27 September 2006

It is astounding that such dangerous fanatics have control of the U.S. government and have no organized opposition in American politics

Paul Craig Roberts on Why Bush Will Nuke Iran
The neoconservative Bush administration will attack Iran with tactical nuclear weapons, because it is the only way the neocons believe they can rescue their goal of U.S. (and Israeli) hegemony in the Middle East.

The U.S. has lost the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Generals in both war theaters are stating their need for more troops. But there are no troops to send.

Bush has tried to pawn Afghanistan off on NATO, but Europe does not see any point in sacrificing its blood and money for the sake of American hegemony. The NATO troops in Afghanistan are experiencing substantial casualties from a revived Taliban, and European governments are not enthralled over providing cannon fodder for U.S. hegemony.

Madness, simply madness…

15 September 2006

Johnny can so program

Yours truly tussles with esteemed science fiction author David Brin over honest criticism about a Salon published article titled Why Johnny can't code. So much so that Brin ends up resorting to namecalling and tossing a hussy fit, declaring me unwelcome there. Still, I am a fan of Brin's writings, even if he begrudges me, I just think he's veered off into a funk, and extrapolates an anecdotal tale into a broad assertion that's simply not true. At least in this scientific discipline and for this poor article.

Bemonaning the fact the archaic BASIC language no longer comes with the computer, Brin contends that today there's no easy way for kids to get hooked on programming.

For three years -- ever since my son Ben was in fifth grade -- he and I have engaged in a quixotic but determined quest: We've searched for a simple and straightforward way to get the introductory programming language BASIC to run on either my Mac or my PC.

Why on Earth would we want to do that, in an era of glossy animation-rendering engines, game-design ogres and sophisticated avatar worlds? Because if you want to give young students a grounding in how computers actually work, there's still nothing better than a little experience at line-by-line programming.

Only, quietly and without fanfare, or even any comment or notice by software pundits, we have drifted into a situation where almost none of the millions of personal computers in America offers a line-programming language simple enough for kids to pick up fast. Not even the one that was a software lingua franca on nearly all machines, only a decade or so ago. And that is not only a problem for Ben and me; it is a problem for our nation and civilization.

Whoa, an "epic problem" because of the absence of "line-by-line" programming language?

Brin harkens back to an earlier time, when tinkering with line-by-line programming was a large part of the reason why a computer was purchased. That the buyer was a financially endowed nerd already passionately motivated and inclined to what was, for that time, a solely hobbyist pursuit. Today, the price of computer hardware has plummeted, making a PC purchase within reach of nearly all. And the entry level barrier for youth to enter into the discipline of programming computing machines has never been lower.

  • As stated, the cost of machines that 20+ years ago would preclude ownership for many kids, is now, in most all cases, a total non factor.

  • In the good old days of BASIC PEEK and POKE, your only link to programming prowess was a geeky magazine article, or provided by a fellow nerd friend. There were a few books, but rare. No googling for help, no vast internet repostiory of tutorials and how-to guides that exist in 2006, however.

  • The machines of yester-lore were no more than glorified calculators. In fact, the machines that sit on our desktop (and in our laps) have much more in common with old school mainframe computers than the early IBM/PC and Apple computers. Point is, running a comptuer today, in many ways requires a whole heap more of

  • Apple Macs and Linux machines all come with all the programming tools a budding programmer could wish for. Even Windows machines, though less endowed, come packaged with C# programming environment.

  • But all that really is needed to write programs and see the output of basic algorithms is a web browser and a text editor. Both of these come standard with any machine today.

There are still BASIC programs in textbooks? Brin is dismayed over his the internet choir's emphasis on his repeated references to BASIC, but there are at least 30+ mentions of BASIC in his article.

Yes, and the problem, according to Brin, isn't the textbook publishers who add program exercises in an archaic language that some computer science luminaries consider to be "life corrupting". it's Microsoft's fault for not maintaining lingua franca on its machines!

Not all of Brin's missive is misguided. I understand his sentiment, but he laments for an age that has come pass, and because of his own nostalgic remembrance, distorts reality. The computing landscape has indeed changed, but you don't have to run BASIC programs to gain an understanding of how a computer works. BASIC is no different than any of the newfangled scripting languages. Furthermore, the fundamental model of "how a computer works" is radically different today — the simplistic model Brin details is less instructive than the state of the computer circa 2006.

But while Brin bemoans the current status of programming tools for aspiring programmers, here is what is happening in the golden age of programming.

  • Millions are busy creating home pages, scripting game macros, writing Microsoft Office VB scripts to access databases and perform Excel functions.

  • Others are creating web applications or writing social networking applications such as MySpace.

  • Millions are downloading and installing free and open source (F/OSS) software, including the various Linux and FreeBSD distributions. And by doing so, are receiving far greater instructive benefit by learning how a modern day computer works, encountering firsthand, the challenging experience of installing, configuring, maintaining and even scripting/programming in nearly all the layers of software and services that make up a contemporary computer system.

Even if Brin's claims have merit, the contention that its a "problem for our nation and civilization" is unbelievably far fetched. The discipline of computer programming differs from other fields of science — most programmers are, in large part, self taught, and gravitate to the field, based on their inkling and proficiency in being able to tell the computer what to do. Years ago, when the government went recruting programmers, they attempted over and over, to discover who would make a good programmer. Chess wizards, mathmeticians, bookkeepers, etc... were all once viewed as being optimal programmer candidates. But it was discovered that there was no common theme, and good to great programmers came from all walks of life, that a small segment of folks just had a knack for it. Even back when I went to school (I changed majors halfway through), it was expressed by professors that they viewed their job as weeding out those who won't cut it, who are pursuing the field for the money or because they think they'll dig it. And just examine the successful programmers — it's quite evident formal schooling and/or training is not necessary to ordain a great programmer. Therefore, even if all of the other points Brin contain some merit, that "computing is not as easy" without a "lingua franca", there are those that still will be drawn to the field. Incidentally, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are both college dropouts.

Perhaps I am being a tad bit harsh on Brin's essay, but the endless parade of "Why Johnny can't program" is so irksome when the question truly is Why Johnny won't program. Johnny can so program, but if the IT industry is facing a dilemma in the United States, it has more to do with the wholesale corporate sellout of programmers and engineers where American programmers and engineers are replaced in favor of cheaper non-immigrant visa workers and/or offshore workers.

13 September 2006

The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century

In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, some detail on how the Republican leadership wishes to be the pro Mexican immigration party in the 21st Century
I was going to say that the Voter Vault also has helped them find -- going back to the point of the ethnic politics, in 2004, the Bush campaign managed to track down millions of Hispanic voters that they viewed as potentially sympathetic and who might vote Republican, especially in the Southwest, which was such an important -- which continues to be such an important battleground. And what they did with these people that they found is they sent a DVD, a five-minute-long DVD narrated by President Bush, which was remarkable if you viewed it, especially in the current climate of the immigration debate, because in this DVD, it opens with President Bush on his vacation property in Texas fishing. And he's talking about how all this land used to be Mexico, and the people who lived here weren't foreigners, they weren't necessarily Hispanics, they were Mexicans. So some congressmen like Tom Tancredo first of all might find it interesting that the President of the United States is somewhat ceding Texas to Mexico.

But on top of that, the DVD goes on to have the President bragging about all of the Hispanics he's appointed to high office, how he hopes more Hispanics will run for office and how they'll be Republicans. And kind of amazingly, the DVD ends with an image of then-Governor Bush marching in a Mexican Independence Day parade in Texas, waving a Mexican flag, which is interesting because many of the conservative Republicans now are critical of some of the protesters who have shown up at these immigration protests waving Mexican flags.

A Marine with a conscience, like my gunner, was a liability

An interesting interview with Iraq War combat veteran U.S. Marine Corporate Alex Markey.

His thoughts on civilian killing by U.S. soldiers:

At my level there was no basis for discrimination. We regarded all Iraqis as the enemy. Most of us would have eagerly killed any one of them who ventured too close to our convoy. The underlying consensus among Marines in our AO (Area of Operation) was that Iraqis were either actively plotting attacks against us, or abetting those who were. The sight of a dead Iraqi on the roadside would usually induce cheering.

Early last year, we were passing through a small, but densely populated town en route to Al Qaim. This particular town was assumed, by most of us, to be home to the same guys planting the multitude of IEDs we would encounter on this route. As we were driving through the village, I noticed a vehicle idling in an alleyway. As soon as the truck in front of me passed him, the driver sped out of the alley and crossed the street. Our rules of engagement state specifically that no vehicles may be allowed to cut though the convoy. Use of deadly force is authorized to uphold this. I began barking at my gunner to shoot the guy. He froze, and did nothing. The car parked. The driver got, out and walked into a nearby house.

Even though the driver turned out to be nothing more than an innocent man on his way home, my gunner was fiercely rebuked for his inaction. From that day forward, nobody wanted to ride with him. He was condemned as a coward. There was even talk of charging him with Dereliction of Duty. He defended his decision not to shoot, claiming he didn’t want to risk hitting other civilians in the area. It didn’t matter to us. He never regained our trust after that.

I have to be extremely careful what I say when addressing your question directly. This is the type of thing that could trigger a JAG investigation, and jeopardize the careers of some good Marines. I can safely tell you that there were a lot of rumors, some more credible than others. As I have already said, we regarded all Iraqis as potential enemies. The alleged killing of any Iraqi, civilian or combatant, was good news. A Marine who was rumored to have killed civilians was the type of Marine you would want to have watching your back once you exited that wire. A Marine with a conscience, like my gunner, was a liability.

His remarks on the role of private military contractors:

It was fascinating to see the evolution of their role in the theater of operations. At the beginning of my first tour the idea of civilians participating in our mission was unheard of. By the end of my second tour our mission relied so heavily on them, it seemed that we had become little more than security escorts for their convoys.

Whatever affinity I may have for the KBR drivers, I don’t wish to convey a sense of approval for the privatization of military operations. I think that the extent to which multinational conglomerates like Halliburton are benefiting from this war borders on criminal.

Finally, his take on the ubiquitous "Support the Troops" motto, which was the main trigger on why I wished to highlight this interview:

I have to wonder since I hear that phrase a lot. What does it mean for one to “Support the Troops”? Do they have a list local kids who are serving in Iraq for whom they pray each Sunday Mass? Do they decorate their SUVs with magnetic yellow ribbons? It seems to be a phrase that opponents and advocates of this war alike feel obligated to mention as routinely as they breathe. In fact, for any one to say otherwise since September 11th, 2001 is a veritable anathema. It’s a useful quote, whether to reiterate your position or cover your ass. Beyond that, I don’t pay it much mind.

I would like to relate a story to you, which I think illuminates my point.

It was the spring of 2004. I had returned from my first tour several months before. I bought a 2-door Geo Metro hatchback with the money I had earned overseas. My girlfriend at the time was an outspoken critic of SUVs, so I figured she would approve. John Kerry’s campaign was picking up steam. A good friend of mine who was working for his campaign in Iowa had sent me a “John Kerry for President” bumper sticker, which I proudly placed on the bumper of my car right above my “United States Marine Corps” sticker. I was driving through Westchester County (one of NY State’s more affluent areas) and got caught up in a traffic jam. All of a sudden the car behind me, a huge black Escalade, pulled up beside me. The driver, a fat, red-faced man in his late thirties/early forties began to scream at me. “What the Fuck is the matter with you? Do you support the troops or don’t you? Yeah, you’re a fucking flip flopper!” It took me a moment to realize he was referring to my “politically confused” bumper stickers. The idea that a person could simultaneously support his military and the democratic challenger was evidently too nuanced for him. And off he went, his magnetic yellow ribbon gleaming in the sun. The irony of a fat forty-something who had ostensibly never served in the military, who drives a gas guzzling road monster berating an Iraq War veteran in his Geo Metro for not supporting the troops would be forever lost on him.

I just can’t describe what I am trying to say any better than that.

Markey answers other questions in the interview pertaining to his health, depleted uranium, Iraq and the state of U.S. military and freedom in Iraq. I'm sure it will raise the blood pressure of some, maybe even delight others as it reinforces their sentiments. For me, it's another sad, maybe tragic, illustration of the aftermath of an illegal, immoral invasion of a country that posed no threat to the United States.

10 reasons to boycott the 2008 Olympic Games in communist China

From Lesh Donlup, a human rights volunteer in the UK
  1. Human rights are practically non-existent in Communist China Religious persecution, imprisonment and murder of non-violent political dissidents, torture, organ harvesting and sentences to hard labour are widespread.

  2. The lack of freedom of the press and safety risks for foreign reporters Many foreign websites are banned from being visited within China, foreign reporters are prohibited from interviewing anyone without previous permission from the government, and the content of all broadcasting is severely restricted. Foreign news media reporters have been arrested and sentenced to prison under vague and wide-reaching security laws.

  3. The 1980 Olympic Games in Communist Russia were boycotted by 64 states, under the leadership of the U.S. Beijing is not any different from Moscow in 1980, which was also the capital of a Communist police state.

  4. Communist China constantly threatens to attack Taiwan China's government passed a law that explicitly calls for military intervention in response to any intention by the democratic government of Taiwan to declare independence. Military manoeuvres indicate that the Communists' military is preparing to enforce this law.

  5. Beijing has the most polluted air in the world Studies and satellites photos have proven that Beijing suffers from extremely high nitrogen dioxide levels, vitally dangerous to the health of the athletes.

  6. China is plagued by widespread social, political, and economic unrest A surge in huge land grabs and forced evictions by the Chinese government for reasons of economic expansion and Olympic Games preparations have sparked thousands of protests. The government has murdered hundreds of protesters.

  7. The Chinese have been bribing and threatening large numbers of members of the International Olympic Committee A number of U.S. Representatives, for example, Congressman Tom Lantos, have stated this on national television.

  8. A boycott has some potential to serve as a strategy to encourage human rights in China Only the greedy and foolish global elite think this is true the other way around.

  9. Holding the Olympic Games in Communist China contradicts the Olympic Charter The Olympic Charter defines the philosophy of Olympism as the "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" and its goal of promoting "a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

  10. Don't repeat the errors of 1936 when Nazi Germany was allowed to host the Olympic Games The Olympic Games will give Communist China the same propaganda tool Nazi Germany enjoyed. Not since 1936 have the ideals of Olympics been so trampled upon.

10 September 2006

The program you are watching contains lies and numerous unsubstantiated smears deliberately inserted by rightwing operatives

Much hubbub has erupted over a new crock-umentary (I think that's the proper term for a fictional dramatization full of bold faced lies) titled The Path to 9/11 to air on ABC to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the savage 9/11/01 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Democrats, naturally, are outraged, and lodging their disatisfaction all across the internet. Even Bill Clinton has fired off a letter of protest. And it appears that the show makers are indeed a well honed right wing propaganda operation, which in my view, doesn't necessarily disqualify the output, but the fact that they've taken steps to hide and obscure who has been involved is not a positive point.

Personally, it's like day 25 for my family's self imposed television blackout, and even when I return to watching, network news fare is probably at the bottom of my viewing wish list. While I concede that Path to 9/11 is garbage, it's not like all the other "non-fiction" shows put on are models of truth telling. Mainstream network journalism sold out to its corporate and government masters long ago, and spare an occasional spark of enlightenment here and there, it's a vast space of overhyped sensationalism, celebrity worship, cowing to authorities and extreme dearth of critical questioning. About the only thing I miss are sports telecasts — football, hockey, soccer. And maybe just filler time when it's time to feed and the fingers are no longer free to bang on a keyboard.

Still, I'd like to illustrate this item as another episode in Republican hypocrisy. Consider that ABC is owned by Disney, the same Disney that in 2004 refused to distribute Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911.

Miramax had funded the film but Disney, which owns the art-house studio, had declined to distribute the movie, saying the documentary and its criticism of President Bush's war on Iraq were too politically charged

Now, Moore might be over the top in the manner which he gets in the face of interviewees and how he juxtaposes scenes together to create an outlandish picture, but he didn't make stuff up, and jam obvious false telling into fabricated reenactments (Dramatization, may not have occurred!). Not to make this post about Michael Moore, but even the worst criticism against Farhenheit 911 failed to show anything more than nitpickings or subjective dings on what was left out.

Liberal media bias my arse…

9 September 2006

Conservatives Without Conscience

My reading far outpaces my ability to write, and I'm sitting on a to-do stack of book reviews a mile long. Anyway, here goes the first in what I hope will be a burst of reviews in the next few weeks, time permitting.

More striking to me than the substantive content of John Dean's bestselling Conservatives without Conscience, are two featured quotes in the book, neither by Mr. Dean. The first is present on title page and states that if only white person votes were counted, KKK member David Duke would have been elected governor. I never knew that, and to consider that is shocking. The second, is an excellent prescription for the role of government.

If you think [the United States] could never elect an Adolf Hitler to power, note that David Duke would have become governor of Louisiana if it had just been up to the white voters in that state.

--Professor Bob Altemeyer

Authoritarian governments are defined by ready government access to information about the activities of citizens and by extensive limitations on the ability of citizens to obtain information about the government. In contrast, democratic governments are marked by significant restrictions on the ability of government to acquire information about its citizens and by ready access by citizens to information about the activities of government.

--Professor Robert G. Vaughn

The preface of Conservatives without Conscience begins with a lengthy tale of what Dean reports as a "smear campaign" against him — Silent Coup, and his subsequent lawsuit and conflict with convicted felons G. Gordon Liddy and Chuck Colson. Basically, Silent Coup contained scurrilous charges that it was Dean who orchestrated the 1972 Watergate burglary in order to protect his future wife, by removing information linking her to an alleged callgirl ring that worked for the DNC. Despite the unsubstantiated claims and overwhelming criticism of the book's claims, there was a contingent of conservative champions, including Liddy, Colson, and rising conservative media celebrities Monica Crowley and Brit Hume. Dean triumphed eventually in a lawsuit settlement, but this development propelled Dean in pursuit of the changing nature of conservatism in America. For me, it offered another episode that illustrates how depraved and sinister Mr. Liddy is — for example, during his Silent Coup promotion campaign, he gave out the Deans home phone number over the air on his radio show.

It is in the introduction too, where Dean writes of a relationship with Barry Goldwater and how they together embarked on a project to chronicle the misdeeds and misdoings of contemporary conservatives (of which Goldwater most definitely was aghast at in his late years, even supporting Democratic candidates here in Arizona, and the local Air America radio outlet used to run commercials about Goldwater spinning in his grave...). Unfortunately, Goldwater died before they could complete project, but the book is dedicated to his memory.

From there, Dean departs into more of a sociological treatise (which he really isn't qualified to give, but he simply relays information fed by prominent researchers). Interesting detail is given to the famous authoritarian Milgram Study whereby people, impressed by an "authority figure" are willing to deliver intense bodily pain to test subjects. Milgram's research explains how those fall easily into grasp of authoritarian leaders. The link between authoritarianism and conservatism is explored, where right wing authoritarians fit the following:
» read more

7 September 2006

Tune in 93-3 Friday Morning September 15 at 9:33 A.M…

…new format for KDKB-FM 93.3.

35 years of delivering rock & roll to the Phoenix metropolitan area — now it's time to go and in its place, reportedly, is another Spanish language station. Oh, what a sign of the times.

93.3 KDKB rocks Arizona, not anymore.

Or is it just a stunt?