The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Oligarchy watch, part MXVII

James Fallows today suggested a parlor game you can play at home:

This is distilled from a longer item earlier today, at the suggestion of my colleagues. It's a simple game you can try at home. Pick a country and describe a sequence in which:

  • First, a presidential election is decided by five people, who don't even try to explain their choice in normal legal terms.
  • Then the beneficiary of that decision appoints the next two members of the court, who present themselves for consideration as restrained, humble figures who care only about law rather than ideology.
  • Once on the bench, for life, those two actively second-guess and re-do existing law, to advance the interests of the party that appointed them.
  • Meanwhile their party's representatives in the Senate abuse procedural rules to an extent never previously seen to block legislation—and appointments, especially to the courts.
  • And, when a major piece of legislation gets through, the party's majority on the Supreme Court prepares to negate it -- even though the details of the plan were originally Republican proposals and even though the party's presidential nominee endorsed these concepts only a few years ago.

How would you describe a democracy where power was being shifted that way?

I would describe it as a creeping oligarchy, or even, given the party in question, a shuffle towards feudalism. It's nice to know I'm not at home. (And also that James Fallows is a much better writer than I am.)

Troubleshooting software installation on Windows 7

I have just spent an hour of my life—one that I will never get back—trying to figure out why I couldn't install any software from .msi files on one of my Windows 7 machines. Every time I tried, I would get a message that the installer "could not find the file specified."

I'll spare you all the steps I went through to figure out why this was happening, and get to the punchline:


Yeah, you see, the SYSTEM account needs full control over any file you're trying to install on Windows. Here's how it should look:

So, if you're a security-conscious individual who's locked down his PC thoroughly, and you can't seem to install anything on Windows anymore, check the permissions on the folder containing the .msi file.

As we say in programming: herp-a-derp.

Oligarchy watch, part MXVI

Continuing my general theme the last few days, the New York Times reminds us what Mitt Romney's biggest backer really wants:

Mr. Adelson’s other overriding interest is his own wallet. He rails against the president’s “socialist-style economy” and redistribution of wealth, but what he really fears is Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on companies like his that make a huge amount of money overseas. Ninety percent of the earnings of his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, come from hotel and casino properties in Singapore and Macau. (The latter is located, by the way, in China, a socialist country the last time we checked.)

Because of the lower tax rate in those countries (currently zero in Macau), the company now has a United States corporate tax rate of 9.8 percent, compared with the statutory rate of 35 percent. President Obama has repeatedly proposed ending the deductions and credits that allow corporations like Las Vegas Sands to shelter billions in income overseas, but has been blocked by Republicans.

Mr. Obama’s Justice Department is also investigating whether Mr. Adelson’s Macau operations violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an inquiry that Mr. Adelson undoubtedly hopes will go away in a Romney administration. For such a man, at a time when there are no legal or moral limits to the purchase of influence, spending tens of millions is a pittance to elect Republicans who promise to keep his billions intact.

What title should a man get when he donates $100 million to an election campaign? Would that be worth an earldom or a duchy?

More evidence of creeping oligarchy

I fretted earlier this week about the pattern that has emerged in the U.S., driven primarily by the the Republican Party (though my party isn't guilt-free), to return to the golden age of fiefs and barons. Paul Krugman provided another clear example:

Over the past few days, The New York Times has published several terrifying reports about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons. The series is a model of investigative reporting, which everyone should read. But it should also be seen in context. The horrors described are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded.

[T]he main answer, surely, is to follow the money. Never mind what privatization does or doesn’t do to state budgets; think instead of what it does for both the campaign coffers and the personal finances of politicians and their friends. As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business. Are the corporations capturing the politicians, or the politicians capturing the corporations? Does it matter?

Do we not remember the phrase "divide and conquer?" As more money and power becomes more concentrated, the competing interests of those without the money and power makes it more and more difficult to form an organized resistance. And by the way, the republican form of government is supposed to be exactly that: organized resistance to power. Krugman's column Friday outlined one way that the right and business interests are attacking republicanism. (Yes, there's irony that the Republican party has done the most to injure republicanism in America.)

Just keep this thought filed away: if your city ever privatizes its police force, move. Immediately.

Out of the apartment, into the cloud (Part 2)

Last weekend I described moving my email hosting from my living room home office out to Microsoft Exchange Online. And Thursday I spent all day at a Microsoft workshop about Windows Azure, the cloud computing platform on which my employer, 10th Magnitude, has developed software for the past two years.

In this post, I'm going to describe the actual process of migrating from an on-site Exchange 2007 server to Exchange Online. If you'd prefer more photos of Parker or discussions about politics, go ahead and skip this one. It's pretty technical and Parker only makes a brief cameo.

About 18 months ago, 10th Magnitude's CTO tried to move us to the predecessor offering now replaced by Exchange Online and Office 365's, Business Productivity Online Suite, AKA "BPOS." He was quite adamant that BPOS was a CPOS, and made just setting up the service a complete PITA. I'd like to assure him and everyone else thinking about cloud-based email that the situation today has improved.

The new migration tools start you with a step-by-step checklist, liked to all the documentation you need, that takes you through the entire process:

Step 1 took fifteen seconds. I called my dad and told him I was moving his email account to a different server, and that he probably wouldn't even notice the change except his password would change. He said fine. That was easy.

Step 2 was to add my domains to Exchange Online. My existing Exchange organization hosted eight domains, which it had acquired over the 12 years or so I'd run development servers in my office. Each domain required going into my DNS registration account at DNS Made Easy and adding a TXT records proving I owned it. Fortunately, my DNS provider and Microsoft communicated in real time about the updates, so I got through 7 of 8 domains in about 10 minutes. The 8th domain, which unfortunately was the Active Directory root domain, had its nameservers pointed at the DNS registrar that I used before switching to DNS Made Easy. Switching nameservers took an entire day, for reasons that pass understanding.

Step 3, mailbox migration, had a few hiccups, and required about more effort than I anticipated. First, using the Remote Connectivity Analyzer, I discovered that the specific combination of DNS records, firewall rules, and mailbox configuration on my Exchange server wouldn't allow migration. It took about two hours of playing whack-a-mole to get just one of the tests in the suite to work. Microsoft provided (generally) comprehensive instructions on how to fix the problems I encountered, however. The test suite itself gave me a good idea of what I was doing wrong on its own, even without the TechNet articles.

The remaining steps in the plan—redirecting mail to the new server, completing the mailbox migration, activating users, and starting to use Exchange Online—took about fifteen minutes. Seriously.

The whole effort took six hours total. Part of this includes the post-move configuration changes I had to make to several services and Web sites, as my Exchange server was also my internal SMTP server. This blog, all of my hosted websites, and the collection of services that support those websites (like Weather Now, for example) all had to have a new SMTP server to send emails out. That was a little tricky, and required using IIS6 tools on a Windows 2008 server. But that's another story.

Also, my RSS feeds didn't fare well in the switch. With Exchange 2007 and Outlook 2010, your RSS feeds are stored on the server, not the client. So I had to add all of them back by hand after the migration.

It's important to note a few things that would make this more difficult for a larger business than mine. I had two active mailboxes for people and a couple for support services, I controlled both the Exchange server and the network, and I had no critical business issues during the switch. Larger organizations will have to handle a migration much more carefully than I did.

In the end, my email experience is exactly the same. And my apartment home office is noticeably quieter with two fewer servers gobbling electricity.

Cloud email working fine; Azure symposium today

The email migration I did over the weekend so far has made my email experience better, in part because the server rack temperatures have dipped a full degree C (despite really hot weather outside). More details about the migration will follow this weekend.

Since 10th Magnitude has become a 100% Azure shop, Microsoft has invited us to participate in an all-day summit here in Chicago about the Azure cloud-computing platform. I'm leaving for it anon; I'll report this, too, weekend.

A pattern emerges

What do you call a system in which:

In short, what do you call a system that concentrates wealth—mainly derived from investments, not from production—in a few hands, keeps it there, and makes it difficult if not impossible for everyone else to better his own condition?


The United States isn't a feudal country, obviously, but a good chunk of the political and economic elite clearly want it to become one. It's still in our power to prevent this. But I'm less and less confident.

Obamacare's success

The Affordable Care Act has helped 3.1 million people get health insurance:

As a result of the law, the proportion of insured adults ages 19 through 25 has increased to nearly 75 percent.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to allow young adults to remain on their parents' family plans until their 26th birthday, even if they move away from home or graduate from school. This policy took effect on September 23, 2010.

"Today, because of the health care law, more than 3 million more young adults have health insurance," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "This policy doesn’t just give young adults and their families peace of mind, it also gives them freedom. It means that as they begin their careers, they will be free to make choices based on what they want to do, not on where they can get health insurance."

And the Republicans want to kill it:

The central pillars of the health care reform law — guaranteed coverage regardless of health status, an individual mandate to buy insurance and subsidies delivered via exchanges — were originally crafted by moderate conservatives and have long enjoyed support in the GOP. But after Obama embraced the template, Republicans ran to the right and abandoned it in an effort to undermine him politically. Now, as they try to sneak back closer to the center, the hard-right base that they’ve empowered is giving them hell.

First came the warning shots from activist groups like FreedomWorks and Club For Growth, which most recently purged the longest serving Republican senator for taking moderate positions in the past. Then came the cries of opposition from conservative legislators in the party. The anger is reflected among high-profile conservative activists who are actively confronting party leaders for straying — and apparently making them nervous.

This is going to be a long 139 days...and I can't wait until the Supreme Court fires off the ACA decision due any day now.