Monday, August 26, 2013

The Drums Of War Are Beating... Again.

This time it's Syria, apparently.

Doubtless it's just a coincidence that some kind of crisis has come along in Syria just when Obama and his government of swine have had their reputation shitstained the world over as a result of the sentencing of Chelsea Manning, and the revelations from Edward Snowden. But coincidence or not, it's plain that Obama isn't above trying to change an uncomfortable political dialogue, and he's doing it in the ugliest possible fashion.

I hope to hell that whichever prawn we've got in The Lodge takes a very long, very hard look at the situation if and when Obama starts in with the bombs and the guns and the 'bringing Democracy' thing. We've still got good Australian soldiers dying in Afghanistan from the last-but-one time we marched in lockstep with a dangerous maniac in the White House. We spent way too much time and money helping Dubya's COW fuck over Iraq, turning the place into a cash cow for Halliburton and a hell-hole for Iraqi citizenry.

Let's think about the Syria thing, shall we? Syria's been on the USAnian shit-list for years. Dubya made it a primo player in his imaginary "Axis of EEEvul", alongside North Korea, and... uhh... shit. Who was the third? Was it Cuba? Couldn't be, could it? Damn. Let me look it up.

Ah. Originally, it was Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. But in May 2002, not long after the original imbecilic speech, the Axis of Eeevul got expanded to include Libya, Syria, and Cuba. (Cuba? Fuck me.)

So apparently, the USAnian government has had a hard-on for Syria for more than ten years. Now Syria's having a civil war. Tearing itself apart. Naturally, the USA has jumped up to support the 'rebels', but unfortunately, it turns out they're just as big a bunch of bastards and killers as the Syrian government itself. And now, all of a sudden -- just as the US becomes a world-wide synonym for 'police state', 'tyranny', and 'illegal surveillance' -- the US is insisting that the Syrian government has gassed a civilian target, and Something Must Be Done.

I note in passing that the information on this heinous crime seems to have reached us by way of the French. The French? Last I heard, the USA had declared 'Freedom Fries' into existence, and rejected the French as 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys'. So, suddenly now French intelligence is reliable, trustworthy, and a good reason to start limbering up the cruise missiles?

My. That's an interesting change of position, isn't it?

And speaking of interesting changes of position, which country was it that supplied Saddam Hussein with detailed satellite information when he was preparing to attack the Irani forces with Sarin gas? Come on. You know perfectly well: say it with me -- it was America.

Now, we all know how the relationship between Saddam and the US wound up. One day, the Americans are supplying him with highly detailed intelligence on the Irani forces so he can use illegal WMD on them. The next, they're supplying him with clusterbombs and mines... oh, but the day after that, they're fucking INVADING Iraq in pursuit of WMD -- or was it oil? I can never keep that straight -- and tearing the heart of the Iraqi society in the process.

And now, Obama and his people expect the world to dance to his tune because the French have told him the Syrians have gassed their own people?

Enough is enough. Whatever America's internal problems are, that's none of our business. But when America starts yet again making noises about war -- that's everybody's goddam problem.

We followed the US in Korea. We followed 'em in Vietnam. We followed them in Iraq I. We followed them in Afghanistan. We followed them in Iraq II.

Please, for fuck's sake -- whichever dickhead happens to have the Prime Minister's office if and when Obama pushes the 'fuck you' button on Syria -- please, please: let the Yanks do this one by themselves.

They're quite good at "bringing democracy" by now. They've had a fuckload of practice at it, and they really, really don't need our help at all.

Let's keep the Australian military clean this time, shall we?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's Called "Test" Cricket For A Reason

And England just failed.

They were three-nil up. They've won the Ashes. One game left to play.

Australia got in a good first innings. Good, but not unbeatable.

The English have chosen to play 'dead-rubber' cricket. Block, block, block, play for time, stall, stall. They're not playing to win. They're playing -- quite desperately -- not to lose.

That's quite telling, because after all, what do they have to lose? One game in a dead series?

It seems that the Brits are so afraid of losing a single match to a much-weakened Australian side that they will willingly play for nothing but a draw. And to me, that's very interesting.

I remember the Australian sides under Border, Taylor, Waugh, and Ponting... and I can't remember them playing a dead-rubber game for a draw. In fact, they occasionally made very risky declarations in the hopes of chasing a victory. Over and over: they showed they'd rather lose a dead-rubber game in pursuit of a really big win than play safe, sad cricket that made the game a byword for boredom in the 60s and 70s.

The simple fact is that the Australians weren't afraid that a single loss might make them seem vulnerable. They were prepared to face any side in the world under just about any conditions, and they didn't give a damn if they lost a match once they'd won the series.

Now, when Australia went to England this time I expected the English to thrash hell out of our team. And it's true: the scoreboard is 3-0. But the first English win was a squeaker. And one Australian-tilted game got washed out. And here we are in the final game, and the English don't have the stones to play like a winning side.

It's interesting. The British fans are all crowing about the scoreboard. And here's me: I'm seeing an English team that's so afraid of looking vulnerable that they won't play for a win even when they've got nothing to lose.

The Ashes will be contested again later this year, starting in Brisbane. And there won't be any sad little doctored English pitches, either.

I didn't think it was possible... but the English quite clearly are afraid of losing even a single match to the Australians. And that means the Ashes series down here is likely to be a whole lot of fun to watch.

But not if you're English.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Intimidation, Abuse, And Other Methods Of A Peaceful, Democratic Government

So, Glenn Greenwald's partner has been detained for nine hours at Heathrow for questioning about 'Terrorism'. Nine hours is the maximum permitted time under British 'anti-terror' laws that a suspect can be held (at a border point, such as an airport) without actually being arrested and charged. See this article for more details:

Now, on every level this is wrong, disturbing, and vile. Greenwald is a journalist, and in breaking the Edward Snowden stories, Greenwald is doing exactly what a journalist should. There is no possible justification for grabbing his family, friends or other personal contacts, and subjecting them to a nine-hour interrogation. This is Stalinist bullshit, and I am beyond appalled. Words fail me. I'm enraged.

I'm a writer. I have political opinions. If I publish them, can I expect my family to be targeted? No, I'm nowhere near any 'whistleblowers' -- but what makes you think they're going to stop with Greenwald? If they can get away with this kind of intimidation and abuse, how long before it becomes a standard weapon in the arsenal, for use against any dissenting voices?

There's worse, though.

Notice that they took away David Miranda's electronics. All of them. Phone. Computer. USB sticks. Game devices.

Notice also that David and Glenn are in a gay relationship.

Notice that David comes from Brazil.

Now, finally, let me point out that a very easy Wikipedia check shows that the age of consent in Brazil is 14.

How long will it be, do you think, before the British authorities crack any encipherment and "find" some gay porn on David's electronica? And how much would you like to bet that some of it depicts boys of 14-16 years of age?

What do you think it will do to Greenwald's reputation once they make public what they've "found" in his partner's possession?


You think I'm excessively cynical? Well. I think we'll have an answer to that within two or three weeks. If Glenn Greenwald shuts up and backs away from Ed Snowden, then we'll know that the pressure was applied successfully. But if we keep hearing news from Greenwald that makes the Yanks and the Brits look bad, I'm betting that the "found" contents of David Miranda's electronica will mysteriously be leaked.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ubuntu Linux

So, I finally got around to stripping all the useful files off Natalie's old Toshiba Satellite laptop. No point waiting for her to finish the job. I believe the machine has been sitting around for a year and a half waiting for that to happen.

It's a clunky old farquhar of a machine: heavy and thick. But it does come with a cd/dvd burning drive, and a decent display. It began life as a 'Vista' machine, and I quickly reloaded it with XP - but when Natalie found out she'd have to actually pay for a copy of XP, she made me revert it to Vista. I figured she got what she deserved therefrom, and I expect nobody will be surprised when I say that she replaced it with a Mac. And a MacBook Air. And an iPad. Oh, and she has an iPhone and an iPod too. Doesn't do things by halves. Nope.

(Except when it comes to cleaning the files up on her old computer.)

So, what to do with an old, clunky Toshiba? Hmm.

Well, the Mau-mau wanted a computer. And what the hell; both boys have one, more or less. So -- why not? I decided I'd bite the bullet, and set up the old Tosh Sat with Ubuntu Linux 12.whatever the fuck the latest long-term stable release is.

I expected fuss. I expected fuckage. I expected, in short, Linux.

What did I get?

Well, I downloaded the disc image without any issues. Burned it straight to a cd. Plonked it into the Tosh Sat drive, and kicked it off. There was a brief moment of irritation when I had to reset the boot-device order to make the thing boot off the cd... and that was exactly the last trouble I had.

Ladeez and gents, Ubuntu Linux is so fucking smooth it makes silk look like the dangerous end of a pineapple. The system installed itself neatly and cleanly in one go, without any grief whatsoever. All I had to do was supply a username, a name for the machine, and a password. The rest just... happened.

When it had finished, there was a quiet little note telling me to run the system updates... but that was it.

This version of Ubuntu puts all your programme icons on a 'launcher' down the left-hand side of the screen. You can unlock them and put 'em where you like, or you can just leave 'em on the launcher, and scroll through. Very easy, very intuitive.

It comes with a handy little set of applications. Libre Office handles the usual range of desktop publishing. There's Firefox for the Web. There's a music organiser/player (that talks to an Ubuntu music store) and a few other bits and pieces. There's also a 'software centre' prominently visible on that launch bar. Click it, and you are immediately tossed into the familiar equivalent of an 'app store'. There are lots and lots of bits of free software available right away.

Did I mention how easy it was to go online? Ubuntu happily found all the relevant wifi stuff. A couple of clicks, a password, and hey: I'm in. Frankly, it was a lot harder with Windows.

I picked a typewriting game for the Mau-mau, a downhill racing game, and a platforming game. Loading and installing? Shit. Couldn't be easier. Click the icon of each application you want in the software centre. Authorise the installation. Walk away. Ubuntu handles the rest.

I opened up Firefox, because I wanted to show Jake the now-famous Weidman/Silva knockout. Immediately, I got a little notification telling me that Adobe Flash wasn't installed. I clicked it, and a window opened on Adobe's download centre. I picked a version that said it was right for Linux, and clicked it. That opened the Software Centre again: I had to authorise it to accept software from the Adobe repository. And once I'd done that?

Yep. You guessed it. Ubuntu quietly downloaded and installed Adobe Flash, and when it was done, I went back to the website and watched the clip of Weidman punching out Silva.


Okay, Linux isn't big on running your favourite games. Okay, a lot of brand-name software you're used to may not be configured for Linux. On the other hand, I have never seen such a smooth, easy, intuitive interface. I've had more trouble figuring out Natalie's Mac than I did with installing this version of Ubuntu Linux. And I haven't bothered to try it yet, but I hear that WINE (a more-or-less emulator for Windows) runs just fine under Ubuntu Linux if you really must do Windowy things.

So, the verdict? Well, when I replace my computer, I'll be making Ubuntu my primary working desktop. I'll keep a partition for Windows so I can occasionally play interesting games, possibly -- and to run some of the oddball Windows ware I've gotten used to over the years. But for music, web browsing, writing and editing, Ubuntu rules.

And in the meantime, the Mau-mau just got herself a reliable, robust, easily configured and relatively secure computer for --- well, nothing much, really. Ubuntu Linux is free, and Nat's old machine had long since been written off and depreciated through tax.

So how's this relevant to you? Well -- got kids? Got elderly relatives you'd like to connect with who aren't computer-savvy and don't want to spend a lot of money? D'you know anybody who might benefit from the gift of a still-very-functional computer for learning or working or playing?

Ubuntu Linux is, near as I can tell, a fantastic way of recycling and repurposing old machines. I won't say the Tosh Sat is now a swift, agile beasty -- but it starts up from scratch in about thirty or forty seconds, shuts down even faster, and seems to run fairly complex software with ease.

Hats off to these people. You can still find all the operating system files. You can still open a terminal for command-line access. You've still got all that geeky, Linuxy goodness if you want to go after it. But if you're new, and you just want to be able to work with an inexpensive computer -- Ubuntu Linux is fucking brilliant.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mandolines Suck

I bought one.

A mandoline, that is. With an 'e', you'll notice. Last thing I need is another bloody musical instrument around the house. Besides, I think we've got a mandolin. Maybe two. I know we loaned one out sort of permanently, but I suspect the other one is still lurking.

But I was in a kitchen shop, y'see. Helping Genghis pick out a present for the Mau-mau, whose eighth birthday approaches with freight-train rapidity. (Are freight trains fast? All of 'em I've ever seen are slow, clunkitty bastards, fit only for blockading level crossings at great length when you're trying to get past.) And while I was there, I thought: I keep hearing from people just how convenient these mandoline things are. And here's one on sale. I'll get it.

Stupid bloody idea. It's fiddly, and dangerous. I cut myself in three places tonight making shoestring fries for the kids. I will admit that it was marginally faster than Mister Cleaver, and it did produce more evenly sized fries... but really, the savings in time wasn't much, and the evenness of the fries isn't exactly a factor of interest. (Still. They were skinny. So they cooked fast. That was good.)

But as for anything else... well, sod it. I can't really see the point. Stupid, clunky, clumsy device with unnecessary bladey bits and all kinds of ergonomic handling issues. Pfeh. It will go up on top of the storage area, to be used only on the rare occasions when I feel like making shoestring fries... maybe twice a year.

And in other news, it looks as though we may be heading towards Renovation Hell once more. Natalie has finally noticed that there's not really enough space in our dining room for the piano and all the various computers and the electronic soldering table and the Lego and the puzzles and the bass and the cello and the violin and the trumpet and the dining table and chairs...

... so we may, assuming the costings are reasonable and Council doesn't freak out, wind up adding an actual dining room. That would be truly marvellous, despite the inevitable horrors associated with renovation.

Other than that? Early cherry trees are blossoming in Launceston. Daffodils and jonquils are shooting up all over the place. The hills are showing the first hints of wattle gold. Soon I shall be sneezing like a motherfucker. In other words: don't panic, people who are tired of the cold -- Spring isn't far away.

Time to buy some anti-snotergenic drugs.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Whoa. Sorry About Vanishing Like That

Not dead. Just writing epic poetry and other stuff.

I'm now finished the first draft of the poem for the MA. Fourteen thousand words in length. My prof is kind of boggled. He tends to giggle when he looks at it, like he can't really believe anybody has handed him fourteen thousand words of Ottava rima that actually rhymes and scans. I can't blame him. Having done it, I find it hard to believe too.

Bad news is, I'm not supposed to post a final version herein. The piece will be subject to the usual examination by various prof types around the traps, and I'm supposed to more or less keep it under wraps until they've had a good long look, kicked the tyres, and all that shit. Sorry about that.

There's a lot of editing left to do. I noticed a couple of seven-line stanzas, for example, and I lost track of my cantos in the run-up to the finish. But on the whole, it does the job, and I'm kind of staggered that I did it. I am also seriously in awe of a man who could produce something nearly ten times the size using quill pen and paper, without rhyming dictionaries and thesaurus, etc. I don't know of 'genius' is the right word to apply to Byron, but he certainly was an unusual chap. His ability to concentrate must have been outright fucking staggering.

Anyway, once I finished the first draft I got a week off the academic stuff, so I promptly dove in and went over the edits on the novel. It has a title, by the way: Path of Night. It's the first in a series set in Australia in modern times, and it falls somewhere between thriller, sf, and horror, with a streak of good old Australian ironic humour. The cover is coming together (get your act in gear, Adam!) and as soon as the editor and I figure out how to ship files back and forth between our disparate software (her .rtf would only open in my WordPad. When I opened it in anything else, everything after page 14 was missing. So of course, I did my editing in WordPad, and sent it back... whereupon she opened it with something Macintoshy, and sure enough, everything after page 14 was missing. Since then, I've saved it into odt with Open Office, but that crippled my editors ability to do much of use, so now I've tried both .doc and .docx format. It will be interesting to see what happens.)

I'm also diving into a filmscript -- purely because I can. I've had a really brilliant idea, and I've never done a full-length filmscript, so I'm just going to write the farkin' thing. Hell, if I can write an epic poem in Byronic Ottava rima, just how fucking difficult can a filmscript be?

Oh -- and young Jake has decided he needed a blog. It's over here. Drop by and make the little bastard think. It's good for him.

Now, I'd better go and get cooking. The fambly will be back from orchestra soon, if they don't wipe out on the rain-drenched highway on the way home...