Friday, May 30, 2008

I don't want to say I told you so, but

The Texas Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision that the state has no right to remove the 460+ children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in TX and remand them to the custody of the state. A near tsunami of Christian-leaning clucking do-gooders has been silenced (but unfortunately not slapped). There's no word about the serial sex abuse prank phone caller who instigated the whole tawdry affair, nor any perception on the part of the authorities that, in the process of prosecuting this Salem witch hunt, damage may have been done. The gullible sheriffs and deputies will all keep their jobs, as will the frantic, wheezing, overweight, middle-aged, badly dressed and sanctimonious case workers wielding their clip pads and the awful power of the state.

According to the Houston Chronicle,
The state in recent weeks has been forced to recognize that half of the 30 females it had put in foster care as underage abuse victims because they were mothers or pregnant were in fact adults.

This is a shameful episode, and it's about time is was stopped. It's just too bad there's no way to discipline the real bad guys in this case.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hello world... Fedora 9 now boots into graphics mode with nvidia video drivers

This morning I got up and my Fedora 9 box was offering an update. I checked the updates (I review them before I install them, mostly to see what's new), and there were a half dozen updates-- some nvidia related, and xorg related. Click, click, restart... I now have a fully functioning Fedora 9 installation that boots into the graphics mode login screen, and all is well with the world. I love Fedora 9! Everything apparently works, it's got Gnome 2.2 and Firefox 3.0. It's fast, sleek, and beautiful, and it's state of the art. Thank you for the great work by the Fedora team to finish all the work required to make this work.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Book by Charles Simic

I just finished reading the newest book by the poet laureate of the US, Charles Simic, entitled That Little Something, and it's left me a little sad. Not because of the book, or the poetry therein, which are, characteristically, excellent, but by the production values of the book itself. Several of the pages, including several in the front, were poorly printed, at least one of the poems near the back (I don't usually look too closely at that kind of thing) has a typographical error, several pages weren't completely cut apart. And the worst, and most inexcusable, problem is in the front list of the poet's previous books, where one title is printed Charon's Cosmetology, which should obviously be Charon's Cosmology (I even checked my copy because reading it the other way was so shocking)!

Over the last 20 years or so, coincident with the rise of computerized typesetting and the electronic creation and dissemination of text, I have noticed a marked drop in the quality of published text. I believe it's a result of computerized spell checking-- which does not yield publication quality text-- and a general decline in the standards of the reading public. When so much text is generated so quickly on computer screens for the internet, there's a feeling that anything we read can be sloppy because it's not permanent-- it's ephemeral, and not worth the trouble of all that old-fashioned proof reading. The New Yorker managed to acquire a stuffy, strait-laced reputation for being so polished with copy editing and proof reading. At the other extreme were computer books in the early 90's that had scores of typographical errors, even in printed computer code, which were bad enough to make the example programs not work. The reader (this was before the internet, or at least before it was ubiquitous) was left to figure it out for themselves. Computer books soon thereafter started to come bound with the source code on diskettes-- where they would at least not be subject to errors in transcription-- and then on CD's (bigger and cheaper and less likely to break), and nowadays have all of their sample code posted on the internet where it can be changed by the publisher or the author on the fly if anything is found to be incorrect.

Which brings us back to the new Charlie Simic book. It's not a computer book, it's the newest book (I bought it in hardcover, for $23.00 plus tax) of poetry, from one of America's premier poets, and published by one of the most reputable literary publishers out there-- Harcourt. Harcourt has done Mr. Simic, and the poetry loving public (a small universe if there ever was one) a disservice. The sloppy print job and imperfect binding would have been bad enough, and the typos-- well, it happens-- but by blatantly misspelling the title of one of the author's previous publications they really blew it. I feel like the grand old man got bilked by the fast talking upstart management at the publisher, and then they sold the book to me, knowing nothing would happen. Frankly, I feel like we're now characters in a Simic poem. And I'm disappointed.

More on Fedora 9, this time positive

After some more futzing around, I was able to make my new installation of Fedora 9 GNU/Linux use my closed source nvidia video driver to drive my computer monitor correctly. It's still a problem, because it doesn't start automatically. Whenever I start the computer, I wait through the full bootup, and about 30 seconds of flashing, then log in to the console screen and instruct the operating system to startx -- -ignoreABI and then everything loads OK. I don't have 3D acceleration-- that's what the ignore command does-- because the xserver still doesn't work well with the nvidia driver (or vice-versa-- it's very complicated). So even though I could use "wobbly windows" in Fedora 8, it's not quite ready in Fedora 9, because of other improvements to the underlying software. And notice the command-- there's the usual startx command, which is used when you want a graphical user interface and you're in console mode. But then there's a parameter you want the command to see-- ignore the ABI extensions, I guess. To do that you type two hyphens (so far, that's fairly standard console behavior), but then you type the actual parameter text, which is a space and a hyphen, followed by the text ignoreABI. That's atrocious! Or maybe it's just weird. I wish I could find the startup script (I know I can if I invest an hour or two at it), so I could just embed the command and the parameter into that and the computer would start automatically.

Overall, Fedora 9 is very good, and an improvement over version 8. I like the new add/remove software program front end. I like Firefox 3. I like the newer version of Gnome. I love that it feels responsive and all the programs look great! Tasteful colors, sounds, artwork, and beautiful fonts. I like how the programs are organized in the menus (much easier and more intuitive than Ubuntu's version of the same thing). Fedora's fantastic. Now, if only I didn't have tto start the GUI by hand every time I start the computer. Oh well, I'll fix it over the weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Do NOT Install (or upgrade to) Fedora 9 Linux! (Ed. If you have nvidia graphics hardware)

Hello, my loyal reader. I wanted to pass on a piece of advice. Now, this is somewhat different for me, because if you know me well, you know I love computers, software, and especially Linux, the free, alternative operating system. I've been using it on all kinds of computers for years. I've used many different versions over time, but I've sort of settled on two distributions (like brands) for the present. Ubuntu Linux is great because it's easy to install and use, works on anything I've loaded it onto, and it's got a lot of really good software-- all free. Then there's Fedora, which used to be Red Hat, until Red Hat went commercial, and they spun off Fedora as the "testing" version of their commercial product. Fedora has an amazing array of very up-to-date software, and a great online support apparatus, such that if you run into a problem you can just go to the forums, follow a few simple steps, and the problem is usually solved.

Well, last weekend there was an update to Fedora. A major update, going from version 8 to version 9. I had been using version 8 for months, and loved it. It's fast, everything worked (video, and sound, and all the networking stuff). I eagerly checked online to see what new goodies might come with it, and whether anyone had a problem installing. Nothing I could find, so I clicked the "upgrade" button and proceeded to upgrade my machine, rebooted when it was done, and uggh... video problem. I'd seen it before, on my previous install, so I knew what to do. Set up the system so it can see some other software update sources that will allow using commercial 3rd party video drivers and then wait for the update. Well, I did that and got no happiness. I've now been waiting for almost a week, reading the support forums, and have found out that I may not have happiness anytime soon. Apparently the video drivers that are available for nvidia hardware don't support the most recent version of X-windows. What that means is even though I have a high resolution, widescreen flat LCD monitor, my new, state of the art linux desktop operating system will only drive it at a paltry 1280 x 1024 resolution. And, to make matters worse, because it's the wrong aspect ratio for my monitor, everything is squeezed wider and shorter. Ugly! Horrible! Unacceptable! And the worst thing is they (the Fedora crew) knew they didn't have nvidia (or ati, apparently) support ready, and chose to release anyway. This is a disaster. It makes Fedora Linux (and anything you run on it, like the internet!) look like ass, and makes people like myself, who love Fedora, warn people away from it, until they get the video drivers working correctly. This isn't exotic hardware-- it's mainstream! It's built into most recent laptops, and a lot of motherboards from the last couple of years. But you can't really have a great linux distribution if you can't make it work with your video hardware! It's not just inconvenient-- for many it makes it useless. Now, this isn't beta, testing software I'm talking about either. It's the release version! Damn...

So, for the time being, my recommendation is DON'T INSTALL FEDORA Version 9 UNTIL THEY'VE ADDRESSED THE VIDEO DRIVER ISSUES. It's just not worth the hassle.

Ed: And replying to a comment, I should have made it more clear, I only know for a fact this applies to people with nvidia graphics hardware. The drivers themselves are not something over which Fedora has any control, but it still makes it a very bad experience to upgrade from version 8, which worked perfectly, to version 9, which most assuredly does not.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Artist Robert Rauschenberg, Dead at 82

Robert Rauschenberg was a truly unique American genius. His huge assemblage paintings (if that's what they were called) were-- and still are-- amazing in their ability to force their audience to re-evaluate the role and purpose of fine art. How can we explain a piece of art dripping with paint, covered with words and graffiti, pillows, rope, police barriers, a mattress, axe handles, and with a stuffed white goat with horns (or a chicken, or a crow) standing in the middle of it? Raushenberg's work gave voice to the zany sixties dream of smashing apart the establishment and rebuilding it from scratch. He showed us what that would look like-- it was a mess, it was magisterial and monumental-- and it was beautiful, and there was surprise, and darkness, and chrome-bright colors; humor, laughter, and joy. He once erased a de Kooning drawing and exhibited that. Humanity is better for the work he produced. There is no better tribute to a life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More dis-information, or maybe just bad information

This is another story of dis-information (or maybe just mis-information) coming out of Iraq, about the number-one subject of bad (confusing, unsubstantiated, presented and then later corrected) news in the war today. The story is this item, about how the top leader in Al Qaeda in Iraq was captured and turned over to American troops.

The problem with the story is, it's not true. It was duly reported by USA Today, CNN, Fox, and AP, and then, the next day is was retracted, but the big new outlets had already moved on to other sources of disinformation. I can't pretend to know anything about the situation "on the ground" there in Iraq. All I know is every story I hear about the mysterious group called Al Qaeda in Iraq seems rife with clear classifications of "good guys" and "bad guys" and elusive and evil leaders, and none of the stories turn out to be true (yes, I've already blogged about this!). So my question is this-- who's playing with the press? Is it Americans, or is it Iraqis? And whom? It's obviously in the interests of the administration to have some identifiable group of bad guys and flunkies that can represent the face of our "enemies" in Iraq. The name, Al Qaeda in Iraq, shimmers with associations of 9/11 (even though the group has no connection with OBL, besides a will to resist American influence and hegemony, and the use of assault rifles). And having a group of bad guys to represent the cause of the war effort takes away the impression that America is at war with Iraqi civilians. President Bush likes to tell everyone we're fighting "el-KAAH-duh" whenever he has he chance.

So what's the deal? Are these stories deliberate manipulation of the news? Lies told to control the spin? And are the Iraqis spinning the stories, or is it the American authorities? Or are these stories perhaps just the result of slip-shod, managed, corporate journalism? If a US general tells a Fox News reporter the sky is falling, I fully expect a 60 minute special report (complete with a new theme song and logo) by the time the 6:00 o'clock news starts. Someone is yanking someone's chain, but it's hard to tell the yanker from the yankee.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pelican 'bombs' bather in Florida

After another tourist's face is attacked in Florida, lawmakers in the state are calling for immediate action-- mandatory face-helmets have been proposed for all Florida residents. The bill's co-sponsor, representative Topper D. Bell, R-Sarasota, and scion of Bell Helmet family, applauded the move, saying protecting the faces of Floridians should be the legislature's immediate priority. "We'll only be truly safe when everyone is wearing a helmet over their face whenever they're outside," asserted Mr. Bell.

This pelican incident is the second time in less than three months that the unprotected face of a tourist has been attacked. In March, a Michigan woman was killed when an eagle ray sailed into her while her family roared through the ray's feeding grounds in a power boat. A lawsuit in that case is slowly winding its way through the Florida legal system, naming "Nature" as the culpable party in the case. Tourism is the third largest industry in Florida, after Kidney Dialysis and Slurpees.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

This is a great song!

This isn't creative of me, to post this video in my blog, but this is one of those all-time, one in a million, awesome songs. Check it out:

The song is "Are You Out There?" written and performed by Dar Williams. The names Jimmy Olson and Johnny Memphis refer to, I believe, DJ's on a radio station in Greenfield, MA in the 90's and earlier. The sentiment is pretty universal among young people. This song invariably reduces me to tears-- of joy and recognition and hope. We're all out here, and we're all listening. Go Dar!

Monday, May 05, 2008

American journalists lose ability to decode hyperbole

This just in, American journalism has lost the ability to decode hyperbole. "Def: Hyperbole: Exaggeration used for emphasis. Hyperbole can be used to heighten effect, to catalyze recognition, or to create a humorous perception."

GOP: "Well, your guy's preacher says 9/11 is the chickens coming home to roost!"
DEM: "Well your guy's preacher said Hurricane Katrina was God's righteous anger at the gays!"

I guess this isn't so startling, since it's been happening everywhere in our society. The Supreme Court decision defining the limit of free speech as "yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater," is now being reinterpreted to include any kind of statement made anywhere to anyone that happens to be within earshot of the jittery and security obsessed ears of our cowed public. As a poet, who uses language to both explicate and instigate reactions from my readers, I find this alarming.

I also find it's horribly uninformative and distracting from the real issues to have this kind of saturation news coverage of a non-issue in the presidential races. Dare I speculate, that with the current presidential contests now taking 18 months, there's not a lot to talk about? Dare I say, if you leave out the heated rhetoric, the symbolism, the heresay, the innuendo-- that there's no difference between the candidates anyway, and there's no real reason for 5,000 journalists to even cover the races, hoping for news? Or would that be hyperbole?