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Yanuar Indrayanto
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13 Surreal Drone Photos Transform America Into a Roller Coaster

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consider 7km lah

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Yanuar Indrayanto was out running. He tracked 5.74 km in 57m:57s.

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Yanuar Indrayanto was out running. He tracked 6.82 km in 1h:06m:59s.

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People are criticizing Yonatan for a piece he didn't write. Not only is it unfair, but subscribing to their worldview could be dangerous.

I have to admit that, while I read +Yonatan Zunger on G+ and Medium pretty faithfully, I've been so overwhelmed with processing raw data about what the Trump regime has been doing—and the difficult research into the deceptively simple question that keeps arising: "has this happened before?"—that I haven't had much time for reading analysis, let alone meta-analysis.

So it wasn't until I heard Yonatan mentioned by someone on a podcast that I knew wasn't on G+ or in even a second-order Googler orbit that I realized some of those articles I'd been skipping were about Yonatan's "Trial Balloon for a Coup?" article on Medium, and it had gone viral into the political-analysis commentariat. (I'd seen the Breitbart article, but that didn't hit me as anything but the typical Breitbart "point and laugh at the silly liberal elitist" article that's a staple of that site.)

Since my posts lately could be read as also doing what these think pieces have accused Yonatan of doing—namely, giving examples of Trump and his inner circle's actions as proof of their autocratic and/or authoritarian intent—I want to briefly contextualize what I've written by way of defense. (I don't pretend to speak for Yonatan; even though arguments against him also apply to me, my defense may or may not not apply to him or be one he subscribes to.)

What my posts have been doing recently has not been using examples from the news as "proof" of intent. What I've been doing is collecting and correlating facts about the regime's actions as evidence of autocratic and/or authoritarian intent. The difference may seem slight, but the distinction is really important.

First off: intent is impossible to prove. Perhaps it's the engineer's mindset, but this is so basic—like it being impossible to prove the negative, or impossible to derive proof from the counterfactual—that I've just let it go unstated and assumed.

Second: I'm not claiming I'm right about my hypotheses. Another thing that scientists and engineers get implicitly but others may not. We hypothesize theories that fit the facts; that doesn't mean we believe them. (In fact, in technical work it's often quite useful to examine a clearly wrong hypothesis that explains the facts in order to find the criteria one might use to discriminate between it and the as-yet unformulated correct theory.) The reason that so many of my posts have had lines like "talk me down" or "can anyone suggest another rationale?" is that I fully realize I'm throwing out hypotheses that will only later, if ever, be put to the test.

Third: the penalty of overreacting and being wrong is much less than that of under-reacting and being wrong. Much, much less. Well, unless one values one's ego more than one's country, one's morals, and the safety and well-being of the least secure among us. The only penalty for overreaction is embarrassment, and I'd much rather have egg on my face than to have the worst come true while I "gave them the benefit of the doubt."

Fourth: harmful policies do the same harm whether they come from malice or from incompetence. The old aphorism, "never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence" is useful to IT people because it prevents emotionalizing and becoming adversarial with one's customers. In a professional setting, this makes sense; the stakes are lower and we aren't trying to accurately predict someone's future behavior. But in considering Trump, a) present harms are the same whatever intentions are behind them, and so deserve the same level of protest, and b) preventing future harms demands we prepare for the worst; see the previous point.

So, in summation: we will only have proof of malevolence after the fact, and that's too late.

Note that Yonatan's article's headline ended with a question mark. That's either been ignored by critical respondents or dismissed as cute, something like scare quotes. They then excoriate him for coming to an "unwarranted", "paranoid", or "overly certain" conclusion (to quote some of the articles I just read). But the question mark is an explicit sign that he hasn't come to a certain conclusion, warranted (or paranoid) or not.

I haven't concluded that Donald Trump is a wannabe dictator, either. His behavior has shown again and again and again that his inner mental life is inscrutable to me. Frankly, I don't care, if the results are the same. Since I will never crawl into Donald Trump or Steve Bannon's brains and experience what it is to have their thoughts (and for that, I think I should be grateful), I will never know whether my guesses about their intentions are correct or not.

I've chosen to err on the side of caution. And caution might in fact be to assume incompetence—if I were writing a paper in 2030 about the Trump presidency. But I'm not. I'm writing now about a regime acting in erratic, inexplicable and frightening ways, and in this case caution requires that I presume an autocrat is pushing us to authoritarianism.

The Vox author in the linked article points out that actual dictators historically aren't geniuses. That's an irrelevant strawman. A couple weeks ago, the media critics were warning us to stop taking Trump literally and take him seriously instead as his supporters do. Today, many of the same media critics are mocking those who have acted surprised at some of Trump's actions because they were literally things Trump said he would do.

Believe the autocrat. Your choice is this: hope for the best, assume he's not an autocrat and therefore you needn't believe him—and be surprised at catastrophe. Or, brace for the worst, presume he's an autocrat until proven otherwise and, having made that presumption, act as if you believe him—I'd much rather do that and be pleasantly (ecstatically, orgasmically!) surprised.

I've made my choice, I've presented my hypothesis, and I'm going to continue warning you about the mounting evidence. What I "truly believe in my heart of hearts" is irrelevant; my internal mental state is as unknowable to you as Trump's is to me. Like Trump, what I act as if I believe is all that matters.
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