Mar 052018

Saturday evening, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump talked to some Republicans behind closed doors. But a recording has been leaked.

Here is what Mr. Trump said, among other things, in response to Xi Jinping turning China back to strongman rule by removing term limits from China’s constitution: “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.

Having read, and then heard, these words, I was filled with a combination of dread, disgust, despair and revulsion.

Fuck you, Trump. Fuck you, Republican cheerleaders who sacrifice everything sacred for party loyalty and for power.

Forgive my vulgar outburst but this crossed a line. This REALLY crossed a line. I grew up in a communist state, not on a freaking golf course courtesy of rich daddy, like this megalomaniac asshole who has no idea what he is idiotically blabbering about, cheering on a commie dictator because apparently he, too, would love to be president for life.

I think that with this statement, Trump abdicated the informal position of “leader of the free world”. A true leader of the free world would never cheer on a commie dictator, not even as a tasteless joke. He may be America’s President, but with these words, he has declared himself an enemy of the world that I call free.

 Posted by at 12:47 am
Mar 022018

To my American friends who believe Trump is doing a good job protecting the US economy: I think it is telling that US stock markets are hurting more today than their Canadian counterparts, despite the fact that Canada is the primary target of Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs:

What can I say. Be careful what you wish for. And we have not even discussed how Canada (or Europe) might retaliate. But in the end, we will all be losers, no matter what the narcissistic idiot in the White House thinks about the wonderful job that he is doing.

 Posted by at 12:05 pm
Mar 012018

I am playing with JavaScript and HTML5. Three-dimensional transformations.

Cable News Network

It's more fun than I thought. And gives a whole new meaning to the word, "spin", as I am listening to CNN.

 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Feb 202018

In an opinion piece, Globe and Mail contributor, lawyer Charles Lugosi argues that calls to reform Canada’s jury system in light of the not guilty verdict in the case of the death of Colten Boushie, who was shot by Gerald Stanley, are unwarranted and deeply harmful.

Mr. Lugosi speaks from personal experience. In 1994, he defended a young indigenous man who, fearing for the safety of his wife and child, struck and killed a white man with a tire iron and then turned himself in to police. Judged by an all-white jury, the defendant was acquitted. Despite the outrage of the victim’s family, no one suggested racism after the verdict.

So why the calls for reforming the jury system now? Lugosi argues that it is simply political intimidation. Having looked at news reports providing details of the case, I am compelled to agree. Lawyers back before the verdict warned that the Crown’s case was tenuous and that a not guilty verdict was very much a possibility. Portrayals of the victim and his friends as harmless teenagers looking for help with a flat tire just do not agree with the facts. In reality, this was a drunk, disorderly, armed (!) lot who already ransacked another farm and were attempting to steal a vehicle from Stanley.

So let me be clear. Mr. Colten Boushie, the victim, was “seen as a menace” not on account of his race but on account of his actions. I have no reason to doubt that the jury reached their conclusions on this basis. For populist politicians to then criticize this decision, even as the jury are legally barred from discussing the case or defending themselves against charges of racism, is unconscionable.

I am sure there are plenty of genuine cases of bona fide racism against indigenous people in Canada. In fact, the behavior of the RCMP that night appears to have been far from impeccable. It may very well be that, as some accuse, the justice system is stacked against indigenous people.

And yes, Mr. Boushie is a victim. A victim of his own and his friend’s actions. A victim of circumstances. I’d go so far as to concede that yes, very probably a victim of a system stacked against him, a victim of still existing systematic racism in Canadian society.

But this jury verdict is not outrageous. It is consistent the facts: very simply, the guilt of the defendant was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. That’s all. It does not mean Mr. Stanley is a nice guy. It does not mean Mr. Boushie deserved death. Calls for a reform of the jury system just because a verdict is politically unpalatable undermines the justice system for all. And fueling tensions with unwarranted, politically motivated charges of racism does a disservice to indigenous and white Canadians alike.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Feb 192018

The more I learn about ancient China, the more my respect grows for the Middle Kingdom and its amazing history.

Here is something written by a 9th century Muslim traveler, Abu Zayd al-Sirafi, who visited China during the Tang Dynasty, in 850 A.D. or thereabouts. I found a modern translation that I first came across so incredible, I searched for corroboration. I then came across this 1733 English translation (if I interpret the cover page correctly, by an unnamed English translator using a French translation from the Arabic by Eusebius Renaudot).

Here is how this 1733 text describes China’s social safety net. (And if you are left wondering if perhaps the traveler mistakenly traveled into the future, visiting a late 20th, early 21st century welfare state, you are not alone):

“The Chinese have a Stone ten Cubits high, erected in the public Squares, and on this Stone are graved the Names of all sorts of Medicines, with the exact rates of each; and when the poor stand in need of any Relief from Physic, they go to the Treasury, where they receive the Price each Medicine is rated at.

“There is no Land Tax in China; they only levy so much per Head, according to the Wealth and Possessions of the Subject. When a Male Child is born, his Name is immediately entered into the King’s Books, and when this Child has attained his eighteenth Year, he begins to pay for his Head; but they demand it not of the Man who has seen his eightieth Year; on the contrary he receives a Gratification, by way of Pension, from the public Treasury; and in doing this, the Chinese say, That they give him this Gratification in his old days, in acknowledgment for what they receiv’d of him when he was young.

“There are Schools in every Town for teaching the Poor and their Children to write and read, and the Masters are paid at the public Charge.”

This text was written nearly 1,200 years ago. It took another millennium before public education become the norm in more developed European nations, and at least another century before various forms of social security and public health institutions took root.

I am beginning to appreciate more and more why the Middle Kingdom viewed the period loosely demarcated by the Opium Wars of the 1850s and the Japanese occupation of the 1930s and 1940s as the Century of Humiliation; and why it might appear to many that the recent rise of China as an economic superpower only means a return to the way things were always supposed to be, the way things have been for several millennia preceding the rapid rise of Europe a few centuries ago.

 Posted by at 8:21 pm
Jan 072018

Not too long ago (OK, well, 30 years… it doesn’t feel that long anymore) there was another genius on the news: the Genius of the Carpathians, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Here is a joke from that era that, no doubt, could be adapted to fit the “very stable genius”, too.

The US president, the General Secretary of the Soviet communist party, the Pope and Ceausescu are flying somewhere on a plane. Suddenly, the pilot enters the compartment and says, “Gentleman, I have bad news. This airplane is about to crash and we only have four parachutes.”

Immediately, the US president yells, “I am the leader of the free world, I must survive!”, grabs a parachute and jumps.

He is followed by the Soviet leader, who yells, “I am the leader of the worldwide socialist revolution. I must survive!”, grabs another parachute and jumps.

Next comes Ceausescu: “I am the Genius of the Carpathians! I must survive!”, grabs the next parachute and jumps.

The Pope and the pilot remain. The Pope looks at the pilot and says, “My son, I am old and lived a full life. Your whole life is ahead of you. Please take that parachute. I’ll pray for your survival.” The pilot responds, “No need to worry, Holy Father, we have two parachutes left. The Genius of the Carpathians grabbed the fire extinguisher.”

 Posted by at 11:17 am
Jan 062018

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Dec 222017

So our American friends south of the border have a new tax legislation. I’ve seen many discussions of how it affects people in various income brackets, but all too often, these are more confusing than helpful.

So instead, here is a handy chart that shows how the federal tax rate decreases as a percentage of taxable income for individuals, joint filers and heads of households (based on tables provided by CNN):

While most folks will enjoy a tax break, it is interesting to see that some individuals and heads of households will actually see a tax increase:

Married couples benefit the most (mainly as a result of some arcane tax brackets that were in effect before the new legislation), which is probably a Good Thing; I am not so sure about the 2.6% tax break offered to the wealthiest, however.

Anyhow, I pay my taxes in Ontario, Canada, so it really doesn’t bother me one way or another, I just wanted to understand a little better what actually is going on.

 Posted by at 7:18 pm
Dec 162017

Fair warning: This post contains some adult language.

In case there has been any doubt: Republicans have gone completely bonkers, and it is now official.

According to The Washington Post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America’s leading public health institute, is no longer allowed to use the following terms in its budget documents:

  • vulnerable,
  • entitlement,
  • diversity,
  • transgender,
  • fetus,
  • evidence-based,
  • science-based.

Dear Republicans, dear followers of the orange person in the White House: Are you out of your fucking minds? Have you gone completely bonkers? Truly gone fishing? Are you bat shit crazy? Totally demented?

I mean, what kind of an idiot does this childish shit? You are worse than Soviet political commissars from the Stalin era. OK, you are not sending anyone to the Gulag (yet?) but your retarded drive for ideological purity is like a caricature of itself.

I mean… you are insane. Certifiably. This is not politics anymore. This is not left vs. right, transgender rights vs. traditional families. You are clearly deranged psychopaths.

I am secretly hoping that the news turns out to be false, but despite accusations of “fake news” and the like, I know The Washington Post to be a responsible news organization and I think it is a safe bet that this story was vetted.

 Posted by at 7:57 pm
Nov 102017

I’ve seen several news reports commenting on the fact that Donald Trump was using Twitter while visiting China. That despite the fact that Twitter is one of those Western services that are blocked by China’s “Great Firewall”. Some even speculated that Trump was using a military communications network or some other exotic technology to circumvent Chinese restrictions. (As if the US military was foolish enough to let this idiot of a president’s unsecure smartphone access their network.)

But reality is much more mundane, as I know quite well from personal experience in China.

When you are traveling with a phone registered to a foreign service provider, your Internet connection initiates from that provider’s network. So insofar as the Internet is concerned, you are not even in China. Your connection initiates from your home country. In my case, whenever I used my phone in China for Internet access, I accessed the Internet from an IP address registered with my Canadian cellular service provider, Rogers. I had unrestricted access to Google, Facebook, CNN and other news sites, with no Chinese restrictions.

Trump probably did exactly what I did, except that he probably worried about international data roaming charges and data caps a little less than I. He grabbed his phone, turned it on, and used it without a second thought. (OK, that’s not exactly like me. Trump was probably not surprised to see Twitter work on his phone in China, because he probably knows very little about the Great Firewall. I was mildly surprised myself, especially as I went there prepared for the worst, with multiple overt and covert VPN options prepared just in case I needed them. Which I did… but only when I was using the hotel Wi-Fi instead of the cellular network.)

 Posted by at 9:21 am
Nov 072017

In between being sick with a cold and being hopelessly behind with my TODO list, I almost forgot. Today was an remarkable anniversary.

It was 100 years ago today that the Great October Socialist Revolution (which happened on October 25 according to the Julian calendar, which was still in use in Russia in 1917) achieved victory in St. Petersburg and the Utopian communist Soviet state was born.

Sadly, the Utopian dreams did not last very long. In between its inability to govern without violence and the threats, both internal and external, that the fledgling communist state faced, it quickly turned to a less Utopian interpretation of Marx’s dream: The “dictatorship of the proletariat”, one-party rule in a totalitarian police state.

Nonetheless… when I was little, growing up in then-communist Hungary behind the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union seemed eternal. Its successes were spectacular, including how it prevailed against the Nazi war machine in the Great Patriotic War and also how it rushed to the forefront of many areas in engineering and the sciences, including the first orbital spacecraft and the first manned spaceflight.

Alas, the Soviet Union proved less eternal than anyone thought. It was done in by an incompetent, ultraconservative octogenarian leadership and the inherent failures and weaknesses of its command economy. Less than 75 years after it was created, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The red flag over the Kremlin was taken down, and the Soviet federation itself broke up into its constituent states.

And now here we are, on the 100th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, and barely anyone remembers. There are no broadcasts of military parades from Moscow’s Red Square. Not even a brief commemoration in the evening local news on the CBC, or on CNN in between their analysis of Trump’s Asia trip and the results of tonight’s interim elections. If Russia is mentioned at all, it’s only in the context of the Mueller investigation. The revolution that shook the world in 1917 and shaped the world for three quarters of a century afterwards seems mostly forgotten.

Heck, I almost forgot to blog about it.

 Posted by at 10:54 pm
Oct 212017

Yes, my Canada includes Quebec. It includes Quebec’s unique culture. It includes the French language. It includes Quebec’s different legal system, different traditions. It includes the brave, righteous struggle of Quebecois against being treated as second-class citizens of this country.

Protest against Bill 62 along a bus route on Montreal’s Parc Avenue Friday. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

But… My Canada does not include populist intolerance. Nativism. Xenophobia. Political opportunism, the willingness to awaken demons for the sake of winning elections.

Quebec’s Bill 62 is a solution to a non-existent problem. I have not heard of any issues arising from Muslim women in traditional clothing boarding a municipal bus. Or for that matter, from a member of the staff at a hospital wearing a face covering. (Don’t they often wear surgical masks anyway?)

Bill 62 is clearly divisive. I sincerely hope that sooner rather than later, it will be declared unconstitutional by a Quebec court. And that finally, there will be Quebec politicians who will have the guts to go against the majority and educate them against the hate and intolerance that they are so willing to embrace.

But if it remains the law of the land in Quebec… then you know what? I hope Quebec will hold a referendum soon and secedes from Canada after all. Because my Canada does not include a shameful law like Bill 62. Get out of Canada and take your xenophobia with you.

Mind you, I remain hopeful that it’s the law that goes away, and Quebec remains. Because… mon Canada comprend le Québec… un Québec sans loi 62, sans xénophobie.

 Posted by at 12:31 pm
Oct 162017

I decided to never again listen to pundits about Donald Trump.

My dislike of Trump has not changed since yesterday, last week, or last month. My disappointment that this person was elected as President of the United States is no less profound than it was eleven months ago.

But that does not mean that I need to listen to every lie and every distortion that comes from the media.

The contrast between what Trump actually says when he is speaking in public or responding to journalists vs. what the pundits want you to think he is saying… Well, when I am listening to actual Trump, I sometimes wonder if those pundits and I are listening to the same person. Like when the pundits were telling me that Trump wanted to increase the number of nuclear weapons tenfold and that he was bragging about America’s nuclear arsenal during his impromptu, brief news conference during the photo-op with Trudeau. Yet when I listened to his actual words, it was a journalist who (referring to anonymous sources) asked Trump about the tenfold increase, which Trump denied; and, continuing his response, Trump “bragged” that America already has a formidable nuclear arsenal, and that his priority is to make sure it is in “top top shape” and 100% functional. With all due respect, this is not an improper thing for the President of the United States, who is also commander-in-chief of all US forces, to say.

The things I don’t like about Trump are too numerous to count. Which is why I am especially liable to believe lies about him that make him appear worse than he actually is. Lies that you are inclined to believe are far more dangerous than lies you reject outright. So I don’t need lies from media pundits. I’ll just focus on what Trump actually says, and despise him on account of his own words, not the words of others.

 Posted by at 2:28 pm
Sep 262017

When the rogue, berserker regime of North Korea shows more restraint, more discipline than the United States of America, it is time to worry.

Yet, if news reports are to be believed, this is precisely what is happening, as North Korea is seeking unofficial meetings with Republican political analysts to help them understand Donald Trump.

I think this should scare the bejesus out of every thinking person.

 Posted by at 5:15 pm
Sep 192017

The recent dramatic rise in the number of North Korean missile launches, combined with their successful test of a thermonuclear weapon and their announcement (so far, unverified) that they now have the capability to mount a weapon on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile, in combination with a US president who has a demonstrated willingness to “go rogue”, raises the very real possibility of an armed conflict between the United States and North Korea. A conflict that can quickly and uncontrollably escalate.

And it may all be based on a giant misunderstanding.

The almost unanimous opinion in the West appears to be that the DPRK is a rogue regime. That its megalomaniac dictator finds self-gratification in the building of nuclear missles. And that he represents a direct threat, a clear and present danger to the United States.

But what if this is not the case? What if the DPRK leadership is, ahem, rational?

Rational, that is, but based on a biased, distorted interpretation of the facts.

What if they genuinely believe that it is their regime that is being threatened by the United States? That nuclear weapons represent the only security guarantee against a rogue imperialist superpower?

And what if they actually believe their own propaganda version of history, namely that back during the Korean War, it was the DPRK army, under the leadership of its Great Leader, that defeated America, rather than Mao’s China achieving a stalemate? Or that it was indeed the United States that attacked the peace-loving DPRK instead of the DPRK launching a war against its southern neighbor?

These biases lead to the rational conclusion that, on the one hand, the threats faced by the DPRK are very real and thus a nuclear deterrent is essential; and that, on the other hand, bellicose talk can help remind the United States of a supposedly humiliating defeat and deter it from further aggression.

If this is the case, the proper response is negotiation: credible security guarantees offered to North Korea, tangible proof that there is no intent to attack. Threats, such as those uttered by Trump just a few minutes ago while speaking to the UN General Assembly, achieve the exact opposite: they reinforce North Korean beliefs that the American threat is real and imminent. Far from deterring them from pursuing a nuclear weapons program, it prompts them to accelerate their efforts.

And the almost inevitable outcome of the escalation of this war of words is real war. And when that happens, the proverbial excrement can quickly hit the ventilator. China may choose to get involved; reluctantly, perhaps, but they may believe that getting involved is the lesser of two evils. But that involvement can quickly result in direct conflict between China and the United States, or US allies like Japan. And if by any chance Russia chooses to get involved as well, the situation can quickly escalate into an unintended world conflict.

Cannot happen? Think again. 103 years ago this year, a major European power decided to launch a limited military strike to punish a rogue power, a supporter of terrorism, indirectly responsible for a high-profile political assassination. Within weeks, much of the world was embroiled in a conflict that nobody wanted, nobody believed in, and nobody knew how to win, how to end, or how to get out of. The Great War, the interregnum that followed including the rise of Nazism, the second World War and the rise of authoritarian communism worldwide cost, at the very least, 100 million lives. An experience I’d rather not see repeated, especially not with nuclear weapons involved.

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Sep 082017

Jerry Pournelle, the noted science-fiction writer, political pundit and early computer enthusiast, is dead at the age of 84.

Pournelle was a long-time collaborator of science-fiction giant Larry Niven, with whom they co-wrote some amazing science-fiction novels, like The Mote in God’s Eye or Oath of Fealty, not to mention their take on Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno, and its sequel, Escape from Hell. Novels he published under his own name included the memorable Janissaries or West of Honor.

Pournelle was well known to readers of the once legendary BYTE magazine. His Chaos Manor column, in which he reviewed software, hardware, new technologies, was very popular.

Pournelle was a political conservative, one of the intellectuals behind Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (aka. “Star Wars”) space defense program. He was a thinking conservative, not blinded by ideology; his views were based on facts and reason.

I corresponded with Pournelle a few times, going back to the late 1980s, when I exchanged e-mails with him on BYTE’s long-defunct dial-up bulletin board, BIX (the Byte Information Exchange). Later, I was an on-and-off subscriber to his Web site and blog. I wasn’t a regular reader, and certainly didn’t always agree with him, but I liked to read his views.

Pournelle suffered a stroke in 2014 and it certainly slowed him down. Even so, he never stopped writing. His passing is not exactly a surprise, but it still came a little too soon. May he rest in peace.

 Posted by at 9:43 pm
Jul 302017

I just came across an interesting slide.

It was part of a presentation by Bill Foster, a member of an endangered species in the United States Congress: a scientist turned politician. He gave a talk at the April meeting of the American Physical Society. This slide from his talk speaks for itself:

I don’t have data for Canada, other than a list of a grand total of 6 engineers serving in our federal House of Commons. That low number suggests that Canada’s Parliament would not be positioned too far from the U.S. Congress in this chart.

Is this a bad thing? I hesitate, because I note that totalitarian regimes tend to have many scientists among their leaders. Is it because scientists are more likely to prefer authoritarianism? Or more likely to serve autocrats? I don’t know. I do know that as a free citizen, I much prefer to be governed by a dysfunctional Congress or Parliament than by a totalitarian Politburo, regardless of the number of scientists in these bodies.

 Posted by at 11:38 am
Jul 262017

I just thought of a good translation of the otherwise untranslatable Hungarian phrase, “ótvaros tahó”.

It’s “feculent lout”.

Yes, I am talking about the orange ape, otherwise known as the greatest, most tremendous President of the United States ever.

I blurted out the phrase, “ótvaros tahó”, in reaction to his incomprehensibly cringe-worthy speech to the Boy Scouts, his comparisons of his own presidential-ness to that of Abraham Lincoln, and last but not least, his hate-fueled ban on transgenders in the military, justified with a bunch of blatant lies attributed to “his” generals.

I really cannot think of more appropriate words to describe what I think about him tonight.

Feculent lout.

 Posted by at 9:31 pm
Jul 152017

Imagine for a moment that you spent the last two years on a remote base in Antarctica, with no access to the Internet, indeed no contact with the outside world. And now, you just returned.

You learn that the new president of the United States is none other than The Donald. Then, before you get any more details, someone presents you with these two Time magazine covers, and asks you to take your pick: which one is real, which one is “fake news”?

Hint #1: The real time cover has an aspect ratio of 4:3. The fake is a little wider.

Hint #2: It was the fake cover that was used as decoration at numerous Trump properties until very recently.

Bonus fact: None of this seems to matter to Trump’s base. They remain committed to Trump, they remain convinced that all this is a witch hunt, and their biggest problem is that Trump did not do as he promised, and did not lock up the real “witch”, Hillary Clinton. I find this cult-ish behavior scarier than any of the shenanigans pulled by Trump & Co.

 Posted by at 9:17 am