The State of the Union Speech

Published at 13:46 on 31 January 2018

That it was considered a success illustrates how low Trump has set the bar. It was good only relative to how awful the norm is for him. Had any other president delivered that speech, s/he would be now receiving withering criticism for its numerous lies and its racist stereotyping of immigrants.

The Cuban “Attacks”

Published at 09:08 on 30 January 2018

“Attacks” in quotes because despite the hyperventilating news coverage, there’s been no hard evidence that the mystery ailments besetting US diplomats there are the result of deliberate attacks. A far more accurate description of the story would be the Cuban mystery.

Could the symptoms conceivably be the result of deliberate attacks? Of course. But it’s important to stress that such attacks really don’t serve the interests of the Cuban government, which has a lot to profit by improving relations with the USA and so restoring the tourist economy that was disrupted decades ago when US/Cuban relations swirled down the toilet after the Cuban Revolution.

If the attacks are deliberate, the most likely culprit would be rogue elements in the Cuban government’s security apparatus, of which there’s plenty of room for, given that the island is run by a large and intrusive surveillance state. A plausible guess would be hardcore types that are worried about Raul Castro’s desire to have Cuba depart from Fidel’s orthodoxy in favor of a more Vietnamese or Chinese inspired model. But the key word here is guess. At the present time, this is just a guess, nothing more.

Another guess would be some sort of mysterious disease which is causing those symptoms. If that’s the case, Cubans have doubtless also fallen victim to it, so the Cuban government (which runs the health-care system) is aware of the disease and has chosen to conceal evidence of it (most likely because they are worried about its impact on the tourist trade should it be officially acknowledged). This is also just a guess, of course.

However, the second guess seems more plausible to me. That story above hints at (just hints at, mind you, read it fully and you’ll see that the correlations between the symptoms of tourists and those of diplomats have not been well-confirmed) tourists falling victim to the same ailments. What plausible reason would Cuba have for deliberately targeting tourists, particularly given how important tourism is to their economy? A disease makes much more sense.

Earlier I mentioned hardliners and interests being served. The USA also has its hardliners with interests, and I will close by pointing out that trying to paint the ailments as the result of attacks deliberately being carried out by the Cuban government serves their interests perfectly.

It Should Be 30 Seconds to Midnight

Published at 10:51 on 25 January 2018

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists doomsday clock, that is. When it was last 2 minutes, the leaders in the nuclear standoff were Dwight D. Eisenhower and Joseph Stalin. Stalin was a truly awful guy, but he was not mentally unstable like both Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump are. The danger of nuclear war is thus far, far greater this time.

Two mentally stable leaders, both with nukes versus two mentally unstable ones, both with nukes. No comparison. In making the clock two minutes to midnight, the Bulletin is guilty of normalizing Donald Trump.

What’s up with Julian Assange and Wikileaks?

Published at 20:19 on 23 January 2018

He definitely let himself be played by the Russians and used to strategically release information timed to do the most damage to Hillary Clinton. At the least he’s a Kremlin asset, in the same sense that James Clapper observed Donald Trump is a Kremlin asset.

Beyond that, it’s impossible to say. I tend to lean to saying he’s in over his head, partially due to his own personality defects. I think it’s pretty obvious that he has a personal grudge against Hillary Clinton. As someone who’s harshly critical of Hillary Clinton myself, I understand some of that grudge, but it’s important not to let oneself be blinded by one’s grudges.

I also think that Assange ended up provoking the USA far more than he thought he would; I don’t think he believed the US would try to jail him for his political activities. The shock of that doubtless has influenced his antipathy towards the US empire.

I have antipathy to that empire, too, but it’s important to keep in mind just what forces you are aiding in your activism. There are wannabe empires in the world, and just because the US empire has been bad doesn’t mean that the wannabes will necessarily be better.

In the case of China and Russia, all available evidence indicates they will be worse. At least the more open political environment in the USA leaves the US empire significantly more vulnerable to being shamed.

Glenn Greenwald and other Russia Deniers

Published at 19:15 on 21 January 2018

What’s up with Glenn Greenwald and others on the left who generally deny the possibility that Russia successfully interfered in US domestic politics, tipping the election?

I think part of it is the desire to avoid facing an unpleasant fact; namely, the fact that the preponderance of evidence indicates that Russia acted in a hostile way that merits serious consequences in return. Note that this does not mean war; it does however mean an end to any sort of normal, routine relationship that one would have with a non-hostile nation.

If you emotionally invest a great deal into a political theory which paints the US military/industrial complex as nothing but a conspiracy to inflate foreign threats in the name of sucking down tax dollars, then it might be awkward to have to admit that some threats from abroad actually do exist. It can be even harder if you remember a time when bloated military spending (and thoroughly evil imperialistic interventionism) were being justified on the basis of a military confrontation with the (largely ethnic Russian) USSR. It can be harder yet if your name is Glenn Greenwald and when you were a reporter for the Guardian, you helped Edward Snowden expose some crimes of the US national security establishment.

Of course, a more nuanced view that allows room for there to both be actual threats from abroad and for there to be mostly fake ones hyped up by a self-serving national security state is also possible. But it tends to be emotionally very easy and seductive to operate in a world where actors get reduced to simplistic good or evil characters, even if on an intellectual level one knows better (Greenwald is not stupid).

It’s not the first time that many on the left have fallen into such a trap. In the 1930s, many pacifist leftists found it impossible to admit that Nazi Germany was a military threat. For many of those leftists, opposing World War I was a defining experience, and there was much merit in the claim that WWI was largely a result of the foibles of an imperialist ruling elite first squabbling over how to best steal land and oppress Africans then siding with the side their bankers had lent a lot of money to. One of the reasons Neville Chamberlain found it so easy to appease Hitler is that appeasement had broad support from across the political spectrum in the UK.

None of this is to say that the US ruling class is blameless in all this. As I’ve written before, the US and its allies basically laid the foundations for the current state of affairs, by encouraging and supporting Boris Yeltsin when he staged a coup against parliament and proceeded to create a strong presidency in Russia. Putin simply inherited that presidency and started putting it to uses other than the originally intended (by the West) one of ramming through a transition to a fully capitalist economy.

Likewise, Britain was not blameless in the rise of Hitler. Together with the rest of the European Triple Entente countries, the UK ended the war on terms extremely humiliating for Germany. This undermined the German economy and created a fertile environment for demagogues like Hitler to arise. Such humiliating peace terms (and their paving of the way to a later, more brutal war) were in fact correctly predicted by socialist Rosa Luxemburg in 1915.

But that no more proved that Hitler wasn’t a threat than the US history of intervention in post-Cold War eastern Europe proves Putin isn’t a threat.

Not Oprah, Please

Published at 14:09 on 8 January 2018

I mean, sure, she’d almost certainly be better than the current occupant of the White House, but “better than Trump” is an extremely low standard to set.

Plus, judging by the speech she gave, her candidacy would represent a doubling-down on identity politics (and a continued de-emphasis of class politics) on the part of the Democrats, which is just about the last thing we need.

On Facebook and Bicycle Head Lamps

Published at 11:41 on 7 January 2018

Washington Monthly has a new article out detailing how harmful Facebook is and some ideas for liberal, big-government fixes for that. (Personally, color me skeptical about it; I’m not sure I want to give a government selected by populace stupid enough to select Trump more power to manage the information I see.) That’s after Facebook’s former chief technologist came out and said the platform is designed to promote addiction, and another Facebook techie boldly told his audience they were being programmed.

None of this is much surprise to me after having tried Facebook under an assumed name. My initial hopes of being able to follow what friends were doing via that platform were quickly dashed when I realized how fundamentally useless it is for such a purpose. Well, useless if one’s desire is to quickly keep tabs on what friends are doing; it buries that signal under a huge amount of noise.

It was pretty easy to tell the “noise” was there in an attempt to maximize the time I spent on the platform. In fact, I fell for the clickbait more than once. The overall impression it created was one of frustration at being suckered into wasting my time instead of accomplishing my initial goals for being there. Overall it lends a stench of sleaze to the whole site.

I occasionally check in, maybe once or twice a week, but that’s it. I can’t really imagine Facebook ever doing much to create significant improvement in my life.

Contrast that to the bicycle headlight I bought when I first moved to the Island. I knew I needed a different sort of light for my bicycles, one that lights up the road so I can see as opposed to one that mainly exists so I can be seen by others. I didn’t want it to depend on changing or charging batteries; I really liked my generator lights and how they were just always there, ready to be used when it got dark, much like the headlights and taillights on an automobile.

The obvious solution involved LED’s, because light-emitting diodes turn approximately 90% of the energy fed into them into light, instead of 90% into heat like for incandescent lamps. And sure enough, some research showed that such things had become available since I last researched the issue (and found to my disappointment such things didn’t exist).

They weren’t easily available in the USA, but I found a dealer for them that very conveniently was closing out the previous generation of such headlights, which lessened the cost (somewhat; they were still not inexpensive). And they worked as well as expected.

One piece of new technology has little or nothing to offer me, so I eschew it. The other fit nicely into my existing life, so I embraced it. I don’t have much use for religious superstition in my life, but I do have a great deal of respect for how the Amish have decided to deal with technology, by evaluating it and deciding if it offers a net improvement instead of mindlessly embracing it.

Fire and Fury, The Gorilla Channel, Fake News

Published at 19:42 on 5 January 2018

First, Fire and Fury should not be taken as a serious information source. It’s written by an individual who might rightly be called the Donald Trump of journalism, given his lack of adherence to norms and past record of playing fast and loose with factual accuracy. He’s already been caught getting into the White House on false pretenses.

Second, it’s not as if Trump or anyone in his regime has much ground to stand on when it comes to complaining about such things.

Third, there is no Gorilla Channel. That’s a hoax. It wasn’t believable to start with:

I had never heard of any such thing, yet Trump is supposed to have had access to it in Trump Tower (but not the White House?). If it were a cable channel, you’d expect it to be available pretty much everywhere there is cable. If Washington, DC has an inferior cable system that doesn’t carry it, it wouldn’t be that hard to install an earth station at the White House to receive it.

They set up “a hastily-constructed transmission tower on the South Lawn” to broadcast it? Really? That tower would have attracted the attention of photographers; surely someone would have noticed it. And why erect a transmission tower for cable TV? Far simpler and easier to just modulate a signal and inject it into the coax. If over-the-air transmission is for some reason desired, a tower isn’t needed for a low-power signal, anyhow. This wouldn’t need to reach farther than a few rooms in the White House; it would be a simple matter to put an ultra low-power transmitter in a closet somewhere.

Fourth, the book’s general premise, that Trump is totally unfit for the job he finds himself in, is no big surprise and was obvious already.