aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, March 03, 2006
What to do with that old computer? Ubuntu!
You say Linux, I say huh? But thanks to a pal here I’ve installed Ubuntu on an old laptop and I’m an instant convert.
Ubuntu is a complete Linux-based operating system, freely available with both community and professional support. It is developed by a large community and we invite you to participate too!
The Ubuntu community is built on the ideas enshrined in the Ubuntu Philosophy: that software should be available free of charge, that software tools should be usable by people in their local language and despite any disabilities, and that people should have the freedom to customise and alter their software in whatever way they see fit.
These freedoms make Ubuntu fundamentally different from traditional proprietary software: not only are the tools you need available free of charge, you have the right to modify your software until it works the way you want it to.
Now that’s a philosphy I respect.
It comes witrh many applications for business, home and personal computer users including Open Office, Firefox, image editing software and an intuitive interface that took no time or effort to figure out. None! (They say, “it should ‘Just Work’, TM” and it does.)
What’s best is it’s no bloated resource hog. It’ll run on that old sluggish Windows machine that slowed to a crawl leaving you with no choice but to dump it. Now there’s another choice!
I’m still a newbie so I’ll let you know how it goes, but I can tell you already that you should put it on that old clunker and give it a try. Here’s the download site: for Mac, PC, er, I mean for Intel, PowerPC or AMD64. My next install is on that old Lime Green G3 iMac I got sitting here…
MacBook Pro: dazzle with a dash of disappointment
The Times looked at the MacBookPro yesterday, “Why do Mac fans despise the new name so much? Partly because all those harsh consonants - K, K, P - make the name uglier and harder to say:”
You can see why Apple might be fond of its latest machine. The one-inch-thick MacBook is only 0.1 inch thinner than the PowerBook, but somehow feels worlds sleeker and more futuristic. Fit, finish and quality are spectacular.
The wireless antenna has been moved, so Wi-Fi reception is much improved. The guts, from the bus (circuitry) to the graphics card, have been substantially accelerated. Battery life is pretty much the same as on the PowerBooks: 3 to 3.5 hours.
A brighter scren, built in video camera, a remote control and an elegant magnetic power cord (more on Mac Magnets here) attached to a clunkier power brick for only $2,000. Oh, and it’s 4 to 5X speedier than my clunky (9 month old) Power Book (unless you use Microsoft or Adobe products, which are not yet “recompiled"):
These older programs still run acceptably on the MacBook, thanks to the magic of Apple’s smooth, invisible translation software. But they run slowly, with pauses here and there. Even Photoshop runs all right, although photo editors won’t want MacBooks as their primary Photoshop machines.
Now, Apple always giveth and taketh away. This time around, though, Apple hath taken away quite a few PowerBook features. The S-video connector, for high-quality TV playback of movies, is gone - a weird omission, considering the multimedia emphasis implied by the new remote control. (You can restore the S-video jack with a $20 accessory cable.) The FireWire 800 connector, for high-speed hard drives, is also missing. The DVD burner is only half as fast as the previous model (4X instead of 8X) and can no longer burn dual-layer DVD discs. Current PC expansion cards (including high-speed cellular Internet cards) don’t work or fit in the new narrow-format ExpressCard slot.
Miss McBeth speaks
Lily McBeth, the 71 year old NJ substitute teacher who the school board said could return to the classroom after gender-reassignment surgery, is on GMA right now. She’s making good points; the show is doing a great job of a sensitive portrayal. I’ll post from the transcript later.
In the meantime, here’s my take from the other day.
LATER, from the transcript:
ROBIN ROBERTS (ABC NEWS)
(Off-camera) And, and the fact that they’re elementary school age, roughly five years old to 12 year olds, you’re, you’re a parent yourself. Can you understand at all their concern? Because many of these young people, kids saw you as a man and now they’re going to see you as a woman. Can you understand at all the parents’ point of view?
LILY MCBETH (HAD SEX CHANGE OPERATION)
I can understand the parents’ fear and they’re trying to project that fear onto the children because the children don’t have that fear. Okay? They learn that from adults. And if we teach children intolerance, that’s what they’re going to do.
I note the transcriber feels the need to qualify Lily’s name.
Hillary, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell & Same Sex Marriage
Chris Crain weighs in on the email sent by Alan Van Capelle, the head of New York State’s leading gay rights group, to his board members describing Hillary Clinton as a “disappointment” on same-sex marriage, and suggesting gays and lesbians stop giving money to her campaign. Chris says:
To date, she has perfected the minuet made famous by her husband: dance with the gays, take their money, their votes and their praise, but cut in with the next available dancer whenever the moves look too risky.
If the song is about employment protection or hate crimes or civil unions, on which there’s already overwhelming support in New York, Hillary is ready to samba. But when it comes to a wedding waltz, her dance card is full.
Clinton’s haughtiness on marriage is particularly galling given her own rocky experience with the institution. She did vote against an unprecedented amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban gays from marrying, but to do otherwise would have been unthinkable for her politically.
In her speech on the Senate floor, she said, “I believe marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman.” Another reality check: She’s known for decades that in her own case the institution was never so limited and in fact was a not-so-sacred bond between a man and several women, including his wife and untold Gennifers, Monicas and others.
I guess that’s fair, but her husband’s affairs are not the direction I’d like to take the argument. The merits of the argument stand on their own for me. I won’t be giving her money, and I believe gay leaders have the obligation to hammer her for it.
On the other hand, thinking back on those heady days right after the (first) Clinton presidential victory, when I really believed gays in the military could happen, Bill Clinton sure said the right words. And I surely do blame him for that failure. (I blame Collin Powell more and it’s a mystery to me why gays apparently give him a pass!) I base that blame in his political naivete. He played the politics wrong!
So, yes, I fall into the category of gays who accepts the “laughable” excuse:
“As she gears up to run for president, it’s a broader stage, and these issues matter in a way that perhaps they don’t when she’s in the Senate,” Jeff Soref, a prominent gay Democrat and co-chair of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force board, told the New York Blade.
The move towards liberalism is more important than any individiual issue, even as special an issue as this one is to me. Same-sex marriage is inevitbale - I’m guessing sooner than we think - and I can imagine it happening and even being facilitated by a Hillary Clinton administration.
So if she’s the candidate I will vote for her. I expect Van Capelle will too, just as he said he will in the Senate race in the opening line of his critical email:
“Let me begin by stating that I believe Hillary Clinton has served the people of New York well in the United States Senate and that she deserves re-election,” he writes. “My vote for Senator Clinton will come despite her regrettable statements on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples and her current support for DOMA.”
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Stuntz on the portents of Summers’ ouster
William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law, sees Lawrence Summers ouster as a dark cloud on the future of higher ed in America:
The newspapers have been filled with stories of Summers’s supposed obnoxiousness. Few of the stories note the coin’s other side: The academic world has never seen a university president so eager to hear and engage opposing arguments. Summers might indeed tell you you’re flat wrong, an experience people in my job too rarely have. But you could tell him that he’s full of shit--and he’d smile and argue back.
Problem is, university faculty don’t want to talk back to their bosses; they don’t want to have bosses. And their preferences matter. The past 40 years have seen faculty take near-total control of leading universities. These institutions are democracies of a peculiar sort: Only a part of one constituency gets to vote. Two kinds of people teach in universities: those who invest in some combination of teaching students and writing scholarship (the best people invest in both), and those who go through the motions. Which group do you suppose is more likely to attend the meetings and write the memos and vote on the motions of no confidence? The correlation isn’t perfect: There are great teachers and scholars who do invest in institutional governance, and thank God for them. Over time, though, general tendencies swamp individual variations, and the general tendency here is disastrous. It is as if you took the bottom half of GM’s factory workers a half-century ago and told them to run the corporation, promising that whatever they did, their jobs were guaranteed and their pay could only rise. It’s a great gig while it lasts.
Summers was brought down not because he was politically incorrect or bad at soothing academic egos, though those things contributed far more than they should have. The core problem is that he wanted to shake up the comfortable world of higher education.
I’m not sold on every point in his argument, but I do agree with his conclusion:
Now, it’s easy to imagine that a generation hence, Chinese or Indian universities will dominate the world, or perhaps that some intellectual entrepreneur will bring Oxford or Cambridge back to the top of the heap. Or--this is the scenario to root for--maybe Bill Gates will use a few of his billions to create a new university from scratch, one that does not follow the old rules, and a new style of education will take the market by storm. The only thing that seems certain is that the world of higher education will look very different than it does now. For Harvard and for the high-end universities with which it allegedly competes, that world will look a lot worse than this one.
Dobson’s CYA regarding Focus on the Family Abramoff link
Media Matters builds a pretty sound case that Dobson’s lying:
On the February 17 broadcast of his Focus on the Family radio program, program host and Focus on the Family president James C. Dobson and Tom Minnery, the organization’s vice president of public policy, sought to fend off questions arising from reports in The Washington Post and World Magazine of their alleged collusion with convicted felon and former gambling industry lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a scheme to shut down competition to his clients’ casinos.
Contradicting his own statement to World Magazine that Dobson may have acted in at least one instance at the behest of Abramoff associate and former Christian Coalition of America director Ralph Reed, Minnery claimed that Focus on the Family crusaded against the same casinos Abramoff was trying to shut down by mere coincidence. Yet, just 13 days earlier, in the February 4 online edition of World Magazine, writer Jamie Dean reported that Minnery told World that it was “possible,” in the magazine’s words, that Dobson had written to Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton after Reed requested that he do so. Dobson and others leaned on Norton to thwart attempts by the Jena Band of Choctaws Indian tribe to expand a casino in Louisiana that competes with one owned by Abramoff’s clients, the Coushatta tribe.
Moreover, numerous email exchanges between Abramoff, Reed, and Abramoff’s business partner, Michael Scanlon, appear to contradict Minnery’s claim that Focus on the Family’s activities in opposition to the expansion of the Jena Choctaw casino had nothing to do with requests from Abramoff or Reed. (Those emails, subpoenaed and made public by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, can be downloaded here. Key correspondences can be downloaded from World Magazine here and here).
READ ON. There’s much more documented detail.
Yahoo! gets real with video content
After proclaiming grand plans to bring elaborately produced sitcoms, talk shows and other television-style programs to the Internet, the head of Yahoo’s Media Group said yesterday that he was sharply scaling back those efforts. He said the group would shift its focus to content acquired from other media companies or submitted by users. [...]
“I didn’t fully appreciate what success in this medium is really going to look like,” he said. “This is not about creating one-off hits like in my old business. That is not going to create a sustainable competitive advantage over the long term.”
With advertisers moving large parts of their budgets online, the market for content, created by professionals, bloggers and individual users, is expanding rapidly - as is the competition. Major media companies are developing video-based programming for the Internet. Myspace.com, purchased last year by the News Corporation, has become a major site based on user-contributed content. Many start-ups, like youtube.com, seek to follow suit.
I surely don’t blame the guy who developed “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” for expecting to do what he knows how to do. I do blame Yahoo! The question now is can he switch gears and do on this platform what he did on that one. It looks like maybe he can:
“I realized I have to check my ego at the door for a moment, and forget whatever expectations people had about me because of my former life, and really take a hard look at who should this business be built for the long term - a business that is not dependent on a series of expensive one-off’s to survive,” he said. Jordan Rohan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said Yahoo’s shift in strategy was sound. “Embracing things like blogs and sharing of content between individuals” is at least as important as “coming up with the next mega-online event,” he said. “The Internet is such a niche content environment that the broadcast model does not really work.”
Underwhelming Mac & TiVo
The Mac Media event is hardly noteworthy:
A $599 Mac Mini with Intel, when tricked out to play the role of a media center costs roughly $1000, which makes it simply too expensive for just exclusive “entertainment” purposes. And no, doing email on a giant LCD screen with a bluetooth keyboard is not a good idea.
What else - a $99 leather pouch? (It is as naked an attempt to pad the profit margins if there was any, not that there is anything wrong with it.) For crying out loud, this makes me wonder why is Apple wasting its resources on frivolous stuff and not focusing instead on more basic but more important issues like - getting enough shipments of their Mac Book Pros in the stores? What’s up with that? I fear that Apple is ignoring the pent-up demand for new lighter computers from increasingly mobile workers.
On the iPod HiFi, well I will reserve judgment till I hear it. Nevertheless, it is still a boom-box which reminds me of “break dancing” on the street corners, and Flash Dance.
And at 11 a.m. today TiVo announces KidZone:
The new TiVo service will let children watch only programs the designated group deems appropriate for the age range specified by the parent. In addition, parents can automatically record programs designated by the groups as especially worthwhile.
Parents can overrule the groups’ choices or make their own list of approved and banned programs from scratch. They will also be able to type in a password to view programs denied to their children.
TiVo’s software, called KidZone, will be made available without additional charge in June to the 1.4 million users of TiVo’s stand-alone set-top boxes.
PVRBlog plans to liveblog the TiVo event.
Alito to Dobson: “my heartfelt thanks”
Dear Dr. Dobson:
This is just a short note to express my heartfelt thanks to you and the entire staff of Focus on the Family for your help and support during the past few challenging months.
I would also greatly appreciate it if you would convey my appreciation to the good people from all parts of the country who wrote to tell me that they were praying for me and for my family during this period.
As I said when I spoke at my formal investiture at the White House last week, the prayers of so many people from around the country were a palpable and powerful force.
As long as I serve on the Supreme Court I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me.
I hope that we’ll have the opportunity to meet personally at some point in the future.
In the meantime my entire family and I hope that you and the Focus on the Family staff know how we appreciate all that you have done.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Bush & Katrina: The Video
The Associated Press has “confidential video footage” that provides confirmation that the Bush administration was wrong when in it said no one could have foreseen the scale of the approaching Katrina disaster:
In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans’ Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.
Bush didn’t ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: “We are fully prepared.”
The footage _ along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press _ show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.
Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.
[T]he tape - which provides visual confirmation of what has been trickling out since the administration’s nearly-universally-panned job performance on Katrina - represents a new visual chapter in the ongoing motif of this administration: it’s an administration that has a continuing credibility problem.
This credibility problem wasn’t created by an evil mainstream media or by Democrats but by this administration’s seeming inability to lay all of its cards on the table, be candid to the electorate and Congress, admit its own shortcomings when necessary and try to expand its support by governing more via consensus. This video will have far longer shelf life than any newspaper drawing, radio or cable talk show rant or weblog post. The White House will, as usual, have lawyerly spin (it always does), but it won’t trump the impact of the video after earlier White House assertions.
For me, the initial response was bad, but what makes it even worse is that it’s continuing. The area absolutely needs real solid federal help and direction.
The rise of “the commercial education industry”
And the fall of the U.S.
It took just a few paragraphs in a budget bill for Congress to open a new frontier in education: Colleges will no longer be required to deliver at least half their courses on a campus instead of online to qualify for federal student aid.
That change is expected to be of enormous value to the commercial education industry.
How’d they do it? A “full blown lobbying effort” and “friends in high places.” That’s the American way???
The provision is just one sign of how an industry that once had a dubious reputation has gained new influence, with well-connected friends in the government and many Congressional Republicans sympathetic to their entrepreneurial ethic.
Not a mention of their educational values in the whole piece. But there’s this:
Sally L. Stroup, the assistant secretary of education who is the top regulator overseeing higher education, is a former lobbyist for the University of Phoenix, the nation’s largest for-profit college, with some 300,000 students.
Two of the industry’s closest allies in Congress are Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, who just became House majority leader, and Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California, who is replacing Mr. Boehner as chairman of the House education committee.
And the industry has hired well-connected lobbyists like A. Bradford Card, the brother of the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.
The clincher is that this is part of a “$39.5 billion budget-cutting package.”
So we continue to defund public education and privilege the questionable “commercial education industry” in its stead. Does this nation not realize that it’s success was built on the best public education system in the world. It’s not so anymore.
We’ll be hearing a lot about India this week, and I’ve pointed to China whose stated goal is to “transform its top universities into the world’s best within a decade.” We can blame anyone we want but with decisions like this one we’re bound to be left in the dust. I blame no one but us.
Darwin in UT
What feels like a rare local legislative victory:
In a defeat for critics of Darwin, the Utah House of Representatives on Monday voted down a bill intended to challenge the theory of evolution in high school science classes.
The bill had been viewed nationally, by people on each side of the science education debate, as an important proposal because Utah is such a conservative state, with a Legislature dominated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But the bill died on a 46-to-28 vote in the Republican-controlled House after being amended by the majority whip, Stephen H. Urquhart, a Mormon who said he thought God did not have an argument with science. The amendment stripped out most of the bill’s language, leaving only that the state board of education “shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction.”
Sex change teacher in NJ
A gay friend here sent a note about the 71 year old NJ substitute teacher who the school board said could return to the classroom after gender-reassignment surgery, “If i had kids in that school. I would really have to think about this - how do you explain this to a preschooler? Would they even care?”
Despite criticism from parents, the school board on Monday stood by its decision to allow McBeth to resume working as a substitute teacher.
After two hours of public debate and a private meeting with McBeth and her lawyer, the board took no action on calls by several parents to bar McBeth from returning to the school where she taught for five years before becoming a woman.
“It was magnificent,” McBeth said afterward. “You saw democracy in action.”
I understand the difficulty, but we really do have a situation here where we seek to deny a job to a skilled and competent person merely because of who she is. She has done - and stands accused of doing - nothing wrong. We can only deny her the job based on our discomfort and prejudices.