13 May 2021

Violence all around

I sympathize with those posts in social media that call to boycott Israel, but the trouble is, the world only notices what's going on here when there are people getting killed. The violence is ongoing; the occupation and the closure are violence; the ongoing expropriation of Palestinians from their homes is violence, and it's been going on for a hundred years. When there's a sudden outbreak, there are accusations from both sides about who started it. Well, the Palestinians "started it" but staying quiet doesn't exactly help their cause, and doesn't mean that Israel will stop doing what it's doing or change its systematic policies of settlement and expropriation. It can only continue because the world turns a blind eye to all that or stays mum.

As for me, I can't boycott Israel, because I live here, as it happens, in a place that tries to work for equality and peaceful change. Right now I'm dismayed, not only by the possibility of a ground operation. That itself would be horrible. The last one, in 2014, killed around 1,500 Gazans, and turned whole neighborhoods into rubble But even worse is the upsurge of violence between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel itself. There have already been lynchings, pogroms, riots, and they are only getting started. More is planned for tonight. It is turning out worse than the year 2000, when 12 Palestinian and one Jewish citizen were killed in the internal violence. The damage then caused to the fabric of Jewish - Arab relations in the country took years to heal. I don't know who would want a situation where people on either side would feel endangered simply by entering the wrong neighborhood or town, but evidently there are those that love that prospect.

This country has everything it needs, in terms of land, resources and skills to be a paradise for Jews and Palestinians alike. They do much better when they are working together than when they are fighting one another. The only thing lacking is wise leaders. But every wrong that is perpetrated creates another bad memory and fuels feelings of hatred and revenge. The prospects of creating a just and peaceful society only recede.



hosh31.81782, 34.97896, 3 days ago   The sign says it all. The welcome isn't to the UK, but only to the bloody border.

EU citizens arriving in UK being locked up and expelled | Brexit | The Guardian

Hostile UK border regime traumatises visitors from EU | Brexit | The Guardian

Cory Doctorow's linkblog wrote the following post 4 days agoKim Stanley Robinson's 2020 novel "The Ministry for the Future," is a fierce imaginative work. Robinson doesn't just depict a future beyond the climate emergency and capitalism itself, he depicts the specific, wrenching transition that takes us there.

"As I wrote in my review, the (variously attributed) maxim "It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism," isn't quite right."

Download, never "open in"

Update: the described behavior depends on the browser. I was using SeaMonkey. Chrome browsers don't seem to place the document in /tmp. Firefox makes the opened document "read only".

Here's something really stupid that once every few years catches me unawares:
I download a document from Google Drive in .odt format.
The dialogue box asks whether to "open the document" in LibreOffice, or to save it.
I click to open in LibreOffice.
I work on the document. Looks fine; it has a name and everything, and I carefully save it before closing.
I turn off the computer.
I open the computer the next day.
The document has vanished.
It went into /tmp/mozilla_ , a folder that is completely erased every time the browser is closed or the computer is shut down (I'm not sure, but the result is the same).

Of course, the solution is not to (not ever!) "open the document in LibreOffice" but to save it, then open it. But every so often I forget that. And then, like now, it can result in the loss of several hours work. There are no warnings against this behavior, either in the browser or in LibreOffice. It's something you just learn the hard way.

December 4, 2020


The torrents carry an unabridged translation that I was not aware of, by Bibek Devroy, an Indian economist. It's quite good. Happy that he left alone some untranslatable Sanskrit words that are now anyway mostly known in the world.

There's an interesting software issue regarding footnotes in this epub version. Kobo Reader doesn't handle them properly; neither does Coolreader, the reader I usually use on my phone. But another program from FDroid, simply called Book Reader, does handle them well. As does FBReader on my computer. It might be a good reason to try the 3rd party software with which I replaced the Kobo interface in my last ereader.

I will buy the Penguin paperbacks of this 10 volume version; as I don't like to cheat living writers/translators out of their rightful income (but, on the other hand, don't like to buy digital products with DRM).

29 November, 2020


Garuda, a giant bird, got terribly hungry, so his mom suggested that he go and eat up the Nishadas, who were the autochthonous, probably pre-Aryan people of India. But she warned him to be careful not to eat a Brahmin because that would be like eating a fish-hook and would give him indigestion. So he went and swooped down "like Time, the finisher," laying dry the water in the ocean bay, along which they lived, and shaking the nearby mountains. The bewildered Nishadas came by the thousands and fell into his mouth. And he "crushed that race that feeds on all kinds of fish." But a Brahmin and his Nishada wife got stuck in his throat, so he said to himself that he must never swallow a Brahmin, even if he be the friend of evil-doers. He advised the Brahmin to escape from his mouth. The Brahmin asked to let him take his Nishada wife too, to which Garuda readily agreed.

So India was, in some ways, more tolerant in those genocidal times. Brahmins would marry adivasis (as Nishadas are called today) and, if they did, they and their wives would not be harmed.
Note: Valmiki, the composer of the Ramayana, is also said to have been an adivasi:

Wikipedia: "Although considered uncivilised and primitive,[34] Adivasis were usually not held to be intrinsically impure by surrounding (usually Dravidian or Aryan) caste Hindu populations, unlike Dalits, who were.[note 1][35] Thus, the Adivasi origins of Valmiki, who composed the Ramayana, were acknowledged"

From my Pinboard links

✭ Noam Chomsky: Trump Has Revealed the Extreme Fragility of American Democracy
"If the U.S. were to apply for membership in the European Union today, it would probably be rejected. The radically undemocratic character of the Senate would be sufficient reason. There is surely something a little odd about the respected doctrine of “originalism,” holding that we should be bound by the ideas of a group of wealthy white slaveowners 250 years ago"

✭ Syria war photographer 'wounded by police' during Paris protest | World news | The Guardian
"Press group says award-winning photojournalist Ameer Alhalbi fled Syria to take refuge from violence
journalism "

✭ Climate ‘apocalypse’ fears stopping people having children – study | Environment | The Guardian
"People worried about the climate crisis are deciding not to have children because of fears that their offspring would have to struggle through a climate apocalypse, according to the first academic study of the issue."

✭ Microsoft productivity score feature criticised as workplace surveillance | Technology | The Guardian
“The word dystopian is not nearly strong enough to describe the fresh hellhole Microsoft just opened up,” tweeted David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of the office productivity suite Basecamp. “Just as the reputation of a new and better company was being built, they detonate it with the most invasive workplace surveillance scheme yet to hit mainstream."

“Being under constant surveillance in the workplace is psychological abuse,” Heinemeier Hansson added. “Having to worry about looking busy for the stats is the last thing we need to inflict on anyone right now.”

✭ European Parliament Votes For Right To Repair - Slashdot
 adopting this report, the European Parliament sent a clear message: harmonized mandatory labelling indicating durability and tackling premature obsolescence at EU level are the way forward," said Rapporteur David Cormand, MEP from France. The vote calls for the EU Commission to "develop and introduce mandatory labelling, to provide clear, immediately visible and easy-to-understand information to consumers on the estimated lifetime and reparability of a product at the time of purchase."

It seems like labeling is always the easiest thing to implement. It would be nice to see a law requiring goods to be repairable. Companies routinely tell us that opening a device will violate warranty and I think that some even say that repair is illegal.

✭ 1% of farms operate 70% of world's farmland | Environment | The Guardian
"Over the past four decades, the biggest shift from small to big was in the United States and Europe, where ownership is in fewer hands and even individual farmers work under strict contracts for retailers, trading conglomerates and investment funds.

Ward said these financial arrangements are now spreading to the developing world, which is accelerating the decline of soil quality, the overuse of water resources, and the pace of deforestation."

✭ Australia refuses to confirm prisoner swap to get Kylie Moore-Gilbert out of Iran | World news | The Guardian
“Kylie was held to ransom by the Iranian regime which saw fit to take an innocent Australian woman hostage in order to bring its own convicted prisoners abroad home,” the campaign group said in a statement. “It’s a despicable business model with incalculable human consequences.”

She has only good things to say about Iranians, and that's the way it should be. We need to differentiate between people and the terrible regimes that govern them (and most of us.)

She was freed in exchange for Iranian prisoners convicted of terrorism - they had intended to blow up an Israeli diplomat. Shortly after the prisoner exchange, an Iranian top nuclear scientist was assassinated, probably by Israel, in Teheran.

27 November, 2020

Browser html tests

According to https://html5test.com/ on my setup:
Dillo: (Doesn't have javascript, so no results)
Tor: 409
Palemoon: 427
Epiphany: 437
Basilisk: 466
Firefox: 509
Vivaldi: 526
Chrome: 528
Results for various popular browsers are also at:
Firefox has everything that I need, so that's the one I have been using lately, with just Facebook Container, Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere. (MX Linux also comes with an ad blocker).


Upamanyu is accused by his guru or rishi of being too fat, so the guru puts him on a diet, gradually depriving him of begged food, milk and the froth of the milk. He herded the cows and went without food. Having been forbidden [to eat] ... one day in the forest, starving grievously, he ate the leaves of the arka plant (calotropis gigantea). And by eating the acrid, pungent, hot, ripe arka leaves, he was smitten in the eye and went blind..." eventually he fell into a well. His teacher said, "Sing the praises of the Asvins. Those divine healers will restore your eyesight." They do. They give him some "cake" to eat, and promise him that his vision will be restored.
About this, van Buitenen says: "Calotropis Gigantea is a bush widely spread in northern India: it has some medicinal properties: that it may cause blindness is further unknown." However, Wikipedia has this to say:

"... touching the sap [of the plant] and then touching the ocular surface may result in crownflower keratitis. Damage (poisoning) of the cornea endothelium results in corneal stromal edema and decreased visual acuity. Although there is some permanent damage to the corneal endothelium with decreased endothelial cell count and irregular shape, the remaining corneal endothelial cells usually recover with complete resolution of the corneal edema and a return to normal visual acuity. The condition is usually self-limited and resolves faster with topical steroids... " Wikipedia also mentions the tale.

20 October, 2020

Somebody said on the internet...

"I said it before and I'll say it again: cyberpunk romanticizes oppression."
I think one of the problems of science fiction in general is that we usually conceive the future in terms of what we know. Orwell's 1984 was his 1948, a dark vision based on what he saw in the present, and he said later it might not have turned out quite as miserable if he hadn't been so sick and miserable himself at the time that he wrote it. Science Fiction, like worry, is a prayer for what we don't want. If our vision of the future is dystopian, then we are likely to reap a dystopian reality. If we can imagine a future based on freedom and abundance, where we find creative solutions to the problems that threaten us, we have a better chance of surviving as a species. Martin Luther King understood the power of such positive vision when, in a few simple words, he conjured up a reality that both black and white people instantly wanted. However alluring dystopian fiction might be, it is not where we should spend our time. Yuval Noah Harari says that science fiction is the literary genre for our time. But I don't think he meant visions of doom and gloom. Solarpunk is better than Cyberpunk. The images at the end of David Attenborough's new film are pure solarpunk.

Life on our Planet

We watched, before going to bed, David Attenborough's latest film on Netflix. At age 93, he's still amazing, and this is the sort of film you instantly hope that everybody will watch. I wonder what people in the future will make of these plaintive appeals for a change in direction, pitted against hard, intractable interests? Giants like Attenborough are after all quite small and trivial compared to what they are up against, and, in a way, perhaps they are participants in the same game. I have the image of a bunch of people being swept along in a great flood of debris, each of us clinging to a raft of beams from a ruined house, or sticks of furniture; the wealthy land owner and the landless peasant caught up in the same flood, unable to do more than hurl insults at each other as they float on towards the open sea.

Bichlal, I think the best strategy in our times might be that of the Tao Te Ching, the best protection to be vulnerable but useless, a gnarled and knotted tree for which the carpenter has no use, whose only value is to provide shade for the weary traveler.

The more we get caught up in the struggles that aggrandize victors, the more we ourselves become vectors of the pathogens they disseminate. In such an epoch, we need to have the smallest possible footprint in the herd that is ravaging the earth, treading nimbly around the insects so easily crushed by our clobbering feet. In practical terms, we need to consume as little as possible, remain anonymous. Our cloak of invisibility is simply that we are indistinguishable from everyman.

Yesterday I went to the dentist and she was convinced that my magnetic health fund card must have expired. It bore no signs of activity; no visits to clinics or hospitals, no prescribed medicine, no charted medical conditions. It seems that this is an anomaly at the age of 64, but really, I want as little to do with physicians as possible. If I die now, it might be a little young, but I have no unfulfilled ambitions. Better to live out my allotted number of years, but I wouldn't put up a struggle. I've no wish to live to David Attenborough's immense age, certainly. But it's true that I should do more to maintain my body and keep it hale. I try to eat right and live a healthy lifestyle, but don't get enough exercise.

Social blogging

A Hubzilla channel is a networked blog; somewhere between traditional blogging and traditional social media. I'm not a big fan of social media. I like to follow a few people who have interesting things to say, as long as they do not grow too wordy. I've stopped following people in the fediverse who are over-active for my taste. As for my own posts, I have learned recently to limit them by making a single post for the day and then editing it to include sub-posts. The edits don't usually reach beyond Hubzilla itself, if at all. So there's a daily reminder that I continue to exist, and the link to follow if someone is more interested. But since I'm writing mainly for my own pleasure, the presence or absence of viewers is unimportant. I might even stop using this space, or making posts public, if posts begin to create more engagement.


✭ 'Military Disneyland’: a cathedral to Russia's new national identity | Russia | The Guardian
“We are not talking about the geopolitical background at any particular time, we are talking about the fact that our armed forces have sacred help from above, from God and from the heavenly saints. That’s what the cathedral is about.”

✭ Russian cyber-attack spree shows what unrestrained internet warfare looks like | Cyberwar | The Guardian
"They did not just cause confusion and inconvenience. Quite apart from their alleged role in the rise of Donald Trump, they are accused of depriving hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians of light and heat in the middle of winter, and closing down the computer systems of a major Pennsylvania hospital. Their exploits are a foretaste of unconstrained cyber warfare might look like in the real world."

19 October, 2020

Ice and Fire

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

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

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

Evening Meditation

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

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

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


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

✭ 'It is serious and intense': white supremacist domestic terror threat looms large in US | Donald Trump |  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/19/white-supremacist-domestic-terror-threat-l

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Up at sunrise again. Actually I was up twice in the night too, so my days and nights are similar periods of rest and wakefulness. I'm still reading "The Earth of the New Sun", and am enjoying Wolf's conception of a universe where space and time and creatures inhabiting these worlds are highly flexible, and tend to flow into each other. Genders, strange creatures, androids, all are in a fluid mix. I could well imagine a similar combining of time periods in our own world, where wisdom from past times augments the knowledge of the present, with intimations from the future. This is very much the universe of science fiction writers, an embracing of all that is possible, and a refusal to reject anything outright.

We are a little stuck in our conception of what constitutes reality, in our mainstream culture. reality is actually quite a free-for-all. I am maybe too tough on the people around me and myself. For example, when A. embarks on his fantasies, I tend to close off; but that is because, in his real life, he constrains himself ridgidly, and is unable to conceive of even minor adjustments to his reality. So his fantasies involve only a superabundance of what he already has; more possessions.

Freedom of imagination does not have to involve hankering after goods, experiences, but instead can involve the realignment of one's current reality, in ways that had not been previously conceived; just as small children do not relate to the rigid world and constraints fixed by grown-ups. A chair isn't just something to sit on, but is an object to be climbed over; they see many more interesting possibilities in their environment. An adult can become a wild animal or a monster; they lack the conviction that the world is a safe, reliable space and don't really know where the boundaries lie. Anything could happen.

In the world of adults, we are shocked when the stock market falls or a new pandemic changes everything we know.

In my life, I have been doing some things right; my journeys to India, my time spent alone; of course I'm still a fairly ridgid person, but not as much as many of those around me. I'm able to adapt to new realities without too many difficulties, and tend to accept the present moment. I dont' dwell much on the past. Perhaps it's just that the patterns of my life do not change much.

I should read more poetry, as poets, like science fiction writers, are capable of seeing our existing reality in alternative ways. Sri Aurobindo was amazingly skilled at this too, actually. Instead of turning up my nose at his ideas, I should actually be awed at his courage to transform reality through the power of his imagination. Why shouldn't there be a downpouring of divine energy that can transform the brain and the body, to the level of the cells? Who can say that our ordinary humdrum reality is not simply a mass illusion, constantly reinforced by the constraints we put upon it? Why not assume completely different interpretations of this reality? Religious people of all hues operate from a different set of assumptions to those that are prevalent in secular society.

I don't think the reality we witness is a mass delusion, but the interpretations we put upon it are. For example, the furniture upon which I am sitting may be seen as "elegant" by me, but ugly / outmoded / uncomfortable by others. A person with no cultural knowledge of chairs would probably see a chair in a completely different way. And if this is true of simple, solid, human-created objects, it is all the more true for more complex aspects of our reality. How would a person from a patriarchal society relate to a woman president? Or someone from a homophobic society relate to the gay rights movement? How would someone who knows only tribal villages relate to nations, courts, constitutions? Or someone from the future relate to these things? A whole lot of what we simply take for granted is normalized by our culture, and alternative understandings can be imposed upon it. In order to function properly within this reality, we have to be familiar with the conventions of seeing it. We have to learn how to relate to it, and how to behave.

The Sheltering Sky

Reading The Sheltering Sky of Paul Bowles. It's interesting and well-written. The characters are racist and sexist, of course; I haven't a clue whether that reflects the views of the author, because we aren't intended to admire them.

Gene Wolfe on literature’s mainstream

"Incidentally, I'd argue that SF represents literature's real mainstream. What we now normally consider the mainstream—so called realistic fiction—is a small literary genre, fairly recent in origin, which is likely to be relatively short lived. When I look back at the foundations of literature, I see literary figures who, if they were alive today, would probably be members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Homer? He would certain belong to the SFWA. So would Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare. That tradition is literature's mainstream, and it has been what has grown out of that tradition which has been labeled SF or whatever label you want to use."

Larry McCaffery interview with writer Gene Wolfe.


Sebald’s prose

A good writer is a good communicator, which requires an eye for detail and a knowledge of what is being described.

"Everyone was plainly already asleep, and it was some time before an aged porter emerged from the depths of the house. He was so doubled over that he cannot have been able to see more than the lower half of anyone standing in front of him. Because of this handicap, no doubt, he had already taken a quick glance at the latecomer outside the glazed door before he crossed the hall, a glance that was the more penetrating for being brief."

"Just as the winter days I had spent in America three years before had been dark and colourless, so now the earth's surface, a patchwork of greens, was flooded with light. In the long since abandoned pastures stretching towards the mountains grew clumps of oaks and alders; rectilinear plantations of spruces alternated with irregular stands of birches and aspens, the countless trembling leaves of which had opened only a week or so before; and even on the dark, distant slopes, where pine forests covered the mountainsides, the pale green of larches lit by the evening sun gleamed here and there in the background."