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19 October, 2020

Ice and Fire

I've been reading J.R.R. Martin's (is the double R to remind us of Tolkien?) first book in his famous trilogy. I'm a patient but very slow reader, so it's been taking some time. He's a masterful storyteller, so deserving of the fame. I haven't quite formed an opinion of the political message, and reading essays on the subject produces too many spoilers. The TV series seems to follow the book(s) fairly closely, as far as I have got, or remember. But it probably boils things down to a lot of action sequences in order to keep the excitement going. On the other hand, the media of the screen makes it possible to skip much of the rich description in the prose by a simple visual presentation. In that way, this is a book that really lends itself to a good screen production, just as did The Lord of the Rings, when they eventually got around to it. And I think everyone would agree that the wait was fortunate, because it would have been simply impossible to render these kinds of visuals in earlier years. (We'll see what Villeneuve makes of Dune, when it is released next year.)

Emotionally the books (and especially the TV series) bring back memories of watching series like William Tell, Robin Hood, Richard the Lion Heart, or Sir Francis Drake, when I was a child. The same kind of action , and the same kind of excitement - an adult version of it, perhaps - but really just as childish. More interesting is the intricate and very complete world that Martin creates. It's as well-conceived as anything in science fiction or fantasy. He's an excellent "world-maker", and like others before him, he bases it very much on references from mythologies and historical information to which all of us, or at least some of us, have already been exposed. So there is a door of access to the strange and the incredible, through what is already known or familiar.

Like a good 21st century reader, I'm painfully sensitive to the message that is being purveyed. When we read stories from the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson to our children today, it is with the knowledge that we are passing on hidden messages of which we don't approve, however good the storytelling might be. Martin seems to break with the tradition of our storybooks, which is also that of Tolkien and CS Lewis, of drawing clear distinctions between good and evil characters. Of course there are characters like Boromir and Golum which were originally good or innocent, but which become treacherous or evil. But Martin's characters are rarely presented as one-sided caricatures of evil. They are given the chance to redeem themselves and show their humanity. That seems somehow more in keeping with our reality. But ultimately, I don't think that this kind of fiction leads us to any inspiring or richer understanding of reality, but indulges us in emotions like schadenfreude, the wish for revenge, blood lust, etc. Though it is not without poignant interludes, this isn't Shakespeare, who after all, engaged in the same genre. It simply lacks the layers of meaning or depth of spirit. This is fantasy for the sake of enjoyment; it's a rich feast, very often too rich. It does not leave one feeling clean, more humane, or offer a glimpse of anything sublime. But this is an interim report. It will take me a long, long time to finish these books, assuming that I don't give up on them, which is just as likely. I often feel like I've got the message and that since time is limited, I had better get on with something new.

Evening Meditation

Went along to the Spiritual Center for the weekly meditation session, which I haven't actually been doing the last few weeks. It isn't a community initiative but completely informal. For a time, D was leading a Thich Nhat Hanh-style session. In another period, we did something else, and so on throughout the years.

Tonight, three people showed up. A couple of them have done Vipassana retreats (which are popular among Israelis) or some similar practice. Tonight, a woman who rents an apartment in the village led what she called an "energy balance" meditation based on the four elements (earth, fire, water, air).

As always, I ignored what she was saying and did my own meditation. I hear the words, but they don't really connect together or mean anything. Sometimes, like this evening, I just keep on doing my own thing through any sharing session that takes place. The facilitators of such activities often find such behaviour irritating, but, as mentioned, these particular weekly sessions are rather informal, so nobody minds.


✭ Azadi by Arundhati Roy review – at her passionate best | Arundhati Roy | The Guardian
 author tackles Kashmir, Hindu nationalism and the dangers of being outspoken in this startling collection of essays"

✭ 'It is serious and intense': white supremacist domestic terror threat looms large in US | Donald Trump |

“The threat is serious and intense,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a terrorism and extremism expert at Brookings. “It is by far the most serious domestic danger in the US on many levels – the frequency of attacks, the level of recruitment, the scope of ambition of the groups and the wider political capital they are building.”

✭ 'No, Microsoft Won't Rebase Windows to Linux' Argues Canonical's Manager for Ubuntu on WSL -
"The key take-away though is that open source has won. And Raymond can be proud of helping to articulate the case for the open source development model when he did."

One of my sons thought that such a move would be very unlikely in the near future, for similar reasons. I think that eventually it simply won't really matter which OS we are actually on. In terms of the software, at least if one is happy with the offerings on desktop Linux, it already doesn't matter. I was able to completely duplicate the software environment that I'm used to on Windows 10 last year, since most of what I use is cross-platform already. There were no compelling reasons, other than ideological, to take the trouble to move back to Linux, since Windows 10 can be made to be a fairly "quiet" operating system that does not annoy in the same way as some of Microsoft's earlier offerings. Except (from today): "Microsoft Forces Windows 10 Restarts -- To Install 'Unsolicited, Unwanted' Office Apps". Same old Microsoft.

✭ Cloudflare Offers 'Isolated' Cloud-Based Browser, Plus a Network-as-a-Service Solution - Slashdot

There's nothing I like about this company, so I find it hard to be happy about anything they do.

✭ Mari Marcel Thekaekara
 is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty."

She looks like a woman to take an interest in, in terms of the issues she covers.

✭ India's arrest of an 83-year-old priest on terrorism charges is an insult to justice | India | The Guardian
"His sin? Helping the poor and vulnerable. He has been in the forefront of trying to protect India’s indigenous Adivasi people whose lands are under attack in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, where mining interests loom large."

A Christian who can be accused of sympathizing with Maoists and who stands in opposition to powerful interests aligned with Modi's cronies does sound like he would be a number one target. If there are crimes he can be accused of, they can send the police, otherwise, they can send thugs and assassins. That seems to be the way it works these days.