A Repudiation of Donald Trump

So, it happened: The United States made the biggest mistake in its 240-year history, cutting off its nose to spite its face and letting emotion override logic. Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States and while there are still some potential challenges to this result, including ongoing recounts planned for three narrowly-decided swing states and the potential for the Electoral College, however unorthodox and contentious this would be, to vote against Trump, I think that the US needs to resign itself to at least four years of the most unprecedently bad choice for the position of President in its entire history. I fail to see even a single positive facet of Trump’s campaign and an extensive list of negatives.

Trump is, by any reasonable definition of the word, actually a fascist. He has appointed a white supremacist, Steve Bannon (who is incidentally a far-right, echo-chamber bottom-of-the-barrel propagandist), as his Senior Counselor. His entire campaign was built around palingenetic populism (“Make America Great Again!”, “Build the wall!”) and backed by ultranationalists which any person I would consider reasonable would repudiate, rather than embrace. He has threatened to imprison his main opponent and to loosen libel laws so that he can sue media outlets like the New York Times with impunity. We should not be normalising Trump. We should not be rationalising Trump. We made the same mistakes in the past and suffered the consequences for it.

But there’s more. Trump has exhibited a horrendous amount of misogyny, culminating in sexual predation. He has also chosen a Vice President nominee with barbaric views on the LGBT community, who funds organisations who attempt gay conversion therapy, along with other individuals who seek to disenfranchise LGBT individuals.

One of the biggest complaints that Trump supporters made during the election was that Clinton was “crooked”, yet Trump has just settled a $25 million fraud suit against Trump University and has over 70 lawsuits pending against him. That’s before you get into the conflicts of interests that Trump has, from his refusal to put his assets into a blind trust, to inviting his daughter (who will, incidentally, be one of the people looking after Trump’s assets) to a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, to appointing lobbyists and multi-billionaire tycoons with vested interests to positions within his cabinet.

Then there’s the views of Trump and his cabinet on science. Trump is an open anti-vaxxer and climate change denier, contrary to the views of the vast majority of qualified scientists and has already made moves to appoint cabinet members based on those misconceptions. Other members of his cabinet are creationists. All of this points to what will be an incredibly hostile environment to scientists within the next few years.

And let’s not forget Trump’s narcissism, this being a man who stays up to engage in Twitter wars against former beauty queens and respectful criticism of his Vice President nominee. This is a man who is meant to represent the United States of America on the world stage. Does that seem like normal behaviour to you? Does that seem like the actions of a man you can trust talking to other world leaders?

Talking about foreign policy, Trump represents other dangers there as well. He seeks to hold NATO to ransom, while implicitly supporting the imperialism of Vladimir Putin. Putin has likely been salivating over the prospect of rolling T-90s straight into Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius with only nominal resistance. Furthermore, by promoting isolationism (a policy which has had an inauspicious history with respect to the United States), he has created an impetus for several other nations, including several European nations, South Korea, Japan and even Saudi Arabia, to build independent nuclear arsenals. This is contrary to US foreign policy for the last six decades.

Even the elements of Trump’s campaign that could most easily be spun into a positive carry suspicious undertones. He is an ostensibly successful businessman, but did so based on inherited money and has been bankrupted six times. He is an ostensible political outsider, despite schmoozing with politicians for decades (including the Clintons) and immediately going against his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” by appointing political insiders to his cabinet positions.

The way to fix a broken window is not to burn down the whole house. And voting Trump is like not only burning down the house, but taking a dump on the remains. I can only hope that Europe takes note of this and does not make the same mistakes itself. But I am not holding out hope for that.

 

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The 2015 Formula One Season and Other Thoughts

After the return of Formula One two weeks ago, in which we saw Mercedes take an imperious one-two and looking unassailable this year, we’ve had a more surprising result today in Malaysia, where Ferrari took the fight to Mercedes, with Sebastian Vettel exploiting what appears to be a slippery chassis and an improved engine to win decisively against Hamilton and Rosberg. Kimi Raikkonen compounded Ferrari’s success, despite his misfortunes in qualifying and suffering a puncture during the race to take a solid fourth place. After seeing Hamilton romp home to take victory a fortnight ago in Australia, I was concerned that we would see a domineering season from a single driver, with Rosberg, possibly chastised from falling short at the end of last season, perhaps left to pick up the scraps. However, if Ferrari can maintain some degree of consistency about their performances, it might bode better in terms of intrigue throughout the season. At this point, I still expect Mercedes to win the World Constructor’s Championship with greater consistency from both their drivers, but if Vettel and Raikkonen can deliver performances at tracks that don’t have such a focus on top speed, they may present themselves as at least dark horses for the World Driver’s Championship.

After Ricciardo’s spectacular performances last season, taking three victories in a season where barely anybody else even came close to snatching glory from the Mercedes, he has become team leader at Red Bull with the move of Vettel to Ferrari. Daniil Kvyat, formerly of Toro Rosso, joins him and has acquitted himself well so far, despite reliability problems which prevented him from taking the grid in Australia. After so many years in the previous naturally-aspirated formula at the top of Formula One, Red Bull have struggled to regain their pace with the turbocharged Renault engines. Reliability gremlins struck both cars in Australia and the Renault engine, even when it is working, still appears to be down on power versus the Mercedes and an improved Ferrari. Unlike last season, where Ricciardo achieved victories, I think that this season will see Red Bull lucky to battle for podiums, more regularly scoring in the middle of the points.

Red Bull’s sister team, Toro Rosso, shares the Renault engines and also suffered some mechanical problems in Australia at the hands of Max Verstappen. Verstappen has drawn a considerable amount of press for his age, being only 17 years old, by a long way the youngest ever Formula One driver. The son of former Formula One journeyman Jos Verstappen, Max has a notorious lack of experience in single-seater racing, with only a single season of Formula 3 under his belt and joins Formula One after a year of test driving for Toro Rosso in 2014. However, on current evidence in the Formula One races so far, he has quite a bit of natural pace, matching his substantially more experienced team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr., another new entrant and also son to a famous racing driver father. Despite the limited experience of both drivers, they have quickly brought the fight to the other teams, with Sainz scoring in both of his two finishes and Verstappen only being denied a points finish in his race due to an engine failure.

Williams, regularly best of the rest in 2014 and unlucky not to score a victory on occasions, might have to retemper their expectations in 2015. They still have the proven Mercedes engine, have retained both Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas from last year and still appear to have a fair degree of pace, but with Ferrari looking stronger than last year, Williams will more likely be caught up in a scrap with the likes of Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Lotus – when their car works properly – for the middle points positions. This is slightly disappointing for Bottas, who scored several well-deserved podiums last season and looks like a likely race winner in the future, but the team may be able to take some solace in that they are likely to be at the front of the battle between the teams that aren’t Mercedes or Ferrari.

Closer to the back of the points positions, Sauber appear to have a quicker car than last year, although they are embroiled in a legal battle with Giedo van der Garde over contract issues that looks like it’ll be a slow burner. Considering one of the drivers that they did choose, I would question their decision not to give van der Garde one of the seats this year; Marcus Ericsson, whose results last year were underwhelming even by the standards of the Caterham team and who didn’t cover himself in glory in the lower single-seater formulae, was signed up in his place. The other choice of driver for the team, Felipe Nasr, is more sensible, despite Nasr being a rookie; he did win a championship at Formula Three and came third in last year’s GP2 series. Nevertheless, given the prominent change in livery for Sauber, now proudly displaying the colours of Banco del Brasil, one strongly suspects that both drivers were picked for their ability to bring in sponsorship dollars, since Sauber is suspected to be in a weak position financially.

Another team rumoured to be weak financially and who will also be scrapping for the lower points positions this season is Force India. Their driver line-up, with the podium-scoring Sergio Perez and the pole position-attaining Nico Hulkenberg, is more experienced than that of Sauber, but their car, despite having a Mercedes engine, does not look especially fast. Somewhat benefited in the race in Australia by virtue of reliability where for others it was lacking, Force India managed a double points finish, but I suspect they will struggle to keep that up during the rest of the season.

At least, though, for all their financial woes, Sauber and Force India are performing better than McLaren, who look like they’re going to have an annus horribilis. With the conclusion of McLaren’s contract with Mercedes, McLaren have gone back to a partner who has presented them with considerable success in the past, with Honda engines in the back of their car. Unfortunately, though, the Honda engine is suffering from a distinct lack of development versus Mercedes, Ferrari and even Renault and is by far the least powerful engine on the grid right now. Trundling around at the back is not a place where we have often seen McLaren and the car, while reportedly nice to drive, is unbefitting of the most experienced line-up on the grid, with double World Champion Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, also a World Champion. McLaren will be lucky to score points this season and have already struggled to complete races.

One of the feel-good stories of the pre-season was Manor Marussia’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes to present two cars at Australia. Unfortunately, having completed no testing and with all software wiped from their computers in preparation for auction, neither car turned a wheel in Australia and it had to wait until Malaysia until we had a full grid of cars ready to take the start. Will Stevens, who competed in one race last season and Roberto Merhi, another rookie driver, have both been signed up to drive for the team, but it remains to be seen whether the position is a poisoned chalice or not. The car, a derivative of the 2014 Marussia, was not on the pace in Malaysia, barely scraping through the 107% rule in free practice, although Merhi’s completion of the race shows that the car may well have reliability on its side. Even as a fan of the plucky underdog, the pace of the car looks prohibitively slow and with the exit of Caterham, who had gone from underdogs in their early seasons to perennial underachievers by the time of their demise, Manor will largely be in a lonely race with themselves. Things are not looking good for the smaller teams.

In terms of tracks for this season, we have gained another classic track in the Mexican Grand Prix, being held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, but temporarily lost the German Grand Prix for the first time since 1960. The loss of the German Grand Prix marks another struggle for the classic European tracks where so much of Formula One’s history lies and while the move to new markets has occasionally given us gems like Sepang or Circuit of the Americas, I do think it’s terrible that Germany doesn’t have a Grand Prix this year for financial concerns, despite having three successful German drivers on the grid, while Abu Dhabi, a city in a desert only notable for its oil reserves and the obvious artifice of its settlements, maintains its end-of-season place at a dull, largely featureless track that has been site of some of the most boring races of the last five years, where not even seasons coming down the wire can improve the racing itself.

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In other news, the BBC finally bit the bullet and sacked Jeremy Clarkson after a career of controversy. To be fair, even as a Top Gear aficionado, from what we have been presented with from reports of the incident between Clarkson and the BBC producer, Oisin Tymon, Clarkson deserved his sacking; assault on a co-worker is very difficult to condone. Nevertheless, though, it looks like it’s the end of Top Gear as we know it; the ribald, politically incorrect humour of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May will be unlikely to be continued on the BBC. Plenty of names have already been mooted for a completely new set of presenters, several who would be good choices for an informative car show, but few who would present anything like what we have seen since Clarkson took the reins in 2002.

The bookie’s favourite at the moment is Guy Martin, perennial Isle of Man TT competitor, lorry mechanic and occasional TV presenter. To be fair, Guy Martin would be one of the best choices the BBC could make; not only does Guy have a quirky personality that is interesting to watch, he is genuinely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about motor vehicles and has exceptional mechanical sympathy. This would make him a great choice for an informative car show, as I would suspect the BBC would try to retool the show towards, but I’m not sure that Guy would actually bite – after all, it could affect his ability to race successfully at several of the motorcycle road races that take place during the year in Northern Ireland, some of which provide a lead up to the TT.

My fear is that the BBC will bow to pressure from outspoken minorities and take the politically correct route unnecessarily. This includes the lobby to have a woman back on the show – several women did present the show during the original run of Top Gear, but the show was retooled precisely because the original formula had poor ratings and apart from Sabine Schmitz who is already too busy with D-Motor on German television, I can’t think of many female candidates that wouldn’t just be there to tick diversity boxes. Meanwhile, Clarkson will likely find himself a home somewhere on Sky, given his already comfy relationship with several organs of the Murdoch empire, possibly with Richard Hammond and James May in tow, drawing away viewers from the BBC and causing a crisis in an already battered broadcaster.

Finally, I see that Ted Cruz has announced his nomination as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. I already made my views on Ted Cruz very clear earlier this month, but I hate the man even more now – he was dangerous enough as the head of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space without going for the Presidency as well. While the other Republican candidates look more appealing than Ted Cruz, that isn’t exactly a difficult feat, since lighting my pubes on fire would be more appealing to me than voting for Ted Cruz.

From an objective point of view, it looks like the Republicans will present their third terrible candidate in a row in presidential elections; unfortunately, I don’t have enough confidence in the Democrats to present anything better than a mediocre candidate (because perish the thought that they’d actually be sensible and pick Elizabeth Warren) and I don’t have enough confidence in the American populace not to go for the Republican candidate out of spite. Prove me wrong, America; I’m begging for you to prove me wrong.

Why the Philae lander came at just the right time – a social perspective from a science enthusiast

By now, it has been more than a week since the Philae lander was released from the Rosetta space probe and began its journey onto the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The landing didn’t go without trouble, starting with the reported failure of the gas thruster meant to help keep it on the surface before the lander was even released and ending with Philae bouncing twice on the surface of the comet and ending up in the shadow of a cliff, greatly reducing the amount of solar exposure available to the lander. Nevertheless, the mission could be regarded as having succeeded in some respect already, even if conditions do not improve with regard to the sunlight falling on Philae; after all, it did retrieve some potentially useful results from its experimental apparatus before running out of battery power.

Frankly, though, as impressive as the science and engineering of Philae is, a lot of words have been spoken about that aspect long before this post by people far more experienced and talented in those fields than I am. What I want to talk about are some social implications of the fortuitous timing of Philae’s success. The timing of Philae’s mission came in the wake of two unfortunate accidents in the United States by privately-funded aerospace ventures: one the controlled explosion of a failed launch of an Antares rocket developed by Orbital Sciences and designated to send supplies to the International Space Station; the other being the recent crash of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, VSS Enterprise, in the Mojave Desert during testing, an accident which led to the death of one of the pilots. At a time when funding for space exploration is hard to come by, these accidents looked embarrassing at best. Rosetta and Philae were launched on their course ten years ago, but arrived in time to at least salvage one reasonable success for space exploration at a time when some people have been quick to criticise it, especially those always willing to fight for petty political victories in matters that mean little.

In that vein, another social implication of Rosetta and Philae comes courtesy of their existence as components of a mission of the European Space Agency. The ESA, funded partially by funds forthcoming from each participating government and partially by the European Union, is a demonstration of the effectiveness of European cooperation at a time when several Eurosceptic groups seek to convince us that such cooperation will lead us nowhere. At a time when these groups have motivations that are at best questionable, like Ukip, while others look like straight-up crypto-fascists, like France’s Front National, I think any sort of success that can show them that Europe can work better if there is sufficient motivation to get things done is useful and desirable. That this happened because a set of scientists and engineers from different countries ignored the call of jingoism and pointless ring-fencing further reinforces my point about these people being willing to fight only in the sake of petty politics when more important things lie at stake. The Rosetta mission – and the ESA in general – shows us the potential and power of cooperation and should be taken as a good example of what the likes of Ukip and FN would take away from us if they were to take power in their respective countries.

The Internet, Personal Privacy & Governments Overstepping The Line

Around the start of the twenty-first century, I privately considered that the following decade would be an Age of Decline of sorts, where the optimism that had marked the New Year’s celebrations would prove unfounded. It didn’t take long for my speculation to be demonstrated as correct, as the tragic results of the events of the 11th of September, 2001 proved. These events struck fear into the hearts of many of the denizens of America, and that fear seemed to start what seemed to be the general feeling of the remainder of the decade: An oppressive and depressing feeling of powerlessness that seemed to blanket society.

In the years that followed, the United States plunged itself into two wars whose military objectives were quickly achieved, but soon became long, slogging occupations with substantially less focus. Further terrorist attacks occurred over the world, including the events of the 7th of July, 2005 in London. Ultimately, having (almost) started with the catastrophe of September 11, the decade was capped at the other end with the fiasco of the depression caused by the lack of regulation on bank investments, which gutted the economy of much of the Western world. This did not surprise me; I had been expecting a severe economic decline to occur for about five years by then, but it did take many other people by surprise and left the economies of several countries, including that of Ireland, where I live, in ruin.

Fast-forward to 2013. The economic crisis caused by the banking fiasco of 2008 continues, with a widening gap between the richest people and the majority of us which threatens to create a new Gilded Age. A disproportionate amount of the punishment has been levelled at younger adults, especially those under 30 years old. Those who instigated the crisis have faced substantially less punishment, and in comparison with those of us who were hit hard by the crisis, they appear to have got off effectively scot-free.

What’s more, the feeling of oppression and powerlessness which appeared to prevail during the last decade hasn’t disappeared; if anything, it’s become more potent. It is in the midst of all of this that it transpires that the government of the United States has used electronic surveillance technology to spy on its own populace and that of other Western countries, ostensibly in the continuing War on Terror.

This sort of behaviour reads like something out of a wild conspiracy theory posited by an unhinged libertarian. I do not usually go in for conspiracy theories, believing them to be convoluted and unconvincing, so when an organisation actually does something that would seem better suited to one of those conspiracy theories, I consider it to be a bad show. In performing the surveillance that the United States government have performed on their own populace through the PRISM programme, among other measures, I believe that they have created a distasteful and worrying precedent.

The problem, as I see it, is that the American populace have been running scared for more than a decade from a threat that is not as significant as it has been made out to be. The United States has not had a significant enemy since the demise of the Soviet Union, and in the interim before a new enemy arises, have created an enemy from the spectre of terrorism. Yes, there are groups who possess ideas on destabilising Western society and introducing something in its place that would be abhorrent to most people in the West. Yet, given the logistical arrangements that would be required to perform more than the few attacks that these groups have delivered, I believe that the nations of North America and Europe have given altogether too much credence and attention to the threats posed by terrorism.

The correct response, in my view, would have been to acknowledge the tragedy of the attacks on the 11th of September, 2001, but to show a front of solidarity, of strength against the attackers and show that a few scattered groups could not break the spirit of those born free in a nation like the United States. Instead, the populace seemed to cower, acting like a besieged population and gave its government greater and greater powers to punish those who were merely suspected of having designs against America.

In the midst of this, the members of the British government, who have been demonstrated to be working in concord with the United States with this spying on the public, have repeated that old lie about, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. That’s a rather reductionist view of things. I have many things to fear, even from my own government. I don’t trust the government of Ireland to pave roads properly, or provide proper healthcare; how then am I meant to trust them with making decisions on technology and communication which affect my privacy, especially with the demonstrated ignorance of many of the government representatives with regard to technology? This is, of course, a concern even with the governments of the present day which have been freely elected, even if the choices are not often in concord with what I would select.

More threatening political movements have made their names known over the last few years. In the United States, there lurks the constant threat of the Tea Party, a movement occupied with many terrifying people, most of those with a blatant disregard for science. In the United Kingdom, quasi-fascist movements tussle with the established parties, which haven’t exactly shown a thrust towards freedom recently themselves. Then, there’s the threat of the resurgent East, with Russia being run by an authoritarian homophobe and China being run by a repellent, corrupt centralised party who seem even more content to restrict freedom than the governments of the West.

The United States has had the chance to assert itself as the viable alternative in place of the authoritarian or downright dictatorial governments of China and Russia. By instituting surveillance on its own populace worryingly close to something out of a fictional dystopia, it has taken a disconcerting step towards the Chinese or the Russians when it should be trying to move away, and that in itself frightens me far more than the vague threat of terrorism has ever done.

Sean Sherlock is a turd

I have previously written about how I was glad to see the American Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA bill crumble into dust as the internet backlashed against it. Similarly, I am glad to see the strong opposition to ACTA in Europe which will hopefully have that bill destroyed. However, I did note that vigilance was necessary, because others would continue along the same lines – like Sean Sherlock, the Irish Labour TD who purports to be the Minister for State in the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation.

Recently, this treacherous snake introduced an equivalent bill to SOPA into the Irish Oireachtas, one that wasn’t even voted on by the Oireachtas, let alone the Irish populace. In a country where the growing IT industry is one of the few assets of the economy, this slimeball decides to introduce a bill against the wills of at least the 80,000 people who signed a petition against the bill, and one which could well harm the chances of IT firms setting up in Ireland for fear that they might be repressed. Enterprise, jobs and innovation, my ass. All Sherlock (and we’re all aware of the irony of that particular name) cares about is his kickback from the fat cat media industry, rather than actually supporting innovation from the companies which don’t just rely on derivative bullshit to keep them afloat.

I don’t get many Irish readers, and less still from the Cork East constituency where Sherlock runs, but if I do reach anybody in the constituency, make sure you don’t let this cockweasel anywhere near even a local council seat, let alone the Dáil. Clearly, all he’s good for in his current position is representing a big joke – and not a very funny one.

Goodbye, SOPA, and good riddance

In the wake of the recent blackout of many websites, including Wikipedia, it appears that the ill will directed towards the Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA, has led to its shelving by Congress, as well as a postponing of the bill by its founder, Rep. Lamar S. Smith. I, among many others, am very reassured by this. Some of the objectors to SOPA were themselves small-scale copyright holders whose businesses would be harmed by the passing of the bill; others were people interested in net neutrality and in privacy on the internet. Others still were pirates whose jobs would be made somewhat more difficult with the passing of SOPA, and it should be remembered that their acts are repugnant, such an approach to stopping their actions as SOPA would have enabled was potentially very short-sighted, with a lot of scope for abuse and manipulation of the system.

My objections to SOPA (and for that matter, to the similar PIPA bill and to DMCA and others in the past) come somewhat from my support of free and open-source software, including that which underpins the internet. I’m not a particular fan of copyright in many ways in other fields either; while I think that it is a necessary evil, I don’t think that 70 year periods of copyright do anybody any good, nor do I think that many of the bigger parties with copyright protection in the music, cinema or video games industry actually deserve most of their money. That isn’t my main concern with SOPA, though. My main concern is that the bill was proposed and sponsored by a set of politicians who seem to know next to nothing about computers, and whose support of the bill seems to have been swung much more by the funding that each of them has received from the MPAA and RIAA than any actual education on the subject.

I don’t know much about Lamar Smith’s voting record, nor much about his achievements as a politician. What I do know, however, is that he is not a computer scientist, nor does he seem to have any sort of formal education in computing or in information technology nor in any allied field. Indeed, of all of the co-sponsors of SOPA, only a single one seemed to have any sort of formal computing education, a situation which is echoed in the PIPA bill, and indeed in the DMCA before it. This, then, is a set of law-educated politicians deciding things on technology without knowing anything substantial about the technology which they’re imposing laws on. That’s like letting me set new statutes on the limits of fraud, a situation which is at once risible, preposterous and more than a bit unsettling.

I’m really very distressed by the ease at which these acts can be proposed by people who remain ignorant of the things they seek to change. Luckily, the response to SOPA has stopped it in its tracks, and I say, once again, “Good riddance!” to it. However, PIPA is still in the pipeline, ACTA is still being negotiated and other bills will surely follow. The war against technological ignorance in politics as well as the outside world is far from being won, and in fact, I know I’m on the losing side. We’ve won an important battle, though. Everybody who opposes SOPA and PIPA for the right reasons, keep up the good fight.