Sep 242021

Yes, you got that right. The title of this blog entry is not a mistake. And no, I didn’t suddenly turn into a relic Cold Warrior from the 1950s.

It is how I characterize Xi Jinping’s commie regime tonight.

It may be a “kinder, gentler” version of communism compared to Mao’s or Stalin’s (at least so long as you are not an Uyghur from Xinjiang province, enjoying your vacation in a concentration, oh, pardon me, re-education camp), but it is nonetheless a regime that does not refrain from the most despicable, criminal acts, including the taking of hostages.

In case anyone had any doubts on the matter…

Within hours after the United States dropped its extradition request and thus Meng Wanzhou of Huawei was released from house arrest in Canada (to her credit, she actually thanked Canada for upholding the rule of law), two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have reportedly been released by China, finally allowed to leave after three years of captivity, despite the bogus allegations of spying against them.

How else can I describe such a regime other than hostage-taking commie bastards without resorting to obscenities?

Oh, I got it.

Rotten hostage-taking commie bastards.

 Posted by at 10:00 pm
Sep 192021

A little over 50 years ago, we were all excited in the city of my birth, Budapest. This fine city, home of the old continent’s first subway line (and the world’s first that was built from the onset as an all-electric system), was about to get a modern “metro”. Using Soviet technology, the M2 line was opened to great fanfare, providing a rapid connection from the center of town towards the eastern suburbs on the Pest side. The line was soon extended under the Danube, reaching the Buda side’s main railway station in 1972.

Why do I mention this in a blog entry about Ottawa’s LRT? Simple. This 50-year old system, using technology from the former USSR, has operated reliably ever since. I know from experience: for a while, I used to take it daily, back in the 1970s and the early 1980s. The expectation of urban travelers is that barring rare, major emergencies, the system should work like clockwork; and when an emergency disrupts system operations, service is restored within a matter of hours. This expectation was, in my experience, always met by the M2 line. The most serious accident on the line happened in 2016, when a train rear-ended another, injuring ten passengers. Even in the wake of this accident, service was rapidly restored, albeit with a speed reduction at the accident location while the ongoing investigation tried to determine the cause.

Fast forward to 2021, to the proud capital of Canada, a G7 nation, supposedly one of the most advanced economies in the world, certainly one of the richest, wealthiest nations. Ottawa used to have an extensive streetcar system. Like similar systems in so many cities around the world, this system was dismantled, wantonly destroyed in the late 1950s, when urban planners looked at streetcars as unwanted relics from the past.

Finally, in the 2010s the decision was made that Ottawa needs urban rail transport after all, and the Confederation Line was built. It was opened to the public after many delays in September, 2019. The initial, 13-station segment cost approximately 2.1 billion dollars.

And… well, until now I refrained from commenting because, you know, be patient, good people know what they are doing, sometimes a system has more kinks than anticipated, all that… but no longer. This 2.1 billion dollar system is a piece of crap.

It has had trouble when the weather was too warm. Define too warm? Well, 30 degrees Centigrade. It has had trouble when the weather was too cold. Never mind that Ottawa is one of the coldest capital cities in the world; a little bit of wintry weather below freezing was enough to cause  problems. It has had trouble with train doors, trouble with the rails, trouble with axles and who knows what else. And it now experienced its second derailment.

And no, don’t expect them to rapidly restore service, repairing the affected track and perhaps as a precaution, instituting a temporary speed reduction. No, we are told, the entire system will be shut down again for at least a whole week!

And I cannot decide (I don’t have enough information) if this is gross incompetence or tacit acknowledgment that the system has severe systemic problems, and that the derailment (second in two months!) was not so much a random accident but a result of a badly built track, unsafe trains, or some such cause.

In light of this, I wish they had just imported 50-year old Soviet technology. The darn things may not be pretty (they don’t actually look bad, mind you), may be a tad noisy, but they work. And work. And 50 years later, still work.

As opposed to this piece of… stuff.

And it’s not like railway technology is a new invention. Budapest’s old, 1896 line celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. London’s Underground is even older. And that’s just urban underground systems. So it’s not like some exotic new technology that still has issues. It’s just… I don’t know. Corruption? Incompetence? Just sheer bad luck? Whatever it is, I think the residents of our city deserve better. And those responsible should be held to account, if necessary, even criminally.

 Posted by at 7:11 pm
Sep 122021

I get it. Our standards change. Live and let live. We abhor racism and embrace differences. We recognize the crimes of the past.

But when the National Archives of the United States of America marks the country’s own Constitution as containing “potentially harmful language”, that’s so far beyond anything I would even remotely consider sane, I don’t even know how to describe it.

This is so far beyond insane, I have no words.

All I can say is that if the goal is to drive as many undecided people as possible into the camp of Trump voters, they found a singularly efficient way to accomplish that ignoble task.

Edit: And yes, I recognize that this is a blanket statement that applies to all Archive searches. Even so, I find it disturbing that this notice appears even for documents such as the US Constitution. The capability clearly exists not to show the notice for certain pages, as it is not present on explanatory pages of the Archives. Displaying this disclaimer so prominently on top of historical documents just sends the wrong message and provides unnecessary propaganda fodder. What’s wrong with a more discreet notice at the bottom? Or simply presenting, like so many sites do, a “terms and conditions” page when a user first connects, which could include this disclaimer? Showing it on every page, prominently over documents of great legal and historical significance is just… dumb. It reeks of “cancel culture”.

 Posted by at 1:21 am
Sep 112021

A few hours from now, it will be exactly 20 years since that fateful morning when, instead of going to bed after working through the night (I was very much a night owl in those days), I ended up spending the day glued to the television window on my old PC, running Windows XP and cable TV in a window, courtesy of a long obsolete ATI All-in-Wonder video card combining graphics with an analog TV tuner.

I had no doubt that the events of the day would change the world that we live in. What was not clear was how.

The good news: America’s “war on terror” by and large has to be considered a success. There have been no large-scale terrorist acts on US soil by militant Islamists since 9/11. But that’s pretty much where the good news end.

The bad news: Where should I begin?

First, the misguided occupation of Afghanistan. Yes, I know, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but it was pretty obvious even back then that it is not possible to do an occupation on the cheap. There is one way to occupy a hostile country: put a sizable garrison in every town and a guardpost at every intersection, maintain order, and respond ruthlessly to attacks on your forces. Now the thing is, not even the USSR was willing to make this level of effort, which is why their Afghanistan venture was a fiasco. As for America, whoever came up with the idea that you can bomb a country into democracy need to get their heads examined.

Second, the criminally insane war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. No, Hussein was not a nice fellow. But removing him created a regional power vacuum that the theocracy in Iran was all too eager to fill. The one good outcome of this is that it created a previously unimaginable rapport between Iran’s enemies, namely Israel and the Gulf states. Otherwise, all the Iraqi venture accomplished is a destabilization of the region, the consequences of which we still reap.

And speaking of places like the Gulf states, this is another one of the unpleasant consequences of 9/11: Perhaps more than ever, the “land of the free”, the United States, loves cozying up with despots and dictators. This was especially prevalent during the Trump era, as Trump seemed unnervingly comfortable with the likes of Putin or MBS, even as he denounced democratically elected leaders committed to the values of liberal democracy.

Thankfully, the misguided military ventures are over. Chaotic last few days notwithstanding, US troops are finally out of Afghanistan. There are very few things for which Trump deserves praise, but his decision to pull out of Afghanistan, his reluctance to start new wars, are commendable.

If only the United States could overcome its internal partisan division, it could again resume its role as “leader of the free world”, a free world that now faces the dual threat of rising authoritarianism in many Western democracies, and the rise of a leader more authoritarian than anyone since Mao in a China that is now an undisputed economic superpower.

But for that, millions of Americans would first have to abandon scary conspiracy theories about a stolen election or a COVID vaccine that is an attack on their rights and freedoms; and other millions of Americans would have to abandon their commitment to impose their increasingly intolerant “woke” values, their “cancel culture” on their neighbors. And their lessons would have to be repeated elsewhere, throughout the Western world. In short, we have to somehow relearn some basic ideas of a liberal democracy, such as the notion that our neighbors whose political priorities differ from ours are not inherently evil, they are not the enemy. Can this happen? Will this happen in an era of social media bubbles, bubbles often controlled by foreign adversaries and their divisive propaganda, turning us against each other?

But before I get too pessimistic, I look at the long term trends. Here we are, in 2021, 76 years after one of the most devastating wars in human history ended with the use of two atomic bombs. When I was a child in the late 1960s, early 1970s, no sane person in the world would have predicted that we would live to see 2021 without another great war, without nuclear Armageddon. Yet here we are, worrying not about mushroom clouds but about climate change, not about Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare but about microplastics hampering efforts to clean up rivers and wetlands, not about famines and “Soylent Green” but about lithium or rare earth production for our batteries and high tech gadgets, not about hostile AI running our lives but about semiconductor shortages hampering the automobile industry.

Still I have to wonder, was 9/11 a wasted opportunity? Could the US and the world have responded better? Undoubtedly, I think.

 Posted by at 1:12 am