Category Archives: Society

Should be obvious…

Keyboards, Machine Guns, and Other Daily Tools

It looks like I’ll be at least occasionally moving between my home in Japan and offices in the US where I may wind up setting up a system for myself to use while I’m there (I’m not a huge laptop fan when it comes to extended work). This brings up an annoying issue: keyboard layouts.

It is difficult to find US-layout keyboards out here, so even though I usually write only a few Japanese-language emails per day its just not practical to use anything but the local flavor. Even if I did have a bunch of US-layout keyboards it would be insanely annoying to have to switch between JP-layout on laptops, server crash carts and customer systems and then switch back to US-layout when I got back to one of my offices. So I’ve gotten accustomed to this layout and it works well for me.

The main keys that do letters and numbers are all in the same place, so it seems like this wouldn’t be a big deal. The problem is the crazy keys that do “top row” and wildcard stuff like bangs, hashes, quotes, backticks, at-marks, brackets, colons, semicolons, parens, etc. All the stuff that is rarely used on, say, a student or blogger’s keyboard is usually worn smooth on a programmer’s keyboard, especially if he switches languages all day. And they are all in radically different places on JP and US layouts.

So… naturally I’ll probably just get a decent one here and keep in the closet over in the US, and whip it out whenever I show up.

But that brings up a point about familiarity and how “good” tools are from the perspective of the one using them. I could easily take the position that US-layout is poo and that JP-layout is superior. Or I could get uber nerd and pretend that some statistical study on finger reach and frequency of blahblahblah matters whatsoever when it comes to programming. It doesn’t, really. That’s to imagine that input is the hard part of programming, and its not — its figuring out what to write in the first place. So its not speed of input, per se, but smoothness of operation. More to the point, its which layout prevents the wetware halting problem: where the human doing the work has to stop what he is doing to figure out something unrelated to the essential task at hand.

But it remains true that some layouts are probably actually worse than others. It follows that other sorts of tools can fall into the realm of “good enough that preference is a matter of taste or familiarity” or in the realm of “actual poorly designed garbage”.

The reminds me of guns. There are several excellent machine gun, rifle and pistol designs employed in militaries across the world. Many of them are decent enough that while some have a slight edge over others in some areas, I’d go to work with pretty much any of them. For instance, the M4 vs. the SCAR. The SCAR is actually better, but the M4 is familiar enough to me and I have enough confidence and skill with it that I just don’t really care which one I wind up getting stuck with.

I don’t have nearly as much faith in the AK-47 as a precision weapon, especially in an environment where quick on/off safety and partial reloading is critical. They are famously resistant to neglect (which is often mistaken for durability), but that’s really a key attribute for a rifle intended for the mindless Commie Horde sweeping en masse across the tundra or untrained insurgent/freedom-fighter/terrorist whose backers need cheap trashy guns with which to arm their cheap trashy goons. Indeed, the AK-47 is in real terms less good than the SCAR or M4 and there is a whole list of rifles and carbines I would consider before going to work with one (but still, its not absolutely awful, just so much less good than the alternatives that I’d avoid it if possible — sort of like Java).

Where this is really striking is with machine guns and pistols. On the pistol side there are a rather large number of designs that actually break down frequently during use. This never happens in a James Bond movie, of course, but in real life it happens at the most inconvenient times. Come to think of it, there is never a convenient time for a pistol to break. Once again, despite the absolute superiority in design of the semi-automatic over the revolver, familiary can overcome the technical deficiencies between the two (with lots of practice) and I would actually prefer to go to work with certain revolvers over certain semi-autos. (This is to say nothing, of course, of the issue of caliber…)

With machine guns, however, the differences in good vs. bad designs are vast. In the nearly any modern military you’re absolutely spoilt. A “bad” gun is one that doesn’t have a TV built into the stock to ease the passage of long turns on security. They are mindlessly easy to load, sight, barrel change, fire, strip, clean, maneuver with, etc. The links disintegrate and can be re-used on unlinked ammo, all sorts of cool toys fit around the thing (which can, sometimes, make them start to suck just from the “too much Star Wars” problem), runaways can have their belt broken, they will eat through just about any garbage that gets caught in the links or even fire bent ammo. They aren’t even unreasonably heavy (and its patently unfair to compare it to the uber lightness of an M4). Its amazing how well these things work. But when they are all you know you start complaining about them, wishing you had a 240 when you’ve been handed an M-60 (because its possible to jam it up if you accidentally load it bolt-forward, or probably lacks a rail system, or you’re an unsufferable weakling complaining because you didn’t get the lightweight bulldog version, or whatever). I’ve had the misfortune of having to go to work with old Soviet machine guns, though, and can attest that they are indeed of almost universally horrible design.

When we say “crew served weapon” in modern armies we mean “the weapon is the centerpiece of the crew” not “this weapon is absolutely unreasonable to assign to any less than three people”. It might have meant that operating the machinery actually took a crew back when tripods included full-sized chairs, ammo came on a horse-drawn cart, and vast amounts of oil and water were consumed in operation. But that was the early 1900′s. We still employ machine guns as crew served weapons beacuse its an advantage to have an AG and actually set up a tripod if you wind up facing off against a for-real infantry force, not because its difficult to wield one. Today a single person can easily maintain and operate a 240, M-60, MAG58, 249, MG42, MG3, or whatever. Not so with, say, the PKM (or heaven forbid the SG-43). An RP-46 is actually better if you come to the field with American-style assumptions that a single person is adequate to handle a machine gun.

The PKM is not really belt fed, its chain fed, and the chain doesn’t disintegrate. Its also extremely strong. Like you can support more than a single person’s weight from a belt and it won’t break. The longer the belt the more bullets, and this seems good, until you realize that it feeds from the wrong side (the right), which prevents a right-handed shooter from feeding the pig himself with his left hand and leaves the indestructible spent chain right in front of the shooter. This means its right underfoot when running after a bit of shooting — which has made be bust my face in the dirt on the top of the gun more than once (not so convenient at interesting moments, and absolutely detrimental to my Cool Point count).

But the failure of design doesn’t stop there. That stupid belt is nearly impossible to reload by hand without wearing gloves and using a lever (box top, table top wrench, whatever) to force the rounds into the thing (yeah you might load 50 rounds by hand, but how about 5000?). They also rust instantly, in accordance with the PKM Belt Rust Time Law — however long its been since you last packed the belt is precisely how long it takes to rust exactly enough to generate a vast amount of busy work without rusting so much that the belt should be discarded. If you try oiling them to prevent that they gum up or actually start growing hair instantly. Its a never ending cycle of trying to keep the belts from making your life suck without giving up and throwing them all away. Which is why the Soviets conveniently invented a reloading machine. Which itself sucks. I can’t even begin to explain the inadequacy of this stupid machine, but it actually is the only way to maintain even a marginally reasonable reload rate for belts — but there is no way you could do this under fire, or on Tuesday (the machine jams spectacularly on random days, Tuesday tending to be the worst day for this for some magical reason).

I haven’t even begun to mention the inadequacy of the ammo crates. The standard ammo crates are insanely stupid. Actually, this isn’t a gripe reserved just for 7.62 ammo, its true for all commie ammo I’ve ever seen. The ammo cans aren’t like the infinitely reusable, universally useful, hermetically sealed, flip-top boxes found in non-backward armies. They are actually cans. Like giant soup cans, but without a pull-tab — not even a sardine-key. They come with a can opener. A huge one (but only one per crate, not one per can). You read that right, a can opener. You know, the lever-kind where you hook the grabby part onto the crimp at the top edge of the can and pull to lever the pointy part down until it makes a tiny puncture, then slide over a touch and repeat until you’ve prized and ripped a gash large enough to do your business. Let that sink in. We’re talking about an ammo can. Like with bullets that people need to do their job, hopefully sometime this year. But once you’re inside the fun just doesn’t stop — no way. The thousand or so rounds inside are in boxes of 5 or 6 or so. The can that you worked so hard to open isn’t full of pre-loaded belts. That would deprive someone of a government job somewhere and that’s just not Progressive. So inside there are dozens and dozens of tiny, crappy, flimsy little cardboard boxes, each containing a few rounds. And the rounds are individually wrapped in tissue paper.

You just can’t make this trash up. Its amazing. How on earth could such a horrible, stupid, backward constellation of designs emerge from one of the two nations to reach the Moon before the end of the 20th century?

A guy I worked with a few years ago called Mule had a theory that this was, in fact, an excellent design for a machine gun system in a Socialist military. Nobody can use it alone, so you can’t get a wild hair up your ass and get all revolutionary — you need to convince at least a platoon to get crazy with you. You employ a gazillion people not only in the loving production and hand gift-wrapping of each one of the billions of rounds of machine gun ammunition throughout the nation, you employ another gazillion or so to open and load the belts. Its the ultimate low employment figure fixer — at least until the state digests enough of itself that this becomes suddenly unsustainable, of course.

Mule’s theory was that this machine gun design — from the actual shittiness of the gun itself to the complete circus of activity which necessarily surrounds its production, maintenance and use — is a brilliant design from the perspective of the State, not the soldier, and that the aims of the two are at odds is simple the natural result of a socialist system. Mule was one of the most insightful people I’ve ever met (and I’m not being rhetorical — he really was a hidden genius).

Thinking about what he said has made me re-evaluate some of my assumptions of bad designs. Perhaps the designs are excellent — not for the end user, but for whoever is in charge of the end user. And that brings me back to thinking about just why the Java programming language is so bad, yet so prolific. Java is the PKM of the programming world. Its everywhere, it sucks, it is good for (some, Stalin-like) bosses, and the whole circus surrounding its existence just won’t ever go away. And sometimes those of us who know in painstaking detail why a 240 (or nearly anything else in common use) is better are still stuck using it to get real work done.

“Never Underestimate…” Revisited

One of my daughters just surprised me by showing up dressed for bed — underbits, bound hair, PJ bottoms and top buttoned up. It surprised me because I was headed in to dress her. At first I figured her mother must have dressed her for me. But nope, she had done it alone and wanted to show me.

If she was 17 the only odd part would be that I felt the need to dress her in the first place. But she’s 2. Two. And all her buttons? And her hair? Kids these days…

It reminds me not to underestimate what can be accomplished when motivation is intrinsic to the doer. The skill might be marksmanship, programming, aesthetic design, buttons and hair or whatever; the capacity for a person to demonstrate extraordinary ability in an area they can bring themselves to focus intently on should never be underestimated, regardless their assumed level of competence. Consider the proto-Israelis in 1947, Japanese chip makers in the 1970′s, me writing rainbow box emulators in 1989, Chinese component makers in the 2000′s, and my daughter in 2013. None of these things seem odd when referenced lightly, but all are quite extraordinary when remembered in the context of their time.

The number of daily, unheralded, extraordinary private achievements must be mind boggling.

Interview from Another Dimension

I was asked if I was interested in covering a temporary administration position a few days ago because finding bilingual Unix people is pretty hard here in Japan. It sounded marginally interesting and stood a chance of getting me in touch with the local Unix community, so I said sure, have the interviewer give me a call.

One day the positioning agency asked for a resume. I sent one in. The next day at 3pm I got a call saying that I would get a call an hour later to conduct a phone interview.

At 4pm I didn’t get a call.

At 5:30 I called their office back to say that I didn’t get a call. They called me back asking if I’m still available today — I tell them that if its OK that I’ll be playing with my kids then I’m game. They call back again telling me that the company is really going to call this time but from the office in Yokohama, not Okinawa — I’m fine with that. They also told me that the guy calling would “be a foreigner, like you” — I’m fine with that, too.

Not a minute later I did get a call but not from Yokohama, and from a foreigner but not “like me”. The call was from India over the world’s worst connection.

This amazed me. For one thing it was 2013. I expected bad connections when calling across multiple satellite hops from contested jungle territory in Southeast Asia in 2004. But this was a lot worse than that, and this guy was supposed to be calling from an office. And he supposedly works for a high-tech company looking to contract me. It bears mentioning that you could get crystal-clear cell connections from most of Afghanistan in 2010.

So that was the first weird smell. The second hint of rotten tuna was the voice. I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand most of what he was trying to say. I’ve never been one of those “You gotta speak ‘merican!” types (hard to justify it being an expatriot myself), but if you’re going to speak English it should be English and should be intelligible, if not at least generally correct. Otherwise speak Japanese, or German, or get an interpreter, or have someone else do the interview — I’m open to any of the above. If you do know English but have a heavy accent, just slow down. But such ideas are lost on some people.

His speech had a magical pattern to it. Merely missing syllables or mushing sounds together like most non-native speakers was beneath this guy. He set a new standard for unintelligible second-hand language by injecting new syllables and sounds into each word.

The deft ease and fleet pace at which he mangled the language makes me think in retrospect that he probably considered English to be his first language. Maybe it was just taught to him wrong as some sort of cosmic joke. It was what speech would sound like if you could somehow hear a hash salt being added to it. This blew Pig Latin out of the water.

An abridged transcript of the conversation follows:

indian_guy_voice

Him: “Dis is Gumbntator Hlalrishvkttsh koling flum Ueeplo en Eendeya an ayam surchelin Mestarh Kleg Ewurlet?”
I could sort of make out what he was trying to say.
Me: “This is he.”
Him: “Ah see. But dis is Governator Ralrishevdish koling flum Weepro en Indeya an ayam surchen Mestarh Kleeg Iwuuret?”
Perhaps he couldn’t make out what I was trying to say?
Me: “Yes, I am the person you are looking for.”
Him: “OK.”
Me: “…”
Him: “…”
Me: “You are calling about the interview?”
Him: “So ifna kolik abbaud arun foha.”
Me: “I’m sorry, the line is echoing very badly, can you please say that again?”
Him: “So if colling aboud arun four?”
So here I think he’s calling to schedule a call at four because they screwed up today’s schedule already.
Me: “Tomorrow? Yes, you can call me at four.”
Him: “OK. So hou abbaud you al habing eksperens an de Sulrais Ziss?”
Now I don’t know what he’s saying, but I know its not a scheduling question.
Me: “Can you please say that again? This connection must be very bad.”
Him: “You al hawing eksperens wit Lenaks an de Sularis swistems?”
Me: “Yes, I have experience on Linux and Solaris systems. Mostly Linux, though, because that is the platform I develop on.”
And here it began to dawn on me that this was the actual interview. In Indo-Pig Latin.
Him: “Okai. Bud wud abaudd yor kulanted lol on de dekuhnikal missm?”
Me: “I must be having a bad phone day. Please give me a moment to get to a quieter room so I can hear you.”
Him: “So komaing fru dat ayem ah phookink zandngar an…” [and so on...]
He kept babbling on and on about something that I couldn’t hear as I moved to an environment better suited to auditory-verbal cryptanalysis. Hope I didn’t miss anything paradigm shifting.
Him: “…[continued spacetalk]…”
Me: “What would you like to know about my experience?”
Him: “Inna suba sisesutm hau ew mak da pashink?”
Me: “The reception is poor again, can you please say that again?”
Him: “Inna subaa susutem hao eww poot a pach?”
Me: “Patching? Are you asking me how to patch a server? It depends on what you mean by ‘patching’. Are we patching sources to rebuild a program, or installing upgraded binaries through a package manager or performing an automated patch and rebuild the way ebuilds and ports work?”
Him: “Yesss. Inna sabaa, hou eww poot a pach?”
Me: “What system are we talking about?”
Him: “Inna sauce.”
Me: “Sauce? In source? Oh,  Solaris? If we are receiving updated binaries I would use the package manager. I haven’t seen people bypass IPS and use the patch manager directly for a while.”
Him: “Zo uatt ai am gunda be dou nuh is abbauda passhin inna sabaa. Hau yu du?”
Me: “I’m sorry, I think you are asking me how I would patch a Solaris server, and without knowing anything else about the question I think you mean we are receiving updates from a repository. My answer is that I would use the package manager, probably IPS, or if just patches then the old patch manager. But I don’t really understand your question. It is really broad.”
Him: “SO hao eww do?”
Me: “You mean the command sequence?”
Him: “Yeis.”
Me: “You want me to spell it out over the phone?”
Him: “Yeis.”
I couldn’t help but snicker a little… is this really the way system administration interviews go?
Me: “OK, which version of Solaris?”
Him: “Inna sabaa.”
Me: “I understand in a server, but that doesn’t really change the question much, unless I’m missing something. Which version of Solaris? We are talking about Solaris, right?”
Him: “Zo vot ah em denkning niss uii nut dokkin abbaud da deweropent zicheeshn. Dust a passh a sabaa.”
Me: “Right, not a development situation, just patching a server. But this is a difficult question to answer unless I know what system we are talking about. They don’t all work the same way.”
Him: “Du eww habba poosiija fou da makkink na fou da af emma lepozitorian?”
Me: “I’m sorry, the phone is being worse than usual again, can you please ask the question again?”
Him: “Enna proosiija fou passhing. Eww habba lepozitori an poosiija. Du garanti ob da safti?”
Me: “My procedure to guarantee the safety? You mean during patching? If I make a repository? Was that part of the question?”
Him: “Yeis.”
Me: “OK, yes, in a production environment I would expect that we have separate testing and production repositories at least. I would patch or update the test servers, run applicable tests for whatever application or server software we have installed, and then deploy the update to the production servers. But this is a really basic thing to say, and I can’t give you any details without knowing what system we are talking about. Is this even a Solaris question?”
Him: “So abbaudda Lennuks.”
Me: “Linux? The question is about Linux?”
Him: “Onna Lenuks hau eww makka lepozitori?”
Me: “Repositories on Linux? Which distro?”
Him: “Onna Lenuks.”
Me: “OK… What package manager are we talking about? RPM, yum, smitty, portage, aptitude, they all do things very differently. Even RPM is different on different distros that use it.”
Him: “Yeis. Onna Lenuks. Hau eww mak da lepozitori?”
Me: “Just assuming you mean Red Hat or CentOS or something else derived from Fedora, I would collect the RPMs we want to distribute, sign them, write a meta RPM for yum installation that has the public key and config file in it and build the repository metadata with createrepo. But if this is not a development environment we’re probably just mirroring an existing repository, so most of the time syncing with the master is sufficient. If not we could sync, re-sign, and recreate the repodata with createrepo.”
Him: “So hau eww mak da lepositori?”
Me: “I think I just told you. I have maintained several software repositories in the past and using createrepo is by far the easiest and most reliable way to do it, if we are talking about a yum repository full of RPMs for a distro like Red Hat Enterprise Linux.”
Him: “Yeis. So da Redhat.”
Me: “Maybe I don’t understand the question. You want me to tell you how to create a repository?”
Him: “Inna Lenuks hau eww mobbing fom weri zmar drraib enna rojikalworuum?”
Me: “Sorry, I can’t hear the question very well, the phone is full of echoes. You are asking me in Linux how to do something?”
Him: “Mobbing werri zmorr drraib anna rojikalworuum.”
Me: “Moving a small drive in Logical Volume Manager?”
Him: “Yeis.”
And here is where it dawned on me that I should have hung up at the first sign of weirdness. Instead I had hung on and now I was really along for the ride. Until the bittersweet end…
Me: “Do you mean changing a physical block device from one volume to another, or moving the volume itself?”
Him: “Retzsai eyabba  werri zmorr drraib anna wanna denk u poot enna rojikalworuum. Hau kann godu boot?”
Me: “You are asking me how to move a Linux installation from a small drive onto a logical volume, and then boot it later?”
Him: “Yeis.”
Me: “Assuming this is a simple case I would copy the filesystem to a new partition within the logical volume and add an entry to the bootloader so that we could boot it from the new location. But what bootloader we are using in this case? Grub or LILO or Grub2?”
Him: “Inna Lenuks.”
Me: “Right, in Linux, but which bootloader are we using?”
Him: “In da Lenuks.”
Me: “Right, but are we using Grub or LILO?”
Him: “LILO. Inna Lenuks.”
At this point I was relieved just to get something other than “Inna Lenuks” by itself out of him.
Me: “OK, assuming that the version of LILO we are using is logical volume aware, I would add the entry to the LILO configuration file that points to the location of the kernel on the relocated installation.”
Him: “Wat fail?”
Me: “What fail? You mean what file? The LILO configuration file.”
Him: “So wat fail?”
Me: “You mean where is it? Its usually in ‘slash E T C slash L I L O dot C O N F’.”
Him: “Inna Redhadd.”
Me: “In Red Hat? LILO isn’t a part of that distro any more. They use Grub2 now.”
Him: “Uadda za komunt fur addikt inna neu intree?”
Me: “The command for adding the new entry? There is not a command to add a new LILO entry, you have to edit the configuration file directly. Grub2 has some commands like grub-install and grub-update. But you still have to check the configuration file to make sure things are in the right place. Is that what you mean?”
Him: “Inna Lenuks?”
Crap! We’re back to this again. I really don’t know how to debug this guy. He’s worse than the Emacs Psychoanalyst.
Me: “Yes, in Linux. But this is not exactly a Linux question. The bootloader can load anything, so I don’t know what you mean.”
Him: “Adnanujinnadundaweenananndana…[A good five-minute bunch of spacetalk that I completely cannot understand. It was riveting, though. Like a symphony it had its own movements. Initially with the monotone of a public announcement, then to the lively staccato of a friend relating a happy story, capping with a crescendo of alternate gravelly and soft sounds unique to Indian speakers, and ending with a friendly chuckle -- as if he had enjoyed himself and was ready to say goodbye.]…”
Me: “OK, thank you for the call.”

I have no idea what most of that was about. I got the feeling he asked me some Solaris questions and some Linux questions and some general installation-wide question at the end that I never quite got a fix on. Actually, I never quite got a fix on anything at all, and I don’t think he did either.

This was the weirdest interview experience in my life. It is like a trick they would pull you at Robin Sage but this guy was for real; no OC is going to come evaluate me on how I did and counsel me how to better deal with the crazy and ambiguous.

Now for the scary part. This is the new face of IT outsourcing. Think long and hard whether you want to trust your data integrity and the construction of business systems you expect to get reliable answers out of to companies that have trouble communicating with their own (prospective, in this case) subcontractors and employees.

Since this is Japan, I wonder how on earth they manage to conduct interviews of Japanese people?

Am I alone here? Has anyone else ever experienced this sort of thing? (Other than when calling Dell or Microsoft tech support and being redirected to India, that is.)

Fedora: A Study in Featuritis

Its a creeping featurism! No, its a feeping creaturism! No, its an infestation of Feature Faeries! No, its Fedora!

I’ve been passively watching this thread (link to thread list) on the Fedora development list and I just can’t take anymore. I can’t bring myself to add to the symphony, either, because it won’t do any good — people with big money have already funded people with big egos to push forward with the castration of Fedora, come what may. So I’m writing a blog post way out here in the wilds of the unread part of the internet instead, mostly to satisfy my own urge to scream. Even if alone in the woods. Into a pillow. Inside a soundproof vault.

I already wrote an article about the current efforts to neuter Unix, so I won’t completely rehash all of that here. But its worth noting that the post about de-Nixing *nix generated a lot more support than hatred. When I write about political topics I usually get more hate mail than support, so this was unique. “But Unix isn’t politics” you might naively say — but let’s face it, the effort to completely re-shape Unix is nothing but politics; there is very little genuinely new or novel tech going on there (assloads of agitation, no change in temperature). In fact, that has ever been the Unix Paradox — that most major developments are political, not technical in nature.

As an example, in a response to the thread linked above, Konstantin Ryabitsev said:

So, in other words, all our existing log analysis tools have to be modified if they are to be of any use in Fedora 18?

In a word, yes. But what is really happening is that we will have to replace all existing *nix admins or at a minimum replace all of their training and habits. Most of the major movement within Fedora from about a year ago is an attempt to un-nix everything about Linux as we know it, and especially as we knew it as a descendant in the Unix tradition. If things keep going the way they are OS X might wind up being more “traditional” than Fedora in short order (never thought I’d write that sentence — so that’s why they say “never say ‘never’”).

Log files won’t even be really plain text anymore? And not “just” HTML, either, but almost definitely some new illegible form of XML by the time this is over — after all, the tendency toward laughably obfuscated XML is almost impossible to resist once angle brackets have made their way into any format for any reason. Apparently having log files sorted in Postgres wasn’t good enough.

How well will this sit with embedded systems, existing utilities, or better, embedded admins? It won’t, and they aren’t all going to get remade. Can you imagine hearing phrases like this and not being disgusted/amused/amazed: “Wait, let me fire up a browser to check what happened in the router board that only has a serial terminal connection can’t find its network devices”; or even better, “Let me fire up a browser to check what happened in this engine’s piston timing module”?

Unless Fedora derived systems completely take over all server and mobile spaces (and hence gain the “foist on the public by fiat” advantage Windows has enjoyed in spite of itself) this evolutionary branch is going to become marginalized and dumped by the community because the whole advantage of being a *nix admin was that you didn’t have to retrain everything every release like with Windows — now that’s out the window (oops, bad pun).

There was a time when you could pretty well know what knowledge was going to be eternal (and probably be universal across systems, or nearly so) and what knowledge was going to change a bit per release. That was always one of the biggest cultural differences between Unix and everything else. But those days are gone, at least within Fedoraland.

The original goals for systemd (at least the ones that allegedly sold FESCO on it) were to permit parallel service boot (biggest point of noise by the lead developer initially, with a special subset of this noise focused around the idea of Fedora “going mobile” (advanced sleep-states VS insta-boot, etc.)) and sane descendant process tracking (second most noise and a solid idea), with a little “easy to multi-seat” on the side to pacify everyone else (though I’ve seen about zero evidence of this actually getting anywhere yet). Now systemd goals and features have grown to cover everything to include logging. The response from the systemd team would likely be”but how can it not include logging?!?” Of course, that sort of reasoning is how you get monolithic chunk projects that spread like cancer. Its ironic to me that when systemd was introduced HAL was held up as such a perfect example of what not to do when writing a sub-system specifically because it became such an octopus — but at least HAL stayed within its govern-device-thingies bounds. I have no idea where the zone of responsibility for systemd starts and the kernel or userland begins anymore. That’s quite an achievement.

And there has been no end to resistance to systemd, and not just because of init script changeover and breakages. There have been endless disputes about the philosophy underlying its basic design. But don’t let that stop anybody and make them think. Not so dissimilar to the Gnome3/Unity flop.

I no longer see a future where this distro and its commercially important derivative is the juggernaut in Linux IT — particularly since it really won’t be Linux as we understand it, it will be some other operating system running atop the same kernel.

Come to think of it, changing the kernel would go over better than making all these service and subsystem changes — because administrators and users would at least still know what was going on for the most part and with a change in kernel the type of things that likely would be different (services) would be expected and even well-received if they represented clear improvements over whatever had preceded them.

Consider how similar administering Debian/Hurd is to administering Debian/Linux, or Arch/Hurd is to administering Arch/Linux. And how similar AIX and HP/UX are to administering, say, RHEL 6. We’re making such invasive changes through systemd that a change of kernel from a monolothic to a microkernel is actually more sensible — after all, most of the “wrangle services atop a kernel a new way” ideas are already managed a more robust way as part of the kernel design, not as an intermediate wonder-how-it’ll-work-this-week subsystem.

Maybe that is simpler. But it doesn’t matter, because this is about deliberately divisive techno politicking on one side (in the vain hope that “if our wacko system dominates the market, we’ll own the training market by default even if Scientific Linux and CentOS still dominate in raw numbers!”), and ego masturbation on the other (“I’ll be such a rebel if I shake up the Unix community by repeatedly deriding so-called ‘Unix traditions‘ as outdated superstitions and generally giving the Unix community the bird!”) on the other.

Here’s a guide to predicting the most likely outcomes:

  • To read the future history* of how these efforts work out as a business tactic, check the history of Unix from the mid-1980′s to early 2000′s and see how well “diversification” in the interest of carving out corporate empires works. I find it strikingly suitable that political abuse of language has found its way into this effort — conscious efforts at diversification (defined as branching away from every other existing system, even your own previous releases) is always performed under the label of “standardization” or “conformance to existing influences and trends”. Har har. Joke’s on you, though, Fedora. (*Yeah, its already written, so you can just read this one. Easy.)
  • To predict the future history of a snubbed Unix community, consider that the Unix community is so used to getting flipped the bird by commercial interests that lose their way that it banded together to write Linux and the entire GNU constellation from scratch. Consider also that the original UNIX was started by developers who were snubbed and felt ill at ease with another, related system whose principal flaw was (ironically) none other than the same featuritis the Linux community is now enduring.

I don’t see any future where Fedora succeeds in any of its logarithmically expanding goals as driven by Red Hat. And with that, I don’t see a bright future for Red Hat beyond v7 if they don’t get this and other priorities sorted**. As a developer who wishes for the love of everything holy that I could just focus on developing consumer business applications, I’m honestly sad to say that I’m having to look for a new “main platform” to develop for, because this goose looks about cooked.

** (sound still doesn’t work reliably — Ekiga is broken out of the box, Skype is owned by Microsoft now — Fedora/Red Hat don’t have a prayer at getting on mobile (miracles aside) — nobody is working on anything solid to stand a business on once the “cloud” dream bubble pops — virtualization is already way overinvested in and done better elsewhere already anyway — easy-to-fix media issues aren’t being looked at — a new init system makes everything above worse, not better, and is distracting and requires admins to completely retrain besides…)

Decisions: I’m supporting Ron Paul

tl:dr: I’m supporting Ron Paul. He actually knows enough to hold and argue positions, something sorely lacking from the political field.

I’ve been overwhelmingly busy with trying to start an open-source focused IT company with literally zero financing (yeah, “fat chance” right?) so haven’t had much time to pay to elections lately.

Anyone familiar with my thoughts on geopolitics, economics and political philosophy can probably guess that I perceive a significant separation between the way that establishment political parties portray themselves and the actual policies they adhere to, the way people think and the available menu of parties to choose from, and the way Americanism as a political philosophy is taught through history and the way the situation stands today.

For those who aren’t familiar with my thoughts, or aren’t able to infer just where I believe these political divides to be, you can simply read them directly. Two or three years ago I laid out how the American political landscape is removed from the current menu provided by establishment politics. The basic problem is one of uncomfortable couplings of incompatible principles.

These weird couplings lead to incoherent policies, inventive ways to sell such incompatibilities in elections and then even more inventive ways for supporters of this or that politician to justify just why they favor this or that candidate, having been robbed of any logical foundation for decision.

The mental and even emotional agility required to follow, say, Mitt Romney’s (just to pick someone who is current and known) statements on just about anything tire me, and I’ve got a company to try to establish. And I’m not even in the US right now (Japan, currently).

A close friend of mine from my Special Forces days (which I may be returning to soon in the event my company fails… wahahaha!) met with me the other day and asked me what I thought of Ron Paul. I hadn’t heard of him, so I did what everyone does and asked the internet about it.

It turns out that while the media consciously tries to avoid Ron Paul, he’s all over the internet. Actually, looking at poll numbers, it is amazing he doesn’t get more media time, until you consider what he talks about. (The link is fascinating if you consider that it has been subtitled in German, and contemplate the way a German may interpret this story.)

The man is too correct and too sincere. He is also far too consistent to even sound like a candidate. I found myself disagreeing with him on two areas, but not at all on principles. So implementation arguments I might have with the guy, but all the big stuff I believe him to be dead right about. So I’m endorsing him and I will vote for him if he winds up on the ballot.

Where do I disagree?

Hard VS Soft currency

I subscribe to soft currency Chicago/Friedmanist style economics, Ron Paul is an Austrianist who believes in removing the Federal Reserve completely and returning to the gold standard. I believe the gold standard to be literally impossible to properly implement across the board, and since gold is a major economic commodity today I don’t find it reasonable to base a currency on it. From a practical perspective I don’t see the sense in taking it out of the ground in California at incredible expense only to put it back in the ground in New York or Kentucky. Or London or Tokyo for that matter. People need to trade, so they will trade. A soft currency provides a vehicle through which a farmer can trade cows for soccerballs without having to chop the cow into tiny pieces to buy a single soccer ball. Its a representative wealth vehicle. But it can be mismanaged. Bad management of fiscal policy, whether soft or hard, or even improper regulation of a derivative or certificate market system, can accelerate a boom-bust cycle which I perceive as somewhat inevitable, but exacerbated by mismanagement of policy (and absolutely, unsurvivably catastrophic when linked by society-wide regulatory systems like socialism or fascism).

The problem I see is that hard currencies can be just as easily mismanaged by government as soft currencies, and there is simply no silver bullet (no pun intended) to that situation other than simply removing government from the economic equation as much as possible — and this is the lynchpin of both my ideas and Ron Paul’s. Hard currencies have been abused throughout the ages, and soft currencies have as well. So I see hard VS soft as an issue of practicality and nothing more. I can argue convincingly that abuse of the system — whatever system that is — by government interference is the core problem and that must be the focus even more than any focus on a specific method of wealth conveyance.

Isolationism VS Non-Interventionism

Ron Paul is not an isolationist. He says so himself and he clearly doesn’t believe in that by its purest definition. I don’t believe in isolationism, either. I do believe in a slightly higher level of intervention and martial preparation than he may, however. In particular, he hasn’t had a chance to fully explain his position on recalling all foreign military bases, or even whether that’s what he really means. I don’t think a 100% elemination of all US bases from overseas is wise, specifically with regard to maintaining a global naval capacity. Maintaining a truly open maritime trade environment is what I’m really concerned about, not whether or not we continue to keep forward deployed American armor units in Germany, Poland or Turkey. There are other ways to maintain forward readiness that are cheaper and perhaps more responsible than what we’re doing today, and from a strict security-only perspective a strong navy is the only really critical part of our strategic posture (and I’m an ex-Army Green Beret saying that, not an ex-Navy whatever). When we go beyond that we start getting into really fuzzy discussions (“Well, if this one base in Japan is too important to do away with, why aren’t bases X, Y, and Z in Korea, Germany and England?” &tc.).

Having spent a lot of time in Congress and having heard deep national strategy discussions from time to time, I suspect Dr. Paul probably thinks the same things I do about foreign policy and simply doesn’t have time to get into it during political debates in campaign season. The fact that he could argue reason based on a studied position on these issues, however, defines a significant separation between him and the rest of the politicians from all parties — and that is what scares me a bit.

And that brings me to why the media is shutting him out — including the people who should love this guy at first look: Fox News. The problem with Ron Paul is that he’s really frightening to the establishment. Any establishment. Once an establishment gets large enough it magically gets in bed with government in America, and that is more representative of the fact that we don’t quite really have capitalism in America; not nearly how it was intended to work anyway. The amount of money that is wrapped up in ties to government is only increasing, and that means that large establishments tend to be more reliant on government as time passes, which means that any and all large establishments, whether politically Right or Left (which I don’t believe to be accurate labels any longer) are threatened by ideas like Ron Paul’s. When you hear “the budget went up” it went somewhere, usually to contracted arrangements to federal employee budgets, most of which are not specifically authorized by the Constitution.

Dr. Paul is right about nearly everything I’ve heard him speak on, and the other candidates aren’t really saying much of anything. Its almost like George Friedman, Milton Friedman (no relation), and Ayn Rand got together to run for President — but its just one guy.

If you haven’t made the time to pay attention to the elections because they “just don’t matter” (which is the attitude I was taking until last week) please look Ron Paul up. Listen to some of the things he has to say and the things he has written over the last several decades in office. He knows what he’s talking about and hasn’t changed his story since he was initially elected 12 terms ago. That’s truly amazing in politics in any era.

If my friend happens to read this, I suppose he’ll know what I wound up thinking about Ron Paul.

Gradkell Systems: Not assholes afterall

I was contacted yesterday (or was it two days ago? I’ve since flown across the international date line, so I’m a bit confused on time at the moment) by the product manager for DBsign, the program that is used for user authentication and signatures on DTS (and other applications? unsure about this at the moment). He was concerned about two things: the inaccurate way in which I described the software and its uses, and the negative tone in which I wrote about his product. It was difficult to discern whether he was upset more about me making technically inaccurate statements or my use of the phrase “DBSign sucks”.

Most of the time when someone says something silly or out of turn on the intertubes it is done for teh lulz. Responding in anger is never a good move when that is the case (actually being angry about anything on the internet is usually a bad move, one which usually precipitates a series of bad judgement calls and massive drama). Mike Prevost, the DBsign Product Manager for Gradkell Systems, not only knows this well, he did something unusual and good: he explained his frustration with what I wrote in a reasonable way and then went through my article line-by-convoluted-line and offered explanations and corrections. He even went further than that and gave me, an obscure internet personality, his contact information so I can give him a call to clear up my misconceptions and offer recommendations. Wow.

That is the smartest thing I’ve seen a software manager do in response to negative internet publicity — and I have quite a history with negative internet publicity (but in other, admittedly less wholesome places than this). So now I feel compelled not only to offer a public apology for writing technically inaccurate comments, I am going to take Mr. Prevost’s offer, learn a bit more about DBsign (obviously nobody is more equipped to explain it to me than he is), and write about that as well.

The most interesting thing here is not the software, though — it is the wetware. I am thoroughly impressed by the way he’s handling something which obviously upsets him and want to ask him about what motivated his method of response. When I say “obviously upsets” I don’t mean that his email let on that he’s upset directly — he was quite professional throughout. Rather, I know how it feels to have been deeply involved in a knowledge-based product and have someone talk negatively about it out of turn (actually, it can frustrating to have someone speak positively out of turn in the same way). I’ve developed everything from intelligence operations plans to strategic analysis products to software myself and I know that one of the most important aspects of any knowledge worker’s world is his pride and personal involvement with his work. This is a very personal subject. Just look at the way flamewars get out of hand so fast on development mailinglists. I still have epic flamewar logs kept since the very early days of Linux kernel development, Postfix dev mayhem and even flamewars surrounding the Renegade BBS project. While the decision to use a comma (or a colon, or whatever) as a delimiter in an obscure configuration file may seem like a small point to an outsider, to the person who spent days ploughing over the pros and cons of such a decision or the people who will be enabled or constrained in future development efforts by such a decision it is very personal indeed.

Unfortunately this week has me travelling around the globe — twice. Because of that I just don’t have time to call Mr. Prevost up yet, or make major edits to anything I’ve got posted, but I’m going on record right now and saying three things:

  1. I should have personally checked what the DTMO help desk (clearly a dubious source of technical information) told me about how DBsign works and what the hangups in interoperation with current open source platforms are. I’m sorry about that and I likely cast DBsign in the wrong light because of this.
  2. Gradkell Systems are not a bunch of assholes — quite the opposite, it seems. Their openness is as appreciated as it is fascinating/encouraging.
  3. DBsign might not suck afterall. Hopefully I’ll learn things that will completely reverse my position on that — if not, Mr. Prevost seems open to recommendations.

I've been turned into a mudkip. Nice move.
So yes, I’ve been turned into a mudkip.

The part in point 3 above about Mr. Prevost being open to recommendations, when fully contemplated, means something special (and I’ve had a 16 hour flight and two days in airports to think about this): Great managers of shitty software projects will eventually be managers of great software projects; whether because they move on to other projects that are great, or because they take enough pride in their work to evolve a once bad project into a great one.

Sometimes stereotypes turn up in strange places

The other day an unusually perfect message title drifted through the “Fedora Women” mailing list. It was good enough that I felt compelled to screenshot it for posterity — and today I remembered to share it with the world:

womenapi.png

Whatever the odds of the elements of this subject line coming together to form that particular combination, it was sweet poetic justice. (I mean, we don’t have a “Fedora Men” mailing list… or maybe that is all the other ones? Sort of like not having a “white history month” in school.)

Libya: Now officially a political lollerthon

I’ve been watching Libya pretty closely, wondering when the world will get a clue and understand that the geopolitical play is actually still between America & Saudi VS Iran. The Libiya situation is awesome high drama for the world right now (despite being of little import) yet the interplay between a Persian rise across the Middle East and how the world recovers from the current economic slowdown in the face of a major emotional (and nothing more) crisis over energy (think long and hard about the implications of people being more scared of nuclear power than they were before the recent tsunami in Japan) is definitely more interesting and more important.

But modern man is far more concerned with inconsequential drama (e.g. “human rights” — a concept which serves socialists well until it comes time for them to violate the principle themselves — of course, only in the interest of the “greater good” you see) than the concrete resolution to very real problems which are difficult to deal with (and therefore emotionally easy to defer until later — a habit known to schoolchildren as “procrastination” and to politicians as “dynamic focus”).

Anyway, Ghaddafi has proven once again why he is the ruler of a difficult country called Libya and our senior Student Council President, Barak Obama, is not. Ghaddafi is in charge of a collection of cutthroat tribes who would (and do) sell out their own mothers to gain an upper hand, even at the expense of splitting their own country in half or subjecting their people to endless iterations of civil war. That is, in fact, what has happened in several cases recently. Libya is not so much a country as a collection of tribes who are constantly at odds. Humans are nothing more than mammals, and the faggotry that is the anti-religion movement supports me on that. On the other hand the same fags that hate the idea of religion (because God says “penor in male buttocks is bad” — yet oddly has very little to nothing to say about fish festivals — unfair, but whatev) also hate the idea of “human rights” abuse (the Christians are, oddly, usually OK with it, accepting the idea that life sucks and is unfair in most cases) and so don’t agree with Ghaddafi at all.

The problem here is that the basic assumption is that humans are generally good and peaceloving and very fair. That is simply not true. Humans are mammals and as such very aggressive, mean, selfish, cliquish and smart. All at once. What that means is that humans are the sort that not only would survive the extinction event that destroyed the dinosaurs, but also give rise to the next apex predator (specifically, me). You don’t get to the top by being nice (and I am certainly not, unless you are on my side).

Now consider a tribal society living very close to the survival line (as opposed to a lax society composed of newfags who are so far removed from the survival line that they think art is important “for art’s sake”, emotions matter at all, and that women are not somehow fundamentally more important for biological progression than men because they haven’t experienced a generation in which famine, disease or total war has limited the things one can do in a day or life in concrete and definitely “unfair” ways). In such a society only the alpha dog will rise to the top. Such an alpha will be considered a complete thug by outsiders who live in, say, France (or almost anywhere in Europe). That is normal. What is not normal, however, is that the Europeans should think they need to somehow regulate what another nation’s alpha thug is up to — aside from ensuring that he no longer sanctions the downing of civilian flights in Scotland.

The Europeans, Americans and Asians — everybody, in fact — recognize that it is in their best interest to just let Ghaddafi have Libya and resume the status quo as soon as possible. What they screwed up on was shifting their position when they got Egyptian public noise confused with actual power moves and further got Libyan tribal noise mixed up with Egyptian agitation. Libya is not Egypt, and there is nobody in Libya to control the tribes (who are in serious need of controlling) than Ghaddafi. Westerners should be careful about their calls for “democracy” because they might actually get what they are asking for. If, for example, a democracy were to be installed in Saudi Arabia the West would instantly see a huge surge of funding for anti-West Islamic jihadi groups from London to New York to Tokyo (funny thing about jihad is that Tokyo not being Christian doesn’t exonerate them from the Islamic mandate to be subjugated — a point worth remembering).

Who would that benefit? Nobody, that’s who. The Europeans would either continue to be fags and rot in their own American protected and subsidized socialist filth while America atrocitied the shit out of the entire Middle East in an attempt to protect the Europeans and their values of non-aggression (ah, the irony of that is so sweet — as would be the European outcry against “American barbarism”), or the European pendulum would finally swing the other way in typically radical fashion and the Europeans would again start building gas chambers to deal with the “brown people question”. Is this ridiculous? No. Not at all. It has happened before. Actually, it has happened several times, but nobody wants to talk about that and Europe in the same breath… because we all think the EU is going to change all that (and we are wrong).

So anyway, back to the focus of what I usually write blog articles about: what will happen next. Ghaddafi will win. Period. The Europeans will continue to have talks about having talks. They will talk a lot about imposing a “no-fly zone” when, in fact, flying isn’t in the least the issue at hand here. Ghaddafi will go ahead and try the folks for treason who actually committed such (as would happen in, say, France, the UK or the USA were someone to attempt to violently suceed or militarily assault the national capitol) and allow the other members of various tribes to come back into the fold (specifically, this means accepting pledges of fealty from tribal leaders who had previously announced a split with Ghaddafi or had been ambivalent in their stance during the uncertain periods of the last two weeks).

What is yet to be seen is whether Libya will resume energy ties to former partners. A lot of state owned energy companies stand to lose a lot in the ensuing mix. But whatev. The countries who decided to intervene in another country’s internal matters now have to face the consequences of having planted their flag on the losing side — as sometimes happens in geopolitics.

Everything Ghaddafi has done has demonstrated how savvy he is — and therefore deserving of his position at the head of the geographic and cultural disaster that is Libya. Everything the West has done “in response” has not only demonstrated how inept they are at identifying anchored points of real power (perhaps a failing of democracy where a leader is elected based on how good he is at running political campaigns, not actually wielding the resultant power), but also how little they respect the sovereignty of smaller nations (would Germany be seen as benevolent in its next invasion of France were the Southern French to once again revolt against Paris?).

Anyway, watching everyone backtrack from their strong statements is going to be pretty funny. We’ve seen Obama, running an administration which has increasingly demonstrated that it has not given a thought to developing a coherent foreign policy (which prevents one from making pre-emptive decisions and instead just reacting with everyone else, and hence developing a geopolitical Johnny-Come-Lately syndrome which is not at all unlike the same syndrome manifested in, say, the stock market where the last person to pick up the “last big thing” is the biggest loser) make gradually escalating statements against Ghaddafi when it should have been ramping its rhetoric down the more aparent it became that Ghaddafi never really lost control. We’ve seen the Europeans do the same thing. What this does domestically is push the leaders of such countries into a corner where they have to at least be seen as acting decisively about issues they have claimed are important to them (and their nations, though that is highly debatable).

Wee. Meaningless drama. All the while the fate of the Hormuz Strait is completely left unreported on — and therefore unconsidered by everyone driving a 2-ton vehicle 40+ miles to work everyday, all the while bitching about how the goddam price of gas keeps going up. Its OK. Its all the Japanese tsunami’s fault. And as we learned from Katrina, that is all George Bush’s fault somehow. Ignorance is bliss.

Immigration, Protectionism and Freedom

Note: The following is a response to a widely circulated email regarding American immigration policy, which is reproduced at the tail of this article.

It could be enlightening to consider that every country compared against the United States below sucks horribly.

Perhaps we are framing the immigration issue the wrong way. Surely you are not suggesting that we should emulate the policies of such garden spots as Saudi Arabia or North Korea?

Are we forgetting why the free market made us great and how immigration is a part of that equation? The more protectionist we get the further we remove ourselves from our roots — a past where Federal spending was less than 3% of GDP, a minimum wage was nonexistant and well understood to be a market inhibitor (and contributor to inflation), government programs for everything from industrial subsidy to public healthcare didn’t exist and were not expected, and a lack of regulation on immigration and industry promoted innovation and competition on a scale never before seen in human history (It is interesting to note that today compliance with regulation in industry acts chiefly to impose significant barriers to entry for newcomers who don’t have large initial capitalizations. This effectively protects entrenched businesses who usually had a part in lobbying for the regulations themselves once they became political inevitabilities, and in no way protect the little guy who wants to try his hand at business. Also note the consumer doesn’t enter into the equation at all.).

We are now enjoying the fruits advenures into true free market capitalism and universal immigration made not by us, but by previous generations. Now that we have arrived in the information age and are more comfortable than any society in history ever has been (a unique situation where we have produced conceptual oxymorons such as the poor fat person, or people who are too poor to do anything other than “sit on ass and play vidya gaems”) we are becoming protectionist and frightened of true competition. This is slowing our minds, numbing us to the exhilerations of risk and diminishing our rewards. Our country is so overwhelmingly powerful that we have nothing to fear from open competition in every field from technical achievement to military contest.

If this were a trivial issue it would be comical that the center-right in America is the faction that has chosen immigration to be the politically acceptable way to manifest protectionist rhetoric in government (which leads to barriers to market entry by restricting the domestic labor pool) and the left has chosen international trade tarriffs and industry subsidy as their opposing politically acceptable form of protectionism (which leads to barriers to market entry in the form of regulatory compliance and a form of corporate welfare for noncompetitive pre-existing companies). They are both different shades of the same thing, but it is highly impolitic to say so to a member of either school of thought, mostly for emotional reasons.

If a Mexican wants to come to Texas to cut my grass for less than minimum wage, why should I be prevented from hiring him? If he is not merely making my property look nice, but is helping my business grow at a reduced cost by making products for me below the cost of other available labor, my company is now gaining in competitive advantage — critically, my company is not just gaining in competitive advantage against other US companies, but regaining some of the advantage lost to Malaysian and Chinese factories (which is, ironically, the origin of the protectionist argument to begin with). My state loses no tax revenue because the Mexican pays taxes every time he conducts a market transaction anyway. In a non-socialized state such as Texas or Florida this works well (contrasted with, say, California where a worker not paying income taxes dodges a large portion of his burden but can still reap state subsidized benefits).

Flipping to the other side, the left’s idea is generally to have the government make market decisions for us, the difficulty being that once the government enters the market place it is impossible to decide what market decisions it should and should not make — so eventually (and history is a good guide here) socialized governments tend to make all the market decisions, and badly. Identifying the scope of responsibility for a government in the market is so gray that it is impractical. The left will say they support the union and the average worker but in actuality their policies end up protecting entrenched corporate interest more than anything else by preventing newcomers from pushing into the market and insulating established large businesses from the consequences of bad decisions. They say that “unfair” competition from overseas is stealing American jobs and that we have to erect trade barriers and impose regulations on industry to keep the vile boom and bust of rampant competition down to a  “manageable” level (without quantifying what any of that means). Unfortnately this just means that instead of individual businesses experiencing boom and but cycles, entire nations boom and bust together (which is the cancer that is killing Europe right now, and the chief danger facing China today as well).

From my point of view, if the consumer decides that all the Chinese crap at Walmart is good enough at the price it is sold to continue buying it, who am I to stop him? (And the responsibility rests with me and you, as we vote for the micreants in office to get them there, after all. Not voting is also a deliberate choice, so no way out there.) After all, I don’t really want Americans doing monotonous plastic injection molding jobs and I don’t want the chemical leftovers in our country either.

If the Chinese government is willing to use its own people’s tax money to subsidize fundamentally flawed businesses that would fail without intervention only to create cheap goods that they then sell at a loss to me in the US, why stop them? Let the Chinese government absorb the cost of your cheap products for you. Subsidized Chinese goods shouldn’t say “Made in China” on them, but rather “Compliments of China”. If left alone, the situation would eventually balance out and the Chinese will either be forced to start charging more (making our superior products more competitive) or collapse (removing the challenge completely). I can guarantee that if a sudden lack of shitty plastic toys suddenly grips the market an alternative will emerge to replace them — either an American will stand up a shitty toy factory overnight, or more likely, an American will build a factory in Mexico to make the same (or better) stuff. Either way, we win and anyone else loses, because we were the ones who didn’t engage in self-destructive economic practices.

If the French government wants to lose boatloads of money subsidizing Airbus, why stop them? Boeing is only getting smarter against the competition and is still doing well in any case. I don’t see how having roughly 30% of each A300 sold below cost to an American corporation be provided for free by the French government is hurting us — if anything it is certainly hurting France, so this is not something I desire to stop because it means we are winning.

There is entirely too much emotion tied up in the debates of today, and our public dialogue has lost its logical foundation. The political rhetoric of fear of American decline has really gripped the country, and I can’t see why. I have been everywhere there is to go in the last decade. I’ve seen just about all of the globe in a working, not tourist, capacity — and almost everyplace sucks but the US and a very short list of its close friends. Pipe dreams of power abound around the world, but the next time someone starts talking about how America is failing and going to hell in a handbasket, or how we will soon be in the “post-American era” just ask yourself what alternatives are there to American power? Really how weak is the only nation that has absolute undisputed control of the all the oceans, absolute dominance of space and global air supremacy at will? Really how weak is the nation that everyone still craves to enter and build a life for themselves in? Really how weak is the nation that gave the information age its beginnings, from the lightbulb to the telegraph to harnessing nuclear technology to the programmable computer to the space shuttle to the open market and so on… ?

My point being, America has nothing to fear from competition and everything to gain. Every time America steps out into danger it gets busy doing things right, not because “it” does anything, but because the individual genius of its mish-mashed citizens is unleashed. Dramatic examples such as how Americans (as distinct from America, though that is also an interesting story) reacted to 9/11 or the entire history of American involvement in existinal struggles such as WWII get a lot of play, but less dramatic examples are just as important such as the universality of American businesses in the technical sphere, our unbroken naval supremacy and our enormous lead in space and information technologies.

Other governments seek to control the creative, economic, aggressive, randomly boiling potential of their people. The US government has from its beginning sought to deliberately unbridle and unleash the creativity, economic activity and aggression of its people. The worst decision we could make now is to send signals to our government that we want to be more heavily regulated and controlled. That sort of request for subjugation can begin with immigration policy or with trade protectionism — both are equally bad because they are essentially borne of the dynamics of the fear of failure. Populist traps are bad for America, regardless which way they are spun. Our personal freedoms are intimately tied to our economic freedoms in America in deeper ways than are immediately obvious when catching the headlines.

I strongly advise anyone who is at least curious about the arguments above to either study up on the history of these arguments or (more likely) catch the short version by watching Milton Friedman’s now forgotten video series Free to Choose.

Now take a look at the list below again and ask yourself if you would rather make America more like any in the list or less.

Cross the North Korean border illegally you get 12 years hard labor.

If you cross the Iranian border illegally you are detained indefinitely.

If you cross the Afghan border illegally, you get shot.

If you cross the Saudi Arabian border illegally you will be jailed.

If you cross the Chinese border illegally you may never be heard from again.

If you cross the Venezuelan border illegally you will be branded a spy and your fate will be sealed.

If you cross the Mexican border illegally you will be jailed for two years.

If you cross the Cuban border illegally you will be thrown into political prison to rot.

If you cross the United States border illegally you get:

1 – A job

2 – A driver’s license

3 – A Social Security card

4 – Welfare

5 – Food stamps

6 – Credit cards

7 – Subsidized rent or a loan to buy a house

8 – Free education

9 – Free health care

10 – A lobbyist in Washington

11 – Billions of dollars in public documents printed in your language

12 – Millions of servicemen and women who are willing to – and do – die for your right to the ways and means of our constitution

13 – And the right to carry the flag of your country – the one you walked out on – while you call America racist and protest that you don’t get enough respect.

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America: Changes in the Political Landscape

America is changing, but then again, America is always changing. Two major factors historically guide American political changes: generation gaps in personal and societal expectations, and the occurrence of significant events which impact the minds of the majority of Americans. Both of these factors are operating now.

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Societal views change over time. That is why we are no longer burning witches in Salem or running slave auctions in Mobile. The cultural norms of American society bring concrete political changes with them in a delayed fashion. Therefore the shifts in societal norms are a leading indicator of shifts in political alignments to come. The corollary to this is that legal and political changes are trailing indicators of culutral shifts which have already occured.

The generational changes taking place now have to do with the base definitions of social acceptance, self identification, lifestyle choice, and the political association of terms such as “liberal,” and “conservative.” In my parents’ generation the anti-war movement was tied very closely to other, almost exclusively liberal, social movements. While you didn’t have to be a free-lover or a pot head to be against the war, you couldn’t show up at an anti-war rally and start talking trash about animal rights activists.

By the late 80′s a whole new generation who never experienced the Vietnam war directly but was interested in civil disobedience and protesting had latched on to new issues but largely continued to retain the same social cues and emulate the war protesters of two decades before. This sort of protest culture came to be identified with student movements, the open-pot 4:20 culture, a desire for government assistance for the disadvantaged, etc. In short, liberal populism was the realm of the pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-legalization, pro-social services, anti-religion (often this really means simply “anti-Christian”), anti-gun, and sometimes pro-socialist camp and that camp is what the Democratic Party decided to latch on to as a support group.

Standing against that was the other half of the country. They tended to be a collection of people whose agreements began with a universally anti-populist view and who stood for limiting government in all areas possible, including borderline support for economic anarchist efforts. Their agreements ended when it came to issues such as abortion, religion in government (again, generally Christian), gay rights and related social issues. The resolution to conflict on social issues was to focus less and less on social issues and more on concrete issues that affect business, law, and civil governance — specifically adopting a political policy which denies the government involvement in as many areas of civil life as possible. The pro-Christian camp was all about limited government involvement with social issues, as the current legal structure tended to be in agreement with heterosexual Christian life choices and therefore no significant disagreement was to be found between the Christian Right and the Republican Party.

These definitions made relative sense throughout the 80′s, 90′s but started becoming a little shakier as the 2000′s came on. Folks born in the late 1970′s and 80′s were often a lot less enamored with religion, had different views on the role of government in private life and also had different expectations about how their lives would turn out that their parents had. It was no longer necessary to identify Christianity with support for gun rights or tie support for gay rights to a desire to inflate government provision for social services. In fact, in the modern day we see a large shift and a huge number of confused voters whose social agenda is very different from their economic and policy agenda. Christian Right voters who would like to see a constitutional prohibition against gay marriage are running into foundational Republican arguments against government involvement in social and religious issues. Gay rights advocates are running into trouble rectifying their desire to be left alone by the government with the long-standing Democratic arguments for populist support efforts which place the government in the middle of family affairs.

For this reason we are seeing now a broad shift in political leanings and the way those leanings are expressed. We have Libertarian and Anarchist movements detaching from the Democratic base and agitating on their own because they do not agree with the Obama administration’s handling of a broad swath of foreign policy and business issues. On the other hand we have the Tea Party movement swelling its ranks and pulling away from the standard Republican base. Because we have a largely binary political system in the US it is still expected that the Tea Party will vote Republican (despite the misgivings of the Christian Right which forms the significant majority of the Tea Party base*) and that Libertarians and Anarchists will vote more or less in line with the Democratic Party for lack of a better fit that will actually have an impact (they will feel they are splitting the liberal voting base by voting on an independent or off-brand party — and they are right).

* To understand just how mixed up the current political climate is one should be aware that the original Tea Party, call it v1.0, was originally founded on the Federalist, almost libertarian, impulses to be found in old-corps Republicanism, which differs significantly from the way the Tea Party plays things today. Tea Party 2.0 has increasingly identified with social (usually Christian) conservatism which stands in strict contrast to the libertarian-style policies actually mandated by small government Federalism.

Both movements, however, are not insignificant. If anything the existence of the Tea Party is far more distinguishable than the existence of the Democratic dissident columns, but that is merely a reflection of how disorganized the Democratic Party in general is at the moment, contrasted by how relatively intact the Republican Party is. The fact that a new generation with new social definitions is stepping into the shoes of political franchise and exerting their influence is clear.

So what will happen?

I expect the Tea Party to continue to grow in strength, but take on an even more Christian Right feel to it. This will be the quickest way for the Christian Right to find a group it can dominate and will also be the fastest way for the Tea Party to swell its ranks and remain politically significant during elections. The Tea Party, being more based on religion than business, will accordingly begin to focus on socially divisive issues more than concrete policy and present a front that is more or less focused on being anti-abortion, anti-gay, etc. The old Republican tenents of gun ownership and limited governance will continue, but there will come a point when a desire to have the government directly prohibit certain aspects of civil life (such as the choice to marry gay) will overrule the desire to have government remain small. That will be a turning point and signify a split with the Republican base.

On the flip side of the aisle the gay rights, liberterians, economic anarchists, etc. will continue to be increasingly disenchanted by what they perceive to be “all talk, no action” on the part of the Democratic Party on foreign policy issues. They will also increasingly take issue with the broad attempts of the Democrats to regulate industries that affect techhies — which a huge number of this group are. Specific issues such as digital rights management, limits on information privacy and personal encryption (which amounts also to prohibition on personal mathematical exploration) which are being argued in Congress and negotiated at the Executive level internationally will scare the bejeesus out of the personal-rights camp. The most natural fit for them politically would be to eventually split and move to the Republican base once it is generally free of the Christian Right (which, to this point, has been the key article of distaste for the personal-rights advocates).

The changes in how the generation that is coming to power now perceives itself and perceives society will have a delayed impact on how the government functions and who get installed in power there. I would not be at all surprised if in the future we have a shift in social rulings that lower the age of consent, legalize certain recreational drugs, loosen the government’s stance on digital rights management (specifically repeal the DMCA), legalize gay marriage and polyamory, and otherwise move to a more socially hands-off policy on society and individual lifestyle. I would also not be surprised if some sort of semi-federalized healthcare option were eventually put in place, though to conform with the Constitution it will have to be seriously limited in scope as compared to the impractical pile the Obama administration was able to sign in to law recently (which can never be practically implimented anyway).

The shifts I detailed above will eventually become geopolitically significant in ways that we can’t foresee just yet, but not because they are happening inside the United States. The same generational shifts which give rise to these complex dynamics of change are occurring everywhere that matters: Europe, China, Japan, SE Asia, even in the Middle East. While the American policy game will likely not change (America is already largely adjusted to its international role, the discussion above just details an internal national monologue), Europe may well become far more conservative and even hawkish over the next decade, China will likely experience a political and economic collapse (with an attending revolution), Japan will find a new tack on quite a few things, and SE Asia might see a few of its risers actually getting with it enough to project power (specifically Thailand and Malaysia).

And an aside on how I first noticed this:

Changes are on the way. For older voters who do not choose to recognize this, just consider that my generation grew up in an *igger society. That’s totally different than a nigger society — its missing a whole “n.” Being a nigger doesn’t have anything (or at least very little) to do with color these days. We now have wiggers, spigger, chiggers, miggers and niggers. While older, out of touch black leaders still like to hear themselves talk in “black studies” courses at pro-Panther universities which offer such things, all the progressive black folks my age were in different schools or in the Army studying up on real subjects that matter, like mathematics, computer science, music theory, etc. Learning new skills instead of just learning how to be properly blacker. On the flip side of that we’ve had white, brown and yellow kids (not to mention the legion of mixed kids) who grow up enamored with black gang culture and rap turn the whole culture upside down. All that is a reality. And its not really bad or good, it just is. When my Dad was a kid Asians were study and work machines — nothing else. In my generation they have these amazing things called personalities and first names. Whoa! Huge change there. Even in the Army nobody tends to notice race, they notice which group a person self-elects to identify with. The same goes for the fags. Being a fag has nothing to do with actually liking the cock anymore, and nobody really cares what you do with whatever part of you and your lifepartner in another house. A transgender person (i.e. a dickgirl or “transitioned” woman) who doesn’t have a complex about themselves isn’t going to be discriminated against in a job interview — but the lack of a complex is still critical here — turns out a lot of them take themselves far more seriously than your average difficult-to-manage asperger. The examples in this last bit are meant to be whimsical. If you found them offensive then you’ve probably not absorbed enough modern Americana and can go fuck off — and I mean that in the nicest way.