Tulsi Gabbard? I Think Not.

Published at 21:49 on 28 July 2019

I don’t blame her for meeting with Assad (certainly worth a try to end the nasty civil war in Syria). I do blame her for then basically taking Assad’s side in accusations of chemical weapon use in Syria. And she sounds naïve about Putin as well.

And then there’s her interactions with Google. When her ad account there got suspended, she was sure it just had to be a deliberate conspiracy against her. As was the fact that junk mails her campaign sent ended up, surprise, surprise, in spam folders on Gmail accounts.

Let’s just say that none of the above exactly inspires confidence in her temperament or judgment.

The Case for Impeachment

Published at 10:13 on 27 July 2019

It can be boiled down to this: political theater. That is because there is not an ice cube’s chance in hell that the GOP-controlled Senate would ever vote to convict.

The solution is to not ever get to the point of sending things to the Senate. Conveniently, impeachment is a lengthy process, lengthy enough that odds disfavor it being completed before the 2020 elections, anyhow. The point, to reiterate, is political theater: keep Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors in the public eye, so that moderates and liberals feel motivated to turn out in November, 2020 and vote against Trump.

Congressional Democrats can’t openly admit as much, of course. They will have to claim they are just doing their Constitutional duty of oversight, and putting that well ahead of any political concerns. Well, welcome to the real world. Please, don’t tell me that professional politicians of all people suddenly have a case of aversion to telling convenient lies.

This gets to the flaw in the line of the reasoning the majority of congressional Democrats have, that weakness and capitulation are somehow virtues. They are not, and the fact that Democrats persistently tend to think they are is one of the reasons people don’t like Democrats. Democrats are seen as the party of weakness because they are by and large the party of weakness.

There is actually plenty of public support for progressive things like a wealth tax, a $15 minimum wage, and a green new deal. Contrary to the preachings of the so-called “moderate” wing of the Democratic Party, campaigning on such things is a recipe for success not failure. (Democrats tried choosing the “safe, moderate” presidential candidate in 2016; keep in mind what that accomplished for them.)

This doesn’t mean everything the left of the party wants is a winning idea. That same poll shows that campaigning for single-payer is basically a stupid idea. Solution: don’t do that. In addition to being unwise from a pragmatic point of view, and unwise from a concentration-of-power point of view, it’s simply not necessary.

But many left-of-center ideas are popular. A rotten, rigged system gives the right disproportionate power. Start acting like it, Democrats. Stop living in perpetual fear that Republicans won’t like you. News flash: they already don’t, and nothing other than going full Trump fascist is going to make them like you. Get over your stupid neurosis about not being loved by everybody and get busy adopting some principles and fighting for them.

Or get used to losing. Your choice.

On Tyranny

Published at 18:58 on 22 July 2019

The Right is fond of going on about the “tyranny of the majority” and defending systems such as the Electoral College and legislative supermajority requirements meant to prevent it.

Here’s the thing, though: If you’re a member of a minority group, and you want to see your political will prevail, now, there really isn’t any option available to your group other than brute force. (Becoming the majority via persuasion takes time.) Any reasonably open and democratic system is going to deny your group the ability to set policy contrary to the desires of the majority. If you’re in the majority, by contrast, you don’t have to choose tyranny. Democracy and openness will work just fine.

Tyranny, therefore, can logically be expected to tempt powerful minorities more than it does popular majorities.

Many of the examples of tyranny of the majority just don’t hold water. Take slavery, which is claimed to be a form of tyranny of the majority because whites outnumbered blacks. Here’s the thing, though: whites were divided on the issue, and northern whites were growing in power as the North grew in population at a faster rate than the South. The abolitionist literature of the 19th century is full of complaints about the “slave power” that allowed the South’s ruling class the ability to use undemocratic protections for their minority viewpoint. And, of course, the opinions of blacks when it came to slavery were totally disregarded as a matter of law (only white males could vote).

So it was actually the political power of the pro-slavery minority that allowed slavery to last as long as it did.

Or just look at today. If it weren’t for the Electoral College, we’d have a far less pro-tyranny president in the White House right now. That which is argued to prevent the elevation of extremist, intolerant ideas is in fact facilitating precisely that.

And this holds in general. Most hierarchical societies are ruled by and for a tiny elite, that benefits from a hierarchy that is not in the interests of the vast many. In democratic societies, this is done by deception. That is a relatively new development; traditionally, such rule has been by brute force.

Therefore, precisely as one would expect, the vast majority of tyrannies throughout the historical record have been tyrannies of a minority. Worrying about “tyranny of the majority” while ignoring this elephant in the living room is like worrying about dogs being injured by people biting them.

Yes, it’s theoretically possible for people to bite dogs, and if you search the news, you can probably find examples of it happening (the world is a large place). That doesn’t then prove that leashes and muzzles are unneeded and what really needs to be done is to add the biting of dogs by humans to the criminal code as a very serious felony.

Looks Like I’m Turning Into a Hamster

Published at 20:48 on 18 July 2019

A Bellinghamster, that is. (Yes, that’s the real demonym for a resident of Bellingham.)

Seeing as how I’ve aged to the point where I’m basically unemployable in the tech industry in Seattle (type “tech industry age discrimination” into a search engine; it’s rather enlightening, or should I say depressing) I had originally planned to cut my costs by moving to Bremerton or the Kitsap Peninsula. I could probably afford an entire modest house for the equity in my expensive condo on Bainbridge Island. (My move to the Island, in fact, was predicated on the assumption that I needed to be close to the big city so I could take one of tech jobs available there.) Then I’d have an easier time with my radio hobby (unrestricted right to erect antennas) and significantly lower living costs. Major win!

I had even gone to the point of looking at properties for sale in Bremerton in order to familiarize myself with the market. Then one evening while falling asleep it hit me: what’s really most important to me is my activism for a more wild and free world, and Bremerton frankly isn’t really the best place to pursue such things. (For openers, it’s even further from Seattle than Bainbridge Island, and the ferry ride to the big city from here has been enough of a damper on my activism as it is.)

As such, I’d probably be better off if I gave up the dream about a better ham radio situation; overall, ham radio is just a hobby, not a core motivating interest in my life. This is not even a very radical or dramatic conclusion; the Radio Amateur’s Code has this to say: “The Radio Amateur is… BALANCED. Radio is a hobby, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school, or community [emphasis added].”

The two places that came to mind were the college towns of Olympia and Bellingham. The latter I almost rejected, due to it being too expensive. That was something of a pity, as I’ve always really liked Bellingham and fantasized about moving there some day. Then I remembered that: a) it’s been a long time since I sussed out the Bellingham real estate market, and b) when I did, it was with an eye on buying a small house, not a condo. As such, it was worth doing some basic research on Bellingham before rejecting it based on incomplete and only partially applicable information.

And lo, I found that there seemed to be condos in my price range on the market there. Of course, that’s just pictures and glad words on the web. There can be no substitute for actually seeing things in person. Maybe they’re far tattier once one actually sees them, or are reeking of old pet urine, or have some other show-stopper.

But, for the most part, they weren’t. They were just what they seemed to be online: modest, decent condos that I could afford to own outright. Even more surprisingly, Bellingham was actually slightly less expensive than Olympia, despite it being my first choice of a place to downsize to.

Anyhow, to make a long story a little less long, I made a contingent offer on a condo in Bellingham a couple weeks ago. One of the things that sold me on it is that it has access to an attic that antennas can be concealed inside. But it was a contingent offer, which depended on my current place selling.

Depressingly, the market seems to have slowed a lot here on Bainbridge Island in the past year. Units where I live no longer sell for over asking price within 24 hours of being listed like they have for years. I had scores of looky-loos tramp through my place, but no offers. Well, one offer, but it was so insultingly low that my agent felt free to tell the buyer to take a hike without even running his asking price by me first.

Then, today, out of the blue, not one but two offers come in within minutes of each other. Go figure. Anyhow, I decided to go with the one contingent on VA financing over the all-cash offer because that buyer was willing to pay me more money for a deal that would take longer to close. More money is definitely something I need at this stage in my life.

So, it’s really starting to look as if the move is going to happen. I hadn’t posted about it earlier due to the fear of jinxing it, but I feel fairly safe posting about it now.

Kotlin Looks Nice, But…

Published at 18:54 on 17 July 2019

I’m planning on developing an Android app, and to that end I recently downloaded Android Studio. I notice it offers a second option for the programming language of a project, in addition to the expected Java: something called Kotlin.

That prompted me to take a closer look at this language. I’ve worked about halfway through the Kotlin Koans tutorial for the language, and I must say that so far I am quite impressed.

The world needs a more modern alternative to Java. Once I was hoping that C# could serve in this regard, but alas:

  • It falls victim to bigotry (anything that got its start at Microsoft is going to be sneered at in the open source/Unix/Linux world, no matter its merits, no matter that there’s an excellent open-source implementation of it).
  • It runs in its own environment, not the JVM, meaning that switching from Java to C# implies burning bridges. You can’t easily cut over by developing new modules in C# that interoperate with legacy Java ones.

I looked at Scala, which seemed to offer real promise. Then I experimented with it and ran into Scala’s complexity. I was eternally doing battle with the type system, which seemed to frustrate my every attempt to use the language’s powerful features in clever ways.

When I looked at other people’s Scala code for ideas, I was often perplexed, because it was shot through with special features I had not learned yet. Beyond a certain point, it becomes impossible to remember a language’s core feature set. When that happens, readability of code will suffer, because developers will tend to drift apart from each other, each opting to use their own personal idiosyncratic subset of the language’s features.

There is a real cost to programming language complexity, and it is clear to me that Scala is well past the point of diminishing returns when it comes to feature set size.

That brings us back to the subject of this post. Kotlin really seems to be “Scala done right,” addressing the worst of Java’s deficiencies without falling victim to excessive complexity.

Android was Kotlin’s foot in the door, because many Android devices run truly ancient versions of the JVM, versions so old that many of the newer features in Java (without which the language becomes truly dated and obsolete) are absent. The Kotlin compiler can target those old JVM byte codes, allowing one to use modern features even on legacy platforms.

So I’m going to give Kotlin a whirl on my Android app. I will let you know what my impressions of the language are after I’ve had some practice actually coding something meaningful in it.

The pity is that once one does things other than Android software development in Kotlin, the rough edges in its ecosystem quickly become all too apparent. Just out of curiosity I’ve been playing with the Ktor server-side framework. The documentation ranges from flat-out obsolete (and thus incorrect) to simply nonexistent. The result is that even simple things take hours of tedious experimentation to determine how to do.

I’m hoping that Android development goes better, but unless those rough edges get smoothed out, and soon, Kotlin may well end up being stereotyped as an Android-only thing.

About AOC

Published at 09:15 on 16 July 2019

She actually is a serious politician.
She’s not the caricature the right (even the anti-Trump right) attempts to paint her as. If you read her Twitter feed, it’s full of realizations that she is just one member among many and thus has to make allies and work across the aisle. Her recent testimony about Trump’s concentration camps was brilliant in how it employed appeals to patriotism in the service of abhorring the conditions there. That’s the sort of stuff that’s needed to appeal to the so-called center (which as I’ve written really isn’t a committed center at all).
She’s not perfect, but then again, nobody is.
Sure, she stupidly let herself get sucked into a nasty public feud with other Democrats. Insisting on single-payer as the only way to make health care more equitable is needlessly (and foolishly) statist. She sometimes gets so preoccupied with doubling down on identity politics that class politics gets temporarily neglected. News flash: she’s human, and all humans have their faults.
Voices like hers have been sorely missing from Congress for almost my entire adult life.
About the only comparable one is Bernie Sanders. He’s been saying the right sort of things for decades but until he ran for president he was this obscure senator from a tiny New England state that nobody paid much attention to. AOC managed by some miracle to walk in to the Capitol building with a big bully pulpit. Voices for actual (albeit still moderate) leftist ideas have until recently been almost totally excluded from the Establishment discourse: the acceptable spectrum ran from unashamedly conservative to milquetoast center-left. AOC has helped change that.
It’s not just that she’s a leftist, it that until very recently, she was working-class.
This one is huge. Sanders, despite being an overall positive influence, has been a public servant (with a cushy salary and benefits) for decades. AOC, until recently, was living many of the struggles the majority of everyday people must cope with. Those memories are still fresh in her mind, and inform what she says. This has caused a much-needed leak to develop in the reality-distortion bubble on Capitol Hill.
Other Democrats will have to be primaried.
Sorry, centrists, this is just the way it is. The Democrats are a big tent party. Given the significant ideological diversity within it, voters deserve the right to a choice within those ideologies. Being primaried isn’t an “attack;” it’s an aspect of living in an open society. Rejecting competitive primaries (as the Democratic party leadership is attempting to do) is a pro-authoritarian attitude that must itself be rejected. Of course, fair’s fair: the centrists will respond by primarying the likes of AOC. Expect it.
She is a brilliant propagandist.
Take her recent use of the term “concentration camps” as an example. It promoted howls of outrage from the right (and even many in the center). But while the outrage was being howled, even the howlers were repeating the term “concentration camps.” She had suckered them into repeating her talking point, and they weren’t even aware of it!
Yes, she is youthful and inexperienced.
And most of her colleagues are, to be blunt, aged, jaded, sell-outs. She’s a sorely needed counterpoint to them.

An entire Federal government full of AOC’s would be a disaster. That’s irrelevant, because such a thing will never exist. A government with a few dozen more AOC’s in it (given present circumstances, about as many as could plausibly be wished for) would be vastly less reality-distorted than the government we have now.

In fact, even the four “Squad” members we currently have, have already helped shift the public debate in useful ways: even centrist Democrats who reject her health care and global warming policy ideas are admitting we need to do far better on both than we currently are.

And Un-Scratch That

Published at 19:57 on 7 July 2019

The deal that fell through is on again. Late Friday morning, I received a call that the offer that beat me out had collapsed and the property was back on the market. So I made a last-minute trip north to inspect it in person. It looked as good as it seemed online, so I told my agent to prepare an offer.

Then, since I was most of the way to Boston Bar, I decided to take my friends who have a summer home there up on the standing invitation to visit them, since it was going to take a few days to prepare all the paperwork needed in making a contingent offer anyhow.

It’s all been signed, so now comes the waiting. There’s still a frightfully large number of ways this all could fall through:

  1. The seller accepts someone else’s offer (not out of the picture, given how quickly that place attracted the first offer).
  2. The seller does some random flaky thing (also not out of the picture, given how the seller jumped on a quickie offer so soon instead of doing the more typical thing of waiting for multiple offers to come in, if one offer comes in surprisingly fast).
  3. My current place either fails to sell, or fails to get an offer for enough money to afford the place in Bellingham (also a possibility, given how slow interest has been in it so far).

On Iran Violating the Deal

Published at 19:46 on 7 July 2019

First, let’s establish a baseline truth: Iran is ruled by a repressive government that would be better off gone.

That said, just what would one expect Iran, or any other country for that matter, to do when:

  • It signs a binding multi-party agreement, then
  • One of the parties tears up the agreement, and
  • Not only that, that same party then behaves in a way that sabotages all the other parties’ ability to honor the agreement.

Really, now: given all that, to expect Iran to keep honoring its side of the deal, just to be nice, is the mother of all unrealistic expectations. Of course Iran decided that since the agreement was torn up, it didn’t matter anymore. In related news, water is wet and the Pope is Roman Catholic.

Well, Scratch That

Published at 16:50 on 3 July 2019

An interesting condo was listed for sale on Monday. I immediately contacted my agent up there and requested we do a walk-through via Skype. That happened today, and it still looked interesting enough that I made plans to see it myself the next business day (i.e. Friday).

And now we learn that it has sold already. So be it. I’m unwilling to buy anything sight unseen, particularly after that experience with the mold-infested unit that looked so nice in pictures. Plus while the location was beautiful (on a dead-end street adjacent to a greenbelt), both the street network leading there and the complex itself were bicycle-hostile.

Exactly how hostile was a matter of question, and part of my due diligence on Friday was to ride around on my bike and get some feel for how bad the trip downtown would actually have been. I’m still planning on doing that, simply in case anything else in that area comes up for sale (there’s lots of condos in that part of town).

Ah, well, the search continues.