2017-05-27

Why I no longer like libertarians

Bluntly: for the same reason I would not keep the company of Nazis, no matter how soft-spoken or well-mannered. Everyone with lethal political views thinks it's noble, and for everyone's best benefit.

I'm not speaking of libertarians in Slovenia. A Slovenian libertarian might want a more sensibly ordered country. She might want more sensible taxation; less economic nepotism; equal rules for everyone, instead of nationalist protectionism. She might want the country to develop more like Switzerland. That's a noble goal. I don't see anything wrong with Switzerland.

I'm not speaking of libertarian views on personal rights. People should be able to do what they want with their body. There should not be a drug war that incarcerates millions. I certainly agree with that.

I'm speaking of people who think "taxation is theft", and this makes them support an abhorrence such as the Republican "Affordable Care Act": legislation that aims to put health coverage out of reach for tens of millions of Americans with "pre-existing conditions". In other words, those who need health care.

This is to say: Let's not make insurance companies pay for health care of the sick. That would put an inhumane dent in their profits. For the sake of holy freedom – let's let them just pay for the healthy!

American libertarians defend this, and other things. Economically, American libertarianism is abhorrent.

It's not like the Slovenian kind. It's not about relaxing a government stranglehold on the economy. The US government does not have one. It's not about overcoming economic protectionism that disadvantages foreign investors. The US is already the world's foremost destination for everyone's money.

Libertarianism in the US is about dismantling most, or even all of the state, and replacing it with a do-or-die world, with zero institutional mercy. This is proclaimed in the name of freedom; and these views are held mostly by people who can see themselves thriving this way.

The median libertarian is a young white male who is doing fine, and expects to do better. If only he weren't dragged down by everyone else!

Much of it is naivety. Libertarians do not account for information asymmetry, which enables exploitative business models even in "competitive" markets. It does not account for the tendency of an economy to be monopolized by a handful of smartest, best-positioned people, at everyone else's expense. It does not account for how a real anarcho-capitalist world would not be a utopia, but more like Somalia, mostly.

An anarcho-capitalist in the US feels the price of civilization – the taxes, the rules – but he does not see the benefits, because they are ubiquitous and universal. It's like a fish thinking the ocean is oppressing it. It enjoys its brief jumps out of water; so it wants to leave the ocean, and aspires to live in the sun.

Libertarianism wants to reward everyone by their economic contribution – because people espousing these views can make one. But it turns a blind eye to all the ways people are disadvantaged:
  • Genetics. A person may be born chronically ill, disabled, or just plain untalented. Most people's average ability ceilings are unimpressive; these ceilings are limited by genes.
  • Parents. A person's parents or caretakers may be poor, neglectful, and emotionally and/or physically abusive. Any of this can lead to serious developmental derailment. This is a significant cause of mental disorders in adults, and substantially reduces many people's ability ceilings.
  • Bad luck. At any time, a person can catch an illness, or suffer an accident that's none of their fault, and end up paralyzed, disabled, or interrupted multiple times and for different reasons, so that their success is thwarted (e.g. a student's parents die, followed by serious illness).
Libertarianism usually does not offer a response. If it does offer a response, it's social Darwinism. Your parents are dead, or can't pay for your cancer treatment? "Aww, tough luck. I'm sure you'll pick yourself up by the bootstraps! That's what I did. My parents weren't rich. But look at me, doing just fine!"

It turns a blind eye to how, increasingly, everyone will be late to the game. In a mature economy, resources and means of production are already owned. A person who did not inherit assets has no choice but to prostitute themselves – metaphorically or literally – to asset owners for basic resources. This can work if asset owners are in need of labor. But the more the economy is automated, the less work there is. Ultimately, asset owners will need but a handful of employees, with everyone else as surplus.

The main motivator of libertarians appears to be "freedom". This "freedom" appears to boil down to:
  • Freedom of the libertarian to accumulate resources, based on rules of property and trade that favor people like the libertarian:
    • good genetics
    • middle-class parents
    • no sustained strokes of bad luck
  • The freedom to not share any of the accumulated resources unless they want to. If people die or endure hardship because they lack resources, it's their fault. They lost the game of property and trade – which incidentally favored people like the libertarian, to begin with.
This makes the libertarian, ironically, more entitled than people he might accuse of entitlement – people asking for "government handouts". Those who want "handouts" are not looking to have everything handed to them. They want a semblance of basic living. They want sustenance; basic health care; and some kind of opportunity for their children.

But the libertarian wants everything. Because he deserves it, goddammit. He already won the lottery of life in a number of ways, but is not satisfied with a good living. He wants to not be inconvenienced by others, who lost some aspect of the coin toss, and might need people like him to provide. He wants everyone to respect rules such that he, being in a position to do so, can grab everything. Meanwhile, people who are not in that position get nothing, and should be happy to die.

An American libertarian, ultimately, values his convenience over everyone else's lives. This is reflected in their attitude to health care (a luxury!), as compared to "freedom".

2017-05-24

Microsoft Office: Command Prompt window flashes every hour

It is current year, and Microsoft lets loose a bug like this in its flagship application.

There's no option but to keep Office up to date. It is not written in Rust, so it's afflicted by memory safety issues, so it needs to be updated as they are discovered. Otherwise, the computer is vulnerable to exploits. Even then you are still vulnerable, because there are unknown defects. But keeping a program like this up to date is not optional.

So I recently updated Office, and this weird window starts appearing on my screen. Whatever I'm doing - reading emails, developing, browsing - every once in a while a black console window would briefly appear. It would steal focus from what I'm doing, and close too fast to see what it is.

How to debug this?

I tried Process Monitor. This is an awesome tool, but somewhat unreliable. I hoped to keep it running to capture the Process Start event to identify the rogue window when it pops up, but it's not stable enough to keep running for hours.

So I opened Notepad and started writing down the times when I noticed the window.
  14:38
  16:38
  18:38
  19:38
Ah, that's a clear pattern.

Next day, I set an alarm to 11:35 to remind me to start Process Monitor just before I expect the window to appear. And there it is:



This is now enough to do a web search, and it turns out this is a problem people have been reporting since at least April 14 on the Office "Insider Fast" track.

Despite people reporting this problem, it has made it to release.

The pop-up is being run from the Windows Task Scheduler, using this task:

Microsoft > Office > OfficeBackgroundTaskHandlerRegistration

This runs a program named OfficeBackgroundTaskHandler.exe, which is a small program that seems to do approximately nothing. Except when it does something. Who knows?

It is possible to disable this task. What are the side effects of disabling it? I don't know.

It is possible to make it run as the SYSTEM account. The task will then run, and the pop-up will be hidden. But does the task still do its job properly then? What are the security risks of running it as SYSTEM?

It is disappointing that this issue made it live, and more so that it is apparently not a priority.

It's not that surprising, though. The pop-up annoys everyone, but few can find out what it is.

2017-03-21

Rust is beautiful

I've invested some time to learn in detail about Rust, which means reading the excellent online book here. And it is beautiful. It makes me wish I could pause the world for a few years, to convert some 500,000 lines of C++ that exist under my purview into Rust, and continue from there.

Rust seems to take all the little design lessons I've learned in 20 years of C++ programming, and consolidates them into one language:
  • It's not best that everything is mutable by default, and const if the programmer points it out. It's healthier the other way around.
  • The fundamental string type is a sensible, immutable string slice (in Rust, a &str). This is great for zero-copy parsers, such as nom. Our code has had that for a decade – I named it Seq, or SeqPtr. C++ is adding std::string_view in C++17.
  • Elegant built-in variant with pattern-matching (in Rust, this is an enum). C++ is adding std::variant in C++17.
  • Type traits solve the problems of abstraction and generics, providing both static and dynamic dispatch, in an apparently more elegant manner than C++ inheritance (which is dynamic-only) or templates (which are static-only). Traits seem similar to concepts, which for now (unfortunately) remains a glimmer in Bjarne Stroustrup's eye.
  • Universal function call syntax. Something else Bjarne would like to introduce to C++.
  • Macros. Gawd, better macros (though not ideal – too templatey).
  • And of course, the crown – which sadly can't be brought to C++: compile-time memory safety!
If I were to start a programming career right now, I would use Rust. Hands down. I wish our major operating systems – let alone software we use – could be rewritten in it.

2017-03-17

Limitations of Central-American pronunciation

OK, pet peeve.

We (probably) know how native English speakers have trouble pronouncing Spanish – and most other languages – in a way that doesn't sound silly. English uses Latin in legal contexts, and I personally cringe how it's pronounced. I was brought up on classical and ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation, and Latin pronounced by English speakers sounds like none of that. To me, it sounds most like pig Latin.

But interestingly, the vocal range of Central American Spanish speakers – in my experience, Costa Rican and Nicaraguan – is even more restricted. "How could that be?" you ask. "They can pronounce rolled Rs!"

Yes they can. But here are a few words that Central Americans I've met cannot properly pronounce:

EnglishCentral American
pizzaPronounced pixa.
shortsPronounced chor, as in "el chor" (masculine singular: short pants).
sushiPronounced suchi.
Marshall (the name)Pronounced Marchal.
MitsubishiPronounced Mitsubichi.
Yency (name)Pronounced Jen-see.
Jana (my wife)Pronounced either Hah-nah or Jah-nah, with a "j" sound.
Correct pronunciation, Yah-nah, has not been achieved by anyone.

To clarify – this is not just a style that speakers prefer, but can deviate from. They cannot:
  • Try to teach them to say "sushi". They keep repeating "suchi", with a clear "ch" sound.
  • Try to teach them to say "Yah-nah". They keep repeating "Jah-nah", with a subtle "j".
  • Try to teach them to say "pizza". They keep repeating "pixa", with a clear "x".
This is not even to mention the constant confusion between "b" and "v". In Central America, it's as though these two letters produce the same sound. They can't tell the difference.

Let me not get cocky, though. I can't really tell (or pronounce) the difference between č and ć.

And then there's Cantonese, where the word we'd spell maa has at least 5 very different meanings, depending on the tone of the "aa", and we'd catch none of them without training. :-)

2017-02-08

"May prosper all the nations"

Jana recently wanted to share with the world – or at least, Facebook – the Slovenian national anthem, because it is a rare hymn that doesn't over-celebrate national pride; or call for indiscriminate bloodshed; but instead...
May prosper all the nations
who long await to see that day,
when over Earth's creation
all fight and strife shall be at bay;
when all men
shall be free;
no devils, only neighbors;
no devils, only neighbors 'll be!
Alas, that's not a widely recognized translation. In fact, it's very new. It's... my today's take on it. If it sounds a bit archaic, like in "all men"... Well, the original was published in 1848. It's supposed to be!

The official translation, though... By Janko Lavrin, from 1954... It starts like this:
God's blessing on all nations ...
Cue screams from Jana across the hallway.

"Who saw it fit to insert a god in this?!"

The whole point of Prešeren's stanza is coexistence and peace; free of religion and ideology. Yet Janko Lavrin chose to go with a concept that has historically divided and killed.

To his credit, Janko didn't know this was going to be a national anthem. He died in 1986.

Oh, and by the way: today is Prešeren Day.