Search Results: "georg"

16 September 2021

Chris Lamb: On Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle

Colson Whitehead's latest novel, Harlem Shuffle, was always going to be widely reviewed, if only because his last two books won Pulitzer prizes. Still, after enjoying both The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, I was certainly going to read his next book, regardless of what the critics were saying indeed, it was actually quite agreeable to float above the manufactured energy of the book's launch. Saying that, I was encouraged to listen to an interview with the author by Ezra Klein. Now I had heard Whitehead speak once before when he accepted the Orwell Prize in 2020, and once again he came across as a pretty down-to-earth guy. Or if I were to emulate the detached and cynical tone Whitehead embodied in The Nickel Boys, after winning so many literary prizes in the past few years, he has clearly rehearsed how to respond to the cliched questions authors must be asked in every interview. With the obligatory throat-clearing of 'so, how did you get into writing?', for instance, Whitehead replies with his part of the catechism that 'It seemed like being a writer could be a cool job. You could work from home and not talk to people.' The response is the right combination of cute and self-effacing... and with its slight tone-deafness towards enforced isolation, it was no doubt honed before Covid-19. Harlem Shuffle tells three separate stories about Ray Carney, a furniture salesman and 'fence' for stolen goods in New York in the 1960s. Carney doesn't consider himself a genuine criminal though, and there's a certain logic to his relativistic morality. After all, everyone in New York City is on the take in some way, and if some 'lightly used items' in Carney's shop happened to have had 'previous owners', well, that's not quite his problem. 'Nothing solid in the city but the bedrock,' as one character dryly observes. Yet as Ezra pounces on in his NYT interview mentioned abov, the focus on the Harlem underworld means there are very few women in the book, and Whitehead's circular response ah well, it's a book about the criminals at that time! was a little unsatisfying. Not only did it feel uncharacteristically slippery of someone justly lauded for his unflinching power of observation (after all, it was the author who decided what to write about in the first place), it foreclosed on the opportunity to delve into why the heist and caper genres (from The Killing, The Feather Thief, Ocean's 11, etc.) have historically been a 'male' mode of storytelling. Perhaps knowing this to be the case, the conversation quickly steered towards Ray Carney's wife, Elizabeth, the only woman in the book who could be said possesses some plausible interiority. The following off-hand remark from Whitehead caught my attention:
My wife is convinced that [Elizabeth] knows everything about Carney's criminal life, and is sort of giving him a pass. And I'm not sure if that's true. I have to have to figure out exactly what she knows and when she knows it and how she feels about it.
I was quite taken by this, although not simply due to its effect on the story it self. As in, it immediately conjured up a charming picture of Whitehead's domestic arrangements: not only does Whitehead's wife feel free to disagree with what one of Whitehead's 'own' characters knows or believes, but that Colson has no problem whatsoever sharing that disagreement with the public at large. (It feels somehow natural that Whitehead's wife believes her counterpart knows more than she lets on, whilst Whitehead himself imbues the protagonist's wife with a kind of neo-Victorian innocence.) I'm minded to agree with Whitehead's partner myself, if only due to the passages where Elizabeth is studiously ignoring Carney's otherwise unexplained freak-outs. But all of these meta-thoughts simply underline just how emancipatory the Death of the Author can be. This product of academic literary criticism (the term was coined by Roland Barthes' 1967 essay of the same name) holds that the original author's intentions, ideas or biographical background carry no especial weight in determining how others should interpret their work. It is usually understood as meaning that a writer's own views are no more valid or 'correct' than the views held by someone else. (As an aside, I've found that most readers who encounter this concept for the first time have been reading books in this way since they were young. But the opposite is invariably true with cinephiles, who often have a bizarre obsession with researching or deciphering the 'true' interpretation of a film.) And with all that in mind, can you think of a more wry example of how freeing (and fun) nature of the Death of the Author than an author's own partner dissenting with their (Pulitzer Prize-winning) husband on the position of a lynchpin character?
The 1964 Harlem riot began after James Powell, a 15-year-old African American, was shot and killed by Thomas Gilligan, an NYPD police officer in front of 10s of witnesses. Gilligan was subsequently cleared by a grand jury.
As it turns out, the reviews for Harlem Shuffle have been almost universally positive, and after reading it in the two days after its release, I would certainly agree it is an above-average book. But it didn't quite take hold of me in the way that The Underground Railroad or The Nickel Boys did, especially the later chapters of The Nickel Boys that were set in contemporary New York and could thus make some (admittedly fairly explicit) connections from the 1960s to the present day that kind of connection is not there in Harlem Shuffle, or at least I did not pick up on it during my reading. I can see why one might take exception to that, though. For instance, it is certainly true that the week-long Harlem Riot forms a significant part of the plot, and some events in particular are entirely contingent on the ramifications of this momentous event. But it's difficult to argue the riot's impact are truly integral to the story, so not only is this uprising against police brutality almost regarded as a background event, any contemporary allusion to the murder of George Floyd is subsequently watered down. It's nowhere near the historical rubbernecking of Forrest Gump (1994), of course, but that's not a battle you should ever be fighting. Indeed, whilst a certain smoothness of affect is to be priced into the Whitehead reading experience, my initial overall reaction to Harlem Shuffle was fairly flat, despite all the action and intrigue on the page. The book perhaps belies its origins as a work conceived during quarantine after all, the book is essentially comprised of three loosely connected novellas, almost as if the unreality and mental turbulence of lockdown prevented the author from performing the psychological 'deep work' of producing a novel-length text with his usual depth of craft. A few other elements chimed with this being a 'lockdown novel' as well, particularly the book's preoccupation with the sheer physicality of the city compared to the usual complex interplay between its architecture and its inhabitants. This felt like it had been directly absorbed into the book from the author walking around his deserted city, and thus being able to take in details for the first time:
The doorways were entrances into different cities no, different entrances into one vast, secret city. Ever close, adjacent to all you know, just underneath. If you know where to look.
And I can't fail to mention that you can almost touch Whitehead's sublimated hunger to eat out again as well:
Stickups were chops they cook fast and hot, you re in and out. A stakeout was ribs fire down low, slow, taking your time. [ ] Sometimes when Carney jumped into the Hudson when he was a kid, some of that stuff got into his mouth. The Big Apple Diner served it up and called it coffee.
More seriously, however, the relatively thin personalities of minor characters then reminded me of the simulacrum of Zoom-based relationships, and the essentially unsatisfactory endings to the novellas felt reminiscent of lockdown pseudo-events that simply fizzle out without a bang. One of the stories ties up loose ends with: 'These things were usually enough to terminate a mob war, and they appeared to end the hostilities in this case as well.' They did? Well, okay, I guess.
The corner of 125th Street and Morningside Avenue in 2019, the purported location of Carney's fictional furniture store. Signage plays a prominent role in Harlem Shuffle, possibly due to the author's quarantine walks.
Still, it would be unfair to characterise myself as 'disappointed' with the novel, and none of this piece should be taken as really deep criticism. The book certainly was entertaining enough, and pretty funny in places as well:
Carney didn t have an etiquette book in front of him, but he was sure it was bad manners to sit on a man s safe. [ ] The manager of the laundromat was a scrawny man in a saggy undershirt painted with sweat stains. Launderer, heal thyself.
Yet I can't shake the feeling that every book you write is a book that you don't, and so we might need to hold out a little longer for Whitehead's 'George Floyd novel'. (Although it is for others to say how much of this sentiment is the expectations of a White Reader for The Black Author to ventriloquise the pain of 'their' community.) Some room for personal critique is surely permitted. I dearly missed the junk food energy of the dry and acerbic observations that run through Whitehead's previous work. At one point he had a good line on the model tokenisation that lurks behind 'The First Negro to...' labels, but the callbacks to this idea ceased without any payoff. Similar things happened with the not-so-subtle critiques of the American Dream:
Entrepreneur? Pepper said the last part like manure. That s just a hustler who pays taxes. [ ] One thing I ve learned in my job is that life is cheap, and when things start getting expensive, it gets cheaper still.
Ultimately, though, I think I just wanted more. I wanted a deeper exploration of how the real power in New York is not wielded by individual street hoodlums or even the cops but in the form of real estate, essentially serving as a synecdoche for Capital as a whole. (A recent take of this can be felt in Jed Rothstein's 2021 documentary, WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn and it is perhaps pertinent to remember that the US President at the time this novel was written was affecting to be a real estate tycoon.). Indeed, just like the concluding scenes of J. J. Connolly's Layer Cake, although you can certainly pull off a cool heist against the Man, power ultimately resides in those who control the means of production... and a homespun furniture salesman on the corner of 125 & Morningside just ain't that. There are some nods to kind of analysis in the conclusion of the final story ('Their heist unwound as if it had never happened, and Van Wyck kept throwing up buildings.'), but, again, I would have simply liked more. And when I attempted then file this book away into the broader media landscape, given the current cultural visibility of 1960s pop culture (e.g. One Night in Miami (2020), Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), Summer of Soul (2021), etc.), Harlem Shuffle also seemed like a missed opportunity to critically analyse our (highly-qualified) longing for the civil rights era. I can certainly understand why we might look fondly on the cultural products from a period when politics was less alienated, when society was less atomised, and when it was still possible to imagine meaningful change, but in this dimension at least, Harlem Shuffle seems to merely contribute to this nostalgic escapism.

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?

26 May 2021

Ian Jackson: Disconnecting from Freenode

I have just disconnected from irc.freenode.net for the last time. You should do the same. The awful new de facto operators are using user numbers as a public justification for their behaviour. Specifically, I recommend that you: Note that mentioning libera in the channel topic of your old channels on freenode is likely to get your channel forcibly taken over by the new de facto operators of freenode. They won't tolerate you officially directing people to the competition. I did an investigation and writeup of this situation for the Xen Project. It's a little out of date - it doesn't have the latest horrible behaviours from the new regime - but I think it is worth pasting it here:
Message-ID: <24741.12566.639691.461134@mariner.uk.xensource.com>
From: Ian Jackson <iwj@xenproject.org>
To: xen-devel@lists.xenproject.org
CC: community.manager@xenproject.org
Subject: IRC networks
Date: Wed, 19 May 2021 16:39:02 +0100
Summary:
We have for many years used the Freenode IRC network for real-time
chat about Xen.  Unfortunately, Freenode is undergoing a crisis.
There is a dispute between, on the one hand, Andrew Lee, and on the
other hand, all (or almost all) Freenode volunteer staff.  We must
make a decision.
I have read all the publicly available materials and asked around with
my contacts.  My conclusions:
 * We do not want to continue to use irc.freenode.*.
 * We might want to use libera.chat, but:
 * Our best option is probably to move to OFTC https://www.oftc.net/
Discussion:
Firstly, my starting point.
I have been on IRC since at least 1993.  Currently my main public
networks are OFTC and Freenode.
I do not have any personal involvement with public IRC networks.  Of
the principals in the current Freenode dispute, I have only heard of
one, who is a person I have experience of in a Debian context but have
not worked closely with.
George asked me informally to use my knowledge and contacts to shed
light on the situation.  I decided that, having done my research, I
would report more formally and publicly here rather than just
informally to George.
Historical background:
 * Freenode has had drama before.  In about 2001 OFTC split off from
   Freenode after an argument over governance.  IIRC there was drama
   again in 2006.  Significant proportion of the Free Software world,
   including Debian, now use OFTC.  Debian switched in 2006.
Facts that I'm (now) pretty sure of:
 * Freenode's actual servers run on donated services; that is,
   the hardware is owned by those donating the services, and the
   systems are managed by Freenode volunteers, known as "staff".
 * The freenode domain names are currently registered to a limited
   liability company owned by Andrew Lee (rasengan).
 * At least 10 Freenode staff have quit in protest, writing similar
   resignation letters protesting about Andrew Lee's actions [1].  It
   does not appear that any Andrew Lee has the public support of any
   Freenode staff.
 * Andrew Lee claims that he "owns" Freenode.[2]
 * A large number of channel owners for particular Free Software
   projects who previously used Freenode have said they will switch
   away from Freenode.
Discussion and findings on Freenode:
There is, as might be expected, some murk about who said what to whom
when, what promises were made and/or broken, and so on.  The matter
was also complicated by the leaking earlier this week of draft(s) of
(at least one of) the Freenode staffers' resignation letters.
Andrew Lee has put forward a position statement [2].  A large part of
the thrust of that statement is allegations that the current head of
Freenode staff, tomaw, "forced out" the previous head, christel.  This
allegation is strongly disputed by by all those current (resigning)
Freenode staff I have seen comment.  In any case it does not seem to
be particularly germane; in none of my reading did tomaw seem to be
playing any kind of leading role.  tomaw is not mentioned in the
resignation letters.
Some of the links led to me to logs of discussions on #freenode.  I
read some of these in particular[3].  MB I haven't been able to verify
that these logs have not been tampered with.  Having said that and
taking the logs at face value, I found the rasengan writing there to
be disingenuous and obtuse.
Andrew Lee has been heavily involved in Bitcoin.  Bitcoin is a hive of
scum and villainy, a pyramid scheme, and an environmental disaster,
all rolled into one.  This does not make me think well of Lee.
Additionally, it seems that Andrew Lee has been involved in previous
governance drama involving a different IRC network, Snoonet.
I have come to the very firm conclusion that we should have nothing to
do with Andrew Lee, and avoid using services that he has some
effective control over.
Alternatives:
The departing Freenode staff are setting up a replacement,
"libera.chat".  This is operational but still suffering from teething
problems and of course has a significant load as it deals with an
influx of users on a new setup.
On the staff and trust question: As I say, I haven't heard of any of
the Freenode staff, with one exception.  Unfortunately the one
exception does not inspire confidence in me[4] - although NB that is
only one data point.
On the other hand, Debian has had many many years of drama-free
involvement with OFTC.  OFTC has a formal governance arrangement and
it is associated with Software in the Public Interest.  I notice that
the last few OFTC'[s annual officer elections have been run partly by
Steve McIntyre.  Steve is a friend of mine (and he is a former Debian
Project Leader) and I take his involvement as a good sign.
I recommend that we switch to using OFTC as soon as possible.
Ian.
References:
Starting point for the resigning Freenode staff's side [1]:
  https://gist.github.com/joepie91/df80d8d36cd9d1bde46ba018af497409
Andrew Lee's side [2]:
  https://gist.github.com/realrasengan/88549ec34ee32d01629354e4075d2d48
[3]
https://paste.sr.ht/~ircwright/7e751d2162e4eb27cba25f6f8893c1f38930f7c4
[4] I won't give the name since I don't want to be shitposting.


comment count unavailable comments

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.

7 February 2021

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2020

I won't reveal precisely how many books I read in 2020, but it was definitely an improvement on 74 in 2019, 53 in 2018 and 50 in 2017. But not only did I read more in a quantitative sense, the quality seemed higher as well. There were certainly fewer disappointments: given its cultural resonance, I was nonplussed by Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and whilst Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun was a little thin (again, given the obvious influence of the Bond franchise) the booked lacked 'thinness' in a way that made it interesting to critique. The weakest novel I read this year was probably J. M. Berger's Optimal, but even this hybrid of Ready Player One late-period Black Mirror wasn't that cringeworthy, all things considered. Alas, graphic novels continue to not quite be my thing, I'm afraid. I perhaps experienced more disappointments in the non-fiction section. Paul Bloom's Against Empathy was frustrating, particularly in that it expended unnecessary energy battling its misleading title and accepted terminology, and it could so easily have been an 20-minute video essay instead). (Elsewhere in the social sciences, David and Goliath will likely be the last Malcolm Gladwell book I voluntarily read.) After so many positive citations, I was also more than a little underwhelmed by Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and after Ryan Holiday's many engaging reboots of Stoic philosophy, his Conspiracy (on Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan taking on Gawker) was slightly wide of the mark for me. Anyway, here follows a selection of my favourites from 2020, in no particular order:

Fiction Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies & The Mirror and the Light Hilary Mantel During the early weeks of 2020, I re-read the first two parts of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy in time for the March release of The Mirror and the Light. I had actually spent the last few years eagerly following any news of the final instalment, feigning outrage whenever Mantel appeared to be spending time on other projects. Wolf Hall turned out to be an even better book than I remembered, and when The Mirror and the Light finally landed at midnight on 5th March, I began in earnest the next morning. Note that date carefully; this was early 2020, and the book swiftly became something of a heavy-handed allegory about the world at the time. That is to say and without claiming that I am Monsieur Cromuel in any meaningful sense it was an uneasy experience to be reading about a man whose confident grasp on his world, friends and life was slipping beyond his control, and at least in Cromwell's case, was heading inexorably towards its denouement. The final instalment in Mantel's trilogy is not perfect, and despite my love of her writing I would concur with the judges who decided against awarding her a third Booker Prize. For instance, there is something of the longueur that readers dislike in the second novel, although this might not be entirely Mantel's fault after all, the rise of the "ugly" Anne of Cleves and laborious trade negotiations for an uninspiring mineral (this is no Herbertian 'spice') will never match the court intrigues of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and that man for all seasons, Thomas More. Still, I am already looking forward to returning to the verbal sparring between King Henry and Cromwell when I read the entire trilogy once again, tentatively planned for 2022.

The Fault in Our Stars John Green I came across John Green's The Fault in Our Stars via a fantastic video by Lindsay Ellis discussing Roland Barthes famous 1967 essay on authorial intent. However, I might have eventually come across The Fault in Our Stars regardless, not because of Green's status as an internet celebrity of sorts but because I'm a complete sucker for this kind of emotionally-manipulative bildungsroman, likely due to reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials a few too many times in my teens. Although its title is taken from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, The Fault in Our Stars is actually more Romeo & Juliet. Hazel, a 16-year-old cancer patient falls in love with Gus, an equally ill teen from her cancer support group. Hazel and Gus share the same acerbic (and distinctly unteenage) wit and a love of books, centred around Hazel's obsession of An Imperial Affliction, a novel by the meta-fictional author Peter Van Houten. Through a kind of American version of Jim'll Fix It, Gus and Hazel go and visit Van Houten in Amsterdam. I'm afraid it's even cheesier than I'm describing it. Yet just as there is a time and a place for Michelin stars and Haribo Starmix, there's surely a place for this kind of well-constructed but altogether maudlin literature. One test for emotionally manipulative works like this is how well it can mask its internal contradictions while Green's story focuses on the universalities of love, fate and the shortness of life (as do almost all of his works, it seems), The Fault in Our Stars manages to hide, for example, that this is an exceedingly favourable treatment of terminal illness that is only possible for the better off. The 2014 film adaptation does somewhat worse in peddling this fantasy (and has a much weaker treatment of the relationship between the teens' parents too, an underappreciated subtlety of the book). The novel, however, is pretty slick stuff, and it is difficult to fault it for what it is. For some comparison, I later read Green's Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns which, as I mention, tug at many of the same strings, but they don't come together nearly as well as The Fault in Our Stars. James Joyce claimed that "sentimentality is unearned emotion", and in this respect, The Fault in Our Stars really does earn it.

The Plague Albert Camus P. D. James' The Children of Men, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon ... dystopian fiction was already a theme of my reading in 2020, so given world events it was an inevitability that I would end up with Camus's novel about a plague that swept through the Algerian city of Oran. Is The Plague an allegory about the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two? Where are all the female characters? Where are the Arab ones? Since its original publication in 1947, there's been so much written about The Plague that it's hard to say anything new today. Nevertheless, I was taken aback by how well it captured so much of the nuance of 2020. Whilst we were saying just how 'unprecedented' these times were, it was eerie how a novel written in the 1940s could accurately how many of us were feeling well over seventy years on later: the attitudes of the people; the confident declarations from the institutions; the misaligned conversations that led to accidental misunderstandings. The disconnected lovers. The only thing that perhaps did not work for me in The Plague was the 'character' of the church. Although I could appreciate most of the allusion and metaphor, it was difficult for me to relate to the significance of Father Paneloux, particularly regarding his change of view on the doctrinal implications of the virus, and spoiler alert that he finally died of a "doubtful case" of the disease, beyond the idea that Paneloux's beliefs are in themselves "doubtful". Answers on a postcard, perhaps. The Plague even seemed to predict how we, at least speaking of the UK, would react when the waves of the virus waxed and waned as well:
The disease stiffened and carried off three or four patients who were expected to recover. These were the unfortunates of the plague, those whom it killed when hope was high
It somehow captured the nostalgic yearning for high-definition videos of cities and public transport; one character even visits the completely deserted railway station in Oman simply to read the timetables on the wall.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy John le Carr There's absolutely none of the Mad Men glamour of James Bond in John le Carr 's icy world of Cold War spies:
Small, podgy, and at best middle-aged, Smiley was by appearance one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill-fitting, and extremely wet.
Almost a direct rebuttal to Ian Fleming's 007, Tinker, Tailor has broken-down cars, bad clothes, women with their own internal and external lives (!), pathetically primitive gadgets, and (contra Mad Men) hangovers that significantly longer than ten minutes. In fact, the main aspect that the mostly excellent 2011 film adaption doesn't really capture is the smoggy and run-down nature of 1970s London this is not your proto-Cool Britannia of Austin Powers or GTA:1969, the city is truly 'gritty' in the sense there is a thin film of dirt and grime on every surface imaginable. Another angle that the film cannot capture well is just how purposefully the novel does not mention the United States. Despite the US obviously being the dominant power, the British vacillate between pretending it doesn't exist or implying its irrelevance to the matter at hand. This is no mistake on Le Carr 's part, as careful readers are rewarded by finding this denial of US hegemony in metaphor throughout --pace Ian Fleming, there is no obvious Felix Leiter to loudly throw money at the problem or a Sheriff Pepper to serve as cartoon racist for the Brits to feel superior about. By contrast, I recall that a clever allusion to "dusty teabags" is subtly mirrored a few paragraphs later with a reference to the installation of a coffee machine in the office, likely symbolic of the omnipresent and unavoidable influence of America. (The officer class convince themselves that coffee is a European import.) Indeed, Le Carr communicates a feeling of being surrounded on all sides by the peeling wallpaper of Empire. Oftentimes, the writing style matches the graceless and inelegance of the world it depicts. The sentences are dense and you find your brain performing a fair amount of mid-flight sentence reconstruction, reparsing clauses, commas and conjunctions to interpret Le Carr 's intended meaning. In fact, in his eulogy-cum-analysis of Le Carr 's writing style, William Boyd, himself a ventrioquilist of Ian Fleming, named this intentional technique 'staccato'. Like the musical term, I suspect the effect of this literary staccato is as much about the impact it makes on a sentence as the imperceptible space it generates after it. Lastly, the large cast in this sprawling novel is completely believable, all the way from the Russian spymaster Karla to minor schoolboy Roach the latter possibly a stand-in for Le Carr himself. I got through the 500-odd pages in just a few days, somehow managing to hold the almost-absurdly complicated plot in my head. This is one of those classic books of the genre that made me wonder why I had not got around to it before.

The Nickel Boys Colson Whitehead According to the judges who awarded it the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Nickel Boys is "a devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida" that serves as a "powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption". But whilst there is plenty of this perseverance and dignity on display, I found little redemption in this deeply cynical novel. It could almost be read as a follow-up book to Whitehead's popular The Underground Railroad, which itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. Indeed, each book focuses on a young protagonist who might be euphemistically referred to as 'downtrodden'. But The Nickel Boys is not only far darker in tone, it feels much closer and more connected to us today. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that it is based on the story of the Dozier School in northern Florida which operated for over a century before its long history of institutional abuse and racism was exposed a 2012 investigation. Nevertheless, if you liked the social commentary in The Underground Railroad, then there is much more of that in The Nickel Boys:
Perhaps his life might have veered elsewhere if the US government had opened the country to colored advancement like they opened the army. But it was one thing to allow someone to kill for you and another to let him live next door.
Sardonic aper us of this kind are pretty relentless throughout the book, but it never tips its hand too far into on nihilism, especially when some of the visual metaphors are often first-rate: "An American flag sighed on a pole" is one I can easily recall from memory. In general though, The Nickel Boys is not only more world-weary in tenor than his previous novel, the United States it describes seems almost too beaten down to have the energy conjure up the Swiftian magical realism that prevented The Underground Railroad from being overly lachrymose. Indeed, even we Whitehead transports us a present-day New York City, we can't indulge in another kind of fantasy, the one where America has solved its problems:
The Daily News review described the [Manhattan restaurant] as nouveau Southern, "down-home plates with a twist." What was the twist that it was soul food made by white people?
It might be overly reductionist to connect Whitehead's tonal downshift with the racial justice movements of the past few years, but whatever the reason, we've ended up with a hard-hitting, crushing and frankly excellent book.

True Grit & No Country for Old Men Charles Portis & Cormac McCarthy It's one of the most tedious cliches to claim the book is better than the film, but these two books are of such high quality that even the Coen Brothers at their best cannot transcend them. I'm grouping these books together here though, not because their respective adaptations will exemplify some of the best cinema of the 21st century, but because of their superb treatment of language. Take the use of dialogue. Cormac McCarthy famously does not use any punctuation "I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that's it" but the conversations in No Country for Old Men together feel familiar and commonplace, despite being relayed through this unconventional technique. In lesser hands, McCarthy's written-out Texan drawl would be the novelistic equivalent of white rap or Jar Jar Binks, but not only is the effect entirely gripping, it helps you to believe you are physically present in the many intimate and domestic conversations that hold this book together. Perhaps the cinematic familiarity helps, as you can almost hear Tommy Lee Jones' voice as Sheriff Bell from the opening page to the last. Charles Portis' True Grit excels in its dialogue too, but in this book it is not so much in how it flows (although that is delightful in its own way) but in how forthright and sardonic Maddie Ross is:
"Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt." "One would be as unpleasant as the other."
Perhaps this should be unsurprising. Maddie, a fourteen-year-old girl from Yell County, Arkansas, can barely fire her father's heavy pistol, so she can only has words to wield as her weapon. Anyway, it's not just me who treasures this book. In her encomium that presages most modern editions, Donna Tartt of The Secret History fame traces the novels origins through Huckleberry Finn, praising its elegance and economy: "The plot of True Grit is uncomplicated and as pure in its way as one of the Canterbury Tales". I've read any Chaucer, but I am inclined to agree. Tartt also recalls that True Grit vanished almost entirely from the public eye after the release of John Wayne's flimsy cinematic vehicle in 1969 this earlier film was, Tartt believes, "good enough, but doesn't do the book justice". As it happens, reading a book with its big screen adaptation as a chaser has been a minor theme of my 2020, including P. D. James' The Children of Men, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, John le Carr 's Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy and even a staged production of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol streamed from The Old Vic. For an autodidact with no academic background in literature or cinema, I've been finding this an effective and enjoyable means of getting closer to these fine books and films it is precisely where they deviate (or perhaps where they are deficient) that offers a means by which one can see how they were constructed. I've also found that adaptations can also tell you a lot about the culture in which they were made: take the 'straightwashing' in the film version of Strangers on a Train (1951) compared to the original novel, for example. It is certainly true that adaptions rarely (as Tartt put it) "do the book justice", but she might be also right to alight on a legal metaphor, for as the saying goes, to judge a movie in comparison to the book is to do both a disservice.

The Glass Hotel Emily St. John Mandel In The Glass Hotel, Mandel somehow pulls off the impossible; writing a loose roman- -clef on Bernie Madoff, a Ponzi scheme and the ephemeral nature of finance capital that is tranquil and shimmeringly beautiful. Indeed, don't get the wrong idea about the subject matter; this is no over over-caffeinated The Big Short, as The Glass Hotel is less about a Madoff or coked-up financebros but the fragile unreality of the late 2010s, a time which was, as we indeed discovered in 2020, one event away from almost shattering completely. Mandel's prose has that translucent, phantom quality to it where the chapters slip through your fingers when you try to grasp at them, and the plot is like a ghost ship that that slips silently, like the Mary Celeste, onto the Canadian water next to which the eponymous 'Glass Hotel' resides. Indeed, not unlike The Overlook Hotel, the novel so overflows with symbolism so that even the title needs to evoke the idea of impermanence permanently living in a hotel might serve as a house, but it won't provide a home. It's risky to generalise about such things post-2016, but the whole story sits in that the infinitesimally small distance between perception and reality, a self-constructed culture that is not so much 'post truth' but between them. There's something to consider in almost every character too. Take the stand-in for Bernie Madoff: no caricature of Wall Street out of a 1920s political cartoon or Brechtian satire, Jonathan Alkaitis has none of the oleaginous sleaze of a Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the cold sociopathy of a Marcus Halberstam nor the well-exercised sinuses of, say, Jordan Belford. Alkaitis is dare I say it? eminently likeable, and the book is all the better for it. Even the C-level characters have something to say: Enrico, trivially escaping from the regulators (who are pathetically late to the fraud without Mandel ever telling us explicitly), is daydreaming about the girlfriend he abandoned in New York: "He wished he'd realised he loved her before he left". What was in his previous life that prevented him from doing so? Perhaps he was never in love at all, or is love itself just as transient as the imaginary money in all those bank accounts? Maybe he fell in love just as he crossed safely into Mexico? When, precisely, do we fall in love anyway? I went on to read Mandel's Last Night in Montreal, an early work where you can feel her reaching for that other-worldly quality that she so masterfully achieves in The Glass Hotel. Her f ted Station Eleven is on my must-read list for 2021. "What is truth?" asked Pontius Pilate. Not even Mandel cannot give us the answer, but this will certainly do for now.

Running the Light Sam Tallent Although it trades in all of the clich s and stereotypes of the stand-up comedian (the triumvirate of drink, drugs and divorce), Sam Tallent's debut novel depicts an extremely convincing fictional account of a touring road comic. The comedian Doug Stanhope (who himself released a fairly decent No Encore for the Donkey memoir in 2020) hyped Sam's book relentlessly on his podcast during lockdown... and justifiably so. I ripped through Running the Light in a few short hours, the only disappointment being that I can't seem to find videos online of Sam that come anywhere close to match up to his writing style. If you liked the rollercoaster energy of Paul Beatty's The Sellout, the cynicism of George Carlin and the car-crash invertibility of final season Breaking Bad, check this great book out.

Non-fiction Inside Story Martin Amis This was my first introduction to Martin Amis's work after hearing that his "novelised autobiography" contained a fair amount about Christopher Hitchens, an author with whom I had a one of those rather clich d parasocial relationship with in the early days of YouTube. (Hey, it could have been much worse.) Amis calls his book a "novelised autobiography", and just as much has been made of its quasi-fictional nature as the many diversions into didactic writing advice that betwixt each chapter: "Not content with being a novel, this book also wants to tell you how to write novels", complained Tim Adams in The Guardian. I suspect that reviewers who grew up with Martin since his debut book in 1973 rolled their eyes at yet another demonstration of his manifest cleverness, but as my first exposure to Amis's gift of observation, I confess that I was thought it was actually kinda clever. Try, for example, "it remains a maddening truth that both sexual success and sexual failure are steeply self-perpetuating" or "a hospital gym is a contradiction like a young Conservative", etc. Then again, perhaps I was experiencing a form of nostalgia for a pre-Gamergate YouTube, when everything in the world was a lot simpler... or at least things could be solved by articulate gentlemen who honed their art of rhetoric at the Oxford Union. I went on to read Martin's first novel, The Rachel Papers (is it 'arrogance' if you are, indeed, that confident?), as well as his 1997 Night Train. I plan to read more of him in the future.

The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters: Volume 1 & Volume 2 & Volume 3 & Volume 4 George Orwell These deceptively bulky four volumes contain all of George Orwell's essays, reviews and correspondence, from his teenage letters sent to local newspapers to notes to his literary executor on his deathbed in 1950. Reading this was part of a larger, multi-year project of mine to cover the entirety of his output. By including this here, however, I'm not recommending that you read everything that came out of Orwell's typewriter. The letters to friends and publishers will only be interesting to biographers or hardcore fans (although I would recommend Dorian Lynskey's The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell's 1984 first). Furthermore, many of his book reviews will be of little interest today. Still, some insights can be gleaned; if there is any inconsistency in this huge corpus is that his best work is almost 'too' good and too impactful, making his merely-average writing appear like hackwork. There are some gems that don't make the usual essay collections too, and some of Orwell's most astute social commentary came out of series of articles he wrote for the left-leaning newspaper Tribune, related in many ways to the US Jacobin. You can also see some of his most famous ideas start to take shape years if not decades before they appear in his novels in these prototype blog posts. I also read Dennis Glover's novelised account of the writing of Nineteen-Eighty Four called The Last Man in Europe, and I plan to re-read some of Orwell's earlier novels during 2021 too, including A Clergyman's Daughter and his 'antebellum' Coming Up for Air that he wrote just before the Second World War; his most under-rated novel in my estimation. As it happens, and with the exception of the US and Spain, copyright in the works published in his lifetime ends on 1st January 2021. Make of that what you will.

Capitalist Realism & Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class Mark Fisher & Owen Jones These two books are not natural companions to one another and there is likely much that Jones and Fisher would vehemently disagree on, but I am pairing these books together here because they represent the best of the 'political' books I read in 2020. Mark Fisher was a dedicated leftist whose first book, Capitalist Realism, marked an important contribution to political philosophy in the UK. However, since his suicide in early 2017, the currency of his writing has markedly risen, and Fisher is now frequently referenced due to his belief that the prevalence of mental health conditions in modern life is a side-effect of various material conditions, rather than a natural or unalterable fact "like weather". (Of course, our 'weather' is being increasingly determined by a combination of politics, economics and petrochemistry than pure randomness.) Still, Fisher wrote on all manner of topics, from the 2012 London Olympics and "weird and eerie" electronic music that yearns for a lost future that will never arrive, possibly prefiguring or influencing the Fallout video game series. Saying that, I suspect Fisher will resonate better with a UK audience more than one across the Atlantic, not necessarily because he was minded to write about the parochial politics and culture of Britain, but because his writing often carries some exasperation at the suppression of class in favour of identity-oriented politics, a viewpoint not entirely prevalent in the United States outside of, say, Tour F. Reed or the late Michael Brooks. (Indeed, Fisher is likely best known in the US as the author of his controversial 2013 essay, Exiting the Vampire Castle, but that does not figure greatly in this book). Regardless, Capitalist Realism is an insightful, damning and deeply unoptimistic book, best enjoyed in the warm sunshine I found it an ironic compliment that I had quoted so many paragraphs that my Kindle's copy protection routines prevented me from clipping any further. Owen Jones needs no introduction to anyone who regularly reads a British newspaper, especially since 2015 where he unofficially served as a proxy and punching bag for expressing frustrations with the then-Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. However, as the subtitle of Jones' 2012 book suggests, Chavs attempts to reveal the "demonisation of the working class" in post-financial crisis Britain. Indeed, the timing of the book is central to Jones' analysis, specifically that the stereotype of the "chav" is used by government and the media as a convenient figleaf to avoid meaningful engagement with economic and social problems on an austerity ridden island. (I'm not quite sure what the US equivalent to 'chav' might be. Perhaps Florida Man without the implications of mental health.) Anyway, Jones certainly has a point. From Vicky Pollard to the attacks on Jade Goody, there is an ignorance and prejudice at the heart of the 'chav' backlash, and that would be bad enough even if it was not being co-opted or criminalised for ideological ends. Elsewhere in political science, I also caught Michael Brooks' Against the Web and David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs, although they are not quite methodical enough to recommend here. However, Graeber's award-winning Debt: The First 5000 Years will be read in 2021. Matt Taibbi's Hate Inc: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another is worth a brief mention here though, but its sprawling nature felt very much like I was reading a set of Substack articles loosely edited together. And, indeed, I was.

The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing Ewan Clayton A recommendation from a dear friend, Ewan Clayton's The Golden Thread is a journey through the long history of the writing from the Dawn of Man to present day. Whether you are a linguist, a graphic designer, a visual artist, a typographer, an archaeologist or 'just' a reader, there is probably something in here for you. I was already dipping my quill into calligraphy this year so I suspect I would have liked this book in any case, but highlights would definitely include the changing role of writing due to the influence of textual forms in the workplace as well as digression on ergonomic desks employed by monks and scribes in the Middle Ages. A lot of books by otherwise-sensible authors overstretch themselves when they write about computers or other technology from the Information Age, at best resulting in bizarre non-sequiturs and dangerously Panglossian viewpoints at worst. But Clayton surprised me by writing extremely cogently and accurate on the role of text in this new and unpredictable era. After finishing it I realised why for a number of years, Clayton was a consultant for the legendary Xerox PARC where he worked in a group focusing on documents and contemporary communications whilst his colleagues were busy inventing the graphical user interface, laser printing, text editors and the computer mouse.

New Dark Age & Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life James Bridle & Adam Greenfield I struggled to describe these two books to friends, so I doubt I will suddenly do a better job here. Allow me to quote from Will Self's review of James Bridle's New Dark Age in the Guardian:
We're accustomed to worrying about AI systems being built that will either "go rogue" and attack us, or succeed us in a bizarre evolution of, um, evolution what we didn't reckon on is the sheer inscrutability of these manufactured minds. And minds is not a misnomer. How else should we think about the neural network Google has built so its translator can model the interrelation of all words in all languages, in a kind of three-dimensional "semantic space"?
New Dark Age also turns its attention to the weird, algorithmically-derived products offered for sale on Amazon as well as the disturbing and abusive videos that are automatically uploaded by bots to YouTube. It should, by rights, be a mess of disparate ideas and concerns, but Bridle has a flair for introducing topics which reveals he comes to computer science from another discipline altogether; indeed, on a four-part series he made for Radio 4, he's primarily referred to as "an artist". Whilst New Dark Age has rather abstract section topics, Adam Greenfield's Radical Technologies is a rather different book altogether. Each chapter dissects one of the so-called 'radical' technologies that condition the choices available to us, asking how do they work, what challenges do they present to us and who ultimately benefits from their adoption. Greenfield takes his scalpel to smartphones, machine learning, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, etc., and I don't think it would be unfair to say that starts and ends with a cynical point of view. He is no reactionary Luddite, though, and this is both informed and extremely well-explained, and it also lacks the lazy, affected and Private Eye-like cynicism of, say, Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain. The books aren't a natural pair, for Bridle's writing contains quite a bit of air in places, ironically mimics the very 'clouds' he inveighs against. Greenfield's book, by contrast, as little air and much lower pH value. Still, it was more than refreshing to read two technology books that do not limit themselves to platitudinal booleans, be those dangerously naive (e.g. Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable) or relentlessly nihilistic (Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism). Sure, they are both anti-technology screeds, but they tend to make arguments about systems of power rather than specific companies and avoid being too anti-'Big Tech' through a narrower, Silicon Valley obsessed lens for that (dipping into some other 2020 reading of mine) I might suggest Wendy Liu's Abolish Silicon Valley or Scott Galloway's The Four. Still, both books are superlatively written. In fact, Adam Greenfield has some of the best non-fiction writing around, both in terms of how he can explain complicated concepts (particularly the smart contract mechanism of the Ethereum cryptocurrency) as well as in the extremely finely-crafted sentences I often felt that the writing style almost had no need to be that poetic, and I particularly enjoyed his fictional scenarios at the end of the book.

The Algebra of Happiness & Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life Scott Galloway & Nir Eyal A cocktail of insight, informality and abrasiveness makes NYU Professor Scott Galloway uncannily appealing to guys around my age. Although Galloway definitely has his own wisdom and experience, similar to Joe Rogan I suspect that a crucial part of Galloway's appeal is that you feel you are learning right alongside him. Thankfully, 'Prof G' is far less err problematic than Rogan (Galloway is more of a well-meaning, spirited centrist), although he, too, has some pretty awful takes at time. This is a shame, because removed from the whirlwind of social media he can be really quite considered, such as in this long-form interview with Stephanie Ruhle. In fact, it is this kind of sentiment that he captured in his 2019 Algebra of Happiness. When I look over my highlighted sections, it's clear that it's rather schmaltzy out of context ("Things you hate become just inconveniences in the presence of people you love..."), but his one-two punch of cynicism and saccharine ("Ask somebody who purchased a home in 2007 if their 'American Dream' came true...") is weirdly effective, especially when he uses his own family experiences as part of his story:
A better proxy for your life isn't your first home, but your last. Where you draw your last breath is more meaningful, as it's a reflection of your success and, more important, the number of people who care about your well-being. Your first house signals the meaningful your future and possibility. Your last home signals the profound the people who love you. Where you die, and who is around you at the end, is a strong signal of your success or failure in life.
Nir Eyal's Indistractable, however, is a totally different kind of 'self-help' book. The important background story is that Eyal was the author of the widely-read Hooked which turned into a secular Bible of so-called 'addictive design'. (If you've ever been cornered by a techbro wielding a Wikipedia-thin knowledge of B. F. Skinner's behaviourist psychology and how it can get you to click 'Like' more often, it ultimately came from Hooked.) However, Eyal's latest effort is actually an extended mea culpa for his previous sin and he offers both high and low-level palliative advice on how to avoid falling for the tricks he so studiously espoused before. I suppose we should be thankful to capitalism for selling both cause and cure. Speaking of markets, there appears to be a growing appetite for books in this 'anti-distraction' category, and whilst I cannot claim to have done an exhausting study of this nascent field, Indistractable argues its points well without relying on accurate-but-dry "studies show..." or, worse, Gladwellian gotchas. My main criticism, however, would be that Eyal doesn't acknowledge the limits of a self-help approach to this problem; it seems that many of the issues he outlines are an inescapable part of the alienation in modern Western society, and the only way one can really avoid distraction is to move up the income ladder or move out to a 500-acre ranch.

4 January 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Once and Future Witches

Review: The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Redhook Books
Copyright: October 2020
ISBN: 0-316-42202-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 515
Once upon a time there were three sisters. They were born in a forgotten kingdom that smelled of honeysuckle and mud, where the Big Sandy ran wide and the sycamores shone white as knuckle-bones on the banks. The sisters had no mother and a no-good father, but they had each other; it might have been enough. But the sisters were banished from their kingdom, broken and scattered.
The Once and Future Witches opens with Juniper, the youngest, arriving in the city of New Salem. The year is 1893, but not in our world, not quite; Juniper has witch-ways in her pocket and a few words of power. That's lucky for her because the wanted posters arrived before she did. Unbeknownst to her or to each other, her sisters, Agnes and Bella, are already in New Salem. Agnes works in a cotton mill after having her heart broken one too many times; the mill is safer because you can't love a cotton mill. Bella is a junior librarian, meek and nervous and uncertain but still fascinated by witch-tales and magic. It's Bella who casts the spell, partly by accident, partly out of wild hope, but it was Juniper arriving in the city who provided the final component that made it almost work. Not quite, not completely, but briefly the lost tower of Avalon appears in St. George's Square. And, more importantly, the three sisters are reunited. The world of the Eastwood sisters has magic, but the people in charge of that world aren't happy about it. Magic is a female thing, contrary to science and, more importantly, God. History has followed a similar course to our world in part because magic has been ruthlessly suppressed. Inquisitors are a recent memory and the cemetery has a witch-yard, where witches are buried unnamed and their ashes sown with salt. The city of New Salem is called New Salem because Old Salem, that stronghold of witchcraft, was burned to the ground and left abandoned, fit only for tourists to gawk at the supposedly haunted ruins. The women's suffrage movement is very careful to separate itself from any hint of witchcraft or scandal, making its appeals solely within the acceptable bounds of the church. Juniper is the one who starts to up-end all of that in New Salem. Juniper was never good at doing what she was told. This is an angry book that feels like something out of another era, closer in tone to a Sheri S. Tepper or Joanna Russ novel than the way feminism is handled in recent work. Some of that is the era of the setting, before women even had the right to vote. But primarily it's because Harrow, like those earlier works, is entirely uninterested in making excuses or apologies for male behavior. She takes an already-heated societal conflict and gives the underdogs magic, which turns it into a war. There is likely a better direct analogy from the suffrage movement, but the comparison that came to my mind was if Martin Luther King, Jr. proved ineffective or had not existed, and instead Malcolm X or the Black Panthers became the face of the Civil Rights movement. It's also an emotionally exhausting book. The protagonists are hurt and lost and shattered. Their moments of victory are viciously destroyed. There is torture and a lot of despair. It works thematically; all the external solutions and mythical saviors fail, but in the process the sisters build their own strength and their own community and rescue themselves. But it's hard reading at times if you're emotionally invested in the characters (and I was very invested). Harrow does try to balance the losses with triumphs and that becomes more effective and easier to read in the back half of the book, but I struggled with the grimness at the start. One particular problem for me was that the sisters start the book suspicious and distrustful of each other because of lies and misunderstandings. This is obvious to the reader, but they don't work through it until halfway through the book. I can't argue with this as a piece of characterization it made sense to me that they would have reacted to their past the way that they did. But it was still immensely frustrating to read, since in the meantime awful things were happening and I wanted them to band together to fight. They also worry over the moral implications of the fate of their father, whereas I thought the only problem was that the man couldn't die more than once. There too, it makes sense given the moral framework the sisters were coerced into, but it is not my moral framework and it was infuriating to see them stay trapped in it for so long. The other thing that I found troubling thematically is that Harrow personalizes evil. I thought the more interesting moral challenge posed in this book is a society that systematically abuses women and suppresses their power, but Harrow gradually supplants that systemic conflict with a villain who has an identity and a backstory. It provides a more straightforward and satisfying climax, and she does avoid the trap of letting triumph over one character solve all the broader social problems, but it still felt too easy. Worse, the motives of the villain turn out to be at right angles to the structure of the social oppression. It's just a tool he's using, and while that's also believable, it means the transfer of the narrative conflict from the societal to the personal feels like a shying away from a sharper political point. Harrow lets the inhabitants of New Salem off too easily by giving them the excuse of being manipulated by an evil mastermind. What I thought Harrow did handle well was race, and it feels rare to be able to say this about a book written by and about white women. There are black women in New Salem as well, and they have their own ways and their own fight. They are suspicious of the Eastwood sisters because they're worried white women will stir up trouble and then run away and leave the consequences to fall on black women... and they're right. An alliance only forms once the white women show willingness to stay for the hard parts. Black women are essential to the eventual success of the protagonists, but the opposite is not necessarily true; they have their own networks, power, and protections, and would have survived no matter what the Eastwoods did. The book is the Eastwoods' story, so it's mostly concerned with white society, but I thought Harrow avoided both making black women too magical or making white women too central. They instead operate in parallel worlds that can form the occasional alliance of mutual understanding. It helps that Cleopatra Quinn is one of the best characters of the book. This was hard, emotional reading. It's the sort of book where everything has a price, even the ending. But I'm very glad I read it. Each of the three sisters gets their own, very different character arc, and all three of those arcs are wonderful. Even Agnes, who was the hardest character for me to like at the start of the book and who I think has the trickiest story to tell, becomes so much stronger and more vivid by the end of the book. Sometimes the descriptions are trying a bit too hard and sometimes the writing is not quite up to the intended goal, but some of the descriptions are beautiful and memorable, and Harrow's way of weaving the mythic and the personal together worked for me. This is a more ambitious book than The Ten Thousand Doors of January, and while I think the ambition exceeded Harrow's grasp in a few places and she took a few thematic short-cuts, most of it works. The characters felt like living and changing people, which is not easy given how heavily the story structure leans on maiden, mother, and crone archetypes. It's an uncompromising and furious book that turns the anger of 1970s feminist SF onto themes that are very relevant in 2021. You will have to brace yourself for heartbreak and loss, but I think it's fantasy worth reading. Recommended. Rating: 8 out of 10

1 January 2021

Utkarsh Gupta: FOSS Activites in December 2020

Here s my (fifteenth) monthly update about the activities I ve done in the F/L/OSS world.

Debian
This was my 24th month of contributing to Debian. I became a DM in late March last year and a DD last Christmas! \o/ Amongs a lot of things, this was month was crazy, hectic, adventerous, and the last of 2020 more on some parts later this month.
I finally finished my 7th semester (FTW!) and moved onto my last one! That said, I had been busy with other things but still did a bunch of Debian stuff Here are the following things I did this month:

Uploads and bug fixes:

Other $things:
  • Attended the Debian Ruby team meeting.
  • Mentoring for newcomers.
  • FTP Trainee reviewing.
  • Moderation of -project mailing list.
  • Sponsored golang-github-gorilla-css for Fedrico.

Debian (E)LTS
Debian Long Term Support (LTS) is a project to extend the lifetime of all Debian stable releases to (at least) 5 years. Debian LTS is not handled by the Debian security team, but by a separate group of volunteers and companies interested in making it a success. And Debian Extended LTS (ELTS) is its sister project, extending support to the Jessie release (+2 years after LTS support). This was my fifteenth month as a Debian LTS and sixth month as a Debian ELTS paid contributor.
I was assigned 26.00 hours for LTS and 38.25 hours for ELTS and worked on the following things:

LTS CVE Fixes and Announcements:
  • Issued DLA 2474-1, fixing CVE-2020-28928, for musl.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 1.1.16-3+deb9u1.
  • Issued DLA 2481-1, fixing CVE-2020-25709 and CVE-2020-25710, for openldap.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 2.4.44+dfsg-5+deb9u6.
  • Issued DLA 2484-1, fixing #969126, for python-certbot.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 0.28.0-1~deb9u3.
  • Issued DLA 2487-1, fixing CVE-2020-27350, for apt.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 1.4.11. The update was prepared by the maintainer, Julian.
  • Issued DLA 2488-1, fixing CVE-2020-27351, for python-apt.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 1.4.2. The update was prepared by the maintainer, Julian.
  • Issued DLA 2495-1, fixing CVE-2020-17527, for tomcat8.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 8.5.54-0+deb9u5.
  • Issued DLA 2488-2, for python-apt.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 1.4.3. The update was prepared by the maintainer, Julian.
  • Issued DLA 2508-1, fixing CVE-2020-35730, for roundcube.
    For Debian 9 Stretch, these problems have been fixed in version 1.2.3+dfsg.1-4+deb9u8. The update was prepared by the maintainer, Guilhem.

ELTS CVE Fixes and Announcements:

Other (E)LTS Work:
  • Front-desk duty from 21-12 until 27-12 and from 28-12 until 03-01 for both LTS and ELTS.
  • Triaged openldap, python-certbot, lemonldap-ng, qemu, gdm3, open-iscsi, gobby, jackson-databind, wavpack, cairo, nsd, tomcat8, and bountycastle.
  • Marked CVE-2020-17527/tomcat8 as not-affected for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2020-28052/bountycastle as not-affected for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2020-14394/qemu as postponed for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2020-35738/wavpack as not-affected for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2020-3550 3-6 /qemu as postponed for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2020-3550 3-6 /qemu as postponed for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2020-16093/lemonldap-ng as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2020-27837/gdm3 as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2020- 13987, 13988, 17437 /open-iscsi as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2020-35450/gobby as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2020-35728/jackson-databind as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2020-28935/nsd as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Auto EOL ed libpam-tacplus, open-iscsi, wireshark, gdm3, golang-go.crypto, jackson-databind, spotweb, python-autobahn, asterisk, nsd, ruby-nokogiri, linux, and motion for jessie.
  • General discussion on LTS private and public mailing list.

Other $things! \o/

Bugs and Patches Well, I did report some bugs and issues and also sent some patches:
  • Issue #44 for github-activity-readme, asking for a feature request to set custom committer s email address.
  • Issue #711 for git2go, reporting build failure for the library.
  • PR #89 for rubocop-rails_config, bumping RuboCop::Packaging to v0.5.
  • Issue #36 for rubocop-packaging, asking to try out mutant :)
  • PR #212 for cucumber-ruby-core, bumping RuboCop::Packaging to v0.5.
  • PR #213 for cucumber-ruby-core, enabling RuboCop::Packaging.
  • Issue #19 for behance, asking to relax constraints on faraday and faraday_middleware.
  • PR #37 for rubocop-packaging, enabling tests against ruby3.0! \o/
  • PR #489 for cucumber-rails, bumping RuboCop::Packaging to v0.5.
  • Issue #362 for nheko, reporting a crash when opening the application.
  • PR #1282 for paper_trail, adding RuboCop::Packaging amongst other used extensions.
  • Bug #978640 for nheko Debian package, reporting a crash, as a result of libfmt7 regression.

Misc and Fun Besides squashing bugs and submitting patches, I did some other things as well!
  • Participated in my first Advent of Code event! :)
    Whilst it was indeed fun, I didn t really complete it. No reason, really. But I ll definitely come back stronger next year, heh! :)
    All the solutions thus far could be found here.
  • Did a couple of reviews for some PRs and triaged some bugs here and there, meh.
  • Also did some cloud debugging, not so fun if you ask me, but cool enough to make me want to do it again! ^_^
  • Worked along with pollo, zigo, ehashman, rlb, et al for puppet and puppetserver in Debian. OMG, they re so lovely! <3
  • Ordered some interesting books to read January onward. New year resolution? Meh, not really. Or maybe. But nah.
  • Also did some interesting stuff this month but can t really talk about it now. Hopefully sooooon.

Until next time.
:wq for today.

23 November 2020

Shirish Agarwal: White Hat Senior and Education

I had been thinking of doing a blog post on RCEP which China signed with 14 countries a week and a day back but this new story has broken and is being viraled a bit on the interwebs, especially twitter and is pretty much in our domain so thought would be better to do a blog post about it. Also, there is quite a lot packed so quite a bit of unpacking to do.

Whitehat, Greyhat and Blackhat For those of you who may not, there are actually three terms especially in computer science that one comes across. Those are white hats, grey hats and black hats. Now clinically white hats are like the fiery angels or the good guys who basically take permissions to try and find out weakness in an application, program, website, organization and so on and so forth. A somewhat dated reference to hacker could be Sandra Bullock (The Net 1995) , Sneakers (1992), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) . Of the three one could argue that Sandra was actually into viruses which are part of computer security but still she showed some bad-ass skills, but then that is what actors are paid to do  Sneakers was much more interesting for me because in that you got the best key which can unlock any lock, something like quantum computing is supposed to do. One could equate both the first movies in either as a White hat or a Grey hat . A Grey hat is more flexible in his/her moral values, and they are plenty of such people. For e.g. Julius Assange could be described as a Grey hat, but as you can see and understand those are moral issues.

A black hat on the other hand is one who does things for profit even if it harms the others. The easiest fictitious examples are all Die Hard series, all of them except the 4th one, all had bad guys or black hats. The 4th also had but is the odd one out as it had Matthew Farell (Justin Long) as a Grey hat hacker. In real life Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen, Robert Tappan Morris, George Hotz, Gary McKinnon are some examples of hackers, most of whom were black hats, most of them reformed into white hats and security specialists. There are many other groups and names but that perhaps is best for another day altogether. Now why am I sharing this. Because in all of the above, the people who are using and working with the systems have better than average understanding of systems and they arguably would be better than most people at securing their networks, systems etc. but as we shall see in this case there has been lots of issues in the company.

WhiteHat Jr. and 300 Million Dollars Before I start this, I would like to share that for me this suit in many ways seems to be similar to the suit filed against Krishnaraj Rao . Although the difference is that Krishnaraj Rao s case/suit is that it was in real estate while this one is in education although many things are similar to those cases but also differ in some obvious ways. For e.g. in the suit against Krishnaraj Rao, the plaintiff s first approached the High Court and then the Supreme Court. Of course Krishnaraj Rao won in the High Court and then in the SC plaintiff s agreed to Krishnaraj Rao s demands as they knew they could not win in SC. In that case, a compromise was reached by the plaintiff just before judgement was to be delivered. In this case, the plaintiff have directly approached the Delhi High Court. The charges against Mr. Poonia (the defendant in this case) are very much similar to those which were made in Krishnaraj Rao s suit hence won t be going into those details. They have claimed defamation and filed a 20 crore suit. The idea is basically to silence any whistle-blowers.

Fictional Character Wolf Gupta The first issue in this case or perhaps one of the most famous or infamous character is an unknown. While he has been reportedly hired by Google India, BJYU, Chandigarh. This has been reported by Yahoo News. I did a cursory search on LinkedIn to see if there indeed is a wolf gupta but wasn t able to find any person with such a name. I am not even talking the amount of money/salary the fictitious gentleman is supposed to have got and the various variations on the salary figures at different times and the different ads.

If I wanted to, I could have asked few of the kind souls whom I know are working in Google to see if they can find such a person using their own credentials but it probably would have been a waste of time. When you show a LinkedIn profile in your social media, it should come up in the results, in this case it doesn t. I also tried to find out if somehow BJYU was a partner to Google and came up empty there as well. There is another story done by Kan India but as I m not a subscriber, I don t know what they have written but the beginning of the story itself does not bode well. While I can understand marketing, there is a line between marketing something and being misleading. At least to me, all of the references shared seems misleading at least to me.

Taking down dissent One of the big no-nos at least from what I perceive, you cannot and should not take down dissent or critique. Indians, like most people elsewhere around the world, critique and criticize day and night. Social media like twitter, mastodon and many others would not exist in the place if criticisms are not there. In fact, one could argue that Twitter and most social media is used to drive engagements to a person, brand etc. It is even an official policy in Twitter. Now you can t drive engagements without also being open to critique and this is true of all the web, including of WordPress and me  . What has been happening is that whitehatjr with help of bjyu have been taking out content of people citing copyright violation which seems laughable. When citizens critique anything, we are obviously going to take the name of the product otherwise people would have to start using new names similar to how Tom Riddle was known as Dark Lord , Voldemort and He who shall not be named . There have been quite a few takedowns, I just provide one for reference, the rest of the takedowns would probably come in the ongoing suit/case.
Whitehat Jr. ad showing investors fighting

Now a brief synopsis of what the ad. is about. The ad is about a kid named Chintu who makes an app. The app. Is so good that investors come to his house and right in the lawn and start fighting each other. The parents are enjoying looking at the fight and to add to the whole thing there is also a nosy neighbor who has his own observations. Simply speaking, it is a juvenile ad but it works as most parents in India, as elsewhere are insecure.
Jihan critiquing the whitehatjr ad
Before starting, let me assure that I asked Jihan s parents if it s ok to share his ad on my blog and they agreed. What he has done is broken down the ad and showed how juvenile the ad is and using logic and humor as a template for the same. He does make sure to state that he does not know how the product is as he hasn t used it. His critique was about the ad and not the product as he hasn t used that.

The Website If you look at the website, sadly, most of the site only talks about itself rather than giving examples that people can look in detail. For e.g. they say they have few apps. on Google play-store but no link to confirm the same. The same is true of quite a few other things. In another ad a Paralympic star says don t get into sports and get into coding. Which athlete in their right mind would say that? And it isn t that we (India) are brimming with athletes at the international level. In the last outing which was had in 2016, India sent a stunning 117 athletes but that was an exception as we had the women s hockey squad which was of 16 women, and even then they were overshadowed in numbers by the bureaucratic and support staff. There was criticism about the staff bit but that is probably a story for another date. Most of the site doesn t really give much value and the point seems to be driving sales to their courses. This is pressurizing small kids as well as teenagers and better who are in the second and third year science-engineering whose parents don t get that it is advertising and it is fake and think that their kids are incompetent. So this pressurizes both small kids as well as those who are learning, doing in whatever college or educational institution . The teenagers more often than not are unable to tell/share with them that this is advertising and fake. Also most of us have been on a a good diet of ads. Fair and lovely still sells even though we know it doesn t work. This does remind me of a similar fake academy which used very much similar symptoms and now nobody remembers them today. There used to be an academy called Wings Academy or some similar name. They used to advertise that you come to us and we will make you into a pilot or an airhostess and it was only much later that it was found out that most kids were doing laundry work in hotels and other such work. Many had taken loans, went bankrupt and even committed suicide because they were unable to pay off the loans due to the dreams given by the company and the harsh realities that awaited them. They were sued in court but dunno what happened but soon they were off the radar so we never came to know what happened to those million of kids whose life dreams were shattered.

Security Now comes the security part. They have alleged that Mr. Poonia broke into their systems. While this may be true, what I find funny is that with the name Whitehat, how can they justify it? If you are saying you are white hat you are supposed to be much better than this. And while I have not tried to penetrate their systems, I did find it laughable that the site is using an expired https:// certificate. I could have tried further to figure out the systems but I chose not to. How they could not have an automated script to get the certificate fixed is beyond me, this is known as certificate outage and is very well understood in the industry. There are tools like Let s Encrypt and Certbot (both EFF) and many others. But that is their concern, not mine.

Comparison A similar offering would be unacademy but as can be seen they neither try to push you in any way and nor do they make any ridiculous claims. In fact how genuine unacademy is can be gauged from the fact that many of its learning resources are available to people to see on YT and if they have tools they can also download it. Now, does this mean that every educational website should have their content for free, of course not. But when a channel has 80% 90% of it YT content as ads and testimonials then they surely should give a reason to pause both for parents and students alike. But if parents had done that much research, then things would not be where they are now.

Allegations Just to complete, there are allegations by Mr. Poonia with some screenshots which show the company has been doing a lot of bad things. For e.g. they were harassing an employee at night 2 a.m. who was frustrated and working in the company at the time. Many of the company staff routinely made sexist and offensive, sexual abusive remarks privately between themselves for prospective women who came to interview via webcam (due to the pandemic). There also seems to be a bit of porn on the web/mobile server of the company as well. There also have been allegations that while the company says refund is done next day, many parents who have demanded those refunds have not got it. Now while Mr. Poonia has shared some quotations of the staff while hiding the identities of both the victims and the perpetrators, the language being used in itself tells a lot. I am in two minds whether to share those photos or not hence atm choosing not to. Poonia has also contended that all teachers do not know programming, and they are given scripts to share. There have been some people who did share that experience with him
Suruchi Sethi
From the company s side they are alleging he has hacked the company servers and would probably be using the Fruit of the poisonous tree argument which we have seen have been used in many arguments.

Conclusion Now that lies in the eyes of the Court whether the single bench chooses the literal meaning or use the spirit of the law or the genuine concerns of the people concerned. While in today s hearing while the company asked for a complete sweeping injunction they were unable to get it. Whatever may happen, we may hope to see some fireworks in the second hearing which is slated to be on 6.01.2021 where all of this plays out. Till later.

12 October 2020

Russ Allbery: Review: Hand to Mouth

Review: Hand to Mouth, by Linda Tirado
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Copyright: October 2014
ISBN: 0-698-17528-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 194
The first time Linda Tirado came to the viral attention of the Internet was in 2013 when she responded to a forum question: "Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive?" Here are some excerpts from her virally popular five-page response, which is included in the first chapter:
I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec. to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn't. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you'll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they'll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That's not great, but it's true. And if you fuck it up, you could make your family sick. We have learned not to try too hard to be middle class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up? We have very few of them.
and
I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.
This book is an expansion on that essay. It's an entry in a growing genre of examinations of what it means to be poor in the United States in the 21st century. Unlike most of those examinations, it isn't written by an outsider performing essentially anthropological field work. It's one of the rare books written by someone who is herself poor and had the combination of skill and viral fame required to get an opportunity to talk about it in her own words.
I haven't had it worse than anyone else, and actually, that's kind of the point. This is just what life is for roughly a third of the country. We all handle it in our own ways, but we all work in the same jobs, live in the same places, feel the same sense of never quite catching up. We're not any happier about the exploding welfare rolls than anyone else is, believe me. It's not like everyone grows up and dreams of working two essentially meaningless part-time jobs while collecting food stamps. It's just that there aren't many other options for a lot of people.
I didn't find this book back in 2014 when it was published. I found it in 2020 during Tirado's second round of Internet fame: when the police shot out her eye with "non-lethal" rounds while she was covering the George Floyd protests as a photojournalist. In characteristic fashion, she subsequently reached out to the other people who had been blinded by the police, used her temporary fame to organize crowdfunded support for others, and is planning on having "try again" tattooed over the scar. That will give you a feel for the style of this book. Tirado is blunt, opinionated, honest, and full speed ahead. It feels weird to call this book delightful since it's fundamentally about the degree to which the United States is failing a huge group of its citizens and making their lives miserable, but there is something so refreshing and clear-headed about Tirado's willingness to tell you the straight truth about her life. It's empathy delivered with the subtlety of a brick, but also with about as much self-pity as a brick. Tirado is not interested in making you feel sorry for her; she's interested in you paying attention.
I don't get much of my own time, and I am vicious about protecting it. For the most part, I am paid to pretend that I am inhuman, paid to cater to both the reasonable and unreasonable demands of the general public. So when I'm off work, feel free to go fuck yourself. The times that I am off work, awake, and not taking care of life's details are few and far between. It's the only time I have any autonomy. I do not choose to waste that precious time worrying about how you feel. Worrying about you is something they pay me for; I don't work for free.
If you've read other books on this topic (Emily Guendelsberger's On the Clock is still the best of those I've read), you probably won't get many new facts from Hand to Mouth. I think this book is less important for the policy specifics than it is for who is writing it (someone who is living that life and can be honest about it) and the depth of emotional specifics that Tirado brings to the description. If you have never been poor, you will learn the details of what life is like, but more significantly you'll get a feel for how Tirado feels about it, and while this is one individual perspective (as Tirado stresses, including the fact that, as a white person, there are other aspects of poverty she's not experienced), I think that perspective is incredibly valuable. That said, Hand to Mouth provides even more reinforcement of the importance of universal medical care, the absurdity of not including dental care in even some of the more progressive policy proposals, and the difficulties in the way of universal medical care even if we solve the basic coverage problem. Tirado has significant dental problems due to unrepaired damage from a car accident, and her account reinforces my belief that we woefully underestimate how important good dental care is to quality of life. But providing universal insurance or access is only the start of the problem.
There is a price point for good health in America, and I have rarely been able to meet it. I choose not to pursue treatment if it will cost me more than it will gain me, and my cost-benefit is done in more than dollars. I have to think of whether I can afford any potential treatment emotionally, financially, and timewise. I have to sort out whether I can afford to change my life enough to make any treatment worth it I've been told by more than one therapist that I'd be fine if I simply reduced the amount of stress in my life. It's true, albeit unhelpful. Doctors are fans of telling you to sleep and eat properly, as though that were a thing one can simply do.
That excerpt also illustrates one of the best qualities of this book. So much writing about "the poor" treats them as an abstract problem that the implicitly not-poor audience needs to solve, and this leads rather directly to the endless moralizing as "we" attempt to solve that problem by telling poor people what they need to do. Tirado is unremitting in fighting for her own agency. She has a shitty set of options, but within those options she makes her own decisions. She wants better options and more space in which to choose them, which I think is a much more productive way to frame the moral argument than the endless hand-wringing over how to help "those poor people." This is so much of why I support universal basic income. Just give people money. It's not all of the solution UBI doesn't solve the problem of universal medical care, and we desperately need to find a way to make work less awful but it's the most effective thing we can do immediately. Poor people are, if anything, much better at making consequential financial decisions than rich people because they have so much more practice. Bad decisions are less often due to bad decision-making than bad options and the balancing of objectives that those of us who are not poor don't understand. Hand to Mouth is short, clear, refreshing, bracing, and, as you might have noticed, very quotable. I think there are other books in this genre that offer more breadth or policy insight, but none that have the same feel of someone cutting through the bullshit of lazy beliefs and laying down some truth. If any of the above excerpts sound like the sort of book you would enjoy reading, pick this one up. Rating: 8 out of 10

5 October 2020

Russ Allbery: California general election

As normal, probably of direct interest only to California residents and apologies to everyone else since my hand-rolled blog software doesn't do cut tags. I'm only going to cover propositions, since the state-wide elections aren't very interesting and I both don't have strong opinions about the local elections and would guess that almost no one cares. See the voter guide for the full details on each proposition. Propositions 16 through 19 were put on the ballot by the legislature and thus were written as well as our regular laws. The remaining propositions are initiatives, which means I default to voting against them because they're usually poorly-written crap. Proposition 14: NO. I reluctantly supported the original proposition to fund stem cell research with state bonds because it was in the middle of the George W. Bush administration and his weird obsession with ending stem cell research. It seemed worth the cost to maintain the research, and I don't regret doing this. But since then we've reached a compromise on ongoing research, and this proposition looks a lot more like pork spending than investment. I am in favor of government support of basic research, but I think that's best done by a single grant institution that can pursue a coherent agenda. The federal government, when sane, does a decent job of this, and the California agency created by the previous proposition looks dodgy. The support for this proposition also comes primarily from research institutions that benefit from it. On top of that, there are way higher priorities right now for public investment than a very specific and limited type of medical research that isn't even the most important type of medical research to do right now. There is nothing magic about stem cells other than the fact that they make a certain type of Republican lose their minds. It's time to stop funding this specific research specially and roll it into general basic research funding. Proposition 15: YES. Yes to anything that repeals Proposition 13 in whole or in part. Repealing it for commercial and industrial real estate is a good first step. A rare exception in my general rule to vote against initiatives. Proposition 16: YES. Reverses a bad law to outlaw affirmative action in California. I am in favor of actual reparations, so I am of course in favor of this, which is far, far more mild. Proposition 17: YES. Restores voting rights to felons after completion of their sentence. I think it's inexcusable that any US citizen cannot vote, including people who are currently incarcerated, so of course I'm in favor of this more mild measure. (You may notice a theme.) When we say everyone should be able to vote, that should mean literally everyone. Proposition 18: YES. Allows 17-year-olds to vote in California (but not federal) elections in some specific circumstances. I'm generally in favor of lowering the voting age, and this seems inoffensive. (And the arguments against it are stupid.) Proposition 19: YES. This is a complicated legislative compromise around property tax that strengthens property tax limits for seniors moving within California while removing exemptions against increases for inherited real estate not used as a primary home. Some progressives are opposed to this because it doesn't go far enough and increases exemptions for seniors. I agree that those exemptions aren't needed and shouldn't be added, but closing the inheritance loophole is huge and worth this compromise. It's a tepid improvement for the somewhat better, but it's still worth approving (and was written by the legislature, so it's somewhat better written than the typical initiative). Proposition 20: NO. Another pile of "anyone who has ever committed a crime deserves to be treated as subhuman" bullshit. Typical harsher sentences and harsher parole nonsense. No to everything like this, always. Proposition 21: YES. This is my other exception of voting for an initiative, and that's because the California state legislature is completely incapable of dealing with any housing problem. This is a proposition that overhauls an ill-conceived state-wide restriction on how rent control can be handled. The problem with rent control is that a sane solution to housing problems in this state requires both rent control and massive new construction, and we only get the former and not the latter because the NIMBYism is endemic. (There's a pile of NIMBY crap on my local ballot this year.) I would much rather be approving those things together, because either of them alone makes things worse for a lot of people. So yes, the opponents of this proposition are right: it will make the housing crisis worse, because everyone refuses to deal with the supply side. That said, we need rent control as part of a humane solution, and the current state-wide rules are bad. For example, they disallow rent control on every property newer than a certain date that's forever fixed. This initiative replaces that with a much saner 15-year rolling window for maximizing profit, which is a better balance. I hate voting for this because the legislature should have done their job and passed comprehensive housing reform. But since they didn't, this is part of what they should have passed, and I'll vote for it. Particularly since it's opposed by all the huge commercial landlords. Proposition 22: NO. The "exclude Uber and Lyft from labor law" proposition, which is just as bullshit as it sounds. They're spending all of their venture capital spamming the crap out of everyone in the state to try to get this passed by lying about it. Just stunningly evil companies. If your business model requires exploiting labor, get a better business model. Proposition 23: NO. So, this is another mess. It appears to be part of some unionization fight between dialysis clinic employees and the for-profit dialysis clinics. I hate everything about this situation, starting from the fact that we have such a thing as for-profit dialysis clinics, which is a crime against humanity. But this proposition requires some very dodgy things, such as having a doctor on staff at every clinic for... reasons? This is very reminiscent of the bullshit laws about abortion clinics, which are designed to make it more expensive to operate a clinic for no justifiable reason. I'm happy to believe there is a bit more justification here, but this sort of regulation is tricky and should be done by the legislature in a normal law-making process. Medical regulation by initiative is just a horrible idea in every way. So while I am doubtless politically on the side of the proponents of the proposition, this is the wrong tool. Take it to the legislature. Proposition 24: NO. A deceptively-written supposed consumer privacy law written by tech companies that actually weakens consumer privacy in some critical ways that are profitable for them. No thanks, without even getting to the point that this sort of thing shouldn't be done by initiative. Proposition 25: YES. Yes, we should eliminate cash bail, which is essentially imprisoning people for being poor. No, this doesn't create a system of government profiling; judges already set bail and can revoke bail for flight risks. (This is not legislation by initiative; the state government already passed this law, but we have a dumb law that lets people oppose legislative action via initiative, so we have to vote to approve the law that our representatives already passed and that should have already gone into effect.)

14 September 2020

Russ Allbery: Review: Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?

Review: Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, edited by Maya Schenwar, et al.
Editor: Maya Schenwar
Editor: Joe Macar
Editor: Alana Yu-lan Price
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Copyright: June 2016
ISBN: 1-60846-684-1
Format: Kindle
Pages: 250
Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? is an anthology of essays about policing in the United States. It's divided into two sections: one that enumerates ways that police are failing to serve or protect communities, and one that describes how communities are building resistance and alternatives. Haymarket Books (a progressive press in Chicago) has made it available for free in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing and resulting protests in the United States. I'm going to be a bit unfair to this book, so let me start by admitting that the mismatch between it and the book I was looking for is not entirely its fault. My primary goal was to orient myself in the discussion on the left about alternatives to policing. I also wanted to sample something from Haymarket Books; a free book was a good way to do that. I was hoping for a collection of short introductions to current lines of thinking that I could selectively follow in longer writing, and an essay collection seemed ideal for that. What I had not realized (which was my fault for not doing simple research) is that this is a compilation of articles previously published by Truthout, a non-profit progressive journalism site, in 2014 and 2015. The essays are a mix of reporting and opinion but lean towards reporting. The earliest pieces in this book date from shortly after the police killing of Michael Brown, when racist police violence was (again) reaching national white attention. The first half of the book is therefore devoted to providing evidence of police abuse and violence. This is important to do, but it's sadly no longer as revelatory in 2020, when most of us have seen similar things on video, as it was to white America in 2014. If you live in the United States today, while you may not be aware of the specific events described here, you're unlikely to be surprised that Detroit police paid off jailhouse informants to provide false testimony ("Ring of Snitches" by Aaron Miguel Cant ), or that Chicago police routinely use excessive deadly force with no consequences ("Amid Shootings, Chicago Police Department Upholds Culture of Impunity" by Sarah Macaraeg and Alison Flowers), or that there is a long history of police abuse and degradation of pregnant women ("Your Pregnancy May Subject You to Even More Law Enforcement Violence" by Victoria Law). There are about eight essays along those lines. Unfortunately, the people who excuse or disbelieve these stories are rarely willing to seek out new evidence, let alone read a book like this. That raises the question of intended audience for the catalog of horrors part of this book. The answer to that question may also be the publication date; in 2014, the base of evidence and example for discussion had not been fully constructed. This sort of reporting is also obviously relevant in the original publication context of web-based journalism, where people may encounter these accounts individually through social media or other news coverage. In 2020, they offer reinforcement and rhetorical evidence, but I'm dubious that the people who would benefit from this knowledge will ever see it in this form. Those of us who will are already sickened, angry, and depressed. My primary interest was therefore in the second half of the book: the section on how communities are building resistance and alternatives. This is where I'm going to be somewhat unfair because the state of that conversation may have been different in 2015 than it is now in 2020. But these essays were lacking the depth of analysis that I was looking for. There is a human tendency, when one becomes aware of an obvious wrong, to simply publicize the horrible thing that is happening and expect someone to do something about it. It's obviously and egregiously wrong, so if more people knew about it, certainly it would be stopped! That has happened repeatedly with racial violence in the United States. It's also part of the common (and school-taught) understanding of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s: activists succeeded in getting the violence on the cover of newspapers and on television, people were shocked and appalled, and the backlash against the violence created political change. Putting aside the fact that this is too simplistic of a picture of the Civil Rights era, it's abundantly clear at this point in 2020 that publicizing racist and violent policing isn't going to stop it. We're going to have to do something more than draw attention to the problem. Deciding what to do requires political and social analysis, not just of the better world that we want to see but of how our current world can become that world. There is very little in that direction in this book. Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? does not answer the question of its title beyond "not us" and "white supremacy." While those answers are not exactly wrong, they're also not pushing the analysis in the direction that I wanted to read. For example (and this is a long-standing pet peeve of mine in US political writing), it would be hard to tell from most of the essays in this book that any country besides the United States exists. One essay ("Killing Africa" by William C. Anderson) talks about colonialism and draws comparisons between police violence in the United States and international treatment of African and other majority-Black countries. One essay talks about US military behavior oversees ("Beyond Homan Square" by Adam Hudson). That's about it for international perspective. Notably, there is no analysis here of what other countries might be doing better. Police violence against out-groups is not unique to the United States. No one has entirely solved this problem, but versions of this problem have been handled with far more success than here. The US has a comparatively appalling record; many countries in the world, particularly among comparable liberal democracies in Europe, are doing far better on metrics of racial oppression by agents of the government and of law enforcement violence. And yet it's common to approach these problems as if we have to develop a solution de novo, rather than ask what other countries are doing differently and if we could do some of those things. The US has some unique challenges, both historical and with the nature of endemic violence in the country, so perhaps such an analysis would turn up too many US-specific factors to copy other people's solutions. But we need to do the analysis, not give up before we start. Novel solutions can lead to novel new problems; other countries have tested, working improvements that could provide a starting framework and some map of potential pitfalls. More fundamentally, only the last two essays of this book propose solutions more complex than "stop." The authors are very clear about what the police are doing, seem less interested in why, and are nearly silent on how to change it. I suspect I am largely in political agreement with most of the authors, but obviously a substantial portion of the country (let alone its power structures) is not, and therefore nothing is changing. Part of the project of ending police violence is understanding why the violence exists, picking apart the motives and potential fracture lines in the political forces supporting the status quo, and building a strategy to change the politics. That isn't even attempted here. For example, the "who do you serve?" question of the book's title is more interesting than the essays give it credit. Police are not a monolith. Why do Black people become police officers? What are their experiences? Are there police forces in the United States that are doing better than others? What makes them different? Why do police act with violence in the moment? What set of cultural expectations, training experiences, anxieties, and fears lead to that outcome? How do we change those factors? Or, to take another tack, why are police not held accountable even when there is substantial public outrage? What political coalition supports that immunity from consequences, what are its fault lines and internal frictions, and what portions of that coalition could be broken off, pealed away, or removed from power? To whom, institutionally, are police forces accountable? What public offices can aspiring candidates run for that would give them oversight capability? This varies wildly throughout the United States; political approaches that work in large cities may not work in small towns, or with county sheriffs, or with the FBI, or with prison guards. To treat these organizations as a monolith and their motives as uniform is bad political tactics. It gives up points of leverage. I thought the best essays of this collection were the last two. "Community Groups Work to Provide Emergency Medical Alternatives, Separate from Police," by Candice Bernd, is a profile of several local emergency response systems that divert emergency calls from the police to paramedics, mental health experts, or social workers. This is an idea that's now relatively mainstream, and it seems to be finding modest success where it has been tried. It's more of a harm mitigation strategy than an attempt to deal with the root problem, but we're going to need both. The last essay, "Building Community Safety" by Ejeris Dixon, is the only essay in this book that is pushing in the direction that I was hoping to read. Dixon describes building an alternative system that can intervene in violent situations without using the police. This is fascinating and I'm glad that I read it. It's also frustrating in context because Dixon's essay should be part of a discussion. Dixon describes spending years learning de-escalation techniques, doing hard work of community discussion and collective decision-making, and making deep investment in the skills required to handle violence without calling in a dangerous outside force. I greatly admire this approach (also common in parts of the anarchist community) and the people who are willing to commit to it. But it's an immense amount of work, and as Dixon points out, that work often falls on the people who are least able to afford it. Marginalized communities, for whom the police are often dangerous, are also likely to lack both time and energy to invest in this type of skill training. And many people simply will not do this work even if they do have the resources to do it. More fundamentally, this approach conflicts somewhat with division of labor. De-escalation and social work are both professional skills that require significant time and practice to hone, and as much as I too would love to live in a world where everyone knows how to do some amount of this work, I find it hard to imagine scaling this approach without trained professionals. The point of paying someone to do this work as their job is that the money frees up their time to focus on learning those skills at a level that is difficult to do in one's free time. But once you have an organized group of professionals who do this work, you have to find a way to keep them from falling prey to the problems that plague the police, which requires understanding the origins of those problems. And that's putting aside the question of how large the residual of dangerous crime that cannot be addressed through any form of de-escalation might be, and what organization we should use to address it. Dixon's essay is great; I wouldn't change anything about it. But I wanted to see the next essay engaging with Dixon's perspective and looking for weaknesses and scaling concerns, and then the next essay that attempts to shore up those weaknesses, and yet another essay that grapples with the challenging philosophical question of a government monopoly on force and how that can and should come into play in violent crime. And then essays on grass-roots organizing in the context of police reform or abolition, and on restorative justice, and on the experience of attempting police reform from the inside, and on how to support public defenders, and on the merits and weaknesses of focusing on electing reform-minded district attorneys. Unfortunately, none of those are here. Overall, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? was a disappointment. It was free, so I suppose I got what I paid for, and I may have had a different reaction if I read it in 2015. But if you're looking for a deep discussion on the trade-offs and challenges of stopping police violence in 2020, I don't think this is the place to start. Rating: 3 out of 10

27 July 2020

Russ Allbery: Review: Rise of the Warrior Cop

Review: Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Copyright: 2013
ISBN: 1-61039-212-4
Format: Kindle
Pages: 336
As the United States tries, in fits and starts, to have a meaningful discussion about long-standing police racism, brutality, overreach, corruption, and murder, I've realized that my theoretical understanding of the history of and alternative frameworks for law enforcement is woefully lacking. Starting with a book by a conservative white guy is not the most ideal of approaches, but it's what I already had on hand, and it won't be the last book I read and review on this topic. (Most of my research so far has been in podcast form. I don't review those here, but I can recommend Ezra Klein's interviews with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Butler, and, most strongly, sujatha baliga.) Rise of the Warrior Cop is from 2013 and has had several moments of fame, no doubt helped by Balko's connections to the conservative and libertarian right. One of the frustrating facts of US politics is that critiques of the justice system from the right (and from white men) get more media attention than critiques from the left. That said, it's a generally well-respected book on the factual history of the topic, and police brutality and civil rights are among the points on which I have stopped-clock agreements with US libertarians. This book is very, very libertarian. In my callow youth, I was an ardent libertarian, so I've read a lot of US libertarian literature. It's a genre with its own conventions that become obvious when you read enough of it, and Rise of the Warrior Cop goes through them like a checklist. Use the Roman Republic (never the Roman Empire) as the starting point for any political discussion, check. Analyze the topic in the context of pre-revolutionary America, check. Spend considerable effort on discerning the opinions of the US founders on the topic since their opinions are always relevant to the modern world, check. Locate some point in the past (preferably before 1960) where the political issue was as good as it has ever been, check. Frame all changes since then as an erosion of rights through government overreach, check. Present your solution as a return to a previous era of respect for civil rights, check. Once you start recognizing the genre conventions, their prevalence in libertarian writing is almost comical. The framing chapters therefore leave a bit to be desired, but the meat of the book is a useful resource. Starting with the 1970s and its use as a campaigning tool by Nixon, Balko traces a useful history of the war on drugs. And starting with the 1980s, the number of cites to primary sources and the evidence of Balko's own research increases considerably. If you want to know how US police turned into military cosplayers with body armor, heavy weapons, and armored vehicles, this book provides a lot of context and history. One of the reasons why I view libertarians as allies of convenience on this specific issue is that drug legalization and disgust with the war on drugs have been libertarian issues for decades. Ideologically honest libertarians (and Balko appears to be one) are inherently skeptical of the police, so when the police overreach in an area of libertarian interest, they notice. Balko makes a solid argument, backed up with statistics, specific programs, legislation, and court cases, that the drug war and its accompanying lies about heavily-armed drug dealers and their supposed threat to police officers was the fuel for the growth of SWAT teams, no-knock search warrants, erosion of legal protections for criminal defendants, and de facto license for the police to ignore the scope and sometimes even the existence of warrants. This book is useful support for the argument that fears for the safety of officers underlying the militarization of police forces are imaginary. One telling point that Balko makes repeatedly and backs with statistical and anecdotal evidence is that the police generally do not use raid tactics on dangerous criminals. On the contrary, aggressive raids are more likely to be used on the least dangerous criminals because they're faster, they're fun for the police (they provide an adrenaline high and let them play with toys), and they're essentially risk-free. If the police believe someone is truly dangerous, they're more likely to use careful surveillance and to conduct a quiet arrest at an unexpected moment. The middle-of-the-night armed break-ins with battering rams, tear gas, and flash-bangs are, tellingly, used against the less dangerous suspects. This is part of Balko's overall argument that police equipment and tactics have become untethered from any realistic threat and have become cultural. He traces an acceleration of that trend to 9/11 and the resulting obsession with terrorism, which further opened the spigot of military hardware and "special forces" training. This became a point of competition between police departments, with small town forces that had never seen a terrorist and had almost no chance of a terrorist incident demanding their own armored vehicles. I've encountered this bizarre terrorism justification personally; one of the reasons my local police department gave in a public hearing for not having a policy against shooting at moving vehicles was "but what if terrorism?" I don't believe there has ever been a local terrorist attack. SWAT in such places didn't involve the special training or dedicated personnel of large city forces; instead, it was a part-time duty for normal police officers, and frequently they were encouraged to practice SWAT tactics by using them at random for some otherwise normal arrest or search. Balko argues that those raids were more exciting than normal police work, leading to a flood of volunteers for that duty and a tendency to use them as much as possible. That in turn normalizes disconnecting police tactics from the underlying crime or situational risk. So far, so good. But despite the information I was able to extract from it, I have mixed feelings about Rise of the Warrior Cop as a whole. At the least, it has substantial limitations. First, I don't trust the historical survey of policing in this book. Libertarian writing makes for bad history. The constraints of the genre require overusing only a few points of reference, treating every opinion of the US founders as holy writ, and tying forward progress to a return to a previous era, all of which interfere with good analysis. Balko also didn't do the research for the historical survey, as is clear from the footnotes. The citations are all to other people's histories, not to primary sources. He's summarizing other people's histories, and you'll almost certainly get better history by finding well-respected historians who cover the same ground. (That said, if you're not familiar with Peel's policing principles, this is a good introduction.) Second, and this too is unfortunately predictable in a libertarian treatment, race rarely appears in this book. If Balko published the same book today, I'm sure he would say more about race, but even in 2013 its absence is strange. I was struck while reading by how many examples of excessive police force were raids on west coast pot farms; yes, I'm sure that was traumatic, but it's not the demographic I would name as the most vulnerable to or affected by police brutality. West coast pot growers are, however, mostly white. I have no idea why Balko made that choice. Perhaps he thought his target audience would be more persuaded by his argument if he focused on white victims. Perhaps he thought it was an easier and less complicated story to tell. Perhaps, like a lot of libertarians, he doesn't believe racism has a significant impact on society because it would be a market failure. Perhaps those were the people who more readily came to mind. But to talk about police militarization, denial of civil rights, and police brutality in the United States without putting race at the center of both the history and the societal effects leaves a gaping hole in the analysis. Given that lack of engagement, I also am dubious of Balko's policy prescriptions. His reform suggestions aren't unreasonable, but they stay firmly in the centrist and incrementalist camp and would benefit white people more than black people. Transparency, accountability, and cultural changes are all fine and good, but the cultural change Balko is focused on is less aggressive arrest tactics, more use of mediation, and better physical fitness. I would not object to those things (well, maybe the last, which seemed odd), but we need to have a discussion about police white supremacist organizations, the prevalence of spousal abuse, and the police tendency to see themselves not as public servants but as embattled warriors who are misunderstood by the naive sheep they are defending. And, of course, you won't find in Rise of the Warrior Cop any thoughtful wrestling with whether there are alternative approaches to community safety, whether punitive rather than restorative justice is effective, or whether crime is a symptom of deeper societal problems we could address but refuse to. The most radical suggestion Balko has is to legalize drugs, which is both the predictable libertarian position and, as we have seen from recent events in the United States, far from the only problem of overcriminalization. I understand why this book is so frequently mentioned on-line, and its author's political views may make it more palatable to some people than a more race-centered or radical perspective. But I don't think this is the best or most useful book on police violence that one could read today. I hope to find a better one in upcoming reviews. Rating: 6 out of 10

21 July 2020

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (May and June 2020)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months: The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months: Congratulations!

12 July 2020

Enrico Zini: Police brutality links

I was a police officer for nearly ten years and I was a bastard. We all were.
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As nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are met with police brutality, John Oliver discusses how the histories of policing ...
La morte di Stefano Cucchi avvenne a Roma il 22 ottobre 2009 mentre il giovane era sottoposto a custodia cautelare. Le cause della morte e le responsabilit sono oggetto di procedimenti giudiziari che hanno coinvolto da un lato i medici dell'ospedale Pertini,[1][2][3][4] dall'altro continuano a coinvolgere, a vario titolo, pi militari dell Arma dei Carabinieri[5][6]. Il caso ha attirato l'attenzione dell'opinione pubblica a seguito della pubblicazione delle foto dell'autopsia, poi riprese da agenzie di stampa, giornali e telegiornali italiani[7]. La vicenda ha ispirato, altres , documentari e lungometraggi cinematografici.[8][9][10]
La morte di Giuseppe Uva avvenne il 14 giugno 2008 dopo che, nella notte tra il 13 e il 14 giugno, era stato fermato ubriaco da due carabinieri che lo portarono in caserma, dalla quale venne poi trasferito, per un trattamento sanitario obbligatorio, nell'ospedale di Varese, dove mor la mattina successiva per arresto cardiaco. Secondo la tesi dell'accusa, la morte fu causata dalla costrizione fisica subita durante l'arresto e dalle successive violenze e torture che ha subito in caserma. Il processo contro i due carabinieri che eseguirono l'arresto e contro altri sei agenti di polizia ha assolto gli imputati dalle accuse di omicidio preterintenzionale e sequestro di persona[1][2][3][4]. Alla vicenda dedicato il documentario Viva la sposa di Ascanio Celestini[1][5].
Il caso Aldrovandi la vicenda giudiziaria causata dall'uccisione di Federico Aldrovandi, uno studente ferrarese, avvenuta il 25 settembre 2005 a seguito di un controllo di polizia.[1][2][3] I procedimenti giudiziari hanno condannato, il 6 luglio 2009, quattro poliziotti a 3 anni e 6 mesi di reclusione, per "eccesso colposo nell'uso legittimo delle armi";[1][4] il 21 giugno 2012 la Corte di cassazione ha confermato la condanna.[1] All'inchiesta per stabilire la cause della morte ne sono seguite altre per presunti depistaggi e per le querele fra le parti interessate.[1] Il caso stato oggetto di grande attenzione mediatica e ha ispirato un documentario, stato morto un ragazzo.[1][5]
Federico Aldrovandi (17 July 1987 in Ferrara 25 September 2005 in Ferrara) was an Italian student, who was killed by four policemen.[1]
24 Giugno 2020

18 June 2020

Gunnar Wolf: On masters and slaves, whitelists and blacklists...

LWN published today yet another great piece of writing, Loaded terms in free software. I am sorry, the content will not be immediately available to anybody following at home, as LWN is based on a subscription model But a week from now, the article will be open for anybody to read. Or you can ask me (you most likely can find my contact addresses, as they are basically everywhere) for a subscriber link, I will happily provide it. In consonance with the current mood that started with the killing of George Floyd and sparked worldwide revolts against police brutality, racism (mostly related to police and law enforcement forces, but social as well) and the like, the debate that already started some months ago in technical communities has re-sparked: We have many terms that come with long histories attached to them, and we are usually oblivious to their obvious meaning. We? Yes, we, the main users and creators of technology. I never felt using master and slave to refer to different points of a protocol, bus, clock or whatever (do refer to the Wikipedia article for a fuller explanation) had any negative connotations but then again, those terms have never tainted my personal family. That is, I understand I speak from a position of privilege. A similar although less heated issue goes around the blacklist and whitelist terms, or other uses that use white to refer to good, law-abiding citizens, and black to refer to somewhat antisocial uses (i.e. the white hat and black hat hackers). For several years, this debate has been sparking and dying off. Some important changes have been made Particularly, in 2017 the Internet Software Consortium started recommending Primary and Secondary, Python dropped master/slave pairs after a quite thorough and deep review throughout 2018, GitHub changed the default branch from master to main earlier this week. The Internet Engineering Task Force has a draft (that lapsed and thus sadly didn t become an RFC, but still, is archived), Terminology, Power and Oppressive Language that lists suggested alternatives:
There are also many other relationships that can be used as metaphors, Eglash s research calls into question the accuracy of the master-slave metaphor. Fortunately, there are ample alternatives for the master-slave relationship. Several options are suggested here and should be chosen based on the pairing that is most clear in context:
  • Primary-secondary
  • Leader-follower
  • Active-standby
  • Primary-replica
  • Writer-reader
  • Coordinator-worker
  • Parent-helper
I ll add that I think we Spanish-speakers are not fully aware of the issue s importance, because the most common translation I have seen for master/slave is maestro/esclavo: Maestro is the word for teacher (although we do keep our slaves in place). But think whether it sounds any worse if you refer to device pairs, or members of a database high-availability cluster, or whatever as Amo and Esclavo. It does sound much worse I cannot add much of value to this debate. I am just happy issues like this are being recognized and dealt with. If the topic interests you, do refer to the LWN article! Some excrepts: I consider the following to be the core of Jonathan Corbet s writeup:
Recent events, though, have made it clear even to those of us who were happy to not question this view that the story of slavery and the wider racist systems around it is not yet finished. There are many people who are still living in the middle of it, and it is not a nice place to be. We are not so enlightened as we like to think we are. If there is no other lesson from the events of the last few weeks, we should certainly take to heart the point that we need to be listening to the people who have been saying, for many years, that they are still suffering. If there are people who are telling us that terms like slave or blacklist are a hurtful reminder of the inequities that persist in our society, we need to accept that as the truth and act upon it. Etymological discussions on what, say, master really means may be interesting, but they miss the point and are irrelevant to this discussion.
Part of a comment by user yokem_55:
Often, it seems to me that the replacement words are much more descriptive and precise than the old language. Allowlist is far more obviously a list of explicitly authorized entities than whitelist . Mainline has a more obvious meaning of a core stream of development than master . The benefit of moving past this language is more than just changing cultural norms, it s better, more precise communication across the board.
Another spot-on comment, by user alan:
From my perspective as a Black American male, I think that it s nice to see people willing to see and address racism in various spheres. I am concerned that some of these steps will be more performative than substantial. Terminology changes in software so as to be more welcoming is a nice thing. Ensuring that oppressed minorities have access to the tools and resources to help reduce inequity and ensuring equal protection under the laws is better. We ll get there one day I m sure. The current ask is much simpler, its just to stop randomly killing and terrorizing us. Please and thank you.
So Maybe the protests of this year caught special notoriety because the society is reacting after (or during, for many of us) the lockdown. In any case, I hope for their success in changing the planet s culture of oppression.

Comments Tomas Janousek 2020-06-19 10:04:32 +0200 In the blog post On masters and slaves, whitelists and blacklists you claim that GitHub changed the default branch from master to main earlier this week but I don t think that change is in effect yet. When you create a repo, the default branch is still named master . Gunnar Wolf 2020-06-19 11:52:30 -0500 Umh, seems you are right. Well, what can I say? I m reporting only what I have been able to find / read Now, given that said master branch does not carry any Git-specific meaning and is just a commonly used configuration I hope people start picking it up. No, I have not renamed master branches in any of my repos but intend to do so soonish. Tomas Janousek 2020-06-19 20:01:52 +0200 Yeah, don t worry. I just find it sad that so much inaccurate news is spreading from a single CEO tweet, and I wanted to help stop that. I m sure some change will happen eventually, but until it does, we shouldn t speak about it in the past tense. :-)

15 November 2017

Russ Allbery: Review: The Piper's Son

Review: The Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta
Series: Francesca #2
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Copyright: 2010
Printing: 2011
ISBN: 0-7636-5458-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 330
Tom Mackee's family has fallen apart. The impetus was the death of his uncle Joe in the London tube terrorist bombings, but that was only the start. He destroyed his chances with the only woman he really loved. His father's drinking got out of control, his mother left with his younger sister to live in a different city, and he refused to go with them and abandon his father. But then, six months later, his father abandoned him anyway. As this novel opens, Tom collapses while performing a music set, high on drugs and no sleep, and wakes up to discover his roommates have been fired from their jobs for stealing, and in turn have thrown him out of their apartment. He's at rock bottom. The one place he can turn for a place to stay is his aunt Georgie, the second (although less frequent) viewpoint character of this book. She was the one who took the trip to the UK to try to find out what happened and retrieve her brother's body, and the one who had to return to Australia with nothing. Her life isn't in much better shape than Tom's. She's kept her job, but she's pregnant by her ex-boyfriend but barely talking to him, since he now has a son by another woman he met during their separation. And she's not even remotely over her grief. The whole Finch/Mackee family is, in short, a disaster. But they have a few family relationships left that haven't broken, some underlying basic decency, and some patient and determined friends. I should warn up-front, despite having read this book without knowing this, that this is a sequel to Saving Francesca, set five years later and focusing on secondary characters from the original novel. I've subsequently read that book as well, though, and I don't think reading it first is necessary. This is one of the rare books where being a sequel made it a better stand-alone novel. I never felt a gap of missing story, just a rich and deep background of friendships and previous relationships that felt realistic. People are embedded in networks of relationships even when they feel the most alone, and I really enjoyed seeing that surface in this book. All those patterns from Tom's past didn't feel like information I was missing. They felt like glimpses of what you'd see if you looked into any other person's life. The plot summary above might make The Piper's Son sound like a depressing drama fest, but Marchetta made an excellent writing decision: the worst of this has already happened before the start of the book, and the rest is in the first chapter. This is not at all a book about horrible things happening to people. It's a book about healing. An authentic, prickly, angry healing that doesn't forget and doesn't turn into simple happily-ever-after stories, but does involve a lot of recognition that one has been an ass, and that it's possible to be less of an ass in the future, and maybe some things can be fixed. A plot summary might fool you into thinking that this is a book about a boy and his father, or about dealing with a drunk you still love. It's not. The bright current under this whole story is not father-son bonding. It's female friendships. Marchetta pulls off a beautiful double-story, writing a book that's about Tom, and Georgie, and the layered guilt and tragedy of the Finch/Mackee family, but whose emotional heart is their friends. Francesca, Justine, absent Siobhan. Georgie's friend Lucia. Ned, the cook, and his interactions with Tom's friends. And Tara Finke, also mostly absent, but perfectly written into the story in letters and phone calls. Marchetta never calls unnecessary attention to this, keeping the camera on Tom and Georgie, but the process of reading this book is a dawning realization of just how much work friendship is doing under the surface, how much back-channel conversation is happening off the page, and how much careful and thoughtful and determined work went into providing Tom a floor, a place to get his feet under him, and enough of a shove for him to pull himself together. Pulling that off requires a deft and subtle authorial touch, and I'm in awe at how well it worked. This is a beautifully written novel. Marchetta never belabors an emotional point, sticking with a clear and spare description of actions and thoughts, with just the right sentences scattered here and there to expose the character's emotions. Tom's family is awful at communication, which is much of the reason why they start the book in the situation they're in, but Marchetta somehow manages to write that in a way that didn't just frustrate me or make me want to start banging their heads together. She somehow conveys the extent to which they're trying, even when they're failing, and adds just the right descriptions so that the reader can follow the wordless messages they send each other even when they can't manage to talk directly. I usually find it very hard to connect with people who can only communicate by doing things rather than saying them. It's a high compliment to the author that I felt I understood Tom and his family as well as I did. One bit of warning: while this is not a story of a grand reunion with an alcoholic father where all is forgiven because family, thank heavens, there is an occasional wiggle in that direction. There is also a steady background assumption that one should always try to repair family relationships, and a few tangential notes about the Finches and Mackees that made me think there was a bit more abuse here than anyone involved wants to admit. I don't think the book is trying to make apologies for this, and instead is trying to walk the fine line of talking about realistically messed up families, but I also don't have a strong personal reaction to that type of story. If you have an aversion to "we should all get along because faaaaamily" stories, you may want to skip this book, or at least go in pre-warned. That aside, the biggest challenge I had in reading this book was not breaking into tears. The emotional arc is just about perfect. Tom and Georgie never stay stuck in the same emotional cycle for too long, Marchetta does a wonderful job showing irritating characters from a slightly different angle and having them become much less irritating, and the interactions between Tom, Tara, and Francesca are just perfect. I don't remember reading another book that so beautifully captures that sensation of knowing that you've been a total ass, knowing that you need to stop, but realizing just how much work you're going to have to do, and how hard that work will be, once you own up to how much you fucked up. That point where you keep being an ass for a few moments longer, because stopping is going to hurt so much, but end up stopping anyway because you can't stand yourself any more. And stopping and making amends is hard and hurts badly, and yet somehow isn't quite as bad as you thought it was going to be. This is really great stuff. One final complaint, though: what is it with mainstream fiction and the total lack of denouement? I don't read very much mainstream fiction, but this is the second really good mainstream book I've read (after The Death of Bees) that hits its climax and then unceremoniously dumps the reader on the ground and disappears. Come back here! I wasn't done with these people! I don't need a long happily-ever-after story, but give me at least a handful of pages to be happy with the characters after crying with them for hours! ARGH. But, that aside, the reader does get that climax, and it's note-perfect to the rest of the book. Everyone is still themselves, no one gets suddenly transformed, and yet everything is... better. It's the kind of book you can trust. Highly, highly recommended. Rating: 9 out of 10

17 October 2017

Russ Allbery: Bundle haul

Confession time: I started making these posts (eons ago) because a close friend did as well, and I enjoyed reading them. But the main reason why I continue is because the primary way I have to keep track of the books I've bought and avoid duplicates is, well, grep on these posts. I should come up with a non-bullshit way of doing this, but time to do more elegant things is in short supply, and, well, it's my blog. So I'm boring all of you who read this in various places with my internal bookkeeping. I do try to at least add a bit of commentary. This one will be more tedious than most since it includes five separate Humble Bundles, which increases the volume a lot. (I just realized I'd forgotten to record those purchases from the past several months.) First, the individual books I bought directly: Ilona Andrews Sweep in Peace (sff)
Ilona Andrews One Fell Sweep (sff)
Steven Brust Vallista (sff)
Nicky Drayden The Prey of Gods (sff)
Meg Elison The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (sff)
Pat Green Night Moves (nonfiction)
Ann Leckie Provenance (sff)
Seanan McGuire Once Broken Faith (sff)
Seanan McGuire The Brightest Fell (sff)
K. Arsenault Rivera The Tiger's Daughter (sff)
Matthew Walker Why We Sleep (nonfiction)
Some new books by favorite authors, a few new releases I heard good things about, and two (Night Moves and Why We Sleep) from references in on-line articles that impressed me. The books from security bundles (this is mostly work reading, assuming I'll get to any of it), including a blockchain bundle: Wil Allsop Unauthorised Access (nonfiction)
Ross Anderson Security Engineering (nonfiction)
Chris Anley, et al. The Shellcoder's Handbook (nonfiction)
Conrad Barsky & Chris Wilmer Bitcoin for the Befuddled (nonfiction)
Imran Bashir Mastering Blockchain (nonfiction)
Richard Bejtlich The Practice of Network Security (nonfiction)
Kariappa Bheemaiah The Blockchain Alternative (nonfiction)
Violet Blue Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy (nonfiction)
Richard Caetano Learning Bitcoin (nonfiction)
Nick Cano Game Hacking (nonfiction)
Bruce Dang, et al. Practical Reverse Engineering (nonfiction)
Chris Dannen Introducing Ethereum and Solidity (nonfiction)
Daniel Drescher Blockchain Basics (nonfiction)
Chris Eagle The IDA Pro Book, 2nd Edition (nonfiction)
Nikolay Elenkov Android Security Internals (nonfiction)
Jon Erickson Hacking, 2nd Edition (nonfiction)
Pedro Franco Understanding Bitcoin (nonfiction)
Christopher Hadnagy Social Engineering (nonfiction)
Peter N.M. Hansteen The Book of PF (nonfiction)
Brian Kelly The Bitcoin Big Bang (nonfiction)
David Kennedy, et al. Metasploit (nonfiction)
Manul Laphroaig (ed.) PoC GTFO (nonfiction)
Michael Hale Ligh, et al. The Art of Memory Forensics (nonfiction)
Michael Hale Ligh, et al. Malware Analyst's Cookbook (nonfiction)
Michael W. Lucas Absolute OpenBSD, 2nd Edition (nonfiction)
Bruce Nikkel Practical Forensic Imaging (nonfiction)
Sean-Philip Oriyano CEHv9 (nonfiction)
Kevin D. Mitnick The Art of Deception (nonfiction)
Narayan Prusty Building Blockchain Projects (nonfiction)
Prypto Bitcoin for Dummies (nonfiction)
Chris Sanders Practical Packet Analysis, 3rd Edition (nonfiction)
Bruce Schneier Applied Cryptography (nonfiction)
Adam Shostack Threat Modeling (nonfiction)
Craig Smith The Car Hacker's Handbook (nonfiction)
Dafydd Stuttard & Marcus Pinto The Web Application Hacker's Handbook (nonfiction)
Albert Szmigielski Bitcoin Essentials (nonfiction)
David Thiel iOS Application Security (nonfiction)
Georgia Weidman Penetration Testing (nonfiction)
Finally, the two SF bundles: Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes Encounter with Tiber (sff)
Poul Anderson Orion Shall Rise (sff)
Greg Bear The Forge of God (sff)
Octavia E. Butler Dawn (sff)
William C. Dietz Steelheart (sff)
J.L. Doty A Choice of Treasons (sff)
Harlan Ellison The City on the Edge of Forever (sff)
Toh Enjoe Self-Reference ENGINE (sff)
David Feintuch Midshipman's Hope (sff)
Alan Dean Foster Icerigger (sff)
Alan Dean Foster Mission to Moulokin (sff)
Alan Dean Foster The Deluge Drivers (sff)
Taiyo Fujii Orbital Cloud (sff)
Hideo Furukawa Belka, Why Don't You Bark? (sff)
Haikasoru (ed.) Saiensu Fikushon 2016 (sff anthology)
Joe Haldeman All My Sins Remembered (sff)
Jyouji Hayashi The Ouroboros Wave (sff)
Sergei Lukyanenko The Genome (sff)
Chohei Kambayashi Good Luck, Yukikaze (sff)
Chohei Kambayashi Yukikaze (sff)
Sakyo Komatsu Virus (sff)
Miyuki Miyabe The Book of Heroes (sff)
Kazuki Sakuraba Red Girls (sff)
Robert Silverberg Across a Billion Years (sff)
Allen Steele Orbital Decay (sff)
Bruce Sterling Schismatrix Plus (sff)
Michael Swanwick Vacuum Flowers (sff)
Yoshiki Tanaka Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 1: Dawn (sff)
Yoshiki Tanaka Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 2: Ambition (sff)
Yoshiki Tanaka Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 3: Endurance (sff)
Tow Ubukata Mardock Scramble (sff)
Sayuri Ueda The Cage of Zeus (sff)
Sean Williams & Shane Dix Echoes of Earth (sff)
Hiroshi Yamamoto MM9 (sff)
Timothy Zahn Blackcollar (sff)
Phew. Okay, all caught up, and hopefully won't have to dump something like this again in the near future. Also, more books than I have any actual time to read, but what else is new.

13 August 2017

Mike Gabriel: @DebConf17: Ad-hoc BoF: Debian for the Remote Desktop

On Thursday at DebConf17, all people interested in using this or that Remote Desktop solution on Debian (as a server, as a client, as both) came together for a BoF. Sharing about Usage Scenarios Quite some time we informally shared with one another what technologies and software we use for remote access to Debian machines and what the experiences are. The situation in Debian and on GNU/Linux in general is that many technical approaches exist, all of them have certain features and certain limitations. The composition of features and limitations finally lead the users to choosing one or another technology as his or her favourite solution. The Debian Remote Maintainers Team On the developers' side, Dominik George and I set up a packaging team for Remote Desktop related software in Debian. A packaging team that we invite everyone who is maintaining such software in the widest sense to join: https://qa.debian.org/developer.php?login=pkg-remote-team%40lists.alioth... 'DebianRemote' namespace on the Debian Wiki For users of Debian, the group agreed, we need an overview page (on wiki.debian.org) that provides an entry point for Debian on the Remote Desktop. An entry point that provides user information as well as developer information. A skeleton of this wiki page, I have just set up (thanks to Vagrant for taking some notes in Gobby during the BoF): https://wiki.debian.org/DebianRemote However, the page still contains loads of FIXMEs, so the actual work only now really starts. Fill the template with content (and also adapt the template, if needed). Everyone with experience and know-how about Remote Desktop on Debian systems is invited to share knowledge and improve this wiki namespace. (I will, at the earliest, start working on Arctica, X2Go and NX passages end of August, but I'll be also happy to find passages having been written down that I can review by then). Tracking Debian Remote Issues in Debian BTS At the BoF, also the following suggestions came up: The Remote Desktop experience on a GNU/Linux desktop or terminal server can be affected by all graphical applications available. Often it happens, that a change in this or that graphical application results in problems in remote sessions, but not so in local sessions. We agreed on filing and tagging such bugs accordingly. For new bugs, please file such bugs with the following BTS header at the top of your mail and always explain what remote desktop solution is being used when the bug appears:
Package: file
Version: 1:5.19-2
Severity: important
User: debian-edu@lists.debian.org
Usertags: debian-edu
Conclusion Overall, I was quite happy that the BoF has been attended by so many people and to see that there is quite "a lobby" in Debian. Let's dive into the work and make Debian 10 the first Debian, that mentions the Remote Desktop in its release notes. Let's, in fact, release Debian 10 as the first Debian with the official announcement as an operating system for the Remote Desktop (like the Fedora people did already for Fedora 20).

11 August 2017

Mike Gabriel: @DebConf17: Story Telling about Debian Edu in Northern Germany

Last Monday, I gave a 20min talk about our little FLOSS school project "IT-Zukunft Schule" at the Debian Conference 17 in Montreal. The talk had video coverage, so may want to peek in, if you couldn't manage to watch the life stream: http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2017/debconf17/su... I'd like to share some major outcomes (so far) of this talk.
  1. I realized how attached I am to "IT-Zukunft Schule" and how much it means to me that our kids grow up in a world of freedom and choice. Also and esp. when it comes to choosing your daily communication tools and computer working environment
  2. I met Foteini Tsiami and Alkis Georgopoulos from Greece. They work on LTSP and have deployed 1000+ schools in Greece with LTSP + Debian GNU/Linux + MATE Desktop Environment
  3. I met Vagrant Cascadian who is the maintainer of LTSP in Debian and also a major LTSP upstream contributor
  4. I received a lot of fine feedback that was very encouraging to go on with our local work in Schleswig-Holstein
If you have some more time for watching DebConf talks on video, I dearly recommend the talk given by Alkis and Foteini on their Greek FLOSS success story. If you don't have that much time, please skip through the video until you are at 26:15 and enjoy the map that shows how much Debian + LTSP has spread over all of Greece. http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2017/debconf17/lt... Unfortunately, the schools in Greece are so much smaller than schools in Germany. Most schools there have between 50 and 300 students. So at the Greek schools, it is possible to have a teacher machine being the server for one computer lab. This teacher / server machine provides the infrastructure for a room full of LTSP fat clients (no hard drive inside) and that's it. For German schools, unfortunately, we need a larger scale setup. German schools often have 800+ students and network services need to be spread over more than one server machine. So, the current approach with one server running LDAP, Kerberos etc. is quite appropriate, but also extendible, possibly on municipality level or on county level. We (from IT-Zukunft Schule) are quite positive that there will be opportunities for introducing FLOSS approaches more on the county level in Schleswig-Holstein in the near future. So stay tuned...

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