Monday, 12 May 2003


I’ve avoided weighing in on the topic of filibusters, trying to clairfy my own thinking on the issue. Now, I personally don’t have any problem with filibusters per se; if recalcitrant legislators can’t filibuster, they’ll find some other way to gum up the process (see, for example, the members of the Texas General Assembly who have apparently fled the state to deny a quorum to the Republican majority). But I do think the cloture mechanism is slightly broken.

At present, Senate rules require a 3/5 supermajority (or 60 votes) to end a filibuster. I think this requirement substantially reduces the burden on the supporters of the filibuster, as they don’t even have to show up at the quorum call for the votes; if nothing else, a filibuster should require some minimal effort among the disaffected minority to support it, but the present rules aren’t structured that way.

What I’d do: tweak the Senate rules slightly, to require 2/5+1 to vote to continue debate upon a call for cloture, except when a unanimous consent agreement is in effect otherwise limiting the debate (this part allows for normal floor debate without gratuitous cloture votes). That would properly place the burden of sustaining the filibuster on its supporters, but not otherwise limit its use (unlike Bill Frist’s fundamentally silly “supermajority countdown” proposal).

Moving the Mac to ia32

Steven Den Beste has a lengthy exposition of why moving the Macintosh user base to an Intel (or AMD) CPU is exceedingly problematic. I think he’s mostly right, but I don’t know if software emulation of the PowerPC instruction set would be as slow as he suspects, at least from the user’s perspective: the most CPU-intensive task most Mac users seem to engage in is moving around their pretty OpenGL-rendered windows, and even my low-end 300 MHz G3 at work keeps up fairly well with OS X 10.2.

I don’t think reasonable-speed software emulation alone would prompt most users to switch; Apple would have to “add value” over a straight x86 box running XP Home. And, IMHO, the best way to add that value for the Mac userbase would be the ability to run Win32 applications natively—that is, to sell Apple’s x86 boxes as the universal end-user platform, able to run Windows, classic Mac OS, OS X, and Linux applications on one desktop.

Could Apple have such a project secretly in the works? I don’t know, but they’re essentially 3/4 of the way there already with the rootless native OS X X11 server (presumably you could run LinuxPPC code under Darwin-PPC/OS X with a thin emulation layer, and likewise for Linux/ia32 under Darwin-x86), and if a few dedicated hackers can produce WineX or CrossOver Office, I’d imagine Apple has the resources to do the same, perhaps building on the work of one of those projects.

Another question is the business model—does Apple stick with semi-proprietary hardware, or go back to licensing the operating system (perhaps with a boutique branded hardware line for the Alienware set and hardcore Mac fans, returning to the NeXTstep model)? I think the latter plan is more viable (mainly because I can’t see much value in building a semi-proprietary x86 box when you can get off-the-shelf hardware much cheaper), but the former avoids the very real problem of trying to directly compete with Microsoft on the desktop and losing the native Office port, although its value might be overrated with good binary emulation of Win32.

Sean Jordan has responded by email, noting that Apple is probably more likely to move to the new IBM PowerPC 970 CPU; despite Den Beste’s cynicism about the viability of the PPC 970, I do think that's the more likely option (although that may be the closet Motorola fanboy in me talking). However, it’s still fun to (continue to) speculate about the viability of an Intel (or, more likely, AMD) move, especially considering that OS X’s core (OpenStep) ran on Intel chips before it ran on the PowerPC. He also points to the consistently-excellent Ars Technica as a good source for watching what’s going on on the Apple CPU scene.

The Military Mentality

This exchange sounds awfully familiar:

The XO approaches me. “Have you heard about the incident?”

“What incident?”

“Good. You’re the Investigating Officer.”


More for the Sabato cluelessness file

Buried in a Commercial Appeal article on the likely impact of the black vote in the 2003 Mississippi governor’s race is a choice quote from my good pal Larry Sabato:

Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he has a goal to get 20 percent of the black vote. To do that, Sabato said Barbour needs to reach out in two ways—substantively and symbolically.

“He has to find proposals that do not alienate his conservative base and yet have attraction for his [sic] African Americans. An example would be school vouchers,” Sabato said.

“The symbolic is to reach out and secure as many prominent endorsements from African Americans as possible.”

Yes, I’m sure vouchers are going to be a big vote-winner with Mississippi’s black voters, because the only reason why their kids aren’t enrolled at your local whites-only academy is because they can’t afford the tuition.

It seems to me this would be a case where the substantive proposal would undermine the symbolic. But then again, I’m not Larry Sabato; I just know something about the state I’m talking about, so I could be wrong.