Ouch. I feel your pain, Sam

Seems Sam Ruby's presentation suffered a bit in the spectacle. Unfortunately, I'm no stranger to presentation set-up problems. I've also been lucky enough to have patient audiences. Maybe conference organizers will someday factor Linux A/V support into consideration when choosing venues (I can dream, eh?). I almost always can use projectors and stuff with no problem in usual business scenarios, and I can only guess that conference venues tend to have archaic A/V technology that doesn't like Linux.

As for the presentation itself, based on the slides much of it is an accumulation of issues probably well known to, say, a long-time XML-DEV reader, but useful to collect in one place. It looks like a much-needed presentation, and I hope Sam gets to present it again, with better luck with the facilities. Here follow a few reactions I had to stuff in the slides.

expat only understands utf-8

This hasn't been true for ages. Expat currently understands UTF-8, UTF-16, ASCII, ISO-8859-1, out of the box, and the user can add to this list by registering an "unknown encoding" event handler.

Encoding was routinely ignored by most of the initial RSS parsers and even the initial UserLand RSS validator. “Aggregators” did the equivalent of strcat from various sources and left the results for the browser

Yuck. Unfortunately, I worry that Mark Pilgrim's Universal Feed Parser might not help the situation with its current practice of returning some character data as strings without even guessed encoding information (that I could find, anyway). I found it very hard to build a character-correct aggregator around the Feed Parser 4.0 alpha version. Then again, I understand it's a hard problem with all the character soup ("char soup"?) Web feeds out there.

[Buried] in a non-normative appendix, there is an indication that the encoding specified in an XML document may not be authoritative.

Nope. There is no burial going on. As I thought I've pointed out on Copia before (but I can't find the entry now), section " 4.3.3 Character Encoding in Entities" of XML 1.0 says:

In the absence of information provided by an external transport protocol (e.g. HTTP or MIME), it is a fatal error for an entity including an encoding declaration to be presented to the XML processor in an encoding other than that named in the declaration, or for an entity which begins with neither a Byte Order Mark nor an encoding declaration to use an encoding other than UTF-8. Note that since ASCII is a subset of UTF-8, ordinary ASCII entities do not strictly need an encoding declaration.

So the normative part of the spec also makes it quite clear that an externally specified encoding can trump what's in the XML or text declaration.

The accuracy of metadata is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the data and the metadata.

Very apt. I think that's why XML's attributes work as well as they do (despite the fact that they are so inexplicably maligned in some quarters).

In fact, Microsoft’s new policy is that they will always completely ignore [HTTP Content-Type] for feeds—even when the charset is explicitly present

XML of course doesn't force anyone to conform to RFC 3023, but Microsoft could prove itself a really good Web citizen by adopting it. Maybe they could lead the way to reducing the confusion I mention in this entry.

I think of Ruby's section on the WS-* mess to be an excellent indictment of the silly idea of universal and strong data typing.

In general, programming XML is hard.

Indeed it is. Some people seem to think this is a product of architecture astronautics. They are laughably mistaken. XML is hard because managing data is hard. Programmers have developed terrible habits through long years of just throwing their data over the wall at a SQL DBMS and hoping all goes OK in the end. The Web is ruthless in punishing such diffidence.

XML is the first technology that has forced mainstream programmers to truly have to think hard about data. This is a boundlessly good thing. Let the annoyances proliferate (that's your cue, Micah).

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Peace, Rosa

So anyone vaguely aware of the world around them would have heard that Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks died Monday. Enough superlatives have been lavished on her courage and conviction in providing the spark for MLK's campaign of non-violent civil disobedience.

That's all well, but I cannot help that the main thing that comes to my mind when I contemplate Rosa Parks is that she is also a symbol of how some remaining members of that movement insist on fawning appreciation of their legacy. Getting lectured by the Jesse Jacksons and Bill Cosbys of the world is annoying enough even for those who, like me, freely admit their gratitude towards the Civil Rights movement, but a particularly galling stroke was Mrs. Parks's lawsuit against OutKast for their hit song "Rosa Parks". Watch out for the hook:

Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk

So the hook was a little irreverent, but besides the title, there was very little in the song connecting to the Parks story. Maybe that was the crime: any song referencing a Civil Rights hero must be a somber appreciation of their struggle (see "A Song for Assata"). Does it really serve the memory of the Civil Rights movement to be so incredibly petty?

But wait. There's a twist, of course. It seems it's likely that Mrs. Parks wasn't really behind the lawsuit, but rather attorneys and hangers-on who saw the supposed affront to her name as an opportunity to cash in. Some of her family have mnade comments distancing themselves from the lawsuit. I prefer to believe that Mrs. Parks indeed had nothing to do with the suit, but that still leaves the interesting phenomenon of the disconnect between the generations on this matter.

I think one group of young Black Americans today either are happy to enjoy what their forbears fought so hard for in the 60s and get on with their lives and careers. Another group faces many of the hardships caused by inequities in education and other social services, and find it hard to dwell on the achievements of the 60s considering their present day realities. Popular Black culture reflects both attitudes. When Cedric the Entertainer's character in Barbershop said "All Rosa Parks did was sit her ass down!", like it or not, he was voicing the same irreverent attitude of many young Black Americans. It's not so much that anyone really resent Rosa Parks or any of the other figures skewered in the same scene, but that people tend to laugh perversely when they witness the goring of sacred cows, and in the communities targeted by that movie, there are no sacred cows quite like Civil Rights heros. And of course the hierophant class reacted exactly on cue when Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton promptly launched a noisy boycott of the movie.

Rosa Parks did much more than just sit down where she was not supposed to, and I don't expect this fact will ever truly be forgotten. Her status as a hero is established rather than undermined by the fact that the youth enjoy spraying graffiti on her pedestal, especially when those who are most ostentatiously serious about her person carry the smell of monetary and political self-interest. For my part, the only thing I've got to say with my Krylon is "Peace, Rosa, and thanks".

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


I don't know her name, but she works for MSNBC. My apologies for my wordage, but this wench didn't know what the hell was going on. She made up 75% of what she was saying and exaggerated about 95% of everything that she did know. The message: do you want to be a reporter? All you need to do is have a pretty face and buy a Thesaurus!

From Alvaro R. Morales Villa's amazing photo diary (via Eve Maler).

The caption for the next picture is also telling:

Mr. Brian Williams... you know, I've always been a fan of news reporters. After this "event", however, I'm a lot more skeptical about what they say. In this photo he had just gotten into an argument witht the lady in the light blue shirt. She couldn't find out if West Esplanade Avenue (which is in Metaire) and Esplanade Ave. (which is in the French Quarter) were the same.

The U.S. press has become an institution that is completely useless in its complacency and venality. Besides the widespread bungling that is wryly noted in these captions, what amazes me is that the U.S. loves to lecture other countries about freedom of the press, and yet it's widely admitted that the U.S. press never found the backbone to criticize the current government until Katrina.

Much thanks to Alvaro for pluck and resourcefulness to document all that he did, and for sharing it so generously with us (minor note: grand theft auto is not usually just "a minor misdemeanor", although extenuating circumstances in this case might possibly make up that difference).

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

So what of that Gaza pull-out?

I recently had separate discussions with different Jewish friends, touching on the Gaza pull-out and related matters. One, Staci, is a quite conservative Ashkenazi American with close family ties to Israel. She has some very sharp things to say about Palestinians in general, and is in favor of expansion of Israeli territory (she rebuked me for using the term "Palestinian", and mentioned the long ago withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in very grudging terms). The other, Hadar, is a pretty quite Separdic Israeli. I actually knew her for all of Tuesday evening, but we had a very long and ranging conversation. She had just completed her two year stint in the Israeli Army and was blowing off steam by backpacking the U.S. (her previous stop was Burning Man).

What I found fascinating was that even coming from separate ends of the political spectrum, they both had very similar views on the Gaza pull-out and the anticipated outcome therefrom. And just to be clear, I'm not entirely extrapolating from the opinions of two people in the following thoughts: I've had discussions (generally shorter) with others with some connection to the situation, and I do my best to keep well informed of developments in the news of that region.

Both of my friends thought that the Gaza and even the limited West Bank pull-outs were necessary. Staci thought that Israelis did have rights to those areas, but felt that the settlers should not be compromising general security by stubbornly camping out in areas she felt were to a great extent spoiled by the presence of so many Arabs. Hadar felt that it was necessary to establish sovereign territory for Palestinians in order to have any chance at peace, and that settlers were just making any such peace impossible (she did have some reservations, saying that if Palestinians are given the West Back too lightly, they would want all of Jerusalem, and even if they somehow got Jerusalem, they'd want Haifa, Netanya, Ashkelon, The Negev, you know, the whole bit). Both supported the withdrawal. I'd actually never expected there to be much violence in the withdrawal, and I think these two attitudes are a microcosm of why relatively orderly withdrawal was inevitable.

As for the effects, both surprised me by being very pessimistic about the outcome from the withdrawal. Staci went just about to the point of saying there would never be peace between Palestinians ("Arab refugees from Jordan", as I think she put it) and Israelis (and more generally Arabs and Jews). Hadar felt that the peace process would go nowhere despite the withdrawal, because it would give Palestinians nothing but excuse for obstinacy, and would lead to even more extravagant demands.

It's this juxtaposition that gets me. Both felt the pull-out was necessary, but both also felt that it would do nothing to bring about a real peace. I argued with both of them, saying that eventually Palestinians and Israelis would be forced to détente by simple economic need, just as sworn implacable foes Israel and Egypt had been. Those sworn to the annihilation of Israel would lose their foothold if Israel focused on security within its mainland rather than a diffident extension of territorial pseudopods. Palestinians free to erect the apparatus of state and social service where they live would be actually empowered to needed compromise in crafting a final accord.

Personally, I think that one of the greatest tragedies in this matter is that two separate groups of people were so terribly treated throughout the 20th century continue to beat each other to a pulp in the 21st. But that's just drippy sentiment. The reality is that as long as attitudes on the ground are so self-contradictory, it's hard to see how any move will lead to ultimate peace.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

More on the Gulf Coast Catastrophe

The Interdictor is reporting signs of life in NOLA. Let's hope the trend continues.

Meanwhile, I wanted to comment on some notes stemming from my earlier rant on the calamity.

First of all, Kwasi (viva immigrante), who has a very nice blog, pointed to his own rant, and I heartily cosign with most of his points and his fury. I focused my notes more on the insane economics of the Katrina response, whereas he focused squarely on the humanitarian and sociological dimensions. There is tremendous suffering in the Gulf Coast that from everything I, Kwasi, and many others can tell, could have been heavily reduced, if our government cared about its citizens better. People who carp about complaints from hindsight including putrid comment spammers are choosing to ignore the substance of the complaints.

My initial response, like those of most of us who follow human tragedy, was one of shock, pity, empathy. From whence, then, comes this wave of anger, this storm surge of emotion seething within me that threatens to overcome my better nature? It comes with the realization that, despite the capricious and uncontrollable nature of the hurricane, the vast majority of the tableau of misery that plays out before us represents an Optional Tragedy.

I'm glad Kanyeezee saw fit to speak his mind. I tend to say instead that it's poor people rather than Black people that our present government is happy to abandon, but regardless of that distinction, I'm all for a prominent figure pulling some cards right now. Someone damn well has to, because Americans will be all too eager to forget the whole tragedy once CNN starts losing interest in the Gulf Coast.

Oh yeah, big up US Rep. Diane Watson for a little card-pulling of her own:

Shame, shame on America. We were put to the test, and we have failed

And it's just amazing that no tragedy is overwhelming enough for us to, even for a moment, put aside our contempt for the rest of the world. John Cowan pointed me to this shocking story of disdain for the visitors whose tourist dollars have provided so much fuel to NOLA's much-remembered joie-de-vivre.

It's been my observation for years that the direction of American culture slouches towards oligarchy, but the NOLA disaster indicates something worse. It feels as if we don't just want to reserve power for the few and the wealthy, but we want to reserve even civil protections for these few. The elite in Washington storm to faraway war, but don't expect their children to be among those who risk their lives and limbs in combat. They find excuses for poor mobilization in the face of natural disaster, because they know their own children are not in peril, nor do those in peril even look like their children. And in the middle of all this, nothing, it seems, can stir the great mass from its ennui.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Tintin en Irak

via Herve Dufraux of La Table Francophone de Boulder

OK, folks, sit back with a dish of Freedom Fries and listen to a tale (it helps a lot if you read French).

Someone ("Youssouf") with a lot of time on their hands (quelle chance pour lui) put together a satire comic based on a collage of pages from the popular Tintin series. It lambastes Bush and fellow cast members for the greed, intrigue and arrogance that leads to the current situation in Iraq. It's clever, and funny in patches, but it does take a good bit of filler to make up the 63 pages.

The cover panel (above) sets the mood:

Apportons leur la liberté! - Oui...Largons les bombes!
Let's bring them liberty! - Yeah...let's drop the bombs!

Some particular gems:

Page 3, which is a neat summary of how the Kurds and Southern Shi'ites must have felt in 1991.

Asked whether Hussein had been captured, the adjutant says:

Pas du tout!... Les américains ont finalement décidé de quitter l'Irak et de laisser le régime de Saddam Hussein en place!... Ils ont peur que celui-ci ne soit remplacé par une république islamiste chiite!
Not at all. The Americans have finally decided to leave Iraq and leave Hussein's regime in place. They're scared he'll be replaced by a Shi'a Islamic republic!

Pages 4-6 dramatize the supposed intrigue of Petroleum multinationals to encourage an invasion of Iraq and Bush's eagerness to do so. They're followed by an unnecessarily cynical take on the role of September 11th in justification of war (that part really annoyed me).

Pages 10 through 12 are the hilarious center of the piece, first dramatizing the back and forth over UN inspectors and conditions for avoiding war as a chess game between Bush and Hussein, which "Bush" ends by jumping to his feet and shooting over "Hussein's" head (I expect Hergé would be rolling in his grave at the use of Tintin as the face of the odious Hussein, but that's the one flaw in that sequence).

It climaxes with "Bush"'s boast:

Je suis la première puissance du monde!... Ha! ha!... Je fais ce que je veux!... Malgré toute cette comédie, par un moyen ou un autre, tu verra: il y aura une guerre en Irak!
I'm the foremost world power!... Haha!... I do what I want!... Despite all this fooling around, one way or another, you will see: there will be a war in Iraq!

Followed by a full page panel, cutting to "Osama bin Laden", who laughs:

Tu as raison de rire, George... ha! ha!... Moi aussi, j'en ris déjà de cette guerre...et de ce qui va s'ensuivre...
You're right to laugh, George... Haha! I'm also already laughing over this war...and over what will follow from it...

It gets to be a bit of a plod of increasingly extravagant schemes for pressing Hergé's images into the service of the satire, but don't miss the absurdist/slapstick ending, which includes the following sage words of advice from "Lionel Jospin":

Fumer un joint avec Romain Goupil est certainement moins dangereux que boire de l'alcool dans une mosquée de Nadjaf!
Smoking a joint with Romain Goupil is indeed less dangerous than drinking alcohol in a Najaf mosque!

Umm...er...yeah...no doubt...I'd say. What would we do without those maddening Gauls?

Peace, y'all.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

My country is out of its COT DAMN MIND

First of all, the XML community way to help with Katrina (thanks, Alan).

So Katrina, which we fully anticipated, which smacked the Gulf Coast with much less force than it could have, which worked its devastation in a slow series of stages rather than one furious blow, still kicked our ever loving asses. We panic and spend billions of dollars on homeland security because we're afraid that some punk terrorist will blow up a test tube of Strontium 90 in a paper bag of C4? When we diverted this country's entire emergency management ledger over to terrorism prevention, all while we were busy cutting taxes and borrowing hundreds of billions from the very Asians we speak of in 21st century "yellow peril" terms, how did our most highly placed thinkers miss the simple fact that a natural disaster can inflict a hell of a lot more damage than human terrorists?

We want to despoil the environment in Anwar, Alaska for a modest mess of crude, when we haven't even taken common sense precautions to deal with the effect of natural disaster on the Gulf Coast refinery complex that is a couple of orders of magnitude more important to energy supply than Anwar will ever be.

We're forming post-apocalyptic gangs and shooting at rescuers. Hold up, what, what was that? Yeah. We're shooting at rescuers.

We're finding that we don't have enough resources to deal with the above problem at the same time we try to contain what could end up being a tertiary disaster in public health. Dead bodies float and loll, bloated, maturating, and mixed rudely in with the wretched living as if to mock their will to live.

We're seeing how a natural disaster, sentimentally an event that should bring people together, underscores the disparity between the races in much of this country. The geography and demographics of this disaster means that it is mostly a scourge of dark skinned people, and it is very hard, even for someone (like me) who is not very sensitive to racial matters not to see in the spasmodic official response a case of lesser concern about what happens to dark skinned people.

We're passing laws against small business petrol stations proprietors for "price gouging" despite the fact that stations throughout the region are out of gasoline, and station owners do not know how steep replacement prices will be (fuel futures are soaring, mind you), nor even how long it will be before they get can be re-stocked. Our energy policy has compounded long-term price pressures with a sharp, immediate scarcity, and we somehow prefer to use small businessmen as scapegoats for the inevitable spike in prices.

As I post this they are badly botching the relief effort to move tens of thousands of refugees from the Superdome (New Orleans) to the Astrodome (Houston), and the Astrodome is apparently turning into as much of a dirty, diseased and dangerous camp as the Superdome was.

And speaking of the Superdome environs, there was a horrible exchange yesterday on NPR between anchor Robert Siegel and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. First Siegel confronted Chertoff about thousands of people stranded at the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center (NOCC), 8-10 blocks from the Superdome. Chertoff at first petulantly tried to brush this off as rumor-mongering. Siegel pointed out that these were details from reporters in the field, and Chertoff pretty much made a throw-up-the-hands response. Then reporter John Burnett came on the air and offered his first-hand description of the situation at the NOCC. You just have to hear the ghastly account yourself. "2000 people living like animals". No food, water or any provisions whatsoever, no security, and no one having even stopped by to tell them when to expect relief. It seems this is because no one even knew they existed except for reporters, despite the fact that they had been thronged there for three days. This isn't a handful of folks clustered on a flyover. It's a couple of thousand refugees stranded within blocks of the Superdome, which had been a similarly squalid scene, but on a greater scale until the evacuations started yesterday.

Chertoff's spokesperson contacted NPR later on, to admit that he had confirmed the NOCC situation, and that they are working tirelessly to address the full humanitarian disaster. The funny thing is that early on in the Siegel/Chertoff exchange the secretary had said rather piquantly that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has plans in place for every conceivable disaster. You could have bloody fooled me. I repeat: Katrina was a good ways from the worst case scenario of a hurricane hitting New Orleans.

We have botched the search and rescue. We have botched public health. We have botched security. We have botched management of the economic effects. Our leaders are mewling about commentators "politicizing" the situation while they continue to botch matters for hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens who have already lost everything and don't even know when they will be afforded the basic necessities of life.

Most of the executive branch of the U.S., starting with the president, truly this week deserves to have their heads dunked into the fouled waters of the Pontchartrain, before they are relieved of duty for the grossest possible mismanagement. It's too bad that it's only criminal activity that is grounds for impeachment. Bush this morning calls the response to the disaster "unacceptable". Quick. Someone get that man a mirror while he is still in this moment of lucidity.

I don't know whether to ascribe to left wing agitprop the tales of Condi Rice shopping in Manhattan and practicing tennis with Monica Seles while the Bush cabinet purports to be on an emergency footing, but at this point it wouldn't surprise me the merest bit.

I mean, someone call up the Last Poets, because this is true madness.

Update: Thanks to Micah Dubinko for a link to a good summary of Bush mismanagement and belligerence and how it made things worse in New Orleans.

And please listen to Michael Rys:

And do not forget the situation in Iraq, Darfour and Niger, Malawi and other forgotten emergencies...

Wikipedia says that report claim up to 20,000 at the Convention Center, rather than the 2,000 estimated by Burnett.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Take the piss, London

Of all the reasons that, as I mentioned, I love Londoners, the sharp, self-deprecating humor is near the top. Danny Ayers spotted a great example of this. An American LiveJournaller set up a Web bulletin board "London Hurts", not unlike those that sprang up soon after 9/11 with a lot of lugubrious lament and jingoistic sloganeering. It seems Londoners are having none of that, please. I nearly fell off my chair reading the Haiku, especially given the slyly over-the-top background image:

it's a right mess, mate.
oh bugger, it's time for tea.
back in the tube, then.

gypseymission gave voice to his London version of agape.

Now I'm sure that the people who set this up were very well intentioned but the truth is we really are fine, we always will be because we don't give a fuck about anything or even each other. We are obstinate, argumentative, bloody minded people, and this kind of thing makes us look like powder puffs which is really just going to wind us up.

Right. Right. Up yours, bredren.

Anyways, this is not just the occasional London Web slicker affectation. Among those I contacted to check up after the bombings was family friend Agnes Mkpeti. Her response:

Thanx for the check up, we are all fine. Yesterday was mad, luckily I don't work in central London. As transport resumed semi-service before home time I was able to get home with minimum difficulty. I just got to work and its like a ghost town, completely empty. It's Friday and most events and shows have been canceled around London. IT'S SO SAD!!!!

Party on, Agnes.

Yeah. London will be just fine.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Peace, London

I love London. It's my favorite major city. If I couldn't live in the Boulder area, London would easily be where I'd want to move (or the London environs, I should say, given financial practicalities). Like many Nigerians I have many friends and some family in London. Today's tragedy was far more immediate to me than any other terrorist attack of this troubled time.

If I'm a bit comforted, it's because I know that no one can bounce back from such an event like Londoners can. The main reason I love the city so is because of the wonderful populace, and the dignity and good sense with which they conducted themselves even at the very centers of the attack should be some indication of this quality. Londoners also went through the period of IRA bombings uncowed, and they will outlast this new threat. I certainly do not plan to let today's events affect any of my travel plans to the UK.

I cannot help, however, mentioning the disgusting response to this tragedy by some American conservative commentators. We've all heard of the appalling comments on Fox News (it's unbelievable that those who claim to be the enemies of these terrorists can bring themselves to gloat at the misfortune of London). Knowing the tremendous capacity of the today's middle American for apathy and docility, I imagine there will be no uproar here. But I hope those nitwits have to watch their backs if they ever happen to venture abroad. They are not one bit better than the terrorists.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia