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Spoof on Silicon Valley and Internet of Things from 2014 : Smart Pipe

February 18, 2017 6 comments

While writing an upcoming post about why the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is a terrible idea on multiple levels, it occurred to me that I had not yet posted one of the best and smartest YouTube spoofs about that subject. FYI, I first came across this spoof in late-2014 and thought it was hilarious enough to post on many places other than this blog. In case you are wondering, the imaginary IoT product mentioned in that spoof is scarily close to some products that have actually received venture capital funding in Silly Valley.

Enjoy! Comments?

A Brief Overview of Historical Facts Behind the Russian Claim to Crimea

February 16, 2017 14 comments

I originally considered writing this post in early 2014, but thought that the subject matter was so straightforward that even the average geography and history averse person in USA could figure it out by simply googling around for a few minutes. Well.. it is early 2017 now, and based on recent comments made by the newly elected president of USA and many “credentialed” experts and policymakers in the same country– it is obvious that many people in USA (especially those in power) are either naive, or more likely, deliberately ignorant about the historical nature of the Russian claim to Crimea. So let me give you a brief refresher in why Russia has a very solid and strong historical claim to Crimea.

Here is a little relevant history. Crimea, also known as the Crimean Peninsula, is a land mass on the northern coast of the Black Sea which is almost completely surrounded by the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov to the northeast. Over the millennia, it has been part of many different empires- from the Greek city states, Persian Achaemenid Empire, Roman Empire, various groups of Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Byzantine Empire, Khazars, the Kipchaks, the Golden Horde and Crimean Khanate. However since 1783, it has been a part of the Russia- first as part of the Russian Empire, then the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and now the Russian Federation.

Now, it is true that in 1954 a then newly elected Nikita Khrushchev (who was Ukrainian by birth), did transfer administration of Crimea from the Russian part of USSR to its Ukrainian part. While we can not be completely certain about his precise motivations, it is likely that convenience of administration in combination (mainly geography) with a belief in the durability of USSR were the principal factors. In any case, this transfer was largely symbolic since Crimea retained a Russian-speaking majority. Let us now fast forward to 1991 and the dissolution of USSR. At that time, Russia did not take Crimea back by force- largely because it could get everything it wanted through treaties with Ukraine.

That arrangement worked pretty well for a decade or so.. and then the USA started to interfere in Ukrainian politics through various ‘color’ revolutions. USA-friendly political parties and governments in Ukraine then started to talk about abrogating their previous arrangements with Russia regarding many things- including agreements regarding Crimea. All of this talk about taking a tougher line with Russia coincided with the resurgence of Russian military and economy power in that decade. As some of you might know, Crimea apart from being a favorite destination for sun-seeking Russian tourists over the years has long been an important military (and commercial) port for Russia- since the time it was originally annexed in 1783.

Asking Russia to give up Crimea has no basis in anything approaching reality. Firstly, Crimea has been part of Russia since 1783. Secondly, Crimea has had an ethnic Russian majority for many decades now. Thirdly, Russia has successfully fought multiple and bloody wars to retain possession of Crimea since it first annexed it in 1783. Fourthly, Russia still has many thousands of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles making it essentially suicidal to challenge its claim to Crimea via use of military power. Fifthly, economic sanctions are not going to make Russia give up Crimea- because it is seen by the majority of Russians as an integral part of their country.

And this brings me to an interesting comparison of the time-frame that Crimea has been part of Russia to American history. As many of you know, USA was formed when thirteen British colonies in North America declared independence from England in 1776. In other words, USA has been a nation for only 7 years longer than Crimea has been a part of Russia. But it gets even better. Have a look at the map of the original 13 colonies below- click on map to enlarge it. Notice something?

usa_1775-1776

Ya.. most territory which is now considered to be part of USA was not part of it in 1776. To be more precise, precursors to 37 out of the 50 current states which constitute USA today did not even exist in 1776. In fact, the first major expansion of USA, the so-called Louisiana Purchase, would not occur until 1803- about 20 years after Crimea first became part of Russia. Here is a list of the dates when each state officially joined USA. Many states in USA (especially in the South-West and Hawaii) therefore have a far stronger claim to secession from USA than Crimea has from Russia.

But perhaps the oddest, and peculiar, part of the current official policy of USA towards the historically justified Russian claim to Crimea is the massive amount of magical thinking necessary for any non-retarded person to even consider the possibility that Russia will negotiate on (let alone give up) Crimea. It is as if all the “experts” and policy makers in USA mentally inhabit a world where the USA is the sole superpower, rather than the rapidly crumbling mess that it has become. Or maybe the government elite in the USA see such exercises in stupid futility as a useful distraction for the masses so that they keep on robbing the system for a little while longer..

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Blog: McMansion Hell

February 11, 2017 3 comments

A few months ago, I came across a blog called McMansion Hell. As you might have guessed, it is about the overall poor quality of design and construction of large and expensive houses in suburbs and exurbs. While the blog is mostly about McMansions in USA, it does has some posts about similar monstrosities in other countries- especially Canada.

On another note, I wish that he had not hosted it as a Tumblr Blog as finding older posts can be real pain. Here is the link to the index – McMansion Hell Archives.

It is important to understand the critique (and mockery) in that blog is largely directed towards poorly designed and built houses which happen to be large, as opposed to living in or buying a large house. The person who writes that blog is trying to point out that people who buy such ugly and dysfunctional monstrosities have more money than taste or common sense.

Here are a few of her most interesting posts:

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 1) – The real thing Vs its pale imitation- Part 1

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 2) – The real thing vs its pale imitation- Part 2.

Aesthetics Aside, Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture – Many ways McMansions suck.

The McMansion Scale, Explained! – Quantifying the shiftiness of any given McMansion.

Where and Why Do We Build McMansions – Factors enabling these abominations.

and here are a few examples of her brutal and much deserved take down of these shitty stucco-boxes. Browse her tumblr blog archives for more..

Montville Township, NJ – This lovely home, built in 2004 can be yours for the low price of $2,250,000.

Fort Worth, TX – This week’s house, a Mansard built in 1993 (but is totes 1987) is pushing 5,000 square feet, and is currently on the market for $1.3 million USD.

Scottsdale, Arizona – This house, built in 1996 and boasting around 4,000 square feet can be all yours for just under a million dollars!

What do you think? Comments?

Even Establishment Democrats Don’t Miss Hillary Clinton: Feb 6, 2017

February 6, 2017 6 comments

I thought it would be a good idea to write a very short post to bring in some comments, while I am finishing up a much larger one. So here it is..

Have you noticed that democrats (even the establishment types) have stopped talking about Hillary Clinton? You might remember that there was a time, especially in the 1st month after she lost to Trump, when democrats and their paid shills in media could not stop talking about how much better things would have been if HRC had won the election. In that month or so- there was no end to posts, tweets, articles and interviews which extolled her “competence” and “brilliance” in comparison to Trump. You literally could not turn on the TV or visit MSM “news” sites without at least a few allegedly “smart” pundits bemoaning her loss to Trump.

Fast forward to today, a couple of weeks after Trump has formally assumed the presidency. As most of you know, some of his recent executive orders and general policy directions have been controversial- to put it mildly. I mean.. there have been more and bigger demonstrations against Trump in the first 2 weeks of his presidency than there were against Obama in his 8 years- though the later broke almost every singe campaign promise he made in 2008 and 2012. But have you noticed that there is something missing in all those public demonstrations against Trump.

Yes, I am talking about the relative absence of any specific reference to Hillary Clinton- especially anything which suggests that she would have been a better president than Trump. I find it interesting that almost all protests against Trump focus on his policies or decisions, rather than how HRC would have been a much better president. Even establishment democrats now seem to have largely given up comparing him to her. You can still hear many say that ‘Bernie Would Have Won’ but almost nobody is saying ‘Hillary Would Have Been Better’- because the former statement is true while the later is an obvious lie- like HRC.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Initial Thoughts on the Likely Trajectory of a Trump Presidency: 4

February 3, 2017 15 comments

In the previous part of this series, I focused on problems which will almost certainly arise from one of Trump’s recent executive orders- namely the one about “temporarily” banning entry into USA of people from certain predominantly Muslim countries. In that post and a subsequent standalone post, I made the point that his Muslim ban was problematic for reasons that have little to do with it targeting Muslims. Firstly, it simply reinforces the widespread perception (in USA and rest of the world) that Trump makes decisions without regard to considerations of legality, feasibility, prior official positions or the risks inherent in such abrupt changes in direction.

Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, the rest of the world (including friendly countries) see this ban as yet another confirmation of their view that trusting Trump or the USA to follow through on any agreement made in the past or even in the future is a bad idea. The second type of problems are more important that the first, since it is relatively easy to gloss over localized problems arising from personality quirks of a head of state than it is to overlook an increase in systemic risk due to a pattern of unpredictable behavior. In other words, the rest of the world would not care much if Trump’s break from the past was localized to one or two areas.

As I briefly mentioned in the previous post of this series, Trump is trying to implement large shifts from past positions on issues in a large number of areas- from immigration and international trade to reproductive right issues and dramatically ramping up the police state in USA. Moreover, his attempts to shift positions have been characterized by an unwillingness to understand the factors which made them the default in the first place. For example- increases in immigration (legal and otherwise) are largely due to the insatiable thirst of corporations for ever-increasing margins of profit. The same is true for constant increases in international trade including “free” trade.

And that brings us to the inevitable and massive international repercussions inherent in Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in major policies on a number of issues..

The relationships between nation states, unlike those between entities within a nation-state, are almost totally dependent on their mutual perceptions. These perceptions in turn are largely based on experiences of prior interactions. Furthermore, a lot of these perceptions are contingent to the parties not making any sudden deviations from their prior positions. For example- it is widely understood that China is unlikely to invade Taiwan in the near future (say.. the next 5 years) in spite of its long-term official position on that issue. Similarly, it is understood that India is going to keep on building more nuclear weapons, ICBMs and nuclear submarines in spite of what its leaders say or any residual international pressure.

Relationships between any two nation states can survive a lot of friction as long as both parties do not make any unexpected and sudden moves. The USA was, for many decades, widely seen as a nation-state with predictable behavior and policies- even if they were unsavory. Foreign and trade policies of USA, as bad as they might have been, remained reasonably consistent and stable irrespective of who was the president or which party was in power. Furthermore, changes in these policies were gradual and constant (predictable) rather than large and abrupt (unpredictable). It is this relative stability and consistency which allowed the USA to successfully create and sustain international organisations and treaties.

Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in multiple areas of national and international policy upsets the relative stability and consistency which have characterized the previous few decades. They also negate many established perceptions about the USA which are essential to relatively smooth and predictable interactions between that country and the rest of the world. For example- the continued functionality of many international organisations such as NATO, IMF etc are intimately tied to USA not deviating too much from past positions. The same is true about all those existing international trade agreements which the USA is a party to.

Think about it this way- would you enter into a business partnership where you could lose money or more with somebody whose behavior was highly unpredictable? Also, would you maintain or expand a business relationship with somebody who exhibited sudden and large changes in their behavior? Well.. the same holds true for relationships between nation states. The point is that Trump’s desire for large shifts to many policies makes it very hard for the USA to sustain, let alone improve, its existing relationships with various other nations. Now, this would not have been that big a deal if we were still living in the 1850s, 1910s or even 1950s- when you could get by without much of a two-way interaction with the rest of the world.

But we no longer live in those eras. Today, manufacturing and supply chains of everything from your toothbrush and clothes to CPUs and airliners span the entire globe. While it is certainly possible to argue about the desirability of this particular setup, we cannot deny that it exists. Nor can we pretend that waving a magic wand will somehow change the system the next month, year or decade. Also, it is not realistically possible to reproduce a previous era since each era is largely the product of conditions and circumstances unique to that era.

In other words, Trump’s desire to effect major policy shifts in multiple areas will almost certainly damage a whole slew of international relationships without most people in USA benefiting from them. It is sorta like wrecking the house you live in without having a feasible plan to quickly move into a new house. In my opinion, it is unlikely to end well- to put it mildly.

What do you think? Comments?

Why Trump’s Muslim Ban is a Self-Destructive Idea: 30 Jan, 2017

January 30, 2017 13 comments

Note- While this post develops on ideas discussed in my previous post, it is best kept separate from that series- largely because this post is heavily focused on one particular issue rather than a pattern or trend. It is however likely that some observations made here will be generically valid for later parts of that series.

I am going to start this post by first talking about its specific focus- namely Trump’s recent executive order “temporarily” banning entry into USA of people travelling from 7 largely Muslim countries. It should be noted that order, as it is being implemented, also prevents the entry of permanent legal residents and others travelling on valid visas from those countries- in spite of what Trump’s cronies are claiming. I also do not have to tell you that this order has resulted in a lot of public opposition, including but not limited to, large public demonstrations at various major airports all over USA.

The intense public reaction against this executive order is, in my opinion, perhaps the smallest problem created by this stupid action. Even the constitutional and legal problems associated with that executive order are at best medium-sized problems. The largest and most dangerous of the many problems associated with implementing such a stupid plan are linked to its long-term secondary and tertiary effects. Let me explain..

1] Irrespective of what Trump and his sycophants say, it is clear that his “temporary” ban on entry by people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries is a Muslim ban. Only a retard would believe that this ban is not the first step in a futile last-ditch attempt by white nativists to hang onto their make-believe position in a world that has irreversibly changed, much to their disadvantage. Trump’s other plan to deport tens of millions of “illegal Mexicans” is just another part of his futile attempt to raise the dead.. also known as making USA white again.

So why does this matter? Well.. consider the demographic profile of USA. Do you really think that pissing off every non-white person and, perhaps, half the whites in USA is a good strategy? The pivot point of real power has already irreversibly shifted away from the types of people who enthusiastically voted for Trump (as opposed to those who did because he was not HRC). To make a long story short, such actions make any future peaceful co-existence between his hard-core supporters and everyone far less likely- to the detriment of the former.

2] Trying to implement policies which deviate from established norms, even if they enjoy popular support, is problematic as the best of times. Trying to force irrational and regressive policies when half the country sees that person as proto-Hitler or proto-Mussolini does not help Trump’s public image- to put it mildly. It should be noted that even disastrous and disliked presidents like Bush43 and Nixon37 were never widely seen as illegitimate- especially at the beginning of their presidency. At some point in their first term, both of these now detested ex-presidents enjoyed popularity ratings as high as 80-90% .

There is, therefore, no comparable example in living history of an american president who has such low popularity AND was widely perceived to be illegitimate. Once you add the fact that he seems to be implementing policies which people associate with totalitarian regimes- it is fair to say that he is willingly (or accidentally) marking himself out as proto-Hitler or proto-Mussolini, at least in the public imagination. I would not be surprised if people start treating him as a totalitarian leader who was not legitimately elected- especially if his economic policies fail to deliver increased incomes for working-class people within the next 2 years.

3] The biggest difference between a conflict among two groups within a nation and one between two nations is that the former type has one final arbiter, while the later has none. Consequently, conflicts between nations (or nation sized entities) can go on for as long as either nation (or entity) involved in it can afford to continue. Even worse, as examples such as the recent failed occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by USA show, intense but diffuse conflicts can go on for far longer than modern nation states can afford to sustain them.

But what does any of this to do with Trump’s Muslim ban? Well.. a lot. His actions, you see, have jump-started a new and counterproductive phase in a conflict which has been simmering for some time. While the current ban affects only 7 Muslim countries, you can bet that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world (even those who are otherwise nor religious) have been mentally mobilized against the USA, Trump and his loyal followers. More importantly, even those who were Muslims in name only now have no reason to play nice with USA. The same goes for leaders of Muslim countries whose rulers and leaders used to be favorably disposed towards USA.

4] And this brings us to the next long-term effect of this particular act of stupidity. The ability of USA to operate in many parts of the Middle-East and North-Africa (and similar places) depends on it being able to trade financial and other favors with the local ruling class. These is a reason why the kids of the elite from many of these countries study in well-known american universities and buy expensive real estate in USA. For most of post-WW2 history, the USA has managed to keep the promises made to the local elites of those countries.

But what happens if the USA acts in a manner that makes any such promises deeply suspect? Why would the local elites of those smaller countries keep playing with an entity that is already hated in their realms? Would you keep on going to work if you were not getting paid? Would you work for somebody whose actions have demonstrated that they intend to not pay you? What makes you think that the local elite in those countries would keep on playing nice with USA if they believed USA wanted to stiff them later?

5] But perhaps the biggest and most problematic long-term effects of Trump’s Muslim ban and his immigration and trade “policies” are on the international credibility of USA. Let me quickly explain that point in a bit more detail. Relationships between nations, whether they are of a commercial or military nature, are based on the credibility of involved parties. The credibility of a nation is largely dependent on how other nations see it based on their past experiences and signs of policy continuity- economic and military. That is why, for example, the west makes pokes fun at North Korea but does not have the balls to invade it.

Trump’s Muslim ban in combination with his stated beliefs about many others topics such as immigration, trade and race are a significant change from official american positions on those issues for many decades. While that might seem like a good thing to many of his mediocre racist.. I mean “patriotic” supporters, it makes it very hard for other countries to believe in the willingness of USA to honor ANY agreement or treaty they sign from now on. To be fair, the USA has often unilaterally broken more than a few agreements and treaties in the past. However, today it simply does not have its previous size and power differential vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

To summarize, Trump’s Muslim ban is a self-destructive idea because it opens the door to large systemic problems in the future without solving the problem it was intended to address.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Initial Thoughts on the Likely Trajectory of a Trump Presidency: 3

January 28, 2017 23 comments

I had written the previous two post of this series (link 1, link 2) in the 2-3 weeks after Trump’s election on November 8. While it was tempting to write more parts of this series at that time, observing his actions immediately after assuming the presidency before writing the next part seemed to be a better idea. As many of you know, Trump has taken multiple and often conflicting positions on a variety of important issues over the years. Perhaps even more unusually for a politician, he has often done a 180 on his previous position on some issues- without even acknowledging that he took conflicting positions in the past.

For example- he is on record as supporting the right to abortion, being agnostic about it and opposing it depending on the personal benefit of taking one of those three position at a given time. Similarly, he is on record as supporting single-payer healthcare systems, supporting mixed private-public healthcare systems or defending complete privatization of the healthcare system- depending on the personal benefits of taking one of those three positions. In other words, it appears that Trump has few (if any) fixed beliefs about a large number of issues. More worryingly, especially since he is now the president, Trump seems to believe that his public perceptions about his past position on issues have no effect on his current position on them.

And all of this brings us to what Trump has been doing since he was formerly sworn in as the president on Jan 20, 2016. As many of you must have heard by now, Trump has been signing a shitload of controversial executive orders since he assumed office last week. They range from the hilarious (national day of patriotism), somewhat populist (withdrawing from the TPP), expected (mexico city policy on funding NGOs, approving new oil pipelines), plutocrat enriching (eliminating some rebates on mortgage payments), dangerous (starting repeal of ACA without an alternative plan, OK-ing the construction of a wall between Mexico and USA) to the batshit insane (banning entry of people from some Muslim countries, even legal permanent residents, into the USA).

Now, it is certainly possible to imagine that his executive orders are more theater than substance and might not survive legal challenges. However a lot of the concomitant rhetoric coming out of Trump’s mouth and tweets suggest that he is more than a bit serious about actually implementing those orders- especially the dangerous and batshit insane ones. I had briefly mentioned (in a previous post) that his positions on Mexican .. well.. actually all non-white immigrants and citizens has special potential to cause severe disruptions and unrest in the country. Events of the previous two days have added another issue to the list of those which have similar or even higher potential for disruption and unrest- albeit for different reasons than the “mexican” issue.

You might have heard that Trump has signed an executive order banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the USA- even if they happen to permanent legal residents. Curiously, people from these seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) have never ever been implicated in a terrorist act within USA. Furthermore, people from the two Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) whose residents have been implicated in almost every single Islam-inspired terrorist attack in USA are still free to enter USA.

To be fair, establishment democrats and their supporters had no problems in the past when Obama tried to overthrow the government in two of these countries + expanded “war on terror in the other five on that list. It is also no secret that the rise of organisations such as ISIL was aided and abetted by the overt and indirect policies of the Obama administration. In other words, there is more than a bit of hypocrisy when establishment democrats who were perfectly OK with bombing people in these countries and funding organisations bent on overthrowing their governments pretend to be shocked and angry at Trump taking their stupid policies to the next level.

Having said that, this latest move by the Trump administration is especially problematic- and not just in the immediate and widespread popular response against its implementation. As many of you realize, such executive orders and their implementation creates a new set of bad precedents. If you can ban the entry of people from countries accused of terrorism by the government, in spite of evidence to contrary, what is there to stop this (or a future) president from banning people of other religious, ethnic or racial groups from entering the country legally? Now some old and decaying american racists.. I mean jingoists.. might think that such actions have no consequence in international relations with other important and supposedly white countries.

As it turn out.. a lot! many of the supposedly important and white countries are no longer as white or important as they used to be in the past. Consider, for example that many west-european countries such as the UK, France, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland have a fairly significant minority that is not white or christian. Do you really think that Trump won’t sign future executive orders to ban Muslims (often second or third generation) from west-European countries from entering USA? Do you really think that implementing such orders would not cause serious problems in those countries? Do you really think that many countries in that position would not reevaluate their relationship with USA? Do you really think that there would no financial consequences (for both sides) of such actions?

The problem with Trump and people who think like him is that they live in world which does not and cannot exist now. There was a brief period (between 1945-1949.. perhaps until the early 1960s) when the relative power differential between the USA and the rest of the world (especially non-white countries) was large enough for the USA to get away with some stupid shit. But that was a long time ago and things have changed a lot since the early 1960s. In 2016, the USA simply lacks the power differential to pull that type of shit without screwing itself in the process. Today everyone knows that the USA is not an exceptional country. Today everyone has seen the USA lose against insurgencies in even poor medium-sized nations and lacks the ability to win a war against any other nuclear power of consequence.

I think it is likely that this particular move by Trump will turn into his first real public relations disaster, very likely to due to internal protests and legal challenges. However, this “Muslim ban” also provides an interesting window into how Trump and people around him see the world. It is now fairly certain that Trump and his advisers inhabit a mental world where the USA is far more powerful than it is in reality. Therefore, I expect Trump (and his associates) to make similar moves in a number of other areas- from trade and immigration to internal issues such as “law enforcement”. Needless to say, it won’t end well for Trump, his associates, the republican party, average Americans and to a far lesser extent- the rest of the world.

In the next post of this series, I shall try to write about the panoply of problems (both obvious and not so obvious) consequent to Trump’s policies wrt to people of Mexican descent in USA- citizens, immigrants and undocumented. That is.. unless his recent Muslim ban causes even more unrest and problems which I then have to write about.

What do you think? Comments?