29 July 2021

Phone security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 July 2021

The Indologist Audrey Truschke

I always come across interesting articles in Scroll.in - perhaps I should support the journal. On Saturday I read a series of articles about the indologist, self-described activist and anti-fascist Audrey Truschke. She is also a Sanskritist and a Persianist. Besides reading the articles I listened to a long interview on YouTube.

I wish I were a more serious person - like Audrey - and would read books instead of articles, but I will have to accept how I am. In reading and listening to her, I was trying to get a sense of the woman and what she stands up for. She has elicited a lot of attention because of her position on hindutva - she recently helped to write a "Hindutva Harassment Field Manual", which is intended to defend American academics from attacks by Indian right wing students, who attempt to frame the writings of academics they don't like as a general attack on their religion. In India, it's much easier to stifle freedom of speech in academic writings under the law.

The whole controversy reminded me of the way Jewish right-wing students in the US and other places manage to wage war on voices critical of Israel using the claim of anti-semitism. The analogy is not exact, but the issue and the passions are similar. Wherever ethno-nationalism rears its ugly head, there are bound to be problems. You cannot talk to its proponents in any reasonable voice. They see the world from a black-and-white, us-against-them perspective, whereas their opponents tend to see everything as much more nuanced and equivocal. So one can only really converse with people who are similar - which means speaking with more reasonable people in the mainstream. Unfortunately, also there, everyone tends to be reasonable on all issues except that one. That's what I see with many Jewish-Israelis (or Palestinians, for that matter). Perspectives that are based on emotions create sometimes impenentrable blindfolds. Light gets in only from the sides, or through the cracks as Leonard Cohen would say.

If I were an American academic interested in medieval Sanskrit texts, I would avoid picking a fight with hindutva activists on social media. I haven't read the field manual, but I do know that you cannot argue with people blinded by passions. And I am completely outgunned in that battle. Why would I want to engage with thousands of screaming fanatics sending death threats and abuse? From the perspective of a researcher on past periods, whatever is happening in modern India is extraneous to the scope of my research. Ethno-nationalism of the kind we see today, was born in a more recent period, and addresses more recent needs.

One can take the example of the indologist David Shulman. At home, he is an activist, a vocal criticism of ethno-nationalism in the Israeli context, an anti-fascist. But he is quiet with regard to India. He stays out of Indian politics. It's a question of choosing which battles to fight.

There is, certainly, the question of book banning - books such as Hinduism, an Alternative History Wendy Doniger have been banned in India, and other authors, like Truschke, have to make changes before they will appear there. But so what? Again, it's an Indian issue. No books can really be banned today. They can be made freely available online. Doniger herself says:

The flak about that book made it much more popular; thousands of people who had never heard of the book got hold of a copy and read it. In that way, Batra (The petitioner who made Penguin India take the book off the shelves) did me a great favour. I was then invited to write about the crisis in Indian publishing in more popular public newspapers and journals that I had not written for earlier.

Finally, what academics provide, in their research on ancient periods, by translation of old texts, by shedding light on the society, thinking, values and concerns of earlier periods, adds layers of richness to the cultural history and identity of their modern forebears. Once it is out there, it can help to undermine simplistic notions of that same culture that are the hallmark of ethno-nationalists. Especially in the case of foreigners, with no natural side in the politics of modern India, their research appears to come from an impartial source. Whereas as soon as foreign researchers themselves become involved in Indian politics, it will appear that they too have an axe to grind.

Historian Audrey Truschke explains why she helped write a ‘Hindutva Harassment Field Manual’ - Scroll

Interview: Audrey Truschke on Sanskrit histories of the Mughal era and Hindutva trolls - Scroll

Hindutva Harassment Field Manual - Scroll

Interview: Manan Asif Ahmed on the ‘loss of Hindustan’ and how colonialism altered our past - Scroll

The curious case of Audrey Truschke - Vikram Zutshi, The Hindu

The main problem with Truschke’s work lies not in its elisions and omissions but the implications it has for the entire body of Western scholarship on India. A number of renowned academics writing about pre-modern India have come under attack by nativists and political actors for not toeing the Hindutva line. Irresponsible and non-reflexive scholarship only reinforces right-wing prejudices about Western Indology.

Audrey Truschke and the Blitzkrieg from the Hindu Right

The writer Vikram Zutshi has also been a critic of Truschke, in ways that overlap with the smear campaign. In a recent opinion piece in The Hindu, he made a facile attempt to degrade her peer-reviewed scholarship. His social media comments a few days earlier, however, show this attempt to be in bad faith: He made inflammatory allegations, not against her, but against her unnamed students. We will not repeat those unsubstantiated claims here, but we will note that they lack evidence.

Further, Zutshi launches a broadside against India scholars: “White scholars with ambitions of being the ‘voice’ for India in the West would be well advised to cultivate a sense of humility and a genuine desire to learn.”

So far as we know, none of the western scholars who opened the doors of Hindu religious writings and Indian history to a non-Indian audience over the last two centuries, has ever pretended to be the ‘voice’ for India – least of all Truschke. Only one group today falsely claims to speak for all Indians: Hindu nationalists. Everybody else respects the plurality of Indian voices.

Zutshi’s condescending advice to scholars brings to mind how the Sangh parivar selectively venerates western writers sympathetic to their cause: Koenraad Elst, David Frawley, Michel Danino, Francois Gautier, to name a few. To some of these ‘white scholars,’ secular-minded Hindus are but slaves to western scholarship and are not Hindu enough. So they are constantly on a mission to educate us on how we should think and act as better Hindus, thereby exhibiting the very superiority that Zutshi projects onto Truschke.

As a recent statement by student groups at Oxford said so eloquently, in another case of a false narrative by the Hindu Right: “Claiming to be the victim of bigotry and bias when one is, in fact, wielding such horrors against others, undermines real experiences of racism of students at the University”.

Death of activist Stan Swamy

Fr. Stan tirelessly fought for jal, jungle and zameen - The Hindu

I speak as a writer who is in mourning. Fr. Stan Swamy did not die, he was killed. He was killed because he spent his life working for the poor and the deprived. Today, the jails are filled with those who dared to fight for human rights. We are living in an endless state of mourning for the dead who are deliberately killed. The spirit of Fr. Stan lives on and the love and compassion that inspired him, will inspire us.

Linux vs Windows

A Sombre Goodbye To Linux - Kev Quirk
Kev Quirk runs Fosstodon, the Mastodon instance that I use.
He says:

The TL;DR is that I became sick of the many little issues with Linux. I just want my OS to get out of the way so I can crack on and get shit done.

My biggest frustration with pretty much all of the distributions I had run was the sheer number of ways to install applications. I had some that were DEBs, others were Snaps, a couple of Flatpaks and an AppImage to finish it all off.

I agree with him there, as would many others. The Linux world is responsible for creating its divisions, though it is kind of natural in a free software environment to want to do so. As for me, wherever possible I use the Debian repositories. Actually, the quiet that he is seeking is the reason I originally turned away from Windows. In Linux I found a place where the operating system didn't bug me with commercial messages, such as bloatware and antivirus software that comes with the purchase of most computer. Even now, my wife is being hounded (haunted) by McAfee, on her new computer. But it's a personal use case. For the most part, Linux has what I need, and where tinkering is necessary, it's enjoyable, most of the time. It's about taking control and setting things up as I want it to. I never really felt at home in Windows, and I can't afford the fancy software like Adobe suites, that make it worthwhile to be there.

In many ways, things have improved in Windows, since the time that I made the switch. But in other ways, they have gotten worse - there are greater privacy and security issues now than there were twenty years back. Meanwhile, the Linux environment has improved so much too. I love my current distro, MX. I can do everything I need to do there. But certainly there are things that I could do better on Windows. I think I could make better videos for the office, and better graphic designs for our publications. But these are not functions that I need for myself.

Ursula von der Leyen says EU has reached Covid vaccine target - The Guardian

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.

26 April 2021



(Capparis spinosa)

These grow wild around here. They are extremely annoying when we encounter them while walking in the woods, because the thorns point backwards and have a never-let-go quality: if you step into a caper bush, there follows a prickly process of delicate extrication. What's more, in winter they lose their foliage, so become almost invisible, and only the dry thorny stems remain.

But now they are in their prime. The buds are ripe for picking, and pickling, though I've never attempted to do this. The ones in our fridge are imported from Turkey. Capers grow in many climates, apparently, from around the Mediterranean to the high altitude deserts of Ladakh.

URL shortening

I was just reflecting on the fact that I've been using bit.ly for URL shortening, and that bit.ly makes a living by tracking users. For many of these, I could/should be using our organization's URL since that is anyway short, and the CMS has a built-in re-direction feature. On reflection, I already do this in a couple of instances, such as an easy mnemonic link to our YouTube channel.

On a couple of of the WordPress installations I use for organizations, Jetpack is enabled, and Jetpack includes a URL shortener of its own (wp.me), which, according to its privacy statement, does not track site visitors (only site owners and registered users (these sites don't have registered users). So it's also possible to use these WP sites for the purpose of redirection, when appropriate.

Old article

An old friend sent me back an article that I must have written and sent to him many years ago. It is about the desirability of living life without meaning. This must have been a subject that was important to me at the time, and thinking about it must have given me a sense of meaning. The major development is that it doesn't seem important these days. Meaning is inherent in an activity at the time that we are doing something. This post is meaningful while I'm writing it. Afterwards, not so much. I can move on.

Links blog

The Most Effective Malaria Vaccine Yet Discovered - Slashdot

Excellent news today: we have word of the most effective malaria vaccine yet discovered. A year-long trial in Burkina Faso has shown 77% efficacy, which is by far the record, and which opens the way to potentially relieving a nearly incalculable burden of disease and human suffering.


Algerian scholar gets three years in jail for ‘offending Islam’ | Middle East News | Al Jazeera

The scholar, author of two well-known works, was criticised for writing that the sacrifice of sheep predates Islam and for criticising practices including the marriage of pre-pubescent girls in some Muslim societies.

Biden tells Erdogan he plans to recognise Armenian ‘genocide’ | Genocide News | Al Jazeera

United States President Joe Biden told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he plans to recognise the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as an act of “genocide”, Bloomberg and the Reuters news agencies reported Friday, citing people familiar with the call between the leaders

‘Insanely cheap energy’: how solar power continues to shock the world | Energy | The Guardian

20 April 2021


The hamsin has broken, the temperatures are back down in the 20°Cs, and in the afternoon I went for a pleasant walk in the fields. All the vines have new leaves after looking like dead sticks in the winter. (Now is the best time for collecting the leaves for stuffing.) The photo, taken with my mediocre camera phone looks across the vineyards to the Trappist abbey on the nearby hill. It's not great, but I do like the contrast between the vibrant green of the vineyard and the olive groves and cypresses on the hill.

My walk took a steady pace while listening to Café de Anatolia's Amelie de Paris album, an eclectic non-stop mix of chansons, bhajans, middle eastern melodies, and other styles that I'm unable to identify, with a constant background beat. ( Cafe De Anatolia - Amélie de Paris (Mix by Rialians On Earth) by Cafe De Anatolia ETHNO WORLD on YouTube)

The 16:8 diet

A neighbour of hours recommends the 16:8 diet, which seems like a sustainable means for maintaining a good body weight. With my frame, I try to stay a little below 70 kg, though I'm usually a little above it. When I was in the Sivananda yoga ashrams, we used to eat just twice a day, at 11 am and 7 pm, which is exactly this diet. It isn't hard, once one gets used to it. In the east, Buddhist monks and Jain samans often eat just once a day. The principle to be maintained with the 16:8 diet, as explained by our neighbour, is not to have any caloric intake at all during the time that one is fasting, since this changes the body's responses. One may drink liquids without sugar, such as tea without milk and sugar, but that's basically all. So far, I'm managing only a 14:10 diet, due to meal timings; but even that is better than before.

Ramadan fasting

Yesterday, when it was 42°C outdoors, I passed Zakariya working outside, doing some gardening. He is my age, and very strictly observes Ramadan, which means not being able to eat or drink at all during the daylight hours. The food part is easy; but the inability to drink is a genuine austerity. I was speaking to a woman yesterday who said that her mother, as a result of her fasting, has been having pains in her kidneys; but she won't stop. According to Ramadan rules, it's actually perfectly okay not to fast, if someone is sick, pregnant or frail. But it's hard not to fast when the rest of the family is doing so.


Spent a lot of time formatting a newsletter for the office, in LibreOffice. I can do a passably reasonable job with this, though overall, I still eventually prefer the simple html version I did for our website. HTML is much more fluid to work with and it's easier to move the text around for other purposes later. One thing I learned this time is that if I need to put a few photos together as a collage, rather than struggling with the photos in a LibreOffice table, it's better just to put the collage together in GIMP, then import the result as a single result in LibreOffice.

I'm a fan of well-structured documents, and love LibreOffice's implementation of document styles. It's very easy to structure a document with heading1, heading2, etc., and then a simple change to the style changes the formatting for the whole document. (It did take me a while to get used so some of the changes to the styles feature that the program made a few years ago, and remember to click or unclick the auto-update option in the style Organizer. Another advantage of document styles, is that using them facilitates export of LibreOffice documents to other formats like MS Word.
(The results of my labours can be seen here (to see the PDF version, click on the PDF download at the beginning).


For the last couple of days I have been playing with Darktable, which I hadn't used before. There's a bit of a learning curve and it peppers the document directories with XML files to record the non-destructive changes. It does seem to do a better, more fine-tuned job of color-correction than everything else that I'm using (XNView, GIMP, GThumb, nomacs). Unfortunately, I will probably end up just adding this additional tool to my arsenal, as each of these programs handle certain functions a little better than the others. XNView is best for batch processing, such as taking a group of selected photos, renaming them and resizing them according to the longest side. Nomacs is quickest for viewing photos. GThumb, among other features, has some nice style effects. GIMP is terrific for serious photo editing.

Links blog

Assange, Nils Melzer says the treatment of Julian leaves him "speechless" - Il Fatto Quotidiano
‘ They want to keep him blocked and silenced. It’s also to punish him personally, but they are punishing him primarily to scare everybody else, to make sure you don’t want to launch Wikileaks and disclose all these secrets. The message is: “If ever you have evidence of atrocious crimes, don’t disclose it, because this is what will happen to you’”.’

The strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must: It seems like we are all half-asleep.
Thanks to  https://mamot.fr/users/jz for the link.

Renting Is Terrible. Owning Is Worse.
A third option is necessary: a way to rent without making someone else rich. Book on his proposals: https://islandpress.org/books/affordable-city. These are interesting ideas. Sometimes it's so frustrating to know that for so many of the world's inequities there are not overly complicated solutions. Thanks to Doc Edward Morbius for the links

9 April 2021


Duck Duck Go audit and Searx

Thanks to Aral Balkan: https://source.puri.sm/toolauditor/CEAP/-/blob/master/audits/ddg.md
This is crazy; no one should use them.

My default search engine is already Searx (search.disroot.org); though:

  • occasionally Google blocks it;
  • returning to the search page via the browser's back-button produces a "Confirm Form Resubmission";
  • DDG or Google's results are sometimes better;
  • Smart answers, like "$20,000 in Euros" don't give results.

Anyway, I've deleted DDG from my browsers. I will try to do more research on Ecosia, StartPage and others.


I helped behind the scenes with another Zoom event: an interview with the principal and vice-principal of our binational primary school. The only technical hitch was caused by me. S. hadn't set up her Zoom to automatically admit new participants, and she had also allowed people to unmute themselves. There is one special guest user, of a tech guy who had come in to manage the photography and the software; he probably was using mainly OBS, though I didn't ask him. Anyway I accidentally muted him when trying to admit and mute somebody else; so we lost audio for a minute or two in the middle. I know, we should buy the equipment and learn how to do these events myself so we don't need to hire someone.


Birth year palindromes

The birthday of one of my sons the other day produces a numeric palindrome of his birth year (born in '83 and now '37). It's the same for me this year, as I was born in 1956. I think almost everybody has a chance of that happening once; though for those who were born in 1999, though those whose birthday year ends in a 9 are advised to lead a healthy lifestyle.


So many bad things happening around the world right now: the attrocities in Myanmar; a Russian build-up on the Ukraine border; disturbances in N. Ireland; racism in Australia;, Israel's mining of the Iranian ship; settler violence against Palestinians...

Biden restores $200m in US aid to Palestinians slashed by Trump | US foreign policy | The Guardian
"The US will restore more than $200m (£145m) in aid to Palestinians, reversing massive funding cuts under the Trump administration that left humanitarian groups scrambling to keep people from plunging into poverty."
This at least is good. The Trump administration's bid to blackmail the Palestinians into doing Israel's bidding failed. But the US should be wielding its influence on Israel to help solve the problem.

3,000-year-old ‘lost golden city’ of ancient Egypt discovered | Egypt | The Guardian
“Within weeks, to the team’s great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions. What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life.”

1 April, 2021


April fool: this snake, found dead on our garden path is not the dangerous Vipera palaestina, but the harmless Hemorrhois nummifer ("coin-marked snake"). Among other differences, the markings on the viper are joined. According to the Hebrew Wikipedia article, some people think the similarity of the snake to the viper is deliberate, in order to scare humans and other animals away from it. It will also rear up and hiss, if approached. But none of that helped this young specimen, for although there are no obvious signs of violence, probably a cat killed it.

Link blog

Rapid global heating is hurting farm productivity, study finds | Climate change | The Guardian
“Productivity has actually slumped by 21% since 1961, compared to if the world hadn’t been subjected to human-induced heating. With the global population set to rise to more than 9 billion by 2050, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that food production will have to increase by about 70%, with annual crop production increasing by almost one 1bn tonnes and meat production soaring by more than 200m tonnes a year by this point.”

Vaccine for the Global South
“When Oxford University began work on its covid vaccine, it promised that the resulting work would be patent-free, with an active tech-transfer assistance program so that developing nations could manufacture their own supplies.
That promise was broken. The Gates Foundation pushed the racist lie that poor people can't make safe vaccines – despite world-leading production facilities in the Global South – and convinced the university to sell exclusive rights to Astrazeneca.”

Wi-Fi devices set to become object sensors by 2024 under planned 802.11bf standard • The Register
“SENS is envisioned as a way for devices capable of sending and receiving wireless data to use Wi-Fi signal interference differences to measure the range, velocity, direction, motion, presence, and proximity of people and objects.
It may come as no surprise that the security and privacy considerations of Wi-Fi-based sensing have not received much attention.”

Director, deputy director, CTO of Free Software Foundation quit after Stallman installation • The Register
"The announcement appears to indicate that the FSF board is determined to stick with Stallman even after a slew of organizations have pulled funding in response to his reinstallation let alone today's resignations."

Browser tracking protections won't stop tracking, warns DuckDuckGo • The Register
“Two of the most widely distributed trackers, Google Analytics tags and the Facebook pixel, for example, can be implemented using first-party cookies, so they're not blocked by third-party cookie limitations.”

'Suez 2'? Ever Given grounding prompts plan for canal along Egypt-Israel border | Suez canal | The Guardian
“UK prepared to play leading role in project given new impetus by Ever Given blockage, say sources”

Environmentalists should object to this, as well as to an alternative plan to make a canal between the Red Sea and the Nile. We have to hope that neither of these plans ever take off. It would be better to widen the canal or make a second lane, which already has a double channel for part of its way.

Update: So I was right about that - Suez Canal starts work to extend double lane after Ever Given grounding (2021-05-17)

28 March, 2021


Website platforms

An intern we had once made a WordPress website for one of our friends associations, and we host it on the same server as our main site. A new person who volunteers for the association is saying he doesn't want to use WordPress to update the website, but would prefer to re-do the site under a proprietary Mac app called Sparkle. He says he finds WP to be cumbersome and that he already runs several websites under Sparkle. My response was:

From the point of view of maintaining the site, the advantages of WordPress are as follows:
1. It's easy to change the appearance of the site (by adjusting or changing the theme)
WordPress is a free open source program that anyone can work with from any computer anywhere.
2. It's easy to move a WordPress site to a new server, and many other platforms are able to convert from WordPress, both CMS systems and static site generators.
3. Many people know WordPress as about 40% of all websites run on it and 64% of all sites that use a CMS.
4. By contrast, Sparkle is a paid, proprietary, Apple Mac program. Someone who does not have a Mac, or who hasn't purchased Sparkle would not be able to use it. For example, I'm on Linux, and would not be able to do anything with it. Neither would a future web designer or maintainer who uses Microsoft Windows. That means that if you ever decide to stop, the website will need to be re-made from scratch.

He, or the association will need to decide what to do. They may just decide to continue sending me the materials and let me do the work, which is fine.

I can't argue with him on the nastiness of the WordPress interface. It's cumbersome indeed. It's not surprising that so many competitors have sprung up. In a way, I prefer that they are at least suggesting this Sparkle, and not something like Wix or Weebly, which I would really dislike.

Wix is a successful Israeli company (now foreign-owned, I think). Lots of Israeli young people come up with ingenious new ideas, find funding, create a startup, with the main aim of eventually selling at a high price to some American company. Fine; except that some of the applications they create are a bit sleazy, as in not being respectful of privacy, etc. NSO Group is the most extreme example. But there are many others. Such software seems to be a product of a culture based on wrong values.


Others on the fediverse were looking at the freedom house site and comparing countries. Israel appears there as a "free" country (though it's on the lower end of "free"), and the Palestinian territories that are occupied by Israel are, unsurprisingly, listed as non-free. India, I remember, recently had its ranking downgraded to "partially free" and this rankled the Indian government immeasurably. (Indian Kashmir is listed as non-free.).

Looking at the criteria the site uses, it seems pretty fair to me. Of course, the degree of freedom in a country is not the only criteria to look at. I might not want to live in a country that is free, but violent, xenophobic, dangerous, freezing cold, or starving.

In Israel, a place that absorbs many newcomers, I have often asked people why they chose to move to and live in a country with so many difficulties, dangers and injustices. They do not always have a clear response; often it's an emotional decision. Sometimes it is ideological. I asked Prof. David Shulman, an indologist from the Hebrew University and speaker of Sanskrit, Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil, what he is doing here, when he would be eagerly accepted at so many universities overseas. He said that he sees himself as "a man of the Middle East", that this is his home. A little later, he wrote "Dark Hope", a personal journal of his activism and volunteering with Ta'ayush, which involved going to assist Palestinian villagers facing violence from settlers. I asked Deb Reich, an American writer and translator, who authored "No More Enemies". She said she lives here as a "dissident," a person who opposes the regime. She sees a value in that. When an American volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement was buried under an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza, and her parents sued the government, Deb translated the extensive testimony and court proceedings . In the village, we once had a Christian Spanish volunteer who was certain, without any evidence, that her ancestors were Marranos - Jewish converts to Christianity following the inquisition, who often kept practicing their religion in secret. She decided to convert to Judaism and stay here permanently.

As for me, I'm often asked by Israel's airport security what I am doing here. Once I told them, "Well, we all make mistakes."

Voyage to Cythera

(Theo Angelopoulos)

"I often discover with horror and relief that I believe in nothing. Then I return to my body. It's the only thing that reminds me I'm alive."

Links blog

Joe Biden is giving left parties the world over a masterclass in how to use power
“He ran as a moderate but is governing as a transforming radical. That’s not a paradox – it’s a winning method”

More than 100 killed as Myanmar junta unleashes worst day of terror | Myanmar | The Guardian
"In the locked-down capital, Naypyidaw, senior generals gathered for a military parade, with representatives from their few staunch allies, including China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, Reuters reported."

The Anti-Capitalist Software License

To check out: "badreads" on FDroid.

25 March, 202


Links blog

Cancel We The Web?
On Stallman (thanks to RockyIII)

Statement on Richard Stallman rejoining the FSF board - FSFE
Therefore, in the current situation we see ourselves unable to collaborate both with the FSF and any other organisation in which Richard Stallman has a leading position. Instead, we will continue to work with groups and individuals who foster diversity and equality in the Free Software movement in order to achieve our joint goal of empowering all users to control technology.

On the reappointment of Richard Stallman as a director of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) | KDE e.V.

How an Islamist became Israel’s unlikely political kingmaker
“The fall of the Joint List and rise of Ra'am's Mansour Abbas show that Israeli politics can no longer ignore Palestinian citizens — even if it may end up boosting the right.”

'LGBTQ rights have become a litmus test in Palestinian society' “The growing visibility of queer Palestinians poses a challenge to Arab political parties that are exploiting homophobia ahead of the Israeli election, says attorney and activist Fady Khoury.”

COVID-19 vaccinations are proof of Israel’s medical apartheid | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera
“The coronavirus does not stop at checkpoints. As an occupier, Israel must provide medical supplies to Palestinians and adopt measures to combat the disease there.”

UN resolution hailed as 'crucial turning point' for victims of Sri Lanka civil war | South and Central Asia | The Guardian
“UK-led action ramps up scrutiny of the regime against a backdrop of worsening human rights abuses”

Europe and US could reach 'peak meat’ in 2025 – report | Meat industry | The Guardian

“what most people don’t realise is that we’re actually already at a point where [traditional] meat consumption is going to be declining for the first time in history. The global consequences of the shift to alternative proteins are significant.”

24 March, 2021


The lizard is known as the rough-tailed rock agama and is very common in these parts. Apparently it changes colour throughout the day, according to the light. It eats insects, snails and plants, and is territorial. If in trouble, it can lose its tail as a decoy, like some other lizards. Maybe this one is a pregnant female as spring is their time of gestation.

Still not sure why Hubzilla or my server degrades my photos and makes them fuzzier.

Today was election day in Israel. I don't get to vote. In our village, the largest number voted for the Joint List (a mainly Arab block). A lesser number voted Meretz and Labour (parties on the left), with a few scattered votes for other parties. From the exit polls it looks like we'll be stuck with Netanyahu again, with the alternative being some other contemptible right-wing figure.


Polish writer charged for calling president a 'moron' | Poland | The Guardian
Amazing. I guess we don't have that issue here. Meanwhile, the Labour candidate was spat on and called a whore when she visited a market yesterday in Tel Aviv. She asked Netanyahu to rein in his thugs.

Trump will use 'his own platform’ to return to social media after Twitter ban | Donald Trump | The Guardian

Italians urged to boycott Amazon to support day of strikes | Italy | The Guardian

A migrant’s reflection on accents: I hear myself speak in an alien voice – but can’t stop myself
“To be a migrant is to forever exist in this duality between Us and Them, a schism of the soul reflected in the migrant’s speech. In speech we hear the migrant fly from his known world, adopt a new tongue and, at times, get caught in the act of travel.”

I could relate to what he is saying. Although I don't think I "put on" accents, I do find that that my accent changes according to the people I'm speaking to, and I've never quite understood why this happens. Having grown up in northern Britain and in the US, and then spent the majority of my time outside the English speaking world, people have a hard time placing my accent, even when they think they are good at that. Americans tend to think I sound vaguely British, whereas Brits guess that English is not my native language. Sometimes after spending time in India, my voice develops a slightly Indian pitch, but that's a known phenomenon. Indian accents are quite contagious.

‘Klara and the Sun’: Kazuo Ishiguro returns to old themes but adds technology-inspired twists
“The Nobel laureate’s latest novel plays out in a world struggling with mortality, change and technological intervention.”

I've enjoyed two of the the three books of his that I've read.

Top Saudi official issued death threat against UN's Khashoggi investigator | Jamal Khashoggi | The Guardian