June 30, 2007

The Real iPhone Revolution

Posted by TMLutas

Tim Wu is wrong when he says the iPhone is not revolutionary, though he's right when he's in CYA mode in the last few paragraphs:

Sensitive to this point, Steve Jobs claims to have left some room for developing iPhone applications. The iPhone, as we said already, is a miniature Mac, and comes with Apple's Safari browser. Developers will be able to write Web-based applications that will work on the iPhone via the browser.
If you're an optimist, the more intriguing possibility is that Apple's iPhone is a Trojan Horse. The iPhone is fatally attractive to AT&T, since it gives the firm a chance to steal tens of thousands of new customers from rivals like Verizon. But Apple may be betting that, once it has its customers, they'll be more loyal to Apple than AT&T. With its foothold in the wireless world, Apple may be planning to slowly but inexorably demand more room. If iPhone 2.0 is a 3G phone that works with any carrier and supports third-party apps, then industry power will begin to move away from the carrier oligopoly and toward Apple and other Silicon Valley firms. Now, that would be a revolution.

The iPhone does to the cellular carriers what iTunes is doing to the music industry, making them money while inducing them, step by step, into shedding their most self-destructive business habits whether they like it or not and mostly while they don't notice or can pretend they don't notice. In this, Apple plays a key role as revolutionary midwife. The point of the technology revolutions that Apple is midwifing isn't to financially break the incumbents but rather to save them from the consequences of their past stupidity. This is why Apple is on the inside cutting billion dollar deals that will change the world while so many other companies are on the outside building useful widgets that won't get wide adoption and don't survive.

Apple knows full well how marginalizing it is to take over too much of a business. The Macintosh has gained its second life because Apple has fully embraced technologies that are in common use and good enough to fulfill their technology dreams. The last uncommon hardware choice for Apple is in being a market leader in embracing Intel's BIOS replacement, EFI. Everything else is stock PC parts, albeit optimized to emphasize unusual traits (silence over speed, heat efficiency over speed, aesthetics over cost).

Apple has lock-in on the iPhone because creating a small browser that fits in a phone and has sufficient market and mindshare that web developers will test their pages on that platform is incredibly expensive. Only Apple can do it because only they had the foresight to bet their web client platform on small footprint software. Both Mozilla and IE have to be cut down to make them fit in phones and that means that developers have to test "regular" IE/Mozilla and their cut down versions.

And the browser/server combination is enough to stoke a revolution. The third revolution, the one where everybody's going to notice, is when the cost of the phones goes down to such an extent that for the same introductory price point you can also host a web server. With that, you can run apps even without a cell signal, even in disaster conditions. Government demand will likely drive that, both civilian and military.

The second revolution is going to be the ability, sometime in the next year or two, to put an alias on the home screen, a tiny little text file that will allow you to kick up safari so that those user generated applications that are coming down the pike will have screen equality with the regular applications that ship with the iPhone. With that, Apple will have essentially gone and created Microsoft's nightmare (the one they killed Netscape over and tried to kill Java and Google over) of a web OS that allows you to do what you like outside of the base OS.

Nobody outside the technogliteratti are going to care that poking the icon on the screen launches safari which launches the app, just as nobody cares when that same chain happens with Java or Flash applications. For the rest of us, that's going to signal the opening of the iPhone and I guarantee you that the functionality is already there, just as the functionality to do all the neat iTunes add ons that have been added was mostly there at iTunes inception.

June 19, 2007

Immigration Reform

Posted by TMLutas

Part of what utterly disgusts me about how immigration is handled in the US is that there are baseline facts that need to be determined before you can figure out how many immigrants can be absorbed into a society and we aren't calculating them. There are several inflection points that are relevant (these are just highlights, there are more):

  • The point below which you are being inhumane by splitting up families or preventing their formation

  • The point below which you are impeding economic growth by favoring labor over capital so high wages choke growth

  • The point below which you start to get cultural stagnation due to cultural insularity

  • The point below which you are turning away great political assets to the nation

  • The point above which you are favoring capital over labor by crashing wages and destroying bargaining power

  • The point above which you lose cultural solidarity and cohesion

  • The point above which you lose political stability

  • The point above which you lose military control and eventually territorial control

Even before you get to defining the inflection points though, you need to understand how an immigrant changes over from a "them" to an "us", how they assimilate. Now I've been doing retail assimilation before I hit puberty and I still work on it via my church, friends, and family (though by now, most of those who have wanted to come to the US have already come). It's no mystical process and it's also not something that just happens by osmosis. It's a real process of hard work, relatively simple rules, and persistence.

Assimilation is the process of "clearing the job queue". The immigrants of today are tomorrows' citizens most capable and most inclined to help out with assimilation because they've gone through the process. It's not something you can really demand because this sort of thing is true charity work. Few people are actually paid to help others learn english, find a job, navigate the political, economic, and social system that is the USA. Most of the people who do it do so part time, often unconsciously.

The common sense outline of the solution for immigration is not too hard to figure out. You need to determine what the inflection points are, set immigration numbers that are above all the "too low" inflection points and below all the "too high" inflection points and make sure that your assimilation machinery works well so that you end up clearing the queue quickly and allow the next round in.

Now is anybody talking like this? I haven't found any and thus my disgust with the present debate. I haven't found anybody who's properly defined assimilation in all its political, economic, and social glory in a way that everybody can agree on. I haven't found anybody doing the hard work to identify all the relevant inflection points so that we can identify a safe range of immigration where we can set numbers without getting this country into trouble.

Instead, what I find are posturing and falsity up and down the entire range of mainstream debate. Restrictionists don't want to look to closely at our ability to absorb new immigrants because they're afraid that the numbers are going to be higher than they'd like to satisfy their interests. The free borders crowd doesn't want to look at assimilation either. The multiculturalists don't believe in assimilation at all while others in that camp are too afraid that the numbers will come out as being too low to further their interests.

At the heart of a lot of this discomfort is that doing the debate right will require a frank admission that english and canadian immigrants in 2008 are going to be more easily assimilable than mexican or somali immigrants. Pat Buchanen was right as far as that bit of analysis went. Like much of the paleo-right though, accurate analysis of the problem has little relationship to the wisdom of his proposed solution.

Just because a significant number of somali muslims have the annoying habit of instituting underground sharia court systems today and are thus less assimilable than immigrants who do not does not mean that this is a permanent problem and thus we should permanently reduce their immigration quota. Just because mexicans have the bad habit of unabashed, naked racism (or did you think they're kidding about what "La Raza" means?) and the nasty habit of coddling territorial irredentists doesn't mean that this is a permanent condition either.

A frank definition of what assimilation means and the adjustment of future immigration quotas based on the present community's actions to further assimilation would ease most of the fears of the restrictionists because it would align the immigrant communities more fully with native born attitudes. The offer "if you want your relatives and friends from the old country to be able to come, learn english, get a job, keep your nose clean, and become an american" is a decent one and empowers immigrants while reassuring natives. I think it would also garner wide support from both the restrictionists and the legalizers.

I'm not holding my breath.

June 10, 2007

Am I Going to Hell over the Iraq War? I

Posted by TMLutas

Out of all the Catholic Bishops in the USCCB exactly 1, John Michel Botean forthrightly condemned the Iraq war as unjust. You can find a PDF of his 2003 condemnation at the Center for Christian Nonviolence. Bishop John Michael has a tiny flock. In the past, he himself has categorized it as "5000 souls, on a good day". I happen to be one of them.

The invasion of Iraq has, therefore, occupied my moral thinking at a somewhat different level than most. There aren't too many Catholics who had to call up their bishops and ask whether they were going to be excommunicated over this war. I did, and the question wasn't easily dismissed. In fact, it never really has been dismissed.

For various irrelevant reasons, this conversation has been suspended. Recently it reopened (again for reasons well known to me but irrelevant to the conversation) and I've been corresponding with my bishop. He gave permission to write about this and hopefully this will be of use more generally.

At stake is a couple of issues. If this truly is a demonic war (as Bishop John Michael recently called it in the diocesan newsletter "Unirea" (Union), this is not something to be sneezed at. What makes the war demonic and how are we to fix it? What is this war anyway? Who are the sides? What evil did and do they do to merit a war being fought at all?

The approach to use for Catholics is just war doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church covers it in a nutshell in paragraph 2309:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
there must be serious prospects of success;
the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

So why write about this? It, frankly, has been seriously impacting my blog output. I've been thinking a great deal about the subject and find that I'm very dissatisfied by the level of ongoing analysis. Other questions which normally grab my interest have paled lately and I find myself turning back to the question of justice in war. So far, I find the anti-war side relatively unhinged from reality because they generally simplify the evil that Saddam did to a question of WMD. The pro-war side is little better because, having lost the moral certainty that Saddam was in possession of WMD they have largely abandoned the field. So I remain pro-war but unsatisfied with the canned arguments of both sides and in a relatively unique position, being under the personal jurisdiction of the most anti-war Catholic bishop in the US who, coincidentally, is my personal friend.

The funny thing is that precisely because he cares for me that he will and has gone after me hammer and tongs. He wants to save me from Hell, you see. It's not only his job, his vocation, but also his personal desire.

My own friendship does not permit me to engage in quiet dissent either, though for other reasons. I find nothing wrong with his application of the moral law. But I see him applying that law to a set of facts that do not actually exist and this has led him to error. So we wrestle with each other.

A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.

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