Politics and Whatnot

Just another liberal political blog

Why Linux isn’t taking off

I’m a big fan of open-source software – I use Firefox, Apache, Launchy, Autohotkey, and many other such open-source programs that have made my life much easier without costing me anything.  But when it comes to the most prominent example of open-source software – Linux – I just can’t make it happen.  It’s not like Word, where I’m forced to use it because my co-workers can’t figure out how to open a .odt file, it’s that Linux has a lot of really unnecessary complexities that make it difficult for people like me who aren’t computer programmers.  Sometimes I feel like Linux programmers tend to think everyone is a programmer and can do whatever they do just as comfortably.  So if you’re one of those Linux guys who just can’t figure out why the public is still addicted to Windows, here’s a non-programmer’s thoughts on what needs to change:

1. The Console: This is the first big problem new Linux users will run into, and probably the root of many other problems.  People who give out Linux advice treat this like it’s the simplest thing in the world.  “Ok, you just open up a console at type ‘sudo chmod /root/…'” That all sounds fine to you, but the average computer user is thinking “done” at the point.  Any non-programmer feels very uncomfortable looking at a black screen with a blinking cursor staring back at them.  They’re thinking “Can’t I just click on something to make this work?”  This is why Windows really took off – simplicity.  No typing mysterious commands, no committing full file paths to your short-term memory.  I understand that having the console available is great if you’re a programmer and want to do something complex, and one of the drawbacks of Windows (especially recent versions) is how little can be done from the command line.  But Linux goes to the opposite extreme where you can’t even make half the stuff work without opening up a window and pretending you’re back in the MS-DOS era.

2. Chmod: Chmod is the DMV of Linux: it handles who has permission to do things, it always takes longer and is more complicated than you expected it to be, and everyone hates having to go there.  Part of the problem is that it’s often unclear if something needs to be done in chmod or if the problem is somewhere else, so when you try to do something and it still doesn’t work, you don’t know if you’re not doing the right thing in chmod or if you’re supposed to be doing something else.   Then there are those times you do something in chmod, it seems to work, but then you later found out that apparently nothing happened.  I’m increasingly accepting the idea that if I have a problem where the solution involves doing something in chmod, that problem’s not getting solved.

3. Sudo: Sudo is like the magic password – when you’re in a console and trying to do something, and it’s not happening, typing “sudo” first tends to make it happen.  This isn’t really a massive problem in and of itself, but it represents the needless red tape in Linux that new users tend to find frustrating.  Why is this necessary?  Why not just ask for a password if I’m about to do something that needs high security?

I don’t know if these things can be made any easier, but until they are, Linux is going to be simply something I play with on virtual machines rather than a serious competitor to Windows.


Proof that widescreen laptops are stupid

Not too long ago I purchased my first computer in a long time, and was disappointed to see that every new laptop computer on Earth was suddenly a widescreen.  To me, this made no sense at all – if you’re writing something that’s going on a narrow sheet of paper, why would you want a big fat wide screen?  Here’s the only things other than laptop computers that are widescreens: TVs and movie screens.  Here’s what’s never a widescreen: books and notepads.  The reason is that short lines of text are much easier to read than long lines of text, which make it difficult to go back to the start of the next line and find your place again.  Which is a laptop more similar to?  I understand more people are watching movies on computers now, but its really still mostly for reading things and writing things.


Steve Jobs proves my point

Still not convinced?  Well, what if we did a little experiment – let’s say we gave someone some sort of computer-device that could just as easily be used as a widescreen or as a more narrow screen, like a book or notepad.  Then see which way people would prefer to use it.

Of course, we have such a device – it’s called an iPad.  Does anyone use an iPad sideways?  Of course not.   Actually, the mere fact that you know what I’m talking about when I says “use an iPad sideways” goes to show that we all just assume that a narrow screen is better.  It’s inituitive.  The only reason people ever got into widescreen computers was because of widescreen TVs, and the assumption that widescreen=better.  But who knows, maybe with the iPad’s popularity, we’ll be seeing narrow-screen TVs soon instead.

Kim Dotcom, Megaupload owner, gives interview under house arrest

There’s a great interview here by Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload who was arrested by New Zealand at the order of FBI goons recently.

It’s funny to hear him actually speak in eloquent English, given the American media’s (most of which is owned by prominent members of the same organizations that have been so eagerly pushing for oppressive anti-piracy measures) attempt to portray him as a “flamboyant” weirdo outlaw type.  Of course, the fact that his name is reminiscent of “Kim Jong-Il” probably doesn’t help either.

And the fact is, its hard to see why the reaction was so severe against Megaupload.  When it was operational, I always considered Megaupload to be a place to get both legitimate and illegitimate files.  I also noticed that Megaupload not infrequently took files down for copyright infringement.  The only movies you could get on Megavideo were old movies that you probably would have some trouble finding a legitimate copy of.  I can’t recall finding a recent movie on any Mega-whatever service.

And he’s also correct that there are many other services that do the same thing – Mediafire, Rapidshare, and Filesonic were all virtually synonymous with Megaupload at the time the arrest occurred, but they are not in trouble.  Why?

I think the reason has to be Kim Dotcom himself.  He’s not a sympathetic guy – he’s ostentatious, he has a strange self-chosen name, and he lives in a far away land that, while not actually a good place to hide out, might appear that way to idiots.  It’s easy to create the perception that he got rich off piracy and knew he was doing something illegal, although that perception would be absolutely false.

The big point he makes, which is absolutely valid, is that this should be happening in the civil courts.  This sort of thing has NEVER been a criminal issue before.  It is so very rare for someone to be arrested for running a business that doesn’t involve killing people.  I can’t remember any other case of someone being arrested for running a website or for media piracy of any sort.

Now, to acknowledge the elephant in the room, Megaupload certainly knew there were some who were using its services for barely illegal activity.  But at the end of the day, the #1 complaint against Megaupload was that it’s take-down system was insufficient because it only removed the specific file requested to be taken down rather than each copy of the same.  The fact that that sort of thing gets you arrested, considered a flight risk, and prohibited from using the internet while you await a trial on flimsy charges shows just how much power the largest corporations have gained over American and international governments.

The Catholic Church is against pulling out. No joke.

One of the things that I’ve found surprising in this whole birth control-Catholic Church debate thing is learning just how ridiculously backward the Catholic Church’s views on birth control are.  I mean, before this whole thing happened, I just thought they opposed abortion.  As it turns out, they’re also against birth control – not just pills, ALL BIRTH CONTROL. So they’re against condoms too, meaning that protection from disease is limited to abstinence and limiting your choices to virgins.

And according to this fascinating Catholic sex FAQ section, it is a sin to even pull out.  Apparently, even this famously unreliable attempt to avoid pregnancy is considered “birth control” by the church, and is forbidden.  No word yet on how the church feels about thinking “don’t get pregnant” over and over again while having sex.


Stratfor emails show US government conspiracy against wikileaks

Take down the money. Go after his infrastructure. The tools we are
using to nail and de-construct Wiki are the same tools used to dismantle
and track aQ. Thank Cheney & 43. Big Brother owns his liberal
terrorist arse.

– burton@stratfor.com, email dated 2010-12-07 14:55:40

Well actually, as this is on the Wikileaks website now, it looks like his liberal terrorist arse owns Big Brother.

But there it is – pretty much about as much direct proof as you’re ever going to get that the US government, with the help of outsourced work to apparent very right-wing corporations, is involved in a secret plot to destroy Wikileaks.

If there is no investigation of this, Obama is a fraud.  Here we have direct evidence that government resources are being used to destroy a legitimate and important organization because of what the report on.  We would expect as much from Stalinist Russia, not the United States of America.  I mean freedom of the press in the fucking FIRST AMENDMENT for crying out loud.  Find who’s responsible and ensure they never work in government again.

Afghanistan: not that bad

With all the coverage of the recent violence in Afghanistan arising from the Koran-burning incident, it’s easy to think that Afghanistan is hopeless.  It’s embarrassing, as an American, to see so many taking this view – that we can’t win, that we are as bad as the Soviets, that we are unable to defeat the Nazi-like scourge that is the Taliban.  I’d expect as much from a nation of Frenchmen, but not Americans.

But, everyone says, Afghanistan is hopeless, they are too violent, there has been no progress, etc., etc.  Except that’s not really true.  Here’s a few reasons to think that we’re reaching the light at the end of the tunnel in Afghanistan:

  • Believe it or not, this was taken in Kabul

    Completely transformed Kabul: In 2001, Kabul was a smouldering  ruin with Taliban religious police roaming the streets.  Today, it’s a modern city, with shopping malls, five-star hotels, and is usually rather peaceful, being situated far from Afghanistan’s troublesome border with Pakistan.  Of course, there is still a ton of poverty and other problems, but the progress is still quite amazing.  Kabul can be an incubator for a modernized Afghan middle class that will fight the Taliban’s regressive beliefs on its own.

  • Way better education: During the two decades of war and Taliban rule prior to the American intervention, there was virtually no education in Afghanistan of the kind that we would ordinarily think of as “education.”  The Taliban would “indoctrinate” kids by making them memorize the Koran and hate everything but the Taliban, and that was all.  But over the last decade, that has drastically changed.  7 million Afghan children attend school today, including 37% of Afghan girls (that was 0% under the Taliban), and there is even an Afghan version of Sesame Street being broadcast.  The students growing up in post-Taliban Afghanistan will be entering their teenage years soon and will be having a massive impact on Afghan culture.  As long as the have a sort-of-secure environment to do so, it may completely shift attitudes throughout the country.  That’s not to say there aren’t still difficult challenges – but there is also a huge amount of progress.
  • Political antipathy towards the Taliban: A common misperception in the US is that the Taliban is an Afghan resistance group – it is not.  Even when it ruled Afghanistan it was considered a foreign occupier originating from Pakistan by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.  That view remains prevalent in Afghanistan today, especially in the North.  Therefore, many Afghans have responded to the likely end of the US occupation – or even the possibility of reconciliation with the Taliban –  by re-arming their old militias and re-creating the united anti-Taliban resistance.

Of course, you don’t here about these signs of progress in the alarmist media, where fear rules the day.  However, you also don’t hear about how much of a disaster failure would be – if the Taliban retakes Afghanistan with ISI backing, it resets all the progress we made to square one.  The winners would be the extremists responsible for 9/11 and the losers would be everyone else.  This is not an option for us as Americans, no matter how long it takes to set things right again.  All we would need to do to support Afghanistan is keep American air power in support of the government.  If we can muster up enough support to keep that up until the government is stable, I can’t imagine how a lasting victory will not happen.

The US Chamber of Commerce is trying to fool you with lies and half-truths because it thinks you’re a sucker

The US Chamber of Commerce has been unleashing a massive ad barrage in local elections, exclusively targeting Democrats and supporting Republican candidates.  The US Chamber of Commerce is America’s largest lobbying and political corruption organization.  It is frequently confused with the US Department of Commerce, a government organization to which the Chamber probably owes any trust it is given by the American public.  Starting in 2008, the Chamber began taking an aggressively anti-oversight, anti-environment, and pro-corruption stance, spending millions in local races to attack politicians that did not cave to their will and support those that do.  The Chamber refuses to say who its members are, and Toyota (a Japanese company) is the only member that I am aware of explicitly acknowledging membership in the shadowy federation.  FedEx and Sam’s Club also sponsor the Chamber’s webpage and offer discounts to members that help the Chamber advance its pro-corruption agenda.

In 2012, the Chamber has embarked on a massive campaign to attack candidates that have stood in the way of its attempt to get the entire government in its pocket.  Do they do this by informing you of their positions, and fairly comparing their beliefs with those of the candidates they’re opposing?  Of course not!  Their beliefs are that the government should be a corporate dictatorship where industry is free to pollute at will and taxes are exclusively paid by impoverished unregulated workers that die when they get sick.  Those beliefs could never fairly compete, so they have to lie.  That is why, out of seven Chamber statements rated by Politifact so far this election cycle, not one has been above the level of “half true”, and  5 of 7 have been “false” or “mostly false”.  Frankly, Politifact’s ratings have given a lot of slack to the Chamber, straining to find an “element of truth” in some statements that really should be “false” or “pants on fire”.

Why does the US Chamber of Commerce lie to you and give you partial information?  Because they think you’re a sucker.  They think they can fool you into voting against those who take a stand against corporate corruption and into voting for corporate puppets that will turn around and screw you over once they get into office.  Are they right?  We’ll find out this election season.

UPDATE 5/15/12:

The Chamber of Commerce’s atrocious record on the truth continues with a well-deserved “pants on fire” from Politifact.  They claim the new health care bill will kick 20 millions seniors off medicare, which doesn’t even have a grain of truth to support it.  It’s just a flat out lie.  Their record is now among the worst on Politifact.  Even Newt Gingrich, whose record I previously attacked as the worst, has some true and mostly true ratings.  Yet, because they sound like “Department of Commerce,” the dumber among the seniors this ad targets will trust this right-wing scam organization as it seeks to enslave them.

Time to eat crow on gold (sort of)

I make a lot of predictions, usually wrong predictions, but somehow I feel a need to make them anyway.  One such prediction was a few months before the end of 2011, I predicted that gold would be below $1000 by the end of the year.  Now we’re a bit over a month into 2012, and gold’s actually a bit higher than it was back then, at $1723/ounce.  Oh well.

However, I wasn’t wrong about one thing – it looks like the gold bubble is about done.  The price has stopped increasing at a thoroughly ridiculous rate, and is now staying about level at throughly ridiculous prices.

Still, the price is almost double my prediction, which is kinda horrible.  I think I made two fundamental errors:

1. I assumed that once a bubble runs out of steam, it will lead to a sharp drop in price.  Here the gold bubble ran out of steam, but strangely, has been staying at the same hyper-inflated price ever since.  I won’t try to explain it.

2. I tried to predict something I did not understand.  I don’t get gold.  I don’t get why anyone would $1723/ounce for a metal with very low strength-to-weight ratio, just because it’s slightly prettier than other metals and is rare.  I don’t get why that same metal is worth $1723/ounce now when it was worth just $35/ounce in 1970, and had been fairly steady at about that level for decades.  I mean, the inflation rate since 1970 has been 500% – so there’s a good argument for gold being worth almost $200/ounce now, but I don’t see anything beyond that.  Frankly, I think even $200/ounce is way overpriced.  In other words, I tried to predict the actions of people – gold traders – who operate by logical rules that are quite different from my own. Why should I know what they’re going to do?

This same idea probably also explains why I’m so bad at predicting what Republicans will do.  It looks increasingly like my long-standing belief that Republicans cannot elect Mitt Romney is going to be proven false in a matter of months.  Of course, I’m holding out until the end, but I can’t help but think that maybe Republicans just work in mysterious ways.  Thump the bible all day and fear-monger about Muslim extremists, yell about how “RINOs” are failing your party, but then vote in mysterious religion guy from the North who has a quite liberal record among Republicans, and is blatantly changing his public statements to fit conservative views.  Whatever.  I don’t get gold, I don’t get Republicans, and I’m going to stop trying to get either of these.


Romney’s massive corporate hate machine strikes again in Florida

An interesting thing has happened in the polls since South Carolina’s primary.  First, Newt Gingrich’s numbers nationwide have soared, turning a double-digit Romney lead into a 9 point Gingrich lead in about a week.  However, in Florida, that hasn’t happened.  Actually, Gingrich did erase Romney’s lead and was on top for a short time, but his numbers then dropped sharply in the last few days, which did not happen in the national poll.

What can explain the drop in Florida but not nationwide?  This article can:

According to NBC/Smart Media Group Delta, which tracks ads, Florida spending so far includes: Romney, $5.7 million; Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney “super” political action committee, $8.7 million; Gingrich, $145,000; Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super PAC, $1.8 million

In other words, that’s $14.4 million in ads favoring Romney, and about $2 million in ads favoring Gingrich in Florida.  I also think that Romney’s ads get an effectiveness boost because Gingrich is particularly vulnerable to attack.  All you really have to do is remind voters that he’s Newt Gingrich. Furthermore, I’ve often wondered whether Republicans might be particularly prone to being swayed by ads – I get this from the large number of scams I hear advertised on conservative talk radio.

So I think that Republican voters are more favorable to Gingrich overall, but Romney’s strategy of doing massive hate-spewing advertising blitzes on a state-by-state basis may pay off.  I’m not sure if it will have as big of an impact on the general election because it may allow Obama to hit back by questioning the sources of the ads, which moderates may be less trusting of.

Three races in, Republican primary is in a state of chaos

Not that long ago, it seemed almost certain that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee – although I decided not to give up yet on my long-held belief that Romney is unable to win because he’s an intelligent Mormon from the North.  How certain did it seem?  Romney was briefly considered to be over 90% likely to be the Republican nominee on Intrade.

But over the last couple of days, all hell has broken loose.  First, Gingrich’s popularity soared after he delivered a standing-ovation-prompting defense of his plan to legalize child labor during the debates.  Second, the Republican Party announced that after some recounting it considers Santorum, not Romney, the winner of the Iowa debates.  This led to the third shock – a Gingrich victory in South Carolina, which now looks certain.

So as it stands now, there have been three races, and three winners.  Santorum in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, and Gingrich in South Carolina.   Gingrich is the one with the momentum, but Romney has a clear lead in Florida (votes Jan 31) according to the most recent polls, which were taken before the events of the last few days.  Romney’s current numbers reflect a surge he experienced after his then-apparent win in Iowa and clear victory in New Hampshire, but now he’s looking a bit less like a winner and a bit more like somebody who was more of a loser than you thought.  I would hypothesize that Republicans, due to their authoritarian nature, particularly gravitate towards those they see as powerful winners, and away from powerless losers.  That probably explains at least part of Romney’s sudden decline in South Carolina after the Iowa revelation.   Point being, Florida’s going to be a close fight, and Romney will not get a clear enough win to put away the competition.

None of the races after Florida have really gotten much attention, and there is very little polling data of any use.  These later races also come pretty rapidly – Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri are all within a few days of each other in early February.  Then there’s a couple weeks break – with a few more races in late February/early March, and then Super Tuesday on March 6.  Many of the Super Tuesday states are pretty red bible belt states and bad news for Romney, with the notable counterexample of Massachusetts, which is almost certain to go in Romney’s favor.   What this means is, until Super Tuesday is over, it will be very difficult for Gingrich/Santorum to get knocked out.  If they clearly get ahead of Romney – which seems unlikely based on Romney’s solid 20-30% base of support – they will still have to fight each other.  The result, I anticipate, will be many months of a three-way race, depletion of Republican finances, and an unclear winner by the time of the convention.  In other words, as I have projected already, the winner of the Republican nomination will be Nobody.

What happens after Nobody wins?  Well, then we have a general election where one of the two main candidates is not anointed by a political party, but is instead picked by the voters as a whole.  If that were to happen, hopefully voters will see the folly of supporting a particular party, and bring about non-partisan, true democracy in America.

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