24 January 2016


So it was just pointed out to me that Canada makes an effort to honor treaties made with Indians through annuity payments. Isn't that interesting?

22 December 2015

Manhattan-ish projects

So today I saw yet another of these stories where “Politician X calls for a new Manhattan Project to Do Some Impossible Thing”.

I don't want to pick on this particular politician right now (though I am mightily disappointed), I want to talk about learning the wrong lesson from the Manhattan Project.

Many people seem to think that the Manhattan Project shows that you can just order up any breakthrough you want and if you give enough scientists enough money, they will just cook it up for us. “Here's a trillion dollars, go invent an antigravity machine.”

That's not how it works.

FDR did not wake up one morning and say, “Hey, wouldn't it be great if we had a bomb that could blow up a whole city? Let's get our scientists working on that.”

No, it was a thing physicists thought of, not politicians or generals. Grad students had been standing at chalkboards through the late 1930s working out the cross-sections of uranium nuclei, and the difference in mass between uranium nuclei and their fission products, and saying, “Huh, it ought to be possible to make a mind-bogglingly powerful bomb”, half-joking and half-horrified. “Boy, it's a good thing that to really build something like that you'd have to deal with a bunch of weird engineering problems that would be hugely expensive to solve,” they would say, nervously.

Then after a few years of that the US was at war with Nazi Germany. American universities, as a result, were hosting an awful lot of German Jewish physicists who had emigrated because they saw the writing on the wall. Physicists got to talking. Who was the one person in the world who was best-qualified to crack the problem of making a fission bomb not at a blackboard bull session but in real life? Werner Heisenberg, obviously. And where was he? Still in Germany. What was he working on these days? Nobody knew for sure.

Other pieces were falling into place, too. Better and better understanding of chain reactions. Better and better techniques for handling uranium.


So some physicists got together and wrote a letter to the President of the United States explaining the potential for fission bombs. They got the most famous and respected scientist in the world, a German Jew named Albert Einstein, to sign it. And that led, ultimately, to the Manhattan Project and the Bomb.

The Bomb is so stunning and counterintuitive and such a dramatic demonstration of the power of technology to bend the Cosmos to our will — and the Manhattan Project such a dramatic example of a big, expensive, resource-intensive project bearing fruit that changes the world — that it creates the impression that anything is possible. But that is the wrong lesson.

Remember: the scientists came to the politicians with the proposal. Not the other way around. Because the Cosmos does not coöperate with what we want, and scientists are not short-order cooks.

11 November 2015

Western civilization

Neal Stephenson, in his epic article on computers in China for Wired magazine (back when it was still cool), In the Kingdom of Mao Bell, makes a comment on Western culture that has stuck with me.

Our concept of cyberspace, cyber-culture, and cyber-everything is, more than we care to realize, a European idea, rooted in Deuteronomy, Socrates, Galileo, Jefferson, Edison, Jobs, Wozniak, glasnost, perestroika, and the United Federation of Planets. This statement may be read as criticism by people who like to trash Western culture, but I'm not one of those. For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter's is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you're trying to breathe liquid methane.

13 October 2015


I gotta assemble an index of David Brooks takedowns. I've blogged a bunch of them, but it's handier to have them together like I did with Thomas Friedman.

For when that day comes, I have a killer from Corey Robin, who knows more about conservatism than Brooks (or almost anyone else): You've Changed, You're Not The Angel I Once Knew.

08 September 2015

Apple Watch

I waited a couple of years to pick up the iPhone and, as an interaction designer, I regretted my hesitation. I had been an early adopter on smart phones — I even bought that Handspring phone attachment for a Palm PDA — and so had wanted to wait because I saw that the iPhone was still a little undercooked when it was first released. But I missed getting a head start on absorbing the feel of the interface-level behaviors.

So when the iPad was released, I pre-ordered it the day it was announced.

With the Apple Watch, I waited until I could see it in the flesh. But I made an Apple store appointment to do that the first day it was available, and so now I've been wearing one for months.

I have been an enthusiast for the idea at least, as I have been thinking about smart watches for a long time. I have sprung for a few that wound up in a drawer. In a post anticipating the iPad, I said ...

I have said for many years that there are only five fundamental form factors for personal computing, yet we have only colonized three of them, and one of them only recently: the Desk, the Clamshell, the Tablet, the Pocket Thing, and the Wrist Thing.

... and in recent years had come to think of the smart watch as a solution to some of the awkward behaviors of the smart phone. (Chiefly that it does this barbaric 19th Century behavior of making noise to get my attention.)

Having spent several months with it, I will grant that the Apple Watch has its charms. Having a watch face which shows me my next calendar event keeps it on my wrist, and I find that I use timers and alarms more often now that I have the watch to make them convenient. The software isn't quite compelling enough that it is entirely worth what I paid for it, though I expect that to improve over time.

But I grow more and more surprised at what I think is a fundamental wrong turn in the way that it is conceived. The Apple Watch has “watch apps” independent of my iPhone's apps, but I think it would be better if it were conceived entirely as a peripheral to the iPhone rather than as any kind of separate entity.

Consider these ingredients:

  • The Watch has sensors that tell it when it is on my wrist
  • The iPhone has sensors that tell it when it is in my bag or pocket (between the cameras and the proximity sensor)
  • Apple has devoted great effort in recent years to creating a unified notification system

This should add up to the iPhone being smart about how it notifies me of things, just Doing The Right Thing in each among several possible conditions:

  1. iPhone off, Watch on
    I have indicated that I want to be notified through my Watch by putting it on, so in this condition my iPhone never makes a sound. Anything that has an interrupt notification — a banner or an alert — on my iPhone will give me a tap and an onscreen indication on the Watch. I don't need to separately configure my notifications for the Watch, and iPhone app makers don't need to build a separate Watch apps: the Notifications settings on the iPhone tell iOS to do the right thing.
  2. iPhone off, Watch off
    In this condition, I may need audio alerts from my iPhone, since I'm not paying attention to it and the Watch cannot do the job with a tap. Depending on my setting for the hard switch on the phone and the Do Not Disturb moon, the iPhone delivers audio and vibration alerts for notifications. To make sure I don't miss the alert, the Watch matches the iPhone's audio alert behaviors, in case it is closer at hand than the iPhone.
  3. iPhone on, not in an audio or video app
    If the iPhone is on and not running an audio or video app, it's safe to assume that I'm looking at it. So interrupt notifications will tell me what I need to know without requiring the intervention of the Watch ... though if I'm wearing the Watch, as a grace note it gives me a small tap to coïncide with the visible notification.
  4. iPhone on, in an audio or video app, Watch on
    I don't want an annoying interruption in my audio or video, so Notifications manifest only on my Watch, as if the iPhone were off.
  5. iPhone on, in an audio or video app, Watch off
    In this condition, the iPhone obeys the hard switch and the Do Not Disturb moon, which indicate my intent about whether I want interruptions.

Thus the Watch configurator app on the iPhone does not need its own section for Notifications; this unified system inherits everything it needs from the iPhone's Notifications behavior.

By this same logic, the Watch should be smart about what iPhone app I last looked at. Whether the iPhone is on or off, if I was in an iPhone app that has a Watch interface built for it, then crown-clicking on the Watch should take me not to the Watch apps Home screen first but to the corresponding Watch interface. So if I had been looking at Maps, I get access to a Maps interface on the Watch, since that's my last registered intent.

The word on the street is that Apple will be announcing a major Watch software update tomorrow; I'm hoping it looks something like this.

30 August 2015

Committed people and Korman's Third Law

So there's a little aphorism I hate, attributed to Margaret Mead.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

On the face of it, it's a stirring message of hope. If you're like me, you picture Martin Luther King sitting around a kitchen table with Bayard Rustin and Ralph Abernathy and James Orange and Frederick Douglas Reese.

But looking at it closely, the aphorism rankles. It's vanguardist, almost anti-democratic: never mind most people and mass movements, it's the committed few who matter. It's Green Lanternism: will matters above all. And the romanticization of “changing the world”, which one sees a lot of in the tech industry, is not entirely wholesome. Change is inevitable and not all changes are good; I want to look to what will make a better world.

Plus, there's no evidence that Mead ever said it.

Plus — and this to my mind is most damning — thinking about who might draw inspiration from the thought of a small vanguard changing the world through he force of their will, and remembering Rhett's Law, I feel moved to offer Korman's Third Law:

If it makes a funny “Nazi-spiration” meme image, it's questionable motivational advice.

24 August 2015


A while ago I was charmed by the underlit skirt project of maker SexyCyborg that made the rounds thanks to a blurb on bOING bOING.

One of my favorite wearables is the Hikaru Skirt: http://hikaruskirt.tumblr.com

My problem with the existing design is— Limited external control (just responds to movement) and the ugly frilly skirt/tutu style is not suitable for anyone over 8 years old (or at least not Japanese).

Solution: Denim mini/micro skirt with control pack hidden in belt buckle. Skirt length is a matter of personal taste but with the LEDs off it passed for normal.

The project came to my attention because of a flurry of feminist internet commentators noting the predictable sexist dismissal of her as a maker because her outfit was revealing and her figure is so striking.

Having more recently gotten interested in infosec, she built herself some James Bondian shoes with hidden chambers in the high wedge heels.

A handbag would be suspicious and leaving cell phones at the gate would be standard practice in any reasonably secure facility. My typical clothing does not leave room to hide anything- but that’s all the more reason they would not be suspicious of me ....

So. She's doing clever projects, and she has a sense of wit about her Sexy Lady style:

Any women with questions about teaching themselves online should feel free to contact me on Reddit and I’d be delighted to offer any help I can. Remember ladies— if you are thinking about becoming a Maker, learning to code or doing hardware; if a girl who looks like me can do it, how hard can it really be?


Normally I have to sort though about 50% identical replies to my posts on Reddit. For those flexing their fingers and getting ready to give me a hard time:

  • Yes, they are fake.
  • Yes, I feature them prominently and deliberately in everything I do.
  • No, most of my projects do not have all that much technical merit- they are 90% silicone and 10% silicon ;-)
  • No, if you point out the absolutely obvious no one will think you are insightful, edgy or cool. They will think you are 12.

It seems like it might be worth keeping track of her to see what other projects she gets up to, so to have them handy, links to her on Reddit and Imgur.

22 August 2015

The new Apple file system

A friend was just complaining about the elimination of Save As from Apple's OS X.

In partial defense of Apple, this is a tragically half-baked execution of a good idea.

Save-as with prompt-before-overwrite are the two primitives necessary to allow users to roll their own system for doing organization and version management of their files. But frankly most people are not sophisticated about how they do that.

What you should have is a system of automatic saving, versioning, milestoning, organizing, searching, and mirroring to backup.

OS X is obviously working toward this, but the current state of things is an annoying mixed bag of levels of maturity. The incompleteness and incoherence make it a less satisfactory answer than the old Directories-And-Save-As regime ... if you understood how to use the old regime well.

  • Automatic saving: OS X just does this, now. Which is good on the merits, but spooky if you have developed habits around saving explicitly. And since some applications have not yet integrated automatic saving in the new system, you cannot yet abandon those habits.
  • Versioning: Uh, there's time-based automatic versioning in Time Machine. If you use that. Which of course you don't, for a host of reasons, not least because the versions it creates are not made available in the context of your authoring applications. To get at past versions of a file, you have to leap out of your working context and into hyperspace, which is reïnforced by Time Machine actually looking like hyperspace.
  • Milestoning: There's no structural support for this. Except for the clumsy Duplicate function, which isn't smart enough to identify for you which is the copy you left alone and which you started modifying ....
  • Organizing: Someone at Apple knows that nonexclusive labels are a better solution for organizing large collections than the hierarchical directory tree ... but OS X assumes you only need half a dozen labels, and provides weak support for using them, which makes them no replacement for the tree in the Finder at all.
  • Searching: Text content search in OS X is astonishingly fast and complete in Spotlight in OS X, but it doesn't provide any structure, it just recognizes everything with the search string in it. There's no wisdom about metadata in the search at all.
  • Mirror to backup: iCloud supposedly does this. But the process is Not Very Transparent, and iCloud has other weirdnesses, so it's impossible to fully trust it.

If anything, this current state of things makes managing files even more dependent upon getting clever with your file naming conventions.

13 August 2015

Christian Reconstructionism

A really good interview with Julie Ingersoll, who has written a book on Christian Reconstructionism, an influential religious and cultural movement which has a complex relationship with the Christian right.

Reconstructionists do engage in explicitly political work but they claim that what they see as the religious right’s over-emphasis on the role of civil government is itself humanistic and therefore doomed to fail.

What Reconstructionists envision is a multi-generational transformation that starts in families: families need to be reconstructed in terms of biblical patriarchy. Women need to be in submission to men; children need to be educated in the home to fulfil their specific roles in terms of the exercise of dominion. Churches should be comprised of godly patriarchal families in submission to church authority.

I spent a lot of time thinking through how it is that Reconstructionists claim the religious right has failed while I maintain that the Reconstructionists have had more influence than has been recognized. It seems to me that our standards vary. Reconstructionists are looking for thoroughgoing consistent application of biblical law to Christian life and they do not see that happening.

There's also an interview on Salon:

One thing that emerges in your book is how different their concept of freedom is from what’s commonly assumed in America today, and how the opposite of freedom is defined so differently as well — majority rule, and democracy as tyranny. This has emerged particularly in the rhetoric of “religious freedom” against gay marriage. So where does this concept of freedom come from and? And what does it entail?

That’s a good one. Some of it, at least philosophically or theologically, goes right back to that division between submission to the authority of God — and claiming authority for our own rationality. It goes right back there. So, for these Christians, the way they understand it, the only true freedom is freedom in submission to God. The thing that we might think of as freedom is actually conceived of as bondage to sin. And in some ways, if you say “Where does that come from,” it says that in the New Testament, right? That’s what Paul says. Paul is working with all of those inversions: to live is to suffer, and to die is gain. And the leaders are the servants. He inverts all kinds of categories in that way.

You also see some of this in the discussions about slavery. And there’s a good bit about that in the book. To me, this is one of the more interesting developments over the last decade. Because, on the one hand, you do have this real minimization of the horrors of slavery, and the wrongness of slavery. You have people talking about, “It wasn’t so bad,” and “These are actually Christian families” and “People were well treated,” and “They were better treated than they were in Africa,” you get all that kind of stuff. So actual, literal slavery gets a little whitewashed, if you pardon the word, while being required by the federal government to fill out a tax form is considered involuntary servitude and slavery, and that’s appalling! I don’t feel like going out tax forms any more than anyone else, but I don’t really think of it as actual slavery. But they talk about it that way.

Mis-remembering Vietnam

You know those stories you hear about hippie Vietnam War protestors spitting on military veterans at airports, just as those vets were returning home from the war?


A historian named Jerry Lembcke did some digging and was unable to find any contemporaneous documentation that this actually happened. Instead we have urban legends that start turning up about ten years later. He wrote a book about it, Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.

It turns out that not only is the legend untrue, it turns out to be a funhouse-mirror mis-remembering of what did happen.

Lembcke uncovered a whole lot of spitting from the war years, but the published accounts always put the antiwar protester on the receiving side of a blast from a pro-Vietnam counterprotester. Surely, he contends, the news pages would have given equal treatment to a story about serviceman getting the treatment. Then why no stories in the newspaper morgues, he asks?

Rick Perlstein describes how there was a group who may not have spat on Vietnam vets but did systematically disrespect their service: other veterans.

Jerry Lembke established that the only actual documented examples of the frequently repeated canard that Americans spat upon returning Vietnam veterans came from the kind of World War II veterans who wouldn't let their brothers back from Vietnam join local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts beause they were seen as shameful, as polluted. (The New York Times reported on the phenomenon here.)

They were the kind of veterans who - Gerald Nicosia tells the story in his history of Vietnam Veterans Against the War - greeted the antiwar veterans who had marched 86 miles from Morristown, New Jersey to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, just like George Washington's army in 1777. The World War II veterans heckled them:

“Why don't you go to Hanoi?”

“We won our war, they didn't, and from the looks of them, they couldn't.”

A Vietnam vets hobbled by on crutches. One of the old men wondered whether he had been “shot with marijuana or shot in battle.”

Digby has a sharp commentary on Perlstein's article that garnered such surprising comments that I tucked them away, which is a good thing since the old comment system Digby used has been linkrotted away. Here are the two I saved:

When I returned from the Mekong Delta in 1972 (Navy, Binh Thuy) my dirty hippy friends were glad to see me. They welcomed me home and were very accepting of my hyper-vigilance and other quirks. I stopped in at an American Legion post just once. I had to leave before it was necessary for me to beat down those who told me that we, the troops, had lost Vietnam.

I never heard it from the hippies but, I sure as hell caught crap from any number of solid citizens with American flag pins in their lapels.

I have a close friend who served in the Vietnam war during Nixon's illegal invasion of Cambodia. He returned home on a chartered commerical flight that landed at a public airport. As the vets came into the airport they saw a small group from the VFW who they thought were there to welcome them home. Wrong. The VFW assholes were carrying signs that accused them of “losing the war” and being drug addicts. They shouted insults at the Vietnam vets. My friend responded in kind and one of the old farts spat on him. He is very fond of telling this story when some right wing barfly starts ranting about hippies spitting on troops.

I was reminded of all this because of something else from Rick Perlstein: The Story Behind the POW/MIA Flag, which reveals a similar kind of mis-telling of history.

.... Nixon invented the cult of the “POW/MIA” in order to justify the carnage in Vietnam in a way that rendered the United States as its sole victim. It began, as cultural historian H. Bruce Franklin has documented, with an opportunistic shift in terminology. Downed pilots whose bodies were not recovered—which, in the dense jungle of a place like Vietnam meant most pilots—had once been classified “Killed in Action/Body Unrecovered.” During the Nixon years, the Pentagon moved them into a newly invented “Missing in Action” column. That proved convenient, for, after years of playing down the existence of American prisoners in Vietnam, in 1969, the new president suddenly decided to play them up. He declared their treatment, and the enemy’s refusal to provide a list of their names, violations of the Geneva Conventions—the better to paint the North Vietnamese as uniquely cruel and inhumane. He also demanded the release of American prisoners as a precondition to ending the war.

This was bullshit four times over: first, because in every other conflict in human history, the release of prisoners had been something settled at the close of a war; second, because these prisoners only existed because of America’s antecedent violations of the Geneva Conventions in bombing civilians in an undeclared war; and third, because, as bad as their torture of prisoners was, rather than representing some species of Oriental despotism, the Vietnam Communists were only borrowing techniques practiced on them by their French colonists (and incidentally paid forward by us in places like Abu Ghraib): see this as-told-to memoir by POW and future senator Jeremiah Denton.

And finally, our South Vietnamese allies’ treatment of their prisoners, who lived manacled to the floors in crippling underground bamboo “tiger cages” in prison camps built by us, was far worse than the torture our personnel suffered. (Time magazine quoted one South Vietnamese official who was confronted with stories of released prisoners moving “like crabs, skittering across the floor on buttocks and palms,” and responded with incredulity that such survivors even existed: “No one ever comes from the tiger cages alive.”)

Be that as it may: it worked. American citizens enacted a bizarre psychic reversal.

Another false memory: during the Vietnam War, young people opposed it while older people supported it. Again, this turns out to be backwards.

There were many polls on public opinion during the war, and they show a consistent pattern by age. Young people were more likely to support the war at the beginning, when it was popular, and more likely to support it at the end, when it was not.

And of course, the greatest false memory of them all, the dolchstoßlegende that the US lost the war because political opposition to it in the US somehow undermined military effectiveness, which I have written about repeatedly.

28 July 2015

The Difference

Robert “The Prince of Darkness” Novak says:

The difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats truly believe in governing, and Republicans just want power.

Just putting it here so I have it handy.

15 July 2015

Local government often sucks

I've been meaning to write something about this American political canard for years, and Jonathan Chait has finally done it for me so I don't have to: Why the Worst Governments in America Are Local Governments

The myth of localism is rooted deep in our political psyche. Left and right alike use small and local as terms of approbation, big and bureaucratic as terms of abuse. None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us.

Greece & the EU

So I've been trying to get up to speed on what's really happening with Greece and the EU. My man Paul Krugman says:

The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow. And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it.

My favorite article so far about the situation is from Interfluidity, which lays out Krugman's case in clarifying detail. If you read nothing else, read that. Here's the heart of it:

The choice Europe’s leaders faced was to preserve the union or preserve the wealth, prestige, and status of the community of people who were their acquaintances and friends and selves but who are entirely unrepresentative of the European public. They chose themselves. The formal institutions of the EU endure, but European community is now failing fast.

It is difficult to overstate how deeply Europe’s leaders betrayed the ideals of European integration in their handing of the Greek crisis. The first and most fundamental goal of European integration was to blur the lines of national feeling and interest through commerce and interdependence, in order to prevent the fractures along ethnonational lines that made a charnel house of the continent, twice. That is the first thing, the main rule, that anyone who claims to represent the European project must abide: We solve problems as Europeans together, not as nations in conflict. Note that in the tale as told so far, there really was no meaningful national dimension. Regulatory mistakes and agency issues within banks encouraged poor credit decisions. Spanish banks lent into overpriced real estate, and German banks lent to a state they knew to be weak. Current account imbalances within the Eurozone — persistent and unlikely to reverse without policy attention — implied as a matter of arithmetic that there would be loan flows on a scale that might encourage a certain indifference to credit quality. These were European problems, not national problems. But they were European problems that festered while the continent’s leaders gloated and took credit for a phantom prosperity. When the levee broke, instead of acknowledging errors and working to address them as a community, Europe’s elites — its politicians and civil servants, its bankers and financiers — deflected the blame in the worst possible way. They turned a systemic problem of financial architecture into a dispute between European nations. They brought back the very ghosts their predecessors spent half a century trying to dispell. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.


Gaius Publius writing at Hullabaloo, my favorite progressive blog, connects this to the neoliberal project of privatization of everything for the benefit of plutocrats, pointing to parallels between Greece and Ukraine.

The actual story is that the forces of privatization on the "liberal left" in Europe have found a nation in a great deal of economic trouble, thanks in large part to looting from outside, and they're offering a “helping” hand in order to further loot the country via those privatizing strings. In the minds of the looters (we'll call them “neo-liberals” below) every government-owned operation (Athens airport, say) is a missed profit opportunity for someone rich enough to buy it, and the world would be better if everything were made private.

But airports and other revenue opportunities don't privatize themselves; they have to be pried loose from government.

Greek journalist Michael Nevradakis and US investigative journalist Greg Palast make a similar case:

Here’s how it works. To join the Eurozone, nations must agree to keep their deficits to no more than 3% of GDP and total debt to no more than 60% of GDP. In a recession, that’s plain insane. By contrast, President Obama pulled the USA out of recession by increasing deficit spending to a staggering 9.8% of GDP, and he raised the nation’s debt to 101% from a pre-recession 62%. Republicans screamed, but it worked. The US has lower unemployment than any Eurozone nation.

As Obama scolded the European tormentors of Greece: “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression.” Cutting spending power only leads to less spending which leads to further cuts in spending power – a death spiral we see today in the Eurozone from Greece to Italy to Spain—but not in Germany.

“Not in Germany.” There’s the rub. Normally, a nation such as Greece can quickly recover from debt-induced recession by devaluing its currency. Greece would become a dirt cheap tourist destination once more and its lower-cost exports would zoom, instantly increasing competitiveness. And that’s what Germany can’t allow. Germany lured other European nations into the euro in order to keep them from undercutting Germany’s prices in export markets.

Restricted by the 3% deficit rule, the only recourse left for Eurozone debtors: pay the piper with “austerity” measures.

In Disinventing Democracy George Monbiot describes the anti-democratic, plutocratic nature of the process at work.

Consider the European Central Bank. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics; only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion, through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone.

The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation was kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

The authors of this are not simply mustache-twirling villains. Ian Welsh outlines the cultures of the actors involved, and describes the architects of the EU this way:

In this worldview, it is only progress that national politics become increasingly devoid of content, and it is only necessary to build European-level democracy when the Europeans have finally, ironically, swallowed the medicine of their own mission civilisatrice. A case in point that is unfolding right now is the drama over refugees, specifically, how to settle them. Brussels had a perfectly reasonable and fair idea that refugees be allocated to countries in proportion to countries’ relative economic weight. This was met with absolute rejection, particularly by newer EU countries in Eastern Europe, who explicitly do not want even a small increase in the proportion of brown people who live there. Behind these countries hid some of the older, larger countries, whose national politics are already burdened by immigration-fatigue.

To EUians, this can only be confirmation that, at the national-political level, Europeans are only a hair’s breadth away from poking each other with sharp sticks in order to maintain ethnoreligious homogeneity. And they may be. But is it a sustainable solution to gradually dilute their democratic rights? To EUians, it is the only answer.

But as the Interfluidity article observes, these European elites have betrayed the good motivation of preventing European international conflict; in Welsh's words they have become functionally psychopathic.

I'll be adding more links and quotes here as I find them.

01 July 2015

Jane Austen's The Terminator

This may be my favorite literary mashup, and since the text is getting to be linkrotted away, I'm hosting it here.

“Indeed,” said the man (whom Patience could not help but think of as made of clockwork, though he manifestly was something far stranger), “I speak of these things not merely because of the way that I am made, though indeed a machine should do that which it is made to do, but because I have found that I have developed, through our many conversations, a feeling of that which is proper, both within the bounds of your society and without; and being that I am, here, a gentleman, I find that I am also bound to behave as a gentleman would, and indeed, Lady Patience, I must warn you that this Mr. Connor is a man of less than sterling character.”

Patience was quite taken aback by this sudden expression of personal concern, so unlike the measured rationality of the Mr. Terminus that she had come to know and depend upon, and so for several moments she sat quietly, simply looking upon his earnest, if overly regular, countenance, before she had quite decided upon her reply. “Sir, your concern for me is noted, and not entirely without my appreciation, but you are most forward and presumptuous to offer advice in such a matter, in which you cannot have any interest and which is, therefore, entirely between myself and Mr. Connor.”

At this moment the path through the shrubbery took a sharp dogleg to accommodate a stately lime tree. To Patience's discomfiture Mr. Connor was lounging on the bench around the bole, just striking a match on the sole of his boot. His glance at Mr. Terminus was distinctly cold. He drew on his pipe until the tobacco was well alight before saying, “My dear Patience, clockwork and machinery is properly the sphere of the lower orders. The delicately nurtured female can have no commerce with the denizen of a factory. May I escort you back to the terrace?”

Patience found this unexpected confrontation most distressing. Mr. Connor's wonted pleasant manner and courtesy were most shockingly lacking in this most recent speech. “Mr. Connor, I beg you, do not further ruin my heretofore pleasant impression of you by insulting my friend. Whatever lies between you and Mr. Terminus — for clearly there must be some further history than that of which I am aware — is not something which should be permitted to render impossible the simple courtesies of speech in front of a lady to which you but recently expressed several flattering pleasantries.”

Mr. Connor had smiled, in a way Patience did not find at all comforting, when in her speech she had mentioned “further history”. He rose, throwing back the unruly lock of wheat-colored hair which she had found so endearing, and turned his regard upon Mr. Terminus, whose expression was, if possible, more woodenly controlled than usual. “She knows something of what you are,” he began, almost entirely ignoring Patience in a manner which she found, if anything, even more annoying than his prior manner of address, “but it would seem, Mr. Terminus, that you have neglected at least some important aspects of ... history in your admissions. I confess to being somewhat at a loss to comprehend the precise reasoning behind your current course of action, yet even so you cannot deny the truth — that you were sent here to find Patience and to kill her.”

Patience felt the echoes of those last words pass through her as though they had, themselves, been fired from a pistol. She noted how very odd it was that she was turning towards Mr. Terminus to hear his reply, as though this were a simple conversation of the weather and doings about town. “Mr. Terminus?” she heard herself say, as though from a great distance. “Mr. Connor's words are so outré that I can scarce believe that I comprehend what is being said to me. Please tell me that my ears deceive me.”

Mr. Terminus' face seemed as controlled as ever, yet beneath it Patience could discern a great working of the emotion which the clockwork man had said were the great gift and curse of his time here. Then he bowed his head and said, “I would give anything to speak those words, Miss Patience, yet it is not in me to speak aught but truth in these matters. But believe also that I speak truth, when I say that I have come to know you in these weeks, and that any thought of harm to you is long gone, replaced by something of which I cannot even speak at this time." He stepped away, a slow movement that Patience realized was meant to keep from frightening her, as though she were a small animal which might flee if startled, and turned towards Mr. Connor. “Would you, then, risk everything for both of us, and have me explain all? The consequences to her if she is told the truth — the consequences to us — potentially we both face destruction even if we take this confrontation no farther. Yet a part of me says that she has the right to know the whole truth, as you have begun to reveal it.” Patience had understood his words until then, although they spoke implicitly of secrets yet unrevealed. She found his next sentence, however, quite opaque. “You could take no equipment with you, of course, while my CPU and auxiliary DPUs are fully functional; in truth, I can extrapolate the consequences on the spacetime continuum far more accurately than you would imagine, and they would surprise you.”

Patience did not understand, but as the initial shock wore off and she found — not without some surprise — that she had retained both her feet and her consciousness, Patience realized that something momentous was about to be decided, in this place, at this moment, and she turned towards Mr. Connor, to see what that decision would be. Little though she — as a properly raised young lady — knew of duels or the ways of soldiers — she still guessed, now, that both Mr. Terminus and Mr. Connor were capable of violence she had never before imagined, and she was not sure if, having had this realization, she would ever be the same again.

This work sometimes has been known to under the titles Terminators of Endearment or Pride and Extreme Prejudice. I would be indebted to any reader who can attribute its authorship.

03 May 2015

Weren't the Nazis National Socialists, and therefore leftists?

Over at Crooked Timber, a useful long post by John Holbo Were The Nazis Right-Wing? – or – Weimar Culture: The Insider As Outsider explains that yes, the Nazis really were a movement of the right, despite the confusing name.

The point of the long quotes I started with is this: the reason the Nazis are regarded by historians as right-wing isn’t so much that it ended with the Holocaust. It’s the way it began in party politics in Weimar Germany. If all we knew about Hitler was the inside of a German concentration camp, and all we knew about Stalin was the inside of a Russian Gulag camp, it would indeed be mysterious why the one was ‘right’ and the other ‘left’. But that isn’t all we know. It’s impossible to narrate the ins-and-outs of the story of how the Nazis came to power without regarding them as, basically, an extreme right-wing party. There are features of Weimar politics that complicated the left-right binary. There are ways in which the Nazis defy our left-right preconceptions. But basically we can tell left from right. We know which side the Nazis were on. Basically, the Nazis were a right-wing party that tried, and failed, to sell its brand of ‘socialism’ to the working-classes, which preferred left-wing versions courtesy of the Social Democrats or Communists. But it succeeded in allying with old-line conservatives, despite being too radical and revolutionary for their tastes. The Nazis used the conservatives to gain respectability; the conservatives used the Nazis to gain an energized, activist base. In the end, the Nazis came out on top.

Since this is Crooked Timber, for once it's actually good to read the comments.