Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Dry Run for Russian Democracy

Warning: the first part of this essay may sound like a jubilant hymn to Russia and a paean to Vladimir Putin. Rest assured that I am not expressing opinions here; these are the facts. It just so happens that these facts accentuate the positive. But I have no wish to eliminate the negative, and will get to all of that in due course.

On March 18 Russia held presidential elections. Everybody (with a brain) fully expected Putin to win, but hardly anyone expected him to win this big, or with this high a turnout: 67.47% of the eligible voters turned up at the polls; of them, 76.67% voted for Putin. In case you are still wondering whether Crimea is part of Russia (trust me, it is) the turnout there was 71.53%, of whom 92% voted for Putin. And in the once separatist republic of Chechnya the turnout was 91.54%. Record turnouts were also observed outside of Russia, among the very large Russian diaspora. Over half of all Russians voted for Putin.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

False Flags for Newbies

Britain is in a media frenzy over the recent poisoning of the former Russian intelligence service colonel turned British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. British PM Theresa May demanded that Russia explain itself, claiming that they were poisoned using a nerve agent called “Novichok” (Russian for “Newbie”) that was a product of Soviet biological weapons research. It is no longer produced and the destruction of its stockpiles has been verified by international observers. However, its formula is in the public domain and it can be synthesized by any properly equipped chemical lab, such as Britain's own Porton Down, which, incidentally, is just an 18-minute drive from Salisbury.

May provided no evidence to back up her claims of Russian complicity in the attempted murder. Russia's Foreign Ministry has requested that Britain turn over all available evidence to back up its accusation of chemical weapons use (under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention Britain must do so within 10 days) but Britain has refused. Therefore, Russia's FM Sergei Lavrov has announced that Russia will not be responding to such baseless allegations.

An important key to spotting a false flag is that the “knowledge” of who is to blame becomes available before any evidence is in. For example, in the case of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 over Eastern Ukraine, everyone in the West was convinced that “pro-Russian separatists” were to blame even before the means could be established. To this date, it isn’t understood how they could have done it given the equipment they had at their disposal. In this case, Russia was accused almost immediately, while British FM Boris Johnson was quick to volunteer that Britain should not send its team to the World Cup in Russia this summer, disclosing the real reason behind the assassination attempt.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Better Nukes for a Safer Planet

A lot of people seem to have lost the thread when it comes to nuclear weapons. They think that nuclear weapons are like other weapons, and are designed to be used in war. But this is pure mental inertia. According to all the evidence available, nuclear weapons are anti-weapons, designed to prevent weapons, nuclear or otherwise, from being used. In essence, if used correctly, nuclear weapons are war suppression devices. Of course, if used incorrectly, they pose a grave risk to all life on Earth. There are other risks to all life on Earth as well, such as runaway global warming from unconstrained burning of hydrocarbons; perhaps we need to invent a weapon or two to prevent that as well.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Marine Russian Stove, Take 2

Thanks to all the feedback I received for the previous iteration of the design, it is much improved.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Make Russia Great Again Through Negligence

After a year and a half of silence, accompanied by much media noise, from the Mueller investigation into Trump the Terrible’s collusion with the Russians (and their lord and master the Dread Pirate Putin) in order to steal the election from innocent young Hillary “twinkle-toes” Clinton, Mueller finally laid an egg. He indicted 13 Russians for identity theft and wire fraud. He alleges that they bought some stolen personal info (Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, etc.) on the internet, used these to set up PayPal and Facebook accounts, and then used these to buy Facebook ads in an effort to undermine the American people’s faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy.

There is no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign or administration knew that this was happening. There is no evidence that any of the 13 Russians had anything to do with Putin or the Russian government. There is no evidence that anything they did had any measurable effect on the outcome of the election.

There is, however, ample evidence that this indictment will go nowhere.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Competitive Lying

No one has ever claimed that it is upstanding, sportsmanlike behavior to tell lies. Outside of some very special occupations—spy, special agent, etc.—lying is almost always a manifestation of failure. Even in its relatively innocuous forms, such as braggadocio and puffery, showboating and grandstanding, it is a poor substitute for having a favorable truth to tell. Then there are the various types of dissimulation, misdirection, concealment and omission; whether motivated by the wish to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid a scandal, the decision to lie is rarely a happy one. Finally, there are those who produce and circulate false and misleading information. When society functions normally, such people are caught, sooner or later, their reputations are ruined, their careers are terminated and the damage they caused is repaired. In a normally functioning society, enough of its members have a solid grasp of facts, are able to reason logically, and have sufficient faith in journalistic and other professional ethics, in the impartiality of public officials, and in the scientific method, to allow them to believe that truth does exist and that they are capable of obtaining it.

But such normal, stolid, matter-of-fact forms of social behavior seem a bit boring, perhaps even fuddy-duddyish, and are unlikely to hold the attention of modern smartphone-addicted whipper-snappers. Wouldn’t it be a lot more popular, modern and fun if the manufacturing of lies for financial and political gain become an accepted form of public behavior?

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Marine Russian Stove

During the decade or so we have spent living aboard, we went through a succession of methods to keep the cabin warm during the cold months. On our first journey south, we cast off from Boston in mid-October, the day before the marina would have kicked us out because we hadn’t signed a contract for winter dockage. We progressed south rather more slowly than we had expected, and made it as far as Charleston in early December. There we decided to overwinter, and proceeded further south three months later. When we first set off, all we had on board was an electric space heater, plus a propane heater powered by 1 lb. camp stove canisters. We went through a large pile of these. The electric space heater only worked when we were tied up at the dock and plugged in to shore power. While under way, we tried to keep warm by burning propane. But propane generates a lot of moisture as it burns, causing the entire cabin—the clothing, the bedding, everything—to become dank, robbing the body of heat, while the moisture in the air condensed on the underside of the cabin top, causing it to literally rain inside the cabin. (There are few things more disagreeable than an intermittent cold drip on your head as you are trying to sleep.)

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

The “-ism” to End All “-isms”

Once upon a time, in what many people now reminisce about as “the good old days,” there were just two reigning ideologies: capitalism and communism. Capitalists believed in the sanctity of private property rights, the magic ability of money to be the measure of all things, and in the mystical invisible hand of the marketplace for finding optimal solutions to economic problems. Communists believed in the power of communal property, the ability of rational, objective scientific methods to be the measure all things, and in the power of central planning for finding optimal solutions to economic problems. Both of them fail, eventually, and have done so at various times. Capitalism’s great failure was the Great Depression; communism’s great failure was the collapse of the USSR.

There are some patterns within this general framework of failure. When communism fails (as in the USSR, and, in economic rather than in political terms, in China, Vietnam and elsewhere) it reverts to capitalism (while trying to retain a few communist elements). And when capitalism fails, the capitalists go to war, and the result is fascism.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Specifically Useful or Generally Useless?

Would you like to take a break from watching financial markets crash, US security and law enforcement agencies destroy their reputations while perjuring themselves and Trump making a fool of everyone including himself? I know it's a lot to ask. A joint financial/political collapse extravaganza complete with scratch-and-sniff cards is not one to miss. But in case you can bare to look away, or just need a break, here's a blog post about the gradually progressing design of Quidnon—a houseboat that sails.

I once made a cockpit awning. It was a fiberglass-over-plywood affair. Not only was it a cockpit awning, but it also could have been pressed into service as a mediocre paddleboard, a bus shelter for small children and/or midgets, a roof for a tiny gazebo, a protest sign, a miniature frog pond and, of course, a planter. It turned out to be a universally useful/useless piece of crap, depending on how you looked at it.

It started well. I used 1/16-inch Luan for the top and narrow slats of 1/2-inch for the frame, which I cut to gentle curves that made the top into a cold-molded conic section with just a tiny bit of spherical distortion for added stiffness. I filleted the inside joints, sealed the plywood with epoxy, fiberglassed and faired the top… and then I tossed it. Actually, I gave it to some artists, thinking they might use it for some sort of art installation. It didn’t make that good a cockpit awning: too heavy, too difficult to mount securely, plus it added too much windage aft. I didn’t think it would survive a hurricane (unlike the hard dodger I made earlier, which survived passing close to the eye of Hurricane Matthew with no damage).

I did most of the work on sawhorses on the floating dock at the marina. All of the other marina denizens, who mostly just sat on their boats and got drunk, were rather enthusiastic, and a few even tossed some business my way, fixing stuff on their boats. But the marina staff were less enthusiastic, talked about made-up “customer complaints” and eventually exiled me, together with my sawhorses and tools, to a windless, gravel-paved back lot, where I worked roasting in the sun. The hostile work environment probably had something to do with the project’s ultimate failure, but mostly I blame myself, for not spending enough time on the design phase.

There are plenty of designs that are specifically useful for their stated purpose, but are otherwise completely useless. In this category are special-purpose tools, like the egg slicer or the lemon juicer. Yes, they make short work of slicing hard-boiled eggs or juicing lemons, but beyond that they just add clutter. In a pinch, both can be used to prop open doors and windows, and the egg slicer makes a tiny out-of-tune harp, in case you are ever in need of a really pathetic sound effect. But that’s it.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

How to Fix the US National Defense Doctrine

On January 19, 2018 General James “Mad Dog” Mattis held forth publicly on America’s new and improved National Defense Strategy. He mouthed quite a lot of words, but the executive summary is actually just two points:

1. The War on Terror is no longer a thing. Since terrorism is now a much worse problem around the world than it was when the War on Terror was first announced after 9/11, it certainly hasn’t been won. Another problem is the prodigious amount of treasure, life and limb that has been squandered on this worse-than-futile pursuit. But Americans are now going to do what they always do after a military misadventure: declare victory, go home, and cower behind two oceans hoping that their misadventure doesn’t follow them home. America’s new message to all the numerous victims of terrorism is “Suck it up.”

2. America’s new enemy is Chinarussia—a very large Eurasian country. The US depends on Chinarussia for a great many things and can’t possibly afford to go to war with it, but what’s a poor bankrupt country to do when nothing works? Previously, the US was able to successfully play China and Russia against each other (after Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon were given an opening by the very foolish Nikita Khrushchev, who alienated Mao Zedong with his attack on Joseph Stalin’s legacy). But now “Divide and conquer” is no longer a thing either; the new thing is “unite your enemies while making them laugh.” Uniting China and Russia took quite a bit of American effort and is more or less a fait accompli. Making them laugh was even harder, but I feel that Mattis did a good job.