16 July 2021

Links

John Biewen: Ted Talk, “The lie that invented racism”

Dave Winer recommended this. The "lie that invented racism" was a claim made in Portugal during the age of empires that black Africans, being an inferior race, can be enslaved with impunity. The man in oversimplifying, surely. Europeans don't have a monopolism on racism based on skin pigmentation. For example, it's quite likely that India's caste system (varna) is based upon it (the word itself means "colour"). And then, skin colour is only one of the differences that we rely upon to create or deny entitlement. Humans always find frivolous reasons to discriminate against some and entitle others. Every flimsy basis for discrimination is backed up by wrong notions, projections and stereotypes. Belonging to the right group will always be the key to success, belonging to the wrong group, a recipe for failure.

If we want to create a more equal society, we will need to eradicate many more bases for prejudice and entitlement, but discovering them is like whacking moles. Unless we go to the root cause and find out what motivates and fuels our tendency towards discrimination in the first place, our prejudices will always be with us.

‘Excess deaths’ in Haryana seven times official COVID-19 toll - The Hindu

India largest source of government information requests, says Twitter - The Hindu

Sedition law | Supreme Court sends strong message to government - The Hindu
Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana’s remarks in open court on Thursday sends a strong message to the government that the Supreme Court is prima facie convinced that sedition is being misused by the authorities to trample upon citizens’ fundamental rights of free speech and liberty.

Israeli spyware firm linked to fake Black Lives Matter and Amnesty websitesThe Guardian

The team also identified more than 750 domain names that appeared to be linked to Candiru and its customers. In addition to the sites masquerading as not-for-profits, the researchers found URLs that appeared to impersonate a left-leaning Indonesian publication; a site that publishes Israeli court indictments of Palestinian prisoners; a website critical of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman; and a site that appeared to be associated with the World Health Organization.

“Candiru’s apparent presence, and the use of its surveillance technology against global civil society, is a potent reminder that the mercenary spyware industry contains many players and is prone to widespread abuse,” the report said. “This case demonstrates, yet again, that in the absence of any international safeguards or strong government export controls, spyware vendors will sell to government clients who will routinely abuse their services.”

Protecting customers from a private-sector offensive actor using 0-day exploits and DevilsTongue malware - Microsoft Security Blog

Hooking Candiru: Another Mercenary Spyware Vendor Comes into Focus - The Citizen Lab

A leaked Candiru project proposal published by TheMarker shows that Candiru’s spyware can be installed using a number of different vectors, including malicious links, man-in-the-middle attacks, and physical attacks. A vector named “Sherlock” is also offered, that they claim works on Windows, iOS, and Android.

Not Mac or Linux, though. Activists and journalists should stay away from Windows. And they so love their phones! I feel awkward and uncomfortable whenever I use the thing, and I'm not even signed into Google or the manufactor's services. I avoid Chrome and location services, and use only FDroid apps, but still feel uncomfortable, like big brother is always watching. On my computer at least, I have the illusion of being in control. Not on Windows, of course.

As part of their investigation, Microsoft observed at least 100 victims in Palestine, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Spain, United Kingdom, Turkey, Armenia, and Singapore. Victims include human rights defenders, dissidents, journalists, activists, and politicians.

We are still reversing most of the spyware’s functionality, but Candiru’s Windows payload appears to include features for exfiltrating files, exporting all messages saved in the Windows version of the popular encrypted messaging app Signal, and stealing cookies and passwords from Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera browsers.

The €16 million project proposal allows for an unlimited number of spyware infection attempts, but the monitoring of only 10 devices simultaneously. For an additional €1.5M, the customer can purchase the ability to monitor 15 additional devices simultaneously, and to infect devices in a single additional country. For an additional €5.5M, the customer can monitor 25 additional devices simultaneously, and conduct espionage in five more countries.

The price point is obviously for nation states and governments.

July 9 2021

WordPress

I did some work on the website of the Thich Nhat Hanh sangha website that I manage voluntarily, using the Weaver theme - there were a couple of new posts to add, and I discovered that I was unhappy with the page that lists the various local sanghas (practice groups). Under Weaver, one can show posts (one possibility is to use Weaver's plugin "show posts") on a WP page. That can create, for example, the typical 3=box layout that one sees on many websites. However, the local sanghas were created as Pages (i.e. sub-pages, rather than Posts, and I found no parallel way to show sub-pages, so had been using a dull menu of subpages as a widget on the page that featured the directory of local sanghas. The best solution seemed to be to convert the pages to posts. There is no real difference between pages and posts on WordPress. It turns out that there's a plugin for converting between pages and posts, "Post Type Switcher", so that's what I used. I created a category for the new sangha posts, so that the Show Posts plugin could filter according to that category, and used the translator plugin (on that website I use Polylang) to translate the categories.

For now, on that page, I have placed just the titles and featured images for each sangha. That already looks better than the plain menu. What I really need to do, though, is add the contact information right there in the directory page, so that it isn't even necessary to go to individual sangha pages. I could imagine a JavaScript that converts the featured image to text when one hovers over it - but that's probably too ambitious.

Sangha

Sangha in Buddhism, as with satsang in Hinduism, means something like community, gathering, assembly, congregration, ecclesia, synagogue. In Hebrew knissia (church) and beth knesset (synagogue) and Arabic jamia (the congregation in a mosque) have similar meanings. The idea and the meaning of the words used to express it, seem to be common to most religions.

Etymologically, sangha is composed of the common Indo-European root sem, meaning "as one" from which is derived the English "same" (and "similar") and han, which, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary (I'm too lazy to check further) means "to come into contact". So sangha basically means something like "to come together as one". Satsang, mentioned earlier, adds the word sat, which means something like wise. So it's "a gathering of the wise."

Sangha presents an interesting challenge, when transliterating it into Hebrew. The person that has just taken over the creation of texts, used סנגה but that does not render the aspirated "gh" sound in sangha. The usual practice in Hebrew is therefore to repeat the final ה - as in סנגהה. That final ה is used in Hebrew as a marker for the vowel occurring at the end of a word, as in Hebrew there are no vowel letters as such. In Sanskrit, on the other hand, all consonents inherently contain a vowel sound, so sangha is written संघ , with the घ denoting the "gha". Neither English nor Hebrew have aspirated consonents, though it is not so difficult to say them, unlike, say the retroflexive phonemes that exist in most Indian languages. (Even the word "India" is usually pronounced with a retroflexive n sound by Indians).

Covid's toll

Covid deaths have passed 6 million; the number of people that are said to have died in the Jewish holocaust. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the same people who deny that the Holocaust happened also deny the death toll from COVID.

Links

‘Heat dome’ probably killed 1bn marine animals on Canada coast, experts say - The Guardian

Climate crisis ‘may put 8bn at risk of malaria and dengue’ - The Guardian

Researchers predict that up to 4.7 billion more people could be threatened by the world’s two most prominent mosquito-borne diseases, compared with 1970-99 figures.

Dengue has no specific treatment. The disease is under-reported, with almost half the world’s population at risk. Dengue is estimated to infect 100 million to 400 million people every year, killing 20,000.

July 7, 2021

Video editors

My computer seems to be running too hot lately, and I guess the summer temperatures are not helping. Conky is showing up to 97 degrees when handling certain processes. Prime among these is video rendering (no surprise there). But I have found that Openshot video editor is very resource-hungry even when it isn't rendering, and sometimes it becomes unresponsive for a while. As a consequence, I have installed KDenlive, which consumes fewer resources when running. I don't remember what sort of package Openshot is on my machine; I think the version I was running may have been a Flatpack, rather than the package found in MX package installer.

I still don't really understand video formats. All I know is that after my video editor has done its rendering, I can get the size down further in the terminal with ffmpeg, using ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -vcodec libx265 -crf 28 output.mp4. The Zoom video I converted today came out at 23% of the original size, after rendering it in h264 compression in Kdenlive. The quality remained adequate.

Tumblr links

I found a WP plugin that autoposts to Tumblr, working the same way as the Twitter or autopost plugin, so I will send links to my blog posts to Tumblr, as I do to Mastodon and Twitter. I could put the entire posts in Tumblr, but don't want to.

Piwigo

My boss, S complains that she is unable to download from our Piwigo albums to her iPhone. I tried with my Android phone and didn't really succeed either. It's simple enough on the Desktop, but hard to accomplish on phones. I asked why she needed to download to her phone, and she explained that she has better photo editing photos there than on her computers - something I hadn't considered. Afterwards I found that there are apps for iPhone and Android. The Android version is in FDroid, so I installed it. However, as a “guest user” there isn't a whole lot that one can do in this Android app. Actually the mobile site is more attractive. From the description, it looks like the iPhone version is more successful, though people were complaining in the reviews about not being able to download photos to their phones, though those reviews are from last year, and there was a promise to rectify the situation. (Our Piwigo albums ).

Facebook

I had a terrible time attempting to download videos from Facebook, meanwhile. Various tools and methods did not work for me. One Chrome plugin did work (in Vivaldi), in a round about sort of way - but I hate installing questionable plugins in my browsers. For now I've left it there, but disabled it.

My mission today was to download some videos of the end of year parties of the school, that one of the teachers had placed in the School's facebook group. I successfully downloaded them eventually, and combined a few of them into a single video; which I will upload afterwards to YouTube.

Expensive car repair

I had to go to collect our daughter's Mazda 2 from the garage after being serviced. They found numerous things wrong with it - with all the repairs, the bill came to almost 6,000 shekels.

New Earbuds

From Ali-Express I ordered some Sony earbuds, for about $40, to replace the almost identical pair that I eventually managed to lose, after 5 or 6 years. The new pair arrived today: Sony MDR-XB55AP, offering "Extra Bass". They seem fine, though I wonder whether their quality justifies replacing the quite reasonable pair that came with one of our phones.

Music

... Anyway, the new pair were in my ears quite a lot today. I went for a walk in the woods, listening to one of Cafe De Anatolia's 2-hour mixes. I think the reason I enjoy these so much is that unlike many mixes in the same genre, they rarely contain popular music - the smatterings of songs that are there are mostly "ethno" or "world" music. I wonder if such use deserves the term "cultural appropriation"? Probably: I am sure there are Hindus who would object to this use of bhajans as sound bytes. But I appreciate the bhajans just as much as all the rest. And there is something about the instrumentation that I feel reflects a real love of music, its various styles and its potential to affect consciousness. According to Wikipedia, I have read that some people compare House music to Muzak. But I don't think that comparison is justified - at least not with the stuff I'm listening to .

Links

Berta Cáceres assassination: ex-head of dam company found guilty - The Guardian

A US-trained former Honduran army intelligence officer who was the president of an internationally-financed hydroelectric company has been found guilty over the assassination of the indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres.

Cáceres was best known for her leadership in the Agua Zarca struggle, but she was also a sharp political analyst, LGBTQ+ rights campaigner and human rights defender who had long frustrated the country’s economic and political elites with her ability to unite disparate sectors against the corrupt status quo.

Victor Fernández, one of the Cáceres family’s lawyers, said the verdict demonstrated the magnitude of the struggle by Cáceres and the Lenca community in the face of a corrupt state which sold off their territory without consent. “Their audacity, determination and dignity to resist, defend and triumph over this corrupt system sets a precedent. We have nothing to thank the justice system for. It was they who persecuted Berta; they criminalized her and displaced her. This victory is a result of our militancy.”


The low-desire life: why people in China are rejecting high-pressure jobs in favour of ‘lying flat’ - The Guardian


Fury in India over death of 84-year-old political prisoner Stan Swamy - The Guardian

India’s oldest political prisoner, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest who was denied bail as his health deteriorated, has died, prompting an outpouring of anger among lawyers, writers, politicians and activists.

Father Stan Swamy, a priest and human rights activist who spent five decades fighting for the rights of the tribal community in the state of Jharkhand, was arrested in October 2020, charged under draconian terrorism laws and held in judicial custody.

Despite Swamy’s weak condition from advanced Parkinson’s disease, which worsened after he contracted Covid-19 in prison last month, the courts repeatedly denied him pre-trial bail.


Google, Facebook and other tech companies threaten to quit Hong Kong over privacy law - The Guardian


No, open source Audacity audio editor is not “spyware” -| Ars Technica

The article seems to me a bit too understanding. I think her comment about any normal commercial program requiring telemetry for law enforcement is ridiculous:

This leaves the last row—"data necessary for law enforcement, litigation and authorities' requests (if any)." While that's certainly a broad category and not particularly well-defined, it's also a fact of life in 2021. Whether a privacy policy says so or not, the odds are rather good that any given company will comply with legitimate law enforcement requests. If it doesn't, it won't likely be a company for long.

Maybe that's true for online services and social networks, but for offline programs, really?


Biden’s right-to-repair order could stop companies from blocking DIY fixes - Ars Technica

16 June 2021

David Godman on Ramana Maharshi

Listened to a couple of talks by David Godman, one of the foremost scholars on the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi, as well as some videos by a Canadian filmmaker who filmed many of the talks with him - see the channel on YouTube).

In one video, the same filmmaker contrasts those who are "truly enlightened" and those he calls merely “pointers”, i.e., those who are not enlightened, but can, to a certain degree point us in the right direction.

Actually I think the differentiation is unimportant. Those of us who are not enlightened are (according to traditional sources) unqualified to discriminate between an enlightened sage and one who isn't, and anyway, I cannot accept solely on faith the words of gurus and spiritual masters, however popular or distinguished they may be.

For me, as for others, it is more a question of what is helpful to our understanding, at a given time. In the last couple of years I've been reevaluating what I've learned from Brahmanic teachings. Buddhist teachings I take mainly as a point of reference.

People with greater intellectual gifts and spiritual sensitivity than I have analysed these traditions innumerable times and reached multiple and conflicting conclusions. I feel closer to the Vedantic tradition (not so much the Adwaita Vedanta system of Sankara). Ramana, is one of the greats, but practically, I feel that his teachings lead me to a cul-de-sac. Focusing on the "I" and looking for its source does nothing to abate my egoism.

Yet plainly our mistaken worldview has led us into the crisis now facing us. I'm quite convinced of the need to shake up our wrong perception and wrong conceptions. The inner conviction that we are independent separate entities, rather than equal members of the vast, intertwined network of the universe has led to the problems we desperately need to confront.

When we look at the world through the prism of our egoism, we think in terms of what we can extract from it, or consider how to protect ourselves from it, etc. But as long as we are objectifying the world, and subjectifying ourselves, our vision is incomplete, and therefore mistaken. This is why the eastern religions say that the world is illusion or appearance.

It isn't that we should identify with what we see. The kinship between us, that which binds us, is not something we can perceive through the senses. At a scientific level, we can understand (more and more) the connections within the biosphere. But it is not even that. The network, the matrix, is, itself the result of a deeper substratum of unity; a unity in consciousness. That is what the Vedantins are speaking of when they tell us that what we perceive as our limited self is actually the “big self”, the Brahman.

I think as I grow older, I want, more and more, to become absorbed into this “big self”, until one day I will kiss the little self goodbye, without the least regret. But for now there are dishes to wash, laundry to clean, and responsibilities that require a greater degree of concentration than either of those.

Research on a song

There's an amazing, gorgeous bit of piyyut (Jewish liturgical poetry) at the beginning of one of the Cafe de Anatolia albums, Ethno World Tarlabasa. I was clever enough to recognize it as piyyut but had no idea where it came from.

One commenter to the YouTube channel led me to a Syrian composer of piyyut, Raphael Antebi Tabbush, and said that the song is Ata El Kabir ("You're a great God"), but I found and looked at the words and couldn't see any resemblance there. This was clearly a wrong lead. Eventually, I found the composer and the lyrics to the song.

This is a poem by a 16th-17th century Rabbi Israel Najara, who was born in Safed. lived in Damascus and Hebron, and became the rabbi of the Jewish community in Gaza. The singer is Israeli, born in Tiberius, Lior Almaleh. He has an amazing voice, and it's a lovely, mystical song. The first part is in Hebrew, from the 3rd chapter of the Song of Songs. The second in Aramaic (which I don't understand, and Google Translate cannot help with that). The words quoted from the Song of Songs (trans. World English Bible) are:

I will get up now, and go about the city;
in the streets and in the squares I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but I didn’t find him.
The watchmen who go about the city found me;
"Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
I had scarcely passed from them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.

(The above section has been updated, thanks to D)

קַמְתִּי בְּאִישׁוֹן לַיְלָה לִסְבֹּב אֶת הָעִיר
לִרְאוֹת פְּנֵי דוֹדִי יְפֵה קוֹמָה
מְצָאוּנִי הַשּׁוֹמְרִים הַסּוֹבְבִים בָּעִיר שְׁאָלוּנִי
מַה לָךְ בַּלַּיִל תְבַקֵּשׁ מָה
עוֹדָם מְדַבְּרִים עִמִּי וְהִנֵּה אוֹר פְּנֵי דוֹדִי זָרְחָה כְאַחְלָמָה
יָהּ רִבּוֹן עָלַם וְעַלְמַיָּא
אַנְתְּ הוּא מַלְכָּא מֶלֶךְ מַלְכַיָּא
עוֹבָדֵי גְבוּרְתָּךְ וְתִמְהַיָּא
שְׁפַר קֳדָמַי לְהַחֲוַיָּא
שְׁבָחִין אֲסַדֵּר צַפְרָא וְרַמְשָׁא
לָךְ אֱלָהָא קַדִּישָׁא בְּרָא כָל נַפְשָׁא
עִירִין קַדִּישִׁין וּבְנֵי אֱנָשָׁא
חֵיוַת בָּרָא וְעוֹף שְׁמַיָּא
רַבְרְבִין עוֹבָדָךְ וְתַקִּיפִין
מַכִּיךְ רָמַיָּא זַקִּיף כְּפִיפִין
לוּ יְחִי גְבַר שְׁנִין אַלְפִין
לָא יֵעוּל גְּבוּרְתָּךְ בְּחוּשְׁבְּנַיָּא
אֱלָהָא דִּי לֵיהּ יְקָר וּרְבוּתָא
פְּרוֹק יַת עָנָךְ מִפֻּם אַרְיָוָתָא
וְאַפֵּיק יַת עַמָּךְ מִגּוֹ גָּלוּתָא
עַמָּךְ דִּי בְחַרְתְּ מִכָּל אֻמַּיָּא
לְמִקְדָּשָׁךְ תּוּב וּלְקֹדֶשׁ קֻדְשִׁין
אֲתַר דִּי בֵיהּ יֶחֱדוּן רוּחִין וְנַפְשִׁין
וִיזַמְּרוּן לָךְ שִׁירִין וְרֲחֲשִׁין
בִּירוּשְׁלֵם קַרְתָּא דְשֻׁפְרַיָּא

Today's Links

World's first wooden satellite to be launched from New Zealand - The Hindu

The satellite, designed and built in Finland will orbit at around 500-600 km altitude in a roughly polar Sun-synchronous orbit. WISA Woodsat is a 10x10x10 cm nano satellite built up from standardised boxes and surface panels made from plywood, the same material that is found in a hardware store or to make furniture.


Google is using AI to design chipsets in just six hours - The Hindu
The new chips are said to be superior or comparable to those produced by humans in all key metrics including power consumption, performance and chip area.


You Can Still Upgrade to Windows 10 For Free, Here's How - The Bleeping Computer


Covid Survivors Smell Foods Differently - The New York Times

Long after some people have recovered from the virus, they find certain foods off-putting.

15 June 2021

COVID-19

This country has almost entered a "post-Corona" situation. Today, the rule that requires the wearing of masks in most indoor areas was cancelled too. The necessity to show "green passes" or vaccination certificates, limitations on congregation and on wearing of masks outdoors were cancelled some time ago. Yesterday, out of 21,000 tests there were only four positives, and the number of hospital patients in serious condition is down to around 30. But "post-corona", like "post-colonial" has its own meaning, and carries the outcomes, repercussions and trauma forward into the future.

Personal property

My aspiration is to have a dwindling amount of personal property - I would prefer not to have any, but to have enough income to cover my living expenses. Whenever I go to India, I don't have more than fits in a small rug sack, usually, and that feels like more than enough. I can live like that for months on end, doing my laundry each day so that I don't need more clothes than I wear; having just a phone and a computer for my technology needs, etc. As I grow older I want to feel completely independent and free, which means for me living without debt or financial commitments. Yesterday Cory Doctorow had interesting things to say with regard to home ownership and rent:
The Rent’s Too Damned High. A human right, commodified and rendered… | by Cory Doctorow | Jun, 2021 | GEN.

Why do homes increase in value? Because they grow more valuable over time. But that value isn’t intrinsic: the roof doesn’t get better at keeping out the rain, sleep doesn’t come more easily in the bedrooms. Rather, homes get more valuable because not owning a home gets worse...

The very existence of the rental market is key to home appreciation: one reason someone might pay you more for your house than you paid for it is because they expect to be able to rent to someone who can’t afford to buy. The more lucrative it is to be a landlord, the more every rentable home is worth, because every sale potentially includes bidders whose maximum price includes their expected returns from rental income.

This means that the more rights tenants have, the less your house is worth, even if you never rent your house out. Or, contrariwise, when tenants are worse off, homeowners are better off.

We are lucky enough to own a home, and the family owns additional property; but I actually don't think of myself as owner of any of any of this; let it be in my wife's name or the family's name.

MS Windows, computers

I spent some time yesterday updating one of the office computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10.1. It took forever but worked without a hitch. Samah has at least 3 computers. I can't understand why people who are much worse at managing computers than I am feel the need for so many of them. I never want to use more than one of them - keeping a single computer well maintained is enough of a challenge for me. It is true that I also use three, but one is an old laptop for my home server, and the other is our media PC, which runs on Ubuntu. And lately I brought home another old laptop from the office, in case I need to do anything fancy with Office 365, as my everyday computer runs on MX.

Email subscriptions

I have signed up to the blogs of Cory Doctorow and Dave Winer, as mentioned earlier. I quite enjoy receiving these in my inbox each day. Winer's usually arrives first thing on a morning, like a newspaper. Seeing it in the mail has the advantage of not having to look at the racist mug of Winston Churchill, which currently adorns his blog header. Doctorow's comes in via Mailman a bit later in the day. I also signed up for my own blog to see how well Feedrabbit handles it: they are an Australian company that converts an RSS feed for despatch by email. In a case situation where there is just one blog post per day, this works well, and the result looks good.

Links

Plastic rafting: the invasive species hitching a ride on ocean litter - The Guardian

Ocean plastic has become a route for invasive species that threaten native animals with extinction, with Japan’s tsunami sending nearly 300 species ‘rafting’ across the Pacific

NSA whistleblower Reality Winner released from prison | Reality Winner - The Guardian