Trust and Aggression

So, trump has been reaming the US intelligence community non-stop as being full of utterly incompetent, “deep state” actors who are:

  1. Out to get him
  2. Willing to lie, fabricate evidence, and circumvent legal processes to spy on him because (1)
  3. So stupid that they couldn’t tell the OBVIOUSLY FAKE RUSSIA STUFF was obviously fake

And now, he, and I’m currently estimating that this is the correct word, assassinates Iran’s top military official (along with some Iraqi officials) while he’s at an Iraqi airport.  That seems pretty wild to me because:

  1. Killing another country’s public official while not being at war with that country seems wrong
  2. Executing a strike within another country’s territory, without its permission or any real position having been established that we must do so because that country is unwilling or unable to handle these targets on its own seems wrong
    1. Maybe we did this?

But I mean.. the entire justification for killing this guy is based on intelligence from the same community that trump considers to be of the quality given in the first set of points above.. so now, I guess, he thinks they’re totally right on this one?

I don’t know, this is such a mess.  This is part of why I have stated that the worst part of trump’s presidency appears to me to be the constant attacks on our own government and the obvious lack of trustworthiness he embodies.  His policies, thus far, don’t seem to be very bad, but frankly, I suspect that’s because he doesn’t really have any policies or any ideas of what to do other than what strikes him in a given situation at a given moment.  His staff and other members of the government seem to be cobbling together some sort of policy-like structure to connect his action dots, so to speak, but it seems like, wildly placed though his dots may be, they’re kinda sticking to a median line that’s sorta not diverging too greatly from the norm?

But we’re in a place now where:

  1. The media is more or less divided entirely into partisan hackery, with both sides being pretty consistently and predictably unworthy of credibility
  2. Our political parties have more or less descended into consistent partisan hackery, with the republican sheep following the president no matter what and the democratic sheep opposing the president no matter what
  3. The president is an obvious, flagrant, frequent liar of perhaps unprecedented proportions
  4. By our own president’s account, and that of most of his right wing sheep, our governmental institutions responsible for our defense and stability are chock-full of incompetent, conniving liars who are out to get him and willing to lie, fabricate evidence, and ignore counter-evidence to do so

So, are we at the point where the few (so it seems) sane people left just try to hunker down and ride this out?  As I’ve said before, I used to think it was an intellectually lazy cop-out to suggest that both sides are equally bad, but that was before it seemed to me that there is such a density of lies and deceit on both sides, with even our own President accusing his own employees of it (but strangely seeming to do nothing about it), and even some evidence in his favor..

I mean.. what was the deal with the Russia thing?  I still think there are major unanswered questions, such as: why the hell would he try to have private meetings with Putin and even go so far as to take his translator’s notes?  But now, I wonder: was that a lie?  Did that ever happen?  What does Michael Steele think of his dossier?  Did he think there was a good chance it was super, 100% wrong, and he didn’t expect it to be taken so seriously without corroborating evidence (of which..there wasn’t any?  Really?)??

I’m afraid I may simply not have enough time to try to wade through all of this and write up a satisfying argument diagram with even the most plausible counter-arguments chased down to any respectable degree.  It doesn’t seem that anyone else is willing or able to do that, either, so…

I dunno.  I’m looking for any leads or ideas that anyone may have regarding a good resource for trying to figure this junk out.  Something like an argument diagram with sufficient reference points to establish some sort of reasonable guess at what looks to be correct (like.. beyond a 75% chance of being right, or something).

Posted in Information Technology, Politics | Leave a comment

America and the Road to Rome

Spurred on by the illustrious philosoraptor, my general thoughts regarding America’s present political choices are:

  1. The “Progressive” Left remains very susceptible to:
    1. Its own hypocrisies (e.g. identifying as black instead of female)
    2. Its own religiosity (e.g. failure to sufficiently prostrate before its own arational ideals)
    3. General accusations of maladministration (excluding those acts which align with their arational ideology)
    4. Violations of general civility standards (in fact, they’re hyper-sensitive to this and exaggerate the susceptibility with identity politics nonsense)
  2. The right appears to be fairly invulnerable to historically-damning transgressions in any of the categories itemized above.
  3. With its lockstep support of trump, the right has:
    1. Reinforced the assessment that they are utterly devoid of genuine principle (I’ve held this assessment since the Senate Republicans’ uniform condemnation of the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate as unconstitutional despite many of them previously supporting such legislation for a long time, and that being the basis on which the Individual Mandate was chosen for the Affordable care Act)
    2. Demonstrated willingness to kow-tow to a genuine asshole regardless of what he does, even when that includes belittling them and disrupting their own alleged interests.

With that preface, I actually do worry that the biggest danger facing American politics right now is that trump is showing that Americans are actually severely lacking in moral, or even practical, principle. He is showing that someone can become president despite:

  1. Running a campaign of almost pure demagoguery, utterly failing to deliver nearly any promised deliverable
  2. Degrading American institutions by acting like an insanely stupid asshat
  3. Eroding public trust and confidence in essential components of our government (even going so far as to routinely call our law enforcement and intelligence agencies treasonous)
  4. Hypocritically ensuring the actualization of his cheap, unsubstantiated critiques of his adversaries (e.g. claiming incessantly that other countries are laughing at America, only to ensure that actually occurs by performing the above three steps and securing deserved derision and condescension from other leaders)

This is not good. The most worrisome thing to me about American politics is that it seems the American people are mindlessly, aimlessly plodding along, utterly uninterested in ensuring that even basic standards of civility or decency are imposed upon our leadership.

When Bush was president, I felt that his administration did things which were beyond the pale (e.g. publicly asserting that torturing to death innocent people based on mistaken identity is acceptable so long as Americans stay safe, invading Iraq for no reason at all and costing us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives) and it disturbed me greatly that some subset of the population remained supportive of the administration in spite of it.

But now, the ONLY good thing that can be said of trump and his administration, it seems, is that he isn’t the worst of his opposition. He is apparently a total piece of shit, without any redeeming quality other than his accidental adoption of decent policy when it suits him to do so for reasons utterly unrelated to the decency of that policy. He is obviously a charlatan, an ignoranus, and so self-absorbed that he can easily be manipulated with flattery and obeisance, and he has neither interest in nor tolerance for reasoned dissent. He has driven out of the administration numerous respectable figures on very worrisome grounds (e.g. Mattis left because he could not ensure that American allies would be valued and treated with respect, which he, and I as well, believes to be fundamental to continued American and global stability and security).

Despite all of this, a very sizable amount of Americans remain supportive of him.  In fact, a survey was recently unveiled which seems to indicate that some third of Americans has decided that trump could do nothing to lose their support.  This is just astonishing.

The best defense that I have heard mounted on behalf of trump’s supporters is that they are simply driven to this distasteful position by the utter horrors which trump’s political adversaries threaten to wreak upon American institutions. This is not a baseless accusation; American Liberals seem to have been driven from the public eye in favor of “Progressives” who continually push for a nanny state that will:

  1. Constrain freedom of speech on absurd grounds (e.g. the false equivocation of derogatory or asinine speech with violence, or the outrageously stupid bases offered up by identity politics)
  2. Constrain the right to bear arms on hysterical, reactionary grounds (e.g. the utter failure to observe that “gun violence”, particularly active shooters, are simply not statistically indicative that American gun ownership is a problem; do we want to become England, where, having constrained this right about as much as possible, are entertaining the prospect of prohibiting the sale and possession of kitchen knives with pointed ends?)
  3. Encourage and facilitate what appears to be one of history’s greatest psychological/psychiatric malpractice epidemics in “gender identity” issues and horrifying “treatments” resulting therefrom (imposed upon children, no less)
  4. Encourage and facilitate potentially disastrous identity-politics-driven policies without significant thought (e.g. open borders)

That is all very, very bad.

In spite of all of that, I think the more severe problem before us is this:  trump is proving to America that Americans are far more dangerously unsuited to the task of self-governance than I previously suspected.

I used to think something like: many Americans support policies which, sometimes prima facie, but sometimes not, should be discarded rather immediately by any citizen qualified to govern himself. This worried me. I consoled myself by thinking “Well, that’s only like 25% of the people in the country, and we at least have the Democrats who are generally on the right side of things and make usually-sensible arguments for their positions.”

Now, however, I see:

  1. trump demonstrating that it appears the entirety of the American right (at least their representatives) is unwilling to stand up to an obviously, terribly bad president (certainly the worst in my lifetime), and which seems to have a sort of bloodlust for the American government, reveling in trump’s antagonistic behavior and gleefully, or at least carelessly, observing his disrespect for numerous essential components thereof.
  2. The American Left demonstrating that all those principles I thought it once stood for were likely simply artifacts of fortunate collisions between those principles and the American Left’s actually-mindless opposition to the American Right

As I said, I think the most disturbing aspect of what’s going on in American politics right now is that we may actually be following the path that led to the destruction of Rome; our populace is disinterested in its own governance and absolutely unled by principled, rational political thought. It appears we have a feverish clash between segments of the population arbitrarily carved from its entirety by some combination of factors, none of which are rational thought. It seems to me that good times make for weak men, and here we are. Without desperation (e.g. imposed by war which requires participation from more than the volunteer military population, or significant economic hardship affecting the majority of the population) demanding that people actually try to think about this stuff, the American citizenry, within a single generation, becomes fat, lazy, ignorant, despondent, and aimless.

I now wonder: in the course of my life, was the behavior of politicans controlled not by what appeared to me as principled stands by Americans, but instead by the false belief that there actually existed such principles on which Americans made their stands?

When Hillary Clinton, for example, was persecuted for the Benghazi-hysteria-derived email debacle, it at least seemed to me that there was genuine concern that she was acting flippantly and unacceptably regarding matters of national security. Even if, I thought, the right was simply exaggerating and capitalizing on that genuine and real concern to gain political advantage, at least it was a sensible concern that was being used against the American people. They could be manipulated, I believed, but at least that manipulation was founded on basic rational principles.

Now, it seems much worse than that. For as long as I have been alive, it seemed to me, for example, that the American Right championed traditional Western civility and morality. When they were wrong, and when they acted immorally, at least there were those among them who called it as such, and it seemed to offer actual obstacles to the success of the culprits among them. Now, they near-uniformly support the greatest antithesis of all that traditional Western civility and morality in trump.  It now seems to me of the American Right: they have no principles, only a desire to gain and maintain political power. Even their constituents are showing that they can be abused (e.g. by becoming the most significant victims of trump’s boneheaded trade wars) and all they ask for in return is more trumpin’.

And likewise, for as long as I have been alive, it seemed to me the American Left championed reason and evidence. They were the “reality-based community”! And now, what? Now, men can become women by fiat? Not only that, but it’s always been that way due to [social construction mumbo jumbo]? Not only that, but if you disagree, you’re a bigot and if they gain power, you’ll be jailed? If you don’t think it’s true, but your child is brainwashed by the whole thing, you’ll be compelled by the courts to watch as doctors abuse them, ruining their bodies, and cementing their confusion? Also, you’re going to be disarmed for your own safety and your speech will be regulated for the same “reason”?

That is NOT good.

NOT GOOD.

And what it all shows is: the American people are dangerously, horribly unfit to govern themselves. There is no substantial opposition to any of this. During the Republican primaries in which trump ran, Republican candidates tore into him for all the reasons one would expect, derived from the points I’ve made above. The draft-dodging bastard even went so far as to chastise an actual veteran who was actually captured and actually tortured by the enemies of America.  For all his genuine service to this country, and all the power he would typically gain by virtue of that service with his constituency, trump belittled Senator McCain for being captured and walked away without losing any substantial number of supporters. And every time trump did something like that, something that I thought would’ve ended the campaign of any other Republican candidate in modern history (I mean, really, what alleged Republican principle was more inviolable than respect for our military?), the opposition would be mounted and quickly evaporate in the face of an immovable constituency.

The same thing has happened to the Left.  I can’t help but to believe that Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, hell, even the adulterous-but-somehow-otherwise-pretty-great Bill Clinton would, were they now rising among the current population of the American Left, stand up against the catastrophic nonsense spewing from the mouths of all those in power among them.  But it appears we are without such a valuable challenger among them at this time.  Or perhaps they do not rise when the accidental intersection between rational principle and political whim fades away.

So, what I’m saying is: while we should care greatly about the disastrous policy implications of the “Progressive” Left, I think the more severe problem we have is that trump is continually pulling back the curtain and showing America how pathetically incompetent it is at self-governance. By stepping into the ring and utterly disregarding all the conventions and standards which were apparently at some point devoid of actual substantive support among the American public, he has revealed that no one really cares. He has revealed that a politician can completely manipulate huge portions of the American population by doing and saying approximately whatever he wants, even when it’s patently false, or even when it’s self-contradictory, so long as he somewhat frequently utters key words that drives his target audience crazy with glee.  And the American Left has nothing to offer against him.  Despite the extraordinarily trivial ease with which such a target should be rationally obliterated, it is either the case that the politicians among the American Left are too stupid or incompetent to actually accomplish that trivial matter, or they have caught on to the strategy trump is implementing and are simply targeting the other half of America with their own rendition of it.

This is what happened to Rome. Average Roman citizens became relatively comfortable for a relatively long period of time. When that occurred, they rapidly lost interest and confidence in their government.  The outrage-of-the-day turned into a constant background noise that rendered them ambivalent and reckless.  They considered politicians invariably to be clowns and liars, and so they voted into office clowns and liars. And that civilization no longer exists, as a result.

So for now, at least, I am of the opinion that we must restore to the office of the Presidency a candidate who re-establishes vulnerability to standard political scandals. As I have written, I fear that such vulnerability will only be driven by some combination of factors unrelated to the rational basis which should drive it, but, sadly, we may be at the point where the re-establishment of a flimsy illusion is the most important and pressing concern we have before us. If we can’t gain back even the appearance of principle, even the accidental respect for genuinely good standards and norms, I’m afraid we’re destined for increasingly trump-like figures, and it won’t matter on which side of the aisle those figures are seated. We may be condemned to face a disaster which will necessitate the reinvigoration of the American public such that they again become qualified to govern themselves.

As it has been written: no advice is heeded more soundly than that which is received on a sinking ship.

So, in short, if we don’t get rid of trump and rely upon the Republican minority (and, of extreme import: the conservative Supreme Court) to prevent outrageously unconstitutional “Progressive” policies from being enacted, I’m afraid we are choosing to run faster towards a wall which I expect not to break, rather than trying to slow down in hopes of deadening and managing an inevitable impact.

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The American Dream and the State of the Union

What a time to be alive.

It is interesting to find oneself in such a set of circumstances as those which presently face us while simultaneously making a concerted effort to note the near-ubiquity of similar lamentations throughout American history.  One of the best books I have ever read, The Great Conversation (the lead-in work for the unbelievably wonderful Great Works of the Western World collection), itself contained the common outcry that modern American man has degraded in quality when compared to his historic counterparts.  Indeed, one can hardly find a literary, religious, or philosophical tradition in any part of the world which does not hold up some distant age as a near-mythic shrine to the potential of humankind to which modern times pale disastrously in comparison.

But here we are, with what is at the very least a morbidly unqualified demagogue as President of the United States, and a citizenry seemingly incapable of holding him to appropriate standards.  As many have pointed out, the recent past is rife with politicians being driven from office or refused election for far less than the apparent wrongdoings of the current President.  Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about an affair.  Hillary Clinton was refused election, having been designated an unforgivable liar for, initially, wildly implausible claims regarding her role in the death of the honorable U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and the subsequent revelations that she did, in fact, transgress information security standards to an unacceptable degree.

In those times, I believed that the American people, partisan though they apparently were, had at their core a fundamental concern for the integrity of the American government.  Though they may have selected their items of concern out of partisan intent, they did seem, at least, to agree that the alleged items of concern were just that: items of genuine concern (supposing they were true).

But now, we have a President who has successfully represented components of our own government as insidious “deep-state” actors who seek to manipulate our citizens with lies and hidden conspiracies.  This representation serves as a foundation from which defense of any wrong, no matter how brazen or egregious, may apparently be mounted.  Despite the increasingly obvious fact that most of our fact checking organizations do indeed have a pitiably overt leftward bias in their work, it remains equally apparent that the current President lies with a frequency and vigor that outpaces certainly any American President in my lifetime.

And so in declaring the election of the current President an evil made necessary by outweighing the costs of his opponent’s alleged penchant for lies, we have earned for ourselves the most aggressive, remorseless liar for a President that we have, as a nation, perhaps ever had.  I find that I am forced into that observation with full awareness of the dangers of alarmist hyperbole and its constant presence throughout every era of American history.

That the American right has responded to this situation with initial resistance, eventual begrudging acceptance, and then full-blown endorsement and lockstep support would be bad enough, in itself, but my political experience had led me to a position where such a catastrophe was somewhat unsurprising.  After all, every single Republican Senator did join forces to declare not only that the Affordable Care Act was unacceptable as legislation, but, outrageously, that it was unconstitutional.  It was not that this was a wildly implausible accusation, but that the component of the ACA which was so declared had direct analogues in nearly every Republican attempt at healthcare legislation which had gained any serious attention between 1989 and the ACA’s proposal.  In fact, the Obama administration considered the so-called “individual mandate” to be the most effective means of garnering bipartisan support for the bill, given those direct analogues. Nonetheless, even those who had supported those prior legislative proposals now joined the others in declaring that component which had earned their prior endorsement not only unacceptable, but unconstitutional.

In addition to that, the Republican Vice President, Dick Cheney, had gone on national television and publicly asserted that he did not mind the fact that his administration had abducted and tortured innocent people to death so long as his mission of protecting America was accomplished.  I was left bewildered that such a thing could happen and so many Americans would not bat an eye.  It seemed, incredibly sadly, that I lived in a country of many who would gladly support a cartoonishly evil empire if given the opportunity.

So the American right had already earned my contempt and outrage to a degree that made their response to Trump not less outrageous, but at least somewhat precedented.  It was still astonishing that they would rally around him like so many secondary schoolyard bullies rally around their frontman despite sharing the receiving end of his denigration, themselves, but the Republican party’s capacity for uniting its members around extreme hypocrisy and even outright declarations of genuinely amoral principles had already been established.

But what has happened to the American left?  In my youth, I admired the wit and impressive intelligence of the liberal commentator Jon Stewart.  I loved with an ardent fervor the impassioned defense of freedom of speech from the likes of the ACLU, especially when it sided with the members of the American right.  Built into its very name, American liberalism seemed to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk in defense of individual liberty.  Regardless of how wrongheaded the right had seemed to become, it seemed the American left was dedicated, for example, to the fundamental principle of free speech on which the country was founded.  They cherished what may be the most unique feature of the country at the time of its adoption and defended it properly.

And now I have had the sad duty put upon me to watch, apparently helplessly, as friends who once struck me as competent political thinkers descend into an apparent mass hysteria.  The American left has become obsessed with identity politics.  Laughably silly concepts such as “microaggressions” and “gender identity” have gained favor as unquestionable truths.  “De-platforming,” the result of a childlike frustration with the pace of rational discourse, is now thought to be a necessary constraint to be placed on any who disagree with increasingly nonsensical positions.  While I have been taught, along with those same peers of mine who now support this outrage, that the freedom of speech, even when distasteful, is a necessary principle whose abdication will result in Orwellian states, it is astonishing to me how rapidly it seems that the foundation for such states rises in a suitable incubator.  Already, states are passing laws making it illegal to properly employ English grammar.  Universities are further attempting to become their own governmental analogues, legislating speech constraints, adjudicating their infractions, and executing punishment, all for matters which lie clearly in the scope of actual legal processes.  And they are doing so based on patently insane leftist theory.  The influence is growing, and leftward-leaning employers are gradually taking up their templates and enforcing them upon their employees.

I stand now between two apparent insanities.  It is a position that many have proclaimed throughout history, and it has led many to avoid casting a ballot during American elections.  It is a position I once eschewed as a result of laziness and an unwillingness to do the difficult intellectual work of evaluating competing political candidates in a quantitative fashion where degree matters and the enticing ease of stubborn insistence upon total satisfaction is dismissed.  I thought it nearly impossible that a serious mind could determine, given the choices available in my political lifetime, that one’s vote should be withheld entirely rather than applied in the direction of greatest, though not perfect, merit.

But that was before, I think, our current situation.  We now have the American right continuing to abandon its former principles with astonishing ease and rapidity in the pursuit of power.  They used to represent to me, at the very least, an intolerance for abdication of Western standards for gentlemanly conduct, but that, too, has been thrown out in some fit of power hungry gluttony.  On the left, we have a rise of actual totalitarianism seeking to make illegal even the expression of actual facts (e.g. that a person’s sex is not a matter of “gender identity”).  They conflate physical violence with distasteful verbal acts and portray their opponents as savage bigots deserving of the imposition of legal controls over the expression of their thoughts.

It’s absolutely incredible.  I do not know the cause of this situation.  Is it that my generation is uniquely incompetent?  In support of that notion, there seems to be a fairly obvious dearth of knowledge among many of my peers.  Where there is knowledge, there seems to be an additional fairly obvious dearth of moral theory.  Many of my peers, it seems, not only fail to understand the practical rationale for the current configuration of the country, but they also lack any moral conviction that aligns with that of those who first established that configuration.  As an example, when I engage in discussions with them, we often differ not only in the practical extent to which freedom of speech may be permitted, but whether or not it is even important at all.

But again, this seems a constant complaint throughout American, and human, history.  It is hard to discern whether or not today’s age is distinct from those that have passed in this way.  Regardless of the appropriate measure of severity at hand, the consequences seem certainly to be significantly greater than they have been.

Is this a cycle to which mankind is doomed?  I find myself speculating that it is the result of any number of other cyclical occurrences, such as participation in large-scale war.  As the saying goes, Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.  It is certainly easy to ascribe much to this cyclical theory; modern hardships certainly pale in comparison to those endured by, say, those alive during the World Wars.  Now, our wars are fought entirely voluntarily, and those outside of the population of volunteers are often hard-pressed to remark upon anything at all about the constant conflicts in which our country is immersed.  The juggernaut of our economy has strapped the citizenry with mandatory debt and enforced higher education as a prerequisite for nearly any job.  As a result, higher education standards have fallen to ensure the graduation of even the least capable so as to continue the application and collection of those debts which constrain our fates.

There is no question that we have diverged greatly from the initial American plan.  What was once a country held up as a destination for individuals who desired their own lives, as free from compulsion as is feasible for a country, is now a place where one is born into unavoidable integration with an increasingly despotic economic system.  No longer is there any land for one to stake for oneself; one must purchase one’s land at a cost that requires a lifetime of toil to repay.  To even be permitted to engage in that toil, one must purchase an increasingly pro forma “education” at a cost which one must also engage in much toil to repay.  All the while, political leaders have managed to strip down the progressivity of our system of taxation, enabling the accumulation of unprecedented stockpiles of wealth by an extreme minority of the country’s population from whom the remaining majority must beg for their pittance.

We no longer have the ability to reject many of the machinations of our society if they do not meet our standards.  The degree to which we may subsist upon our own labor has lessened so dramatically that it is virtually impossible to do in any meaningful way.  Even if the decreasing breadth of our individual capabilities, resulting from the increasingly narrow purposes to which we must dedicate ourselves, were not prohibitive of such subsistence, there is simply nowhere left to so subsist.  As a result, we are enslaved to a capitalism that increasingly resembles feudalism.  We are beholden to a tyranny of increasingly self-appointed, decreasingly qualified wealth stockpilers and officials put and held in place by the systems they have carved into our society, and whose merits cannot be meaningfully questioned or rejected without severe self-sacrifice.

We are so many train passengers facing so few bandits.  Though they could easily be thwarted by our numbers, none of us is confident in the support of one another.  Motionless, we are willingly robbed.

The American Dream, a concept which formerly represented that drive for individualism and independence, has become in the minds of many, a representation of a desire for comfort and ease.  And I’m afraid it is this which is leading to the infantilization of my generation, the desire for a nanny state to overlook them, and a total inability to maintain the individual qualities necessary to establish and manage a true Democratic Republic.

I know it’s my standard line, but, well, this is why.

If I’m right, I’m not sure what to do about it.  If I’m wrong, I don’t know why.

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Brief Issue Analysis: The Special Counsel’s Findings and Impeachment

With all the purported complexity and confusion out there on this subject, perhaps someone could correct me if I am incorrect.  Being a layperson in terms of the law, I would be entirely unsurprised if I am incorrect, but here is my position for any who might stumble along it and have some better knowledge of the matter which they could offer:

Mueller has determined, out of respect for the official position of the Department of Justice regarding its inability to charge a sitting President with criminal behavior, that the conclusion of whether or not the facts his investigation uncovered merit official proceedings against the President of the United States lies outside the scope of his responsibilities.

It seems pretty clear to me that Mueller is correct: the responsibility to choose whether or not to pursue official action against the President of the United States regarding crimes accused of him is that of Congress.

It seems also pretty clear to me that Mueller expects his findings are sufficient to warrant at least an official determination by Congress as to whether or not they merit an impeachment.

And if all that is the case, the Department of Justice must turn over any subpoenaed documents to Congress for their review such that the formal decision may be rendered.

I don’t see how any of this requires in-depth legal expertise about what’s going on. I could be overlooking some sort of complexity here, but I don’t see any, myself. Things are more complex when determining the validity of the official Department of Justice position, but if we simply accept it as Mueller has, I don’t know what’s confusing here.

The Republicans are abhorrently hypocritical cowards who now find themselves supporting an unfit, disgusting man semi-arbitrarily assigned membership with their party purely because he has that membership and is in power.  The Democrats are inept buffoons slowly succumbing to a cancerous and tyrannical “politically correct” nonsense with a similar degree of cowardice compelling them to behave in the most politically advantageous manner rather than the correct manner.

So we have a logjam.

It all seems quite simple to me, to be honest. Congress should render a formal decision regarding impeachment and pursue it or not, depending on the decision. The merits of the decision can then be made clear to all interested parties.

If anyone can point me to any information indicating that what I put forth above is incorrect, I would gladly accept it and amend this post so that it might be a resource to other interested parties.

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Fedora 29 / pgadmin4.3 Bug: ‘psycopg2.extensions.Column’ object has no attribute ‘_asdict’

There’s a bit of a lag in the Fedora RPMs from PostgreSQL’s repositories, so I thought I’d post this up in case anyone else out there runs into the error message in the subject of this post.

To fix it quickly (until the RPMs are updated), simply patch a single file (/usr/lib/python3.7/site-packages/pgadmin4-web/pgadmin/utils/driver/psycopg2/cursor.py) as follows:

1.  Right after the following lines (lines 18-19 in the file):

except ImportError:
    from ordereddict import OrderedDict

Add:

import psycopg2

2.  Replace the line (originally line 91 in the file):

        ores = OrderedDict(self.orig_col._asdict())
With:

        if psycopg2.__version__.find('2.8') != -1:
            ores = OrderedDict()
            ores['name'] = self.orig_col.name
            ores['type_code'] = self.orig_col.type_code
            ores['display_size'] = self.orig_col.display_size
            ores['internal_size'] = self.orig_col.internal_size
            ores['precision'] = self.orig_col.precision
            ores['scale'] = self.orig_col.scale
            ores['null_ok'] = self.orig_col.null_ok
            ores['table_oid'] = self.orig_col.table_oid
            ores['table_column'] = self.orig_col.table_column
       else:
            ores = OrderedDict(self.orig_col._asdict())

That’s it!  Careful about the line spacing; it’s python, so it’s quite sensitive to it.  If you use vim or some other python-aware editor, it should flag any incorrect spacing in your edits.

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The Messiah

General Etymology and Significance

Across all major denominations, modern Christianity proclaims that Jesus is the “Christ,” (Χριστός, “Christos” in Greek).  The term was used to translate the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (Mašíaḥ, messiah), which designates one who is “anointed.”  This anointing is a reference to a ritual which was performed to consecrate a human being, typically as an important leader.  While many were literally anointed in oil during a ceremony (e.g. David, by Samuel), the term was also used to refer to one who is favored significantly by God.  While most were ethnically Jewish, at least one was not, as the example of Cyrus the Great demonstrates.  He was declared, figuratively (no literal anointing is documented in the scripture), by Isaiah to be God’s messiah.

In the Tanakh, numerous individuals were granted this designation:

  • Aaron and his sons (anointed by Moses to consecrate them as priests, at God’s direction)
  • Saul (anointed by Samuel, to consecrate him as ruler over Israel, at God’s direction)
  • David (anointed by Samuel, to consecrate him as ruler over Israel, at God’s direction)
  • Solomon (anointed by Zadok, to consecrate him as ruler over Israel)
  • Hazael (anointed by Elijah as king over Aram, at God’s direction)
  • Jehu (anointed by Elijah as king over Israel, at God’s direction)
  • Elisha (anointed by Elijah as a prophet, at God’s direction)

And so on.

Eschatological Significance

The term became a reference to a future salvific figure in Judaism during the Rabbinic period.  The Talmud includes numerous discussions of this eschatological figure whose future arrival is inferred principally from the prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah who describe a coming king of Israel who will restore the Jewish homeland, return the Jewish people to that homeland, and rebuild the Jewish Temple.  This king will usher in the “messianic era” in which human beings will unite in worship of God, evil and tyranny will be dispensed with, all of the dead will rise again, death will cease, and eternal joy and gladness will reign on earth.

A Brief Critique of the Modern Christian Position

Given this rudimentary introduction, it is probably clear why modern Jews don’t exactly accept the Christian claim that Jesus is this salvific figure.  Jesus failed to meet any of the requirements typically considered to be necessary in order for one to be identified as such.  Modern Christians, of course, await a promised “second coming” of Jesus wherein it is expected that he will meet those requirements (though most modern Christians don’t exactly consider the full ramifications of those various prophecies and their conflicts with typical modern Christian beliefs, such as Heaven; if the dead rise and death is eradicated, with eternal joy and peace on earth, that sorta leaves Heaven out of the picture).

However, as the Christian understanding of his life goes, Jesus is unable to meet one commonly-accepted, critical criterium for his recognition as the eschatological messiah: Jesus is not a descendant of David.  The reason for this, of course, is that Jesus is considered to have been conceived immaculately, and his mother’s lineage is not provided in the scriptures.  Regardless, the Talmud makes clear that such lineage is strictly patrilineal, and Mary’s lineage would not suffice the prophecy according to that understanding.

In fact, the only synoptic gospels which include the story of Mary’s virginity prior to Jesus’ conception (Matthew and Luke) are also the only gospels to specifically establish Joseph’s Davidic lineage, seemingly failing to anticipate the issue.  In addition, the lineages given by those gospels are dramatically incommensurable.  Some fairly elaborate rhetorical gymnastics have been conducted in attempts to reconcile this obvious issue, but as far as I can tell, all require the dismissal of interpretive rigor in favor of desperate speculation.

It seems fairly obvious that the strongest hand is that of the Rabbis; Jesus cannot qualify as the eschatological Messiah in accordance with the Hebrew prophecies on which the concept is based.  To whatever extent this identity is critical to the modern Christian movement, it is a lost cause.

Posted in Of Abraham, Original Theology | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pre-Mueller Report Position and Analysis

I was going to write this in response to a post over at the illustrious philosoraptor’s digs, but it is just too long to post in a series of comments.  Also, I’ve been stewing over the general points for a while and so I thought I might put them up on this long-neglected blog (work has been completely insane, but I am finally enjoying a day off).  So here ya go:

On Assessing Investigations Outside One’s Subject Matter Expertise

So, I work in a field where unlikely hypotheses are tested and confirmed or rejected on a regular basis with an immediacy which, perhaps, other fields do not as thoroughly enjoy.

For example: in a recent incident which disrupted productivity rather massively at my organization, I was the lone proponent of a particular root cause hypothesis. The part about my job I enjoy the most is being able to use my lifetime of nerddom to investigate issues where many folks do not have the breadth of knowledge that I have about the subject matter (all those man pages and IT textbooks have not been in vain!) and therefore do not initially arrive at the same hypotheses I yield with a high rate of frequency. The most important thing I’ve learned through it, however, is that while deep knowledge of the subject matter is an essential component of those conclusions, it isn’t the sole reason they are reached; plain old critical thinking skills which can be expected of any adult human at this point in life are almost always a key difference as well.  Having the courage and work ethic required to perform the analyses and organize the myriad pieces of evidence in the hypothesis-neutral manner required for objective analysis, and then to write that analysis, is often more of an obstacle to reaching those hypotheses than the absence of knowledge regarding the critical evidence, itself.  For, even when presented with that critical evidence, it is often the case that my interlocutors do not observe (or wish to endorse) that evidence’s support for the hypotheses I present.

So when I look at analogous situations in other fields, such as, say, this Russiagate thing, I try to accept the criticality of both of these elements and give them rather equal weight. Importantly: when available analyses seem to lead in a certain direction while consistently ignoring various components of apparently-relevant evidence, the person providing the analysis is probably biased (and not simply neglectful) for some reason or other.  It seems to me that I am more willing than most to challenge these situations even when working outside of my principal areas of knowledge, as I have seen just how frequently this occurs.  Others may be more willing to grant those recognized as superior (in regards to themselves) subject matter experts too much benefit of the doubt insofar as the assumption (it seems to me) goes on behalf of these outside analysts: “Well, they probably already know why I’m wrong, so I’ll just keep quiet.”

But I can tell you: don’t be cowed.  Honestly pursue the inquiry.  Maintain your fallibility, but don’t just assume (or be concerned by the thought) that their superior knowledge of the problem domain renders your observations invalid.  Organize your thoughts, build your case, and focus like a laser on those refutations made available to you.  If you find that you are wrong, happily accept it (and the accompanying education on the subject matter) and move on in support of more likely alternatives.  Often, in my experience, this turns out in your favor if you’re inquiring honestly, diligently, and most importantly, congenially.

This I render to you as sound advice all the more so when those available analyses offer hypotheses which, independently of situational evidence, run statistically higher likelihood of success.  My experience in my official capacity has led me to become hard-pressed not to suspect the individuals offering the analyses are sandbagging and hoping the statistics will play out in their favor, able to ultimately proclaim they were right all along in the face of those who wagered on the generally-less-likely, yet situationally-reasonable, alternatives.  These are the opportunities in which those willing to go out on a limb, so to speak, can become the heroes which all those teevee medical shows glorify on a weekly basis.  If you can accomplish that without the ubiquitous character flaws, well then you might just be too uninteresting for teevee, but too damn interested to be unworthy of note.

And I say all of this as a preface to what I am about to write below, using a particular article from Douthat as an example in which I observe this trend to be operating against those like myself who believe there is an unprecedented degree of strength of evidence being offered to the public at this point that Trump et. al. did, in fact, conspire significantly against the United States with the Russian government.  I admit the long-shot nature of the claim and its general statistical unlikeliness, but unlike Douthat, I am willing to say not merely that “I maintain my official agnosticism,” but that there is good reason at this point for the public to lean strongly in a positive direction; at this point, I would be genuinely surprised if Mueller’s investigation did not return unprecedentedly strong (if not reaching the insanely conclusive degree required to bring charges against the most powerful office in the United States) evidence that our President and his administration engaged in conspiracy with a foreign power to better themselves at the expense of the nation.

Douthat’s Representative Analysis

So as I alluded above: with Russiagate, obviously it’s a hell of a lot less likely that Trump et. al. conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 election. How often has such an act been proven throughout history?  Never?  If so, I would say it’s generally a much safer bet for a career analyst to conclude that it did not happen. If true, the current situation is, in fact, the kind faced by career analysts which I describe in the preface above.

So how does Douthat do in his recent article? In my estimate, he does exactly what I see others do in my field: play up the evidence promoting the safe hypothesis and ignore or downplay the evidence against it. For example:

Douthat Asserts The Public Ought to have Less Confidence Now than Ever

Douthat concludes that the Steele Dossier’s interpretation as “a narrative primarily grounded in Russian disinformation” now faces “odds…as low as they’ve been since this whole affair started” that it (the interpretation) is incorrect. Despite this,

  1. He admits that the first big possibility in the Steele dossier is now known with reasonable confidence to be accurate; Russian intelligence was behind the hacks of the DNC and the release of stolen emails through Wikileaks. When this whole affair started, this was not known. Does that not indicate that the Dossier has, at the very least, better odds of being accurate than when we started?
  2. His counter-evidence for the remainder of the Dossier’s claims are rooted solely in a single testimony from Cohen in which Cohen disputes part of one of the Dossier’s principal claims.

I just don’t get that analysis. It seems quite wrong. To suggest we ought to believe more strongly that the Dossier is largely inaccurate because:

  1. One of its major claims has been validated and
  2. One of its major claims is facing a partial refutation from a single testimony

reeks to me of stretching to reach that safe hypothesis. We don’t, by any means, have any sort of evidence leading to a super-high confidence in the Dossier’s credibility, but it is absolutely false to assert that the available evidence indicates we ought to view it as having the lowest chance of probability for being accurate since it was initially seen by the public.

Further, this point ignores the fact that:

  1. We, the public, do not have access to all the information available to those who initially viewed the Dossier with a degree of severity that, at the very least, warranted its further investigation.
  2. We have heard numerous times (and, of course, must expect) that there are additional corroborating pieces of evidence which we still have yet to hear.

Despite those obviously-relevant facts omitted by Douthat, here Douthat pretends as though that single testimony by Cohen brings the whole thing down to the lowest level of likelihood for accuracy we’ve yet seen.

As I said: does that mean we, the public, ought to have a high degree of confidence that Mueller will conclude the Dossier was 100% accurate? Absolutely not. But does it mean that Douthat et. al. are obviously correct in painting those who have significantly more confidence in Mueller’s report lending more support to its principal “possibilities” as holding obviously-weaker positions than he? No. Not at all. And to do so, in my estimate, is to aggressively play it safe with a generally-more-likely hypothesis for the purpose of being able to say “see, I told you so.”

Douthat Leverages Evidence Against His Position as Though it Were For It

Douthat seems to share the common (and well-justified, in my opinion) belief that Trump et. al. are the kind of folks likely to seek to engage incompetently in conspiracy with the Russian government as evidence that… they are probably too inept to have done so? This seems wrongheaded to me for a couple of reasons:

  1. Rather than taking the fact (that his readers will agree without hesitation) that they are “fools and wannabes, who might have been willing to play games with spies and hackers, but who mostly just bumbled around haplessly on the sidelines” as evidence FOR the hypothesis that this particular administration is more likely than most others to have actually conspired with a foreign power against the American democratic process, he twists it to turn it against the hypothesis.
  2. Surely, Douthat knows as well as any that conspiracy (the closest criminal analogue to “collusion” that could come from this) does not require that either side effectively carry any of it out; it requires only that both sides intended to do so.

If we all agree this administration is a group of bumbling fools who were willing “to play games with spies and hackers”, then we all agree they were more likely than others throughout history to have attempted to do so.

What is going on here? This seems like straightforward debate-101 rhetorical shenanigans to me. Again, Douthat looks to be sandbagging and hoping for his conclusion, painted far more strongly than it ought to be, to turn out correct so that he could act as though he were the totally sane one all along and others who disagreed were just totally obviously wrong.

Sidebar:  I see this in my official capacities all the time. Perhaps I am fortunate to get the confidence from my job to fight against it as I get to see frequently that the evidence, when it leads to improbable conclusions, often turns out to be representative of an improbable situation. With that confidence, I won’t be (and neither should anyone be) disparaged if I lay all this out in this very manner and continue to support what is ultimately revealed to be an incorrect hypothesis. With sufficient evidence, I will of course own my fallibility, but my point in this article is that, thus far, I do not see any good reason to believe that my position is less rational than Douthat’s safe lean towards a big nothingburger, as it were.  And most importantly: it is the set of insidious repeated suggestions which drip with anticipation of future safe-bet confirmation streaming from his super-strong-support-for-one-side-while-riding-the-middle-of-the-fence approach that irks me so.

So, if we’re all being reasonable so far, it looks to me like Douthat is 0 for 2 on his major points while acting as though his position is super plain and obvious (but totally “officially maintaining” his “agnosticism”! Can’t critique him later if you’re right! He’ll totally pwn you endlessly later if his generally-safe bet is right, though).

Douthat Claims Cohen’s Testimony Substantially Damages the Likelihood of Conspiracy

Douthat’s leading analysis of Cohen’s testimony in defense of his view that the testimony contributes substantially to lowering the likelihood of accuracy in the Steele Dossier is that, upon receiving a call and being informed of the hacked emails’ impending dump, Trump said “something to the effect of stating ‘wouldn’t that be great.'” Douthat claims, weirdly, that “This doesn’t seem like how a years-long collaboration with Russian intelligence would unfold.” And yet:

  1. Cohen’s testimony indicates that Stone, who is now indicted for lying to the FBI on this very matter, claimed to have learned from a conversation he had with Assange of Wikileaks, about this matter and did inform Trump about it. This would strengthen the credibility of the Dossier, not detract from it.
  2. Why would Douthat seem to act as though this simple paraphrase from Cohen would fail to resemble something that might happen during collaboration with Russian intelligence? If it is true that Trump did manage to do this and hide it from Cohen, wouldn’t this sort of snide remark be exactly the kind of wink-wink admission to Cohen of Trump’s involvement that we WOULD expect?

I’m not saying this is strong evidence in support of the Steele Dossier’s content. I’m just saying it’s in no way at all, as far as I can see, any evidence against it. But, here again, Douthat is presenting it in an unwarranted “C’mon, really?” tone. It makes no sense to me (minus my hypothetical explanation of his ulterior motive, of course).

However, one thing Douthat gets right, of course, is that Cohen’s assertions that he:

  1. Never went to Pargue to meet with Russian intelligence
  2. Never heard anything about Kompromat
  3. Never had any direct evidence of conspiracy (or “collusion”) between Trump et. al. and the Russian government

Certainly provide some counter-evidence to at least one part of one principal claim in the Steele Dossier.  Of course, the testimony also supports (in conjunction with the FBI indictment against him) the hypothesis that Stone was actively involved in discussions regarding the hacked email content with Wikileaks (now understood to have been coordinating with the Russian government).  It doesn’t offer a lot of support, but it is some, and it corroborates information contained in the FBI indictment.  Swapping out Cohen for Stone really doesn’t do much damage to the Dossier at all.

In fact, Cohen’s refutation of his involvement tying in corroborating evidence for that accusation being made against Stone, whom we now know with a pretty high degree of confidence did lie about his contacts with Wikileaks (and he did formerly admit to having a “perfectly-legal back-channel” with Assange AND that he and Assange discussed the emails), pretty much serves merely to remind us that we have two huge justifications for anticipating that the Mueller report will include some very substantial and damaging information:

  1. Stone first publicly claimed, and then subsequently denied to the FBI, that he communicated with Assange regarding the hacked DNC emails.  The FBI acquired documentation from a raid against him which he said did not exist.
  2. Stone lied about this for a reason.  In my mind, it is unlikely that this reason is for any reason other than Stone’s expectation that the nature of these contacts would land him in significant criminal jeopardy.
  3. The FBI has provided ample evidence that Stone lied in its indictment.
  4. The FBI has even further evidence not yet made available to us regarding just what he was hiding through his lies about this.
  5. If 1, 2, 3, and 4, well then..

Again, not conclusive, of course, on the collusion/conspiracy front, but certainly this section of my post seems again to indicate that Douthat’s assessment inappropriately weakens expectations of the Mueller report’s content rather than, well, strengthens them a significant and appropriate bit.

Ignoring the extremely significant developments already made known to the public (e.g. Stone) which advance expectations of the Dossier’s credibility and the manner in which this testimony corroborates them in favor of harping on the testifying individual’s denial of involvement amounting to a refutation of one part of one principal claim made by that Dossier which still has very strong support (below) from other sources… all to conclude that we should now have the lowest-expectations ever based on the available evidence..

wat.

Douthat Seemingly Ignores Known Evidence About Manifort’s Russian Contacts

Douthat glosses the fact that we know Manafort shared campaign polling data with a Russian-intelligence-linked figure.  He proceeds from that gloss directly into a series of nothing-but-assertion sentences that we ought to view the Dossier more skeptically.

What the heck?  Why on EARTH would Manafort share campaign polling data with anyone linked to the Russian government?  How is that NOT massively curious evidence that, alone, strengthens the expectation that Trump et. al. engaged in conspiracy or collusion with the Russians in ways that directly involve the 2016 election?  All the more so when we also heard in Cohen’s testimony (which Douthat completely ignored) that Trump actually paid and directed Cohen to rig online polls in his favor.

So we have as-yet-unrefuted evidence that:

  1. [From Cohen’s testimony] Trump directed Cohen to rig online polls in his favor in an attempt to cause the American public to believe more support existed for Trump than actually did.
  2. [From the Dossier, the FBI, and the CIA] Russia did spend massive resources on a large-scale information war in an attempt to cause the American public to believe more support existed for Trump than actually did.
  3. [From the Dossier] Paul Manafort worked directly with the Russians to further the acts alleged in (2).
  4. [From the FBI] Paul Manafort is known to have shared polling data with individuals known to be connected to Russian intelligence.
  5. If Manafort were supporting the acts alleged in (2) which Manafort is accused of supporting in (3), we would expect him to do exactly the kind of thing alleged in (4).

Again, how anyone can view all of this and think there’s just not much of a chance that Trump et. al. conspired with the Russians to engage in that information war, I just do not understand.  It is obviously true to anyone that Trump is a horrible, horrible liar.  He exaggerates and lies whenever he can to his benefit.  He specifically does this in a way that generates a false appearance of support for his lies.  “EVERYONE believes X!”  “ALL THE PEOPLE ARE SAYING Y!!”  He does this because he understands that creating a public impression of agreement regarding those lies ramps up support for them.  It’s how he runs his businesses:

  1. Build a mediocre product (i.e. any trump property)
  2. Ensure the public thinks EVERYONE thinks those properties ARE THE GREATEST EVER.
  3. Attract folks to his business by (2) in spite of (1).

We have tons of evidence that this has occurred.  And this is exactly the kind of scheme in which the American Intelligence Community believes Russia to have engaged.  And Paul Manafort was caught sharing polling data with them.  AND Paul Manafort has a history of political shenanigans exactly like this.  AND Paul Manafort’s history has been sufficiently suspect to warrant FBI wiretaps against him even before his involvement with Trump!

I just don’t get how a reasonable person looks at this and thinks: “Eh, they probably weren’t involved in Russia’s information wars.”

Douthat Ignored Tons of Other Supporting Evidence

Just a brief run-down because I’m kinda done with this:

  1. Trump has been bailed out of financial trouble by payments from Russian-based entities which have attracted the interest of the US Government on account of their similarity to money-laundering schemes.
  2. Trump ran the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2016 amid all this, claiming to have received gifts from Putin.
  3. Manafort worked for a decade for a Ukrainian political party which was supported by the Kremlin.
  4. Both prior to AND after his work with Trump, the FBI was granted surveillance warrants against Manafort (first for (3), then during his work with Trump).

I dunno.  I’m done.  There’s a whole crapload more, but there’s some of the most significant stuff that wasn’t included in this article thus far.

So In Conclusion… Why is it so Outlandish to Believe a Russian Conspiracy Likely Took Place?

Point is: I don’t know why so many very rational people are acting as though it’s so wildly irrational to believe and expect that the Mueller report will include extremely damning evidence in support of the hypothesis that Trump and his team conspired with the Russian government to benefit Trump and his team at the expense of the United States of America.

Posted in Brief Issue Analyses, Politics | Leave a comment

Possible Bug: lvm2-2.02.175-1.fc27

So I just updated this package and rebooted my system.  I encountered an interesting issue where one of my guest domain refused to start.  Initial investigation of the system journal revealed messages like:

systemd-udevd[775]:  seq 3711 '/devices/virtual/block/dm-21' is taking a long time
systemd-udevd[775]:  seq 3710 '/devices/virtual/block/dm-23' is taking a long time

I use logical volumes for some of my guest domains’ storage.  The guest domain refusing to start is one of them.  Looking into the matter, I found that a process from the system startup routines was hung:

usr/bin/lvm pvscan --cache --activate ay 8:12

When I attached strace to the process (strace -p <PID>), I saw that it was stuck with a semaphore operation like:

semop(262144, [{0, 0, 0}], 1

If I attempted any lvm commands which required obtaining locks on the logical volumes and volume groups (e.g. vgscan, lvscan, etc.), they would hang indefinitely.  Interrupting them would yield messages such as:

“Giving up waiting on lock”

So, I checked into /run/lock/lvm/ and found four outstanding lock files.  Two of them referenced the UUID of the unresponsive guest domain logical volume (which had since been suspended by LVM due to its obstinate behavior), one was a global lock for the physical volume hosting the logical volume, and one was a global lock for the volume group.

After a bit of research, and being fairly convinced that the pvscan operation was merely awaiting the removal of these lock files (whose removal had failed somewhere prior, and that is possibly the fault of a hypothetical bug) and that it would not muck up my system with a firm SIGKILL (SIGTERM would not work), I executed kill -9 against the process, manually removed the empty lock files (all of them), and rebooted the system.

The shutdown portion of the reboot did not go smoothly (the other lvm2-pvscan@whatever.service processes all required SIGKILL from systemd during the shutdown), but when the system came back up, it was error free and the guest domain started without hesitation.

It may be that this bug involves the handling of logical volumes with snapshots (as this was the only logical volume on my system which had an active snapshot during the lvm2 package upgrade procedure), or it may be something else, but seeing no reference to similar incidents on the Interwebs, I thought I’d put it up here in case anyone goes looking for others facing the same issue.  If that happens, perhaps we can file a bug report.

Posted in Information Technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Actual Statistics: Seeing Through The Partisan “Gun Violence” Haze

So, just to be clear (though it’s not really relevant), I’m a gun owner.  I have a single pistol.  I don’t really understand why people often seem to own huge numbers of firearms, as it only seems to increase risk and administrative overhead, but whatever.  So while I’m not against firearm ownership, I’m also not in favor of keeping firearm laws as they are.  I don’t like the nanny state, and I really want to move carefully with such matters, but it does seem to me that firearms are becoming increasingly lethal and, as such, regulation ought to be revisited and adjusted accordingly.  We can’t let everyone have Flak Cannons and ASMD Shock Rifles, after all.

I am, however, against false-claim-driven alarmism.  Every time a horrifying thing happens, it seems, Americans (especially our media) largely just can’t seem to help themselves from betraying just how poor they are at reasoning under even the slightest degree of duress (which might explain our current President, but I digress..) by immediately demanding agreement with their often ill-informed views and ostracizing those who disagree (which also might explain our current President).

So even though I’ve been greatly enjoying my time away from public discourse, this particular issue is one about which I’m fairly well-informed as a result of my attraction to statistics and reason.  This issue, in fact, is a truly excellent example of how statistical sleight-of-hand works and how prevalent it is.  Allow me to demonstrate by taking apart a highly representative article from Vox:  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/us-gun-violence-statistics-maps-charts.

Answers to Obvious Questions Up Front

So, I’ll use 2016 as a benchmark year, here, since it’s the last year for which we have fully processed FBI data.   I will consider only homicides for which supplemental data exists; this rules out about 2,000 homicides from consideration, but this will not likely adversely impact the import of the statistical determinations below (except for Alabama, which doesn’t seem to report adequate supplemental data to the FBI).

How many firearm-facilitated homicides occured in the United States during the year of 2016?

  1. Firearms facilitated 11,004 out of 15,070 total homicides.
  2. Of those, 435 were justifiable homicides by law enforcement officers.
  3. Additionally, 331 were justifiable homicides by private citizens.

So:

  • 10,338 murders facilitated by firearms took place in 2016.
    • Using a population size of 323,127,513, that means any given citizen in the United States, disregarding other relevant factors, has a 0.0031994% chance of being murdered with a firearm each year.
  • 331 aggressors were successfully defeated by private citizens in 2016.

What kinds of firearms are used in these murders?

Screenshot from 2018-03-04 08-49-02

So, immediately, we can see that “assault rifles” aren’t the primary concern, here.

Where do firearm-facilitated murders take place in the United States?

Screenshot from 2018-03-04 08-41-36

Clearly there is not an even distribution across states.  Let’s control for population size to compare rates of such murders’ occurrence between states:

Screenshot from 2018-03-04 10-00-18

So there’s yer problem areas.

What does that look like if we control for population size and sort states by gun legislation grades given by gun control advocates?

So let’s take the lawcenter.giffords.org scores for those states and sort by that:

Screenshot from 2018-03-04 09-03-16

Well then.  There doesn’t appear to be much of a trend when it comes to tight gun control regulations and firearm-facilitated murders.  California, ranked as the best state for gun control legislation, leads the pack in murders.  Now, granted, California also has one of the largest population sizes, so let’s control for population size:

Screenshot from 2018-03-04 09-45-44

So, while California is a lot safer than the absolute numbers make it appear to be, there is still no obvious correlation between gun control stringency and firearm-facilitated murders.  In fact, New Jersey, Maryland, New York, and Illinois all have gun control law rankings of B+ or above, and yet, they are four of the top seven states for firearm-facilitated homicide rates.

What About Mass Shootings?

Using the FBI’s definition of an “active shooter” incident (which best describes the kind of event we’re interested in, here; read more below for details), here’s a count (which is presently off by 18 shooting incidents because I had to parse out state counts from an FBI PDF file – I’ll try to fix that later) of incidents in each state, ordered by gun control legislation ratings and normalized on a per-million-capita basis:

Screenshot from 2018-03-04 10-58-30

Again, according to gun control advocates, one would expect to see a trend in which states nearer to the bottom of the list have greater numbers of incidents, but that does not appear to be the case.

What Qualities Might Best Explain Active Shooter Incidents?

Well, here’s my initial stab at it:

Screenshot from 2018-03-04 11-34-11.png

That’s a lot more trendy now, ain’t it?  I’m guessing that some better controls and measurements will show a pretty convincing correlation between (my guess: socioeconomic) quality of life and active shooter incidents.

Which is what everyone should expect, really.  Everyone should be aware that they’re fighting over the wrong things here.  America routinely convinces itself that silly answers to obvious problems should be pursued, when in reality, our quality of life, particularly in terms of the amount of work we do for such little compensation, is diminishing and people are going nuts.  We are an extraordinarily wealthy nation which is increasingly dominated by a very, very few gluttons among us, and this is destroying society in many, many ways.  Politicians are all too happy to have these distractions bandied about as the primary concern of the American people, ’cause actually addressing the incredible income disparity in America (with the disgustingly gluttonous top 1% of income-earners taking 50% of all income – just think about that) is going to run afoul of their political income generators.

Anyhoo, this section is still a work in progress, so I’ll update it as I have time.

So Back To All Those Misleading Stats…

Now, let’s proceed to scrutinize common claims thrown about in the debate over gun laws:

Claim 1:  “America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany”

The source being used to make this claim is The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crimes’ Small Arms Survey, as reported upon by The Guardian.

One initial point to make, though it may be a bit premature, is that statistical sleight-of-hand often occurs by cherry-picking conclusions from separate sources.  That is, when one dataset fails to prove an assertion (or even offers evidence against it), simply find another source and use it instead.  A good piece of advice is: beware of arguments which make several related points by drawing from entirely different datasets; always ask the question “Why didn’t they just use the same dataset to make that claim?”  It’s not that there are never valid reasons to do this, of course, but that it should be a little red flag for you when you see it.

Another sleight-of-hand method often employed (as seen here) is to portray data using an order of magnitude which represents it to suit the argument at hand.  The data says that the United States sees 29.7 firearm homicides per million people.  That means, excluding all other relevant facts about you, your chance of being murdered by a firearm-wielding assailant on account of your living in the United States of America is 0.00297 out of one hundred, or 0.00297%. 

That’s probably a hell of a lot less bad than you thought, eh?  It certainly is a lot less bad than I thought it would be before I saw the data, myself.

So, is the number correct?  Yeah, it’s probably in the ballpark.  Is it alarming given relevant facts about life in the US as compared to the other nations on that list?  Call me a pessimist, but I actually think it’s impressively low, myself.

Claim 2:  America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world

This is a great example of another pair of common sleight-of-hand methods: 

  1. Use the same queries against datasets of fundamentally dissimilar qualities.  You see, we already know that the majority of the world’s citizens don’t have access to firearms in the same way that the United States citizens do.  So, asking “How many civilian-owned guns are in the United States” and then “How many civilian-owned guns are in the world?” is a pretty dishonest strategy, as the billions of people living in absolute squalor (and thereby made disproportionately likely to own firearms on that account, alone) by the United States’ living conditions standards are being dishonestly used to drive home a point.  Here are some relatively important considerations:
    1. In many other countries, citizens are explicitly forbidden the right to own firearms.  In those countries where weapon ownership is permitted, the citizenry is often comparatively disadvantaged when it comes to the financial capacity and availability of social infrastructure which would permit gun ownership on the same scale as the United States.
    2. In many other countries (for example, Israel and Sweden), citizens keep firearms at home which are technically owned by the military, and therefore these firearms are discounted from the statistics provided.  That doesn’t really help us when it comes to determining whether or not access to weapons drives mass shooting incidents, as these military-owned weapons could just as easily be used in such events.
  2. Use aggregate numbers to describe distribution where distribution is not normal.  When asking the question of how thoroughly firearms are distributed among the American population, one is most likely to intuitively ask a good question: “How many people own guns?”  Notice that this question is conspicuously unanswered by the Vox piece.  Instead, the figure in Claim 2 is offered: WE HAZ HALF ALL WORLD GUNZ!  In reality, only 30% of Americans own firearms.   Obviously, many of them have what I would consider to be serious problems (or at least very strange proclivities) and own a huge number of them.  At Pew Research (linked above), you can see that about 10% of Americans own more than five firearms.  So really, in America, that objective count of civilian-owned firearms does not give a good idea of how proliferate firearms are in America.

Claim 3:  There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook

Ah, a classic.  If you want to be completely intellectually dishonest, use misleading definitions.  I will say that I am pleased to see Vox at least admitting that dishonestly in the plain print (despite publishing in bold the misleading claim):

The tracker uses a fairly broad definition of “mass shooting”: It includes not just shootings in which four or more people were murdered, but shootings in which four or more people were shot at all (excluding the shooter).

Even under this broad definition, it’s worth noting that mass shootings make up a tiny portion of America’s firearm deaths, which totaled more than 33,000 in 2014.

(Be sure to read on below about that “firearm deaths” number)

Yes, when discussing “mass shootings” after a gunman has killed 17 people and wounded 15, and including all shootings where four or more people were struck by gunfire, you are being incredibly intellectually honest to the point where your statistic is meaningless.  But how dramatic is this intellectual dishonesty?  Well, let’s start by establishing a more reasonable defintion of “mass shooting”, like so:

Federal agencies define a mass casualty shooting as the murder of three or more individuals. Due to the rarity of these events, federal agencies do not collect data on mass shootings, but they do collect data on “active shooters.” Active shooter incidents are defined as incidents where “one or more individuals actively engage in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”A This definition does not include gang- or drug-related incidents, the accidental discharge of a firearm, or family- and intimate partner-related shootings

Ok, that sounds more like what we want to know.  How many of those incidents occurred in 2016?

Six.  From 2000 through 2016, a period of 16 years (including the majority of the timeframe used by Vox’s resource), there have been 220.  Vox’s (and basically every major news network’s) intellectual dishonesty is this dramatic.  Without looking up the exact difference, I can confidently say the claim that there have been 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook (December 14, 2012) is off by about 1,400 (that’d be an error margin of 93%).

That number proclaimed by Vox includes EVERY INCIDENT wherein four people were struck by gunfire (not even murdered, necessarily).  When whittled down to the more reasonable definition of what we understand as a “mass shooting” (that is given by the National Center for Victims of Crime above), it’s down to under 20 per year.

Is that great?  No.  Is that number rising?  Yes.  Does something need to be done?  Absolutely.  Is lying one’s ass off about it one of the things that might plausibly help?  No.  Is the real data unbelievably staggering for a country of 323 million people where it’s lawful to own firearms?  Not even close, in my book.

Claim 4:  On average, there is more than one mass shooting for each day in America

As with the above claim, this is obviously an enormous lie.  Notice that the only “mass shootings” directly referenced beneath this claim in the Vox article is an actual mass shooting (perpetrated by Dylann Roof).  In fact, the kind of shooting which makes up the extreme bulk of the numbers peddled in that article (that’d be the kind where a family member or intimate partner kills multiple relatives and them himself) isn’t even mentioned once.  For all their claims to care sooo much, they sure don’t seem to give a crap when it won’t net them those precious, precious Interwebs clicks.

Actual fact:  In 2015 (the year shown in the Vox article), there were 20 active shooter incidents (or what we think of when we say “mass shootings”), not 355.

Claim 5:  States with more guns have more gun deaths

Well, it looks like the dishonesty continues.  Fortunately, perhaps they’re running out of new methods, as this is just another example of using a misleading definition.  You see, they now say “gun deaths”.  Nice.  I’ll give you a single guess as to what driving factor most massively inflates the numbers they will now use.

Yes, it’s suicide.  And yes, though we’re talking about mass shootings, Vox is now throwing suicides at you in their numbers.  Why?  Probably because actual victim counts from mass shootings would make absolutely zero sense when compared with the outrageous counts they’ve offered of those incidents.  I guess just using firearms-based homicide counts (see the FBI link below) isn’t impressive enough, so you gotta rope in the suicide rate.  It does, after all, roughly double the numbers.  Even the CDC is in on this one, using the term “Firearm Mortality” as though they are unaware of the real answer being sought.  Finding the actual data from them is proving difficult at the moment (though I believe I saw it before), so I’ll just go with a Time article which cites the figures:

In 2016, there were more than 38,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. — 4,000 more than 2015, the new CDC report on preliminary mortality data shows. Most gun-related deaths — about two-thirds —in America are suicides

So yeah, firearms-based homicides alone are around 12,000 per year (out of roughly 323,100,000, meaning about 0.0037% of the population is murdered with firearms annually).  It’s a lot better for Vox and co.’s arguments if they quietly triple that figure.  I mean, it’s still extremely small, but most people don’t seem to do any math, so I guess it works anyway.  In fact, given that apparent fact, why do they bother with the deceit, at this point, really?

 

Whelp, I lasted longer than I thought I would based on my unwillingness to allow dumbassery to persist unabated on the Interwebs (as you can see, I allow myself to indulge in the fantasy that what I say or do here will in any way mitigate said dumbassery), but I think I’m done for now.  Maybe I’ll come back and do the rest of these things, but at least I’ve hopefully provided any readers there may be out there with at least an understanding of the gravity and proliferation of this sort of intellectual dishonesty at work in this particular debate.  Maybe anyone who was unaware of this (at least specifically how it works) can use this information to provoke future discretion where they may have been too lax in the past.

I dunno, whatever.  </rant>

(and yes, I’m leaving my rant stanza malformed on account of lacking an open tag.  I’m that done.)

Important Sources:

https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/

 

 

Posted in Brief Issue Analyses, Politics | 2 Comments

Installing Discord on Fedora 27

This guy solved the blank screen issue.

Just thought I’d throw another pointer out there on the Interwebs.

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