Absolute zero

The news from the social media space is all about Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and the changes he has made. Predictably, most opinions on his moves have followed their authors’ political leanings: those on the left hate everything he’s doing, while those on the right are unapologetic cheerleaders. Very rarely does anyone have a nuanced view on the topic, which is, alas, entirely fitting with modern discourse.

I like to think of myself as an exception to that rule. Yes, Musk is making good moves at Twitter, clearing out some of the detritus and indeed trash that had accumulated over the platform’s fifteen years of existence. But he is not infallible, and a few of his public announcements, plus the implications of some of his policy moves, paint a very grim picture for the future of the West’s #2 social media platform.

Elephant in the room

Let’s start with the most recent media scandal attached to Musk: the repeal of Donald Trump’s permanent suspension. The ban itself was on questionable grounds, of course; the “official” reason given is that Trump lied about attending the inauguration on January 20, 2021. In reality, we know that hundreds of Twitter employees, indoctrinated by the dangerous ideology of globalism, were chomping at the bit to remove one of their few prominent and unabashed critics, and they used claims of “destroying democracy” and “denying the election” as their excuses to do so.

The facts are clear. Trump won the 2020 election, and only massive, systemic fraud in at least 7 states ever cast any doubt on that. The idea that a dementia patient who spent most of 2020 hiding in his basement, who can barely form a coherent sentence, and who wasn’t even the most popular candidate from his own party could legitimately earn the most votes in any US election would be laughable if it didn’t make such a mockery of America. Add in the documented cases of illegal ballot harvesting, the mysterious vote dumps that—despite probability theory and common sense—somehow went 100% for Biden, and the thousands of whistle-blowers that have come forth, and you see that the most vocal claim of the anti-Trump mob at Twitter, that of “election denial”, is mere projection.

Anyone sane can see this for what it is. Just as with the manufactured pandemic, Twitter banned those who spoke against the narrative. Democracy itself was at stake in the 2020 elections. Never mind that the United States isn’t a democracy; it’s a republic, as it has been since 1776. And of course someone who was cheated out of his victory is going to complain about it!

“Oh, but what about the January 6 insurrection?” you might ask, because that’s the other reason given for deplatforming Trump and his supporters. But think back to that day. There was no insurrection by the people. Those who gathered in Washington were exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech, peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. In this case, the grievance was election fraud, and there was no redress. The insurrection was by those who cowardly hid from their constituents, then waited until the dead of night to violate their oaths of office.

All that is old news, but those who wanted to silence Donald Trump—and who have, for nearly two years, succeeded—will have to face the consequences of their decision. That they are so terrified of even the idea he may be able to speak freely is telling, and it gives us a question to ask of any would-be censor. If they’re right, what are they afraid of?

Canary in the coalmine

Authoritarians the world over, in any era, have always feared two things more than any other: an armed populace and free speech. Social media has no way of defending oneself except through words, so only the second is of relevance in this case. But it is very relevant.

Free speech is the cornerstone of liberal society. When we are allowed to speak, to write, and to record without fear of reprisal from the state, we can achieve great things. Yet freedom of speech has been under assault almost since the concept was first formalized, and social media has become one of the biggest hindrances to this inalienable liberty. Entire topics are banned from discussion on Twitter, Facebook, and every other major platform. In recent months, those who wish to exercise their rights have been kicked off social media, removed from their web hosts or cloud providers, purged from global DNS servers, and even barred from using credit cards.

Those in favor of such extraordinary methods of silencing dissent always fall back to the same tired responses. “Freedom of speech isn’t freedom from consequences,” they’ll say. “Hate speech isn’t free speech.”

Both of these are incorrect. The entire point of free speech is that you are protected from consequences, specifically government retribution. Now, with banks and global corporations effectively functioning as additional branches of government, we are faced with the very real threat of non-state actors who have state-level powers, and they should be treated as such. Every social media platform, every payment processor, and so on must be held to the same standards of the social contract that we expect from Washington.

If Twitter is to be the public square, then it must allow the protections of a public square, such as the First Amendment’s right to free speech, the Fourth’s right of privacy, the Sixth’s right to a fair trial, and the Eighth’s freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. All but the most extreme would accept that the death penalty is not justified as punishment for an insult, so why should a “permanent suspension” be any different? Yes, Twitter can act as a corporation and private club, banning anyone for anything, but then they lose all claim to being public. An open society is entirely at odds with unilateral decisions of guilt and innocence.

After announcing Donald Trump’s reinstatement on Twitter, Elon Musk was asked if Alex Jones would be next. He replied flatly and unequivocally, “No.” This single word speaks volumes. Musk usually has a witty (or at least sarcastic) retort, but here there was none. And there was no room for interpretation, either.

How, then, can we reconcile that statement with Musk’s claims that he supports free speech? Alex Jones didn’t commit fraud, didn’t use true threats, and incite others to commit crimes—along with obscenity, the only categories of speech seen as unprotected by the First Amendment. Conspiracy theories are not illegal, nor is sharing one’s opinions on them. Whatever you think of his comments about Sandy Hook, he has the same right to express them as anyone. And he should have the same platform for that expression as those spreading the lie that an experimental gene therapy is safe for toddlers.

The solution

Elon Musk isn’t the answer. His reign at Twitter will make a lot of noise, but ultimately will change very little. Yes, he may end the silencing of mainstream conservative voices, but what does that accomplish? The site is still a dictatorship, not a place for open discussion, and nothing about Musk’s public statements says that will be any different under his watch. There will still be people who aren’t allowed to participate due to their views on the sensitive topic of the day. Indeed, in some cases the censorship will get worse: Kathy Griffin was suspended for impersonation, which is protected as parody (as long as there is no intent to defraud) in any free society.

No, the real solution is to create a social network where there is neither censorship nor centralization. That solution already exists in the form of the fediverse: a network of servers who share a common protocol and communicate with each other. In theory, one user on the fediverse can talk to any other, and can see posts of his own choosing, no matter their source. (In practice, it doesn’t quite work that way, because too many server admins simply block other servers whose policies allow anything close to free speech, thus breaking the idea of federation.)

This is the way forward. It’s the way email worked until Google got its hands on it. It’s how Usenet was the top method of disseminating news for nearly two decades. And it’s how we can get back to an internet where all are equally free to express their opinions.

No quarter

A recent article on the far-left site The Atlantic asks for a “pandemic amnesty”, and the very idea leaves me so enraged that I have to comment on it. This post is directed at people like that post’s author, not my general reader. Bear that in mind as you read.


You stole two years of my life over a bad cold. You forced me to put everything on hold because of your fears at best, your thirst for power at worst. Your mandates and machinations took me to the brink of suicide multiple times, left me broken in such a way that I still haven’t even found all the pieces, much less started to put them back together.

Lest you think this is about me, know that my story is not unique. You left thousands to die alone, left millions more wanting to, if not wishing they had. You tore holes in our social fabric. You set education back a generation by closing schools, destroyed public trust in doctors, the media, and government. You ostracized anyone who dared speak against you, calling us deniers, indeed murderers. You strove to see us not merely thrown in jail for beliefs you deemed heretical, but removed from society altogether. You sought to deny us our livelihoods if we didn’t bend the knee to your mad depopulation schemes. And now you want us to forgive you?

No.

What you did to us—to the whole world—is unforgivable. Every virus death after April 2020, when we knew that ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine were safe and effective treatments, is blood on your hands. Likewise every death from your gene therapy disguised as a vaccine, every lockdown-induced suicide, every senior who died alone because you wouldn’t allow families to visit, every child who can’t read at his grade level, every toddler whose development has been stunted because he never had the chance to see facial expressions, every American fired for refusing to get the deadly shot, and every couple who may never have the chance to reproduce.

All those are your fault. Anyone who took an unbiased look at the data two and a half years ago could see that this virus was nothing major. Yes, it was novel, and that was cause for concern. After all, it was made in a lab, so of course it was novel! Once our immune systems had a chance to learn about it, however, that novelty wore off, and we were left with a particularly pernicious case of the common cold.

Early on, we knew this. The Diamond Princess provided the perfect case study, and its numbers matched the actual data you tried to hide from us: 2 out of every 3 people infected showed no symptoms, about 0.15% of cases were fatal, and children were almost completely immune. The weaker (but easier to spread) strains like Omicron are even less cause for concern. Certainly no reason to shut down schools and small businesses.

Instead of amnesty, then, why don’t we talk about reparations? That’s what you deserve. You should be paying for the damage you caused us as individuals and society as a whole. Pay for the funerals of everyone your fear-mongering killed. Pay back the hospital bills of those injured by your so-called vaccines, and the unemployment benefits for those who were unjustly fired for refusing them. Pay for therapy: psychiatric therapy for the millions who now suffer from crippling depression and anxiety, speech therapy for the children who are finally allowed to learn visual cues again, couples therapy for the marriages strained to the breaking point. Pay for surrogates and sperm donors for the people your shots sterilized. Pay for the cancer treatments that had to be put off.

Then, maybe we can start talking about forgiveness.

Novel Month: End of an era

I’m not doing Nanowrimo this year. It pains me to say that, because it’s been a staple of November for over a quarter of my life. It was always something I looked forward to, something I eagerly anticipated before it happened, enjoyed while it was going on, and prided myself on completing. Not to mention the fact that my writing pushes resulted in some of my best work. Nocturne came out of Nanowrimo, for example.

This time around, I just can’t. When I wrapped up last year, I was in a very dark place. I couldn’t imagine taking the time to write another novel. Now that the time is upon us, I don’t have the time to take! My schedule is packed now. A full-time job, a full-time relationship, the imminent election and inevitable fallout, and the usual holiday rush have all conspired to make 50,000 words in a month impossible for me.

Even if I did want to try, though, so many of my books are incomplete that I feel starting something from scratch would do them a disservice. The fifth Orphans of the Stars novel still needs about 6 chapters. Otherworld #22 isn’t quite halfway done. I’ve left Endless Forms to languish for almost two years at this point, only a few chapters into its fourth book. I’d rather finish those first, and then work on Hidden Hills #3, Gateway #2, the Modern Minds shorts, or the Occupation Trilogy.

Yes, I still have a ton of ideas for stories, and a few of those are really great. It’s just the wrong time for them, unfortunately. It sucks, but…well, I won this thing ten years in a row. How many other authors can say that?

39

Not too long ago, I thought—even expected—that this would be the last birthday I’d have the chance to celebrate. Why bother living to see 40 if you have nothing to live for? So, at some point I decided that I wouldn’t. That, if things didn’t turn around, then I had no reason to make it to 40.

Now, I’m a year away from that milestone, beginning the last year of my 30s, and I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m turning a corner for the better. The reason I don’t have any big, fancy post for my birthday this year is because I just haven’t had time to write much of anything lately. The work never ends, against all odds. Even better that that, however, is that I’m spending the week of my 39th birthday with the woman I love.

I brought her home, and we’ll stay here, together, for a few days. Then, I’ll take her back to her home just outside Nashville, where we’ll stay the rest of the week. Together.

That’s what had been missing from my life for so long. I was always in it for me and me alone, because there wasn’t anyone else. No girlfriends, no friends at all. A family who, for the most part, was oblivious. As an agnostic (and now a technetic) I didn’t have that surety of faith so many around me could claim. No, it was just me, alone against an uncaring world.

Now, the world still doesn’t care, but she does. And that makes this a very happy birthday indeed.

Not for everyone

I’ve written a few times about what I call the “democratization” of development. Specifically, I’ve explored how giving ordinary people access to development tools (game engines, programming libraries, and so on) that used to be restricted only to large corporations benefits all of us.

Because it does. The indie gaming scene is the only place real innovation in games still takes place. Open-source software runs the world, even if you never see it. These wouldn’t be possible if we lived in the bad old days of the 90s and early 2000s, when a decent compiler and IDE cost as much as a new computer, when even the “family-friendly” console manufacturer’s answer to “how do I start making games?” told you to go to college.

We’re better than that now. And even though some of the biggest causes (Github, Minecraft, Firefox) have fallen to —rather, joined—the dark forces of wokeness, the legacy they built while they were still on the side of good remains. For all intents and purposes, programming is open to everyone.


The next question one might as is a natural follow-on to that statement. Programming is open to all, but should it be? Or is there something to be said for gatekeeping? After all, we’ve seen what democratization and inclusivity have done to RPGs. We’ve seen the massive drop in average literary quality that came with the opening of the Kindle Store.

Of course, I could never agree with that. If not for the world of open source, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I’d had to save up to buy every single development tool I ever used, well, I wouldn’t have used very many of them. Billions of people around the world can understand where I’m coming from. Many of them live in worse poverty than I ever have, but they all have the same opportunity to learn this craft; one of my coworkers lives in Nigeria, and what person who grew up in the 80s and 90s would ever expect that?

From the financial standpoint, then, democratization is undeniably a good thing. From the social perspective, it’s the same. Yes, we have trouble. Straight white men are being pushed out of tech circles everywhere you look. Those who stay are muffled into impotence by “code of conduct” censorship regimes. But programming doesn’t require a community. It creates them. And those of us who truly create through code have the power to determine who we want inhabiting our communities.

Despite the numerous problems allowing the whole world into development has caused, then, I still wouldn’t want to go back. We’d just be giving up too much.


Another question I would expect one to ask is who should learn to code. It’s a valid question, as the very phrase “learn to code” has become kind of a buzzword—merely saying it became a bannable offense on Twitter, so you know it has some positive effect. Philosophically, it cuts to the heart of democracy in a way few people understand. After all, if everyone has an opportunity, does everyone also have the responsibility?

One reason this question came to mind was because of a disagreement I had with my boss a couple of weeks ago. He insists that development is little more than physical labor, on par with, say, a factory or assembly line job. As a developer myself, I feel what I do is more of a craft, a skilled trade that is mostly mental. I don’t just write code; I solve problems. This difference of opinion is, in a sense, a different way of looking at the fundamental question, because an unskilled job is something anyone can learn how to do.

I do believe that everybody should learn about programming. Computers are such a fundamental part of modern life that we are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t understand at least how they do what they do. For the same reason, I think everyone needs a basic understanding of how a lot of other things work: internal combustion engines, power plants (of all kinds), radios, electronic circuits, indoor plumbing, and so on. Rather than teaching our children about make-believe genders, wouldn’t this be a better use of compulsory education?

That said, while we all need some knowledge, I recognize that not everyone has the ability to use that knowledge as a professional developer would. This is the crux of my disagreement. My boss thinks “developer” is a title, something you can train for and take on, the same as a sales manager.

I, on the other hand, see from personal experience that not everyone has that mindset. I’ve tried to teach programming to a few people, and it doesn’t stick. They’ve all said the same thing when I asked why: “My brain just doesn’t work that way.” And that’s really what it is. Some people are just wired differently. We have a different way of looking at the world.

You can’t chalk it up to intelligence. My brother is very smart, but he completely zones out the minute one of his favorite Youtube personalities starts talking code. Yet I’ve seen people who would struggle to reach the average in an IQ test write some masterful programs.

You can’t say it’s a mental disorder. I have only two of those: anxiety and depression. Neither are universal among programmers, though we collectively cover a huge swath of disorderly mentality. Many of the top developers truly are on the autism spectrum. One of the best who ever lived, Terry Davis, was a paranoid schizophrenic. But there are plenty who are, by all accounts, perfectly normal. I consider myself an average programmer, and I’d say I’m also near the mean in terms of mental health.

You can’t claim it’s because of demographics. Yes, I’m an American man, and most of the programmers you might know by name are the same. That’s only fair, as the US effectively invented the field, and it became male-dominated early on. (Not always, however. The inventor of COBOL was a woman, as was the first programmer who ever lived.) Yet there are great developers all over the world, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Russia’s hackers are famous…or infamous. Japan has given us some of the most talented and most devoted devs you’ll ever meet. And many great tools are being made in the Republic of China, even as the hardware they’re running on comes from the Communist usurpers on the mainland.

No, there’s something in the way certain people think that makes them good or bad at programming. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with having our differences. I know I’m hopeless at, say, drawing. I’m too squeamish to ever be a doctor or a hunter. I recognize this, and I recognize that some people might just have a problem ever learning how to code. I still believe they should understand the fundamentals, if only because that would give them a better view of the world they live in. But I can respect their wishes to never go beyond that introduction.

In the end, it’s good that development has become democratized. Whether or not everyone uses the gifts we have been given, it’s better for all of us that they are there. When programming was reserved for the elite, only those who had that status could participate. But the programmer’s mindset is not limited to the rich, the college-educated, or the Westerner. It can show up anywhere, in anyone. Much like a fantasy gift of magical talent or the Force in Star Wars, our power does not come from our upbringing. It’s a part of who we are, so it’s good that we all have the chance to discover, train, and harness it.

Summer Reading List 2022: third

Coming in under the wire this time, but I have my reasons. See yesterday’s post if you’re wondering about those.

Business

Title: The Phoenix Project
Author: Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford
Genre: Business/Fiction
Year: 2013

This one was, in a way, assigned. My predecessor as CTO, who is now an investor and board member, suggested I read it as part of training for a position that I will freely admit I am still unprepared to hold. That said, it wasn’t all bad. I could justify reading it during working hours if I had downtime, so there’s that.

The premise of the book is that it’s a guide to implementing DevOps practices, but disguised as a novel. The story follows Bill, an IT manager at an automotive corporation, as he attempts to right the sinking ship his company has become. Their latest creation, the titular Phoenix Project, is long overdue and far beyond its initial budget, but the company is in such disarray that they can’t make any headway on it. Instead, management pushes them through a disastrous deployment, and our hero is left to clean up the mess.

Yeah, I get that. And I get how it relates to my own position. We’re pretty close to that rollout right now, so the advice is…timely, I suppose.

As non-novel novels go, it’s not too bad. Characterization is scant, dialog sometimes feels forced, but the story progresses in a relatively normal manner. It reads like a novel, not a manual, although the manual qualities come out a lot more often than in other attempts at the format. (Is there a Manga Guide to DevOps yet? There should be. That might actually get me interested in the art style!)

If the book has any major failing, it’s that far too much of the “story” revolves around the Mary Sue character of Erik. He isn’t there to create or resolve conflict; his only purpose is to recite MBA mantras cloaked in mystical thinking. As you probably know, I detest mystical thinking. It’s why I couldn’t continue CBT. It’s why I tried to reinvent humanism. When people start blathering about threefold paths and pretending their way is the only way, that’s when I tune out.

So it was here. For the business improvement aspects of The Phoenix Project, I would rather read a bulleted list than the monologue of an author insert. At least then the lack of criticism and skepticism surrounding it would make sense.

Despite that, I consider this a good read, but only because it has useful information. Forget the story part. That’s nothing to write home about. But the business advice, even presented in this form, does have merit. And that’s not a bad way to end the summer.

Summer of love

As this summer nears its end—I promise I’ll get that last Summer Reading List post up before Labor Day!—I can’t help but look back and see what a difference three months makes. And, for that matter, what a difference a partner makes.

I’ve mentioned her many times on PPC, but it was always with a note of sorrow. For three years, I alternately tried and gave up on trying. Whether it was my inability to get a job, a lack of transportation, bouts of severe depression, or a global cabal attempting to establish a New World Order by creating an overblown pandemic, something always kept me from getting to her. Nothing brought me down harder than getting a simple text message (“I miss you” always did the trick) from the woman I love and knowing in my heart that I could do nothing. I couldn’t even respond with anything approaching truthfulness, because I didn’t miss her. You can’t miss what you never had, after all.

A few weeks ago, however, the stars finally aligned. I drove into a city I’ve never visited, through a storm even more turbulent than my emotions, to a nice house on a nice street. As I parked my mom’s car—the only vehicle I had available at the time—I felt like I was going to throw up, and my mind was flooded with questions, worries, doubts. Would she recognize me? Would she want to talk to me? What would her family think? It was all I could do not to turn the car back on and back out of the driveway.

She came out to meet me, but…not exactly. I’d imagined that we would embrace like long-lost lovers desperate for one another’s touch; instead, she stood a few feet away, staring at her phone. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I thought was indifference on her part was actually the same fear I felt.

Since then, we’ve spent four weekends together, and Labor Day will mark our fifth. They aren’t really “dates” in the traditional sense, although we do have date-like activities. We go to restaurants, visit landmarks, and she even convinced me to try an escape room. Twice, we’ve stayed at hotels in our respective towns, and that was out of both caution and respect. At home, we’ll watch movies or play games, but that’s so much different with her.

What I’ve learned most in this time is perspective. We’re a lot alike, and it took seeing her in person before I truly understood what that meant. The problems I thought were mine alone are, in fact, something we share. And that means we can solve them together, just like we did for that escape room. Sure, working out a future in a fast-collapsing world is much more difficult than finding the clues that unlock a door, but I don’t have to do it alone.

That’s the thing. When you’ve gone so long without any kind of hope at all, even the simple knowledge that you might not have to face the future by yourself is…well, it’s a feeling that goes beyond mere relief. It makes you want more. Not necessarily in a physical or sexual sense, the desire and passion you expect when people talk about love and relationships, but every aspect.

If I act over-romantic, it’s because of that. I want her in my life, and I would do anything to keep her, because I know what it’s like to go without. I don’t yet know if we’ll last. But I hope we do, and I know I couldn’t have done even that much when this summer started.

We will walk this road together
We will face this hand in hand
With music and love on our side,
We can’t lose this fight
Tomorrow our dream comes alive
— Dream Theater, “Ravenskill”