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Sep. 10th, 2014

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10 Books that had a Great Influence on me

Ingrid Spielman challenges me to this "meme" of naming 10 books that helped shape my mental landscape. I'll be verbose, and though I'll cheat and cite more than 10 books, I will distinguish 10 of them indeed. As to propagating the meme and finding people I want to understand better, or people sufficiently similar yet sufficiently different that I may learn something substantial from their answers, yet who know me enough to possibly be influenced by my naming them, I will tag Rebecca Kellogg Rideau, Perry Metzger, David Lubkin, Gavin Peters, Attila Lendvai, Daniel Nagy, Agnes Koltay, Brandyn Webb, Brian T. Rice, MK Lords. But just because I haven't tagged you doesn't mean you can't play.

1- Some unidentified comic book about Space Conquest. I had that book when I was 2 or 3. The first page had been ripped (probably by me) before I was old enough to fixate memories. I suspect it was a French translation of Disney's "Man in Space": the drawing style was very much that of the 1950s and it was discussing a man on the moon as the next step, when that was already a past step in the 1970s; but the ultimate destination was far beyond. Retro-futurism with wild ambitions was already a theme in my life. There were other comics; already, Barbapapa was brainwashing me into the ecologist superstitions; Russ Manning's Tarzan (L'île hors du temps) was also one of my first comic books, a quick graphic walkthrough from prehistory to future history. But that unidentified comic book somehow marked me deeper by the questions it left unanswered. I've always liked 1950s to 1960s style SF ever since. And good comic books.

2- "The hobbit", by J. R. R. Tolkien. My mom used to read us a book before we went to sleep. The ones that I remember most are "The hobbit" and its sequel "The Lord of the Rings" (that my geeky dad had long urged my mom to read), that I would read later as a young adult, in French then in English. It might be categorized as Fantasy, but it exuded a deep sense of Civilization much more serious, real and earnest than found in most books to purport to say something about it (rather than demonstrate it). These days, these books have been made into movies. Poor young people of today, who may miss discovering the books because of that! (BTW, did you know that Tolkien was an Anarchist? I didn't, at the time.) I find that it is also a great complement to all the Mythology books I read when I was young, that also gave me a sense of history and of people's superstition, but were disjointed, whereas Tolkien shows how to weave (in this case fictional) elements of myth into a compelling story and a coherent *spirit*.

3- "1984", by George Orwell. I read 1984 in 1984, when I was 10. It made urgent in me a quest for Freedom, for the meaning of "Freedom", for the institutions that could preserve such a thing. It set a theme of Language as a tool for oppression or liberation. It vaccinated me against the propaganda of Socialism, though it didn't have anything positive to offer in return, only a yearning for something that Orwell hadn't identified. Much later, I read (in French) "The Gulag Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhenytsin, Varlam Shalamov's "Kolyma Tales", Cseslaw Milosz's "The Captive Mind", Bruno Bettelheim's "The Informed Heart", Primo Levi's "If This Is a Man", Victor Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning", or "Le voile arraché" par 'Abd al-Rahmâne al-Djawbarî (as translated to French by René Khawam), that would tell me more about the horrors of totalitarianism, Mind Control, and how to survive them. But Orwell's is the book that marked me, deeply.

4- "The Origin of Species", by Charles Darwin, filled me with awe as to what Science could be. A long accumulation of evidence, presented in an earnest way, with both facts *and* a way to look at them, in a tone of calm and relentless objectivity. That for me set the standard for what Science should be, which made me particularly skeptical of things that only look like Science, and convinced me that I would never be up to these standards as a Scientist (or bored to death trying to do a fraction of what is required to obtain meaningful results). In a similar vein, Bertrand Russell also set high standards for what philosophy could be. Cavalli-Sforza's "Chi Siamo", Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" and "The Extended Phenotype", or Robert Wright's "The Moral Animal" also helped form my understanding of Evolution, but the basic ideas were all in Darwin (I admit to not having read Alfred Wallace or Samuel Butler — I suspect I might have liked them).

5- "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter. I read this book in my early 20s, and discovered that all my childhood had bathed in poor remakes of parts of that book: such were the articles I liked in the monthly math-and-game magazine "Jeu et Stratégie" to which my father was subscribed. This was even more startling than reading Dickens' Christmas Carol after having seen countless bad remakes of it as features of random US TV series. I had already enjoyed Raymond Smullyan's puzzle books ("What is the Name of this Book?"), or Borges' "Ficciones", but Hofstadter was tying all the themes together, even music. Regarding computation and philosophy, Winograd and Flores' "Understanding Computers and Cognition" may have brought a "Third Wave of Cybernetics" point of view of Heideggerian influence missing in Hofstadter. And amongst Hofstadter's books, many of which I read, and of course, these days, my favorite is his "Le ton beau de Marot". But GEB is the book that marked me — before I even read it.

6- "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov. My father had a collection of SF books (in French, mostly), and Asimov was my favorite author there. Though it's not the first I read, I chose "I, Robot" as the representative book here, because somehow I remember enjoying how he illustrated the principle of equilibrium and displacement of equilibrium with a robot circling around a place to go to or not go to according to contradictory orders (reinforcing one leading to a circle of a different radius). Fun literary pieces to illustrate actual scientific concepts. Of course, if my dad's library had carried Heinlein, THAT would probably have been my favorite, what with "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" or "Stranger in a Strange Land" — much more stimulating books. But it's Asimov who initially got me hooked into SF (though I've recently discovered that one SF book that marked me in Junior High was actually Heinlein's "Star Beast"; meanwhile another book that marked me as the only remotely realistic description of the alien invasion of Earth was "The Genocides" by Thomas M. Disch).

7- "The Road to Serfdom" by F. A. Hayek. I went to school expecting my Philosophy professor to at least have some recommendation as to which Philosopher might have something relevant to say about Freedom. But she was all marxism and bullshit, and I left high school believing that no Philosopher had ever written anything good on the topic. The closest thing to a liberty-minded author who was nameable in French philosophical circles was John Stuard Mill, and though there obviously was a wind of Liberty behind him, there weren't clearly formed concepts. What a happy surprise, thus, when my mom acquired a copy of "The Road to Serfdom", and it had exactly the kind of *cybernetic* argument I had been looking for all along. Though Hayek's book contained no attempt at a general theory, it convinced me that, if not philosophers, maybe some classical "economists" had something good to say (previously, TV had convinced me, like my dad, that "economics" was a combination boring statistics and meaningless words of propaganda).

8- "Complete Works" by Frédéric Bastiat. Hayek was ultimately unsatisfactory, but led me to Turgot, and eventually Bastiat (once again, through my mother, who had read in "Le Monde" (of all places!) Philippe Simonot's review of Rothbard's History of Economic Thought and its telling of Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy, the argument of which I had reinvented and been explaining to a former school comrade just a few weeks before). Bastiat was exactly what I was looking for: on the surface, humor used to identify and dissolve fallacies; but deep down, a profound sense of the harmony of the universe. I put as many of his works as I could online on Bastiat.org, long before WikiSource.org. Through Bastiat, I met Jacques de Guenin, who became my mentor in things Libertarian, introduced me to many authors (including Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand) and people (including Christian Michel, who turned me an Anarchist). Sure enough, I loved "Atlas Shrugged" that made me feel like it ought to have been written if not yet — but I preferred Rand's non fiction, and as a Libertarian philosophical novel, I prefer Paul Rosenberg's "A Lodging of Wayfaring Men". But Bastiat is what gave a new turn to my life.

9- "A Guide to Rational Living" by Albert Ellis. I'm not sure which book by Ellis (probably in a French translation) I had randomly picked in a second hand bookstore, so I'm writing down this one. Of course, at about the same time, I found many hints by other authors or online acquaintances converging towards the cognitive behavioral emotional therapy of Ellis toward improving on one's irrational fears. When you are ready to see, you see what there is to see; and what there was was his ABCDE method. Later, "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World" by Harry Browne also brought me a much needed understanding of what and how to improve. I could probably cite some books on Procrastination, on (Seduction) Game, or some Dale Carnegie's classic, but unhappily that's unfinished business. And so I'll leave a book by Ellis as the one that first influenced me out of my childhood-grown mental jails.

10- "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. Back in school, I always wanted to draw, but was always amongst the worst in my class, year after year. Because I was always engaging the "Left Side" of my Brain, the symbolic, cause-and-effect planning modules (whether physically on the left or not). This book taught me how to engage the "Right Side" and how to draw at all. From stick figures and ugly contours to shades of grey triangulated into position, in just a few hours. Now I know I too can draw — though to do it *well* would I would have to take a lot of time exercising. And it's not just about drawing. Being able to stop interpreting is important. So is realizing that you can still learn new skills. And so I'll give a well-deserved place to this book.

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Sep. 1st, 2014

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The Immigration You Deserve

Here's a story about French immigration. I once met a friend of a friend, who immigrated from Benin to France. He had worked 7 years the worst minimum pay night watchman jobs — proof that he's willing to work, even tough jobs. But once given French papers and entitled to the dole, he found that his total revenues were only slightly lower by not working than by working, and that with all the free time he now had he could live a much better life (and make up for any lost revenue on the black market or through communal production of goods and services). He proved he wasn't lazy. And he also proved he wasn't stupid. Incentives work, even more so at the margin — and immigrants are all at the margin.

Every country gets the immigration it deserves. A socialist country will get an immigration of parasites. Or worse, it will turn hard-working immigrants into parasites. The damage it does to people's souls is an incommensurable sin of socialism, far worse than all the already damnable ruin it brings upon the economy of every country where it has any influence.

Aug. 14th, 2014

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Free hens don't live in henhouses! / Les poules libres ne vivent pas dans des poulaillers!

These pagragraphs have long been on my very first page (in French) "About (Classical) Liberalism", in the mid to late 1990's, but the topic comes back often enough that they deserve their own page. And their translation. So here it is.

Slogan: "Libertarianism is the free fox in the free henhouse." i.e. to abolish the State would be to let criminals act against law-abiding citizens thereby left helpless.

Reality: This metaphor does not at all describe the alternative offered by libertarians, but is quite telling about the way that statists see individuals.

(This quip can be traced back to Ferdinand Kürnberger in 1874, and was notably translated to English and cited by Henry Wickham Steed in one of the anti-libertarian and anti-semitic rants in his book "The Habsburg Monarchy", 1913, p. 155.)

First, let's examine the meaning of this metaphor, regarding the role of this State that is suddenly being abolished. According to this metaphor, law-abiding individuals are like the hens in a henhouse. Who usually protects these hens from external aggressions? A farmer, the State, plays this role; It is supposed to be a being superior to the mere hens. But why stop the metaphor there? Inasmuch as it applies, it consists in considering individuals as cattle being raised, subject to the whims of a farmer, the State. Now, this farmer can and will at his leisure control their reproduction, steal their eggs, fatten them, and butcher them. The henhouse is the exploitation of hens by the farmer. Between a fox and a farmer, hens are given a choice but between two predators. The State isn't any more of a friend to the citizens than a farmer is a friend to the hens; just like a farmer exploits his hens, the State exploits its law-abiding citizens. The criminal, like the fox, resorts to some sudden, extraordinary violence, whereas the State resorts to an ordinary, permanent, violence; this farmer locks his citizen-hens in a henhouse, a prison made out of regulations and guarded by police-dogs. He offers them a ready-made future, wherein they will be stuffed with various subsidies but constantly stripped of the eggs of the wealth they create; they will be slaves all their lives long, until the State slaughters them and feeds off their carcasses, confiscating their legacy.

Free hens do not live in henhouses. They live in the great outdoors. They nest in tall grass. They are not as plump as farmed hens, but whatever fat and muscles they may accumulate is for their own enjoyment, not that of whoever dines upon them. They run fast, they jump far and high above obstacles to escape the fox, and sometimes even fly out of his reach; when it comes to it, they will dish out fierce pecks with their beaks, to defend their kin and protect their flight. They do not lay eggs daily for the pleasure of human predators, but only as befits their reproductive cycle. They are not locked within a fence, or worse in a scrimpy henhouse without any emergency exit in case of fox; they live free to follow their aspirations, and to cross roads without having to answer anyone's questions.

No, really, the abolition of the State as a monopoly of force cannot be compared to letting a fox in a henhouse; for in a free society, individuals are not farmed hens subjected to a superior being (beside, may these beings who aspire to rule us show us their titles of superiority!), but independent creatures, who can better defend themselves either alone or in voluntarily gathered groups, all the better since they haven't been reduced to the state of passive slaves. Libertarians are not pacifists who aim to abolish defensive force. Tolstoyans were such pacifists; they disappeared in the frozen, blood-red, night of the bolshevik revolution. Libertarians claim that individuals shall be able to arm themselves and organize their own defense. The animal metaphor for potential aggressors in a libertarian society will then rather be that of the free crocodile in the river of the free hippopotamuses — kept in awe by the tough skin and the powerful jaws of the hippos, who live peacefully as long as they are not attacked.

 

Ces paragraphes ont longtemps été sur ma toute première page "Sur le Libéralisme", mais le sujet revient assez souvent pour qu'ils méritent leur propre page. Ci-donc fait.

Slogan: "Le libéralisme, c'est le renard libre dans le poulailler libre." i.e. supprimer l'État, ce serait laisser les criminels agir au détriment des honnêtes citoyens alors sans défense.

Réalité: Cette métaphore ne décrit pas du tout le choix proposé par les libéraux, mais en dit long sur la façon dont les étatistes considèrent les individus.

(Cette métaphore, faussement attribuée à Jaurès ou Lacordaire, nous vient en fait de Ferdinand Kürnberger, en 1874, dont l'expression fut citée et traduite en anglais par Henry Wickham Steed dans une des tirades anti-libérales et anti-sémites de son "The Habsburg Monarchy", 1913, p. 155 et traduit en français par Victor Bérard, Revue des Deux Mondes, 1er Novembre 1914, p. 177.)

Tout d'abord, voyons ce que signifie cette métaphore, quant au rôle de cet État qui se trouve soudain supprimé. Au vu de cette métaphore, alors les individus honnêtes sont des poules dans un poulailler. Qui protège habituellement les poules contre les agressions extérieures? Un fermier, l'État, remplit ce rôle; C'est censé être un être supérieur aux poules. Mais il ne faut pas s'arrêter en si bon chemin. Si cette métaphore s'applique, alors il faut accepter de voir dans les individus des bêtes d'élevages, soumises au bon vouloir d'un État fermier. Or ce fermier peut et va à loisir contrôler leur reproduction, voler leurs œufs, les engraisser et les égorger. Le poulailler, c'est l'exploitation des poules par le fermier. Entre le renard et le fermier, il n'est pour les poules que le choix entre deux prédateurs. L'État n'est pas plus l'ami des citoyens que le fermier n'est l'ami des poules; comme le fermier exploite ses poules, l'État exploite les citoyens honnêtes. Le criminel, tel le renard, use d'une violence subite, extraordinaire, tandis que l'État use d'une violence ordinaire, permanente; il enferme ses poules de citoyens dans un poulailler, une prison faite de lois et gardée par des chiens-policiers. Il leur offre un avenir tout fait, où ils seront gavés par diverses subventions mais constamment dépouillés des œufs de la richesse qu'ils créent; ils sont des esclaves durant toute leur vie, jusqu'à ce que l'État les abatte et se nourrisse de leurs dépouilles, confisquant leur héritage.

Les poules libres ne vivent pas dans un poulailler. Elles vivent au grand air. Elles nidifient dans des hautes herbes. Elles sont loin d'être aussi dodues que les poules d'élevage, mais c'est à elles et non pas à un dîneur que profitera la graisse et les muscles qu'elles accumuleront. Elles courent vite, sautent loin par dessus les obstacles pour échapper au renard, et même s'envolent pour se percher hors d'atteinte au besoin, elles donnent des coups de bec féroces pour se défendre ou protéger la fuite des leurs. Elles ne pondent pas quotidiennement et en vain pour le plaisir des prédateurs humains, mais à fin de reproduction seulement. Elles ne sont pas enfermées dans une clôture, voire pire dans un poulailler étriqué sans issue de secours en cas de renard; elles vivent libres de suivre leurs aspirations, et de traverser les routes sans avoir à en répondre à quiconque.

Non vraiment, l'abolition de l'État comme monopole de la force ne peut pas se comparer à laisser entrer le renard dans le poulailler; car dans une société de liberté, les individus ne sont pas des poules d'élevages soumises à un être supérieur (d'ailleurs, que ces êtres aspirant à nous diriger présentent leurs titres de supériorité!), mais des êtres indépendants, pouvant se défendre seuls ou en groupes volontairement formés, d'autant mieux qu'ils n'auront pas été réduit à l'état d'esclaves passifs. Les libéraux ne sont pas des pacifistes visant à abolir la force défensive. Les tolstoïens étaient de tels pacifistes; ils ont tous disparus dans la nuit glacée et rouge sang de la révolution bolchévique. Les libéraux revendiquent que les individus puissent s'armer et organiser leur propre défense. La métaphore animalière pour les agresseurs potentiels dans une société libérale sera alors plutôt celle du crocodile libre dans le fleuve des libres hippopotames - tenu en respect par la peau dure et les machoires puissantes des hippopotames, qui vivent paisiblement tant qu'ils ne sont pas attaqués.

Aug. 1st, 2014

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Une autre mini-interview pour Libres !!

À propos de mon article préféré dans Libres !!

1) Pourriez-vous vous présenter brièvement ?

Je suis Roman Perdeanu. Je travaille dans le "chemin de fer clandestin": j'aide les esclaves en fuite à échapper à leurs soi-disant maîtres; je leur permet de rejoindre des terres où, s'ils ne sont pas complètement libres, du moins leur vie n'est plus en danger, et ils peuvent s'épanouir. Parfois, il suffit de faire parvenir une aide pécuniaire pour permettre aux passeurs existants d'agir; souvent, il faut soi-même accompagner des fugitifs dès avant qu'ils brisent leurs chaînes, et jusqu'après qu'ils se soient installés dans une nouvelle contrée; mais d'abord et toujours, il faut leur montrer la liberté, leur faire prendre conscience de leurs principales chaînes, qui sont mentales, et qu'eux seuls peuvent choisir d'abandonner.

2) Quel thème avez-vous traité et pour quelles raisons ?

J'ai traité du thème de la justice sans monopole — une grosse barrière mentale qui retient beaucoup d'esclaves dans les filets de l'étatisme. Utiliser leur propre soif de justice, comme appât pour capturer les âmes de ses victimes, avec le crochet d'une insécurité cultivée, voilà une fourberie remarquable en vérité.

3) Avez-vous lu et si oui, avez-vous aimé Libres !! Opus 2 ? Seriez-vous partant pour un troisième opus, et si oui pourquoi ?

Je n'ai lu qu'une fraction du livre. Les textes sont parfois excellents, parfois moins bons, mais toujours soufflent en eux un vent de liberté et une vitalité qui je l'espère inspireront les lecteurs et lectrices. Je serai sans doute trop occupé à mes activités clandestines pour participer au prochain opus, mais qui sait?

4) Si vous deviez formuler un seul et unique argument en faveur de la liberté, lequel serait-il ?

La vie est faite de décisions transformées en actions. Celui qui n'est pas libre de décider et d'agir ne vit pas — il n'est qu'un robot au service d'autrui, voire au service de parasites mentaux qui ne servent personne qu'eux mèmes. En fin de compte, choisir la liberté, c'est choisir la vie plutôt que la mort. La vie est parfois bien lourde à supporter, mais la lente mort d'une âme dans un corps qui bouge encore est une chose bien triste à voir — regardez les zombies autour de vous; ne soyez pas l'un d'entre eux.

5) Etes-vous plutôt optimiste ou pessimiste quant à l'avenir de la liberté en France et dans le monde ?

La liberté doit faire face à bien des défis de nos jours, entre États gloutons menant les pays industriels à la faillite, victoire idéologique souterraine du communisme dans ce qui restait de démocraties occidentales, renouveau de l'islam le plus violent, et nouvelles technologies de surveillance. Les institutions anciennes de la liberté sont condamnées, et elles s'écrouleront en France comme ailleurs. Mais j'ai confiance en de nouveaux vecteurs de liberté: l'échange international direct via l'Internet, l'impression 3D pour tous, les révolutions biochimiques à venir, etc. La liberté survivra parce qu'elle est la vie, et que les parasites ne peuvent parasiter que les vivants — alors que les vivants se passent bien de parasites. À nous de faire survivre — et pourquoi pas triompher ­— la liberté.

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Mini-interview pour Libres !!

Voici ma mini-interview pour La Main Invisible en tant que co-auteur de Libres !!

1) Pourriez-vous vous présenter brièvement ?

François-René Đặng-Vũ Bân Rideau, je suis cybernéticien: j'étudie la dynamique de systèmes où de nombreux agents interagissent, humains ou machines; je m'intéresse particulièrement à la façon dont la structure des choix, des responsabilités, des incitations, affecte la dynamique de ces interactions.

2) Quel thème avez-vous traité et pour quelles raisons ?

J'ai traité la question du Mythe du "public" et du "privé". M'avait originellement été proposée de parler de la privatisation de tel prétendu "service public", et il m'a paru plus important de dénoncer l'imposture même de ces faux concepts de "public" et "privé" par laquelle les étatistes trompent leurs victimes.

3) Avez-vous lu et si oui, avez-vous aimé Libres !! Opus 2 ? Seriez-vous partant pour un troisième opus, et si oui pourquoi ?

Je n'ai pas encore lu tout "Libres !!", mais y ai déjà trouvé quelques articles savoureux. J'aime l'évolution depuis le premier opus, de la critique à l'action. Je serai honoré de participer à un troisième volume, qui sera j'imagine un manuel d'auto-libération pour débutants, plutôt qu'un argumentaire théorique ou une liste de suggestions pratiques pour un hypothétique libéral au pouvoir, bel oxymore en vérité: contradiction dynamique sinon statique.

4) Si vous deviez formuler un seul et unique argument en faveur de la liberté, lequel serait-il ?

Il n'y a pas à argumenter pour la liberté. La liberté est. La charge de la preuve revient plutôt aux ennemis de la liberté: qu'ils montrent donc, sans faire deux poids deux mesures ni pétition de principe, pourquoi et comment la violence politique contribue positivement à la société; de la cuisse de quel dieu nos soi-disant "dirigeants" sont-ils sortis, pour n'être pas sujets de tous les vices dont ils prétendent sauver la société, sans parler des vices inhérents au pouvoir et à sa recherche?

5) Etes-vous plutôt optimiste ou pessimiste quant à l'avenir de la liberté en France et dans le monde ?

Suivre l'actualité ne porte guère à l'optimisme, mais n'oublions pas que la violence et ceux qui en vivent sont toujours les plus spectaculaires, et émerveillons-nous de tout le chemin (certes tortueux) parcouru depuis la préhistoire, voire même depuis que nous sommes nés.

Je veux donc bien être comme le définit John McCarthy, un "optimiste radical": un qui croit que l'humanité survivra probablement, même si elle ne suit pas mes conseils.

Quant à la France, je crains qu'elle ait quelques déserts à traverser, qu'elle s'empresse d'ailleurs d'importer d'Afrique et d'Arabie; mais ma foi, si après s'être proclamés citoyens Romains, et après avoir adopté le nom de la Race des Maîtres germanique nos Français prennent le nom et la religion de nouveaux conquérants, rappelons que le génie français tient précisément à toujours avoir su corrompre le pouvoir par ses bons mots, son bon vivre, ses bons vins, ses belles femmes — ses libertés exercées en privé si non reconnues en public.

Jul. 25th, 2014

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Plausible deniability for filesystem encryption

TrueCrypt is no more. Even when it was, relying on VFAT of itself was suspicious. Moreover, not being able to use the decoy partition is also suspicious. So your obviously used laptop has a partition with data that's 2 years old?

Here is a proposed method for plausibly deniable filesystem encryption, that doesn't require meddling too much with filesystem drivers:

  1. The encrypted partition driver randomly stores its master data in one of N blocks; other blocks are random data. Your key may or may not unlock each of the blocks. (This may or may not require modifying dm-crypt).
  2. The decoy password unlocks an encrypted partition with a decoy filesystem that covers the entire available space.
  3. The real system is created as a large "image" file in this decoy filesystem — but it will be completely purged when the decoy filesystem is "parked" (see below). Efficiently creating the large file without actually writing tons of useless data to disk may require some filesystem driver enhancements, but it's probably doable to convince regular kernel maintainers to add and maintain such a (privileged) system call. Otherwise, you may have to waste a few hours to write plenty of zeros for all the space you won't be using then more zeros for the space you will be using, to it's beyond the space normally used (otherwise the existence of a hidden file is apparent).
  4. A section of the inner file is a small secure bootstrap partition. It is either made of contiguous blocks, or at least has enough blocks to constitute the header of a VFAT filesystem that skips over the blocks it doesn't own.
  5. To initialize the system, mark the image file as immutable, and build a map of the blocks it occupies. Find enough contiguous blocks for the secure bootstrap (or for its FAT table), store the map of blocks in the secure bootstrap partition, add the bootstrap partition as a new entry to the set of N encrypted partition blocks, with a real key.
  6. To mount the encrypted system (as when securely booting), make a loopback block device based on the map (minus blocks used for the secure boot partition), and mount that as an encrypted device, using the same key as for the secure bootstrap partition.
  7. After unmounting the decoy, "park" it: remount in a mode that intercepts and records changes, thoroughly purge any trace of the partition file (which might require filesystem knowledge for certain effect), store the changes in the secure partition, unmount.
  8. Before mounting the decoy, "unpark" it: undo the changes recorded while parking.
  9. During regular use, mount the unparked decoy, and use it in a virtual machine or operating system container to do all your non-sensitive activities inside (family-oriented web browsing, etc.)
  10. When travelling, turn off the computer and park it. Keep off-disk backups in case the bad guys force you to turn on the system and that messes up the secure file.
  11. Problem: you only have plausible deniability while the decoy is parked, but if you actively use it, then you only get plausible deniability when you shut down the computer properly, and cannot just "pull the plug" on it. Solution: if you want more plausible deniability, keep your "live" decoy data on the encrypted partition, and once in a while, unpark the the decoy filesystem, rsync the decoy data onto it, and park it again, with a small, controlled window of vulnerability every so many days. Keep some porn in your decoy data to justify why you wanted to shut down your computer in a hurry.
  12. For extra bonus, the loopback block device records a tree of digests for the device, so you can detect that tampering happened from booting in unsecure mode, and reach for your backups.

Point 1. is the most important one. If you can selectively hide or show different partitions depending on the key, then you can just leave unallocated space and claim you intend to install another OS later, and have a live decoy without the need for parking.

Jun. 14th, 2014

eyes black and white

How not to BBQ Pigs

Cross-posted to Vulgar Libertarians

In recent news, one guy lures random canadian cops to kill them, before eventually surrendering to superior forces. Some couple randomly attacks US cops, then kill a bystander who tried to stop them, before committing suicide. Apparently, in both cases, libertarian anarchist rhetoric was invoked as justification for the actions. What does that make the perpetrators? Heroes? No, only deranged murderers with a death wish. And this, even if we assume that they were correctly viewing cops as the occupation force they are: a violent gang of costumed thugs, serving as the largely unaccountable enforcers for an oppressive regime, whose main role is to disarm the population against petty robbers with or without a bureaucratic title, when they are not directly victimizing innocent people. Indeed, even against such an enemy, random killing is counter-productive, and far from minimizing conflict and destruction only adds to it — not to mention that causing an innocent bystander to die is at least manslaughter even assuming the killing itself was self-defense in the heat of action.

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May. 13th, 2014

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The Great ASDF Bug Hunt

With the release of ASDF 3.1.2 this May 2013, I am now officially retiring not just from ASDF maintenance (Robert Goldman has been maintainer since ASDF 3.0.2 in July 2013), but also from active ASDF development. (NB: ASDF is the de facto standard Common Lisp build system, that I took over in November 2009.) I'm still willing to give information on where the code is coming from and advice where it might go. I'm also still willing to fix any glaring bug that I may have introduced, especially so in UIOP (indeed I just committed a few simple fixes (for Genera of all platforms!)). But I won't be writing new features anymore. (However, you will hopefully soon see a bunch of commits with my name on them, of code I have already written that addresses the issue of syntax modularity; the code was completed and is committed in a branch, but is not yet merged into the master branch, pending tests and approval by the new maintainer).

Before I left, though, I wanted to leave the code base in order, so I made sure there are no open bugs beside wishlist items, I dumped all my ideas about what more could be done in the TODO file, and I did a video walkthrough of the more subtle parts of the code. I also wrote a 26-page retrospective article on my involvement with ASDF, a reduced version of which I submitted to ELS 2014. There, I gave a talk on Why Lisp is Now an Acceptable Scripting Language.

The talk I would have liked to give instead (and probably should have, since I felt like preaching to the converted) was about the great ASDF bug hunt, which corresponds to the last appendix of my paper (not in the reduced version), a traverse across the build. It would have been a classic monster hunt story:

  • The setting is a seemingly peaceful and orderly little village on the (programming) frontier. It is a familiar old place, not a big one, but a good, comfortable one. Though it is not perfect, and monsters roam at night, it looks fundamentally healthy. (That would be ASDF, in daily use by tens or even hundreds of Common Lisp programmers, despite bugs that catch the unwary.)
  • The protagonist is the (bug) hunter. (I should tell the story in the first person, but for now, third person will do.) In the beginning he is young and naïve — but capable (of improvement). When he comes into town, our protagonist kicks out a few baddies that were victimizing the population; soon enough he replaces the ailing sheriff. (That would be me becoming ASDF maintainer in 2009 when Gary King steps down, after fixing some pathname related bugs.)
  • Under the new sheriff, monsters big and small are hunted down. The inhabitants are not afraid anymore, though some of them remain grumpy. (That's me fixing bugs with the help of many other programmers, while the unwary remain blissfully ignorant of having been saved.) The protagonist builds fortifications, and finds he has to extend the city limits to make it easier to defend, adding new buildings along the way. (That would be improving the ASDF design to be more robust, and adding features.) Often he has to hunt monsters that he himself let in, sometimes after they hurt citizens. (That's when I introduce bugs myself, and sometimes fail to fix them before release.) The protagonist feels guilty about it and learns to be a better sheriff. (That's when I get to deeply respect the regression test suite.) But by and large, his endeavor is a success. At long last, he thinks the place is now safe, and that he knows everything about the town and its now former monsters. — My, how wrong he is! (That's me at the time of ASDF 2.26)
  • Now, a monster has been terrorizing innocent citizens for years. No one has seen the monster, but the way he picks his victims and what he does to them is characteristic. (That's the old bug whereby changes in dependencies are not propagated correctly across modules.) The protagonist's best buddy has found a good way to protect homes against the monster, but it still roams in the streets at night. (That's when Robert Goldman fixes the bug and gets dependency changes to trigger rebuild across modules within a system, but dependency changes still fail to trigger rebuild across systems.) Our sheriff, having finally vanquished all other monsters, and having no other foe left in town, sets off to catch this one last monster. And so, he has to enter hitherto unexplored caverns deep below the village, a place abandoned long ago, where the creature lurks. (That would be the ASDF traverse algorithm.) And of course that's when the story turns ugly.
  • Our protagonist thinks the monster will be an easy catch, what with his all experience and technology. But it's actually a long, hard fight to the death. It's the toughest enemy ever. (And that's the story of writing ASDF 2.27, that eventually becomes ASDF 3, after months of struggle.)
  • Along the way, many times, the protagonist thinks he has almost won, but not at all; many times, he thinks he is lost, but he keeps at it. (More code was written in the year or so since ASDF 2.26 was released than in the entire decade before.) Quickly though, he realizes that the monster he was chasing is but a henchman of a bigger monster that has been ruling over the village all along. The apparent orderliness of the village was but a lie, all that he thought he knew was fake! (That's the fundamental algorithm behind ASDF having deep conceptual bugs.) Happily, a mysterious wise man left him cryptic instructions on how to defeat the monster before he even became a sheriff, though he only understands them when comes the confrontation. (That would be Andreas Fuchs and his POIU, the maintenance of which I had also inherited, and that brought all the essential insights just at the right moment.)
  • In the end, the sheriff vanquishes his foes and defeats the great monster for good, but not until he has learned to respect his enemy. And his real prize is in the lessons he learned and the final illumination he reaches. (And I hope you too can enjoy this illumination.)

The final illumination is that inasmuch as software is "invented", it isn't created ex nihilo so much as discovered: Daniel Barlow, who wrote the initial version ASDF, obviously didn't grok what he was doing, and can't be said to have created the ASDF algorithm as it now stands, since what he wrote had such deep conceptual flaws; instead, he was experimenting wildly, and his many successes overshadow and more than redeem his many failures. I, who wrote the correct algorithm, which required a complete deconstruction of what was done and reconstruction of what should have been done instead, cannot be said to have created it either, since in a strong sense I "only" debugged Daniel's implicit specification. And so, the code evolved, and as a result, an interesting algorithm was discovered. But no one created it.

An opposite take on the same insight, if you know Non-Standard Analysis, is that Daniel did invent the algorithm indeed, but specified it with a non-standard formula: his formula is simple (a few hundreds of lines of code), and captures the desired behaviour in simple enough cases with standard parameters (using SBCL on Unix, without non-trivial dependency propagation during an incremental build) but fails in non-standard cases (using other implementations, or dealing with timestamp propagation). My formula specifies the desired behaviour in all cases with all the details correct, and is much more elaborate (a few thousands of lines of code), but is ultimately only a Standardization of Daniel's formula — a formal elaboration without any of Daniel's non-standard shortcuts, but one that doesn't contain information not already present in Daniel's version, only making it explicit rather than implicit.

The two interpretations together suggest the following strategy for future software development: There is a lot of untapped potential in doing more, more daring, experimentations, like Daniel Barlow did, to more quickly and more cheaply discover new interesting designs; and conceivably, a less constrained non-standard representations could allow for more creativity. But this potential will remain unrealized unless Standardization is automated, i.e. the automatic specification of a "standard" formal program from a "non-standard" informal one; a more formal standard representation is necessary for robustly running the program. This process could be viewed as automated debugging: as the replacement of informal variables by sets of properly quantified formal variables; as an orthogonal projection onto the hyperplane of typed programs; as search of a solution to a higher-order constraint problem; as program induction or machine learning; etc. In other word, as good old-fashioned or newfangled AI. This process itself is probably hard to formalize; but maybe it can be bootstrapped by starting from a non-standard informal specification and formalizing that.

Mar. 29th, 2014

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Style and Interpretation

Yesterday I attended Fabiola Kim's graduation recital at the Juilliard School. Fabiola through a combination of innate talent and sheer hard work has achieved complete mastery of violin, and plays everything with a rare, diminutive, smooth-flowing grace. Her rendering of the final piece of the programme, Beethoven's Sonata #3 for Violin and Piano, was memorable, especially the last movement. She totally owns that piece. However, and interestingly, the very same diminutive grace was out of place in the other pieces of the program, which inspires me to write about musical interpretation.

The first piece on the programme was Béla Bartók's Sonata #2 for Violin and Piano, Sz. 76, BB85, written in 1922, at a time when Bolsheviks and proto-Fascists were violently clashing to dominate the fuming ruins of post World War I Eastern Europe. This Sonata speaks of war, disquiet, violence and fear, with a few fleeting moments of rest, of happy distraction, even of hope. It calls for strident attacks — and in those fleeting moments, desperate pangs of life. Those pizzicatti toward the end: it's someone hiding from a gang of monochrome-shirted goons, followed by an elusive flight and a desperate run for his life. It's hard to say exactly what story Bartók had in mind if any while writing that Sonata, but odds are it was closer to The Miraculous Mandarin than to tea time in a fashionable salon. An even-mooded elegance while playing the score is thus a total misunderstanding of it by a pampered first-world citizen — or, if deliberate, quite an odd and insensitive way of covering the original. Fabiola Kim gave us a Taichi performance where Kung Fu would have been more appropriate, or better, the ugliest of dirty street fighting techniques, whereby a bunch of uniformed fatheads gang up on some helpless, undernourished, designated political victim, and beat him dead. Really, if you want to understand XXth century Hungarian music, your best bet is to visit Andrássy út 60 — it certainly was a revelation to me. The accents were so off in this performance of Bartók, that even the programme tellingly had the accents at the wrong place: on the "Bar" rather than on the "tók", and missing on the "Bé"!

I suspect a good deal of the blame for this travesty rests not on Fabiola personally, but the educational institution, and beyond it, on the current culture of the classical music industry as an art largely disconnected from the general public. I briefly talked with her teacher Ronald Copes, no doubt the talented master of many masters, and was quite dismayed by his answer, which was along the lines of "everyone takes away his own message from the music" or something like that. As if all messages were the same, as if there was no intent in the writing. It might have been a legitimate cop-out to avoid arguing with a stranger; but if sincere, it was worse than disappointing. I hope he has better things to say when discussing interpretation issues with his students — assuming he does indeed discuss the many ways to interpret or not interpret a piece, which I suspect does not happen often enough (I never once saw it happen during my short stint at a local conservatory in Paris). I am no great musician, but I played enough flute to understand what musical performance is about and to deeply appreciate master performers. And I am no great composer, but I wrote enough music to have utter respect for master authors, and also to know that yes, there is definite intent in how a piece is supposed to be played, though it may still leave a great deal of freedom to the performer. Denying that there is intent in the composition is disrespectful to the author. Certainly, there are many ways to play a piece; but they are not equal; otherwise, there would be no difference between master's performance and neophyte's bumblings — and a trivial computer rendering should be good enough for anyone. Of course, the author needs not have the last say on how his composition is to be played; and it is indeed a great artist who can discover a new way to play an old piece. But I find it unsettling how the topic of interpretation, of emotional content and intent, seems to be vastly under-discussed in the classical music industry, where technique seems to be everything while emotion is taboo. Philosophical relativism makes for despicable aesthetics.

Yes, a same piece can be played in many different yet beautiful ways. I am reminded of that story in which a promising young violinist rehearses Vocalise with his professor, when insistant knocks on the door interrupt the lesson; an uninvited man joins in and starts accompanying the student on the piano. After they play the piece once together, he does the accompaniment again, only in a different style. And so they play again. And again. Eleven times, differently. Then he cries and leave, saying "it is my favorite piece". You can guess exactly who the man was. I also remember fondly an evening at the Dinard Music Festival, where the tenth anniversary was celebrated by a string orchestra playing an original composition, which we found was actually the birthday song — but played in ten different ways; it might not have been worthy of a world-class recording, but it was particularly thoughtful.

Now, just because there are many beautiful ways of playing a piece does not mean that every technically proficient way of playing is beautiful. Fabiola Kim's elegance was also out of touch with her second piece, Bach's Sonata #1 for Solo Violin, BWV 1001, which called for both majesty and a light foot. It's a dance, dammit! And as dances go, see how the score says "Bach", not "Boulez"! For a complete contrast, consider how Hillary Hahn plays Bach: she can extract feelings from that Chaconne I hadn't suspected were there. At the same time, Hillary Hahn's perfect precision sounds tin when she plays romantic concertos from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky or Sibelius, the feelings of which I hadn't suspected could be missed so thoroughly by such a great performer. Thus, every artist has their own style, that fits some compositions and not others. If you want a canonical version of Beethoven's Symphonies, try Karajan's; but please pardon his martial, german interpretation of Tchaikovsky's, and compare it with the expansive performance by some slavic orchestra and conductor, dripping with overflowing feelings. National stereotypes may be coarse generalizations, they do describe a cultural reality.

It's quite alright to only be great at a narrow subset of things: talent is judged at its peak, and to be great at one single thing is already greatness. If Fabiola can someday record the definitive performance of Beethoven's Sonata #3, who cares that her Bartók was bland? But know your limits; it is a sad spectacle to see the Great of this world making a show of their weakness. I remember a concert given at the Boston Symphony Hall by Itzhak Perlman, who I deem to be one of the greatest violinists of all times. He insisted on playing some pieces by Mozart in the first part of the concert, seemingly as part of an endeavor to play all of Mozart's violin works. Sure, he did a decent job of it, but frankly, there were good reasons why these were neither Mozart's most played pieces, nor Perlman's greatest successes. Speak of a waste of talent, and of the public's time. Then, in the last third of the concert, Perlman played his favorite concert pieces, that he announced from the stage. My, those minutes of musical genius made those expensive seats well worth buying. If only he could have made the entire show out of pieces like that! Those who left with dissatisfaction during the intermission missed quite something.

My conclusion is twofold. First, know thyself, and sell yourself for what you are great at, not for that at which you're incompetent or merely proficient — don't be the fool who doesn't know the difference. Second, if you want to improve yourself, try and discover different styles; take a theme you like in your line of work: in how many different styles can you do it? Rachmaninoff (he again) wrote (and played) 24 variations on that theme by Paganini...

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La Bohème

Last Wednesday, I saw Puccini's La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera. As usual, the Franco Zeffirelli production is lavish, with magnificent sets, and a hundred extras in the parisian streets scene, including horse and donkey on the stage. Whoa. That's what makes the Met a unique place for Opera — not to mention the world class orchestra and singers. (And that makes me yearn for the Zeffirelli Tosca, unhappily replaced by an inferior creation.)

La Bohème is sure not Puccini's best opera (that would be Tosca): The action, true to Henri Murger's original book that inspired it, is but a series of loosely connected tragic and farcical scenes, and the opera only sports two good songs. But these two songs are so good they are in the all-time opera hit-parade: Mi chiamano Mimì, that Anita Hartig sang touchingly, fully incarnating Mimi; and Musetta's Waltz, that was competently performed by Jennifer Rowley, though she failed to be the vamp. It's telling though that despite the story being mostly around the four main male protagonists, the two songs that stand out are the female arias. And so, Vittorio Grigolo may have been a great Rodolfo, and the other singers may have been good, somehow their songs didn't touch me much, and the blame is upon Puccini: frankly, contrasted to those two fantastic arias, the rest of the Opera is just filler.

These four guys are living together la vie de Bohème, which consists mainly of artistic failures and accompanying poverty, with fleeting moments of being in the money from some moderate success — which itself, it seems, consists mainly in separating some rich mark from his dollar, in a Carnie spirit that was better described by Robert Heinlein or Fredric Brown. There is pride indeed in being a successful artist, even when it involves being something of a con artist: competence in anything is worthy of respect. Importantly, the enmity between predator and prey does not as such imply disrespect for the prey — far from it. The landlord, nobleman or politician, had his own talent for acquiring (honestly or dis-) the capital off of which the artists live, and that makes him worth defrauding. The protagonists of La Bohème may celebrate success, they certainly don't claim the moral high ground in their scams over their victims (though they would be entitled to it, in the cases of the politician and the nobleman, if not necessarily in that of the landlord). In that, they are much more honest than their disgusting, loathsome 1994 copycats of Rent who have the incredible gall to blame society for their self-inflicted wounds.

No, these artists may live in poverty, but they know it's the hard price for their freedom: the freedom to be themselves, and to create what they love, whether the public likes it or not. And that's something respectable, even though it leads to the death of Mimi by lack of funds to pay a doctor. For whatever their spectacular but overly late readiness to pawn their last belongings to bring relief to a dying Mimi, we must not forget that these men, starting with the in-and-out lover Rodolfo, purposefully failed to do what could actually have afforded Mimi sufficient healthcare to survive: getting a stable job. If Rodolfo actually valued Mimi's life as much as he claimed, he would have put his literary career aside and taken a job that pays well, despite the drudgery and the humiliation, as a secretary, clerk, accountant, journalist, ghostwriter, teacher, public writer, anything that would have earned enough to pay for her medical treatment, until recovery. Instead of complaining about the deadly cold wind blowing in the apartment through holes in the walls, he might also have filled them, be it with papers and rags. Or moved with her to the South of France. But he chose not to do any of that. And who am I to dispute his moral preferences? Maybe she wouldn't have loved him anymore if he had denied his way of life and stooped to earning a salary; and then she might have indeed left him for a richer lover, as he was both jealously dreading yet desiring for the sake of her health. I will not cast a stone — but I will point out this moral choice that was made, this preference that was revealed. And I admit to seeing nobibility in that choice: not because it was a matter of man against society (it was not), but because it was a matter of man choosing to be true to his own values — above health and wealth, above honor, and above love itself.

La Bohème: an opera that celebrates freedom over love. And not by the word — but by the deed. Yay.

PostScriptum: Note that the informal freedom that these artists achieve is different from the formal freedom claimed by libertarians, though it is related. In both cases, this freedom consists in not being harmed, threatened or defrauded because you're living your life and using your property in ways that other people disapprove, especially powerful people or large mobs. But libertarians seek to have this freedom formally acknowledged as a mutual agreement that drives the institutional use of force — or, mostly, the lack thereof. Instead, these artists neither seek nor grant this mutual acknowledgement. While they reject the constraints of society's prevailing social mores, they are content to live their a-social life under the radar; and while their ultimate ambition is to succeed at touching a large public with their art, they are not above denying the victims of their petty scams the right not to be defrauded. One could argue that their political victims, by their criminal professions, have forfeited this right; and that the landlord voluntarily accepts the deferral of rent payment and decides not to evict them, and may thus be frustrated but not defrauded. Thus, one might argue that their life style does not violate libertarian principles; still, the two concepts of freedom are in distinct categories. One is a practical freedom in the category of facts; the other one is a theoretical freedom in the category of laws, that consists in mutually acknowledging for everyone the legal right to this practical freedom over all of one's life and property.

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Feb. 12th, 2014

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“Right-” and “Left-” Libertarians are (oxy)morons

Libertarianism is neither left nor right. Libertarianism is a theory of law that delegitimizes politics. Left and right are labels of tribal affiliation in political conflicts. Inasmuch as someone is “left” or “right,” one isn’t a libertarian by that much. Inasmuch as one is a libertarian, one is neither “left” nor “right” by that much.

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Jan. 31st, 2014

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A Thousand-Year Reich / Un Reich de mille ans

A Thousand-Year Reich — The Sources of Eternal France

Imagine a German politician, who supports mass murder without scruple, acquiring power in his country. Imagine him at the head of an organization that seizes power by violent means, invading his neighbors and conquering vast territories, its storm troopers murdering, raping and pillaging entire cities. Imagine him allied with specialists in propaganda and mind control to more easily motivate his troops and dominate his victims. Imagine him victorious at last, establishing the power of his Master Race, whose blood is supposedly pure and noble, that shall rule, by a combination of brute force and ideological brainwashing, the enslaved masses of the ethnically inferior subjected peoples, in a Reich that will last over a thousand years.

Ridiculous are you saying? Yet this Reich is not a mere fantasy; it bears the name of the coalition of thugs who conquered this Empire: Frankreich, in the language of the Masters. This warlord was called H'lodwigh, and is revered today as Clovis, or Louis I, King of the Franks, whereas his Goebbels is adored as Saint Remigius. Yes, this France that so many French people are proud of is but the degenerate remnants of Hitlerism triumphant, of which their ancestors were the shameful slaves. Or rather, Hitlerism was only the sad caricature of the Germanic conquerors of the past, also attempted by the degenerate remnants of Germany, the aristocracy of which had been decimated, like those of all Europe, in the suicidal conflagration of the Great War.

But the French need not worry: they want to remain slaves, and wallow in Socialism, the ideology of slaves; and they will get a new master come from the South, to replace that from the North, who committed suicide in 1914. The new master is no less barbaric, yet they still possess that spark of civilization that France, and Europe, has lost: the desire to live as masters in their own home. Vae Victis.

(As an extension, you can read my Being Frank, and as counterpoint, my Ode of Surrender. And for all that and more, listen to my speech at PorcFest X.)

 

Un Reich de mille ans — Aux sources de la France Éternelle

Imaginez un homme politique allemand, partisan de l'assassinat de masse sans scrupule, acquérant le pouvoir dans son pays. Imaginez-le à la tête d'une organisation de conquête du pouvoir par des moyens violents, envahissant ses voisins et conquérant de vastes territoires, ses troupes de choc pillant, violant et passant par les armes des villes entières. Imaginez-le s'alliant avec des spécialistes de la propagande et du contrôle des esprits pour plus facilement galvaniser ses troupes et dominer ses victimes. Imaginez-le enfin victorieux, installant au pouvoir sa Race des Maîtres, dont le sang est soi-disant pur et noble, qui dominera, par la combinaison de la force sanglante et du lavage de cerveau idéologique, les masses asservies des peuples conquis, ethniquement inférieurs, dans un Reich qui durera plus de mille ans.

Ridicule? Et pourtant, ce Reich n'a rien d'hypothétique; il porte le nom de la coalition de brigands qui a conquis cet Empire: Frankreich, dans la langue des Maîtres. Ce chef de guerre s'appelait H'lodwigh, et vous le révérez aujourd'hui sous le nom de Clovis, ou Louis Ier, roi des Francs, cependant que vous adorez son Goebbels sous le nom de Saint Rémi. Oui, Français, cette France dont vous êtes fier n'est que les restes dégénérés de l'Hitlérisme triomphant, dont vos ancêtres furent les esclaves honteux. Ou plutôt, l'Hitlerisme ne fut que la triste caricature des conquérants germains passés, par les restes eux aussi dégénérés d'une Allemagne dont l'aristocratie avait été décimée, comme celle de toute l'Europe, dans la conflagration suicidaire de la Grande Guerre.

Mais ne vous en faites pas, esclaves que vous voulez rester, vous qui vous vautrez dans le socialisme, cette idéologie servile; car un nouveau maître est venu du Sud remplacer celui du Nord qui s'est suicidé en 1914. Non moins barbare, il possède néanmoins cette étincelle de civilisation que vous n'avez pas: la volonté de vivre en maître chez soi. Vae victis.

(Dans le prolongement, vous pouvez lire mon Soyons Francs, et en contrepoint, mon Éloge de la reddition; et pour tout ça et plus, écoutez en anglais mon allocution à PorcFest X)

Jan. 20th, 2014

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Evolutionary physiology of fat

For any animal living under a climate with seasons, high-carb meals are the kind you find in the summer, when it's time to make fat reserves. In the winter, you won't find any such carbs, and you'll have to burn those reserves (if you have any left), or feast on the proteins and declining fat of other animals — or else starve. No wonder it's an intake of carbs, not fat, that triggers our hormonal system to store energy as fat, and lack of carbs that tells our bodies to burn that fat.

Another reason not to listen to those evil government bureaucrats who want everyone to eat even more carbs.

Jan. 8th, 2014

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Qualified Reservations

A blogger I love to read is Mencius Moldbug, of Unqualified Reservations. I find him always thought provoking, and a pleasure to disagree with as well as to agree with. Indeed, he more than once changed my mind on topics where I didn't imagine I could be swayed, by bringing about a point of view I had never been confronted to.

Mencius Moldbug is familiar with libertarian ideas, which he once embraced; he notably shares with Misesians their methodological individualism in analyzing human behavior, and their resolutely realistic approach of what political power is, as contrasted with what some people would like it to be, or would like others to believe it is. This is the proper approach to social science, it is fruitful, and Moldbug seems to have taken it where it hadn't been taken before. For Moldbug embraced — and indeed regenerated — reactionary thought. He dusted from it all attachment to forlorn beliefs and institutions, and resurrected its core narrative: political power is an irreducible reality; order matters; dilution of responsibility is chaos, "progressives" bring this chaos; the US is controled by a "cathedral", a decentralized Establishment of intellectuals, bureaucrats, politicians, who all agree on "progressive" ideas and have been spreading them throughout the world in the XXth century causing hundreds of millions of innocent victims; etc. Moldbug is the most articulate and compelling reactionary I've ever read, indeed the only one I know of who doesn't give me the creeps by ultimately founding his explanations on some kind of superstition — though sometimes he seems to long for a superior source of authority he could believe in. In addition to clarifying many reactionary ideas, he made important contributions to political economics, including his theory of sovereignty, his theory of liquidation of the State, and his theory of money. I thus find Moldbug's reactionary narrative generally compelling, and have thus been reconciled with my own mother's reactionary values.

However, on his quest to rediscover and restore the reactionary tradition, Moldbug explicitly rejects some crucial libertarian ideas and values; he notably embraces de jure territorial monopolies and mercantilism. And there I strongly disagree with him. Indeed, not only do I think his rejection of libertarian ideals is unjustified, I also think that even in his accurate condemnation of the festering evil that purportedly represent "progressive" or "conservative" ideas and values, he fails to salvage the essential truths that need be salvaged — those kernels of truth around which lies acrete, and by which victims are hooked into the lying ideologies. My reactionary side values order. My libertarian side values freedom. My conservative side values tradition. My progressive side values novelty. There is no contradiction. The contradiction would come from trying to establish a hierarchy between them, from trying to prop one of them up where it doesn't apply, or from denying it where it does. (And no, it's not a matter of "balance" — typical emotionalist nonsense — but of propriety — to each its own domain.) Moreover, I notice how whenever he rejects libertarian ideas, he does so by erroneously departing from the methodological individualism and realism that brought his reactionary successes.

Tellingly, in a 2013 post Sam Altman is not a blithering idiot, Moldbug derides as "Pig Philosophy" any kind of hedonism or utilitarianism that would seek to satisfy human desires, whether immediate and lowly or remote and lofty. But viewed in such a broad way, there's no escaping "Pig Philosophy". If implementing some philosophy isn't in anyone's at least perceived and far-fetched interest, then no one's going to make it happen. Anything that requires purposeful action is "Pig Philosophy" by the overly broad standard of Moldbug. The politically elitist view of Moldbug, in which the ruler issues arbitrary edicts to promote his arbitrary values, be it contra libertarian advice, is no less "Pig Philosophy": unless you claim that the ruler's edicts have no human-intelligible and human-sought purpose whatsoever, and are but chaos and fury, it's still Pig Philosophy, whether the ruler is a decidedly lonely hero facing God and Devil all by himself, or an elite caste of enlightened aristocrats; and if you claim there is indeed but chaos and fury, that would certainly be the very opposite to the reactionary value of Order indeed. Order is not arbitrary and subjective, arbitrarily definable by rulers; it's objective. And Mencius knows it, or he would just be reveling in the glory of his progressive masters' social constructs. And so, regarding all that mercantilism that Moldbug justifies: Cui Bono? If no one actually benefits from the actions of the sick and cruel rulers, what was that qualifier already that Moldbug was using to describe the dysfunctional behavior of the DCvers towards their wards? sadistic government. And an implicit assumption behind the very notion of sadistic government, or of the good government that Moldbug is aspiring to, is indeed some form of Pig Philosophy. To paraphrase Daniel Dennett, adding in pigs: There is no such thing as pig philosophy-free science; there is only science whose pig philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.

So yes, libertarians and "Austrian Economists" in the tradition of Mises are indeed promoting "Pig Philosophy" (or at least, Pig-hybrid philosophy): we proudly study "Human Action", which is verily characterized by being purposeful, as well as acted by individuals capable of learning (Eliezer would say "anti-inductive"). Our "Pig Philosophy", however, is more "democratic" than "aristocratic", in that every one's purpose is accounted in the market; yet it remains more "aristocratic" than "democratic", in that there is no ballot and majority rule, but the reward of those who best move the world toward the satisfaction of human needs; and still, it remains more "democratic" than "aristocratic" in that those seemingly random humans who constitute our "aristocracy" are post-selected according to their demonstrated ability rather than pre-selected according to birth or cooptation. A natural, peaceful, aristocracy, if you want, rather than the warrior aristocracies of antique "nobility" or the artificial "aristocracies" of modern Establishment pull.

In the end, it seems to me that Moldbug dropped the ball of rationality on this particular topic. As he has stated himself, he longs for the belief in a mystical, supernatural, source of authority; but since he isn't enthralled by any particular superstition yet, he is condemned to finding all candidates to the Embodiment of Authority ever lacking. Finding a good King? Good luck with that. In the words of Bastiat: They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority. There is no escaping the hard problem indeed of matching Order and Power — and the achieving of it by a providential man only gets less likely as the alleged reactionary virtues of the past get rooted away or at least irreparably corrupted from any place of influence in a systematic eradication by the progressives in power. Where demagoguery is the universal religion, not exclusive of other superstitions, and supported by world powers, your providential man will be a Hitler or an Allende, a Chavez or a Mugabe. The "progressives" have learned their lesson and won't let another Pinochet disrupt their plans, much less a Francia, that Moldbug seems to overly admire, after Carlyle.

Another problem with many of Moldbug's articles, especially latter ones, is that he sometimes falls in the same trap as many statists, especially those who like Moldbug have an engineering background, the social engineering way of thinking: looking at social issues as engineering problems for a superman above society. This superman stance is precisely the kind of unrealistic approach to political power that Mencius Moldbug had forgone when brilliantly analyzing the actual and historical structure of USG. Yet, when looking for a replacement for USG, there he falls into the same trap that he had avoided so far; he ponders choices to be made as if he were a superior being with direct access to all social knowledge, with total liberty to cheaply change social structures, as well as total responsibility for social outcomes. It is not surprising that like all would-be social engineers, he reaches conclusions as absurd as his premise, and quite similar to the conclusions of previous statists having adopted the same stance. But the superman stance is a lure: no one actually has these powers and responsibilities, no one makes such decisions; its role is thus not actually i n making decisions at all; it does not make useful predictions either, because it assumes a supernatural force that isn't, and systematically neglects the real human forces that are assumed away. So what good is this stance for? Why do so many people use it and propagate its use? Actually, the stance is a way to sell people on the legitimacy of power; it doesn't matter which of the proposed options you pick, by picking an option, you have implicitly adopted the superman stance, assumed that those people in power act in the name of society, and legitimated the coercion by which they "engineer" society. By being something completely different from what it purports to be, this superman stance is therefore the ultimate corruption, to reuse the term with Moldbug's definition: any human action that is not what it appears to be. I believe Moldbug is in good faith being victim of this meme, yet in the end he too propagates it.

And this stance is how, in the above-mentioned article, Moldbug defends some protectionist agenda as a "solution" to the perceived problem of a growing underclass of people being less productive than machines (a fraction that, if we believe technophiles, is soon to be all-encompassing). Yet to an Austrian Economist, this is a non-problem based on a Self-defeating hypothesis: as long as machines are trade partners, by definition, trade only happens if everyone is better off. The notion of "not being able to compete with machines" is absurd: if machines are competitively more efficient, by definition they make things cheaper, not more expensive, which means less work to trade with the machines (or their owners) to achieve the same satisfaction, though the work may also change in nature. If the machine asks too much in return for its services, it is not being competitive, and you can return to the previous method of production. It can never ask "too little" and provide satisfactions at too low a cost. And the Law of comparative advantages ensures that even all-around superior machines will always be ready to trade what humans do relatively better for what machines do relatively more efficiently, so machines can focus on what they machines do even better. In the very worst case scenario that somehow sentient machines decide that humans have nothing valuable to offer and retract from trade, then humans will be exactly at the same point as the luddite protectionist want to place humans by force even when that is not the case; in other words, protectionism is once again but a futile attempt to escape the risk of some bad outcome by embracing the certainty of the worst possible outcome.

The real problem with sentient machines is not their becoming overly efficient trade partners: it's their becoming mortal enemies rivalizing with us on grabbing vital resources without regard for our wants, desires, needs, or claims of priority or property. In other words, the real problem is that sentient machines vastly superior to us may treat us as we treat animals. But once you put the problem that way, you find that protectionism, embargo and war are as absurd and counterproductive a "solution" to the problem as they were to american indians invaded by europeans: antagonizing your vastly superior will only lead to defeat and extermination. The solution to this problem, if it exists, is rather to cultivate a sense of shared existence with these superior beings. Appealing to the good feelings of our superiors is likely to have as much success as PETA has, and be taken just as unseriously, for good reason. Egalitarian claims that humans are the equals to AIs, when they obviously are not, are also likely to bring nothing but contempt. A claim of one sentient being, one vote in a totalitarian democracy of sentient beings where the winner party does whatever he wants is unlikely to bring much relief anyway, when one trillion AIs vote to park humans in Qualified Reservations (a.k.a. concentration camps), and declare oxygen a pollutant to be removed from the atmosphere. More generally, political "solutions" only result in the repression of the weaker party, which by assumption will include all (or a least most) humans. Happily, sentient AIs are as interested as we are in the peaceful resolution of resource conflicts, because they face the very same issue against the next generations of even more vastly intelligent, more vastly powerful sentient AIs. And the one and only solution to the problem of peaceful resolution of resource conflicts, that scales to arbitrarily advanced AIs, is Universal Law, also known as property rights. Our best bet to survive the impending rise of sentient AIs is thus to strengthen the institution of property rights against political dominion, to homestead the resources we want to preserve for ourselves, and to invest in such resources, that will raise in relative value as labor gets displaced; humans may end up getting all their needs satisfied by machines as a rent for some of these resources, except for these needs only humans can satisfy, that will be the object of all trade between humans.

I much prefer an earlier Mencius Moldbug, who could claim the Irreducibility of Political Power (where indeed "vulgar" libertarians would believe in its dissolution), yet without looking for salvation in otherworldly intervention. He instead understood that at heart this is a problem of military technology broadly speaking (where politics is but the continuation of war by other means); and he was looking for some actual technological solution, not just waiting for the Ring of Fnargl to fall from the sky. He was willing to analyze things for what they are, before to make any pronouncement on what they should be; he would criticize proposed solutions considering how the inherent forces of human action would inevitably transform and (ab)use the proposed structures. For, having understood the lessons of Mises, he knows that the forces of Human Action, apply mechanically — or rather, humanically: not because of explicit purposeful human action toward it, and sometimes even despite explicit purposeful human action against it, yet as inevitable consequences of how human action involves purpose and responds to incentives. Ultimately, the capture of Political Power by a sadistic bureaucracy is just as likely in a military monarchy (as illustrated by the history of the Ancien Regime) or in a neocameralist corporation as in a progressive democracy: the root cause is institutional irresponsibility, and in fine, only property rights can solve that, by matching liberty (the freedom to choose) with responsibility (the accountability for choices).

Dec. 24th, 2013

eyes black and white

Christmas Warning!

Let's assume Santa visits all NYC households with children at midnight, delivering a measly average of .5 kg of toys at each place. With 30% of 3 million households having children, that's 9e5 stops. Assuming the households more or less equidistributed over the 7.8e8 m^2 area of city, a circuit to cover them with 9e5 stops, using either a linear scan or a fractal scan a la Hilbert Curve or Polya sweep has a length of the order of sqrt(surface*households) = 2.6e7 m. Let's assume one order of magnitude savings because of non equidistribution, so only 2.6e6 m, to cover in 60s. Therefore the average speed of Santa, assuming instant stops, is 4.3e5 m/s. If he carries all his undelivered toys all the time, the average weight of toys he has to carry is 9e5*.5/2 kg = 2.2e5 kg. So his kinetic energy while traveling is .5 * 2.2e5 * (4.3e5)^2 J = 2e16 J, which is that of an atomic bomb hundreds of time more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. But since he has to stop and resume 9e5 times, this energy is released in the environment at every stop while decelerating and then again while accelerating, so the net result of the visit is a dissipation of energy of 2 * 9e5 * 2e16 J = 3.6e22 J, which is hundreds of thousands of times worse than the greatest nuclear weapon of all times, the Tsar Bomba, except directly delivered to households with children. Of course, all these numbers are lower bounds and constitute a very optimistic scenario. To be even more optimistic, let's suppose that Santa is even more clever, and actually makes intermediate stashes of toys that he manages to instantly load and offload, and arrange his circuit so that on each segment of his fractal path he only carries the toys for that destination; this way, he might reduce the average weight of toys to something of the order 1kg or so. Assuming he is himself a weightless elf and that so are his sleigh and reindeers, so that only the toys are physical objects subject to the law of physics, that's a hundred-thousand fold saving in energy, which brings us back to only a few Tsar Bombas. Again, delivered directly to households with children. I recommend you not be in town or anywhere near children at midnight on this (or any) Christmas.

Dec. 9th, 2013

eyes black and white

The Leap of Faith

In that dream yesterday, some secret society had discovered the secret to immortality: walk to the end of the corridor, make the leap of faith into that super deep pit lined with stone walls, and when you hit the bottom, be resurrected twenty years later in a young body in the secret temple of the society.

As I was jumping together with the love of my life, I got wondering, as I often do: hey, how can they possibly KNOW that this thing works? I mean, obviously, no human has this power, so it wasn't human design; so at best it must have been discovered — but it obviously can't have been discovered for the first 20 years. At the same time, after it has been discovered, there should be plenty of evidence, by which I mean not just young-looking people claiming to have been resurrected, but also old people who didn't jump, and can positively identify the former based on common memories and details that can't all be extracted via an interview or research then learned by an actor.

Then it hit me. The wall on the other side of the pit, I mean. Whatever your initial horizontal speed, it will be enough to reach the other side, in a deep enough pit. And then when you hit, you'll be going at a high vertical speed. That must hurt. And as you bounce back, that is going to happen many times. Ouch. By the time you reach the bottom, you're going to be dead already. Unless the bottom can also resurrect and rejuvenate already-dead bodies that land there, this whole thing is a scam. So maybe the paperwork conducted beforehand, conspicuously so the temple could take care of my assets for me while I was away being rejuvenated was but a clever ploy to steal all my stuff while I was tricked into committing suicide.

Sometimes I have interesting dream. Well before the end, I had stopped identifying with the victim, and was a spectator of a detective movie. But then, I was wondering: what other scams are there around, where some rich gurus lead other people into crazy beliefs ending in self-destructive behavior, so they can profit from the craze?

Nov. 19th, 2013

eyes black and white

Libertarianism vs Socialism / Libéralisme contre Socialisme

My cousin Marie Michelle doesn't understand the radical opposition between libertarianism and socialism, and to reconcile them wishes for "a party that would attempt to maintain a fair balance between individual and collective rights".

But the very notion of a party already supposes a good amount of socialism: the notion that the politically mighty will be able to legitimately impose their opinions upon the weak, out of their number and their organization — in the name of society, the nation or some other collective opposable to any dissenting individual. The notion of "balance" is also socialistic. It supposes that everything is on the same field, the object of a struggle the stake of which is everything, subject to the arbitrary vagaries of changes in the "balance of powers". Nothing is sacred, noone is safe; political power may decide of anything about anything, and will impose it with its supreme force. Circumstantial concessions will be made to those who will organize back in this permanent war of all against all. Socialism is this total war that destroys everything, it is the radical antagonism between human interests, it is the very antithesis of social peace, of society, of civilization. The motto of socialism is struggle. The principle of socialism is the negative sum game.

To a libertarian, any party that would claim to define and impose upon everyone a same policy is ipso facto illegitimate. Only associations and confederacies of associations are legitimate, that everyone may freely join or leave, where noone imposes anything to anyone but himself. There isn't any balance to establish between interests, there are only borders to delimit between properties. Who decides? About each thing, its owner, according to his own interests. As long as he doesn't violate the property of any non consenting third party as he does so. Property that everyone has on his own body, on the goods he acquires through labor and exchange, donation and good management, without violating the property of anyone else. Libertarianism is peace and justice, it is the emergent order of interests in harmony. It is civilization. The value of libertarianism is creation. The principle of libertarianism is positive sum game.

The very notion of a political party is so heinous to this libertarian, that to me, the activity of such a political party is a case of total war if it is foreign, of high treason if it is domestic: capital punishment is the only conceivable punishment — and is beside the only case that justifies such a punishment. The most sacred of public goods, the one and unique public goods actually, is Law — Natural Law, Common Law, Libertarian Law, as follows from objective principles that are discovered as they emerge from competition between jurisdictions that are voluntarily accepted or rejected by each individual. By expressly defining itself as the Enemy of this Law, Socialism is the ultimate anti-social ideology. Socialism is Evil Incarnate, dressed up as Good. It is the Devil himself, impersonating a Saint to seduce his victims, and to corrupt into ways the purest of souls. Under guise of generosity, it is the justification of force, violence and aggression as means to impose total and arbitrary power of the victors in the very name of their victims.

"Gentlemen, the time is coming when there will be two great classes, Socialists, and Anarchists. The Anarchists want the government to be nothing, and the Socialists want government to be everything. There can be no greater contrast. Well, the time will come when there will be only these two great parties, the Anarchists representing the laissez faire doctrine and the Socialists representing the extreme view on the other side, and when that time comes I am an Anarchist." — William Graham Sumner (1840-1910).

 

Ma cousine Marie Michelle ne comprend pas l'opposition radicale entre libéralisme et socialisme, et pour les réconcilier appelle de ses voeux "un parti qui essaierait de maintenir un juste équilibre entre droits individuels et collectifs".

Mais la notion même de parti suppose déjà une bonne dose de socialisme: la notion que les plus forts politiquement pourront légitimement imposer leurs opinions aux plus faibles, de par leur nombre et leur organisation — au nom de la société, de la nation, ou autre collectif opposable à tout individu dissident. La notion "d'équilibre" est aussi socialiste. Elle suppose que tout est sur le même plan, objet d'une lutte dont l'enjeu est tout, soumis aux aléas arbitraires des changements de "rapports de force". Rien n'est sacré, nul n'est à l'abri; le pouvoir politique décide de tout sur tout, et l'impose par sa force suprême. Des concessions circonstantielles seront faites à ceux qui s'organiseront en retour dans cette guerre permanente de tous contre tous. Le socialisme, c'est cette guerre totale qui détruit tout, c'est l'antagonisme radical des intérêts humains, c'est l'antithèse même de la paix sociale, de la société, de la civilisation. Le mot d'ordre du socialisme, c'est la lutte. Le principe du socialisme, c'est le jeu à somme négative.

Pour un libéral, tout parti prétendant définir et imposer à tous une même politique est ipso facto illégitime. Seules sont légitimes les associations et confédérations d'associations que chacun peut librement rejoindre ou quitter, où nul n'impose rien à nul autre que lui-même. Il n'y a pas d'équilibre à établir entre intérêts, il n'y a que des limites à déterminer entre propriétés. Qui décide? Sur chaque chose, son propriétaire, selon ses intérêts. Tant qu'il ne viole pas ce faisant la propriété d'autrui non consentant. Propriété de chacun sur son corps, sur les biens qu'il acquiert par le travail et l'échange, le don et la bonne gestion, sans violer la propriété d'autrui. Le libéralisme, c'est la paix et la justice, l'ordre émergent d'intérêts harmoniques. C'est la civilisation. La valeur du libéralisme, c'est la création. Le principe du libéralisme, c'est le jeu à somme positive.

La notion même de parti politique est si détestable à ce libéral, que pour moi, l'activité d'un tel parti politique relève de la guerre totale si elle est étrangère, de la haute trahison si elle est autochtone: la peine capitale en est le seul châtiment concevable — et c'est d'ailleurs le seul cas qui justifie un tel châtiment. Le bien public le plus sacré, le seul et unique bien public d'ailleurs, c'est le Droit — Droit naturel, Droit commun, Droit libéral, issus de principes objectifs dont la découverte émerge de la concurrence entre juridictions volontairement acceptées ou rejetées par chaque individu. En se définissant expressément comme l'ennemie de ce Droit, le Socialisme est l'idéologie anti-sociale par excellence. Le socialisme, c'est le Mal incarné, déguisé en Bien. C'est le Diable lui-même, qui s'habille en Saint pour séduire ses victimes, et corrompre à sa cause les âmes les plus pures. Sous couvert de générosité, c'est la justification de la force, de la violence et de l'agression comme moyens pour imposer un pouvoir total et arbitraire des vainqueurs au nom même de leurs victimes.

"Messieurs, le jour s’approche où il y aura deux grandes classes, les socialistes et les anarchistes. Les anarchistes veulent que le gouvernement ne soit rien, et les socialistes veulent que le gouvernement soit tout. Il ne peut pas y avoir de plus grand contraste. Et bien, le temps viendra où seuls subsisteront ces deux grands partis, les anarchistes représentant la doctrine du laissez faire et les socialistes représentant l’extrême inverse, et quand ce temps viendra je serai un anarchiste." — William Graham Sumner (1840-1910)

eyes black and white

Goodbye, Magoo (2010-2013) — Not my pet, not my master, my friend.

Magoo, you were your own cat. Not anyone's pet; not anyone's master; but everyone's friend, big and small. Well, obviously not everyone strictly speaking, since you got into one fight too many — and I know of a few small animals who didn't appreciate your friendship, or at least not very long. You probably thought that that backyard was yours. All of North Cambridge was your backyard. The owner's dog differed. Was it the same Nemesis who almost killed you last year? Probably not. But I fancy that you decided to face your fate and challenge it once again. More likely, you were found in a fenced garden with no way out. In any case, you braved the enemy and fought it. To your ultimate demise.

I'm told you spent your early life being an outdoor cat on some College Campus of Upstate New York or New England. That's probably where you learned to be friends with everyone, surviving on food from whichever student you could seduce, as the cute and independent kitten you were. There, some students were calling you Ferris (Bueller? Bueller?), because you seemed to be more interested in having fun than in attending class. The campus was the entire world, and the entire world was yours. However, as the academic year ended, someone took you to a shelter. Maybe right on time, too, because you weren't a cute kitten anymore, and so seducing students was getting harder, all the while your target population dwindled. But you didn't like your temporary adoption family. Imprisoned in however big a house it was, you were already picking fights with whichever older cat thought the house was his and you owed him respect; I remember when you came, you still had some wounds to show you braved superior force rather than submit. The only cat you could get on with was the little Satchy, a shy little darling who would not challenge your claims of sovereignty. That's when we adopted the two of you.

You had obviously enjoyed the trip, Magoo. Unlike Satchy. And you were eager to visit your new quarters. Unlike Satchy, who found the first corner to hide in. You were always friendly, and would let us pet you. Unlike Satchy, at least for a long time, until he learned to let himself bribed with treats. At the same time, there were limits to how familiar we could get: we could caress all we wanted, but you had to remain in control. Thus, no holding you tight in my arms; carrying you more than a few seconds required scruffing. Unlike Satchy, who is the fluffiest furball I've ever got to caress, and never fought back, much less clawed anyone, though he'd run away as soon as you'd release your grip. You were always the dog-cat, when Satchy was the bunny-cat. And you kept bullying him, until that day that Satchy disappeared. Then you called after him, and mewed for his return. Once we found him hiding in the basement, you stopped acting like you had ever cared; but you also stopped bullying him as much.

You were a nice clean cat, Magoo, except when it was time to express your utmost frustration. Then, you would pee in the most inappropriate place. The first time was on me while I was lying on my bed. You soiled me more than once, and in time all the beds in the house got to know your most intimate odor. This didn't happen every day, or even every week, but it kept happening until we understood for good what you were aspiring to. Freedom. The great outsides.

At first, I was afraid you'd get lost and tried to hold you with a leash attached to a harness. Fool that I was. You probably got to know more about the neighborhood than I did, and faster than I did. You were not the kind to lose his orientation. Unlike Satchy, who when he fell through the window, stayed outside three days. But a walk on a leash was not the real thing; and we both knew it. And I resented being walked by a cat as much as you resented having to drag this human behind, unable to partake in The Hunt up the trees. You seized any opportunity to escape through the door. But you'd be back after a few hours, scratching the door. If we didn't hear you, Satchy would, and he would tip me that you were back waiting downstairs to be let back in. Eventually, we decided that going out was your thing, and that letting you outside the only way to keep you clean inside for more than a week or two. And after a few weeks, Satchy would follow your example and ask to go out, too. Before you may go out, though, we insisted on the two of you wearing a collar with your name and my phone and email coordinates; you wore your collar proudly, as the jewels of a king. Satchy did everything to remove his, the tag of a slave.

You were clean enough, but the litterbox was never a place for you to bury your feces. The garden was. (Or the bathroom rug, though as you found out after repeated tests, it was a poor ersatz.) Whose gardens you were honoring with your personal production, I'm not sure. Maybe that's how you antagonized that neighbor's dog? Or were you chasing some small animal? Did you confront it chivalrously at the rescue of Satchy? In any case, the place for action was outside. Many a time, you followed me to the limits of North Cambridge as I was cycling to work. You also followed me to the subway station. One day while I was traveling, I received phone calls about you visiting an office building on the other side of Alewife. I was not worried. You knew your way. And you knew how to make friends. I was often getting phone calls about you. People on the street would tell me about you. All the neighbors must have known you. Unlike Satchy, who was always hiding from people.

You didn't know not to claw when caressing back, but eventually, you learned not to do it hard with full claws. You would always give your all and fight back against threats; but you'd concede defeat to superior scruffing, and would never hold any grudges. When I took you to the Vet, you were eager to get into your box and travel, and eager to get out of it and explore unafraid — the opposite of Satchy. However, you fought the doctor's needle like a devil, and it took a second, experienced and strong nurse to immobilize you so you could get vaccinated and microchipped — the opposite of Satchy. Once it was over, you just went to your box, hurt, but with no hard feelings — the opposite of Satchy. When we reached North Cambridge, I released you, and you walked by my side all the way home, even waiting outside the grocery store despite a stray dog being around. No one could scare you away. As for Satchy, he seemed jealous of your freedom, so out of fairness, I released him, too, despite knowing better. There again we didn't see him for three days. Was he angry at me, or did he just not find his way? Maybe a mix of the two. You went around with or without me, looking for him, and I suspect he must eventually have followed you home, though he still hid around the garden for a while.

You were always exploring the limits. You kept opening the cabinet doors until you found your way to the treat trove, and we had to move it to an upper cabinet out of your reach; and then you kept at it jumping on the fridge and into the upper cabinets, until you determined that the compartments didn't communicate and it was indeed out of reach. You liked to watch birds on the trees across the window; and eventually you learned to climb those trees and catch those birds. How proud you were when you brought me your first small rodents and birds! How proud I was to have to clean the blood stains from the living room floor. You seemed as sad as I to see that poor bird you once brought, still alive, but incapable of escaping you anymore; how much did you prefer it in good health and capable of opposing you resistance; you didn't want to hurt him, just play; and it wasn't fun any more once you showed your trophy. You left me to put an end to its suffering; I still don't know if that was the more humane thing to do. If you expected me to cook it for you, you must have been disappointed; but you didn't let it appear. Satchy never brought me back anything; I suspect he is incapable of hurting another animal; but I'm sure he secretly dreams about it.

When I installed those cat doors for you, it didn't take you five minutes to learn how to use them. It took Satchy five days to even try, and more to succeed, despite my shoving him through the door. You haven't used your litter box ever since. And those times you lost your collar with that magnet supposed to unlock the door? You just tried and tried again until you forced your way through. No one had told you you couldn't do it. When Satchy lost his, he must have scratched the door and waited, and felt like he had been forsaken once more, until we let him in, and he was once again tagged with a collar of shame.

You were always eager to try out new foods, when Satchy only wanted to eat the same things; more often than not, you'd eat something bad, and would vomit on the floor; then often but not always you'd eat it back later. Maybe that's what made you sick a few weeks ago. You were still not fully recovered when you confronted that dog, and I like to think that, had you been completely yourself, you could have escaped the encounter unscathed. When we chose to let you outside, we knew your life would be shortened for it, though we didn't know how tragically short that would be; but we also knew that this was the only way for you to live fully whatever life you were to have, and that you wouldn't have it any other way. Unlike Satchy who is afraid of everything and everyone, and of living his own life, yet will survive you. But long as his years may last, he might still not live as much as you did. Anyway, you were Satchy's only friend. And he will miss you even more than I will. Now he survives you, and since I don't think he's going to be happy in that house without you, I'll come take him to my apartment, and I'll make him a New Yorker. A sorry New Yorker who always stays home and never goes downtown.

When we were preparing the house for the arrival of Véra, you knew something was going on, but didn't know what. I admit we were also a bit worried how you would react to Véra's arrival. The day we brought her in, you jumped in her bed, and rubbed your head against her. She was to be your friend and your protégée. When she was too young to know how to caress and knew only how to hit, you once or twice did claw back, but only to make her stop, and never with ill intent, bitterness or revenge; rather you would next time expose to her less fragile parts of your body. "Shah", or in French "chat", the word for cat, (maybe also "ça", that) is the first word Véra has been consistently speaking, and you're surviving in her memory. You were not my pet, you were not my master. I was not your pet, I was not your master. You were my friend, I was your friend. You were part of the family. And yet when we moved to New York City, we left you behind, to be cared for by airbnb visitors and house helpers. I knew that you would never want to become an indoor cat again; and Manhattan was no place for an outdoor cat. The times that I came back, you were always friendly to me, though we could both feel that some warmth had dissipated since I had gone away; and you told me, without resentment. Life was just not the same in the empty house with transient visitors. Meanwhile, Satchy would run away from me again. I didn't suspect that these were the last hours we'd spend together. I was planning to find you a new home after I heard of your falling sick. But I didn't try hard enough. And I failed you, my friend. Big time.

Life didn't smile on you. A young orphan, you learned to fend off for yourself. Someone brought you to a shelter for your own good, but that's probably where you earned your Darwin Award. When I met you, you were already an evolutionary loser, the end of your proud line. But it didn't matter to you, because you were not your genes' pet. Nor their master. Just their friend. And so you didn't give a damn. Not about that. Not about anything. You were not merely a dog cat, you were a honey badger cat. You cared not at all for the things that were not yours to care for. Instead, you took everything of what life had to offer; what it didn't, ain't you got time for that. Satchy was probably younger when he earned his Darwin Award, probably at the same time and place. Whatever he experienced in his young life left him traumatized, and he's the scarediest cat I've met. Yet I'm convinced that you saw pretty scary things, too; who knows what happened to your mother and siblings, I bet it wasn't pretty for you to be left by yourself; and you narrowly escaped death last year against a raccoon or a small dog.

And so, from beyond the grave, Magoo, you remind me how life is all about attitude. You weren't dealt a great hand, but you played your cards to your fullest. You cared for what you could reach, and were always exploring your limits. You weren't worried about what was beyond your reach, but you were trying hard for what was or could be. You always gave your all in a fight, but knew to concede defeat, and never held grieves. You never caught the red dot, unlike all the other toys, made with baryons; but you gave it a run for its life; and in the end, you defeated it, by breaking that automated laser machine instead of chasing the dot it projected. And so, I dream that where you are, you can now catch the Big Red Dot, but are now well past that, instead exploring the great outsides of the Felines' Paradise. I'm sure you've met Bastet, the great Feline Goddess who reigns up there. And yet I know that you're still your own cat. Not her pet. Not her master. Her friend.

Tags: , , ,

Sep. 15th, 2013

eyes black and white

Night Fantasy / Fantaisie nocturne

A swarthy man of uncertain origin goes to meet small-time drug dealers in the suburbs of Paris; through them, he buys his way towards meeting greater criminals — but still not so great that they are in cahoots with the Establishment. He manages to recruit them for operations of organized crime, while claiming to represent a country that has scores to settle with the Republic, that has laid waste upon it. Which country? He does not reveal it to his accomplices, but it is of course... France. The target of these operations? Not a bank: bigger. Where the money is... where? Political Power. Therefore, attacks of tax centers, kidnapping for ransom of trade unionists, politicians, etc. They seize the slush funds of political parties, trade unions, works councils, or townhalls. They do not pick showy targets, unless they are also underprotected at the time, which then provides a diversion while they engage the next target. Whichever "public" state mafia or "private" state-protected mafia is targetted, there will always be a level of poorly protected staff: the accountant, the middleman, the cashier or the driver, who knows enough to provide key information sufficient for the bandits to make their move without being a kingpin protected by his henchmen.

Having achieved many successes, the protagonist realizes that though he has managed to weaken the reviled Establishment, he only encouraged the more rapid emergence of a new class of aristocrats, more violent than previous ones, on both sides. Some gangsters who work with him are willing to respect the rule that only the Establishment is fair game; but others imitate his innovative tactics indiscriminately against all potential victims. The State uses this wave of attacks as a pretense to intensify its oppression and its generalized violence against a helpless and unarmed population, caught between the arbitrary power of police forces and the violence of ever better trained bandits. The State deploys its army, but is more eager to repress vigilante militias of honest citizens that spontaneously arise than to confront the increasingly violent gangs that spill blood all around the country. Discontent rises among the troops that are reluctant to police bad neighborhoods, and after a few pitched battles and late wages, desertion is also growing. While the State retreats, and thus acknowledges its permanent loss of control over entire regions to the benefit of bands of fanatical barbarians who far outweigh the gang that has developed, the protagonist realizes that by innovating in violent means, he only contributed to the escalation of violence, which increases the share that Society dedicates to violent predation, at the expense of the share that it dedicates to peaceful production. While the reviled State collapses around him, it is barbarianism, not civilization, that replaces it.

The story ends when the protagonist is secretly warned by one of his former lieutenants, who joined a neighboring gang that was more violent and less scrupulous: the gang decreed its territorial monopoly on violence in the surrounding suburbs, and is about to assault the hideout of the protagonist with overwhelming forces. Rather than flee with his cash, the protagonist sends the younger members of his gang to distant missions that will keep them at bay for a few days, then prepares to make a stand with his most faithful companions in this hopeless confrontation.

 

Un homme basané d'origine incertaine va à la rencontre de petits trafiquants dans les banlieues parisiennes; à travers eux, il achète son chemin vers la rencontre de plus grands criminels — mais quand même pas si grand qu'ils sont de mèche avec l'Establishment. Il arrive à les recruter pour des opérations de grand banditisme, en disant représenter un pays qui a des comptes à régler avec la République, par laquelle il a longtemps été ravagé. Quel pays? Il ne le révèle pas à ses complices; mais il s'agit bien sûr de... La France. La cible des opérations? Non, pas une banque: plus gros. Là où est l'argent... où ça? le pouvoir politique. Donc, attaques de perceptions, enlèvement contre rançon de syndicalistes, de politiciens, etc. Ils s'emparent de la caisse noire d'un parti, d'un syndicat, d'un comité d'entreprise, ou d'une mairie. Ils ne s'en prennent pas à des cibles trop voyantes, sauf, avant qu'elles ne soient protégées, ce qui détourne l'attention de la cible suivante. Quelle que soit la mafia étatique ou para-étatique ciblée, il y aura toujours un niveau de personnel mal protégé: le comptable, l'intermédiaire, le caissier ou le chauffeur, celui qui en sait assez pour donner aux bandits l'information clef pour faire leur coup, sans être le caïd protégé par ses sbires.

Ayant obtenu de nombreux succès, le protagoniste s'aperçoit que s'il a réussi à affaiblir l'Establishment honni, il n'a fait qu'encourager la plus rapide apparition d'une nouvelle classe d'aristocrates, plus violents, des deux côtés. Certains des gangsters qui travaillent avec lui veulent bien respecter la règle de ne s'en prendre qu'à l'Establishment; mais d'autres imitent ses tactiques innovantes indiscriminément contre toutes cibles potentielles. L'État trouve matière à justifier par cette vague d'attentats une intensification de son oppression et de sa violence généralisée à l'encontre d'une population désemparée et désarmée, prise en étau entre l'arbitraire policier et la violence de bandits de mieux en mieux formés. L'État déploie l'armée, mais est plus prompt à s'en prendre aux milices d'autodéfense de citoyens honnêtes qui surgissent spontanément qu'aux gangs de plus en plus violents qui ensanglantent le pays. La grogne monte parmi les troupes peu enclines à faire de la police dans les quartiers, et après quelques batailles rangées et des soldes payées en retard, la désertion monte aussi. Alors que la retraite de l'État entérine sa perte permanente du contrôle de territoires entiers au profit de bandes de barbares fanatiques qui éclipsent de loin le gang qu'il a développé, le protagoniste se rend compte qu'en innovant sur des moyens violents, il n'a fait que participer d'une escalade de la violence, qui cultive la part que la société dévoue à la prédation violente au détriment de la part que la société dévoue à la production pacifique. Tandis que l'État honni s'écroule autour de lui, c'est la barbarie, non la civilisation, qui le remplace.

L'histoire se termine quand le protagoniste est secrètement averti par un de ses anciens lieutenants, qui a rejoint un gang voisin plus violent et moins scrupuleux: ce gang s'est déclaré monopole territorial de la violence dans la banlieue environnante, et s'apprête à attaquer le repaire du protagoniste avec des forces écrasantes. Plutôt que de fuir avec la caisse, le protagoniste envoie les plus jeunes membres de son gang dans des missions lointaines qui les éloigneront quelques jours, et attend de pied ferme cette confrontation sans issue, avec ses plus fidèles compagnons.

Jul. 28th, 2013

eyes black and white

Please Don't Leave Me Now / Please I Beg You Stay

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Ne me quitte pas
-Paroles: Jacques Brel

Ne me quitte pas
Il faut oublier
Tout peut s'oublier
Qui s'enfuit déjà
Oublier le temps
Des malentendus
Et le temps perdu
A savoir comment
Oublier ces heures
Qui tuaient parfois
A coups de pourquoi
Le cœur du bonheur
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Moi je t'offrirai
Des perles de pluie
Venues de pays
Où il ne pleut pas
Je creuserai la terre
Jusqu'après ma mort
Pour couvrir ton corps
D'or et de lumière
Je ferai un domaine
Où l'amour sera roi
Où l'amour sera loi
Où tu seras reine
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas
Je t'inventerai
Des mots insensés
Que tu comprendras
Je te parlerai
De ces amants-là
Qui ont vu deux fois
Leurs cœurs s'embraser
Je te raconterai
L'histoire de ce roi
Mort de n'avoir pas
Pu te rencontrer
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

On a vu souvent
Rejaillir le feu
D'un ancien volcan
Qu'on croyait trop vieux
Il est paraît-il
Des terres brûlées
Donnant plus de blé
Qu'un meilleur avril
Et quand vient le soir
Pour qu'un ciel flamboie
Le rouge et le noir
Ne s'épousent-ils pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas
Je ne vais plus pleurer
Je ne vais plus parler
Je me cacherai là
A te regarder
Danser et sourire
Et à t'écouter
Chanter et puis rire
Laisse-moi devenir
L'ombre de ton ombre
L'ombre de ta main
L'ombre de ton chien
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
  Don't leave me now
-Translation: Des de Moor

Don't leave me now
We must just forget
All we can forget
All we did till now
Let's forget the cost
Of the breath we've spent
Saying words unmeant
And the times we've lost
Hours that must destroy
Never knowing why
Everything must die
At the heart of joy
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now

I'll bring back to you
The clear pearls of rain
From a distant domain
Where rain never fell
And though I grow old
I'll keep mining the ground
To deck you around
In sunlight and gold
I'll build you a desmene
Where love's everything
Where love is the king
And you are the queen
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now

Don't leave me now
For you I'll invent
Words and what they meant
Only you will know
Tales of lovers who
Fell apart and then
Fell in love again
Since their hearts stayed true
There's a story too
That I can confide
Of that king who died
From not meeting you
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now

And often it's true
That flames spill anew
From ancient volcanos
We thought were too old
When all's said and done
Scorched fields of defeat
Could give us more wheat
Than the fine April sun
And when evening is nigh
With flames overhead
The black and the red
Aren't they joined in the sky?
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now

Don't leave me now
I will cry no more
I will talk no more
Hide myself somehow
And I'll see your smile
And I'll see you dance
And I'll hear you sing
Hear your laughter ring
Let me be for you
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The dog at your command
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
Don't leave me now
  Please don't leave me now
-Amended Translation: Faré

Please don't leave me now
We must just forget
All we can forget
All we did till now
Let's forget the cost (*)
Of the breath we've spent (*)
Saying words unmeant (*)
And the times we've lost (*)
Hours that'd destroy (*)
Each "How" after "Why"
Until it would die
The heart of our joy
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now

I'll bring back to you (*)
Pearls made out of rain
From some far domain
That rain never knew
And though I grow old (*)
Still I'll dig the ground (*)
To deck you around (*)
In sunlight and gold (*)
I'll build a desmene
Where love's everything
Where love is the king
And you are the queen
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now

Please don't leave me now
For you I'll invent (*)
Words and what they meant (*)
Only you will know (*)
Tales of lovers who
Fell apart and then
Fell in love again
Since their hearts stayed true
There's a story too (*)
That I can confide (*)
Of that king who died (*)
From not meeting you (*)
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now

Often it's been true
A volcano thought
Too old to be aught
Would spill fire anew
When all's said and done
Scorched fields of defeat
Could give us more wheat
Than fine April sun
And when ev'ning's nigh (*)
With flames overhead (*)
Aren't both black and red
Wedded in the sky?
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now

Please don't leave me now
I will cry no more (*)
I will speak no more
I'll just hide somehow
And I'll see you smile (*)
See you dancing while (*)
I may hear you sing (*)
Hear your laughter ring (*)
Let me just follow
You as your shadow
Shadow of your hand
Dog at your command
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
Please don't leave me now
  Please I beg you stay
-Original Translation: Faré

Please I beg you stay
Let it go away
It can go away
Forgotten today
Forget what we've said
When words missed intent
Forget time mispent
Who knows where it fled
Hours that'd destroy
With each "How" each "Why"
Until it would die
The heart of our joy
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

I'll bring back to you
Pearls made out of rain
From far a domain
That rain never knew
Even dead and cold
I'll persist and mine
So I can enshrine
You in light and gold
I'll turn deserts green
I'll make love their King
Love their everything
And shall crown you Queen
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

Please I beg you stay
For you I will grow
Words alone you'll know
With what they convey
I'll tell you of when
Lovers torn apart
Later found their heart
Set ablaze again
I'll relate of how
That Great King once died
For in vain he tried
Despaired to meet thou
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

Often it comes through
A volcano thought
Too old to be aught
Bursts and burns anew
I've heard rumors wing
That a field scorched bare
Yields beyond compare
With one sown in Spring
And when ev'ning's nigh
With flames overhead
Aren't both black and red
Wedded in the sky?
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

Please I beg you stay
I will weep no more
I will speak no more
I'll just hide away
Just to look at you
When you dance and smile
And listen to you
Sing and laugh a while
I'll be as you feel
Shadow at your suite
Shadow of your feet
Dog down at your heel
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
  Please I beg you stay
-Synthesis

Please I beg you stay
It can go away
It'll all go away
Be forgot today
Let's forget the cost
Of the breath we've spent
Saying words unmeant
And the times we've lost
When Hours'd destroy
With each "How" each "Why"
Until it would die
The heart of our joy
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

I'll bring back to you
Pearls made out of rain
From far a domain
That rain never knew
Even dead and cold
Still I'll dig the ground
To wrap you around
In sunlight and gold
I'll turn deserts green
I'll make love their King
Love their everything
And shall crown you Queen
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

Please I beg you stay
For you I'll invent
Words and what they meant
Only you can say
I'll tell you of when
Lovers torn apart
Later found their heart
Set ablaze again
There's this story too
That I can confide
Of that king who died
From not meeting you
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

Often it comes through
A volcano thought
Too old to be aught
Bursts and burns anew
I've heard rumors wing
A field scorched bare
Yields beyond compare
With one sown in Spring
And when ev'ning's nigh
With flames overhead
Aren't both black and red
Wedded in the sky?
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

Please I beg you stay
I will weep no more
I will speak no more
I'll just hide away
So I'll see you smile
See you dancing while
I will hear you sing
Hear your laughter ring
I'll be as you feel
Shadow at your suite
Shadow of your feet
Shade at your dog's heel
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay
Please I beg you stay

Jul. 6th, 2013

eyes black and white

Alongside Night, the Movie

At Porcfest X last month, J Neil Schulman treated us to a screening of his own movie adaptation of his 1979 novel "Alongside Night". I admit I came with low expectations, but I was happily surprised: it's actually a movie worth watching — and I speak as the guy who didn't hesitate to walk out of half the last few movie screenings I had paid to attend. The movie certainly wasn't as easy to watch as your run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster, but it also has perks none of the cookie-cutter Hollywood stuff has; it doesn't try to fight the big studios on their own terrain, and instead compensates limitations of the budget with creativity.

On the plus side, the story will be a delight for all libertarians, yet still quite enjoyable for everyone as a decent action flick: indeed, a positive energy radiates from the movie, that is contagious, despite all the shortcomings. Libertarians will of course particularly enjoy not just the general plot, but also the hundreds of small jokes and references in the background; this background humor alone makes the movie a must see for all libertarians. But everyone should be able to enjoy the action thriller, with a love story, the political mystery, with plenty of humor, the economic exploration, with insight. The action scenes are not artificially spectacular and stretched as in a John Woo movie, but short and to the point, and realistic; this will rejoice actual amateurs of guns and military technology.

Reading the novel, I remember it had given me the impression of having been written with a movie in mind; the adaptation into a movie script was therefore probably easier than for other novels; still, it's a different medium, and the adaptation went rather well. Actually, the movie format works much better for the plot, which I think isn't that solid, since in a movie you don't have time to think too much about the weaknesses as the action unfolds. It's not that the story has big holes in it, but more that the bad guys make for a rather weak opposition; I expect real world bad guys to be both individually not as competent yet collectively stronger, making shallower plans that have more redundancy, thanks to much more robust networks or allies and henchmen, that, when they disintegrate, lead to much more chaotic and decentralized violence.

Now, there are many ways that the movie betrays its being an amateur production, but the worst was the acting. The lead actor, in particular, was not up to his role: by and large, he failed to convey the surprise and marvel, the worry and fear, the enlightenment and commitment, and other emotions that his character goes through. Even other actors deliver but a slightly better than mediocre performance overall; it's not quite as bad as I feared it could have been, but still a far cry from any kind of method acting. And there, I blame JNS: whether as an author, a director or a producer, he just didn't put enough thought into the emotional life of the characters. That's admittedly a failing common among the "rationalists" (NT on the Myers-Briggs) who constitute most libertarian intellectuals, and I readily admit to sharing the trait — but still I express my disappointment at Schulman, who would better have asked for help from someone who cares.

Other signs of amateurism are with the camera lens work or lack thereof. There again, JNS' team does a better job than you'd expect from amateurs, yet a job that falls short as compared to work by real professionals. Understandably, JNS could not afford large movie sets, and he resorted to narrow camera angles or computer-aided editing; but the result just isn't compelling: the camera framing sometimes make me feel crippled or claustrophobic, and the editing wasn't always convincing; the central Mall scene, for instance, is both enlightening and downright funny as far as the script goes, and the acting is mostly convincing for once, yet at the same time the editing and background sets are just bad.

In the end, "Alongside Night" is far from a perfect movie; but it's still a lot of fun, and a movie worth watching. And in the end, that's what matters: I know a whole lot of big studio movies, with much more production value, or at least production cost, for which I wouldn't say as much. Importantly, J Neil Schulman pulled it off without much help, going against the Establishment — for that he deserves not just our congratulations, but our admiration. Hats off, JNS.

Jul. 4th, 2013

eyes black and white

Dependence to Worse Master Day

July 4th marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, by which its thirteen american colonies formally seceded from the British Crown. While I'm all for secession, and have a lot of sympathy for the main author of the document, Thomas Jefferson, the sad thing is that this declaration was mostly using lies and distortions to justify a war that had already begun, unfairly accusing one side of various crimes to prop up the other side. Of course, that other side ended being much worse in every single way. If the declaration had actually been defending freedom and justice, it would have asserted rights without resorting to lies... but then, it wouldn't have supported the new regime setup by the colonist upper class.

The lies and distortions have already been properly denounced by Hutchinson in his Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia. That the new regime was worse than the old one is clearly apparent: Tens of thousands of otherwise innocent people perished in this war. Tens of thousands of loyalist "Tories" saw their fortunes confiscated and had to run for their lives, when they were not plainly murdered. So much for popular representation — I suppose you're only "people" if the powers that be like you. Counterfeited money instruments were circulated, money was inflated, debt was issued and not paid in full, to pay for this expensive violence, turning each formerly free man into an indentured servant for the new master, and their unborn children, too.

Soon enough, the new regime imposed more taxes than did the old regime, at higher rates; despite the claim that the "revolution" happened against those taxes and rates. These taxes were soon enough imposed upon people who had no representation in voting them, despite the claim that the new regime rejected "taxation without representation"; and the new president himself led troops against those who objected to these taxes, proving the hypocrisy of the entire so-called revolution. The rights of natives were more systematically trampled upon by the colonists, now no longer thwarted by British rulers less directly interested in stealing land, with hundreds of thousands of victims.

As long term results of this violence for secession in the name of Liberty, slavery was prolonged for many decades; it would end only after a million people died, the principle of secession was denied, and formerly "free" people were made slaves to a central State much worse than any modern king's reign. Did all those killings make any contribution to Liberty? Not at all. Inhabitants from the secessionist colonies were not freer than before; nor were they freer than those of Canada or any nearby territory that remained under control of the British Crown. The war contributed to death, to violence, and to reduction in Liberty on all sides.

Liars. Robbers. Counterfeiters. Perjurers. Slavers. Mass murderers. Land thieves. The american rebels didn't do a "revolution", just a mass criminal usurpation of power.

Liberty grows with peace, prosperity and education. Violent wars and "revolutions" only promote oppression, poverty and partisan propaganda. War is the Health of the State; it is the Great Destroyer of everything free. Don't promote violent "solutions" or celebrate violent events. Promote peaceful solutions and celebrate reduction in violence.

Jul. 3rd, 2013

eyes black and white

Western de-civilization / Dé-civilisation occidentale

In a country where Civilization reigns, every inhabitant during his life in average produces more than he consumes, and thus contributes positively to society. Therefore, an increase in population, by birth or by immigration, each time makes the country richer. And neither generational renewal nor demographic migrations are issues, for those who live and stay are economically self-sufficient, they earn their own keep, and don't need to mooch off other people that have to be either brought or prevented from leaving.

In contrast, in a country undergoing de-civilization, where each new citizen in the average contributes negatively to society, consuming more than they produce, an increase in population, whether by birth or immigration, only makes things worse. At the same time, fewer people, whether by fewer births and less immigration or by more deaths and more emigration, cannot save the country; at best it can but delay the inevitable fall for a short while: the country is eating its capital and will return to barbarianism once this capital stock has run up.

That is why the problem of the West is neither a lack of birth nor an overflow of immigrants — it is its own de-civilization. This de-civilization, quick in times of wars and slow in times of peace, is now well advanced; it is the result of two centuries of ruin by social democracy, this constant war of all against all over the control of everything. But since the source of this ruin is this totalitarian religion that occupies everyone's mind, every position of power, all media, and the entire educational system, no positive outcome is possible to the internal development of the West.

The West will die, so much is certain. The rot is at the very heart of the tree. The rotten pieces will be devoured by masses of small and large scavengers from the Third World, who already have rushed at the smell of their dying neighbor. All in all, every country generates the kind of immigration or emigration that it deserves. Perhaps a last minute reaction will save a few outlying countries, that, after observing the plight of their neighbors, will not only cut the infestation, but also identify and abolish the source of this evil. Overall, it is unlikely that they identify the evil so deeply rooted in their collective identity. Perhaps, after the collapse of U.S. hegemony, a Russian or Chinese invasion she will renew civilization; but this assumes that these countries themselves are able to cultivate this civilization. There again, nothing is certain, and the worst is more likely than the best.

In any cases, this will be the end of the (post)Christian West that once conquered the world. Of it will remain but wreckage, enough to reconstitute the museum of an extinct civilization, of a people who committed suicide in the name of a self-destructive religion, to make way for new occupants, certainly more barbaric ones in many ways, but who at least are not suicidal. All in all, the more barbaric of the two is not who you might think.

 

Dans un pays où règne la civilisation, chaque habitant au cours de son existence en moyenne produit davantage qu'il ne consomme, et ainsi contribue positivement à la société. Aussi, davantage de population, par naissance ou immigration, chaque fois enrichit le pays. Et ni le renouvellement générationnel ni les migrations démographiques ne sont des problèmes, car les vivants se suffisent économiquement à eux-mêmes, ils gagnent leur vie, et n'ont pas besoin de vivre au crochet d'un autrui qu'il faudrait faire venir ou empêcher de partir.

À l'opposé, dans un pays en processus de dé-civilisation, où chaque nouveau citoyen contribue en moyenne négativement à la société, consommant plus qu'il ne produit, davantage de population, que ce soit par naissance ou immigration, ne fait qu'empirer les choses. Et en même temps, moins de population, que ce soit par moins de naissances et d'immigration ou par davantage de morts et d'émigration, ne peut pas sauver le pays; au mieux cela ne peut que retarder un peu l'inévitable chute: le pays mange son capital, et retournera à la barbarie une fois ce capital épuisé.

C'est pourquoi le problème de l'Occident n'est ni un manque de naissance ni un trop plein d'immigration — mais sa propre dé-civilisation. Cette dé-civilisation, rapide pendant les guerres, et lente en période de paix, est aujourd'hui bien avancée; elle est le résultat de deux siècles de ruine par la social-démocratie, cette guerre permanente de tous contre tous pour le contrôle de tout. Mais comme la source de cette ruine est cette religion totalitaire qui occupe tous les esprits, tous les postes de pouvoir, tous les médias, et tout le système éducatif, il n'y a aucune issue positive possible à l'évolution interne de l'Occident.

L'Occident mourra, c'est une certitude. La pourriture est au coeur même de l'arbre. Les morceaux putréfiés seront dévorés par des masses de petits et grands charognards venus du tiers-monde, et qui déjà sont accourus à l'odeur du mourrant. L'un dans l'autre, chaque pays engendre la sorte d'immigration ou d'émigration qu'il mérite. Peut-être un sursaut sauvera-t-il quelques pays atypiques, qui après avoir observé le triste sort de leurs voisins, non seulement se couperont de l'infestation, mais surtout identifieront et aboliront la source de ce mal. Dans l'ensemble, il est fort peu probable qu'ils identifient le mal, si profondément ancré dans leur identité collective. Peut-être, après l'écroulement de l'hégémonie américaine, une invasion russe ou chinoise viendra-t-elle renouveler la civilisation; mais cela suppose que ces pays eux-mêmes arrivent à cultiver cette civilisation. Là encore, rien n'est sûr, et le pire est plus probable que le meilleur.

Dans tous les cas, c'en sera fini de l'Occident (post)chrétien qui conquit un jour le monde. Il ne restera que des débris, de quoi reconstituer un musée d'une civilisation disparue, d'un peuple qui s'est suicidé au nom d'une religion auto-destructrice, pour laisser place à de nouveaux occupants certes barbares par de nombreux aspects, mais du moins pas suicidaires. L'un dans l'autre, le plus barbare des deux n'est pas celui qu'on croit.

Jun. 7th, 2013

eyes black and white

Communist Joke

Back in the Soviet Union, a group of men, chained together in a vehicle that takes them to a remote gulag facility, discuss what befell to each of them.

Says the first: "my story is as unjust as it is sad. It was my birthday, so my wife gave me a watch as a present. But it was a poor quality watch and the next day it was already 5 minutes slow. And so of course, I arrived 5 minutes late at work. That's when the Political Commissar nabbed me and I was convicted, to five years of prison, for lack of revolutionary spirit, anti-social behavior and counter-revolutionary activities.

Says the second: "oh that's nothing: my story is even more unjust and sadder. It was my birthday, so my wife gave me a watch as a present. But it was a poor quality watch and the next day it was already 5 minutes fast. And so of course, I arrived 5 minutes early at work. That's when the Political Commissar nabbed me and I was convicted, to ten years of prison, for sabotage and espionage."

Says the third: "oh that's nothing: my story is more unjust and sadder than both of yours. It was my birthday, so my wife gave me a watch as a present. And it was a good quality watch and the next day it was still on time. And so of course, I arrived at work exactly on time. That's when the Political Commissar nabbed me and I was convicted, to fifteen years of prison, for buying a watch from the West."

Says the fourth: "oh that's nothing: my story is more unjust and sadder than all of yours!" It was my birthday, but my wife couldn't afford to give me a watch as a present. And so the next day I arrived as usual at the same time as everyone. That's when the Political Commissar nabbed me and I was convicted, to twenty years of prison, for absolutely nothing." To which the other convicts reply in choir: "You're such a liar: Everyone knows nothing is only three years!"

A few years later the very same men meet again, this time in Free America where they migrated, while again being chained as they are taken to a correctional facility. They tell each other their respective stories.

Says the first: "my story is as unjust as it is sad. I founded a successful company, and my product was priced 5% higher than competition. That's when the Feds cracked down on me and confiscated 25% of my company's profits, for price gouging.

Says the second: "oh that's nothing: my story is even more unjust and sadder. I founded a successful company, and my product was priced 5% lower than competition. That's when the Feds cracked down on me and confiscated 50% of my company's profits, for dumping and unfair competition.

Says the third: "oh that's nothing: my story is more unjust and sadder than both of yours. I founded a successful company, and my product was priced the same as competition. That's when the Feds cracked down on me and confiscated 75% of my company's profits, for price collusion and anti-trust violations.

Says the fourth: "oh that's nothing: my story is more unjust and sadder than all of yours!" My company was only so successful, and my products weren't much comparable in price to those of the competition. That's when the Feds cracked down on me and confiscated 100% of my company's profits, for absolutely nothing!" To which the other convicts reply in choir: "You're such a liar: Everyone knows nothing is only 15%!"

May. 29th, 2013

eyes black and white

Some Architectural Principles for Software Development Teams

Many software development organizations fail to follow these principles and pay the price, which can lead to failure. Google mostly doesn't make the mistakes of going against them, though some projects at ITA used to.

Every change should be reviewed, seriously
Code reviews not only improve code quality by having more eyes to find bugs, but most importantly they build the mutual knowledge of the code base, and cross-pollinate minds of team members. This may look like it slows you down in the very short term, but is essential in the long run. If you need to check in a critical fix right now, interrupt a colleague and get the just as critical review right now. If it's so urgent that you can't wait for a review when no colleague is available at the moment (in the middle of the night, or they are all sick, in vacation, or in a retreat), then get it reviewed after the fact, but get it reviewed still (and of course run automated tests — your infrastructure won't let you commit and deploy without those tests, will it?); but such retro-active review is a symptom of failure and should remain an exception. All your code must be subject to the same standards of quality, review and testing; no exception. This requires that all code you write, you should write using a language and an according build and testing infrastructure that are part of a culture that you are actively growing. Any "script" written in a way that violates those standards is a failure, however expedient it may seem at first, or a symptom of a bigger failure. More on that below.
Change should never require more than one team
Every change requires at least one team, since all code must be reviewed. But every time two or more teams are involved in implementing and deploying a single change, this means increased cost and time to synchronize these teams on one or multiple interfaces, which makes for a slower, damper, feedback loop. Worse, these interfaces create conflicts of interest and become the locus of scar tissue as each team builds layers of cruft to protect itself from the changes of the other teams. Due to each team's "investment" in it, these interfaces survive long past any validity they may once have had, which means you get to forever keep using the interfaces you threw together without much design back when you didn't know better. Don't split your teams in horizontal layers of functionality. An exception might be when the lower layer follows a commodity interface, and it is easy to experiment without it and switch away from it as needed, modulo change in price and quality. Note that people with similar role (e.g. all test engineers) tend to share common concerns and congregate, exchanging information and developing tools together; that's perfectly fine and should be encouraged, not prevented; still they do not make a useful unit of decision making and responsibility taking, and should therefore not be constituted as a "team".
Your teams should be able to shrink as well as grow
Adding human resources doesn't require much thought, though it does require thought to add them effectively. However removing human resources does require a lot of thought to keep the team functioning at all; yet that's something you will have to do. Whether successful or unsuccessful, your software if launched at all will eventually be left in maintenance mode while people move on to their next project (which may or may not be a next version of the successful software), and your extant maintenance contracts may run for years during which time you'll have to run with reduced resources. And if only mildly successful, you may have to downsize your team to adapt to the market. In any case, a project not organized to scale down will soon enough have negative net present value as its maintenance costs far outweigh the generated revenues. If you need fourteen different on-call rotations just to keep your service running, you're most likely doing it wrong. So don't add gratuitous complexity; don't multiply components; don't divide into more teams than necessary; don't adopt multiple incompatible build and test infrastructures. Which again leads us to the next point.
Grow a culture, don't live off the land
Pick one good language (or a combination of a handful of complementary languages), and stick to it, invest in it, build infrastructure and proficiency around it, improve its ecosystem — your productivity will greatly increase as a result. If you behave like a hunter-gatherer and pick whichever random languages and tools happen to be available for the job, without building a coherent community inside and outside your company, you will accumulate complexity you can't afford to maintain (see above), rest your services on a haphazard set of shoddy "scripts", dilute your efforts in many unhealthy small niches, multiply infrastructure costs, including the cognitive load on workers; your people and sub-teams will each grow their own subculture that no one else knows, and so won't be able to move between projects or maintain each other's code; your organization won't be able to change and adapt. Investing in multiple cultures, while possible, will be a real drain on your resources, which can be fatal unless your company is big; and even a big company can only afford to grow so many cultures and keep all of them vibrant.
Pick a programming language that scales
To grow a healthy culture, you must pick a single language that can handle your entire software stack, from the highest-level aspects to the lowest-level. Common Lisp, Scala, F#, Haskell, OCaml, Clojure, Erlang, Racket, are possibly valid choices, depending on the context; many other languages may or may not qualify. The point at hand isn't to discuss the merits and failures of various existing languages and establish a definitive list of decent languages; there is a changing market and there are many valid reasons why specific people working on a specific project might pick or not pick any given language over given competition. The point is that you should pick a one language, the best you can find for you to implement your current and future intended tasks; and thereafter all your code should be in your language of choice, with only trivial wrappers and a few performance-critical loops in any other language, plus maybe some code to adapt your IDE to your language and style. Every "script" needed to build your system or hold it together is a failure, whether in bash, zsh, python, perl, ruby or any language except your language of choice. Anything more than a performance-critical loop in C, C++, Java, Assembly or PL/SQL is a failure. Any text-based code generator outside your normal build tools is a failure. All these failures will come bite you in the end, preventing the refactoring of your code and/or your team when you need it most. Yet "failure" does not mean you shouldn't do it — indeed the reason you do it is that not doing it would be a bigger failure; but each decision to violate the principle of sticking to a supported programming language is a symptom that this programming language has failed you. Repeated failures may be the symptom of your having chosen a bad programming language to work with. If you made a bad decision, it's still time to fix it by adopting a better language. But then do it right and don't build a concurrent culture: instead adopt that language for all development going forward, and slowly or quickly migrate or phase out past projects as needed. Sure, keep experimenting with other languages; but the result of the experiment should be adoption or rejection, not dilution of your ecosystem.
Don't have humans do the job of a machine
If you're manually transforming UML diagrams into code, writing a relational schema to match your object schema, following design patterns, coding in a low-level language, or otherwise doing through human labor what a machine could do, you're not just wasting precious company resources, you're committing a crime against the human mind. Atone for your sin, or you'll end up in hell, as human labor is not just orders of magnitude more costly than computer labor for mindless repetitive tasks, it is also far more error-prone. Subtle discrepancies will creep in between what was intended and what is implemented; shortcuts will be taken that really shouldn't; pieces will be missing. In the end, this will lead to countless hours of debugging, and yet extremely bad quality code. Meanwhile, every minute spent doing what a machine could do is a minute not spent doing what only a human can do (for now). A corollary of this principle is that the language you choose above should provide a decent solution for metaprogramming. Like Olin Shivers, you should object to doing what a computer can do.
Use open-source tools everywhere you can
For any software not part of your core assets, that you keep as a trade secret for competitive advantage, you should be using, improving and/or developing the best available open-source tool. Don't reinvent your own private wheel. If it's not your main specialty, odds are you'll make it square, anyway; in any case, it will be a distraction to do a really good job at it all on your own even assuming you manage to do it. And if you do possess cool software in-house, by not releasing it, you are not saving engineering resources, you are only keeping yourself out of the loop, and making it harder for you to recruit, and losing in both productivity gains and worse in community signals about what you're doing right or wrong.
Deployment should be automated at the push of a button
If a successful production deployment requires more than a single person pressing a button to validate the new code revision after successful tests, you're doing it wrong. If your tests themselves require a person at all, you're doing it wrong. In particular, don't have separate teams for "Development" and "Ops", or "Development" and "QA"; that's a recipe for test and deployment disaster (see also the second principle above). If the product can't be deployed, the development isn't complete yet; if the code doesn't include a test, the development isn't complete yet. You should thus use some infrastructure that automates reproducible testing and deployment of the entire distributed system. As per the previous point on open source software, unless deployment of distributed systems is your core business, you should be using and partaking in an existing open source solution such as NixOS and DisNix.
Minimize configuration
Any setting that differs between test and production is the opportunity for a major screw-up. Your tests should include checks against these opportunities, that ensure that nothing is amiss in what little production configuration is needed, even if you don't run tests directly using that configuration. Any configuration setting you can't test in advance, should have a corresponding manual test on the production deployment checklist.
Tests should be runnable without costly setup
If you need ten minutes to build some huge mutable state just to be able to run functionality tests, you're doing it wrong, and won't be able to scale. Run tests from pure immutable data that is trivial to share; if you need a mutable database, use copy-on-write from baseline test data. Also, no any individual test should require more data than necessary to run it. Have a data coverage system to automatically determine what data was necessary during some code run. Oh and of course a code coverage system to automatically determine what code was tested or not.
Use monotonic (append-only) database semantics
Have your transaction logs always include commit ids and time stamps identifying all code, data and configuration, so it's always trivial to replay any production bug. Make it easy to extract a minimal relevant subset of immutable data from the reproduced bug so you can import it in your regression test suite (after automatically scrubbing any sensitive information, of course).
Include upgradability in your dynamic application model
Upgradability is important; and isn't just a matter of a static data model. Use schema tools that can deal with multiple schema versions whereby you can always upgrade from any previous one. Don't be content with a tool that can only represent the "current" schema. Keep the regression test data upgradable and test against it. Code and data upgrades are a normal part of the development cycle, to be supported by your normal tools, not an unforeseen exception.
Managers are schedulers, not proxies
The role of a manager is to prioritize tasks, allocate resources, connect people. It is emphatically not to make technical decisions, oversee technical implementation, or be a middleman in passing around technical information. Technical leads should make the technical decision, and peer code review should be the oversight mechanism; the manager shouldn't be involved in either — at least not as such: indeed it is quite possible that the same person could wear two caps, and be simultaneously manager and technical lead, especially when working in small teams, which can actually be a good idea when it's possible; then said person can take as technical lead decisions that he shouldn't take as manager. As for information middlemen, they only decrease bandwidth, introduce noise and add latency, and therefore should not exist in the organization (don't confuse the organization structure with the communication structure). A manager should allocate human and material resources, and make adjustments as new information is available; but after subscribing the relevant people to the issue on the issue tracking system and making sure that the goal is clear and his managees are working towards it, he should otherwise let them sort it out and not only get the hell out of their way, but actively remove obstacles from their work, including any distraction from customers, himself, other managers, internal and external politics, etc. Any manager who steps out of his role by doing any of the above no-no's should be fired for cause; much worse if he bullies workers or sets to build an empire.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Work organization is not a natural thing people were evolved to do without thinking. It requires careful thought to get it right. Never try not to think, it won't work. If you work from one artificial short deadline to the next artificial short deadline, always in alert mode thinking in the short term, and ever postponing the need to address big picture issues, then you won't have any long term to think about, and you're setting yourself up for failure: the big picture of your organization is one of miserable agitation followed by death; and you'll have been deliberately painting that picture by refusing to open your eyes and to look forward. You need to intentionally design your system, along many axes: code, people, time, etc.
Architecture is not optional
Your code needs a computational model and a supporting architecture: what are the primitive events and combinators? the consistency requirements? the security requirements? the error handling mechanisms? Most people, even most good programmers, don't think about computation models and architecture; and that's OK. But you need a technical leader who does have a good architectural vision, or your software base will crumble under the weight of unmaintainable complexity. Do you have anyone in your team capable of thinking about architecture? Can he share his vision with other team members, and vet or reject changes based on this vision? If there are disagreements between multiple options, is anyone in charge who understands the issues?
Incentives matter
Your people need to be organized in an effective way: is your organization such that the right job is done by the right person? When the person with the information to get things done isn't the same as the person with the skill to get things done, isn't the same as the person with the resources to get things done, or isn't the same as the person with the incentive to get things done, how does your organization manage the transfer of information, skills, resources and incentives so they are eventually conjoined into one person who does it? How do you minimize costly coordination between workers, or worse between teams? A classic mistake, for instance, is to institute a strict hierarchy, where every non-local transfer has to go through the upper levels of the pyramid, that quickly become a bottleneck as the organization grows. Worse, while people tend to understand information, skills and resources, most seem not to have a working understanding of incentives, and remain stumped why things don't get done when "all" the static elements are there, because are unable to recognize that the dynamic incentives of workers and teams are not aligned with the goal of the organization. Does whoever is in charge of shaping the organization understand incentives? This is not just about checks to prevent workers or managers from running amok with resources, this is about making sure that the goals of every team and member are complementary with each other, rather than in conflict with each other, causing them to have negative productivity the more they work "together". What is your correction procedure when things will go wrong? Does your organization have a feedback loop on the way it is itself organized?
Keep feedback loops short
How long are your feedback loops between demands for change and supply of solutions? Your "OODA loop" determines how fast you can adapt to the market, how fast you can make and test scientific hypotheses, how fast you can invent features and see if they bring value, how fast you can change your designs and see if they are actual improvements, etc. Some people summarize it as "release often", and are satisfied if they have a frequent release schedule; but that's bogus. Releasing often is necessary if and only if the customer is part of your feedback loop, which might be the case if you're building a consumer website, but definitely isn't the case if you're building a life-critical device. However, releasing often is never sufficient: if you release every month, but each change actually takes four months, and you're just pipelining four or more changes at once, then your feedback loop is still four month long, not one month long. Of course in a large enough organization, there is not just one feedback loop, but plenty of feedback loops; the long ones will mean things necessarily get out of whack before they get adjusted. And if you don't actually adjust things based on the feedback received, you don't have a feedback loop.
Measurement is no substitute for judgment
There's worse than having a long feedback loop: you could be using information to actively make adjustments that shape your company in counter-productive ways. For instance, you could be measuring the number of issues resolved by each team member, and rewarding employees based on that, leading to employees introducing more bugs, splitting every bug into plenty of independently registered issues and sub-issues, and spending half their time on the issue-tracking system rather than on the actual issues. Or you could reward developers based on lines of code, leading to unmaintainable code bloat. Measuring things is very important to detect anomalies that need to be addressed, but it is important not to use measurements in a way that will skew incentives, or you'll fall victim of Goodhart's law. Also, whatever effort you expand on measuring things that don't matter, or doing anything that doesn't matter, is effort you don't expand doing things that do matter.

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