Summer Solstice, 2021

flowers

There aren't many wild flowers to look at in summer, in these parts. Mainly thorns.

Hubzilla

Having based this blog back in WordPress.org territory, I'm gradually moving on from Hubzilla. After this post I will stop sending links to the public stream of my hub (which counts for nothing) as well as the public stream of Disroot (where it is cloned). I will rely on Mastodon and Twitter for blog post announcements. I will, continue to cross-post for friends, of which there are maybe half-a-dozen. I don't think there is sufficient interest in these posts to broadcast them to those who didn't sign up for them. Indeed, to follow a Hubzilla public stream demands more patience than to follow a character-limiting Twitter clone, where talk is cheap. Unfortunately, WordPress's cross-post plugin mucks up the my posts to Hubzilla - removing paragraphs and what-not; so I'm not sure whether to send just the excerpt or the whole thing. I basically want to automate the cross-posting/linking.

Hindi

I spent a little while yesterday looking at online materials for learning Hindi. I don't know when I will next travel to India, and, when I do go there, it is usually to regions that are not Hindi speaking. Tamil Nadu, for example, is Tamil speaking. That's a much harder language to learn for several reasons:

  • It's a diglossic language, like Arabic, and each town has its regional dialect.
  • Its sounds are strange and difficult for Europeans to master. Even following speakers while viewing the text transliterated is hard (I tried yesterday).
  • Unlike Hindi, it has no relationdhip with European languages (except for Sanskrit loan words), meaning that every single word has to be learned, with no easy mnemonic reminders.
  • Tamil has its own unique alphabet.

Most of the above is true of other south Indian languages, like Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada, which are all related to one-another, though each has a unique alphabet. Malayalam has more Sanskrit loan words, as I understand.

If one wishes to learn at least one language of India, Hindi is the natural choice, despite the natural reluctance of southerners to adopt it. It is closely related to many other north Indian languages like Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali. Hindi is based on Sanskrit, Persian and, at a further remove, Arabic. With its origins in the Indo-European family of languages, it is a little easier for Europeans. Just as people pick up Spanish from telenovellas, one can learn a lot from the world's largest film industry. I am familiar with the alphabet (except for some of the conjuncts), having learned the rudiments of Sanskrit, and Hindi does not sound completely strange to me. In addition, I like the sound of the language. The only problem: I'm basically terrible at languages, but even the attempt to learn them seems to keep the brain young.

Links blog

The harassment of the BBC’s Nicholas Watt was all too predictable - The Guardian

Attack on Muslim man: India police charge journalists for tweets - Al Jazeera

The implications of this case go beyond those who have been accused here: the Uttar Pradesh Police is holding out a threat to those who report the voices of victims of crimes. It is attempting to create an atmosphere in which all journalists and news organisations will be dissuaded from reporting anything but the official version,” the Digipub statement said.

The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan told Al Jazeera the case against his portal was “an attempt to deter journalists and reporters from doing their jobs.

If you are making it a crime to report what the victim of a crime said on record about what happened to them, it means you want media to only carry what the police says or what the official version is, and that every other version, if you report, you are at risk of being prosecuted,” he said.

If such an approach is being allowed, then journalism will become impossible in India.”

Woman to stand trial in France for killing stepfather after years of abuse - The Guardian

Bacot, who had four children with her alleged abuser, will say how she was convinced Polette would kill them all and how everyone knew he was a violent sexual predator but nobody said or did anything. And she will tell how when the children went to the gendarmes – twice – to report the abuse, they were told to go away and tell their terrified mother to come in herself.

Apparently there's a book with her story called "Everyone knew".

16 June 2021

David Godman on Ramana Maharshi

Listened to a couple of talks by David Godman, one of the foremost scholars on the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi, as well as some videos by a Canadian filmmaker who filmed many of the talks with him - see the channel on YouTube).

In one video, the same filmmaker contrasts those who are "truly enlightened" and those he calls merely “pointers”, i.e., those who are not enlightened, but can, to a certain degree point us in the right direction.

Actually I think the differentiation is unimportant. Those of us who are not enlightened are (according to traditional sources) unqualified to discriminate between an enlightened sage and one who isn't, and anyway, I cannot accept solely on faith the words of gurus and spiritual masters, however popular or distinguished they may be.

For me, as for others, it is more a question of what is helpful to our understanding, at a given time. In the last couple of years I've been reevaluating what I've learned from Brahmanic teachings. Buddhist teachings I take mainly as a point of reference.

People with greater intellectual gifts and spiritual sensitivity than me have analysed these traditions innumerable times and reached multiple and conflicting conclusions. I feel closer to the Vedantic tradition (not so much the Adwaita Vedanta system of Sankara). Ramana, is one of the greats, but practically, I feel that his teachings lead me to a cul-de-sac. Focusing on the "I" and looking for its source does nothing to abate my egoism.

Yet plainly our mistaken worldview has led us into the crisis now facing us. I'm quite convinced of the need to shake up our wrong perception and wrong conceptions. The inner conviction that we are independent separate entities, rather than equal members of the vast, intertwined network of the universe has led to the problems we desperately need to confront.

When we look at the world through the prism of our egoism, we think in terms of what we can extract from it, or consider how to protect ourselves from it, etc. But as long as we are objectifying the world, and subjectifying ourselves, our vision is incomplete, and therefore mistaken. This is why the eastern religions say that the world is illusion or appearance.

It isn't that we should identify with what we see. The kinship between us, that which binds us, is not something we can perceive through the senses. At a scientific level, we can understand (more and more) the connections within the biosphere. But it is not even that. The network, the matrix, is, itself the result of a deeper substratum of unity; a unity in consciousness. That is what the Vedantins are speaking of when they tell us that what we perceive as our limited self is actually the “big self”, the Brahman.

I think as I grow older, I want, more and more, to become absorbed into this “big self”, until one day I will kiss the little self goodbye, without the least regret. But for now there are dishes to wash, laundry to clean, and responsibilities that require a greater degree of concentration than either of those.

Research on a song

There's an amazing, gorgeous bit of piyyut (Jewish liturgical poetry) at the beginning of one of the Cafe de Anatolia albums, Ethno World Tarlabasa. I was clever enough to recognize it as piyyut but had no idea where it came from.

One commenter to the YouTube channel led me to a Syrian composer of piyyut, Raphael Antebi Tabbush, and said that the song is Ata El Kabir ("You're a great God"), but I found and looked at the words and couldn't see any resemblance there. This was clearly a wrong lead. Eventually, I found the composer and the lyrics to the song.

This is a poem by a 16th-17th century Rabbi Israel Najara, who was born in Safed. lived in Damascus and Hebron, and became the rabbi of the Jewish community in Gaza. The singer is Israeli, born in Tiberius, Lior Almaleh. He has an amazing voice, and it's a lovely, mystical song. The first part is in Hebrew, from the 3rd chapter of the Song of Songs. The second in Aramaic (which I don't understand, and Google Translate cannot help with that). The words quoted from the Song of Songs (trans. World English Bible) are:

I will get up now, and go about the city;
in the streets and in the squares I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but I didn’t find him.
The watchmen who go about the city found me;
"Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
I had scarcely passed from them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.

(The above section has been updated, thanks to D)

קַמְתִּי בְּאִישׁוֹן לַיְלָה לִסְבֹּב אֶת הָעִיר
לִרְאוֹת פְּנֵי דוֹדִי יְפֵה קוֹמָה
מְצָאוּנִי הַשּׁוֹמְרִים הַסּוֹבְבִים בָּעִיר שְׁאָלוּנִי
מַה לָךְ בַּלַּיִל תְבַקֵּשׁ מָה
עוֹדָם מְדַבְּרִים עִמִּי וְהִנֵּה אוֹר פְּנֵי דוֹדִי זָרְחָה כְאַחְלָמָה
יָהּ רִבּוֹן עָלַם וְעַלְמַיָּא
אַנְתְּ הוּא מַלְכָּא מֶלֶךְ מַלְכַיָּא
עוֹבָדֵי גְבוּרְתָּךְ וְתִמְהַיָּא
שְׁפַר קֳדָמַי לְהַחֲוַיָּא
שְׁבָחִין אֲסַדֵּר צַפְרָא וְרַמְשָׁא
לָךְ אֱלָהָא קַדִּישָׁא בְּרָא כָל נַפְשָׁא
עִירִין קַדִּישִׁין וּבְנֵי אֱנָשָׁא
חֵיוַת בָּרָא וְעוֹף שְׁמַיָּא
רַבְרְבִין עוֹבָדָךְ וְתַקִּיפִין
מַכִּיךְ רָמַיָּא זַקִּיף כְּפִיפִין
לוּ יְחִי גְבַר שְׁנִין אַלְפִין
לָא יֵעוּל גְּבוּרְתָּךְ בְּחוּשְׁבְּנַיָּא
אֱלָהָא דִּי לֵיהּ יְקָר וּרְבוּתָא
פְּרוֹק יַת עָנָךְ מִפֻּם אַרְיָוָתָא
וְאַפֵּיק יַת עַמָּךְ מִגּוֹ גָּלוּתָא
עַמָּךְ דִּי בְחַרְתְּ מִכָּל אֻמַּיָּא
לְמִקְדָּשָׁךְ תּוּב וּלְקֹדֶשׁ קֻדְשִׁין
אֲתַר דִּי בֵיהּ יֶחֱדוּן רוּחִין וְנַפְשִׁין
וִיזַמְּרוּן לָךְ שִׁירִין וְרֲחֲשִׁין
בִּירוּשְׁלֵם קַרְתָּא דְשֻׁפְרַיָּא

Today's Links

World's first wooden satellite to be launched from New Zealand - The Hindu

The satellite, designed and built in Finland will orbit at around 500-600 km altitude in a roughly polar Sun-synchronous orbit. WISA Woodsat is a 10x10x10 cm nano satellite built up from standardised boxes and surface panels made from plywood, the same material that is found in a hardware store or to make furniture.


Google is using AI to design chipsets in just six hours - The Hindu
The new chips are said to be superior or comparable to those produced by humans in all key metrics including power consumption, performance and chip area.


You Can Still Upgrade to Windows 10 For Free, Here's How - The Bleeping Computer


Covid Survivors Smell Foods Differently - The New York Times

Long after some people have recovered from the virus, they find certain foods off-putting.

15 June 2021

COVID-19

This country has almost entered a "post-Corona" situation. Today, the rule that requires the wearing of masks in most indoor areas was cancelled too. The necessity to show "green passes" or vaccination certificates, limitations on congregation and on wearing of masks outdoors were cancelled some time ago. Yesterday, out of 21,000 tests there were only four positives, and the number of hospital patients in serious condition is down to around 30. But "post-corona", like "post-colonial" has its own meaning, and carries the outcomes, repercussions and trauma forward into the future.

Personal property

My aspiration is to have a dwindling amount of personal property - I would prefer not to have any, but to have enough income to cover my living expenses. Whenever I go to India, I don't have more than fits in a small rug sack, usually, and that feels like more than enough. I can live like that for months on end, doing my laundry each day so that I don't need more clothes than I wear; having just a phone and a computer for my technology needs, etc. As I grow older I want to feel completely independent and free, which means for me living without debt or financial commitments. Yesterday Cory Doctorow had interesting things to say with regard to home ownership and rent:
The Rent’s Too Damned High. A human right, commodified and rendered… | by Cory Doctorow | Jun, 2021 | GEN.

Why do homes increase in value? Because they grow more valuable over time. But that value isn’t intrinsic: the roof doesn’t get better at keeping out the rain, sleep doesn’t come more easily in the bedrooms. Rather, homes get more valuable because not owning a home gets worse...

The very existence of the rental market is key to home appreciation: one reason someone might pay you more for your house than you paid for it is because they expect to be able to rent to someone who can’t afford to buy. The more lucrative it is to be a landlord, the more every rentable home is worth, because every sale potentially includes bidders whose maximum price includes their expected returns from rental income.

This means that the more rights tenants have, the less your house is worth, even if you never rent your house out. Or, contrariwise, when tenants are worse off, homeowners are better off.

We are lucky enough to own a home, and the family owns additional property; but I actually don't think of myself as owner of any of any of this; let it be in my wife's name or the family's name.

MS Windows, computers

I spent some time yesterday updating one of the office computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10.1. It took forever but worked without a hitch. Samah has at least 3 computers. I can't understand why people who are much worse at managing computers than I am feel the need for so many of them. I never want to use more than one of them - keeping a single computer well maintained is enough of a challenge for me. It is true that I also use three, but one is an old laptop for my home server, and the other is our media PC, which runs on Ubuntu. And lately I brought home another old laptop from the office, in case I need to do anything fancy with Office 365, as my everyday computer runs on MX.

Email subscriptions

I have signed up to the blogs of Cory Doctorow and Dave Winer, as mentioned earlier. I quite enjoy receiving these in my inbox each day. Winer's usually arrives first thing on a morning, like a newspaper. Seeing it in the mail has the advantage of not having to look at the racist mug of Winston Churchill, which currently adorns his blog header. Doctorow's comes in via Mailman a bit later in the day. I also signed up for my own blog to see how well Feedrabbit handles it: they are an Australian company that converts an RSS feed for despatch by email. In a case situation where there is just one blog post per day, this works well, and the result looks good.

Links

Plastic rafting: the invasive species hitching a ride on ocean litter - The Guardian

Ocean plastic has become a route for invasive species that threaten native animals with extinction, with Japan’s tsunami sending nearly 300 species ‘rafting’ across the Pacific

NSA whistleblower Reality Winner released from prison | Reality Winner - The Guardian

13 June 2021

Cherries

We currently have an over-abundance of delicious fresh cherries. D ordered a crate, which we distributed among family members. Then on Saturday she joined Samah with the women of Naam* on a trip to the Golan Heights, where she picked another box of cherries. Their visit was to the Druse town of Majdal Shams, and included a tour that explained the unique situation of the Druse of the Golan Heights. (Since the Israeli annexation, they are Israel residents, but non-citizens, like Palestinian East Jerusalemites.)

*Naam, which is a Hebrew acronym of “Arab women at the center” (as well as the Arabic word for "yes)" tries to advance the rights of Arab women, both in Israeli society and in their local society, particularly in the town of Lydda/Lod/Lid, which was a flashpoint in the recent violence.

Vertigo

I've been experiencing momentary vertigo on one side for a few weeks now. I was reading up on it today, and see what I need to try is what is called the Epley maneuver - a simple one-time therapy that anyone can do at home, though it is recommended to do it with a physician. The idea is to dislodge free-floating particles from the semicircular canal of the ear. There are a bunch of videos on this on YouTube. Note: the recommended private way to watch YouTube videos is through Invidous. It's not a great idea to look up a medical condition on Google, or watch YouTube videos on something like that when logged in to Google servers.

Links

Camilla Pang: 'You have to acknowledge the hilarity of what it is to be human' - The Guardian

Part of your achievement is to challenge myths about neurodivergence – for instance that autism involves a lack of empathy.

Yeah. Oh, completely. I’m not giving you hugs and kisses and expressions of empathy that are weird to me. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not working hard to make sure your needs are met. Empathy comes in many forms and languages, but it’s also an endeavour by one human to connect with another in a way that takes up a lot of their mind. So this book is a gesture of empathy. You can be warm and empathetic, which often go hand in hand, but basically empathy is nonjudgmental and quite simple. A lot of the time, I’m trying to figure out what people need, how I can make them happy, and I realised that this process in itself is a form of empathy.

Camilla Pang is the author of Neurodivergent and Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships.


Clamour for wealth tax grows after revelations about super-rich’s affairs - The Guardian

“The scandal here isn’t that they broke the rules – they didn’t. It’s that the rules are so bad,” said Advani, who has spent his career exploring the reasons behind why the richest people often pay the lowest tax, proportionally speaking. “It’s great that the data leak has exploded these details to the public and made regular people think about it, as it’s only with wide public support that politicians will act.”

“The only way to really get cash from these super-billionaires is to start taxing the ownership of wealth”

Elizabeth Warren, the US senator who has proposed a 2% tax on people with assets of more than $50m and 3% on those with more than $1bn, said: “Our tax system is rigged for billionaires who don’t make their fortunes through income, like working families do. The evidence is abundantly clear: it is time for a wealth tax in America to make the ultra-rich finally pay their fair share.”


Indian-origin journalist wins Pulitzer Prize for exposing China's vast infrastructure for detaining Muslims - The Hindu

“This is what the best investigative journalism can do and why it is so essential.” Ms. Rajagopalan's Xinjiang series won the Pulitzer Prize in the International Reporting category.

In 2017, not long after China began to detain thousands of Muslims in Xinjiang, Rajagopalan was the first to visit an internment camp — at a time when China denied that such places existed, BuzzFeed News said.

“In response, the government tried to silence her, revoking her visa and ejecting her from the country,” BuzzFeed News wrote in its entry for the prize.

“It would go on to cut off access to the entire region for most Westerners and stymie journalists. The release of basic facts about detainees slowed to a trickle.” Working from London, and refusing to be silenced, Rajagopalan partnered with two contributors, Alison Killing, a licensed architect who specialises in forensic analysis of architecture and satellite images of buildings, and Christo Buschek, a programmer who builds tools tailored for data journalists.

Online satellite imagery of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Recent articles in HaAretz and the BBC mentioned this analysis of satellite images, in connection with the current censorship of high resolution images of Israel and the OPT. This was particularly noticed during the recent bombardment of Gaza. The reasons go back to 1997, when, responding to Israeli concerns, the US introduced a law prohibiting the distribution of high resolution satellite imagery of Israel, and the law was applied also to the OPT. As a result, this is the only country on earth where such images are not available on any of the web's free mapping sites and applications such as Google Maps, Bing, Apple maps and even Yandex. However, this is now expected to change. The US is no longer the sole provider of satellite imagery and in 2020 the US abrogated its own law prohibiting the distribution of such imagery. High resolution satellite images are already available to purchase, but they have yet to reach the free mapping sites. Among other things, the change should make it easier to see Israeli colonization activities in the OPT.

Israel-Gaza: Why is the region blurry on Google Maps? - BBC News

12 June 2021

“Steal from the best” - looking at Cory Doctorow's and Dave Winer's blogs

Seeking inspiration, I have been looking at the blogging methods used by Cory Doctorow and Dave Winer, because they are both admirable writers and bloggers, and they both understand technological and privacy issues.

Cory Doctorow runs his pluralistic blog, where he writes daily, using the date as the title “Pluralistic: 11 June 2021”. Typically, under that title will be a list of “links”, each of which gets a permalink of its own. The first of these “links” is his main story. The second will be a links blog, with a few significant external links for the day; there is also a “this day in history” type section, and a “colophon”, with details of his public appearances, etc.

He seems to put quite a lot of time and effort into his blog, almost as if it were a daily newspaper column. His stories are always interesting and the subjects are often important and unusual. Whereas one can often find a newspaper or opinion piece to be interchangeable with stories in competing journals, some of Doctorow's pieces are quite unique, or have a unique perspective.

Doctorow's blog is written in WordPress(.org), with the Jetpack plugin, to allow follows and likes from WordPress.com's quasi-social network. The blog's organization and design would not win any prizes. I tested his blog using ELinks in the terminal ( a good test of backwards compatibility) and it is not really readable there. The blog is well connected to alternative and mainstream social media, with the exception of Facebook. He cross-posts to Tumblr and writes also on Medium. He offers email subscriptions through Mailman.

Dave Winer is the inventer of RSS news feeds and continues to be a software developer. He defines himself as a “proto-blogger”; he claims to have been blogging before it was a thing. His blog is Scripting News. The platform he uses is of his own creation, with features that are quite unique, such as expandable parts with additional information and clickable bookmarks to every paragraph. There's a lot going on in the background, and a fair bit of JavaScript, but when looked at in ELinks, it is perfectly readable. Like Doctorow, Winer's posts are also titled with the date “Friday, June 11, 2021”, but the subtitles are also permalinks (in the style: "http://scripting.com/2021/06/12/164446.html?title=fightingAutocracyWithMarketing").

Winer's posts are usually fairly short. He writes about politics, current affairs, tech issues, journalism, personal stories, sport, etc. He does not use tags. Winer is on Twitter and Facebook (maybe elsewhere to), though he does not expressly mention his social media connections in the blog or about pages. He does suggest direct messages through Facebook or Twitter as one of the ways to contact him. There's a very nice, custom-programmed email subscription for his blog posts, which faithfully delivers his posts, one-a-day.

Neither of these two men are idealists - they understand the intersection between democracy and technology better than most of us, but they are both pragmatic in their approach. Dave Winer rails against “silos”, but still uses Facebook and Twitter to get his message out: Google for his email and Amazon to host his services. Cory Doctorow sells his books without DRM, but still publishes them on Kindle. He writes his blog on his own self-hosted domain, but crossposts to Tumblr. He sends links to Twitter, and gives Automattic access to his data, for example.

I'm coming to see this kind of pragmatism as peculiarly North American. We are in the current anti-interoperability and intellectual property mess due mainly to the actions of American corporations, the laxness of US laws with regard to anti-trust, and, I think mainly the greater comfort that Americans feel with corporate behaviour and advertising. Compare Doctorow's satisfaction with Automattic to this German blogger speaking of the danger of incorporating Jetpack on your website: https://youtu.be/JtBsv-S-b2U . His indignation is visceral.

Both Doctorow and Winer acknowledge and respect the founder of the free software movement and creator of GNU/Linux Richard Stallman. But it has been pointed out that even Stallman does not understand the concept of freedom in quite the same way as Europeans.

The US, through the power of its corporations, rules the world, and only in recent years has Europe begun to fight back, with its GDPR and its successful suits against Google, Microsoft and other corporate giants. An internet regulated and controlled by the EU might end up giving Europeans less freedom than we have today. Various laws already constrain freedom of expression, while new laws are seeking to make content providers accountable for the material they host.

But looking beyond this, China is the new superpower that we all increasingly have to contend with. Its muscle is being felt everywhere. For example, it is in the process of establishing its own alternative internet, and wants to market it in Africa and elsewhere. It goes without saying that China's version of the internet is much less favorable to free-speech and much friendlier towards autocracy, so it will be a natural choice for dictators everywhere.

My blog

I'm happy to see that the theme I chose for it reads very nicely on every browser I tried with it, including ELinks in the terminal.

I found a no-effort way to provide a means of subscribing to it via Feedrabbit; that's a service that is based on the blog's RSS feed. One provides a link that looks like https://feedrabbit.com/?url=https://vikshepa.com/feed . That allows people to sign up for it through Feedrabbit's service. Anyone can sign up for ten free subscriptions in that way, and there is no advertising.

I looked at the privacy settings of my blog, and realised that I need to ditch Gravatar if I don't want it sending information to Automattic. The blog is already free of other trackers like Google Analytics, Google fonts, etc. Privacy Badger does not find any trackers, and the only cookies seem to be from WordPress, to recognize me when I'm logged in as the author, for example. I have disabled sign-ups and comments. My about page has information about social media, etc.

If I want to follow Doctorow's or Winer's example, I need to find a way of making permalinks to subtitles. That may be beyond the capabilities of the theme I'm using. (It is possible to use html bookmark links, like Stallman in his Political Notes.) On the other hand, I completely lack either of these men's ambitions for public recognition. I don't regard anything that I write to be of sufficient importance to grab someone's interest. I'm writing mainly for my own pleasure.

Links blog:

China rushes through law to counter US and EU sanctions - The Guardian

China previously had neither the economic power nor the political will to use legal means to retaliate against US sanctions. It now has both,” said Wang Jiangyu, a law professor at City University of Hong Kong.


China’s Uyghurs living in a ‘dystopian hellscape’, says Amnesty report - The Guardian


Forget the Peace Process, the Focus Now Should be on Restoring Civil Rights to Palestinians - CounterPunch.org

Pursuit of a chimerical Palestinian state that, in any foreseeable political situation, is not going to be more than a collection of beleaguered Bantustans, has become a culpable diversion from seeking equal civil rights and personal security for Palestinians.
A ground-breaking examination of an alternative option is spelled out by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the US/Middle East Project in a detailed study called Breaking the Israel-Palestine Status Quo. This proposes a rights-based approach, notably freedom for the Palestinians from dispossession and discrimination and the assertion of their right to freedom of movement. This would confront and seek to reverse what the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch have both denounced as a system of apartheid, enforcing inferior status on Palestinians.


Breaking the Israel-Palestine Status Quo - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Unfair Use: Anti-Interoperability and Our Dwindling Digital Freedom - The Reboot


Free Speech in Europe Isn't What Americans Think - Bloomberg

Hate speech can only be banned in the U.S. if it is intended to incite imminent violence and is actually likely to do so. This permissive U.S. attitude is highly unusual. Europeans don’t consider hate speech to be valuable public discourse, and reserve the right to ban it. They consider hate speech to degrade from equal citizenship and participation. Racism isn’t an idea; it’s a form of discrimination.
The underlying philosophical difference here is about the right of the individual to self-expression. Americans value that classic liberal right very highly -- so highly that we tolerate speech that might make others less equal.
Europeans value the democratic collective and the capacity of all citizens to participate fully in it -- so much that they are willing to limit individual rights.

10 June 2021

Thursday

Theoretically I don't work on Thursdays and start enjoying a 4-day weekend. Practically, I often do work, and today, I spent most of the day dealing with office related matters.

In the morning I spent a lot of time, to no avail, trying to get Thunderbird to change its default browser. The method changed in recent versions. But the newer method hasn't worked for me.

A more useful task was to deal with the demands from our bank to obtain various letters from foreign supporters. Israeli banks, it seems are increasingly subject to the government's attempts to harass NGOs through demands for documentation of foreign donations. They request letters, statements and authorizations from foreign donors, and their lawyers and banks. The overworked and inexperienced clerks dealing with these requests at the Israeli bank often have a dim understanding of what they are requesting themselves, as well as a poor literacy in English and geography (ours, apparently, was convinced that the state of California is somewhere outside the United States.)

Then I spent a couple of hours trying to figure out what had gone wrong with our Civi-CRM installation, which works as a plugin for WordPress. I trialed the system a couple of years ago, but at some time during an upgrade, it lost much of its functionality. Now it is complaining that the PHP version needs upgrading, though our web host has installed there the newest version in its systems (7.4). On my home server, I'm up to version 8.00 or so, but I know that commercial hosting companies tend to be a little more conservative. CiviCRM's main menu has mysteriously disappeared, though I've implemented all the remedies for that scenario that I've found so far on the web.

A bit later, I looked again at Microsoft's offering for donor management and requested a meeting with their partner organization. I've a hunch that that might not come to anything, but what they offer may be a little more stable than Civi-CRM. I previously tried Salesforce, but working with it looked unwieldy for our small organization.

In the late afternoon, I did some outdoor maintenance. My son borrowed a machine that cleans outdoor flagstones and pathways with compressed water - in Hebrew, this is apparently referred to as a “gurnik” - I don't know how its called elsewhere. Anyway I managed to to brighten the paving quite well. My son had already done about 4/5 of the work, but it still took me a couple of hours, all the same. While spraying the gaps between the paths and the house walls, an enormous black scorpion made its appearance, and was summarily hosed away from the scene. Then a big black beetle suddenly appeared under my feet, and, conditioned to anticipate scorpions, at first thought that was one too. And now, as I prepare to wrap up this blog post, I have found yet another scorpion, a little smaller, but this time inside the house. I guess that is the price of disturbing their domicile. Every year we find two or three of them inside, usually at night, and usually crawling along by the skirting tiles. They aren't particularly rapid creatures, so usually it is possible to take a broom and scoot them outside without harming them.

In the evening, I watched a few new episodes of season II of Love, Death and Robots on Netflix. Much of it is a retelling of various SciFi memes - nothing very original, so far, but quite well invested.

Links

Voluntourism: new book explores how volunteer trips harm rather than help - The Guardian

Biddle’s stories suggest the industry is built to meet the needs of volunteers, not communities. But the problem is not simply that volunteers are unqualified, the entire industry seems to be an extension of a colonial mindset and with colonial structures of economic and political power.

Incorporating education about colonialism, aid, and privilege can result in more meaningful cross-cultural experiences for volunteers and communities, and Biddle highlights possible solutions – from certification systems for volunteer organisations to better child protection laws. But as a white woman who has made her own mistakes, she says it is not up to her to decide what better volunteering looks like. “The conversation should be led by the communities affected by this,” she says.

The Impossible Dream: A Review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s "The Ministry for the Future" - CounterPunch.org

I wish I could be more positive. Robinson’s work certainly has good buzz and occasional spark. He is a revered figure for many of my friends. My disappointment is the same problem I have with our society: technological overdevelopment has not been accompanied by deep thinking about our social reality. Robinson’s failure to give his characters any real depth can be correlated with his inability to comprehend the need for social revolution, for the transformation of everyday life, not simply legislation.

I haven't read that book yet. From the earlier one I read, New York 2140, I guess I understand the reviewer's point of view. Yuval Noah Harari says that science Fiction is the most important literary genre of our era. But science fiction writers are, like everyone, a product of their time and place, and their thinking is constrained by their conditioning. This is really our problem; we struggle to imagine a different future than the one that is merely an outgrowth of what we see in the present. What we really need, as Jiddu Krishnamurti said, is "freedom from the known."

Bob's Instance

There is no really ethical consumerism under capitalism. Do enough investigation and you will always find someone being horribly exploited, stolen land or resources and unsustainable ecologically unsound practises.
Some decisions are better than others, but ultimately it's all murky and you can't buy a clean conscience under the existing economic system.

9 June 2021

Home Server

I only pretend to understand how to run my home server, and sort of bungle my way through. That's supposed to be inspiring: if I can do it, anyone can. I've managed to keep Hubzilla running and updated for a few months, and now added WordPress. Today I had some difficulties with the Hubzilla update, due to some changes I'd made to some bootstrap files, but in the end I sorted it out.

I've also been adding some plugins to WordPress so that I can write in Markdown, post automatically to Mastodon and Twitter. I still need to find a way of allowing subscriptions by email. I will see how these work. Without experimentation, none of this is fun. Another decision I've made with WordPress is to change the hyperlinks to suit my blogging style. The system I've decided on isn't very SEO friendly, but I don't care about that.

Office

We had a Zoom conference with an organization that wants to sell us access to their database of foundations; they can handle various other things, but the data they keep on donors is the core of their business. There are several such subscription-based databases on the market, and no doubt these steal and copy from each other. Fundraising and resource development can be a slimy sort of business at base. I have always preferred to do other things than be involved directly with fundraising. But we've have several excellent people who know how to fundraise while staying human, warm, and loving. It doesn't have to be ugly, the domain of sleazy slick schnorrers. Sometimes, when we have had to hire people, it's attracted that type. But usually they haven't stayed around very long.

Infrastructure

On our end, we still need to improve our database infrastructure. A couple of years ago I tried to set up Civi-CRM, a free open source system, with a large, friendly community. But I didn't find it very inspiring, and, after I'd left it alone for a few months, it stopped working and I floundered with the complexity of trying to update the thing. I may try to go back to it. Previously I'd tried Salesforce, which is significantly more complex. Now, maybe, we have the opportunity to use Microsoft products for free, but I have my doubts about whether they have produced something good. The main trouble with all these systems, for a small organization, is that staff who are trying to spend their hours on actual fundraising work do not have time to master and then maintain complex database systems. That's painstakingly tedious work, and, if the software is slow and clunky, that only adds an additional hurdle. One could hire someone to do this boring job, but a small organization cannot really afford to do add additional, non-productive salary positions. Foundations don't really want to see a large chunk of the money they give spent on administration. On the other hand, fundraising applications and reporting needs grow increasingly demanding. That's especially true for organizations that give large grants, such as the European Union, but not always. We have sometimes had to contend with foundations that gave small amounts but had huge demands, out of all proportion to the funding they had given.

Links

Revert to type: how Goa’s last typewriter repair shop defied the digital age - The Guardian


Fastly says single customer triggered bug behind mass internet outage - The Guardian
It's like with my car; I learn about these things when something goes wrong. I knew all about the infamous Cloudfare, mainly because of the troubles it creates when using Tor browser. I'd never heard of Fastly.

Maybe I really should consider moving to Gemini; the web as we know it becomes a less and less friendly place. The advantage with Gemini is that it would be much more difficult to commercialize and monetize.

8 June 2021

Eventually, it proved quite easy to install Microsoft Office on the office computers, under the company's donation plan for non-profits.  I just needed to ignore everything that it said about only being suitable for Windows 10 Pro computers.  While that would be true for their integrated online solutions, it isn't true for just the basics; all we are interested in at this point is their 10 free licenses for MS Office programs. Once I understood that I can simply enroll users and download the programs to their computer, my problem was solved.

I spent a bit of time yesterday evening setting up LibreWolf, a privacy-oriented re-packaging of Firefox. It works quite well, though I still don't feel like I have found my ideal browser.

My Thinkpad has been running hot lately; I might need to get it seen to.  In the meantime I've placed it on an old cooling pad that I had lying around.

Afternoon-walk thoughts

On my afternoon walk I thought a bit about principles; how we get attached to them, and how they are simply tied to our egoism.  We take a concept, a value, or an ideology and then decide to adhere to it.  Then it adheres to us.  We become attached to, identified with, and enslaved by it.  If someone insults our values, we take it as a slight to ourselves.   It is better not to become attached to values and ideas.  They anyway tend towards rigidity, and mimic the essential rather than express it. There is a verse in the Tao Te Ching: "When the Tao ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. Then appeared wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy."  The more that we become identified with values and principles, the further we wander from the wisdom expressed by Lao Tsu.  "The Sage has no decided opinions and feelings..."

Links

Xi’s change of heart is too late to stop China’s collision with the west - The Guardian

All around China’s borders, from India and South Korea to Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia, a grim story of intimidation, impunity and aggression is unfolding, as opposed to the confected, made-in-Beijing narrative of neighbourly co-existence.

Don’t expect Netanyahu’s departure to alter the course of politics in Israel - The Guardian

The burning desire to depose Israel’s longest serving leader is certainly the driving force behind the disparate eight-party coalition that hopes to replace him. But another factor also unites them – by default, if not by design: the consensus that in determining the future of the Jewish state, the conflict with the Palestinians can be managed in perpetuity.

It’s time to ditch Chrome - WIRED UK

When you sync your Google accounts to Chrome, the data slurping doesn’t stop there. Information from other Google-owned products including its email service Gmail and Google search can be combined to form a scarily accurate picture. Chrome data can be added to your geolocation history from Google Maps, the metadata from your Gmail usage, your social graph – who you interact with, both on and offline – the apps you use on your Android phone, and the products you buy with Google Pay. “That creates a very clear picture of who you are and how you live your life,” Fielding says.

Uyghurs are being deported from Muslim countries, raising concerns about China's growing reach - CNN
Palestinians aren't alone in feeling let down by Arab nations. Muslim Ughyars are being routinely extradited from Egypt, the UAR and elsewhere in the Middle East as China's dominance in the region grows.

6 June 2021

Microsoft certified our non-profit so that we can get free or discounted versions of their software. I have spent the last several hours trying to get my head around the various options and plans that they have. It's all kind of arcane, with self-contradictory descriptions; in short a Kafkaesque nightmare. Google Workplace is simple by comparison. Setting up a LAMP server seemed easier. But I suppose once I have understood how to navigate in this strange new world it won't seem so hostile, as we only actually need only the core office programs. They probably know that this is all that most small organizations want, but put this vast labyrinth of options, cloud server applications and services in the way.

Blog

I have now copied all of my Hubzilla blog posts over into WordPress. I'm considering making some change to the way Hubzilla interacts with WordPress; and also making it possible to subscribe to the blog via various means, such as email subscription, other social media - taking my lead from more serious bloggers like Cory Doctorow and Dave Winer. I see that Cory Doctorow connects his WordPress blog to Mailman. We used to use Mailman in our village before moving to Google groups (which was probably a mistake). Mailman looks just the same now as it did years ago.

Links

Apple, Mozilla, Google, Microsoft Form Group To Standardize Browser Plug-Ins - Slashdot

The new WebExtensions Community Group will try to forge a common architecture for future web extensions, and is inviting developers to join the effort.

WhatsApp will add multi-device support, introduce ‘view once’ disappearing feature - TechCrunch

WhatsApp will soon let you use the popular instant messaging app simultaneously on multiple devices, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said. The instant messaging app, used by more than 2 billion users, also plans to add more options to its disappearing messages feature, top executives said.

It looks like that in allowing multi-device support they are trying to catch up with Telegram's superior user experience.
NYPD’s Sprawling Facial Recognition System Now Has More Than 15,000 Cameras - Vice

Source: https://hubzilla.vikshepa.com/item/f7bbcbe2-f944-4093-866f-46101055ed15

5 June 2021

Google diversity head removed over anti-Semitic blog post - BBC News

Google has removed its head of diversity over a 2007 blog post that said Jewish people had "an insatiable appetite for war and killing".

In a post about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that resurfaced this week, Kamau Bobb also claimed Jewish people had an "insensitivity" to suffering.

He apologized. But what a ridiculous claim. As for “insensitivity”:
- Stereotyping whole groups shows both insensitivity and a lack of intelligence.
- If the context is shifted to “Jewish people in Israel” then there is wide insensitivity towards Palestinian suffering, just as there is wide insensitivity among Palestinians of the suffering of Jewish Israelis.
That's a dynamic that occurs when there is demonization of the other (we regard them as not deserving the empathy that we reserve for fellow human beings) because
- there is an ongoing situation of violent conflict: It is difficult to feel empathy when we are traumatized by the suffering of our own group, at the hands of the other group.
- there is a situation of exploitation/oppression/discrimination that is so ordinary that it has become invisible to the perpetrators.
- Palestinians, sensitive to being oppressed and being regarded as inferior, feel that they will never be regarded as equal in their own country even when they are lucky enough to be citizens of it.

Demonization is also transferable:
- Jewish people, particularly Israelis, grow up with the narrative that they have been persecuted throughout history by non-Jews. Palestinians become the latest incarnation of this archetypal persecutor.

- Palestinians grow up with the narrative that they were ethnically cleansed by the Jews, and continue to hold accountable present day Jews, who may not have been involved in any wrong-doing towards them.

Both groups are kind of exclusive: you will always be regarded with suspicion if you were not born into them.

Trouble in paradise: Indian islands face ‘brazen’ new laws and Covid crisis - The Guardian

Shashi Tharoor, a senior opposition politician, added: “One could be forgiven for reading these laws as legislation for a war-torn region facing significant civilian strife, rather than laws meant for an idyllic archipelago filled with abundant natural beauty and peace-loving fellow citizens of India.”

Denmark passes law to relocate asylum seekers outside Europe - The Guardian

“If you apply for asylum in Denmark you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark,” Rasmus Stoklund, the government party’s immigration speaker, told the broadcaster DR on Thursday.

European finance ministers say deal to stop global tax abuse is ‘within reach’ - The Guardian

France, Germany, Italy and Spain increase pressure for an end to loopholes that enable multinationals to pay minimal tax

Journalists entitled to protection against sedition, says Supreme Court - The Hindu

The time is long past when the mere criticism of governments was sufficient to constitute sedition. The right to utter honest and reasonable criticism is a source of strength to a community rather than a weakness, the judgment recorded.

Modi’s bulldozing of parliament shows him as the architect of a Hindu Taliban - The Guardian

Flattening the majestic Mughal-inspired buildings is the latest stage in a hateful, vanity-fuelled campaign to de-Islamify India

Source: https://hubzilla.vikshepa.com/item/18f7e4a0-27b6-469e-99e5-7ddce5e092f6