Peeking behind the curtain

I've been aware for some time now that my RSS reader/NewsBlur client appeared to reveal not only the text of blog posts, but also additions, corrections, and strikethroughs.

I'm not sure how this happens. It doesn't show for all feeds, so I can only assume that it depends on which software was used to write the post. It's pretty egalitarian, affecting well-known journalists like Andy Ihnatko as well as ordinary folk.

I have no grand conclusions to draw from this, but it's interesting to get a peek behind the curtain and see how the sausage is made.

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Random thoughts on the Greek crisis

Some random thoughts on the story so far:

  • As far as I can tell, whatever the failures of the Greek government are, the euro itself is at the root of this crisis. The notion of a single supranational currency among nations with no common economic policy is destined to end in tears, I'm afraid.

  • That being said, it looks to me like the best long-term hope for Greece is to reintroduce the drachma and tell the ECB to go to hell.

  • The price of that may be exit from the EU as well. If that's the case, they're probably better off swallowing that bitter pill now instead of later.

  • If the Germans are so damned set on the Greeks repaying everything, they're welcome to come to Washington so we can discuss resumption of German payments on their outstanding World War I and World War II debt, which runs into the billions, which we so generously forgave. Maybe they could apply it to the outstanding Greek debt. We won't ask them to repay the Marshall Plan aid—yet.

  • It does look a great deal like the powers-that-be are trying to force a regime change to something friendlier to the global banks. May they not get their wish. Ever.

  • Let's hope the Greek coalition holds together so that internal divisions can't be exploited by outsiders.

  • After making comments over the weekend that could be viewed as encouraging a No vote in the referendum, the IMF has now told Greece, "Sorry, no more money for you!" May they rot in a very warm place.

  • It would be interesting (in the sense of "May you live in interesting times") if the Greek government were to come to an understanding with their fellow nominally Orthodox brethren, the Russians, on some kind of economic assistance. Putin would love access to a warm-water port west of the Bosporus, and would also love the opportunity to give the West a black eye.

More thoughts to come as the situation develops.

Viva il papa!

I heard a piece on All Things Considered this afternoon as I was driving home, talking about the Pope's latest encyclical, and how some people are upset that the Holy Father is inserting himself into "the political debate over climate change." Oh, dear.

First of all, it isn't a political debate. A political debate is whether to increase tuition at state universities. A political debate is whether to approve an omnibus spending bill that will conveniently build a dam in the House Majority Leader's home district. A political debate is whether we should station troops in Ukraine.

Climate change is a scientific debate, and it's over. There are no reputable scientists who dispute it.

Besides, the Pope isn't just a religious leader. He's also a political leader, the absolute monarch of the State of Vatican City. Outside the Vatican walls, European Union and Italian law may rule, but within, he could throw you in jail for the rest of your life without so much as a trial. And I'm sure he's sometimes tempted.

All of which gives him just as much right to weigh in on political affairs as, say, Angela Merkel. But as I said, this isn't political.

What's interesting to me is that the Pope, as the leader of the world's biggest church, frames it in moral terms. It's rather obvious, when you think about it; if this is God's creation, we should care for it, and ensure that those less fortunate than ourselves, as well as our own descendants, will have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and food to eat that has been grown in uncontaminated soil. Such things should not be the exclusive province of the wealthy and powerful.

And that, more than anything, is probably at the root of the opposition to His Holiness. This is a Pope who decries the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism and who declined to occupy the papal apartments, preferring a simple room in a dormitory. He shames the rich, as is appropriate; Jesus Himself said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. This is a man who probably deserves to wear those white vestments more than any of his recent predecessors.

I'm not a Catholic, but I like this Pope. Viva il papa!

Uncomfortable things that need to be said

Random thoughts precipitated by last night's events:

First off, the obvious: the murder of nine people in the AME church in Charleston, S.C. was an act of terrorism, committed by someone presumably Christian, who espoused extreme right-wing ideology. He is a terrorist.

If you believe that a guy who was photographed wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, and who had a car with a front plate that said "Confederate States of America," shot and killed nine people because they were Christians and not because they were black, as South Carolina's Senator Lindsey Graham does, you're either completely delusional, an utter moron, or a disingenuous jerk.Just in case that wasn't clear enough: This was a hate crime, a terrorist act, committed against African-Americans because they were African-American, and it took place in a state that still flies the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol.Speaking of which, if your "heritage" requires that you continue to honor the flag of a nation that illegally attempted to secede from the United States in order to preserve human slavery (and that's what it was—"states' rights" was a convenient fiction dreamed up to defend the indefensible), you should probably dig deeper into your ancestry to find something less completely offensive to common decency and simple human compassion. Sometimes, our ancestors were assholes.

That flag, by the way, should be torn down wherever it flies and relegated to the museums where it belongs.

If you think that this could have been prevented by even looser gun laws, you're batshit insane.

The leadership of the National Rifle Association is morally culpable in every act of gun violence that is perpetrated on American soil.

While we're at it, the United States is way overdue to take a second look at the Second Amendment. No other major industrialized first-world nation has anything like the level of gun violence that takes place here in the Land of the Allegedly Free.

And most of that violence is carried out by right-wing American extremists, not by Muslims.

None of those attacks by right-wing extremists were prevented by government surveillance of our phone calls and emails, either. Odd, that.

And until we come to grips with all of the above, the president will continue to make sorrowful statements about the grievous loss of innocent lives, the pundits will bluster and bloviate, the politicans will dither and make pious statements about the sanctity of life and how unfortunate it is that nothing can really be done, and the list of victims will continue to grow until it is a stain on our nation that can no longer be ignored. And the rest of the world will know us for the incompetent and complacent fools that we are.

Circling the wagons

Someone I follow on Twitter pointed me towards an article by Rod Dreher. In it, he basically argues that the war against same-sex marriage has been lost, and that it's a waste of time fighting it. He also suggests something he calls the "Benedict option," which is essentially forming intentional communities separate from the world in which his preferred form of traditional Christianity can be practiced.

There's a lot to deal with there, but I'll say this: I agree with him on the first two points, but he's lost me with the Benedict option.

Yes, society is changing, and the ultimate acceptance of SSM is inevitable. You can see it happening now, and you can see it in the increasing "don't care" attitude of the upcoming generation. Give it fifty years, and people who oppose it are going to look a lot like people who oppose interracial marriage today. There's no going back. Sorry, but there isn't.

Rod's solution is to retreat from the world into isolated communities—essentially circling the wagons, writ large. He undoubtedly sees it as a form of lay monasticism (hence the Benedict reference), but as someone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, it makes me think of slightly less benevolent experiments in community life. Think Jonestown. Think Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

I'm not suggesting that he's planning to lead people to their deaths, or that vast fleets of Rolls-Royces will be amassed, but I am suggesting that communities which operate in isolation (or apart from) from the outside world introduce a dangerous and unhealthy dynamic, one of thinking in terms of us vs. them. For monasticism to work, you have to have an abbot or abbess who holds unquestioned authority over every aspect of the lives of the monastics they supervise. That's been proven time and time again throughout the history, and even then, problems have arisen. It's hard to imagine laypeople ceding that kind of authority to a central leader—nor should they.

Of course, someone is going to try it anyway—religious fanatics always do—and it will play out in a yet-to-be-determined fashion. That's their right.

There's a larger problem here, though, and it's one that's way overdue for an honest discussion.

That problem is the traditional teachings of the Church.

Nobody is arguing that Christianity has never taught that homosexuality is wrong. Nobody is arguing that same-sex marriage has ever been accepted. Nobody is arguing the fact that the Bible says some fairly categorical things about homosexuality and homosexual behavior.

What I'm going to argue, though, is that even for those of us who belong to traditional churches, it's time to take the blinders off. The best scholarship tells us that while it's fairly certain that Jesus existed, the four gospels were not written by the men whose names they bear, and they were written well after the events they claim to portray. In order to believe otherwise, you're required to "take it on faith," which is really just another way of saying "turn off your brain and accept this because we've believed it for centuries." And even then, assuming you accept that, you have to contend with the fact that the Bible we have today was compiled centuries after the life of Christ.

So if you're going to claim that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, well, Lucy, you've got some esplaining to do.

Prohibitions on homosexuality, of course, come from the Old Testament, and Christians are fairly selective when it comes to which parts of Old Testament law they want to uphold. I won't bore you with details, but suffice it to say that most Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox don't worry too much about keeping kosher and mixing linen and cotton and wool.

But even if you want to discount all that, you've got another problem, and that's science.

I don't know about you, but I believe in science. It's provable. It's given us immunization and modern dentistry and space travel and the Xbox. It's a good thing.

And what science tells us lately is that people are born homosexual. It's not a disease, it's not a sickness, it's not a choice. It's brain chemistry and more. It's an innate part of people, and it can't be changed. So, right there, you have a problem.

If your God is a God who creates people a certain way and then condemns them for it, you can keep Him/Her/It. As a fairly wise Persian man once said, science without religion leads to materialism, but religion without science leads to superstition, and that kind of religion is something we're better off without.

Airlines and competition

The Economist says that what the airline industry needs is more competition.In the last thirty years after airline deregulation in the United States, we've seen the demise, acquisition or merger of TWA, Braniff, PSA, Western Airlines, Continental, Eastern, Northwest, Pan Am, Piedmont, and more, and by the end of this year, we'll lose US Airways as well. If there's any more competition, we'll end up with one airline, which will be the end of all competition.

Airline deregulation was a mistake.

My mobile device State of the Union

Monday was day 1 of Apple's WWDC, and I find myself thinking about mobile devices again.Ladies and gentlemen, the State of the Union for mobile is a veritable minefield of less-than-optimal choices. Let's look at the major players.

Windows Phone/Mobile

I've been a reasonably satisfied user of the mostly ignored Windows Phone operating system for a couple of years now, but I've been thinking that I'll probably switch to either iPhone or Android when my current phone (a Nokia Lumia 1520) is paid off, based on Microsoft's apparent total disinterest in serving the high end of the market, and the diminishing number of apps available for Windows Phone. Let me be clear—I like the OS, but I'm starting to feel the pinch of apps that either don't get updated or are pulled from the Marketplace. Microsoft's answer is to make it possible to run Android and iOS apps on Windows Phone, which unfortunately eliminates any incentive that might exist for building native Windows Phone apps.

Then there's the decidedly iffy build quality of my Lumia 1520, a device which was supposed to be the flagship of the line. I expected more. I don't expect miracles, but when I'm getting bright spots on my screen just a few months after purchase, there's a problem.

Then there's the fact that Windows Phone as we know it is on the way out. Come this fall, the unification of the phone OS with Windows 10 means that we're looking at a somewhat uncertain future. It could be great. It could be a disaster. Either way, it'll be different. And as for tablets, Microsoft's insistence that 8-inch tablets will receive the full, desktop-oriented version of Windows 10 makes NO F*****G SENSE AT ALL. Dear Satya: That ain't what I want on my 8-inch Asus tablet.

The main argument for staying with Windows Phone is that I like and use Microsoft services, and they're well-integrated into the Windows Phone OS. But Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, has made those services also available through well-designed apps on iOS and Android, so that pretty much wipes out that advantage.

So I'm looking at Android and iPhone, and the jury is still out on which way I'll go.

Android

Android is famously "open," but that doesn't mean much to the average user. If you want stock Android, there's exactly one choice: the Nexus 6\. Take it or leave it.Every other Android phone on the market will have additional OEM cruft added to the OS: UI overlays, non-removable apps, etc. Sure, you can root the device and flash a new Cyanogen ROM, but that's way more geekiness than I want to get involved with on a device I rely on every day. Plus, why should I have to do that, anyway? Then there's the matter of updates being controlled by the OEM and the wireless provider. I've been bitten by that before, with my first smartphone, the Droid X; I don't want to be in that situation again.

The upside to Android, as with Windows Phone, is choice and price. There are a lot of devices out there, many of them quite affordable. You can get an unlocked device for less than $200 in many cases, which is a fantastic deal. And if you're willing to take a shot at a new OEM with uncertain support, you can get the OnePlus One, which is a flagship device, runs the Cyanogen variant and is available for only $299 unlocked for the 64 GB version. Sadly, the Nexus 6 is not the screaming deal that the Nexus 5 was (or the OnePlus One is), and it will set you back about as much as a comparable iPhone.

iPhone

As for the iPhone, it's still the gold standard for many people, for obvious reasons. The build quality tends to be superb, and iOS has the most apps available. If you have a problem, the solution is as close as the Genius Bar of your nearest Apple Store. Updates come straight from Apple with no carrier interference, and the customer service experience for your device is as good as it gets, especially if you pop for AppleCare. There's also a wide variety of cases and accessories available for whichever iPhone you buy. Bottom line: It's the Toyota Camry of smartphones (or, given the price tag, maybe the Lexus ES300).

The trade-off for these advantages is threefold:

  1. First, you'll do things Apple's way, or you won't do them at all (and I don't particularly _like_ doing things Apple's way). While the iPhone is a bit more open than previously—you can finally replace the godawful iPhone keyboard with a third-party option—it's still very locked down compared to the competition.
  2. Second, most all of the Apple apps will lock you into their walled garden—iMessages, Pages, etc. It's like a pitcher plant—easy to get into, but hard to get out of. And from comments I'm seeing online from dedicated Apple fans, Apple's software quality ain't what it used to be, plus their UI design is stagnant—the upcoming iOS 9 isn't all that different from the first iPhone OS (which they claimed was OS X—remember?), except for being flatter. And don't even get me started on the mess that is iCloud. Or Apple Maps. Fortunately, as stated previously, you can use Microsoft apps (or Google apps) instead.
  3. Third, you'll pay the famous Apple Tax. Want a 64 GB iPhone 6 Plus with a case and Apple Care? That'll be about $1000, please. You can get three OnePlus Ones for that.

(Before anyone gets started, yes, that's the price of the unlocked SIM-free version. Yes, if you're American or Canadian, they have payment plans and contract prices with carriers. Do the math, and once you factor in the hidden costs, you eventually end up paying about the same either way over a 2-year period.)

Conclusion

So there you have it. Windows Phone was a breath of fresh air, but it's gone nowhere fast and faces an uncertain future. Android has many things to like, but Google has never been able to prevent the OEMs from screwing it up. And Apple makes great devices, but they seem to be a bit sloppier with their software quality than they used to be, and it's not like they're innovating with their UI any more, either. And God knows their web services are a mess.

So where will I end up?

Good question. Not Windows Phone, probably—the cost/benefit ratio doesn't make sense to me anymore. Sad, but that's reality. Windows 10 will also mark the third time in the past ten years that Microsoft has introduced a completely new and incompatible operating system (Windows Mobile > Windows Phone 7 > Windows Phone 8 > Windows 10 Mobile). I'm not sure I trust that Microsoft is really committed in this segment, for obvious reasons.

Android? Maybe. I like Android. My first smartphone was Android. I understand Android. I just hate the broken upgrade process and the stupid, annoying OEM crapware that almost all Android phones have. But when the time comes, if my budget dictates that price is an overwhelming consideration, I'll reluctantly make my peace with that.

iPhone? Probably. It's not my favorite operating system, and it's not my favorite price tag. But when you get down to it, Apple has won the mobile race.

I look at it this way: I'm a fan of sports cars, but I drive a four-door sedan with an automatic because it makes the most sense for my daily driving. I used to use a radar detector, but I gave up when I realized the war was over and the other side won. I spent most of my college years using OpenOffice, but Microsoft Office is the gold standard for business and it's what most everyone uses, so I use it now too, because I'm tired of the effort it takes to use something else.

You gotta know when you're beaten, and you gotta know when to move on. I've liked Windows Phone, but the rest of the world doesn't care, and apparently neither does Microsoft. I've liked Android in the past, but every time I pick up the Samsung tablet at work, the garish UI overlay drives me nuts, and I still don't trust Google. That leaves Apple, who arguably invented the modern smartphone as we know it today, and who have consistently dominated the market. They deserve kudos for that.

I'm still not buying an Apple Watch, though.

Truth

I was reminded today of something I once wrote in another place, no longer online, several years ago on the subject of using, or trying to use, Linux. To this day, I believe it may be the truest thing I ever wrote.

It's kind of like driving an Alfa Romeo with twin carburetors: you can tinker with it to your heart's content, it makes you feel good and look cool, and you have the satisfaction of knowing you've gone your own way, but you better know how to get under the hood and fix it, because it's likely to give you the opportunity to do so at the most inopportune moments. Sometimes, you just want to get to work, and at those times you'll be a whole lot happier in a Nissan 350Z, particularly if it's 34 degrees F and it's raining and you're running late. God bless the man who invented fuel injection.

Fantasy garage

For some time now, I've been compiling a list of the cars I'd want to own if I ever became wealthy—really, really wealthy, Bill Gates-style wealthy. The result looks a lot like something Jay Leno would come up with. Yes, it's ridiculously long, but what is a fantasy garage for if not to be ridiculous?

There's no common thread, really, except that they're all cars that evoke a memory, represent a time and place, or that I just plain like. There's everything here from capitalist Rolls-Royces to the fruits of the Soviet auto industry.

Anyway, here's the list as of today:

  • Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale
  • Alpine A110
  • Amphicar
  • Auto Union 1000S
  • AZLK Moskvich 408
  • Barkas B1000
  • BMW Isetta 600
  • BMW 700 Coupe
  • Citroën CX
  • Citroën DS21 sedan
  • Citroën DS21 Decapotable (Henri Chapron)
  • Citroën Dyane
  • Citroën GS Berline
  • Citroën 2CV
  • Citroën Ami 6 Break
  • Citroën SM
  • DAF Daffodil
  • Datsun SPL311
  • DKW 3=6
  • Facel Vega Facellia
  • Fiat 600 Jolly
  • Fiat 850 Spider
  • Ford Falcon Sprint convertible (North America, 1963 1/2)
  • Ford Frontenac
  • Ford Galaxie 500 Spring Special (1966)
  • Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster (1962)
  • GAZ M21 Volga
  • GAZ-24 Volga
  • GAZ-13 Chaika
  • Glas GT
  • Hillman Imp
  • Hindustan Ambassador
  • Holden 48-215
  • Honda S600 Convertible
  • Hongqi CA770
  • IFA F9
  • IKA Torino
  • Jaguar Mark II
  • Lamborghini 350GT
  • Lancia Fulvia Zagato
  • Lincoln Continental Mark II
  • Maserati Mistral coupé
  • Matra-Simca Bagheera
  • Mazda Cosmo (1st generation)
  • Mazda RX-7 (Series 1)
  • Messerschmitt KR200
  • MG 1100
  • Morgan 3-wheeler
  • Morgan 4/4
  • Nissan PAO
  • NSU Ro80
  • NSU Spider
  • Oldsmobile Toronado (1966)
  • Panhard 24
  • Peugeot 504 wagon
  • Plymouth Fury III wagon (1967)
  • Renault 4CV
  • Renault 4
  • Renault 5
  • Renault 12
  • Renault 16
  • Renault Avantime
  • Renault Fuego
  • Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III
  • Rover P5 "Coupe"
  • Saab 96 V-4
  • Saab 99EMS
  • Saab 900 Turbo
  • Saab Sonett
  • Saab Sonett III
  • Sachsenring P240
  • Skoda 1000MBX coupe
  • Skoda 110R
  • Skoda 120GLS
  • Steyr-Puch 500
  • Studebaker Avanti
  • Studebaker Starliner coupe
  • Tatra 603
  • Toyota 2000GT
  • Toyota Century (1st generation)
  • Toyota FJ40
  • Trabant 601
  • Volkswagen 1200 "Beetle"
  • Volkswagen Type 3 Karmann-Ghia
  • Volvo PV544
  • Wartburg 311
  • Wartburg 353
  • Willys Interlagos
  • ZAZ 965A "Zaporozhets"
  • ZIL-114
  • ZIS-110

Last edited 2015-08-21

Grava anonco

Mi studas Esperanton denove. Vi estis avertita. :-)