Tina K. Russell

July 17, 2007

Leverage

Filed under: iraq, us, war — Tina Russell @ 11:39 pm

Thomas Friedman nails it. For those of you behind the TimesSelect barrier, here’s his key point:

President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate, with the following orders:

“I want you to move to the Green Zone, meet with the Iraqi factions and do not come home until you’ve reached one of three conclusions: 1) You have resolved the power- and oil-sharing issues holding up political reconciliation; 2) you have concluded that those obstacles are insurmountable and have sold the Iraqis on a partition plan that could be presented to the U.N. and supervised by an international force; 3) you have concluded that Iraqis are incapable of agreeing on either political reconciliation or a partition plan and told them that, as a result, the U.S. has no choice but to re-deploy its troops to the border and let Iraqis sort this out on their own.”

The last point is crucial. Any lawyer will tell you, if you’re negotiating a contract and the other side thinks you’ll never walk away, you’ve got no leverage. And in Iraq, we’ve never had any leverage. The Iraqis believe that Mr. Bush will never walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises.

You can only do so much… if you think you can fix everything in the world, you’re only going to hurt yourself. No more soldiers or civilians should die in Iraq because Bush thinks that the war can still be salvaged.

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Bikes in Paris again

Filed under: environment, new york, portland, transportation, us — Tina Russell @ 10:40 pm

I wrote something about the Paris bike-share program yesterday, and how we should do it here in Portland, Oregon, from which I hail. Well, this guy in the New York Times says they should try it in New York. Come on, Portland! We can’t lose to New York. Let’s show those East Coasters what’s what.

…By that I mean hurry and adopt a program like this before they get the chance, all in the spirit of friendly competition, and the fact that our city is way better. Also, our city is way more bike-friendly, and a much better pilot city for this kind of project. So, come on! One and all! Support a Portland bike-share program because it wil help our people, it will help the economy, it will help the Earth, and because we are totally awesome.

He Who Is Free of Sin

Filed under: politics, sex, us — Tina Russell @ 8:22 pm

I guess you all know by now that Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisana has been engaging in repeated shady deals in smoke-filled back rooms, a veritable “money-for-sex” scandal (so much worse than the more widespread sex-for-security schemes). Well, now he’s apologized, and taken some time to attack “political enemies” for, uhhhh, something. I guess, pointing out what a big fat hypocrite he is for pushing his own view of “family values” on everybody else while practicing none himself.

I should note here that this man is in the most unenviable position in American political history. Usually, when something like this happens–a legislator has been soliciting prositutes, Congressional pages, the milkman, etc.–the legislator in question jumps ship and catches the first flight out of Washington, leaving his party to spin the issue endlessly and disown him or her (okay, it’s always a him) so thoroughly that you wonder if he ever even had a mother. But apparently this man, in favor of tightening fiscal policy and loosening shirt buttons and bra straps, is going to have to ride out his term. Why? The governor of Lousiana, Kathleen Blanco, is a Democrat and does not plan to run for re-election. Meanwhile, thanks to a convenient hurricane killing all the black people while FEMA sat on its ass (…makes you wonder…), the next governor will almost certainly be a Republican. So, David Vitter will have to wait it out until then, a good year and a half as the lamest lame duck of all time. Not even a lame duck, a quadriplegic duck. He’s like the Stephen Hawking of ducks, except not quite so smart. If he looks like a lame duck, limps like a lame duck, and wheezes a pathetic half-quack like a lame duck, he’s a lame duck. …

Anyway, it’s true though. He’s absolutely right. Just like with Don Imus, we’re watching before us an opportunistic, hypocritical pile-on, as though none of us ever succumb to the same temptations. Human emotions cannot be suppressed, they must be managed. Flogging anyone who reveals the open secret–that humans have sex drives–is not really going to help anybody. (And, in Imus’s case, the secret is that we all say really @#%!ing stupid things we wish we hadn’t said…)

July 16, 2007

Paris’s Bike Program would be Perfect for Portland, Says Tina

Filed under: environment, france, obesity, portland, us — Tina Russell @ 11:04 pm

Here’s an interesting piece on a new communal bike program in Paris. Basically, you pay nominal fees at bike-docking stations throughout the city to use a bike for half an hour at a time, or more for a surcharge. “A one-day pass costs 1 euro ($1.38), a weekly pass 5 euros ($6.90) and a yearly subscription 29 euros ($40),” which is a good deal.

I think this would work really well here in Portland, Oregon, which is where I hail from and the town whose borders I type these words from within. Portland has wonderful public transportation and bike lanes, and a very bike-friendly, environmental culture, but bike-riding as of yet is still limited to sort of a subset of the population, still seen as something only for “enthusiasts” and not something you’d simply ride to work. I think just about everybody is willing to try, though, and in order for that to happen, you’d need to make it cheap and easy, and economically feasible for the government to try out. This is both, and it would work in Portland not just because of our bike lanes and our culture, but because all our various bike shops would jump at the chance to work with the city government and make something like this happen.

There’s another reason this would be good, besides improving life for citizens, increasing efficiency in the workforce, and taking a meaningful stand against pollution in a world full of totally meaningless stands (if you get one of those “don’t buy gas on such-and-such a day” E-mails, delete it and remember that changes in habit are the only ones that count): obesity. Thanks in part to our wonderful farming laws that reinforce a sick economic system where our poorest are also our fattest (farm subsidies lean towards junk food, while produce is hard to buy on food stamps), Oregon is both number one in hunger and number one in obesity in the nation. Oregon may have, sadly, lost its bid to be the host of the premiere of The Simpsons Movie, but we’re still a state stuffed full of Homers. It’s not their fault, though: we simply have a culture and an economy that encourages excess and discourages moderation. A little exercise on the way to work would do a world of good for people’s health, as well as their pocketbooks and environment. It’s a win for everybody, and Portland is the perfect city for this to begin.

Linus and the GPLv3

Filed under: fsf, gpl, linus, linux, stallman — Tina Russell @ 1:09 pm

I fully agree with Linux creator Linus Torvalds that the Free Software Foundation are hypocrites and should be ashamed of themselves… I’m sick of free software as a religion, GNU über alles, that proprietary software is “ethically tainted” and a blow to one’s moral character. For me, the open source movement, a lot of it, is the wonderful idea that we can outdo proprietary software… that’s why I’ve always sided with Linus and admired his attitude. If he’s drawing a line in the sand and escalating the well-known open source schism into a full-blown civil war, then I am fully on his side…

Linus once said, “I’m not out to destroy Microsoft. That will just be a completely unintentional side effect.” He also said, “The FSF considers proprietary software to be something evil and immoral. Me, I just don’t care about proprietary software.” I completely agree with both of those viewpoints… the FSF’s preaching and moralizing just takes all the fun out of open source. I just like the idea that we can band together and create something bigger and better than any billion-dollar corporation just by using our heads… it’s freedom, plain and simple, and that’s wonderful. What I don’t like is the FSF’s insistance of their way or the highway, that somehow proprietary software is ethically grievous and should not be used by the conscientious computer user. Honestly, I would imagine a big reason that few major computer games come out for Linux–aside from the annoying stereotype of “Linux users are such huge nerds they could get Doom 3 running on a banana peel”–is because they see developing for Linux as a free-software legal quagmire that they’d rather not get into. That’s something I like about the LGPL, the Lesser General Public License used for libraries and such, that allows code to be compiled into closed-source programs. I want to support open-source development, but I also want to support the indie developer that’s made this cool new game and wants to make some cold, hard cash. There’s nothing wrong with marriages of open and proprietary… in fact, I think the best way to go is often to have open-source backends to your program, to ensure reliability and compatibility, and then if your program is content-based like a game, you can have your content be copyrighted and proprietary and that way you make lots of money.

Now, for applications sold to businesses, none of this matters… open source is definately the way to go, since it gives your program an instant name and reputation (if it’s good) and applications are sold to businesses on the basis of service contracts, which are made tighter and better through the magic of open source, since it ensures greater communication and transparency between parties. I’m talking about direct sales to consumers… now, of course, Ubuntu, my favorite Linux distribution, gives its product away for free and makes money by selling tech support, so that same open-source business model works very well at the consumer level, too. That initial show of trust you give when you make your product free as in free beer is almost as important as the one you give when you make your product free as in free speech, so I think that it’s important to realize that making your software available gratis can make you more money in the end than making everybody pay up front, which will prevent your software and your brand from spreading and make your users feel like serfs or criminals.

I just feel like there’s no reason that, as the FSF seems to feel, we should make Linux a platform hostile to proprietary software. I’d rather revel in the spirit of friendly competition… there’s no reason we can’t invite them over to play and then outdo them on their own terms. That would feel the most fair to me. I feel confident enough–way confident enough–in the superiority of open source that I’m willing to have any company that wants to pile on and peddle their proprietary wares for Linux. They can’t beat us–we’re too strong.

But also, I’m not convinced that the open-source, or at least the entirely-open-source (things like engines and stuff being open source levels the playing field and makes me very happy, even if I admire companies like Epic that make huge wads of cash on proprietary engines and technology–come on, we can beat ’em) model will or can work for games. What, are you going to sell a service contract? Charge for a tip line to beat the level boss? (That, incidentally, would make games spectacularly convoluted; if you think selling tip line minutes and strategy guides leads game companies now to make their games incorrigible by design, try to imagine what it would be like if such income sources were all they had to make money on their games.) Let’s look at other types of media, like video content. Homestar Runner has famously made a good business by building a brand with free cartoons online, and then selling merchandise and DVDs, enough to recoup the cost of building and maintaining the website and make a tidy profit. Would the same model work for a drama, though? I can imagine buying a beanie cap with Homestar on it, but would you do the same for a beanie bearing the likeness of Tony Soprano? Homestar Runner’s business model works because the brand is character-based comedy, and because the characters and situations are downright endearing and make you want to evangelize for the brand. On the other hand, I’m not sure all that many people want to buy Battlestar Galactica T-shirts, no matter how popular that show is. Sure, there are people who do, on their way to sci-fi cons and stuff, but enough to recoup the cost of shooting a science-fiction epic? (Now, action figures, that might work… but again, what about Tony Soprano? Would you buy an action figure of him? And if yes, are you completely crazy?)

So, anyway, yes, I do not want to make Linux a platform hostile to proprietary software because I think that’s been an enormous barrier to Linux adoption. I want to see people be able to go to the store and buy software for Linux, even if I think there are better alternatives available… I love the fact that I can download Inkscape from the package manager and not shell out huge amounts of money for Illustrator. That competition is enough, I imagine, to keep closed-source from flooding Linux and drowning out open collaboration. In fact, if Adobe decides not to release a Linux version of Illustrator, for instance, because of the entrenched competition in Inkscape, I would be doubleplus happy because it would be an example of the Linux platform succeeding on merit and not legal maneuvering. Trying to win in the courts and not in the code is the kind of thing Microsoft does… we need to open up our clubhouse and let everybody in, and show everybody just what open source is really made of.

So, yes… I’d love to be able to go to the store and buy, say, Doom 3 for Linux (I actually have no interest in Doom 3, it’s just the first thing that came to mind writing this), and play it on my compy at the same time as I help develop the open-source competition. There’s no reason we can’t have both, and there’s no reason we can’t fight closed-source on our own turf in the spirit of friendly competition. Besides that, I don’t see why I shouldn’t support indie developers who want to make money on small, closed-source projects. If some indie developer has made a promising new single-player game and I want to play it and support them, I want to be able to buy a native version for Linux and not have to struggle with Wine for hours. (“Massively multiplayer” online games don’t count, here… in fact, an open-source client, charging for the service instead of the game, is really the best way to go for projects like this. That’s a place where the service-contract business model can work for the consumer. Linden Labs has already open-sourced the Second Life client, hooray for them.) I don’t want to see the industry become dependent upon Microsoft’s DirectX… I want to see open source and open standards fluorish.

But also… I want to evangelize for open-source, and evangelism doesn’t work if you insist people be all in or all out. I started out in the open-source world simply using the GIMP for Windows, and seeing just how good it was, and now I’ve got a full Ubuntu installation with its native GIMP and Inkscape and Scribus and a billion other wonderful, wonderful tools and I’m a full convert to the House of Tux. We shouldn’t make Linux unfriendly to closed-source development, because that won’t win us any new converts. We should open it up and let everyone partake in the goods of open source, let everybody bask in the sunlight of freedom and eat from the gardens and the vinyards of open development, whether or not they subscribe to Stallman’s or even Linus’s worldview. I like open-source because it creates good stuff, because it allows me to participate in a community, because it makes computer software a two-way conversation, because, for the first time in ages, I’m having fun with my computer again and rediscovering why I got interested in computers as a little kid programming in C++ in the first place. For the first time, I’m seeing the computer as more than a faceless mass of bits and bytes… I’m able to customize to my heart’s content… I’m able to help build bigger and bolder new features to help people all over the world… I can ask for help from a community and not spend hours on the phone with tech support… and for the first time, I’m not treated like a criminal, I’m not forced to click through a billion “AS IS” end-user license agreements, placing me in a corporate fiefdom whenever I want to install anybody’s software. For the first time, I’m free… and that feels good.

And that kind of utilitarianism, the FSF says, is evil and the enemy of free software, and that makes me mad… I like open source because it’s good. Is that so bad? And by the way… it’s Linux, not this hideous beast called “GNU/Linux.” Linus made the kernel, and then the GNU tools were ported to it. You want to name your OS, you make your own kernel. Mlehhhhhhh.

So I side with Linus because I like freedom, and I want everybody in the world to share in it… I don’t want to see the open source world battening down the hatches and turning anybody away from the clubhouse if they don’t sign the GNU Manifesto in advance. If we let people develop proprietary products for Linux more easily, in time they’ll see that it’s better to open up your code, trust your users, and let the checks roll in on their own… Linux fights the hoarding of knowledge and information just by being what it is, an example of something better. When the FSF says that proprietary software is immoral, and tries to make it illegal, they ruin the spirit of open source and take the fun out of open-source development. Open source is an example of how a community, working together, in the commons, in the public view, can succeed where billion-dollar projects have failed, can make something much better than what Microsoft or even Apple or Sun can create… Open source is intrinsically fun and triumphant, and nothing should make it mean-spirited or nasty, certainly not Richard Stallman moralizing on the evils of proprietary software. I want to show everybody that open-source is better, and we can’t do that if we keep the clubhouse closed… if it were easier to develop proprietary software for Linux, than businesses would come to Linux and make proprietary software for it and would soon see that open-source is a better business model. That said, I’m not sure the traditional open-source business model works for all kinds of content–like certain games–and we need to leave people and corporations open to experimentation if we want to achieve optimum results, balance the interests of private citizens and corporations and the public good, and create something where everybody has a chance to make money and give back to the community. I’m against an all-consuming drive to make money, since people should know that checks don’t just start rolling in when you start programming, you need to develop a name and a reputation, and open source is easily the best way to do that. I’m just not sure that an all-consuming drive against proprietary software is all that good, either, and that’s why I share in Linus’s view that open source is just better. With open source, anyone can build on what you’ve created and share in a global community that helps all people and helps you much more than you would have been able to on your own. With open source, programmers are allowed to stand on the shoulders of giants, and for the first time individuals are finding how much they really can make a difference, all over the world. Open source is, I feel, the first attempt to harness the brainpower of the entire world and create something bigger and better than ever before. That’s why Linux has been so successful in the third world… no Microsoft protection payments and the chance for anyone with a computer and the requisite gumption to become a part of the global community and help his or her local community become bigger and better than ever before. Open source is so good that I want everybody to see it, and we can’t do that if we keep building barriers and scaring people off.

That said, I do strongly dislike Microsoft’s business tactics and I forever recognize the GNU General Public License as the awesome force for good that it’s always been, routinely keeping free code from falling into proprietary hands. I just dislike Richard Stallman’s preaching and moralizing and subscribe to Linus’s view that open-source is better, and everybody should see that. That said, I don’t want to discourage the small games developer or someone like that from wanting to make a quick buck on his or her wares. In fact, open-source code and proprietary content may be the wave of the future, and I don’t want to discourage that. Maybe it’s not, I don’t know. I just think that, to find the best solution, we need to open up our minds and our business models the way we open our source code. Community and collaboration, as we’ve learned, not hoarding, is the best way to find the most reliable and the most workable solution.

That’s why I’m firmly in Linus’s camp, and think that Stallman’s way is going the way of the dodo… there will always be fundamentalists among us who think that closed-source programmers are heretics should be burned at the stake. But, perhaps why “Linux” has caught on and “GNU/Linux” hasn’t is because it took Linus’s moderated temperment for open source to catch on in general. “Linux” is friendly to business, “GNU” is not… “Linux” sees shades of gray, “GNU” sees black and white. And honestly, forcing all the world’s developers to open their source code is not where I want to make my stand. I fall with Linus: open source is better, and we need to prove that to the world, and we’ll never do it by being hostile and hoarding our strategies and code and business models the way that Microsoft does. We need to open up and show the world that Linux is a good platform for everything… and once closed-source companies begin partaking in the fruit of open-source, they’ll help along and never want to go back. Open source is the way to go, and we need to prove that to the world. Steve Wozniak recently said that he’s not sure if one is morally obligated to release his or her source code, but he said it sounded like the right thing to do, and he’s right. Open source is better, and let’s show that by letting the sunlight into our closed world of open source.

There’s one problem: the GPLv3 has many, many advantages. It’s updated for a newer world, fifteen years later, and addresses evils such as software patents and new innovations such as server-side Internet software more thoroughly and effectively than version 2. Honestly, when I saw that article I thought I had read that Linus was starting his own license, or something. That wasn’t the case–I read the first paragraph impressively wrong–but I’d be super stoked if Linus decided to do so, bypassing the FSF entirely by creating a license that would offer the new social improvements of the GPLv3 without the grab at people’s hardware. I like Linus’s perspective, that we shouldn’t try to restrict hardware in a software license… hardware restrictions aren’t good, but they’re a business reality and I want to see TiVo keep using Linux technology, promoting its widespread use, without having them go down in flames because nobody wants to make deals with DRM-less DVR manufacturers.

(By the way, DRM is not an issue for me at all, the DMCA is. Rootkits are, as well. The analogy that I always like to use is that I’m okay if a videotape has a microfilm to prevent me from copying it, but I’m not okay if it has a cartridge of blue paint that explodes if I attempt to do so. I’m also not okay if the FBI busts down my door because I wanted to make a backup copy of my old “Tomorrow People” tapes. If a content company wants to make it difficult for me to copy something, that’s okay with me because that kind of inconvience is what stops 99% of piracy in its tracks, I would imagine. What I do wish for is the liberty, as a consumer, to do what I want with my own home copies of stuff that I bought, within reasonable boundaries such as not sending it to all my friends. Companies are entirely too afraid of piracy, when within limited boundaries it’s absolutely the best way to pick up new fans and adherents. I would never have been such a big fan of Puyo Puyo–and bought lots of Puyo Puyo games, even a few imported from Japan–if I had never downloaded Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine from a pirate website in the pre-DMCA days as a little kid. I’m totally okay with DRM so as long as the law doesn’t codify a religious devotion to it, and companies understand that it hurts their brand to treat customers like criminals. …And software platforms adapt to support other companies’ DRM, because I’m sick of closed models of content delivery like iTunes and Xbox Live Video that leave you no guarantee of recourse once your device is obsolete, and prevent marketplace competition through closed channels of delivery. That’s another reason why open source is good, and why open source needs to be able to support proprietary content. Ain’t I grand?)

The issue for me is that I’ve just started doing open-source programming, and I need to know which license to prefer when writing code. Dual-licensing is obviously an option, so that I can choose my own license while still making the code available to GPL or LGPL projects. I’ve been using GPLv3 because I feel so strongly about the evils of software patents and I really want to fight the ignoble spread of philosophies of knowledge hoarding and patentable business models. But I also side with Linus in feeling that the GPLv3 goes too far, in the area of the eeee-vil “Tivoization” (dun dun DUNNNN!), and begins restricting people’s rights in the name of promoting freedom. I don’t like hardware restrictions, but I don’t see any way around them. I want to use the GPL to promote open source by showing people that it’s a better way than hoarding your own knowledge for a pipe dream of vast personal gain. And in order to do that, we need to be able to show how much open source outdoes proprietary on even terms, that open source is simply better, and the FSF routinely states that such utilitarianism and pragmatism is the enemy of freedom. I feel that it is freedom’s friend, because we can’t win new converts by trying to force people into beleiving every one of our ideals. We can simply present the arguments and allow people to choose for themselves, and I believe the argument for open-source is a convincing one.

Don’t believe the FSF when they say proprietary companies are evil… they’re trying to shrink the open-source world down to a small, fundamentalist community wielding torches and pitchforks, and thus suck all of the fun and camraderie out of open source, a fundamentally light-hearted movement to bring down Microsoft as an “unintended side effect.” I do think Microsoft’s business model is often fundamentally evil, and I want to show that ours is better, and I want to do so on merit, and I’m entirely confident that we can do so without hiding behind a Microsoftian legal cloak (or, in Microsoft’s case, a patent figleaf). The GPL serves to protect peoples’ code and grow the world of open source, and the GPLv3 makes a dangerous grab at the hardware that the code is on. That’s murky territory, and I hope the FSF realizes where that road leads. It is often that the most fervent idealists become tomorrow’s oppressors, and that is why moderation is necessary. I hope that Stallman, in calling the free software movement’s founding document “The GNU Manifesto,” hasn’t cursed himself into a descent from the idealistic Marx to the revolutionary Lenin to the totalitarian Stalin. That analogy is quite a stretch, but it shows the importance of moderation and choosing carefully where you make your stand. Stallman has chosen to be a fundamentalist, and that deeply scares me. I’m not sure he recognizes that the free software movement has long been out of his hands, and for good reason. More of us are aligned with Linus because he symbolizes a world that is free and open and is just plain fun. Now’s the time to cut our ties with the FSF, lest they lead us down a dangerous path of control in the name of freedom. Such corruption has happened before and it will happen again, and that is not to downplay the enormous gifts and achievements of Richard Stallman, Eben Moglen, and their compatriots to the open source movement. I simply believe they’re heading down a dark path, and to let them go is the best way to move ahead.

Anyway, yes, I would be interested in knowing what a good license to use would be, since I support the GPLv3’s attempts to meet the challenges and innovations of the modern age but show great concern over its hardware power grab. Of course, the Open Source Development Lab, Linus’s employer, is not a legal organization and I’m not sure any organization save the FSF has the know-how and ability to develop a license as thorough and robust as the GPL. I guess I could use a dual license, two versions of the GPLv3, one with an exception (“don’t lock down your hardware” removed, while “don’t sue your users” stays), one without, to ensure that people are able to use my code in their own projects. But I guess what I’d love to see most is a Linux License that embodies the ideals of the greater Linux community, of freedom and protecting code from privatization, and ensuring that knowledge stay open and shared, and digging into every complicated legal grotto that the GPLv3 does, without any chilling power grabs. I’m a firm believer in copyleft, of requring that derivative works be released under the same license, because of how much it helps and has helped open-source development. I simply believe that Stallman’s fundamentalism has gotten out of hand and is in need of temperance, and in its absence, we may wish to consider going it alone.

“Me, I just don’t care about proprietary software. It’s not ‘evil’ or ‘immoral,’ it just doesn’t matter. I think that Open Source can do better, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is by working on Open Source, but it’s not a crusade — it’s just a superior way of working together and generating code.It’s superior because it’s a lot more fun and because it makes cooperation much easier (no silly NDAs or artificial barriers to innovation like in a proprietary setting), and I think Open Source is the right thing to do the same way I believe science is better than alchemy. Like science, Open Source allows people to build on a solid base of previous knowledge, without some silly hiding.

But I don’t think you need to think that alchemy is ‘evil.’ It’s just pointless because you can obviously never do as well in a closed environment as you can with open scientific methods.”

–Linus Torvalds (source above)

July 11, 2007

Winds of change

Filed under: environment, new jersey, us, wind power — Tina Russell @ 2:29 pm

Everybody’s angry about the noise of this guy’s windmill in his backyard in New Jersey.

Now, I don’t know… I hear ambient noise of just about everything in my house. The fridge, the furnace, the air conditioning, the fan, the computers and their fans (which I hear all through the night)… I should tell you that, when my parents left the house for a week (I’m twenty and live with my parents, or at least I will for a bit longer), I turned off their computer–which is in the dead center of the house–and quickly realized how completely eerie it was not to hear its fan. I mean, it sounds enlightening–the noise of a heathen Windows box give way to an aura of silence–but instead, it was actually terrifying. Counterintuitive as it may be, I turned it back on just for the purpose of the ambient noise. Otherwise, I was going to freak out, like Bill Gates in a black cloak would sneak up behind me and say, “It looks like you’re trying to write a letter, bitch!

So I think ambient noise is pretty relative. If anything, we should be distracted by the crime of all the people who die each year from air pollution, all the windpower in the world that goes untapped, and the power barons (quite literally) who have our personal finances–and the governments–by the genitals with their supply of the power that we depend on. So, I mean… if the noise were more like an aircraft taking off, or an LA freeway, I would say that windmill is ahead of its time. As it stands, there’s so much ambient noise in anybody’s house I hardly think something to generate clean power should be a problem. The NYT says it’s about the level of “light traffic, or a noisy refridgerator.” I’d say that’s the noise of freedom, and that kind of damn-the-system innovation ought to be supported, not punished.

The Man Behind the Mosque

Filed under: pakistan, us — Tina Russell @ 1:59 pm

The smoke has cleared, scores are dead, and Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan scores another meaningless, Phyrric victory as the Red Mosque crisis ends.

First, %&#@^! the militants. They all seemed like jerkwads, anyway. Trying to impose conservative Islamic law on the nation and issuing fatwas for bear hugs, they seemed like huge idiots to me. I hate it when people issue circular argumments for why everybody should live a certain way. Because it’s Islamic law! Well, everybody has their own interpretation of that… we all talk endlessly about our “Judeo-Christian values” here in the States, but I don’t know when the last time someone was put to death for working on the Sabbath was, for instance (although we continue the practice of male circumcision–a decree that God mercifully put forth in the Torah to replace the previous practice of child sacrifice–and male circumcision has no place in a society not completely riddled with AIDS). I think it’s dumb that these people would issue fatwas left and right and try to reduce people’s personal freedoms. But also, they make me wanna cry because I know I’m the sort that doesn’t fit in, the kind of people they’d go after and declare a demon prostitute and enemy of Islam or something, and that just makes me pout. I bet some of the people they issue fatwas against, I’d feel like they’re my sisters if I ever met them, I bet. So, it all just makes me sad.

That said, I think Musharraf really screwed the pooch on this one. Being a fairly benevolent dictator–from what it sounds, the best dictator Pakistan has ever had–doesn’t really forgive being a dictator, and considering that Pakistan has the bomb I think we should do whatever we can to ensure monarchy can be phased out in Pakistan to be replaced by some form of democracy (without, you know, making it worse). It’s a delicate situation, and it must be handled with care, and though I wouldn’t support a revolution in Pakistan I think that the Bush administration is making the wrong decision by putting all their eggs in Musharraf’s basket. You can work with the guy in important matters in the “war on terror” and not have to put up with the fact that he’s a dictator… we can let him know that we support him and still nudge him towards democracy. After all, if he really is such a great leader, than he has nothing to fear in a general election. Meanwhile, by placing all our chips on Musharraf we automatically lose favor with whoever replaces him… and if there isn’t a system in place for Musharraf being replaced democratically, he will inevitably be replaced in a violent revolution, which would be an absolute disaster because it would result invariably in anti-US extremists–or worse, if you can imagine–getting ahold of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. It’s pretty clear that Musharraf is trying to make himself a permanent autocrat, and that’s a dangerous game that the US should have no part in.

So, as far as the mosque goes, I’m not exactly sure what changed. I mean, if the military wanted to go in, guns blazing, they could have done so at any point, right? Why did they wait for days? I suppose the reason must have been to tire them out, since the Pakistani military wouldn’t be under as much stress, being able to take shifts and rest in comfortable homes and not have to be weighed down by the subconscious knowledge that your cause is hopeless and you ought to pack it in and become a newsanchor on “Wackos Today.” So, it makes some amount of sense. It’s just that, innocent people, students, were trapped in that mosque… Why not wait it out longer? It seemed to me like the Pakistani military had all the time in the world, whereas the militants had a limited supply of food and motivation. (Hell, when the leader’s brother tries to slip away in a burqa than you know there’s a morale problem…) Of course, the students must have had a limited supply of food, too, which is difficult. Perhaps they could have supplied the militants with food for the students, like a wheelbarrow full of sandwiches (of course the militants would have probably hogged any rations, but there’s not much of a choice when you need to make sure the students get fed), and just waited it out, waited for the militants to give up, since, after all, Pakistan could have shifted off the military for as long as it wants whereas fatigue would inevitably have set into the militants. It would have taken longer than a few days, but it would have resulted in fewer being killed.

The militants have an ironclad, fervent ideology, but that’s not everything… it’s a powerful force, to be sure, but even it runs out (hence, trying to escape in a burqa). No, I have a sinking feeling, like the parliamentarian Baloch in the article, that they were trying to appease the Top Gun, playing-on-an-aircraft-carrier faux-military ideology of President Bush and his cohorts. I can’t back that up, but it’s plausible enough to make me want to barf.

So, all in all, this was a failure, not a victory, for Musharraf and friends. Yes, those militants were crazy evil, hiding behind hostages like the cowards they were. But I think that the Musharraf government was cowardly to go in, guns blazing, before all other options are exhausted. People will say (well, they might) that I’m advocating treating terrorists with kid gloves, and I’m not… I’m against treating delicate hostage crises with a sledgehammer. And, I’m against people dying. That’s where I make my stand.

July 8, 2007

Global Warming–Not That Bad!

Filed under: environment, global warming — Tina Russell @ 2:06 am

My head is going to explode if I read another article like this. Global warming is bad, but since there’s no perfect solution, we should all sit around and wait to die. Apparently. Or, it’s inevitable, there’s nothing we can do, so we should all just adjust to a warmer world, God help us all. I just want to explode when I read that because it’s not our place to decide, here in America, what global temperature is ideal. If you think Al Gore is Chicken Little when he calls us to arms to act against global climate change, maybe you’ll change your mind when, say, Venice is underwater, famine in Africa is even worse than it is now, and hundreds of millions of people have been displaced around the world by the rising water level (causing refugee problems and endangering national–and international–security) because we were too goddamned lazy to do anything about climate change when we had the chance.

Acting like global warming isn’t all that bad, or we should just adjust, is so arrogant as to be unfathomable. This isn’t just New Jersey warming. This is the whole %^*)@!ing globe. And, sorry, when the Earth is, at present, fine-tuned to support human life, heating it up like a pressure cooker is a really stupid idea considering we don’t really know how long this ball of water is going to be our home. Considering how far off, technologically, galactic colonization is (a manned mission to Mars would take years each way, meaning if Gliese whatever really is habitable it would take about a bazillion years to get there at present), we should really focus on making do with what we have, right now. And sorry, a one-degree Fahrenheit temperature rise in all of the twentieth century is actually quite horrifying, it’s the figure that got me so scared of global warming in the first place. One century is supposed to be nothing in terms of climate change, it’s supposed to be a fraction of a blink in the Earth’s eye, it’s supposed to make no difference, certainly not a quantifiable one, and a projection that this rate will increase eightfold in the current century should be enough to get every world government to begin dismantling coal plants and oil refineries right away. Modest goals like emissions standards and cap-and-trade pollution markets aren’t perfect–far from it–but good Lord are they needed as a good first step in what needs to be an all-out push to save our children and their children from our lack of economic and environmental foresight, to save them from our blind greed and arrogance.

Seriously… that shouldn’t be a liberal or conservative issue. We need to save the world so that we can keep living on it. I don’t know about you, but I like living here… and to say that we could all live on a 72-degree Earth is really stupid when you’re saying it from New Jersey, Mr. Ivory Tower Jerk. You’re not deciding it for just you, you’re deciding it for everybody in the world. And there are places in the world that just can’t handle even a single degree change… to say we should all just adjust because global reform is impossible is to throw our grandchildren into the hungry maw of a warming Earth. That is something I cannot abide by.

So, every time I read an article about the effects of global warming putting farmers out of business, rising sea levels, exacerbating hurricanes and killing thousands each year, I’ll think about that ignorant columnist chilling in New Jersey and thinking about how good life is when you’re not worried about your grandchildren living in a world that you totally screwed up just for them. It’s not our place to decide how the world should live… people who are against big government should be against climate change ruining life for everyone, the world over. The argument that because reform will be difficult–hell yeah, it will be–it’s impossible and we should just give up now always gets me steamed… but here it does especially because he’s saying we should just let the Earth get hotter and hotter and damn the consequences because prevention, even modest prevention, is just too damned difficult.

I’m sure he’d argue that’s not exactly what he’s saying… but it is. Basically, I want him to repeat what he says about how we simply must adjust to a warmer world… and say it to, say, a child orphaned by Hurricane Katrina, where if global warming wasn’t the cause (funding for levees being diverted to the war in Iraq and tax cuts was, but never mind), it certainly didn’t help. Or, in ten years, tell it to African refugees who had to flee their homelands due to rising sea levels, and were caught up in the middle of a civil war in southern Shitsvillistan. Or, perhaps, tell it to a child in Venice whose house will soon get swallowed up by rising sea levels. Or, to a farmer on the equator whose crops are drying up due to the rising temperatures that are far above what would have happened without careless human intervention. Et cetera…

I think I read something like this, a while ago, where somebody said with a straight face that global warming isn’t all bad because, after all, it will increase tourism in East Germany. Yes, I just about exploded… the point is that it’s not our place to decide, we shouldn’t go in and say, hey, we’ve decided that, since we don’t want to move away from coal or oil despite cheaper and safer alternatives, we’re going to heat your country up until it sizzles, and you can’t do anything about it because we share the same atmosphere that has no recognition in international law! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha! Instead, maybe we should be right and responsible and save some of this world for our children, so they can live on it, too. It’s difficult, to be sure, but we have to do it. And if one more person writes that global warming isn’t so bad ’cause we can all buy sunscreen or something… well, I’ll write a very angry blog post, or something.

Rrrghh.

July 7, 2007

Race

Filed under: martin luther king jr., race, the boondocks, tv, us — Tina Russell @ 8:59 am

I just saw The Boondocks. I’ve been watching this show for a while, the show based upon the Aaron McGruder comics. By “a while,” I mean a week or two. I got it from the library, a service which Michael Moore deftly reminds us is, you know, socialized reading.

That is, I got season one from the library. It’s pretty good. The animation is beautiful. And the girl with the puffy pigtails is so cute, I would intensely like to devour her. But, that is not the point here, today.

I saw the episode in which Martin Luther King, Jr. comes back from the dead. It’s really, really super-depressing. (This is episode… hmmm… nine, I think, of season one.) He turns on the TV and sees rappers in fistfights, rappers beating their wives, a whole mess of what we consider to be “urban entertainment” (certain at-risk, urban entertainment, certainly)… and he asks, “what has become of my people?”

“I guess,” our hero, Huey, says, “we’ve all been waiting for you to come back.”

“The Martin Luther King Jr. they’re waiting for,” King replies, “died long ago.”

It’s severely depressing. Basically, The Boondocks spends a lot of time admonishing, well, black people, as though to ask, “how did we end up in this mess?” How did we universally decide to stop fighting for our rights and, instead, start fighting over the white man’s scraps while buying “bling” (my least favorite thing in the world, to be sure) (well, I dislike the movie “Brazil,” Windows bluescreens, and any use of “an historical” more, but “bling” is up there) and Bluetooth headseats to try and prove that we made something of ourselves. That’s pathetic… if you want to show how successful you are… _be_ a success, don’t wait for anybody’s permission, certainly not the white man’s. And don’t use your possessions to show off your “status…” you’re only reflecting how poor you are, but more importantly–and more damagingly–how clearly ashamed you are of it.

Now, I’m white… as white as they come, actually. My mother is all-American, had ancestors on the Mayflower, and could join the Daughters of the American Revolution if she didn’t find them repulsive. My dad had a Norwegian father and a German mother, and was born in Oslo, and moved to Chicago when he was five. From that mix, I like to think of myself as of Norwegian descent, ’cause I like Scandanavia, land of efficiency, diplomatic relations with Palestine, Norse mythology, tiny houses, universal healthcare, and _scary_ high living standards (can you believe they have a population crisis… the other way?). Also, my Norwegian blood–the Viking in me–makes me hella tall and skinny, something I’m quite proud of, since it means I’ve attained the American ideal without any actual effort. (Just so you know, fat people generally aren’t of unsound morals or discipline, that’s just a stereotype… I’m just lucky that I was born skinny, although even hella skinny women and men get eating disorders from the pressure to be _absolutely perfect_, which nobody is without a Photoshop makeover.)

Anyway, where was I? So, yes, I’m Whitey McWhiteperson, and I’ve never had any shame in that. Us white people, well… we’ve created some good things in our time. Let’s see, there’s Spider-Man… well, Stan Lee is Jewish (does anybody know of Steve Ditko’s ancestry?), and they come in all colors, so I guess that doesn’t count. Well, there’s Sonic–no, those are Japanese creators. How about… uhh… Star Trek? Gene Roddenberry isn’t Jewish, is he? …

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never felt ashamed for being white, other than, you know, centuries of oppression of other people, but that’s more _human_ than white, you know? Give one guy more guns and convince him he’s different than the other guy, pretty soon he’s shot the other guy full of holes and considers it God’s will. At the same time, the “black problem”–that black people still live in something of a permanent underclass, a kind of American caste system, that’s tough to break out of–has always been a strong interest of mine… my dad listened to blues music as I grew up, so maybe that has something to do with it. (He, in turn, had racist parents who wouldn’t let him listen to “black music,” or “race music” as they called it back then. Now we call it “urban music.” Is anybody but me sick of people trying to talk about race without really talking about race?) I also read Milestone comics (one of which, Static, was the basis for the TV series “Static Shock”), studied the civil rights movement in high school, and the NAACP in college (which is, incidentally, a _thoroughly_ badass organization). So, yeah… I like black people, I guess, or at least learning about them.

But, of course, I know that if I, as a white person, or rather, as a person in general, am not doing something to solve this hideously entrenched underground system of institutionalized racism, I’m just a part of the problem… of course, the Supreme Court just ruled that we live in a perfect, colorblind society (pah!), so maybe I should just hang it up and go home.

No, really, I want to know what I can do, but I know the answer to that is “don’t be a dick,” because, in general, the civil rights movement gets stalled by some white person being a dick, and moves ahead with the help of some white person not being a dick. So, if I can just live with my internalized prejudices–which everybody has–be aware of them, and be nice to people, then I’m good. I think…

It’s just that… I know there’s a “black problem” in America, and I want to know what I can do to help. If I ruled the world… well, if I got to make the decisions… I would have my own reparations program, as Martin Luther King, Jr. called for in his day (a good century after “forty acres and a mule” fell flat; I think a white person keeping his or her promises is the sort of cataclysmic event that allows civil rights to move forward). Mine would be one of unprecedented trust and generosity… we would simply find out what black America needs, and give it to ’em, no questions asked. You need better housing in Chicago? No problem. Better schools in Baltimore? We’ll hook you up. A massive payout–which most white people fear and, I would think, few black people really seek–would only make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and be a perfect way to put a big pile of money through, essentially, a giant shredder of infinitesimal divvying (like the Bush tax rebate, only at least well-meaning). What we do need to realize is that we, the United States of America, as an institution, have wronged the black people of our nation, grievously, and heinously, and we need to make restitution for our crimes… and we will, gladly, because it’s the right thing to do, and it won’t exactly put white America in the poorhouse. Besides, as Dr. King so deftly put it in his day, it’s a bargain compared to paying the back wages of black peoples’ enslaved ancestors, wealth that they earned but neither they nor their grandchildren never saw a penny of.

So, basically, when white people decry reparations as collective punishment, I want to cry… but I also want to clarify. I think nobody seriously wants to go door to door and say, “hello, you’re a white person, I’m here to bill you for your slaveholding ancestors.” Nobody should have to pay for the crimes of their ancestors, that’s not right. What we should do is attempt to fix some of the damage done by our country as an institution, a country founded on liberal ideals that soon came into contact with the black legacy of slavery. It took time for us to shake off the shackles of slavery, and America is much better off for it; pro-slavery activists in their day threatened that a removal of slavery would precipitate economic collapse, but such was hardly the truth when the South was, and to some extent still is, an economic shithole compared to the vastly wealthier North, an empire based on things like employment, wages, and retirement. It’s just that black people today still have marks from their ancestor’s enslavement, and that’s unfair. Dr. King justly argued that black people should thus be helped along, to compete on a just and equal basis… and nobody listened, and now we’re all the worse off for it.

Seriously… trying to make life hell for illegal immigrants in this country has only turned them into an underclass, an economic pestilence unable to rise above its means. Similarly, the Republican-Democratic “let’s forget about black people” agenda has only served to starve this underclass… We’ve achieved integration only in the sense that white people often slip into the ranks of the poor as well, and some black people can, with some gumption and some available resources, rise to the point of success at which people wonder aloud on talk shows about whether or not he or she is “really black” (I hate that). America is still spectacularly divided along the color line…

And what I mean is that when there are poor among us, it only hurts all of us… I’d like to see such a drive for the construction of infastructure, of education, of jobs for black people… and whites, too, of course, we just should not hide, or shy away from, the sorry state of black America and the fact that it’s pretty much our fault. What I mean is… regardless of what transpired in the past, we should help black America _because it is right_, but also because a permanent African-American underclass helps none of us. Trying to crush people to bits with economic misery… the poor, blacks, immigrants… it’s always intended to “free” us from them, as though they are some kind of burden, keeping us from reaching our full potential. But the truth is, it’s when you try to marginalize these people that they become an economic ball and chain… “the problem of the South” is what they used to call it. Now, I guess, it’s “the problem with black America”… and it’s telling that the government, or at least the “loyal Bushies” appointed by our esteemed and incompetent (with all due respect) President, would let New Orleans drown before sending any help. Maybe if the black people would all just _die_, they think, perhaps, we’d be free of the “black problem,” forever.

But it’s not true… black people are here to stay, as are immigrants and aboriginals and all the marginalized people of America… as well as, you know, everybody else… I feel as though our government has declared war on the “average American,” as though the middle class is an aberration that should not be allowed to exist, and you should be either poor as dirt or the CEO of ExxonMobile. The poor aren’t the government’s concern… the rich are, and that’s sad because the government is supposed to stand up for _us_, be run by _us_ and look out for us when we need it. When New Orleans was flooding, people expected the government to come and help, because the government is supposed to be a proxy for the American people… and the American people, every last one of ’em, wanted to help when they heard about the flood. (Well, every last one except Brownie. Heck of a job!)

So, yes, we should do it, we should lend black America a hand, because of our crimes against them, because it will help us, but more than anything because it’s the right thing to do… it’s true that black America has lost its way, everyone’s expecting Martin Luther King to come back when he just won’t. But we can help… complaining about the sorry state of black America means nothing unless you are willing to help. And complaining that black children are all slackers and drug dealers or something means nothing unless you are willing to help the ones that are not… Stereotypes are convenient because they allow us to think that we’re doing the right thing, already. But we’ll never know what will happen until we try… perhaps fewer black children will end up as convicts if more of them had solid educations. In fact, I’m sure of it. There’s nothing that makes us different save for circumstances and means… if black people had the kind of access to resources that us white people have all the time, I’m sure they’d be just as well off as we are. Hell, education is the single most important factor as it is, I bet if every black child in America went to college we’d see the crime rate plummet in about twenty years. That said, maybe we could work on getting everybody into college, and simply prove that we really are some kind of colorblind society by recognizing that, if the problem is largely in black America, that’s where we will start fixing the problem, regardless of our own prejudices.

Most white people don’t like to talk about race, because they want to believe they don’t see race, that they are perfectly egalitarian and, oh, they have black friends, see? But, that’s a distracting sideshow… the truth is that race exists, even though it’s merely a cultural construct with no scientific basis. Some people accuse me of “tokenizing” when I say that we should, well, help the black man (and the black woman) out. I’d say they’re blind to reality… if we spend decades, centuries, trying to ground a specific group of people into powder, perhaps it would make sense to help them out now, so that there’s no animosity, we can all be friends and share a powerful, integrated economy where anyone can grow up to be a scientist (with the requisite talent and inclination) and nobody knows what “black” is because we’re so interbred that we’ve created a gorgeous rainbow of pink-brown skin colors.

It’s just the right thing to do… and it’s fun. Race is only a problem if you’re unwilling to confront it, to have fun with it, to find ways to solve it… that’s why I’m interested in the subject of race, and I think everybody should be. It’s interesting, it’s fun, and it shows a way we can help save the world. There’s no reason we should shy away from the topic… indeed, we should not when it’s so important to so many people. We should blow the topic wide open. Don’t be afraid of offending anybody… say what you mean, say what you feel. It’s the only way we can have a meaningful discussion.

And, we know you have a black friend. Stop talking about it, already. Yes, yes, you don’t see race, very nice, thank you…

…and, of course, the only way we can have this discussion is if petty liberals like me stop accusing people of racism whenever they say something they disagree with… I think “racism” as a word is both overused and underused. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to somebody’s confrontational idea… use “racism” for the kinds of policies that really deserve it, like the ones where we accuse illegal immigrants of being responsible for all the country’s problems. Bitch, bitch, bitch…

And “Lost in Translation.” I hated that movie.

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