The Audacity of Political Calculation

I was in some conversations several weeks ago where this possibility was discussed. I was told that one should never listen to Obama’s words, that there is no reason to believe his pledges, and that Obama would find a lawyer-like reason for getting out of any statement that was inconvenient. (These claims were made by an Obama supporter.) As someone who initially had sympathy of Obama based on hope of an honest national debate, I was skeptical.

But it turns out I was wrong. Obama’s words may well be worthless after all. From the Washington Post staff editorial:

The Politics of Spare Change – washingtonpost.com
BARACK OBAMA isn’t abandoning his pledge to take public financing for the general election campaign because it’s in his political interest. Certainly not. He isn’t about to become the first candidate since Watergate to run an election fueled entirely with private money because he will be able to raise far more that way than the mere $85 million he’d get if he stuck to his promise — and with which his Republican opponent, John McCain, will have to make do. No, Mr. Obama, or so he would have you believe, is forgoing the money because he is so committed to public financing. Really, it hurts him more than it hurts Fred Wertheimer.

Pardon the sarcasm. But given Mr. Obama’s earlier pledge to “aggressively pursue” an agreement with the Republican nominee to accept public financing, his effort to cloak his broken promise in the smug mantle of selfless dedication to the public good is a little hard to take. “It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections,” Mr. Obama said in a video message to supporters.

Mr. Obama had an opportunity here to demonstrate that he really is a different kind of politician, willing to put principles and the promises he has made above political calculation. He made a different choice, and anyone can understand why: He’s going to raise a ton of money. Mr. McCain played games with taking federal matching funds for the primaries until it turned out he didn’t need them, and he had a four-month head start in the general election while Mr. Obama was still battling for the nomination. Outside groups are going to come after him. He has thousands of small donors along with his big bundlers. And so on.

Fine. Politicians do what politicians need to do. But they ought to spare us the self-congratulatory back-patting while they’re doing it.

Now we know that Obama’s words, if they are said honestly at all, can be parsed so that they mean whatever Obama wants at any time. Can we now discount the value of his words to zero? If so, what other actions can be assume are worthless? (His appointments? His associates? His profession of Christianity? What else?)

First Victory Against Chinese Chess Computer Opponent!

Bwa ha ha! So the mighty have fallen! The enemy marshall is trapped, being unable to leave his palace because of his own cowardice, and being checked by my brave rook, who effortless crossed with river. Escape from the otherside is blocked by another rook, while the enemy’s remaining palace guard and knight are positioned worthlessly away from the battle.

So Qianhong falls in the deadly game of Xiangqi. So it must be. All hail tdaxp!

The Greatest Thing Since Jack Chick’s Conversion to the Cthulhu Cult

It doesn’t quite top “Who will be eaten first?,” but LOLCthulhus are still hilarious:

From the Wired piece:

Cthulhu Cthursday: LOLCthulhus | Table of Malcontents from Wired.com
Is there anything more loathsome, more indicative of the rife idiot stupidity of the Internet than the LOLCats meme? The endless repetition of the exact same joke (photograph of surprised cat implausible misspelling) done over and over and over again. Have you ever opened Photoshop, inserted a picture of your cat and then superimposed a sentence beginning with “O HAI” in a bold white Impact font? Congratulations. You are a lowest common denominator idiot and, quite frankly, you’re lucky Stalin ruined that whole gulag idea for everyone.

On the other hand, LOL Cthulhu? Now there’s a meme we can all get behind. How long, though, before someone soils even this fine thing by ‘cleverly’ mating this hilarious, tentacled genre with its retarded feline cousin, unleashing the bastard spawn LOLCathulhus upon the world? God damn you, whoever you are.

More at LOLthulhu.

ODF Defeats OOXML!

I became a fan of the OpenDocument Format when I was working on my Masters thesis in Computer Science, and needed to generate hundreds of report files in as Word and Powerpoint documents. Working on a combination of Linux and Windows machines, my best option was ODF… I could create OpenDocument files by outputting XML, graphics, and zipping them up, and then use OpenOffice to batch-convert them to Microsoft’s format. Since then I’ve followed the rise of ODF in some interested, and been curious about Microsoft’s uncharacteristic attempt to create a competitor format, OOXML.

Microsoft now seems to be conceeding that it backed the wrong horse. ODF support will be native in Microsoft Office from the next service pack on, while there’s no date for Office to support Microsoft’s own format:

Red Hat Summit panel: Who ‘won’ OOXML battle? | The Industry Standard
The Open Document Format (ODF) has benefited from the two-year battle over the ratification of Microsoft’s rival Open Office XML (OOXML) standard, which is native to its Office 2007 suite, Microsoft’s national technology officer said Thursday during a panel discussion at the Red Hat Summit in Boston.

ODF has clearly won,” said Stuart McKee, referring to Microsoft’s recent announcement that it would begin natively supporting ODF in Office next year and join the technical committee overseeing the next version of the format.

“We sell software for a living. The ability to implement ODF in the middle of our ship cycle was just not possible,” he said. “We couldn’t do that during the release of Office 2007. We’re looking forward and committed to doing more than [ODF-to-OOXML] translators.”

Panelist Douglas Johnson, an official involved with corporate standards at Sun Microsystems, said the attention caused by the debate has enabled other office-suite products to be competitive.

“The office-suite market has been ruled by one dominant player after another, but those markets were never governed by good open standards practices,” he said. “What has happened is that this dominant-player market has actually been upset and opened to competition that didn’t exist before.” Sun’s StarOffice product uses ODF.

The real winner is consumers. Once Microsoft Office natively supports ODF (meaning you can load OpenDocuments through File | Open, save them through File | Save, etc.), the same standard office format will be supported by OpenOffice, Microsoft Office, and Google Docs. This means that consumers will be able to use the productivity suite that meets there needs, and not be locked-in by a technical file format that is special to one company or the other.

Join the Core, Support Firefox!

My friend Aaron hasn’t only been my best friend since middle school, didn’t only host an early version of this blog for years, and wasn’t just my main source for circumventing the Great Firewall of China.. he also found this awesome map that compared support for Firefox with the Tom Barnett’s Core/Gap model:

In a deeper analysis, it’s further concluded:

I admit that when I wrote the post on Monday about the correlation between the pentagon’s new map and the firefox pledge download map I thought that once the per capita data was analyzed it would sharply change the outcome. The reality is, it doesn’t. Core countries are far and away dominant on the list. In the bottom half of the list (84 of the 167 countries with populations over 500,000) only 4 countries are in the core: India, China, Mongolia and South Africa. (of course as a % of Function Core, or even the worlds’ population, this is a lot of people!).

Eastern Europe is clearly an emerging open source powerhouse. Of the top 20 countries as a percentage pf population who pledged the top 3 are Eastern Europe and a total of 8 make the list. Only 4 of the countries are “non-integrated gap” countries all of which are transitioning (or arguably have transitioned, into “New Core” countries. Indeed, there is an argument that open source software allows new core countries to integrate into the core more rapidly by not only making some of the key tools that facilitate this transition more readily and cheaply, available but also by enabling the population to participate in their development thus building world class skills without the requisite FDI or multinational corporate investment.

The more grim news is at the bottom of the list. Perhaps unsurprisingly, but still another sad reminder, virtually every country on the bottom 20 is African (Bangladesh and Myanmar are the exceptions). In short, the countries most in need of this software, software that is freely available, still are least likely to have the capacity and infrastructure to download it.

Other notable placements were Venezuela (62) and Iran (77), much lower down the list than I initially suspected they would be.

Also interesting, and perhaps a possible challenge for Barnett (and the world) is that the 3 Core countries with fewest number of pledges were (in order from fewest to most) China (123), India (116) and South Africa (89)

Firefox 3 is out. It’s the fastest and most usable yet. Download Firefox 3 Now.

The Economist and Barack Obama Attack Jim Webb

After describing the obvious benefits of Jim Webb as a potential running mate to Barack Obama, Lexington of The Economist throws cold water on the idea:

Mr Webb is an indifferent campaigner. His speeches are awkward, he clearly dislikes all the flesh-pressing and he looks like an angry potato. He has infuriated some Democrats (but pleased others) by bucking party orthodoxy on matters of race and sex. He thinks it unfair to poor whites that racial preferences designed to atone for slavery and segregation should be extended to virtually every other minority group. And in 1979 he wrote an article opposing combat roles for women entitled, simply: “Women Can’t Fight”. (He has since changed his mind.)

The main worry about Mr Webb, however, is that he is a genuine fire-breathing economic populist. He appears actually to believe the sort of stuff that Mr Obama only says during Democratic primaries. Since vice-presidents sometimes become presidents, this matters. American workers, says Mr Webb, “are at the mercy of cut-throat executives who are vastly overpaid, partly as a consequence of giving [the workers’] jobs away to other people.” Illegal immigration and globalisation “threaten to dissipate” the American middle-class way of life. He predicts that, unless the government acts to restore “economic fairness”, America “may well go the way of ancient Greece [or] greed-ridden Rome”.

America may be horribly unequal, but it is not, as Mr Webb imagines, apocalyptically so. And judging by his book, Mr Webb has only a shaky understanding of the economic system he decries. He thinks South Korea is more productive than America, and that “most” investors are among the wealthiest 1% of Americans. (In fact, about half of Americans own shares.) He is worryingly hazy about how he would make America fairer. But his instincts are plainly hostile to the free flow of goods, investment and people across borders. Mr Obama, who has recently started to sound less protectionist on the campaign trail and has appointed a team of impeccably centrist economic advisers, can surely do a bit better.

Lexington isn’t the only one going out of his way to hurt Jim Webb’s future. Assuming he still picks Webb, Obama has seemingly castrated him by selecting a paristan aparatchik who would be Webb’s chief-of-stuff:

Communications director Robert Gibbs told reporters today that the Obama campaign was surprised at the reaction to hiring estranged Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle as top staffer for Obama’s yet-to-be-named running mate. The move was seen by some Clintonistas as a slap in the face to Hillary Clinton and a clear signal that Clinton was not in the running as Obama’s running mate.

That Obama would not only be picking Webb’s Chief of Staff for him –but seemingly chooses such a person as an inside-move against Clinton — is terribly disappointing. I understand why Obama might want to keep Webb on a short least. The intended meaning of “Racists. Cannon fodder. My ancestors. My people. Me.” is perfectly clear, but doesn’t fit with the gotcha politics of Kos, Curtis Gale Weeks, and others. Still, if Webb is going to be on the ticket, at least let Webb be Webb. Don’t saddle him with Patty Solis Doyle, who did so much for Hillary Clinton.