Thursday, February 12, 2004

The passion of the Deaniacs 

You know, in a way I'm glad Arianna lost her bid for Governor of California. Not that I think that she wouldn't make a better governor than the Groppenfeurer, she would have, it's that she has now returned to writting for Salon. Given a choice between Terminator 4 and Arianna on Salon, I'll lose T4.

Because she's one of the few people (along with Paul Krugman) who routinely hits the nail on the head, as far as I'm concerned. And today's submission is another example of this. Her point is that the Kerry campaign needs to woo the Dean contingent, otherwise we will decamp. The problem is that I don't see it happen. Kerry isn't winning this election because of the grassroots, he's winning it despite the grassroots. The Democratic Brahimns, of which Kerry is one, view us Nader/Dean supporters not as disenchanted or disaffected, but as disloyal. The Democrats are entitled to our votes and unstinting, unquestioning, support.

The reason why the progressive wing of the party more or less uniformily went gaga over Dean is that he actually wooed us. Arguably to the point of hurting his campaign- I would argue, however, that to the current corporatist media, any wooing of the progressives is enough to hurt a campaign. Fortunately, this isn't a mistake the Kerry campaign is likely to make.

If Kerry loses in November, it'll be blamed on the disloyalty of the Dean supporters- causing a disruptive primary season that unnecessarily hurt the pre-selected candidate, and not supporting him after our candidate was defeated. Mark my words. What we actually do here and now is irrelevent, it'll be all of our fault anyways. It happened after 2000 (unlike the media, my long-term memory works just fine, thank you very much). If 2000 taught the Democrats anything, it's that progressives make good scapegoats.

Unfortunately, a Kerry win in '04 makes things even worse for the progressives. Reagan's win in 1980 was set up because of Ford's loss in '76. What would have happened if Ford hadn't lost in '76? A Kerry win will be touted that the media- and the Democratic voters- were right, that Dean was unelectable and that Kerry was. Of course, if Kerry loses, it'll be claimed that Dean would have lost even worse. It's just that the argument in this case is much weaker. Post hoc ergo propter hoc ("it happened after, therefor it was caused by").

The question of wether the country can afford another 4 years of Bush is not the question, I'd argue. Because it's currently not if we're going to have another four years of coporatist/conservtive christian rule, it's when- wether that particular alliance will regain power in '04, '08, or '12. Kerry representings nothing more than a time out. Unless we change something fundamental, we are going to have another four years of Bush, sooner or later.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

What is the real deficit? 

If there is one thing that is consistant about the Bush administration, it's that their numbers never add up. But Bush never was a numbers person, he was more on an idea rat.

Which leads me to this news that the current $7.4 trillion dollar debt limit will have to be raised again come mid-summer. Remember that we hit $7 trillion just last December. This tells me the real deficit- the amount of money the goverment is having to borrow- is higher than even the astronomical $500 billion that's being reported- at least $600 billion, if not $800 billion.

This is rather like when we were being told that Iraq was costing us $4 billion a month- and yet we somehow managed to blow through $64 billion in only 6 months.

Kick me again- I might start to like it 

It's been several days, so I'm finally cooled down enough to discuss this article in polite company.

I generally consider myself a generous friend. I have had, howver, people take advantage of my generosity. When this happens, I start saying "no". Some wake up and stop taking my generosity for granted. Others haven't forgiven me for "failing" them. But, in my experience, saying "no" is the only way to stop people from taking advantage of you.

As a liberal, I've been doing the Democratic party the favor of voting for them fairly consistantly. Consistantly enough that the Democratic party has started taking our votes for granted. The Democrats court "swing" voters- those who regularly tell the Democrats "no"- with great alacrity. Every election is full of talk of how the Democrats are going to woo the soccer moms or NASCAR dads. Liberals are expected to show up, vote the way we're told to, and not complain when the party does absolutely nothing to reciprocate. Can't we see how fundamentally important it is for the party to pander entirely to the swing voters?

Consider this: Nader voters are routinely blamed for putting Bush into power. But what about the people who voted for Bush? Heavens no- we can't blame them. Then they might not vote for us next time. But the liberals have an obligation to vote for Democrats no matter what the Democrats do.

This is even more pathetic when you consider how effective the Democrats have been at wooing the swing voters.

Well, Democrats, this is your 2004 wake up call. You've hit the snooze button at least twice so far- in 2000 and 2002. But I hate being taken advantage of. It stops now. Get used to the word "no" because you're going to be hearing it a lot from me.

And I refuse to accept any blame or guilt for what Bush has or may do. I didn't vote for the moron, nor am I going to- wether I vote for Kerry or no. Blame for the Bush presidency should lie squarely on the shoulders of the people who voted for him- where it belongs. If the Democrats want me to vote for them again, they can woo me, just like they woo swing voters.

They know where to find me. I'll be over here on the left.

Disney leagues with MS against democracy 

Disney has signed on to Microsoft's DRM initiative, along with Time-Warner-AOL-We're-Beatrice. Disney wants to make sure no one can pirate it's content, like it pirated the content of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grim, and (it appears) Pixar. They don't want anyone else to be able to steal a swag the way they stole theirs.

I agree that I don't have the right to distribute someone else's copyrighted material against their wishes- I'm not one of those "information wants to be free" radicals. I'm even willing to admit it's open to debate wether I have the right to space- and time-shift copyrighted materials I have legitimate license to. But I still have two fundamental, basic problems with DRM.

The first is do I have the right to produce- and distribute under terms of my choosing- original work of my own? Me, Brian Hurt, a person who doesn't have a huge law department and several elected officials in my pocket. If you say yes, then there is no technical way to prevent piracy. If you say no, then freedom of speech has gone the way of the dodo, and democracy is following closely behind. Unfortunately, the media conglomerates have painted themselves into the corner of demanding that the mere possibility of piracy needs to be eliminated. Which is obvious- they sole value-add is distribution (especially the music industry). The internet is nothing if not an efficient distribution mechanism. And while the future may be good for artists and writers as a whole, it sucks if your sole purpose for existance just went away. I'm just not willing to sacrifice democracy on the alter of protecting the buggy whip manufacturers.

The second problem is the persistance of culture. All means of inscribing information degrades- what the computer programmers call "bit rot" is a fundamental function of entropy. Even words carved into stone slowly abrade away. Most of our current forms of distributing information have a life expectancy of at most decades. The earliest CDs are already degrading into unplayability. Content only survives the millenia if it is copied. The works of Plato, Aristotle, etc. only survive to this date only because they were copied.

If we eliminate the ability/right to copy our current works, we run the risk of waking up one day to discover we've lost whole eras of our culture. It will make the burning of the library of Alexandria look like a small mistake in comparison. Unlike Alexandria, it won't happen overnight. Certain titles, certain works, will simply become more and more rare. The death of the last dodo wasn't marked at the time- it was just a while later that someone looked around and said "hey, wait a minute- what happened to all the dodos?"

Speaking of Disney classics- is it still possible to get a legal copy of "Song of the South"? Is it comming out on DVD?

Unfortunately, this debate is not going on- the decisions are simply being handed down the way the big corporations, who don't care a whit about democracy or preserving culture, but instead care only about profits, want.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Nothing so powerfull... 

There is nothing so powerfull as a bad idea whose time has come. Teaching computer science via x86 assembly language has to be one of the worst idea's I've ever come across.

First, let me mention the difference between correlation and causation. Is it that some of us are great programmers because we know assembly language, or do we know assembly language because we are great programmers? I'd actually argue there is a causal relationship between the two- but not in the direction this author is assuming. The great programmers know assembly language because they are great programmers, they are not great programmers because they know assembly language. The great programmers are, to a great degree, dedicated to our craft, and keep learning. We never say "OK, I now know everything I need to know"- we're constantly pushing the limits and learning new things. Sooner or later we get around to assembly language. As evidence of this, I point to the large number of mediocre and even piss-poor programmers back in the day when assembly language was the only choice.

Second, large chunks of computer science are not bound to any specific language. Sorting a list is the classic example of CS knowledge that transcends time and language. Especially the early education should be focused on these extralingual essentials, and not on the epiphenomena of a given language or architecture. My first real programming language (I don't count Basic) was Pascal- a language I have had 0 use for in my professional career. But it taught me huge amounts of how to program. I would argue that the first language you should learn should be a specialized teaching language. You don't learn to fly in a 747, and you don't learn to drive in an 18-wheeled truck- you learn to fly in a Piper Cub or equivelent, and learn to drive in an Escort or equivelent. Despite the fact that 747s and 18-wheeled trucks are what the professionals fly/drive. Same with programming.

I'd like to take this moment to point out the TeachScheme! project. The lessons of learned by the TeachScheme project are very relevent to this debate- especially with their comparisons of teaching Scheme compared to teaching Java or (a subset of) C++. One of the problems they experienced was just getting students over the hurdle of the syntax. And Java's syntax at least I consider regular and easy to predict (as I mentioned earlier, I don't consider C++ consistantly parsable even in theory). This may sound like heresy comming from me, but Scheme is a better first language than Ocaml. Of all the assembly languages to pick, they picked the x86- a more irregular assembly language I don't know of. 68K would be way better, as would PPC . Or, better yet, not teaching assembly language at all until much later in the course.

I've commented multiple times that the computer programming industry seems to have gotten stuck circa 1968. I'd like to see us move forward at least into the 1980's. But the alternative- moving backwards into the 1950's, is also possible.

No one here but us chickens 

From this article:

A TOP MICROSOFT lawyer has been appointed as chair of a committee which will monitor the behaviour of US courts judging antitrust settlements.

How on earth do you make fun of something like this?

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

10 new pipeline stages in Prescott?!? 

According to Ace's hardware, the new Prescott core has 10 more stages post-decode, for a total of 31. Add in the 8 stages to decode the instructions, and you have a total of 39 pipeline stages. By comparison, the Athlon XP has 15 (5 for decode), the Opteron has 17 (5 for decode).

It's obvious that Intel is going for sheer clockrate scaling, and damn the performance.

Monday, February 02, 2004

North Korea isn't how you think it is 

Just added the Island of Balta onto our links list, as this is the third article from there I've posted today. I have programming, he has football- no one's perfect.

The article in question is this op-ed peice, by someone who has actually negotiated with North Korea.

What we need to do with NK- and Cuba, as well- is to stop making them more paranoid and get them engaged in the world. This is, curiously enough, why I'm in favor of MFN status with China. The last thing we need is China going isolationists on us. Once the country is engaged, we can build a middle class with economic and political power and encourage liberalization. It worked with the Soviet Union, and it is working with China. But there are two problems with this. First off, it doesn't admit to a solution in a short time frame. We'll be decades chivying these countries slowly towards democracy. And second, it's boring to watch. We sit and talk and talk and talk and talk and nothing ever happens. War is, at least, exciting. Especially for those who don't have to fight it, and can just sit back and watch it on TV.

But a war with NK would be bleeding expensive. Too many countries and manufacturing regions important to our economy are within easy striking distance. For example, it's basically impossible to buy a computer these days without some part or another being made in either China, Taiwan or South Korea. All of whom would be in the "fallout" zone of a war with NK.

Civil War, here we come 

Two terrortist attacks on the Kurdish political leadership have left possibly as many as 200 dead.

We're ahead of schedule for Iraq degenerating into civil war. That wasn't supposed to happen until August at the earliests, hopefully even Novemeber.

I want off this rock 

From this article:

The Kansas Court of Appeals for a second time upheld the 17-year prison sentence of a youth who, at age 18, engaged in oral sex with a 14-year-old boy. For the same crime, if it had involved an act between an 18-year-old male and a 14-year-old girl, the sentence would have been 13 to 15 months.

This is the shining beacon of freedom and justice in the world?

The forgotten consequences of Columbine 

Today's Salon lead is today's required reading, about how the new Zero Tolerence policies at school are destroying kid's lives.

As unpleasant as my grade school experiences were (hint: shit I suffered on a daily basis the first 18 years of my life would result in my filing criminal charges today), I have to say I'm lucky I went to school when I did. I would have been one of those children who were expelled at the least, if not arrested. This is assuming that I wasn't taken away from my parents for "abuse". I was always turning up with poorly explained cuts and bruises- most of which were my own damned fault, and the vague unlikely explanations were a combination of "it made sense at the time" and leaving many details out so I wouldn't be punished for doing things I shouldn't have been doing.

The problem is that this is only one data point. Also relevent are the increasing popularity of three strike laws- which mean that there are now people spending life in prison for stealing a peice of pizza. And the popularity of mandatory sentencing guidelines for all sorts of violations- zero tolerance for adults. The increasing popularity of the death penalty. The increasing beleif that "once a perp, always a perp". We as a society are losing our ability to forgive.

There are a lot of reasons behind this increasing draconian behavior in our society. Part of it is political lobbying by the incarceration industry- there are companies who are hired to own and run prisons, who get paid per prisoner per year. Of course they'd like more "customers". Another problem is the emotional logic of 1+1=0, that 1 crime + 1 crime = 0 crimes, that if you've been hurt, that somehow if you just cause enough pain to someone else, your pain will be lifted. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

But a large part of it is that we're moving to a two-law society. There is one law for the privileged, and another law for everyone else. That's where the word "privilege" comes from- the latin for "private law" (privi from the same root-word as private, lege from the same root word as legislation). It is demonstratably true that if you are of the right clan, you can get caught smuggling crack cocaine into drug rehab and only get 10 days in jail. Anyone else would get tens of years.

Our current situation reminds me of that of pre-revolutionary France, where the Marquis deSade (where are our word "sadism" comes from) could rape and torture to his heart's content with little or no punishment, because he was the cousin of the King (rather like Noelle). Meanwhile, the historical antecedents to Jean val Jean from Les Miserables really were spending 25 to life for stealing a loaf of bread.

Now think long and hard about where this lead ~200 years ago. Injustice always breeds violence. As it looks likely we will learn yet again.

The truth comes out 

I've developed a theory. The basic idea of it is that whenever Republicans accuse Democrats of something, they're usually guilty of it themselves. I first developed this theory at the height of the Clinton impeachment circus, when it was exposed what sordid love lives the Republicans who were most voracious in attacking the President had. There are a number of reasons for this- guilt transference, clouding the waters for when the crimes of Republicans will be exposed, and simply already thinking along those lines. The application of this theory to the Republicans who accuse liberals of committing treason and being anti-American is left as an exercise for the reader.

But the specific crime I want to inspect is the decades-old charge that Democrats use the welfare system to reward Democratic voters. The theory here is that Democrats support welfare, and that the people on Welfare would then vote Democrats back into power. Sprinle that statement with proper racist code words and you have a pretty standard Republican stump speech. For bonus points, throw in references to honest, hard-working (white) people taking their goverment back from the shift, lazy, (black) freeloading Democrats.

So, what would my theory say about this? That it is the Republicans who are rewarding their voters with federal support. And guess what we find- this article, talking about giver and taker states. Giver states are those states which pay more in Federal taxes than they get in Federal aid. Taker states are those states which receive more in Federal aid than they pay in Federal taxes. What's (perhaps) unexpected is that giver states tend heavily towards being Democratic, while takers tend heavily towards being Republican.

Now, to be fair, I don't think the entire disparity is due to the contrivance of the Republicans. The liberal states also tend to be rich (comparitively) economically- states like California and New York. And, yes, Minnesota. The rich should pay to help the poor. I would also argue that the wealth of the giver states comes, in large part, from being fundamentally liberal. Take one example- state funding of higher education (UC Berkley/Stanford in California, MIT/BU in Boston, UMN in Minneapolis) is what lead directly to the tech businesses locating in those places. People came to attend college, and then stayed to work. The rewards of being liberal occur years, often decades, later, and dispersed throughout the entire economy, but they do happen. And that many of us do see that the money we currently spend to help the taker states comes back to us, just like the money we spent on our own state has come back to us.

I just sometime wish we'd also follow the other golden rule- you know, he who has the gold, makes the rules.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

The so-called liberal media 

Arnie- smart enough to realize he's a creation of the media, dumb enough to say it out loud. As the guy who told his third grade teacher that she was using that phsycology stuff on me, and further more wasn't doing it right amd proceeded to critique her style (proving I was very intelligent, but not real bright), I have a certain amount of sympathy.

Note, when you read that article, that there is no introspection as to why Arnie would think something as blatantly silly as that the press corp is his personal team of publicists. Except maybe that he's just not from around here.

To every who thinks Kerry is more electable than Dean 

Read this op-ed peice in the LA Times.

A quote:
Those minor problems paled, however, next to Kerry's positions on Iraq. To his credit, he was one of the Democrats who voted Oct. 11, 2002, for the resolution giving President Bush the authority "to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" in Iraq. This has caused Kerry a lot of grief among Deaniac Democrats, and he's twisted himself into a pretzel to explain away this vote.

What, you thought that the Karl Rove clique would say to themselves "Oh drat- they're nominating Kerry. Guess we'll have to play nice"?

A change in the reasons 

Every once in a while I like to rant on daily Kos- it's free advertising for this site. Today is one of those days- go read the article here.

As a bogo exclusive, I'm working on a long rant on Malthus. The problem is that's one of the core rants that touches dozens of other topics, each of which are rant-worthy in an of themselves. Patience- more is comming.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Sorry for not posting more 

I've been in coder monkey mode for the last couple of days. But good news- the bit blit routine works! Getting all the corner cases correct is most definately NP-annoying. Now if I can just get the assembler version working...

While I'm muttering, I wonder- how many people are actually reading this Blog regularly at this point? Hit the comment link below and say hello.

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