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.


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.

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.