23 July 2021

Yesterday we went to a musical retrospective, "Broken Prayer" on Leonard Cohen, held outdoors in the nearby town of Nataf. The atmosphere, under an almost-full moon, was wonderful, and the musicians (Avraham Cohen, Bat Hen Edri are the names that I remember) were good. They offered some interpretations and original compositions of their own, besides the well-known songs. Their rendition of the latter was sometimes flawed, notwithstanding, and there were some technical problems, but this did not affect our enjoyment. Their topic was Cohen's "continual dialogue with the Creator." They managed to bring to the forefront, some of Cohen's roots in traditional Jewish liturgical songs, etc.

Who cannot love Leonard Cohen and his peculiar mix of existential questioning and sensuality? But the audience were mostly older people of around our age; younger people are often completely unaware of him, which is a pity, because he brought something unique, precious and magical to his music.

Links and reflections

Covid-19 antibodies detected in 67% of India’s population - The Guardian

The US, the other day, removed India from its red list of countries, whereas Israel has kept it there. Although I had been thinking that it is either "political" or quite arbitrary that Israel has kept India on its red list, while placing the UK, for example, on its orange list, in light of these statistics, the Israelis probably have understood the situation better.

Parliament proceedings | No deaths reported due to lack of oxygen, Health Ministry tells Rajya Sabha - The Hindu

According to various reports in Indian media, no one believes him.

In 2019, IT House panel unsuccessfully tried to probe Pegasus breach - The Hindu

This is also true today.:

Centre Rejects Demand for Probe Into Snooping Allegations, IT Minister Calls Reports 'Over the Top' - The Wire

The BJP has been trying to use senior leaders including multiple party chief minister to try and change the narrative. As The Wire has reported, these leaders made wild claims about how these revelations are some sort of “international conspiracy” to “defame India”. However, none of them have categorically denied that the Indian government paid for Pegasus spyware.

Instead, they are saying:

Ban Amnesty over Pegasus leaks role... - The Guardian

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal who recently defeated the BJP in state elections, urged the opposition parties of India to unite to challenge the “surveillance state” of the Modi government, and called Pegasus “dangerous” and “ferocious”.

“Three things make democracy: media, judiciary and the Election Commission – and Pegasus has captured all three,” said Banerjee, whose own nephew’s phone number was on the leaked data list.

India tax authorities raid media companies critical of Modi gov’t - Al Jazeera

Modi’s government has long been accused of attempting to stifle critical reporting in the world’s biggest democracy, something it denies. On Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 Press Freedom Index, India ranks 142nd out of 180 countries

Why India's Process for Authorising Surveillance on Citizens Is Deeply Flawed - The Wire

The alleged use Pegasus is only the latest example of how government has trampled on the individual rights of citizens using the excuse of fighting terrorism.

What this Wire story points out is that although the BJP has been more more brazen, earlier ruling parties have used the same tactics, and similarly surveilled their adversaries.

Likewise, Indian sensitivity towards outside criticism has a long history. India is not exceptional in that. Many countries bristle at criticism and “interference” from outside. Israel is a very good example - for example the current furor over Ben & Jerry's decision not to allow sales of its products in Israeli West Bank settlements.

The grain of truth in such sensitivity is that outsiders really do have a hard time understanding the complexities of any country's internal processes and needs. We can see how our outsider assumptions worked for us in the case of Burma. Aung San Suu Ki is probably the same person, the same politician, when she is at the mercy of the generals or at the head of the government. But at one time she is the world's darling and in the next moment maligned as a cruel oppressor of minorities (although she has been locked up for a second time, the world's reaction has been more muted this time).

When our outsider dreams for a given country come true, we are often disappointed that the long hoped-for happy end eludes us, and other problems that we didn't anticipate or had zero knowledge of, rear their ugly heads.

While staying true to our values, we also need to take time to understand complexity, and always maintain an attitude of humility, with relation to our comprehension of the situation in other countries. The knowledge and experience that we bring from our own home environment is not necessarily relevant to other places.

Telegram founder listed in leaked Pegasus project data - The Guardian

In his blog, on Telegram itself, Durov says a couple of interesting things:
He claims that Pegasus takes advantage of the same, or similar backdoors that Apple and Google deliberately built in their system, based on demands of the US government:

According to the Snowden revelations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_surveillance_disclosures_(2013%E2%80%93present)) from 2013, both Apple and Google are part of the global surveillance program that implies that these companies have to, among other things, implement backdoors into their mobile operating systems. These backdoors, usually disguised as security bugs, allow US agencies to access information on any smartphone in the world.

The problem with such backdoors is that they are never exclusive to just one party. Anybody can exploit them. So if a US security agency can hack an iOS or Android phone, any other organization that uncovers these backdoors can do the same. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what has been taking place: an Israeli company called NSO Group (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/18/revealed-leak-uncovers-global-abuse-of-cyber-surveillance-weapon-nso-group-pegasus) has been selling access to the spying tools that allowed third parties to hack tens of thousands of phones.

That's why I have been calling upon the governments of the world to start acting against the Apple-Google duopoly in the smartphone market and to force them to open their closed ecosystems and allow for more competition.

Regardless of the so-called security of his messaging system, phones can never be trusted. He himself doesn't trust his phone:

Since at least 2018, I have been aware that one of my phone numbers was included in a list of potential targets of such surveillance tools (although a source from the NSO Group denies it). Personally, I wasn't worried: since 2011, when I was still living in Russia, I’ve got used to assuming that all my phones were compromised.

That kind of makes comparisons of the relative security of Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp, a bit redundant.

Israel launches commission to probe Pegasus spyware: Legislator - Al Jazeera

Israel's cyber-security industry is a lucrative cash cow, and much bigger and more important than any single company. When Israel takes action on such things, it is more likely to be motivated by public relations concerns than by a genuine wish to rectify the situation.

28 April 2021


Helichrysum sanguineum These flower in late spring in our area. It's common all over the Levant. The Jews call it "Dam HaMaccabim ("Blood of the Maccabees") and Arabs, according to Wikipedia, call it "Dam al-Massiah" - Blood of the Messiah. It's a protected plant in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Links blog

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

Twitter India blocks posts critical of Modi's Covid-19 response - CNN

In recent weeks, criticism against the Modi government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been intensifying on social media, as users post images of bodies lying in morgues and burning in outdoor crematoriums.

Vaccine hoarding is all the more disturbing as a Covid disaster unfolds in India | Gaby Hinsliff | The Guardian

as long as others are experiencing horrors on the scale of India, consciences everywhere will be troubled.

India missed the opportunity to reign in COVID, lulled by a false sense of security. Modi originally promised to vaccinate 100 million Indians by summer*, and could have done so - though maybe it's because they were busy exporting the vaccine to other countries. In general, as the world knew that vaccines were on the horizon, which was something like a year ago, there should have been a huge effort to build factories and an efficient supply chain. That would have been cheaper than all the economic stimulus packages and all the rest.
* Fact check: in January India promised to vaccinate 300 million by summer. By April 29, it had administered at least 138 million doses.

Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella, Google and Microsoft's CEOs pledge support as India battles coronavirus crisis - CNN
They are sending a few million dollars, out of their billions.

India is churning out billion-dollar startups. Now they need to start making money - CNN

The mood a year later is very different, despite a brutal surge in coronavirus cases that is threatening the economic recovery. India's startup community has found itself in an unprecedented funding bonanza.

Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, rights watchdog says | Israel | The Guardian

a “present-day reality of a single authority, the Israeli government … methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied territory.

And it's much worse than what South Africans called “apartheid”, as Desmond Tutu and others have said. But Israel's increasingly right wing government is always going to deny that. Israelis have become conditioned to regard their situation as an existential struggle. The agenda of expropriation and replacement of Palestinians is long-term, persistent and ongoing, and it doesn't matter whether Palestinians are quiescent or violent. International pressure only manages to slow the process, but never to actually change anything.

'One system, one policy': Why Human Rights Watch is charging Israel with apartheid

What makes this report significant for HRW is that it “connects the dots” between Israel’s varying policies to show that they are driven by “one system, one policy, and one intent” to secure the permanent rule of one group over another.

Israel uses ‘apartheid’ to subjugate Palestinians: HRW | Human Rights News | Al Jazeera

“Policymakers must now shift their focus away from securing a political solution that might herald peace, and instead fight back against a trajectory of expanding Israeli territorial consolidation and Palestinian dispossession in the entirety of the land,” he said.

EXCLUSIVE White House backs 2030 milestone on path to net zero grid | Reuters

A 2030 target would be a milestone on the way to achieving President Joe Biden’s stated ambition of net zero carbon emissions in the grid by 2035. It could also potentially be passed without Republican support through a process called budget reconciliation.

Repair or replace? An expert guide to fixing or ditching eight essential household items | Life and style | The Guardian

April 19, 2021


Photo: Nazareth by night

Last week we were up in Galilee. My wife was there over the weekend for a mindfulness retreat, so we decided to go up a couple of days early, to take advantage of the holiday; I returned home when her retreat started.

We arrived on Wednesday and started with a visit to the archeological park at Tsipori, which has had many historical names: Σέπφωρις, Sépphōris; صفورية‎, Διοκαισάρεια) , le Saforie, from the Canaanite period till today. During the Roman period it was the most important town in the province. There are rich remains of houses, streets, a Roman theatre, a water system that brought water from afar, and many ornate mosaic floors. Some of those tell stories, such as of the Nile or from mythology; others have geometric designs. There is one mosaic in particular that stands out among all these for its astonishingly life-like portrait of a woman.


D. today had a visit from two Palestinian friends from nearby Ramle. When she told them we had visited Tsipori, they told her they knew that the story of the ethnic cleansing of Saffouriya was particularly awful; that the residents had been forced to walk towards Nazareth on foot, and many were shot at on the way. I was not able to find this story, so far, but palestineremembered.com has quite a lot about the village with a pre-1948 population of 5,000. It seems that the majority of the descendants live today in the Ain al-Hilwa refugee camp in Lebanon, whereas some 10,000 live in Nazareth. There's a poignant story by a former resident.

In the evening, which was the eve of Independence Day, we went into Nazareth, where there were, assuredly, no firework displays, flags, or even any Jewish visitors. We walked around a bit, then stopped at Mahroum's cafe for some wonderful knafeh and baklowa. Nazareth is famous for its sweets. It was the second evening of Ramadan, and in the square opposite there was a public prayer. Many of the streets and houses were decked out for the holy month.


Also in Tabash, the Bedouin village where we were staying, there was lots of evidence of Ramadan; from lights to fire crackers to the calls of the muezzin. We stayed at a camp lodge run by a Jewish couple. Our accommodations were an old (1937) British rail car from the Haifa - Beirut line. It was well furnished and air-conditioned, with a bathroom and balcony added on.


On the following day, we had a walk in the nearby wadi, visiting its springs. Due to the holiday, we were not alone there, but we got started early enough to avoid the worst of the crowds.


There are a few more photos in the gallery.

The Ganges, with Sue Perkins

Somewhere, somebody mentioned this series of three BBC documentaries on the Ganges River, so I found these in the torrents and we watched them. I wasn't previously familiar with this TV personality, who is surely well-known to all Brits. I enjoyed her flamboyant style and articulacy. It would be hard not to like her. In the series, she travels downriver from Gangotri and Mukhba, through Rishikesh and Hardwar, to Varanasi and Patna, and on through Kolkata and the Sunderbans, ending in Gangasagar during the Makar Sankranti festival. She manages to meet many amazing people along the way, and introduces them with a mixture of sensitivity and, sometimes, mocking, tongue in cheek camaraderie, though she always leaves a positive impression of those she meets; among these, Ramdev (the ayurvedic products tycoon), Puja Swami Chidananda of Parmarth Ashram, Prof. Veer Bhadra Mishra in Varanasi, and activists for women's rights, education and the environment.

Hot one today.



Links blog

What did 20 years of western intervention in Afghanistan achieve? Ruination
"The longest, most pointless and unsuccessful war that Britain has fought in the past 70 years – its intervention in Afghanistan – is to end in September. I doubt anyone will notice. Nations celebrate victories, not defeats."

Facebook planned to remove fake accounts in India – until it realized a BJP politician was involved | Social media | The Guardian
"The company’s decision not to take timely action against the network, which it had already determined violated its policies, is just the latest example of Facebook holding the powerful to lower standards than it does regular users."

India’s health system has collapsed | Hindustan Times

April 16, 2021


Origanum syriacum growing in the woods nearby.


It's just over a year since I closed my Amazon account, in protest over its conditions for workers. I was never a prolific shopper, but I'm glad I closed that account. Companies like Amazon deserve to be boycotted.

Links blog

How colonialism eroded Pakistan’s history of religious fluidity | History News | Al Jazeera

“Pre-colonial identities were fuzzy, unclear,” says Qasmi. “People used to negotiate with multiple identities and movements. So there was no contradiction in a Hindu visiting a Muslim shrine or vice versa. The Hindu/Muslim, as we understand them today, was yet to be crystallised. Things began to change with the colonial state, with the arrival of modernity.

“Modernity doesn’t like this fuzziness. Identities needed to be indexed, clearly defined. They had to be determinable. People were pigeonholed according to the preconceived notions of the officers of the colonial state."

In the Indian subcontinent, Islam and Hinduism (as well as various other religions) existed together for many centuries, long-enough that ordinary people managed to overcome their differences (if they ever really had any). Saints and holymen (of which Kabir is probably the most famous example) were loved by Hindus and Muslims alike, and both would flock to their tombs. The British, with their divide-and-rule policies, and then weaponized modern forms of Islam and Hindutwa, intervened to spoil intercommunal harmony. Traditions of what this article calls religious syncretism and fluidity , that were gradually built over centuries, were violently broken apart. Nowadays, such syncetism persists mainly in certain far-away villages. Amitav Ghosh describes the worship of the guardian spirit Bonbibi in the Sunderbans, by both Hindus and Muslims, but there too, the religious syncretism is breaking down.

There will always be those who say that the bloodshed and betrayal that came later proves that these good relations were really a myth all along. The same is often said about other situations where people of different religious communities coexisted peacefully for a time, from Andalusia to Morocco to Yugoslavia. But one can also see the outbreak of conflict as the aberration, and the periods of quiet as the natural condition. Neither interpretation is completely accurate. It is simply that traditions of tolerance and intercommunal harmony are built gradually and painstakingly, but can then be easily shaken. What humans need to do is find ways of creating bases of reconciliation that are resilient to being undermined by new ideologies or political expediency.

California student body demands ban on caste-based discrimination | Education News | Al Jazeera

“All of these inequalities associated with caste status have become embedded in all of the leading South Asian American institutions and they extend into American mainstream institutions that have significant South Asian immigrant populations,” it said, noting that such discrimination “has long been overlooked by American institutions”.

I hadn't considered that caste-based discrimination migrates so well to America and elsewhere, but it stands to reason.

Purple revolution: India’s farmers turn to lavender to beat drought | Global development | The Guardian
'Lavender’s easy-to-grow properties makes it popular with farmers, he says. “The income generated from lavender farming is much better than growing crops like maize. One hectare of land can generate as much as 30 to 45 litres of lavender oil, which is in high demand as an essential aromatic oil.”'

Colombia’s cartels target Europe with cocaine, corruption and torture | Drugs trade | The Guardian
Armed Belgian police raids have lifted the lid on a sinister new front in the drugs war

France to ban some domestic flights where train available | Air France/KLM | The Guardian
MPs vote to suspend internal flights if the trip can be completed by train within two and a half hours instead

7 Best Private Search Engines (And Some You Should AVOID)

April 4, 2021


Quiet Saturday. Read a bit, watched a couple of videos about Indian politics in The Print, tried to brush up a little on devanagari letters and compounds, went for a walk. Did a couple of hours baby-sitting in the evening while my daughter went to the Mimouna - the Moroccan Jewish post-passover feast that a family in the village puts on each year. Their generosity is amazing, but I avoid such things.

My wife read out to me part of a long article in Ha'Aretz on astrophysics, which speaks about the latest theories that the structure of the universe is a kind of web, in which the galaxies are at the junctions, and that the whole thing resembles the structure of the brain. Well, I think we have always interpreted the cosmos in terms of what we know and, as it were, created god in our own image. From families of gods to Indra's net. The metaphors grow more sophisticated, but they are always limited by our anthropomorphism. At least it is good that we are understanding better that all the dots connect and that nothing can exist or survive independently. I don't know if that will prevent our speciesism or defeat our inherent egoism, but the rationale for caring for each other and the planet can now be induced from what we know about the way the universe is put together, rather than on what priests and imams might tell us, when they are having a good day.


Strange fruit: how feijoas baffled a New Zealand immigrant – and polarise a nation

“The hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders based overseas can only look on with longing. Despite efforts to export them around the world, feijoas are only sparsely available in Australia and virtually unheard of elsewhere ”
If it's native to S. America, how is it “virtually unheard of” outside NZ? Though I don't remember tasting them (and I screw up my nose also at guavas), we certainly have them here in the Middle East. People plant them in their gardens. (We tried once, but it didn't take off.) And Wikipedia mentions many other places around the world where they are grown. People will write anything.

Salman Rushdie on Midnight's Children at 40: 'India is no longer the country of this novel' | Fiction | The Guardian

“Forty years is a long time. I have to say that India is no longer the country of this novel. When I wrote Midnight’s Children I had in mind an arc of history moving from the hope – the bloodied hope, but still the hope – of independence to the betrayal of that hope in the so-called Emergency, followed by the birth of a new hope. India today, to someone of my mind, has entered an even darker phase than the Emergency years. The horrifying escalation of assaults on women, the increasingly authoritarian character of the state, the unjustifiable arrests of people who dare to stand against that authoritarianism, the religious fanaticism, the rewriting of history to fit the narrative of those who want to transform India into a Hindu-nationalist, majoritarian state, and the popularity of the regime in spite of it all, or, worse, perhaps because of it all – these things encourage a kind of despair.

18 February, 2021

Links blog

✭'Drone swarms' are coming, and they are the future of wars in the air
The question really is not if, but when and where drone swarms, which is the next evolution of robotic warfare, will be utilised in real-time operations.

✭Disha Ravi: the climate activist who became the face of India's crackdown on dissent | India | The Guardian
"On the streets of Bangalore the protesters gathered, residents standing defiantly alongside students and activists. Their placards bore slogans such as “standing for farmers is not sedition” and “when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty” and most held up a photo of a smiling young woman: 22-year-old Disha Ravi."

Politicians everywhere - but especially those in countries with non-existent or less robust democratic traditions - are blaming the real concerns of their citizens on interference from outside actors, and using their influence over their countries' security forces and judiciaries to stifle dissent. Action on behalf of human rights or the environment is seen as sedition or serving outside interests, whereas it is mainly their own narrow political interests that are being threatened.


✭Why I Still Use RSS | atthislink
He recommends newsboat as an aggregator (a fork of newsbeutter). The only thing I am currently using is Thunderbird.

15 February, 2021


Dangerous seditionist

✭India: activist arrested over protest 'toolkit' shared by Greta Thunberg | India | The Guardian
"Disha Ravi charged with sedition, accused editing document on how to support India’s farmers that was tweeted by Swedish climate activist"
"Delhi chief minister Arwind Kejriwal, who has backed the farmers’ protests, called Ravi’s arrest “an unprecedented attack on Democracy. Supporting our farmers is not a crime.”"

✭Bill Gates: ‘Carbon neutrality in a decade is a fairytale. Why peddle fantasies?’ | Bill Gates | The Guardian
the billionaires' guide to fighting climate change

6 February, 2021

Adventures in Wikipedia

Kennings are poetic compound-words used in old English and Icelandic literature. Thus, a word for the sea (appearing in The Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer) is "whale road". Compound words are a feature of most Indo-European languages. "Himalaya" means literally "abode of snow". The various kinds of compounds (samasa) were carefully catalogued in Sanskrit, from Tatpurusha to Bahuvrihi. When Homer speaks of "the wine dark sea" (οἶνοψ πόντος) this too is a compound or epithet, rather than a metaphor, as the word "sea" does not appear in the original. The words literally mean wine + faced.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on this particular epithet. Apparently the Greeks had a hard time finding words for dark blue, though it may have been that the wine of Homer's era had a bluer colour than today's.

Other ancient peoples may have had similar difficulty with the colour. In Sanskrit, the word krishna can mean either black or dark blue. This is probably why the god Krishna, a dark-skinned Dravidian deity, is often painted with blue skin. The Hebrew word for blue, kahol has the same origin as kohl, the dark eyeliner that is used across Africa and West and Southern Asia, by both men and women. Muhammad used and recommended it, like fierce Pashtun tribesmen today. Kohl can be made from plant or mineral sources, but all of these are black, rather than blue.

The words that are used for kohl in Pakistan and northern India, like kajol, seem to derive from the same Semitic root. As does the English word alcohol which comes to us through Arabic, though it originally meant powder of the mineral antimony.

Another Sanskrit word for blue, "nila", may be cognate with the name the Greeks and Romans gave the Nile river in Egypt. A samasa epithet for the god Siva is "Nilakantha" (Blue Throat) because his neck turned blue when he quaffed the halahala poison. Or maybe just too much alcohol.

Links blog

✭How did the ‘great god’ get a ‘blue neck’? a bilingual clue to the Indus Script

✭ICC rules it can investigate alleged war crimes in Palestine despite Israeli objections | International criminal court | The Guardian
The international criminal court has announced that it has jurisdiction in Palestine, clearing its chief prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocities despite fierce Israeli objections.

✭Greta Thunberg effigies burned in Delhi after tweets on farmers' protests | India | The Guardian
"Media access to the protest sites has been largely cut off. A journalist was arrested for entering one of the sites over the weekend, and nine Indian journalists are facing charges including sedition and conspiracy over social media posts relating to the protests."

25 January, 2021

Thinking about my recent blog posts

It takes a while to absorb new information, as well as to act on conclusions that one comes to. I am wondering about how what I have been writing affects me personally. I'm more certain regarding how it reflects trends taking place in the world. There too, there will be a huge lag before the consciousness of interbeing percolates down through society; and, indeed the sequence of events unfolding in the world may undermine scientific truths. Just as there are still millions of people, and influential politicians, who continue to deny climate change. Large changes, in any case, take decades to unfold, and, in the meantime, we humans leave the scene, while processes continue. No one who has ever lived ever gets to see the fulfillment of the changes that have begun to take place during their lifetime.

Be that as it may, there are still things that I need to decide about my personal philosophical direction, and I will continue to mull these.

Links blog

✭Zoom for Interpreters Explained
a few tips and tricks about interpretation via Zoom.

✭Facebook deletes Netanyahu post, suspends chatbot over privacy violation
Facebook deletes Netanyahu post, suspends chatbot over privacy violation

Facebook Sunday deleted a post by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and suspended a chatbot operated by his official account for a week for violating the social media network’s privacy policy.
The chatbot has been sending private messages to followers, asking them to provide personal details of people over the age of 60 who have not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus, adding that the premier will then persuade them to get the inoculation.
The request was also featured in the deleted post.
"In accordance with our privacy policy, we don’t allow content that shares or asks for people’s medical information," Facebook Israel said.
#israel #COVID-19

✭Indian comedian held over ‘indecent’ jokes at show where he did not perform | India | The Guardian
'The police superintendent Vijay Khatri said it “doesn’t really matter” if Faruqi made the comments or not because there was still “intent”.'

✭The Guardian view on India's farming revolt: a bitter harvest | Narendra Modi | The Guardian
"There’s a growing backlash against Narendra Modi’s autocratic tendencies and the plutocrat donors who fund his party"

8 January, 2021


A few years ago, I was much less successful in my attempts to use GIMP. Now YouTube has a video on pretty well everything I want to do. Today, I wanted to improve my knowledge of making electronic signatures. I'm usually the one to make these for everybody around here, but I discovered I was doing it wrong, or not in the best possible way. They weren't properly transparent. This had never bothered me before, because in LibreOffice, they don't really need to be transparent. You can just take a jpeg signature, and wrap it "in the background" and the non-transparent white parts will move behind the text. However, the other day, I had to sign a PDF document (actually a picture inside a PDF container) and I noticed that my signature wiped out some of the text. So I thought I'd better learn how to do it better - not just for me, but for all of our signatures (which we keep in a folder on Google Drive).

There were a couple of good YouTube videos on the subject. The best one :

OpenOffice & Gimp Tutorial: Making a Signature With a Transparent Background
by Ongytenes on YouTube
) was by a person who calls himself Ongytenes, with a really pleasant, avuncular US southern drawl. I followed all the directions precisely, but there was one step that didn't work for me. The step involves strengthening the signature's colour with the paintbrush set to Overlay mode. That's all very well, but it coloured also the image's transparent alpha channel. I discovered that for this not to happen, you have to "lock" the alpha channel. Perhaps in earlier versions of the GIMP it was locked by default, so Ongytenes didn't mention that.


While D is teaching her mindfulness classes by Zoom, I'm basically shut up in the bedroom, because she gives those two-and-a-half-hour classes in front of the bedroom door. So if I were to wander out, that would create a disturbance. So I have lots of time to learn about GIMP on Friday mornings, and today I was also learning about Zoom. I never need to initiate any Zoom meetings personally, but I do need to be able to help others with that. So today, again via YouTube, I was learning all about proper lighting and presentation skills. A lot of thought has gone into that program. There were so many tips that go way beyond the knowledge and skills that most people have of it. Anyway, I eventually ended up ordering a green screen and stand. Not in order that D. can present herself in front of some Hawaiian beach scene, but in order that she can give her presentations in a better place than in front of our bedroom door, so I won't be a captive while she is doing them.

Links Blog

✭“Shkreli Award” goes to Moderna for “blatantly greedy” COVID vaccine prices | Ars Technica
"Award judges cited Moderna’s pricing of its COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed with $1 billion in federal funding. Still, despite the tax-payer backing, Moderna set the estimated prices for its vaccine significantly higher than other vaccine developers."
#COVID-19 #capitalism

✭ Platforms Must Pay for Their Role in the Insurrection | WIRED
"In their relentless pursuit of engagement and profits, these platforms created algorithms that amplify hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories."


✭ Donald Trump suspended from Facebook indefinitely, says Mark Zuckerberg | US news | The Guardian
"If Trump does continue to violate Twitter rules to the point of being banned from the site, a community of alternative social networks already exists to provide him with an alternative platform."

✭ Iran issues Interpol notice for 48 US officials including Trump | Conflict News | Al Jazeera
"Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili announced during a press conference on Tuesday that Iran has requested the international police organisation to arrest Trump and 47 other American officials identified as playing a role in the assassination of top general Qassem Soleimani last year."

I wonder if in earlier ages, as many hostile acts were perpetrated, without a full declaration of war, while in the meantime, maintaining the pretense that all countries equally belong to international frameworks like the UN, Interpol, etc., under a sham veneer of civilized international behaviour.

✭ Iran compensation plan for downed plane slammed by Kiev - The Hindu
"The Islamic republic admitted three days later that its forces mistakenly shot down the Kiev-bound Boeing 737-800 plane after firing two missiles, amid heightened US-Iran tensions."

“The [Iranian] cabinet approved the provision of $150,000, or the equivalent in euros... for the families and survivors of each of the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash as soon as possible,” Iran’s presidency said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

“This compensation does not prevent the prosecution of the criminal element of the case before the competent judicial authority,” the statement added.

But Kiev said the compensation amount should be the subject of negotiations, stressing the need for “establishing the causes of the tragedy and bringing those responsible to justice”.

✭ Delhi riots victims, lawyers allege police pressure to drop cases | Conflict News | Al Jazeera
“They want to give a message that no lawyer should take up such cases or they won’t be spared.”

In so many ways, tiny Israel and humongous India are following a parallel path. Both have right wing governments that are trying to increase the standing of the dominant religion / culture to the detriment of the minority, and in both cases the minority in question is largely Muslim. In both countries, the loyalty of the Muslim minority to the state is doubted, while its allegiance to an outside country or countries is claimed. Arabs in Israel and Muslims in India are regarded more and more as second class citizens. Meanwhile, both countries control territories through a kind of military occupation. Both countries are militarily strong but obsessed with security in response to real and present security threats. While Indian Muslims are not ethnically different from Hindus, having simply undergone religious conversation over the centuries, they are perceived as different. But the same is actually true of Palestinians, whose DNA record closely matches that of Jews.

✭ Three men filmed beating dolphin to death arrested in India | India | The Guardian
"after footage of the attack went viral, prompting a national outpouring of disgust, three men were identified and arrested."

✭ India's supreme court gives go-ahead for controversial new parliament building | India | The Guardian
"Critics say Narendra Modi’s $3bn redevelopment of Lutyen’s central vista is an ‘expensive vanity project’

✭Global heating could stabilize if net zero emissions achieved, scientists say | Environment | The Guardian
"Climate disaster could be curtailed within a couple of decades if net zero emissions are reached, new study shows"

✭ Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy figures arrested in sweeping crackdown | Hong Kong | The Guardian
"The sweeping arrests on Wednesday morning came without warning, and shocked observers. It is the largest single mass arrest of people under the NSL, and appeared to relate to just a singular event: the holding of democratic votes."

✭ Watching a show at Israel's High Court
Watching a show at Israel's High Court - Opinion - Haaretz.com

Arabs in Israel challenged Israel's 2018 "Nation State Law" in Israel's high court. The country doesn't have a constitution, but relies on "Basic Laws" instead. The Basic Laws are mostly from the early days of the state, but this recent one was legislated by right wing politicians and intends to enshrine in law certain principles related to the Jewish character of the state. For example, whereas previously both Hebrew and Arabic were recognized as official languages, after the law, only Hebrew was recognized as "official", whereas Arabic has "special" status. This was objected to by Arab lawmakers and organizations, who finally had their day in court. However the judges, probably wary regarding their mandate of challenging a "basic law" that had been introduced through legislation, didn't take the challenge very seriously and found ways to slither out of doing anything. Samah (from our village) wrote this opinion piece for Haaretz and it appeared in the paper's Hebrew and English editions, though the English translation doesn't seem to be very good. It's interesting that the presiding judge made a reference to the gender equality law, saying that this is even more "basic" than the "nation state" law, and that therefore, when the country gets around to making a constitution, it will have to deal with this and other contradictions. As I mentioned to Samah, years ago, I also used this discrepancy among the arguments I made for conscientious objection. Women had the right to CO status, but men didn't. So there was a contradiction between this law and the law of universal army service for men. (It wasn't my idea, but that of my draft counsellor). Eventually they exempted me, without stating any reason other than a catch-all clause.

✭A scion of Zionist aristocracy wants to quit the Jewish people. Will Israel let him?… | Balfour Project
"Why Avraham Burg, who has served as Knesset speaker, interim president and head of the Jewish Agency, is asking Israel to annul his registration as a Jew"

Relates to the above issue. Avraham Burg, an important figure (and son of a top National Religious Party politician, has requested the population registry to remove his "Jewish nationality". Judaism is not conceived of just as a religion in Israel, but as a nationality. For example, in my identity card as a permanent resident, it is written that my nationality is "British". If I were a permanent resident but Jewish, it would be written that my nationality is "Jewish". Israel makes a differentiation between "nationality" and "citizenship". There was once someone who appealed to have his nationality inscribed as "Israeli", but he lost the case. Burg, who says that if possessing Jewish nationality (according to the Nation State Law) awards him privileges greater than those of other citizens, then he refuses to be registered as Jewish and wants it scratched from the record.

✭OHCHR | United Kingdom: UN expert cautiously welcomes refusal to extradite Assange
"I am gravely concerned that the judgement confirms the entire, very dangerous rationale underlying the US indictment, which effectively amounts to criminalizing national security journalism," Melzer said."