Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, November 28, 2004

A C# and other notes

I've noticed recently that I haven't been listening to as much music I normally do. That is, over the past few months I've rarely listened to anything but news in the car and I don't have any music playing while I'm working on my computer or laptop at home. This may have something to do with my losing interest in a genre I had been listening to recently; but I don't really want to go into that... I'm just getting kind of bored with it. Classical music, on the other hand, I never get bored with.
I have a collection of pieces I like to listen to, but I don't really want to play them on my laptop. What I'd like is to setup an application to control music on my desktop from my laptop. Not really a media server, more of a jukebox type deal. I realize there must be a collection of apps to do this type of thing on SourceForge or elsewhere, but I'm using a Windows machine for hosting this (I know, I know... I have a GNU/Linux server as well, but that's beside the point).
I've been playing around with some stuff for a little while now and I was thinking of doing my own little app to accomplish this, probably using C#. I've gotten to really like C# in the past little while, it's a nice little language. It's got a nice blend of the power and ease of Java with some of the added flexibility of C or C++. It takes some nice features from both languages and leaves behind some of the bad things. Don't get me wrong though, I like well structured languages and I'm really more of a C++ guy. I like Java as well, but one thing I think is a detriment to Java is that it either runs a little slow (yeah, yeah, I know there are arguments about this... let me finish) or it's a huge memory hog. Java can run fast, but it takes up gobs of resources. The .NET runtime doesn't really have this problem, of course it's also not universally compatible... but Microsoft doesn't care about that.
Anyway, another language I really love is Python. Aside from its fame for being used with Google, it really is a great language. It's very highly structured, really easy to use and learn, and is really scalable and flexible.

Another problem I have is with Mac OS X. One of the several computers in this house is a Mac and it's also got a few songs on it. The problem is, and this may be unpopular of me, but I don't really like iTunes. I feel it's kind of bloated and I don't really like the interface. It's ok in the minimized format, but still. The only problem is, I've had a hell of a time finding another good free music player for OS X. I'd really prefer a super-lite one, even something just at the command prompt, but when I tried to use mpg123 it only caused an error and didn't play anything. The only other thing I can think of that I haven't tried yet is XMMS, but I don't know if there's a native OS X build (but I do really like XMMS... more so than WinAmp in Windows).

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Democracy, now?

The people of Ukraine are up in arms over the fraud perpetrated during their federal election. Incumbent Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych apparently won the crooked against opposition candidate Victor Yushenko. The improprieties by the incumbent party have sparked revolt in the country and sympathy from Ukranian protesters in western countries as well as condemnation from many in the international community... except Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia is of course the one unquestioned soviet ally of Ukraine; the two countries were as reflexively supportive as, oh say Israel and the United States. The two candidates are now in negotiations, but Yushenko went ahead and declared himself the leader since he supposedly had the majority of the actual vote. Yushenko happens to be the pro-European candidate, and he also happens to be really ugly. Just a few months ago he had a handsome and youthful appearance, and since his face has become swollen, haggard, puffy and pock-marked and topped with greying hair. The change is damn near unbelievable; and the candidate says it was caused by poison. Others say poison is unlikely and may be the result of some condition brought on by stress.

All this talk of democracy, and its apparent failings... why the majority of Americans would elect George Bush when he is clearly worse for the safety and future of them and their country. Churchill once said that democracy is the worst of all political systems, except for all the rest. As many problems as there are, I am a firm believer in democracy. Though I do think there are fundamental problems with the
way our democracy, and western democracies in general, are implemented. While there is much discussion about the electoral college, proportional democracies and direct voting, I think all of these democracies and our own democracy could work effectively with one major change. The biggest complaint that many philosophers had against democracy was that you can't allow choices in governance to be decided by the unwashed masses, or rather the uneducated masses. The argument is fairly simple, that people without an understanding or concept of governance and what it takes to be a good leader should really have nothing to do with actually picking a good leader. While I have to say that I find this a compelling argument, I still believe democracy can work, I just think it requires that the populace be educated properly. This is one of the reasons I so heavily support education and understanding, because I think it's fundamental to proper governance for everyone. I believe that education should be concomitant with democratic systems, and not just any education but one that emphasizes rational thought, critical analysis and an understanding of the system of governance (of course this would be in addition to the regular educational curriculum).
The best system of governance is a monarchy, as long as
Marcus Aurelius is king.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The privatization of Iraq

Just a couple of news items about Iraq that I wanted to mention. The first is about new IP patent protection laws that have been introduced to bring GM foods to the Iraqi people. This is part of an aggressive drive to turn the Iraqi people into a captive market for the genetically modified and patented crops produced by big American bio-tech companies like Monsanto; crops that cannot be planted, harvested and resown as any normal farmer would do. Keeping seeds from harvest to be resown the coming year while utterly sensible, is illegal (based on US patent laws) for patented genetically modified crops. The seeds must be bought every year from the owner of the patent. While this is bad news enough, the other news portends a far worse situation.

A collection of Western nations have agreed to cancel a large portion of the Iraqi national debt based on a few conditions. There is still a significant portion of the debt owed to certain countries, particularly Russia. The canceling of the debt, however, has one dire condition: that Iraq must accept and implement IMF reforms. IMF reforms have a consistent history of further indebting the countries that implement them. The economic restructuring done by the IMF is done purely for the benefit of external parties that can come to the country and drain its resources and wealth. This becomes possible with the drive for "foreign investment" that is promoted by the restructuring plans at the expense the general populace. Perhaps Iraq is headed to economic self destruction; that would go along well with the political self destruction it's suffered from all these nigh-long years (and the physical destruction imposed on them from external sources).

Sunday, November 21, 2004

G'night folks! I'll be here all week...

A few things have happened in the past few days so there's a lot to cover. US forces say they have broken the core of the resistance with their successful invasion of Fallujah, forgive me if I'm a little skeptical. Colin Powell resigned from his position and was replaced by National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. It was also announced a little while ago that John Ashcroft will be replaced by the new Attorney General Aberto Gonzales. Though Ashcroft was widely
criticized for his harsh implementation of the Patriot Act, Gonzales is expected to follow the same course.
Here in Canada, a rebellious member of parliament for the governing Liberal party has been kicked out of caucus. Carolyn Parrish has become something of a firebrand in her criticism of the Bush administration calling its members idiots, bastards, and stomping on a Bush doll as part of a comedy sketch. The US criticism wasn't what got her booted from the party, it was her criticism of Prime Minister Paul Martin; and she said she's just fine with being kicked out of the party since it wasn't the same party she joined in her youth. She's found some support in her criticism of Martin in former MP (and former deputy Prime Minister) Sheila Copps who lost the Liberal nomination in her riding to a Martin loyalist.
There's also the imminent APEC meeting in Santiago. Protestors have already gathered as world leaders begin to show up (Bush arrived there today). Anti-globalization protestors gather to speak out against what they supposedly feel are injustices; I'll explain the supposedly in a bit. The participation of G8 member countries in summits and trade talks can arouse legitimate disapproval. The G8 countries as the leading economic and military powers in the world (well, along with China) hold a significant amount of sway over dealings with other countries. And the way they conduct their dealings is generally greatly for their own benefit and at great cost to those in other countries. These generally harmful and unjust dealings can be enforced through several means, predominantly economic and military. Economic sanctions imposed by these countries can have devastating effects on the people of the targeted country, and the effects of military might are more than obvious.
Understanding the extent and effects of these foreign policies, while not impossible or even that difficult, does require a significant investment of time and research. This is something that the majority of anti-globalization protesters don't bother doing. While it's nice that people participate and want to make a difference, but when that participation stops at the rally not a whole lot gets done. I hate to spoil the fun, but a bunch of people parading around the city doesn't actually accomplish very much. Now I'm not saying that they shouldn't have rallies, I just think we could be a little more productive. But I suppose there will always be people who believe holding a placard and chanting some slogans will satisfy their social conscience.
Action without knowledge is futile. Knowledge without action is cowardly

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Death, Remembrance and Renewal

It's Remembrance Day. And Yasser Arafat passed away last night. His funeral will be in in Cairo, Egypt, where he spent some of his youth. There is a mixed reaction to his passing among different groups. The majority of the Palestinian people are upset with his passing but many are hopeful that it will bring a new opportunity and a new era of leadership for them. Some in Israel share this sentiment in hopes for peace, but some of the extremist conservative Israelis were celebrating his death, singing and dancing in the streets.
There has been a lot of speculation and pundit-wagging over the ramifications of Arafat's death on the Israeli Palestinian peace process. But I really don't see a lot changing in the near future. Arafat's role, particularly in the last few years, seemed largely symbolic. He did run the Palestinian Authority, but Sharon refused to deal with him and Sharon wouldn't bother making a reasonable effort at peace anyway. Ehud Barak and Netanyahu didn't, and Sharon is supposed to be more of a hawk than either of them (well on top of his past, grisly human rights record). Though Sharon will not likely be the leader of Israel for long anyway because of the massive opposition to his Ghaza pull out plan. But anyone who takes his place will likely not have any legitimate plans for peace either.
Closer to home, an Ontario woman died in a house fire on their family farm a couple of nights ago. The tragedy took not only her life, but all of her seven children; and if that weren't enough she was also pregnant. They all died of smoke inhalation, though there was very little left of the house after the fire was out. The local volunteer firefighters weren't able to save them after arriving on the scene (even though they apparently got there quite quickly).
There are a couple of other things of note. Attorney General John Ashcroft resigned from his position a couple of days ago, along with close Bush associate Commerce Secretary Don Evans. Ashcroft resigned stating that his work was done and the US was safe. Ashcroft was widely criticized for his application of the Patriot Act and infringing civil liberties over the last few years. But there have also been some rumours that his resignation frees him up for a possible appointment to one of the soon to be open positions on the US Supreme Court.
There has also been some speculation about who else would be shed from the new Bush government. Colin Powell is widely expected to leave. For some reason people think he's too centrist to really get along with the rest of the Bushites. I don't think so but I think he will likely leave his position. I've also heard rumours that Tom Ridge might go, but nothing substantiated. Finally, there's been a lot of talk about the fate of Donald Rumsfeld. Ole' Rummy, it is hoped by many, will sit out the younger Bush's second term in office. And because of the colossal intelligence failures and massive embarrassments (like prisoner torture) it might be expedient to shed the old hawk. But I don't think he'll be going anywhere. I don't really have a lot to base that on, but I think Rumsfeld is a key figure in Bush's entourage and Bush isn't worried about re-election or pleasing anyone. He's got majorities in Congress and Senate, so I'll think he'll keep Rumsfeld just as he'll push forth with his radical right agenda. But I could be completely wrong.
Hmm, a friend asked me to write a post about the G8, WTO, protests, etc ... Oh well, next time.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Turning the corner

So as everyone knows George Bush was re-elected last week. Some were surprised at how effectively the Republican party was able to get the vote out among the conservative Christian right. Putting gay marriage amendments on the ballot in several states certainly helps. Others are trying to be optimistic and are suggesting that Bush can be more progressive in the next 4 years since he doesn't have to worry about re-election (and maybe he can do something about Palestine-Israel, particularly if Palestinians get some elections with chairman Arafat no longer in control). I doubt this will happen, however, since I think Bush will use the strengthened control the Republicans have in Congress and the Senate to advance in regressive profiteering agenda.
A problem Bush will definitely have to face is the increasing violence in Iraq. US troops are poised outside of Fallujah for a major strike, thinking this will make a big blow against the insurgent forces in the country.
Furthermore, a new report has knocked the hell out of the old estimates of the civilian toll of the invasion. The numbers being stated before were between 10,000 and 15,000 Iraqi civilian deaths because of the US invasion. The scientific journal The Lancet has released a report putting conservative estimates of the civilian death toll at 100,000. The majority of those deaths are the result of violence from occupation forces or the bombing campaign. That number actually exceeds the estimated death toll in Darfur (currently between 70,000 and 80,000) which was called the worst humanitarian disaster in the world today.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Fun part 2

So bin Laden released another tape blaming Bush for how horrible the September 11, 2001 attacks turned out. He said he didn't believe the President would abandon 50,000 people in those burning buildings to read about goats to some school children. Makes me wonder, I saw that referenced was in Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 (though I'm sure it was mentioned elsewhere), so do terrorists watch American movies? Do they watch Michael Moore? That's pretty funny; that terrorists get information from a guy who, aside from his political demagoging, is the epitome of American decadence: obese, a little loud and obnoxious, appears disheveled, and wears a baseball cap.
The election today will finally end the tight race that has divided the US and many nations and people. Some strange endorsements came out, such as Iran's endorsement of Bush for reelection and there is some sense behind this. It's not the typical reverse psychology "the bad guys support Bush, so let's vote Kerry" reasoning either (that some Republicans have suggested as a way to dismiss the endorsement.
As I mentioned, both Bush and Kerry have similar goals in terms of international policy. Democrats and Republicans both run around the planet bombing into submission those countries that won't be coerced through other means (primarily economic). The difference is that Bush has done this and alienated the typical American allies. Furthermore, Bush's internal policy has and will continue to stall the US economy, if not put it into regression. More importantly, Bush's policies have turned virtually the entire world against the lone superpower state and have increased the threat of international terrorism. All of these actions may precipitate a decline in overall US dominance. With many nations banding together to take on America in the economic and social front, and the US forces being further and further stretched in military conflicts, the US economy may not hold out very well in the long run. This is not necessarily good for everyone, but it will certainly encourage and promote the rise of other future powers like China.
Finally, if Kerry is elected he'll serve as an apologist for US foreign policy. It will turn Bush in to a scapegoat for the violations that have perpetrated over the past 4 years. Yet, all factors indicate that he'll continue to perpetuate these crimes.
So, while it seems obvious to most people that Bush is, in general, worse for America, that is really the reason (I believe) that Iran has given him the endorsement.
Now while this makes total sense to me, as Canadian, precipitating the downfall of America doesn't really seem like a good idea. Furthermore, the other powers that rise likely wouldn't be much better than the US has been as ruling power on the planet. But then, since Kerry will have virtually the same policies... I'm not really sure it makes much difference which one wins.
Hey America, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind. America.
- Bart Simpson