Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Citizen vs. Subject

One of the reasons that gun controllers tend to wind up on the left is that they think that the masses should be subjects. They won't say it that way, but time and again, you'll see on the left an attitude that most problems should be handled by way of people ceding control to the government.

For example, when ordinary people can go to anyone they want for medical services, they can choose quacks or other incompetents. Thus, to protect people from quacks, the government should forbid anyone from practicing medicine until they get a license (permission) from the government.

The same principle may also apply to child care, electricians, taxi drivers, barbers, hairdressers, lawyers, plumbers, or any of as many as a hundred or more professions. Or it may be a matter of prior restraint because of the potential for endangering the public, as for truck drivers, pilots, and so forth.

And if somebody has any sort of trouble meeting basic needs, then it is incumbent upon the government to allocate resources to them. Examples include public housing, Women, Infants, and Children, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, and public schools, which have the additional benefit -- cited by the likes of John Dewey and John D. Rockefeller -- of giving the government the opportunity to mold young people like plastic.

This also applies to owning and carrying guns. The basic Leftist attitude towards gun ownership is that when ordinary people own guns, that causes problems, so they shouldn't.

Thomas Sowell would put it a bit differently, as far as the internal thinking on the Left tends to go. In his estimation, the left would tend to think that if they were in control, they could make everyone else into the sort of good people they know themselves to be. All they need to transform human nature is enough time and enough power. How much of each?

They'll let you know when they're done. Until then, the answer is "more."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Marketing the Escape from Software Captivity

Not having gained employment in health information technology, I've gone back to school for business administration. One of the required courses is an introduction to marketing. It is easily the most engaging class I have this semester.

What's one of the first things I got from it? Desktop Linux fails in no small part because of poor marketing and a complete lack of marketing management. To be fair, most of the things which make desktop Linux awesome, by which I mean community and freedom, prevent it from being marketed effectively as a desktop OS.

Linux is an IT pro's playground. If there's anything such a person wants to play with, Linux is just about the best place to go. In some ways, Linux is like Protestantism. Any time any portion of a community is unhappy with how things are going, he (or they) can split off to start another. In Linux, this is not automatically a bad thing. After all, unlike Jesus, Linus Torvalds never prayed that all in his Kingdom would be one. And it leads to all sorts of nifty innovations, like CrunchBang Linux (still one of my favorites), PCMan File Manager and Terminator terminal emulator (both originally one-man projects, and largely they still are). But it does prevent a unified or even coordinated message.

On the other hand, never have the disadvantages of captive software, and entrusting your computer and your information (like what software you install), to the likes of Microsoft's butterfingers been so evident. So what am I asking of the Linux community at large?

Tell people interested in keeping the control of their computers in their own hands to start with a mainstream starter distro with broad support and friendly forums (e.g., Linux Mint, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu, Mageia, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Korora, Zorin, Sabayon). Assure them that if there's something they really dislike, it can probably be changed. Ask them whether software should be stable and mature or up-to-the-minute. Ask them which version of Windows they liked best, and why. Ask them what applications they absolutely must have, and if the open source alternatives will meet their needs. And apply their answers to the distro you recommend to them -- if any. There are people for whom total escape is not worth the effort. (And yes, I am one of them. I run Win7 to play Need for Speed: World, League of Legends, and Warframe.) Let them keep it.

I am of the opinion that nearly anyone intent on escaping the control that Microsoft has over their computer, and regularly gives to the likes of the RIAA, the MPAA, and the NSA, would do well to use KDE as their desktop environment. This isn't a knock on Unity, GNOME Shell, XFCE, LXDE, or any other UI. It's an opinion, based on my assessment of KDE's usability, maturity, stability, and familiarity to people used to Windows XP and Aero. I would only point them at distros with interfaces that use the start menu, task bar, and desktop paradigm that Windows has used since 95. I think there is absolutely no point in talking with potential new users about Ratpoison (a GUI that does not use the mouse), Fluxbox, or whether GNOME Shell, Unity, Cinnamon, XFCE, or MATE will become the predominant GTK+ 3.x environment. Sure, they're out there, and useful, and interesting, but not to somebody who has only ever used Windows.

Nor does any good come from trying to indoctrinate them to hold your position with regards to vi vs. emacs vs. nano, init vs. SystemV vs. Upstart, or whatever other dispute or controversy you are absolutely sure has only one correct position.

A fair number of popular projects have elitist communities which are actively hostile to newcomers and people who aren't interested in learning a lot about their computers. And it's possible for new projects to spring up with little or no quality control, and/or promise a lot more than they deliver. Either experience will gravely hinder or derail anyone's Linux adoption. No matter how much you may love such a distro or project, don't suggest it to a newcomer.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why Big Government is the Big Threat

A recent poll suggests that around 3/4 of Americans think Big Government is a bigger threat to the American way of life than Big Business or Big Labor. And they're right, if no other reason than because the threats posed by Big Business and Big Labor depend on using Big Government as their heavy. Whenever possible, Big Business and Big Labor buy favors from Big Government. Without Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor have a much harder time with competition.

For example, Patricia Woertz (CEO of Archer Daniels Midland) could hire privateers to blockade or sink sugar freighters from Australia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, leading American soda bottlers to use ADM’s corn syrup as a replacement. Or, she could hire lobbyists to drop $10k-$50k into the campaign chests of a few legislators on the House and Senate agriculture committees, and have them set legal import quotas, which has the exact same result, is a lot cheaper, and a lot more politically palatable. The congresscritters also get the public appreciation of American sugar cane and sugar beet farmers, who get to charge four times the world market price for their crops. And almost nobody ever notices when production of hard candy, which absolutely requires sugar, goes to Canada or Mexico, because they don’t have sugar import quotas.

Big Labor could send legbreakers to threaten poor, low-skilled workers who ask only for low wages, and the businesses that hire them, to keep those low-wage workers from competing for their jobs. Instead, they buy increases in the minimum wage with campaign contributions to legislators on Labor and Commerce committees, which has the same result (explanation here). It's also popular with union membership because their contracts specify wages not as $X/hr, but $(Minimum Wage + Y)/hr. As a side benefit, they can (falsely) claim that they are helping the poor, who find their jobs being automated out of existence because, once minimum wages rise high enough, it’s clearly cheaper to automate, or get customers to do the work, than hire the poor.

Big Labor and Big Business could not do these things without Big Government. Big Government is a cudgel that any pressure group, on any point in the political spectrum, can use to either extort an entitlement out of others, or regulate their competition out of business. If you want to cut down on extortion and increase competition, you have to cut down the size and scope of government. If there is any organization or pressure group that concerns you, your first priority should be to reduce the size and scope of government, because unless they can use the government to reach their ends, they cannot impose their will on you, and so they are no real threat.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Further Proof That I'm a Nerd and a Geek

I put on another John Woo action film, 1993's Hard Target, starring Lance Hendriksen, Arnold Vosloo, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. This is Hendriksen's favorite movie, because Woo did not cut any of his character development scenes. Hendriksen runs a human hunting ring, and Vosloo is his number one heavy. Van Damme is a Cajun drifter helping Yancey Butler, whose father was one of Hendriksen's earlier trophies.

I laughed every bit as hard at this one as I did Mission: Impossible II. One of the set pieces demonstrates that Woo has been doing the absurd gun and motorcycle stunts that he put in M:I2 and made me laugh out loud and compare him to the Marx Brothers. It involved the hero standing on a motorcycle while shooting a pistol and driving straight at an SUV with a gunman returning fire, using a submachine gun, and leaping to vault over the SUV as it runs over the motorcycle. There's also a bunch of pigeons flying around at the climax, aparently another John Woo hallmark. The hero clearly has the Rambo Effect going for him (90% of shots fired at Short range or closer automatically miss), and he regularly pulls off all sorts of impossible shots himself. Woo's bullet squibs are impossibly pyrotechnical. Every single shot sends showers of magnesium sparks flying from the sets and props. Many of them send bits and pieces of the scenery flying around like rockets. As I said, absurdly funny.

So, have you ever had an inappropriate reaction to a movie? Would you like to tell me about it in the comments?