Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Damn-Ascus / Holy Syria (and Geek Wednesday)

Can't tell the players without a scorecard in this geopolitical ballpark of ours. A few weeks ago, Syria was evil—not quite in the big Axis, you know, but seriously, competitively evil. Our leaders—the guys who tell us why we fight—were telling us that Syria was SO evil we couldn't even talk to them about anything—not Iraq (because most of the bad guys in Iraq were coming from there); not Israel-Lebanon (because the Syrians were secretly supporting those gorillas from Hezbollah); nor about terrorism in general (because Syria is one of the champions of terror).

Now, they're the good guys. Go figure.

So why do "we" fight? My co-blogger, Terry McKenna, sent me this note on this question today:

The statement appeared again in the president’s September 11th speech to the nation: “I'm often asked why we're in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat. My administration, the Congress, and the United Nations saw the threat -- and after 9/11, Saddam's regime posed a risk that the world could not afford to take. The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.”

Again... why doesn’t somebody go on record to challenge this?

Before the war, Saddam was a caged and aging beast. He was hemmed in by our no fly zones and by international boycotts – and no, they were not that effective, but they still made it hard for Iraq to do much of anything except sell oil. Yes, at the time, it seemed that the stalemate would go on forever – but far better an unending stalemate than an unending war!

I would add that it is NOT "we" who fight—no person in the current administration; no son or daughter or husband or wife of anyone in the current administration—is fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else except at the buffet tables of Washington dinner parties. Whenever this President talks about the "we" who are fighting, he is always referring to other people or their family members. When Rupert Murdoch, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, or Ann Coulter talk about why "we" fight, they are speaking from the same frame of reference, in which "we" is always someone else—someone else's body being tossed into a malignant desert to wither or be turned into a smoking puddle of blood and goo; someone else becoming a widow, widower, or orphan; someone else's life being terminated or torn amid a living hell of suffering and lifelong disability.

So for this vapid, modern-day Nero to moan that his critics have chosen to ignore and forget the lesson of 9/11 is beneath contempt. But Mr. Keith Olbermann has already made this point more eloquently then I can—watch this video, all of it. The transcript is linked to from yesterday's post, at the top graphic.


Geek Wednesday

So, is Steve totally selling out—tightening his stranglehold on the music player market—or is he just expanding a product line that has already turned his competition to mush? Today, of course, we found out what happens when an iPod Nano and an iPod Mini have sex; we also learned that you can make a Shuffle about the size of a chiclet. We also heard about the movie-friendly video Pods, which sport up to 80GB of room for those who, like Chauncey Gardener, "like to watch."

We also heard about free album art for all your tunes in iTunes 7, movies at increased (640 X 480) resolution, and more. It was a fairly spectacular (and, for competitors like MS and its zune, intimidating) Display of Cool. And for those of us who happen to think that Apple still makes the finest computer hardware and the best commercial operating system on the planet, it was a reassuring sign that the company will remain strong and increasingly popular for years to come.

So why, then, would a guy like me be getting interested in Linux? Well, part of it has to do with my worries about Apple becoming a corporate megalith like MS: we have written here before about the forced labor issues, the alliance with a known labor tyrant (Nike), and the brutish attitude that has crept into Apple's business and international relations. We have also mentioned the appearance of security flaws in Mac OS X and the likelihood that they will increase with time and the rising popularity of the Intel-based machines that now comprise all of the Mac hardware line.

But this is also about joining what I have elsewhere called "The Open Source Society." I happen to think that experiments like the Firefox browser, the Wikipedia knowledge base, the Mambo content management system, the WordPress blogging software, and the Ubuntu Linux OS, represent a movement that more of us need to become a part of, in more involved and diverse ways. I think that the Open Source Society is democracy as nature designed it—a forum where anyone can contribute, and where everyone is equal. In short, Linux represents another step on the road toward freedom—freedom from corporate tyranny and toward the liberty of self-expression.

And did I mention that it's free, as in, no charge? And you know what else?—it works really well. With the Ubuntu Linux distribution, you get a fully functional OS with the GNOME/KDE desktop, a working office suite that can do most anything MS Office can, an elegant graphics and image editor, GIMP, which outshines by a long shot the proprietary editor you get with XP, and compares very favorably with Photoshop, even PS on the Mac.

Linux is also a doorway to true geekdom. If you can spend time with the GNOME desktop regularly, you will be led naturally and comfortably into the command line elegance of UNIX. That, my friends, opens a lot of doors—technically, intellectually, and professionally.

Finally, Linux is looking like the least expensive and safest form of computing for the coming decade. Windows will always be beleaguered with security flaws and all the problems that constant patching brings; and the Mac is now an Intel machine with an ATA serial HD and all the other familiar components known to computer users—and hackers—worldwide. But with Linux, you can buy a $300 Dell machine, format the hard drive to get rid of the world's worst (and most dangerous) OS, and then install your favorite flavor of the Happy Penguin Platform. In time you will adjust to the difficulties of running an alternative OS (open source geeks have come up with lots of workarounds and adaptations to deal with issues of compatibility and the anonymity that comes with being a truly grassroots platform). More important, you will find yourself becoming part of a community that is self-sustaining and mutually supportive. Yeah, kind of like the Mac used to be.

So I've started my exploration of Linux, and will have more about it in future GW posts. Meanwhile, let us contemplate the delights of the bouncing cow screensaver.

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