Friday, April 29, 2016

My case for the Lesser Evil

So this uncool of me, but I'm going to make the case for Lesser Evilism here. This is relevant if Hillary wins the nomination, which right now is the most likely outcome, though I still hope Bernie does. And let me be absolutely clear; Hillary is absolutely a lesser evil. It's ironic to say the least that the Republicans have blown out of proportion issues she doesn't really deserve much blame for (the email server, Benghazi) while ignoring the monstrosities she's partly or even primarily responsible for, like the Iraq war, arming terrorists in Syria, our intervention in the Libyan civil war which left the country a warlord-ruled dystopia, drone strikes killing innocent civilians, and on and on. With some of these, like Iraq, she'll go back later and say "whoops, my bad," but will not show that she has learned anything to change her behavior. So how could one possibly be willing to vote for someone like that?
People use a lot of different criteria when deciding who to vote for. Some people care more about foreign policy, some more about economic policy. There are single-issue voters who care about one thing like abortion or civil rights. As for me, when I vote for Candidate A over Candidate B I believe I'm saying nothing other than "things would be less bad with A in charge than B." It doesn't mean I like A, or agree with all or even any of their positions. That may sound cynical, and it is. But if I believe my vote matters at all (spoiler: it probably doesn't, see below) then I believe I should take into account how the choice of two politicians would affect everyone.
So, yeah, Hillary's foreign policy is fkd up, and she has way too many buddies on Wall Street. But I also have to consider women who could lose their reproductive rights under a right-wing supreme court. I have to consider families that for the first time have (admittedly shitty) health insurance and could have it taken away. I have to consider people whose benefits barely give them enough to eat who could have it stripped. I have to consider gay and transgender friends who could have their rights taken away. I have to consider national parks that could be turned into oilfields. I have to consider Arabic and Islamic people who could be harassed or killed under a fascistic government, and undocumented or even documented immigrants who could be rounded up and deported to places they may not have been in more than fifteen years.
But when The Revolution Comes none of that will matter! All those people will be free from the oppression of capitalism! Sure, maybe. But the Revolution has been coming for a very long time, and a lot of people have died waiting for it.
But you don't have to wait! You can fight and be an activist to bring freedom and rights to people now! Yes, absolutely, everyone should. I am full of admiration for my friends who are much more activist than I am, people like Manny Jalonschi who documents injustice in his writings, people like Gregg Gonsalves who has fought for the rights of people with HIV for decades, people like Meira Marom and Karla Esquivel who have fought for the Bernie campaign, Liz Di Nunzio who has been raising consciousness about labor exploitation in the tech industry and a lot of other people I'm sure I haven't mentioned. Please all of you don't ever stop. I am not nearly as politically active as I should be. I go to a lot of marches and protests, and I donated to Bernie and knocked on some doors for him, but it's not nearly enough. I plan to try to change that. And all of this political activity counts infinitely many times more than one vote in an election. But absolutely none of it contradicts or is prevented by taking half an hour on a Tuesday and walking to your local public school to pull a lever for the least bad option.
And let's be clear, for a lot of us, including me, our vote literally will not matter. If you live in New York, for example, write in Bernie, vote Green, write in Mickey Mouse or Cthulu (why choose the _lesser_ evil?). There is zero percent chance that the New York won't go Democrat, and since the electoral college is all or nothing state by state those are already D no matter what. So why not just say that? Because, honestly, "vote Democrat unless you live in New York or California or anywhere that's more than sixty percent Blue in which case vote Green but consider the Congressional vote" does not fit on a bumper sticker.
So there's my case. Proceed with angry comments as you wish.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

No Larry, Criticizing the actions of the Israeli Government's not anti-Semitism

I was ready to agree with Lawrence Summers about anti semitism in the Palestinian Rights movement, because that is a real issue. But then I got to the part where grew says anti-semitism includes "applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation." In other words, we must ignore Israel stealing Palestinian homes and killing them as long as some other countries are doing something just as bad! By this standard, pretty much any behavior short of full-on genocide is excused. The BDS movement should disavow anti-semitic statements in its ranks. But defenders of the Israeli government need to stop using charges of anti-semitism to dismiss valid statements of protest.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/03/31/larry-summers-colleges-have-become-hypersensitive-to-racial-prejudice-why-not-anti-semitism/

Microsoft's Command Shell zoo

Can Microsoft explain why they have to have at least seven different command prompts, each with different commands, for developers? In addition to the ones in this picture there is also the regular command prompt, PowerShell, the Package Manager console, and probably a bunch I don't even know about. In *nix there is one command prompt: the bash shell (unless you're an uber-geek who's installed some exotic shell on your own). Okay, there's the SQL prompt, but that's like a completely different program. Whose job is it at MS to make things unnecessarily hard?

On social media you should only post about...whatever the hell you want

I'm completely baffled by statements of the form, "you shouldn't post about _______ on social media." I've seen the blank filled in with politics, your pets, what you're eating, religion, working out and a bunch of other things. Your social media presence should be a picture of you and what you care about. If other people don't want to see it, they don't have to read it. If they don't want to see anything you write about, they can hide or un-follow you. 

I personally skip over any post about sports or God, but I don't resent their being there, because that's what those people care about. Post whatever you want, and I'll read what I want.

More lies from the NYPD to protect killer drivers

Here's the thing: if a turning motorist hits a pedestrian or cyclist going the same (or opposite) way, it is _legally impossible_ that the driver had the right of way. If the driver had the light, the pedestrian or cyclist would have too, and by law the motorist should yield. If the pedestrian or cyclist was running the light, then so was the motorist. 

I don't have the data to back it up, but based on my regular readings of crash stories, I estimate at least half of pedestrian and cyclist deaths here come because a motorist doesn't yield on turning. I was almost killed the other day by a turning motorist, and I wasn't even on my bike; I was crossing the street to go to the bodega and buy bread! Jennifer has been hit at the same intersection while crossing. But rather than enforcing this law, the NYPD ignores the crime. 

And when a non-yielding driver kills someone, NYPD officers instinctively invent fantastic stories to protect the driver. And the victims aren't primarily fit, traffic-alert adults (though they can die too) but the elderly, the disabled and kids, who can't easily jump out of the way. Vision Zero means crap until the NYPD is in board, and I don't know if that will ever change.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The cool new tech thing for kids is...Windows? Wait, what?

So my life and job leads me to interact with a lot of tech-forward teenagers, and I've noticed a weird trend in the last year or so: Windows is suddenly cool. (I was going to say "cool again", but was it ever?). 

It wasn't long ago that I believed that computers of any sort, let alone Windows machines, were on their way to obsolescence for anything but actual work. But in the last year or so suddenly every kid wants to either have a Windows laptop, or, if they have a Mac, to have Windows on it using BootCamp or something similar. My son has barely touched his iPad in weeks. 

This is primarily because the computer games they want to play are on Steam. Terraria in particular is most popular, but there are others like Spelunky and BroForce. I'm not saying they exactly _like_ Windows. Everyone still complains about how terrible it is, and they argue over whether to use Windows 10 or Windows 7 (anything but 8). But they all want it. Not sure what this means, but it's interesting.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

No, The Expanse is not Game of Thrones in space. (And that's a good thing.)

[Alert: Minor spoilers for James S.A. Corey's "Expanse" book series, and presumably the show as well.]
When you're trying to get someone interested in a new series of books or TV shows, it's natural to try to compare it to something they already know. When Breaking Bad was new, it was often compared with Weeds, though the two shows have nothing in common besides a regular person who starts dealing drugs. When I tried to get people to watch Sons of Anarchy, I often called it "The Sopranos with motorcycle gangs," though again the connection was tenuous except for the fact that they're both based on organized crime.

So it is natural that even before SyFy began adapting James S.A. Corey's The Expanse series, beginning with Leviathan Wakes, people trying to convey the scope and power of the series compared it to the best-known non-YA speculative fiction series out there, The Song of Ice and Fire series, known on TV as Game of Thrones. From a distance, they seem very similar. You have a long series of doorstopper books. You have brutal and underhanded struggles between competing powers in a sprawling world, or in the case of TE, solar system. You have violent battles, different points of view, and even a kind of zombies in a particular scene on Ceres. But though these are both engaging and powerful series of books (and TE is now a TV series as well), TE is at its core nothing like SOIAF. And that, I argue, is a good thing.

So how are the different? Here are a few ways:

1) Real heroes and happy(ish) endings

The main reason that the SOIAF series was such a significant was that it has no real heroes and no happy endings. The two characters that are closest to being heroes in SOIAF are Tyrion and Daenerys. They are both engaging and wonderful characters, and morally they are better people than most of the other characters we encounter on Westeros. But that's a pretty low bar, and they're both pretty morally flawed. Most of the other characters SOIAF set up as heroes, especially when it looks like they are winning, have a Red Wedding-level event to look forward to.

Though the heroes of TE can also be pretty morally flawed, (especially Detective Miller, who is even more corrupt in the first episode of the TV show than he was in the book), in the big picture the central characters usually are pretty consistently fighting for the right thing. This is especially true of the four characters that become the crew of the Rocinante, James Holden, Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal and Amos Burton. Holden, especially, is pretty much a traditional old-fashioned speculative fiction hero, who continuously goes out of his way to do the right thing, even when it's completely inconvenient for himself and everyone else. And while things don't work out well for everyone, each book pretty clearly ends with a sense that the good guys won. That doesn't mean there's no moral complexity or poor choices on the part of the heroes, but it's much closer to a traditional adventure story than the SOIAF series.

This is a good thing, I would argue, because unlike SOIAF, TE is showing us a vision of something that could actually happen (up to the point they start encountering alien artifacts, at least). This is distinct from most science fiction we've ever seen before as well, which usually feature teleporters or warp drives or other technology we're unlikely to develop in the next few hundred years. This means this series has the potential to inspire space exploration in a way sci-fi has not in a very long time. But to do that, it needs to make us believe that the future we're working towards isn't just a Machiavellian hell.

2) Far fewer and more traditional point of view characters

Another way that SOIAF was distinct was the enormous number of POV characters. GRRM is a master storyteller and was mostly able to make this work (though it gets a little out of hand later in the series, if you ask me). I have encountered too many authors lately that have tried to emulate GRRM in this way, too often resulting in too many interchangeable people I have no connection to or interest in. Because GRRM was able to succeed at this, we found ourselves having interest in the stories of otherwise pretty unsympathetic people, like Jamie Lannister, who tries to murder a child in an early part of the first book.

Though TE has multiple POVs, they are mostly pretty focused on the heroes of the book. The main POVs of Leviathan Wakes are the Rocinante's crew and Detective Miller, all of whom are soon revealed to be tracking down the same mystery. The TV show introduces Chrisjen Avasarala in the first episode, though in the book series that character doesn't even appear until Caliban's War, the second book in the series. I suspect the showrunners introduced the somewhat Machiavellian Avasarala at least partially to add a little more Game of Thrones-y morality to the show, as can be seen by the way she's engaging in the torture of an OPA spy in the first episode. But the direction of the book series is going to make it necessary to focus more and more on the adventures of the Rocinante's crew as the books do, especially starting from Caliban's War.

This is good because, first of all, SOIAF's sprawling cast of POVs is almost impossible to do well, and second, now that it has been, really doesn't particularly need to be again.

3) Way less creepy sex stuff

The GOT series on HBO often gets called out on its "sexposition," excessive nudity, and unnecessary rapiness. But let's be clear, this level of creepy sex is not a departure from the books. Yes, there were a few rapes in GOT that weren't in SOIAF, but believe me, there were a lot more that were in SOIAF that GOT left out. Mostly SOIAF and GOT both portray a world full of sexual exploitation and unhealthy sexual relationships. It says something when one of the healthier sexual relationships in your books is between a brother and sister (though it's not so healthy in the show).

Though it's clear that there is prostitution and probably exploitation happening in some of TE's space stations like Ceres, this is never really central to the plot. The main sexual relationship that occurs in TE is the one that develops between Holden and Naomi, which, though it has its bumps, is pretty normal.

Do I need to explain why this is good? Hopefully not.

The main difference between The Expanse series, both in the books and hopefully on TV, is that unlike SOIAF and GOT, they are guardedly optimistic. And since these are portraying a future that is at least partially available for us, we really need that.