Thursday, April 26, 2007

This Modern World on Four Years In Iraq

This Modern World
Excellent bonus This Modern World cartoon on Huffington Post: Great Moments In Punditry: Four Years Later. It really is amazing how wrong the punditocracy can be, with no repercussions whatsoever.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Twisty on National Days of Mourning

Of course what happened at Virginia Tech was tragic, but I'm with Twisty on the expected "national response".
These orating gasbags, with their inane “moments of silence” and paternalistic “days of mourning” whipped up special for the TV cameras, are themselves crazy men. Displaying the disingenuous maggotry that passes these days for statesmanship, they’ll hitch their political wagons to any convenient spontaneous tragedy for an opportunity to convince a global audience that, despite their sponsorship of other, more distant, more invisible, or more devastating calamities, they are in fact capable of humanity.

What kind of moron buys that crap? It’s tragic when some random dude goes off his nut and kills indiscriminately, but it’s unconscionable when an elected government does exactly the same thing on a global scale and everyone swells with national pride.

Or to sum it up for a tidier soundbite:
There ought to be a National Day of Mourning every fucking day until the war is over.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ubuntu, the State of the Art in Easy Linux

There's a new version of the Linux distribution Ubuntu out now. Codenamed "Feisty Fawn" it is, according to current conventional wisdom, the easiest of all the Linux versions. I'm a developer, and a geek, and I've made attempts at going the Linux route before, though I've always given up in the face of too much day-to-day hassle. So I thought, maybe I'll try this hot new Ubuntu thing out, maybe, just to see for myself.

Or maybe not, after reading this review of Feisty Fawn. It reveals a lot about what Linux users consider "easy to use".

We start off with this glowing intro (emphasis added):
For people wanting simplicity from their Linux distribution, Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) may well be the best release ever from any Linux company. While using Feisty Fawn from the late beta stage and right on up to upgrading to the final version, I kept thinking “Feisty is so easy, my mom could use this!” Not to say you can’t get more obtuse with command line syntaxes in Feisty, but for the folks that wants their Linux distro to work with a minimal amount of fuss, Feisty Fawn is a smashing success. The installation is really as easy as 1-2-3 and from there you can set up your desktop with a minimal (and I mean minimal) amount of fuss. In fact, I found setting up Feisty Fawn to be far easier than Windows Vista or XP in that department. There’s no need to hunt down drivers and software from the internet and things just work out of the box.

Sounds amazing, right? But soon we start to see how low this guy's standards are in the first place:
A great example of how Ubuntu is making Linux more accessible for non-Linux folks is the manner in which proprietary codecs like mp3 are installed. Because of licensing issues mp3 codecs are not installed by default in most Linux distributions. For the end user, sometimes this creates confusion, but not in Feisty Fawn. As soon as you click on a mp3 file in Nautilus or Konqueror file browsers, a pop window appears asking you if you would like to install the proprietary codecs necessary to play the file. Very well done Ubuntu.

For the record, here's the dialog he's talking about:
Ubuntu MP3 codec dialog

Now, I don't know about this author's mom, but in my experience, most folks who aren't very familiar or comfortable with computers have a hard time understanding what an MP3 is in the first place, let alone what the hell a codec is. Now throw in an intimidating-looking dialog like this -- complete with a warning about "software not officially supported by Ubuntu" -- and I'll bet most "moms" would click the "No" button faster than you can say "I am what I am because of who we all are".

And go back again to that quoted bit, where he says, "As soon as you click on a mp3 file in Nautilus or Konqueror file browsers". That's another crucial problem right there, that most Linux geeks don't even see as a problem. Most non-computer-expert users have the barest concept of what a file browser is in the first place. In my opinion, Microsoft certainly didn't help when they quasi-merged Windows Explorer (the file browser) with Internet Explorer (the web browser). But in Linux-land, these users not only have to figure out what one is, they have to pick from more than one. For god's sake, why?

In summary, god bless the Linux people. Especially the ones, like Ubuntu, who are trying to improve usability. It's come a long way, relative to where it was even a few years ago. And this particular distribution does seem to have come a long way, relative to others. But for people who claim this level of usability can even remotely hold a candle to Mac OS X, or even to Windows, for that matter, I have to say, no. Not even close, guys.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Brazilian Billboard Ban

Via jwz, the story of São Paulo's new no-billboard law.

Imagine a modern metropolis with no outdoor advertising: no billboards, no flashing neon signs, no electronic panels with messages crawling along the bottom.

Come the new year, this city of 11 million, overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to press the "delete all" button and offer its residents unimpeded views of their surroundings.

Of course, businesses and advertisers are all so pissed about it that they're trying to dream up some kind of benefits that billboards provide. Really great, convincing stuff, like night-time lighting for safety, and "a form of entertainment that helps relieve solitude and boredom". Yeah, there's no way a city could provide either of those without giant Coca-Cola signs.

Rock on, São Paulo.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Attorney Purge Scandal vs. Watergate

Here's a good summary of the U.S. Attorney purge scandal so far, at Scott Rosenberg's blog: The U.S. attorney purge and Watergate.
In the U.S. attorney purge scandal as with Watergate, the "it's just not a big deal" defense is collapsing — only faster this time.

...Notice the priorities: Under Rove and Gonzales, your job as prosecutor was to go after the indigent and the illiterate who goofed somewhere on their election registrations. But if you went after actual extortionists and bribe-takers like disgraced former congressman Duke Cunningham, you faced the ax.

...The damage is already done: the selective U.S. attorney purge means that for years to come a cloud will hang over every federal prosecution that involves either party. Thanks to what Gonzales and Rove have achieved — the abject politicization of the American justice system in pursuit of partisan goals — we'll always be wondering: Were those charged brought because a prosecutor found evidence — or because a political campaign needed help?

So the next time you hear someone carping that the attorney scandal is overblown? Remember that, like Watergate before it, its small details add up to something significant: a White House-led assault on the integrity of elections.

Update: Be sure to also check out Josh Marshall's excellent Talking Points Memo piece (also linked to by Rosenberg's essay):
most of the relatively non-partisan and professional US Attorneys simply didn't find any actual fraud. Choosing not to indict people on bogus charges got at least two of the US Attorneys (Iglesias and McKay) fired. And we are seeing evidence that others may have been nudged out less directly for the same reasons. In turn they've been replaced by a new crop of highly-political party operative prosecutors who, in the gentle wording of the Times, "may not be so reticent" about issuing indictments against people who have committed technical voting infractions with no intent to cast a fraudulent ballot.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

MLS 2007 Starts Today!

MLS First Kick 2007
At long last, the wait is over: the 2007 Major League Soccer season finally begins today!

I wrote last July that I thought I might be getting hooked on soccer. Well, I was, and I've stayed hooked.

My home team, FC Dallas, only made it to the quarterfinals last year, but are practically a lock to win the MLS Cup this year, as well as the $1 million prize in the brand new U.S.-Mexico tournament: SuperLiga. I had a blast roadtripping to two games at Pizza Hut Park last year, and will go to as many more this year as I can manage.

So I'd have something to follow in the offseason, I picked Liverpool F.C. as my English Premier League (EPL) team. Looks like they won't win the league this year, thanks to a bad start to the season, but they're looking good to advance to the semifinals of the European Cup.

Back to the States, this is Major League Soccer's 12th season, and it is looking very solid as a viable league (as opposed to the doomed previous league, NASL). There's a new expansion team this year (Toronto FC) that sold out all their season tickets months ago, there are brand new soccer-specific stadiums in Toronto and Colorado (you can see the latter in the opening game on ABC, today at 3:30 ET), and there are new TV deals that both have every game televised somewhere, and make money for the league (as opposed to costing it, which TV did last year).

Oh yeah, there's also some famous English guy coming to play for the L.A. Galaxy later this summer. But you already knew that.

Here are a few of the online resources I've enjoyed the most since starting to follow the sport:
  • - online video streaming subscription service. I used this last year, and just signed up for it again this year. Many more games are televised this season, but I still don't have a cable package that includes ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Soccer Channel, etc. Thanks to the deal with Spanish-language Univision, I actually will get to see a few games on their channels. But for the rest, something like ten FC Dallas matches, I'll be watching them online, thanks to MLSLive.

  • My Soccer Blog - not my soccer blog; somebody else's. Not always consistently posted to, but good info and analysis.

  • FC Dallas Updates blog - written daily by the staff of FC Dallas, this has been a very interesting view behind the scenes. Also includes occasional posts directly from the coach and the manager.

  • - a hardcore Liverpool fan's blog

  • MLS Radio podcast (iTunes podcast; website) - provided by MLS itself, but still doesn't seem to take itself too seriously

  • Soccer News I.V. podcast (iTunes podcast; website) - interesting weekly news and roundup.

  • TheGame podcast (iTunes podcast; website) - covers the EPL, and includes a handful of passionate, colorful commentators that are fun to listen to even if you don't always know what the hell they're talking about.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to jump around anxiously until today's games start.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

MLK, 1/15/29 – 4/4/68

Via A Tiny Revolution, this story on CommonDreams: The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV.

It’s become a TV ritual: Every year on April 4, as Americans commemorate Martin Luther King’s death, we get perfunctory network news reports about “the slain civil rights leader.”

The remarkable thing about these reviews of King’s life is that several years – his last years – are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.

Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV.