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The Chinese Code Like This

Posted by Ogged
on 07.02.16

Most programmers are told that, when writing code, they should prefer comprehensibility to cleverness. And if cleverness is unavoidable or irresistible, to comment the code so the next person who works with it can tell what the hell is going on. These are fine rules. Things start to get interesting when certain bits of cleverness become part of the idiom of a "language community." Then you can start arguing about where something falls on the clear/jargon/obscure spectrum. Consider a naive way to let a variable keep its value if it has one, or to assign it a value if it doesn't.

var x;
if (x !== undefined) {
x = x;
} else {
x = 5;
}

Clear even to non-programmers what's going on there. In javascript-world, that's almost always written like this:

var x = x || 5;

The first time you see this, you say "huh?" And then you realize (or are told) that javascript will evaluate the OR statement on the right of the equals sign, and if x is true (that is, not one of several "falsy" values), it will be assigned to x, otherwise the next "truthy" value (in this case 5) will be. This seems like a clear case of "jargon" to me: not intuitive, but something you should be familiar with if programming is your field. It even has a name: short-circuit evaluation.

Where things get really interesting, at least to me, is something I hadn't anticipated: we have a team of programmers in China, and their code is clever, but makes no attempt to be readable. Here's one typical example:

Tooltip.prototype.replaceArrow = function(delta, dimension, position) {
this.arrow().css(position, delta ? (50 * (1 - delta / dimension) + "%") : '')
}

If you're a programmer, you can tell what's going on, but I can almost guarantee that you had to read it twice. But I wonder if they look at us and wonder why we write kindergarten javascript, while we look at them and wonder why they write unreadable code. It just struck me (maybe this is a high on pot kind of striking) that this whole other community, in the conventional sense, has a whole other set of conventions even for coding.

Or maybe everyone else in China thinks these guys write obscure code. Could be!


 

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The English Are Weird Like This

Posted by Ogged
on 07.01.16

 

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Scheiße show

Posted by Ben
on 07.01.16

WTF, Austria?

(Is there a non-Denglish German word for "shitshow"? I thought first "Scheißespiel" but it seems as if that might be something unsavory.)


 

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Shit show

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.01.16

E. Messily wrote, "someday you should write a post about the never ending disaster that is the impending Rio olympics" and then she supplied a few links for me.

"is this worse than most olympics? I feel like most olympics are shit shows. The winter olympics in Russia," I wrote back.

"they didn't use to be? back in the olden days when countries were willing to eat a bunch of costs for the sake of world citizenship, or something. yeah Russia was bad. But I think this is worse. Raw sewage!" she replied.

Today's the day!


 

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I can't decide if the post title should be "Not Trumped Up" or "Trumped Up"

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.30.16

Trump sounds rapey. Jeffery Epstein is probably a monster.

Via J, Robot


 

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Deluge - Chapters 13 and 14

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.30.16

(Heebie - I dropped the ball on posting this. Out of town guests have left and I should be more on my game now.)

Dalriata writes: Versailles was the hope of the world: the victors could finally, after so many hard years, come together and define a new world order, one removed from the jostling between great powers that had defined the last half century and led to such destruction. This hope never really came together: it was not the peace conference that was needed but merely the one that was deserved, an incoherent jumble of idealism and conflicting interests. All eyes looked to Wilson to define this new order and he failed miserably, unable to square his stated principle of self-determination and his hopes of preparing an order centered around a new American kind of imperialism with the needs of his exhausted European allies.

Wilson travelled to Paris personally in December 1918 to extract concessions not from the defeated Germans but from his Entente allies, whose influence he thought was most threatening to his ideals. A "peace without victory" would not allow the Britain and France to emerge from the war stronger. When they get down to negotiating the details, the three big powers had clearly staked out positions that they try to reinforce whenever possible. Britain wanted a world where its empire could be reinforced with American power on their side, the League only a rubber stamp. The French, having a much smaller moat than the US or UK (and awkwardly in Germany territory, at that), saw everything through the lens of collective security. And Wilson--I'll refer to the US position as "Wilson" as he very much was negotiating as himself--wanted a system that guaranteed the smaller nations as a way to limit the powers of the traditional colonizers, a position not really held with any sort of consistent ideological backing. (The western powers were concerned about Japan, but their negotiators understood to appease America to strengthen their hand.)

Wilson opened with a weird proposal that distinguished between "small" and "great" powers. The great powers would have permanent representation in a League Council so they could prevent the small powers from using their grievances to force a wider war, avoiding another Sarajevo. However, the great powers would be required to safeguard the common interest by providing most of the military enforcement. This was scrapped in restricting permanent membership to the Big Five, with them having collectively a majority vote. As France saw it, the League was "the outcome of this war" and should be reified as permanent reward. No one liked the idea of Germany becoming recognized as a future great power. In retrospect, it's amusing to see how a similar structure was shamelessly used in the UN after WWII, with China and the USSR substituted in for Italy and Japan.

Wilson also had some hifalutin idea that the League should be restricted to nations with "popular self-government." Characteristically, he can never quite express what that means but, like pornography, he knew it when he'd see it. Germany, after all, had a democratic parliament, whatever good that did them. In the end they decided to restrict membership to independent nations, with a complex procedural song and dance to allow India in to placate the British.

Given their self-interests, the French originally held a fairly internationalist perspective, floating the idea of collective security managed by an international army--like a more powerful version of the UN Peacekeepers. Alas, a peacetime army outside of their sovereignty was beyond the pale for the UK and Wilson, who treated France to some bad cop/good cop negotiating: Britain threatened to pull out of the League and retreat to an Anglophone bipartite alliance, allowing Wilson to force a compromise. He did back off on Entente disarmament--the French were woried they'd be forced to disarm to a degree that would make them vulnerable to future Continental predations. The end result was that disarmament levels were left vague and pushed back to future treaties (think the Washington Naval Conference--partially inspired by a British desire to keep the American navy from outpacing them).

Collective security hinged on Article 10 of the League Covenant, which provided an arbitration mechanism for when Council members had disputes. Parties to a war had to submit their cases to arbitration before engaging in conflict. Rulings were required to be unanimous, as if that ever works. Belgium did try to propose reducing it to a majority vote, but the British and Wilson nixed that--it was imperative to them that the great powers not be forced to act against their intents by the League. If someone went to war outside the league structure, they could expect an economic blockade--an odd choice given Wilson's stated aim of freedom of the seas.

So we end up with a treaty that seems to be satisfying British and American interests more than French--the British after all got to keep the Germany Fleet in Scapa Flow. (As it would turn out, "in" is not the same as "on.") The French had no reason to believe that they would be safe with the other democracies able to retreat beyond the waves and not likely to be coerced to act by the League, so we end up with the most notable feature of Versailles: the punitive treatment of Germany at France's behest. The Rhine is not so good a defense when it's deep in Germany, hence the French insistence that it be demilitarized with international control of strategic bridgeheads.

Tooze discusses how this compares to the situation after the Second World War. The destruction of the First, as unimaginable as it was, was nothing compared to the second. The victorious Allies realized they could not repeat the mistakes of the first war by half-assing this; Germany had to be torn apart and restructured into a form that could not be militarily adventurous in Europe. That this was done in a brutal, horrific way should not be overlooked. But at Versailles, there was no appetite for such a costly solution, hence the claim that the peace was "too kind for all that it was too cruel." But we should not be so quick to compare these two outcomes, given that the existence of a strong Russia in the 1940s, in ideological opposition to the West, entirely changes the strategic calculus.

Wilson agreed to give France some of its desires. It got Alsace-Lorraine back without a plebiscite, as that was seen as correcting a historic wronging. Wilson also said that "never again" would France have to be afraid of being "at the frontier of freedom." As Tooze notes, this almost sounds like the rhetoric of NATO 30 years later, but Wilson quickly retreated to his equivocating anti-imperialism. At one point, it actually looked like Lloyd George was open to a US/UK/France trilateral agreement, almost forsaking the League, but Clemenceau surprisingly shied from it in favor of Rhineland demilitarization and French access to Saar coal to make up for its productive capacity lost in the invasion. The French had experienced a war in a way that the Americans and even the British could apparently not comprehend, and it was first in their mind that that not be repeated. To prevent a public breakdown in relations among the Big Three, the Rhineland was demilitarized and the Saarland separated from Germany in a weird temporary international mandate.

As for the East, France needed a counterweight against Germany. The worst possibility would be if it allied with its former enemy Russia, another loser in this new order--a fear eventually proven temporarily correct by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This counterweight was provided by a cordon sanitaire of smaller states with no great love for either old empire. Ironically given Wilson's love of self-determination, of all the denigrations of Germany this bothered the Anglophones the most.

The main sticking point for the Czechs was the Sudetenland, an ethnically German area more closely tied economically to the other Bohemian lands. It had never been part of Germany so there was no reason--beyond some contradictory American thoughts of self-determination--to award it to the defeated. Anyway, the Americans had made promises after the bizarre episode of the Czech Legion. However, Germany didn't push for it; it's ahistoric to project the 1930s backwards.

Determining the borders of the revived Polish state was more complicated. Silesia was a valuable, integral economic unit with German and Polish areas. Dividing it up fairly and sensibly generated a new level of technical statecraft. (Tooze, unlike Keynes, thinks they actually did a pretty good job of this.) Also of concern was Polish access to the sea, blocked by the German Prussian and Baltic lands. The victors' compromise was to make the port of Danzig, ethnically German, into an international "free city" accessible to both parties. In the long run, this does not work. (Contrast the horrific ethnic cleansing of the Baltic Germans in 1945.)

In this, we can again see the stage set for the next big conflict. On both the west and the east there are lands that the Germans see as rightfully theirs. The Polish case is particularly worrisome--the pathetic and explicit racism of the western leaders shows how they viewed the Polish state as a lost cause when they should have been strengthening it. (The history of the interwar Polish Republic is bizarre and worth a look; it was a nation that made up for its strategic weakness by relentless military adventurism. Sometimes it even worked.) In no possible world would Germany take this well, but at Versailles the concerns of Germany were secondary to balancing between Wilson and the Entente. A world where Germany was no longer an imperial power but merely an equal to Poland was just part of the new order. German acceptance of its humiliating loss without being invaded would be further weakened by the immense reparation payments, covered in the next chapter.


 

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Quick Links

Posted by Ogged
on 06.30.16

--There's no "obesity paradox." Being obese is bad for you (although being a little fat isn't so bad for you).

--The NY Times, in its signature "as if observed by a Martian" way, examines vagina-grooming habits, and even manages some fear-mongering. Folliculitis! Isn't that usually fatal?


 

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Guest Post - Guts

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.29.16

E. Messily writes: This dude is a journalist who got a job as a prison guard and did it for 4 months to find out what all goes on inside a prison. Turns out some shit goes down in prison! (also, warning, this article is extremely long and depressing.)

Heebie's take: Yes, you probably all read this by now but there's been a lot of big news lately that took precedence. Anyway, super long and depressing!


 

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Cain And Abel

Posted by Ogged
on 06.29.16

This setup will of minimal interest to most of you, but just as I'm always amazed anew that local avuncular weatherman Tom Skilling is the brother of evil Enronian Jeff Skilling, now I learn that smiling local chef of some national renown Rick Bayless is the brother of the dickish sport commentator of some national fame, Skip Bayless. Ok, none of you care, but there must be other famous good brother/bad brother pairs.


 

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Abortions for all!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.27.16

OMG I'm so relieved!


 

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Jesse Williams, Simone Biles

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.27.16

This speech by Jesse Williams from the BET awards show is going around my FB feed. Mostly young, former students, minority, generally apolitical young adults. It's striking to hear this strike a chord with so many of them.

If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

It's a very good speech.

Also Simone Biles' floor routine is blowing up my FB feed:


Ed to add: White people love Biles, according to my feed, I should say. Not the same people as love Jesse Williams.


 

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This Is Not A Good Idea

Posted by Ogged
on 06.27.16

At my work, we have open office seating, which is so obviously horrible that I'm not even going to google the ostensible rationale for it ("collaboration," probably, which has another, and entirely appropriate, valence). People talk to each other at full volume, they have phone conversations at full volume, and one clown even took an hour-long conference call while sitting across from me. Yes, of course I use headphones, but I remain morally offended. As far as I can tell, there are no offices anywhere. My manager's boss's boss sits a few rows behind me, and I haven't seen any offices when I've been on other floors. No wonder so many ISIS recruits are young professionals.


 

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Now We Can Vote

Posted by Ogged
on 06.26.16

Which is the more appropriate Brexit video? In the first one, the guy could well be dead, which maybe is to be determined in the case of Brexit. The second one is a great example of the impotent rage boomerang, but it lacks the neat "exit" of the first. Tough call! We need a strong leader to help us decide.


 

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