Sunday, August 31, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain and Palin

I'm not voting for him, I really do like McCain. Although I don't know much about Palin (besides a cursory overview), I like the spirit behind the choice. She's fiscally conservative, but apparently doesn't always toe the line of the GOP base. She can give us a better perspective about our energy resources in Alaska, and she is a new face that challenges the Democratic Party's characterization of McCain as the same-old,same-old. Regardless of who wins, this is going to be a historic election.

One other thing: if you haven't seen this ad by McCain, its worth seeing:

Virtualizing Ubuntu Intrepid In VirtualBox

If you've trying this on any of the alpha releases of Intrepid, you've probably gotten a kernel panic while its trying to boot up. If you've had this trouble, then apparently there is good news on the horizon. According to the main bug reporting page, a fix has been recently committed. I'll test it out in the next couple of days and post any instructions or tips on getting it to work. Check back!

The Democratic Strategy of Linking McCain to Bush

I understand why they are trying to tightly link McCain to Bush - Bush is unpopular now and the closer you can tie the two the more likely voters will feel uncomfortable with McCain. The only problem is - of all Republican senators - McCain has been one of the most visible and staunch critics of Bush during his presidency. While most other Republicans either fell in line or else criticized Bush for not being conservative enough, McCain was constantly in the news for opposing Bush policies. Boortz (who's very amusing, though I very rarely agree with his opinions) has a good list of issues where Bush and McCain did not agree:
  • McCain fought for campaign finance reform — McCain-Feingold — that Bush resisted and ultimately signed because he had no choice.
  • McCain led the battle to restrict interrogation techniques of terror suspects and to ban torture.
  • McCain went with Joe Lieberman on a tough measure to curb climate change, something Bush denies is going on.
  • McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts when they passed.
  • McCain urged the Iraq surge, a posture Bush rejected for years before conceding its wisdom.
  • McCain favors FDA regulation of tobacco and sponsored legislation to that effect, a position all but a handful of Republican senators oppose.
  • McCain's energy bill, also with Lieberman, is a virtual blueprint for energy independence and development of alternate sources.
  • After the Enron scandal, McCain introduced sweeping reforms in corporate governance and legislation to guarantee pensions and prohibit golden parachutes for executives. Bush opposed McCain's changes and the watered-down Sarbanes-Oxley bill eventuated.
  • McCain has been harshly critical of congressional overspending, particularly of budgetary earmarks, a position Bush only lately adopted (after the Democrats took over Congress).
In other words, this democratic bundling strategy caries little weight with me, as I think it should with anyone who has been politically informed over the years. Of course, they should use the political climate to their advantage, but I don't think it should be their only strategy. They should also use an entirely different strategy, one that is not entirely dependent upon people's present discontent. The strategy I have in mind would be to ask how they would sell their case if President Bush were not nearly as unpopular. They should be trying to showcase the intrinsic value of their view over that of their opponents (without negating the valid concerns of their opponents). This way they wouldn't have to rely on the populace's ignorance of the differences between Bush and McCain or merely on their present contingent discontent.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Black Liberation Theology - An Audio Primer

A really nice interview with Rev. James Cone, who wrote the seminal work on black liberation theology, can be found here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Georgia - Believe it or not, on of the most politically active states in the Union

Often the South, esp. the "Deep South", gets characterizes as resistant to new ideas. And sure, this is not totally wrong. But I think it is misleading. In fact, when it comes to politics, the big cities of the South (I'm not so much speaking of the rural areas) are some of the most vibrant and politically active places in the country. This fact gets less visibility because the activism isn't so much about pushing the envelope (as is, for example, California), but it is more about coming to terms with the past and dealing with society that is constantly changing. In opposition to the Midwest (where I've been living for the past couple of years), it seem to me that people in the South are more willing to state their views openly to each other, even if they don't agree. Sometimes the sparks fly, but at least there is a continued discussion.

Notice that my home state of Georgia is a prime example of the sort of political activism I'm talking about. The fact is that the 2008 presidential candidates of two non-mainstream but important political parties are from Georgia.
  • Bob Bar: Formerly a Republican representative of Georgia's 7th congressional district, he became a libertarian and is now the 2008 presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party
  • Cynthia McKinney: Formerly a democrat representing Georgia's 4th district, she is now the 2008 presidential candidate for the Green Party
In recent memory, Georgia has been home to two of the most important political figures. I'm referring, of course, to Jimmy Carter and Newt Gingrich. Two other figures of note are Zell Miller, who as you may remember came out in support of G.W. against John Kerry in 2004 (and delivered a raucus speach at the RNC), and Sam Nunn, who has been floated as a potential VP for Obama.

Obama on Compromise

Emily - She's not real

Meet Emily - Amazing Lifelike Animation
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Monday, August 18, 2008

Abortion and Thoughtfulness

In Rick Warren's excellent interview with Obama there was only one part I found disturbing: Obama's response to the abortion question. His response reflected a lack of thoughtfullness, which struck me as odd - because I definitely think Obama is generally more thoughtful than McCain. In response to Warren's question: "At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?", Obama answered:
Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is, you know, above my pay grade.
Given the context, this was not a good answer. It was very bad. It was somewhat flippant, elusive, and inappropriately incorporating humor at a moment requiring upmost seriousness. What he says afterwords I can whole-heartedly agree with, but it does not answer the question:
But let me speak more generally about the issue of abortion. Because this is something, obviously, the country wrestles with. One thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue. And So I think that anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue is not paying attention.
I'm not saying that McCain's knee-jerk response, "At the moment of conception" was anymore thoughtful, but at least he answered the question. Obama's response, on the other hand, tells us he doesn't have an answer. But given Obama's admission of the moral gravity of the abortion issue, he should be able to say something more enlightening. Maybe there is no scholarly consensus, but he has cast his lots with those who argue for the permissibility of abortion under certain circumstances, and therefore he needs a principled reason for doing so.

The question that was posed does strike at the heart of the main argument against the moral permissibility of abortion and so he's got to contend with it. I'm not saying that there aren't other considerations to take into account and I'm not saying his response needs to be soundbite-able, but it needs to be considered. Now, no doubt those who oppose abortion often rely on simplistic, scientifically unprovable, or thoughtless assumptions which should not go unchallenged. What reason do they offer for attributing full human rights at the moment of conception? As Andrew Sullivan recently pointed out, the Vatican itself hedges on the issue. According to Ratzinger:
"The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature [as to the time of ensoulment], but it constantly affirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion."
But then again, if we cannot pinpoint a time in which a fetus, infant, or whatever, should gain human rights, then at least someone could argue that federal laws should err on the side of caution.

I just starting reading Jeff McMahan's beefy book "The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life". In the Preface he writes:
...although I defend the permissibility of abortion...., I do not believe the debate should end until we have the kind of intellectual and moral certainty about abortion that we have about slavery. It is important to notice that the ostensible victims of abortion--fetuses--are not parties to the debate, while of those who are involved in it, the only ones who have a significant personal interest or stake in the outcome are those who would benefit from the practice. There is therefore a danger that abortion could triumph in the political arena simply because it is favored by self-interest and opposed only by ideals. We should therefore be wary of the possibility of abortion becoming an unreflective practice, like meat eating, simply because it serves the interests of those who have the power to determine whether it is practiced.
Very well said.
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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Problem Viewing Daily Show Videos on Ubuntu Hardy

For about a week now I haven't been able to view videos on The Daily Show in Ubuntu. Has anyone else experienced this problem lately? Rather than wait to see if it gets sorted out, I decided to go ahead and file a bug report. You can track its progress there.

Edit: I've uploaded a temporary workaround Greasemonkey script here. This script allows Linux users to view The Daily Show videos that are found on a subdomain of The Daily Show website:

(Notice that it doesn't work on The Daily Show front page.)

This is something I hacked together without knowing a great deal about Javascript, so there is tons of room for improvement. There also may be bugs. Please post in the comments any patches, fixes, or enhancements.

Hope this helps some of you get your daily dose of John Stewart!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

First Glimpse of Google's Android

How to play videos from in Ubuntu [tutorial]

For the past few days I've been really pissed that I couldn't access videos on nbcolympics on my Ubuntu box. I'd have to proxy out of the country to watch them on the BBC (but proxy servers are notoriously unreliable and it was definitely a pain). Recently I discovered a very nice way to watch the videos from on my Ubuntu box. I cannot take credit for any of this at all - rather we should all thank k_i_k on the Ubuntu forums.

In this post I'll tell you how to set things up.

Install (if you haven't already): w32codecs, totem-xine (or your preferred media player. Note: vlc doesn't seem to play sound), python-libxml2, python-lxml, python-xml

The quick way to do this is with this command:

sudo apt-get install w32codecs totem-xine python-libxml2 python-lxml python-xml

Once everything is installed, download this python script - it does all the magic.

chmod 755

Then, as instructed here, browse, find the video you want to watch, and click the link of the video you want to watch. A pop-up window will show up telling you that you that your platform is not supported (bastards). Copy the assetid portion of the URL on the failure screen (after the '=' and before the '&') and enter the following command:

./ the-assetid-you-copied

Once you do this, totem-xine will launch and start playing the video you selected!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Complete Offline Wikipedia

I'm an information whore - I want to be able to access huge amounts of data either when I'm online or when I'm offline. So getting a copy of the whole Wikipedia has been a pet project of mine for a while. I've searched the web and here is what I've found (Note - I don't have an ipod or an iphone, so even though there are options for getting a version of wikipedia on these, they wouldn't do me any good):
  • Tomeraider - This was my first discovery of a nice offline build of Wikipedia. Unfortunately it is not free, so unless you don't mind forking over the dough (about $30 last time I checked) I would look elsewhere (also doesn't work on linux).
  • Moulin - For about a year now I've been keeping my eye on this project which looks very promising. The main problem, though, is that it doesn't offer an English version of Wikipedia yet - though your in luck if you read Arabic!
  • Build your own on Linux - Recently I made the full switch to Linux (and I haven't looked back). By following this tutorial you can have a nicely formatted offline edition of Wikipedia. It does require a bit of computer knowledge though.
  • Wikitaxi - This is a recent discovery, and the best I've found so far! You download both this program an a shiny new copy of a Wikipedia dump, and in a couple of steps you will have a fantastic offline copy of Wikipedia. And good news: It works on both Windows and Linux (using wine). My only complaint is that it is not an open source project, but still, this is a great piece of software. Here is a screenshot:

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When Ubuntu Intrepid finally comes out

It will be time for me to reinstall everything from scratch. My system, although not unstable, still feels plagued by problems that accompanying the Hardy release. I got to agree with lots of the points made in Hardy is a hard time. In my experience: Flash still crashes Firefox too much, some applications are still not compatible with PulseAudio, Rhythmbox can't handle the size of my music collection, the Tracker Search Tool supposedly finds matches but doesn't display them, etc., etc.

I don't know how many of these problems will be fixed in the next release, but hopefully it will feel more stable (ironiclly, given that Hardy is a LTR). What I'm not looking forward to, though, is re-figuring the configuration I have become accustomed with. This post is a future reminder for me of how I want things set up:

Applications to Install:

  • Unison
  • Chm Viewer
  • GFCE NES emulator
  • mupen64plus
  • PCSX
  • Deluge
  • Google Earth
  • Filezilla
  • Grism
  • Bibus
  • Geany
  • Quanta Plus
  • Squeak
Sound and Video
  • Amarok
  • Songbird
  • DeVeDe
  • EasyTAG
  • k9copy
  • Picard
  • VLC
  • LiVES (maybe)
System Tools
  • Gmount-iso
  • Virtualbox
  • Wine
  • Advanced Desktop Effects Settings
  • BootUp Manager
  • Tor
  • albumart
  • TrueCrypt

Firefox Extensions:

(Hopefully by this time FEBE will be ready and I'll be able to use it to backup my addons with it):
  • CookieSafe
  • CustomizeGoogle
  • DownloadHelper
  • DownThemAll!
  • Firebug
  • FireGPG
  • Forecastbar Enhanced
  • Foxmarks
  • Gmail Space
  • Greasemonkey
  • hideBad
  • HttpFox
  • Launchy
  • NoScript
  • Password Exporter
  • TinEye
  • Torbutton
  • User Agent Switcher
Things to Back Up:

[come back to this]

Monday, August 04, 2008

Virtualbox 1.6.4 "Shared Folders" does not work with XP guest

Others have been having this problem as well. To solve it - download VBoxGuestAdditons 1.6.0 from here. Uninstall the 1.6.4 (or the 1.6.2, which also seems to cause problems) version of guest additions and install this older one. Reboot. Hopefully this problem will be fixed soon.