Why the Indictment Matters… and Why It Does Not

Published at 08:45 on 31 March 2023

It matters because it breaks the precedent that presidents and ex-presidents are above the law.

It does not matter because of the seriousness of the charges. The particular charges of the indictment are still not known, but all sources claim they have to do with a fraudulent payment of hush money to keep Stormy Daniels silent about an affair she had five or more years ago now. An affair is really not a major political scandal (despite how much Republicans wish it was when Clinton was caught having one).

But the precedent is now broken. That having been done so, it becomes more likely that indictments might be filed over inciting the January 6th putsch and/or the attempted corrupting of the vote tabulating process in Georgia. Both of those, by contrast, are truly serious charges; they relate to acts that are direct attacks on democracy.

If other, more serious charges are not fired, it will be as Judge Luttig has said: a great disservice to democracy and to the rule of law.

And there is still a lot of moral rot in the system. I may have been wrong about Trump not being indicted for anything, but I am not wrong about that general observation. That there still is, is evidenced by a more serious indictment being a sufficiently unsure thing that Luttig is openly worrying that it might not happen. Luttig is a lifelong conservative. It is not personally convenient for him to come to the conclusions he has. It is much more convenient for a conservative to conclude that our existing institutions, representing the wisdom of tested experience, are functioning relatively well.

And Luttig is hardly the only conservative running around saying how alarming Trumpism is. There are enough of them, in fact, that a special term has arisen to refer to such individuals: never-Trump conservatives. It has long been a key insight of mine that when there is a significant group of individuals asserting something they are ideologically inconvenienced by, that something is almost certainly a relevant political fact that should be paid serious attention to.

Well, I Was Wrong

Published at 17:40 on 30 March 2023

Trump was indicted today.

And I am very happy to be wrong. It means the disgusting precedent that the president is above the law is looking more and more like a has-been of a precedent. It means the danger of a transition to fascism is distinctly less than it was just this morning.

Nobody won USD $100 out of it, by the way, because nobody took me up on my offer. Which, of course, is now void now that the outcome is no longer in doubt.

Now we get to see a number of other questions be answered:

  1. Now that the precedent has been broken, will there be other indictments?
  2. Will the indictment get rescinded somehow? (I am not a legal expert, and I do not even know if this is possible, but if it is, it would not be a surprise if it happens. American Führerprincip may not go quietly into that good night.)
  3. Will he be convicted? If he is acquitted, will it happen because anyone in his situation would have been acquitted, or will it happen because he’s an ex-president and is therefore getting special treatment?

This is a precedent-setting moment, but there were really two options here:

  1. Set the precedent that presidents and ex-presidents are not, in fact, above the law, and that what Trump did was wrong and deserves to be punished, or
  2. Set the precedent that nothing Trump did (up to and including his coup attempt) was, in fact, wrong. In this case, it all becomes just standard political tactics, to be applied as needed from now on.

One More Reason Why DeSantis Is Less Dangerous

Published at 20:45 on 27 March 2023

There are basically two types of Republicans left these days:

  1. Those who worship Trump and who will not vote for anyone else.
  2. Those willing to hold their noses and vote for Trump.

That’s it. There are effectively no other types of Republican. The ones who couldn’t stand Trump have, basically to a last person, left the party.

Therefore, if by some miracle DeSantis wins the primary, Trump will yell “Rigged!” and the Type 1 Republicans will either cast write-in, independent, or third-party votes for Trump, or sit at home and sulk on Election Day. Either action dooms the Republicans, who cannot afford to lose any votes.

So if DeSantis wins the primary, the Republicans lose the general. Guaranteed.

While if Trump wins, the odds are still against them (Trump has high negatives), but still not as dismal as if DeSantis wins. To reiterate, Trump managed to win once already, and he could do it again.

DeSantis Is Not More Dangerous than Trump

Published at 09:46 on 25 March 2023

You can find a lot of pundits arguing that DeSantis is even more dangerous than Trump, such as this one, this one, and this one. While it is clear that DeSantis has authoritarian, fascistic tendencies, and is more intellectually mature, and thus better able to strategize, than Trump, in one important aspect he falls far short of Trump. It is my contention that this aspect is a limiting factor that makes DeSantis less of a threat.

That aspect is capitalism. Specifically, the authoritarianism of capitalism, the contradiction between that authoritarian and the value of liberty professed by post-Enlightenment liberalism, Trump’s possession of capitalist status, and DeSantis’ lack of it.

Any capitalist democracy is in fact a weird amalgamation of public democracy and private fascism. The latter is not just socialist hyperbole; the model for the authoritarian fascist state was in fact the capitalist corporation. Mussolini called his system the corporate state for a reason.

But this presents a contradiction: could not workers use the democracy and openness of liberal society to advocate for post-capitalist economic systems that dispense with the arbitrary authority of the capitalist boss? And in fact this is not merely theoretical: every capitalist democracy, with the notable exception of the USA, has had a strong social democratic/democratic socialist party, that got where it is precisely by arguing based on this contradiction.

The solution is to indoctrinate people, starting in early childhood, as to the virtuousness and indispensability of the capitalist boss, whose authority must be held to be an unquestionable good. Instead of being a threat to liberty, it is held to be an expression of liberty; the capitalist must have the liberty to use his wealth to manipulate as many other individuals as possible.

Only the capitalist gets this special treatment. When a politician tries to coerce others, it is generally considered (and rightly so) to be oppression, not liberty.

It is into this value system that Donald Trump stepped. He actually wasn’t all that big a capitalist or that great at the capitalist game, but his media image was that he was; one can say that in politics, appearance Trumps substance. Perhaps even more critically, his media image is a celebration of the authority of the capitalist. Just ask yourself what the most famous two-word phrase from his role as the star of The Apprentice was if you have any doubts about my assertion.

By contrast, Ron DeSantis is an individual who has not spent so much as a single day of his adult life as the owner or manager of a business. He hasn’t even held a private sector job! He went from law school to a career in the military to a career as a politician. It might have been possible for him to avoid this problem if he had an acting career as a capitalist somewhere on his résumé, but alas for him he does not.

So when DeSantis acts authoritarian, or proposes doing so on the campaign trail, he is just a politician promising authoritarianism competing against a businessman promising same. He’s going to lose that contest.

Trump, by contrast, just might win it all again. He did once already, after all. Therefore Trump, and not DeSantis, is the more dangerous one.

…And He Won’t Be Indicted Today, Either

Published at 09:04 on 22 March 2023

In the least surprising news since the Sun rising on time, Trump wasn’t indicted yesterday. This is for the simple reason that he will not be indicted. The system acts to protect the most powerful, even when those most powerful threaten the system itself. It is that rotten and corrupted.

I mean, really now, I am supposed to believe that a relatively minor hush money payment to a porn star is an indictable offense for someone whom the system refuses to indict for a fucking coup attempt? How is that the least bit plausible?

Get it straight. Trump was not indicted for the events of January 6th, he won’t be indicted for paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, and he won’t be indicted for anything else.

I am sorry that it greatly inconveniences some of you to believe the state of democratic decline in the USA is as severe as I have written it is here, time and time again, but all the best available evidence is thoroughly consistent with my thesis.

The old Republic has basically already died at this point. It is merely that the corpse has not started bloating and stinking yet, so many can still be in denial about it.

P.S. Nobody took me up on my USD $100 offer. That alone should serve as evidence that even though many won’t openly admit I am right, in the depths of their heart they know I probably am. Money talks, bullshit walks.

A $100 Offer

Published at 09:48 on 18 March 2023

I feel like making a little easy money. As such, I will bet the first taker USD $100 (CAD $137 if you prefer to wager in Canadian funds) that Trump will not be indicted in the next 14 days (i.e. by 9:00 AM Pacific time, 1 April 2023). Any takers? This is an honest offer. Comment on this post if interested.

Not Feeling the Love for Rust

Published at 00:56 on 18 March 2023

The Rust programming language has been hyped to be the “most loved” one for several years now. I personally can’t feel the love.

Sure, Rust is fast. So what? Python, Java, and Kotlin are almost always fast enough for me.

Rust’s memory management is nowhere near as convenient as the memory management in a garbage collected language (like Python, Java, or Kotlin). There’s all sorts of confusing rules to remember. It took me rereading those rules three times to finally get it. By contrast, with garbage collection, I don’t have to worry about stack versus heap, borrowing, boxing, and all that crap. I just pass objects around as easily as Rust passes primitive types, and everything just works. The computer handles all the details behind the scenes, leaving me free to concentrate on other things.

Yes, yes: efficiency. Again: so what? Garbage-collected languages are fast enough for me. As Knuth once said, “Premature optimization is the root of all evil.”

Suppose for some reason I bump into a need to go faster than Python or the JVM allow. Then what? Still not sold on Rust. I’ve run into this sort of thing before: the problem was caused by one tiny bit of code, and rewriting that little bit of code in C (which both the JVM and Python can easily call) fixed the performance issue handily. Yes, C isn’t as nice as Rust for memory management, but it was only one little bit of code, and unlike Rust (for which such support is still in the early stages), it is super-easy to call C from within Java or Python.

And then we get to graphics. Some of my recent coding has involved making tools to modify graphics files. If one is modifying graphics files, a graphical user interface is almost always essential. Python supports Qt, and Java has Swing. Both are excellent cross-platform GUI libraries that, with care, can achieve results that look almost as good as a native application. Rust basically has only GTK, which is a poor second-class citizen for anything other than Linux.

Maybe if I was doing lots of embedded systems on resource-constrained platforms Rust would be more appealing to me. But I’m not, so it’s hard for me to feel the love.

The iCloud Disk Is a Racket

Published at 23:10 on 16 March 2023

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.

— Smedley Butler

The iCloud disk is Apple’s cloud storage service. They give away a basic amount of storage to all their users, and charge for extra.

The rub is, that just about every Apple program is configured to put just about everything it saves on iCloud by default. Even very, big bloated things. Especially very big, bloated things. It is possible to turn this off, but it is not easy or obvious, and as I said just about every Apple program is configured to use iCloud heavily, so you must fight with app after app to stop it from dumping megabytes of crap onto iCloud.

The biggest offender is iOS (the iPhone and iPad operating system itself), which is of course configured to back up everything to iCloud by default. How to turn this off (and how to back up an iPhone to a local disk) is described here. Note that you should definitely plan to back up your device to a local disk regularly if you turn iCloud backups off.

The natural consequence is that iCloud fills up quickly. At that point, every Apple device you own will breathlessly and ominously announce that your iCloud storage is about full and recommend purchasing additional storage. Actually the warnings come well before that point, at around the 80% mark. Since iCloud comes with 5 gigabytes for free, that amounts to getting warned about full storage when in fact you have a gig of free space still left.

It doesn’t recommend you investigate why iCloud is filling up, of course. That might result in the user not agreeing to spend money in perpetuity on iCloud. There are ways to investigate usage, but they are not obvious.

I did the work and it was astounding how much crap various Apple programs had stuck there. Most people won’t do that. They will just cough up the dough every month to make their devices shut up.

Third Party Camera Apps for iPhone

Published at 17:27 on 12 March 2023

To begin, three points:

  1. You probably don’t need one. Go here for why. In many cases, a third party app can easily lead to worse photos, if one does not know how to make good use of its extra features, or if those extra features keep getting in the way and messing things up.
  2. This is one of those things that Android does better. The standard Android camera app allows for more creative controls and manual overrides than does the standard iPhone one, while being more intuitive and less packed with gratuitous features than most third party apps. If the built in camera is really important to you, consider a high end Android phone. (Note that Android doesn’t do everything better, just some things. More than likely, a tradeoff will be involved. I am just saying that you should seriously consider a leading-model Android phone if using a phone camera is important to you.)
  3. Third, sometimes such an app makes sense, if you understand how to use manual overrides. The inability to manually focus was ruining lots of macro (close up) shots for me.

So what I’m doing is giving Halide a try for a year, and using it in those situations where the limitations of the standard Apple camera app are really getting in the way. For situations where the standard app’s limitations don’t get in the way (and this is most photographs), I use the standard app, because it is simpler and easier to use. (Thankfully, it is easy enough to make the two store their photos in the same place, which makes managing them easier and simpler.)

Note that this is only for those situations where for some reason I do not have my interchangeable-lens camera, with my dedicated macro lens that I can focus with a focus ring and a proper viewfinder, along with me. It’s a fallback for macro photography, nothing more. The main reason I have an iPhone because it works better as a phone; performance as a camera is secondary to me.

Finally, it is still annoying, because Android does it significantly better. Much nicer to have just one camera app that once can use in all situations than having to bounce between a limited app and a feature-bloated one.

Ukraine or Its Allies Blew up the Pipeline

Published at 08:16 on 10 March 2023

By which I mean, either the government of Ukraine, or the some of the governments of its Western allies, were involved in some fashion in blowing up the pipeline. The involvement might be as direct as agents on the staff payolls of one or more governments doing the job themselves, or as indirect as knowing about a plot by some non-government group and deciding to sit on that knowledge and let it happen. Or just about anything in between.

Firstly, this makes a lot more sense that Russia blowing up its own pipeline, a piece of infrastructure important to its largest economic sector, and part of the ties between Russia and Western Europe that complicate the ability of the latter to confront the former.

Secondly, the invasion of Ukraine provides a motive.

Thirdly, we have Seymour Hersh’s claims. Now, Hersh is not a reliable source, many of his past claims have gone nowhere, and his particular story has some major holes in it. But that merely means that if Hersh claims something, it is not necessarily true. It says nothing about it being definitively false. And in fact, some of Hersh’s previous claims have turned out to be true. When Hersh’s claims came out, my reaction was not to believe them, but not to completely disbelieve them either, and to be alert for future evidence that might corroborate or refute them.

Fourthly, such evidence is now starting to emerge. Now, the story in the Post is still just someone speaking off the record, but the fact the Post thought it newsworthy indicates it comes from a reliable source in a position to know. This is especially the case given how the existence of this story conflicts with the Post’s (and my own) bias in favour of the Ukranian side in this conflict.

The takeaway is still rather vague, however. Revisit the leading paragraph: it simply means that Ukraine or some of its Western allies were involved in some way. It says nothing about the details of the involvement. As reliable as the Post judged their source, there is no way to know how much of the details that source accurately knows. Secrets within government organizations are shared on a strictly need to know basis, and if this source did not need to know many details, he could be in the dark (or even have been fed misinformation) about them.

More details, however, are likely to continue leaking out. This is how actual government conspiracies work: they don’t stay secret for long. The world that conspiracy kooks live in, where all-powerful governments prevent all leaks of consequence, the kook and his friends somehow know it all, and those all-powerful governments at the same time sit on their hands and do nothing to stop the kooks from running their mouths off, simply does not exist.

And the reaction of Ukraine and its supporters to this newfound knowledge also fits the pattern perfectly. Note that the truth is leaking out. Note also how it is rapidly getting buried by other stories. It is not considered important enough to be given feature coverage. (If equivalent evidence in favour of Russia being behind it all had come out, you had better believe we would all be hearing about it nonstop.) This is the way bias works in our media.

None of this means that Russia is in the right and Ukraine deserved to get invaded. The world is not composed solely of angels and devils; a refutation of Ukraine’s angel status does not prove it a devil. The world is a messy place where all actors are a mix of good and evil in various degrees. (If you think Russia does not support terrorism, think again.)

It is still far better for the world if Russia loses this war. As such, I still support helping Ukraine so as to maximize the chance of Russia losing. I would have rather have Russia lose to a Ukraine that does not back ecologically-destructive acts of terrorism than to have it lose to one that does, but I would also rather have Russia lose than win.