Search Results: "apo"

9 August 2021

Ian Wienand: nutdrv_qx setup for Synology DSM7

I have a cheap no-name UPS acquired from Jaycar and was wondering if I could get it to connect to my Synology DS918+. It rather unhelpfully identifies itself as MEC0003 and comes with some blob of non-working software on a CD; however some investigation found it could maybe work on my Synology NAS using the Network UPS Tools nutdrv_qx driver with the hunnox subdriver type. Unfortunately this is a fairly recent addition to the NUTs source, requiring rebuilding the driver for DSM7. I don't fully understand the Synology environment but I did get this working. Firstly I downloaded the toolchain from https://archive.synology.com/download/ToolChain/toolchain/ and extracted it. I then used the script from https://github.com/SynologyOpenSource/pkgscripts-ng to download some sort of build environment. This appears to want root access and possibly sets up some sort of chroot. Anyway, for DSM7 on the DS918+ I ran EnvDeploy -v 7.0 -p apollolake and it downloaded some tarballs into toolkit_tarballs that I simply extracted into the same directory as the toolchain. I then grabbed the NUTs source from https://github.com/networkupstools/nut. I then built NUTS similar to the following
./autogen.sh
PATH_TO_TC=/home/your/path
export CC=$ PATH_TO_CC /x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/bin/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu-gcc
export LD=$ PATH_TO_LD /x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/bin/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu-ld
./configure \
  --prefix= \
  --with-statepath=/var/run/ups_state \
  --sysconfdir=/etc/ups \
  --with-sysroot=$ PATH_TO_TC /usr/local/sysroot \
  --with-usb=yes
  --with-usb-libs="-L$ PATH_TO_TC /usr/local/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/sys-root/usr/lib/ -lusb" \
  --with-usb-includes="-I$ PATH_TO_TC /usr/local/sysroot/usr/include/"
make
The tricks to be aware of are setting the locations DSM wants status/config files and overriding the USB detection done by configure which doesn't seem to obey sysroot. If you would prefer to avoid this you can try this prebuilt nutdrv_qx (ebb184505abd1ca1750e13bb9c5f991eaa999cbea95da94b20f66ae4bd02db41). SSH to the DSM7 machine; as root move /usr/bin/nutdrv_qx out of the way to save it; scp the new version and move it into place. If you cat /dev/bus/usb/devices I found this device has a Vendor 0001 and ProdID 0000.
T:  Bus=01 Lev=01 Prnt=01 Port=00 Cnt=01 Dev#=  3 Spd=1.5  MxCh= 0
D:  Ver= 2.00 Cls=00(>ifc ) Sub=00 Prot=00 MxPS= 8 #Cfgs=  1
P:  Vendor=0001 ProdID=0000 Rev= 1.00
S:  Product=MEC0003
S:  SerialNumber=ffffff87ffffffb7ffffff87ffffffb7
C:* #Ifs= 1 Cfg#= 1 Atr=80 MxPwr=100mA
I:* If#= 0 Alt= 0 #EPs= 2 Cls=03(HID  ) Sub=00 Prot=00 Driver=usbfs
E:  Ad=81(I) Atr=03(Int.) MxPS=   8 Ivl=10ms
E:  Ad=02(O) Atr=03(Int.) MxPS=   8 Ivl=10ms
DSM does a bunch of magic to autodetect and configure NUTs when a UPS is plugged in. The first thing you'll need to do is edit /etc/nutscan-usb.sh and override where it tries to use the blazer_usb driver for this obviously incorrect vendor/product id. The line should now look like
static usb_device_id_t usb_device_table[] =  
    0x0001, 0x0000, "nutdrv_qx"  ,
    0x03f0, 0x0001, "usbhid-ups"  ,
  ... and so on ...
Then you want to edit the file /usr/syno/lib/systemd/scripts/ups-usb.sh to start the nutdrv_qx; find the DRV_LIST in that file and update it like so:
local DRV_LIST="nutdrv_qx usbhid-ups blazer_usb bcmxcp_usb richcomm_usb tripplite_usb"
This is triggered by /usr/lib/systemd/system/ups-usb.service and is ultimately what tries to setup the UPS configuration. Lastly, you will need to edit the /etc/ups/ups.conf file. This will probably vary depending on your UPS. One important thing is to add user=root above the driver; it seems recent NUT has become more secure and drops permissions, but the result it will not find USB devices in this environment (if you're getting something like no appropriate HID device found this is likely the cause). So the configuration should look something like:
user=root
[ups]
driver = nutdrv_qx
port = auto
subdriver = hunnox
vendorid = "0001"
productid = "0000"
langid_fix = 0x0409
novendor
noscanlangid
#pollonly
#community =
#snmp_version = v2c
#mibs =
#secName =
#secLevel =
#authProtocol =
#authPassword =
#privProtocol =
#privPassword =
I then restarted the UPS daemon by enabling/disabling UPS support in the UI. This should tell you that your UPS is connected. You can also check /var/log/ups.log which shows for me
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[11994]: =====log UPS status start=====
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[11996]: device.mfr=
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[11998]: device.model=
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12000]: battery.charge=
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12002]: battery.runtime=
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12004]: battery.voltage=13.80
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12006]: input.voltage=232.0
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12008]: output.voltage=232.0
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12010]: ups.load=31
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12012]: ups.status=OL
2021-08-09T18:14:51+10:00 synology synoups[12013]: =====log UPS status end=====
Which corresponds to the correct input/output voltage and state. Of course this is all unsupported and probably likely to break -- although I don't imagine much of these bits are updated very frequently. It will likely be OK until the UPS battery dies; at which point I would reccommend buying a better UPS on the Synology support list.

Russ Allbery: Review: The Last Battle

Review: The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #7
Publisher: Collier Books
Copyright: 1956
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044210-6
Format: Mass market
Pages: 184
The Last Battle is the seventh and final book of the Chronicles of Narnia in every reading order. It ties together (and spoils) every previous Narnia book, so you do indeed want to read it last (or skip it entirely, but I'll get into that). In the far west of Narnia, beyond the Lantern Waste and near the great waterfall that marks Narnia's western boundary, live a talking ape named Shift and a talking donkey named Puzzle. Shift is a narcissistic asshole who has been gaslighting and manipulating Puzzle for years, convincing the poor donkey that he's stupid and useless for anything other than being Shift's servant. At the start of the book, a lion skin washes over the waterfall and into the Cauldron Pool. Shift, seeing a great opportunity, convinces Puzzle to retrieve it. The king of Narnia at this time is Tirian. I would tell you more about Tirian except, despite being the protagonist, that's about all the characterization he gets. He's the king, he's broad-shouldered and strong, he behaves in a correct kingly fashion by preferring hunting lodges and simple camps to the capital at Cair Paravel, and his close companion is a unicorn named Jewel. Other than that, he's another character like Rilian from The Silver Chair who feels like he was taken from a medieval Arthurian story. (Thankfully, unlike Rilian, he doesn't talk like he's in a medieval Arthurian story.) Tirian finds out about Shift's scheme when a dryad appears at Tirian's camp, calling for justice for the trees of Lantern Waste who are being felled. Tirian rushes to investigate and stop this monstrous act, only to find the beasts of Narnia cutting down trees and hauling them away for Calormene overseers. When challenged on why they would do such a thing, they reply that it's at Aslan's orders. The Last Battle is largely the reason why I decided to do this re-read and review series. It is, let me be clear, a bad book. The plot is absurd, insulting to the characters, and in places actively offensive. It is also, unlike the rest of the Narnia series, dark and depressing for nearly all of the book. The theology suffers from problems faced by modern literature that tries to use the Book of Revelation and related Christian mythology as a basis. And it is, most famously, the site of one of the most notorious authorial betrayals of a character in fiction. And yet, The Last Battle, probably more than any other single book, taught me to be a better human being. It contains two very specific pieces of theology that I would now critique in multiple ways but which were exactly the pieces of theology that I needed to hear when I first understood them. This book steered me away from a closed, judgmental, and condemnatory mindset at exactly the age when I needed something to do that. For that, I will always have a warm spot in my heart for it. I'm going to start with the bad parts, though, because that's how the book starts. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. First, and most seriously, this is a second-order idiot plot. Shift shows up with a donkey wearing a lion skin (badly), only lets anyone see him via firelight, claims he's Aslan, and starts ordering the talking animals of Narnia to completely betray their laws and moral principles and reverse every long-standing political position of the country... and everyone just nods and goes along with this. This is the most blatant example of a long-standing problem in this series: Lewis does not respect his animal characters. They are the best feature of his world, and he treats them as barely more intelligent than their non-speaking equivalents and in need of humans to tell them what to do. Furthermore, despite the assertion of the narrator, Shift is not even close to clever. His deception has all the subtlety of a five-year-old who doesn't want to go to bed, and he offers the Narnians absolutely nothing in exchange for betraying their principles. I can forgive Puzzle for going along with the scheme since Puzzle has been so emotionally abused that he doesn't know what else to do, but no one else has any excuse, especially Shift's neighbors. Given his behavior in the book, everyone within a ten mile radius would be so sick of his whining, bullying, and lying within a month that they'd never believe anything he said again. Rishda and Ginger, a Calormene captain and a sociopathic cat who later take over Shift's scheme, do qualify as clever, but there's no realistic way Shift's plot would have gotten far enough for them to get involved. The things that Shift gets the Narnians to do are awful. This is by far the most depressing book in the series, even more than the worst parts of The Silver Chair. I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggled to read through the first part of this book, and raced through it on re-reads because everything is so hard to watch. The destruction is wanton and purposeless, and the frequent warnings from both characters and narration that these are the last days of Narnia add to the despair. Lewis takes all the beautiful things that he built over six books and smashes them before your eyes. It's a lot to take, given that previous books would have treated the felling of a single tree as an unspeakable catastrophe. I think some of these problems are due to the difficulty of using Christian eschatology in a modern novel. An antichrist is obligatory, but the animals of Narnia have no reason to follow an antichrist given their direct experience with Aslan, particularly not the aloof one that Shift tries to give them. Lewis forces the plot by making everyone act stupidly and out of character. Similarly, Christian eschatology says everything must become as awful as possible right before the return of Christ, hence the difficult-to-read sections of Narnia's destruction, but there's no in-book reason for the Narnians' complicity in that destruction. One can argue about whether this is good theology, but it's certainly bad storytelling. I can see the outlines of the moral points Lewis is trying to make about greed and rapacity, abuse of the natural world, dubious alliances, cynicism, and ill-chosen prophets, but because there is no explicable reason for Tirian's quiet kingdom to suddenly turn to murderous resource exploitation, none of those moral points land with any force. The best moral apocalypse shows the reader how, were they living through it, they would be complicit in the devastation as well. Lewis does none of that work, so the reader is just left angry and confused. The book also has several smaller poor authorial choices, such as the blackface incident. Tirian, Jill, and Eustace need to infiltrate Shift's camp, and use blackface to disguise themselves as Calormenes. That alone uncomfortably reveals how much skin tone determines nationality in this world, but Lewis makes it far worse by having Tirian comment that he "feel[s] a true man again" after removing the blackface and switching to Narnian clothes. All of this drags on and on, unlike Lewis's normally tighter pacing, to the point that I remembered this book being twice the length of any other Narnia book. It's not; it's about the same length as the rest, but it's such a grind that it feels interminable. The sum total of the bright points of the first two-thirds of the book are the arrival of Jill and Eustace, Jill's one moment of true heroism, and the loyalty of a single Dwarf. The rest is all horror and betrayal and doomed battles and abject stupidity. I do, though, have to describe Jill's moment of glory, since I complained about her and Eustace throughout The Silver Chair. Eustace is still useless, but Jill learned forestcraft during her previous adventures (not that we saw much sign of this previously) and slips through the forest like a ghost to steal Puzzle and his lion costume out from the under the nose of the villains. Even better, she finds Puzzle and the lion costume hilarious, which is the one moment in the book where one of the characters seems to understand how absurd and ridiculous this all is. I loved Jill so much in that moment that it makes up for all of the pointless bickering of The Silver Chair. She doesn't get to do much else in this book, but I wish the Jill who shows up in The Last Battle had gotten her own book. The end of this book, and the only reason why it's worth reading, happens once the heroes are forced into the stable that Shift and his co-conspirators have been using as the stage for their fake Aslan. Its door (for no well-explained reason) has become a door to Aslan's Country and leads to a reunion with all the protagonists of the series. It also becomes the frame of Aslan's final destruction of Narnia and judging of its inhabitants, which I suspect would be confusing if you didn't already know something about Christian eschatology. But before that, this happens, which is sufficiently and deservedly notorious that I think it needs to be quoted in full.
"Sir," said Tirian, when he had greeted all these. "If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?" "My sister Susan," answered Peter shortly and gravely, "is no longer a friend of Narnia." "Yes," said Eustace, "and whenever you've tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says 'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.'" "Oh Susan!" said Jill. "She's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up." "Grown-up indeed," said the Lady Polly. "I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."
There are so many obvious and dire problems with this passage, and so many others have written about it at length, that I will only add a few points. First, I find it interesting that neither Lucy nor Edmund says a thing. (I would like to think that Edmund knows better.) The real criticism comes from three characters who never interacted with Susan in the series: the two characters introduced after she was no longer allowed to return to Narnia, and a character from the story that predated hers. (And Eustace certainly has some gall to criticize someone else for treating Narnia as a childish game.) It also doesn't say anything good about Lewis that he puts his rather sexist attack on Susan into the mouths of two other female characters. Polly's criticism is a somewhat generic attack on puberty that could arguably apply to either sex (although "silliness" is usually reserved for women), but Jill makes the attack explicitly gendered. It's the attack of a girl who wants to be one of the boys on a girl who embraces things that are coded feminine, and there's a whole lot of politics around the construction of gender happening here that Lewis is blindly reinforcing and not grappling with at all. Plus, this is only barely supported by single sentences in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy and directly contradicts the earlier books. We're expected to believe that Susan the archer, the best swimmer, the most sensible and thoughtful of the four kids has abruptly changed her whole personality. Lewis could have made me believe Susan had soured on Narnia after the attempted kidnapping (and, although left unstated, presumably eventual attempted rape) in The Horse and His Boy, if one ignores the fact that incident supposedly happens before Prince Caspian where there is no sign of such a reaction. But not for those reasons, and not in that way. Thankfully, after this, the book gets better, starting with the Dwarfs, which is one of the two passages that had a profound influence on me. Except for one Dwarf who allied with Tirian, the Dwarfs reacted to the exposure of Shift's lies by disbelieving both Tirian and Shift, calling a pox on both their houses, and deciding to make their own side. During the last fight in front of the stable, they started killing whichever side looked like they were winning. (Although this is horrific in the story, I think this is accurate social commentary on a certain type of cynicism, even if I suspect Lewis may have been aiming it at atheists.) Eventually, they're thrown through the stable door by the Calormenes. However, rather than seeing the land of beauty and plenty that everyone else sees, they are firmly convinced they're in a dark, musty stable surrounded by refuse and dirty straw. This is, quite explicitly, not something imposed on them. Lucy rebukes Eustace for wishing Tash had killed them, and tries to make friends with them. Aslan tries to show them how wrong their perceptions are, to no avail. Their unwillingness to admit they were wrong is so strong that they make themselves believe that everything is worse than it actually is.
"You see," said Aslan. "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out."
I grew up with the US evangelical version of Hell as a place of eternal torment, which in turn was used to justify religious atrocities in the name of saving people from Hell. But there is no Hell of that type in this book. There is a shadow into which many evil characters simply disappear, and there's this passage. Reading this was the first time I understood the alternative idea of Hell as the absence of God instead of active divine punishment. Lewis doesn't use the word "Hell," but it's obvious from context that the Dwarfs are in Hell. But it's not something Aslan does to them and no one wants them there; they could leave any time they wanted, but they're too unwilling to be wrong. You may have to be raised in conservative Christianity to understand how profoundly this rethinking of Hell (which Lewis tackles at greater length in The Great Divorce) undermines the system of guilt and fear that's used as motivation and control. It took me several re-readings and a lot of thinking about this passage, but this is where I stopped believing in a vengeful God who will eternally torture nonbelievers, and thus stopped believing in all of the other theology that goes with it. The second passage that changed me is Emeth's story. Emeth is a devout Calormene, a follower of Tash, who volunteered to enter the stable when Shift and his co-conspirators were claiming Aslan/Tash was inside. Some time after going through, he encounters Aslan, and this is part of his telling of that story (and yes, Lewis still has Calormenes telling stories as if they were British translators of the Arabian Nights):
[...] Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.
So, first, don't ever say this to anyone. It's horribly condescending and, since it's normally said by white Christians to other people, usually explicitly colonialist. Telling someone that their god is evil but since they seem to be a good person they're truly worshiping your god is only barely better than saying yours is the only true religion. But it is better, and as someone who, at the time, was wholly steeped in the belief that only Christians were saved and every follower of another religion was following Satan and was damned to Hell, this passage blew my mind. This was the first place I encountered the idea that someone who followed a different religion could be saved, or that God could transcend religion, and it came with exactly the context and justification that I needed given how close-minded I was at the time. Today, I would say that the Christian side of this analysis needs far more humility, and fobbing off all the evil done in the name of the Christian God by saying "oh, those people were really following Satan" is a total moral copout. But, nonetheless, Lewis opened a door for me that I was able to step through and move beyond to a less judgmental, dismissive, and hostile view of others. There's not much else in the book after this. It's mostly Lewis's charmingly Platonic view of the afterlife, in which the characters go inward and upward to truer and more complete versions of both Narnia and England and are reunited (very briefly) with every character of the series. Lewis knows not to try too hard to describe the indescribable, but it remains one of my favorite visions of an afterlife because it makes so explicit that this world is neither static or the last, but only the beginning of a new adventure. This final section of The Last Battle is deeply flawed, rather arrogant, a little bizarre, and involves more lectures on theology than precise description, but I still love it. By itself, it's not a bad ending for the series, although I don't think it has half the beauty or wonder of the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It's a shame about the rest of the book, and it's a worse shame that Lewis chose to sacrifice Susan on the altar of his prejudices. Those problems made it very hard to read this book again and make it impossible to recommend. Thankfully, you can read the series without it, and perhaps most readers would be better off imagining their own ending (or lack of ending) to Narnia than the one Lewis chose to give it. But the one redeeming quality The Last Battle will always have for me is that, despite all of its flaws, it was exactly the book that I needed to read when I read it. Rating: 4 out of 10

21 July 2021

Molly de Blanc: Updates (2)

I feel like I haven t had a lot to say about open source or, in general, tech for a while. From another perspective, I have a whole lot of heady things to say about open source and technology and writing about it seems like a questionable use of time when I have so much other writing and reading and job hunting to do. I will briefly share the two ideas I am obsessed with at the moment, and then try to write more about them later. The Defensible-Charitable-Beneficent Trichotamy I will just jokingly ha ha no but seriously maybe jk suggest calling this the de Blanc-West Theory, considering it s heavily based on ideas from Ben West. Actions fall into one of the following categories: Defensible: When an action is defensible, it is permissible, acceptable, or okay. We might not like it, but you can explain why you had to do it and we can t really object. This could also be considered the bare minimum. Charitable: A charitable action is better than a defensible action in that it produces more good, and it goes above and beyond the minimum. Beneficent: This is a genuinely good action that produces good. It is admirable. I love J.J. Thomson example of Henry Fonda for this. For a full explanation see section three at this web site. For a summary: imagine that you re sick and the only thing that can cure you is Henry Fonda s cool touch on your fevered brow. It is Defensible for Henry Fonda to do nothing he doesn t owe you anything in particular. It is Charitable for, say if Henry Fonda happened to be in the room, to walk across it and touch your forehead. It is Beneficent for Henry Fonda to re-corporealize back into this life and travel to your bedside to sooth your strange illness. P.S. Henry Fonda died in 1982. I don t think these ideas are particularly new, but it s important to think about what we re doing with technology and its design: are our decisions defensible, charitable, or beneficent? Which should they be? Why? The Offsetting Harm-Ameliorating Harm-Doing Good Trichotamy
I ve been doing some research and writing around carbon credits. I owe a lot of thanks to Philip Withnall and Adam Lerner for talking with me through these ideas. Extrapolating from action and policy recommendations, I suggest the following trichotamy: Offsetting harm is attempting to look at the damage you ve done and try to make up for it in some capacity. In the context of, e.g., air travel, this would be purchasing carbon credits. Ameliorating harm is about addressing the particular harm you ve done. Instead of carbon credits, you would be supporting carbon capture technologies or perhaps giving to or otherwise supporting groups and ecosystems that are being harmed by your air travel. Doing Good is Doing Good. This would be like not traveling by air and choosing to still help the harm being caused by carbon emissions. These ideas are also likely not particularly new, but thinking about technology in this context is also useful, especially as we consider technology in the context of climate change.

12 July 2021

Chris Lamb: Saint Alethia? On Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

How are you meant to write about an unfinished emancipation? Bodies of Light is a 2014 book by Glasgow-born Sarah Moss on the stirrings of women's suffrage in an arty clique in nineteenth-century England. Set in the intellectually smoggy cities of Manchester and London, we follow the studious and intelligent Alethia 'Ally' Moberly, who is struggling to gain the acceptance of herself, her mother and the General Medical Council. 'Alethia' may be the Greek goddess of truth, but our Ally is really searching for wisdom. Her strengths are her patience and bookish learning, and she acquires Latin as soon as she learns male doctors will use it to keep women away from the operating theatre. In fact, Ally's acquisition of language becomes a recurring leitmotif: replaying a suggestive dream involving a love interest, for instance, Ally thinks of 'dark, tumbling dreams for which she has a perfectly adequate vocabulary'. There are very few moments of sensuality in the book, and pairing it with Ally's understated wit achieves a wonderful effect. The amount we learn about a character is adapted for effect as well. There are few psychological insights about Ally's sister, for example, and she thus becomes a fey, mysterious and almost Pre-Raphaelite figure below the surface of a lake to match the artistic movement being portrayed. By contrast, we get almost the complete origin story of Ally's mother, Elizabeth, who also constitutes of those rare birds in literature: an entirely plausible Christian religious zealot. Nothing Ally does is ever enough for her, but unlike most modern portrayals of this dynamic, neither of them are aware of what is going, and it is conveyed in a way that is chillingly... benevolent. This was brought home in the annual 'birthday letters' that Elizabeth writes to her daughter:
Last year's letter said that Ally was nervous, emotional and easily swayed, and that she should not allow her behaviour to be guided by feeling but remember always to assert her reason. Mamma would help her with early hours, plain food and plenty of exercise. Ally looks at the letter, plump in its cream envelope. She hopes Mamma wrote it before scolding her yesterday.
The book makes the implicit argument that it is a far more robust argument against pervasive oppression to portray a character in, say, 'a comfortable house, a kind husband and a healthy child', yet they are nonetheless still deeply miserable, for reasons they can't quite put their finger on. And when we see Elizabeth perpetuating some generational trauma with her own children, it is telling that is pattern is not short-circuited by an improvement in their material conditions. Rather, it is arrested only by a kind of political consciousness in Ally's case, the education in a school. In fact, if there is a real hero in Bodies of Light, it is the very concept of female education. There's genuine shading to the book's ideological villains, despite finding their apotheosis in the jibes about 'plump Tories'. These remarks first stuck out to me as cheap thrills by the author; easy and inexpensive potshots that are unbecoming of the pages around them. But they soon prove themselves to be moments of much-needed humour. Indeed, when passages like this are read in their proper context, the proclamations made by sundry Victorian worthies start to serve as deadpan satire:
We have much evidence that the great majority of your male colleagues regard you as an aberration against nature, a disgusting, unsexed creature and a danger to the public.
Funny as these remarks might be, however, these moments have a subtler and more profound purpose as well. Historical biography always has the risk of allowing readers to believe that the 'issue' has already been solved hence, perhaps, the enduring appeal of science fiction. But Moss providing these snippets from newspapers 150 years ago should make a clear connection to a near-identical moral panic today. On the other hand, setting your morality tale in the past has the advantage that you can show that progress is possible. And it can also demonstrate how that progress might come about as well. This book makes the argument for collective action and generally repudiates individualisation through ever-fallible martyrs. Ally always needs 'allies' not only does she rarely work alone, but she is helped in some way by almost everyone around her. This even includes her rather problematic mother, forestalling any simplistic proportioning of blame. (It might be ironic that Bodies of Light came out in 2014, the very same year that Sophia Amoruso popularised the term 'girl boss'.) Early on, Ally's schoolteacher is coded as the primary positive influence on her, but Ally's aunt later inherits this decisive role, continuing Ally's education on cultural issues and what appears to be the Victorian version of 'self-care'. Both the aunt and the schoolteacher are, of course, surrogate mother figures. After Ally arrives in the cut-throat capital, you often get the impression you are being shown discussions where each of the characters embodies a different school of thought within first-wave feminism. This can often be a fairly tedious device in fiction, the sort of thing you would find in a Sally Rooney novel, Pilgrim's Progress or some other ponderously polemical tract. Yet when Ally appears to 'win' an argument, it is only in the sense that the narrator continues to follow her, implicitly and lightly endorsing her point. Perhaps if I knew my history better, I might be able to associate names with the book's positions, but perhaps it is better (at least for the fiction-reading experience...) that I don't, as the baggage of real-world personalities can often get in the way. I'm reminded here of Regina King's One Night in Miami... (2020), where caricatures of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke awkwardly replay various arguments within an analogous emancipatory struggle. Yet none of the above will be the first thing a reader will notice. Each chapter begins with a description of an imaginary painting, providing a title and a date alongside a brief critical exegesis. The artworks serve a different purpose in each chapter: a puzzle to be unlocked, a fear to be confirmed, an unsolved enigma. The inclusion of (artificial) provenances is interesting as well, not simply because they add colour and detail to the chapter to come, but because their very inclusion feels reflective of how we see art today.
Orphelia (1852) by Sir John Everett Millais.
To continue the question this piece began, how should an author conclude a story about an as-yet-unfinished struggle for emancipation? How can they? Moss' approach dares you to believe the ending is saccharine or formulaic, but what else was she meant to turn in yet another tale of struggle and suffering? After all, Thomas Hardy has already written Tess of the d'Urbervilles. All the same, it still feels slightly unsatisfying to end merely with Ally's muted, uncelebrated success. Nevertheless, I suspect many readers will dislike the introduction of a husband in the final pages, taking it as a betrayal of the preceding chapters. Yet Moss denies us from seeing the resolution as a Disney-style happy ending. True, Ally's husband turns out to be a rather dashing lighthouse builder, but isn't it Ally herself who is lighting the way in their relationship, warning other women away from running aground on the rocks of mental illness? And Tom feels more of a reflection of Ally's newly acquired self-acceptance instead of that missing piece she needed all along. We learn at one point that Tom's 'importance to her is frightening' this is hardly something a Disney princess would say. In fact, it is easy to argue that a heroic ending for Ally might have been an even more egregious betrayal. The evil of saints is that you can never live up to them, for the concept of a 'saint' embodies an unreachable ideal that no human can begin to copy. By being taken as unimpeachable and uncorrectable as well, saints preclude novel political action, and are therefore undoubtedly agents of reaction. Appreciating historical figures as the (flawed) people that they really were is the first step if you wish to continue or adapt their political ideas. I had acquired Bodies of Light after enjoying Moss' Summerwater (2020), which had the dubious honour of being touted as the 'first lockdown novel', despite it being finished before Covid-19. There are countless ways one might contrast the two, so I will limit myself to the sole observation that the strengths of one are perhaps the weaknesses of the other. It's not that Bodies of Light ends with a whimper, of course, as it quietly succeeds in concert with Ally. But by contrast, the tighter arc of Summerwater (which is set during a single day, switches protagonist between chapters, features a closed-off community, etc.) can reach a higher high with its handful of narrative artifices. Summerwater is perhaps like Phil Collins' solo career: 'more satisfying, in a narrower way.'

21 June 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Accessibility, Freenode and American imperialism.

Accessibility This is perhaps one of the strangest ways and yet also perhaps the straightest way to start the blog post. For the past weeks/months, a strange experience has been there. I am using a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse for almost a decade. Now, for the past few months and weeks we observed a somewhat rare phenomena . While in-between us we have a single desktop computer. So me and mum take turns to be on the Desktop. At times, however, the system would sit idle and after some time it goes to low-power mode/sleep mode after 30 minutes. Then, when you want to come back, you obviously have to give your login credentials. At times, the keyboard refuses to input any data in the login screen. Interestingly, the mouse still functions. Much more interesting is the fact that both the mouse and the keyboard use the same transceiver sensor to send data. And I had changed batteries to ensure it was not a power issue but still no input :(. While my mother uses and used the power switch (I did teach her how to hold it for few minutes and then let it go) but for self, tried another thing. Using the mouse I logged of the session thinking perhaps some race condition or something might be in the session which was not letting the keystrokes be inputted into the system and having a new session might resolve it. But this was not to be  Luckily, on the screen you do have the option to reboot or power off. I did a reboot and lo, behold the system was able to input characters again. And this has happened time and again. I tried to find GOK and failed to remember that GOK had been retired. I looked up the accessibility page on Debian wiki. Very interesting, very detailed but sadly it did not and does not provide the backup I needed. I tried out florence but found that the app. is buggy. Moreover, the instructions provided on the lightdm screen does not work. I do not get the on-screen keyboard while I followed the instructions. Just to be clear this is all on Debian testing which is gonna be Debian stable soonish  I even tried the same with xvkbd but no avail. I do use mate as my desktop-manager so maybe the instructions need some refinement ???? $ cat /etc/lightdm/lightdm-gtk-greeter.conf grep keyboard
# a11y-states = states of accessibility features: name save state on exit, -name
disabled at start (default value for unlisted), +name enabled at start. Allowed names: contrast, font, keyboard, reader.
keyboard=xvkbd no-gnome focus &
# keyboard-position = x y[;width height] ( 50%,center -0;50% 25% by default) Works only for onboard
#keyboard= Interestingly, Debian does provide two more on-screen keyboards, matchbox as well as onboard which comes from Ubuntu. While I have both of them installed. I find xvkbd to be enough for my work, the only issue seems to be I cannot get it from the drop-down box of accessibility at the login screen. Just to make sure that I have not gone to Gnome-display manager, I did run

$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure gdm3 Only to find out that I am indeed running lightdm. So I am a bit confused why it doesn t come up as an option when I have the login window/login manager running. FWIW I do run metacity as the window manager as it plays nice with all the various desktop environments I have, almost all of them. So this is where I m stuck. If I do get any help, I probably would also add those instructions to the wiki page, so it would be convenient to the next person who comes with the same issue. I also need to figure out some way to know whether there is some race-condition or something which is happening, have no clue how would I go about it without having whole lot of noise. I am sure there are others who may have more of an idea. FWIW, I did search unix.stackexchange as well as reddit/debian to see if I could see any meaningful posts but came up empty.

Freenode I had not been using IRC for quite some time now. The reasons have been multiple issues with Riot (now element) taking the whole space on my desktop. I did get alerted to the whole thing about a week after the whole thing went down. Somebody messaged me DM. I *think* I put up a thread or a mini-thread about IRC or something in response to somebody praising telegram/WhatsApp or one of those apps. That probably triggered the DM. It took me a couple of minutes to hit upon this. I was angry and depressed, seeing the behavior of the new overlords of freenode. I did see that lot of channels moved over to Libera. It was also interesting to see that some communities were thinking of moving to some other obscure platform, which again could be held hostage to the same thing. One could argue one way or the other, but that would be tiresome and fact is any network needs lot of help to be grown and nurtured, whether it is online or offline. I also saw that Libera was also using a software Solanum which is ircv3 compliant. Now having done this initial investigation, it was time to move to an IRC client. The Libera documentation is and was pretty helpful in telling which IRC clients would be good with their network. So I first tried hexchat. I installed it and tried to add Libera server credentials, it didn t work. Did see that they had fixed the bug in sid/unstable and now it s in testing. But at the time it was in sid, the bug-fixed and I wanted to have something which just ran the damn thing. I chanced upon quassel. I had played around with quassel quite a number of times before, so I knew I could play/use it. Hence, I installed it and was able to use it on the first try. I did use the encrypted server and just had to tweak some settings before I could use it with some help with their documentation. Although, have to say that even quassel upstream needs to get its documentation in order. It is just all over the place, and they haven t put any effort into streamlining the documentation, so that finding things becomes easier. But that can be said of many projects upstream. There is one thing though that all of these IRC clients lack. The lack of a password manager. Now till that isn t fixed it will suck because you need another secure place to put your password/s. You either put it on your desktop somewhere (insecure) or store it in the cloud somewhere (somewhat secure but again need to remember that password), whatever you do is extra work. I am sure there will be a day when authenticating with Nickserv will be an automated task and people can just get on talking on channels and figuring out how to be part of the various communities. As can be seen, even now there is a bit of a learning curve for both newbies and people who know a bit about systems to get it working. Now, I know there are a lot of things that need to be fixed in the anonymity, security place if I put that sort of hat. For e.g. wouldn t it be cool if either the IRC client or one of its add-on gave throwaway usernames and passwords. The passwords would be complex. This would make it easier who are paranoid about security and many do and would have. As an example we can see of Fuchs. Now if the gentleman or lady is working in a professional capacity and would come to know of their real identity and perceive rightly or wrongly the role of that person, it will affect their career. Now, should it? I am sure a lot of people would be divided on the issue. Personally, as far as I am concerned, I would say no because whether right or wrong, whatever they were doing they were doing on their own time. Not on company time. So it doesn t concern the company at all. If we were to let companies police the behavior outside the time, individuals would be in a lot of trouble. Although, have to say that is a trend that has been seen in companies that are firing people either on the left or right. A recent example that comes to mind is Emily Wilder who was fired by Associated Press. Interestingly, she was interviewed by Democracy now, and it did come out that she is a Jew. As can be seen and understood there is a lot of nuance to her story and not the way she was fired. It doesn t give a good taste in the mouth, but then getting fired nobody does. On few forums, people did share of people getting fired of their job because they were dancing (cops). Again, it all depends, for me again, hats off to anybody who feels like dancing or whatever because there are just so many depressing stories all around.

Banned and FOE On few forums I was banned because I was talking about Brexit and American imperialism, both of which are seem to ruffle a few feathers in quite a few places. For instance, many people for obvious reasons do not like this video

Now I m sorry I am not able to and have not been able to give invidious links for the past few months. The reason being invidious itself went through some changes and the changes are good and bad. For e.g. now you need to share your google id with a third-party which at least to my mind is not a good idea. But that probably is another story altogether and it probably will need its own place. Coming back to the video itself, this was shared by Anthony hazard and the Title is The Atlantic slave trade: What too few textbooks told you . I did see this video quite a few years ago and still find it hard to swallow that tens of millions of Africans were bought as slaves to the Americas, although to be fair it does start with the Spanish settlement in the land which would be called the U.S. but they bought slaves with themselves. They even got the American natives, i.e. people from different tribes which made up America at that point. One point to note is that U.S. got its independence on July 4, 1776 so all the people before that were called as European settlers for want of a better word. Some or many of these European settlers would be convicts who were sent from UK. But as shared in the article, that would only happen with U.S. itself is mature and open enough for that discussion. Going back to the original point though, these European or American settlers bought lot of slaves from Africa. The video does also shed some of the cruelty the Europeans or Americans did on the slaves, men and women in different ways. The most revelatory part though which I also forget many a times that because lot of people were taken from Africa and many of them men, it did lead to imbalances in the African societies not just in weddings but economics in general. It also developed a theory called Critical Race theory in which it tries to paint the Africans as an inferior race otherwise how would Christianity work where their own good book says All men are born equal . That does in part explain why the African countries are still so far behind their European or American counterparts. But Africa can still be proud as they are richer than us, yup India. Sadly, I don t think America is ready to have that conversation anytime soon or if ever. And if it were to do, it would have to out-do any truth and reconciliation Committee which the world has seen. A mere apology or two would not just cut it. The problems of America sadly are not limited to just Africans but the natives of the land, for e.g. the Lakota people. In 1868, they put a letter stating we will give the land back to the Lakota people forever, but then the gold rush happened. In 2007, when the Lakota stated their proposal for independence, the U.S. through its force denied. So much for the paper, it was written on. Now from what I came to know over the years, the American natives are called First nations . Time and time again the American Govt. has tried or been foul towards them. Some of the examples include The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository . The same is and was the case with The Keystone pipeline which is now dead. Now one could say that it is America s internal matter and I would fully agree but when they speak of internal matters of other countries, then we should have the same freedom. But this is not restricted to just internal matters, sadly. Since the 1950 s i.e. the advent of the cold war, America s foreign policy made Regime changes all around the world. Sharing some of the examples from the Cold War

Iran 1953
Guatemala 1954
Democratic Republic of the Congo 1960
Republic of Ghana 1966
Iraq 1968
Chile 1973
Argentina 1976
Afghanistan 1978-1980s
Grenada
Nicaragua 1981-1990
1. Destabilization through CIA assets
2. Arming the Contras
El Salvador 1980-92
Philippines 1986 Even after the Cold War ended the situation was anonymolus, meaning they still continued with their old behavior. After the end of Cold War

Guatemala 1993
Serbia 2000
Iraq 2003-
Afghanistan 2001 ongoing There is a helpful Wikipedia article titled History of CIA which basically lists most of the covert regime changes done by U.S. The abvoe is merely a sub-set of the actions done by U.S. Now are all the behaviors above of a civilized nation ? And if one cares to notice, one would notice that all the above countries in the list which had the regime change had either Oil or precious metals. So U.S. is and was being what it accuses China, a profiteer. But this isn t just the U.S. China story but more about the American abuse of its power. My own country, India paid IMF loans till 1991 and we paid through the nose. There were economic sanctions against India. But then, this is again not just about U.S. India. Even with Europe or more precisely Norway which didn t want to side with America because their intelligence showed that no WMD were present in Iraq, the relationship still has issues.

Pandemic and the World So I do find that this whole blaming of China by U.S. quite theatrical and full of double-triple standards. Very early during the debates, it came to light that the Spanish Flu actually originated in Kensas, U.S.

What was also interesting as I found in the Pentagon Papers much before The Watergate scandal came out that U.S. had realized that China would be more of a competitor than Russia. And this itself was in 1960 s itself. This shows the level of intelligence that the Americans had. From what I can recollect from whatever I have read of that era, China was still mostly an agri-based economy. So, how the U.S. was able to deduce that China will surpass other economies is beyond me even now. They surely must have known something that even we today do not. One of the other interesting observations and understanding that I got while researching that every year we transfer an average of 7500 diseases from animal to humans and that should be a scary figure. I think more than anything else, loss of habitat and use of animals from food to clothing to medicine is probably the reason we are getting such diseases. I am also sure that there probably are and have been similar number of transfer of diseases from humans to animals as well but for well-known biases and whatnot those studies are neither done or are under-funded. There are and have been reports of something like 850,000 undiscovered viruses which various mammals and birds have. Also I did find that most of such pandemics are hard to identify, for e.g. SARS 1 took about 15 years, Ebola we don t know till date from where it came. Even HIV has questions for us. Hell, even why does hearing go away is a mystery to us. In all of this, we want to say China is culpable. And while China may or may not be culpable, only time will tell, this is surely the opportunity for all countries to spend and make capacities in public health. Countries which will take lessons from it and improve their public healthcare models will hopefully will not suffer as those who will suffer and are continuing to suffer now  To those who feel that habitat loss of animals is untrue, I would suggest them to see Sherni which depicts the human/animal conflict in all its brutality. I am gonna warn in advance that the ending is not nice but what can you expect from a country in which forest area cover has constantly declined and the Govt. itself is only interested in headline management

The only positive story I can share from India is that finally the Modi Govt. has said we will do free vaccine immunization for everybody. Although the pace is nothing to write home about. One additional thing they relaxed was instead of going to Cowin or any other portal, people could simply walk in using their identity papers. Although, given the pace of vaccinations, it is going to take anywhere between 13-18 months or more depending on availability of vaccines.

Looking forward to all and any replies have a virtual keyboard, preferably xvkbd as that is good enough for my use-case.

20 June 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Magician's Nephew

Review: The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #6
Publisher: Collier Books
Copyright: 1955
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044230-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 186
The Magician's Nephew is the sixth book of the Chronicles of Narnia in the original publication order, but it's a prequel, set fifty years before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's therefore put first in the new reading order. I have always loved world-building and continuities and, as a comics book reader (Marvel primarily), developed a deep enjoyment of filling in the pieces and reconstructing histories from later stories. It's no wonder that I love reading The Magician's Nephew after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The experience of fleshing out backstory with detail and specifics makes me happy. If that's also you, I recommend the order in which I'm reading these books. Reading this one first is defensible, though. One of the strongest arguments for doing so is that it's a much stronger, tighter, and better-told story than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and therefore might start the series off on a better foot for you. It stands alone well; you don't need to know any of the later events to enjoy this, although you will miss the significance of a few things like the lamp post and you don't get the full introduction to Aslan. The Magician's Nephew is the story of Polly Plummer, her new neighbor Digory Kirke, and his Uncle Andrew, who fancies himself a magician. At the start of the book, Digory's mother is bed-ridden and dying and Digory is miserable, which is the impetus for a friendship with Polly. The two decide to explore the crawl space of the row houses in which they live, seeing if they can get into the empty house past Digory's. They don't calculate the distances correctly and end up in Uncle Andrew's workroom, where Digory was forbidden to go. Uncle Andrew sees this as a golden opportunity to use them for an experiment in travel to other worlds. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. The Magician's Nephew, like the best of the Narnia books, does not drag its feet getting started. It takes a mere 30 pages to introduce all of the characters, establish a friendship, introduce us to a villain, and get both of the kids into another world. When Lewis is at his best, he has an economy of storytelling and a grasp of pacing that I wish was more common. It's also stuffed to the brim with ideas, one of the best of which is the Wood Between the Worlds. Uncle Andrew has crafted pairs of magic rings, yellow and green, and tricks Polly into touching one of the yellow ones, causing her to vanish from our world. He then uses her plight to coerce Digory into going after her, carrying two green rings that he thinks will bring people back into our world, and not incidentally also observing that world and returning to tell Uncle Andrew what it's like. But the world is more complicated than he thinks it is, and the place where the children find themselves is an eerie and incredibly peaceful wood, full of grass and trees but apparently no other living thing, and sprinkled with pools of water. This was my first encounter with the idea of a world that connects other worlds, and it remains the most memorable one for me. I love everything about the Wood: the simplicity of it, the calm that seems in part to be a defense against intrusion, the hidden danger that one might lose one's way and confuse the ponds for each other, and even the way that it tends to make one lose track of why one is there or what one is trying to accomplish. That quiet forest filled with pools is still an image I use for infinite creativity and potential. It's quiet and nonthreatening, but not entirely inviting either; it's magnificently neutral, letting each person bring what they wish to it. One of the minor plot points of this book is that Uncle Andrew is wrong about the rings because he's wrong about the worlds. There aren't just two worlds; there are an infinite number, with the Wood as a nexus, and our reality is neither the center nor one of an important pair. The rings are directional, but relative to the Wood, not our world. The kids, who are forced to experiment and who have open minds, figure this out quickly, but Uncle Andrew never shifts his perspective. This isn't important to the story, but I've always thought it was a nice touch of world-building. Where this story is heading, of course, is the creation of Narnia and the beginning of all of the stories told in the rest of the series. But before that, the kids's first trip out of the Wood is to one of the best worlds of children's fantasy: Charn. If the Wood is my mental image of a world nexus, Charn will forever be my image of a dying world: black sky, swollen red sun, and endless abandoned and crumbling buildings as far as the eye can see, full of tired silences and eerie noises. And, of course, the hall of statues, with one of the most memorable descriptions of history and empire I've ever read (if you ignore the racialized description):
All of the faces they could see were certainly nice. Both the men and women looked kind and wise, and they seemed to come of a handsome race. But after the children had gone a few steps down the room they came to faces that looked a little different. These were very solemn faces. You felt you would have to mind your P's and Q's, if you ever met living people who looked like that. When they had gone a little farther, they found themselves among faces they didn't like: this was about the middle of the room. The faces here looked very strong and proud and happy, but they looked cruel. A little further on, they looked crueller. Further on again, they were still cruel but they no longer looked happy. They were even despairing faces: as if the people they belonged to had done dreadful things and also suffered dreadful things.
The last statue is of a fierce, proud woman that Digory finds strikingly beautiful. (Lewis notes in an aside that Polly always said she never found anything specially beautiful about her. Here, as in The Silver Chair, the girl is the sensible one and things would have gone better if the boy had listened to her, a theme that I find immensely frustrating because Susan was the sensible one in the first two books of the series but then Lewis threw that away.) There is a bell in the middle of this hall, and the pillar that holds that bell has an inscription on it that I think every kid who grew up on Narnia knows by heart.
Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.
Polly has no intention of striking the bell, but Digory fights her and does it anyway, waking Jadis from where she sat as the final statue in the hall and setting off one of the greatest reimaginings of a villain in children's literature. Jadis will, of course, become the White Witch who holds Narnia in endless winter some thousand Narnian years later. But the White Witch was a mediocre villain at best, the sort of obvious and cruel villain common in short fairy tales where the author isn't interested in doing much characterization. She exists to be evil, do bad things, and be defeated. She has a few good moments in conflict with Aslan, but that's about it. Jadis in this book is another matter entirely: proud, brilliant, dangerous, and creative. The death of everything on Charn was Jadis's doing: an intentional spell, used to claim a victory of sorts from the jaws of defeat by her sister in a civil war. (I find it fascinating that Lewis puts aside his normally sexist roles here.) Despite the best attempts of the kids to lose her both in Charn and in the Wood (which is inimical to her, in another nice bit of world-building), she manages to get back to England with them. The result is a remarkably good bit of villain characterization. Jadis is totally out of her element, used to a world-spanning empire run with magic and (from what hints we get) vaguely medieval technology. Her plan to take over their local country and eventually the world should be absurd and is played somewhat for laughs. Her magic, which is her great weapon, doesn't even work in England. But Jadis learns at a speed that the reader can watch. She's observant, she pays attention to things that don't fit her expectations, she changes plans, and she moves with predatory speed. Within a few hours in London she's stolen jewels and a horse and carriage, and the local police seem entirely overmatched. There's no way that one person without magic should be a real danger to England around the turn of the 20th century, but by the time the kids manage to pull her back into the Wood, you're not entirely sure England would have been safe. A chaotic confrontation, plus the ability of the rings to work their magic through transitive human contact, ends up with the kids, Uncle Andrew, Jadis, a taxicab driver and his horse all transported through the Wood to a new world. In this case, literally a new world: Narnia at the point of its creation. Here again, Lewis translates Christian myth, in this case the Genesis creation story, into a more vivid and in many ways more beautiful story than the original. Aslan singing the world into existence is an incredible image, as is the newly-created world so bursting with life that even things that normally could not grow will do so. (Which, of course, is why there is a lamp post burning in the middle of the western forest of Narnia for the Pevensie kids to find later.) I think my favorite part is the creation of the stars, but the whole sequence is great. There's also an insightful bit of human psychology. Uncle Andrew can't believe that a lion is singing, so he convinces himself that Aslan is not singing, and thus prevents himself from making any sense of the talking animals later.
Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.
As with a lot in Lewis, he probably meant this as a statement about faith, but it generalizes well beyond the religious context. What disappointed me about the creation story, though, is the animals. I didn't notice this as a kid, but this re-read has sensitized me to how Lewis consistently treats the talking animals as less than humans even though he celebrates them. That happens here too: the newly-created, newly-awakened animals are curious and excited but kind of dim. Some of this is an attempt to show that they're young and are just starting to learn, but it also seems to be an excuse for Aslan to set up a human king and queen over them instead of teaching them directly how to deal with the threat of Jadis who the children inadvertently introduced into the world. The other thing I dislike about The Magician's Nephew is that the climax is unnecessarily cruel. Once Digory realizes the properties of the newly-created world, he hopes to find a way to use that to heal his mother. Aslan points out that he is responsible for Jadis entering the world and instead sends him on a mission to obtain a fruit that, when planted, will ward Narnia against her for many years. The same fruit would heal his mother, and he has to choose Narnia over her. (It's a fairly explicit parallel to the Garden of Eden, except in this case Digory passes.) Aslan, in the end, gives Digory the fruit of the tree that grows, which is still sufficient to heal his mother, but this sequence made me angry when re-reading it. Aslan knew all along that what Digory is doing will let him heal his mother as well, but hides this from him to make it more of a test. It's cruel and mean; Aslan could have promised to heal Digory's mother and then seen if he would help Narnia without getting anything in return other than atoning for his error, but I suppose that was too transactional for Lewis's theology or something. Meh. But, despite that, the only reason why this is not the best Narnia book is because The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the only Narnia book that also nails the ending. The Magician's Nephew, up through Charn, Jadis's rampage through London, and the initial creation of Narnia, is fully as good, perhaps better. It sags a bit at the end, partly because it tries to hard to make the Narnian animals humorous and partly because of the unnecessary emotional torture of Digory. But this still holds up as the second-best Narnia book, and one I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading. If anything, Jadis and Charn are even better than I remembered. Followed by the last book of the series, the somewhat notorious The Last Battle. Rating: 9 out of 10

Sean Whitton: transient-caps-lock

If you re writing a lot of Common Lisp and you want to follow the convention of using all uppercase to refer to symbols in docstrings, comments etc., you really need something better than the shift key. Similarly if you re writing C and you have VARIOUS_LONG_ENUMS. The traditional way is a caps lock key. But that means giving up a whole keyboard key, all of the time, just for block capitalisation, which one hardly uses outside of programming. So a better alternative is to come up with some Emacs thing to get block capitalisation, as Emacs key binding is much more flexible than system keyboard layouts, and can let us get block capitalisation without giving up a whole key. The simplest thing would be to bind some sequence of keys to just toggle caps lock. But I came up with something a bit fancier. With the following, you can type M-C, and then you get block caps until the point at which you ve probably finished typing your symbol or enum name.
(defun spw/transient-caps-self-insert (&optional n)
  (interactive "p")
  (insert-char (upcase last-command-event) n))
(defun spw/activate-transient-caps ()
  "Activate caps lock while typing the current whitespace-delimited word(s).
This is useful for typing Lisp symbols and C enums which consist
of several all-uppercase words separated by hyphens and
underscores, such that M-- M-u after typing will not upcase the
whole thing."
  (interactive)
  (let* ((map (make-sparse-keymap))
     (deletion-commands &apos(delete-backward-char
                          paredit-backward-delete
                          backward-kill-word
                          paredit-backward-kill-word
                          spw/unix-word-rubout
                          spw/paredit-unix-word-rubout))
     (typing-commands (cons &aposspw/transient-caps-self-insert
                            deletion-commands)))
     (substitute-key-definition &aposself-insert-command
                                #&aposspw/transient-caps-self-insert
                                map
                                (current-global-map))
    (set-transient-map
     map
     (lambda ()
       ;; try to determine whether we are probably still about to try to type
       ;; something in all-uppercase
       (and (member this-command typing-commands)
            (not (and (eq this-command &aposspw/transient-caps-self-insert)
                      (= (char-syntax last-command-event) ?\ )))
            (not (and (or (bolp) (= (char-syntax (char-before)) ?\ ))
                      (member this-command deletion-commands))))))))
(global-set-key "\M-C" #&aposspw/activate-transient-caps)
A few notes:

19 June 2021

Chris Lamb: *Raiders of the Lost Ark*: 40 Years On

"Again, we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away."
The cinema was a rare and expensive treat in my youth, so I first came across Raiders of the Lost Ark by recording it from television onto a poor quality VHS. I only mention this as it meant I watched a slightly different film to the one intended, as my copy somehow missed off the first 10 minutes. For those not as intimately familiar with the film as me, this is just in time to see a Belloq demand Dr. Jones hand over the Peruvian head (see above), just in time to learn that Indy loathes snakes, and just in time to see the inadvertent reproduction of two Europeans squabbling over the spoils of a foreign land. What this truncation did to my interpretation of the film (released thirty years ago today on June 19th 1981) is interesting to explore. Without Jones' physical and moral traits being demonstrated on-screen (as well as missing the weighing the gold head and the rollercoaster boulder scene), it actually made the idea of 'Indiana Jones' even more of a mythical archetype. The film wisely withholds Jones' backstory, but my directors cut deprived him of even more, and counterintuitively imbued him with even more of a legendary hue as the elision made his qualities an assumption beyond question. Indiana Jones, if you can excuse the clich , needed no introduction at all. Good artists copy, great artists steal. And oh boy, does Raiders steal. I've watched this film about twenty times over the past two decades and it's now firmly entered into my personal canon. But watching it on its thirtieth anniversary was different not least because I could situate it in a broader cinematic context. For example, I now see the Gestapo officer in Major Strasser from Casablanca (1942), in fact just as I can with many of Raiders' other orientalist tendencies: not only in its breezy depictions of backwards sand people, but also of North Africa as an entrep t and playground for a certain kind of Western gangster. The opening as well, set in an equally reductionist pseudo-Peru, now feels like Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) but without, of course, any self-conscious colonial critique.
The imagery of the ark appears to be borrowed from James Tissot's The Ark Passes Over the Jordan, part of the fin de siecle fascination with the occult and (ironically enough given the background of Raiders' director), a French Catholic revival.
I can now also appreciate some of the finer edges that make this film just so much damn fun to watch. For instance, the comic book conceit that Jones and Belloq are a 'shadowy reflection' of one other and that they need 'only a nudge' to make one like the other. As is the idea that Belloq seems to be actually enjoying being evil. I also spotted Jones rejecting the martini on the plane. This feels less like a comment on corrupting effect of alcohol (he drinks rather heavily elsewhere in the film), but rather a subtle distancing from James Bond. This feels especially important given that the action-packed cold open is, let us be honest for a second, ripped straight from the 007 franchise. John William's soundtracks are always worth mentioning. The corny Raiders March does almost nothing for me, but the highly-underrated 'Ark theme' certainly does. I delight in its allusions to Gregorian chant, the diabolus in musica and the Hungarian minor scale, fusing the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity (the stacked thirds, get it?), the ars antiqua of the Middle Ages with an 'exotic' twist that the Russian Five associated with central European Judaism.
The best use of the ark leitmotif is, of course, when it is opened. Here, Indy and Marion are saved by not opening their eyes whilst the 'High Priest' Belloq and the rest of the Nazis are all melted away. I'm no Biblical scholar, but I'm almost certain they were alluding to Leviticus 16:2 here:
The Lord said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.
But would it be too much of a stretch to also see the myth of Orpheus and Eurydices too? Orpheus's wife would only be saved from the underworld if he did not turn around until he came to his own house. But he turned round to look at his wife, and she instantly slipped back into the depths:
For he who overcome should turn back his gaze
Towards the Tartarean cave,
Whatever excellence he takes with him
He loses when he looks on those below.
Perhaps not, given that Marion and the ark are not lost in quite the same way. But whilst touching on gender, it was interesting to update my view of archaeologist Ren Belloq. To countermand his slight queer coding (a trope of Disney villains such as Scar, Jafar, Cruella, etc.), there is a rather clumsy subplot involving Belloq repeatedly (and half-heartedly) failing to seduce Marion. This disavows any idea that Belloq isn't firmly heterosexual, essential for the film's mainstream audience, but it is especially important in Raiders because, if we recall the relationship between Belloq and Jones: 'it would take only a nudge to make you like me'. (This would definitely put a new slant on 'Top men'.)
However, my favourite moment is where the Nazis place the ark in a crate in order to transport it to the deserted island. On route, the swastikas on the side of the crate spontaneously burn away, and a disturbing noise is heard in the background. This short scene has always fascinated me, partly because it's the first time in the film that the power of the ark is demonstrated first-hand but also because gives the object an other-worldly nature that, to the best of my knowledge, has no parallel in the rest of cinema. Still, I had always assumed that the Aak disfigured the swastikas because of their association with the Nazis, interpreting the act as God's condemnation of the Third Reich. But now I catch myself wondering whether the ark would have disfigured any iconography as a matter of principle or whether their treatment was specific to the swastika. We later get a partial answer to this question, as the 'US Army' inscriptions in the Citizen Kane warehouse remain untouched. Far from being an insignificant concern, the filmmakers appear to have wandered into a highly-contested theological debate. As in, if the burning of the swastika is God's moral judgement of the Nazi regime, then God is clearly both willing and able to intervene in human affairs. So why did he not, to put it mildly, prevent Auschwitz? From this perspective, Spielberg appears to be limbering up for some of the academic critiques surrounding Holocaust representations that will follow Schindler's List (1993). Given my nostalgic and somewhat ironic attachment to Raiders, it will always be difficult for me to objectively appraise the film. Even so, it feels like it is underpinned by an earnest attempt to entertain the viewer, largely absent in the affected cynicism of contemporary cinema. And when considered in the totality of Hollywood's output, its tonal and technical flaws are not actually that bad or at least Marion's muddled characterisation and its breezy chauvinism (for example) clearly have far worse examples. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film in 2021 is that it hasn't changed that much at all. It spawned one good sequel (The Last Crusade), one bad one (The Temple of Doom), and one hardly worth mentioning at all, yet these adventures haven't affected the original Raiders in any meaningful way. In fact, if anything has affected the original text it is, once again, George Lucas himself, as knowing the impending backlash around the Star Wars prequels adds an inadvertent paratext to all his earlier works. Yet in a 1978 discussion prior to the creation of Raiders, you can get a keen sense of how Lucas' childlike enthusiasm will always result in something either extremely good or something extremely bad somehow no middle ground is quite possible. Yes, it's easy to rubbish his initial ideas 'We'll call him Indiana Smith! but hasn't Lucas actually captured the essence of a heroic 'Americana' here, and that the final result is simply a difference of degree, not kind?

Chris Lamb: Raiders of the Lost Ark: 40 Years On

"Again, we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away."
The cinema was a rare and expensive treat in my youth, so I first came across Raiders of the Lost Ark by recording it from television onto a poor quality VHS. I only mention this as it meant I watched a slightly different film to the one intended, as my copy somehow missed off the first 10 minutes. For those not as intimately familiar with the film as me, this is just in time to see a Belloq demand Dr. Jones hand over the Peruvian head (see above), just in time to learn that Indy loathes snakes, and just in time to see the inadvertent reproduction of two Europeans squabbling over the spoils of a foreign land. What this truncation did to my interpretation of the film (released thirty years ago today on June 19th 1981) is interesting to explore. Without Jones' physical and moral traits being demonstrated on-screen (as well as missing the weighing the gold head and the rollercoaster boulder scene), it actually made the idea of 'Indiana Jones' even more of a mythical archetype. The film wisely withholds Jones' backstory, but my directors cut deprived him of even more, and counterintuitively imbued him with even more of a legendary hue as the elision made his qualities an assumption beyond question. Indiana Jones, if you can excuse the clich , needed no introduction at all. Good artists copy, great artists steal. And oh boy, does Raiders steal. I've watched this film about twenty times over the past two decades and it's now firmly entered into my personal canon. But watching it on its thirtieth anniversary was different not least because I could situate it in a broader cinematic context. For example, I now see the Gestapo officer in Major Strasser from Casablanca (1942), in fact just as I can with many of Raiders' other orientalist tendencies: not only in its breezy depictions of backwards sand people, but also of North Africa as an entrep t and playground for a certain kind of Western gangster. The opening as well, set in an equally reductionist pseudo-Peru, now feels like Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) but without, of course, any self-conscious colonial critique.
The imagery of the ark appears to be borrowed from James Tissot's The Ark Passes Over the Jordan, part of the fin de siecle fascination with the occult and (ironically enough given the background of Raiders' director), a French Catholic revival.
I can now also appreciate some of the finer edges that make this film just so much damn fun to watch. For instance, the comic book conceit that Jones and Belloq are a 'shadowy reflection' of one other and that they need 'only a nudge' to make one like the other. As is the idea that Belloq seems to be actually enjoying being evil. I also spotted Jones rejecting the martini on the plane. This feels less like a comment on corrupting effect of alcohol (he drinks rather heavily elsewhere in the film), but rather a subtle distancing from James Bond. This feels especially important given that the action-packed cold open is, let us be honest for a second, ripped straight from the 007 franchise. John William's soundtracks are always worth mentioning. The corny Raiders March does almost nothing for me, but the highly-underrated 'Ark theme' certainly does. I delight in its allusions to Gregorian chant, the diabolus in musica and the Hungarian minor scale, fusing the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity (the stacked thirds, get it?), the ars antiqua of the Middle Ages with an 'exotic' twist that the Russian Five associated with central European Judaism.
The best use of the ark leitmotif is, of course, when it is opened. Here, Indy and Marion are saved by not opening their eyes whilst the 'High Priest' Belloq and the rest of the Nazis are all melted away. I'm no Biblical scholar, but I'm almost certain they were alluding to Leviticus 16:2 here:
The Lord said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.
But would it be too much of a stretch to also see the myth of Orpheus and Eurydices too? Orpheus's wife would only be saved from the underworld if he did not turn around until he came to his own house. But he turned round to look at his wife, and she instantly slipped back into the depths:
For he who overcome should turn back his gaze
Towards the Tartarean cave,
Whatever excellence he takes with him
He loses when he looks on those below.
Perhaps not, given that Marion and the ark are not lost in quite the same way. But whilst touching on gender, it was interesting to update my view of archaeologist Ren Belloq. To countermand his slight queer coding (a trope of Disney villains such as Scar, Jafar, Cruella, etc.), there is a rather clumsy subplot involving Belloq repeatedly (and half-heartedly) failing to seduce Marion. This disavows any idea that Belloq isn't firmly heterosexual, essential for the film's mainstream audience, but it is especially important in Raiders because, if we recall the relationship between Belloq and Jones: 'it would take only a nudge to make you like me'. (This would definitely put a new slant on 'Top men'.)
However, my favourite moment is where the Nazis place the ark in a crate in order to transport it to the deserted island. On route, the swastikas on the side of the crate spontaneously burn away, and a disturbing noise is heard in the background. This short scene has always fascinated me, partly because it's the first time in the film that the power of the ark is demonstrated first-hand but also because gives the object an other-worldly nature that, to the best of my knowledge, has no parallel in the rest of cinema. Still, I had always assumed that the Aak disfigured the swastikas because of their association with the Nazis, interpreting the act as God's condemnation of the Third Reich. But now I catch myself wondering whether the ark would have disfigured any iconography as a matter of principle or whether their treatment was specific to the swastika. We later get a partial answer to this question, as the 'US Army' inscriptions in the Citizen Kane warehouse remain untouched. Far from being an insignificant concern, the filmmakers appear to have wandered into a highly-contested theological debate. As in, if the burning of the swastika is God's moral judgement of the Nazi regime, then God is clearly both willing and able to intervene in human affairs. So why did he not, to put it mildly, prevent Auschwitz? From this perspective, Spielberg appears to be limbering up for some of the academic critiques surrounding Holocaust representations that will follow Schindler's List (1993). Given my nostalgic and somewhat ironic attachment to Raiders, it will always be difficult for me to objectively appraise the film. Even so, it feels like it is underpinned by an earnest attempt to entertain the viewer, largely absent in the affected cynicism of contemporary cinema. And when considered in the totality of Hollywood's output, its tonal and technical flaws are not actually that bad or at least Marion's muddled characterisation and its breezy chauvinism (for example) clearly have far worse examples. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film in 2021 is that it hasn't changed that much at all. It spawned one good sequel (The Last Crusade), one bad one (The Temple of Doom), and one hardly worth mentioning at all, yet these adventures haven't affected the original Raiders in any meaningful way. In fact, if anything has affected the original text it is, once again, George Lucas himself, as knowing the impending backlash around the Star Wars prequels adds an inadvertent paratext to all his earlier works. Yet in a 1978 discussion prior to the creation of Raiders, you can get a keen sense of how Lucas' childlike enthusiasm will always result in something either extremely good or something extremely bad somehow no middle ground is quite possible. Yes, it's easy to rubbish his initial ideas 'We'll call him Indiana Smith! but hasn't Lucas actually captured the essence of a heroic 'Americana' here, and that the final result is simply a difference of degree, not kind?

30 May 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Silver Chair

Review: The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #4
Publisher: Collier
Copyright: 1953
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044250-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 217
The Silver Chair is a sequel to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia in original publication order. (For more about publication order, see the introduction to my review of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.) Apart from a few references to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the start, it stands sufficiently on its own that you could read it without reading the other books, although I have no idea why you'd want to. We have finally arrived at my least favorite of the Narnia books and the one that I sometimes skipped during re-reads. (One of my objections to the new publication order is that it puts The Silver Chair and The Last Battle back-to-back, and I don't think you should do that to yourself as a reader.) I was hoping that there would be previously unnoticed depth to this book that would redeem it as an adult reader. Sadly, no; with one very notable exception, it's just not very good. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. The Silver Chair opens on the grounds of the awful school to which Eustace's parents sent him: Experiment House. That means it opens (and closes) with a more extended version of Lewis's rant about schools. I won't get into this in detail since it's mostly a framing device, but Lewis is remarkably vicious and petty. His snide contempt for putting girls and boys in the same school did not age well, nor did his emphasis at the end of the book that the incompetent head of the school is a woman. I also raised an eyebrow at holding up ordinary British schools as a model of preventing bullying. Thankfully, as Lewis says at the start, this is not a school story. This is prelude to Jill meeting Eustace and the two of them escaping the bullies via a magical door into Narnia. Unfortunately, that's the second place The Silver Chair gets off on the wrong foot. Jill and Eustace end up in what the reader of the series will recognize as Aslan's country and almost walk off the vast cliff at the end of the world, last seen from the bottom in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace freaks out, Jill (who has a much better head for heights) goes intentionally close to the cliff in a momentary impulse of arrogance before realizing how high it is, Eustace tries to pull her back, and somehow Eustace falls over the edge. I do not have a good head for heights, and I wonder how much of it is due to this memorable scene. I certainly blame Lewis for my belief that pulling someone else back from the edge of a cliff can result in you being pushed off, something that on adult reflection makes very little sense but which is seared into my lizard brain. But worse, this sets the tone for the rest of the story: everything is constantly going wrong because Eustace and Jill either have normal human failings that are disproportionately punished or don't successfully follow esoteric and unreasonably opaque instructions from Aslan. Eustace is safe, of course; Aslan blows him to Narnia and then gives Jill instructions before sending her afterwards. (I suspect the whole business with the cliff was an authorial cheat to set up Jill's interaction with Aslan without Eustace there to explain anything.) She and Eustace have been summoned to Narnia to find the lost Prince, and she has to memorize four Signs that will lead her on the right path. Gah, the Signs. If you were the sort of kid that I was, you immediately went back and re-read the Signs several times to memorize them like Jill was told to. The rest of this book was then an exercise in anxious frustration. First, Eustace is an ass to Jill and refuses to even listen to the first Sign. They kind of follow the second but only with heavy foreshadowing that Jill isn't memorizing the Signs every day like she's supposed to. They mostly botch the third and have to backtrack to follow it. Meanwhile, the narrator is constantly reminding you that the kids (and Jill in particular) are screwing up their instructions. On re-reading, it's clear they're not doing that poorly given how obscure the Signs are, but the ominous foreshadowing is enough to leave a reader a nervous wreck. Worse, Eustace and Jill are just miserable to each other through the whole book. They constantly bicker and snipe, Eustace doesn't want to listen to her and blames her for everything, and the hard traveling makes it all worse. Lewis does know how to tell a satisfying redemption arc; one of the things I have always liked about Edmund's story is that he learns his lesson and becomes my favorite character in the subsequent stories. But, sadly, Eustace's redemption arc is another matter. He's totally different here than he was at the start of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (to the degree that if he didn't have the same name in both books, I wouldn't recognize him as the same person), but rather than a better person he seems to have become a different sort of ass. There's no sign here of the humility and appreciation for friendship that he supposedly learned from his time as a dragon. On top of that, the story isn't very interesting. Rilian, the lost Prince, is a damp squib who talks in the irritating archaic accent that Lewis insists on using for all Narnian royalty. His story feels like Lewis lifted it from medieval Arthurian literature; most of it could be dropped into a collection of stories of knights of the Round Table without seeming out of place. When you have a country full of talking animals and weirdly fascinating bits of theology, it's disappointing to get a garden-variety story about an evil enchantress in which everyone is noble and tragic and extremely stupid. Thankfully, The Silver Chair has one important redeeming quality: Puddleglum. Puddleglum is a Marsh-wiggle, a bipedal amphibious sort who lives alone in the northern marshes. He's recruited by the owls to help the kids with their mission when they fail to get King Caspian's help after blowing the first Sign. Puddleglum is an absolute delight: endlessly pessimistic, certain the worst possible thing will happen at any moment, but also weirdly cheerful about it. I love Eeyore characters in general, but Puddleglum is even better because he gives the kids' endless bickering exactly the respect that it deserves.
"But we all need to be very careful about our tempers, seeing all the hard times we shall have to go through together. Won't do to quarrel, you know. At any rate, don't begin it too soon. I know these expeditions usually end that way; knifing one another, I shouldn't wonder, before all's done. But the longer we can keep off it "
It's even more obvious on re-reading that Puddleglum is the only effective member of the party. Jill has only a couple of moments where she gets the three of them past some obstacle. Eustace is completely useless; I can't remember a single helpful thing he does in the entire book. Puddleglum and his pessimistic determination, on the other hand, is right about nearly everything at each step. And he's the one who takes decisive action to break the Lady of the Green Kirtle's spell near the end. I was expecting a bit of sexism and (mostly in upcoming books) racism when re-reading these books as an adult given when they were written and who Lewis was, but what has caught me by surprise is the colonialism. Lewis is weirdly insistent on importing humans from England to fill all the important roles in stories, even stories that are entirely about Narnians. I know this is the inherent weakness of portal fantasy, but it bothers me how little Lewis believes in Narnians solving their own problems. The Silver Chair makes this blatantly obvious: if Aslan had just told Puddleglum the same information he told Jill and sent a Badger or a Beaver or a Mouse along with him, all the evidence in the book says the whole affair would have been sorted out with much less fuss and anxiety. Jill and Eustace are far more of a hindrance than a help, which makes for frustrating reading when they're supposedly the protagonists. The best part of this book is the underground bits, once they finally get through the first three Signs and stumble into the Lady's kingdom far below the surface. Rilian is a great disappointment, but the fight against the Lady's mind-altering magic leads to one of the great quotes of the series, on par with Reepicheep's speech in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
"Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
This is Puddleglum, of course. And yes, I know that this is apologetics and Lewis is talking about Christianity and making the case for faith without proof, but put that aside for the moment, because this is still powerful life philosophy. It's a cynic's litany against cynicism. It's a pessimist's defense of hope. Suppose we have only dreamed all those things like justice and fairness and equality, community and consensus and collaboration, universal basic income and effective environmentalism. The dreary magic of the realists and the pragmatists say that such things are baby's games, silly fantasies. But you can still choose to live like you believe in them. In Alasdair Gray's reworking of a line from Dennis Lee, "work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." That's one moment that I'll always remember from this book. The other is after they kill the Lady of the Green Kirtle and her magic starts to fade, they have to escape from the underground caverns while surrounded by the Earthmen who served her and who they believe are hostile. It's a tense moment that turns into a delightful celebration when they realize that the Earthmen were just as much prisoners as the Prince was. They were forced from a far deeper land below, full of living metals and salamanders who speak from rivers of fire. It's the one moment in this book that I thought captured the magical strangeness of Narnia, that sense that there are wonderful things just out of sight that don't follow the normal patterns of medieval-ish fantasy. Other than a few great lines from Puddleglum and some moments in Aslan's country, the first 60% of this book is a loss and remarkably frustrating to read. The last 40% isn't bad, although I wish Rilian had any discernible character other than generic Arthurian knight. I don't know what Eustace is doing in this book at all other than providing a way for Jill to get into Narnia, and I wish Lewis had realized Puddleglum could be the protagonist. But as frustrating as The Silver Chair can be, I am still glad I re-read it. Puddleglum is one of the truly memorable characters of children's literature, and it's a shame he's buried in a weak mid-series book. Followed, in the original publication order, by The Horse and His Boy. Rating: 6 out of 10

13 May 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Population, Immigration, Vaccines and Mass-Surveilance.

The Population Issue and its many facets Another couple of weeks passed. A Lot of things happening, lots of anger and depression in folks due to handling in pandemic, but instead of blaming they are willing to blame everybody else including the population. Many of them want forced sterilization like what Sanjay Gandhi did during the Emergency (1975). I had to share So Long, My son . A very moving tale of two families of what happened to them during the one-child policy in China. I was so moved by it and couldn t believe that the Chinese censors allowed it to be produced, shot, edited, and then shared worldwide. It also won a couple of awards at the 69th Berlin Film Festival, silver bear for the best actor and the actress in that category. But more than the award, the theme, and the concept as well as the length of the movie which was astonishing. Over a 3 hr. something it paints a moving picture of love, loss, shame, relief, anger, and asking for forgiveness. All of which can be identified by any rational person with feelings worldwide.

Girl child What was also interesting though was what it couldn t or wasn t able to talk about and that is the Chinese leftover men. In fact, a similar situation exists here in India, only it has been suppressed. This has been more pronounced more in Asia than in other places. One big thing in this is human trafficking and mostly women trafficking. For the Chinese male, that was happening on a large scale from all neighboring countries including India. This has been shared in media and everybody knows about it and yet people are silent. But this is not limited to just the Chinese, even Indians have been doing it. Even yesteryear actress Rupa Ganguly was caught red-handed but then later let off after formal questioning as she is from the ruling party. So much for justice. What is and has been surprising at least for me is Rwanda which is in the top 10 of some of the best places in equal gender. It, along with other African countries have also been in news for putting quite a significant amount of percentage of GDP into public healthcare (between 20-10%), but that is a story for a bit later. People forget or want to forget that it was in Satara, a city in my own state where 220 girls changed their name from nakusha or unwanted to something else and that had become a piece of global news. One would think that after so many years, things would have changed, the only change that has happened is that now we have two ministries, The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) and The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MoHFW). Sadly, in both cases, the ministries have been found wanting, Whether it was the high-profile Hathras case or even the routine cries of help which given by women on the twitter helpline. Sadly, neither of these ministries talks about POSH guidelines which came up after the 2012 gangrape case. For both these ministries, it should have been a pinned tweet. There is also the 1994 PCPNDT Act which although made in 1994, actually functioned in 2006, although what happens underground even today nobody knows  . On the global stage, about a decade ago, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt argued in their book Freakonomics how legalized abortion both made the coming population explosion as well as expected crime rates to be reduced. There was a huge pushback on the same from the conservatives and has become a matter of debate, perhaps something that the Conservatives wanted. Interestingly, it hasn t made them go back but go forward as can be seen from the Freakonomics site.

Climate Change Another topic that came up for discussion was repeatedly climate change, but when I share Shell s own 1998 Confidential report titled Greenhouse effect all become strangely silent. The silence here is of two parts, there probably is a large swathe of Indians who haven t read the report and there may be a minority who have read it and know what already has been shared with U.S. Congress. The Conservative s argument has been for it is jobs and a weak we need to research more . There was a partial debunk of it on the TBD podcast by Matt Farell and his brother Sean Farell as to how quickly the energy companies are taking to the coming change.

Health Budget Before going to Covid stories. I first wanted to talk about Health Budgets. From the last 7 years the Center s allocation for health has been between 0.34 to 0.8% per year. That amount barely covers the salaries to the staff, let alone any money for equipment or anything else. And here by allocation I mean, what is actually spent, not the one that is shared by GOI as part of budget proposal. In fact, an article on Wire gives a good breakdown of the numbers. Even those who are on the path of free markets describe India s health business model as a flawed one. See the Bloomberg Quint story on that. Now let me come to Rwanda. Why did I chose Rwanda, I could have chosen South Africa where I went for Debconf 2016, I chose because Rwanda s story is that much more inspiring. In many ways much more inspiring than that South Africa in many ways. Here is a country which for decades had one war or the other, culminating into the Rwanda Civil War which ended in 1994. And coincidentally, they gained independence on a similar timeline as South Africa ending Apartheid in 1994. What does the country do, when it gains its independence, it first puts most of its resources in the healthcare sector. The first few years at 20% of GDP, later than at 10% of GDP till everybody has universal medical coverage. Coming back to the Bloomberg article I shared, the story does not go into the depth of beyond-expiry date medicines, spurious medicines and whatnot. Sadly, most media in India does not cover the deaths happening in rural areas and this I am talking about normal times. Today what is happening in rural areas is just pure madness. For last couple of days have been talking with people who are and have been covering rural areas. In many of those communities, there is vaccine hesitancy and why, because there have been whatsapp forwards sharing that if you go to a hospital you will die and your kidney or some other part of the body will be taken by the doctor. This does two things, it scares people into not going and getting vaccinated, at the same time they are prejudiced against science. This is politics of the lowest kind. And they do it so that they will be forced to go to temples or babas and what not and ask for solutions. And whether they work or not is immaterial, they get fixed and property and money is seized. Sadly, there are not many Indian movies of North which have tried to show it except for oh my god but even here it doesn t go the distance. A much more honest approach was done in Trance . I have never understood how the South Indian movies are able to do a more honest job of story-telling than what is done in Bollywood even though they do in 1/10th the budget that is needed in Bollywood. Although, have to say with OTT, some baggage has been shed but with the whole film certification rearing its ugly head through MEITY orders, it seems two steps backward instead of forward. The idea being simply to infantilize the citizens even more. That is a whole different ball-game which probably will require its own space.

Vaccine issues One good news though is that Vaccination has started. But it has been a long story full of greed by none other than GOI (Government of India) or the ruling party BJP. Where should I start with. I probably should start with this excellent article done by Priyanka Pulla. It is interesting and fascinating to know how vaccines are made, at least one way which she shared. She also shared about the Cutter Incident which happened in the late 50 s. The response was on expected lines, character assassination of her and the newspaper they published but could not critique any of the points made by her. Not a single point that she didn t think about x or y. Interestingly enough, in January 2021 Bharati Biotech was supposed to be share phase 3 trial data but hasn t been put up in public domain till May 2021. In fact, there have been a few threads raised by both well-meaning Indians as well as others globally especially on twitter to which GOI/ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) is silent. Another interesting point to note is that Russia did say in its press release that it is possible that their vaccine may not be standard (read inactivation on their vaccines and another way is possible but would take time, again Brazil has objected, but India hasn t till date.) What also has been interesting is the homegrown B.1.617 lineage or known as double mutant . This was first discovered from my own state, Maharashtra and then transported around the world. There is also B.1.618 which was found in West Bengal and is same or supposed to be similar to the one found in South Africa. This one is known as Triple mutant . About B.1.618 we don t know much other than knowing that it is much more easily transferable, much more infectious. Most countries have banned flights from India and I cannot fault them anyway. Hell, when even our diplomats do not care for procedures to be followed during the pandemic then how a common man is supposed to do. Of course, now for next month, Mr. Modi was supposed to go and now will not attend the G7 meeting. Whether, it is because he would have to face the press (the only Prime Minister and the only Indian Prime Minister who never has faced free press.) or because the Indian delegation has been disinvited, we would never know.

A good article which shares lots of lows with how things have been done in India has been an article by Arundhati Roy. And while the article in itself is excellent and shares a bit of the bitter truth but is still incomplete as so much has been happening. The problem is that the issue manifests in so many ways, it is difficult to hold on. As Arundhati shared, should we just look at figures and numbers and hold on, or should we look at individual ones, for e.g. the one shared in Outlook India. Or the one shared by Dr. Dipshika Ghosh who works in Covid ICU in some hospital
Dr. Dipika Ghosh sharing an incident in Covid Ward

Interestingly as well, while in the vaccine issue, Brazil Anvisa doesn t know what they are doing or the regulator just isn t knowledgeable etc. (statements by various people in GOI, when it comes to testing kits, the same is an approver.)

ICMR/DGCI approving internationally validated kits, Press release.

Twitter In the midst of all this, one thing that many people have forgotten and seem to have forgotten that Twitter and other tools are used by only the elite. The reason why the whole thing has become serious now than in the first phase is because the elite of India have also fallen sick and dying which was not the case so much in the first phase. The population on Twitter is estimated to be around 30-34 million and people who are everyday around 20 odd million or so, which is what 2% of the Indian population which is estimated to be around 1.34 billion. The other 98% don t even know that there is something like twitter on which you can ask help. Twitter itself is exclusionary in many ways, with both the emoticons, the language and all sorts of things. There is a small subset who does use Twitter in regional languages, but they are too small to write anything about. The main language is English which does become a hindrance to lot of people.

Censorship Censorship of Indians critical of Govt. mishandling has been non-stop. Even U.S. which usually doesn t interfere into India s internal politics was forced to make an exception. But of course, this has been on deaf ears. There is and was a good thread on Twitter by Gaurav Sabnis, a friend, fellow Puneite now settled in U.S. as a professor.
Gaurav on Trump-Biden on vaccination of their own citizens
Now just to surmise what has been happened in India and what has been happening in most of the countries around the world. Most of the countries have done centralization purchasing of the vaccine and then is distributed by the States, this is what we understand as co-operative federalism. While last year, GOI took a lot of money under the shady PM Cares fund for vaccine purchase, donations from well-meaning Indians as well as Industries and trade bodies. Then later, GOI said it would leave the states hanging and it is they who would have to buy vaccines from the manufacturers. This is again cheap politics. The idea behind it is simple, GOI knows that almost all the states are strapped for cash. This is not new news, this I have shared a couple of months back. The problem has been that for the last 6-8 months no GST meeting has taken place as shared by Punjab s Finance Minister Amarinder Singh. What will happen is that all the states will fight in-between themselves for the vaccine and most of them are now non-BJP Governments. The idea is let the states fight and somehow be on top. So, the pandemic, instead of being a public health issue has become something of on which politics has to played. The news on whatsapp by RW media is it s ok even if a million or two also die, as it is India is heavily populated. Although that argument vanishes for those who lose their dear and near ones. But that just isn t the issue, the issue goes much more deeper than that Oxygen:12%
Remedisivir:12%
Sanitiser:12%
Ventilator:12%
PPE:18%
Ambulances 28% Now all the products above are essential medical equipment and should be declared as essential medical equipment and should have price controls on which GST is levied. In times of pandemic, should the center be profiting on those. States want to let go and even want the center to let go so that some relief is there to the public, while at the same time make them as essential medical equipment with price controls. But GOI doesn t want to. Leaders of opposition parties wrote open letters but no effect. What is sad to me is how Ambulances are being taxed at 28%. Are they luxury items or sin goods ? This also reminds of the recent discovery shared by Mr. Pappu Yadav in Bihar. You can see the color of ambulances as shared by Mr. Yadav, and the same news being shared by India TV news showing other ambulances. Also, the weak argument being made of not having enough drivers. Ideally, you should have 2-3 people, both 9-1-1 and Chicago Fire show 2 people in ambulance but a few times they have also shown to be flipped over. European seems to have three people in ambulance, also they are also much more disciplined as drivers, at least an opinion shared by an American expat.
Pappu Yadav, President Jan Adhikar Party, Bihar May 11, 2021
What is also interesting to note is GOI plays this game of Health is State subject and health is Central subject depending on its convenience. Last year, when it invoked the Epidemic and DMA Act it was a Central subject, now when bodies are flowing down the Ganges and pyres being lit everywhere, it becomes a State subject. But when and where money is involved, it again becomes a Central subject. The States are also understanding it, but they are fighting on too many fronts.
Snippets from Karnataka High Court hearing today, 13th March 2021
One of the good things is most of the High Courts have woken up. Many of the people on the RW think that the Courts are doing Judicial activism . And while there may be an iota of truth in it, the bitter truth is that many judges or relatives or their helpers have diagnosed and some have even died due to Covid. In face of the inevitable, what can they do. They are hauling up local Governments to make sure they are accountable while at the same time making sure that they get access to medical facilities. And I as a citizen don t see any wrong in that even if they are doing it for selfish reasons. Because, even if justice is being done for selfish reasons, if it does improve medical delivery systems for the masses, it is cool. If it means that the poor and everybody else are able to get vaccinations, oxygen and whatever they need, it is cool. Of course, we are still seeing reports of patients spending in the region of INR 50k and more for each day spent in hospital. But as there are no price controls, judges cannot do anything unless they want to make an enemy of the medical lobby in the country. A good story on medicines and what happens in rural areas, see no further than Laakhon mein ek.
Allahabad High Court hauling Uttar Pradesh Govt. for lack of Oxygen is equal to genocide, May 11, 2021
The censorship is not just related to takedown requests on twitter but nowadays also any articles which are critical of the GOI s handling. I have been seeing many articles which have shared facts and have been critical of GOI being taken down. Previously, we used to see 404 errors happen 7-10 years down the line and that was reasonable. Now we see that happen, days weeks or months. India seems to be turning more into China and North Korea and become more anti-science day-by-day

Fake websites Before going into fake websites, let me start with a fake newspaper which was started by none other than the Gujarat CM Mr. Modi in 2005 .
Gujarat Satya Samachar 2005 launched by Mr. Modi.
And if this wasn t enough than on Feb 8, 2005, he had invoked Official Secrets Act
Mr. Modi invoking Official Secrets Act, Feb 8 2005 Gujarat Samachar
The headlines were In Modi s regime press freedom is in peril-Down with Modi s dictatorship. So this was a tried and tested technique. The above information was shared by Mr. Urvish Kothari, who incidentally also has his own youtube channel. Now cut to 2021, and we have a slew of fake websites being done by the same party. In fact, it seems they started this right from 2011. A good article on BBC itself tells the story. Hell, Disinfo.eu which basically combats disinformation in EU has a whole pdf chronicling how BJP has been doing it. Some of the sites it shared are

Times of New York
Manchester Times
Times of Los Angeles
Manhattan Post
Washington Herald
and many more. The idea being take any site name which sounds similar to a brand name recognized by Indians and make fool of them. Of course, those of who use whois and other such tools can easily know what is happening. Two more were added to the list yesterday, Daily Guardian and Australia Today. There are of course, many features which tell them apart from genuine websites. Most of these are on shared hosting rather than dedicated hosting, most of these are bought either from Godaddy and Bluehost. While Bluehost used to be a class act once upon a time, both the above will do anything as long as they get money. Don t care whether it s a fake website or true. Capitalism at its finest or worst depending upon how you look at it. But most of these details are lost on people who do not know web servers, at all and instead think see it is from an exotic site, a foreign site and it chooses to have same ideas as me. Those who are corrupt or see politics as a tool to win at any cost will not see it as evil. And as a gentleman Raghav shared with me, it is so easy to fool us. An example he shared which I had forgotten. Peter England which used to be an Irish brand was bought by Aditya Birla group way back in 2000. But even today, when you go for Peter England, the way the packaging is done, the way the prices are, more often than not, people believe they are buying the Irish brand. While sharing this, there is so much of Naom Chomsky which comes to my mind again and again

Caste Issues I had written about caste issues a few times on this blog. This again came to the fore as news came that a Hindu sect used forced labor from Dalit community to make a temple. This was also shared by the hill. In both, Mr. Joshi doesn t tell that if they were volunteers then why their passports have been taken forcibly, also I looked at both minimum wage prevailing in New Jersey as a state as well as wage given to those who are in the construction Industry. Even in minimum wage, they were giving $1 when the prevailing minimum wage for unskilled work is $12.00 and as Mr. Joshi shared that they are specialized artisans, then they should be paid between $23 $30 per hour. If this isn t exploitation, then I don t know what is. And this is not the first instance, the first instance was perhaps the case against Cisco which was done by John Doe. While I had been busy with other things, it seems Cisco had put up both a demurrer petition and a petition to strike which the Court stayed. This seemed to all over again a type of apartheid practice, only this time applied to caste. The good thing is that the court stayed the petition. Dr. Ambedkar s statement if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem given at Columbia University in 1916, seems to be proven right in today s time and sadly has aged well. But this is not just something which is there only in U.S. this is there in India even today, just couple of days back, a popular actress Munmun Dutta used a casteist slur and then later apologized giving the excuse that she didn t know Hindi. And this is patently false as she has been in the Bollywood industry for almost now 16-17 years. This again, was not an isolated incident. Seema Singh, a lecturer in IIT-Kharagpur abused students from SC, ST backgrounds and was later suspended. There is an SC/ST Atrocities Act but that has been diluted by this Govt. A bit on the background of Dr. Ambedkar can be found at a blog on Columbia website. As I have shared and asked before, how do we think, for what reason the Age of Englightenment or the Age of Reason happened. If I were a fat monk or a priest who was privileges, would I have let Age of Enlightenment happen. It broke religion or rather Church which was most powerful to not so powerful and that power was more distributed among all sort of thinkers, philosophers, tinkers, inventors and so on and so forth.

Situation going forward I believe things are going to be far more complex and deadly before they get better. I had to share another term called Comorbidities which fortunately or unfortunately has also become part of twitter lexicon. While I have shared what it means, it simply means when you have an existing ailment or condition and then Coronavirus attacks you. The Virus will weaken you. The Vaccine in the best case just stops the damage, but the damage already done can t be reversed. There are people who advise and people who are taking steroids but that again has its own side-effects. And this is now, when we are in summer. I am afraid for those who have recovered, what will happen to them during the Monsoons. We know that the Virus attacks most the lungs and their quality of life will be affected. Even the immune system may have issues. We also know about the inflammation. And the grant that has been given to University of Dundee also has signs of worry, both for people like me (obese) as well as those who have heart issues already. In other news, my city which has been under partial lockdown since a month, has been extended for another couple of weeks. There are rumors that the same may continue till the year-end even if it means economics goes out of the window.There is possibility that in the next few months something like 2 million odd Indians could die
The above is a conversation between Karan Thapar and an Oxford Mathematician Dr. Murad Banaji who has shared that the under-counting of cases in India is huge. Even BBC shared an article on the scope of under-counting. Of course, those on the RW call of the evidence including the deaths and obituaries in newspapers as a narrative . And when asked that when deaths used to be in the 20 s or 30 s which has jumped to 200-300 deaths and this is just the middle class and above. The poor don t have the money to get wood and that is the reason you are seeing the bodies in Ganges whether in Buxar Bihar or Gajipur, Uttar Pradesh. The sights and visuals makes for sorry reading
Pandit Ranjan Mishra son on his father s death due to unavailability of oxygen, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 11th May 2021.
For those who don t know Pandit Ranjan Mishra was a renowned classical singer. More importantly, he was the first person to suggest Mr. Modi s name as a Prime Ministerial Candidate. If they couldn t fulfil his oxygen needs, then what can be expected for the normal public.

Conclusion Sadly, this time I have no humorous piece to share, I can however share a documentary which was shared on Feluda . I have shared about Feluda or Prodosh Chandra Mitter a few times on this blog. He has been the answer of James Bond from India. I have shared previously about The Golden Fortress . An amazing piece of art by Satyajit Ray. I watched that documentary two-three times. I thought, mistakenly that I am the only fool or fan of Feluda in Pune to find out that there are people who are even more than me. There were so many facets both about Feluda and master craftsman Satyajit Ray that I was unaware about. I was just simply amazed. I even shared few of the tidbits with mum as well, although now she has been truly hooked to Korean dramas. The only solace from all the surrounding madness. So, if you have nothing to do, you can look up his books, read them and then see the movies. And my first recommendation would be the Golden Fortress. The only thing I would say, do not have high hopes. The movie is beautiful. It starts slow and then picks up speed, just like a train. So, till later. Update The Mass surveillance part I could not do justice do hence removed it at the last moment. It actually needs its whole space, article. There is so much that the Govt. is doing under the guise of the pandemic that it is difficult to share it all in one article. As it is, the article is big

30 April 2021

Bastian Venthur: Getting the Function keys of a Keychron working on Linux

Having destroyed the third Cherry Stream keyboard in 4 years, I wanted to try a more substantial keyboard for a change. After some research I decided that I want a mechanical, wired, tenkeyless keyboard without any fancy LEDs. At the end I settled for a Keychron C1 with red switches. It meets all requirements, looks very nice and the price is reasonable. Surprise! After the keyboard was delivered, I connected it to my Debian machine and was unpleasantly surprised to notice that the Function-keys did not work at all. The keyboard shares the Multimedia keys with the F-keys and you have an fn key that supposedly switches between the two modes, like you re used to on a laptop. On Linux, however you cannot access the F-keys at all: pressing fn + F1 or F1 makes no difference, you ll always get the Multimedia key. Switching the keyboard between Windows and Mac mode makes no difference either, in both modes the F-keys are not accessible. Apparently Keychron is aware of the problem, because the quick start manual tells you:
We have a Linux user group on facebook. Please search Keychron Linux Group on facebook. So you can better experience with our keyboard.
Customer support at its finest! So at this point you should probably just send the keyboard back, get the refund and buy a proper one with functioning F-keys. The fix Test if this command fixes the issue and enables the Fn + F-key-combos:
# as root:
echo 2 > /sys/module/hid_apple/parameters/fnmode
Depending on the mode the keyboard is in, you should now be able to use the F-keys by simply pressing them, and the Multimedia keys by pressing fn + F-key (or the other way round). To switch the default mode of the F-keys to Function- or Multimedia-mode, press and hold fn + X + L for 4 seconds. If everything works as expected, you can make the change permanent by creating the file /etc/modprobe.d/hid_apple.conf and adding the line:
options hid_apple fnmode=2
This works regardless if the keyboard is in Windows- or Mac-mode, and that might hint at the problem: in both cases the Linux thinks you re connecting a Mac keyboard. The rant Although the fix was not very hard to find and apply, this experience still leaves a foul taste. I naively assumed the problem of having a properly functioning keyboard that simply works when you plug it in, has been thoroughly solved by 2021. To make it worse, I assume Keychron must be aware of the problem because the other Keychron models have the same issue! But instead of fixing it on their end, they forward you to a facebook community and expect you to somehow fix it yourself. So dear Keychron, you do make really beautiful keyboards! But before you release your next model with the same bug, maybe invest a bit on fixing the basics? I see that your keyboards support firmware updates for Windows and Mac maybe you can talk to the folks over at the Linux Vendor Firmware Service and support Linux as well? Maybe you can even fix this annoying bug for the keyboards you ve already sold? I found it really cute that you sent different keycaps for Windows and Mac setups a few disappointed Linux users might accept an apology in form of a Linux cap

28 April 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: Beyond Shame

Review: Beyond Shame, by Kit Rocha
Series: Beyond #1
Publisher: Kit Rocha
Copyright: December 2013
ASIN: B00GIA4GN8
Format: Kindle
Pages: 270
I read this book as part of the Beyond Series Bundle (Books 1-3), which is what the sidebar information is for. Noelle is a child of Eden, the rich and technologically powerful city of a post-apocalyptic world. As the daughter of a councilman, she had everything she wanted except the opportunity to feel. Eden's religious elite embrace a doctrine of strict Puritanism: Even hugging one's children was frowned upon, let alone anything related to sex. Noelle was too rebellious to settle for that, which is why this book opens with her banished from Eden, ejected into Sector Four. The sectors are the city slums, full of gangs and degenerates and violence, only a slight step up from the horrific farming communes. Luckily for her, she literally stumbles into one of the lieutenants of the O'Kane gang, who are just as violent as their reputations but who have surprising sympathy for a helpless city girl. My shorthand distinction between romance and erotica is that romance mixes some sex into the plot and erotica mixes some plot into the sex. Beyond Shame is erotica, specifically BDSM erotica. The forbidden sensations that Noelle got kicked out of Eden for pursuing run strongly towards humiliation, which is tangled up in the shame she was taught to feel about anything sexual. There is a bit of a plot surrounding the O'Kanes who take her in, their leader, some political skulduggery that eventually involves people she knows, and some inter-sector gang warfare, but it's quite forgettable (and indeed I've already forgotten most of it). The point of the story is Noelle navigating a relationship with Jasper (among others) that involves a lot of very graphic sex. I was of two minds about reviewing this. Erotica is tricky to review, since to an extent it's not trying to do what most books are doing. The point is less to tell a coherent story (although that can be a bonus) than it is to turn the reader on, and what turns the reader on is absurdly personal and unpredictable. Erotica is arguably more usefully marked with story codes (which in this case would be something like MF, MMFF, FF, Mdom, Fdom, bd, ds, rom, cons, exhib, humil, tattoos) so that the reader has an idea whether the scenarios in the story are the sort of thing they find hot. This is particularly true of BDSM erotica, since the point is arousal from situations that wouldn't work or might be downright horrifying in a different sort of book. Often the forbidden or taboo nature of the scene is why it's erotic. For example, in another genre I would complain about the exaggerated and quite sexist gender roles, where all the men are hulking cage fighters who want to control the women, but in male-dominant BDSM erotica that's literally the point. As you can tell, I wrote a review anyway, primarily because of how I came to read this book. Kit Rocha (which is a pseudonym for the writing team of Donna Herren and Bree Bridges) recently published Deal with the Devil, a book about mercenary librarians in a post-apocalyptic future. Like every right-thinking person, I immediately wanted to read a book about mercenary librarians, but discovered that it was set in an existing universe. I hate not starting at the beginning of things, so even though there was probably no need to read the earlier books first, I figured out Beyond Shame was the first in this universe and the bundle of the first three books was only $2. If any of you are immediately hooked by mercenary librarians but are back-story completionists, now you know what you'll be getting into. That said, there are a few notable things about this book other than it has a lot of sex. The pivot of the romantic relationship was more interesting and subtle than most erotica. Noelle desperately wants a man to do all sorts of forbidden things to her, but she starts the book unable to explain or analyze why she wants what she wants, and both Jasper and the story are uncomfortable with that and unwilling to leave it alone. Noelle builds up a more coherent theory of herself over the course of the book, and while it's one that's obviously designed to enable lots of erotic scenes, it's not a bad bit of character development. Even better is Lex, the partner (sort of) of the leader of the O'Kane gang and by far the best character in the book. She takes Noelle under her wing from the start, and while that relationship is sexualized like nearly everything in this book, it also turns into an interesting female friendship that I would have also enjoyed in a different genre. I liked Lex a lot, and the fact she's the protagonist of the next book might keep me reading. Beyond Shame also has a lot more female gaze descriptions of the men than is often the case in male-dominant BDSM. The eye candy is fairly evenly distributed, although the gender roles are very much not. It even passes the Bechdel test, although it is still erotica and nearly all the conversations end up being about sex partners or sex eventually. I was less fond of the fact that the men are all dangerous and violent and the O'Kane leader frequently acts like a controlling, abusive psychopath. A lot of that was probably the BDSM setup, but it was not my thing. Be warned that this is the sort of book in which one of the (arguably) good guys tortures someone to death (albeit off camera). Recommendations are next to impossible for erotica, so I won't try to give one. If you want to read the mercenary librarian novel and are dubious about this one, it sounds like (although I can't confirm) that it's a bit more on the romance end of things and involves a lot fewer group orgies. Having read this book, I suspect it was entirely unnecessary to have done so for back-story. If you are looking for male-dominant BDSM, Beyond Shame is competently written, has a more thoughtful story than most, and has a female friendship that I fully enjoyed, which may raise it above the pack. Rating: 6 out of 10

22 April 2021

Shirish Agarwal: The Great Train Robbery

I had a twitter fight few days back with a gentleman and the article is a result of that fight. Sadly, I do not know the name of the gentleman as he goes via a psuedo name and then again I ve not taken permission from him to quote him in either way. So I will just state the observations I was able to make from the conversations we had. As people who read this blog regularly would know, I am and have been against Railway Privatization which is happening in India. And will be sharing some of the case studies from other countries as to how it panned out for them.

UK Railways
How Privatization Fails : Railways
The Above video is by a gentleman called Shaun who basically shared that privatization as far as UK is concerned is nothing but monopolies and while there are complex reasons for the same, the design of the Railways is such that it will always be a monopoly structure. At the most what you can do is have several monopolies but that is all that can happen. The idea of competition just cannot happen. Even the idea that subsidies will be less or/and trains will run on time is far from fact. Both of these facts have been checked and found to be truthful by fullfact.org. It is and argued that UK is small and perhaps it doesn t have the right conditions. It is probably true but still we do deserve to have a glance at the UK railway map.
UK railway map with operatorsUK railway map with operators
The above map is copyrighted to Map Marketing where you could see it today . As can be seen above most companies had their own specified areas. Now if you had looked at the facts then you would have seen that UK fares have been higher. In fact, an oldish article from Metro (a UK publication) shares the same. In fact, UK nationalized its railways effectively as many large rail operators were running in red. Even Scotland is set to nationalised back in March 2022. Remember this is a country which hasn t seen inflation go upwards of 5% in nearly a decade. The only outlier was 2011 where they indeed breached the 5% mark. So from this, what we see is Private Gains and Private Gains Public Losses perhaps seem fit. But then maybe we didn t use the right example. Perhaps Japan would be better. They have bullet trains while UK is still thinking about it. (HS2).

Japanese Railway Below is the map of Japanese Railway
Railway map of Japan with private ownership courtesy Wikimedia commons
Japan started privatizing its railway in 1987 and to date it has not been fully privatized. And on top of it, amount as much as 24 trillion of the long-term JNR debt was shouldered by the government at the expense of taxpayers of Japan while also reducing almost 1/4th of it employees. To add to it, while some parts of Japanese Railways did make profits, many of them made profits by doing large-scale non-railway business mostly real estate of land adjacent to railway stations. In many cases, it seems this went all the way up to 60% of the revenue. The most profitable has been the Shinkansen though. And while it has been profitable, it has not been without safety scandals over the years, the biggest in recent years was the 2005 Amagasaki derailment. What was interesting to me was the Aftermath, while the Wikipedia page doesn t share much, I had read at the time and probably could be found how a lot of ordinary people stood up to the companies in a country where it is a known fact that most companies are owned by the Yakuza. And this is a country where people are loyal to their corporation or company no matter what. It is a strange culture to west and also here in India where people change jobs on drop of hat, although nowadays we have record unemployment. So perhaps Japan too does not meet our standard as it doesn t do competition with each other but each is a set monopoly in those regions. Also how much subsidy is there or not is not really transparent.

U.S. Railways Last, but not the least I share the U.S. Railway map. This is provided by A Mr. Tom Alison on reddit on channel maporn. As the thread itself is archived and I do not know the gentleman concerned, nor have taken permission for the map, hence sharing the compressed version


U.S. Railway lines with the different owners
Now the U.S. Railways is and has always been peculiar as unlike the above two the U.S. has always been more of a freight network. Probably, much of it has to do that in the 1960 s when oil was cheap, the U.S. made zillions of roadways and romanticized the road trip and has been doing it ever since. Also the creation of low-cost airlines definitely didn t help the railways to have more passenger services, in fact the opposite. There are and have been smaller services and attempts of privatization in both New Zealand and Australia and both have been failures. Please see papers in that regard. My simple point is this, as can be seen above, there have been various attempts at privatization of railways and most of them have been a mixed bag. The only one which comes close to what we think as good is Japanese but that also used a lot of public debt which we don t know what will happen on next. Also for higher-speed train services like a bullet train or whatever, you need to direct, no hair pen bends. In fact, a good talk on the topic is the TBD podcast which while it talks about hyperloop, the same questions is and would be asked if were to do in India. Another thing to be kept in mind is that the Japanese have been exceptional builders and this is because they have been forced to. They live in a seismically active zone which made Fukushima disaster a reality but at the same time, their buildings are earthquake-resistant. Standard Disclaimer The above is a simplified version of things. I could have added in financial accounts but that again has no set pattern. For e.g. some Railways use accrual, some use cash and some use hybrid. I could have also shared in either the guage or electrification but all have slightly different standards, although uniguage is something that all Railways aspire for and electrification is again something that all Railways want although in many cases it just isn t economically feasible.

Indian Railways Indian Railways itself recently made the move from Cash to Accrual couple of years back. In-between for a couple of years, it was hybrid. The sad part is and was you can now never measure against past performance in the old way because it is so different. Hence, whether the Railways will be making a loss or a profit, we would come to know only much later. Also, most accountants don t know the new system well, so it is gonna take more time, how much unknown. Sadly, what GOI did a few years back is merge the Railway budget into the Union Budget. Of course, the excuse they gave is too many pressures of new trains, while the truth is, by doing this, they decreased transparency about the whole thing. For e.g. for the last few years, the only state which had significant work being done is in U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) and a bit in Goa, although that is has been protested time and again. I being from the neighborly state of Maharashtra , and have been there several times. Now it does feels all like a dream, going to Goa :(.

Covid news Now before I jump on the news, I should share the movie Virus (2019) which was made by the talented Aashiq Abu. Even though, am not a Malayalee, I still have enjoyed many of his movies simply because he is a terrific director and Malayalam movies, at least most of them have English subtitles and lot of original content.. Interestingly, unlike the first couple of times when I saw it a couple of years back. The first time I saw it, I couldn t sleep a wink for a week. Even the next time, it was heavy. I had shared the movie with mum, and even she couldn t see it in one go. It is and was that powerful Now maybe because we are headlong in the pandemic, and the madness is all around us. There are two terms that helped me though understand a great deal of what is happening in the movie, the first term was altered sensorium which has been defined here. The other is saturation or to be more precise oxygen saturation . This term has also entered the Indian twitter lexicon quite a bit as India has started running out of oxygen. Just today Delhi High Court did an emergency hearing on the subject late at night. Although there is much to share about the mismanagement of the center, the best piece on the subject has been by Miss Priya Ramani. Yup, the same lady who has won against M.J. Akbar and this is when Mr. Akbar had 100 lawyers for this specific case. It would be interesting to see what happens ahead. There are however few things even she forgot in her piece, For e.g. reverse migration i.e. from urban to rural migration started again. Two articles from different entities sharing a similar outlook.Sadly, the right have no empathy or feeling for either the poor or the sick. Even the labor minister Santosh Gangwar s statement that around 1.04 crores were the only people who walked back home. While there is not much data, however some work/research has been done on migration to cites that the number could be easily 10 times as much. And this was in the lockdown of last year. This year, again the same issue has re-surfaced and migrants learning lessons started leaving cities. And I m ashamed to say I think they are doing the right thing. Most State Governments have not learned lessons nor have they done any work to earn the trust of migrants. This is true of almost all state Governments. Last year, just before the lockdown was announced, me and my friend spent almost 30k getting a cab all the way from Chennai to Pune, how much we paid for the cab, how much we bribed the various people just so we could cross the state borders to return home to our anxious families. Thankfully, unlike the migrants, we were better off although we did make a loss. I probably wouldn t be alive if I were in their situation as many didn t. That number is still in the air undocumented deaths  Vaccine issues Currently, though the issue has been the Vaccine and the pricing of the same. A good article to get a summation of the issues outlined has been shared on Economist. Another article that goes to the heart of the issue is at scroll. To buttress the argument, the SII chairman had shared this few weeks back
Adar Poonawala talking to Vishnu Som on Left, right center, 7th April 2021.
So, a licensee manufacturer wants to make super-profits during the pandemic. And now, as shared above they can very easily do it. Even the quotes given to nearby countries is smaller than the quotes given to Indian states

Prices of AstraZeneca among various states and countries.
The situation around beds, vaccines, oxygen, anything is so dire that people could go to any lengths to save their loved ones. Even if they know if a certain medicine doesn t work. For e.g. Remdesivir, 5 WHO trials have concluded that it doesn t increase mortality. Heck, even AIIMS chief said the same. But both doctors and relatives desperation to cling on hope has made Remdesivir as a black market drug with unoffical prices hovering anywhere between INR 14k/- to INR30k/- per vial. One of the executives of a top firm was also arrested in Gujarat. In Maharashtra, the opposition M.P. came to the rescue of the officials of Bruick pharms in Mumbai. Sadly, this strange affliction to the party in the center is also there in my extended family. At one end, they will heap praise on Mr. Modi, at the same time they can t get wait to get fast out of India. Many of them have settled in horrors of horror Dubai, as it is the best place to do business, get international schools for the young ones at decent prices, cheaper or maybe a tad more than what they paid in Delhi or elsewhere. Being an Agarwal or a Gupta makes it easier to compartmentalize both things. Ease of doing business, 5 days flat to get a business registered, up and running. And the paranoia is still there. They won t talk on the phone about him because they are afraid they may say something which comes back to bite them. As far as their decision to migrate, can t really blame them. If I were 20-25 yeas younger and my mum were in a better shape than she is, we probably would have migrated as well, although would have preferred Europe than anywhere else.

Internet Freedom and Aarogya Setu App.


Internet Freedom had shared the chilling effects of the Aarogya Setu App. This had also been shared by FSCI in the past, and recently had their handle being banned on Twitter. This was also apparent in a legal bail order which the high court judge gave. While I won t go into the merits and demerits of the bail order, it is astounding for the judge to say that the accused, even though he would be on bail install an app. so he can be surveilled. And this is a high court judge, such a sad state of affairs. We seem to be putting up new lows every day when it comes to judicial jurisprudence. One interesting aspect of the whole case was shared by Aishwarya Iyer. She shared a story that she and her team worked on quint which raises questions on the quality of the work done by Delhi Police. This is of course, up to Delhi Police to ascertain the truth of the matter because unless and until they are able to tie in the PMO s office in for a leak or POTUS s office it hardly seems possible. For e.g. the dates when two heads of state can meet each other would be decided by the secretaries of the two. Once the date is known, it would be shared with the press while at the same time some sort of security apparatus would kick in place. It is incumbent, especially on the host to take as much care as he can of the guest. We all remember that World War 1 (the war to end all wars) started due to the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.

As nobody wants that, the best way is to make sure that a political murder doesn t happen on your watch. Now while I won t comment on what it would be, it would be safe to assume that it would be z+ security along with higher readiness. Especially if it as somebody as important as POTUS. Now, it would be quite a reach for Delhi Police to connect the two dates. They either will have to get creative with the dates or some other way. Otherwise, with practically no knowledge in the public domain, they can t work in limbo. In either case, I do hope the case comes up for hearing soon and we see what the Delhi Police says and contends in the High Court about the same. At the very least, it would be irritating for them to talk of the dates unless they can contend some mass conspiracy which involves the PMO (and would bring into question the constant vetting done by the Intelligence dept. of all those who work in PMO). And this whole case is to kind of shelter to the Delhi riots which happened in which majorly the Muslims died but their deaths lay unaccounted till date

Conclusion In Conclusion, I would like to share a bit of humor because right now the atmosphere is humorless, both with authoritarian tendencies of the Central Govt. and the mass mismanagement of public health which they now have left to the state to do as they fit. The peice I am sharing is from arre, one of my goto sites whenever I feel low.

17 April 2021

Chris Lamb: Tour d'Orwell: Wallington

Previously in George Orwell travel posts: Sutton Courtenay, Marrakesh, Hampstead, Paris, Southwold & The River Orwell. Wallington is a small village in Hertfordshire, approximately fifty miles north of London and twenty-five miles from the outskirts of Cambridge. George Orwell lived at No. 2 Kits Lane, better known as 'The Stores', on a mostly-permanent basis from 1936 to 1940, but he would continue to journey up from London on occasional weekends until 1947. His first reference to The Stores can be found in early 1936, where Orwell wrote from Lancashire during research for The Road to Wigan Pier to lament that he would very much like "to do some work again impossible, of course, in the [current] surroundings":
I am arranging to take a cottage at Wallington near Baldock in Herts, rather a pig in a poke because I have never seen it, but I am trusting the friends who have chosen it for me, and it is very cheap, only 7s. 6d. a week [ 20 in 2021].
For those not steeped in English colloquialisms, "a pig in a poke" is an item bought without seeing it in advance. In fact, one general insight that may be drawn from reading Orwell's extant correspondence is just how much he relied on a close network of friends, belying the lazy and hagiographical picture of an independent and solitary figure. (Still, even Orwell cultivated this image at times, such as in a patently autobiographical essay he wrote in 1946. But note the off-hand reference to varicose veins here, for they would shortly re-appear as a symbol of Winston's repressed humanity in Nineteen Eighty-Four.) Nevertheless, the porcine reference in Orwell's idiom is particularly apt, given that he wrote the bulk of Animal Farm at The Stores his 1945 novella, of course, portraying a revolution betrayed by allegorical pigs. Orwell even drew inspiration for his 'fairy story' from Wallington itself, principally by naming the novel's farm 'Manor Farm', just as it is in the village. But the allusion to the purchase of goods is just as appropriate, as Orwell returned The Stores to its former status as the village shop, even going so far as to drill peepholes in a door to keep an Orwellian eye on the jars of sweets. (Unfortunately, we cannot complete a tidy circle of references, as whilst it is certainly Napoleon Animal Farm's substitute for Stalin who is quoted as describing Britain as "a nation of shopkeepers", it was actually the maraisard Bertrand Bar re who first used the phrase). "It isn't what you might call luxurious", he wrote in typical British understatement, but Orwell did warmly emote on his animals. He kept hens in Wallington (perhaps even inspiring the opening line of Animal Farm: "Mr Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.") and a photograph even survives of Orwell feeding his pet goat, Muriel. Orwell's goat was the eponymous inspiration for the white goat in Animal Farm, a decidedly under-analysed character who, to me, serves to represent an intelligentsia that is highly perceptive of the declining political climate but, seemingly content with merely observing it, does not offer any meaningful opposition. Muriel's aesthetic of resistance, particularly in her reporting on the changes made to the Seven Commandments of the farm, thus rehearses the well-meaning (yet functionally ineffective) affinity for 'fact checking' which proliferates today. But I digress. There is a tendency to "read Orwell backwards", so I must point out that Orwell wrote several other works whilst at The Stores as well. This includes his Homage to Catalonia, his aforementioned The Road to Wigan Pier, not to mention countless indispensable reviews and essays as well. Indeed, another result of focusing exclusively on Orwell's last works is that we only encounter his ideas in their highly-refined forms, whilst in reality, it often took many years for concepts to fully mature we first see, for instance, the now-infamous idea of "2 + 2 = 5" in an essay written in 1939. This is important to understand for two reasons. Although the ostentatiously austere Barnhill might have housed the physical labour of its writing, it is refreshing to reflect that the philosophical heavy-lifting of Nineteen Eighty-Four may have been performed in a relatively undistinguished North Hertfordshire village. But perhaps more importantly, it emphasises that Orwell was just a man, and that any of us is fully capable of equally significant insight, with to quote Christopher Hitchens "little except a battered typewriter and a certain resilience."
The red commemorative plaque not only limits Orwell's tenure to the time he was permanently in the village, it omits all reference to his first wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, whom he married in the village church in 1936.
Wallington's Manor Farm, the inspiration for the farm in Animal Farm. The lower sign enjoins the public to inform the police "if you see anyone on the [church] roof acting suspiciously". Non-UK-residents may be surprised to learn about the systematic theft of lead.

4 April 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: Prince Caspian

Review: Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #2
Publisher: Collier Books
Copyright: 1951
Printing: 1979
ISBN: 0-02-044240-8
Format: Mass market
Pages: 216
Prince Caspian is the second book of the Chronicles of Narnia in the original publication order (the fourth in the new publication order) and a direct sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As much as I would like to say you could start here if you wanted less of Lewis's exploration of secondary-world Christianity and more children's adventure, I'm not sure it would be a good reading experience. Prince Caspian rests heavily on the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you haven't already, you may also want to read my review of that book for some introductory material about my past relationship with the series and why I follow the original publication order. Prince Caspian always feels like the real beginning of a re-read. Re-reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is okay but a bit of a chore: it's very random, the business with Edmund drags on, and it's very concerned with hitting the mandatory theological notes. Prince Caspian is more similar to the following books and feels like Narnia proper. That said, I have always found the ending of Prince Caspian oddly forgettable. This re-read helped me see why: one of the worst bits of the series is in the middle of this book, and then the dramatic shape of the ending is very strange. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW for both this book and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Prince Caspian opens with the Pevensie kids heading to school by rail at the end of the summer holidays. They're saying their goodbyes to each other at a train station when they are first pulled and then dumped into the middle of a wood. After a bit of exploration and the discovery of a seashore, they find an overgrown and partly ruined castle. They have, of course, been pulled back into Narnia, and the castle is Cair Paravel, their great capital when they ruled as kings and queens. The twist is that it's over a thousand years later, long enough that Cair Paravel is now on an island and has been abandoned to the forest. They discover parts of how that happened when they rescue a dwarf named Trumpkin from two soldiers who are trying to drown him near the supposedly haunted woods. Most of the books in this series have good hooks, but Prince Caspian has one of the best. I adored everything about the start of this book as a kid: the initial delight at being by the sea when they were on their way to boarding school, the realization that getting food was not going to be easy, the abandoned castle, the dawning understanding of where they are, the treasure room, and the extended story about Prince Caspian, his discovery of the Old Narnia, and his flight from his usurper uncle. It becomes clear from Trumpkin's story that the children were pulled back into Narnia by Susan's horn (the best artifact in these books), but Caspian's forces were expecting the great kings and queens of legend from Narnia's Golden Age. Trumpkin is delightfully nonplussed at four school-age kids who are determined to join up with Prince Caspian and help. That's the first half of Prince Caspian, and it's a solid magical adventure story with lots of potential. The ending, alas, doesn't entirely work. And between that, we get the business with Aslan and Lucy in the woods, or as I thought of it even as a kid, the bit where Aslan is awful to everyone for no reason. For those who have forgotten, or who don't care about spoilers, the kids plus Trumpkin are trying to make their way to Aslan's How (formerly the Stone Table) where Prince Caspian and his forces were gathered, when they hit an unexpected deep gorge. Lucy sees Aslan and thinks he's calling for them to go up the gorge, but none of the other kids or Trumpkin can see him and only Edmund believes her. They go down instead, which almost gets them killed by archers. Then, that night, Lucy wakes up and finds Aslan again, who tells her to wake the others and follow him, but warns she may have to follow him alone if she can't convince the others to go along. She wakes them up (which does not go over well), Aslan continues to be invisible to everyone else despite being right there, Susan is particularly upset at Lucy, and everything is awful. But this time they do follow her (with lots of grumbling and over Susan's objections). This, of course, is the right decision: Aslan leads them to a hidden path that takes them over the river they're trying to cross, and becomes visible to everyone when they reach the other side. This is a mess. It made me angry as a kid, and it still makes me angry now. No one has ever had trouble seeing Aslan before, so the kids are rightfully skeptical. By intentionally deceiving them, Aslan puts the other kids in an awful position: they either have to believe Lucy is telling the truth and Aslan is being weirdly malicious, or Lucy is mistaken even though she's certain. It not only leads directly to conflict among the kids, it makes Lucy (the one who does all the right things all along) utterly miserable. It's just cruel and mean, for no purpose. It seems clear to me that this is C.S. Lewis trying to make a theological point about faith, and in a way that makes it even worse because I think he's making a different point than he intended to make. Why is religious faith necessary; why doesn't God simply make himself apparent to everyone and remove the doubt? This is one of the major problems in Christian apologetics, Lewis chooses to raise it here, and the answer he gives is that God only shows himself to his special favorites and hides from everyone else as a test. It's clearly not even a question of intention to have faith; Edmund has way more faith here than Lucy does (since Lucy doesn't need it) and still doesn't get to see Aslan properly until everyone else does. Pah. The worst part of this is that it's effectively the last we see of Susan. Prince Caspian is otherwise the book in which Susan comes into her own. The sibling relationship between the kids is great here in general, but Susan is particularly good. She is the one who takes bold action to rescue Trumpkin, risking herself by firing an arrow into the helmet of one of the soldiers despite being the most cautious of the kids. (And then gets a little defensive about her shot because she doesn't want anyone to think she would miss that badly at short range, a detail I just love.) I identified so much with her not wanting to beat Trumpkin at an archery contest because she felt bad for him (but then doing it anyway). She is, in short, awesome. I was fine with her being the most grumpy and frustrated with the argument over picking a direction. They're all kids, and sometimes one gets grumpy and frustrated and awful to the people around you. Once everyone sees Aslan again, Susan offers a truly excellent apology to Lucy, so it seemed like Lewis was setting up a redemption arc for her the way that he did for Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (although I maintain that nearly all of this mess was Aslan's fault). But then we never see Susan's conversation with Aslan, Peter later says he and Susan are now too old to return to Narnia, and that's it for Susan. Argh. I'll have more to say about this later (and it's not an original opinion), but the way Lewis treats Susan is the worst part of this series, and it adds insult to injury that it happens immediately after she has a chance to shine. The rest of the book suffers from the same problem that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did, namely that Aslan fixes everything in a somewhat surreal wild party and it's unclear why the kids needed to be there. (This is the book where Bacchus and Silenus show up, there is a staggering quantity of wine for a children's book, and Aslan turns a bunch of obnoxious school kids into pigs.) The kids do have more of a role to play this time: Peter and Edmund help save Caspian, and there's a (somewhat poorly motivated) duel that sends up the ending. But other than the brief battle in the How, the battle is won by Aslan waking the trees, and it's not clear why he didn't do that earlier. The ending is, at best, rushed and not worthy of its excellent setup. I was also disappointed that the "wait, why are you all kids?" moment was hand-waved away by Narnia giving the kids magical gravitas. Lewis never felt in control of either The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Prince Caspian. In both cases, he had a great hook and some ideas of what he wanted to hit along the way, but the endings are more sense of wonder and random Aslan set pieces than anything that follows naturally from the setup. This is part of why I'm not commenting too much on the sour notes, such as the red dwarves being the good and loyal ones but the black dwarves being suspicious and only out for themselves. If I thought bits like that were deliberate, I'd complain more, but instead it feels like Lewis threw random things he liked about children's books and animal stories into the book and gave it a good stir, and some of his subconscious prejudices fell into the story along the way. That said, resolving your civil war children's book by gathering all the people who hate talking animals (but who have lived in Narnia for generations) and exiling them through a magical gateway to a conveniently uninhabited country is certainly a choice, particularly when you wrote the book only two years after the Partition of India. Good lord. Prince Caspian is a much better book than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the first half, and then it mostly falls apart. The first half is so good, though. I want to read the book that this could have become, but I'm not sure anyone else writes quite like Lewis at his best. Followed by The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is my absolute favorite of the series. Rating: 7 out of 10

27 March 2021

Neil Williams: Free and Open

A long time, no blog entries. What's prompted a new missive? Two things: All the time I've worked with software and computers, the lack of diversity in the contributors has irked me. I started my career in pharmaceutical sciences where the mix of people, at university, would appear to be genuinely diverse. It was in the workplace that the problems started, especially in the retail portion of community pharmacy with a particular gender imbalance between management and counter staff. Then I started to pick up programming. I gravitated to free software for the simple reason that I could tinker with the source code. To do a career change and learn how to program with a background in a completely alien branch of science, the only realistic route into the field is to have access to the raw material - source code. Without that, I would have been seeking a sponsor, in much the same way as other branches of science need grants or sponsors to purchase the equipment and facilities to get a foot in the door. All it took from me was some time, a willingness to learn and a means to work alongside those already involved. That's it. No complex titration equipment, flasks, centrifuges, pipettes, spectrographs, or petri dishes. It's hard to do pharmaceutical science from home. Software is so much more accessible - but only if the software itself is free. Software freedom removes the main barrier to entry. Software freedom enables the removal of other barriers too. Once the software is free, it becomes obvious that the compiler (indeed the entire toolchain) needs to be free, to turn the software into something other people can use. The same applies to interpreters, editors, kernels and the entire stack. I was in a different branch of science whilst all that was being created and I am very glad that Debian Woody was available as a free cover disc on a software magazine just at the time I was looking to pick up software programming. That should be that. The only next step to be good enough to write free software was the "means to work alongside those already involved". That, it turns out, is much more than just a machine running Debian. It's more than just having an ISP account and working email (not commonplace in 2003). It's working alongside the people - all the people. It was my first real exposure to the toxicity of some parts of many scientific and technical arenas. Where was the diversity? OK, maybe it was just early days and the other barriers (like an account with an ISP) were prohibitive for many parts of the world outside Europe & USA in 2003, so there were few people from other countries but the software world was massively dominated by the white Caucasian male. I'd been insulated by my degree course, and to a large extent by my university which also had courses which already had much more diverse intakes - optics and pharmacy, business and human resources. Relocating from the insular world of a little town in Wales to Birmingham was also key. Maybe things would improve as the technical barriers to internet connectivity were lowered. Sadly, no. The echo chamber of white Caucasian input has become more and more diluted as other countries have built the infrastructure to get the populace online. Debian has helped in this area, principally via DebConf. Yet only the ethnicity seemed to change, not the diversity. Recently, more is being done to at least make Debian more welcoming to those who are brave enough to increase the mix. Progress is much slower than the gains seen in the ethnicity mix, probably because that was a benefit of a technological change, not a societal change. The attitudes so prevalent in the late 20th century are becoming less prevalent amongst, and increasingly abhorrent to, the next generation of potential community members. Diversity must come or the pool of contributors will shrink to nil. Community members who cling to these attitudes are already dinosaurs and increasingly unwelcome. This is a necessary step to retain access to new contributors as existing contributors age. To be able to increase the number of contributors, the community cannot afford to be dragged backwards by anyone, no matter how important or (previously) respected. Debian, or even free software overall, cannot change all the problems with diversity in STEM but we must not perpetuate the problems either. Those people involved in free software need to be open to change, to input from all portions of society and welcoming. Puerile jokes and disrespectful attitudes must be a thing of the past. The technical contributions do not excuse behaviours that act to prevent new people joining the community. Debian is getting older, the community and the people. The presence of spouses at Debian social events does not fix the problem of the lack of diversity at Debian technical events. As contributors age, Debian must welcome new, younger, people to continue the work. All the technical contributions from the people during the 20th century will not sustain Debian in the 21st century. Bit rot affects us all. If the people who provided those contributions are not encouraging a more diverse mix to sustain free software into the future then all their contributions will be for nought and free software will die. So it comes to the FSF and RMS. I did hear Richard speak at an event in Bristol many years ago. I haven't personally witnessed the behavioural patterns that have been described by others but my memories of that event only add to the reality of those accounts. No attempts to be inclusive, jokes that focused on division and perpetuating the white male echo chamber. I'm not perfect, I struggle with some of this at times. Personally, I find the FSFE and Red Hat statements much more in line with my feelings on the matter than the open letter which is the basis of the GR. I deplore the preliminary FSF statement on governance as closed-minded, opaque and archaic. It only adds to my concerns that the FSF is not fit for the 21st century. The open letter has the advantage that it is a common text which has the backing of many in the community, individuals and groups, who are fit for purpose and whom I have respected for a long time. Free software must be open to contributions from all who are technically capable of doing the technical work required. Free software must equally require respect for all contributors and technical excellence is not an excuse for disrespect. Diversity is the life blood of all social groups and without social cohesion, technical contributions alone do not support a community. People can change and apologies are welcome when accompanied by modified behaviour. The issues causing a lack of diversity in Debian are complex and mostly reflective of a wider problem with STEM. Debian can only survive by working to change those parts of the wider problem which come within our influence. Influence is key here, this is a soft issue, replete with unreliable emotions, unhelpful polemic and complexity. Reputations are hard won and easily blemished. The problems are all about how Debian looks to those who are thinking about where to focus in the years to come. It looks like the FSFE should be the ones to take the baton from the FSF - unless the FSF can adopt a truly inclusive and open governance. My problem is not with RMS himself, what he has or has not done, which apologies are deemed sincere and whether behaviour has changed. He is one man and his contributions can be respected even as his behaviour is criticised. My problem is with the FSF for behaving in a closed, opaque and divisive manner and then making a governance statement that makes things worse, whilst purporting to be transparent. Institutions lay the foundations for the future of the community and must be expected to hold individuals to account. Free and open have been contentious concepts for the FSF, with all the arguments about Open Source which is not Free Software. It is clear that the FSF do understand the implications of freedom and openness. It is absurd to then adopt a closed and archaic governance. A valid governance model for the FSF would never have allowed RMS back onto the board, instead the FSF should be the primary institution to hold him, and others like him, to account for their actions. The FSF needs to be front and centre in promoting diversity and openness. The FSF could learn from the FSFE. The calls for the FSF to adopt a more diverse, inclusive, board membership are not new. I can only echo the Red Hat statement:
in order to regain the confidence of the broader free software community, the FSF should make fundamental and lasting changes to its governance.
...
[There is] no reason to believe that the most recent FSF board statement signals any meaningful commitment to positive change.
And the FSFE statement:
The goal of the software freedom movement is to empower all people to control technology and thereby create a better society for everyone. Free Software is meant to serve everyone regardless of their age, ability or disability, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, religion or sexual orientation. This requires an inclusive and diverse environment that welcomes all contributors equally.
The FSF has not demonstrated the behaviour I expect from a free software institution and I cannot respect an institution which proclaims a mantra of freedom and openness that is not reflected in the governance of that institution. The preliminary statement by the FSF board is abhorrent. The FSF must now take up the offers from those institutions within the community who retain the respect of that community. I'm only one voice, but I would implore the FSF to make substantive, positive and permanent change to the governance, practices and future of the FSF or face irrelevance.

7 March 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Task-based menus for a file

XDG Just throwing this out for wider talk perhaps. I have been silently watching a list called xdg@lists.freedesktop.org. Now the list talks about freedesktop standards which basically is trying to have some sort of standards that all desktop environments can follow. One of the discussions on the specific list shared above is and was about New MimeType fields in .desktop . It is a fascinating thread with many people giving loads of interesting view points. If you are into desktops even casually, you would enjoy the discussions thoroughly. Seriously thinking, I shared the below on the list Hi all, I read quite a bit of the fascinating thread. As a user I have often had to fix the same at my end and at times had to re-fix it again. For me it s the mkv and related media file types. Now I have different applications which are for different things, For e.g. mpv is exclusively the player (followed at times by vlc) for playing the content. Mediainfo to have technical knowledge/bits about the content. ffmpeg for doing some basic stuff (extracting subtitles or adding subtitles etc.) to the content, re-encoding into smaller resolution etc etc. Sadly, none of the solutions as of date tell me if I hover or even go into properties of a mkv file which application does what. I do know this is perhaps a bit outside the discussion having, but does anybody have any ideas? At the very least, it should make the user more aware of what he can do with particular applications perhaps. One way is to perhaps have a database so if I ask in a way that the system understands which are the editors which can be used to manipulate or edit mkv files, it should give me a list available from debian database. I do know that apt, aptitude etc. do try to do something on those lines but it has many shortcomings. And as somebody else mentioned, don t think the solution would be done tomorrow but at least sometime in future. While I stopped at the above on the list, allow me to extrapolate or share a bit more where I am coming from. Somebody did share that this should be actually done by the desktop provider, and GNOME 1 did provide a solution in the early days, now then they have moved to being a more dumb desktop or in their words simplifying. In any case, while I haven t hadn t had the opportunity to see the new MAC desktop, Windows 10 desktop interface is nothing to write home about. All our DE s starting from GNOME, MATE, XFCE, could and should be giving us much more than it has, making users having richer and better experiences than they have today. And while I shared about .mkv (the Matroska Multimedia Container), the above applies and can apply to any file format which can be manipulated in different ways using different tools. I just shared the one I use most often as a use-case scenario. And this should be made easier now that we have processors have multiple cores (for e.g. Intel and AMD quad cores are now there at decent prices) . So would it be too much of an ask to have something which helps people be more productive. As of today, for anybody who is new to either Debian or any X desktop, there is still such a substantial learning curve and more so applications and how they fit in the puzzle and what can be done and what cannot be done. A much screwy thing to add to the mix is file format and which file format version can a particular app. read. The biggest and the most common culprit here is pdf. A good webpage which shares the versions and the comments which tell how people are still having issues with various versions of pdf. Most of the foss tools I use top out at pdf 1.4 which is quite an old format  . I am open to testing and debugging if somebody does try decoding the new versions. For me, this is also an issue as most I.T. notices and what not we get, at times I have to try and figure out things, at times go to MS and use an acrobat reader and that is dumb.

Banking There are also lot of banking stuff that we cannot do on free software, especially in India as lot of powerful proprietary interests are there which make sure that no public API s are available, or even if there is, it would be something half-done or after back and forth, they say, this is just for show, as had shared last year. I would probably add another section later to talk about it. From what little I know, in Europe the law mandates that there are public API s not only for banking but wherever public money (read taxpayer money) is involved. Again, not all countries, but some more than others. At least, that is what I had seen over the years. Till later.

2 March 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #1
Publisher: Collier Books
Copyright: 1950
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044220-3
Format: Mass market
Pages: 186
Although it's been more than 20 years since I last read it, I believe I have read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe more times than any other book. The count is certainly in double digits. As you might guess, I also have strong opinions about it, some of which are unorthodox, and I've been threatening to write this review for years. It seemed a fitting choice for my 1000th review. There is quite a lot that can and has been said about this book and this series, and this review is already going to be much too long, so I'm only going to say a fraction of it. I'm going to focus on my personal reactions as someone raised a white evangelical Christian but no longer part of that faith, and the role this book played in my religion. I'm not going to talk much about some of its flaws, particularly Lewis's treatment of race and gender. This is not because I don't agree they're there, but only that I don't have much to say that isn't covered far better in other places. Unlike my other reviews, this one will contain major spoilers. If you have managed to remain unspoiled for a 70-year-old novel that spawned multiple movies and became part of the shared culture of evangelical Christianity, and want to stay that way, I'll warn you in ALL CAPS when it's time to go. But first, a few non-spoiler notes. First, reading order. Most modern publications of The Chronicles of Narnia will list The Magician's Nephew as the first book. This follows internal chronological order and is at C.S. Lewis's request. However, I think Lewis was wrong. You should read this series in original publication order, starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which I'm going to abbreviate as TLtWatW like everyone else who writes about it). I will caveat this by saying that I have a bias towards reading books in the order an author wrote them because I like seeing the development of the author's view of their work, and I love books that jump back in time and fill in background, so your experience may vary. But the problem I see with the revised publication order is that The Magician's Nephew explains the origins of Narnia and, thus, many of the odd mysteries of TLtWatW that Lewis intended to be mysterious. Reading it first damages both books, like watching a slow-motion how-to video for a magic trick before ever seeing it performed. The reader is not primed to care about the things The Magician's Nephew is explaining, which makes it less interesting. And the bits of unexpected magic and mystery in TLtWatW that give it so much charm (and which it needs, given the thinness of the plot) are already explained away and lose appeal because of it. I have read this series repeatedly in both internal chronological order and in original publication order. I have even read it in strict chronological order, wherein one pauses halfway through the last chapter of TLtWatW to read The Horse and His Boy before returning. I think original publication order is the best. (The Horse and His Boy is a side story and it doesn't matter that much where you read it as long as you read it after TLtWatW. For this re-read, I will follow original publication order and read it fifth.) Second, allegory. The common understanding of TLtWatW is that it's a Christian allegory for children, often provoking irritated reactions from readers who enjoyed the story on its own terms and later discovered all of the religion beneath it. I think this view partly misunderstands how Lewis thought about the world and there is a more interesting way of looking at the book. I'm not as dogmatic about this as I used to be; if you want to read it as an allegory, there are plenty of carefully crafted parallels to the gospels to support that reading. But here's my pitch for a different reading. To C.S. Lewis, the redemption of the world through the death of Jesus Christ is as foundational a part of reality as gravity. He spent much of his life writing about religion and Christianity in both fiction and non-fiction, and this was the sort of thing he constantly thought about. If somewhere there is another group of sentient creatures, Lewis's theology says that they must fit into that narrative in some way. Either they would have to be unfallen and thus not need redemption (roughly the position taken by The Space Trilogy), or they would need their own version of redemption. So yes, there are close parallels in Narnia to events of the Christian Bible, but I think they can be read as speculating how Christian salvation would play out in a separate creation with talking animals, rather than an attempt to disguise Christianity in an allegory for children. It's a subtle difference, but I think Narnia more an answer to "how would Christ appear in this fantasy world?" than to "how do I get children interested in the themes of Christianity?", although certainly both are in play. Put more bluntly, where other people see allegory, I see the further adventures of Jesus Christ as an anthropomorphic lion, which in my opinion is an altogether more delightful way to read the books. So much for the preamble; on to the book. The Pevensie kids, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, have been evacuated to a huge old house in the country due to the air raids (setting this book during World War II, something that is passed over with barely a mention and not a hint of trauma in a way that a modern book would never do). While exploring this house, which despite the scant description is still stuck in my mind as the canonical huge country home, Lucy steps into a wardrobe because she wants to feel the fur of the coats. Much to her surprise, the wardrobe appears not to have a back, and she finds herself eventually stepping into a snow-covered pine forest where she meets a Fawn named Mr. Tumnus by an unlikely lamp-post. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW, so if you don't want to see those, here's your cue to stop reading. Two things surprised me when re-reading TLtWatW. The first, which I remember surprising me every time I read it, is how far into this (very short) book one has to go before the plot kicks into gear. It's not until "What Happened After Dinner" more than a third in that we learn much of substance about Narnia, and not until "The Spell Begins to Break" halfway through the book that things start to happen. The early chapters are concerned primarily with the unreliability of the wardrobe portal, with a couple of early and brief excursions by Edmund and Lucy, and with Edmund being absolutely awful to Lucy. The second thing that surprised me is how little of what happens is driven by the kids. The second half of TLtWatW is about the fight between Aslan and the White Witch, but this fight was not set off by the children and their decisions don't shape it in any significant way. They're primarily bystanders; the few times they take action, it's either off-camera or they're told explicitly what to do. The arguable exception is Edmund, who provides the justification for the final conflict, but he functions more as plot device than as a character with much agency. When that is combined with how much of the story is also on rails via its need to recapitulate part of the gospels (more on that in a moment), it makes the plot feel astonishingly thin and simple. Edmund is the one protagonist who gets to make some decisions, all of them bad. As a kid, I hated reading these parts because Edmund is an ass, the White Witch is obviously evil, and everyone knows not to eat the food. Re-reading now, I have more appreciation for how Lewis shows Edmund's slide into treachery. He starts teasing Lucy because he thinks it's funny (even though it's not), has a moment when he realizes he was wrong and almost apologizes, but then decides to blame his discomfort on the victim. From that point, he is caught, with some help from the White Witch's magic, in a spiral of doubling down on his previous cruelty and then feeling unfairly attacked. Breaking the cycle is beyond him because it would require admitting just how badly he behaved and, worse, that he was wrong and his little sister was right. He instead tries to justify himself by spreading poisonous bits of doubt, and looks for reasons to believe the friends of the other children are untrustworthy. It's simplistic, to be sure, but it's such a good model of how people slide into believing conspiracy theories and joining hate groups. The Republican Party is currently drowning in Edmunds. That said, Lewis does one disturbing thing with Edmund that leaped out on re-reading. Everyone in this book has a reaction when Aslan's name is mentioned. For the other three kids, that reaction is awe or delight. For Edmund, it's mysterious horror. I know where Lewis is getting this from, but this is a nasty theological trap. One of the problems that religion should confront directly is criticism that questions the moral foundations of that religion. If one postulates that those who have thrown in with some version of the Devil have an instinctual revulsion for God, it's a free intellectual dodge. Valid moral criticism can be hand-waved away as Edmund's horrified reaction to Aslan: a sign of Edmund's guilt, rather than a possible flaw to consider seriously. It's also, needless to say, not the effect you would expect from a god who wants universal salvation! But this is only an odd side note, and once Edmund is rescued it's never mentioned again. This brings us to Aslan himself, the Great Lion, and to the heart of why I think this book and series are so popular. In reinterpreting Christianity for the world of Narnia, Lewis created a far more satisfying and relatable god than Jesus Christ, particularly for kids. I'm not sure I can describe, for someone who didn't grow up in that faith, how central the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus is to evangelical Christianity. It's more than a theological principle; it's the standard by which one's faith is judged. And it is very difficult for a kid to mentally bootstrap themselves into a feeling of a personal relationship with a radical preacher from 2000 years ago who spoke in gnomic parables about subtle points of adult theology. It's hard enough for adults with theological training to understand what that phrase is intended to mean. For kids, you may as well tell them they have a personal relationship with Aristotle. But a giant, awe-inspiring lion with understanding eyes, a roar like thunder, and a warm mane that you can bury your fingers into? A lion who sacrifices himself for your brother, who can be comforted and who comforts you in turn, and who makes a glorious surprise return? That's the kind of god with which one can imagine having a personal relationship. Aslan felt physical and embodied and present in the imagination in a way that Jesus never did. I am certain I was not the only Christian kid for whom Aslan was much more viscerally real than Jesus, and who had a tendency to mentally substitute Aslan for Jesus in most thoughts about religion. I am getting ahead of myself a bit because this is a review of TLtWatW and not of the whole series, and Aslan in this book is still a partly unformed idea. He's much more mundanely present here than he is later, more of a field general than a god, and there are some bits that are just wrong (like him clapping his paws together). But the scenes with Susan and Lucy, the night at the Stone Table and the rescue of the statues afterwards, remain my absolute favorite parts of this book and some of the best bits of the whole series. They strike just the right balance of sadness, awe, despair, and delight. The image of a lion also lets Lewis show joy in a relatable way. Aslan plays, he runs, he wrestles with the kids, he thrills in the victory over evil just as much as Susan and Lucy do, and he is clearly having the time of his life turning people back to flesh from stone. The combination of translation, different conventions, and historical distance means the Bible has none of this for the modern reader, and while people have tried to layer it on with Bible stories for kids, none of them (and I read a lot of them) capture anything close to the sheer joy of this story. The trade-off Lewis makes for that immediacy is that Aslan is a wonderful god, but TLtWatW has very little religion. Lewis can have his characters interact with Aslan directly, which reduces the need for abstract theology and difficult questions of how to know God's will. But even when theology is unavoidable, this book doesn't ask for the type of belief that Christianity demands. For example, there is a crucifixion parallel, because in Lewis's world view there would have to be. That means Lewis has to deal with substitutionary atonement (the belief that Christ died for the sins of the world), which is one of the hardest parts of Christianity to justify. How he does this is fascinating. The Narnian equivalent is the Deep Magic, which says that the lives of all traitors belong to the White Witch. If she is ever denied a life, Narnia will be destroyed by fire and water. The Witch demands Edmund's life, which sets up Aslan to volunteer to be sacrificed in Edmund's place. This triggers the Deeper Magic that she did not know about, freeing Narnia from her power. You may have noticed the card that Lewis is palming, and to give him credit, so do the kids, leading to this exchange when the White Witch is still demanding Edmund:
"Oh, Aslan!" whispered Susan in the Lion's ear, "can't we I mean, you won't, will you? Can't we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn't there something you can work against it?" "Work against the Emperor's magic?" said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.
The problem with substitutionary atonement is why would a supposedly benevolent god create such a morally abhorrent rule in the first place? And Lewis totally punts. Susan is simply not allowed to ask the question. Lewis does try to tackle this problem elsewhere in his apologetics for adults (without, in my opinion, much success). But here it's just a part of the laws of this universe, which all of the characters, including Aslan, have to work within. That leads to another interesting point of theology, which is that if you didn't already know about the Christian doctrine of the trinity, you would never guess it from this book. The Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea and Aslan are clearly separate characters, with Aslan below the Emperor in the pantheon. This makes rules like the above work out more smoothly than they do in Christianity because Aslan is bound by the Emperor's rules and the Emperor is inscrutable and not present in the story. (The Holy Spirit is Deity Not-appearing-in-this-book, but to be fair to Lewis, that's largely true of the Bible as well.) What all this means is that Aslan's death is presented straightforwardly as a magic spell. It works because Aslan has the deepest understanding of the fixed laws of the Emperor's magic, and it looks nothing like what we normally think of as religion. Faith is not that important in this book because Aslan is physically present, so it doesn't require any faith for the children to believe he exists. (The Beavers, who believed in him from prophecy without having seen him, are another matter, but this book never talks about that.) The structure of religion is therefore remarkably absent despite the story's Christian parallels. All that's expected of the kids is the normal moral virtues of loyalty and courage and opposition to cruelty. I have read this book so many times that I've scrutinized every word, so I have to resist the temptation to dig into every nook and cranny: the beautiful description of spring, the weird insertion of Lilith as Adam's first wife, how the controversial appearance of Santa Claus in this book reveals Lewis's love of Platonic ideals... the list is endless, and the review is already much longer than normal. But I never get to talk about book endings in reviews, so one more indulgence. The best thing that can be said about the ending of TLtWatW is that it is partly redeemed by the start of Prince Caspian. Other than that, the last chapter of this book has always been one of my least favorite parts of The Chronicles of Narnia. For those who haven't read it (and who by this point clearly don't mind spoilers), the four kids are immediately and improbably crowned Kings and Queens of Narnia. Apparently, to answer the Professor from earlier in the book, ruling magical kingdoms is what they were teaching in those schools? They then spend years in Narnia, never apparently giving a second thought to their parents (you know, the ones who are caught up in World War II, which prompted the evacuation of the kids to the country in the first place). This, for some reason, leaves them talking like medieval literature, which may be moderately funny if you read their dialogue in silly voices to a five-year-old and is otherwise kind of tedious. Finally, in a hunt for the white stag, they stumble across the wardrobe and tumble back into their own world, where they are children again and not a moment has passed. I will give Lewis credit for not doing a full reset and having the kids not remember anything, which is possibly my least favorite trope in fiction. But this is almost as bad. If the kids returned immediately, that would make sense. If they stayed in Narnia until they died, that arguably would also make sense (their poor parents!). But growing up in Narnia and then returning as if nothing happened doesn't work. Do they remember all of their skills? How do you readjust to going to school after you've lived a life as a medieval Queen? Do they remember any of their friends after fifteen years in Narnia? Argh. It's a very "adventures are over, now time for bed" sort of ending, although the next book does try to patch some of this up. As a single book taken on its own terms, TLtWatW is weirdly slight, disjointed, and hits almost none of the beats that one would expect from a children's novel. What saves it is a sense of delight and joy that suffuses the descriptions of Narnia, even when locked in endless winter, and Aslan. The plot is full of holes, the role of the children in that plot makes no sense, and Santa Claus literally shows up in the middle of the story to hand out plot devices and make an incredibly sexist statement about war. And yet, I memorized every gift the children received as a kid, I can still feel the coziness of the Beaver's home while Mr. Beaver is explaining prophecy, and the night at the Stone Table remains ten times more emotionally effective for me than the description of the analogous event in the Bible. And, of course, there's Aslan.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king, I tell you."
Aslan is not a tame lion, to use the phrase that echos through this series. That, I think, is the key to the god that I find the most memorable in all of fantasy literature, even in this awkward, flawed, and decidedly strange introduction. Followed by Prince Caspian, in which the children return to a much-changed Narnia. Lewis has gotten most of the obligatory cosmological beats out of the way in this book, so subsequent books can tell more conventional stories. Rating: 7 out of 10

1 March 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: Architects of Memory

Review: Architects of Memory, by Karen Osborne
Series: Memory War #1
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2020
ISBN: 1-250-21546-3
Format: Kindle
Pages: 350
Ash is an Aurora Company indenture working as a salvage pilot in the wreckage of the Battle of Tribulation. She's been on the crew of the Twenty-Five and indentured to Aurora for about a year. Before that, she was an indenture in the mines of Bittersweet, where her fianc died in an attack from the alien Vai and where she contracted the celestium poisoning that's slowly killing her. Her only hope for treatment is to work off her indenture and become a corporate citizen, a hope that is doomed if Aurora discovers her illness. Oh, and she's in love with the citizen captain of the Twenty-Five, a relationship that's a bad idea for multiple reasons and which the captain has already cut off. This is the hopeful, optimistic part of the book, before things start getting grim. The setting of Architects of Memory is a horrifying future of corporate slavery and caste systems that has run head-long into aliens. The Vai released mysterious and beautiful weapons that kill humans horribly and were wreaking havoc on the corporate ships, but then the Vai retreated in the midst of their victory. The Twenty-Five is salvaging useful equipment and undetonated Vai ordnance off the dead hulk of the Aurora ship London when corporate tells them that the London may be hiding a more potent secret: a captured Vai weapon that may be the reason the Vai fled. I was tempted into reading this because the plot is full of elements I usually like: a tight-knit spaceship crew, alien first contact full of mysterious discoveries, corporate skulduggery, and anti-corporate protagonists. However, I like those plot elements when they support a story about overthrowing oppression and improving the universe. This book, instead, is one escalating nightmare after another. Ash starts the book sick but functional and spends much of the book developing multiple forms of brain damage. She's not alone; the same fate awaits several other likable characters. The secret weapon has horrible effects while also being something more terrible than a weapon. The corporations have an iron and apparently inescapable grip on humanity, with no sign of even the possibility of rebellion, and force indentures to cooperate with their slavery in ways that even the protagonists can't shake. And I haven't even mentioned the organ harvesting and medical experiments. The plot is a spiral between humans doing awful things to aliens and then doing even more awful things to other humans. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I will say that it was far less emotionally satisfying than I needed. I'm not sure this was intentional; there are some indications that Osborne meant for it to be partly cathartic for the characters. But not only didn't it work for me at all, it emphasized my feelings about the hopelessness and futility of the setting. If a book is going to put me through that amount of character pain and fear, I need a correspondingly significant triumph at the end. If that doesn't bother you as much as it does me, this book does have merits. The descriptions of salvage on a disabled starship are vivid and memorable and a nice change of pace from the normal military or scientific space stories. Salvage involves being careful, methodical, and precise in the face of tense situations; combined with the eerie feeling of battlefield remnants, it's an evocative scene. The Vai devices are satisfyingly alien, hitting a good balance between sinister and exotically beautiful. The Vai themselves, once we finally learn something about them, are even better: a truly alien form of life at the very edge of mutual understanding. There was the right amount of inter-corporate skulduggery, with enough factions for some tense complexity and double-crossing, but not so many that I lost track. And there is some enjoyably tense drama near the climax. Unfortunately, the unremitting horrors were too much for me. They're also too much for the characters, who oscillate between desperate action and psychological meltdowns that become more frequent and more urgently described as one gets farther into the book. Osborne starts the book with the characters already so miserable that this constant raising of the stakes became overwrought and exhausting for me. By the end of the book, the descriptions of the mental state of the characters felt like an endless, incoherent scream of pain. Combine that with a lot of body horror, physical and mental illness, carefully-described war crimes, and gruesome death, and I hit mental overload. This is not the type of science fiction novel (thankfully getting rarer) in which the author thinks any of these things are okay. Osborne is clearly on the side of her characters and considers the events of this story as horrible as I do. I think her goal was to tell a story about ethics and courage in the face of atrocities and overwhelming odds, and maybe another reader would find that. For me, it was lost in the darkness. Architects of Memory reaches a definite conclusion but doesn't resolve some major plot elements. It's followed by Engines of Oblivion, which might, based on the back-cover text, be more optimistic? I don't think I have it in me to find out, though. Rating: 4 out of 10

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