it almost never happens. And before you say “Houthis,” please watch this.

Basically, unless China and Russia decide their toast is buttered on the side of weighing in hard on the side of Palestine (and so far they have not), the Palestinians don’t really have much grounds for hope anytime soon. Nothing motivates like self-interest, and if China and/or Russia would decide to exploit this conflict to undermine US authority, the USA might be motivated (by the desire to not lose further prestige) to act in more humanitarian interests. But since the precondition for the latter is absent, it is unlikely to happen. So the near term is bleak.

In the longer term, the bloodshed in Gaza is likely to exacerbate and continue the long decline in the State of Israel’s reputation that began with its decision to colonize lands occupied in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War. Pair that with the growing trend towards right-wing authoritarianism in Israel, and you have a long-term vulnerability.

Those who care about Palestine would be wise to continue pushing on those vulnerabilities. Israel has done much to tarnish its own reputation, and that tarnish should be pointed out at every opportunity. The recent ICJ ruling, and Israel’s contemptuous dismissal of it, is part of that tarnish. That, and only that, is the significance of the ruling.

I was, for much of the 1990’s, involved in activism on the subject of East Timor, which was then considered to be the canonical lost cause. Indonesia, a US client state, had occupied the former Portuguese territory in flagrant violation of international law in 1975, and had waged a genocidal war in an attempt to subdue its population into accepting Indonesian rule. Attempts to resolve the issue went nowhere because Indonesia was a US client state. But, over time, the small group I was involved with managed to point out how tarnished Indonesia was as a result of its atrocities in East Timor, and Indonesia’s reputation began slipping in Congress.

Then the whole house of cards suddenly collapsed. Indonesia experienced a sudden economic crisis that revealed just how thoroughly corrupt the authoritarian government there was. Suharto, Indonesia’s dictator, went cap in hand to his superpower benefactor, but thanks to reputation damage, a prompt bailout was not forthcoming. The economic crisis then provoked widespread popular unrest that drove Suharto from power. The new government agreed to allow East Timor to become independent if it wanted, in return for much-needed economic aid.

The latter was only possible because of slow, patient, seemingly futile work for years prior. Reputation is just touchy-feely stuff that doesn’t much matter… until, suddenly, it does.