A story has been making the internet rounds these past two weeks about a guy who got beat up by a group of bikers following a confrontation in which the bikers encircled him, did a brake-check, and then tried to break into his car when he tapped the dude who brake-checked him. The guy gunned it, fearing quite rightly for the safety of his wife and baby, who were in the car with him, and ran over one of the bikers in the process. The rest of the group decided to extract revenge, and here we are two weeks later with one idiot possibly paralyzed for life, a few more idiots probably going to jail, and a family that is undoubtedly traumatized by the whole thing. Way to go, America.

Here’s what I found weird about this. Go back to that link above and read the bit where it says “Update.” What is completely astounding to me is that the police knew about the planned ride all along. Not only that, but there were actual undercover cops riding with the bike gang! In other words, the police almost certainly knew exactly what the bikers were going to do, and did nothing to prevent it, allowing a bunch of outlaws to essentially terrorize a major highway in a major American city.

How the fuck, exactly, is this possible? The NYPD has spent untold amounts of resources spying on Muslims and college students, busting heads at Occupy protests, and racially profiling blacks and Latinos. Huge honking sums of money devoted to pretty much completely speculative undertakings that only served to build anger at the department itself. And yet, here, given a situation in which the police know almost exactly what is going to happen, they cannot muster up the resources to crack down on this? And the chief of the police feels entirely comfortable coming out and openly saying so?

This is beyond absurd. It is willful neglect. The NYPD knew about this and chose to do absolutely nothing. And its failure to act on information that definitively pointed to lawbreaking and endangerment of citizenry demonstrates exactly where its priorities lie: in covering its collective ass by falsifying police data, in making life difficult for non-white, non-rich residents of NYC (and indeed, for people living beyond its jurisidction), and in punching hippies. Oh, and in keeping the ride out of Times Square, something Ray Kelly seems to be quite proud of. Because if you’re not a tourist but just a regular driver on the West Side Highway, well, fuck you. This is what the NYPD cares about, this is what it’s for; certainly not for preventing entirely knowable illegal activities that pose real danger to the residents of the city which it is ostensibly tasked with protecting and serving.

This alone should be enough to get Kelly thrown out on his worthless ass. Here’s hoping that when de Blasio is elected he has the backbone to follow through with his promise to replace Kelly with someone who actually cares about protecting citizens, rather than turning the NYPD into a personal fiefdom.

Emboldening II: the Endumbening

So here I was, sitting in, how apropos, the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, and half-listening to John Kerry’s press conference where he’s outlining the case for bombing Assad. And there’s this one word that keeps coming up in these discussions, primarily from people who can’t get enough of bombing other countries, and that word is “embolden.” As in, “if we don’t bomb Assad, we’re going to embolden our enemies.” We’re going to look weak to them, you see.

Thesis: anyone who unironically uses the word “embolden” is either a credulous idiot or a lying piece of shit. Or both.

If you’re minimally aware of inter-generational trends in US military spending, you might know that the US spends more money on its military (excuse me, “defense”) than the next n countries combined, where n is a number that I’m too lazy to presently look up but which I’m quite positive is well into the double digits. If there’s anything that anyone knows at all about US foreign policy, it’s precisely that we’re not at all afraid of bombing anyone or anything we like. “We will wreck your shit,” has been longstanding US doctrine in one form or other for decades. I am willing to bet money that no one but an American would be stupid enough to think that the US needs to do anything to prove its willingness to use force.

The whole notion of “emboldening” is an absurd framework that falls apart at the slightest perturbation. The “emboldening thesis” holds that if a particular act (e.g. the use of chemical weapons) goes unpunished, then subsequent bad acts are likely to follow because everyone will assume the policing hegemon is too weak to respond. Italics because that’s the operative principle of the whole thing. But in reality, this has never been true; from the lowliest aspirant to Al Qaeda membership to the highest leadership of any other nation, everyone knows that the countries that end up suffering the wrath of the hegemon are those countries which are politically convenient to punish. The US will happily disregard international law in one instance (here, have some chemical weapons, Mr. Hussein!) where it suits it, while using it as a pretext elsewhere (bad, bad Bashar!), AND NOAH-WAHN DENIES THIS. The lesson any minimally competent observer will extract from this is not that the US is too “weak” to punish transgressors (because, you know, we just literally spent the last decade occupying two different countries, one of which we invaded for totally bullshit reasons), but that the US will just do whatever the fuck it wants when it wants, and it’s not going to explain anything to anyone.

There are lots of terrible reasons to launch a strike on Syria, including the fact that there’s no actual plan to do anything other than lob a few missiles, define whatever they hit as a strategic target, and declare victory. But I think the idea that “we have to do something because otherwise some bad people will be emboldened,” is probably the most idiotic reason for doing anything whatsoever; it flies in the face of all history and sense. The fact that this assertion is allowed to repeatedly go unchallenged in public discourse is just another testament to the sad state of our intellectual life.

Silly man says stupid thing, Silicon Valley edition

A fellow named Jerzy Gangi advances a bunch of hypotheses to answer a not-very-interesting question about why Silicon Valley funds some things (e.g. Instagram) and not others (e.g. Hyperloop). Along the way we get some speculation about the amount of cojones possessed by VCs (insufficient!) and how well the market rewards innovation (insufficiently!), but the question is boring because the answer is already well-known: infrastructure projects of the scope and scale of Hyperloop (provided they’re feasible to begin with) require massive up-front investments with uncertain returns, while an Instagram requires comparatively little investment with the promise of a big return. Mystery solved! You can PayPal me the $175 you would have given Gangi for the same information spread over an hour of time at

Despite the fact that Gangi’s question is not very interesting on its own, his writeup of it actually contains an interesting kernel that I want to use as a touch-off point for exploring a a rather different idea. You see, while criticism of techno-utopianism (and Silicon Valley, its material manifestation which will be used metonymically with it from here on out) has been widespread, it usually doesn’t address a fundamental claim that Silicon Valley makes about itself; namely, that Silicon Valley is an innovative environment. Critics like Evgeny Morozov are likely to only be peripherally interested in the question; Morozov is far more concerned with asking whether the things Silicon Valley wants disrupted actually ought to be “disrupted.” Other critiques have focused on the increasing meaninglessness of that very concept and the deleterious effects that those disruptions have on the disrupted. But as a rule, discussion about Silicon Valley takes it for granted that Silicon Valley is the engine of innovation that it claims to be, even if that innovation comes at a price for some.

I think this is a fundamentally mistaken view. Silicon Valley is “innovative” only if your bar for innovation is impossibly low; (much) more often than not what Silicon Valley produces is merely a few well-known models repackaged in shinier wrapping. That this is so can be seen from looking at this list of recent Y Combinator startups. What, in all this, constitutes an “innovative” idea? The concept that one can use data to generate sales predictions? Or perhaps the idea of price comparison? The only thing on here that looks even remotely like something that’s developing new technology is the Thalmic whatsis, and even that is not likely to be anything particularly groundbreaking. These may or may not be good business ideas, but that’s not the question. The question is: where’s the innovation? And the answer is that there isn’t a whole lot of it, other than taking things that people used to do via other media (like buying health insurance) and making it possible to do over the internet.

There’s nothing wrong with not being innovative, by the way. Most companies are not innovative; they just try and sell a product that the consumer might want to buy. The problem is not the lack of innovation, but the blatant self-misrepresentation in which Silicon Valley collectively engages. It’s hardly possible to listen to any one of Silicon Valley’s ubiquitous self-promoters without hearing paeans to how wonderfully innovative it is; if the PR is to be believed, Silicon Valley is the source and font of all that is new and good in the world. Needless to say, this is a completely self-serving fantasy which bears very little resemblance to any historically or socially accurate picture of how real innovation actually happens. To the extent that any innovation took place in Silicon Valley, it didn’t take place at Y Combinator funded start-ups, but rather at pretty large industrial-size concerns like HP and Fairchild Semiconductor. No one in the current iteration of Silicon Valley has produced anything remotely as innovative as Bell Labs. Maybe the Tesla could yet live up to that lofty ideal, but it’s pretty unlikely that  internet company, no matter how successful, ever will.

Ha-Joon Chang has adroitly observed that the washing machine did more to change human life than the Internet has. But the washing machine is not shiny (anymore) or new (anymore) or sexy, so it’s easy to take it for granted. The Internet is not new (anymore) either, but unlike the washing machine, the capability exists to make it ever shinier, and then sell the resulting shiny objects as brand-new innovations when of course they aren’t really any such thing. As always, the actual product of Silicon Valley is, by and large, the myth of its own worth and merit; what’s being sold is not any actual innovation but a story about who is to be classed as properly innovative (and thereby preferably left untouched by regulation and untaxed by the very social arrangements which make their existence possible).

Toothpicks and Bubblegum

Oh my, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? So many important developments have taken place. For example, I got a new phone.

Let’s start off with something light, shall we? Let’s talk about how the web is a complete clusterfuck being held together by the digital equivalent of this post’s titular items.

The web of today would probably be, on the surface, not really recognizable to someone who was magically transported here from 20 years ago. Back then, websites were mostly static (pace the blink tag) and uniformly terrible-looking. Concepts like responsiveness and interactivity didn’t really exist to any serious extent on the web. You could click on stuff, that was about it; the application-in-a-browser concept that is Google Docs was hardly credible.

But on the other hand, that web would, under the surface, look quite familiar to our guest from 1993. The tags would have changed of course, but the underlying concept of a page structured by HTML and animated by JavaScript* would have been pretty unsurprising. Although application-in-a-browser did not exist, there was nothing in the makeup of Web 1.0 to preclude it; all the necessary programming ingredients were already in place to make it happen. What was missing, however, was the architecture which enabled applications like Google Docs to be realized. And that’s what brings us to today’s remarks.

You see, I am of the strong opinion that the client-side development architecture of the web is ten different kinds of fucked up. A lot of this is the result of the “architecture by committee” approach that seems to be the MO of the W3C, and a lot more seems to be just a plain lack of imagination. Most complaints about W3C focus on the fact that its processes move at a snail’s pace and that it doesn’t enforce its standards, but I think the much larger problem with the web today is that it’s running on 20-year-old technology and standards that were codified before the current iteration of the web was thought to be possible.

Let me explain that. As an aside, though, allow me to tell a relevant story: recently I went to a JavaScript programmers’ MeetUp where people were presenting on various web frameworks (e.g. Backbone, Ember, Angular, etc.). During the Backbone talk, the fellow who was giving it made a snarky comment about “not programming in C on the web.” This got a few laughs and was obviously supposed to be a dig of the “programming Fortran in any language” variety. What I found most revealing about this comment, though, was that it was made in reference not to any features that JavaScript has and C doesn’t (objects, garbage collection) but rather in reference to the notion that one’s program ought to be modularized and split over multiple files. This is apparently considered so ludicrous to a web programmer that the mere suggestion that one might want to do so is worthy of mockery.

At the same time, web programmers are no longer creating static pages with minimal responsivity and some boilerplate JavaScript to do simple things like validation. In fact, the entirety of this presentation was dedicated to people talking about frameworks that do precisely the sort of thing that desktop developers have been doing since forever: writing large, complicated applications. The only difference is that those applications are going to be running in a web browser and not on a desktop, which means they have to access server-side resources in an asynchronous fashion. Other than that, Google Docs doesn’t look much different from Word. And you can’t do large-scale app development by writing all your code in three or four files. I mean, you can do that, but it would be a very bad idea. It’s a bad idea independent of the specific paradigm in which you’re developing, because the idea itself is sort of meta-architectural to begin with. Modularization is the sine qua non of productive development because it allows you to split up your functionality into coherent and manageable work units. It’s a principle that underlies any effective notion of software engineering as such; to deride it as “programming in C on the web” while wanting all the benefits that modularization delivers is to demand, with Agnes Skinner, that all the groceries go in one bag, but that the bag also not be heavy.

What’s the point of this story? It’s this: if large-scale modularization is a necessary feature of truly productive application programming, then how come we have had to wait close to two decades for it to finally reach the web? In particular, why has it taken this long to become a feature of JavaScript that had to be bolted on afterwards by ideas such Asynchronous Module Definition and Require.js?

Because the presence of these projects and efforts, and the fact that they have solved (to whatever extent) the problem of modularization on the web, is ipso facto evidence that the problem existed, demanded a solution, and a solution was possible. Moreover, that this would be a problem for large-scale development would (and should) have been just as obvious to people 20 years ago as it is today. After all, the people responsible for the design and standardization of efforts like JavaScript were programmers themselves, for the most part; it’s not credible to believe that even the original JavaScript compiler was just one or two really long files of code. And yet somehow, the whole concept of breaking up your project into multiple dependencies never became an architectural part of the language despite the fact that this facility is present in virtually all modern programming languages.

To me, this is the first, and perhaps greatest, original sin of the client-side web. A language intended for use in the browser, and which could and is now being used to develop large-scale client-side web applications, originally came, and remains, without any architectural feature designed to support breaking up your program into discrete pieces of code. This isn’t meant to denigrate the awesome work done by the guy behind Require, for example, but the fact remains that Require shouldn’t even have been necessary. AMD, in some form, should have been a first-class architectural feature of the language right out of the box;. I should be able to simply write import("foo.js") in my file and have it work; instead, we were reduced to loading scripts in the “right order” in the header. This architectural mistake delayed the advent of web applications by a long time, and still hampers the modularization of complex web applications. Laughing this off as “programming C on the web” is terribly shortsighted, especially as recent developments in JavaScript framework land have demonstrated just exactly this need for breaking up your code. Google didn’t develop their Google Web Toolkit for shits and giggles; they did it because Java provides the kind of rigid structure for application development that JavaScript does not. Granted, they might have gone a bit too far in the other direction (I hate programming in Java, personally), but it’s obvious why they did it: because you can’t do large-scale development without an externally imposed architecture that dictates the flow of that development.

This is already getting way, way longer than I originally anticipated it being, so I’ll stop here. My next installment in this series will be a discussion of all the other terrible things that make the web suck: namely, HTML and CSS. So you know, I’m really covering all the bases here.

*: Yes, I know JavaScript didn’t appear until 1995. Shut up.

Beneath a Steel Sky

About a year and a half ago, I went to San Francisco for a conference, and while I was there I met up with an old high school friend who lived in the East Bay. We went walking around the city, talking, and in a totally unexpected twist in the narrative the topic of discussion veered toward political matters. One of the things we talked about was the difference in political attitudes between the former USSR and the present-day USA, and on that topic, I suggested that one of the biggest difference was the relative intangibility of crisis in America.

That needs explained, as they say here in the 412. What I mean by that is not that large sectors, or even the majority of the population, have been able to escape the consequences of the Great Recession and the corresponding catastrophe of governance that Republicans have managed to create at every level. What I mean is that despite all these things, the country still looks like it’s running. A great deal of that is obviously administrative inertia, but as we all learned in high school physics, momentum is mass times velocity. The bureaucratic machinery may not have a great deal of the latter, but it has enough of the former that it can grind on for quite some time (apparently Belgium did not cease to exist despite failing to have an official elected government for more than a year): you get up in the morning and you still go to your job (if you’re lucky enough to have one) via mostly-functioning highways; by and large, the electricity is still on in the vast majority of places (if you can afford to pay for it); the world physically looks more or less all right, since the rot underneath hasn’t quite surfaced as physical manifestation. In the USSR, on the other hand, that manifestation was ubiquitous; you can joke about bread lines all you want, but the truth is that bread lines absolutely existed. You couldn’t really go outside and not be confronted with your governments failures.

In short, it’s easy to be oblivious in America, as long as you’re still reasonably well off. It’s even easier and better if you’re unreasonably well off. And since it’s the unreasonably well off who control the tempo and content of our political conversation, a great number of people continue to walk around with a vague sense of unease that something has gone terribly wrong, but with no adequate framework for explaining just what it is that has gone wrong and no overt physical manifestation of the wrongness[1]. Because the machine grinds on.

Except when it doesn’t. Which brings us to the debt ceiling debate.

I feel like I should somehow be angrier about this than I really am, but owing to my own relatively privileged position within the great chain of being, I find myself every bit as much under the sway of the cognitive biases outlined above. The infrastructure may be crumbling all around me, but it’s doing it pretty slowly, so every day physically appears a lot like the previous day. The same (sometimes boarded-up) buildings are still there; the buses (fare increases and all) are still running; the streets (Moon-worthy craters notwithstanding) have not yet deteriorated to the point of being undriveable (though many are unbikeable). Everything looks like it’s more or less the same.

But it’s obviously not, because on December 31st, the federal government has officially run into the debt ceiling. Which means that the money required to keep the machine grinding is going to run out, and it’s going to run out very soon, because the Republican House refuses to do what the House has done year in and year out for about a century and raise it. Put simply, obligations already committed to by the government will go unpaid; the country might, quite literally, default.

This should be an unthinkable set of circumstances for the largest and wealthiest economy in the world, and yet here we are. Since Republicans have decided that economic terrorism was the way forward, they’ve quite sensibly taken a hostage that they’re willing to shoot; it just so happens that the hostage is the American economy. What “negotiation” is possible when a minority (and make no mistake about it, Republicans are nationally less popular than Democrats) literally threatens to destroy the economy if it doesn’t get its way? The term “nuclear option” is frequently overused, but that would seem appropriate here. The Republicans have strapped an economic nuclear weapon to themselves and are threatening to take down everyone, including their own constituents.

The whole thing seems absolutely surreal; it’s as though, while intellectually convinced that we’re on a plane headed towards a mountain, most of us (and most of our so-called elites) are sitting calmly in our seats knitting[2]. Maybe it’s the overwhelming sense of despair at being able to actually achieve anything, or the vapidity of the ongoing conversation. Sensible people keep saying things like “JESUS CHRIST PULL UP ON THE STICK SO WE CAN CLEAR THIS FUCKING MOUNTAIN BEFORE YOU KILL US ALL,” but one of the ornery co-pilots has wedged the control stick so far up his asshole that the only way to get to it would be to cut the bastard open stern-to-stern. Too bad all we’ve got on this flight are plastic knives.

At times like these it feels tempting to ascribe the whole thing to some sort of collective insanity. But that’s not fair to actually insane people, nor is it accurate as an assessment of what’s actually going on. You could do some game-theoretical reasoning about the lack of incentives that Republican have to cooperate due to gerrymandering and primary threats, and you would be right, but it takes a special kind of sociopath to look reality in the face and decide that we’re better off plunging into the mountain because it would avoid having to compromise one’s highly-principled stand that no airplane should fly above 10,000 feet. Which is all to say that all of this is deliberate and planned and explainable by simply reading what the principal participants have to say about it.

In the next few weeks, I suppose we’re going to find out whether we clear the mountain after all, or whether the price of America’s continued existence is going to be throwing a good third of the passengers off the plane mid-flight because otherwise we’re all going to die. Recent trends do not justify optimistic projections.

[1] Obviously, for many people the wrongness does manifest itself: in lost jobs, in rising health care premiums, in decreased funding for education, and in many other ways. The point isn’t that people aren’t suffering, it’s that the conversation is controlled by an upper stratum of the elite, who are decidedly not suffering at all; this prevents any kind of serious structural analysis from emerging to help people make sense of what’s going on.

[2] I don’t know why knitting except that it’s the kind of thing I imagine one might do if one wanted to calm themselves. Substitute your favorite calming activity here.

Cargo Cult Politics

In the days since the election, recriminations have been flying fast and hard inside the Republican hivemind. Mallet du Pan observed more than 200 years ago that the revolution devours its own children, and a modified form of that adage has applied quite well to the recent “analysis” of just what it is that went wrong on November 6th. Of course, not all of the analysis is scare-quotes worthy; over at The Monkey Cage, John Sides explains with voodoo things like “numbers” and “logic” why this election may not be a realignment, and elsewhere occasionally-sane conservative David Frum has been trying to bring some semblance of reality into the conservative bubble.

Part of the soul-searching, if it can be called that, that is taking place among the more fact-aware members of the Republican community, has involved reflections on the changing demographics of America. Oh, has it ever involved them! It is possible now to finally get Republicans to realize that the demographics are changing, which I suppose is progress of a sort, but there are things that you believe with your head, and things that you believe with your heart; while it seems the head-belief is making inroads, the heart-belief that Republicans can win by changing nothing remains.

This, I hope, makes the title clear. When Richard Feynman first spoke about “cargo-cult science,” he had in mind something that has all the appearance of science but none of its actual content. It’s clear that so far, the Republican strategy has had all the appearance of a strategy, but none of the actual content. Well, that’s not entirely fair. Or maybe it’s too fair; the appearance is the content.

If you read almost any breakdown of future GOP strategy, you find a lot of discussion about how to best communicate the Republican message to Latinos, women, and, well, anyone who isn’t a straight white dude. But as James Joyner astutely observes, the problem is not communication. The problem is that all those people really fucking hate the Republican platform. To understand this, one need look no further than a man who is righter than he knows: Bill O’Reilly. For anyone not familiar will O’Reilly’s post-election pontifications, his surprisingly non-psychotic take on the whole thing was pretty straightforward: the people who voted for Obama want “stuff.”

Let’s set aside the obvious racism (which is even more racist in context) of O’Reilly’s remark. Taking Republicans to task for racist bullshit is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit, and plenty of people have done it. What is more interesting to me is looking at the sense in which O’Reilly is entirely correct in his evaluation.

O’Reilly seems to have discovered the remarkable phenomenon, previously unknown to anyone in American politics, that people are motivated by political messages that promise them some desirable outcome. Just like many rich people are motivated to vote for Republicans by promises of tax cuts, and lots of white people are motivated to vote for Republicans by barely-disguised racist pandering, so are people on the other side of the fence motivated by considerations of what benefits they might reap from electoral outcomes. Of course, far from being some sort of pathology, this is actually an entirely normal thing for people to do, and the only objection that O’Reilly can possibly have to this is that the “wrong” sorts of people want the “wrong” sorts of things. Women with their abortions and gays with their marriage and liberals in general with their welfare state, UGH!

And that’s the basic problem for Republicans going forward: people like what the other party’s offering. They legitimately think that a welfare state funded by progressive taxation and a legal regime in which a woman isn’t forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are good things. If you offer to dismantle all of that stuff that people like, you can hardly be surprised if your platform ends up being somewhat unpopular. It’s not wildly unpopular, yet, but the trend is headed in that direction; the only age group that voted for Romney was old people, and the younger the demographic gets, the more liberal it is. For all their talk of “communication” and “appeals to minorities” it’s pretty clear that a lot of Republicans think that they can just put a Latino face out there, or possibly a woman (say, how did that work last time?) and run the same regressive policies expecting to win. It’s a strategy of sorts, I suppose, but it’s not a strategy that, despite the ardent please of David Frum, includes any sort of modification of actual policies.

Of course, it’s easy to understand the problems that the GOP faces. They’re caught, especially at the Congressional level, between the Scylla of national unelectability and he Charybdis of primary challenges from their socially conservative base. A Republican party that decided to wave a white flag in the culture wars would face a powerful backlash in precisely the places where it’s currently strongest, but a party that continues to prosecute the same culture wars is facing an electorate that’s been progressively souring on that particular message. In a textbook illustration of irony, the truth of that, the truth of the proposition that voters will vote for the “stuff” they want, has been brought home by none other than O’Reilly. And when Bill O’Reilly is the one in your party who most closely resembles someone who understands how politics works, you’re probably deeply fucked.

In Which I Solve More of Your Most Pressing Problems

Look at this bullshit. I’ve been trying to get plotting and Qt working under Lisp, on a Mac, because I fucking hate myself. Yinz are about to benefit from my experience.

Here are the steps if you are the kind of self-hating masochist who needs to get commonqt working under OS X:

Steps to do that:

1) use something like macports to get the smoke libraries, e.g.

sudo port install smokeqt

2) wait a long time, hopefully it finishes without exploding

3) if you’ve got quicklisp, do (ql:quickload "qt"). It will crash.

4) It crashes for the following reasons:

a) for reasons not obviously clear to me the compilation is linked against the debug libraries, i.e. libQtGui_debug. WHY?! It don’t matter, go to whatever directory quicklisp put your shit in and edit the file to remove the debug from the build spec.
b) While you’re there you’ll also want to change lsmokeqtcore to lsmokebase because that’s the correct lib to link against, else CRASHX0R.

5) ok, you can now (ql:quickload "qt") again. Psych! no you can’t. It won’t work. WHY?!

6) it’s because the cffi library that gets loaded is incorrectly configured for OS X. That’s fucking right, you’re gonna want to change that line in info.lisp that goes:

#-(or mswindows windows win32) ""

to something sensible like

#+(and (or unix) (not darwin)) ""
#+(or mswindows windows win32) "smoke~A.dll"
#+(or darwin) "libsmoke~A.dylib"

so that now it actually loads libsmokecore.dylib and all that other jazz correctly.

7) ok, now run the quickload again! YOU ARE ALL SET MOTHERFUCKER.

How to solve the problem of multiple Qt installations on a Mac

Yeah, I know; this is probably not a common problem you have. But shit, this is as much or more for my benefit as yours. Anyway, let’s say you have Qt installed because you downloaded the official dmg, but then you also went and installed the Enthought Python distribution which comes with its own Qt. And also, that Qt might be a different architecture, so WHAT CAN YOU DO?!

Just export DYLD_FRAMEWORK_PATH, like so:

export DYLD_FRAMEWORK_PATH="/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/7.2/Frameworks/:$DYLD_FRAMEWORK_PATH"

This should ensure that any loading of the Qt libraries references the Enthought ones. Of course yours might be installed in a different location (and in any case instead of referencing version 7.2 you should just use Current, but whatevs).

You are welcome.

Everyone Is Doing It So Why Not Me?

Assuming all five of you are the kind of sophisticated readers that frequent this blog, I’m not going to tell you anything you didn’t already know about SOPA. Now that pretty much every useful site on the Internet has gone to blackout mode in protest, there’s no shortage of opportunity to learn as much as you’d care to about this legislation. I could go on about how SOPA essentially establishes a presumption of guilt, how it puts what ought to be government power in the hands of private actors, and how its technical requirements would render useless much of what we value about the Internet, but you can get this anywhere; I’ll dedicate my time to saying something else.

And that something else is this: the more I live on this earth, in this American society, and the more I read and learn, the more I become convinced that capitalism (that is to say, the actual existing capitalism of today, not the fantasy capitalism of libertopia) has pretty much nothing to do with markets. I think this is true generally, and there are ample other opportunities to observe this fact, but the SOPA fight really brings the contrast between these two ideas into sharp relief. It’s pretty obvious that what’s going on here is the sort of expansion of rent-seeking that’s been the hallmark of copyright legislation for decades now; indeed, it would be surprising if something like SOPA (or it’s proposed almost-as-shitty replacement PIPA) were not the next step in the entertainment industry’s tireless fight to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs. The contrast of note here is industry’s reliance on market-based language for justification while doing the utmost to squelch any responsibility they might have toward satisfying their actual target market. This goes beyond the basic, easily-understood idea that many ordinary pirates are really just dissatisfied customers who are tired of paying exorbitant amounts of money to be treated like criminals; it’s at the point where Monster Cable (yes, those fuckers) includes Costco among its list of “rogue” sites that would likely fall under the purview of SOPA (see link above). It’s pretty obvious here that what Monster is doing (what all those who are pushing for SOPA are doing) is attempting to buy legislation that would effectively make it illegal to compete with it.

This, and numerous other instances, put the lie to the idea that the backers of SOPA have any interest in responding to market pressures. What they’re really trying to do is to legislate their competitors out of existence, i.e. to leverage the power of the state for the purposes of delivering private industry profits. If that sounds like a retread of something you might have heard before, it should; it’s the m.o. of the financial industry following the crash. Not exclusively, of course; there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of small-time examples of this sort of thing. An extra clause in a bill here, an additional regulation there, and oh look, you can’t park on the street overnight in front of your own home because that’s basically like cheating landlords out of extra money they can squeeze from you for parking spaces (thanks, city of Providence!). In short, everyone likes to talk about capitalism, but no one, not even the big boys, actually want to live it.

SOPA by itself is tragedy enough, but what’s even sadder is that it’s just a symptom of something that’s been going on a long time: if you’ve got the money, you can buy yourself the legislation you need to screw your competitors, all the while paying lip service to some notion of markets that doesn’t exist anywhere outside of an Econ 101 textbook. Market-speak is just a useful tool to keep the proles outraged about paying taxes that might possibly benefit a poor and/or brown-skinned person someday, but when it comes right down to it, there ain’t nothing a big corporation hates as much as it hates competition. We want to keep the government out of our business, sure, but there’s nothing more we like than to get the government into someone else’s business, or better yet, someone else’s bedroom if we can. So remember that the next time you hear some immaculately-coifed suit expound on the virtues of free markets and competition: they don’t mean it, or to the extent that they mean it, it’s for thee (you) and not for me (them). These people are paid liars and if our press had half the integrity they like to think of themselves as having, they’d laugh these shills right out of the studio.

In conclusion, I’d like to announce that upon the formation of Glorious Socialist Utopia, all RIAA and MPAA execs will be sent down to the salt mines. You have been duly warned.

Why Is Your Racist Uncle So Popular?

Following the GOP primary process is an exhausting feat best left to professional masochists. If I ever feel the need to submerge myself in a sea of collective idiocy, I think I’ll head down to one of the clubs on Pittsburgh’s South Side; at least the stupidity there is physically contained instead of being broadcast nationwide. There is exactly one interesting thing about this whole circus, and that’s the attention being garnered (again and still) by Ron Paul. I’m not terribly interested in debating his merits as such; if you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, you already know my feelings concerning the good doctor, and in any case, you can pretty much peruse any number of sources, from Mr. Destructo’s three-part Vice series to Paul’s own voting record, to figure out why he’s not really an acceptable candidate. What’s interesting to me is why the guy who is basically your racist, homophobic, anti-choice uncle is incredibly popular (especially with people who should know better) and what that says about the generally fucked-up state of our political discourse.

I think there are two major reasons for Paul’s popularity; these reasons are somewhat intertwined, but they involve two separate aspects of Paul’s personality. The first of these is his general on-screen demeanor (as opposed to, say, the shit printed in his newsletters): it can’t be emphasized enough that Paul is essentially the only candidate who doesn’t look like a raving lunatic on stage. He’s always composed, always calm, and always on-message. He doesn’t forget his lines like Perry, he doesn’t have flecks of foam around his mouth like Newt, and he doesn’t look like he’s just adopted whatever stupidity is most recently popular with the Republican base like Romney. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if the three aforementioneds engaged in a Muslim baby-eating contest on stage, but Paul comes across as genuinely concerned about the effects of the American war machine on both our diplomatic standing in the world and its effects on actual, living human beings. In a sea of candidates trying to outdo each other in callousness, it’s quite a bizarre sight. I think Paul’s telegenic image and ability to sound like a relatively reasonable human being half the time goes a long way towards explaining his appeal to people who, most likely, would never otherwise consider voting for a Republican, including a fair number of young-uns from my generation.

But there’s another aspect to Paul’s appeal which I think is equally important: it’s his deft use of classic conspiracist thinking. In this way, he’s different in degree if not in kind from the rest of the Republican pack, but the difference is key. Whereas the other candidates tend to focus on fairly traditional conservative bugbears (e.g. liberals, feminists, gays, socialists, elites, Muslims, atheists, and all plausible and implausible permutations of the above), Paul tends to direct his ire towards the Federal Reserve, a seemingly anodyne policy point that nevertheless has gained great traction among a certain libertarian fringe. This would seem to be a weird hill to choose to die on, but it makes sense in the following way: since the Fed is an institution that exists mostly orthogonally to the culture war issues, you don’t end up alienating anyone over a contentious social issue. Feminists aren’t likely to vote for Paul due to his anti-choice views, but there’s nothing in feminism to dispose a person one way or the other on questions of monetary policy, and people whose commitment to reproductive rights isn’t nearly as strong (e.g. a whole lot of dudes) are probably going to be more readily swayed by abstract arguments over the merits of fractional reserve banking. In any case, by keeping the focus on these technical issues and keeping his retrograde views on homosexuality, race, and women behind the scenes, Paul maintains a loose coalition of moonbats obsessed with one particular aspect of American governance that might otherwise be torn apart over social issues.

The reason why the focus on the Fed is such a great example of conspiracism is because it addresses a key psychological need of the people who participate in this kind of magical thinking: the need to feel that you know something special that no one else does. It would typically not occur to any reasonable person to attribute all the ills of the world to a single banking mechanism coupled with a fiat currency. There are certainly legitimate criticisms to be made of the Federal Reserve, but these criticisms are grounded in accusations that its actions are often seen to be more to the benefit of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Still, this is no more a condemnation of fiat currency than the existence of identity theft is a condemnation of having bank accounts. It is precisely because these views are counterintuitive that they are so attractive to conspiracists. After all, if the answer were obvious, then others would have probably figured it out by now, but this way, the conspiracists feel as though they possess a sort special knowledge that others do not (witness how often Paul’s defenders drop “sheeple” or any of its variants in [online] discussion). I think this is a huge part of what attracts people to Paul, despite the fact that it doesn’t happen to be accurate in the slightest.

Doubtless many will protest that I have failed to mention Paul’s anti-war views or his views on the drug war as reasons to support him. I certainly support the positions he takes on those subjects, but I don’t think these things alone can quite account for the depth of his support. After all, there are presumably plenty of people who could be found to run on those positions on, say, the Libertarian ticket, who have neither Paul’s history of noxious racism nor his gold-bug tendencies. I’m sure Reason could come up with more than a few such candidates, some of whom might even try their hand at the Republican primaries (as, indeed, Gary Johnson has done). I don’t believe it’s coincidental that the strongest support is going to the candidate of the conspiracist fringe. When confronted with the disastrous methodology for accomplishing his stated goals (End the drug war… BY DISMANTLING THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. End the war on terror… BY DISMANTLING THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT), Paul’s supporters are apt to engage in dismal mental contortions that involve a careful explanation of why Paul will be able to, as president, accomplish exactly those things that you like about him and none of those things that you don’t like. The cult of personal infallibility, the invention of just-so stories and ad hoc explanations for any and all criticisms, and the all-encompassing nature of the theory of Ron Paul governance are all classic signatures of magical thinking that brooks no counterexamples, a technique which puts at its users disposal an explanation for virtually all aspects of politics in digestible form.

Nevertheless, Paul’s candidacy is terribly important in one way, and that simply has to do with what it says about the liberal/progressive wing of the electorate. It should be both stunning and embarassing to liberals that the one guy who actually seems genuinely opposed to American militarism is vying for the presidential nomination from the party that practically has “bombing brown people” as one of its platform planks. Over at Naked Capitalism, Matt Stoller has written up an interesting piece about the challenge that Paul presents to liberals, but while I think his main thesis is correct (well, the challenge part is), his details are wrong. Stoller alleges that Paul attacks liberal thought by focusing on the nexus between central banking and war financing, but this really isn’t a problem for any liberal at all, unless one mistakently believes that wars didn’t happen on the gold standard. The truth, I think, is much, much simpler: Paul presents a challenge because it’s embarassing that liberals have not been able to field a genuinely anti-(terror/drug)-war candidate who doesn’t come with a horrible social platform and thinks that the solution to all ills is to shatter the country into small pieces. There were people (myself included) who thought that Barack Obama could be that candidate, but… well, you can see how that worked out.

That is the real challenge that Paul presents to liberals: the existence of his candidacy exposes the complete failure of Democratic Party politics to produce anything like the stated goals of the liberals who routinely cast votes for that party. Paul is riding a wave of disaffection with the standard political narratives by offering a conspiracist alternative that aims to explain every aspect of politcs via a simple (and obviously incorrect) theory. The fact that he is able to do this by advocating anti-war positions should be taken by all liberals as a direct condemnation of our failed politics and of our failed expectations of our own (alleged) ideological allies. If anything, Paul is a hell of a lot braver than any Democratic presidential candidate of the last 12 years: he’s willing to take his viewpoint to an obviously hostile constituency, while virtually every Democratic aspirant to the Oval Office has been competing with their party-mates to see how many hippies they could throw under the bus.

I’m not voting for Ron Paul; he sucks, even if he’s right about some things, even some very important things. But a lot of liberals should think about how it came about that the only person willing to say something even remotely sensible about our foreign adventures is doing so in ideological opposition to virtually his entire party. And how it came to be that our own (supposed) political allies can’t muster a tenth of that kind of spine, and may not even want to do so.