Get your country’s economy out of the toilet and win the next election HOWTO

What do you do when you’re the government of a nation whose economy is not as good as it once was?

  1. Spend $$$ on armaments in a Keynesian spending spree.
  2. Go to war with a small, easily-defeatable nation.
  3. After winning, rebuild the nation so that it will be forever financially indebted to you and heavily dependent on your technology and expertise [alternate link].
  4. PROFIT!!!

Do I sense some deja vu? Hitler tried this, as did General Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina and countless other governments worldwide, including several US administrations. Is economic growth worth such bloodshed and trauma? That obviously depends on the circumstances at the time, but for this war I am still unconvinced. We’ll see what happens.

I found an interesting article in The Guardian from last year (April 4, 2002). Here’s an excerpt:

The British people have acquired some notable information about the Falklands war in 2002 that they were denied 20 years ago, when the war itself took place behind a blanket of censorship. In the 1982 authorised Thatcherite version of events, Britain set out to recapture the Falkland Islands with strong but tacit American support, in the face of French duplicity, and won a brilliant victory against a demoralised Argentine enemy. Twenty years on, thanks to the memoirs of the then defence secretary, Sir John Nott, and an interview with the task force commander, Admiral Sandy Woodward, we are learning a very different version. Far from being an ally, Ronald Reagan’s US stands revealed by Sir John as persistently unreliable. Meanwhile under François Mitterrand, a willing France turns out to have supplied Britain with priceless technical details about the Exocet missile. Admiral Woodward has now revealed that the fighting in the south Atlantic was "a lot closer run" than we were told at the time. "We were on our last legs," the admiral says. If the Argentines had held out for another week, they would have defeated an exhausted Britain. Think how different our recent political history might have been then.

In other words, the USA stood aside while the territory of its closest ally was invaded by its belligerent neighbour. Maybe the British should boycott everything American? Even funnier was the revelation that the UK was aided by France!

The above-quoted article highlights the impact of censorship during times of war, not only on the part of government but also on the part of the media. Over the past few days on my television I have seen images of "Coalition" POWs held by the Iraqis, often followed by a statement claiming that these images were taken by Iraqis in violation of international law. And indeed they were. Yet nobody complains when the US does it! They did it in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and, yes, even in Iraq! I’ve lost track of how many international laws the US has broken, not only in this war but also in previous wars. These include the use of chemical and biological weapons (I thought Saddam was the one using those?!), cluster bombs and depleted uranium, and the targeting of civilian facilities. What makes me sad is that my own government is an accomplice to this. There are (were?) Australian citizens being illegally and indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Bay like animals, and the Australian government doesn’t care.

Another thing I cannot understand is the ‘logic’ that some people seem to hold that since the USA helped France in World War II, France should help the USA invade Iraq. Why should France help the US when it is the aggressor? Note that I’m not trying to defend France, because I don’t like them much either. However, this doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If I wanted to use such ‘logic’ (which it isn’t), then I could mention that the French government practically bankrupted itself helping the American colonists achieve independence. Louis XVI basically gave his life for the American people, since the French Revolution might not have happened hadn’t he been forced to pay for his war debts through raising taxes. I could also mention that although World War II began in 1939, and France was invaded in June 1940, it wasn’t until December 1941 that the United States entered the war. Even then, it was Germany that declared war, not the USA. Some ‘friends’ they were! Of course, using such arguments would be excessively facile, so I include them only to show their idiocy.

Update: I just came across this hypothetical discussion between a warmonger and a peacenik. I found it quite amusing.

Update [2003-04-06]: Britain’s Channel 4 screened a great comedy/documentary on 5 January called "Between Iraq and a Hard Place". You can watch the whole thing over the Internet (streaming, requires Realplayer) here.

English Sans French

I came across this article at csmonitor.com. Basically, it’s pointing out how juvenile a boycott of all words and products of French origin would be, for example renaming French fries to freedom fries. Besides, they are actually from Belgium, not France. Maybe we should call them oil fries? It only makes sense 🙂

That got me thinking. If so many Americans are eager to boycott everything French, what will they do with the admirals, commodores, brigadier generals, colonels, commanders, captains, lieutenants, warrant officers, ensigns, sergeants, corporals, specialists and airmen in their armed forces? Surely they wouldn’t want to use those in the war against Iraq? That leaves only seamen and privates for the assault (generals and majors are officers). Can they fight a battle without aeroplanes (including jets and their pilots), armour, artillery, bombs, rockets, grenades, bullets, rifles or machine guns? Can they attack without magazines or the ammunition stored inside them? And who needs soldiers, anyway? Maybe they don’t need an army, navy, air force or marines? Heck, perhaps they don’t need a military at all!

Strangely enough, weapons inspector doesn’t seem to be of French origin.

In semi-related news, Mandrake Linux 9.1 is out. OSNews has a great review of it, and Tweakhound has an informative interview with Mandrake Linux founder Gaël Duval. It looks amazing, particularly compared to 9.0, which could have been better (although I didn’t think 9.0 was nearly as bad as many reviewers did). As a side note, I clicked the "More links HERE" link at the bottom of the Gaël Duval interview and found PCLinuxOnline.com listed under "Other Good Linux Sites". Yay!!!

I’ve seen comments by some Americans advocating a boycott of Mandrake Linux because MandrakeSoft is French. To them, I have this to say: Are you really that retarded?! I mean, that’s just idiotic [see definition 2]! Free software is an international effort. Code and developers come from all over the world. The corollary of this is that most of the code in Mandrake Linux isn’t from France at all. It also means that all GNU/Linux distributions have some code that would have originated in France. Maybe you should boycott Red Hat, Debian and everyone else as well?

War in Iraq

There’s been a lot of news in the past few months about a possible war in Iraq. I thought I should get my thoughts down on this. I initially wrote the following in response to a comment that the USA should be allowed to attack Iraq on the basis of "freedom". I’ve never really understood this attitude, because to me it seems clear that the US government is not concerned with freedom at all, and is simply using it as an excuse to further its own interests (this is typical behaviour of any government). Nevertheless, I am not entirely for or against such a war at this stage. I always like to keep my options open. I don’t like Saddam Hussein, but I don’t like the Bush Administration either. Anyway, here’s what I wrote:

Sorry, but that’s a very simplistic attitude. Firstly, you should remember that Saddam Hussein was built up by the USA for decades before the (first) Gulf War, and the situation was not much different back then. Saddam was the same murderous dictator he is today.

You’re fooling yourself if you think this is about "freedom". No government really cares about freedom, they care about power. In the Middle East, much of the power is based around oil.

France have oil contracts with Iraq, and in the past they’ve also had nuclear energy contracts (I don’t know if these still exist). They obviously don’t want to risk these ending. I think Russia mey also have oil agreements with Iraq. Another reason why Russia may be against what the Bush Administration calls "regime change" is the possibility of a pipeline being built to transport oil and gas from former Soviet republics to the Gulf, bypassing Russia.

The USA are also after power. The oil industry is incredibly powerful in the USA, more so than in many other countries, and they’ve even managed to "persuade" the government to give them billions of dollars in annual subsidies and tax breaks. Bush comes from a Texan oil family, and he has never hidden the fact that oil is a very important part of his administration’s policy — just look at his insistence on drilling in ecologically sensitive areas of Alaska. The USA is the world’s largest consumer of oil, both in absolute terms and per capita. Clearly, oil is very important to US citizens, and nothing would make them happier than cheap fuel.

Invading Iraq would not only secure a cheap energy source for the USA and US oil companies, it would also weaken France (and hence the EU) and Russia (which the US still views as a possible rival) by nullifying their current contracts with Iraq. It would also strengthen the USA’s geopolitical position in the region, giving them a permanent base right in the middle of the richest oil reserves in the world. The US also has an aim towards "encircling" its (potential) major rivals: Russia and China. If you look on a map, you can see that this encirclement is mostly complete, with an expanding NATO in the east; Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (BTW, why does the USA support an undemocratic dictator like Pervez Musharraf, whom everyone knows supports terrorists?) in the south; and Taiwan, Japan and South Korea in the west.

In the world of international relations, there are no clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys". Everyone is after power, and they’ll use whatever means they can to get it. If the US truly cared about freedom, they would have pushed for democratisation in Kuwait. Instead, they reinstalled the dictators. Did the US media ever try to examine why Iraq attacked Kuwait in the first place, or they instantly paint Iraq as the "bad guy" and jump to the war coverage (i.e. the ratings/money earners)? To this day I have not even seen one mention in the mainstream press (Australian, British or American) that Kuwait was slant-drilling to steal Iraq’s oil, or that Kuwait was threatening to devalue the Iraqi Dinar. To me, that sounds like sufficient grounds for an attack, provided that all diplomatic avenues had failed (as they did between Iraq and Kuwait).

I am trying my best to sit on the fence on this one. However, what I don’t get are those people (mostly American) who claim that this is about "freedom". Here’s some news: your government does not care about freedom. They have proven that with their Homeland Security Act and related legislation. If they don’t care about freedom at home, what makes you think they’ll care about freedom in Iraq? They certainly don’t care about freedom in Pakistan, or Kuwait, or Panama, or Chile, or in countless other countries.

This isn’t about terrorism, either. There is no proven links between Iraq and terrorist groups, other than the vague "terrorist X visited Iraq one time". Osama bin Laden has made it abundantly clear that he considers Saddam Hussein to be an infidel, so that rules out any Iraq-Al Quaeda connection. Of course, that titbit was never reported in the US media. Instead, Americans got only a small sample of Osama’s speech (which came via Al Jazeera), carefully chosen to ignite anger towards both Iraq and Osama bin Laden. Don’t ya just love the press? They’ll do anything for ratings, and hence money.

What’d you mean it’s 2003?!

I hope everybody had a great New Year’s Eve. I know I did. Reaper had a huge party at his place, and from his balcony we had a prime view of the NYE fireworks on Sydney Harbour. Needless to say I had heaps of fun. Reaper’s punch (i.e. of the beverage variety) was very deceptive. I watched him make it (and helped a little), so I knew exactly how much alcohol was in it. However, it didn’t taste very alcoholic. I woke up the next morning with a monster hangover, and spent most of New Year’s day in bed. Thanks for putting up with my bitching and whining, Reaper. You’re a pal.

“Summer lovin’, had me a blast…”

I love Grease, don’t you? There’s some logic in the title. It is summer here in Australia, and as many may know Australian summers are typically very hot and dry. A lot has happened over the past few weeks and I’ve been too lazy to type it out here. I’ll split things into several entries for the sake of readability.

Back in July, I bought myself a nice new Athlon 2100+ system. This machine is lightyears ahead of my old Pentium II 350, and now I can do many things that wern’t practical on the old system. When I got the machine, I put it through a rigorous barrage of tests, including memtest86, heavy compiling and cpuburn. It passed with flying colours.

However, in the past couple of months, I’ve been having problems with heat. When I ran the tests, it was the middle of winter. Now it is summer, and room temperatures can easily hit 35 degrees or more. Using lm_sensors, I found that my CPU was about 70 degrees or more on a hot day – and that’s just at idle. If I tried compiling something or playing a game like Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament, it would easily go past 85 degrees. This triggers the overheat protection system on my ASUS A7V333 motherboard to shut the computer down (an Athlon can only take 90 degrees before frying itself). I’ve been saved many times by that – had my motherboard not had that feature (most boards don’t) I would’ve lost my CPU.

I had to use my system very carefully to prevent shutdown. This is obviously unacceptable, but I had to wait until mid-December before I could do anything about it (I was busy with other things). The heatsink on my CPU was standard AMD-issue – nothing special. I decided to purchase something better, finally settling on the Thermaltake Volcano 9. I made an order on an online shopping site and much to my surprise it was delivered only three hours later! The owner of the store lives only a block or two away from me, and he decided to deliver it himself on his way home. Now that’s what I call service!

I don’t trust myself with expensive equipment (I’ll mess around with older/cheaper stuff, though), so I decided to get the heatsink installed by the guy I bought my computer from. He’s a nice guy, and I’ve been dealing with him for a number of years, so I know he’s good. I opened the heatsink box for the first time. This thing is a monster! It was so big that we couldn’t install it without taking the motherboard out. It sounds like a helicopter, but over time I’ve gotten used to the noise. What’s important is that I can use my system at full throttle without fear of burning it out.

glibc blues

I haven’t posted any articles on PCLinuxOnline over the past three weeks because I b0rked my Gentoo system. I upgraded from glibc 2.2.5 to 2.3.1 and since then I haven’t been able to run certain apps without wrecking everything else. I’ve detailed my problem here and here. If anyone can help I’d much appreciate it.

At the moment I can run most apps, but things screw up when I load any part of KDE (including Konqueror) or Evolution. GTK+ (1 and 2) apps (apart from Evolution) work fine.

Update [2003-03-07]: The problem is with my Nvidia drivers:

Hi! I’m the guy who started this thread. I finally managed to fix things by turning off Grsecurity in my kernel. However, a very similar (but different) problem emerged a few months later. It occurred around the time I upgraded glibc to 2.3.1, so I initially thought glibc was to blame. After lots of experimenting with kernel configs, I discovered that I could have a stable system using Nvidia drivers if I turned highmem off, sacrificing just over 100MB of RAM (I have 1GB total).

I then came across cigaraficionado’s bug report and updated nvidia-kernel ebuild. I compiled a new kernel, this time turning highmem back on, and installed the new ebuild. The updated ebuild had no effect — using the Nvidia driver made my system unstable like before.

My hardware seems fine. Memtest86 detects no errors in my RAM (2x Corsair XMS 512MB DDR333 SDRAM). My GeForce 3 Ti200 card works perfectly in Windows and it worked perfectly in Gentoo until December, around the time I upgraded to glibc 2.3.1. I can’t figure out where the true problem is, but I strongly suspect it lies with nvidia-kernel.

That’s what you get for relying on binary-only kernel modules 🙁

A New Hope

Yeah, so I ripped the title off Star Wars, so what? emoticon

About three weeks ago (I think… I lose track of dates easily) on a Saturday I got a rather frantic call from my old friend Reaper. Here’s the Hollywood version (for your reading pleasure):

Reaper: "Aaargh! I’ve screwed up my hard drive and my computer is now useless! I have an appointment to have cable Internet installed on Tuesday and I need a working system so that the technician can install everything. Can I bring my computer to your house so you can take a look at it? Help me Yama, you’re my only hope."
Me: "You may, my minion. I know all. You may bow and kiss my ring."
Reaper: "Yes, my Liege! Thank you, Lord!"

*ahem* Well it went something like that, anyway.

About an hour later, Reaper shows up at my house with computer in tow. He somehow managed to kill his partition table, and after much fiddling I finally managed to fix it using gpart and (GNU/Linux) fdisk. He needed a copy of Windows installed for the cable guy, so I chucked on Win2K (which sadly/humorously is the best MS product since OS/2). To balance this out, I installed Mandrake 9.0.

Reaper is a Windows user, so I tried to make his Windows experience as non-MS (for both security and ethical reasons) as possible. OpenOffice.org and Mozilla are not only very capable applications (and IMHO are bettter than their MS counterparts), they also have direct equivalents in GNU/Linux. So the only thing keeping him in Windows is Windows itself. Reaper is a games player, but I think WineX can fill that void nicely. Of course, KDE is great for Windows converts.

I think a Windows to GNU/Linux transition is best achieved in two stages (to simplify the process). In the first stage, the user weans himself/herself off proprietary (particularly Microsoft) applications. In their place, open alternatives like Mozilla and OpenOffice.org are adopted. Once the user has grown accustomed to those programmes, they can make a transition to GNU/Linux (or BSD, Mac OS X, etc.). The apps stay the same, and only the OS changes. The whole process can take place over a prolonged period, and the user is free to switch back and forth (dual-boot) between operating systems.

Reaper, I know you’ll read this sooner or later, so tell us what you think. Am I talking junk or am I talking junk? 🙂

Update: Reaper messed up his hard drive when using Partition Magic 8. Yet another reason not to trust proprietary software, I guess.

Melbourne

I left to Melbourne on Friday night and got back at 2am Wednesday. It’s Friday now. I wanted to write something here earlier but I got lazy.

In short: I had a great time. I really needed to unwind, and now I feel much more relaxed.

Now I’ve got a huge backlog of stuff to do. I had been putting off numerous things for several months, and now that I’m back I can finally do them. The funny thing is that I don’t know where to start. I hate starting things. Once the ball is rolling I’m fine, but the hardest part is getting the ball to roll in the first place. I’ll take each day as it comes.

I had set my mail client (Sylpheed-Claws) to automatically collect my mail every fifteen minutes while I was away. I’m subscribed to several high-volume mailing lists, so I needed to do this to prevent my mail accounts from filling up. Unfortunately, Sylpheed-Claws screwed up and stopped retreiving mail at some point. Fortunately my boxes weren’t full. Next time, I’ll write a script to retreive my mail and have cron execute it periodically. I wanted to do that this time, but I ran out of time. I had a couple of thousand e-mails when I returned. I didn’t think it was worth suspending my mailing list subscriptions for only a few days. I deleted most of them, so now I’m back on track.

It seems like a zillion things have happened while I was away (I wasn’t keeping tabs on the news while I was gone). For instance, there are heaps of cool posts on PCLinuxOnline that I want to read. Here in Sydney, our dry, hot summer weather has helped to create a huge bushfire problem. I don’t live anywhere near the bush and yet I can see and smell smoke. Many people have even lost their homes to the fires 🙁 On Wednesday, the fires somehow managed to cut the power to my house. Apparently huge areas of Sydney have been affected. There goes my two months of uptime! I had half a day without electricity, and another half day cut off from US Internet sites. Australian and European sites loaded fine, but I couldn’t access US sites like PCLinuxOnline. Everything seems to be fine now, so I can quit complaining.