Ukraine and Russia, Again

Published at 17:52 on 24 January 2022

The story is still in the news, in fact the situation seems to be escalating, so let’s look into it some more.

First, that it is escalating should be no surprise. As I wrote before, multiple factors favor Putin ordering the troops under his command to invade.

What could be done to stop him? Ultimately, not much. Putin is not stupid. To reiterate, knows that NATO won’t consider it worth their soldiers’ lives to contest the issue militarily. Putin is a dictator and the leaders of most NATO nations are freely elected. Putin does not have to answer to citizens nearly so much; this also gives him significantly more freedom to escalate.

Probably the best thing NATO can do is drive home that they are really willing to make Putin pay (via measures that nonetheless fall short of military ones) if he invades, even if that means some sacrifices on the part of the NATO nations. The question is how much sacrificing the European NATO nations are willing to make. Many of them are addicted to Russian natural gas; confronting Putin could well cause an energy embargo with all the attendant economic harm that does. The threats must be plausible; Putin will call the bluff for ones obviously unlikely to be followed through on.

Even for plausible ones, he may call NATO’s bluff. In that case, it is imperative to follow through. So it’s critical to get things right in terms of the sacrifices the NATO nations are willing to make. See how tricky this all is? It is why I believe Putin will go in.

All that said, if sanctions are tolerable enough on the NATO side to be followed through with, yet harsh enough to the Putin regime, they may well prompt a recalculation on Putin’s part as to the wisdom of aggression.(And note that the invasion would still happen. There would just be a recalculation on Putin’s part (and maybe, just maybe, the consequences would drive Putin from power). But all that, as they say, is a pretty big if.

Which Party Is Really the Stupid One?

Published at 08:31 on 20 January 2022

Let’s interrupt all this smug mocking of how stupid righties can be for a moment. Because yes, they were stupid for doing that. Big deal, they were basically selected for their stupidity. They are the rubes who fell for Trump’s rhetoric to show up at the Capitol. Then they do something else stupid as well. Big surprise.

What I am interested in is the big picture. Which party has more overall average stupidity? Anyone can pick the game of cherry-picking a particularly stupid subset of the other side’s adherents to make fun of, so exercises like the one engaged in by the linked article really do not say much.

So, which party, in the aggregate, is stupider?

  • Which party is smart enough to figure out how to prevail (and prevail repeatedly) despite being at a minority when it comes to the popular vote? Which party repeatedly has its lunch eaten, despite having that popular majority?
  • Which party talked about “build back better” and “bipartisanship” as it took office in the wake of a coup attempt, as if nothing fundamentally had changed?
  • Which party blew a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity posed by widespread public shock at a coup attempt conveniently aligning with a new president’s honeymoon period, by using that opportunity to aggressively push for measures to defend the basic democratic political order?
  • While the above two things were happening, which party quietly continued consolidating its advantages, via legislation and redistricting at the state and local levels?
  • Which party sets the political narrative? Which party willingly lets the other party set the political narrative, by answering the other’s allegations, thus participating in the other party’s narrative, as opposed to countering with narrative-setting of its own?

So spare me the self-satisfied smugness about how some cherry-picked members of the other party (generally, those without much power in it) are stupid, Democrats. If you want to see real political stupidity, look in the mirror.

Really, Now, Why Wouldn’t Putin Threaten Ukraine?

Published at 09:25 on 19 January 2022

I mean, sure, he runs a disgusting right-wing authoritarian regime. I don’t like Putin either. Check.

That formality dispensed with, why wouldn’t Putin threaten Ukraine? It’s a far weaker power, so Russia can get away with it.

Russia is unlikely to invade all of Ukraine, for the simple matter that doing so would be taking a bite of something way too big to chew. There would be resistance. Russia might well be able to eventually prevail over it, but it would take a major effort. It would not be a convenient little war.

So Russia is more likely to whittle off yet another chunk of Ukraine by force. Russia already forcibly annexed Crimea, and got away with it. And Russia would likely get away with whittling off another chunk.

NATO members are likely to be upset about it, but the level of upset will not rise to the level where anyone is willing to put the lives of their own troops on the line. This is particularly the case when one realizes how much of a has-been power NATO is.

This is because NATO relies primarily on the USA, and the USA is a seriously compromised nation with an extremely powerful domestic fascist movement with pro-Russia sympathies, a movement poised to almost certainly take power soon. And you better believe that latter fact is entering Putin’s calculus, too.

Work S.N.A.F.U.

Published at 19:01 on 14 January 2022

I have a performance review coming up at work next month.

To say I am pessimistic would be putting it mildly.

The root cause of the matter is that never have been hired at a position where I was expected to learn more, yet at the same time never have I been hired where management does less in the way of technical onboarding. I’ve basically been left to fend for myself while being expected to decipher terse assignments relayed in cryptic shop-specific jargon. And it tends to be like pulling teeth to get anyone to meet with me and explain what it is I am expected to do. Then, when I fail to deliver on a time frame commensurate with extensive in-company experience (surprise, surprise), the sense of disappointment is almost palpable.

Every other place I’ve been hired, there was much more onboarding for much less new position-specific knowledge. I’m at a loss to understand just what they expected to happen, given the general parameters of the situation they created for me. My best current theory is one of conflicting objectives: higher-ups wanting growth while my immediate manager is satisfied with the existing size and composition of his team. Result is an immediate manager under pressure to hire even though he does not want to. Solution is to hire someone but then engineer failure.

Now the question is what, if anything, I can do or say to prevent the coming performance review from being the corporate analogue of a Stalinist show trial with a pre-decided outcome.

That, and what this all will do for my current status in Canada under a temporary work permit.

Revisiting the Eclipse IDE

Published at 12:21 on 7 January 2022

It’s the officially recommended IDE of choice where I work, so I decide to give Eclipse another try, despite my history of bad experiences with it.

Fairly early on, it hangs. Hard. I kill it, and relaunch. Eclipse proudly announces its workspace is now corrupted, and exits.

So I use IDEA (the allowed alternate) instead. As a bonus, it is more familiar to me, due to sharing a code base with Android Studio. A few days later, I learn that’s what most developers use here. The official encouragement to use Eclipse is mostly a show to keep licensing costs for IDEA down.

We Need More of This… but Won’t Get It

Published at 20:39 on 6 January 2022

Biden’s much-belated decision to speak forcefully about the coup attempt a year ago is exactly the sort of thing we need more of. Alas, odds strongly disfavor seeing much more of it. Everything I have observed about the Democratic Party points to its almost total uselessness as an institution when it comes to confronting fascism and preserving democracy.

And lo, in the article linked to above, we see the following: “Biden’s remarks do not mark a permanent shift in strategy about how to handle Trump, according to the president’s aides and allies.”

There really is no plausible scenario for the next forty of fifty years except for the USA to become a fascist state much like Portugal under Salazar or Spain under Franco. That will do the historically necessary task of burning the Democratic Party to the ground. Then, eventually, a better generation of Americans, painfully cleansed of the shortcomings that paved way for Trumpist fascism, can rise and burn the Republican Party to the ground, a task even more historically necessary.

Out of all those ashes there will be hope for something better, but only then.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But all the evidence I see today points to a scenario similar to the above.

MSR Dragonfly

Published at 15:47 on 18 December 2021

Why blow a chunk of change on a brand-new camping stove when I already have a perfectly fine old Coleman stove? Two main reasons:

  1. I may want to do some short-distance backpacking or medium-distance bicycle camping, and the old Coleman is way too large and heavy to be practical for car camping.
  2. CSA certification. The Province of British Columbia can be very strict about its outdoor burn bans. Not any old camp stove is exempt; the strictest burn bans allow only stoves with modern safety certifications.

The second one is the real stickler. The chances are remote of there being any issues, but suppose the worst does happen and my old Coleman stove malfunctions and erupts in a ball of flame that ignites a wildfire. Once the authorities find I am in breach of their regulations, I am suddenly on the hook for the full costs of that fire. Just way too risky.

Although those old Coleman suitcase stoves have a time-tested safety record, a fifty year old stove is just not going to have a modern safety certification. Even if it could pass a modern inspection (and I believe it could) the cost of certifying it would be way beyond the means of an individual. Far cheaper and simpler to just buy a new stove.

Because I dislike the waste and poor cool-temperature performance of disposable canisters, that means a liquid-fuel stove. The Dragonfly is one of the few currently-manufactured (by a well-known, reputable manufacturer, with full safety certification) liquid-fuel stoves that can do more than just a quick boil; its burner is designed to simmer well.

Just did a test burn (if the stove doesn’t work, I want to find out in the garden outside, not in the backwoods). First impressions:

  1. The thing is loud. They are called roarer burners for a reason.
  2. It is significantly fiddlier than the old Coleman. Both require set-up and tear-down but the Dragonfly requires more of it; it is not as much all in one convenient unit. Part of this is just the price to pay for it being more compact and light-weight.
  3. Lighting process is different, but not appreciably more or less convenient than the Coleman one. No liquid-fuel stove lights as easily as a gas kitchen stove (and due to the more complex process of burning liquid fuel, none ever will).

Since it’s just a quick test burn, I don’t have as much to report on how well it simmers, but I’m not really worried about that, either. I did use a friend’s Dragonfly once about five years ago, and from what I remember it simmered just fine. Plus, it has a good reputation for being able to do this.

Why buy it now? Supply chains. Was going to buy one as a birthday present to myself last year, but they were unobtainable, and remained so for months. I would not be shocked to see a similar disruption as the next camping season approaches.

The short summary is that it’s not going to completely replace the old Coleman, but it will be nice to have.

Omicron Hypovirulence?

Published at 14:43 on 4 December 2021

It is starting to look as if, contrary to initial expectations, it might actually be a thing. If so, coupled with its hyper-contagiousness, this is only to be expected from an evolutionary standpoint.

If you are a virus, killing your hosts is a bad strategy. You need your hosts in order to reproduce. And if you are a fragile virus with a limited viability (like the COVID-19 virus), you are under the imperative to reproduce or go extinct.

The most successful viruses are the ones that:

  • Do not cause severe illness,
  • Spread easily,
  • Mutate rapidly.

This keeps the virus spreading and freely replicating amongst a large host population. So it would be no surprise if COVID-19 evolved along these lines.

If so, expect it to become much like your typical common cold virus in terms of concern. In fact, it might simply become yet another common cold virus; many colds are caused by coronavirus strains already.

Canadian Republicanism

Published at 19:18 on 30 November 2021

So, at midnight local time this morning, Barbados became a republic.

If you are in the USA, you are probably unaware of this fact. If you are in Canada, you can’t escape it. The news media are covering this story over and over and over again. It started a few days before the transition, and continues today, on Barbados’ first day as a republic.

This is obviously quite telling, as though there is presently no serious effort to get rid of the monarchy in Canada, the remarkable degree of coverage of what is an aspect of the internal affairs of a tiny island nation shows that many Canadians are obviously thinking about it on some level.

It All Shows How Badly Nationalism Works

Published at 07:36 on 28 November 2021

New variants are precisely what one would expect in a world were many are left unvaccinated.

The Third World is precisely where most unvaccinated people are, thanks the the rich nations being unable to agree that it would be a net win to weaken (not abolish, merely weaken) intellectual property laws to facilitate more widespread manufacturing of (and lower prices for) vaccines.

That the new variant was detected in Botswana and South Africa is no surprise. Those are two of Africa’s most developed countries. The variant could have easily evolved in a neighboring, less-developed nation, and only been detected when it showed up someplace with the public health infrastructure to readily detect it.

As with the initial spread of the virus, border controls proved inadequate in preventing its spread. The variant was, however, nurtured by nationalism-driven greed: European nations (and the EU are the real bad guys in this one, the Biden Administration has been much more open to sharing the vaccines) valued their business elite’s short-term gains more than any longer-term benefits to humanity of sharing their vaccine technology more freely.

The one border control that would have probably helped is stricter and more-comprehensive testing of travelers. I expect countries to realize this, and institute such restrictions. It is for this reason that I do not expect the planned relaxing of testing requirements at the US/Canada border to last. I will consider myself lucky if the border remains open to non-emergency travel at all.

But it will all be a very poor substitute for the sort of sharing and cooperation that is really needed.