Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Donald Trump: Merchant of Outrage

I don't know whether to feel contempt or pity for those who continue not only to support Donald Trump in his bid for the GOP nomination, but to feel even more emboldened every time he ups the ante on offensiveness.

How devoid of passion must someone be to find salvation in Trump and the increasingly bombastic nature of his rhetoric? I've heard it said by his fans that "he says out loud what everyone else is thinking." If those are the thoughts that everyone is keeping to themselves, then God help us one and all.

In The Donald we are seeing a thorough composite of every cynical lesson that electoral politics has ever had to offer, with little if any pretense of trying to inspire anyone with positive change. Rather, we have a Frankenstein haphazardly lashed together with the rancid body parts of every worst instinct known to (political) man.

What sort of individual would consider Trump their savior? Is there really nothing more to one's sense of civic duty than simply supporting whoever mirrors their own xenophobic bitterness? In Trump do they see someone who will break the seal on a heretofore suppressed desire to eradicate any lingering progressive instinct in America's institutions?

Particularly when reading the comments sections of various right wing news sites, which after all is where you'll find the id of the American right laid bare, it becomes apparent that Trump's momentum is being propelled by a bottomless well of punitive-minded anger, and that Trump is providing a release valve for that negative energy.

In a previous post ("Trump support: angry populism as therapeutic entertainment?"), I concluded:

What Trump is tapping into is a simple desire for a culture war (against Mexicans, liberals, gays, etc.), as opposed to any notion of improving the economy, the overall quality of life, and the institution of democracy itself.

Not much has changed from that July 5 writing, except that my views on Trump (and right wing populism in general) have hardened and coalesced around a single word:


I came to this conclusion recently while tuning in to 'conservative' talk radio programs, where it seems that the hosts are never trying to actually enlighten or inform, but instead just find things in current events that will stoke the anger of their listeners - as long as that anger is never directed towards conservative politicians.

One morning it hit me: these people are selling nothing more than outrage. Furthermore, I realized that the people who tune into this stuff day in and day out must be looking for little more than to be outraged themselves. Why? Is it because stoked anger is a replacement for spiritual energy, and that a little shot of outrage is needed to get them through the day? After all, who doesn't feel centered until they've popped a vein in their head by mid-morning?

And so it is also through that lens that I have come to view Donald Trump and his unflappable army of supporters. He is a merchant of outrage, and they are nothing more than willing outrage consumers. It is a two-way deal with an unspoken and unwritten understanding, and so far each are delivering on the other's expectations.

That is the only way to explain the longevity of Trump's support despite his infantile rants and slurs, as well as the futility of trying to engage his supporters in any sort of rational debate about his qualifications for the job at hand.

As for things that remain unchanged since my July 5 post, I still don't think Trump has broad enough appeal to win any presidential race (assuming his campaign thus far hasn't been a kind of stealth prank on behalf of the Democrats).

Up here in Canada we've just finished witnessing our incumbent Conservative government increasingly ratchet up the bigotry over the course of the recent federal election, only to find that pandering to the most hardened rightward crust of their base did not pay enough dividends once the ballots were counted. And so by assuming the worst in Canadian voters, Harper inadvertently handed Justin Trudeau the keys to the Prime Minister's Office. (In fairness, Trudeau consistently campaigned on positive change, and so intentionally or not, he was able to exercise a kind of judo by using Harper's own political weight against him.)

Of course, the GOP establishment probably understands this paradigm with or without the Canadian example to draw from, and therefore sees a Trump victory in the primaries for the political trainwreck it is sure to be.

Monday, December 7, 2015

More guns or fewer guns for a safer America? Don't bet on either.

There has been much talk of arming more people with guns to avoid a repeat of the recent shootings in San Bernardino.

In one case, Ulster County, NY Sheriff Paul J. Van Blarcum is advising licensed gun owners in his community to "pack heat" to overcome the Islamic scourge when it inevitably begins opening fire in the all-too-near-and-terrifying future.

Similarly, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. (yes, son of that Jerry Falwell Sr.), amazingly advised students to 'carry guns' and 'end those Muslims' to much cheering and applause at a recent convocation ceremony. (He later backpedalled, saying he only meant the extremist Muslims. Of course!)

The above are but two very recent examples, but they are in communion with the overall gun nut myth that the more guns are in a community, the safer its residents will be. This argument is used to shoot down the central article of faith of the gun control lobby (pun intended), which is that fewer guns in a community will make its residents safer.

As religions go, both sides of the issue have a blind faith in the gun, in and of itself, either as the root of all evil (the gun control lobby) or as that which will deliver us from it (the anti-gun control lobby). Perhaps it is in reducing a complicated issue (violent crime) to the mere presence or absence of guns where both sides are misguided.

These recent comments by the sheriff and the university president had me reading up on gun violence in the United States, and in doing so I came across some U.S. Census Bureau statistics in a Wikipedia article.

To satisfy my own curiosity, I copied and pasted the figures into a spreadsheet, applied some data filters, and was then able to rank each state in descending order according to their respective rates of gun murders per 100,000 inhabitants, and after applying some color formatting in each column to provide some visual context, was able to see some correlations. (A pdf version, as well as the original .ods file, created with LibreOffice Calc, is freely available here.)

I won't bore you (or myself) here with a breakdown of the numbers - just look at the above-linked documents yourself if you are so inclined. Nevertheless, my own conclusions are as follows:

High population density is the real gun murder culprit

While the states with the highest level of gun murders generally have lower levels of gun ownership, they also generally have medium-to-high levels of population density. The District of Columbia comes out in first place with the highest population density (10298 people per square mile), as well as the highest overall murder rate (21.8 per 100,000 inhabitants) and the highest gun murder rate (16.5 per 100,000 inhabitants). Only two out of the states with the highest gun murder rate (Arkansas and New Mexico) have low population densities, and they are both near the bottom of the rankings for "high" rates of gun murders.

High gun ownership levels may reduce gun deaths only when combined with low population density

Conversely, while those on the bottom third of the list, with the lowest rates of gun murders, generally tend to be states with high levels of gun ownership, almost without exception they are also places of low population density.

While this doesn't outright disqualify the pro-gun argument that "an armed society is a polite society", the waters are certainly a little muddier than NRA zealot Ted Nugent and others of his ilk would have you believe.

The rural/urban divide

I'm no expert, but it seems reasonable to assume that rural people have a different relationship with guns than their cousins in the city, given that folks in the country are more likely to be hunters, and that when city-dwellers pack heat it's more for self-defence than sportsmanship. (I'm totally generalizing here, but that's just my own gut feeling.)

And so the overarching conclusion I draw from all of the above is that reducing gun murders in the U.S. (or anywhere) has little to do with levels of gun ownership or regulation so much as it does population density and whatever other socioeconomic factors not accounted for here. Perhaps these other factors are intimidating (and politically-risky) for politicians to confront head-on, which is why it's safer to arbitrarily boil it all down to either handing someone a gun or taking it away.


On a tangential note, it's all well and good to arm more people in response to terror attacks, but this logic doesn't take into account the fact that there's a difference between being trained in the safe handling of a gun versus knowing how to effectively shoot an assailant without endangering innocent bystanders and triggering an even bigger bloodbath. For this reason, I think the above calls for more armed citizens are irresponsible and lacking in foresight, not to mention insulting to police and the specialized training they receive.

I could be wrong.

Friday, December 4, 2015

One Week with Solaris 10, Part 3: Post-Mortem

Last things first...

As of this writing I have just gone 'back to the future', as it were, and am now running Oracle Solaris 11.3, the latest commercial UNIX offering on the market as far as x86 processors go. There is much about Solaris 11.3 that is way over my head, and a good part of it I simply won't be using. (All that 'cloud server' stuff doesn't concern me, as I'm looking to take it for a spin as a general purpose productivity desktop. As of right now I have LibreOffice, Emacs, GIMP, Scribus and vlc installed, and will try to push the envelope with getting Audacity, Blender and Inkscape installed, even if it means building from source.)

Good to Go: Oracle Solaris 11.3 with the 
sfe.opencsw.org build of LibreOffice installed.

All of the above, including downloading the 11.3 .iso, was done via my neighborhood Starbucks' wifi signal. (This was my way of making them serve a penance in case the CBC story about their supposed "greenwashing" is true. Tee-hee!)

Because LibreOffice is Solaris 11.x's 'missing link', you can follow these steps to get it installed from www.sfe.opencsw.org:

# pfexec pkg set-publisher -G '*' -g http://sfe.opencsw.org/localhosts11 localhosts11

# pfexec pkg install -v libreoffice4-desktop-int

Oh, right...Solaris 10

While this Solaris 11.3 install has gone swimmingly, particularly seeing as it now has 90% of the applications I normally need or want, I look back on my week with Solaris 10 with fondness for the retro-UNIX experience it afforded, as well as a palpable sense of relief at being able to move forward with using my laptop for something other than figuring out how to do stuff. My extensive (for me) experience with OpenIndiana (151a9 as well as Hipster) leaves me in a very good position to charge ahead with Solaris 11.3, as so much of it is the same. (Solaris and OI are both SunOS 5.11-based.)

The only thing preventing Solaris 10 from staying on my laptop any longer than it did was simply the differential between the seemingly Byantine art of installing the programs I need to be truly productive and the level patience demanded (of me) to see it through. (Also, I never did figure out how to enable wireless networking, which was the final nail in the proverbial coffin.) As far as I can tell, Solaris 10 comes with no package management system out-of-the box. Installing Firefox 38.2.1 from www.unixpackages.com, for example, involves following a process of uninstalling the old Firefox and then unpacking and installing the new one. While that process is probably no sweat for a seasoned system administrator, it is heart-pounding for an OS-dabbling shmuck like me. Despite successfully upgrading Firefox, in the process I also shot Thunderbird out of the sky, and was unable to bring it back.

Otherwise, Solaris 10 was a joy to use and get to know, and after a few days I felt far more comfortable with it than I would have expected. Before long, the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) felt like my 'new normal'. And compared to Solaris 11.3, overall it was fast. Like, speeding ticket fast. (Solaris 11.3 takes a long time to boot on this machine - a ThinkPad T61p - and Solaris 11.2 wouldn't even completely load. Perhaps in the latter case there was a problem with the iso?)

A collateral benefit from trying to figure out Solaris 10 is that I also learned a thing or two about getting things done on SunOS 5.11 systems (be they illumos- or Oracle-based), and I'm sure there's sundry other little things I've brought back across the chasm that escape me at the moment.

The new road ahead

And so I'll try living with Solaris 11.3 for awhile and learn as much as I can. As it stands right now, it is already serving my productivity needs, and so my goal will be to make it as much of a multimedia desktop as possible (hello, Audacity and Blender).

In the longer term, however, I can't bring myself to abide by Oracle's proprietary licensing conditions, which are geared towards larger organizations who would benefit from paying for the support and upgrades that Oracle offers. At the end of the day, I'm a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) kinda guy, and so this ongoing foray into the proprietary realm makes me feel a strong twinge of guilt at contravening my ideals.

(I don't fault Oracle for their licensing choices - they exist to make money as they see fit. On the other hand, bringing Solaris back into the proprietary fold after having been open-sourced under Sun's stewardship, as well as killing the OpenSolaris project, has probably come at some cost to its community of users. As for myself, it has taken a number of years for me to be able to say 'Oracle' without wanting to spit. Former Sun engineers, such as Bryan Cantrill, go to much further lengths to express their disdain. As for the official Solaris brand, Oracle has made a legion of detractors out of those who were once passionate ambassadors, people who are now putting their all into the illumos project.)

Nevertheless, my objective is to be able to get more involved in the OpenIndiana/illumos community, particularly by submitting informed bug reports to OI's Hipster test branch, as well as assisting in editing and writing documentation if they have enough faith in my editorial skills. And so given that OpenIndiana aims to closely mirror the Solaris 11.x experience while also improving on it, having a good dose of direct interaction with Solaris 11.3 can only serve me well in my endeavors with OpenIndiana.

OpenSolaris is dead. Long live illumos, long live OpenIndiana.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Politically-biased headlines reinforce Islamophobia, encourage hate crimes

The following is a letter to the editor of the New York Post submitted on December 3, 2015.


Dear Editor,

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar once said that "knowledge is a burden if it robs you of innocence." In light of your choice of headline ("MUSLIM KILLERS") in reference to yesterday's tragic mass shooting in San Bernardino, I would like to pass on some items of knowledge that may come at the expense of your innocence.

First, Muslims comprise 2.77 million of your fellow Americans. If citizenship in your country means anything, then they are to be considered Americans, full stop. They do not deserve to be singled out for their religion by you nor anyone else.

Second, it is well-known that anti-Muslim hate crimes tend to spike after a terror event, involving everything from threatening phone calls and graffiti to incidents of violence or even murder.

Third, your publication has an impact on its readers, and can play a part in shaping their worldview, particularly at times of heightened emotion, such as the immediate aftermath of a terror attack. As a corollary, your choice of front page headline simplifies your coverage of a given lead story, often reducing it to a three- or four-syllable shorthand of the whole situation. "MUSLIM KILLERS", for example.

Fourth, as far as your headlines are concerned, the only time a shooter's religion comes into play is when that religion happens to be Islam. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't ever recall seeing one of your headlines read "JEW KILLERS" or "CHRISTIAN KILLERS".)

Fifth, terrorism is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal." What Merriam-Webster doesn't mention is that non-Muslims who engage in mass shootings on U.S. soil are almost never referred to as "terrorists", or at least not as far as your headlines are concerned. (As a recent example, your headline referred to Robert Lewis Dear simply as a "gunman" after he shot three people at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado, presumably to frighten or intimidate people on the political issue of abortion. You could have referred to him as a "terrorist", or even a "CHRISTIAN KILLER", but that could possibly incite hate crimes, or even violence, against Christians, especially those of a social conservative bent.)

Sixth, the New York Post has a demonstrated political bias, and it could be said that your choice of headlines, particularly for lead stories, serves to further the goal of legitimizing that bias.

Seventh, by singling out yesterday's shooters for their religion, you reinforce certain unfair and unfounded stereotypes of approximately 2.77 million of your fellow Americans. And so when someone gets it into their head to persecute their Muslim neighbors on the basis of their religion, your December 3 headline does nothing to stand in their way, and may even serve as encouragement.

Eighth, I'm not saying your careless headline incites violence, or is the moral equivalent of direct violence or some form of "soft terrorism", but I would say it is certainly politically motivated. You should be concerned about the possibility of your simplistic and ungraceful headline forming part of a 'chorus of approval' for those who would take their Islamophobia to the next level.

If you agree with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's adage that "the pen is mightier than the sword", then perhaps you should be much more careful with how you handle your quill, otherwise you could hurt up to 2.77 million innocent people with it.

James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Live at Railroad Open Mic (Dec. 1, 2015)

From the YouTube summary:

I was reader number 3 at the Railroad Poetry Series during its first-ever open mic session, which was held at Pressed (750 Gladstone Avenue). It was an honour to share the stage not only with my fellow open mic readers but also with that night's featured poets: Marsha Barber, Blaine Marchand and Deanna Young.

Due to the weather, which I can confirm turned Percy Street into an uphill skating rink, the open mic readers were asked to present just one poem that night so that the evening could wrap up earlier than later.. And so because my poems tend to be short, I was able to squeeze my entire performance into the space of one green traffic light, as evidenced behind me out the window looking onto Gladstone Avenue.


Live at Umi Open Mic (Nov. 6, 2015)

From the YouTube summary:

This is me reading two untitled poems at the Umi Open Mic on Nov. 6, 2015, which is now held at the Tea Store on York St. in Ottawa.


Monday, November 30, 2015

One Week with Solaris 10, Part 2

Opening remarks and overdue meta data

It is now Day 4 with this Solaris 10 installation, and I haven't gone running to the proverbial hills.


Since my previous, post, I realized that I neglected to provide any sort of personal frame of reference to explain the perspective from which this is being written. Although I am well into my second (or third?) decade as a UNIX fanboy, and while I may come across as a computer scientist next to the average point-and-click Windows or Mac user, I am by no means a technical UNIX user. I can find my way around most any UNIX system, and I know just enough about it to sound like an expert to those who haven't the faintest idea what the hell I'm talking about. But while I'm proficient enough to use it for my own productivity purposes, I'm not the person to run your IT infrastructure. Not even close!

And so this series on Solaris 10 isn't meant to reflect any sort of expertise on my part, but rather my enthusiasm and joy at learning and exploring new-to-me things about UNIX itself, and hopefully to provide direction to other clods like me by way of example. (And if you feel the need to correct me or provide a better way to do anything please let me know via the contact form to the right. I will take it in what I'll assume is the constructive spirit in which it was intended.)


Before I go too much further, I should pass along a tip for those who are also thinking of installing this operating system. As with anything UNIX, probably the first thing you want to do with a fresh install is set yourself up as a user and then assign root privileges. (Most UNIX systems I've come across let you accomplish this as part of the initial installation procedures, including Solaris 11 and its open source cousins. Not so for 10.)

So before you do anything else, the first order of business should be setting up a new user, as follows, using my own credentials as an example:

#  useradd -d /export/home/jed -m -s /bin/ksh -c "James Deagle" jed

Once you've created a password with the passwd command, you can now assign root privileges:

# usermod -P "Primary Administrator" jed

I found the above somewhere on the web quite a while ago during a previous Solaris 10 installation. I had scribbled it down in a notebook without documenting where I found it. All that to say that the above is courtesy of another person's knowledge, and as someone who believes in always giving credit where it's due, it kills me that I'm unable to provide a hyperlink to the original source. (To paraphrase Magnolia, I may be done with journalism, but journalism isn't done with me.)

Some thoughts on CDE

All in all, I feel myself warming up to the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) to the point where I could live with it as my 'production environment', rather than it being just the fascinating occasional toy that it has been up until now. (I'm still banging my forehead on some of its quirks, but each time I do there is something new to learn, and each time that happens I realize that CDE is a very thought-out system, and that it is only my own unfamiliarity with it that makes it seem weird at first. Like many great things from within the UNIX realm, and like UNIX itself, it will not adjust to you - you have to adjust to it. Once you're down with that, powerful things can happen.)

At this point, I imagine a hypothetical reader asking why I haven't tried out CDE previously by installing it on a more up-to-date operating system. That would be a fair question, and in response I can tell you that I have already tried that route. Many times. I tried to build it from source on FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD as well as OpenIndiana, but it in every case it would throw up on itself before the build was complete. (I would happily install CDEbian if it were still active, or if I could at least find an installable iso.)

And so I have come to think of building the recently open-sourced CDE as being akin to a coffee mug I saw many years ago. One side of the mug read "Turn the mug to see how to keep an idiot busy." On the other side, it read "Turn the mug to see how to keep an idiot busy." I'm through feeling like an idiot, which is partially why I'm on this one-week journey with Solaris 10.

(I also have UnixWare 7.1.4 installed on an ancient Toshiba Satellite, but I don't count that because I haven't figured out how to configure the network yet, and so for now it is a mere toy. I may attempt to install that OS on this machine and see what happens, and so there may be a One Week with UnixWare 7.1.4 series in my near future if the current series doesn't chase away my entire readership in the meantime. In all seriousness, it may be a worthwhile venture, as the UnixWare implementation of CDE has a different enough feel to warrant comparison.)

God exists, He is merciful, and His name is Firefox 38.2.1

My next order of business was updating Firefox, as the one that comes out of the box with Solaris 10 is too outdated for any real fun on the web. And so I went to a website called Unix Packages and its special page for Mozilla software, including Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird. (Installation instructions are on that website, so I won't bore you with them here.)

While I now have Firefox 38.2.1 up and running, I have to go through a workaround to start it, which namely involves becoming root, invoking bash, temporarily adding the installed package's ./bin directory to the $PATH, and then executing Firefox's full path to bring it to life, as follows:

$ su
Password: _
# bash
# export PATH=$PATH:/opt/sfw/bin
# /opt/sfw/bin/firefox &

It would be nice to figure out how exactly to permanently add /opt/sfw/bin to the package path, but at this point I don't quite give enough of a shit to lose that much sleep over it. After all, this is only for a week, and I'm just overjoyed at having a version of Firefox that can run YouTube videos as smoothly as Linux Mint (which is saying a lot for good ol' Slowaris) and also allows me to use other websites (such as NoteFlight and Google Docs) that newer SunOS variants choke on due to a lack of Flash support.

In fact, given that the ads on YouTube don't flash like a slow-motion strobe light on this system like they do on Linux Mint, I'll go out on a limb and say that with the 38.2.1 build, Solaris 10 provides the best Firefox experience yet on any system I've used. Take that, Penguinistas!

The road ahead

Under Oracle's stewardship, Solaris 10 and 11 are both in a weird space as far as the two big Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) productivity suites are concerned. While OpenOffice began life as StarOffice at Sun Microsystems, and was thus very much a part of the Solaris ecosystem, it is now under the direction of Apache, and so perhaps for reasons of corporate vanity, Oracle does not provide OpenOffice either out-of-the-box or as part of its package repository. Ditto for LibreOffice. This leaves Solaris users to contend with porting and building either suites from source on their own, or trying to find a third-party binary. I am on that very same hunt myself, and will keep you posted.

An alternative is to try and get the NetBSD-led pkgsrc repository working, though I have my doubts, as I've been unsuccessful to date at doing the same on OpenIndiana. (Insert coffee mug anecdote here.)

Assuming they have a new enough version of Firefox installed, the desperate can resort to Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets and slide presentations, though if doing so in any professional capacity, it would be best to advise recipients to open any of your documents in Google on their end to maintain the intended formatting. (No offense to Google, as Google Docs works just fine on its own terms. Any criticism here is strictly regarding how a Google document's formatting becomes skewed when opened in a Microsoft product. In an ideal world, life wouldn't be dictated by any one vendor.)

This may be unworkable in just about any professional setting, particularly in a government workplace, where there very likely is a requirement for all work-related documents to be composed, edited, saved and tracked within the in-house ecosystem. And because your choice of workplace operating system and productivity suite is dictated by colleagues whose job involves accepting bribes of food, alcohol and other gifts by vendors, rather than your knowledgeable and hardworking IT professionals, you'll be stuck with Microsoft Windows and Office until you die. And so will your children. And their children's children.

(Psst, Google: Perhaps you should focus some effort on working with organizations to allow versions or usage of Google Docs that complies with their respective internal IT policies. Perhaps this could entail a client-side app that would provide adequate encryption and internal system interopability?)

The other order of business is to enable wireless networking, but I'm getting a sinking feeling that the wireless driver this laptop needs (iwn0) may be missing from the current installation. If I'm not able to resolve that issue, then this will indeed be just a one-week experiment, though it will be with a heavy heart and fond remembrance I that install something else over top of this.

But don't worry, OpenIndiana. A candle burns on my window sill in anticipation of your return.