Saturday, October 12, 2013

No Country for Smart Men

For the debt limit to even be an issue at all is a blight to our democracy, and indeed an insult to our intelligence.

In the US, congress requires the president to do things (which necessarily requires spending money) by passing laws, and also authorizes the president to collect certain taxes to pay for those actions. Should there be any shortfall in the taxes collected, the president is nonetheless required by law to spend the required amount of money by borrowing the difference. Furthermore, the president is bound by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, in part:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
Thus, to anybody even vaguely versed in math, the president clearly must borrow whatever is necessary to do the job that he or she is required to do by law, and pay the money back later (with some interest, naturally).

Yet, we have an additional law referred to as the "debt limit" that caps the amount that the president is allowed to borrow, and Republicans are using this to threaten President Obama. Not being able to borrow means the President will have to not comply with certain spending, collect more taxes, borrow beyond the cap, or borrow without paying it back. The first three options violate laws, and the last option violates the Constitution.

Democracies is often messy, because the more people are allowed to voice their opinions, the more opinions you will have, and resolving the differences among 300 million citizens is no doubt a difficult and messy job. However, what we're showing the world right now is that our democracy is not just messy, but downright stupid.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The False Mother

For a political party that seems to enjoy being more patriotic than thou, the Republicans have shown great disrespect for the founding principles of this country.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by the president, and further declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. For good measure, it was also one of the focal issues in the presidential election, in which the opponent lost. The basic provision of the ACA that insurers should not be allowed to reject costly customers, but in exchange customers cannot be allowed to get insurance only after getting sick (and costly), while probably still not as good as a single-payer system, is nonetheless astoundingly sensible.

Now, House Republicans generally abide by the so-called "Hastert Rule", under which a bill is brought to the floor only if it has the support of a majority of Republicans. In other words, Democratic votes are sidelined, and not permitted to join with a Republican minority to pass laws.

This 113th House of Representatives is composed of 435 members, 201 Democrats and 234 Republicans. This means that as few as 118 Republicans (just over 27% of the House) can prevent a bill from becoming law.

When this 27% is irresponsible enough to use government shutdown and default as a hostage to destroy the ACA, no sane person can say this is how the system is supposed to work. You might say that all they want is to delay the ACA, but seeing that these Republicans have already pointlessly voted dozens of times to repeal the ACA, you would be a special kind of stupid to think that the same tactic won't be used to delay it another year. You would be just adorable if you thought this tactic wouldn't be used against abortion, gay marriage, marijuana, and whatever else they don't like.

At its core, democracy requires the minority to accept the results of a vote. The sore losers have refused to accept the law, refused to accept the ruling of the Supreme Court, and refused to accept the results of a national election. They are dangerous and anti-democratic, the Republican politicians who are cowed by their threats are complicit, and the Republican voters who put them there are responsible. As in the story of King Solomon presented with a baby claimed by two mothers, the wise reader should not have to think very hard to decide who is the false mother willing to have the baby cut in half.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Challenging the iPhone, Part V

Perhaps I should change the title of this post, seeing that many people may say that Android had already caught up to and surpassed the iPhone, indisputably in terms of market share, but also in areas such as performance and third party support. However, since nobody actually reads this, it doesn't really matter.

Anyway, the iPhone is doing fine, selling 9 million units in the first weekend of the new 5s and 5c models. Various caveats can be applied to that number, but it's still a lot of phones and a lot of profit for Apple. Furthermore, the iOS7 release has been adopted by as estimated 60% of eligible users within a week of release. Naysayers continue to worry about the "lack of innovation" from Cupertino, but the iPhone remains a strong and enviable business today.

In the Android universe, Samsung continues its dominance, and seems to be making all of the money that Apple did not make. I haven't observed any real discord between Google and Samsung, though I continue to suspect that the partnership is uneasy. Google is still trying to ship its own devices, but they don't seem to be getting very far. Samsung is also trying its hand at software, but there haven't been any big moves either.

There has been some strange drama, though. Andy Rubin left his post as head of Android (to a different job within Google), and VP of Product Management Hugo Barra left Google to work for Xiaomi. Former hTC VP of Product Design Thomas Chien and two other designers, on the other hand, were arrested on suspicion of fraudulent billing and leaking designs to a Chinese firm.

There are two noteworthy developments elsewhere, though. Microsoft has purchased the handset business of Nokia for US$7.2 billion, and private equity has purchased Blackberry (formerly RIM) for US$4.7 billion. There is still no real number three emerging.

But the thing to watch over the next year or two is probably whether a Chinese brand will emerge in the Android world. Xiaomi and Hwawei, at least, certainly appear to have the ambition for it.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Free as in Sluts

I recently saw a really fun one in my spam folder. I didn't bother opening it, but the subject of the email "Free Access to Local Sluts" made me chuckle a bit.

Obviously, they'd have to be sluts, so that you can have sex without having to pay, or worry about a relationship. But more than that, they have to be local! I mean, who would want to drive for hours just to have sex? Finally, you won't even have to pay to find them, because why should a useful service charge money?

So basically, they seem to be asking, "are you a cheap and unattractive man who wants convenient and no-strings-attached sex?"

How the hell did I get on that mailing list?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Bravery of Ang Lee

Ang Lee (李安) is an amazing man. He is, of course, a famous director of some very good films, but what sets him apart in my mind is how incredibly diverse his filmography is.

Starting out with the so-called "Father Knows Best" trilogy, you could be forgiven to conclude that the time that he'll be a director of Asian-themed movies, perhaps expanding into the Asian-American experience at most. But since then, he's brought us into the worlds of Jane Austen, white suburban America, the American Civil War, martial arts, superheroes, gay cowboys, WWII China, the sixties, and an Indian boy. You may not actually like all of his movies, but you really must admire the courage behind his attempts.

For Ang Lee was not a trust fund baby who could just tinker. He is the son of an educator, failed college entrance exams twice, and had to rely on his wife's income while he was starting out. Once he's tasted some success, it would've been so tempting to just keep churning out the films that got him there. The pressure, for example, to shoot a prequel or sequel to Crouching Tiger was surely incredible, especially since the novel it was adapted from was the fourth of five books. Instead he chose to work on Hulk, which a normal person would've thought was a bridge too far, but his response to that failure was to venture into Brokeback Mountain!

It's as if he could not see his prior experience, or the color of his skin, as limitations to what he could try. He was over 50 when he directed Brokeback, so apparently age isn't a problem either.

I aspire to having this kind of courage.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fat Lady Singing

Opera just announced that they are abandoning their own web rendering engine in favor of WebKit. This is yet another example of the effects that free-beer software projects sponsored by large companies can have on smaller players. To be frank, they lasted longer than I thought they would, but in the end the efficiencies of software monoculture wins again. Opera might survive just by building a better browser on top of WebKit than everybody else, but I doubt it. I think Free-beer software paid for by Apple devices and Google advertising has claimed another victim.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

道歉的藝術

從報上看到裕隆集團董事長嚴凱泰在尾牙宴上醉後說出「那些用蘋果、另一個我就不要說是哪個品牌了...都是王八蛋」等話。本來他的想法如何,說出來是他的自由,公眾場合用粗話是他自身修養問題,但就算不想道歉也其實沒關係。

但是他畢竟道歉了,卻更引起我的興趣。許多細節都有教育性:

首先,「愛用國貨」的出發點就是一個問題。hTC 手機用的是 Android 軟體,主要是美國 Google 公司寫的,手機裡的各種零件多半是許多國家研發生產的。從網上拆機圖片中,看得出電池是中國生產,認得出的晶片有韓國三星和海力士、美國高通和 Synaptics 等公司出品。究竟什麼叫做國貨?真的仔細去檢查,iPhone 用的台灣零件是多是少還不一定呢。裕隆集團後來解釋嚴鼓勵員工多愛用國貨,想必覺得這出發點並沒錯。

第二,「帶著酒意,用開玩笑的口吻」不能是道歉的一部分。酒量不好就少喝,出事沒看到他道歉說喝太多了,說錯話竟是怪罪給酒。報紙說「嚴酒量一向很淺,以往有飲酒場合,多要求媒體不要拍攝」更是笑話,簡直就是說不管醉後如何失態,別被錄下來就好了。這是什麼心態?

第三,說這種話是因為「英雄惜英雄」更是不妥。一來,道歉的場合還自比「英雄」是在想什麼?二來,宏達電讓蘋果和三星打到連年虧損,真敢當這句話嗎?

第四,中時電子報的解讀是「昨天公司擔心引起國內手機族反彈,緊急對外澄清」,這樣算什麼道歉?道歉是你自己以為作錯事說錯話,出發點該是文中的「嚴凱泰有點懊悔」,不是為了什麼反彈才出面道歉。說得對,什麼反彈也不該理會,說錯了,沒人反彈也該道歉,才是道理。澄清是因為有誤會,這裡誤會了他什麼?

第五,裕隆還說嚴「並沒有對任何品牌特別有成見」不就是睜眼說瞎話?會用「王八蛋」罵人不算是成見算什麼?說「不是指名道姓」,那試問「蘋果」是說哪一家的蘋果手機?

要道歉就先得讓人了解你是為什麼道歉,所以頭一句就要說你認為究竟錯在哪裡,冷靜之後如何改變了想法,以後會如何改進,然後才為你的行為表示抱歉。應該說的是:

『我某日在酒後說出這些話,非常後悔。第一,hTC 的手機固然好用,許多外商廠牌的手機裡面也個有許多台灣人的貢獻,本不該說只有 hTC 算是「國貨」。第二,這些話會脫口而出,真是喝太多了,以後會交代身邊的人提醒,不會再喝這麼醉。最重要的,用什麼手機是個人的自由,既不關愛國,更輪不到我來批評什麼,批評也絕不該用粗口。這裡謹對讓這些話所傷害到的人致以歉意,也對身為一個公眾人物造成壞榜樣抱歉。』

跟我的虛擬道歉來比較,你說嚴究竟有沒有真的道歉了?當然沒有。