Blog Articles 136–140

On Rule of Law

There is a strange idea going around among some anti-immigration politicians, pundits, and lobbyists that changing the law, e.g. to open up more visas or to retroactively welcome people to the country, undermines the rule of law.

If the law is not meeting the needs of the country, if it cannot be consistently enforced, if such enforcement would be unjust, then the law undermines the rule of law. Changing the law so that it can be more practically, consistently, and justly enforced upholds the rule of law by making the law something reasonable to get behind.

Further, holding the law as immutable is not rule of law, it is tyranny of law. Those of you who know your Old Testament stories might recall a couple in which the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked, play a key role. One involved Daniel getting a free night’s stay at Lion’s Den Inn and Suites. Another ended with a state-sponsored bloodbath as the only legal means of stopping a genocide.

If we care about rule of law, we must seek to make the law reasonable and just. Our other options are tyranny and lawlessness.

War on Useful Language

But this is a language game, and I am playing the role of the futile prescriptivist holding the line against a huge tide of people who would prefer that “terrorism” simply be a synonym for “doubleplus-ungood”. A perfectly accurate phrase like “heinous criminal violence” is simply not enough for these people: they demand that the T-word be deployed. And in the end, descriptivism is the correct school of linguistics, and thus in the long run I will inevitably be wrong. Eventually, terrorism will be a synonym for “doubleplus-ungood” and a useful tool of thought will have been blunted into uselessness, like a scalpel bashed repeatedly against a brick wall.

This reminds me of how we now call everything “war” — war on drugs, war on poverty, war on women, war on Christmas — except when we pay our armed forces to shoot at another nation’s people, in which case we call it “kinetic military action” or whatever.

Are “lone gunman” school shootings terrorism? — if they are, “terrorism” is useless as a concept.


Look, we can’t just change the whole system every single time someone’s mommy says “brain damage.” And for lots of poor kids, getting bashed in the face for the amusement of wealthy alumni is the only path to college success.

— Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s incisive analysis of college football. See also Pro Football’s Violent Toll. I am increasingly skeptical of college sports in general, and football in particular.

Configuring a Fedora Media Server

I was trying to configure our file server to be a media server, specifically to play music with MPD and to make its speakers available as a PulseAudio output for laptops on the wireless network. This wound up being far harder than it seems like it should have been, and involved learning (among other things) that SELinux has failure modes I didn’t even know existed. And it let me explore the wonders of systemd some more.

So, here’s how I did it. All of this is on Fedora 17 with RPMFusion (for MPD). The goals are:

  • PulseAudio running as a system service on the server (this configuration is discouraged, but the use case of configuring a network audio appliance seems to be the sort of use case where it makes sense).
  • PulseAudio device advertised via Zeroconf, so the laptops can just find them.
  • MPD playing via PulseAudio and discoverable via Zeroconf.
  • Two laptops capable (also running Fedora 17) capable of discovering and using the server’s audio sink.

I thought first of asking…

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

— Down Syndrome sufferer and Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens responding to Ann Coulter calling President Obama a “retard”.