Categories
society

The Ways of Republican Decline

At least from the 2012 autopsy, and realistically far earlier, Republicans have been on notice that they should work to broaden support, and yet they have only done the opposite, including by supporting Donald John Trump. While demographic shifts may not be swift, they are brutal if Republicans do not change their methods and policies to be applicable to more people. Here are a few scenarios.

Marginal States Change, Solid States Stick

In this scenario, some states, those that have faster demographic and cultural shifts, see their state parties reject the national party’s policies. This is what happened prior to the Civil War, where Northern Democrats could not afford to be full-on abolitionists, but also could not afford to fully embrace expansion of slavery. There were several flavors of Democrats who were sufficiently distanced to be quasi-third-parties.

The main question here is whether those Republicans in such states hang on to national standing at all. The House being smaller than it should, thus each member representing more constituents than they should, makes it harder to not slip into obscurity as a party in such states. On the other hand, state politics and gerrymandering can help keep people relevant when and where they shouldn’t be.

There will probably be some states where there are new RINO-style politicians who diverge from the national party.

Meanwhile, states that have entrenched Republican majorities will continue to embrace the same draconian flavors of insanity. They won’t change. They will have diminished power, but only go harder on their whining and conspiratorial nonsense as a result.

Precipitous Crisis

There were several in the lead-up to the Civil War, with the war largely a result of the reaction to Abraham Lincoln’s election. If some kind of left-wing figure akin to the insanity that is Donald John Trump were elected, perhaps a full-on Marxist with a nose ring, then the deep-red states might again attempt to detach themselves from the nation. If the Democratic party were not the core of the country, Donald John Trump’s election just might have triggered secession attempts.

There are other sorts of crises imaginable, including particularly bad rulings by an out-of-step Supreme Court, which could lead to a fast failure of the Republican party. In the SCOTUS case, a ruling bad enough that it drives key departures of legislative members in order to enact changes to the law, which would be calamitous for the Republicans. That break-away group would typically be the same subset from purple states who would otherwise shift in the first scenario.

The Right Thing

This scenario has Republicans simply choosing, by and with consent of the AM dial, to shift their policies toward workable solutions where they’re currently not and creating new policies where none exist (things like environment and healthcare). They simply choose to be a moderate, right-leaning party again. They stop their voter suppression efforts and other racist modes. They choose to assimilate to American culture and norms.

(Haha, only serious:) Because, let’s face it, the Republicans in this country have a problem adjusting to the culture. They speak their own language (crying about things they don’t like as fake news rather than simply saying the truth scares them, for example). They wear their own garb (socks with sandals, open-carry of guns as fashion accessories). They are immigrants to our country far more than most immigrants are anymore.

The Current State

This gets overlooked, but underneath all the Donald John Trump bullshit going on, a lot of Republicans are mulling. Some are opposed to the president, others are still floating along in that stream but are looking for a branch sticking out into the flow, or looking for a calm to swim to shore, and more than will admit are watching ahead for rapids. All of that is doubly true for the business-class Republicans that are primarily involved because it builds and maintains a client base, it sustains their business.

What’s doubly true is that many Republicans already have deep problems with at least some of the orthodoxy of the party, whether it’s on the environment or abortion or the hypocrisy on federal spending or doing absolutely nothing about firearm safety. This is a very vulnerable party, and the worst part of it is that they are largely cornered by their own isolated media apparatus that makes it very difficult for any real movement to occur on policy without hardcore reaction from the bedrock of the party.

I continue to believe that over the next decade or two, the Republican party will either make a dramatic shift toward mainstream policy or they will cease to be a functioning party altogether. No number of judges on any courts in any land will do anything to change that, except perhaps to act as a catalyst to speed it up.


A periodic restatement: I am not a Democrat. I am generally opposed to parties, but tend to vote for Democrats because they, as a party seeking a broad coalition, represent a median position that attempts to move forward on a variety of important policy issues. The Republican parties of the past might have been able to earn my vote in some cases, but the modern Republican party has repeatedly and intentionally shown themselves to be supporters of scoundrelry.

That said, and my opposition to parties notwithstanding, if parties there will be, there needs to be a minimum of two viable parties. And if the Republicans pulled their heads from their rears, sobered up, they could again be one of those. But they have shown no symptoms of recovery. And for that, I oppose them utterly.

Categories
society

Government and Organizational Bandwidth

The idea of bandwidth in computing is how much data can move between two points in a given period of time. Usually we measure that in bits per second, but either of the measures can be any volume, depending on the application. For example, human knowledge might be measured in some large measure of bits per decade or century.

As our country has grown, part of our government has as well. The executive branch has ballooned in size, and not just official workers, but contractors. Meanwhile, the other two branches have not grown nearly as much. While there are somewhat more staff in Congress than in past decades, and while staffing can do a lot in helping legislative bandwidth, it can’t do as much as more members of congress and the senate can.

The same goes for the judiciary. While the Supreme Court can mostly limit its caseload artificially, doing so does not make the law better and only makes the caseload manageable for so few members of a court. The subordinate courts, meanwhile, have their own bandwidth issues.

For any organization, there is only so much that bandwidth expansion can do. But when there is an obvious bandwidth problem, adding more people is the solution. Expanding the Supreme Court and generally improving the organization of lower courts, without regard to the current political issues with Republican court-packing, makes sense. The court should be bigger, to allow for more cases to be heard.

But wait, if you add more justices won’t they all ask questions and all have to sit and vote and learn all the ins and outs of every case? Not necessarily. Each case could be assigned to a subset of justices. A full court would hear cases of original jurisdiction, of course, but those are rare. For appellate cases, some mixture of justices would hear arguments and vote on the outcome, and, when warranted, vote to pull in the full court on issues of particular weight or that were highly contentious.

Similar efforts already work in the legislature. The committee-to-body legislative and oversight efforts are well known and have worked well. The full chamber doesn’t have to drill down on an issue, but relies on a subset of its membership to do so and report back.

The Senate is a strange case, as expanding it would require amending the Constitution. But it could be done, keeping equal suffrage among the states, while increasing the number of senators per state to three, four, or even five. The larger number of members would be able to create more committee work with a better understanding. And more members means lobbying power is diminished, as they would have to lobby even more members.

In the House, expansion serves another purpose, which is to bring the members closer to their constituents. Each member serves an increasing number of citizens, who have less and less voice with their government as population grows. By expanding the House, more concerns can be heard by more representatives, which will help to make a more responsive government that serves the people.


The election is in about three weeks.

Categories
warpath

ISIS versus Al Qaeda

I kept hearing about how ISIS must be the batshittiest of crazy ever (at least of modern pseudo-Islamist terrorist and paramilitary groups) because Al Qaeda, the leading brand, has called them out for being too extreme. Whether this is all in the cynical fun of television news, or whether it is a serious point meant to illustrate just how much batshit these guys have stockpiled is unclear.

I think it’s the latter. I think the media actually trusts Al Qaeda’s judgment on this one. Like listening to the guy with singed eyebrows when he tells you (in a maniacal giggle) not to try to relight that firework, son. Shrug.

The media probably isn’t allowed to admit to itself, much less to the public, that radical groups that survive long enough to acquire the kind of cachet that Al Qaeda has tend to become more legitimate over time.

The biggest single reason is the money. Once they have the money, it becomes hard to justify the same tactics that were driven by lack of funds.

Where you couldn’t afford to buy most black market weapons, with money you can. Where you didn’t care about pissing off non-violent religious groups because they were part of the problem, now you’re trading money with them to try to shape the community influence and culture.

The second reason is that the former leadership was either captured or killed. The second generation, seeing the effectiveness with which the top row got wiped from the slate, doesn’t want to be dead or locked up. In part this is about the organization and their loyalty to it: they know how much internal turmoil and struggle that leadership changes put on an organization. And of course, it’s also self-preservation.

So just for the record, Al Qaeda saying ISIS is a heaping pile of the bat’s previous meals should not only be taken as one extreme group pointing at another, but as one naturally self-legitimizing group that is in fact less extreme than even a few years ago.

Which gets to the second part of the relationship. Groups like ISIS typically break off from groups like Al Qaeda, for the very reason that a group like Al Qaeda will condemn the extremity of a group like ISIS. The minority of a maturing group will wish to continue with the old tactics of utter destruction and murder. And they will feel frustrated, cuckolded by the new fold that the group is gravitating toward.

They see the new regime as a sellout, a slight against what the organization should be. So they split off. Maybe they are more extreme by a bit. Maybe even the earlier form of the originating organization prohibited some behaviors considered too much, and the new group adopts them. Maybe they do things to try to gain recruits away from the original group. They have to have a selling point, of course. So they tend to use the idea, “we’ll jihad the infidels twice as hard as anyone, or your money back.”

But as long as we cannot understand such organizations as a society, we will continue to allow our leaders to understand them badly on our behalf. So we should not buy into hyped up notions of evil or of it being all about religion. We should try to understand why terrorism exists, how it arises and how it passes away.

If you reread this post and insert Tea Party and Republican or some of the newer ecology-minded groups and Greenpeace, or basically any social movement ever (oh, and also replace terrorism/violence with the relevant activities of those groups; small detail, that), you should see the same basic pattern of organizational development at work.

Okay, but what about situations where legitimization does not quell the violent urge? These organizations are typically when the only legitimacy is the violence itself. Slave owners, for example. Dictatorships where the people would obviously change their government but for the force of violence. And so on. They are not entirely legitimate. They are legitimate toward their peers (e.g., other nation-states), but not toward their citizens.

Prison culture often hinges on this facet. If the main understanding of prisoners is that the institution is illegitimate (toward them) and only existing by violence or threat of violence, then prisons will be violent. If the prisoners have respect for law, believe there is a mission of rehabilitation and service to the prison, the violence will be minimized (barring the presence of other violent forces). We also see this in financial institutions (including otherwise legitimate governments faced with the opportunity to sell natural resources to private companies), which often undertake economic violence toward those it feels no need to act legitimately toward (i.e., the poor).

Categories
software

Ownership and Inertia in an Open World

One problem that crops up in open source is ownership. If the user has a bug, and it’s not clear where that bug lives (ie, in the actual application or one of its libraries) it can be difficult to get traction toward a fix. This is true even if the user/bug advocate is somewhat knowledgeable about the environment.

The bug advocate goes to the developer community of the application that exhibits the problem, explains the details they uncovered, only to be met with a kind of skepticism or hunch on the part of the developers that it’s Not Our Bug.

The bug advocate goes to the developers of the library that may have the problem, and it’s the same thing: downstream is Doing It Wrong.

Neither sets of developers really wants to step on the territory of the other set more than they have to.

It can get worse. If downstream commits to an idea and tries to convince upstream, only to fail to walk away with a good outcome, they may fork or at least extend the upstream. And the next time, even if it’s a different upstream, they may be faster to fork/extend than to try to engage.

And that leads to the other problem of inertia.

A hardened outlook by downstream or upstream against third-party interactions can be a sort of inertia. Often times there are perceived allies, enemies (though probably not so harsh, simply seeing them as uncooperative), and neutral (or maybe nearly-abandoned) projects.

But there are other inertiæ as well. User inertia can thwart advancements in a project, as can the inertia borne out of developer visions. Often these can be overcome through more liberal forking policies.

Liberal forking policies are great and the best way to see projects advance, but they are hard to justify when the projects in question are very monolithic and complex. Forking the Linux kernel, for example, is not something anyone would do lightly. Small software is more liberal about forks, where the amount of code in question, and its complexity, is low.

Take Conky configurations and scripts, for example. There are thousands floating around, and it’s relatively simple to take one up and modify it to taste. As none have very widespread adoption, there will be little friction or burden in a fork.

But if you want to make fundamental changes to Cairo, so much code depends on it that it’s a major undertaking for changing more than amounts to a few minor patches.

Reddit is open-source, but it doesn’t see much third-party adoption because there are few projects that benefit from reuse of its code that aren’t full implementations of its services. If it is possible that some of the code from Reddit can be less-integrated, it would likely see more reuse and therefore more participation by third parties.

The bottom line is that while open source does have many benefits, it can have more benefits if we can come to terms with how to best dispose a project to participation and can work out some of the ownership issues that do thwart greater participation.