Well, We’ll See How TurboTax Worked

Published at 23:13 on 29 March 2015

It was definitely more expensive than my first choice, and even then it was still a little rough around the edges (I had to keep entering and reentering my name and address, despite there being account parameters for both).

It just wasn’t mind-blowingly bad, like TaxAct. And I didn’t have to wade through pages and pages of mind-numbing bureaucratese to figure out what to do with the tiny amount of LLC loss I have each year.

I shall see if the 18-page return it generated turned out to be correct or not. (I never got it right the times I tried.) If so, the $75 or so I paid will have turned out to be money well spent (because that’s still cheaper than hiring a professional tax preparer to figure it all out).

TaxAct.COM: Forget It

Published at 19:08 on 29 March 2015

It purports to be a site that lets one file an income tax return electronically for significantly less than Turbo Tax does. But it’s too good to be true.

They offer two options: download and use their software, or do all the work in a Web browser. Naturally I chose the former one; a real user-mode program is much preferred to fragile and clunky Javascript (and all complex Javascript-based web sites are fragile and clunky).

Suddenly, without ever asking me what kind of computer I have, it’s downloading… a Microsoft Windows .EXE file. I have a Mac. Naturally, there was no system requirements information for their software listed prior to this point.

I abort the download and go to the home page to try and use their Web interface. This causes me to be automatically logged out. It asks me to log on again, this time using a long user-unfriendly number instead of my username.

I log on and end up at an account settings page. There is no option for filing via the web. There is a “TaxAct” link at the top of the page. I click on it. I end up back at their home page. I am also auto-logged-out again.

I try several more times. I do notice somewhere an option to log on via a screen that’s not as obviously-located as the main one. This one asks for my username. (Why on earth can’t the clowns that coded their site code a consistent log-on screen?) But I end up at the same useless account settings page.

From what I’ve concluded, once a user makes the fateful decision to choose one method, this unbelievably lame excuse for a service cannot change you to another method. I suppose I could open a service ticket and have that done behind the scenes.

But, why bother? If their software design is that awful, their Web-based service doubtless has some of the flimsiest, clunkiest, most fragile Javascript imaginable on it… in spades. Experience has taught me that you can judge a book by its covers when it comes to software: bad design in one place in a company’s code is an almost certain indicator of pervasive bad design.

Forget it. I’m either going to use Turbo Tax or pay someone else to do my taxes (and given how spendy Turbo Tax is, it’s not immediately clear that it makes economic sense for me to use it).

Mandatory voting? Really, now? Wow. Just… wow.

Published at 15:11 on 19 March 2015

Every so often an Establishment politician says something so staggeringly moronic that it’s crystal clear to me that, as much as I might differ from the stereotype of what a radical is, I am a radical and not a liberal.

And this is one of those times.

I mean, really now. In a class society where the tiny elite dominates political discourse via campaign contributions and mass media control, where the real political struggle is for candidates to pander to the elite and compete with each other to raise money to spend, the problem is supposed to be, get this, that there’s not a law forcing people to vote?

Yeah, right.

So the political system isn’t as thoroughly a rotten joke in Australia, which has mandatory voting. So what? Australia also has a history of far better level of class consciousness than the USA. It’s part of the legacy of being a penal colony, where the throwaways of Britain’s emerging capitalist economy were discarded to.

That, and not any petty exercise in authoritarianism for those who abstain from voting, is the salient difference.

One might as well point to the fact that the deck chairs on the Titanic were all jumbled together at the lower end of a listing deck as evidence that the problem with that ship lay in its arrangement of deck chairs, and not any iceberg damage below the water line. After all, ships whose deck chairs remain more neatly arranged don’t list and sink. QED, baby.

The Apple Watch: What a Joke

Published at 11:51 on 11 March 2015

This is all you need to know to be sure of the statement in the title above.

“Up to” is sales-speak for “no more than”. So the thing has a maximum up time of 18 hours, tops.

100 years ago, the standard “up time” for a mechanical pocket watch was 30 hours. And that’s a conservative 30 hours; many last more like 36. I know, I use a 100-year-old pocket watch. And when a mechanical watch runs down, it takes well under a minute to rewind it.

In contrast, the Apple Watch — which runs for about half as long as my pocket watch — doubtless takes hours to recharge. It has to. It runs on a rechargeable battery, and batteries don’t instantly recharge.

So the Apple Watch not only limited in its functionality, it’s unforgiving and domineering as well. It basically says: You will remember to charge me before you go to bed (and not at any other time), human, or I will punish you by refusing to work the next day. Obey my whim or suffer the consequences.

It is precisely such finicky design that makes me dislike so many applications of high technology. It’s a mystery to me how anyone can be so seduced by consumerism as to want such poorly-designed yet expensive crap in their lives.

Ruling Class Hypocrisy on Display (Again)

Published at 09:47 on 10 March 2015

In this story.

Before I go on, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Yes, the human rights situation in Venezuela sucks (and I’ve not been shy about admitting it here). The government is getting increasingly authoritarian there, and anytime opposition leaders are routinely jailed it’s outright creepy.

But, Venezuela is hardly the only place where the human rights situation sucks. Let’s compare two other petro-states.

First, Malaysia. It’s probably the closest situation to Venezuela of the two I’m comparing, because like Venezuela it’s (in theory) a democracy. It’s also a place where opposition leaders get jailed (and sometimes tortured). Venezuela has been dominated by the Chávistas since 1999. Malaysia has been dominated by its ruling coalition (without interruption) since 1957.

Second, Saudi Arabia. Here there’s not even the pretense of democracy. It’s a flat-out absolute monarchy. Remember all the hand-wringing about the evils of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and how they were thoughtlessly demolishing their country’s historic legacy and had a tyrannical “Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue” enforcing the strictest possible interpretation of Islamic law with an iron fist? Well, Saudi Arabia has both those attributes: Exhibit A and Exhibit B.

And please, cut the crap about Venezuela being a security risk to the USA. What’s happening there isn’t nice, but it’s also internal nastiness and not an external security threat. It bears pointing out that this is in distinct contrast to Saudi Arabia, which has proven itself to be a breeding ground for terrorists.

It’s not a surprise Venezuela is coming up again in US Establishment politics. First, the regime there is looking increasingly shaky. Second, there’s presently an oil glut (which is in fact a big part of why the regime is losing its popularity). That means that if worse comes to worst, the ruling class won’t be provoking a big oil shortage if the US loses access to Venezuela’s oil as the spat escalates. In fact, I’m sort of surprised that it’s taken this long for the ruling class to bring the issue up again.

But please, get real. The issue isn’t human rights (as much as the US ruling elite might assert it is). It’s merely that someone other than who the ruling elite desires is in power there. Just look at what’s happened in Honduras since the US ruling class installed a regime there if you have any doubts about that.

Inspiring News from Texas

Published at 08:52 on 3 March 2015

A for-profit prison with a long history of complaints for inhumane conditions has been shut down after the inmates organized an uprising and rendered it uninhabitable. Links to the Establishment media’s coverage of the event can be found here (NYT) and here (NPR).

I chose the words in my opening sentence very carefully, particularly the “organized an uprising” part. It is a common trope on the radical Left to label any outbreak of unrest an “uprising” or “insurrection”. This is a mistake. There is a big difference between an uprising and a mere riot, even though both typically appear same in the eyes of the law. A riot is spontaneous, chaotic, and unplanned; an uprising is planned and much more organized (though still plenty chaotic by its very nature). The Rodney King riots, for example, fell short of the criteria to be considered uprisings. That one might wish something were so does not make it so.

But it’s not that hard to read between the lines about what happened in Willacy County last month and see that it was not a spontaneous and unplanned outburst. In the NPR link above, even the spokesman for the now-shuttered facility spills the beans about how it was organized and planned in advance in his attempt to downplay the story. And it didn’t simply spring out of nowhere: as I said in my opening sentence, there was a long, sorry history of poor conditions at that prison.

And what were the results of the uprising? Not murder and mayhem like what happened at Santa Fe decades ago (an actual prison riot). There were only a handful of injuries (pretty much inevitable in such a situation) when it was all over. The damage was mostly confined to the inanimate structure of the facility itself. Moreover, the damage was severe enough to cause the facility to be closed indefinitely for repairs; apparently the prisoners had decided to plan and focus their efforts in that direction, and not let themselves be distracted by petty retributions against guards or disputes between rival groups of prisoners.

The outcome was the shuttering of a facility that had persisted in operating despite repeated attempts by Nice Liberals to work within the system and reform it. All in all, it appears to be a most inspiring example of direct action.

Interesting News from Rojava

Published at 20:35 on 2 March 2015

Rojava being a set of three disconnected regions from what has traditionally been a part of the Syrian-controlled part of Kurdistan. In the chaos of the Syrian Revolution, a form of social organization with many anarchist characteristics seems to be emerging there.

Apparently, their main source of inspiration is the PKK, who’s leader has apparently discovered the works of Murray Bookchin while in prison and been inspired by them to change his ideology from orthodox Leninism to something more decentralized and anarchistic in nature.

I am hesitant to flat-out call what is happening there anarchism; there’s some stuff on libcom.org which points how it falls short of anarchism, or at least what the group of anarcho-communists who run that site say “anarchism” is. Which, while not identical to my own definition of anarchism, is not completely dissimilar, either.

But, we’re talking about something that would be a major social change even in the West. In a part of the world that has historically lagged when it comes to individual liberty, the level of change is even more profound. And we live in an imperfect world, where nothing will ever achieve any ideal.

What seems inspiring about it all are the positive developments that have apparently happened there. Probably most revealing were actually my attempts to find embarrassing bits dirt on the revolution there.

One of them was about the checkered past of Gil Rosenberg, a Canadian-Israeli woman who went there to fight and was enthusiastically welcomed into their ranks. The standard “See? They will accept anyone, that’s how low their standards are.” rhetoric was trotted out.

Well, guess what? Joining foreign military organizations as a way to run away from and forget an unpleasant past is something that’s been around for a very long time. There’s even an entire fighting force that is based around precisely that concept as a recruitment strategy; it is called the French Foreign Legion. And if you’re a struggling revolutionary movement and someone offers you help, you say YES and you say it with great enthusiasm and thanks (did the American Revolutionaries refuse the offer of help from the French monarchy)?

And this was for an Israeli Jew, mind you! That alone speaks volumes as to how revolutionary values are changing traditional prejudices.

To this can be added how a collective that I generally trust a great deal has come out with a book which concurs that remarkable things are happening in that part of the world. There’s also a fairly good BBC report on the subject.