The New Terrapin Gazette

Number 271
12 October, 2012

Psychology has obviously lost the happy recklessness it enjoyed when Watson, Hull and Skinner, in their respective ways, believed they had found the great Laplacean formula of behavior, which at the same time provided the program for reorganizing society according to Hullian theory or Walden Two.

The Continuing Struggle To Destroy Free And Open Source Software

Years ago, when the personal computer was relatively rare, computer-literate folks literally created the tools they needed and passed them around for everybody to copy, modify, improve and use. Then Bill Gates declared that people should be paid for developing computer programs, and began trying to round up the good ones and take ownership of them so his company could make money. Apple adopted and pioneered a graphical user interface (GUI) for home computers; Gates had his employees reverse engineer it so his version looked and worked like Apple’s, and locked the result up legally. Then the struggle between the two companies to control the market for the home computer heated up.

Shortly thereafter, Linux was developed. This operating system was designed to do the tasks done by Unix, an operating system that existed before Microsoft and Apple were founded. Linux developers clung to the original concepts of software invention and evolution (employed by the developers of GNU), producing tools that were freely distributed and could be modified by their users; thus was the FOSS movement born. FOSS stands for Free and Open Source Software. Clearly, FOSS represented a challenge to the would-be monopolists.

Red Hat, an early enterprise developing Linux, pioneered the attempt to make money from its version of the operating system, and has proved that it can be done without locking software up behind patents and licenses. That success pales in comparison to the riches amassed by Microsoft and Apple, of course, and the fundamental difference between FOSS and proprietary software remains. For years, Microsoft in particular has proactively attempted to render FOSS development irrelevant.

A recent struggle between Apple and Samsung illuminates the evolution of the rivalry between the would-be monopolists and those who reject their acquisitive strategy. A review of the facts also casts light on patent law and raises questions regarding the ethical conduct of business.

For a good review of the legal battle, see the Wikipedia entry. (For some so-so commentary on the matter, see this. Reuters has a recent report on what the court is up to.) What began as a contest to control what is known as the desktop — the home computer user’s machine — has evolved into a bitter struggle over the much larger market for tiny hand-held “mobile phones” (which are, this newsletter never tires of pointing out, not telephones but radio transceivers that should not be pressed against your head). Everybody has to have at least one of these devices, and the profits to be made providing them are astronomical. (More’s the pity, but then that is another matter entirely.) Samsung just lost one billion dollars to Apple, but made well over thirty billion by doing something the court has declared illegal; there are obviously powerful reasons for rational people to break the law, and the justice system is not capable of preventing large corporations from doing exactly that. That’s a point to ponder, Pilgrims.

Tacit permission to steal is not the only aspect of the current struggle that deserves attention. Behind the Apple versus Samsung arm-wrestling match lies the hoary dispute between would-be monopolists (like Apple and Microsoft) and the FOSS community. That involves Google, the huge corporation whose policies have on occasion drawn fire from folks who perceive the company’s lack of commitment to free speech, and Google’s Linux derivative, Android.

To put the issue too succinctly, FOSS remains under assault by those who hate and fear it as a potential liberator of consumer choice. If software can be proprietary — and the courts have said it can be — then the cost of literally everything in the world must rise to compensate the people whose patents allow them to license, not sell, their wares.

Two often-overlooked facts need be noted: first, doing business without computers is becoming increasingly impossible for all but small barbershops and street vendors in the tropics. Second, because software is not sold, liability for its failure is easily avoided by those who control it. For example, when Microsoft designed its Windows operating system, it created an easy target for pre-teen computer hobbyists and sophisticated criminals alike. The result was hundreds of billions of dollars in costs to businesses around the world because of “viruses” (malware of all sorts). Those costs were passed along to consumers of literally everything. Microsoft grew fat without ever having to indemnify its millions of customers for the bad design of its products. This was likely the biggest and worst example of the legal establishment’s sheltering of negligence in human history, and it provides a lesson that has never been remarked on (except by this newsletter), let alone learned.

Now of course patents began life as an attempt to be fair to geniuses who invent things that are genuinely new. That simple principle has never translated gracefully into practice because greed, short-sightedness and sophistry have crowded decency aside. Everyone pays for errors of this sort. (The need and the challenge to do better are pressing, but better is unlikely to be attainable.)

There is plenty of culpability to go around. Apple, one of the biggest thieves of concepts and technology in the world, is trying to claim exclusive ownership of such things as rounded corners on rectangular shapes. The courts are rewarding the very people they find guilty of illegality. The liberating concepts of FOSS are once again under assault, and the free speech and choices of he public are threatened by unprincipled restriction. A great deal is wrong here, and no one is able to suggest countermeasures and remedies.

Perhaps this is an instance of technology driving change that outpaces the ability of the business and legal spheres to keep up. Perhaps it is another example of how treasure attracts rascals, or what happens when greed prostitutes genius. Only this much is clear: a great deal went wrong years ago, when Bill Gates insisted that computer software must be controlled by people who cannot be held responsible for their incompetence. That egregious principle set off a cascade of unforeseen consequences that have encouraged the depredations of modern pirates, rotted the legal system, and endangered the Liberty of the individual.

The Politicians’ Instrumental Myth

It’s only natural: when there is a serious problem and somebody finds a solution to it, a sense of relief and finality sets in. “It’s over, thank goodness.” That reaction is appropriate for genuine problems like burst pipes in the basement and dead light bulbs, but the discontents of life are often caused by difficulties, not by problems. You can’t solve difficulties. Sometimes you can reduce them or avoid them, but for the most part, they have to be coped with and endured.

Politicians trade in solutions. They “solve” problems such as unemployment, crime, taxes, substandard education, and potholes. The electorate hands power and control to its representatives, who then point with pride and view with alarm in order to retain or regain control. It’s a delusional process driven by the Myth of Utopia: the irrational conviction that government can dispense with all nettlesome circumstances the individual cannot begin to address.

What begins as a plausible assumption — that laws and law enforcement can improve civilization — very often becomes both a conceit and a deceit. That error exposes the individual to the depredations of rascals.

If justified by analogies with war, the activities of government will naturally expand. This trend in policy, propaganda and the engineering of all sectors of society was most notably advanced by the Wilson administration, which regimented the nation in order efficiently to prosecute World War I (see Liberal Fascism, ISBN 978-0-141-03950-3, pages 78-120). From this repressive, highly authoritarian organizational effort was born the malignant concept of governance as conflict, of which the current (and eternal) war on drugs is a prime example. Another is the delusion that the very climate of the earth is sensitive to human influence — the idea of anthropogenic global warming (rebranded “climate change”) is a demonstrably unscientific absurdity (start here and then follow up here) employed by politicians to regiment society in self-sacrificing service to a sacred cause. That quasi-military mission can never save mankind from warming or cooling, but it will enhance the politicians’ control of economic activity.

Stunningly Stupid

This is amazing:

Benghazi was perhaps the dumbest cover-up in US history. Jake Tapper grilled Carney on the “shoot first, aim later” issue that seems to have forced the administration to the conclusion that they needed to execute a cover-up so transparently absurd that it was obvious on day one (other than to the court jesters in the media of course). US foreign policy, or at least its PR, is apparently being run by campaign consultants with focus grouped catch phrases that they think will help get their candidate elected. Worse still, UN ambassadors and secretaries of state play along with such obvious and childish nonsense. And the US looks the fool to every serious country in the world. Help!


The US Presidential Election

As this is written, “wingnuts” are crowing over polls and commentary that indicate Romney could and just might win. The optimism is unjustified. Consider these facts: first, the news media are generally reporting not that the Republican is a leader who will do a better job than Obama can, but that The One just had a bad day. Nobody’s perfect all the time, and, along with Democrats across the party’s ideological spectrum, undecided voters are willing to be forgiving — after all, Babe Ruth struck out more often than he hit.

How can one ignore recent changes in the polls? The best response to that naive question is to ask how anyone can trust the polls. Those who bother to ask prospective voters the right questions know that a large (but not precisely known) percentage of folks approached by pollsters deliberately lie, simply because they do not trust or like the media, the pollsters, and the uses to which polls are put. There are no figures that can serve as a basis for prediction of the vote.

Second, Team Obama can be expected to produce a bombshell just before election day. Perhaps no federal agency is worse-managed than State, so that is where one might almost expect the lightning to strike. Imagine what could happen if Israel tells Obama it will attack Iran before the election: the White House could then lead the strike and loudly proclaim that the rift between Israel and the USA was a brilliant hoax that fooled Tehran into complacency and a weak defense. Obama, the man who killed bin Laden, could strike a second heroic pose and declare himself responsible for ending the Iranian nuclear threat — just as Clint Eastwood would.Then there are multiple opportunities in domestic policy to be considered. Perhaps a measure to reduce gasoline prices drastically, put Obamacare on indefinite hold, reinstate the Keystone pipeline project, or radically reform the airport inspections conducted by the Department of Homeland Security will emerge. If Team Obama studies the polls, it may willingly give up one of its cherished goals — just temporarily, of course — and pander to the voters’ discontent. The unconscionable cynicism of that ploy would be almost totally ignored by the mass media.

Finally, the “wingnuts” whose hopes are rising appear to have forgotten that Team Obama does not intend to lose. Chicago-style political tacticians know few restraints. SEIU, the remnants of the rebranded ACORN organization, the crony capitalists who cannot thrive in free markets, the neo-socialists and class warriors who despise Flyover Country and curse Romney for his wealth — all these grimly determined factions will do what they think they must to win. The meaning and implications of that truth have escaped virtually everyone. Watch the video, and consider this quote: “Now we have yet another reason to explain why some Democrats so aggressively oppose election integrity efforts and accuse election integrity watchdogs of phony ‘voter suppression’.” You are about to see a president chosen by what will almost certainly be the most corrupt and fraudulent electoral practices in the nation’s history.


10 October 2012: Benghazi attack faces US Congress committee scrutiny. Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, Eric Nordstrom, Charlene R. Lamb, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, testify on Capitol Hill on 10 October 2012 in Washington, DC. Republican committee members grilled state department officials over rationales for security levels. Security in Libya was complex and ever-changing in the run-up to a deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, a US panel has heard. Source. There’s more here, and if that’s not enough — consider this: “I don’t know what the administration is trying to pull here, but there’s no way this will hold up to scrutiny.” The people at the pinnacle of power are literally shameless.

When it comes to climate, a lot of folks are…confused. The media can do a lot of damage. Here are some corrective facts. And remember: when it’s cold, that’s weather, not climate; the same is true for those days when it’s hot.

It takes a password to access it, so here’s the full text of an article on the Medscape website: “Despite potentially increasing blood pressure, coffee may lower the risk for coronary disease and protect against heart failure. Coffee consumption may cut stroke risk by as much as 25%. Studies have linked coffee consumption with improved glucose metabolism, reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, and promotion of weight loss in overweight patients. Moderate to heavy coffee consumption may reduce the risk for several cancers. Coffee appears to slow the progression of dementia and Parkinson (sic) disease. Coffee drinkers reportedly have a decreased risk of developing depression. Coffee has been reported to slow progression in alcoholic cirrhosis, hepatitis C, and NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). Coffee may also be beneficial in dry-eye syndrome, gout, and in preventing MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium with antibiotic resistance) infection. Possible drawbacks: increased blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, tremor, withdrawal symptoms, and potential increased risk for glaucoma.”

Hilarious, and all true!

This weblog post tries to explain the “progressive” complaint with capitalism, and uses many too many words to do so. The analogy of children with toys is instructive, for this is how collectivists understand the distribution of wealth. In fact, the wealthy do not possess wealth the way children possess toys — the wealthy always expend their wealth immediately, making it available to others. There is no analogy between having, say, a billion dollars and having a huge number of toys. Money owned by the wealthy is always transferred to other people, while toys may be sequestered and become unavailable to other children. That’s a fatal flaw in the analogy. “Progressives” make the deliberate choice not to understand this, for it refutes their class-war ideology.

You’re sick of hanging around and you’d like to travel
Tired of travel, you want to settle down
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for trying
Get out of the door — get out and look all around

Sometimes the light’s all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it’s been

The masthead includes a quote from the works of Ludwig von Bertalanffy.

The staff of The New Terrapin Gazette expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Fedora Linux, Emacs, and Firefox.

Publisher: The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee.