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September 16, 2014 · 10:55 PM

Symmetric Myopia on Ukraine

[Note from almost 10yrs later — I don’t believe in deleting old posts, even if I find my old views somewhat embarrassing. I’ve definitely come around to strongly backing the Ukrainian side after Russia began its full-scale invasion in 2022. At least this blog post wasn’t entirely stupid, but in case anyone digs this up in 2024, I’ve grown up a bit in the last decade. ~Jon 1/12/2024]

I wanted to comment on an interesting case of symmetric myopia I’ve been noticing regarding the situation in Ukraine.

Basically, I’ve noticed that both pro-Western and pro-Russian partisans tend to suffer from a very similar bias. They assume that supporters of their cause in the Ukraine were 100% legitimate grassroots opposition to tyranny, while the other side is 100% bought-and-paid-for toadies of external forces. For example:

  • Pro-Russian view of the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev: most if not all of the anti-Yanukovich protest movement was a CIA-sponsored effort to overthrow the rightful government of Ukraine to replace it with a pro-western puppet government that will place a hostile military alliance (NATO) right on Russia’s doorstep. If there were any legitimate gripes, they shouldn’t have been handled by violently storming government buildings in Kiev and western Ukraine, but through the democratic process. Use of violent force against opposition protesters may have been regrettable, but they were using violence too to storm government buildings.
  • Pro-Russian view of events in East Ukraine: On the other hand, the reaction in East Ukraine, to a Pro-Russian is a organic, locally-driven grassroots protest both to the illegal actions of the EuroMaidan movement, not some sort of attempt by Russian special forces to annex the East. If their actions are a little on the militaristic side, they’re just mimicking the EuroMaidan tactics of occupying government buildings using violence, and trying to force extra-legal governmental change. If removing the president in a way that wasn’t allowed by the Ukrainian constitution is ok, holding a referendum on autonomy/secession should be ok too in their mind. If Yanukovich’s forces firing on violent protesters storming government buildings in Kiev was evil, how is using the military against violent protesters in Donetsk not also at least somewhat evil?
  • Pro-Western view of the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev: To the pro-Westerner, claims of US involvement in trying to destabilize Yanukovich and support his ouster are just crazy paranoid excuses being used by a cynical Kremlin to undermine what were almost entirely organic, locally-driven, grassroots protests against corruption and tyranny. Using force and acting outside the bounds of the Ukrainian constitution were ok, because it was a fight of liberty and western values against tyranny and corruption. Even though more extreme elements of the Maidan movement did use violence to storm and seize government buildings, they were doing so for a pro-democratic cause. The people really were yearning for a move to integrate more with the West and participate in modern society, and this whole situation shows why so many in the EuroMaidan want and need NATO militarily protecting them from Russian aggression.
  • Pro-Western views of what’s happening in Eastern Ukraine: This is Russian maskirovka plain and simple. Putin wants to annex large parts of Eastern Ukraine, and he’s using Russian agents and special forces (“little green men”) to prep the groundwork for an outright invasion and occupation. Sure, he’ll wrap himself in claims of protecting Russians, but only a small fraction of Eastern Ukrainians or Crimeans in that poll back in February wanted to outright be annexed by the Russian Federation, so obviously, this isn’t a grassroots movement, but “astroturf” acting as cover for an illegal invasion/occupation. Using military force on these “terrorists” is legitimate and good because they’re obviously either traitors or foreigners. If they wanted more autonomy, they should’ve worked through the democratic process, and not stormed government buildings and taken extralegal measures.

I may not entirely be able to pass Bryan Caplan’s “Intellectual Turing Test” with these comments, but I think they’re at least somewhat close to the mark. So, what’s my point? It’s just that both the simplistic Pro-Russian and the simplistic Pro-Western views are likely wrong. Ukraine is a strongly divided country, with a very wide range of opinion. Both the EuroMaidan and eastern separatist groups are probably both a mix of genuine grassroots opinions and foreign pot-stirring. There’s plenty of evidence that the US had some hand in supporting the overthrow of Yanukovich, but acting like this was entirely-US driven is obviously bunk. On the other hand, acting as though there’s no reason anyone could legitimately be pro-Russian without being bought and paid for is also absurd. If the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine are entirely just a Russian plot to annex the East, and reform the USSR, Russia sure is taking its sweet time following-up on things. That causus belli excuse Putin needed that was provided by the anti-Russian killings in Odessa was almost a month ago, and still no real sign of Russia having any desire of crossing the borders.

I guess my reason for bringing this up is that the naive “our enemies are pure evil and our allies white as snow” propaganda going around the internet is only likely to lead to more violence, more escalation, and a very bad ending for the people of Ukraine. That may benefit extremists, war profiteers on either side who’ve been jonesing for a Cold War 2.0 ever since 1990, and domestic politicians trying to get a good old fashion Two Minutes Hate going to distract from the screwed-up domestic politico-economic situation, but that’s not going to lead to anywhere good for the supposed objects of our sympathy (the Ukrainian people).

Acknowledging that neither side has a monopoly on good or evil, and that both sides have both legitimate gripes, and have both severely overstepped legal bounds, is IMO a key to starting to defuse the situation and find a solution that minimizes further loss of life, and gives the average person in the Ukraine the best possible deal. To be stable in a country so evenly split, that deal probably looks like less “winner takes all democracy” and more federalism/decentralization of power. But that isn’t going to happen so long as people insist on being blind to the faults of their own side, and acting like their “enemies” are entirely foreign-grown.


Filed under Foreign Policy

Learning Spanish via Duolingo

As any of you who follow me on twitter have probably noticed, I’m fairly strongly pro-immigration, if not outright pro-open borders. With that in mind, I was sitting in the “Priesthood Session” of the LDS General Conference last fall, when a rather profound talk by Gérald Caussé made me realize that if I really care about immigrants to this country, many of whom are here from Spanish-speaking countries, that I ought to teach myself how to speak Spanish. I may not be able to make much of a difference in changing the laws of our country to make them more just towards those who would like to live and work here, but had the misfortune of “choosing the wrong parents“. But I can chose to spend some of my time to learn their language so they can feel a little more at home and know that they’re welcome here.

Anyhow, nice sentiments and all, but I set that goal over half a year ago, and had so far done nothing to accomplish it. Then this morning a friend introduced me to a cool new language site, Duolingo.com. They’ve got a great user interface, I like the gamification, and my inner entrepreneur loves their clever business model–they offer you free and fun language training, and in turn some of the practice you get later in the process involves translating online documents from that language into English (with multiple users having the chance to vote on and correct each others translations). Much more clever than “we’ll show ads and make money that way” that seems to be the default approach of far too many websites these days.

Once again, starting a goal is easier than keeping that goal, so I’ll try to give periodic progress reports as a way of keeping myself motivated. Until then, ¡Buenas noches!


Filed under Goal: Learning Spanish, Immigration

Twitter Etiquette?

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it annoying when someone insists on responding to all twitter comments by putting a “.” in front of the person’s twitter name, or by moving their Twitter name to the end of the tweet? For those of you who aren’t regular twitter readers, doing that means that anyone who follows you will see the tweet, whereas if you just do a normal reply without the “.” up front, and without moving their name to the end of the line, only people who follow both of you will see the exchange. Now there are legitimate reasons for wanting to do the .@name reply, such as instances where someone raises a point where the reply is something you think is generally applicable. But when I see people abuse that, it makes me want to temporarily unfollow them, even if they’re friends or people whose opinions I respect. All of your followers don’t need to see how brilliant you are every time you argue with someone else. I know Twitter is considered by many to be a tool of applied narcissism, but seriously guys, do we have to prove their point?!

Ok, spleen empty. All better now.


Filed under Curmudgeonly Gripes, Twitter

The Good Intentions Road Construction Company (Minimum Wage Edition)

I really hope this article isn’t true. The gist of the article is that as part of minimum wage hike executive order President Obama is about to sign, the President is including physically and mentally disabled workers in the hike of wages to $10.10 for all federal contractors. As the article states:

Under a government program that dates back to 1938, employers could pay certain disabled workers subminimum wages — sometimes for a fraction of the prevailing minimum wage.

But with Obama’s executive order, that practice will be discontinued with disabled workers laboring under federal contracts in the future.

“Under current law, workers whose productivity is affected because of their disabilities may be paid less than the wage paid to others doing the same job under certain specialized certificate programs,” according to a White House memo detailing the order. “Under this Executive Order, all individuals working under service or concessions contracts with the federal government will be covered by the same $10.10 per hour minimum wage protections.”

Some readers may think “Isn’t that a great thing for disabled workers? Those who work for federal contractors will now get paid not only the same as others, but 39% higher than the current minimum wage!” The problem is hinted at in the last paragraph of the article–which is of course phrased in a way to make it look like only greedy exploiters of the disabled disagree with this move:

Operators of sheltered workshops say that including 14(c) workers in Obama’s minimum wage hike would inevitably lead to many disabled people being pushed out of work.

My question is does anyone who has any economic background seriously think that this will result in anything other than most disabled people working for federal contracts losing their jobs? If they had say increased the minimum wage for disabled people only by the same 39% as the increase for other workers, it might not be so bad. But by making disabled workers just as expensive now as non-handicapped workers, you’ve increased their effective cost even more. With unemployment levels where they are now, if you’re going to be forced to pay everyone the same $10.10, what incentive do you have to get any but the best workers for the job? Especially when you’re being forced to pay wages higher than comparable non-federal jobs, thus attracting tons of job applicants from those fortunate enough not to suffer from physical or mental handicaps.

While for non-disabled workers, you might be able to make a case that somehow minimum wage increases won’t lead to unemployment, I don’t think any economist with any shred of intellectual honesty could think that this won’t lead to huge dis-employment effects for one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

I know the president means well. He’s never shown himself to have any sort of clue about economics, but I don’t doubt his good intentions. It’s just unfortunate that so many disabled people, who already have a tough enough life as it is, are likely going to lose their livelihoods just so the president can feel good about himself, and score political points with his fellow economic illiterates in his base.

The one saving grace of this travesty is that private companies that don’t work on federal contracts aren’t currently effected by this executive order. I sincerely hope for the sakes of the disabled, that those companies who do go out of their way to provide disabled workers a job can soak up the jobs that are going to be lost due to this misguided executive order.

[Update: 7:30pm]

In addition to the likely severe dis-employment effect we’re likely to see for workers with disabilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some of the following moves in the near future:

  1. An increased equal opportunity crack-down by the government on firms that reduce the fraction of their labor provided by workers with disabilities.
  2. Executive orders mandating quotas (or increasing quotas) for the percentage of disabled workers federal contractors have to employ.
  3. Subsidies (or increased subsidies) for companies that employ more disabled workers.

None of this should be too surprising. Government price controls like this almost always lead to more and more interventions to paper over the mistake made by the first intervention.


Filed under Economics

My LDS Mission Map (Philippines Olongapo Mission 2000-2002)

I’ve mentioned to many people over the years that I spent two years on a mission to the Philippines for the LDS church. I’ve always meant to put up a map to show people roughly where I was talking about, and I finally figured out how to do it this evening:

View Jonathan A Goff’s LDS Mission Map (Aug 2000-Aug 2002) in a larger map

This map shows my six areas, listed in chronological order:

  • San Felipe Ward, Zambales
  • Tococ/Bayambang, Pangasinan
  • Calasiao, Pangasinan
  • Bolinao, Pangasinan,
  • Manat/Binmaley, Pangasinan
  • Masinloc, Zambales

I may eventually add some more details and stories. But for now, I just wanted to show you where it was that I spent my time in the Philippines.

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Filed under LDS Mission, Philippines

Goff Family Update: Early 2014

Goff Family Christmas Picture 2013

Above is the Goff Family Christmas photo from late last year. For those of you who don’t know us, my wife Tiffany is on the left. James is in her lap. Jonny is standing with the PVC pipe in the middle, I’m on the right, and Peter is in my lap. There’s actually another person in this picture, but he’s “hiding”. You’d have to be using a non-visual sensor to image him (at least until mid-June).

Also, in case you’re wondering about the beard, it’s a “contract launch” beard. Basically, we had a major contract that we were waiting to hear back on, and I decided that I’d grow a beard until we had either heard a firm no on the contract, or until we had the contract signed and the first check from the contract deposited. I’m still sporting half a beard as of today because while we’ve received the first check, we don’t yet have the contract fully signed. But I’m hoping to lose the rest of the beard any day now. At least in this picture the blog name fits reasonably well…

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February 10, 2014 · 6:19 PM

Etymology of the Name “Taong Boondocks”

Before I go into why I chose the name, let’s start by breaking it down a little bit.

The first word “Taong” comes from the Filipino/Tagalog root word “Tao” (pronounced Tah-oh), meaning man or person.  It has an “-ng” ligature at the end, which links it to the second word, “Boondocks”, which is an Americanization of the Filipino/Tagalog word “Bundok” which means mountains. American GI’s couldn’t pronounce bundok properly (the ok at the end is pronounced like “oak”) when referring to the backwards, mountainous regions of the Philippines, so they called them the boondocks. As far as I can tell this is the only word that American English has borrowed from Tagalog. Put together Taong Bundok or Taong Boondocks would thus mean “Mountain Man”, which in Tagalog carries some of the same hillbilly/rustic connotations the phrase has in English.

So why did I chose a name like that? Here’s a few reasons:

  • It ties into my two years I spent in the Philippines on a mission for my church. I had originally intended to talk a bit about my time there on my other blog, Selenian Boondocks, but this is a more appropriate forum for such discussions/stories.
  • It also ties into my better-known, space policy blog, Selenian Boondocks (which would roughly mean Lunar Mountains, but with sort of a Lunar Hillbilly connotation).
  • I like the fact that we actually have a word in common usage in America that was borrowed from Tagalog.
  • I plan on using this blog to discuss some topics (religion, politics, etc.) that are typically considered inappropriate for polite conversation.
  • In some ways this blog is also sort of a blog about the person (tao) behind Selenian Boondocks.


Filed under Administrivia

Rationalle for a Third Blog

First off, I’d like to welcome any regular readers of Selenian Boondocks or any of my twitter followers (I’m @rocketrepreneur in case you were wondering). Those of you who know me are probably wondering why I’m starting a third blog (after Selenian Boondocks and the Altius Space Machines Blog), when I’m already struggling to regularly post on those other blogs.

The genesis for this idea actually came from several years back, prior to my moving from Tehachapi to start Altius. My original blog, Selenian Boondocks gained its notoriety primarily as a space technology, space business, and space politics website. Unfortunately, Selenian Boondocks has become strongly tied to my career persona, and I quickly became aware that trying to mix in other areas that were important to me might actually hurt my credibility in those areas that I was already posting about on Selenian Boondocks. Basically, it’s a lot easier to dismiss analysis on a space blog as being the hopelessly naive and amateur ramblings of some net kook, if you’re also talking about your pet, your recent recipes, and your opinions about other various and sundry things. Combine that with the fact that many of the things I care about are items where I disagree with some healthy fraction of my readership, and it just seemed better to have a separate blog for non-spacey things.

I guess I could’ve got a Facebook page, but then I’d have to use Facebook. And you’d have to put up with me on Facebook. No, I think we’re all better by me having another blog that you can safely ignore if our only point of agreement happens to be space. I’m almost guaranteed to get myself in trouble on this blog eventually, but I’d rather be able to talk about who I really am than have to artificially stifle a significant fraction of who I am and what I care about just because I don’t want to dilute the message of my other blogs.

And with that, I give you Taong Boondocks.

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Filed under Administrivia