A serious evil

Tom Harper, speaking of the Cheney administration being put on the defensive, notes that Murtha is going to be swiftboated, and "...millions of gullible Americans will probably think he burned his draft card during the Vietnam war and his hobbies include torturing fetuses..."

My thanks for the reminder of something we too easily forget: the Republicans recognize that there are some groups whom it is just plain wrong to torture.

Something humorous, but lingering

with either boiling oil or melted lead.

But since I can't administer the proper retribution to spambots, I'm reduced to installing the clever Turing keyword test on comments.

Set the goddam increment bit!

Despite the title, no deep technoid stuff here. If you've read this far, read on. This is too good to be true, almost:

By now everyone has heard about the worm that Sony put on a bunch of its plain audio CDs, which installs itself invisibly in the Windows kernel via some nice security hole that Microsoft left for such purposes. And everyone has heard how within a couple of days of the announcement some malware writers had started circulating stuff that exploited the Sony exploit to get their own evil stuff into Windows in a way that's next to impossible to delete.

Hmm, I said no technoid stuff, didn't I? Gimme a break; the press handles stories like this every day.

All right, the code that Sony installs on your XP system, designed to protect their copyright prevent you from exercising legitimate rights under copyright law is a copyright violation! Thanks to Rachel for this one. There is code in Sony's little production that's identical to code in LAME, an open-source mp3 encoder.

Open source? Doesn't that mean it's OK to use the code? Yes; everyone is free to use it in accord with the terms of the license under which it's distributed. That's the Gnu Lesser General Public License, and it requires, as they clearly explain in their documentation, that you must give them due credit, provide a link back to their website, and make your modifications to their code available under the GNU license. Want to guess how much of this Sony has done?

It appears that if copyright law is worth anything, Sony, having simply lifted the code without any compliance with license terms, is subject to a nasty lawsuit. To be sure, Gnu's GPL has not yet been tested in court. When do we start? Where's the signup sheet for backers for legal expenses?

Speaking of GPL: Thirty-some years ago, I worked for a company called Information Systems Design, which at one point was involved in one of the first publicized cases of theft of software, and the first application of a new California law on theft of trade secrets. We were the good guys, of course. A competitor who couldn't solve a problem that one of our guys had figured out took a simpler approach: steal our code. We found out; the cops and the Santa Clara County D.A. were quite happy to take on the first test case for the new criminal law; they got a warrant and staged a raid, with technical ssistance from us.

I'd love to tell the full tale, including the first broad search warrant to search all of a computer installation's magnetic storage, and how the story suddenly broke into international fame through a headline in the Chronicle; but I'm too lazy right now. And this isn't supposed to get tech-heavy.

But one thing we had to prove in court, naturally, was that the code they had was actually stolen from us and wasn't an independent solution to the same problem. (The LAME people will have the same problem, which they can easily solve because there is plenty of stuff visible on Sony's CDs which resembles their code in ways that can't possibly be coincidental.) So the competitor's code was examined by the author of our code, to look for excessive resemblances, of which he found plenty. One example that got into the court records concerned a line from which he had at an early stage omitted an essential asterisk, causing the code not to work properly. Finding the error, he had gone back and fixed it. And as he did so, Greg Lutz (who used his initials GPL on his code submissions -- how's that for uncanny?) added this comment.


Oddly enough, the same comment appeared verbatim in the other guys' code. The perp copped a plea, and we won our lawsuit.

Kansas? Again?

Kansas puts us in touch with the eternal verities. Like, what goes around comes around.. Like, if you put a stupid topical joke on your website and never update anything, after a while it's topical again.

Are seven syllables really enough?

Dadahead has a post on Andy Rooney and Don Imus talking about "black" and "African American". I have no real problem with his conclusions, and no idea of defending R & I; but there's more to be said.

First off, people are in fact trying to tell me (along with Rooney and Imus) how I ought to use my native language. Many people object to being told that kind of thing. They are wrong; but not quite completely wrong.

People have a right, within some limits, to decide what they are to be called. When Clive Staples Lewis, aged 7 or so, declares that from now on he is Jack, the members of his family go along with it; and for the rest of his life he is Jack to all his friends. (Sure beats Clive, even though he was not named after the imperialist.)

And if an identifiable group makes a collective decision on what it's to be called -- you know it's identifiable because it is identified by some name or other -- that decision is to be heeded, other things being equal or nearly so. There will be objections at this point that "collective decision" is impossible and oxymoronic. Strictly speaking, yes, it's impossible, but I know one when I see one.

I saw one in the 1960s. When I learned the English language, the word Negro was used in my part of the world by decent people , by which I mean people who were not overtly racist, did not want to be racist, and did not like racism, however far they may have been from the impossible dream of really being free from racism. There were other words, to be sure.

One word was not used, and that's that. (It's rather an open secret that the word is used in ceratin contexts by members of the group. That's their privilege. This annoys a lot of stupid whiny honkies -- I claim the privilege of using that term -- but to hell with them.)

There was "colored". I'm not quite sure what was wrong with it, but it was not what one used. I think it seemed rather patronizing and euphemistic. Euphemistic? You mean there's something wrong with being [black/Negro/colored]? Of course not; it sounds as if the speaker thinks there's something wrong with it: that's the patronizing part. But I don't insist on the point.

There was also "black". Sounded a bit dubious. Makes one think of Little Black Sambo. And let's please not get into whether Sambo must have been Indian if he dealt with tigers, if only because that will remind us to start fighting about the terminology for the descendants of the the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, exluding Eskimos, oooooops, Inuit. Anyway, it didn't sound right to me.

And then in the '60s there was a rather sudden collective decision, I know one when I see one, to make a change. From then on, the word was to be "Black". Jules Feiffer did a typically funny sarcastic treatment of Black, and it was right, but in the long run irrelevant. And it seemed to me that rather a lot of the older generation of Negroes did not like the new name much more than I did, but they saw which way things were going, and fighting about it was not what they needed, and they swallowed their discomfort. (I could be all wrong about that, and I certainly have no authority here, but so it seemed to me at the time.)

And I went along, of course, because people have a right to choose what they are called, within some limits of reason, and all the more so when they've been taking inconceivable amounts of shit for hundreds of years. And by golly, pretty soon Black sounded right. And in not too many years, Negro actually sounded a bit embarrassing.

And now we come to "African American", with or without a hyphen. Someone is telling me that I ought to change my vocabulary again, and I am to decide whether to do it this time.

To begin with, I've already changed once, by request. Are names to be changed every so often, with the season's fashions? Right, that's an old guy's sort of argument, and the young and flexible people may well want to make the change immediately. (They, of course, would be making it for the first time.) And it's a small sort of request to make of one's friends and family; if my cousin, whose legal birth-certificate name I had almost forgotten at one time, told me that her first name was changing again from the one that I've used almost all our lives, it would change, blood being thicker than water. But it takes a bit more presumption to keep shaping the vocabulary of millions of strangers.

And just who is telling me? I do not sense the consensus that I did 40 years go, or anything like it. I could be wrong, but I don't see it.

And I am expected to change a good solid forceful one-syllable English word to a nasty heptasyllabic compound, no more sensible or meaningful than the thoroughly inaccurate "black". I don't see the purpose. Or rather, I do see the political purpose, and I disagree with it.

Dadahead says that "African American" signals that you are trying to be sensitive about these things, and that's true and good. He says that it offends no one; in effect, that it's neutral. I disagree on that. Aha! I found something to disagree with, justifying the existence of this posting.