Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Deeds

It's a little funny and sad that liberals are asking Trump to repudiate the racists among his followers. In the countless months leading up to the election, if there is one thing that Trump has proven, it's that his words have neither meaning nor value. He repeatedly contradicts himself, and more importantly, does not care at all if he is doing so. His followers simply choose the parts they want to believe and ignore the rest*.

So stop responding to his tweets and statements, because they are all horse shit. Observe his actions and react to those instead.

* And that's the charitable explanation, because otherwise I'd have to assume that you support white supremacy, misogyny, religious persecution, and a host of other disgusting traits that he espouses. But don't think that your selective hearing will shield you from judgement, because in the end, you chose to be the kind of person who is okay with it as long as it didn't happen to you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Marcos 2.0

A constant stream of crude remarks aside, President Duterte has made a number of curious moves after just a few months in power:

  • Moving from the US sphere of influence to the China/Russia sphere - The US historically cared little who they were supporting (e.g., Marcos,) as long as he or she was anti-communist, and still retains many unsavory allies around the world. China and Russia, however, coddle the likes of North Korea and Syria that literally enslave and bomb their own citizens. These guys really don't care what those governments do to their own people, so if you were planning to be a brutal dictator, you'd shift towards the East, too.
  • Co-opting the police - Extra-judicial killings can be investigated and prosecuted by a new president, so allowing police to commit these crimes also binds them to the current president. Well-paid and powerful on the one hand, risk of prosecution on the other, which would you choose?
  • Creating an atmosphere of uncertainty for foreign investors - Once the foreign businesses pull out, foreign governments will care a lot less what goes on in the Philippines. There'll be some noises made in the UN, but that's all. If it gets too serious, then you ask Russia or China for a veto.
  • Inflaming nationalism - Other than religion, the tried and true way of justifying harsh action against criticism. Who wants to stick up for drug dealers or American imperialists?

Now, I'm not saying this is the plan, just that it sure looks like one when taken altogether.

Almost immediately after taking power, Duterte insisted on burying Marcos in the heroes' cemetery. This isn't a grand political gesture to unify the country, as it might've been if offered by the Aquino family, so it must be a payment of political debt. The debt was either so enormous, or he cared so little about what it would symbolize to the victims of Marcos, that this couldn't be shelved.

So I think the puppet masters will emerge from the shadows soon. I hope the Filipino people are alert and brave enough to avert it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Four Years

Four more years of corruption, the Republic can take. Wouldn't be the first time.

Four years of Benghazi, we can survive, even if four Americans did not. We can even survive another 9/11.

Four years of even groping by a sitting president (or blowjobs for a first gentleman, if that's more of your concern) would not permanently hurt us.

Thirty or more years of a either more conservative or more liberal Supreme Court, America will endure. It's swung in the past, it'll swing again, but over time the Court will go where Americans eventually go.

Dissolving alliances and allowing the proliferation of nuclear weapons starts to get into very dangerous territory. Potential enemies perk up their ears in anticipation, and allies start looking out for themselves more. The horror of nuclear weapons has been counterbalanced thus far by the lack of real political benefits from their use, but we now have resourceful terrorists who do not seem to share that concern. But even that, we can survive.

What we cannot survive is a loss of trust in the election. Democracy only works if the result that you dislike (or even disdain) is temporary and that other citizens overruled you. If you think the elections are rigged, or that you're being outvoted by the "others," the only remaining course is violence: assassinations, coups, civil war.

In this election, one candidate has brought up "second amendment remedies," stirred hatred against Mexicans and Muslims, and is now suggesting that a loss would mean the election was rigged for no more apparent evidence than his bloated ego not allowing him to accept the results.

This is beyond dangerous, and the man must not only be defeated, he must be repudiated. American elections are not perfect, but they have remained remarkably fair. It's treasonous (metaphorically, anyway) to risk civil war for your own political ambitions, especially when you're running on a platform of supposed patriotism. America will be far better off when the losers accept the results without exception.

...

At the end of the final presidential debate, Trump refused to promise that he would accept the results of the election. This is a man who values his ego over his country. Please vote accordingly.

Monday, October 10, 2016

In-between Lines

I didn't really watch the presidential debates this year, mainly because it's probably bad for my blood pressure. I do read parts of the transcript, and a couple of things jumped out at me from the second debate.

First, a digression. If you're of a certain age, you might remember Bill Clinton's impeachment. He famously said, "it depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is," which makes the expression "splitting hairs" seem unexaggerated in contrast. Of course he was lying, if not in words then in spirit, but it's important for now to recognize how fine he was trying to be. He knew exactly where the line between the truth and falsehood lie, and skated up as close as he possibly could to it.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, said in the debate, "nobody has more respect for women than I do," literally just seconds after apologizing what he said had been embarrassingly bad judgement. (I'm paraphrasing, but yes, he used those words.) This is curious. How can he possibly think nobody has more respect for women? He clearly recognizes that only "stars" like him get to treat women like that, so wouldn't normal people have more respect for women? The other explanation, which is more plausible once you observe his speech pattern, is that he lied. He knows he doesn't respect women, and he knows that you know it, but he just doesn't care if the words that come out of his mouth are true or false.

I don't intend to judge whether Clinton or Trump is worse, just noting a difference.

On the subject of Russian involvement in Syria, the moderators cited Mike Pence as saying that:
provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in air strikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.
to which Trump responded, "He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree."

Let that sink in for a moment. He couldn't stop talking about Syria and ISIS like it's the most important thing, but he hasn't spoken to his VP candidate about how to deal with Russian involvement? Anybody who pays the least bit of attention to Syria will know that the Russians are a major player, and no solution is possible without dealing with Russia. Yet the Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates have not spoken about Russians in Syria?!

We're talking about a basic policy position regarding Assad and Russia, not some minor policy detail. They haven't spoken about it, even though ISIS appears to be a top foreign policy concern, or at least an area he hopes to hit Hillary Clinton on. He openly praised Vladimir Putin as a "strong" leader, so it's clearly not because he lacks respect for the Russian. So how could they not have discussed how to deal with Assad and his Russian puppet master, leading to an embarrassingly public disagreement?

The mind boggles. There really hasn't been a presidential candidate this unprepared for office in living memory.

At this point, I think it'd be best if the third and final debate could be hosted by Nickelodeon, consisting entirely of slime and physical challenges.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Never Forget

We were roused from sleep by a call from my sister-in-law from half a world away. When the second plane hit the towers, it became undeniably clear that this was no accident. In the days following the attacks, "never forget" became a convenient mantra, but what is it that we're not meant to forget?

As the towers billowed smoke, police and firefighters ran toward the buildings. They may not have know for certain that it would cost them their lives, but they surely knew it could. The ran towards the towers and up the stairs to save other people. Americans should never forget this heroism.

A horrified world sent their condolences and pledges of support. Tiny Canadian towns opened their homes to passengers stranded by diverted airplanes. Queen Elizabeth ordered her guards to play the US national anthem in a break from ancient tradition. The world rallied to us and shared our shock and grief. Americans should never forget this kindness.

The US administration quickly fingered the mastermind behind the attacks, which led to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but later turned into the disastrous invasion of Iraq as America remained reluctant to question a wartime president's flimsy justifications. This cost thousands of American lives, countless Iraqi lives, not to mention trillions of dollars spent off-budget. Americans should never forget this cynicism.

Today, about half the country stands behind a would-be tyrant whose solution to America's problems involve expelling all those who are not like him: Mexicans, Muslims. He advocates for war crimes and torture, and praises a foreign dictator widely suspected of assassinating political opponents and critics. He inflames barely-concealed racism behind the equally dangerous veil of nationalism. He turns a blind eye to the suffering of refugees. He threatens to isolate and homogenize America into something he approves, instead of the vibrant blend of cultures that brought it to greatness. Not only does this make him unfit to be president, it makes him despicable by just the normal standards of a human being.

Some may say I'm politicizing the tragedy. Sure. What are we meant to "never forget", if we ignore the bloody lessons whenever we talk about where the country should go? I think we should never forget that intolerance of others is what led to 9/11, and it hardly matters if the intolerance is dressed in Islamic verses or draped in stars and stripes. I think we should never forget that Americans voters have the privilege and responsibility to elect the leader of the free world. I think we should never forget that what brought the world together was our shared humanity, not the me-first selfishness that permeates his words and deeds.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Assholes

Trump says his intelligence briefers expressed disdain of President Obama and Clinton. If false, he's a liar who is taking advantage of their inability to publicly defend themselves. If true, he betrayed their confidence. His briefers might be anonymous to us, but certainly not to President Obama, and probably not to Clinton if she becomes president and decides to be vindictive and effectively end their careers.

Pence and Trump continue to compare President Obama unfavorably to Putin. It's a good thing for them that Obama is so "weak", because bad things seem to happen to people who criticize Putin.

It's hard to see anything but a pair of assholes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Own Worst Enemy

He's a racist blowhard, aspiring war criminal, and fickle husband who promises the world but refuses to provide any details on policy proposals. He wanted to see President Obama's birth certificate, yet would not provide his own tax returns. But now that his wife stole a few lines for a speech, that's totally changed my mind about voting for him!

Seriously, liberals.

I'd be surprised if his numbers don't rise a bit just because of this.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Put Down

I don't understand people who use the "she was wearing something provocative" defense to rape. If you can't be counted on to behave like a civilized person, if your primal urges are so strong that you should not be legally liable for your actions, then you can't be allowed to walk around freely. Do you not know what we do to untrained pets that bite other people?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

殺人償命?

死刑究竟有什麼不好?殺人償命聽來就是天經地義,為什麼有些人反對?

第一,司法制度並不完美。極權國家就不必說了,但是就是開明的民主國家,在法院的判決也只能到達「超越合理的懷疑」。也就是說,這個人要是真的無罪,只有不合理的解釋能成立才有可能。但是實務上冤獄總是難免,隨著科學發展,像  DNA 等證據更陸續開脫多名罪犯。今天的證據確鑿,明天可能就是無罪開釋。

第二,司法制度並不公平。窮人請不起好律師,無法雇用專家自行採證,在相同的證據下判死的機會當然就比富人要高。有些人法律常識較差,不了解自己面對控訴時的權利,等於自解武裝。有些人怕警察,以為老實說或許能從寬。這種差別待遇不能就說他們倒楣了事。少數民族也常不成比例的遭受重判。

第三,死刑沒有明顯的嚇阻作用。有死刑的國家並不比廢除的國家安全。對極少數會使用暴力的精神病患,或對對視死如歸的重罪犯或恐怖份子等來說,有無死刑並不會影響他們的想法。

第四,死刑不見得省錢。要能真確定事實真相,勢必要運用人力所有能及的方式來避免冤案。除非我們想要看到輕率的判決和執刑,這個過程是昂貴緩慢的。

第五,死刑可能危及警察和大眾。當一個惡人犯了死罪,持械拒捕自然也就不成問題。除了執勤的警察極度危險,一般民眾也可能被挾持為人質,或誤中流彈。

第六,精神病的影響不能忽視。精神病並不光是分有或沒有,而是問有多嚴重。那智障要多嚴重才算不該為自己的行為負責?不同人判斷不同的嫌犯,有可能公平嗎?

這並不表示社會就不執行法律了。司法明知道不可能完美,但是我們以人能達到的最高標準來要求,真有少數誤判就盡量以各種方式賠償,但死刑如何能補償?明知道司法不能完全公正,但也不能漠視窮人、少數民族、精神病患等受害。至於省錢等考慮,恕我不客氣,一個政府以你我之名要取條人命,該用最便宜的方式草率動手嗎?所謂人命關天,但說到錢就算了?萬一冤殺了人,誰來償命?

那這些惡人作奸犯科之前有這樣人道對待受害人嗎?當然沒有,但這就是我們跟他不同的地方啊!

Fucking Assholes

One of the more disheartening things about the rise of politicians like Trump in the US and Duterte in the Philippines is the speech. I'm just as allergic to political BS (often exemplified by the Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, just to name two) as anybody else, but being blunt does not mean being tasteless or offensive or racist or misogynistic. Political discourse had been dismal for years now, but this year it has literally sunken to grade school name-calling levels. (But Sanders and Clinton aren't calling each other nasty names, you say. Yes, you're right! The childish name-calling is a Republican thing tolerated by Republican voters.)

President-elect Duterte, for example, says patently stupid things like "complimenting" a rape-murder victim for her looks, and that he should've been first in line instead. He later also said that bad journalists (despite admitting having bribed some himself) can expect to be murdered. Trump, of course, is infamous for saying his own set of offensive things about Mexicans, Muslims, and many of his Republican competitors for the party nomination.

Since when is this okay? The opposite of political correctness is not unfiltered offensive speech. That doesn't make you blunt or honest, it makes you a fucking asshole.

I personally don't give a fuck about "the children", but you people who enable these fucking assholes better not whine when your own children start talking like them, because you cheered them on.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

聽話

簡而言之,中國給台灣的任何國際空間,前提絕不是什麼抽象的「九二共識」,而是聽話。這個關係不是國與國之間至少表面上的平等,而是主僕之間的施捨。聽話就讓你保留幾個邦交國,有點起碼的顏面,不聽話就拔幾個讓你好看。聽話就有陸客來台消費,不聽話就減少旅遊名額,甚至在跟兩岸政治幾無關聯的什麼「國際鋼鐵會議」都給你個下馬威。

這麼明顯的打壓,居然還有台灣人會說是綠營的心態僵化了關係。藍營的兩岸政策又有多高明?就是只要遵旨準備統一,老大就會放軟點,賞你一口飯吃如此罷了。和平固然是兩岸人民的共同目標,但不放棄運用武力主動改變現狀的是哪一方?二十多年來,中國對兩岸關係的定義從李登輝的「兩國論」到蔡英文的維持現狀等等說法,從未退卻一步,很清楚事情根本就不是什麼「論述」可以解決的。中國固然沒有討論的興趣,外國也不會聽你台灣到聯合國去拉拉布條就恍然大悟的支持。

所以,真那麼天真還在期望「一中各表」嗎?還是根本就已經被收買了?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Goalpost Moveth

The news of AlphaGo challenging Lee Sedol in Go came as a surprise to me. While peripherally interested in AI, I had assumed that something like this was years if not decades away. I played a little bit of Go when I was a kid, but I didn't really have the patience for it, so all I really got was a sense of how difficult the game would be to program.

When AlphaGo took the first game, I had already seen what I wanted to see. AlphaGo doesn't need to actually defeat Lee, much less sweep the 5-game series, to be a success. By playing at his 9-dan level, AlphaGo has proven that it will handily defeat most human players, and we can expect the technology to be easily and widely accessible in just a few more years. The top players might still make a valiant last stand against the inevitable, but the rest of us are toast. I cheered technological progress.

When AlphaGo took game two, complete with a pivotal move that practically no human would ever make, I was at the same time astonished that we were still discovering things about a 2,500-year old game, but not surprised once AlphaGo's methods were explained. Because it was coldly precise, it would play for a small but sure win, rather than trying to maximize advantage. As a much more expert observer pointed out elsewhere, when AlphaGo plays what we see as a "slack move", it's pretty much decided that it will win. What it is unable to comprehend is that its human opponent doesn't even know that yet!

With ruthless efficiency, AlphaGo just took game three to win the series. Lee may no longer be the 18-time world champion that he was, but he is undoubtedly still one of the best players in the world, now facing the prospect of losing all five and not even really knowing the limits of his computer opponent.

The games were surprisingly emotional for me. As a computer person, I'm not particularly afraid of the robot future. I worry about the social impact to our inevitable automated future, but I do not fear self-driving cars and airplanes, nor even robot government administrators or politicians. I'm in awe that an accomplishment like this only took DeepMind about two years, against an absolute genius who had been playing for decades. As a human, though, a little part of me wishes to postpone this inevitability just a bit more, and Lee became something of a champion for humanity in my mind. He was brave to take the challenge. Despite the $1M prize money, he had much to lose and nothing to gain by beating a computer that we all just knew wasn't that good yet.

The history of AI has been one of moving goalposts, and after yesterday what we've proven is of course that playing Go isn't really AI, rather just another in a series of games that are hard for humans but easy for machines to solve. Yet the list of things that only we can do seems to only shrink, so I don't really care for this line of thinking. Deep Blue and Watson and now AlphaGo will of course seem hopelessly primitive to future historians, but I think we live in interesting times indeed.

I wonder if AlphaGo will splurge on a new graphics card with the prize money.

Friday, February 19, 2016

ELI5 Apple v. FBI

If you find yourself confused about the Apple versus FBI thing, here's the simple version:
  1. Nobody likes terrorists. We should create a tool to break into the terrorist's iPhone so we can see if there's any information in there useful to investigators.
  2. Everybody wants phones that secure the information stored in it. We should not create a tool that could be abused (by either law enforcement or criminals) to break into any other iPhone of the same model.
  3. The FBI says it's possible to do both #1 and #2, while Apple says it is not possible or not probable.
  4. If you think you have the legal and technical expertise to know who is correct here, you probably don't.
  5. Stupid politicians are stupid.
You're welcome.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Party above Duty

Let's assume that the Republicans have a point in saying that a president shouldn't nominate a Supreme Court justice in an election year, even though President Reagan had done exactly that. The hopefully indisputable fact is that the Supreme Court is filled with humans who do die, so what if they all died during an election year? We'd just go without a Supreme Court for a whole year? Presumably not, so how many openings do we allow on the Court before we can replace one in an election year?

And why only during an election year? Two years after a president takes office, we are exactly halfway between the old election and the new election. Why shouldn't we wait for the new election to see what the American people want? Worse, what if New Hampshire moves its primary up to the day after inauguration? Would the new president then not be able to nominate a justice because it's election season again?

Because there's actually a clear date and time when a sitting president loses his or her constitutional powers: when the next president takes office. Anything else would be arbitrary and absurd.

Despite my personal political leanings, I would actually prefer that the branches of government be somewhat adversarial. An executive branch that fundamentally believes in government power and a legislative branch that is fundamentally skeptical of it isn't actually a bad mix.

But while it's one thing to object to a particular nominee, it's quite another to object to anybody President Obama might nominate before he has even named anybody, even though there's clearly enough time to complete the confirmation process.

I hold out hope that enough Republican senators will do the right thing and confirm a good nominee, but Republican voters need to severely punish this band of obstructionists for putting their party above their duty to the country.