15 September

Espeyrac

On our way from Le Puy, at a snail's pace, we have currently reached Espeyrac, a small village in Averogne. We are staying at a gite called La Soulie and have arrived early due to the rain. I walked and D got a ride, from the proprietor of our previous hostel.

We are enjoying our time in this beautiful region of France. The weather has been very kind, as have the people. There is a rather formal politeness among the French that always needs to be remembered, which is different than that of Americans, and certainly of Israelis. The greeting is consistently 'bonjour' or 'bonjour madame' whereas in English it could be so many words. And, as a foreigner, one should be particularly well behaved.

If one knows how to behave, people are really very nice, and tolerant of our bad French. Perhaps when French people get a bad rap it is from the experience with Parisians, though I don't want to be unkind to them either, not having personally been at the receiving end of any rudeness.

I will try to write a little more about La Soulie later, as this is a special place.

29 August 2021

Since I didn't find WP in F-Droid, I spent some time struggling with Hubzilla's Nomad plugin but no avail.

The application proved to be buggy. Eventually I found WP's app on Uptodown.

I think this will serve, assuming I even want to blog while I am away.

29 August 2021

I'm planning my vacation and think that while I'm away, I will activate the Hubzilla - WordPress crosspost plugin. I won't have my computer with me, and I don't find an app for WP in FDroid, so it may be easier to post to WordPress via Hubzilla.

If I feel like blogging at all. There is also a very nice offline Diary app on FDroid, which uses markdown. What's for sure, I won't be taking a paper notebook with me. Everything that is not absolutely necessary must be eliminated, since it is just extra kilos to carry.

It's a 40 kilo bag, and will weigh around 6 kg + water. I've been carrying it for a couple of weeks now on my training walks, and so far, so good. It was quite a cheap bag, at €53 locally. My wife bought almost the same model.

Image/photo

Source: https://hubzilla.vikshepa.com/item/a55f1ba9-749b-4a22-bb8e-1a9f65707f7d

13 August 2021

Planning and preparing for a walk

I have been busy researching the possible walk in France - now it looks more likely that I will begin in Le Puy en Velay, and do the route sometimes called the Via Podiensis or the GR65. On the other hand, COVID figures are rising again in France, so it may eventually happen that Israel will cancel all flights there. Nothing can be certain in the COVID era. In Israel itself, dire predictions are being made about the ever-worsening situation.

Part of my preparation has been taking longer walks. Fortunately we are ideally placed for such training, being able to pick from among numerous trails whenever we leave the village. We just have to be sure, in this season, to start very early in the morning, or, alternately, to walk in the late afternoon. Morning is better, so I have been out by just after 6 AM.

I discovered that with the OSM app in my phone, I can very easily record my walk, as well as find my way. So I know that I have been traveling each time about 9 to 9.28 km, going at an average speed of 4.4 - 4.5 km per hour, and descending / climbing about 300 m. OSM is really an app that shows the value of free open source software. Despite its weaknesses, it is so much more flexible than the commercial alternatives. Enthusiasts can easily create their own layers and applications of it.

Two old cameras

Around 2008 or 2009 I bought a Canon PowerShot SX110, which I still have. But then in 2015 I replaced it with a Panasonic ZS45, which was advertised as a real bargain as the price had been knocked down from around $400 to $200 - I picked it up on one of my trips to the US. I had paid about $300 for the Canon PowerShot - but products are always more expensive in Israel, so I don't know what it was selling for in the US at the time.

I hadn't done much research on either camera, however now, when I look at old reviews, I see that the PowerShot was very well received, whereas the Panasonic got roundly panned. So I have pulled out the Canon and started to snap some photos. Despite the double megapixel count of the Canon, and its superior CMOS sensor, I have to say that the Canon pictures are more pleasing. I may take that one with me on my walk. There's a possibility of repairing my son's Sony A5000 camera; but the repair is expensive and the camera is a bit heftier. If I carry a camera at all the walk, it had better be small and light.

village

Things that caught my eye

Dissident Pakistani exiles in UK ‘on hit list’ - The Guardian

Critics of country’s military told by Met police of plots against them as security forces fear there may be an attack in Britain

Anti-Muslim slogans raised in Indian capital, suspects in custody - Al Jazeera

Opposition parties say the violence and hatred against Muslims are not a “fringe phenomenon” and are being “actively promoted” by Modi and his most trusted aide, Home Minister Amit Shah.

Poland’s coalition under threat as parliament votes on media bill - The Guardian

“Our parliament will today be voting to disenfranchise TVN, Poland’s largest, American-owned independent TV station. If the bill passes, we will likely cross the point of no return toward a kleptocratic autocracy.”

the move follows a sustained government drive to control Poland’s media in which public service outlets such as the state-run TVP television station become propaganda organs for the ruling party, while private, independent media have been steadily driven out of business.

Hundreds of Polish journalists and editors have also signed an open letter calling on the government to halt “the destruction of media freedom in our country”.

The Israeli army, meanwhile, is killing Palestinians every day - around 140 of them since the hostilities of May. They are shot dead in the most trivial way, whether they are children or adults. There is, as usual, little accountability. As numerous people have pointed out in the past, Israel and Palestine have tiny populations. In a larger country, this amount of carnage would amount to the killing of thousands.

Every loss means one more grieving and embittered family. It increases the likelihood of further bloodshed in the future. Israelis have every reason to fear that, although it may be trivial to kill Palestinians today, this will not be forgiven, in a situation where the tables are turned. I think everyone carries this knowledge with them, and keeps it in a corner of their brains, as a latent fear. Conflicts follow Newtonian laws.

In first massive cyberattack, China targets Israel - Haaretz.com

the Israeli targets included state bodies and as well as private organizations from the fields of shipping, high-tech, telecommunications, defense, academia and information technology.

Despite the ongoing American feud with China, Israel has allowed Chinese companies to carry out several major infrastructure projects here, including building a new port in Haifa and the light rail project in the greater Tel Aviv area. However, Israel didn’t grant the Chinese firm Hutchison a permit to buy the mobile operator Partner. And it may have intervened behind the scenes to thwart the sale of the Phoenix insurance company to another Chinese firm, Fosun.

8 August 2021

Mangoes

I bought some mangoes from the local mini-market yesterday. D. said it's a pity that I hadn't found the Maya variety that we had last time. So I started to think about mangoes, wondering with which traditional variety the Maya variety was associated. I had always assumed that mangoes originated in Southern India, but it turns out that they are believed to have come from either Northwest India or Myanmar. From ancient times, they were valued and introduced all over India and Southeast Asia, and, by the 15th century had reached Africa. Our word "mango" was borrowed by the Portuguese from a Malai word, "mangga", but it is thought that this originally came from Tamil.

Mangoes are fruit belonging to the cashew family and grow on huge trees. In Tiruvannamalai (Tamil Nadu), in the yard of the home where I once stayed, the trees are too high to easily harvest the fruit. However, the monkeys cast them down when they are still unripe. My host, DF said that monkeys are stupid and wasteful - they bite into them, find they are unripe and throw them down. He would collect these fruit cast down monkeys every day, let them ripen on a newspaper and then eat them. But personally, I think the monkeys are not so dumb and probably have a similar idea - they may throw them down in order to harvest them later. But who can say? The mangoes in DF's compound are smaller than the ones we buy here and don't have much flesh on them, but DF would carefully suck each mango stone, wasting nothing. As for me, I never felt like eating mangoes that monkeys have previously bitten into.

According to my reading, most of the mangoes eaten in Europe and North America originated from a variety grown in Tamil Nadu:

Most of the varieties of mangoes available in grocery stores in the United States can trace their lineage to the Haden mango tree, a tree planted by Jack Haden in 1902 in Coral Gables, Florida (Haden itself can be traced back to Malgova which is misspelled Malgoba in US and has its origin in Tamil Nadu, India). List of mango cultivars - Wikipedia.

Nowadays, according to the above cited article, mangoes are grown in many countries, and there are a huge number of varieties. In India alone there are several hundred varieties but, despite the enormous agricultural yield there, the majority are for domestic consumption. At various times Europe and the US have prohibited import from India due to the danger of introducing agricultural pests. Knowing how many of these have originated in India, I don't find that unreasonable. I am thinking not only of the Maladera insanabilis which I mentioned ina recent post, but of the beetles that are currently decimating fig and date trees around the world.

Specifically regarding Israel, I found an interesting and informative article in Haaretz, from 2016. According to it, nine types of mangoes have been developed in Israel, and the country is a very important source of mangoes for the European market.

Mango mania: Israel is an emerging mango superpower - Israel News - Haaretz

The starting point is a cultivar, or strain, called Dolores, from India, and the mother of all the known mango cultivars in the world today.* It’s small and yellow, and curved like a banana. Although he is carrying a knife, Cohen recommends biting into this variety with the peel on. I obey, and from that moment onward my life is divided into Before and After. Where has this mango been all my life? This fruit is earth’s gift to mankind – sensuous, juicy, exotic and marvelously flavorful. How did I miss out on it up until now? It’s not that I’d never eaten a mango before, but somehow I’d overlooked its greatness. I’d paid it no special attention. I was indifferent. But no longer.

Unfortunately, the writer is quite wrong about this "Dolores" variant. I quickly found that she is referring to a kind called “Delores”. Far from it being the mother of all mango cultivars, it is a very recent cultivar, and did not originate in India:

Delores is a Keitt seedling selected by Gary Zill from his breeding project in Boynton Beach, FL (planting # D-24), first fruiting in 2000. ‘Gary’ may have been the pollinating parent. It was released in 2016 and we planted our tree in 2017. We are optimistic the tree can fruit in 2020.
: Delores | Tropical Acres Farms

The writer of the Haaretz article goes on to say:

The mango originated in India, where it is, in effect, the national fruit (see under: chutney), and scholars believe it was cultivated there from as early as the fifth century B.C.E. “But because it’s a Third World tree, hardly any development was done – there was no crossbreeding of different mango varieties to create new and better varieties,” says Cohen. This is why the peels of Indian mangoes lack that familiar, attractive blush. They’re also smaller and have a stronger fragrance and even stronger flavor than the Western varieties we are familiar with.

That patronizing line about it being a third world tree where hardly and development was done, etc. is again completely wrong. It has been painstakingly developed to produce new varieties for several centuries by both the Mughals and Portuguese colonists. The prized alphonso variety was the result of such efforts. It is named after the 16th century governor of Portuguese India.

What is true is that Israel has been very carefully developing the mango too. That Maya variety mentioned earlier is good for local consumption, because it is eaten quickly after being picked. But other varieties have been developed specifically so that they can be picked earlier and survive two or three weeks before going to market.

Camino de Santiago de Compostela

I am thinking about doing this. While the virus is still raging, it seems like a good opportunity for this type of adventure. A few years ago we visited St. Jean Pied du Port. It's a pleasant town in the French Basque country where many routes of the Camino come together, before becoming the Camino Francés and crossing the Pyrenees towards Santiago.

6 August 2021

Hackathon

Sagi and Tom organized another meeting on the "Hack of Hope" (hackathon) they are planning in the village. The evening took place in the congenial atmosphere of the cart pub, with a nice crowd of young people. Sagi, Tom, Roi, Ainat and a couple of others presented some of their ideas. I will be hopeful if people actually begin to come together around one or two of them. What I would start with is establishing the basic infrastructure so that we could be independent of commercial services, host our own websites on our own servers, etc. But for that we would need a nut, who is smarter than me, to get it going. I don't think we have one.

Be that as it may, in personal conversations with some of the people attending, an interest in some of the issues that I've been thinking about, like free open source, decentralization, privacy, surveillance, ethics in hi-tech. I might try to bring these up again. I think that they need to do more to bring aboard people who haven't been showing too much interest so far. I might try to write more.

One thing that is certainly true, is that although the ideas are framed in the concept that "the younger generation" are characterized as being open to new ideas, that is not necessarily true. Many of our younger people are actually trapped in traditional ideas, and are less open to new ones than some of the older folks. And it is also true that those who call themselved the younger generation (in relation to the generation of the founders) are already old themselves. The true younger generation are the teenagers who come after them.

One thing that I notice in the books of G R R Martin is a respect for very young people and older people. Some of the heroes are children; others are in their fifties and sixties. The TV series managed to deal with the old people, but not so well with the young. Characters like Podrick and Missandei are much older on screen.

The emerging hybrid reality

The Hindu had a few good tech articles today. If I'm getting my tech news from The Hindu, something must be wrong. All those tech journals and alternative social media services don't seem to delivering for me. I hadn't been exposed previously to the idea of the Metaverse, so I am playing catch-up there.

What's interesting is that it looks like the idea is too big to rely on any one of the existing tech giants, so it may force interoperability, collective standards, federation and decentralization. But somehow I feel, if not a monopoly, we could be left with more of a cartel if we do not proceed cautiously. It would be better if the interoperability is forced now, in advance, to allow federated and decentralized services to gain greater prominence.

I'm thinking that China, in going back to an emphasis on hardware, production, etc. and de-emphasizing the less tangible forms of hi-tech, may be missing something. While it's true that anything like the Metaverse will be dependent on the basics, a country that concentrates primarily on the "raw materials" of our IT era will be less able to come to grips with the emerging reality. A population that is ordered to think according to ideas and guidelines determined by a central authority will not be able to compete in a free marketplace of ideas such as is conceived in the other developed countries. They will eventually be left behind.

Metaverse the next generation of Internet - The Hindu

Ball reckons that the metaverse requires infrastructure that currently does not exist, and the current form of Internet is limited in its design to hold the digital space. The space will need a broader and more complex set of standards and protocols than traditional Internet. This means large technology companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook will need to prepare for cross integrating their systems.

The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and FortniteMatthewBall.vc

One of these concerns is whether participants will have a single consistent digital identity (or “avatar”) that they will use across all experiences.

There is also disagreement on how much interoperability is required for the Metaverse to really be “the Metaverse”, rather than just an evolution of today’s Internet.
Some believe the definition (and success) of a Metaverse requires it to be a heavily decentralized platform built mostly upon community-based standards and protocols (like the open web) and an “open source” Metaverse OS or platform (this doesn’t mean there won’t be dominant closed platforms in the Metaverse).

The Metaverse will require countless new technologies, protocols, companies, innovations, and discoveries to work. And it won’t directly come into existence; there will be no clean “Before Metaverse” and “After Metaverse”. Instead, it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services, and capabilities integrate and meld together.

One way I try to think about these three areas is via the Book of Genesis – first, “God” must create the underlying universe (“concurrency infrastructure”), then s/he must define its laws of physics and rules (“standards and protocols”), then s/he must fill it with life (“content”) that’s worthwhile, evolves, and iterates against selection pressures. God, in other words, doesn’t create and design the world as though it were a miniature model, but enables one to grow across a mostly blank tableau etc.)

The Metaverse will require an even broader, more complex, and resilient set of S&Ps. What’s more, the importance of interoperability and live synchronous experiences means we’ll need to prune some existing standards and “standardize” around a smaller set per function. Today, for example, there are a multitude of image file formats: .GIF, .JPEG, .PNG, .BMP, .TIFF, .WEBP, etc. And while the web today is built on open standards, much of it is closed and proprietary.

This will be enormously difficult and take decades. And the more valuable and interoperable the Metaverse is, the harder it will be to establish industry-wide consensus around topics such as data security, data persistence, forward compatible code evolution, and transactions. In addition, the Metaverse will need altogether new rules for censorship, control of communications, regulatory enforcement, tax reporting, the prevention of online radicalization, and many more challenges that we’re still struggling with today.

‘Truth has to come out’ in Pegasus issue: SC - The Hindu

A Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana and Justice Surya Kant said the allegations of the government using Israel-based technology to spy on civilians, journalists, Ministers, parliamentarians, activists were “no doubt serious”, provided the news reports were true.

Dark mode on devices may not save much battery life- The Hindu

switching from light to dark mode saved only up to 9% power on average for different OLED smartphones at 30-50% brightness, and said the power efficiency depended on the brightness of OLED screens.

All aboard the hyperloop: How your commute could be changing - The Hindu

Climate crisis: Scientists spot warning signs of Gulf Stream collapse - The Guardian

4 August 2021

The Virus

What I see, when I look at the John Hopkins site, is that this Delta variant causes a big rise in infections, in the countries where it becomes prominent, and then there is either stabilization or a fall-off. That's true even in countries like India, where the majority of the population remains unvaccinated. I expect that will happen here in Israel too. But I think we are going to be living with this virus for a long time; and there may even be worse variants. But, of course, if a disease kills too many people, it also hurts its own ability to propagate.

White grub beetles

Last night I woke up and decided to make myself a cup of tea, in which I discovered one of those pesky brown bugs of the season. Every summer we have a spate of these, which are called locally "khomeinim". I had no idea of the formal name, so I spent a considerable time trying to find out who and what they are.

It turns out that the formal name is Maladera insabalis. They were first observed and classified by entomologists in northern India, in 1894. They reached Israel in 1983, probably coming with the import of pistachio nuts originating in Iran. They quickly spread here as they have no natural enemies. As grubs, they feed on the roots of plants like sweet potatoes. As beetles, they eat foliage of citrus and other fruit trees, so they are regarded as a dangerous agricultural pest. But for those of us who are not farmers, they are a bothersome insect, as they tend to come by the thousand, and are attracted to house lights. They get inside homes through the smallest aperture and generally make a nuisance of themselves, once they are in. They don't bite and are quite harmless unless they happen to crawl inside one's ears. They are known to produce a bad odor when stepped upon. The bad smell is also present when they are vacuumed up. When they first emerged in Israel, someone thought they were a new species, so he gave them the name Maladera matrida. "Matrida" is a Hebrew word meaning bothersome. But it later emerged that they had been discovered almost a century earlier.

They are a cousin of the Japanese beetle, the colorful pest that I recall from the US (they defoliate vegetables and garden plants). But, as far as I remember, the latter are less annoying than these brown bugs and less likely to get inside.

Links

Talks 'constructive', India & China say remaining issues to be resolved in expeditious manner - The Print

But I just read that India is sending warships into the South China Sea. That doesn't sound like the thing to do if they want those talks to go well.

Why is China smashing its tech industry? - Noahpinion

Fascinating.

Belarus exile group leader Vitaly Shishov found dead in Kyiv, police say - The Guardian

Shishov’s disappearance came as the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she was forced to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced repatriation for criticising her athletics federation on social media.

‘Emergency meeting’: Israeli cyberarms firms scramble after NSO scandal - Haaretz.com

The hacking of Indian democracy - The Hindu

an inquiry at the highest level under the supervision of the judiciary is a constitutional necessity. If this does not take place, India will cease to call itself a democracy.

Pegasus: Why Americans should be alarmed by the spyware controversy in India - Scroll

The destruction of Indian democratic institutions under Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014 is well documented. If these new allegations are left unaddressed, which is the most likely outcome, their chilling effect on society will ensure India’s swift decline into a sham democracy like Russia.

Pegasus spyware found on journalists’ phones, French intelligence confirms - The Guardian

UN health agency wants Israel, others to stop COVID booster shot campaign - Haaretz.com

WHO officials say the science is unproven about whether giving booster shots to people who have already received two vaccine doses is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“We call on everyone with influence – Olympic athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders and every individual in their own family and community – to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September,” Tedros said.

2 August 2021

Famous artists

In the afternoon, we went to the village art gallery for the opening of a new exhibition. All the artists came and spoke. Since one of the artists is the husband of a friend of D's, we invited them home afterwards. They were accompanied by friends from Sweden, DF, an Israeli musician emigré and his Swedish wife, GSF, an artist. This couple became quite famous when, in 2004, they created an artwork that so angered the Israeli ambassador that he personally demolished it at a public event. That became a major diplomatic incident: the ambassador was summoned by the Swedish foreign ministry to explain his action. The couple's moment of fame came at a price: they were targeted by a hate campaign by right wing Jews and had to be given a bodyguard for several months.

More recently, following the Mavi Marmara affair, the couple took part in several symbolic attempts by activists to break the siege on Gaza by sailing across the sea to Gaza; naturally on each attempt, they were intercepted by the Israeli navy. As a result of these incidents, Israel abrogated the man's citizenship, which must be quite rare in the case of a Jewish Israeli. He has currently been granted special permission on humanitarian grounds, to visit his aging mother. He himself is in his seventies. He says that he left Israel almost 50 years ago, just a few days before the outbreak of the October war of 1973 - a fortunate decision, as it turned out, since in his army reserve unit, 80% of the men were killed. Just before leaving, he also paid a call on one of our neighbours, whom he had known, but not not seen for half a century - a happy reunion.

Community

All my life I have advocated for communities, both in theory and in practice. First of all, a community can provide a framework and a safety net. Every spiritual movement in the world has advocated for community. In Buddhism, “Sangha” is regarded as one of the “three jewels”, along with dharma and Buddha. And, if one wants to achieve any goal or purpose in life, a small community is key. Margaret Mead is usually quoted whenever communities are discussed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” M. Scott Peck, a US psychologist, also argued that communities are an excellent remedy for the alienation that is the cause of so many ills in modern society. Quite true.

But it is also no secret that communities are hard. Every community I have ever known has been mired in, or marred by, petty internal conflicts. These seem to be a constant. Now, or for several years, I have been at a stage when those minuses have seemed to outweigh the plusses. I haven't really processed or come to terms with this.

Perhaps there comes a time in life when the need for the safe framework provided by community grows less important. In parallel, the aims that one can achieve only in companionship with others, also diminish in importance. I no longer feel that I have any agenda. I have no goal to alter public opinion, reform society, turn people on to anything. I'm not going to advance human evolution or make the world a better place. All those famous people and public figures we know with a life-long mission are truly impressive. But I have always been shaped by the Hindu concept of ashramas; according to which the various periods in life have their own distinct purpose. Nowadays, I feel myself admiring those Taoist hermits who feel that they have no particular purpose, no goal to accomplish, no path to follow, no doctrine to advance, nothing at all. They are free. And they are also free of the need for community.

Legacy

For similar reasons, I totally dismiss the concept of legacy. Presidents always worry about their legacy and ordinary humans always seem to want to be remembered for something. I'm surrounded by people for whom it is very important that their achievements will be acknowledged. They want to leave their mark, and for it to be recorded in stone. I know this quite well because my work consists of snapping pictures, writing articles, keeping protocols, maintaining archives, and mounting plaques. And if people don't want to be recorded in or on these, it is usually due to some opposite reason, such as that mentioning them could harm their future career, wound their pride, or bring people to pester them. The actor Richard Gere once visited our community, but only on condition that we didn't take a single photo of him.

According to Vedanta, the wish to leave our legacy is a symptom of our desire for immortality.(1.) If we haven't done famous deeds, we can at least take comfort in seeing our likeness in our offspring.

Well personally, I don't want my good deeds to be recorded (any more than my bad deeds). Like the criminals who ask Google for the right to be forgotten, I will be quite happy not to leave a trace. "One who excels in traveling leaves no wheel ruts," says the Tao, and I love the wistful words of Omar Khayyam/Edward Fitzgerald: “I came like water, and like wind I go.” We are here for a time, we pass on; others come in our stead. It's fine.

(1) Vedanta says that reality can be described by the triple aspects of sat (being), chit (consciouousness) and ananda (bliss), and that each of these are infinite in scope. We secretly desire this infinity ourselves, by wishing to extend these three qualities in our own life. We wish to extend being, by being remembered or through our children, wish to extend consciousness by learning and amassing knowledge, and wish to extend bliss by accumulating possessions that we believe will make us more happy.

Links

Israel to offer Pfizer Covid booster shots to people over 60 | Israel | The Guardian

The World Health Organization said earlier this month that there is not enough evidence to show that a third dose is needed.
The agency’s officials have appealed for wealthier countries to share vaccines with poorer nations that have yet to immunise their people, instead of using them as boosters. Israel itself has come under criticism for not sharing more of its vaccines with the Palestinians.

I think I will not get a third dose at this time.

Shashi Tharoor asks Om Birla to take action over officials 'skipping' IT panel meet on Pegasus - The Print

The meeting could not take place as the BJP members of the panel did not sign the attendance register, even though they were present in the meeting room, leading to a lack of quorum.

Ruling parties, like Maharajas, do what they want.

News, and what makes it relevant

What really matters is often not what are the top stories that are being reported in the top journals of the times that we all read. It always makes sense to look at what is being under-reported, because this often becomes the main story of tomorrow. Our minds tend to flock together and we have a collective blindness to matters that other people have not begun to think about.

There is also the question of what matters to me as an individual. It is comforting to be of a mind with everybody and care about matters that our friends and neighbours care about. Women who had no prior interest in sports often become interested because their husbands are avid followers of a certain football team. People become attracted to a certain conspiracy theory because they know others who are firmly convinced of it. Imagine that all my friends are convinced that the 9-11 attacks were an internal job engineered by the US government. Fascinating, but I don't happen to live in the US, and it makes little actual difference to me; added to which, there's nothing I can do about it.

I personally get wrapped up in many issues that shouldn't concern me. Thirty years ago I used to write letters for Amnesty International, but that isn't something I am doing today. I am not a social media influencer, and it makes very little personal difference to me that, for example, the Indian ruling party is spying on the Indian opposition parties and Indian political activists. So why does it concern me? I suppose that in this particular case, I can find some reasons. I have a certain passion for India that I can't well explain. Also, the hacking tools that were used originated in Israel. Many young people in my village get drawn into hi-tech, and I worry that some of them might be attracted, due to the high salaries that are being offered, by industries like spyware, which engage in immoral practices.

29 July 2021

Phone security

I was looking at phone security again yesterday, and decided to explore whether it is more secure to go back to a dumb phone. According to my reading, it is safer to use a smart phone, but to dumb it down. That means, in the case of Android, not to sign in to Google, Samsung, or other services, to disconnect it from data services, to install few apps, etc.

I bought my current Samsung phone a couple of years ago. I have never signed in to Google or Samsung. I use only apps downloaded from the free open source repository FDroid or, rarely, added manually (that already means no mainstream social media, no WhatsApp, etc.).

I have never actually felt a need for anything beyond FDroid, but still do quite a lot with my phone. I can check my email and calendar, message over Telegram and SMS, follow the Fediverse, read wordprocessor documents, browse the web, set alarms, listen to music, take photos and videos, authenticate 2FA, check the weather, convert currencies, keep shopping lists, and do many other things if I desired.

Some of those things I don't actually need, as I am close to a computer most of the day. So, for now, I have turned off the phone's mobile data wifi, location and bluetooth connections. One helpful article that I found also pointed out that it is possible to fine tune the permissions granted each app, so I have done that for when I do need to turn on data services.

‘No parallels’: 2,300-year-old solar observatory awarded Unesco world heritage status - The Guardian

The towers functioned as a calendar using the rising and setting arcs of the sun to mark not only equinoxes and solstices but even to define the precise time of year to within one or two days.

Call for Hungarian ministers to resign in wake of Pegasus revelations - The Guardian

‘We will return’: the battle to save an ancient Palestinian village from demolition - The Guardian

Daphna Golan-Agnon, a Hebrew University human rights professor and Lifta activist, said the antiquities authority’s survey – which has taken archaeology, history, architecture, wildlife and ecology into account – showed clearly that Lifta can be preserved.

“It’s amazing that after more than 70 years of abandonment, the village is still standing so beautifully, even with many of the houses’ roofs destroyed. We ask for the buildings to be stabilised and are willing to help fundraise if cost is an issue.”

Countdown to the airstrike: the moment Israeli forces hit al-Jalaa tower, Gaza - The Guardian

Shocking. Helps to put us in the shoes of a person who is awoken with the message that he has to leave his apartment immediately because the building will be imminently destroyed.

New Zealand rated best place to survive global societal collapse | Globalisation | The Guardian

Study citing ‘perilous state’ of industrial civilisation ranks temperate islands top for resilience

28 July 2021

Piwigo and Impress

I use the FOSS program Piwigo to manage the photo albums for our village. Piwigo has many features that we don't use, such as compiling a list of personal favorites, and then showing these as a slideshow.

Yesterday I also discovered a wonderful plugin for LibreOffice Impress that converts a folder of photos into an instant slideshow presentation.
I was able to use this with Piwigo, to download the necessary photos into a folder and quickly make a slideshow for an event we were having.

Photo magic with GIMP

I discovered a great tutorial on YouTube “Make your photos look better”
(the link has been passed through Invidious). It quickly turns a dull photo into something amazing. But for someone like me, who doesn't understand the mechanics of how this can be done, the method seems even more magical than if this were a one-click operation in photo software. I have summarised the steps, so I don't need to watch the video each time.

  1. load a photo into GIMP
  2. duplicate layer, twice.
  3. on top copy, colors menu, desaturate, based on luminance
  4. on colors menu, desaturate
  5. on filters menu, blur, gaussian blur, 5 to 40 radius, depending on size of photo.
  6. reduce the opacity of this top layer to about 35% (opacity is in a scale above the layers dialog box)
  7. then right click on the layer and choose the option merge down.
  8. Then select the option for the layer and choose “grain merge” (modes are at the top of the dialog box)
  9. “now you can see how the colors are more vibrant” (make layer disappear with the eye next to the layer)
  10. We can also use other modes, for example, “soft light”
  11. We can also control it with the opacity. If you think it is too much, you can decrease it.

Pegasus

The best articles are appearing now, a few days into the reporting. Edward Snowden, Cory Doctorow, Arundhati Roi, George Monbiot all have written, each with from their own unique perspective. People are tired of reading this stuff, but it has never been more important. George Monbiot's article is one of the shortest and his points are the most salient, so I will quote extensively from that:

Pegasus spyware is just the latest tool autocrats are using to stay in power - The Guardian

Democracy depends on an equality of arms. If governments acquire political weapons unavailable to their opponents, they become harder to dislodge. They now possess so many that I begin to wonder how an efficient autocracy, once established, might ever again be overthrown.

Since the Berlin Wall came down, autocrats have refined a new strategy for perpetual governance: to maintain the process and appearance of democracy – including elections and parliaments – while ensuring it doesn’t work. Power is sucked out of democratic structures and relocated to a place where it can scarcely be challenged: an inner circle defended from opposition by a forcefield of money and patronage, a compliant judiciary and a grovelling media. Narendra Modi, Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Jarosław Kaczyński, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko all know how it works.

Protest, as we have seen from Belarus to Hong Kong, often becomes ineffective. Huge numbers take to the streets, pull the lever of democratic moral authority that has toppled so many regimes in the past, and nothing happens. The autocrats sit and wait for the protest’s energy to fizzle out, crack heads and imprison leaders, knowing they no longer need fear the people. They now have the means either to win elections through rigging, suppression or beguilement, or to ignore the result if they lose. The arc of history no longer bends towards justice.

The new surveillance tools complement a formidable array of modern weapons. Dark ads on social media; thinktanks using dark money to turn outrageous ideas that favour the ruling class into apparent common sense; voter suppression; the stuffing of the courts; the long march through the institutions, shutting down opposition in the civic sphere; cleverly prosecuted culture wars: these are the ever more sophisticated tools of autocratic power in nominal democracies.

He particularly dwells on the case of the UK (which probably didn't need Pegasus, because it has its own sophisticated tools). But Monbiot speaks of how legislation is being used to suppress criticism and protest there.

Arundhati Roy is equally eloquent, and is equally relevant - she brings various examples from India.

This is no ordinary spying. Our most intimate selves are now exposed - The Guardian

At the end of her article, the advice she offers is traditional:

So, where does that leave us? Back in the world of good, old-fashioned politics, I’d say. Only political action can halt or mitigate this threat. Because that technology, when it is used, if not legally then illegally, will always exist within the complicated matrix that describes our times: nationalism, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, racism, casteism, sexism. This will remain our battlefield – regardless of how technology develops.

We will have to migrate back to a world in which we are not controlled and dominated by our intimate enemy – our mobile phones. We have to try to rebuild our lives, struggles and social movements outside the asphyxiating realm of digital surveillance. We must dislodge the regimes that are deploying it against us. We must do everything we can to prise open their grip on the levers of power, everything we can to mend all that they have broken, and take back all they have stolen.

The question is how effective that can be, once the autocrats have so successfully played our supposedly democratic systems, to establish their authoritarian rule. As Monbiot says, the main reason Donald Trump failed was his incompetence - leaders like Modi and Orban are much more successful. And, in the US, the Republicans are working in the background even now to ensure they will win the next elections through suppression of votes. Countries like China and Russia are already beyond hope. India is almost there. The UK is on the way.

I love this photo in the Guardian of the Indian home minister

amit-shah

Cory Doctorow is as usual best at giving a complete historical overview, because he has been following this stuff for so long. He also, unlike some of the journals that have been reporting on Pegasus, links to key sources.

Pluralistic: 27 Jul 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

Forbidden Stories is one of the primary sources for the Pegasus Project:

Pegasus: The new global weapon for silencing journalists - Forbidden Stories

OCCRP - which I hadn't previously heard of - is one of the most comprehensive reporters on Pegasus
The Pegasus Project - OCCRP

Here's how much the software costs:

Pegasus Hack: How Much Did it Cost to Spy on Citizens? - The Citizen

Lots.

Whistleblowers

Julian Assange stripped of citizenship by Ecuador - The Guardian

Former intelligence analyst sentenced to prison for drone program leak - The Guardian](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/27/former-intelligence-analyst-sentenced-prison-drone-program-leak)

“He committed the offense to bring attention to what he believed to be immoral government conduct committed under the cloak of secrecy and contrary to public statements of then-President Obama regarding the alleged precision of the United States military’s drone program,” they wrote.

Israel's famous whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu continues to post a tweet each month, with a photo of himself overlooking the beach near Jaffa. The message is always about the same:

No news yet,nothing changed continue to wait for freedom from israel,this is me waiting in Jaffa after 35 years 1986-2021,I will continue to wait,Freedom is the way,soon or later they must let me go,see you in Freedom,Borne to be free!

Vanunu Mordechai - @vanunumordechai - Twitter