Saturday, 24 December 2016

My Christmas Eve Present, Thanks to the Linux Command Line

I decided a few days back to delete one of the user accounts on my home computer. I didn't need it, and it was taking up valuable space on the hard drive. However, in a moment of klutzy, brain-dead inattention, I deleted not only that account but my home account. The one with all my work. The one that was the only administrator account on the computer. All I had left was the Guest account, which was all limited in what it could do so that the Guest couldn't cause trouble.

I was up the creek, and should probably have been in a state of panic and terror. I wasn't, though.

Instead, I used the Guest account to do some browsing on the web on how to bring back a deleted account. The answer:

  • Shift-boot the computer to get the the GRUB (boot-up) menu.
  • Choose "Advanced options for Ubuntu"
  • Select one of the options in the next menu that ends in "recovery mode"
  • Press the Return key (Enter key, if you prefer) so that the system boots.
  • Choose from a menu "Drop to root shell prompt"
  • Mount the hard drive so that you can make changes to it by typing "mount -o remount,rw /"
  • Then type "adduser gareth sudo" (It won't be "gareth" for anyone but me. It's the name of the account).
  • Reboot the machine.
On rebooting, I had my account back, my files back, my messy desktop back, everything! Merry Christmas to me, and a big thank you to everyone who has developed the Linux operating system over the years. I love you guys.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Trump is President

Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States. I feel depressed for the majority of American citizens who voted against him. I feel sick when I think about how the loudly, viciously bigoted people who supported him feel vindicated and will take out their anger on their neighbours by means both legal and not. I feel very, very sorry for the woman who faces the challenge of taking the American President to court for his rape of her when she was thirteen. I don't think she'll be able to take the pressure of going forward with her court case.

I feel terrible for the world, mostly because it is now going to experience the methods that Donald Trump applies to business. He feels free to stiff those who work for them. He tears up contracts and invites the other party to sue. He uses bullying methods to achieve a contract and calls that "the art of the deal." He believes, fervently believes, that revenge is a good idea. Hit them back ten times harder, he says.

He's committed to offending both of America's neighbours, Canada by unilaterally breaking the NAFTA agreement and Mexico by his stupid wall. He's committed to breaking the NATO agreement for mutual defence if he doesn't like the NATO government that is under threat.

So the glimmer of hope in all this? The glimmer of light? That he'll stiff the American people as he stiffed many of his contractors over the years, and not do anything he promised.

10 November 2016.

The "stiffing" referred to above has already started. Multiple promises have just disappeared from his website: Have a look.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Merging Two PDFs

I've been putting off a necessary bit of work for a long time. I had to join two PDF files (Portable Document Format files) into one so that I could send the result to a book printing service. The problem is that so many ways are suggested, and not all of them work. This morning, I buckled down to the job, and the first two didn't work.

The third, however, worked like a charm.

I copied the files to be merged to the computer Desktop.

I gave them nice simple names (LPI1.pdf and LPI2.pdf), since I'd be typing them soon.

I opened the Terminal program and switched my directory to the Desktop (cd ~/Directory)

I installed a program called Poppler (sudo apt-get install python-poppler)

I then used one of the commands in the Poppler program, pdfunite. (pdfunite LPI1.pdf LPI2.pdf mergedfile.PDF)

Done. The merged file is no larger than it should be and it looks fine.

Oh, and the operating system I'm using is Ubuntu Linux 16.04 LTS.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Uniquely American Names

Much of my writing, these days, is on the Quora website. People post questions there, other people post answers, and still other people post comments on the answers. The advantage of Quora over a blog is that some of the questions are ones I wouldn't have thought of so, in answering them, I learn something.

One such question is "Are there names that are thought of as uniquely American?" Here's my answer.


I think of doubled names as uniquely American, and probably uniquely Southern. You know the ones: Billy Bob, Mary Sue.

Having a line of descendants, all with the same name seems American to me. You know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurston Howell III.

Similarly, do you remember “John Boy” in the TV show The Waltons? Called that because his father was also a John? I don’t know if that’s a real thing or not, but if so, it’s American.

There were the Biblical names that got adopted in earlier years: Seth, Zeke, Amos and the rest. I don’t think they were that common outside the US.

Finally, there are the odd (to me) names that are adopted in the American Black community pretty much because the parents like the sound of them. There are Aaliya, De-Wanda, Devisha, Imani, Jayla, Kayla, Kiara, Laila, Makayla, Nevaeh, and so on for girls. Check here for more: African-American Baby Girl Names ; . There are Jenell, Jermain, Jeron, Jerrick, Jessan, Jimar, Jimarcus, Keandra, Kaynard and many more for boys. Here is a list: African-American Baby Boy Names

Another dead give-away for an American is the name of an American or Confederate hero being used, such As Robert (Bob) E. Lee Ewell or George Washington Carver.

A bit of praise for the current PM (with a comment or two about the previous one)

When Stephen Harper became the Prime Minister of Canada, I was not what you'd call thrilled. I favour policies considerably left of the Conservative Party's. However, alternating into and out of power is part of Canadian politics, just as a constant bubbling up of new parties is. Also, he didn't seem stupid, and he had a minority government, so how much harm could he do?

That was before he created an entirely unnecessary constitutional crisis, of course. That event will be taught in Social Studies classes forevermore, just as the Rebellion Losses Bill and the King-Byng Crisis are taught. And Harper's crisis had no excuse except to financially harm his political opponents in advance of the next election. I lost all respect for him then, and gained none back in subsequent years.

Another short-sighted decision of his relates to the Senate. But first, let's have a little background to the problem posed by the Senate.

Now, of course, the Senate has been a controversial issue in Canada for many years. I remember when a number of premiers agitated to transform it into a Triple-E Senate, meaning equal, elected, and effective. The impetus for this idea is that such a Senate could have defeated Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program, which was hated by Albertans and, to a lesser extent, by other Western Canadians. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pitch an idea to the federal government that is designed to thwart the federal government.

I suppose that the federal government might have allowed a Triple-E Senate in exchange for something else in one of Prime Minister Mulroney's constitutional conferences. Inevitably, though, the idea foundered on the dangerous shoal of constitutional change. As I sometimes note, the federal government and the provinces have not agreed unanimously to any constitutional change since 1867, when Canada's constitution was first adopted.

Then, I recall, some provinces (OK, just Alberta) decided to run "elections" for the province's senators and propose the winner of these contests to the federal government for appointment. They could run such popularity contests without a constitutional change and still get senators who could consider themselves, in a sense, to be elected.

The federal government, however, is under no obligation to appoint someone who has the provincial government's blessing, or a provincial population's. In fact, if the "winner" of the "election" belongs to a different party than the government of Canada, then there's slim to no chance he'll be appointed.

Stephen Harper is himself an Albertan, and fully in favour of changing the Senate along the lines of the Triple-E. Of course, his power to enact such sweeping changes was challenged in court. In 2014, the Supreme Court blocked him from unilaterally imposing term limits on Senate appointments and filling the empty Senate seats through "consultative elections."  That would require, the court said, a constitutional change requiring support from at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.

His fall-back solution, getting rid of the Senate entirely, would require unanimous support from the provinces. It would not, therefore, happen.

Almost exactly a year ago (July 24, 2015), he announced a short-sighted solution to the Senate problem: he made it a matter of policy to not appoint any new senators to replace those who die or retire. Eventually, there would be no senators and, without senators, no Senate. The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that this was policy would be a constitutional change through the back door, and was therefore unconstitutional. Harper didn't care.

After all, the Senate was an embarrassment. There were all sorts of scandals about expense reports being wrong, senators not maintaining a residence in the province they represent, and even about a prominent member of the Prime Minister's Office cutting a personal $50,000 cheque to a senator to make a problem go away. One could argue, though, that the problems of the Senate were, at least in part, made worse by Harper's own actions:
But then, on the very day he became Prime Minister, Harper decided he wanted Michael Fortier in his cabinet. And then, a few years after, there arrived Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. And, later, Don Meredith. Not to mention defeated Conservative candidates, the Conservative party’s top fundraiser, the Conservative party’s campaign manager, and the Prime Minister’s former press secretary. And then the Prime Minister’s chief of staff cut a cheque for Sen. Duffy. And the Prime Minister’s Office was apparently found to have managed the rewriting of a Senate committee’s report on Sen. Duffy. And then charges started getting laid. And then the auditor general was called in.
To be clear, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were the most prominent senators being investigated for expense report fraud. Patrick Brazeau was kicked out of the Conservative caucus and then out of the Senate after being arrested for domestic assault and sexual assault. Don Meredith was kicked out of the Conservative caucus because of a police investigation into statutory rape. A suspicious man would suspect that Harper deliberately seeded people into the Senate in order to discredit it. More likely, however, he simply saw no legitimate function for the Senate and, so, spent little time or effort in finding senators who were qualified to exercise their constitutional functions.

What would have happened if the Conservative Party had been re-elected in November 2015? We'd have another constitutional crisis as the number of senators declined. Fortunately, his party was defeated by the Liberals. Their leader, Justin Trudeau, has taken another path to Senate Reform.

First he removed the senators who are affiliated with the Liberal Party from the Liberal Caucus. They would no longer meet with their House of Commons colleagues to formulate policy. They were on their own.

Second, he put Senate appointments at one remove from his own personal judgement. That is, he set up an impartial tribunal that would sort out applicants from the public and send the most qualified to him.

Third, he committed himself to respecting the Senate's constitutional role as the chamber of sober second thought. (He accepted two changes to assisted suicide bill, and said that those changes made the bill better; he disagreed with one change, which the Senate then decided to withdraw. The bill then passed quickly, before a deadline set by the Supreme Court).

As a result of these changes, the Senate, even though it was fresh off of a series of scandals, has suddenly started to get praise from many unexpected quarters for doing its job, and doing it properly.

Trudeau's changes are not written into constitutional or statute law. They could be undone by the will of any subsequent Prime Minister. However, they have already shown that we can get a better Senate, one that works the way that the Fathers of Confederation visualized it working, just by treating it better: making appointments according to merit and considering the amendments suggested by the second chamber seriously and respectfully, whether or not they are all accepted in the end.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

"Jesus Fought for the Death Penalty All His Life"

The title of this page is in quotation marks because the source in which I read them ascribed them to the American former politician Sarah Palin. I reacted with jaw-dropped astonishment, though not because I had high expectations of accuracy in her comments. It was a combination of public faith and backwards policy that I would expect from her, but in a higher concentration than I had ever heard from her.

At this point, right near the top, I will admit that she never said it. I was taken in by a hoax. Only when I decided I wanted to write about it did I check the story and discover that no reputable news source covered it. It apparently originated on a satirical web site called The Daily Currant. Its top stories today include "Donald Trump: 'I have the greatest toenails in the history of mankind" and "Female Softball Player Comes Out as Straight." Your basic Mad Magazine type of headlines.

In my defence, the story was written with a commendable verisimilitude. It included such details as the name of the television show on which the comment was made, the names of the hosts, a criticism of the comment by the hosts, and an even more ignorant response to the criticism. If I followed a link to the site, I might well believe it was legitimate news.

For the record, here is what Palin is claimed to have said:
"I know the liberals hate it when you start mentioning the Bible," she told the pair, "but the truth is Jesus fought for the death penalty until the day he died. He was a tireless advocate of being tough on crime and making sure the criminals can't be out there raping and murdering people.

"In ancient Jerusalem crime was rampant.  The Romans and their pagan morality wouldn't allow the proper punishment wrongdoers deserve. So Jesus lobbied for capital punishment in order to protect the Christians and the Jews from the Palestinians and other Muslims who were killing people left and right.

"Unfortunately Jesus' ideas were never implemented and the Roman Empire fell as result. But here in America we've always followed Jesus' advice on the death penalty, and that's why we have the lowest crime rate in the world."
Now, let's spend some time on why I believed it. A painful subject, but necessary.

First, I knew that Palin sees no problem in the injection of religious belief into the laws of the nation. As she says,
Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our founding fathers, they were believers. And George Washington, he saw faith in God as basic to life. 
And again,
I think we should just kind of keep this clean, keep it simple, go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they're quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.  
Oddly, to me, she is also not shy about ascribing events in her political career directly to divine intervention. For example, with reference to some bad polls, she says,
... [it] strengthens my faith, because I'm going to know, at the end of the day, putting this in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on Nov. 4. So I'm not discouraged at all.
She is also unashamed about denying the reality of biological evolution. In the American context, this belief implies bad things about the legislation that a legislator would support.
But I didn't believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.
So, I think I'm safe in saying that Sarah Palin is a social conservative who rationalizes her beliefs with references to her religion, even to the point of rejecting logic or science to the contrary. The next question is whether, like many social conservatives, Palin supports the death penalty. She says she does:
If the legislature passed a death penalty law, I would sign it. We have a right to know that someone who rapes and murders a child or kills an innocent person in a drive by shooting will never be able to do that again. 
She acted on this belief when she reinstated the death penalty in Alaska.

With this in mind, there is really no reason that we shouldn't assume that Palin supports the the death penalty with a religious justification. The Daily Current's made only one small step further in its claim. It's article doesn't just state that "God supports the death penalty," (a statement that has much of the Old Testament in its favour); no, it claims that Jesus, himself, during his life on earth, "fought for" the death penalty. That last claim is the step too far. Anyone making it would have to be profoundly ignorant of the words and deeds of Jesus as recorded in the gospels.

My general dislike of Sarah Palin preconditioned me to believe that, yes, she was just that ignorant. Mea culpa. She might be. In fact, she may believe that Jesus supports the death penalty (despite the evidence to the contrary in John 8:1-11), but she hasn't said so. The smoking gun is missing. The Daily Current article's genius was to supply the gun, and I was taken in.