Thoughts on Impeachment in the Early Going

To play devil’s advocate for a moment, the corruption at the core of the latest Ukraine scandal is real. Unless crack-addicted loser sons of U.S. senators getting offered plum spots on the board of a foreign oil and gas company is more commonplace than I’ve been led to believe, there’s a place that’s soft for digging here. As an attack on Biden it’d probably be fruitful, outside of the irony of Donald fucking Trump making an accusation of nepotism. But that wasn’t enough. Instead of using this fiasco as a straightforward attack on a Presidential opponent, he actually thought pushing the Ukrainians on it was the kind of thing a head of state can do without consequences. This mob idea that “not saying the thing directly while implicitly communicating it anyway” gives one plausible deniability is as stupid as it is cynically optimistic.

It has been clear for months to everyone but Pelosi that the strategy, “Let Trump get away with open corruption and hope he eventually just goes away” wasn’t putting the party in an advantageous position. The optics of “we must protect the children of the politically powerful from scrutiny” angle are awful. It makes the entire undertaking of impeachment look like a tantrum thrown by the branch in opposition of America’s political oligarchy. Nevertheless, it looks like that’s gonna be the double-edged sword the Democrats wield as they ride into battle now. This is gonna be the latest in a line of exhausting shitshows that’s continued unbroken since election night 2016. It could also give Trump, whose health is visibly failing and for whom questions of fitness for office and emerging signs of dementia are becoming more frequent, an out, if he weren’t such a toxic narcissist that he’d never, ever go willingly from something he believes he earned.

If you’re still on a social media outlet that’s gonna expose you to the churning, nonstop idiocy of it all on any kind of regular basis, for the love of God, get off of it.

edit: Oh, for the love of Jesus.

So long, Stallman

Richard Stallman, longtime free and open source software (FOSS) advocate, has resigned from the Free Software Foundation and MIT following remarks on Jeffrey Epstein and AI expert Marvin Minsky. Good riddance. At the very least he’s an unpleasant, rigid ideologue with petty hangups, with a side of That Roommate from your early twenties who never grew out of it. Stallman has a history of insensitivity toward social issues, frequently hiding from blowback by diving into semantic games, and there are repeated instances of casual sexism played off as “jokes.”

In the ensuing fallout more information has emerged. This Medium post alleges that he was skeevy as hell even thirty years ago in its second section – a grown man threatening to kill himself if an undergrad won’t go on a date with him is not a person I want leading anything. But even suspending that I’d argue the state of Stallman’s reputation outside a cult of braying weirdos trying too late to circle the wagons around him is not bound to any single factor. His downfall has been in the making for years.

There’s the rider fiasco from 2011, outing him as an exacting prima donna. There’s Stallman on video eating something from the bottom of his foot during a speaking engagement. There’s the pedophilia stance he offered a soggy, belated apology for in the past few days. There’s his brittle intolerance for just about anything that could conceivably rub him the wrong way. And ultimately there’s the impression that he’s been enabled to live in a filthy little bubble for decades, heedless of the effects of his words, his appearance, or his inability to compromise in any way on the community he’s vociferously insisted on representing.

At 01:44 Stallman unambiguously eats something from the bottom of his sandal-clad foot. Betcha thought I was kidding.

I don’t know what Stallman will do at this point, and don’t particularly care. “Genius” can’t be defended when the bearer of that honor is also responsible for alienating and discouraging countless others. While I hope the FOSS community moves past him, his removal from power is going to create drama… Let’s just hope things continue moving in the right direction going forward.

Tumblring Ever Downward

Six years after it was sold to Yahoo for over a billion dollars, Tumblr’s been sold to Automattic by Verizon for a rumored three million. In relative terms, that’s buying a used car for a grand and being offered a cup of drip coffee one and a half Presidential election cycles later. It really drives home the point that when the internet’s fundamental economics run on advertising, even a property Alexa ranks within the top 100 sites visited on the web isn’t worth much if it can’t be monetized. Finally, perhaps most egregiously, the porn ban remains in effect. Time will tell if Automattic bothers to enforce that beyond token gestures after Verizon/Oath’s disastrous attempt to sanitize the platform late last year.

Zing!

I’m working on bigger things. Stay tuned.

Ladyhawke – The Unseen Review

RIP to Rutger Hauer, an actor with a colorful filmography and genuine, heartfelt talent. I’ll confess that there are a lot of his films I’ve yet to see, but there’s never been a better time to experience his body of work than the era of streaming video. May he rest in peace, and may his work live on.

In light of his death, I was reminded of a very silly article I wrote a long time ago. The premise for that would-be series is that I’d write a review of what I thought an unseen movie might be like based on the shortest summary of its story at IMDb, then watch it and write a real review. The publication never got off the ground, and I’m no longer in contact with those who commissioned it. It may as well find a home here.

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The Woes of DOS in Modern Times

As Microsoft will tell you, there’s brisk traffic in computing nostalgia right now. But don’t forget: Windows 1.0 was reliant on MS-DOS. And for years, DOS was the only real solution for technically demanding games on the PC platform.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play DOS games in 2019, even if they’re old enough to hang out in dive bars. Phil’s Computer Lab has a lot of interesting resources and a useful YouTube page. Vogons is an informative forum and fun to lurk in, too.

But there are a lot of caveats to installing DOS on new hardware. It’s possible that getting everything just right won’t even be possible now. The reasons… aren’t simple.

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News of the World and the Self, 06/27/19

“It’s a strange world, isn’t it?”

Kino Lorber is a video and film distributor who’s done a lot of great work. This week they released a Blu-ray of David Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY, a 1997 thriller-cum-mindbender that’s one of my favorite films. I’m thrilled, and the release sports strong audio and video. For a film with dark, demanding cinematography and which has had a very bumpy history in that regard, it’s great news.

Unfortunately it seems David Lynch was unhappy that Kino got the rights instead of Criterion, and issued the following statement, reproduced verbatim from its source:

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Death-Scort Service: A Film Review

Science fiction can tell you a lot about a society’s aspirations and anxieties; horror is an inside look at what a culture dreads and holds dear in equal measure. That extends to b-movies and low budget affairs too: don’t let anyone tell you THE EVIL DEAD isn’t art. Because I think film’s worth is democratic, I keep my selections eclectic and don’t stand on ceremony about propriety or provenance. My willingness to experience films from all corners means that friends periodically send me stuff to watch. And while I’m always grateful to get DVDs and Blu-rays in the mail, my criteria for enjoyment don’t always align with someone else’s idea of a good time off the cinematic grid. And so, we come to DEATH-SCORT SERVICE.

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Late October Grab Bag

  • After a decade using Twitter, I’ve thrown in the towel. I met a lot of great people and some of my best friends on the service, and didn’t take leaving lightly. But in the past few years it’s become a poisoned well of misinformation, bad actors, and bottomless outrage. That hasn’t been enough to scare advertisers away, as negative engagement is still very active there. User involvement driven by anxiety, rage, and fear is at least as valid as positive participation by the people looking to sell ads to frantic eyes. But the the service has become a dysphoric compulsion for most of its users instead of a healthy social medium, and that’s impossible for me to overlook or support.

Nobody is beholden to use a free service when it stops being fun. And don’t forget: all of the companies in the business of providing social media platforms monetize your distraction, selling the data you give them to organizations committed to using it. Going forward, I think Cambridge Analytica is going to be a fumbling baby step. I won’t speak for you, but I’m gonna find something else to do.

Advertising shot of a Silicon Graphics O2, with ’90s lighting that really pops. Found at http://questier.com/computers.html.

  • VICE has an entertaining piece about the cohort of computer hobbyists keeping Silicon Graphics machines alive in the 21st century. Like the community that’s playing the Atari Jaguar and making new games for it 25 years out, the community’s a sliver of what it once was. In the SGI users’ case there’s also justified grief and protectiveness over how eager PC builders are to snap up the dwindling quantities of this gorgeous, expensive hardware just to yank out everything that makes it distinctive and plop in standard PC bits. That’s a testament to how iconic the case designs are, and you’d think the company nominally holding SGI’s assets – first Rackable Systems, now apparently Hewlett Packard Enterprise – would partner with someone to make a limited edition run of PC cases. But the article leaves an important question unasked: how are these systems being used now?

The SGI Onyx, used for many purposes but most notably as development kits for the Nintendo 64. Picture courtesy Wikipedia.

A decade ago my hydrogeology professor had an old SGI workstation on his desk… but even then he almost exclusively used it as an X terminal connected to the Linux machine he kept in his laboratory. Do people in 2018 still incorporate them into 3D rendering jobs? Is anyone using them for production work? Are developers maintaining software for IRIX, the SGI Unix implementation that has been abandoned for the past decade? Without that perspective it’s a little like an article about people who love seventies folk music, and how these people go to concerts, run fan sites, build communities, and trade merchandise without ever talking about what the music is or why people love it.

Though at the very least I can confirm: they run Doom.