in post

16 December, 2020


I spent a bit of time trying to make my desktop (Budgie in MX Linux) more attractive. The red info at the top is in Conky. I no longer bother with silly wallpapers.



Writers are brilliant self-promoters of their profession, and have been since the beginning of storytelling, when it was in the hands of self-aggrandizing bards and minstrels. I finally suffered through to the end of Game of Thrones (the TV series, rather than the books, which I'm still plodding through), and liked the discussion there of the importance of storytellers. I didn't remember the exact lines, but found them in quite a good blog-post on the subject here:
“The Imp,” renowned for his wit and erudition, gives a speech to the heads of the leading houses of the realm. “What unites people?” he asks. “Armies? Gold? Flags?” He shakes his head. “Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.”
Amitav Ghosh, in Gun Island, similarly extols the importance of storytelling, and of course there is a ton of scientific research to corroborate these views.

"You mustn’t underestimate the power of stories. There is something in them that is elemental and inexplicable. Haven’t you heard it said that what makes us human, what separates us from animals, is the faculty of storytelling? But what if the truth were even stranger? What if it were the other way around? What if the faculty of storytelling were not specifically human but rather the last remnant of our animal selves?"

Here in Israel/Palestine there is enormous importance to the preservation of narratives, both from the Shoah and the Nakba, so I find myself returning to thoughts about the importance of stories fairly frequently. One of my observations is that the way things are remembered is often more important than historical truth. This has a contemporary aspect too, in that I often encounter greater concern about "what people say" than the facts. At one time, our village was visited by the film star Richard Gere, and his visit was mentioned on our website. A few years later, on social media, there were suddenly a stream of accusations that the man had made various horrible racist comments about Palestinians, and so people said they were sorry he ever visited us and that I should remove all reference to his visit from our website. I said that I first wanted to see evidence that he really had made the statements attributed to him. I spent a few hours researching the matter and came up empty - the first chronological reference I found to them was on an obscure Pakistani website. But the person who asked me to rid our website from the noxious mention of Richard Gere said that it didn't matter whether he actually made those statements; it was more important that people would be saying that he did. "You'll never understand us," she told me.

Reading the Mahabharata, I have also been thinking about the value of storytelling. It's one of the earliest texts to come down to us; several times longer than the Illiad and the Odyssey combined, it declares of itself that if something doesn't exist in the Mahabharata, it doesn't exist at all. The central story is actually a lot more violent and cruel than the Tale of Ice and Fire; the heroes are killed off one by one. According to my indology professor, in India it is considered quite unlucky to keep a copy of the Mahabharata inside one's home. As with Martin (and somewhat unlike Tolkien), the characters are not black and white representatives of good or evil. The Pandava family are broadly the good guys, the Kauravas, the bad guys, but then one of the Kauravas, Karna, is the most popular and well-loved hero of all. Krishna, the God incarnate, plays some quite underhanded tricks.

I've always been a reader and a cinema-lover, though I'm not a very hungry consumer of either novels or films. It's odd that during the last few years, I have grown less interested in normal, humanistic genres and gotten more into fantasy. I agree with Gene Wolfe that our contemporary interest in realism is an aberration. Our traditional literature has always been dominated with mythological and fantastic elements.

Usually, the older generation are the people that we approach to learn about long-deceased family members and earlier times, so they are the natural preservers of narratives and cultural history. I found myself interviewing my own parents and taking many notes before they died. I'm sorry I didn't ask more questions. Now there are photo albums filled with anonymous figures and vague memories of stories heard during childhood. In our village, though I'm not one of the more senior members, I'm sometimes a source of information about former times.

But a part of me wants to escape from all preoccupation with stories. In the Indian scheme of life stages, old age (which began formally at an earlier time than in our reckoning) is a time for reading philosophy, the Brahmanas and the Upanisads, if the poor eyesight characteristic of those years, permits one to read anything at all.

Links blog

✭Saudi prosecutor seeks maximum jail sentence for women's rights activist | Saudi Arabia | The Guardian
“A regime that sees women’s activism as terrorism is deeply broken. There is no moral or legal case for [activists’] continued imprisonment, and their prolonged incarceration is not even in the narrow interests of the Saudi regime,”
#MENA #womens-rights

✭Paris city hall fined for putting too many women in senior roles | Paris | The Guardian
“I am happy to announce that we have been fined,” Hidalgo, a member of the Socialist party, told a city council meeting, adding that she had been filled with joy when she learned of the penalty.

✭Israeli spy firm suspected of accessing global telecoms via Channel Islands | World news | The Guardian
The Israeli private intelligence company Rayzone Group appears to have had access to the global telecommunications network via a mobile operator in the Channel Islands in the first half of 2018, potentially enabling its clients at that time to track the locations of mobile phones across the world.

✭Watch Out! Adrozek Malware Hijacking Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Yandex Browsers
 campaign — which impacts Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Yandex Browser, and Mozilla Firefox browsers on Windows — aims to insert additional, unauthorized ads on top of legitimate ads displayed on search engine results pages, leading users to click on these ads inadvertently.

✭Muslims targeted under Indian state's 'love jihad' law
A day after the law was enacted in early December, police in the city of Lucknow violently halted a wedding ceremony between a Hindu woman, Raina Gupta, and a Muslim man, Mohammad Asif, that was to include both Hindu and Muslim rituals. The families, who supported the union, said neither was going to convert religion, but the wedding was still prevented from going ahead.

✭Russian FSB hit squad poisoned Alexei Navalny, report says | World news | The Guardian

✭Tsundoku - Wikipedia
 (Japanese: 積ん読) is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one's home without reading them.[1][2][3] It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf.

✭Hackers are selling more than 85,000 MySQL databases on a dark web portal | ZDNet
Hackers have been breaking into MySQL databases, downloading tables, deleting the originals, and leaving ransom notes behind, telling server owners to contact the attackers to get their data back.

✭Here Comes the Google Chrome Change that Worries Ad-Blocker Creators - Slashdot
The importance of the Chrome team's choices are magnified by the fact that other browsers, including Microsoft Edge, Vivaldi , Opera and Brave, are built on its Chromium open-source foundation. Microsoft said it will embrace Manifest v3, too.The importance of the Chrome team's choices are magnified by the fact that other browsers, including Microsoft Edge, Vivaldi , Opera and Brave, are built on its Chromium open-source foundation. Microsoft said it will embrace Manifest v3, too.

✭Indian police use violence as a shortcut to justice. It's the poorest who bear the scars - CNN
's over-burdened police force has 158 police officers for every 100,000 people. That lack of manpower, coupled with inadequate investment in modern investigation techniques and political pressure to get results, means confessions under torture are often simply the quickest, or only, way to resolve crimes -- even if they come at a deadly cost.

✭A hiking trip amid the beautiful West Bank scenery is a bittersweet experience | Palestinian territories
Israeli settlements and checkpoints are encroaching on one of the few escapes from harsh reality available to Palestinians

✭Digging in: on the frontlines as farmers lay siege to Delhi | India | The Guardian
 are citizens of the land, not of politics, but many now say that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, radically underestimated their determination and resilience, and could now have met his match.