Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

China's enormous pollution problems

China has some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world:



This is a photo of the Jiuzhaigou valley in Sichuan province, central-western China. Stunningly beautiful. Often called "China's Yosemite".

Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve
Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve lies in Jiuzhaigou County, northwest of Sichuan Province in the southern part of Minshan Mountains, approximately 400 kilometers from Chengdu City. Established in 1978, the Reserve covers an area of 60,000 hectares with its name stemming from 9 Tibetan villages nearby. Luxuriant forests and snow peaks in Jiuzhaigou make it a spectacular gem of nature. Jiuzhaigou is a comprehensive nature reserve, its main protection targets are pandas, other rare wildlife and forest ecosystem. In 1992, it was listed in the World's Natural Heritage, and three years later, it was included in the International Man and Biosphere Reserve Network of UNESCO. [...]

That particular area may be protected, but the rest of China is experiencing severe problems from pollution. From Peter Navarro at Asia Times On-line:

China's pollution Olympics
Sometimes it's the little stories that tell us the most. Consider the news of a keel-crippling algal bloom covering a third of the Olympic sailing course in Qingdao, China. While a small army of workers, a large armada of boats, and a full battalion of dump trucks and bulldozers are desperately trying to clear up this embarrassing counterpoint to China's claim of a "green games", international competitors desperate for practice are forced to stew in dry dock.

In fact, this kind of event is far from atypical in the world's most polluted nation. Today, fully 70% of China's seven major rivers are severely polluted, 80% of its rivers fail to meet standards for fishing, and 90% of the country's cities suffer from some degree of water pollution. As a result, over 700 million Chinese drink fetid water of a quality well below World Health Organization standards. Meanwhile, liver and stomach cancers related to water pollution are among the leading causes of death in the countryside, while 21 cities along the Yellow River are characterized by the highest measurable levels of pollution.

As for this particular - and particularly extensive - algal bloom in Qingdao, it is being caused in large part by equally massive misuse of fertilizer. As the world's largest fertilizer user, China consumes more than 50 million tonnes annually. Far too often, untrained peasants apply far too much fertilizer to their meager plots in the false hopes of boosting yields. The result has been a new kind of "flooding" problem, that of excess fertilizer runoff flooding into rivers and streams. [...]

Bold emphasis mine. Read the whole thing for more details. Is it any wonder they ship us contaminated food? They are choking to death on their own air and water pollution. They are having their industrial revolution in the information age. Instead of hiding information, they need to use information to become informed about consequences, and clean up their act, literally. For their sake and ours.
     

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Presidential Candidates ... as Comic Books?

This election has been referred to as the "American Idol" election, because of the superficial celebrity-like presentations the media makes of the candidates to the electorate. Just when you think things couldn't sink much lower:

McCain, Obama to get the comic book treatment

It's not that I'm totally against the idea of this. After all, there are much more serious things to be concerned about than comic books. It's just that, the idea that, people can't read to get information anymore, that they have to be entertained all the time. The increasing merger of politics with entertainment... "infotainment". And an electorate that needs to be communicated with via comic books, because... ? Am I the only one bothered by this?
     

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The KDE 4.1 desktop GUI for Linux is here

A major upgrade for the KDE desktop, the new 4.XX series was supposed to be a major improvement. However, when the 4.0 release happened earlier this year, it was still a bit... raw? It was a major change from the old KDE 3.5 desktop, and it still needed some polishing. Many promises were made that the 4.1 release would fix many problems and add more features. So now that it's here, how does it compare?

Here's two early reviews, the first from Jeremy LaCroix at Linux.com:



KDE 4.1 rocks the desktop
KDE 4.1 was finally released to the public today. After all the controversy since the release of KDE 4.0, I'm happy to announce that KDE 4.1 simply rocks.

KDE 4.1 packages are available for Kubuntu and several other popular distributions. If there are no prebuilt binaries yet for your distro of choice, you can compile the software from the available source packages. A live CD image is also available should you wish to try the new desktop without altering your existing installation.

The introduction of KDE 4 marked the introduction of the new Plasma desktop, which provides not only the panel that you interact with, but also widgets (or "plasmoids") that extended the desktop further. In KDE 4.1, one of the most welcome changes to Plasma is the return of multiple and resizable panels from KDE 3. Now you can configure your panels by clicking on the Plasma icon (by default it's on the right edge of the panel), which brings up a series of sliders for adjusting the panel's height and position. Also within this configuration control is the return of a way to reposition panel contents by simply grabbing objects with your mouse and pulling them to where you'd like them.[...]

It's a short review that gives you a rundown of the major features, and a few minor shortcomings. It concludes very favorably.

I bit more detailed review is availible from Bruce Byfield at the Datamation website:



KDE 4.1 Review: The Rocky Road of the New KDE
With its 4.1 release, KDE is taking few chances. While the 4.0 release's announcement emphasized excitement and significance, the tone of the announcement for 4.1 is more subdued. This time, the announcement talks about maturing technologies and underlying improvements, and the only claim is that the 4.1 desktop "can replace the KDE 3 shell for most casual users."

The change of tone seems a direct result of the numerous complaints about KDE 4.0, which somehow reached end-users' hands despite warnings that it was a development release. However, whether the 4.1 release will silence the complaints depends very much on individual users' tolerance for change, their willingness to customize, and the degree to which the available programs fit their needs. Only after these considerations, I suspect, will users get around to exploring everything that is new in 4.1, much less to appreciating it. [...]

Read the whole thing for more details and screenshots too. It also concludes favorably. It would seem that the KDE 4.1 desktop is ready for the majority of users. Great! I'm looking forward to trying it out.


UPDATE 08-01-08:

For contrast, here is a not-so-favorable review, from DeviceGuru.com:

KDE 4.1.0 disappoints
Learning that KDE 4.1.0 had been released by the KDE Community, I hastened to download and install this latest, greatest Linux desktop on the Ubuntu-powered Black Tower. Put generously, the results were highly disappointing!

While much more finished than version 4.0, this initial version 4.1 release of KDE still has gaping holes in both its basic functionality and its user friendliness. On the other hand, the new desktop sports radical new features and enhancements compared to the current KDE 3.5.x, so it’s not surprising that finalizing it is taking longer than had been hoped. [...]

You can follow the link for the details. The specifics mentioned may not bother some people, you'll have to decide for yourself. Me, I'm still going to try in on my next Ubuntu install. Even if it turns out to be less than I hope for, it's still a work in progress, and will likely only get better as time goes on.


Related Links:

How to Install KDE 4.1 on Ubuntu 8.04
- Step-by-step tutorial with screenshots!

Something to Really Bake Your Noodle
The impact of what the Plasma (and the KDE team in general) are trying to accomplish with the new 4.XX series.
     

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The Obama campaign and political humor


It came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: ³Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?

That is an excerpt from an essay by Gerard Baker of the Times of London, entitled, “He ventured forth to bring light to the world.” I found it excerpted in the following article by Byron York:

Go Ahead, Laugh at Obama
Just a few weeks ago, it seemed nobody could make a joke about Barack Obama. The New York Times published a front-page story declaring that “there has been little humor” about Obama because “there is no comedic ‘take’ on him, nothing easy to turn to for an easy laugh.” Television comedy writers fretted that audiences didn’t want to hear anything even slightly negative about the Democratic nominee. The political press corps went nuts over a satirical New Yorker cover that wasn’t even directed at Obama.

And this was about a man who made up his own pretend presidential seal and motto, Vero Possumus; a man who, upon securing the Democratic nomination, said, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”; a man who has on a number of occasions seemed to forget that he is not, or at least not yet, the President of the United States, who has misstated the number of states in his own country, who has forgotten on which committees he serves in the U.S. Senate. Professional comedians — and their audiences — couldn’t find anything funny about any of that?

Now, after Obama’s world tour, there are already cracks in the Times-imposed conventional wisdom. Confronted with something of an official ban on Obama humor, there is emerging a new strain of Obama humor — zings at the candidate’s hauteur, his presumptuousness, and, especially, his most zealous admirers in the press.[...]

It goes on to make some interesting observations about humor and the Obama campaign, about what's "allowed" and what's not, at least so far. kinda creepy, the way he can't be isn't treated just like any other candidate by most of the Media.
     

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Who leads among "likely" voters?

New Poll Shows McCain Leading Among Likely Voters
A new USA Today /Gallup national poll shows Sen. Barack Obama leading Sen. John McCain 47%-44% among registered voters. However, when the sample is reduced to only those likely to vote, McCain jumps to a 49%-45% lead. The survey, taken July 25-28, "showed a surge since last month in likely Republican voters and suggested Obama's trip may have helped energize voters who favor McCain." The poll surveyed 900 registered voters and 791 likely voters.

[...]

Trip Not A Plus For Obama? The Gallup poll, along with polls from battleground states and other national polls, are starting to generate commentary in the media on whether or not Obama's foreign swing in fact helped his campaign. Fox News' Special Report reported, "The political effect of Obama's tour of the Middle East and three European capitals...appears to be negligible. ... Late last month McCain trailed Obama among likely voters by six points." Fox News added "the Real Clear Politics average of all recent national polls shows a tight race with Obama leading McCain by just over three points about where he was before his overseas odyssey began." On MSNBC's Hardball, NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell said the trip was "too much like a tour of a president, when he is -- he had to say, I'm not a president, I'm just a candidate, but that almost seemed a little bit disingenuous because he did seem like a touring head of state." On Fox News' Special Report roundtable, Fred Barnes said, "I think people are recognizing that he's just a regular old pol. He's a liberal one. He's an extremely well-spoken one. He carried off a great trip to Europe that was well staged and he didn't say anything foolish at all. But he spins and quibbles and makes up things and denies things and pretends like he says things that he didn't, and all this stuff that we have seen politicians do so many times."

Bold emphasis mine. It's the "making things up" that bothers me most. If he lies as easily and as often as the Clintons do, then what is the difference? Where is the "Change" that Obama's supposed to represent? Sounds like the same old Democrat politics to me.


More about Obama's European tour from George Handlery at the Brussels Journal:

Obama in Berlin: Wishy Instincts, Washy Preferences
     

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Monday, July 28, 2008

"Citizen of the World" needs history lessons

When I lived in San Francisco, people often scoffed at American patriotism and the notion of National pride, proclaiming themselves instead to be "A Citizen of the World". In my youth I thought that sounded high-minded and admirable. But as I learned more about the rest of the world, the appeal of such a notion lost it's glow. People all over the world clamor for a chance to become a citizen of the United States, for good reason.

Obviously it behooves us all to care about what happens in the world as a whole. Duh. But I don't have a vote in the world, and caring about the world globally doesn't, to me, mean having to preclude our national interests, or negating our patriotism or demeaning our national sovereignty.

Citizen of the World? When the rest of the world comes up to snuff, I'll consider it. Till then, at best it's a naive notion. At worst it's posturing. Those Americans who see themselves as citizens of the world first, perhaps should go live in the rest of it, without benefit of American citizenship, and see how they like it.

Senator Obama used the World Citizen shtick in his Berlin speech, and his policy statements were just as naive. From John Bolton in the L.A. Times:

One world? Obama's on a different planet
[...] First, urging greater U.S.-European cooperation, Obama said, "The burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together." Having earlier proclaimed himself "a fellow citizen of the world" with his German hosts, Obama explained that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Europe proved "that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."

Perhaps Obama needs a remedial course in Cold War history, but the Berlin Wall most certainly did not come down because "the world stood as one." The wall fell because of a decades-long, existential struggle against one of the greatest totalitarian ideologies mankind has ever faced. It was a struggle in which strong and determined U.S. leadership was constantly questioned, both in Europe and by substantial segments of the senator's own Democratic Party. In Germany in the later years of the Cold War, Ostpolitik -- "eastern politics," a policy of rapprochement rather than resistance -- continuously risked a split in the Western alliance and might have allowed communism to survive. The U.S. president who made the final successful assault on communism, Ronald Reagan, was derided by many in Europe as not very bright, too unilateralist and too provocative.

But there are larger implications to Obama's rediscovery of the "one world" concept, first announced in the U.S. by Wendell Willkie, the failed Republican 1940 presidential nominee, and subsequently buried by the Cold War's realities.

The successes Obama refers to in his speech -- the defeat of Nazism, the Berlin airlift and the collapse of communism -- were all gained by strong alliances defeating determined opponents of freedom, not by "one-worldism." Although the senator was trying to distinguish himself from perceptions of Bush administration policy within the Atlantic Alliance, he was in fact sketching out a post-alliance policy, perhaps one that would unfold in global organizations such as the United Nations. This is far-reaching indeed.

Second, Obama used the Berlin Wall metaphor to describe his foreign policy priorities as president: "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the leastjavascript:void(0) cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."

This is a confused, nearly incoherent compilation, to say the least, amalgamating tensions in the Atlantic Alliance with ancient historical conflicts. One hopes even Obama, inexperienced as he is, doesn't see all these "walls" as essentially the same in size and scope. But beyond the incoherence, there is a deeper problem, namely that "walls" exist not simply because of a lack of understanding about who is on the other side but because there are true differences in values and interests that lead to human conflict. The Berlin Wall itself was not built because of a failure of communication but because of the implacable hostility of communism toward freedom. The wall was a reflection of that reality, not an unfortunate mistake.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall was possible because one side -- our side -- defeated the other. Differences in levels of economic development, or the treatment of racial, immigration or religious questions, are not susceptible to the same analysis or solution. Even more basically, challenges to our very civilization, as the Cold War surely was, are not overcome by naively "tearing down walls" with our adversaries. [...]

Bold emphasis mine. Read the whole thing. Obama's policy points are feel-good fuzzy talk that just obscures facts and ignores history. It's what I've come to expect from most Democrats, especially on foreign policy issues. The speech doesn't surprise me, but it sure doesn't reassure me either.

John Bolton used to cut through the BS at the UN, which is why the Democrats would not allow him to stay. They prefer fuzzy talk.


Related Links:

Obama’s European Love Parade

The Berlin Missionary
     

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Photos of Oregon, in and around "Bend"

Here is an email I got today:

Bend Oregon and surrounding areas. These were
taken by a camper who pilots an ultralight aircraft.


Balloons over Bend event.


North Twin Lake near Lapine, OR


Smith Rock near Redmond, OR


Tumalo Falls near Bend, OR


Mt. Bachelor near Bend, OR with snow.


Mt. Bachelor near Bend, OR summer


Lava Butte near Bend, OR


Painted Hills, near Mitchell, OR


Paulina and East Lakes near Lapine, OR


Fort Rock


Mt. Jefferson near Sisters and Madras, OR


Alkali Lake near Christmas Valley , OR


Alvord Desert near Steens Mtn.


Wild Horses near the Alvord Desert


[END]


One of the big attractions for us when we moved to Oregon from California, was the natural beauty here. These photos are from around the city of Bend. But the whole state has so much to offer, I could easily spend the rest of my life just exploring Oregon.

More about the about the City of Bend.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Death penalty for bloggers in Iran?

Iranian Human Rights Group Protests Bill Setting Death Penalty For Blogs, Websites "Promoting Corruption And Apostasy"
Iran’s Defenders of Human Rights Center released a statement on July 19 protesting a bill seeking to toughen punishment for crimes ‎deemed to "disrupt public security" and to "intensify the scheme of punishment for disrupting the mental security of society."

The Majlis is set to ratify the bill, after ratifying ‎the first step on July 2.

According to the statement, "the bill not only increases the number of ‎crimes punishable by death, but also endangers the security of citizens if it is passed, ‎given its deficiencies." ‎The center criticized the bill for ‎defining "malicious" acts as deserving of death, and noted that that another section of the bill establishes that "weblogs and sites promoting corruption and ‎apostasy are deserving of capital punishment in the same way that crimes such as rape and ‎armed robbery are."

‎Source: Rooz, Iran, July 21, 2008

Death as "punishment for disrupting the mental security of society"? Mental security? That must be a pretty damn fragil mental society they are trying to protect. Isn't it really just another way to clampdown on an increasingly restless population? Tensions in Iran continue to grow:

Power Outage, Shortages, Fuel Crises Disrupt Life In Iran
The London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that severe disruptions in the supply of gasoline and water and in supplies of agricultural produce in Iran are being caused by severe drought that is harming agricultural yields and slowing operation of water turbines.

In addition, the sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program are making it difficult to obtain parts for the turbines, further disrupting their operation.

Mas'oud, an Iranian retiree, said that because of the power outages, he must stand in line for hours at the bank in order to receive his pension payment.

Source: Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, July 25, 2008

Domestic problems in the country continue to multiply, while Iran spends it's money on propaganda and terrorist support beyond it's borders:

Egypt Shuts Down Iranian Television Station In Cairo
Egyptian police closed the Iranian Arabic-language Al-'Alam television station and confiscated its equipment, claiming that the station had no permit to broadcast in Egypt.

The closure came at a time of tension between Cairo and Tehran due to the release in Iran of the Iranian film "Assassination of a Pharaoh" praising the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat.

According to Al-'Alam's website, the Egyptian police claimed that the station was a partner in producing the film.

Source: Al-Zaman, Iraq, July 24, 2008

Iran is doing many things on many fronts to create instability throughout the Middle East. By removing Saddam Hussein from Iraq, we eliminated Iran's largest enemy in the region. Only half the problem has been delt with, and we dare not leave it like this now, even the Europeans understand the danger. Whether they will do anything to stop help stop it remains to be seen.


Related Links:

Is it time for regime change in Iran yet?

Hangings in Iran increase, to silence dissent

Iran's pressing needs and Iraq's vulnerability.
     

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ford Motor Company changes production plans

From CNNMoney.com:

UPDATE: Ford Unveils Details Of Overhaul Plan As Losses Grow
DETROIT -(Dow Jones)- Ford Motor Co. (F) on Thursday unveiled details of its plan to radically alter its North American product portfolio, as losses continue to mount and expectations for a U.S. auto market recovery are pushed back to 2010.

The second-largest U.S.-based auto maker plans to convert three North American truck and SUV plants to small-car production and introduce six of its European models in the U.S. The company is also accelerating the introduction of more fuel-efficient engines and plans to double production of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles in 2009.

The moves represent a strategic shift for an auto maker that, like its Detroit rivals, has relied on sales of trucks and SUVs for the bulk of its North America revenue for more than a decade. Auto makers are scrambling to adjust to shifting consumer preferences as U.S. gasoline prices are above $4 a gallon and economic conditions remain weak.

[...]

Ford said it expects the U.S. economic recovery to begin by early 2010, with U.S. auto industry sales returning to trend levels as the economy returns to health. U.S. auto sales are currently at their lowest levels in about 15 years.

Ford Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair said Thursday that the performance of the U.S. auto industry in 2009 will likely "mirror" that of 2008.

He said the auto maker has enough cash to carry out its plans to convert the truck and SUV plants and wait out an upswing in the U.S. economy. He said Ford, which raised about $23 billion in late 2006 by offering up nearly all its assets as collateral, won't need to seek additional funding. [...]

For years Ford has been talking about making it's diesel version of the Ford Focus available here in the USA, but they have as yet to follow through on that. It was an appealing option to me... until recently, when I last looked, diesel prices here had gone higher than regular gas.

We will be looking at their hybrid options.
     

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Video: THE STORY OF A SIGN



Hat tip from Neal Boortz, who said about it:
I really hope you can find the time sometime today to watch this short video. It's from the Cannes Film Festival where it won the "short film" competition. It's beautifully done ... and quite frankly it made me choke up. Just a few minutes. Give it a shot. I promise you'll thank me and you'll end up sharing it with your friends.

It choked me up, too. It's about six minutes long.

Source URL: HISTORIA DE UN LETRERO (THE STORY OF A SIGN)
     

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Two Interviews with Mark Shuttleworth

Mark Shuttleworth during his 2002 space flight.


Here are two recent interviews with South African entrepreneur, astronaut and Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth. From the Guardian Newspaper:

'Linux is a platform for people, not just specialists'
In 1999, the South African-born Mark Shuttleworth sold his internet company, Thawte, which provided digital certificates for websites, for more than $500m (£254m). After spending $20m on a trip into space, he started the Ubuntu project - named after an African word meaning "Humanity to others", or "I am what I am because of who we all are" - which has since become the most popular GNU/Linux distribution.

Technology Guardian: To what extent did your space trip feed into Ubuntu?

Mark Shuttleworth
Going to space and seeing the Earth from a distance makes it very clear just how interdependent we are. So I wanted to do something that was really global; free software is a phenomenon that is truly global.

TG: What are the implications of choosing that name?

MS That this is a platform for people. Linux has come from a tradition of being a platform for specialists. We articulated the challenge for us very clearly in our name: "Let's make this something that we can proudly give out to people who are not passionate about technology."

TG: How does your company, Canonical, fit into this?

MS [Ubuntu] has its own release cycle. It has its own governance structures. Canonical plays a significant role in those, and we are the largest underwriter of all the work that gets done. We make sure that it releases on time; that it's available globally; that it meets criteria; that it works across a certain portfolio of hardware that third parties have asked us to certify. But we don't take credit for all of the smart thinking that happens in Ubuntu. In fact, in almost every release there's been an idea that came from volunteer participants that turned into a profoundly important feature in that release. [...]

In the course of the interview, he reveals that his Linux company, Canonical, is not breaking even, not even close, but that he sees their work as positioning the company for future profitability.

Then we have this longer interview from Linux Magazine, where he talks about the Shuttleworth Foundation, what he hopes to accomplish with it, and how his company Canonical and their product Ubuntu Linux tie into that, and open source software's application to the education sector.

The Man Behind Ubuntu: Talking with Mark Shuttleworth
[...] Linux Magazine recently got the chance to talk with Shuttleworth about his philanthropical endeavor: The Shuttleworth Foundation.

Linux Magazine: What is the concept, the mission, behind the Shuttleworth Foundation?

Mark Shuttleworth: The idea is to build an institution that focuses on accelerating social change, or accelerating change in the social areas. If you look at the business world, we have institutions that focus on channeling money to change — venture capital, for example. We as a whole industry set up to try to identify smart ideas, ideas that will make businesses more efficient, make businesses more effective, make them more profitable. And as the capital gets channeled to ideas, successful ideas sort of stand out and grow very quickly into successful companies. So a new concept can move from idea to industry in a relatively short period of time. If you look at just over the last ten or fifteen years how things like the web itself and other changes have moved from concept to industry very, very quickly, it’s well established.

But in the social fields, like education, we don’t have nearly the same ability to channel funding to ideas and evaluate them to see if they’re successful and then scale up the ones that really work. So ideas move very slowly from concept to industry or industry norm. So the idea with the Foundation was really to try and build an institution that is better at spotting interesting ideas, proving them, funding them, and then helping translate them into a standard practice or best practice form for the social system.

And so open source fit neatly into the Foundation for a while, because for a while, it was a change, it was new. It was different. It was unproven. And the Foundation did quite a lot of work in South Africa around showing how open source could cut the cost of putting computers into schools and teaching kids technology. It did that very successfully. But once something is sort of proven, then in my mind it sort of falls off the agenda because the Foundation should always be looking forward to the next sort of shift. So right now the Foundation doesn’t do a huge amount with open source, they’re doing a quite a lot with open content, and the focus is on trying to figure out how you harness the knowledge, talent, and passion of teachers around the country to produce textbooks effectively that are shared the same way we harness the knowledge and passion of software engineers to produce things like Linux, that are shared. That’s a very interesting and fruitful area for the Foundation right now.

Linux Magazine: Excellent! That’s really a matter sort of close to my heart, since I trained as a librarian.

Mark Shuttleworth: Really? So open access and things like that are familiar to you.

The area of content is fascinating because its so tied up in policy, you know. Education content and education policy are sort of inseparable. If teachers are nervous or teaching something that isn’t certified government — governments will certify things that set a particular ideological way of seeing the world more often than not. And so you can look at a situation unlike Wikipedia, if you’re trying to do Wikipedia for textbooks, it’s very, very difficult, because every country has its own view of the truth and what should be taught. It’s very interesting and very complicated area, and ultimately one that I think someone will solve and it will really will change the field.

Linux Magazine: Something you mentioned earlier reminded me of something you brought up in an interview last year with ComputerWorld. You mentioned that one of your favorite things were technological “tidal waves” — things that race through society and change everything they touch. I know that the Foundation is a big ripple in that tidal wave, with the promotion of open standards and open software. What do you think, in the last seven years since the Foundation’s creation, that the most significant change has been in South Africa and the world in general, in terms of open access and open source?

Mark Shuttleworth: You know, it may sound trite to say it, the Internet itself remains the single biggest shift and single biggest earthquake that’s driving the tidal waves. There are seismic shifts taking place. This article I was reading was talking about how simply placing Internet connected PCs in public venues in villages in India is hugely effecting the economic potency of the people in those regions. Because suddenly they have access to information, things that you and I take for granted. So the process of connecting the people of the world to each other — which finished in San Francisco sort of early in the ’90s, but it has continued to sort of move through society, through the rest of the world, even to pre-Internet connectivity.

Things like text messaging with mobile phones have an enormous societal impact because they change people’s ability to organize politically, they change people’s ability to get economic information, the prices of markets, the availability of services, opening and closing times for offices they may need to visit and so on. And just that sort of shift towards connecting the people of the world is an enormous energizing factor. And it has echoes, echoes in the form of things like open source software, which really was not feasible at scale before the Internet. You know, open source software was kind of limited to universities which were to a certain extent, sort of connected already, even if it was only by email. But they were connected. And today, the pool of talent into which we can tap is just so much bigger because there’s just a much, much larger pool of people who are connected. So at a human level, it’s that connectivity.

At a machine level, it’s also that connectivity. We see sort of ongoing evidence that ultimately every device wants to be connected to the Internet. Back in 2000, when people said, “Oh, that’s the Internet, that’s the dot com bubble bursting,” many people thought the Internet itself was a bit of a fad. But in fact, it continues to sweep through all sorts of areas of society and technology, and shift people’s expectations, shift what’s possible.

I just bought a new hi-fi. The amplifier will happily connect to the Internet and download firmware updates for itself. It’s just extraordinary. We’re getting to the point where literally every device in the home, every device in the car, or the office, is effectively on the net and uses the net in effective ways. I think that’s going to continue to ripple through our field for the next ten or fifteen years. [...]

There's much more, a look at new technologies on the horizon such as sub-notebooks, and a look at how open source is changing teaching and learning, particularly as it has been applied to South Africa. Very interesting.
     

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

When "boring" is a good thing: Ubuntu Linux

From Robin 'Roblimo' Miller at Linux.com:

Ubuntu hits new high in Linux boredom
Last weekend a friend was moaning about endless problems with Windows XP on his desktop PC. We installed Ubuntu 7.04 on it. The problems went away. That started me thinking about my own "daily driver" computer, a Dell Latitude that also runs Ubuntu 7.04, and it made me realize that I hadn't thought about my laptop or its operating system in many months. Linux -- especially Ubuntu -- has become so reliable and simple that for most end users it's simply not worth thinking about, any more than we think about tools like wrenches and screwdrivers. Does this mean desktop GNU/Linux has become so boring that it's not worth noticing?

Right now 8.04 is the latest Ubuntu version. I've stuck to 7.04 because I feel no great need to update a reliable system that does everything I ask of it. Yes, there was one major security flaw in 7.04, but Ubuntu's auto-update feature took care of that for me long ago, and took care of it immediately during the install process on my friend's machine.

And, as I type this, I'm (automatically) downloading and installing 24 Ubuntu software updates. Since I'm using a mature, "tried and true" version of Ubuntu, and haven't moved to the latest/greatest version of any software I use regularly -- I'm still running Firefox 2.xx, for example -- I run almost no risk of these updates breaking my system. I haven't thought about Ubuntu updates in several years; they've become that reliable, another "it just works" situation that doesn't impinge on my consciousness. Indeed, I only really thought about updating Ubuntu now because I'm writing this article. [...]

That's the way a computer operating system should be. I want to spend my time using the computer to get work done, not working on the computer to get it to work.

The article goes on to describe the authors friends and neighbors, who aren't very computer savy, and don't want to upgrade to Windows Vista with all it's problems. Distros like Ubuntu have become easy enough to use for non-geek, everyday users, and is increasingly becoming a viable option for them.

The latest version of Ubuntu (8.4.1) is the best I've tried to date, it has excellent compatibility with my hardware. Ubuntu does require installation of additional codecs to bring it's multi-media capabilities up to snuff with Windows, but it's fairly easy to do. When I was using it, it offered to download and install the needed codecs whenever I tried to run something that needed it.

My current favorite desktop Linux is Linux Mint, an Ubuntu variant from Ireland. It offers a more polished experience, as it has all the multi-media codecs already installed for you, and an elegantly configured Gnome Desktop (on Mint 5 Elyssa R1) that is similar to a windows desktop.

Both regular Ubuntu and Linux Mint can run off a live CD, so you can try them before installing them. The latest Ubuntu also offers an option where you can install it on your hard drive next to windows without having to repartition your hard drive. It just gets easier and easier.
     

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

2009: The end of TV broadcasting as we know it

In February of next year, all TV stations are supposed to make the switch over to digital broadcasting, making analog equipment obsolete. We are being inundated presently with advertising, advising people with analog TV's who still get their programs through the airwaves instead of cable, to get adapter equipment to upgrade their TV's to receive digital broadcasts.

That would be fine... if it worked. But will it work just as good as the analog broadcasts it's replacing? If the following article is any indication, I would say "no". From Doc Searls at Linux Journal:

What happens after TV's mainframe era ends next February?
[...] On February 17, 2009, all U.S. television stations will be required to switch off their analog transmitters and use digital transmission exclusively. Nearly all of that will happen on what's left of the UHF band. Most stations will maintain their old channel branding, and still be known as "Channel 2" or "Channel 12", but their signals will in nearly all cases be coming in on a new UHF channel.

[...]

If you have an HDTV and live within sight of New York TV station transmitters on the Empire State Building, you can probably pick them up over an antenna on your set or your roof. In fact, a loop or bowtie antenna will do. So will length of wire about 5 inches long, attached to the center conductor of your coaxial connection on the back of your set.

But if you live farther away, good luck. Your old VHF TV station not only won't have the range it did on VHF, but will probably not have the same range as an old analog signal on the same UHF frequency. It certainly won't have the same behavior. The signals tend to be either there or not-there. They don't degrade gracefully with increasing "snow", as analog signals did. They break up into a plaid-like pattern, or disappear entirely.

[...]

Digital signal transmission is also very different from the analog sort. For a variety of arcane technical reasons, many (perhaps most) digital signals are directional. That is, they operate at their full licensed power in only a few (or perhaps only one) direction, and have big dents or "nulls" in other directions. In the old analog days directionality was the exception rather than the rule, and was usually intentional, to protect other signals on the same or adjacent frequencies, or to pull back on the signal in the direction of a mountain that might cause unwanted reflections or places (such as the sea) where nobody lived anyway. Not the case with DTV. Lots of new DTV signals are directional just anyway.

It's interesting to see how this plays out where we live in Santa Barbara (and where I'm writing this now).

On my old roof antenna and its rotator, I got just about every analog TV station between Santa Barbara and San Diego. That included both VHF and UHF signals. With that antenna (the top one from Radio Shack) I even got little K35DG, a low-power UHF station at UC San Diego with a signal that puts a deep null in our direction (west-northwest, nearly 200 miles across the Pacific ocean). I sent them emails reporting reception and they were amazed.

In our new house (next door to the old one that had the big roof antenna) I anticipated the digital switchover and installed a high-gain Winegard HD-9022 UHF antenna. For analog reception it gets every UHF in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego/Tijuana — in nearly all weather, at nearly all times of year. But that's analog. What about digital?

For DTV, the Winegard does the best it can, but it's not enough. The slight terrain shadowing between here and Broadcast Peak (where most our local TV stations radiate from) makes the two digital signals from there — KPMR and KEYT — almost impossible to receive. I haven't seen KPMR at all (could be it's not on the air yet), and KEYT's signal on Channel 27 is barely there. In fact it's so bad that the one time I got it the signal didn't stay visible long enough for me to shoot a picture of it. That's a far cry from KEYT's signal on Channel 3, which was crystalline on our old roof antenna and is still okay with rabbit ears on our old Trinitron in the basement.

Ironically, the only clear DTV pictures we get are mostly from 200 or more miles away across the ocean — from San Diego/Tijuana. All our HD viewing of over-the-air TV is from there. As you see here and here, reception is either perfect or gone. In fact it's most of the time. Setting up the DVR ro record programs is pointless, give the low hit/miss ratio of reception.

My points:
  1. For many viewers, the digital signals aren't going to be there, no matter what the viewer does (other than hunt them down on cable or satellite).
  2. The stations themselves in most cases are giving up viewers, including (as in WECT's case -- see below) whole regional markets.

It's all a big new game of hard-to-get.

Of course, what you get from the FCC and the TV industry is pure propaganda. If you watch TV at all you have surely seen many reassuring messages about what's going to happen in February. If all you watch are cable or satellite, you won't notice the difference. But if you watch over the air signals, the difference will possibly be huge, regardless of what the promotional messages say. So will the disconnect between the whole concept of television and its origins as a live terrestrial medium. Hey, what's the "range" of a YouTube video? Or of anything you send over the Net, including live video streams? [...]

It's the end of TV as we've known it. I suspect that so many people now get their TV from cable or satellite, that the people who complain about the new digital broadcasts limited reception will simply be ignored, and told to get cable if they want better reception.

Meanwhile, the FCC has auctioned off many of the former analog TV bands for about 20 BILLION dollars, to new owners like AT&T, and Verizon:

FCC releases 700MHz auction details, Verizon, AT&T big winners

Some people are predicting that the next "Big Thing" will be TV content being sent to cell phones. We shall see.

I can't personally say I will miss analog TV broadcasting, because I haven't used it for decades. In the city, so many things interfered with reception, we went with cable. Here in rural Oregon, we have only one TV station within analog broadcast range, and it comes in so badly that we don't watch it. We get DISH satellite TV. The programing you pay for also tends to be better than the crap the networks offer for free.

I'll miss the concept of analog TV the way it was, but I won't miss it in practical reality. The change-over may suck for those who still depend on the airwave broadcasts, but Doc Searls believes that all things considered, the change is ultimately a positive development in the evolution of TV:

[...] This essay, and a shorter one in an upcoming Linux Journal, are swan songs for my expiring expertise (such as it is, or was) in analog broadcast engineering. Knowing this kind of stuff will be as useful to me as the Morse code I haven't used in close to 50 years. And I'm looking forward to it.

Because the failures of the DTV switchover will bring into sharp relief the obsolescence of official notions about What TV Is.

What we called TV has already become nothing more than a form of data that can be carried over the Net at nearly zero cost, and stored anywhere for about the same. Live transmission is a demanding thing, but not once the pipes get fat enough. Where they aren't, we have podcasting and variations in file size to avoid bandwidth hoggery.

Already anybody can produce high-def TV. As devices such as the Red camera come down in price, along with processing, data storage and render farming, Hollywood-grade video production quality will no longer be exclusive to Hollywood. Collaboration and distribution over the Net will inevitably follow.

As it does, it will become ever more clear that "TV stations" will be repositioned as doomed mainframes.

There will always be a need for local and regional news, and coverage of events by organizations and individuals whose interest and expertise is also local and regional. But "range" will be determined by interest, not by transmission medium. [...]

Read the rest to see what he has to say about the brave new future of TV. The whole article is worth reading, it has many more details (and references and examples) than I've excerpted here, and lots of embedded links, too. It's a thorough examination of the topic, and you won't have to be a geek to understand it.
     

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

John McCain's sons

Here is an email I got recently:

John McCain's Sons

Talk about putting your most valuable where your mouth is! Apparently this was not 'newsworthy' enough for the media to comment about. Can either of the other presidential candidates truthfully come close to this? ... Just a question for each of us to seek an answer, and not a statement.

You see...character is what's shown when the public is not looking. There were no cameras or press invited to what you are about to read about, and the story comes from one person in New Hampshire.

One evening last July, Senator John McCain of Arizona arrived at the New Hampshire home of Erin Flanagan for sandwiches, chocolate-chip cookies and a heartfelt talk about Iraq. They had met at a presidential debate, when she asked the candidates what they would do to bring home American soldiers - - soldiers like her brother, who had been killed in action a few months earlier.

Mr. McCain did not bring cameras or press. Instead, he brought his youngest son, James McCain, 19, then a private first class in the Marine Corps about to leave for Iraq. Father and son sat down to hear more about Ms. Flanagan's brother Michael Cleary, a 24-year-old Army First Lieutenant killed by an ambush ... a roadside bomb.

No one mentioned the obvious: In just days, Jimmy McCain could face similar perils. 'I can't imagine what it must have been like for them as they were coming to meet with a family that ......' Ms. Flanagan recalled, choking up. 'We lost a dear one,' she finished.

Mr. McCain, now the presumptive Republican nominee, has staked his candidacy on the promise that American troops can bring stability to Iraq. What he almost never says is that one of them is his own son, who spent seven months patrolling Anbar Province and learned of his father's New Hampshire victory in January while he was digging a stuck military vehicle out of the mud.

Two of Jimmy's three older brothers went into the military Doug McCain, 48, was a Navy pilot. Jack McCain, 21, is to graduate from the Naval Academy next year, raising the chances that his father, if elected, could become the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower with a son at war.

I chose to share this with those who I believe will pass it on, to others who will pass it on. We hear so much inflated trash out there. How about a simple act of kindness ... and dedication to others placed above oneself?

Has anybody heard if Barack Hussein Obama has served in The American Armed Services?

This is for all you Barack voters.
From Barack's book, Audacity of Hope:
'I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.''
HE DID NOT SAY STAND WITH AMERICANS!!!!!

[END]


So how true is this? When I checked it out on Snopes, they said the version they reported on is true:

Snopes: My Three Sons.

The version I got is nearly identical to theirs, but has been re-written some, and amended. Most of the context is the same but Snopes version does not include the Obama quote at the end. That particular quote is addressed in another Snopes report, regarding multiple quotes from Obama's book:

Snopes: In His Own Words

It seems it's not an actual Obama quote, because he didn't mention Muslims specifically. It is based on something he said regarding legal immigrants generally, in the context of a Japanese internment camp scenario. You can follow the link for the details about this, and the truth about other Obama quotes as well.

And since we're "Snoping" McCain's family, see what they have to say bout his wife:

Snopes: Cindy McCain

It's very nice, and includes how the McCain's got their adopted daughter. Cindy would make an excellent First Lady.
     

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

California Burning, California Summer

Those fires that seem to happen annually were one of the reasons we left the state, although even here in Oregon, we get the smoke from California fires. Here's a link to some photos of the fires and the brave firemen who fight them:


California's Continuing Fires

Follow the link to see the whole gallery of photos. Last night I saw the moon, which is almost full, and it was orange. The sunset yesterday was also very orange. I figured it was smoke from the fires. This shows where it comes from.
     

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Is Obama a Wuss?

So he doesn't like the recent cover of the New Yorker magazine:


Ok. There is no reason he should like it. I don't have a problem with his not liking it. But by complaining about it, he's ironically drawing attention to it. And why is this even a big news story anyway?

Rolling Stone magazine last month did this nasty cartoon of John McCain:



I think we can safely assume John McCain was not thrilled with this. Yet I don't recall hearing him whine about it. Republicans often have to put up with really vicious cartoon portrayals. They don't whine about it, and the mainstream press never does stories about it.

The American Thinker blog has a great post about this:

The Incredibly Thin Skin of Barack Obama
[...] One look at this and the Obama campaign hit the roof. Despite the fact that The New Yorker was lampooning conservatives by portraying some on the right's overheated descriptions of Obama, spokesman Bill Burton for the Obama campaign said "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”

Well, I don't agree. I find it pretty rich even if they are poking fun at conservatives. But what should trouble anyone is how thin Obama's skin truly is if he can't take a little satire from his friends on the left!

[...]

So Obama plays his race/cultural card against a friendly publication while many of his allies on the left dutifully follow his lead and condemn the piece because most of them fear that those of us who live out in flyover country "won't get" the satire.

Thin skinned Obama and his tone deaf, elitist allies; what a combination. [...]

Exactly! At best this shows Obama as being inexperienced in politics. At worst, it shows he can't take criticism, the way that other politicians routinely do. Why should he think he should be exempt? Politics isn't an arena for sissies.

And if he doesn't want to be thought of as a Muslim, he would do well to stay away from being outraged at cartoons. ;-)
     

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Saudi Financial Woes?

But aren't they greedy SOBs, who are just soaking us for all they can? That's what many people believe, but when you look at the details, it's not that simple. They may have cheap gas for themselves, but not much else:

Amid oil boom, inflation makes Saudis feel poorer
By DONNA ABU-NASR, Associated Press Writer Tue Jul 8, 2:25 PM ET

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Sultan al-Mazeen recently stopped at a gas station to fill up his SUV, paying 45 cents a gallon — about one-tenth what Americans pay these days.

But the Saudi technician says Americans shouldn't be jealous. Inflation that has hit 30-year highs on everything else in the kingdom is making Saudis feel poorer despite the flush of oil money.

"I tell the Americans, don't feel envious because gas is cheaper here," said al-Mazeen, 36. "We're worse off than before."

While Saudis don't feel the pain at the pump, they feel it everywhere else, paying more at grocery stores and restaurants and for rent and construction material. While the country is getting richer selling oil at prices that climbed to a record $145 per barrel last week, inflation has reached almost 11 percent, breaking double-digits for the first time since the late 1970s.

[...]

Moreover, Saudis are grappling with unemployment — estimated at 30 percent among young people aged 16 to 26 — and a stock market that is down 10 percent since the beginning of the year.

Many Saudis are realizing that this oil boom will not have the same impact as the one in the 1970s, which raised Saudis from rags to riches. This time, the wealth isn't trickling down as fast or in the same quantities.

One reason is the kingdom's growing population, says John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Saudi British Bank. In the 1970s, the population of Saudi Arabia was 9.5 million. Today, it's 27.6 million, including 22 million Saudi citizens. [...]

There's more. Read the whole thing for the many details. Food prices are rising world-wide, and it's affecting everyone, and the cost of everything.

As we debate the state of the US economy in this election year, with both the Republicans and the Democrats blaming each other for rising prices, we need to remember that what is happening isn't unique to OUR economy; there are global economic realities that affect us as well. We need to understand and be mindful of them, if we are to act wisely.
     

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

More reasons for not visiting Portland, OR

I live in rural Oregon, but I'm not at all tempted to visit Portland. The following article by Takuan Seiyo at the Brussel's Journal gives me many reasons to feel that way:



Postcard from Zinnlandia

I am on the MAX Red Line light rail car going from downtown Portland to the Airport. Some things socialists do better. Among them are public transportation, recycling, French poetry readings, yoga, coffee, artisan food and arthouse cinema. Would it that the counterscale were not so much more loaded.

Two hefty women in Birkenstocks and Nordic sweaters sit on the bench in front of me. They are either academics or lesbians or both. Portland is a babe magnet for this kind of babes.

One of them, silver bangles jangling, is showing a souvenir purchase to the other. It’s a garden gnome, complete with a red cap and a Walt Disney tunic stretched taut over a rotund belly. The face, though, is less jovial than one expects on a gnome. An etched inscription on the base reads, “Howard Zinn.”

We are leaving Zinnlandia, after all – that great land of the Pacific Northwest, rich in good wine, including zinfandel, and other bounties of nature. Howard Zinn and his doppelgänger, Noam Chomsky, are to the coastal zones of this blessed land what St. Patrick is to the Emerald Isle. And, like Finlandia, Jutlandia and Hollandia, Zinnlandia too has much Northern European DNA.

Zinnlandia is in Amerikka – that racist, capitalist land of injustice, sexism, specieism, lookism, theism, militarism and homophobia. As a material and cultural Marxist, and skillful propagandist, Zinn – a master of sieving American history for its worst nuggets – is the perfect avatar for the self-flagellating white inhabitant of this land.

A Zinnlandian I met on this trip, a WASP physician endowed with the best education much money can buy, told me that he does not celebrate July 4th because the Declaration of Independence had been written by a slave owner and signed by other slave owners. He was just as hotly critical of the “racism” of Americans in dealing with the growing Muslim immigrant minority. The conversation unfolded over a bottle of Oregon Vino Pinko, with the likeness of a notorious Cuban mass murderer on the label.

Besides the pervasive lefty obtuseness as to the true nature of Che Guevara, there is one central paradox in this Zinnlandian, as there is in all of them. [...]

He goes on to describe his experiences in "Zinnlandia", and the history of crimes committed on the very train he is riding on. They all tie together. In the end, he compares Portland with many other cities he's visited. I enjoy the authors wit, but it's not a pretty picture for a Sunday. I think I need to go work in the garden now... thank God I live in the country.


Related Links:

Attracting a crowd means what exactly?

Anti-American "Art" at Portland Oregon Airport
     

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Europe's NAFTA: the "Mediterranean Union"

This article from the BBC is a basic introduction to the Mediterranean Union:

Sarkozy opens Mediterranean talks
[...] French President Nicolas Sarkozy has opened a summit of 43 leaders in Paris to launch a new union between Europe and Mediterranean rim nations.

The union will tackle such issues as regional unrest, immigration and pollution.

Mr Sarkozy said its aim was to ensure the region's people could love each other instead of making war.

Earlier, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders expressed their optimism over the chances for Middle East peace.

Mr Sarkozy said the group "will build peace in the Mediterranean together, like yesterday we built peace in Europe".

Welcoming the presence of Arab states alongside Israel, Greece alongside Turkey and Morocco alongside Algeria, he added that the group would not be "north against south, not Europe against the rest... but united".

[...]

But critics have dismissed the new union as lacking substance, and diplomats say there are continuing disagreements over key issues such as how to address the Middle East peace process and a possible role for the Arab League.

The only leader boycotting the Paris meeting is Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who has described the union as a new form of colonialism.

France and Egypt plan to co-chair the new organisation for the first few years.

[...]

Mr Sarkozy said the role of Europe and France was to help achieve peace through economic development, political initiatives and providing guarantees for all stakeholders.

He said the main problem was one of confidence.

"How can we achieve peace in this part of the world unless we build confidence, unless we extend the hand of peace and take the initiative?" he said. [...]

It all sounds very high minded. The article gives specific examples of some good things being achieved, and how the MU relates to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

I have posted previously about some people's concerns that there is a darker side to the Mediterranean Union, where it's laws and the European Unions laws could be merged, and used to stamp out free speech and political opposition.

World wide I expect we are going to see more joint political ventures such as NAFTA and the MU. There is potentially much to be gained by making cooperative agreements with neighboring countries. All such cooperative political entities can be used for good or bad purposes, depending on who is steering them, and to what ends. Like all things political, it needs to be watched and monitored. The stated goals are admirable, but it's the details, and how they are implemented, that are going to matter to the citizens of member countries.
     

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Omar Sharif and other Arabs in a changing world


Egyptian Movie Star Omar Al-Sharif: Americans Are Ignorant; We Arabs Prefer the Neighborhood Sheik to Democracy

The link is a clip to an interview he did for Al-Hayat TV. The title annoyed me. When I watched the clip, I was a little more sympathetic, but not too much. He claims that Americans are ignorant because the majority of Americans don't travel outside of North America.

I'm pretty sure the majority of the people in the Middle East don't travel outside of the Middle East either; they aren't all wealthy jet-setters like himself, but the irony seems lost on him. Then he goes on about how the Middle East will never be democratic, and how the sheiks solve everything, etc.

Now it's not easy to criticize him on this point, because there is truth to what he says; it will never be just like the West, nor should it be. However, he's also part of an older generation that's resisting change. I don't say that's necessarily bad, but the world he knew is disappearing, and it's going to be replaced with something else, whether he likes it or not. The system he embraces works slowly, and is part of the past. The modern world moves much faster now, and the Arab world is being pulled into it, regardless. They need to adapt and find accommodation to it, in a way that works for them.

I don't think George Bush meant to make the Middle East a carbon copy of ourselves, yet he did recognize the need for change in the Middle East; that a state with modern technology requires some form of modern governance. Exactly HOW that government would form, and what it would turn out LIKE, are the gamble that Bush has taken, and we have yet to fully see the results, as the venture is still on-going.

So while I can't completely agree with al-Sharif, I also know he's not completely wrong either. The Old Arab World and the New Modern World are clashing; helping them to accommodate each other is the task before us. It's not easy, but neither can it be avoided, it MUST happen; the best we can do is try to help it along, even though the road is difficult.

As for Sharif himself, it's difficult to know exactly where he stands:


Egypt: Omar Sharif Defends Muslim Brotherhood
[...] Famous for his roles in David Lean's visually sumptuous productions Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr Zhivago (1965), he is better known for his bridge-playing expertise nowadays than for his acting. He still acts, yet for some bizarre reason, Muslim extremists have attacked him for his screen roles.

[...]

On a web message board which had previously been used by al Qaeda, a Muslim called "bachirma1" wrote: "Omar Sharif has stated that he has embraced the crusader idolatry. He is a crusader who is offending Islam and Muslims and receiving applause from the Italian people. I give you this advice, brothers, you must kill him."

Now, according to AKI, Omar Sharif, while addressing the organisers of the Cairo Film Festival, has bizarrely said that the infamous Muslim Brotherhood is not a threat to freedom of expression.

Banned in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwanu I-Muslimin or Hizb al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimoon) is quietly tolerated. In the Egyptian parliament, 88 of the 454 seats are taken by Muslim Brotherhood MPs, who entered September's elections passing themselves off as "independents".

Omar Sharif said: "I have know them for a long time and I remember that some members of the organisations in the 1950s were like me passionate about the avant garde in cinema and theatre."

"The Muslim Brotherhood does not threaten artistic freedom and I don't think that in the areas of innovation and art there is anything to fear from their strong presence in parliament."

He also claimed that "their victory at the last parliamentary elections is not a negative thing."

Apart from the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has killed its opponents, and its former spiritual leader, Sayyid Qutb, advocated killing as a political tool, the Muslim Brotherhood is Islamist in nature. Ayman al-Zawahiri was a member of the group before becoming a member of Egyptian Jihad and now al Qaeda.

The Muslim Brotherhood has given birth to many radical groups, including the terror group Hamas. The Brotherhood is also passionately anti-semitic and incites on its children's website hatred against Jews and Americans. It also indoctrinates the minds of its child surfers that it is a duty to wage armed jihad.

But if 74-year old Omar Sharif really believes that the Muslim Brotherhood supports creativity and freedom of speech, perhaps he is suffering senile deterioration. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) Is he trying to straddle two worlds? Are there subtleties at work here that we've missed? Both? Neither? Or is he just Egypt's version of Susan Sarandon, bending over backwards to embrace those who would kill us?

Did you know that Sharif started life as a Christian, and converted to Islam? And now he says he's an atheist? Read the whole thing for more interesting information about Sharif's background and career, with many embedded links.

As for Sharif's comments about ignorance in America, he shouldn't neglect to look in his own back yard as well. I don't have enough time to blog about all the ignorant things many Sheiks and Imams in the Middle East say about America and the West. Imams telling their followers lies, real whoppers, lies such as that Americans burn down movie theaters that show films critical of Christianity, as if to demonstrate that violent religious intolerance is normal in the rest of the world. The infamous Danish Cartoon riots were started by deliberate lies that were spread about the cartoons, to create the riots.

Perhaps more of the "neighborhood Sheiks" need to work on addressing the ignorance being preached in their neighborhoods? Occasionally, while looking through the many videos on Memri.org, I have seen sheiks and imams doing just that. Brave souls! I applaud them, and hope we start to see many more. For the sake of the Middle East. For the sake of us all.


Related Links:

State Islam and a modern society are incompatible

The Nazi roots of the Muslim Brotherhood

Islamism's actual NAZI history

Wikipedia: Omar Sharif
     

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Crime, Knives & Muticulturalism in Great Britain

I always suspected that banning guns would lead to an increase in knife crimes. Well here's the proof. From A. Millar at the Brussels Journal:

Knife Crime; Britain’s Shame
Violent crime has doubled since Labour came to power a decade ago. Stabbings and assault in Britain are now common, if not daily occurrences; at night city centers are generally regarded as no-go areas; “feral” youths and gangs loitering the streets – often drunk on cheap alcohol – make many people too afraid to go for a walk on a summer evening.

Every week yields up plenty of reasons why people have good reason to be scared in modern Britain. On Saturday evening 60-year old Stan Dixon, a former soldier, was attacked by youths, for asking them not to swear in front of a woman. He died yesterday in hospital. 17 teenagers have been murdered in London alone this year. The latest victim, 16 year-old Ben Kinsella, was killed on Sunday night. On Tuesday Dee Willis, a 28 year-old woman, was stabbed to death by a female attacker in south-east London. Today, the country woke up to reports of the extremely brutal and apparently motiveless murder of two French exchange students, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez (both 23). The two men had been playing computer games at Mr. Bonomo’s apartment in New Cross, south-east London, on Sunday night, when they were attacked, gagged, tortured (suffering nearly 250 stab wounds between them), and their bodies set on fire. [...]

The rest of the article talks about how the police are ineffective and no longer respected by the public, and the public's growing protest over these crimes. The full article also has many embedded links.

Another article at the Brussels Journal, by John Laughland, makes reference to a protest march in response to one of the recent stabbings, in the context that multiculturalism in Britain isn't working:

What Is a Nation?
[...] Immigrants are told that they must choose to conform or choose to leave, while Britons generally are told that their nation is constituted essentially by values. But has recent experience shown that, in fact, the inculcation of a single set of values cannot create cohesion in multiracial soceities?

My thoughts on these matters have been stimulated by recent photographs of a large crowd of youngsters demonstrating against the murder of their friend, Ben Kinsella, stabbed to death in the streets of London ten days ago. There has been an explosion of knife crime in London, which is itself partly the consequence of a rise in knife culture among principally black gangs, and partly of the catastrophic collapse in policing and in social cohesion generally. As in many Western societies, ordinary people in Britain no longer respect the police and the police themselves hardly invite it. In my street in London, everyone knew the local shopkeepers but no one knew the local policeman because they were never anywhere to be seen. When they tried to investigate petty crime (such as the theft of my bike, which they did only under intense pressure from me, exerted over a period of many months) they typically found that people they questioned refused even to give their name.

The photographs of the demonstration are remarkable for the fact that almost every youngster in it is white. This is a rare sight in London, especially in the East End where immigration is particularly high. It strongly suggests that decades of preaching about inter-racial tolerance have failed to make people in Britain unite across the racial divide. Now, it is obvious that a street demonstration by group of youngsters outraged and saddened by a senseless murder is not a nation. But since I absolutely rule out the possibility that this group of white people actively chose to exclude blacks from their public meeting, their unspoken choice – their instinct – to rally together reveals a good deal about the nature of human action. It reveals, in particular, that choice and forms of behaviour are, in fact, partly determined by ethnicity – very often without people being aware of it. [...]

I excerpted this portion as it relates to one of the recent knife crimes. Read the whole article if you wish to learn more about Britain's struggle with multiculturalism and immigrant assimilation.
     

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Iran moves missle launchers to Iraq border

Report: Iranian Authorities Move Missile Launch Platforms To Shatt Al-Arab Estuary
Ahwazi (Iranian Arab) sources report that Iranian authorities declared a state of grave emergency in the Shalamjah region in Khozestan province, on the Iran-Iraq border, and have transferred missile launch platforms to the region bordering on the Shatt Al-Arab estuary.

Source: Al-Siyassah, Kuwait, July 7, 2008

     

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

My Police Scanner Choice; and the Winner is:

PRO-97 1000-Channel Triple-Trunking Handheld Scanner
High-powered handheld.
High-performance, extended-coverage scanner has the ability to scan both trunked and conventional channels at the same time. Program up to 100 frequencies in banks of 10 for easier access. Triple-trunking lets you follow a signal in virtually any market that uses an analog trunking system. Signal Stalker™ circuitry searches for nearby frequency transmissions and lets you hear a nearby radio without knowing its frequency. Skywarn lets you hear local severe-weather observers and get warnings before they are broadcast on local radio or TV. The SAME feature provides weather and other emergency alerts for the areas you program into your unit. For a list of codes, click here.

* Alpha-numeric display for ID tagging allows frequencies to be identified by the name you assign
* Lighted keypad and backlit LCD display for use in low light
* Digital weather alert keeps you informed of emergencies; 7 NOAA weather stations preprogrammed
* Easy programming: download frequencies from computer to scanner (software and cable optional)


What's in the box

* Radio scanner
* Belt clip
* 6" flexible rubber antenna
* Two battery cases
* Owner's guide
* Quick start guide
* Preprogrammed frequency addendum [...]

At last we have a police scanner. After a lot of research, I picked a Radio Shack Pro-97. It's normally $200, I got it on sale for $169.

I could have got a decent cheaper model, if I had only wanted to scan police, fire and EMS frequencies. But I went with this more expensive model because it also scans a lot of HAM radio frequencies too, as well as Marine, Aviation and CB channels. It's also capable of handling trunked radio systems. I don't think any of the agencies in my area are using trunking presently, but if they ever move to it, I'll still be able to scan them.

I picked this particular model because it's been out for a few years now, and it has 300 customer reviews, most of which give it high marks. It has the most reviews of any scanner on the Radio Shack website.

There was an upgraded model, the PRO-164 1000-Channel Handheld Scanner, which looks exactly like the Pro-97. It's normally $219.99, but was also on sale for $169. It has extra features, such as a bar graph signal-strength meter, tone ID of priority tagged frequencies, and the ability to scan the 700 MHz range, which will become available next year when commercial TV goes digital. I could kinda kick myself that I didn't get the Pro-164, but I chose to stick with the Pro-97, because it has a proven track record. The Pro-164 only has 23 reviews, and some of those say the sound quality is not as good as the Pro-97, and I just didn't want to be a guinea pig for a new product.

So back to the Pro-97. It's portable, I can use rechargable batteries and recharge them without removing them from the scanner. Programing the scanner isn't what I would call easy, it reminds me of what programing VCR's used to be like when they first came out; semi-rocket science.

Many of the user reviews had said it's worth buying the cable and software to program it with, so I did. I'm using the Win97 program from Starsoft, which works fine with Windows XP on my PC. It's enabled me to download the frequencies for our local police, county sheriff, State police, EMS, and Fire departments. There are other codes for other things, such as Forrest service, Transportation department, etc. but the above is all I've done so far. The results have been very satisfying.

I am going to have really sit down with the manual though, and read it thoroughly to comprehend all the features, and to block things I'm not interested in, make backups of the frequencies I want to keep, etc. Some people complain that the manual is difficult to follow. If you find it so, there is help. There is a re-written version of the manual that's been posted on-line, that many have found useful:

Easier to Read Pro-97/2055 Scanner Manual

The salesman at Radio Shack recommended that I buy an external antenna, since I live a considerable distance outside of town. He said a good antenna can make all the difference, so I went with his recommendation:

Outdoor VHF-Hi/UHF Scanner Antenna

At home, when I use the scanner with just the antenna it came with, it does pick up radio traffic from town. But when I use the external antenna, it seems to pick up a lot more traffic, including areas farther away, so I think it's worth every penny. I bought a 50ft cable to go with it. If you buy it, be sure and get the BNC connector to attach the scanner to the cable. I forgot mine, and had to go back days later to get it.

I won't be able to do an in-depth review until I work with the scanner more extensively and learn to utilize all of it's features, but thus far I am impressed with it's performance, and happy with my purchase.

If you are thinking of buying a scanner and you are only interested in scanning Police/Fire/EMT services, you would probably be happy with a cheaper scanner. But you need to find out if any of your local services are using trunked systems. If not, you can get a good scanner for as low as $79. Talk to the folks at your local Radio Shack, they probably know what's being used in your area. My store also gave me a sheet with the local frequencies to program the scanner with, but you can also find that information on-line by googling it.


Related Links:

Learning Ham Radio; start with a Police Scanner?

Police Scanners part II; back to the $100 models

Radio Communications in a Changing World

Resource Links: Radio Codes & Signals
     

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