Monday, November 14, 2011

"dirty hippies that just want to bitch"

Today at work, the topic of the #occupy movement came up with a coworker.  The above statement was made in this context of me having previously defended the occupy movement's having resulted sometimes in destruction of property.  The thinking was expressed that civil disobedience is okay but when it turns to destruction of property, then things have gone too far.  So, I tried to make the counterpoint that, if you use that limit, you would have to reject some of the more famous acts of the American Revolution (War for Independence?), like the Boston Tea Party.

 destruction of property? i think yes

I thought this would be a pretty good tactic; no red-blooded, patriotic American can reject the country's uber-event, the American Revolution, in which the oppressed Americans through off their British overlords and established a new government...right?  Wrong.

"That was different," my coworker said.  "[The occupiers] are just a bunch of dirty hippies that want to bitch.  They are just complaining about banks."

 these guys look pretty clean cut to me...

That got me thinking.  Are the #OWS people really that different from the Boston Tea Partiers we honor as heroes in every American classroom?  My quick response to my coworker was that maybe today's protesters aren't all that different.  

"They weren't hippies, but that's because that word and culture didn't exist then.  But they probably were just as dirty, seeing as how bathing wasn't all that regular in the late 1700s."  But those points were a bit trivial.  Were the actual actions and desires of the Revolutionary protesters similar to those of the Wall Street occupiers?

"They are just complaining about banks."  Hmmm.  Well, assuming that's an accurate portrayal of the #OWS movement - which it's not - I think there are still similarities.  The "complaining about banks" is rooted in an unjust distribution and power over wealth, and I think that this could equally apply to the American Revolutionaries.  

Of course, the people of #OWS are upset about more than just banks.  They are fighting a legal system that enables those banks to benefit at the gross expense of others.  One of the big talking points has been about the unequal distribution of taxes.  Occupiers believe that the wealthy are unfairly advantaged by our country's tax code.  Now, if you remember anything from middle and high school American history, you know that the American Revolution had a lot to do with taxes.  The Stamp Act.  The Intolerable Acts.  The Sugar Act.  The Townshend Acts.  Those are the more common artifacts we teach our children when discussing the American Revolution, with the explicit understanding that those taxes were unfair and that the patriots were justified in rebelling against them.  "No taxation without representation" is taught as the slogan of the American Revolution.  Clearly, the issue of taxation is central to both movements.

Then, there's the allegation of unjust violence and destruction.  Obviously the American patriots were destructive.  Dumping the British East India company's tea into the harbor (I wonder if it was enough to make the ocean taste like English breakfast?), setting houses on fire.  But were they violent?  It's safe to assume, yes.  The practice of tarring and feathering, depicted in probably every American history textbook, was certainly violent enough.  Tax officers and other loyalists were physically restrained, denuded, rolled around in hot tar, and covered in feathers to be paraded around town for public ridicule.  Although we revere our patriotic ancestors, I'd say that a lot of Americans today wouldn't be all that comfortable with the practice of, say, ripping the clothes off of police officers or wall street executives and covering them in glue and feathers.  In fact, they would most certainly be arrested.

should #OWS employ this strategy?

Now, this isn't to say that we should be forming mobs, attacking the rich, stripping their clothes, tarring and feathering them, and burning their houses.  But I'm also not going to say that we shouldn't.  My point is that the opposition to the #OWS movement has arguments that are at least legitimate, even if I might not agree with them.  However, those same arguments applied to celebrated moments of our history would force us to reevaluate our opinions of those celebrated moments.  Does that mean that we should understand the American patriots as terrorists?  Should we acknowledge that the #OWS movement is doing something very similar to what the American patriots did?  

I think there are moments when breaking the law and getting aggressive become necessary and justified.  I've just tried to make the comparison to the American Revolution, in light of my conversation with my co-worker.  There are many other moments in history that would fit the bill.  Fighting slavery in the American South in the 1800s.  Resisting the Nazi aligned Vichy regime in France in the 1940s.  Is Occupy Wall Street of the same caliber?  If you don't think so, where would stand if you instead existed in those other moments in history?  How do you reconcile your belief in American independence and the abolition of slavery with your denial of the #OWS movement to fight the injustices that they see in their world?

track I'm currently listening to:

Friday, November 11, 2011

unity vs. gnome-shell

I really should start blogging again.  It's not a bad way to practice writing, something that I definitely practiced during the M.A. program but have neglected since about 2010.  While the UOTeach program has been really fun so far, it hasn't really required me to keep up my writing skills.   There are a lot of things I could talk about since...MAY of 2009???!?  Wow.  Well, let's start simple.

Ubuntu 11.10 - nicknamed Oneiric Ocelot - came out about a month ago.  Since it took me a while to get everything settled on my desktop when upgraded from 10.10 to 11.04, I decided to give the new-buntu a spin on my trusty eeepc. 

One major switch from 10.10 to 11.04 was the adoption of the Unity shell.  While innovative, I tend to think it's better suited to smaller form factor devices.  There has also been the quasi rival from GNOME, GNOME-shell.  As someone always itching for the new new thing (which got me into my "grrrr" mess when I upped from Maverick to Natty), I was curious about the two new interfaces.  Both were Ubuntu compatible, both were GNOME compatible.  It was a little confusing for the average user.  Unfortunately, you couldn't try GNOME-shell in Ubuntu 11.04 without breaking the Unity interface.  It was really something different and fun, which was something that Unity just wasn't to me - and still isn't.  But eventually, I had to give up fancy new shells and decided to stick with a classic GNOME 2 interface and Ubuntu 11.04, which I'm still using this moment.

However, my laptop really was hankering for some fresh spice.  Until recently, I was running a classic GNOME desktop and, while usable, it wasn't as satisfactory on my 10" netbook.  In comes Ubuntu 11.10, and, ta-da, GNOME 3 complete with GNOME-shell is easily installable from the repositories.  Immediately after upgrading the eeepc to Oneiric, I decided to switch from the default Unity interface to GNOME-shell.  I have to say, I was really impressed.  I prefer hitting the Super key to bring up all my windows (Exposé to mac people, though GNOME is calling it "Activities overview" which, while less trendy sounding, at least doesn't need translation like exposé) in GNOME-shell, as opposed to Windows key+something, which is default in Unity. 

The way that notifications are handled in GNOME 3 is muuuuuch better than in Unity.  Let me show you what I'm talking about:
 in-line chatting in notifications with GNOME 3

In Unity, however, the notify-osd framework sticks around, with notifications that slickly dim when your mouse approaches, but they are not interactive, which is really where Unity fails, in my opinion.  I suppose a notification should be just that, new information on display.  But in GNOME 3 I can interact with those notifications.  I can see an instant message - from facebook, google talk, AIM or any other protocol - and I can choose to a) ignore it b) open the application itself and respond or c) respond right inside the notification.  That is just killer, especially on my netbook, which has the unwinning combination of a smaller screen and lower system specs.  If I can quickly respond to a chat without having to waste screen and memory to open the application, then I am a very happy linux user.
notify-osd notifications, straight from 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope, still in 11.10 with Unity

Why the Ubuntu team has been reluctant to add interactivity to notifications is beyond me, but team GNOME gets a big win on that front.  Ubuntu users have been quietly asking for this since 2009.

There are some other things to consider:
  • GNOME allows you to easily turn off all notifications.  That way when I'm in class, trying to take notes, I'm not getting inundated with Facebook statuses, tweets, and google talk notifications.  In Unity, as far as I can tell, the only way to do this is to log out of each of the services individually, and of course log back in at some later point.
  • Unity does get props for allowing me to easily post to twitter/facebook/google etc.  The post box in the me menu is pretty nice.  In GNOME-shell, I have to open up gwibber to do this.  Thus, it's the same exact problem I have with Unity's notifications, only in this case GNOME-shell loses
Both Unity and GNOME-shell Neither Unity nor GNOME-shell support easy customization of appearance settings (GTK, icons, etc.).  But it can be done with relatively little effort by adding the gnome-tweak-tool application

Soooo, that's all I have.  Like always, it's beset to try it out yourself and see what's good to you.  That's the greatness of Linux after all!

tracks while blogging:
  • "St. Ignatius" Rhett Miller w/ Ken Bethea, Live at Fez, New York, 4/4/2001
  • "Kindness" Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire, 2011