9 February, 2021

From my journal

I was thinking recently that it is in the nature of those who aspire to truth to fall prey to folly... in the years to come I want to avoid all movements and places that stink of fakery and phoniness. Places with pretensions to spirituality, in particular, are pretty ghastly. On the basis of my experience with them, it isn't surprising that I feel disenchanted. And, of course, I'm well aware of my own failings. I don't need to make these worse by placing myself in the path of further possibilities for failure. It is best to keep to modesty, the water-course way of the Tao.

In terms of the future of humanity, our best hope is in the increasing confirmation given by science of the veracity of the mystical vision of unity and interbeing. Science gives no indication of whether an integral vision, based on this truth, is attainable on a personal level, as claimed by the mystics. That is less important, in so far as it concerns the future of the human race. What is important is that the scientific truth of underlying unity and inter-connectedness becomes a modus operandi for our future development. It offers a hope for our species, as we go forward. Much more so than the quasi-religious writings of all the mystics. The best way of looking at these is as pre-scientific glimpses of truth.

For us personally, what is important is to bring our lives into line with this truth, part of which means minimizing our needs, avoiding consumption for ego-gratification, trying to accord with ecological principles, and of course living in peace with one-another.

Beyond all this utilitarian stuff, there is still the question of whether it is possible to obtain a more inclusive vision, so that it does not become a matter of the intellect struggling with the mind, emotions and psychological needs.

Currently, I find the most appropriate guide appears to be Lao Tzu. I will be looking for solutions there.

Links blog

"We are a year into the pandemic, and video conferencing tools still don't support 1) queues of who talks next, 2) presenting a consistent view of participants so everyone can say a thing and then take turns." https://mastodon.social/@aza_leah

"I think the main way to uncrumble the fedi is just to give admins and users good enough tools to manage their experience. Adopt a principle of consent, so that people aren't just having random junk dumped upon them. If that happens often enough, then it becomes no longer worth it.

Yes you can try to lower the bar and improve interoperability, but this lifts all boats. So it also lowers the bar to adversaries. Lowering of the bar has to happen in conjunction with improved moderation tools so that communities can effectively practice self-governance." https://epicyon.freedombone.net/@bob

✭Paul Frazee - YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSkcL4my2wgDRFvjQOJzrlg
"Decentralization and decency speaker" , fossdem - his youtube channel. Speaks on his CTZN project.
#social-networking

✭The Decentralized Web of Hate – Rebellious Data
https://rebelliousdata.com/p2p/
This report looks at how hate movements are decentralizing using emerging technologies in ways that make them harder to combat.
#social-networking

✭facial recognition tech by the Govt. of India
https://panoptic.in/case-study/we
Under Project Panoptic, we have been tracking all ongoing use of facial recognition technology in the country. In a letter to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, we relay our concerns to them and ask them to call relevant stakeholders such as ministry officials and privacy experts to depose before them.
#india #privacy

✭StreamYard
https://streamyard.com/
"StreamYard is a live streaming studio in your browser. Interview guests, share your screen, and much more. Stream directly to Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other platforms."
#live-streaming

✭'Lazy,' 'Money-Oriented,' 'Single Mother': How Union-Busting Firms Compile Dossiers on Employees
https://www.vice.com/en/article/pkdqaz/lazy-money-oriented-single-mother-how-union-busting
According to a 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute, employers in the United States spend roughly $340 million on union avoidance consultants each year, who often report being paid in the neighborhood of $350 hourly rates or $2,500 a day for their work fending off unions.
#US #capitalism

✭A new lens technology is primed to jumpstart phone cameras
https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/02/a-new-lens-technology-is-primed-to-jumpstart-phone
A new company called Metalenz, which emerges from stealth mode today, is looking to disrupt smartphone cameras with a single, flat lens system that utilizes a technology called optical metasurfaces. A camera built around this new lens tech can produce an image of the same if not better quality as traditional lenses, collect more light for brighter photos, and can even enable new forms of sensing in phones, all while taking up less space.
#phones #cameras

21 January, 2021

Mystical vision

There's that piece I began to write below (January 21, 2021) on "Julie". The information she and others divulge regarding Swami Vishnu Devananda helps to chasten my naive appraisal of him. This new learning was shocking in some ways, though there is always a lingering element of doubt in our regard for spiritual teachers. There's a book that I read some time ago, "Stripping the Gurus" by Geoffrey Falk, which tries to dispel the myths that surround so many of the well-knows gurus, roshis and venerables from the early 20th century to the present. Needless to say, it's an irreverent book, and not very carefully put together. To give just one example, Falk manages to attribute quotes to Sri Aurobindo from 1953, whereas the man died in 1950.

One of my teachers, Brian Fisher, used to speak about mystics as "three dimensional beings" in a two dimensional world. If we are looking at them from our two-dimensional vantage point, we are not able properly to understand them. Swami Sivananda used to say that if a pickpocket sees a sage, he sees only his pockets. I don't think it is possible to understand a guy like Sri Ramakrishna (late 19th century) through the prism of modern psychology. I'm not even sure that it's appropriate to refer to him as a "guy" or hold him to the same rules as ordinary persons. Or take Sarmad Kashani, the martyred naked Armenian-Jewish-Muslim sage of 17th century Delhi. Whatever evil accusations you could throw at him, he would probably confirm But he remains a sage, on a different spectrum from ordinary men.

I'm tolerant enough to admit all this, but there's a world of difference between men like Sarmad, who were courageously public about their imperfections, and modern "godmen" who hold up a standard of behaviour that they fail to live up to themselves. In fact, quite often, their behaviour not only transgresses their own rigid moral code, but is well outside the margins of what is acceptable anywhere in our current society, crossing lines such as sex with minors and the commission of abuses based on status, position, power, etc.

The hypocrisy and behavioral contradictions found in most saints and sages are only the surface manifestations of a much deeper problem, which is the basic human difficulty of attempting to live in two worlds at the same time: a godlike ego-less world of unity, and our ordinary human vision based on egoism and separation. Mystics can glimpse the other world, but can remain there only with extreme difficulty. Perhaps their abominable behaviour reflects an unconscious admission of the impossibility of living up to their own high aspiration.

I'm in two minds whether mystics and seers (either contemporary or remembered) are at all necessary in our own era, and this also raises the question of whether the spiritual pursuit is advisable as well. I think that, perhaps for the first time, the mystical truth of unity, of ecology, of the interconnectedness of life and the universe, is evident today, not through mysticism, but through science, based on empirical evidence. As we begin to understand our world better, and the way in which we interact with it, the truths that were formerly available only through spirituality are now better approached through science.

The unitary vision needs to be taught in schools, but I am not sure it needs to be taught in ashrams or madrassas. From reading the "lives of the saints", we mainly learn the history of the near impossibility of overcoming our intuitively separative vision. The tables have turned. It once seemed that religions held the keys to the truth of divine unity, while rational, scientific truth presented a world of differences. Now it is the religions that are breeding separation, while science can show us the unity.

It is almost impossible to attain to the unitary vision through spiritual or moral training, because it goes against everything our eyes, our minds and our ego-constructs are showing us. If attempting to reach the unitary vision leads instead to insanity or pathological behaviour, we should be content to accept it rationally.

We can all accept that our sensory perception of the world is often flawed. Objects that appear to be small may be large and distant. Our minds and emotions may try to persuade us that we are autonomous, separate beings who need to act only on the basis of our own self-interest, but our rational faculty can show us that this is a fallacy. It is not the mystical vision of unity that will help us to address the urgent and enormous challenges that humans are now facing, but the scientific knowledge of our interdependence with the planet and other species. In a similar way, we can confront many related challenges such as war, the growing gap between rich and poor, the unequal distribution of wealth among nations, the competition over basic resources, and all the rest. All of these issues are based on what Buddhism calls wrong-vision. But if we want to act upon right-vision, we are going to need science, rather than mysticism.

Links Blog

✭ Michał "rysiek" Woźniak / samizdat · GitLab
https://0xacab.org/rysiek/samizdat/
A decentralized, browser-based solution to Internet censorship that requires no additional software for website visitors and minimal configuration for website admins.
#web

✭ UK insists it will not grant EU ambassador full diplomatic status | European Union | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/21/uk-insists-it-will-not-grant-eu-ambassador-f
Although the UK insists its position is not born of Euroscepticism, the UK is virtually unique in taking this position. The bloc enjoys full diplomatic status with 142 other countries around the world where it has delegations, and where its ambassadors are all granted the same status as diplomats representing sovereign nations.

The British still don't understand the EU, even after they've left. It's not surprising they quit it. Maybe the UK should similarly be treated as an "international organization".
#UK

17 January, 2021

Couple of power failures in the house due to the rain. Something kept tripping the RCD. Trouble is we actually have two sub-households running off our board, and unless raising the fuses again trips the RCD again right away, it's hard to know in which part of the house the problem lies. Anyway, afterwards I forgot to turn on my server computer, so hubzilla was down for a couple of hours.

I'm quite happy with my new seiza bench* and low desk setup (just the setup is new, not the bench, which I have had for several years).

Right now, the "desk" is still pretty improvised, from an old magazine rack and a few plastic packing boxes for the screens, but I'll build something more professional soon.

  • (I also sometimes just sit on a cushion.)

Sitting here listening to Cafe de Anatolia and editing a couple of documents today. Earlier, we went and got our second COVID shot. In my age group (60 - 69), 67% of the population have had their first jab and 10% have had their second.

Links blog

✭ The Guardian view on Israel and apartheid: prophecy or description? | Israel | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/17/the-guardian-view-on-israel-and-apar
The crime of apartheid has been defined as “inhumane acts committed in the context of a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups with the intention of maintaining that regime”.

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck...
#israel #palestine

✭Alexei Navalny detained at airport on return to Russia | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/17/alexei-navalny-detained-at-airport-on-return
authorities have so far avoided giving Navalny a long prison sentence, probably in order to avoid sparking a backlash.

Brave man.
#russia

✭ 'We are worried': Indians hopeful but anxious as vaccination drive begins | Global development | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jan/17/indian-hopeful-anxious-covid-va
"Bharat Biotech has also been accused of ethical violations for allegedly testing Covaxin on people in the slums of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, without them being aware it was a trial. Seven people have claimed they were told they were receiving a vaccine that would protect them from the virus, and were paid 750 rupees, with no awareness it was an untested vaccine or that they might have received a placebo."

Born in sin, just hope it works.
#india #COVID-19

✭ Mozilla VPN is Now Available to Mac & Linux Users - OMG! Ubuntu!
https://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2021/01/mozilla-vpn-is-finally-available-on-mac-linux
Windows, Android, and iOS users have been able to use this subscription-based privacy service since its launch in July 2020. Linux and Mac users however weren’t catered for at the time.
But:
"We currently offer Mozilla VPN in the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia."
#mozilla #vpn

✭ Firefox 86 Will Support Next-Gen Image Format by Default - OMG! Ubuntu!
https://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2021/01/firefox-86-avif-image-support
"A bug report shows Mozilla devs plan to ship Firefox 86, due in February 2020, with AVIF image support by default. AVIF images used on websites and web services will load in-page just like other supported image formats."
Yet another new format to worry about.

#browsers #graphics

✭ Trump social media ban sparks calls for action against other populist leaders | Social media | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/jan/17/trump-social-media-ban-jair-bolsonaro-narend
"After US president’s ban, some wonder if action will be taken against populists accused of using social media to stir chaos"
Without making false comparisons, I've been sometimes amused, after buying a sim-card in India, to start receiving text messages from Modi.
#social-media

✭ We're on the verge of breakdown: a data scientist's take on Trump and Biden | US politics | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/17/were-on-the-verge-of-breakdown-a-data-scie
“Societies are systems and they tend to change in a somewhat predictable way,” Turchin told the Observer. “We are on the verge of state breakdown where the centre loses hold of society.”
#US

✭ 'There's something terribly wrong': Why more Americans are dying in middle age [from 2019]
https://www.advisory.com/en/daily-briefing/2019/12/02/middle-age-death
"The researchers noted U.S. life expectancy has declined as life expectancy in other developed countries has increased."
#US

16 January 2021

A grandchild's birthday party took up the first part of this Saturday. Many children and parents. At least the weather permitted us to sit outside. I am becoming less and less of a social person, not just because of COVID, I just haven't completely managed to break through into a transcendental state of bliss while leaving my physical avatar behind to represent me. If I could, it might prevent my observing that behind appearances lies a lot of pain, and it might temper some of my pessimism.

In the afternoon I went for a walk along the side of the wild hilltop across from the village. The ground is still wet from the rain. Red flowers; perhaps anemones, are beginning to appear among the greenery. The skies are pretty. The temperatures are nice. It will grow a little cooler this week. I'm glad there are limits on how cold it gets around here. I wouldn't want to be any further north at this time of year.

The news I've been reading has centered mostly on the US, due to the painful transition of power there and the amount of attention that big tech has been getting by its enabling, then stifling, the voices of Trump and his right wing extremists, as soon as it was seen as unprofitable. Slashdot have an item that mentions the articles by Cory Doctorow and the EFF. They also have a comment by the creator of "Minds". The Intercept has some interesting stuff.

It's all interesting only up to a point. Most of our news is a mill for turning straw into gold and then back again.

Links blog

✭ On Telegram, Boogaloo Movement Looks to Enlist New Recruits
https://theintercept.com/2021/01/12/boogaloo-telegram-violence-recruit/
The boogaloo movement’s most extreme white supremacist element is ratcheting up calls for civil war.
#US #social-networking

✭ Sheldon Adelson Helped Turn the GOP Into the Israeli Apartheid Party
https://theintercept.com/2021/01/12/sheldon-adelson-trump-israel-republican-party/
"With Donald Trump’s help, Adelson spent the last years of his life helping to make the dreams of the Israeli right a reality."
#israel

✭ La révolte des femmes arabes en Israël - Le Courrier
https://lecourrier.ch/2021/01/14/la-revolte-des-femmes-arabes-en-israel/
Davantage victimes de violences que leurs concitoyennes juives, les Arabes israéliennes sont toujours plus nombreuses à se mobiliser dans des organisations féministes.
#israel

✭ Pluralistic: 16 Jan 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow
https://pluralistic.net/2021/01/16/speaker-willie-sutton/#swampgator
"Biden is already moving to stuff his administration with finance sector ghouls who made (literal) bank off of 393,000 US covid deaths. The decision to call off the banks' fiercest watchdog puts the Democratic Congressional majority at risk in 2022. And that puts everything at risk: climate, economic justice, and repelling the forces of violent white nationalism."
#capitalism

✭ Air pollution will lead to mass migration, say experts after landmark ruling | Environment | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/15/air-pollution-will-lead-to-mass-migrat
"The comments follow a decision by a French court this week, which is believed to be the first time environment was cited by a court in an extradition hearing. The case involved a Bangladeshi man with asthma who avoided deportation from France after his lawyer argued that he risked a severe deterioration in his condition, and possibly premature death, due to the dangerous levels of pollution in his homeland."
#environment

15 January 2021

Learning, relearning

I was going to write the title "what I learned today", but I realized that much of what we think we learn anew, we have actually learned before; maybe just not as well. Boing Boing brings us the link to a film that shows how, with a stroke of a pen, China undermined the entire single-use plastic recycling cycle, back in 2017. The whole practice was based on a lie, and the parts of it that continue, are based on the same lie.

I also learned, thanks to Cory Doctorow, more about the mess at the heart of First Look Media and The Intercept. I don't read the Intercept very often. I know I should, but, for some reason, what I find there does not keep me coming back for more. Anyway, somehow I had completely missed the whole story about Reality Winner., so learning about it now filled in a large gap. I did know that Greenwald left, over the Hunter Biden story. Now we know that Laura Poitras was quietly fired, late in 2020. Today I also learned that the work of archiving the documents collected by Snowden did not continue.

Currently in the Intercept there is a lot about the decisions by the big tech companies to censor Trump and rightwing fanatics, and about their exodus to other platforms like Telegram.

Dave Winer mentions Jack Dorsey's idea for a federated social network infrastructure called "bluesky". The Verge had a lot to say about that at the time he first talked of it, or documented what the founders of the existing federated networks had to say about it. This reminds me of Berners-Lee and his Solid (which is now to be incorporated into some new project that I didn't understand.) I think we should not hold out hope that people who have done great things will magically repeat their successes.

Links blog

✭ The Intercept Promised to Reveal Everything. Then Its Own Scandal Hit.
https://notes.pinboard.in/u:hosh/f7c096acaaa5eb4ed932
The Intercept Promised to Reveal Everything. Then Its Own Scandal Hit (NYT)
#journalism from notes

✭ Praxis Films
https://www.praxisfilms.org/open-letter-from-laura-poitras/
Open letter from Laura Poitras concerning her firing from First Look Media, which publishes The Intercept.
#journalism

✭ How China ended the lie of recyclable plastic | Boing Boing
https://boingboing.net/2021/01/14/how-china-ended-the-lie-of-recyclable-plastic.html
"The plastics industry did a great job of convincing everyone that their product was easily recyclable, but China finally put an end to that pleasant fiction in 2017."

Fascinating. Inconveniently, the solution seems to be to shutdown the entire disposable plastics industry. For the consumer, the best thing is just not to buy things packaged in plastic. What I learned also is that buying good quality plastic is better than buying cheap disposable plastic, not just due to the factor that it lasts a long time, but also because, at end of life, it can eventually be recycled. Assuming, I suppose, that it can be easily separated from other components.
#environment

✭ Facebook is showing ads for military gear to far-right users, watchdog group says

https://edition.cnn.com/politics/live-news/trump-impeachment-news-01-14-21/h_f548652ddf7f2
"Despite last week’s insurrection, Facebook is continuing to show ads for weapon accessories, body armor, and other military gear on its site, according to the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a nonprofit watchdog. "
#US

10 January, 2021

Cold

Came down with a bad cold; it's been creeping up on my for several days. In the daytime I dismantled my desk. I'm going to try sitting on the floor again, or using a seiza bench. I'm convinced that chairs are unhealthy and turn us into invalids. Anyway, the desk was set too high, so if the experiment doesn't work, I will at least lower it.

In the evening, started to read King Lear for some reason. It's been about a week since I opened a novel or watched a movie. I woke up in the night and have been listening to a couple of talks on YouTube; Zizek, Peterson.

Links Blog

✭ Covid-19 : après leur hospitalisation, trois patients sur quatre présenteraient des symptômes durables, selon une étude chinoise
https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2021/01/09/covid-19-fatigue-faiblesse-musculaire-at
Six mois après l’apparition des symptômes, 76 % des patients sortis de l’hôpital ont déclaré présenter encore au moins un symptôme"

Ce travail a aussi porté sur 94 patients dont les taux d’anticorps sanguins ont été enregistrés au plus fort de l’infection. Six mois après, ce niveau d’anticorps neutralisants contre le virus avait chuté de plus de la moitié.
#COVID-19

I guess it really isn't predictable whether the vaccination will give long-term immunity either; it's not something they have had enough time to test.

✭ The forest-builders of India’s Shivaliks | Human Rights News | Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/1/9/the-forest-builders-of-indias-shivaliks
Treated like encroachers, a community in India fights for rights to the forest they built.

Regarding the struggle of "Tongia" villages ( a system set up during the time of the British to get people to do re-forestation in return for agricultural and dwelling rights. The system worked very well. Since the setting up of nature and forestry reserves, they have faced difficulties.
#india

✭ Google suspends Parler social network app over incitement to violence | US Capitol breach | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/09/google-suspends-parler-social-network-app-
"Google has suspended the Parler social networking app from its Play Store until the platform popular with many supporters of Donald Trump adds “robust” content moderation."

"Apple follows by warning the platform popular with supporters of Donald Trump that it must have a better moderation system"

No idea, what's right or wrong. I just hope we all don't end up like China. When we were all talking about the Arab Spring, the social media platforms were praised as enablers of change. I guess the American Civil Rights movement and the overthrow of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe somehow managed without social media, or, probably, any mainstream media in their countries. When there are grievances, the pressure is somehow going to boil up, to be channeled either by right-wing demagogues or legitimate social reformers.

#social-media

UPDATE: Cory Doctorow has it.
✭ Pluralistic: 09 Jan 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow
https://pluralistic.net/2021/01/09/the-old-crow-is-getting-slow/#deplatforming
As Parler disappears from the Android and Ios app stores and faces being kicked off of Amazon's (and other) clouds, people who worry about monopolized corporate control over speech are divided over What It Means.
#freedom-of-speech #social-networking

25 December, 2020

Updating Ubuntu on our media pc

I left the Ubuntu system on our media pc too long, so now I have to replace it. I'm currently a bit stuck with the disk re-partitioning... the thing stalled on reformatting for several hours. I don't think I've had that before.

Chrissy

Yesterday we celebrated the holiday; I'm the excuse for marking it at all, though I lost interest many years ago. Anyway, at least we put some sort brake on the expense, by deciding that we each buy just one modest gift for a family member, determined at random with the help of an online service; one of my sons set that up for us.

The tree is always a potted pine or thujia; when it grows too big, we plant it.

Image/photo

In the community, the kids in the youth club decorated the olive tree at the village entrance.

Image/photo

Links blog

✭ Discovery of 'cryptic species' shows Earth is even more biologically diverse | Environment | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/25/discovery-of-cryptic-species-shows-ear
I loved this photo of beetles:

Image/photo

✭ Microsoft’s iron cage: Prison surveillance and e-carceration | Prison News | Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/12/21/microsofts-iron-cage-prison-surveillance-and
For Microsoft, prisons represent a market. In recent years, the company and its business partners have started providing an array of surveillance and Big Data analytics solutions to prisons, courts and community supervision programme
Office 365 to Offender 360
#microsoft #surveillance

✭ Dangerous spices: why India's cooking powders pose a risk of lead poisoning
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/24/dangerous-spices-why-indias-coo
"Over a three-month period, Mazumdar tested some of the country’s most popular spices – chilli, cumin, curry powder, garam masala and chat masala. She tested 52 samples of turmeric, assessing branded and packaged varieties, as well as loose powders sold by street vendors in Kolkata.
She found lead in all of them. The cause, she found, was food colouring contaminated with compounds of lead. Lead chromate was added to the turmeric to brighten its golden colour and lead oxide gave the chilli powders a rich red hue. The other spices tested, including curry powders, garam and chat masalas, had small amounts of lead, but not at such high levels as the turmeric and chilli."
#india #food

✭ Indian news channel fined in UK for hate speech about Pakistan | Television industry | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/dec/23/indian-news-channel-fined-in-uk-for-hate-spe
Republic TV was fined £20,000 for airing a segment on its UK service, which conveyed the view that all Pakistani people are terrorists, including “their scientists, doctors, their leaders, politicians […] Even their sports people”.
#india

✭ Turkey sentences journalist Can Dündar to 27 years in jail | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/23/turkey-sentences-journalist-can-dundar-27-ye
“It is sad and strange that we knew what the verdict in my case would be before the case even ended. There are no means to defend yourself in Turkey anymore because the judges and judiciary cannot be trusted,”

“The message the Turkish government is sending here by punishing a journalist so harshly is that ‘If you cover sensitive issues this is what will happen to you.’ My fear is this verdict will further deter journalists still in Turkey from doing their job.”
#turkey #press-freedom

✭ Organic meat production just as bad for climate, study finds | Environment | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/23/organic-meat-production-just-as-bad-fo
Analysis also found the lowest impact meat was still far more damaging than the worst plant foods
#food #environment

✭ Nepal's Constitution Is in Danger as Oli Moves Closer to Authoritarianism
https://thewire.in/south-asia/nepal-kp-oli-parliament-dissolution-constitution
Among
 several desperate and controversial moves, Oli’s recent decision to unilaterally dissolve the House of Representatives is a flagrant violation of the constitutional text and spirit.
#nepal

✭ Pardons sink Trump further into swamp of his own shamelessness
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/dec/23/pardons-sink-trump-further-into-swamp-of-h
"A few hours later the president announced a slew of 15 pardons. Strikingly they included four military contractors imprisoned for the killing of unarmed men, women and children in Iraq. In short, war criminals."
"The pardon power is something of a quirk, more redolent of a medieval monarchy than a constitutional republic. Perhaps that is why Trump finds it so attractive as he enters full King George III meltdown with America slipping from his grasp."
#US

✭ How Amazon Wins: By Steamrolling Rivals and Partners - Slashdot
https://tech.slashdot.org/story/20/12/22/1927253/how-amazon-wins-by-steamrolling-rivals-an
To keep customers happy, which Mr. Bezos has long said is Amazon's fixation and growth strategy, executives behind the scenes have methodically waged targeted campaigns against rivals and partners alike -- an approach that has changed little through the years, from diapers to footwear. No competitor is too small to draw Amazon's sights.
#amazon

✭ Congress advances historic fund for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding
https://www.allmep.org/news/house-advances-meppa/
The
 U.S. House of Representatives has just passed the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, historic legislation delivering unprecedented funding for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding and Palestinian economic development. If successfully enacted, it would provide $250 million over five years in order to expand peace and reconciliation work in the region. This legislation is the result of over a decade of advocacy by the Alliance for Middle East Peace – ALLMEP."
#peace-funding

✭ India’s governing BJP says ‘no question’ of repealing farm laws | Agriculture News | Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/22/indias-ruling-bjp-says-no-question-of-repealing-
Modi’s party for the first time makes clear the government’s refusal to back down as farmers continue month-long protests.
#india

✭ US dangles billions for Indonesia normalising ties with Israel | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/22/indonesia-could-get-billions-in-us-funding-to-jo
Financial agency’s chief said the US could double its $1bn portfolio if Indonesia establishes relations with Israel.
#US #israel

✭ Boohoo selling clothes made by Pakistani workers 'who earned 29p an hour' | Business | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/dec/22/boohoo-selling-clothes-made-by-pakistani-
In interviews in the industrial city of Faisalabad, workers at two factories claimed they were paid 10,000PKR (£47) a month, well below the legal monthly minimum wage for unskilled labour of 17,500PKR, while making clothes to be sold by Boohoo.
#Pakistan

✭ Karima Baloch, Pakistani human rights activist, found dead in Canada | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/22/karima-baloch-pakistani-human-rights-activis
Baloch is the second Pakistani dissident from Balochistan living in exile to be found dead this year.
#Pakistan

✭ Revealed: how abusive texts led to discovery of hacking of Al Jazeera | Media | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/dec/22/revealed-how-abusive-texts-led-to-discovery-
Canadian researchers on Sunday claimed the UAE and Saudi Arabia used spyware sold by an Israeli private intelligence company to access the phones of at least 36 journalists, producers and executives from Al Jazeera, as well as that of a London-based reporter with the Al Araby network.
#hackers

✭ Covid cases recorded in Antarctica for first time – reports | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/22/covid-cases-recorded-in-antarctica-for-first
Antarctica, once the only continent not to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, has reportedly recorded its first cases.
#COVID-19

✭ How KK Shailaja and her ‘Covid brigade’ won a victory against the virus | Life and style | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/dec/22/how-kk-shailaja-and-her-covid-brigade
Fewer coronavirus patients have died in the state of Kerala than anywhere else in India. No wonder Vogue India named its health minister ‘leader of the year’
#india #COVID-19

✭ Jupiter and Saturn's great conjunction – in pictures | Science | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/science/gallery/2020/dec/22/jupiter-and-saturns-great-conjunct
#astronomy

✭ Navalny says Russian officer admits putting poison in underwear | Alexei Navalny | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/21/navalny-russian-agent-novichok-death-plot
"Opposition
 leader apparently dupes spy agency worker into revealing role in novichok plot."
Amazing story, this.
#russia

27 December, 2020

Vaccinated

Israel is rolling out its inoculation program, and it's now working 24/7, with the ambition of reaching 150,000 per day, meaning that it should cover the entire population within a few weeks. We had ours today, with little fuss, through a retirement community at which D. gives yoga classes, nearby. They wanted anyone who comes into contact with the inmates to be vaccinated, together with spouses. It was probably the Pfizer vaccine, as that was the first to be approved.

Apparently Israel also purchased 1.5 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine, though its use has not yet been approved. Al-Monitor is reporting that these are being offered to the PA; a move which Physicians for Human Rights opposes, on the grounds that as the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the health of the people under its occupation:
'In a letter to Health Ministry director Hezi Levi and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Kamil Abu Rukun, director Ghada Majadle argued that as an occupying force, Israel has a legal obligation to care for Palestinians’ health, stating, “The Palestinian health system, whether in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, is in dire condition, mainly [because of] restrictions imposed by Israel.”'

But PHR says, that according to the same legal obligations, Israel is obligated to provide only medicines that have been approved "by the appropriate scientific and regulatory authorities."

In this particular case, Israel may (hopefully) decide that it is in its own national interest to ensure that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are vaccinated.

As for my feeling after the inoculation: so far a bit of fatigue, like something's going on my body. When you get the shot, the duty person first asks whether you have previously experienced adverse reactions to vaccination. I remembered that the only time that happened was around 40+ years ago, when I was getting inoculated against Typhus or Typhoid Fever, in Delhi. The man next to me in the queue, a Delhi resident, warned me that sometimes they would bring in a Russian vaccine, which tended to trigger a strong reaction. It must have been that one, as I immediately came down with a severe cold and felt rotten for several days.

Third National Lockdown

Israel just entered its third national lockdown, which is supposed to last 2 weeks. Schools remain open; essential businesses too, though the regulations are a bit vague. On the one hand, they are saying that shops will remain open, and, on the other, that everything must be on a delivery only basis. But when we visited shops today, they told us they would be open for business as usual. Fines for breaching the regulations are 500 sheqels.

Weather

We've been battered by gusty southern and eastern winds constantly for 3 days now, and it isn't showing any sign of letting up.
It isn't particularly cold; winds from the north and west usually bring the cold and the rain. Today we went out for a long walk, visiting on the way Son 1's house construction: they were casting the floor today.

Image/photo
Image/photo

The village from below

Links blog

✭ התגלית מלפני 350 אלף שנה, שנמצאה במערה בכרמל
https://www.ynet.co.il/environment-science/article/SJp1G5r6D
העדות
 הקדומה ביותר לשימוש בכלי אבן לשחיקה, עוד בתקופת ההומנינים, נתגלתה במערת טבון (תנור) במערב הכרמל. התגלית מקדימה בכ-150 אלף שנים כל כלי אחר בעולם הנושא עדויות לשחיקה
Stones used to create tools have been discovered in the Carmel area aged approximately 350,000 years; they say 150,000 years earlier than the earliest-known stones of this type, and prior to the arrival of homo sapiens.
#archeology

✭ China to overtake US as world's biggest economy by 2028, report predicts | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/26/china-to-overtake-us-as-worlds-biggest-econo
The Centre for Economics and Business Research said that it nowexpected the value of China’s economy when measured in dollars to exceed that of the US by 2028, half a decade sooner than it expected a year ago.

5 December, 2020

I guess I won't be able to run my home server successfully from abroad, as whenever there is a power problem or sometimes other internet connectivity problems, it goes offline for awhile. I'll have to hope that Disroot someday get their shit together again on their Hubzilla server, where I had my hub cloned. It seems that they are having a real problem maintaining it for a large number of people.

Today was a nice day in the village, though the rest of the country experienced some extreme weather. We had a birthday party for my grand daughter and I got a chance to talk to a couple of people I haven't met for awhile.

Yesterday it was also a nice day, with beautiful weather. There was a performance for David Broza, a singer who is an old friend of the village (and the grandson of one of its founders). Our regional council is setting up outside performances for musicians with limited audiences of up to 20 people, and offering them at a really low price.

Image/photo

Links blog

✭ Aral Balkan's introduction to his proof of concept Small Web server setup  https://small-tech.org/videos/towards-a-small-web-howest-2020/

Watched
 this. I agree with his ideas, appreciate his investment and like his enthusiasm. I didn't quite understand who were the intended audience for the presentation. It's fine for developers who are convinced of the value of what he is doing. If the presentation is intended for someone who is not so convinced, then one would want to start by explaining the existing alternatives, such as the free software movement, the fediverse, alternatives to the mega-companies in other web applications, storage solutions, etc. and then hone in and show the added value of independent servers over semi-centralized solutions.

✭ Here’s the NLRB Complaint Alleging Google Illegally Fired and Surveilled Workers
https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgzg8n/heres-the-nlrb-complaint-alleging-google-illegally-
"[Google has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise [of their rights],”

✭ More than 1,200 Google workers condemn firing of AI scientist Timnit Gebru | Google | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/dec/04/timnit-gebru-google-ai-fired-diversity-

12 November, 2020

From my journal

The trouble for us, as human beings, is that we are involved in one immersive reality or another. It seems to be a part of our nature to dream, to enjoy fantasy, to drink from the waters of Lethe or suck up the Cool Aid; it's one illusion or another, or multiple, mutually supporting illusions that keep popping up, because they are the fabric of our thoughts. It is not easy to discern the folly, because we exchange one illusion for another so readily. And the Vedanta, the devotion, the systems of Buddhism, weave similar webs of illusion, to which we can subscribe. It is easier to identify the illusive realities of others than those in which we ourselves are caught, but we can know them by their mechanics.

Meditation, when engaged properly, persistently, is the true medicine because the characteristics of our illusion-making are laid bare.

From my Link stream

✭ Tripadvisor warns users over Thai hotel that sued guest for bad review | Thailand | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/12/tripadvisor-warns-users-over-thai-hotel-that
"Thailand’s tough criminal defamation laws have long drawn scrutiny from human rights and press freedom groups, who say it is used as a weapon to stifle free expression. The maximum sentence is two years in prison and a 200,000 baht (£5,000) fine."
✭ I quarantined in Beijing, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Here's what I learned | CNN Travel
https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/selina-wang-asia-covid-quarantine-intl-hnk/index.ht

✭ Indian move to regulate digital media raises censorship fears | India | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/11/india-to-regulate-netflix-and-amazon-streami
"Siddharth Varadarajan, the editor of The Wire which has been slapped with multiple criminal charges for coverage considered critical of the government, said: “The government has been claiming for some time now that online news is some sort of wild west that follows no rules. This is nonsense since all the restrictions that come with the constitutional guarantee of free speech, and a free press, apply to news websites, just as they do to newspapers and TV channels. But what irks the government is the use we have made of our freedom – to ask questions and pursue stories that the big media increasingly shies away from.”
Trump would have loved the situation in India, which seems to be taking rapid steps towards turning into a much less efficient form of its adversary, China.

✭ Saeb Erekat, veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, dies at 65 | Palestinian territories | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/10/saeb-erekat-veteran-palestinian-peace-negoti
He supported not only the state level negotiations but also many peace groups - anyone who was on the side of peace, in Palestine or Israel, as far as I know. Here he is in our village; with one of the hotel workers who wanted to pose with him. Allah irhamo.

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