· The World
· · Politics
· · · · Canada (2 fragments)
· · · · Middle East (2 fragments)
· · · · Radical Ideas (1 fragment)
Blah, Blah, Blah, Boom
· COP26 is winding down, and I think nobody can seriously disagree with Greta Thunberg’s take: “Blah, blah, blah.” And then she continued “The real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever.” I wonder: What form does that “real work” take? Well, I just finished reading How to Blow Up a Pipeline by Andreas Malm, which doesn’t include instructions for blowing up pipelines but argues that that Real Work should include infrastructure destruction. It’s a good book, and if you (like me) are horrified at the onrushing climate catastrophe and enraged at our leaders’ incapacity and unwillingness to take actions that might seriously mitigate the devastation, you might want to read it ...
Not an Amazon Problem
· The NY Times profile quotes me saying “We don’t really have an Amazon problem. What we have is a deep, societal problem with an unacceptable imbalance of power and wealth.” But the URL contained the string “amazon-critic-tim-bray” and the HTML
<title> says “Tim Bray Is Not Done With Amazon”. I feel like I’m being pigeonholed and I don’t like it ... [11 comments]
Just Too Efficient
· On a Spring 2019 walk in Beijing I saw two street sweepers at a sunny corner. They were beat-up looking and grizzled but probably younger than me. They’d paused work to smoke and talk. One told a story; the other’s eyes widened and then he laughed so hard he had to bend over, leaning on his broom. I suspect their jobs and pay were lousy and their lives constrained in ways I can’t imagine. But they had time to smoke a cigarette and crack a joke. You know what that’s called? Waste, inefficiency, a suboptimal outcome. Some of the brightest minds in our economy are earnestly engaged in stamping it out. They’re winning, but everyone’s losing ... [30 comments]
At CRAB Park
· On an errand, we felt the need to be outside near the sea. The closest opportunity was CRAB Park (see here). We hadn’t planned on visiting a homeless encampment but did that too. I seriously recommend the experience. Also I got pleasant pictures to accompany the story ...
On Soaking the Rich
· The government of BC, the Canadian province where I live, just released a new budget which, among other things, raises tax on high incomes. Here is an overview. The top marginal tax on incomes over C$220,000 goes from 16.8% to 20.5%. This is just provincial tax; what with the Feds, the total top marginal rate is now 53%. Not everyone is delighted. For example Garth Turner, finance/real-estate blogger, who emits a howl of right-wing grief. I’m comfortable speaking about this since I’m personally affected ... [5 comments]
The Oil Patch Up Against the Wall
· I’m terribly worried about how my children — and humans in general — are going to deal with catastrophic global warming in the likely case that the average global temperature spike is somewhere in the 2°-4°C range. I want to highlight a couple of weekend stories on the biggest news story of the twenty-first century: The tragedy of the deniers, and likely consequences for the perpetrators ... [4 comments]
At the Climate Strike
· I went and so did lots of others, but many couldn’t so I thought I’d try to share the scale and the feel ... [1 comment]
Portraits of Puppets
· If you happened to check out my Twitter feed on the weekend, you’ll know that I attended a pair of dueling rallies outside a train station in central Vancouver. On one side, a crowd in black supporting the Hong Kong protests; on the other a red-clad flag-festooned squad bringing Beijing’s message. I was dressed in black and took pictures of the other side ... [1 comment]
· I went to a two-day “D&I workshop for leaders”. Many in biz will know what that stands for: Diversity and Inclusion. The people facilitating were WMFDP, which stands for “White Men as Full Diversity Partners”. Having said that, only one of the two was a white man, and the audience was more gender-diverse than the high-tech norm. Everyone was senior, there were lots of VPs in the room. It had a strong effect on me ... [8 comments]
Jag Diary 4: Marketing Tour
· What happened was, Lauren and I played hookey from work and took in Jaguar/Land Rover’s Art of Performance tour, and it was a total blast, a couple hours of pure fun. This is just a recommendation for the show plus a few things I’ve learned about the car (which remains super interesting) since the last Jag-Diary entry ... [2 comments]
· Last Thursday, cannabis became legal in Canada. For example, here’s my local provincial government’s online cannabis store (screenshot below). There are going to be physical storefronts too, some private-sector, but the licensing process is slow so there aren’t any in Vancouver yet, except of course for the dozens of “dispensaries” that have been up and running for years; I suppose some of them will become legal. Which is to say, it hasn’t been very dramatic. But I think it is sort of a big deal ... [4 comments]
· Many of us (speaking from the tech sector where I work) think the sector’s workplace diversity isn’t very good. Specifically, there aren’t enough women. Large companies — all the ones I’ve worked for, anyhow — have goals, and generally work hard at meeting them. Many companies now say they care about diversity, and have goals around improving it. But improvement is painfully slow; why? Maybe part of it is that those aren’t the same kind of “goals” ... [4 comments]
How To Stop Kinder Morgan
· Yesterday, I was arrested and charged with Civil Contempt for failing to respect an injunction forbidding protesters from coming within 5 meters of the property where Kinder Morgan is trying to bring a pipeline for tar-sands bitumen to the Pacific. Herewith a few words on why this kind of action might work and how to go about doing it. Well, and I guess I should tack on a note about why the pipeline is a stupid idea and should be stopped, but I suspect most readers here are already on-board with that ... [17 comments]
· I used to do quite a bit of reviewing on TripAdvisor; enjoyed the feeling of contributing and used the service when picking hotels and restos. But then I realized that this little warm glow was really all about making money for Silicon Valley VCs, and I have a major attitude problem about that. Which raises the issue; Is it ethically OK to participate in review sites at all? [Spoiler: Yeah, sometimes, but definitely not on Google Maps.] ... [4 comments]
· In The bubble without any fizz, The Economist addresses the fact that financial-asset prices (stocks, bonds, and the like) keep drifting up and up in a world where inflation doesn’t; are we in a mega-bubble? What’s really going on? Looks obvious to me, but then I’m a left-winger. I think it’s all a straightforward consequence of economic efficiency and class warfare ... [3 comments]
Canadian Tax Wrangling
· Our media, pro and social, echo with blasts of self-righteous anger over proposed legislation which would eliminate a few popular tax dodges. Weirdly, I see no-one arguing the other side; that the tax proposals are reasonable. I think I’m qualified to make that argument, so I will. [If you’re not Canadian, you can probably stop reading here.] ... [5 comments]
· Back when I was an actual Marxist, we used to talk about the “contradictions of capitalism”. It’s actually a handy phrase (alliterative too!) and recently I feel like the Internet is trying to stuff those contradictions down my throat ... [5 comments]
Shooter as Tabula Rasa
· Last night I accidentally came face to face with Twitter horror, a very pale reflection of larger real-life horror, but still jarring. What happened was, someone shot up a Québec City mosque. For a few hours nobody knew who’d done the shooting, and that absence of identity became a blank canvas which the Net’s trolls painted with their shit-colored dreams ... [2 comments]
The Women’s March
· Just like everyone else I have a theory about What It Means, but I also have a story and a cool picture to illustrate ... [3 comments]
· Most years I hate this season; less light every day, and with every gust a whirl of summer leaves torn from winter branches. Maybe I dislike the resonance with my life’s own greybeard season. Maybe it’s the trio of huge Pacific storms we’re dealing with. Let’s be honest: Mostly, it’s shitty US politics. Some of the colors are beautiful though ... [3 comments]
· There’s this nice video message in the elevators at work, about the Pride Parade. And it’s making me uneasy ... [2 comments]
New British Isles
· Following on the British EU referendum, some political re-alignment of the British Isles feels inevitable. I propose a re-organization into three states: Ireland, Britain, and Dál Riata (or perhaps Dalriada) which comprises what we now call Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here’s a map ... [7 comments]
On the Left
· I have a problem lately: When I look in the mirror, I see a left-wing extremist. I’m uneasy about my strengthening belief that Free Enterprise is gonna ruin everything good unless we take a knife to its testicles first ... [25 comments]
Game of Homes
· What happened was, I got on an airplane, unexpectedly finished my book, and discovered there wasn’t much else downloaded on that device. So I started re-reading what was there, namely Game of Thrones. It’s hard to stop doing that once you start, and what’s worse, I can’t help thinking about Vancouver Real Estate ... [7 comments]
From the Hill
· Joseph Heath argued in 2001’s The Efficient Society that Canadian society is about as optimal as it gets. This idea is not completely crazy, even when one loathes the gang currently in charge. This week I made a rare visit to Ottawa, took pictures, and thought about Canadian-ness ... [1 comment]
Pervasive Monitoring Is an Attack
· That’s the title of RFC 7258, also known as BCP 188 (where BCP stands for “Best Current Practice”); it represents Internet Engineering Task Force consensus on the fact that many powerful well-funded entities feel it is appropriate to monitor people’s use of the Net, without telling those people. The consensus is: This monitoring is an attack and designers of Internet protocols must work to mitigate it ... [8 comments]
On Piketty on Capital
· Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century may well be the most important economics book published this century; or maybe just the most important book. Its physical version is sold out. I just finished it, and while it’s been reviewed to death (by Nobel-Prize winners, forsooth), I haven’t heard any Net-head or software-geek voices. And there are angles there our tribe should pay attention to ... [10 comments]
· I attended to pitch in on JSON and OAuth work, and because it was here in Vancouver. But this meeting was really about defending the Internet from those attacking it. Which is worth everyone’s attention and deserves more explanation than I’ve seen in the mainstream media ... [4 comments]
Tab Sweep: Hallowe’en
· Well into Q3 and autumn, and my SAD is already stirring in the back corner of my brain. But any season is Harvest season on the Web ... [2 comments]
Why the Obamacare Website Sucks
· Not a great launch. Wonder how many people with serious Web street cred are surprised? I’ll tell you: zero. But it’s amazing how many political commentators are suddenly overflowing with site-building chops ... [12 comments]
Spies, Hypocrites, and Fools
· There are angry voices sounding in Europe over the NSA’s large-scale indiscriminate information-gathering there. It’s perfectly possible to be suspicious and cynical about the US spooks, a fan of Ed Snowden, and still think those voices are those of either Euro-hypocrites or Euro-fools ... [16 comments]
· If you weren’t watching the livestream (courtesy of The Texas Tribune) you missed an astounding piece of drama. I only caught the last 90 minutes, but wow ... [6 comments]
Springtime Tab Sweep — The World
· The only unifying theme is that they’ve been building up in the browser for months, and are generally consistent with my worldview ... [3 comments]
What Conservatives are For
· I’m no right-winger but I’ve long felt that a healthy society needs sane progressives and sane conservatives, and that many of America’s difficulties are related to an absence of the latter. So here’s a proposed Sane-conservative manifesto, written from outside ... [23 comments]
· Congrats on having gotten through another overly-long election. Notes from a spectator looking south from north of 49° ... [6 comments]
Checking out Intrade
· I kept hearing about how this or that political campaign or economic scenario was “trending on Intrade”, so I thought I’d check it out. Then, of course, I had to make some bets. It’s fun! But not a good way to make money I think ... [4 comments]
More On That Pipeline
· I’ve written before about the BC pipeline controversy. Like many Canadians, I’m unconvinced that it makes sense to bet heavily on filthy carbon-laden bitumen, unconvinced that we should rip the hell out of Northern Alberta’s people and landscape to extract it, unconvinced that we should ship it out of the country so we can buy the refined product back, unconvinced that we should pipe it through our wilderness to the sea, and really unconvinced that it makes sense to run 250 supertankers a year into the narrow stormy fjords of northern BC ... [4 comments]
Selling Canadians Short
· [If you don’t care about Canadian politics, you can stop reading now.] Recently I ran across A budget, a leadership race — and a nation split up the middle, by Andrew Coyne, a titan of the Canadian conservative commentariat. It made me so mad that I wanted to emit a loud peevish whine in this space, but I decided to wait till I’d cooled down. But unfortunately I haven’t. Mr Coyne’s thesis is that the residents of the energy-producing regions of Canada are corrupt fools. Fortunately his argument is pitiably weak ... [8 comments]
Tab Sweep — The World
· Well, the old browser tab count is up well past thirty, and that makes it awfully slow to restart even if it’s Chrome. So, let’s see if I can transplant some of these tabs into your browser ... [4 comments]
No Iran War Please
· Back in 2002, this crazy idea of responding to 9/11 by attacking Iraq first started being floated. And now we’re getting stronger and stronger whiffs of Dorky Middle East War, the Sequel: Iran. Can the sensible people of the world please stand up and say ”Please, let’s not do that“ ... [17 comments]
· The politics start with whether you say “tar sands” or “oil sands”. Whatever you want to call them, they’re up in Northern Alberta. Observers of American politics will have noticed the Keystone XL project, which would take the sands’ crude oil south to Texas. Northern Gateway, the Canadian version, would carry crude west to Kitimat on the Pacific coast for export to Asia; it’s in the news because the public hearings start next week, with thousands queued up to offer opinions. I’m generally contra, and increasingly optimistic ... [7 comments]
Occupying Wall Street
· Like many people around the world, I’ve found the nascent Occupy Wall Street (OWS) action attention-grabbing and thought-provoking. The link in the previous sentence is to their own site run out of that park in lower Manhattan ... [10 comments]
Good News-Biz News
· People still read news, but the howls of pain from the business grow always louder; the news about the news is all layoffs and paywalls. I’d like to offer a cheery counter-example ... [5 comments]
Public Isn’t Private
· After the hockey was over, we had a hideous riot in Vancouver. The only serious injury, thankfully, was someone who fell off an elevated highway. You can’t begin to imagine how hurt and angry with the rioters the people of this town are. There’s an interesting sort of Facebook-vigilante justice going on ... [2 comments]
No Peace Soon
· In the Middle East, I mean. As of May 2011, the decades-old mainstream vision of how peace might play out is stone cold dead. The status quo is also apparently the future ... [1 comment]
· My own, I mean. I sort of thought I’d settled into a mid-life Canadian-mainstream political rut, but events have been battering me sideways ... [11 comments]
Tab Sweep — The World
· Herewith notes provoked by certain long-lived browser tabs not primarily focused on technology or the Net. Considerably random ... [5 comments]
· I did some unavoidable driving-around today and tuned in, as I do from time to time, the sports station, which was discussing the evening-to-be’s hockey game. Because while I am not what anyone would call a real fan, I am an admirer of serious, respectful, grown-up discourse ... [5 comments]
Nazis in a Teapot
· Last Thursday evening Michael Gartenberg, who’s a smart analyst, and blogger, tweeted that he’d searched for “Jewish” in Android Market and came up with some Nazi trash. Sure enough, he was right. The moron who was selling a “Hitler theme” and other related junk had used “jewish” and “jews” as keywords. Mind you, this crap was like five screens down, you really had to be working to see it ... [6 comments]
Had It With Harper
· In Canada we’re about to enter our fifth year of Conservative (AKA “Tory”) minority government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They’ve been uninspiring and not terribly likable, but reasonably competent; enough to stay out of real trouble with the voters. I’m no Tory but I’ve mostly been “well, whatever”. No longer; it’s time to bounce these bozos and see if we can do better ... [13 comments]
· It worries me that, as a resident of Vancouver off-and-on since 1983, I am engaged so much on the Internet and so little in my home-town. My local outings have been limited to music, children’s sports, and dining out with friends. I’m attempting to become more local and have thus recently become a member of two organizations: the Vancouver Hack Space (Motto: Down with Betamax! <snicker>) and Vision Vancouver. They aren’t like each other at all ... [1 comment]
Disinvesting In the USA
· Tuesday on Twitter I said “Moved the % of US equities in my long-term portfolio down from moderate to basically zero.” I got a lot of questions so here’s more ... [14 comments]
Taking Care of Alison
· The US is consumed with discussion of health-care alternatives, and in US politics it seems to be OK to knowingly tell bald-face lies, and in US media it seems not OK to call a lie by its true name. Here’s a small bit of first-hand reportage about the working of another approach to health-care ... [31 comments]
Tab Sweep — The World
· In the current Twitter era, link-blogging has become something of a lost art. But damn do I ever have a lot of tabs open, dating back months. This first instalment mostly full of anger and negativity, sorry ’bout that. But we’ll start out with a beautiful must-read on human genetics ... [6 comments]
Carl for Printer
· Check out Yes We Scan!, where my name appears among those supporting a bid by Carl Malamud to drag the United States Government Printing Office into the current millennium. Carl is an honest and brainy guy whom I’ve known for a while, and the list of things he wants to do looks awfully smart to me. Obviously I’m not speaking for my employer and also I’m not even an American. So in this context I’m a self-appointed representative of the Internet-using citizens of the world, who want the governments we pay for to make saner use of the Net, and would be happy for the United States to provide us all with a good example. [2 comments]
· While, like many, I’m ambivalent about the Olympics, I lean to the positive side, and was moderately happy when Vancouver scored the 2010 Winter Games. Since then, the infrastructure preparations have ripped the shit out of our city, the financial arrangements have gone sideways, and I failed to get any of the tickets I signed up for ... [9 comments]
· I’m not an American but I’ve certainly enjoyed the political theatre this last couple of years. Yesterday morning I was walking through a hotel lobby in San Jose at 9AM (noon in Washington) and there on the big TV in the restaurant was the inauguration. The lobby had emptied as the staff crowded in to watch. Then everyone joined in a big round of applause. I was touched, but it was complicated ... [7 comments]
· If you’re interested in the ongoing financial calamity, or maybe even if you’re not, and whether or not you think you understand what happened, I highly recommend that you set aside a few minutes to read Michael Lewis’ remarkable The End. I find myself, off and on, suffering from unmanageably severe anger at the financial professionals who paid themselves millions for driving the economy into a brick wall at high speed, then walking away while we pick up the pieces. Reading The End didn’t help. So what are we going to do? ... [16 comments]
· I must open with heartfelt thanks to all of you for the passion and drama and rhetoric and personality you’ve offered each other and the world, in the political-theatre context, for the last couple of years. Unless the tools of Statistics have suddenly become empty shells, Mr. Obama will be your forty-fourth President; I’ve said my piece on why this is probably a good thing. Here’s some more ... [13 comments]
· Yes, last week we had a Canadian election. Not much changed, so it wasn’t a very satisfying experience. For the first time, I’m warming up to the notion of tinkering with our voting system ... [22 comments]
· Business failure is much in the news. I have personal experience, having on a few occasions been in the management of a hard-pressed company that needed money to stay afloat. I learned the Golden Rule: He Who Has The Gold Makes the Rules. I’ve also been there advising people trying to deploy money to save a troubled business. I learned something else: making good rules is hard. [1 comment]
No Secret Software!
· For my money, Christine Peterson offered the most important message I heard at OSCON. Way back when, she invented the term “Open Source” and, if we get behind it, which we should, the No Secret Software! rallying cry could be as big or bigger ... [11 comments]
· In the news, the rulers of North Korea (watch out for major famines), Myanmar, and Zimbabwe wreak violence and starvation upon their peoples and profit thereby. In a better world, we’d find a way to talk it over, put together an expeditionary force, march in, topple them, execute the most deserving, and give those peoples another chance. Thanks to Republican cronyism, corruption, and stupidity, that sort of benign intervention is now off the table, maybe for another generation. Thanks, Dubya. [Dear readers: want to see Tim get thoroughly roasted? Read the comments. -Ed.] [19 comments]
· No, there isn’t one as I write this. But within the last few weeks, Hamas offered a ten-year truce covering the whole region and (separately it seems) a six-month truce covering just Gaza. The next story after that’s headline is “Girl killed in fresh Gaza clashes”, sigh. Seems to me it might be worth a try.
[Update: I got a couple of horrid racist comments, which I responded to, but then lost somehow. I’ll have to get in and clean up the comment status by hand; sorry.] ... [8 comments]
Tibet and Twitter
· On the plane home from San Francisco, I was sitting among a bunch of Tibetans who’d been down from Vancouver for the big protests around the Olympic Torch relay. I was honoured to be with them. The day before, I’d been following the action mostly on Twitter: check out @teamtibet, where they were helping organize the protests. Twitter, it’s an activist’s dream. But I couldn’t find online video or photos of Majora Carter carrying the torch and the Tibetan flag. Oh, and China, here’s a reality we honkies internalized way back when: Imperialism, it can do wonders for your commercial position and in distracting the citizens from the regime’s domestic failings. But on the other hand, the bad PR is just never gonna go away. So, you want the upside, you just gotta suck it up and deal with the image damage. Public whining ill-suits a wannabe imperial power. [8 comments]
· In principle, when a substantial group of people want to have their own country, trying to stop them is expensive, bloody, and futile. So, good on ya, Kosovo. Hmm, the government seems to be online at ks-gov.net, which suggests they’d like to have
.ks for their top-level-domain. It’s available. [7 comments]
Missing in Shanghai
· Wikipedia. BBC News. YouTube. Everyone on wordpress.com and on blogspot.com. Plus, all feeds hosted at FeedBurner (and that’s a lot of feeds, including some pretty big-name bloggers). Mind you, all this changes, sometimes from week to week, they tell me. Still, you have to feel sorry for Chinese knowledge workers, fighting with one hand tied behind their back. [4 comments]
Tab Sweep — The World
· You know, each and every one of these is worth a carefully-considered little essay; but I just don’t have the cycles, and publishing them is better than not ... [6 comments]
· Today, the anniversary of 9/11 (here’s my 9/14/2001 take), the media and the Net are full of look-backs, appropriately. I’d like to invest a moment in thinking about the bad guys and how we’re doing at preventing a re-run ... [8 comments]
Great Wall Protest
· It was Canadians, two of them from Vancouver, who went and hoisted the “Free Tibet” poster on the Great Wall. What’s the point of having young people in the world if they don’t pull off looney stunts like this? I’m so proud of ’em. Here’s the CBC story, the Flickr photos, and first-person coverage in Beijing Wide Open by Lhadon Tethong. [4 comments]
· Godwin’s Law, you say? I don’t think so. Andrew Sullivan points out prior use of the term “Enhanced Interrogation”, promoted not only by the malevolent thickheads of the Bush administration but by most of the Republican candidates for President; prior use, that is, by the Gestapo. Meanwhile Dick Cheney argues that the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Constitution are tools for terrorists. Has the American right wing completely lost its mind? I even had to unsubscribe from Instapundit; I thought I ought to keep in touch with one articulate camera-loving righty, but there was one too many waves of nausea provoked by his “Al-Qaeda tortures much worse than we do and the Mainstream Media ignores it” whining. I had come to think, in mid-life, that while I will never really be conservative, there are smart honorable people on that side who have good points to make. That may be true outside the United States, but in the American context, near as I can tell, at the moment “conservative” means “pro-torture” which means “scum” ... [15 comments]
On the Hill
· Today I had a bunch of meetings in Washington, DC, only one of which I can talk about. The sun was up and the trees a riot of blossoms, and it was pleasant to walk around, which is what you mostly do there when you’re on government business. We got to meet briefly with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, and was I ever impressed. I suppose, given that her district includes San Jose, it’s not surprising that she’d be pretty tech-savvy, but even so. She’s generally on board with the notion that Open Standards float all boats, and she’s involved in a bunch of the hot issues where these apply: in particular, with voting law (think: Diebold) and the Library of Congress. A very Net-friendly politician ... [4 comments]
· So the Liberals picked the pencil-neck geek with the bad hair, and his acceptance speech wasn’t very good TV. Still, he’s kind of appealing, he’s real smart, and he knows how the system works. That cynical old lizard Chrétien gave a darn good speech, I thought. Harper, Dion, Layton, Duceppe; there are lots of countries whose citizens are looking at worse choices. [7 comments]
· In Canada, we have three significant political parties. The right-wing Conservatives (Tories) occasionally get to form the government (like now, for instance). The centrist Liberals are sometimes called “the natural governing party” and have definitely spent more years in office; at the moment they’re in opposition after getting a well-deserved spanking from the voters over a nasty little corruption scandal. Then there’s social-democratic NDP. The Liberals are currently having a convention to pick their next leader, quite possibly our next Prime Minister. Tonight we had the big speeches from all eight (!) candidates and the first ballot. Probably of interest only to Canadian-politics fans ... [5 comments]
On Attacking Iran
· There’s a term in Political Science that I’m looking for (and if the LazyWeb speaks up, I’ll re-write this to accommodate it). It’s the technique of gradually shifting the center of a debate, first by introducing notions previously unthinkable at the edge, then gradually moving them towards plausibility. It seems to be happening right now, with the objective of dragging aggressive war against Iran to stage center. Just this last weekend, the LA Times ran an opinion piece with the admirably-straightforward title Bomb Iran, and Ha’aretz was right behind them in line with Bush: I would understand if Israel chose to attack Iran. There’s even a schedule: In recent talks with their Israeli counterparts, French government officials estimated that Iran would reach the “point of no return” in its nuclear program by spring 2007, in approximately five months. I am no lover of the corrupt theofascist oppressors in Tehran; and I suspect that nearly everyone agrees that we lose every time nuclear weapons cross another border. But still, are we so blind to history that anybody believes that such an attempt will succeed; or, whether succeeding or failing, improve the situation? [Update: The term I was looking for was Overton Window; check the comments for a pointer to Mark Pilgrim using it. Thanks LazyWeb!] [16 comments]
Erroneous Ministerial One
· Herewith my occasional romp through the built-up browser tabs. Item (serious): In The ‘Next’ Java, Joe Gregorio says some Really Smart Things about languages in general and Java in articular. Item (serious): At Business Week, Stephen Baker’s Writing for an audience of one says something genuinely new (hard, these days) about blogging. Item (interesting): My new Samsung is a pretty cool phone, but there are a few irritants. It turns out that someone called RedIpS has fixed them. I just bought a flashing cable on EBay; I wonder if I’m going to be breaking any laws? Item (not serious): SOA Facts. Item (puzzling): Some guy named Tim Bray seems to be in trouble in China; this article provided the title above. I hope Mr. Bray gets out OK. [1 comment]
· Item: Ehud Olmert says “The claim that we lost is unfounded. Half of Lebanon is destroyed; is that a loss?”
Item: Charles Krauthammer calls for war with Iran: “The decision is no more than a year away.”
Item: George W. Bush asks “What does that mean, ‘outrages upon human dignity’?”
Five Years Later
· So sad, so sad. Here’s a story of an little-known 9/11 hero that I hadn’t heard before. I gather that our side has done a pretty good job of getting the guys who organized it and breaking up their organization, but you know, trying to fight a guerrilla movement by killing them one at a time has never worked for anyone in any history books I’ve read. Bruce Schneier says what a lot of smart people are saying, that yes, this really is a policing problem. It’s just everyone’s bad luck that the bad guys did the bad things at a time when the U.S. administration contained what seems to have been an unusually high proportion of feckless ideologically-blinded not-too-bright hacks. Looking back in time, there are some things that make you shake your head and think “That’s just completely crazy!” History is full of them, from Athens attacking Syracuse a couple of millennia back to Hitler attacking Russia within the memory of living people. It’s beginning to look like retaining Rumsfeld’s services will be seen as the twenty-first century equivalent.
Hao Wu and Graham McMynn
· Graham McMynn is a teenager who was kidnapped in Vancouver on April 4th and freed, in a large, noisy, and newsworthy police operation, on April 12th. Hao Wu is a Chinese film-maker and blogger who was kidnapped in Beijing on February 22nd in a small, quiet police operation not intended to be newsworthy, and who has not been freed. Read about it here, here, and here. Making noise about it might influence the government of China to moderate its actions against Mr. Wu, and can’t do any harm. Mr. McMynn’s kidnappers were a gaggle of small-time hoodlums, one of whom was out on bail while awaiting trial for another kidnapping (!). Mr. Wu’s were police. In a civilized country, the function of the police force is to deter such people and arrest them. A nation where they are the same people? Nobody could call it “civilized”. [Update, months later: Hao Wu is free.]
The Toronto Bombers
· This story has Canadians shaking their heads. It turns out that it was a sting, the police supplied the 3 tons of ammonium nitrate that you could use to make a McVeigh-style bomb, only bigger. The Toronto Star has a story (it’ll probably vanish behind the paywall) that introduces each of the people charged. They turn out to be mostly suburban, mostly Canadian; two of them are actually in jail after pleading guilty last October to sneaking a couple of guns across the border. For a moment I wondered if the cops were going overboard, encouraging a bunch of wannabe-jihadi wankers; but then I realized that these are demographically an awful lot like the bunch that blew up the London Underground; so it’s probably an example of good policing. Even if we manage to stop the bleeding in the Middle East, some ethnic group somewhere in the world is always going to be oppressed and getting beat up; let’s hope the future bombers living among us are as clueless as this bunch.
Bad Canadian DNS Theatre
· If you value your freedom of speech, and you’re in Canada, don’t use “cadns.ca” as a registrar. It turns out that someone set up a site satirizing pathetic, doomed, Liberal leadership candidate Joe “Drug Money” Volpe, at YouthForVolpe.ca, and one of Volpe’s goons arranged for cadns.ca to pull the domain name. The site’s been mirrored here, but you have to follow Canadian politics to know why it’s funny.
A Good Anger
· I was driving the kid to work this morning, muttering the usual imprecations as I switched from one rock-music station to the next looking for actual music instead of yapping morning-show morons, and Yow! Here was a howling guitar and a keening voice singing about the stinking war and vowing to never kill again and the false faces on TV and that was just perfect, if radio doesn’t have a place for anger-with-a-backbeat well it’s not worth listening to. And you can listen to Neil Young’s Living With War today for free (although it seems like the server is kind of dogging it).
· Maybe in an ideal world We’d All Just Get Along and there wouldn’t be attack bloggers, but that’s not where we live, and if we have to have attack bloggers I think we should have good ones. My fave is Billmon, and he’s just fired off one of the best take-downs ever.
The Smoking Gun
· I already griped about we Westerners being short-changed on high-def hockey, but Metroblogging Vancouver found the evidence. Here’s the CBC Hockey Night in Canada schedule, and sure enough, there are exactly zero Vancouver games in high-def, while many US cities get coverage, including bloody Tampa Bay twice. Facetiousness aside, this is impardonable arrogance. (Oh, and by the way, that Metroblogging piece has some interestingly-doomful things to say about the future of the movie theatre.)
· Like I’ve said before, I was in favor of taking down Saddam. But the crumbling tower of stinking lies used to sell the war, then the nauseating incompetent brutality with which it’s been pursued, have pushed the cost/benefit equation way negative. Today, on one of the TV shows, US Rep. John Murtha said: “The only solution to this is to redeploy. Let me tell you, the only people who want us in Iraq is Iran and al-Qaeda. I’ve talked to a top-level commander the other day, it was about two weeks ago, and he said China wants us there also. Why? Because we’re depleting our resources, our troop resources and our fiscal resources.” Sounds convincing to me.
· Oh my goodness gracious. We had an election here in Canada last month, and the Conservatives (“Tories” for short) threw out the Liberals, to the general satisfaction of an irritated populace, but failed to get a majority in Parliament, to the general satisfaction of a cautious populace. My own riding, Vancouver Kingsway, had been held by Liberal David Emerson, a seasoned private and public sector executive who’d been parachuted in but won it fair and square, and has always been in the cabinet; he held the seat for the Liberals last month. This morning, we awoke to the news that he’d “crossed the floor”, joined the Tories, and been rewarded with a senior Cabinet post. This change subtly shifts the combinatorics of power in parliament and will be very useful to the government. The country in general and my neighborhood in particular is pretty flabbergasted. I got my jollies when I picked up my morning coffee and some TV news crew was waiting outside asking passers-by what they thought. I spluttered, telegenically I hope, if they run it and anyone sees it, let me know. Canadians in search of some political snickers and a historic but imperilled document can read on for more ...
· [Canadians-only post; others can move right along.] So, now that we have a Conservative government and a Prime Minister from Alberta, we can do away with this crap where the Toronto-Montréal hockey game is in high-def but the Edmonton-Vancouver game is in POFT (plain old fuzzy TV), right?
· I voted early this morning; we’ve been living in this neighborhood long enough that I recognized some people over at the poll, hung out and chatted for a bit. It felt good. I think that what’s happening today here in Canada highlights the single essential thing about democracy; I wrote about this almost three years ago, but it’s worth saying again: I don’t particularly trust “the people” to pick the right policies or even to pick the right leaders. I do, however trust them to detect the condition that the government has been bad and needs to be turfed. Which we, today, are apparently the process of doing. Frankly, I think it would be OK to pick the next government by random selection, and we probably wouldn’t do that much worse than the current electoral crap-shoot. The important thing—the only thing that really matters—is that we retain the right to throw ’em out in a peaceful and orderly fashion, at our sole discretion and for any reason. There are a lot of people in the world without that right. It’s the one that all the others flow from.
· Our politics haven’t historically been famous for gripping drama; after all, the national motto is “Peace, Order, and good Government”. But the current edition is getting really interesting. I’m neither terribly enthusiastic nor disillusioned about our political system, a typical first-past-the-post Parliamentary elected dictatorship. One thing, though, is absolutely wonderful: our elections are over in a few weeks. The current edition, with the Christmas break in the middle, is unusually long. I had to feel sorry for the politicos out campaigning in December; not only is the weather brutal, but in most of the country, most of the voters were busy getting ready for Christmas and thus totally not paying attention. If you want to follow, I find that journoblogger Andrew Coyne provides a good vantage-point on the campaign. What’s happening is that the Liberals, often regarded as the Natural Governing Party, have fallen behind in the polls. The Conservatives (“Tories”) have done poorly in recent elections because the Liberals successfully painted them in scary GOP-clone colours, creating fear that they’d privatize healthcare, ban abortion, oppress gays, end gun control, get us into Republican wars, and shut down immigration. They were helped by the fact that the Tories had a few outspoken dinosaurs who apparently wanted to do precisely those things. This time, there are two big differences. First, most of the country is really, really irritated at the Liberals for their long-time culture of insider patronage and for recently having been caught engaging in overt bribery and kickbacks. In fact, if they hadn’t been doing a reasonably competent job of running the country, they’d be on their way to the political graveyard. Second, the Tories have their right-wing crazies firmly under control and are sounding level-headed, sensible, and un-radical. It looks like the voters may well give ’em a chance. Mind you, there are still 16 days of campaigning and a lot can change.
Hockey and America
· I managed to catch a few of the games in the just-completed World Junior Hockey Championship. If I’d been more organized I might have been able to go to some of them since they were right here in town, but hockey turns out to be excellent HDTV fare and it was terrific entertainment. While we won the final 5-0, that wasn’t fair to the Russians, who were a strong, fast, skilled team; they had at least as much talent as the Canadians. I think they were out-coached; plus our goalie Justin Pogge, whom nobody’d ever heard of before, went into brick-wall mode in the first third or so of the game, against a mere human there would have been two or three or more Russian goals. Anyhow, once you got past Canada and Russia, the other really good team in the tournament was the USA. And here’s what’s weird and disturbing: the mostly-Canadian audiences were actively cheering for anyone playing against the US, and occasionally booing the Americans. Granted, economically-literate Canadians are mad at the US for egregious NAFTA abuse, and we’re terrified of the consequences of our neighbor’s lunatic fiscal and trade deficits. And of course, from the mushy Canadian cultural centre, Dubya and the neotheocons seem like beings from an alien planet. While, like most Canadians, I disapprove of many actions of the current US administration, like most Canadians I also like most Americans. And it’s just moronic to take out political gripes on a bunch of eager, dedicated, young athletes. But having said that, if there were any doubt that the USA has a major public-relations problem, booing hockey fans a half-hour over the border should dispel it.
· Four days ago, I wrote What the Spooks Know, hypothesizing that the NSA has been listening to more or less everything and then doing data mining. Two follow-ups are in order. First, I was right. That is, if the New York Times is to be trusted. On the other hand, in my piece I reported about the student who got visited by the Feds for having taken the Little Red Book out of the library. That reporting relied on professional journalists (albeit somewhat less august than the Times), and it it was 100% bogus. So, first: yes, they are watching you. Second: don’t believe everything you read, here or in the press.
What the Spooks Know
· There’s this wiretapping scandal swirling around Washington; the politics of it are easy to understand, but it’s got some interesting technology dimensions. Herewith a look from the prospective of a search-technology professional who’s got a decent layperson’s understanding of intelligence capabilities ...
Ils sont fous ces Français!
· Translating from Goscinny/Uderzo to Hunter S. Thompson: there’s bad craziness going on over in France. Apparently, there’s a move afoot to ban Free Software, and I can only think “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence”. Malice or incompetence aside, in the unlikely event that this silly thing passes, it could hardly be enforced without building a cyber-police-state of an efficiency and comprehensiveness beyond the wildest dreams of the Beijing regime. If any of my readers are French citizens, you might want to call your local politician’s office or write a letter to your local editor or whatever. Here’s some more from Henry Story, with French-language links. [Update: Gilles Gravier writes: “It’s not all free software that they are trying to ban... Just software that enables distribution of copyrighted material which is not equiped with means of tracing who shares what with whom... Obviously, open-source software makes it easy to remove such tracing means, so is a no-no for SACEM (who are desperately trying to keep alive an old model for making money over artists instead of trying to turn to the future and find new adapted ways).” And now I see that he’s written more on the subject.]
· As I (very safely) predicted a couple of weeks ago, the Canadian government fell today and we’re looking at a January election. You have to feel sorry for the candidates who, most places in the country, will be slogging through the snow and sub-zero temperatures; but not that sorry, it’s long past time we had this little catharsis. As I was scanning the coverage today I ran across the blog of Monte Solberg, an Alberta Tory of whom I’d never heard, but who gives the political narrative in an unforced, flowing, insider’s voice; he’s a natural. I was a little intrigued that it’s not obvious at all from his web-site which party he represents. On the other hand, it’s tough to see a guy this unaffected and natural being real comfy associating with a plastic on-message droid like Stephen Harper.
The Saga Continues
· The Massachusetts Office XML File Formats saga, that is. The latest news is that the Microsoft announcements last week are playing well in Boston. Commonwealth secretary Thomas Trimarco stated “we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards”, and I’m optimistic too. Obviously the key word is “will”, since we haven’t seen what’s getting submitted to ECMA and nobody’s seen what will come out of ECMA. Our own chief standards geek Carl Cargill wrote Mr. Trimarco a letter, which you can read over at Piper Cole’s weblog.
· Today Mr. Bush has excoriated his opponents for claiming that he lied them into war. The President said: “Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.” Well I’m neither a Democrat nor really anti-war, but yep, that’s the claim. (By the way, he’s being fact-checked.) That claim is pretty convincing, particularly to anyone who’s actually read the 521-page Senate Report on Intelligence Failures (highlights here), or the Downing Street Memo. If you want a more scholarly version of Mr. Bush’s complaint, check out Norman Podhoretz in Commentary; he is convincingly demolished by Kevin Drum. Why am I so upset about this? Because I thought that taking out Saddam was a moral act, something worth doing for its own sake, a chance to prove that Arabs don’t have to live in dictatorships where there are torturers in the jails, that Western Civilization is capable of moral action. Instead, the war was sold based on conventional marketing wisdom: pick a couple of simple messages and stay on them. I was watching TV and reading the papers, and all the war marketers were saying, over and over, was “He’ll have nukes soon!” and “He’s Osama’s buddy!” Both false; and there are still torturers in the jails. I’m sufficiently irritated that I don’t mind saying “I told you so”, which I did in February and March of 2003. Feh. I hate lies.
Vancouver Politics — Good
· We’re having an election here in Vancouver on Nov. 19th. We have four parties in contention: the NPA, generally regarded as representing the interests of the West-siders who live in big houses, and sympathetic to the provincial government as long as it’s right-wing, which it currently is. Then there’s COPE, usually seen as a bunch of old-fashioned Lefties, the Greens, and a new thingie called Vision Vancouver. There are two candidates for mayor, the NPA’s Sam Sullivan and Jim Green from Vision. What happened was, we had a pretty good mayor called Larry Campbell, who ran on the COPE ticket but was never very comfy with its leftward fringes. He retired and COPE split, spinning off Vision; and Jim Green, who was kind of Larry’s sidekick, is running on that ticket. It’s unclear whether Vision is anything more than a one-time platform for Green; but COPE and Vision and the Greens are co-operating, somewhat. This is kind of a cheery election; both Sullivan and Green look like pretty plausible candidates for mayor, and they’re being reasonably civilized about it; their attacks on each other seem pretty well fact-based. I think we’ll do OK, whoever wins.
Canadian Politics — OK
· Well, finally. As I wrote back in May, we’ve had a highly unstable political situation for the best part of a year, with the governing minority Liberals emitting a strong aroma of entrenched corruption, but the opposition not (quite) summoning the will to take ’em down. Well, now all three opposition parties have said that they won’t support the Liberals any more; while they’re squabbling messily, chances are we’re going to have an election in January. The NDP, who were supporting the government in order to win social-democratic legislative points, now say they aren’t happy with the Liberals’ health-care offers, but I suspect that they’ve decided that the general public is so mad at the the Liberals that the costs of being in bed with them outweigh any policy benefits. It should be an interesting election. On one hand, the Liberals were caught red-handed stealing millions. But on the other, they’ve actually been pretty competent; unemployment and the national debt are down, we’re not bogged down in any overseas wars; people feel pretty positive about our involvement in the Balkans and Afghanistan. Me, I think we have to dump the Liberals if only to preserve our self-respect, but I can’t imagine we’ll get a very long-lasting result. That’s OK, elections are cheap and bearable, compared to the alternative.
US Politics — Creepy
· I see that in our southern neighbor, the President has promised to veto anti-torture legislation and the Vice-President is trying to get the CIA exempted from it. I hate jumping to conclusions, and I’m worried; I read a lot of news, and it makes me wonder whether the faction currently governing America is heavily populated with greedy vicious lying thieving sanctimonious underhanded heartless venial creeps. That is what the evidence suggests. But like I said, you wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions.
· In Pakistan, allegedly an ally of the West, Ms Mai was sentenced to gang rape to punish her brother. She survived, fought back, won in court, raised money, started schools. If the word “hero” has any meaning, she is one. The Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women invited her to lecture in the U.S.A. So the Pakistani government revoked her right to leave the country, put her under house arrest, and cut off her phone; meanwhile, its courts are letting the rapists out of jail. The New York Times reported on the weekend that she was under arrest, but the BBC now says she’s free. This would be a good time to drop a line to your Congressperson or Member of Parliament or local Embassy of Pakistan. Whatever you think of Gen. Musharraf, he really can’t do without Western support. So we may not be able to save the world, but maybe we can save one brave woman. [Update: I wrote this last June; but sometimes there’s good news.]
Massachusetts and ODF
· Here is the statement that Sun filed for today’s Massachusetts State Senate hearing on the issues around OpenDocument and state’s new Enterprise Technical Reference Model ...
· [This piece is about a nasty teachers’ strike here in BC, and probably only of local interest.] So if Vince can pronounce the bargaining process dead and cook up a proposal that looks like it’s going to end the fight, and do it in like 24 hours, why the ^#!%$ didn’t they hire him six months ago!? To Vince: Bill ’em for $100K for the day. To the government: Pay the bill. To the BCTF: Insist on covering half of it (Oh, and for gosh sakes climb down, you’re winning; stall on accepting the deal and your public support will be in single digits in fifteen minutes). [Update: The teachers are are going back, thank goodness. Yes, there’s a real chance the Campbell government will try to welsh on the class-size part of the deal, they apparently think that starving the public-education system of money is good governance; then again, they won the last election. But, having folded their tent and gone back to work, the teachers are going to be in a strong political position next time push comes to shove.]
Guns, Not Butter
· Just now, my news aggregator had these two MSNBC stories next to each other. Item: “The Senate voted for the second time this month against providing more money to help low-income families heat their homes.” Item: “Congress on Thursday passed a bill protecting the firearms industry from massive lawsuits brought by crime victims, and President Bush was expected to sign it into law.” Glad to see they’ve got their priorities straight.
Hunger Barrier Weakened?
· If this BBC news report is true, and not just political posturing, it could be huge, huge, news. A couple of years ago I wrote: “The world’s richest countries are deliberately, and as a matter of policy, promoting poverty and starvation in the world’s poorest countries.” That’s still true, but if the US and EU are willing to slash the subsidies, the world could stumble into a win-win-win scenario.
Lower than Vole Scrota
· ESR has cracked up. It’s kind of sad, Eric Raymond was one of my major influences with his essays on the culture and economics of Open Source. I didn’t always agree, but they were closely-argued and made you really think hard. Now he stands on his blog platform and argues that we’re in danger of surrendering to Al-Qaeda because of... wait for it... after-effects of the work done by Department V of the KGB, especially between 1930 and 1950. There are consolations; his refulgent nuttiness brings out the best in some commenters, for example a brilliant micro-essay by “Adrian”, from whence this fragment’s title.
No Religious Courts
· Ontario, the province in the middle of Canada that’s the biggest and richest, was coming under pressure from Muslim community activists to allow “voluntary” use of religious tribunals in civil family-law cases. There are a couple of obvious problems with this. First, some aspects of Muslim religious law are profoundly incompatible with modern Canadian values, which tend to regard women as persons more or less equivalent, legally, to persons who are not women. Another problem is that the Muslim world does not exactly have consensus on exactly what Sharia law says, let alone what it means. On the other side, there were two arguments, one bad and one plausible. The bad argument was that the choice of religious courts was “voluntary”. I put the word in quotes for a reason; to an oppressed women in the grips of a semi-closed immigrant culture, the right to opt out of Sharia would be theoretical at best. The second argument is that it turns out that Ontario apparently already allowed Jews and Catholics to opt for religious tribunals, and given that, it’s really tough to say “no” to the Muslims. In a refreshing outburst of sanity and fairness, the Ontario government simply banned all religious tribunals. I can’t imagine anything more sensible; if living in a civilized society means anything, surely it means one rulebook for everyone, regardless of which God they believe in. Unsurprisingly, at least some of the Jews and Catholics are irritated. They get no sympathy from me, and good on the McGuinty government. [Update: informed follow-up from Rob.]
Inequality and Risk
· That’s the title of a recent piece by Paul Graham, who’s often pointed-to here and who I think is one of our greatest living essayists, and since ongoing’s full name is ongoing fragmented essay, that’s a strong claim. Inequality and Risk, and this is a compliment, is deeply wrong, but made me stop thinking about all the other things I was thinking for quite some time about because I had to think about it. Herewith remarks on Inequality and Public Policy; but first, go read Paul’s essay ...
The Middle East for Geeks
· There aren’t that many people who know what what the Bourne Shell is, care about Middle Eastern politics, and have a sense of humor. But if you’re one of them, don’t miss this version of The War on Terror.
Une espionne de la CIA?
· Good heavens, for people who enjoy political theatre, this American Rove/Plame thing looks like it’ll be a long-running standing-room-only smash hit. The battle lines couldn’t be starker; consider The Big Lie About Valerie Plame vs. Karl Rove, Whistleblower. If what you want is amusing polemics, the right-wingers seem to be generally lying pretty low, so you have to look left, where indeed a few of the livelier columnists have their teeth sunk gleefully deep into Administration flesh. For example, drop by Billmon and savor the flavor. Believe it or not, I do have an original angle; a week back, when the story first broke, Libération ran a story entitled Karl Rove: Le conseiller de Bush est-il l’homme qui a révélé l’identité d’une espionne de la CIA? and I just wanted to say how much I love that word espionne, there’s nothing in English that feels remotely the same.
· This morning I read on CNN that “Authorities across the United States worked to increase security on subways, trains, and other potential targets...”. That’s really, really stupid. If someone wants to kill you so badly that he doesn’t mind dying in the process, chances are he’s probably going to get you, and a few more cops on the subway aren’t going to help. As for London, well we’re all Londoners today; but in the big picture Londoners have proven, plenty of times, that you can’t push them around this way. So this was not just sick, twisted and evil, but also futile. That’s three Western capitals in four years, yeah they’ll probably come back and do it again, and “tightened security” is just treating the symptoms. What’s the alternative? This may sound nuts, but doing our best to just ignore them would be good. They’re not gonna cause any policy changes this way, but at least they get to control what’s on CNN & the BBC for a while; maybe if they couldn’t even do that, the strap-on bomb would be less attractive. My other radical suggestion—which some will denounce as treason—is to work harder at figuring out the “Why?” of it. I’m not saying that there’s any political grievance to which attacking New York, Madrid or London is a reasonable response. But when something is driving enough people into insane belief systems that we see regular explosions in our cities, it would be smart to care—a lot—what that something is. Because, on the evidence, I don’t think the leaders of the Western world have a clue. [Update: This one got lots of linkage, but until today the only direct feedback was from Savanna Slave of “Porn Pic a Day dot Com” (no kidding), who said “We understand ’em just fine”, and from Christaan Briggs, who quoted at length from Osama. I don’t think I’ll link to either, but you can find them if you want. On the other hand, Britt Blaser wrote a big essay, which I highly recommend.]
Live 8: Real News
· I went straight from Java One to a mini-vacation, thus mostly missing the Live 8 noise. But it’s not too late to get your name or your face on the list, and—more important—send a personal communication (I’d suggest FAX or voicemail) to your own Member of Parliament or Deputy or Congressperson, saying you’re a voter and you think they should pass the word along to take the Live 8 message seriously. I’ll do that, and for those who wonder why the Live 8’ers are moaning about trade policy, here’s why. And on that subject, there’s good news: Apparently, President Bush said this morning that he’d drop the idiotic US agribiz subsidies if the Europeans would drop their even-more-idiotic ones. Good on ya, W, and to my American readers: right now would be a good time let your local politician know you approve.
Microsoft and China
· Boy, is the blogosphere ever a buzzin’ over MSN Spaces’ policy of not allowing yourself to label yourself with inconvenient words like “Freedom” or “Democracy”. Although I profoundly disagree with Scoble on this one, you gotta respect him for sticking his head out of the trench under heavy fire (here and here). Look, there’s nothing in the basic workings of the free market, nor in U.S. legislation, that says MSN can’t be Beijing’s bitch to buy some bloggers. But remember, it is a free market, on this side of the Pacific. So first, I suspect there’s a lot of people—the kind of creative, independent-minded people that Microsoft needs—who’d generally rather not work at a company that does that. And second, there are a lot of other people who’d prefer to avoid buying products from one. [Update: I’m getting pushback because it’s been claimed that Sun sells some of the gear in the Great Firewall. If true (and it’s believable), that’s sad. It feels quite different to me from pro-actively suppressing the use of the words “Freedom” and “Democracy”; but make your own judgment. Anyhow, read the disclaimer at your right; it’s me, not Sun, that’s talking.]
Amnesty and the Sweeps
· Every time there’s a TV Sweeps Week, when the Neilsen-rating results come out there’s a loser, and the loser always grumbles about how the methodology is busted and they’re really not doing that bad. Similarly, whenever Amnesty International points the finger at some government, that government makes like a losing TV network and whines that the process is broken. Recently, Amnesty had some pretty harsh things to say about the collateral human-rights damage from the US “War on Terror”. Dick Cheney snarled predictably and the right-wing blogosphere is pushing back mightily: “AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL seems to have flushed its credibility...” and there are pages of outrage based, not on the substance of what Amnesty said, but on their temerity in comparing Gitmo to a gulag; thus, thousands of words explaining that the gulags were much, much worse; indeed they were and that was dopey of Amnesty. But it’s just so totally like how Central American dictators used to say “But the Communists are worse” and Communist governments used to say “But the Apartheid racists are worse” and Apartheid racists used to say “But the black-ruled dictatorships are worse.” I’m not an American, so this is just a hint from a friendly neighbor: being better than the gulags isn’t good enough. When your Neilsen ratings are bad, you need to run better shows, and when Amnesty gets on your case, you need to stop brutalizing people.
· British Columbia is having an election Tuesday the 17th. I won’t be there because I’m taking a plane out at 7AM, so on the weekend I took the kid off to the advance poll. I thought I’d turn it into a civics lesson, but a parliamentary election turns out to have too many levels to explain easily. He got the idea about picking a name and marking an “X” beside it, though. In BC there are two parties that matter, the Liberals (their website is wonky in Safari, bah) and the NDP. In American terms, the Liberals are approximately moderate Republicans and the NDP approximately liberal Democrats. The last NDP government was incredibly bad and the voters got so irritated they elected a legislature with the Liberals holding 77 of 79 seats. The NDP has gotten rid of most of the clueless schemers from last time around and while they aren’t expected to win, we should have a better-balanced legislature after the election. Also the Green Party is looking strong and may elect a few members this time, which I think would be healthy. In our riding, the Liberals are running a boring marketing exec while the NDP has a boyish entrepreneur (creator of Happy Planet juices. Along with these two, the Greens, and an independent, we had candidates from the Work Less Party (Workers of the World - RELAX!) and the Sex Party. Seems like these last two should contemplate a merger.
Happy Commie Day
· It’s May Day, and I see that some still carry on the old traditions. One of the skinny tattooed baristas where I get my morning latte sometimes wears this funky T-shirt with the hammer and sickle logo; I doubt it’s ever crossed his mind that it might mean something, but to me it does ...
Democratic Reform BC
· My friend and former colleague Matt Laird, who, as a part-time ISP, hosts ongoing, is a candidate for the Democratic Reform party in the provincial election we’ve got under way right now. They’re currently mad because their leader isn’t being invited to the TV debates, and their gripe sounds reasonable to me. In this election, I haven’t yet taken the time to figure out who I like, but I’ve turned into one of those awful single-issue voters because I’ve got a kid in elementary school, and the level of underfunding is shocking, scandalous; unacceptable in as prosperous a society as we have here. It looks like being a real horse-race in my neighborhood too, so this should be fun.
Scoble Is Right
· On the subject of Microsoft’s waffling and bobbing and weaving around the Washington-State antidiscrimination ordinance, Scoble is demonstrating a remarkable combination of good sense and courage. The apologias from Ballmer and Gundotra are profoundly unconvincing. As regards Ballmer’s position, Microsoft didn’t have any obligation to get behind this bill. But in 2005, with the the U.S. slipping into a culture war, dropping support is a powerful political statement that, on the face of it, aligns Microsoft with the forces of ignorance and bigotry; not just a values-free rejiggering of the legislative priorities. And Gundotra lost me at his second paragraph, which seems to suggest we should worry about hurting bigots’ feelings. Scoble is doing the right thing here and he deserves everyone’s support and he has mine. He’s also doing Microsoft a huge favor by taking this stand; I wonder if they’re smart enough to realize it? There’s other good commentary from Adam Barr, Gary Cornell, and Cyrus Najmabadi.
· Hey, you can call me a pedant and a pinko, and while I know that few today really care much about what happened in Vietnam in 1968, I am constitutionally unable to let huge fat stinking historical lies in major publications go unaddressed. In George Will’s Washington Post column this Sunday, he says “When, after the misreported Tet offensive of 1968 (a U.S. military victory described as a crushing defeat), Cronkite declared Vietnam a ‘stalemate’...” I’m sorry, I was at one time a keen student of the history of Vietnam going back centuries and up through the fall of Saigon, and George Will is full of it. In 1968, at a time when the Americans and South Vietnamese were busy assuring everybody that everything was just fine, the other side suddenly and without warning launched synchronized uprisings and attacks across the country including right in Saigon. Yes, the Americans won that battle, quickly and decisively; but the offensive made it clear that they’d been lying about the real state of affairs. I was watching those TV broadcasts myself, and they made clear it clear that the Americans were winning the skirmishes, but they also exposed the visceral horror of both troops and civilians that the enemy they thought they were beating could infiltrate at will and attack any time. It was at that precise point that a lot of smart people decided, and some of the media started accurately reporting, that the U.S. wasn’t winning.
Rob on Family Reunification
· That would be my brother Robert Bray, who recently testified before a standing committee of the Canadian House of Commons. Canada has a parliamentary system, which means that when one party gets a majority they’re more or less an elected dictatorship; but at the moment we have a minority government, so Parliament in general and its committees in particular have considerable political oomph. Immigration is a hot issue across the rich world, and the issue of family reunification is a hot zone within the hot zone. If you care even slightly about these things, I think you’ll find Rob’s remarks worth the investment of a little time ...
· This is the pseudonym of the author of Whiskey Bar, which would be just another progressive political blog if it weren’t so very well-written. Billmon burned out partway through last fall’s election and signed off. Then, in January, he was back (provoked by a news story that made my blood run cold, too) but his posts consisted entirely of carefully-attributed quotations from contemporary and historical public figures, plus maliciously and amusingly doctored photographs. If you are a believer in the integrity or intelligence of the current U.S. administration you will probably find them irritating, but may nonetheless admit that they are well-done. Today, for the first time in months, he gave us a few paragraphs in his own voice, which I think well-worth a visit.
· On this occasion, I’d like to wish our American neighbours the best of luck over the next four years; and I think you’re going to need it. I was one of the tiny percentage of non-Americans who thought invading Iraq might be sane, but then I thought then and I think now that it’s not OK to start a war based on on a bunch of bald-faced lies and yes, they knew they were lying. Now, everyone knows the WMDs were never there (check out the desperate sniveling from the pro-administration camp). I, like I suspect a large majority of the civilized world, really hope that the Iraquis manage against the odds to pull off a decent election and end up with some sort of a decent society, and that the US kids sweating it out and dying in the desert manage to make it home alive. Whatever you think about that, a majority of Americans disagreed with my opinion that if the US were a business, it was time to fire the boss. So, today, tens of millions get poured into the inauguration ceremonies. Meanwhile, bafflingly, it seems like they’re doing it again and once again, it seems to be working. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Missile Defense Is A Cult
· Up here in Canada we’re coming under political pressure from President Bush to sign up for the U.S. Missile Defense program, we’ve got all this territory up North where they’d like to situate the launchers. Rather than just saying “Get lost!”, our Mr. Martin is (wisely I think) playing it cool and fuzzifying. It’s good not to irritate the U.S. when you don’t have to, but there’s absolutely no need for Canada to assist the dwindling but influential band of cultists who believe that Missile Defense is anything but a defense-contractor boondoggle. It was bogus back when Reagan launched it and it’s still bogus. But don’t take my word for it, check out what the American Institute of Physics has to say. Mind you, it’s less dangerous now than it was in Reagan’s day, when there was a nonzero probability that “Star Wars” might have provoked some paranoid Russians who were sufficiently stupid to believe that it might work to launch a first strike while they still had a chance. (Lauren has told me of how she, like every other underfunded Physics Ph.D. in the Eighties, noticed how dressing research up as missile-defense-related was a good way to tap into the gushing SDI money pipeline). Now, it’s just an extremely profitable waste of money. We all know that religious cults are distinguished by believing in things that are obviously not true, usually combined with substantial cash flows in the direction of those running the cult. Missile defense is an obvious example.
· The BBC has the news from Chile that one Col. Mario Manriquez has been indicted in the 1973 execution of singer Victor Jara. For those without the history at their fingertips, in 1970 the Chileans elected a socialist as president, in the face of concerted American opposition. The U.S. spent millions, first to try to defeat Allende at the polls, then to fund a gang of military murderers who staged a bloody coup on September 11th 1973, in the process of cementing which they killed a number of Chilean citizens just slightly higher than the total September 11, 2001 body count. The military, allegedly at Manriquez’ orders, broke Jara’s hands to stop him playing, then killed him. But you see, Jara was a Communist, which in the Seventies meant someone that it was O.K. for U.S.-backed dictators to kill. Since there aren’t any Communists now, we use the word “militant” for the same purpose. You don’t have to have been an admirer of Jara’s music or Allende’s presidential record to still be angry, thirty years later. Nixon is already burning in hell, for Chile if nothing else, and while there are seats reserved there for Pinochet and Kissinger, it’s nice to hear that there’s a chance for some justice this side of the grave.
· Scanning the BBC news before breakfast, I read that U.S.-Pakistan relations are improving, and that this “coincided with an army offensive against suspected militants that officials say has left 17 dead.” I am doubly-irritated; first, at the current usage of the word “militant” (chiefly by the governments of the U.S. and its allies) meaning “someone whom it’s OK to kill” (or in this case, whom it’s OK to kill on suspicion). A militant is someone who is taking up arms in support of a cause: historical examples would include George Washington, Charles de Gaulle, and Simón Bolívar. Militants, historically speaking, are sometimes considered admirable people; particularly when up in arms against corrupt, oppressive, military dictatorships. Like, for example, the government of Pakistan. Which isn’t to say that everyone fighting against General Musharraf is a fine person. But when the Americans or Israelis or Saudis or whoever equate “militant” with “license to kill”, that’s offensive on a bunch of levels. And as for being on good terms with the current Pakistani regime... America has historically got very poor results from propping up enemy-of-our-enemies dictators, but keeps trying. Follow the link and look at the picture, which kind of says it all, for me.
New North America
· There were these funny post-election maps going around the Net (see here and here), which got me thinking about redesigning the layout of our continent, which is currently pretty sub-optimal. So, instead of sleeping, I did ...
On Not Understanding
· Last night, by a margin of three to two, the voters of Ohio amended their constitution to include this: “Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.” Ten other states passed similar measures. In parallel, a high proportion of exit-polled voters said that their decisions were made on the basis of “moral values” rather than on economic or foreign-policy issues. On this, and the election as a whole, I cheerfully admit that I Just Don’t Get It. But then, the United States doesn’t need me to understand it, and still less does it need—nor apparently want—the world’s approval of its actions or, uh, “moral values”. It would be good if America and the world weren’t so badly out of tune, but that’s how it is, and neither has much leverage on the other. But I’m optimistic that we’ll get along better, down the road.
· Was chatting with a colleague and I remarked “Dow-Jones turned south when the Kerry-looking-good exit-poll leak went around the Net.” He responded “Pity so many people’s pensions are linked to the success of evil-doers.”
That American Election
· As a sucker for unscripted drama, I watched all the debates and mostly enjoyed them, though not as much as in years when one of the candidates has had a real way with words (Clinton, Reagan). Still, watching two guys put it on the line in front of a panel of sixty million judges is more intense than just about anything else on TV. The media ought to be hanging its head in shame; the questions from the citizens at the town-hall meeting were immensely better than the ones the pros offered. Especially that CBS idiot; how can you have a debate on domestic issues without going into energy or the environment? I was going to avoid opinions about the election, but I’ve been influenced by heartfelt words from Russell Beattie and William Gibson. So in the unlikely event that you care what a Canadian computer programmer thinks about the big show, read on ...
· I just listened to the U.S. Presidential foreign-policy debate and had a revelation. The President repeated over and over—it was obviously his #1 talking point—that you have to be consistent in what you say and not change positions. I realized that I’ve heard this narrative before, and it was from senior, well-regarded marketing executives, emphasizing how you have to pick a short simple message and stay on that message and never waver. It hadn’t dawned on me that this conventional marketing wisdom for product launches and brand positioning would apply to foreign policy in wartime. The analogy is not obviously crazy. On the other hand, I believe that the conventional wisdom about marketing is, well, wrong.
Helping Them Lie
· Google is getting some well-deserved flak for emasculating the Chinese version of Google News by suppressing headlines that point at things the government of China doesn’t want its citizens to read. I didn’t think it worth ranting about, but this pathetic apologia on the Google blog adds insult to injury. Let’s be clear here: the Chinese government is trying to create the impression that it’s normal and acceptable for a large, well-educated, economically-growing modern nation to have an authoritarian one-party system of government. They’re not subtle, they simply forbid news that contradicts their desired impression. By suppressing the headlines that point at forbidden material, Google is actively aiding and abetting the Chinese government’s marketing program. And please, please, can we lose the nauseating twaddle about how it’s OK to suppress the truth because it’s “less than two percent of Chinese news sources”? What do you bloody well expect when the government of China is actively engaged in suppressing such news? The reason why that number is low is because too many other people are doing what Google is. Someone at Google may really believe the platitudes in that blog entry, but in effect the company is engaged in kissing the wrong kinds of asses. This is not good. [Update: Someone named Didier is flaming me for hypocrisy because he claims Sun sells computers that are part of the problem. Normally not worth highlighting, mais en français... tordant! (On n’a pas un mot pour “marketing”? Hmmm)]
Mario and Arnold
· On the road in Boston, watching the Canada/US game on one TV and the RNC on the other; they’re both pretty good entertainment, although the RNC didn’t quite manage to top the venerable Mario Lemieux wading into an astounded US player fists-first, I bet Mario was just as surprised when he realized what he’d done. But that speech by Arnold, that was something, I was totally impressed with the rhythm and the flow and the complete command of the stage... hold on a second. He’s saying that the Democratic convention should have been called True Lies after one of his movies. He’s citing Nixon (“I am not a crook”) as a major influence. He’s saying that people who disagree with his economic theories are “girlie men”. This is vacuous slop. Hmmph, this calls for, via Dave Sifry’s spot, a tour through Technorati’s politicoblogosphere, looking for adult reactions. Feeling better... yow! A mouse just ran across the hotel-room floor. Boston’s an old town.
Dubya Photo Funnies
· What happened was, Lauren was away during the Democratic Convention, and as a politics junkie, I wanted to watch some of it, so the kid (just turned five) ended up watching a couple of the big speeches with me. (All on webcast, our TV is a movie box, doesn’t get any channels). He’s full of questions so I tried to explain, and as a result the candidate is the only public figure in the world whose face he knows, when we’re somewhere that there’s a TV showing news he’s apt to pipe up “There’s John Kerry.” This is a little embarrassing, especially considering he’s a Canadian. This morning I was reading news and made some remark about George Bush and he asked “who’s he?” so I tried to explain the big picture around the election and I went looking for some Dubya pix to show him. So I went to the bio page at the official Bush re-election site, and clicked on “View George W. Bush Photo Gallery”... busted link, a peek inside the source reveals
href="\News\PhotoAlbum.aspx"... if I were mean-spirited I’d suggest that something about either being Republican or using Windows makes you stupid, but seriously, have to wonder about an organization that claims it can run America not being clueful enough to use a link-checker. Back to our story... I went to Google and looked for pictures of George Bush. This turns out to be a bad idea; the top-ranked pictures are by and large, shall we say, not Republican-friendly. Wanted posters, deranged-monster morphs, things that have just gotta be PhotoShopped. “Why are you laughing, Daddy?” said the kid, and I couldn’t really explain. (PS: Lots of nice pictures of George over at the White House site if you want ’em).
· Somehow I had the idea that there was a certain air of being hip and with-it about this whole blogging thang. But look at the official Republican Convention designates: you can get a good gig and still be a honkey suit with Fifties hair. Who knew? (Actually, scroll down a bit, they have some real people too.)
Electoral Vote Syndication
· Over the weekend, and in between events at the IETF, I got into a dialogue with “the Votemaster,” who runs the Electoral Vote Predictor 2004. I find the Predictor unequaled as a daily read-out on the state of the Bush-Kerry contest. I suggested by email that the page could use a feed, and he wrote back “Say what?” and I explained and he hacked and debugged, and now, here it is. He says it’s a beta, but it works fine in all the readers I try and also validates, so what’s not to like?
· You may have heard the term “Philippic,” which means a fiery speech full of invective and warning. The word comes from a series of public addresses by Demosthenes, the classical Greek orator, who is said to have overcame the speech impediment that he was born with by practicing his art at the seaside with stones in his mouth. The speeches were about the evil of and the danger from King Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander, who, exactly as Demosthenes predicted, eventually did crush the independent life of the Greek city-states. Well, Ron Reagan, son of the late President and stem-cell research activist, has decided to take on Demosthenes’ role. You may, in recent times, have heard many bad things said about the administration of George W. Bush. Reagan, writing in Esquire magazine, says them all in one place in a concentrated outburst of rhetorical flame. I think one could be a Bush partisan and still admire Reagan’s extended, focused fury. This piece is valuable, even considered only as a time-saver; if you read it, you can pretty well skip over all the other anti-Bush rhetoric that’s apt to occupy the airwaves this year, because it’s all neatly packaged up here in one place. [Update: John Cowan, approximately the world’s most literate person, writes to tell me that “Georgic” already means poems of the classic period dealing with Agriculture, notably those of Virgil. Too bad, I’m not changing the title.]
Poetry, Go, Kerry
· I love live sports (which is to say, ritualized conflict) and I love language, so how could I not love the political arena? Herewith some notes provoked by the just-ended and much-blogged Democratic National Convention ...
· The newsmedia are stiff with wonderment at this new blogging thang, personified by a few dozen of the pesky varmints really being there (what a concept) at the Democratic National Convention. Technorati (disclosure: I’m on the Advisory Board) is trying to do the bigger picture, and every time I go to that page it’s interesting; also Br’er Dave Sifry is going to be CNN’s Ambassador from Blogistan. We could do way worse. The meta-story is more interesting than the story, almost by definition; the Democratic party wants to have an extended tightly-controlled five-day infomercial; the last thing they want is actual news. The news media will play along to some extent but also be furiously looking for some real surprise or conflict or subterfuge in the spirit of if-it-bleeds-it-leads. Two obvious ways the Blogistanis could make a difference would be by uncovering (unexpectedly) real news, or by finding some way to make this largely formal and content-free event a little more human, a little more meaningful, a little funnier. Best of luck, boys and girls. (PS: While on the subject of the political process and the Web as a medium, the Electoral Vote Predictor strikes me as elegant, seamless, and new.)
Malice and Incompetence
· Never ascribe to the former, the saying goes, that which can be explained by the latter. Well, I stayed up most of last night reading all 521 pages of the US Senate Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, and there is plenty of malice and incompetence to go around. I didn’t mean to read it all, but it’s a fascinating document, with flavors ranging from Solzhenitsyn to Catch-22, and I’ve enjoyed browsing around the news stories today that say what it said (for example, here Josh Marshall skewers a Washington Post reporter who wrote without reading). I’d recommend that anyone who cares about war, peace, and truth take a look at it first-hand; herewith a few notes on what I found, including a couple of things that don’t seem to have been covered that much elsewhere; some astonishing and some funny ...
Google Censorship, Ouch
· From Perrspectives, a fairly ordinary U.S. left-liberal political site (but with an above-average sense of humor), a shocking story of being cut off by Google AdWords for “language that advocates against an individual, group, or organization.” Earth to Google: that country you’re based in is going through a war and an election! A substantial part of the population is (quite properly) advocating like crazy against one political faction or another as a result of one or the other. The Perrspectives folks point out that the policy, on top of being, uh, wrong, is also broken, in fact lots of people are using Google AdWords for political rhetoric and polemic; the appearance is either of political bias or of incompetence. I’m not sure whether I’m saying Don’t be evil or Don’t be stupid but whichever, please don’t.
· I’ve known Liam for years, he was an XML expert back before it was called XML, he’s also a hippie and a calligrapher and a standards warrior and a Gnome geek and a full-text-search hacker, has been known not only to give speeches at major conferences in bare feet but use a custom email header
X-feet: bare;. Definitely my kind of guy. I discovered recently (in a mailing list posting) that he’s not only gay but has a husband (he’s Canadian too). Which is way cool, they shoulda told us and we woulda sent flowers. They tell me that in a nearby country the Head of State is trying to Amend the Constitution to prevent this kind of thing happening. Can’t be true, that would just be really stupid, they only do that kind of thing in theocratic feudal monarchies, not in Canada’s nice civilized neighbors. Right?
NH Debate: The Northern View
· Since we don’t get network TV, the PowerBook was propped up on the dinner table playing the nice steady robust webvideofeed from New Hampshire’s WMUR; herewith some notes on the evening and the election. Up here in Canada, American politics are a spectator sport; never as good as a really great World Series but better than most Super Bowls. This time around the Democratic race has outstanding entertainment value; we don’t know yet about the November event, but sometimes the divisional playoffs are more fun than the final anyhow ...
· I was reading Joi Ito's essay on the subject of Democracy, which (oversimplifying, inevitably) argues that we need the world to be more democratic, and that the Internet (in particular through the emergent blog ecosystem) provides a higher-quality vehicle for discussion and education. I kind of believe the second half of the argument ...
By Tim Bray.
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