More Paranoia

Well, despite Thursday’s post, I’m still here. Still pissed off, though, so I hope y’all will indulge me in another day of paranoia.

Possibly I’m only still here because I’m not a registered Democrat. As noted idiot Alex Jones of Info Wars informed the world yesterday, the Democrats are starting a civil war on Wednesday. So the Republicans may be a little too distracted to deal with a single independent shouting into the void.

I’m not sure what the problem is here. Wasn’t Jones one of the people calling for more civility from the left? Just can’t please some people, I suppose.

Yes, Jones really said/tweeted it. Called it “breaking news,” even.

Let’s get real, here. Nobody–and I mean nobody–can start a war on demand. Well, okay. Starting a war is no problem. A few cyberattacks, few grassy-knoll assassinations, and well-placed bombs, and Bob’s your uncle. But on a schedule precise to the day? Excuse me while I go laugh hysterically.

Yeah, the provocation can be scheduled, but until the other side strikes back, you don’t have a war. Remember, it takes two to tango, but only one to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Still, it was nice of Alex to give us a couple of days to get ready. I hear all the Democrat-owned supermarkets and big box stores are having special sales. If your local store isn’t offering two-for-one pricing on Kevlar and popcorn, you know the corporate higher-ups are Republicans.

Come to think of it, if he’s got credible evidence that “Democrats” are going to indulge in major provocation, shouldn’t he be reporting it to, say, an organization whose job is to stop terrorist plots? Oh, no wait, the official word from the right is that the FBI isn’t capable of finding the soles of their shoes, much less a threat to America.

Hmm. Speaking theoretically here–I’m a novelist, this is what I do–if I was trying to provoke a war, I’d make sure those crackers, bullets, and bombs were aimed at the institutions and people most capable of defending whoever or whatever I was rebelling against.

Do you suppose Alex is afraid Democrats don’t consider him important enough to attack and this announcement is his way of trying to raise his importance? “Oh, look, I blew the whistle on your plot. Better kill me before I blow the cover off your next operation!”

Got news for you, Alex. Very few Democrats consider you important enough to waste time or money on. If Info Wars or you personally suffer an attack Wednesday, it’s more likely to have been done by your own side as an excuse to take the next step in their plan. You’re not rich enough or highly placed enough to be making targeting decisions, so by definition, you’re expendable.

Seriously though, this kind of pronouncement is a can’t-lose for Alex and the alt-right lunatics he’s talking to. If anything happens on Independence Day, he can trumpet that he told us so. If nothing happens, his warning saved the day. And either way, it’s an excuse to crack down on somebody.

Maybe the media who laugh at Alex*. Or the ones who ignore him. Or the family of the girl who turned one of the decision-makers down when he asked her out in high school. Or anyone whose skin is darker than cornsilk, isn’t a particular brand of Christian, thinks health insurance is a good idea, or even (gasp) once voted Democrat.

* Yes, that means me, among others.

If the movers and shakers behind DT are ready to move into their endgame, all it would take is the sacrifice of one highly-visible pundit to give them an excuse for their own Kristallnacht. And all that sacrifice would take is a single well-prepared operative and a big pile of disinformation.

Why wait for Justice Kennedy to retire before kicking things off?

Okay, okay. Enough doomsaying and paranoid ramblings. I’ll have something cheerful for you in Thursday’s post–assuming, of course, that the civil war hasn’t started by then.


Paranoia is a normal operating mode for the human mind.

Sad, but true. Case in point: I was sick recently. The details aren’t important for this discussion, so I’ll spare you the unpleasantness. What is important is my immediate reaction to the first symptoms: “Why is this happening to me?”

The answer that came to mind was “Because the Universe is out to get me.” Not very helpful, huh? Before you laugh, though, ask yourself if you would have answered any differently the last time you found yourself spewing unpleasant material from one orifice or another. Admit it: that’s the universal answer, isn’t it?

Why do we default to the paranoid response? It’s a survival tactic. It puts us in the proper mind-space to answer the next question: “How did the Universe attack me?”

We examine everything microscopically: “Did someone at the theater sneeze on me?” “Was dinner undercooked?” “Did that glass of elderberry wine those old ladies gave me taste like bitter almond?”

When we look that closely at everything around us and everything we do, we’re certain to arrive at the right answer: “It’s a miracle anyone lives long enough to celebrate their first birthday.”

Pardon me. Still a little paranoid, I guess. Obviously, the correct answer is going to vary. In my case it turned out to be “I don’t have the faintest idea how I got sick.”

Maybe paranoia was a more viable technique a few thousand years ago when there were fewer possible answers to the kinds of questions we try to answer paranoically.

Joking aside, paranoia is a useful technique. When you come right down to it, QA and defensive design are examples of systematic paranoia: you examine your subject minutely and ask yourself “What are all the ways this program could try to kill me?” and then you design tests or write code to handle all of those scenarios.

When paranoia gets you into trouble is when it’s the only mode of operation you’ve got. Because paranoia doesn’t deal with likelihood. In the paranoid approach, everything is either a risk or it isn’t. That old lady on the bus is just as likely to attack you with her cane as the guy sitting next to her, fondling the AK-47 in his lap*.

* What, people don’t routinely carry automatic weapons on the bus where you live? Are you sure? Have you checked lately?

Once you have your list of dangers identified, you need to turn off the paranoia and figure out how likely they are to bite your ass.

Need some practice? Allow me to suggest several questions that really, really need an application of non-paranoid risk assessment:

  • What to do about Syrian refugees–or any other refugees, for that matter.
  • Whether to require all encryption software to have a government backdoor.
  • Whether to drive across the Bay Bridge.

Have fun!

Ha, Ha

Warning: If you don’t find it amusing or otherwise entertaining when I get cranky, close the browser tab now.

Lately I’ve been seeing a certain line of thinking more than usual. It’s the one that says “Program X is too hard to use. The programmers designed it that way to make us look stupid.” There’s an alternate formulation that ends “…so they can laugh at us.”

I’ve seen those ideas offered as a joke for years, but recently people are saying them seriously.

Oh, come off it!

Let’s get the insult out of the way first: If you’re dumb enough to think programmers are trying to make you look stupid, then the programmers don’t actually need to do anything.

Obviously, if you read this blog, you don’t fall into that group. Unfortunately, that still leaves a few billion people who might.

Where do they get that idea? Why should a programmer go to that much trouble? OK, maybe there are a few people malicious enough to make their programs fiendishly complicated and hard to use just to annoy random strangers. But if so, where’s the payoff? How is the programmer going to know they feel stupid? Do these people think he’s watching them?

Yeah, maybe he’s included code to tap their webcams and send him the movies. That’s an awful lot of video for him to wade through looking for those juicy scenes of his victims screaming and crying because they can’t figure out how to use his evil program.

Get real. We know the NSA is watching us at our computers and laughing, but any random programmer? Nah. Programmers are lazy–just like everyone else–and there just isn’t enough of a payoff for the amount of work involved.

Anyway, it’s not like programmers are the ones designing the programs you love to hate. Unless you’re talking about a one-man shop, the odds are good that the user interface was created by a designer who may not even know how to program. If you’re going to be paranoid, at least be paranoid about the right people. Any developer will tell you not to trust a UI designer.*

* Of course, developers and UI designers will tell you not to trust QA, so why are you listening to me? Incidentally, some of the loudest complaints are about open source software. I’ll grant that many of those are designed by programmers, not dedicated designers. But there you’ll have to assume that every developer is in on the joke. Unless you’re wearing a tinfoil hat, that might strain your ability to rationalize improbabilities.

In truth, the reason programs are complicated and hard to figure out is that users keep demanding more and more features. There’s only so much space onscreen for controls, so some functions are going to have to be hidden. Every added feature or additional control makes a program harder to understand and use.

So if Program X makes you feel stupid, it’s not the programmer’s fault. It’s yours. Go ahead and laugh at yourself. And then send the programmer an e-mail so he knows to check the video from your webcam.