Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Despair and 10 Salutes

Today I must mourn the passing of a dear friend - my old Mac 4400/200 PC Compatible. It has served me well, loyally and effectively, since somewhere in the vicinity of September 1997. I have invoked this delightful machine before - in this paeon to Word 5.1 namely - for good cause. I have blogged from it, once or twice! It was - until this week - still rolling along.

It was a matter of time, of course. All it needed was something like what happened this week - a blown fuse - and now, it won't do a thing. No life. That is typical - these machines, macs from the mid to late 90s, were notorious for that very problem. Actually, for two problems - losing the ability to power up, and hard drives that stop spinning. This is the second 4400 in my experience to suffer this fate - the power supplies stop working.

I may get it back someday - or find a working chassis and move the hard drive... But I am resigned to accepting the end. I loved this machine, as much as one can love a machine. I have not used it in the last year - this one (17 inch i-mac - another fairly wonderful machine, that has given me no trouble and better, is a positive work of art) is actually fast enough that I can stand to use it for routine word processing. Amazing. Anyway, in honor of the passing of this wonderful machine, I will post my top 10 favorite pieces of computer related hardware and software. Appalling sentimentality! but if you can't be sentimental at a time like this, when can you be?

1. Microsoft Word 5.1b - this is number 1. Other than spelling, it is still the best word processing program I have ever used. I would probably still prefer it to Word for OS X if it had comparable spelling and macro features. Hell, it had them, back, pre OS 7 or 7.5, or something - somewhere in there, the add ins I was using stopped working. That was when I had to move to another machine to be able to spell... But even without it - it ran on that 4400 as well as Word for X runs on this machine - and probably (with its complete customizability and its magnificent full text searching) had a better feature set. It is by far the best piece of software I know of.

2. Mac 4400 - this machine lasted 7 years. I used it for 3 years at work, then brought it home (we switched to Windows), and used it 4 more - 3 of those years as my main writing computer. I switched tot he internet on other machines maybe about 2001 - but used the 4400 to write on. Great machine. Reliable, fast... it did have power problems sometimes, so I left it running all this time... I knew it could not last forever. I managed to wean myself from it okay - but I will miss it. And - it had word 5.1 on it - and I will miss that more.

3. Mac II-ci: I had one of these for a couple years at work. Most of those early 80s macs had their issues - some because of their architecture (something about their bus capacities, I think); some had bad hard disks, some had unreliable power supplies.... This machine did not give me trouble. I beat on it - I crammed everything I could get into it, used it hard - the system got corrupted every 6 months or so and I would have to reinstall everything - that was a fact of life in those days. But the machine - wonderful thing. Reliable, and probably just as quick with word 5.1 as the machine I have now is. I had to give it up when the powermacs came out - I was disappointed. Partly because I knew that getting the first powermacs off the line meant I would have all the problems, and be the last one to get a new, good one - but partly just because I loved my CI.

4. I have to give props to what I have, though - this 17 inch i-mac is perfectly reliable, and by god - it is beautiful! It really is. Every couple years apple comes out with something just stunning. This is the model. And it works.

5. Powerbook 170 - these were sweet machines as well - great keyboards, reliable, sturdy. I still have one, sitting around somewhere. Unlike my beloved 4400, it still boots up. And runs word like a charm. Surprise surprise!

6. Compaq Armada: There is not much in the windows side of the world that I think is even remotely worth using - but this machine is one. Looks like one of those old PB170s - black, blocky, kind of heavy, but indestructible, reliable, powerful enough. You can’t break them. Great computers. And the last machine of any importance with both floppy and CD bays built in. There are times, even now... Thank you Compaq!

7. SE30. Indestructible little things, quick, functional, and you could get a real monitor on it with a little work. But even without it - those luggable macs had some merits. I would not turn one down now.

8. My new 12 inch powerbook. I know. I love it. Sorry. Tiny, sleek, quick, beautiful. Wonderful machine.

9. Hypercard - this is one I would have to think about some. But when I started using computers - macs - at the end fo the 80s - this was a hell of a program. You could do things with hypercard - I remember building my own spreadsheets, back when I was starting out, and didn't have excel for some reason. I built databases that still work better than databases built in access. It was a great piece of software... I did end up using it mostly to build databases - these days, File Maker has a lot of the same functionality and works about as well - efficient, quick, reliable, easy to work with. I don't know if I can put FileMaker here, but it has a lot of the same appeal. Especially compared to crap like Access.

10. Mosaic. Less because it was a perfect piece of software than because it did things that pretty fucking literally changed the world. The way we interact with the world. Obviously, the way you and me right now are interacting in the world. There may be software that did this back in the 80s - excel maybe - but since I started using computers, this is the one program that, single-handedly, just changed things. And hey - it worked. It did what it did.

The Anti-Lincoln

Here is a rather interesting headline: President moves to rein in 2 agencies. I guess that's one way to put it.

After years of finger-pointing and tension within his foreign policy agencies, President Bush is moving aggressively to tame the two most unwieldy agencies -- the CIA and the State Department -- by installing reliable allies at the helm with instructions to clamp down on dissenting career officials, advisers to the president said.

I suppose no one will disagree witht he basic facts and basic interpretation of the facts in that statement, but the evaluation of those facts and interpretations will vary widely. Joshua Michael Marshall, for example, offers a somewhat different slant than the White House insiders quoted in the Globe article:

There has been a running battle along these 'political appointees' versus 'the professionals' lines at the Pentagon, the CIA and, to a much lesser degree, the State Department for more than three years. And by and large the Bush administration's 'political appointees' have been wrong almost every time. There are a few exceptions at the Pentagon -- the early stages of the Afghan campaign being the best example. But at the CIA it's really been pretty much a shut-out. And a number of those screw-ups have been ones of catastrophic proportions.

* * *

And the upshot of all that we've seen, the result of all those struggles over the last three years is that the 'appointees' are purging the 'professionals'. Another way to put it is that the folks who were always wrong and often catastrophically wrong are rooting out the folks who were often right and sometimes somewhat wrong. The answer to politicized intelligence, it turns out, is a more thorough politicization of intelligence and the elimination of those who resisted political pressure.

Given that -and it seems pretty much the truth - it's hard to read about the President "reining in" anyone without a feeling of dread.

(Should I explain the title? I may. The north during the Civil War was plagued by politically appointed generals. On the whole, they may not have been any worse than the regular army generals and various volunteers who rose to power, but at the top, they were a disaster. A few of them - some purely political, some regulars who were in the politicians' pockets - held real power, and made hash of it. Benjamin Butler - John C. Fremont - quite a few more. The story of Lincoln winning the war was the story of the political generals being replaced by professionals. So - Bush - compared, in some circles to Lincoln - follows roughly the opposite track. For while the balance of competence is about the same in the civil war - political generals are incompetent and dangerous to our cause, professionals (while they cover a range of abilities, and are often an unimaginative lot) more or less do what they are supposed to do - the direction and results are the opposite. The story of Bush losing the war is the story of Bush purging the professionals for the politicians.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Walking the Plank

I see that Colin Powell is resigning as Secretary of State. Powell has not covered himself in glory in this administration, going against a lot of things he had said in the past in the process of supporting them through their foreign policy misadventures. Still, he represents the grown ups in the administration, the possibility, somewhere, of maturity and integrity, and something like good sense. If he is gone --- reading the tea leaves - this looks like a sign that whatever sense there was will be purged. Coming on the heels of the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, with its attendant message about the United States' respect for International Law (heck - Law itself!), this does not bode well.

UPDATE: Looks like Powell's replacement is going to be Condeleeza Rice. I'm sure Bush could have done worse, though perhaps the greatest indictment of this administration is that there's simply no one anywhere near the white house who would be a good choice. It's not as bad as Gonzales, I guess.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Masters of War

Another story that makes you glad to be an American alive in 2004. A Colorado high school band gets a visit from the FBI for singing a Bob Dylan song. Granted, they should probably not try to claim the song is not political - still... still.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Luxury of Paranoia

I am not one for conspiracy theories, but neither is Kevin Drum, but he's got a post up on evidence about polling irregularities, which in this day and age is hand in glove with voting fraud, so I can link to that. This is obviously an issue that needs to be examined, with a good deal of care. If it's there - let's find out. If not - better to have good evidence for it. In any case - Drum is not up to conspiracy theory hijinks - he is the epitome of the Supremely Reasonable Pundit, and he is Supremely Reasonable here - blaming the exit pollsters, you know. And he's right - if the problems he cites (from a paper by one Steven Freeman) are caused by some kind of systematic flas in exit polling methodology, then - he's right - the pollsters should explain it. And maybe can. If not - if they don't - does that mean they can't? If they can't...

I don't expect this issue to be laid to rest for some time. Bev Harris is up in arms. (So is Black Box Voting, a different site doing the same kinds of things. I'm not sure what their relationship is, or was...) The meme stays alive in cyberspace (Greg Palast say; Long Story, Short Pier - where Kim seems convinced.) I don't know. I worry, though, that the fact that the election results can be ascribed to other things, that they weren't absurd on the face of them, that the Voices of Reason will insist that we have to Move On and stop indulging in Wishful Thinking. All that may be true - but prove it. At least, let's get as much information out there, where we can look at it and think about it ourselves...

Theater of Operations

James Wolcott being brilliant again - or citing Emmanuel Todd in After the Empire being brilliant.

. . . Contrary to those Le Monde intellectuals who see the US as a super-superpower, a hyperpuissance, Todd, a French demographer and author of a book correctly foreseeing the fall of the Soviet Union, says the US has become a "big little bully" incapable of picking on anyone its own size. It makes a show of force attacking the weak--dirtpoor countries with no air defences, such as Iraq and Afghanistan--because a "show" is precisely what it is.

"These conflicts that represent little or no military risk allow the United States to be 'present' throughout the world. The United States works to maintain the illusory fiction of the world as a dangerous place in need of America's protection."

Wolcott cites this in the context of the Fallujah assault - "Operation Phantom Fury" apparently. Wolcott at length:

The US assault on Fallujah is a prime example of what Todd calls "theatrical micromilitarism." I mean, calling it "Operation Phantom Fury"--it's a sick joke. What's "phantom" about it? For months the US has been touting this incursion and publicly built up forces outside the city for weeks, giving the enemy plenty of time to rig explosives and/or skip town. Billing it as a "decisive battle"--another fraud. Guerrilla warfare operates on an entirely different set of rules; as has been oft pointed out, America won every major battle during Vietnam and still lost. What's unfolding is not a decisive moment but a ghastly production that trains hellfire on a symbolic target and "plays well" to American citizens as a flex of muscle, as witness the NY Post cover today of an American soldier with a cigarette dangling from his mouth with the headline "Marlboro Men Kick Butt." Civilian casualties, the destruction of homes and livelihoods, the absence of any significant capture of insurgent ringleaders, these are secondary to getting good action footage over which benedictions can be said.

He is right. This war from the beginning had the stink of being fought because it would be easy to win - not that this comes as any great shock. There's a lot of tough talk from the Bush administration about our foreign policy goals, but even in the middle of the tough talk, there always seem to be a few of the wonkier ne-cons smugging around the sidelines explaining how invading Iraq would send a message to someone that we weren't to be trifled with. That it sent the message to make sure you have working nukes seems to have slipped past these giant brains...

What it means? In the end, it means that these guys really do run everything as theater - as long as they keep the American casualties relatively low, as long as they keep the pictures of American dead off the TV screens, they figure they can hang on to power at home. Use real heroism (and whatever you say about the war, the people on the ground fighting it are running risks and deserve respect) to prop up the image of our strength. Good old "Decisive George Bush" again. Maybe they think they are also projecting power abroad, though Wolcott and Todd don't think so, and I have to suspect they are right. Which is a source of some comfort, since it means they (I mean, Bush and company) are not likely, tough talk aside, to start up any new wars. Just try to flog the one they have. And keep gettign reelected, because Americans don't want to think about the reality of politics or war or the rest of the world. Well - 51% of Americans...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Structural Changes!

Yes indeed! 10 new links on the "blogroll" - 5 in each category. It has been oh so many moons since I have done anything cosmetic to this place. Addabitospiceyknow. Anyway, I try to keep it varied - some science, some law, some politics, some art. We'll see. Into the breach.

Update: Already! changed my mind! added another 5 sites! Culture! A Libertarian! A Real Live Preacher! Enjoy!

And We Can Do It Without a Draft, Too, I'll Bet!

Early nominees for the next set of Darwin awards - via TAPPED here's some comment on the American Enterprise Institute's panel on Foreign Policy in the Second Bush Administration. According to one Thomas Donnelly:

The election proves that the goals set forth in the Bush Doctrine essentially reflect what most Americans want their government to do.

With this mandate, the goal of the second administration is to put actual meat behind the lofty goals expressed by the Bush doctrine. By Donnelly’s estimation, this means expanding the Bush doctrine beyond the greater Middle East and -- here’s the kicker -- integrating our China policy into the Bush Doctrine. While the Bush administration confronts rogue regimes in the greater Middle East, the likelihood of a future great-power confrontation with China is increasing substantially -- so we must act.

Ah, the American Enterprise Institute! Where else could we turn for such wisdom? There's more - after calling someone "Panda huggers", Donnelly adds, “Negotiating with ourselves over China,” said Donnelly, “is even dumber than negotiating with Democrats over social security or tax reform.” He is not, apparently, likely to claim the Reality Based Community as his own...

Wars and Rumors of War

We have begun our attack on Fallujah, delayed until after the election, in case things go wrong (the cynicism of our government is boundless). Accompanied by attacks by the insurgents and the declaration of martial law by the Iraqi government. Wonderful. (Juan Cole of course is following the story.) One thing though - I'm reading the lead paragraph:

U.S. Army and Marine units thrust into the heart of the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah on Tuesday, fighting fierce street battles and conducting house-to-house searches on the second day of a major assault to retake the city from Islamic militants.

Why are the people we are fighting called "Islamic militants"? This is odd - granted, they are Islamic, and they are obviously militants - but is that an innocent combination? Because Al Qaeda, for example, are clearly "Islamic Militants" - their militancy and their religion are inextricably linked. But the Iraqi insurgents are motivated by other things, aren't they? Nationalism or tribalism or their own desire for power or whatever it is - including some degree of Islamic ideoloty... I don't know. Semantics and war are a dangerous combination, but it seems likely that terms like this carry some pretty strong propaganda implications, that I'm not sure I like.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Out in the Real World

Good afternoon. This is not going to be a long post, just a post, without even bothering to put any links in. A new bad habit, I guess, though I am not here to whine. Just to maintain the habit, as it were. There's still plenty of politics I could be posting about - I have not yet worked out a full bore How We Lost The Election and How We Can Win The Next Once post, though I've got one simmering. I have 2 years to work on that, so I'm not going to kill myself. I will note what I hope I do, now that the election is over - write more about other stuff - the arts, movies, music, comics, maybe books. Get back to the real world.

I will take this opportunity to note what I have seen recently, very briefly: Sideways - quite funny at times, interesting enough, even if it is about another 40ish white guy moping about self-inflicted wounds. Thought his guy is affecting - maybe in the ways he comes off as more real than most people on movie screens. Being played by Paul Giamatti is always an advantage, but it's more than that - it's details, like his apartment, his car, the fact that he doesn't have a cel phone. And the wine. Wine is what is best and worst about the man - his passion, but a passion he can't quite indulge in without lording it over people, and a passion which hides, not too subtly, some nasty stuff (the fact that he is a drunk.) So this may not be brilliant, but it is a fine movie, with many surprising virtues... And many big virtues - especially the performances, universally fine.

And Undertow - new film by David Gordon Green, starring Jamie Bell and Dermot Mulroney. Very nearly a remake of Night of the Hunter - here the villain is Josh Lucas as Mulroney's brother, just out of the pen - he shows up, tries to act ingratiating, Mulroney tries to do the right thing - but it doesn't take long for the two of them to be fighting over their father's "treasure" a collection of gold coins. This does not end well, and soon Bell takes to the road with a little brother. They pass through a really down and out south, a step or two ahead of Lucas' thug, passing out books as they go. It's a little bit too derivative, but quite gorgeous and moving anyway.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

We Are Not the Country We should Be

I am not going to be a gracious loser. I find it very hard to believe how this election went - how can such a manifest failure as George Bush get that many votes? What possesses people? - and I feel great trepidation for the future. I could blog the future - it may not be as bad as all that. There seem to be three likely outcomes: 1) The GOP, red in tooth and maw, takes everything it can get and tears both country and itself apart - the latter will not be a comfort, because I care what happens to my country. 2) the GOP grows up. Without an election to win, they back off the posturing, address their failures, and try to fix things. If Rummy hits the pavement, or Colin Powell starts making decisions again, this might come about. I'm not holding my breath - but this would not be unprecedented. 3) More of the same! incompetence, posturing, lots of noise, but little concrete action, no risks, good or bad, but lots of talk about risks... everything aimed at holding power, which now gets shifted from Bush to Congress, and whoever will be Bush's successor. Pandering continues apace. Iraq either drags on without resolution, or they declare victory and come home, and leave things to work themselves out. This is all too likely. I don't know if this is better or worse than #1. #1 is more likely to energize the opposition, and more likely to crash and burn, choking on its own greed, as it gulps down one too many metaphors at once.... 3...

The feeling I get from all this is that in the end we (the majority of voters in the country) ended up voting for an imaginary candidate. "Decisive George Bush" - as fictional as Giblets - an image of toughness and resolve that no facts, no revelations of lies and shenanigans, no pictures of the President of the United States unable to act with the country under attack until someone tells him what to do, can ever shake. Could shake. They (not me) voted for this chimera - they voted for what they wanted him to be, pretending, wishing, that he was what they thought they needed.

The fact that John Kerry largely was that man - the war hero, the senator with the guts to take on the administration, organizations like the BCCI and such - made no impression. I don't know why. Mabe because the GOP stayed relentlessly on message. Maybe because the democrats, across the board, saw John Kerry for what he was - their opinions of him ranged from enthusiasm to Anybody But Bushism, but they were all interpretations of the actual John Kerry... Can a real man, good bad or indifferent, compete with an imaginary man? You would like to think so, but the evidence before us says no.

Bloody hell.

Anyway, now, let's just hope the democrats decide that this is the time to fight. That they get tough - call Bush on his crap, resist wherever they can - this is not the time to whimper, well the people have chosen... The people chose a lie. The people were wrong. It is our responsibility to wake the fucking people up and get them to stop doing things like this to themselves.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Day

Here we are. Our future as a nation in the balance. Yes, yes, a man's best friend is hyperbole - but there's enough truth to it that I'm not backing off. All the stories about republican vote suppression - their consistent devotion to keeping down the vote - they depend on it - makes me worry. So let's hope the dems get out in force and simply blow Bush away. It can happen. Stranger things have happened. And you want to believe that at least a majority of people know better than to vote for Bush. You have to hope.

On a more personal note - I voted in my current town for the first time. Some kind of club, a VFW or American Legion hall. Paul Krugman has a nice article - "The humbleness of the surroundings only emphasizes the majesty of the process: this is democracy, America's great gift to the world, in action." It's true. The talk about freedom and all in grand abstractions hides the fact that freedom and democracy consists in a bunch of old men and women leafing through sheafs of voter rolls, checking your name off, handing you a ballot... prosaic as hell. It gets you right here!

So off we go! And hope it's clean, and the voting itself is what continues to matter, and not the lawsuits and posturing when it is done. Keep this power in the hands of the voters - don't let it turn into spin, like damn near everything else.