Monday, March 9, 2015

Pandora, Penelope and Sisyphus

So I read Mr. Duff's latest book Pandora, Penelope, Polity: How to Change the European Union in a hope to find a well-reasoned answer to my curious question: "Why the author thinks that federal Europe can be achieved by a treaty change." My findings below might be of sensitive nature to some, but I consider it necessary as writing down what one really thinks is the only way to have a reasonable debate, or actually any debate at all, about federalism among those who like to use that word. The first action in the attempt to unite the federalists should be to agree on the basic terms and definitions, otherwise we will get forever lost in the Babylonian maze of speculations of what the words of others could possibly mean. Reaching that agreement should not be that difficult though, because the definition of a federation is not an open-ended question and the answer to it is not arbitrary. The requisite features of federal systems have been identified and described by several distinguished political scientists in several writings.

Sisyphus (1548–49) by Titian
The book itself does a pretty good job in explaining the complexities of the institutional system of the European Union, including several attempts - past and suggested - to improve it by a treaty change. Unfortunately, the book does not say why we should stick with the system of treaties in the first place and not aim for something better, it only keeps on repeating the mantra that a treaty change is necessary. It simply puts it as a given fact and does not consider, let alone mention other possibilities with successful precedents in the past, like having a classical bottom-up federation founded by the citizens. For a book about the federal future of the European Union, this omission or avoidance must be seen as a major issue.

According to the author, the outcome of the next treaty change should be a democratic federation, composed of states and citizens. But paradoxically this Duffian federation has the form of an international treaty, is founded by the states and operates mostly on the states. States can unilaterally secede from it, so in fact it is not a federation at all and strongly contrasts with the idea of a federal republic created by the people. With all respect, I have no idea why Mr. Duff associates the adjective federal with it. If someone knows better and spots an error on my side, I'd love to be educated by them in this matter. If I may, for the time being, I'd also like to suggest a more fitting adjective that would have raised no eyebrows: confederal.

If one takes an intergovernmental treaty and applies some heavy lifting, streamlining, renaming and tinkering to it, but does not change the confederal substance, he will not arrive at a federation, but at a more integrated intergovernmental treaty. Calling things federal when they aren't does not make them any more federal. It's like if Mr. Duff could not liberate himself in his writing from the confines of what he knows best: the institutional order of the present European Union.

Proponents of this idea are therefore sometimes reminiscent of little industrious creatures that live in a one-dimensional world, honest in their intentions and sincere in their efforts, but nevertheless completely ignorant of the other dimensions. They can move in either direction on the axis also known as the European integration, so they move forward, hoping to find the European political sweetspot in front of them. Interestingly enough, the Eurosceptics are the same kind of creatures, only moving in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, neither of them is able to find the sweetspot, because it is not situated on the axis. In order to reach that point, they need to become aware of the other dimensions and take a bold, discrete step aside. A step towards thinking from the citizens and a real federal organization.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughts on The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates by Ralph Ketcham

The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates is a very interesting book that will draw the reader right into the debates of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in its first half, and into the minds of the anti-federalists in its second half.

While it was quite interesting to be like a fly on the wall of the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, listening to the recorded words of the Convention delegates, the book remains silent on some of the most interesting moments, such as how exactly was the Great Compromise reached and how they abandoned the idea of the negative of the general government on the state laws. The book also reveals two strange facts or rather curiosities about two of the delegates.

Edmund Randolph, then governor of Virginia, was the man who officially proposed Madison's Virginia plan to the Convention, but then was one of the three delegates who refused to put their names under the finished draft Constitution, which was derived by (a weaker) compromise from that very same plan. One year later, during the Virginia ratification convention, he changed his mind again and voted for ratification.

Alexander Hamilton proposed his own plan for national government, but nobody cared. On at least two occasions he publicly said he disliked the proposed Constitution. I think no one could have suspected him of being Publius. Was that a camouflage?

The arguments of the anti-federalists were also interesting, for example that the President together with the Senate could make any law through his power to make treaties with foreign countries that in turn become the supreme law of the land, encroaching thus on state laws. Other than that, I noticed one large group of the anti-federalist arguments was effectively neutralized by the adoption of the Bill of Rights (a concession of the federalists to the anti-federalists or a very clever move). Another large group consisted of, from today's point of view, unsubstantiated worries of the anti-federalist and absurd fears. For example, they were pretty sure that the Constitution could not be amended (today it has 27 amendments). Or they feared that the number of Representatives can be pushed down to one per each state. Or that the state governments will be abolished. Or that the words general welfare in the Preamble will allow the federal government to tax the people to death. I felt like experiencing a déjà vu when I was reading those parts. Anyway, the history has proved them wrong.

It was also interesting to feel the atmosphere of the debates. Much more cultivated than what we have today in Europe. The anti-federalists advocated for caution and deeper understanding of the proposed Constitution before its adoption, or proposed amendments. Far from today's heated internet discussions with shallow knowledge, superficial understanding and tunnel vision.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Highlights of A Concise History of Switzerland

I have finally finished reading A Concise History of Switzerland from the Cambridge Concise Histories series by Clive H. Church and Randolph C. Head. As I was reading it, I underlined a couple of paragraphs that contain the most interesting parts (at least for me). I am now going to paste these highlights here and attach a short commentary to some of  them. Needless to say, it's up to you to make your own opinion. Maybe you will want to read the book in its entirety in a desire to reflect on the possibility to learn from someone else's fails and wins a little more.

Neither dynasty, nor language, nor religion brought about a Swiss national identity that could bolster a Swiss political nation. Instead, modern Switzerland seems in an important sense the result of its inhabitants’ own decisions – a Willensnation, a nation resting on its inhabitants’ will – and of its own and its neighbours’ willingness to accept its various forms through the centuries as a single and continuous political unit.
This is my first highlight and it conveys perhaps the strongest message of the whole book. It's like an affirmative follow-up on the question mentioned in the third sentence of the opening paragraph of Hamilton's Federalist No. 1, which goes like this:

It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.
Going back to the book, some of the following highlights (from all over the book) support the idea of a Willensnation and debunk the homogenous people and language fallacy:

Although all of the original eight cantons spoke German, and shared a certain contempt for Romance, especially Italian, mores and attitudes, their shared language did not in itself increase their cohesion or limit their alliances with neighbouring Romance-speaking communities or lords. As in the polyglot kingdoms around them, language played only a minimal role in Swiss nation-formation before the seventeenth century.
Despite the hazards, many Swiss intellectuals were drawn towards thinking about their own Swiss identity and asking what held them together despite their linguistic and religious differences. The late 1750s saw the publication of a number of introspective writings, such the Patriotic Dreams of both Franz Urs Balthasar from Lucerne and Isaak Iselin from Basle. The latter was historian, philosopher and critic both of Rousseau and of Switzerland’s mercantile and aristocratic spirit. Balthasar and others were even more critical of the state of the Confederacy, the former proposing a federal college, a unified army and a confederal tax to remedy its weaknesses. More than in previous centuries, intellectuals now thought of Switzerland as a single nation, though one sorely lacking in political unity. Folk songs and the increasing interest in the mountains helped to further the idea of distinct Swiss and Alpine identity.
The leaders of the new state were able to forge a new nation based on political will and the key institutions of direct democracy, federalism and neutrality.
The last quoted paragraph above refers to the period after 1848 when Switzerland finally became a classical federation operating on the terms of a federal constitution. However, in the following chronological sequence of highlights, I would like to draw your attention to the deficiencies of the several old Swiss political systems before 1848 - something which will seem igloriously familiar to most contemporary Europeans:
The Diet provided a site for discussions of such problems, but negotiation also took place before the councils of individual cantons, or in secret with leading political figures.
Persistent resentments helped, in other words, to prevent any rapid change to the ramshackle constitutional structures of the Confederacy and its subject territories. It remained a contractual system based on a network of treaties, respect for the established order and multiple layers of privilege. Hence the Diet was little more than a symbol and a means of socialization, lacking army, finance and a proper administration as it did. Indeed, if anything, the Diet became even less active at this time because of the need to meet in private and refer all decisions back to the cantons. The joke circulated that the Diet would not agree that snow fell in winter without asking for instructions. Even when decisions were finally reached, cantons were not obliged to act on them.
The Confederacy thus remained a weak body, lacking a constitution, an army and a reliable tax-based income . Far from being a state comparable to its more powerful reforming neighbours, it remained self-satisifiedly dependent on an implicit French guarantee, which in turn depended on a balance of power that had turned against France following its defeats in the Seven Years War. Hence the suggestion made by Johann Georg Stokar, a chairman of the Helvetic Society , that the country needed to unify and accept equal rights for all, was ignored. Indeed, things were already going in the opposite direction.
Refusing ideas of unification was, in other words, symptomatic of the oligarchies’ approach in the 1770s and 1780s. Going beyond immediate challenges, the oligarchs sought aggressively to entrench their positions and interests at the expense of lesser breeds, something that prompted very significant risings in Geneva and Fribourg.
Such victories won the patriciates a few more years of unchallenged peace, but these were not used to institute reforms that could have helped them cope with rapidly changing circumstances at home and abroad. The authoritarian oligarchs continued to see no need to adapt. They preferred to rely for their legitimacy on custom, heredity and closeness to an established church. Indeed, they saw themselves as a divinely ordained elite at the peak of a hierarchical society. In this they eschewed the newer representative ideas emerging in the Anglo-American world in favour of continental traditions of the seventeenth century.
At the confederal level, the inherent weakness of the system became all too apparent after Schwyz in 1789 refused to agree to a renewal of the Defensionale, which coordinated joint efforts for defence of the borders. Likewise, the St Gallen politician Müller-Friedberg’s call for a new charter between all the cantons and allies had no effect. Such continuing preference for local over general interests made it almost impossible for the Confederacy to muster sufficient political and military force to resist French encroachments. It remained an assemblage of self-interested rural and urban communities. As a result, the Diet failed to agree on any emphatic measures until very late in the day, because disagreements and traditional arrogance continued to dominate, even though passive stability was no longer enough.
Nonetheless, in all cases it was the cantons that provided sovereignty . The fact that the confederal constitution came at the end was symptomatic of this. The new regime was chaired by a rotating directing canton, known as the Vorort, whose head was the Landammann of the new executive, a body with rather limited powers.
The new Charter was essentially a treaty amongst sovereign cantonal states. The cantons mutually guaranteed their own security and constitutions – often quite backward-looking – and sent representatives to the Diet under strict mandates. The Charter did not provide for a Landammann, a national judiciary or separation of powers. Nonetheless, it represented a step beyond the Mediation and towards a Swiss Confederation, the term being formally used for the first time. It contained a commitment to a common fatherland and gave the Confederation new powers. Significantly, the Diet could make binding decisions by a two-thirds majority. Cantons were banned from creating leagues amongst themselves, and the Diet gained responsibility for upholding confederal decisions, a new power, as well as for trade, diplomacy and defence. For the first time, a national army was established , even if it was made up of cantonal contingents.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Where we stand in the world

Here is a map of the world depicting the 15 non-EU members of G20 (red) and the 28 EU states (green).

G20 and EU
According to the site, the G20 represents about 85% of global GDP, over 75% of global trade and 66% of the world's population. Confronting this with a Wikipedia page on G20, one finds out that the percentage for the global trade is slightly off, because it includes Germany, France, UK and Italy numbers twice - once for these countries themselves and once for their EU membership. Thus, the correct number seems to be rather 58% of global trade for G20.

Now, if we take the EU completely out, just to see against what economic and geopolitical power Europe competes, we get something which could be called a G15 (G15 = G20 - Germany - France - UK - Italy - EU). Note that there seems to be an informal group of countries of the same name, so do not confuse it with our G15.

G15, even after the removal of the entire EU, is still a major group, representing 63% of global GDP, 45% of global trade and 57% of world's population. As a side note, the majority (8) of these countries are federal states (also large and multiethnic) or at least declare themselves as such. The smallest G15 member, Australia has population of only 22 million. The middle-sized member, Mexico, has 112 million inhabitants and the two largest countries in this group, China and India, have 1.2 and 1.3 billion people living in them, respectively.

When we put the EU into the same perspective (these are all figures from 2012, so Croatia is not included, sorry), we find that it is responsible for 23% of global GDP, 12% of global world trade and has 7% of the world's population. Note that this is not even the whole of Europe, just EU-27.

Let us make one additional daring step and have a look at how e.g. UK, a country that sometimes likes to picture itself as an independent state outside of the EU, performs in this global game. UK, as an independent country, creates around 3.4% of global GDP, 3% of global world trade and has about 0.89% of the world's population. Just draw your own conclusion, considering also the dynamics of the UK and G15 economies and populations.

After having opened this blog entry with a picture, would there be a better way of concluding it other than using another picture to illustrate the dramatic change through which Europe's position in the world has gone since 1945? Here is a map showing, among other things, colonies of several European countries in 1945. Colonies that are no longer there and will never come back.

Colonialism in 1945, source: Wikipedia

G20 members represent around 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. - See more at:
G20 members represent around 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. - See more at:
G20 members represent around 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. - See more at:
G20 members represent around 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. - See more at:
G20 members represent around 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. - See more at:
G20 members represent around 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. - See more at:
G20 members represent around 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. - See more at:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Connecting two HelenOS guests in QEMU using SLIP

I've been recently working on implementing the SLIP protocol support for HelenOS, represented by the following ticket:

#439 SLIP IP link provider
It turned out that it was actually much more difficult to setup the environment for QEMU than to implement the actual SLIP support, even though on the HelenOS front I had to work around a known HelenOS IPC deficiency:
#508 Parallel sessions don't mix well with call forwarding
The basic SLIP support has been integrated into HelenOS in mainline revision 1849.

The following describes the steps that one needs to make in order to have two HelenOS instances running in QEMU talk to each other using SLIP. First of all, make sure to have a recent version of QEMU installed as versions prior to QEMU 1.5.0 may hang when dealing with the redirected serial port.

Since we are going to redirect and connect the serial ports of both HelenOS guests via two named pipes, we need to make some preparations first. On the host system, replicate the following steps:

$ mkfifo /tmp/ /tmp/fifoA.out
$ ln -s /tmp/fifoA.out /tmp/
$ ln -s /tmp/ /tmp/fifoB.out

Now, launch two HelenOS guests, each with its own pipe. Note that the symbolic links representing the fifo pair B are intentionally crossed so that QEMU opens each pipe in a proper way:

$ qemu-system-i386 -cdrom image.iso -serial pipe:/tmp/fifoA &
$ qemu-system-i386 -cdrom image.iso -serial pipe:/tmp/fifoB &

In the first HelenOS instance, run the following commands:

/ # slip devices/\hw\pci0\00:01.0\com1\a net/sl0
/ # inet create net/sl0 ma
/ # inet add-sr mr

And in the other HelenOS instance, run this set of commands:

/ # slip devices/\hw\pci0\00:01.0\com1\a net/sl0
/ # inet create net/sl0 ma
/ # inet add-sr mr

At this point, you should be able to ping the first instance from the second one and vice versa:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hitting the European nail on its head

I've been considering writing up about what I have been recently up to with these European Federalist Papers for a longer time, but this Friday, a day after this year's Europe Day, is the first convenient moment. It is no secret that I am a great supporter of the concept of strong and united Europe, but no, I am not entering politics or spreading the official Brussels "propaganda" as some of you might be wrongly suspecting. As you will see, it's something rather different.

Instead, I became interested in a private undertaking of three European citizens - experts in the fields of law and administration, and federalists at the same time - who decided to try to do something about the current state of things in Europe. Before I write more about what these three men did, let me make a short historical stop in North America at the times of the Philadelphia Convention, i.e. the end of the 18th century.

In 1787, when there was a danger of State of New York rejecting the new federal Constitution of the United States, three other men - Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, all Americans and federalists for that matter - wrote and published 85 newspaper essays explaining and promoting the new constitution. The high quality and a tremendous pace of their work helped to reverse the negative development in favor of New York's ratification of the United States Constitution.

The essays - collectively known as The Federalist and later also as the Federalist Papers - have become a kind of a legend of their own. They still are, more than 220 years after being written, used by the US authorities to reason about the meaning of the US Constitution and the intentions of the America's Founding Fathers.  When I read the first dozen of them during the last summer, I had wished something like that had existed for Europe.

At that time I could not have known that, alarmed by the worsening Euro crisis, Leo Klinkers, Herbert Tombeur and Fernand Jadoul already started writing their European Federalist Papers. Inspired by the American version and knowing that the skeptics all around Europe have become very busy advocating for disunion, I was even considering and wanting to write something myself, but something much better and more fortunate happened: on January 14 of this year I randomly ran across a tweet announcing the series of 26 European Federalist Papers. As a reader, I have been following the Papers ever since and what I learned from them made me step out from the passive role of a mere reader. Read on to know what exactly I did, but first, let me say what I find so great about these Papers.

First, the Papers make a direct comparison between the USA under the Articles of Confederation and the EU under the Treaty of Lisbon. I was previously laughed at by the illiterate when I tried to compare these two systems and draw any conclusion from the striking similarity of their respective crises and ways out of them. So starting from this position immediately gained the Papers my sympathies.

Second, the Papers are a real eye-opener. I must admit that before reading the Papers I probably could not see that federal Europe cannot be achieved by adjusting the intergovernmental treaty, from the will of the heads of governments. Which is worse, I did not understand what a federal Europe means. I had just a rough idea of European mutuality, but didn't really make any difference between a genuine constitution, an intergovernmental treaty or a constitutional treaty. My thinking in this area was locked inside of a box.

Third, the Papers show no restraints to criticize the current malfunctioning intergovernmental system of the European Union, personified in the European Council, and don't go far to denounce the Treaty of Lisbon. This makes the Papers totally independent and no-one can say this is some paid propaganda from Berlaymont. The papers are concluded by a draft European Constitution. The constitution starts with the words "We the Citizens" and has only ten articles that fit on a couple of pages, strongly contrasting with the 400-page-or-so Treaty of Lisbon.

Lastly, the European Papers are trying to follow the American best practice as closely as possible. This includes the emphasis on the tremendous citizens` role in the process of forming the federation, in a bottom-up manner. This effort is also apparent from the fact that the European Federalist Papers are not an official EU memo, they do not represent any Member State's position, they were not created by any unelected officer in Brussels, no head of government is responsible for them. Instead, it is pure citizenship and passion for the idea of federal Europe which lead to the creation of these Papers.

This citizens` dimension - everything comes from the citizens: the European Federalist Papers themselves, the Draft Constitution and the prospective convent and ratification reminds me the workings of an open source software community. And that's the reason I wanted to start contributing myself, to become one of the active community members.

I realized that the Papers, until then available only in English and Dutch, do not reach out to all the potentially interested people as there are many people who do not speak any of these two languages. So I offered my help and to this date, I translated Papers 0 - 3 into Czech. I also encouraged and organized others to translate the Papers into their own language or to help the existing translators to share the massive burden of translating by parallelizing their efforts. So far, there should be several other translations in progress.

At the same time, the authors of the Papers realized the power of the modern social media and instead of choosing the classical newspapers, they chose Web and Twitter as means to spread the federalist message. This was, of course, an idea that I appreciated too, even though it was clear that its implementation can be improved. Using my experience with community building, I started European Federalist Papers pages on Facebook and Google+. And that's probably how you learned about my involvement with the European Federalist Papers.

Now, my countrymen, when you know what I have been up to, you may as well consider supporting this noble idea of true federal Europe. If nothing else, I kindly ask you to read the papers as that's where everything begins. The rest is up to you.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Horizontal or vertical scalability?

Just finished reading a networking paper originating in the MINIX group called Keep Net Working - On a Dependable and Fast Networking Stack. Before going into the real meat of the paper, I must first grumble a little because the paper completely withholds the fact that HelenOS was the first multiserver microkernel-based system to have a fully decomposed networking stack, as described in Lukáš Mejdrech's 2009 master thesis Networking and TCP/IP stack for HelenOS system and briefed about by me at FOSDEM 2012. True, the first HelenOS networking stack was not a big success and we have reimplemented most of it since then, but HelenOS still has a fully decomposed networking stack. I suspect the authors of the paper must have suffered with temporary amnesia when writing the following words in 2012:
By chopping up the networking stack into many more components than in any other system we know...
Putting an end to my grumbling, the HelenOS networking stack has not been decomposed for the sake of saturating multi-gigabit network interfaces nor for self-healing capabilities, which are the areas the paper indeed attempts to innovate in.

What is more interesting about the paper is that it assumes processor cores are becoming an increasingly cheap resource and suggests to dedicate individual cores to networking stack components. So far so good and it is likely that this approach greatly improves the performance of the completely non-scalable legacy MINIX 3 networking stack. The problem, as I see it, is that this improvement seems to have gone into a dead end and there is hardly a way for it to keep the same design while still bringing new performance gains at the same time. The reason I think this is actually the case is the evolution of the Solaris 10 networking stack as described in the FireEngine whitepaper. According to both the MINIX group paper and the Solaris whitepaper, the two have gone into completely opposite directions.

The Solaris networking stack has abandoned the idea of horizontal networking stack scalability in which every component is serviced by a couple of kernel threads that can all run on a different processor in favor of a model in which the networking stack is multithreaded and each processor has de facto its own local instance of it. This vertical setup allows for a packet to be processed entirely on one processor, greatly improving cache utilization. Of course, this approach scales with the number of processors because the Solaris stack can be processing as many packets in parallel as there are CPUs without suffering from poor data locality.

On the other hand, the MINIX group paper suggest to have each networking stack component wired to a dedicated processor, so that each packet travels horizontally across the several processors as it is being processed by the networking stack. The paper praises this design's cache utilization because it appears the stack components can run without kernel intervention most of the time so that the caches remain populated with the component's code and data, but it completely ignores the effects caused by the packet itself changing processors and caches constantly.

It may be that the costs and benefits of each approach are different for a monolithic kernel such as Solaris and a multiserver MINIX 3 derivative such as the one described in the paper, but one thing is for sure. The lessons learned during the evolution of the Solaris networking stack warrant a very interesting comparison study.