Friday, June 17, 2005

Facts and reality 

I was reading through MSNBC's report on the autopsy of Terri Schiavo this morning, and a few things jumped out at me.

That the Schindlers, Mrs. Schiavo's parents, have not and apparently have no wish to come to grips with the edeath of their daughter, and the medical fact that she was in a persistent vegetative state for an extended period of time prior to her death, is somewhat understandable. That they are "exploring every option" to waste more money on lawyers and drag other people, aided eagerly by the media, to continue to dwell on this can only be regarded as ghastly in the extreme. After so many years of fighting, it appears to an extremely disinterested outsider that they have become convinced that continuing to fight, continuing to try to hurt her now-former husband, Mr Michael Schiavo, is the only way they can remember and honour their dead daughter.

What might be more troubling, however, is the reaction of others who have injected themselves into what started as and should always have remained a private family matter. Self-styled "conservative" "thinkers" such as "President" Bush have issued public statements implying that their support for the Schindlers extends beyond the normal courtesies a civilised person extends to those grieving the loss of a close loved one. Rather, I expect that the newly-released autopsy report, and the autopsy photos which Mr Schiavo has announced will be released later, will become as much of a political weapon as the earlier court battle immediately prior to he death. The world will soon see another example of whether those who claim to speak foro America as a whole are reasonable, moderate, caring and wise, or if the newspapers and airwaves are about to be splattered with endless "analysis" and condemnation of reality for political gain.

It is no secret that the US public education system has almost completely collapsed over the last 30 years - whether as a result of malice or overburdening depends on your politics. But the net effect is that Americans, certainly those in or below their mid-forties now, do not have the attention span, temperament or training in critical thinking and analysis to be able to see the difference between whether they are being led or being manipulated against their own interests. People paid very close attention to the oversensationalised Michael Jackson trial - which brought the city of Santa Barbara, California a bonanza of trial-fuelled tourist dollars. It was difficult durinbg the last couple of months to find serious, thoughtful discussion of anything really important (i.e., having a real effect on the lives and well-being of a significant number of people) in Washington or internationally. What "coverage" there was tended to be the prepackaged "multinationals good/greedy workers bad" (or vice versa) superficiality that has programmed Americans so effectively in recent years.

It may even be said, in the not-too-distant future (this afternoon?), that the root cause for the American people accepting the total usurpation of control over their nation by those obviously and demonstrably not pursuing Americans' best interests is that the last thirty years hae been dedicated to teaching people to trust their "feelings" (prejudices) over anything they see in the world around them. Once that is complete, the finest, most effective marketing industry - and its masters - have completely free rein to reign as they please. That any serious attempt to explore, or even discuss this tends to be shouted down immediately only testifies to the technique's sordid effectiveness. Neither Leni Riefenstahl nor 1984's Ministry of Truth could even conceive of propaganda so efficient and effective.

No, the reaction to the Schiavo autopsy isn't surprising in the least. It's the logical corollary of a phenomenon that has been continuing for some time, coming to a head in December, 2000: bread and (televised) circuses can not only keep people from seeing what is being done to them, but, properly managed, can manipulate them into doing it to themselves. If the Republican-held Congress passes laws binding doctors' hands in similar cases, especially by giving supersition or politics primacy over scientific, rational reality, I will not be suprised in the slightests. I will, instead, continue my own grieving - for the dead country that in many ways was the greaatest that the world has ever known - the constitutional republic known as the United States of America.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Penny-pinching and penis-pinching 

Some people just seem to think they go together. Crimes against humanity for the budget-conscious; let economy of scale work for you!

Take Donald Rumsfield (please!), the Bush régime's Secretary of Defense and one of the poster children for what is wrong with that cabal in general. You don't have to disagree with Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield/Rove politics to see that things are seriously out of whack in Iraq, even as the friendly corporate media has done a yeoman job of sweeping Afghanistan under the rug.

And then there's Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, one of the United States' oldest trophies of empire, which now serves as a handy, out-of-the-way place to put 'really bad people' (whom you disagree with, as opposed to really bad people you support, such as the early Manuel Noriega, the early Saddam Hussein, Roberto D'Aubisson, etc.) and do really nasty things to them. These things, such as physical and psychological torture, religious desecration, and so on, are things that would be illegal if they were done in the United States; the historical US spent much of the last century diplomatically fighting for and winning the safeguards for civilisation that are being so blatantly cast aside at "Gitmo".

The problem for Mr Rumsfield, and for the régime in which he plays a critical role, is that "Gitmo", as the site is nicknamed, isn't quite far enough out of the way to avoid some people, governments and organisations from noticing, documenting, and protesting the barbarities that occur there with alarming regularity.

According to a Reuters news story among other sources, the "facility" at Guanténamo is presently holding approximately 520 prisoners from 40 countries. In the three years that Gitmo has been in operation, only four have been charged with any crime. The setup costs US taxpayers nearly $100 million a year - money that could be used elsewhere, like getting American soldiers off food stamps, paying for supplies so that the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan don't have to buy their own gear with their own money, and so on. It could even be used to pay down the deficit - prudent financial management being another traditional Republican virtue that has gone by the boards in this most spendthrift adminisstration in history. But I digress.

In the face of all this, with Republican leaders in Congress and elsewhere debating whether to keep or close the detention centre at Guantánamo, the régime is grasping at any wisp of a facile excuse it can come up with to figleaf its disastrous policies. Quoting the Reuters story, "Asked to explain the advantage of keeping the Guantanamo prison rather than starting over somewhere else, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing, '... The investment's been made.'".

The investment's been made? We're not talking about an automotive-parts factory here; the United States and other justice-minded countries have rightly pilloried the Eichmanns and Mugabes and Pol Pots of the world who have offered similar blather as apologia for their most heinous, brutal acts. By continuing to pursue policies that are so utterly contemptuous of the world, of justice, of humanity, the Bush régime risks not only putting the United States into that same sewer. In doing so, the régime risks real and permanent damage to what's left of the Republic by forcing its longtime, more civilised friends to distance themselves while at the same time giving enemies such as al-Qada a golden propaganda vehicle to gain all the recruits and finances and other support that they can possibly deal with.

But then again, Team Bush has never shown any indication of being able to think that far ahead. If they had, there wouldn't be a go-it-alone occupation of Iraq, several hundred Americans and several dozen thousand Iraqis would likely be alive who aren't today, and the United States could credibly focus the world's attention on the true threats - like a nuclear North Korea in easy missile range of numerous important US allies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan - and soon Los Angeles. That may prove to be this régime's true and final crime against humanity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The LAMP has been lighted for some time now... 

This is a repost of a comment I made on ZDNet, in reply to an article on LAMP (development using Linux operating system, Apache Web server, MySQL database and PHP, perl or Python scripting languages) for businesses.


Now that the MS propaganda is out of the way (in the first message...), let's look at a few things.

A good argument can be made that Linux is at least as mature as Windows. The operating systems have been worked on for approximately the same length of time (if you consider the fact that XP and 2000 are basically expanded-but-less-stable heirs to NT 3.51, one of the best operating systems *anybody* ever made). Microsoft has thousands of developers working on their products; some of the smartest, most able developers in history using one of the most fundamentally flawed development models in history ("Code Complete"). Linux has far fewer full-time developers (yes, there are a few, scattered here and there - Red Hat, IBM, OSDL and so on), but their development model (open source via distributed projects) and release model (when it's ready, and not when marketing/CxOs say it has to go) is far superior in terms of quality delivered to the user.

Apache is the leading Web server in the world, without serious question, on a wide variety of platforms. Microsoft IIS is now, as of version 6.0, a quite-capable system which, properly patched, does not appreciably degrade the security of the hosting system. But too many Microsoft platform-hosted sites fell as easy prey to crackers for too many years; the cast-in-concrete conventional wisdom is that Microsoft-hosted sites are by definition vulnerable. Hence, the wholesale centralisation on Apache as seen in all major Web-hosting surveys, notably Webtrends. Apache comes with most Unix and Unix-like operating systems (including Linux, BSD and Macintosh OS X), and is also offered for Windows. For better or worse, the majority of the world is now standardised on Apache. [Though, to be honest, my recommendation to my clients who are concerned about security overall is to host on Mac OS X using StarNine; that platform is how the US Army solved their long-standing Web security woes, and if a monoculture is bad in operating systems, a common argument among anything-but-Microsoft types, why is a monoculture among Web servers any better?]

MySQL has for some time been the best-known and most-widely-used open source database system, and MySQL AB one of hte most successful companies based on an open-source business model. MySQL 5.0, with the long-awaited support for stored procedures (among myriad other improvements), is certainly capable of handling the needs of just about any small-to-less-than-humongous application thrown at it. It may not have all the features or speed of DB2 or PostgreSQL, but it is certainly adequate for the task. And since it, like Apache, is not tied to a single platform, sites can upgrade their hosting systems to meet increased usage needs without modifying existing code, queries, tables, etc.

The P part of the LAMP acronym, being expanded as either PHP, perl or Python, depending on your environment, offers many of the benefits alluded to earlier. With open-source implementations of all three commonly available for numerous platforms, code created in any one language on one platform is portable to other platforms, and properly-designed and -written code can be reused across applications. With the variety of choice between PHP, perl and Python (all interpreted, server-side scripting languages), users have the ability to choose any based on their needs, without getting tied to any one single vendor (even with Zend's preeminence over PHP). Being open source and freely available, anybody can learn the basics quickly, and it is not terribly difficult to find experienced developers for any given project.

Finally, another great benefit of LAMP to businesses, particularly in the post-9/11 world, is auditability. For the first time, it is now possible for *any* business to review, or engage competent auditors to review, each and every single line of code running on a major line-of-business system. System managers have complete and total control over their systems, being able to install exactly and only what is needed for a particular task or set of tasks, and to continuously verify security and monitor actual or attempted modifications to the system. This level of granularity and control simply is not practical in *any* closed-source, proprietary system, and is a major source of LAMP's appeal to security-aware businesses.

It is easy to see why the mainstream IT media is starting to notice that smart businesses have been using LAMP for some time, with sizable growth in the last couple of years. The real question is why ZD, in particular, has been denigrating it for so long. That has provided ill service to its readers.

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