Can Politicians Outsmart the Internet?

I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at home last night, and Jon Stewart's guest for that show was Dan Rather, the former CBS Evening News anchor who had come to promote his new book. They talked about Rather's childhood, the perception of a liberal bias in the media, and how politicians have outsmarted TV.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Dan Rather
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I would like to take a brief moment to discuss what Rather had to say about liberal bias in the media. He said that in his time as a TV journalist, he found that among his colleagues, there was an even split between those who identified as being politically conservative and those who identified as being politically liberal; he further explained away the idea of liberal bias in the news media as being the creation of the conservative journalists who were really just admitting that not all journalists were conservative like them. Yet I can't help but ask, why is it only conservative journalists who raise the issue of a liberal bias? If there was an essentially equal distribution of political viewpoints in Rather's time, shouldn't there have been an equal stink raised by liberal journalists about a conservative bias? Or were conservative journalists more likely to feel victimized for their political beliefs even before FOX News came on the scene?

I do agree with Rather that today's journalists have no guts, and that is because politicians have bent TV journalism to suit their wills. And I think that if there does exist a liberal bias in TV news, then it has evolved to reflect this as well. For instance, it has recently become known that Walter Cronkite was way more unabashedly liberal than anyone could have imagined. He used his liberal bias to actually ask tough questions of politicians with whom he disagreed. Now, many journalists like the majority of those on CNN use their liberal bias to ask stupid, uninformative "gotcha" questions just to make conservative politicians look bad to boost ratings; for a concrete example, see Wolf Blitzer trying to trap Mitt Romney a few months ago by asking him really silly questions about the movie The Hunger Games.

But the bigger question is, can politicians bend the Internet similarly to TV and print media? I think not. The Internet really is fundamentally different from TV and print media because it is a two-way medium, whereas TV and print are one-way media. Hence, TV and print can be used as mouthpieces for politicians or journalists with an agenda, and no one can really do anything about that except for perhaps writing letters to the editor. The Internet has a far more diverse set of viewpoints than TV and print could ever have just because it is open to anyone and everyone to publish anything and everything, rather than being restricted to a particular set of journalists. I mean, the fact that I can write this up on my own blog and have other people see it, leave their own comments, and possibly write their own blog posts in response rather than me simply disagreeing in my own head after watching that interview on TV shows how truly different the Internet is. Sure, politicians could manipulate the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other mainstream news publications that have online sites, but they can't possibly begin to manipulate every single online news source out there, because so many of them are from alternative, nontraditional sources of news.

I think the best example of how politicians will continue to be powerless against the Internet until they have a deep working understanding of how it works comes in the SOPA debate that happened many months ago. There, politicians seemed to take pride in their ignorance of how the Internet works, and for once, that totally backfired on their efforts to massively censor it. The traditional news sources by and large simply parroted the words coming out of politicians' mouths about SOPA, but people knew better that time because the tech companies (of all sizes) behind the websites people use frequently showed exactly why SOPA would be so harmful. Furthermore, alternative news sources, especially technology-related news sites that were not beholden to any politicians or political parties, had excellent news pieces about why SOPA would severely curtail the goings-on of the Internet. Through these efforts, thousands upon thousands of people petitioned Congress and the President to stop SOPA, and only after politicians realized the magnitude of the backlash did SOPA and PIPA stall and die.

Another way that politicians will never be able to outsmart the Internet lies in the Streisand effect. Most Internet users route around restrictions by any means possible on the Internet. Before the Internet, if a politician said or did something controversial or embarrassing, that politician could hope to survive politically by manipulating the TV and print news media to downplay its significance or, more directly, expunge mentions of the incident from the media. Now, however, if a politician tries that and attempts to remove controversial or embarrassing material from the Internet, users will simply copy and reupload said material elsewhere. The name for the term comes from the time when Barbra Streisand's house was accidentally shown in some news piece. When Streisand tried to have it removed from the Internet, users simply copied and uploaded that picture to even more news sites, so the effort to have it removed was completely counterproductive in that it had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. Thus, as long as politicians believe that they can manipulate the Internet in the same way that they have manipulated TV and print news media, the Internet will always outsmart politicians.


Done with 4th Semester!

Oh my goodness. I am done with half of my undergraduate career at MIT. This is crazy!
This past semester was even more crazy than the one before that. The great thing was that my classes this semester were way more interesting on the whole and will be far more useful especially towards the UROP that I will be doing over the summer.
For now, though, I'm not thinking much about my UROP. I'm thinking about what I'll do to relax and unwind at home. And by the way, one of the things I had originally intended to do was write a few more reviews, but because I stupidly forgot my USB flash drives in my dormitory room, that will not be happening until I get back to campus. Oh well. I'll find other stuff to do too!


Featured Comments: Week of 2012 May 13

There was no "Featured Comments" post last week because there were no posts the previous week. This past week, there were two posts that got quite a few comments, so I'll repost a few of those.

Review: SolusOS 1 "Eveline"

Reader DarkDuck said, "The paragraph about Live system should be in bold red colour. :-) Have you been able to check which repositories are used in SolusOS? I would thing they're not Debian standard because of Skype."
Commenter Bernard Victor had this to say: "I have switched from Linux Mint, as it is much easier on system resorces. It is extremely stable, and very easy to set-up. The only problem I am having is getting Skype to work properly. It does everything but I cannot hear myself ???? Give it a proper try. I'm sure that you willlbe impressed like every other reviewer I have read."
Reader Ikey Doherty, who created and is the lead developer of SolusOS, had these clarifications: "I'm happy to package a newer skype :) Also if you look in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ you'll find we use backports, multimedia, and our own repo, which is now in the region of 6.6GB :) Regarding "process elevation" there is no root password on the live image, it's disabled for security reasons. You use sudo, which requires no password for the "live" user, so to become root: sudo su Et voila :) Other than those points, very very nice review :) Thank you very much and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Feel free to jump in on IRC or our forums, you'll find very welcoming people! :)"
An anonymous commenter said, "I tried solus on my netbook and I love it! Great OS, easy to set up, everything you should do to make debian a great desktop os is already done for you, so it saves a lot of time. It looks great, I really like the modified zuki blues theme. i'm pretty sure that solus will replace crunchbang 64bit on my desktop real soon! Thanks ikey, for this great distro!"

Review: ROSA 2012 "Marathon"

Reader Denis Koryavov, who I think is one of the higher-ups at ROSA, had this clarification: "Hello. Can you tell me what graphic card is used in the your laptop? If intel, then it is well-known bug, and it can be easily fixed: http://wiki.rosalab.ru/en/index.php/Errata_ROSA_Marathon_2012#Incorrect_resolution_with_Intel_graphics_cards"
Commenter akdengi, who also seems to be a ROSA developer, added, "Some problem for now is modeset for older card (such ATI < 2000HD or older Intel). In Mandriva 2011 many, many users will have blank black screen instead installer :( Generic driver (and working installer on many system) is more good, than not working system. This is hacked workaround, because solving of problem is not been simple - or using different syslinux menu list with/without modeset or using chainloading, like in Ubuntu and autodetect (but it's need more code change). In next update ISO release we try fix this problem."
Reader Wanderer said, "I so wanted to try ROSA, but it died on the boot up I suspect it did not want to play well with my nVidia 8400. I tried to find a work-a-round from a couple of forums, but ultimately chose to use Mageia 2(RC). Mageia worked wonderfully and is on the bleeding edge of Linux tech, especially because I invoked the testing repositories. I've not had a single problem with it. I read an article about GIMP 2.8 and the next day or day after it was on my updates list. I didn't mean to steal the show from ROSA. I did a live DVD not to long ago and it worked well and I wanted to try it again like I said. Oh well. Thanks for your review, I liked it."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. This coming week, I have final exams through Wednesday, so I won't be able to post anything until Thursday which is when I get back home. In any case, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: ROSA 2012 "Marathon"

I have more time this week than usual to do reviews like this, because I am studying at my own pace for final exams next instead of frenetically finishing problem sets each night. Today, the subject of my review is ROSA.

You may have heard of ROSA before, but you may not be sure where. Almost 9 months ago, I reviewed Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen", and that version of Mandriva was developed in conjunction with ROSA Labs, a Russian Linux development group. Since then, Mandriva seen quite a roller-coaster ride and is now essentially on life support. It is all but certain that there will be no new releases of a distribution with the name "Mandriva" (or "Mandrake" for that matter). One fork appeared over a year ago, and that is called Mageia; that aimed to replicate and build upon the traditional KDE desktop that Mandriva used before the year 2011. The other fork is ROSA, and it is essentially a continuation of the novel desktop introduced in Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen". It seems like ROSA will become the haven for all Mandriva users that had not already gone to Mageia.

I tested ROSA on a live USB system made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like. (Unfortunately, at the time of typing that sentence, ROSA froze, and I had to manually restart the computer. This is also why there are no pictures this time around.)


Review: SolusOS 1 "Eveline"

I've gotten a couple requests to review this distribution, and I've wanted to do it, but for a while all that was being released consisted of beta versions and release candidates. Now, however, version 1 "Eveline" has been released in its final form, so I am reviewing that now.

Main Screen + Cardapio Menu
SolusOS is supposed to be a user-friendly, stable distribution based on Debian 6 "Squeeze". It features a customized GNOME 2 that looks rather reminiscent of Linux Mint; this is not surprising, considering that the lead developer also contributes heavily to Linux Mint. In fact, its use of GNOME 2 makes it almost like a throwback version of Debian-based Linux Mint, now that the latter distribution has moved onto MATE and GNOME 3/Cinnamon.

I tested the 32-bit live edition using a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Featured Comments: Week of 2012 April 29

There was one post that got a few comments this past week, so I will repost most of those.

Review: Kubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin"

Reader DarkDuck said, "Mine findings on Kubuntu 12.04 are rather different. I am preparing my review of it. :-)"
An anonymous commenter said nothing more than "700 megabytes?! Wow."
Reader Brian Masinick had this experience to share: "I originally started with Kubuntu 12.04 Daily Build from a 02/25/12 build. A couple of times, I ran into intermittent issues where dialog boxes would appear, indicating that some back end feature in the Plasma desktop (usually indexed searching) was not working properly. Very early in my testing cycle, the Rekonq Web browser also malfunctioned, but by release it was working great and most of the dialog warning and error boxes disappeared. I ran into another problem when my final upgrade, bringing me to the 04/24/12 release was ready. Unplanned, and without any warning at all, the default desktop changed from the way I had it set up, which was with the Classic Style Menu and the classic, traditional "K" menu, rather than the classic slab menu. But when I started, I was greeting with a netbook-oriented Activity Style View! It actually worked without any issues, but it took me a couple of days to locate the System Preferences Menu in the Activity View. Once I was able to locate it, I was able to change back to the Classic Style View, and moreover, I was able to use a combination of traditional KDE work spaces and mix in the Activity Views as well. I view the combination of traditional work spaces and activities as a great advantage. I suspect that the reason that the final installation update configuration defaulted me to the Activity View was because I am using a laptop computer, albeit a large 17" display laptop, which I always use as if it were a desktop, not a laptop at all. After all, this beast, while a mobile computer, is hardly a laptop - I call it a mobile portable; it's heavy. I can, yes, I really can, put it in my lap, but it's sure a lot easier to use when it's on a movable stand, card table, or other fixture, rather than on my lap! For me, then, the Kubuntu 12.04 installation and configuration, upgrading from the daily builds to the final release, had some real surprises in it. My personal opinion is that for upgrades, whatever configurations were previously used ought to remain the default. If it REALLY wants to alter the appearance and function that much, it should at least allow you the choice to make that change or retain the previous behavior. Being able to change it back, but having to research in order to even locate the setting, at least to me, is a significant regression in friendly user behavior. Since KDE gives you the choice, at least make that choice obvious. The intermittent dialog box errors still seem to occasionally appear, so there are still some Plasma infrastructure issues looming beneath the surface. Perhaps they are artifacts from the transition from daily builds to release. If that's the case, then the transition configurations are defective and should be fixed. I'd give the overall experience a "B" grade. Once it's actually running, it runs quite well; it can be quite disconcerting to unexpectedly encounter the behaviors that I've mentioned, and that's the reason for a "B" instead of an "A" grade."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. This coming week, I don't have anything planned, and I may not be able to write anything anyway because I will be quite busy with exams and other work. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: Kubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin"

Main Screen
Well, it's that time of the year again. Canonical just released the spring editions of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Edubuntu (and with those have come releases of the officially-recognized derivatives Xubuntu, Lubuntu, and Mythbuntu). Today, I'm reviewing Kubuntu, for a few different reasons.

The first is that this is the last version of Kubuntu that will be officially maintained by Canonical. After the announcement about that over a month ago, the future of Kubuntu appeared to be in flux, but thankfully an announcement was made a few days ago that Blue Systems, the maintainer of Netrunner and primary sponsor of Ubuntu-based Linux Mint with KDE, would also sponsor Kubuntu and would take a couple developers from Kubuntu who were previously at Canonical.
The second is that this is a long-term support (LTS) release, and as this is still going to be supported by Canonical, that means this version will get 5 years of support. To match that, Kubuntu needs to be quite stable and bug-free, so I want to see how well that works out.
The third is that I am looking to replace Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME with something that will in all likelihood be based in some way upon Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin". I want to see how this version of Ubuntu can fill that role.
The fourth is that this is the 500th post on Das U-Blog! I think that warrants a pretty big review like this one.

I tested the 64-bit edition of this as a live USB system made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.