Lunchtime Doubly So

English: Nabta Playa calendar in Aswan Nubia m...
Calendars. Useful for predicting the seasons. Visibly less effective at predicting climate.

Great start. The first day of the year, and I didn’t post until well after midnight. This is mostly due to the fact that I was up until all hours last night celebrating. But if we took this nonsense seriously, wouldn’t we have an early night on New Year’s Eve and start the thing right? Because we don’t, each new year begins in failure.

I’ve made many successful resolutions. I’ve given up more vices than a lot of people ever manage to cultivate. But not one of these vows was made on a New Year. They were made when I actually had a real desire to change my life, and the inner strength to make it happen. Which, funnily enough, didn’t often¹ occur on a set calendar date during the coldest, darkest, wettest time of the year.

Calendars were our first real computational devices, and helped our ancient ancestors herd and farm successfully. (The illustration is from Nabta Playa in southern Egypt, though the similarity to stone circles dotted all over Ireland is obvious.) Naturally they became endowed with religious significance; the cycle of the year as metaphor for the cycle of life, death, and birth. But the thing is, it is just a metaphor. The calendar is a way to predict the seasons, no more. The arbitrary start of the year is not sacred or mystical, there is absolutely nothing special about this day.

That’s my excuse anyway.

 

  1. Actually I did give up smoking in an early January, but that was pretty much a coincidence. Story for another day.

Nabta_Playa

The Death Of The Killer

The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.
The most shocking of all images of Gaddafi - as a sane, smiling human being

I.Doubt.It is pleased to announce that we for one will not be showing you pictures of Muammar Gaddafi’s damaged corpse. Why so squeamish, some ask. Are we too sheltered from death? I think not. We all come across plenty real death in our lives, not least our own, and we are saturated with incredible amounts of fake death in the guise of entertainment.

It’s just decency. I think all humans feel that the dead deserve a measure of respect. As far as we can tell even our closest relatives like homo erectus, who used tools and fire and probably spoke, did not do anything with the bodies of their dead. Nomads, they simply moved on, leaving corpses where they lay. With sadness no doubt, but without ceremony. By contrast all humans, even those who have no belief in an afterlife, treat the bodies of the dead with a special respect – when they can. It appears to be an instinct, one unique to our species.

So when we turn images of real dead people into a lurid form of quasi-entertainment, parading them for shock, sales, or triumphalism, it is quite literally dehumanising.

I’m not surprised that they killed him of course. It’s a war. Should we care that they did? Yes. We should always care that the right thing is done. And I don’t think it was here. Gaddafi died in custody. According to the BBC, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud…

…confirmed that Col Gaddafi had been taken alive, but died of bullet wounds minutes before reaching hospital.

It remains unclear just how and when Gaddafi got those bullet wounds.

Nonetheless this is good news for Libya, and I hope an example for the rest of the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, leaders stepped down in the face of mass protest and are alive to this day. Gaddafi clung to power, and was shot in the belly and head. That may give other dictators – like, say, Syria‘s Assad –  something to sleep on.

And The Difference Is You

Tank CartoonA miserable start to the day yesterday, finding that what I’d described as the worst-case scenario was precisely what had happened. Not only did Nokia go into partnership with Microsoft, but they’re surrendering – discarding – their own OS development. But by the early afternoon, Egypt had been liberated from tyranny.

Kind of puts the demise of Symbian in perspective.

Well, it’s the transitional military government type of liberation, but I don’t want to talk about the walls left to climb just yet. I just want to congratulate the people in Egypt on their new country. And on having the incredible determination and patience and bravery to face down their dictator, and do it without violence.

As someone said – on Twitter – don’t call it the Twitter revolution, or the Facebook revolution, or the internet revolution. People did it.

Congratulations.

Tiananmen II?

©LRIUS.org
It says "Thank You, Facebook"

Well it looks like my worst fears didn’t materialize. Things seem… hopeful in Egypt, though I’m almost superstitiously scared of using that word. Hope is after all a game we play with ourselves, almost a form of masochism. Is it crazy of me to see Tahrir Square as Tiananmen 2 – This Time, The Good Guys Win? Even to find, in that crushing of protesters beneath a government truck, a weird reversal of the “Tank Man” incident?

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy.

But our future is being created now, in the streets of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria. There’s a choice to be made between the explosive pressures of repression and the release of revolution, and that choice is not ours. About the best we can do is cheer from the sidelines.

But that is not nothing. I’m remembering the role that the Internet has played in this uprising and other struggles like it. One telling event: China has blocked web searches for “Egypt”. Meanwhile our governments move ever closer to a policed, regulated Internet just like they have in these fantastic countries. What can we do about this? Resist, through every legal means.

Today I came across one simple way that everyone can adopt.

Do you get paranoid about the way Google, Microsoft and other search providers record all your searches, creating a frighteningly accurate portrait of your inner life? Well I bet you do now. And not just the terms you used but the sites you chose to visit from the search results, all tied to your computer’s Internet (IP) address – or if you have say a Google account, directly to your name. It’s creepy that it can be used to target advertising at you. What’s worse though is that if some authority like the US Department of Justice happens to want to know about you, Google et al. are quite happy to hand it over. It’s their government after all. Not such a worry for you and me – perhaps. Somewhat more of a concern to a political dissident under a regime that the US might be backing.

What can you do? You can use something like Startingpage. Essentially, this does a Google search for you. It gives you the same results, but as far as Google can tell it was Startingpage that requested them, not you.

Even better though, you can then go to the websites in the results using an “anonymizing proxy”, which hides your address not just from Google but also the site you visit. And if you want to be über-paranoid you can do it all over a secure Internet connection (https), the same as you’d use when making a credit card transaction, so even a third party eavesdropping on your connection can’t tell where you’re going.

There are other similar services available, but I was impressed by how easy Startingpage is. You simply select it as your search engine, the same way as you’d choose between Google, Bing or Yahoo. It works with all the best-known browsers (except the Windows version of Safari for some reason, but who uses that?), and you can search from the address bar in Firefox with it too. It seems to be just as fast as Google, though there is a slight delay if you use the encrypted version. I’m using it for all searching now, and I can strongly recommend it. Such a service is of enormous value to criminals, perverts, terrorists and anyone else who wants to remain free.

Tiananmen

The Storm Before The Other Storm

Wind is howling across Ireland today. The City Museum here in Galway had to close to the public because bits of it were blowing away. Excellent food in the museum by the way, including an orange cake that tastes like oranges wish they could. Get there when it’s safe again.

I saw a bird in a shop, sheltering from the storm. It was a starling, speckled and black-eyed. It hopped and flew around quite content for the duration with the indoor life. And the thing is, it was a wholefoods store. Made a good advert for the place really. “Fuck me the stuff is fresh here. It’s got birds in it.”

Speaking of tortured links vaguely to do with flying, glance please at the picture to the right. Is this not one of the most egregious examples of proofreading you’ve ever seen on a professional magazine? The story is kind of strained too, considering that flying in Ireland is not something RAF Harriers ever really did, but it must be admitted that they were amazing planes.

Maybe I’ll have time to say more about them tomorrow. It would be a change from all the politics. That is, if Egypt doesn’t explode. Which I’m very afraid it’s about to do.

Meanwhile, Back On The Farm…

Man in this country-town pub has the worst laugh. Every time, it sounds like he’s sneering at someone he’s just kicked bloody. Please stop telling that guy jokes.

Oh God. Radio reminds me that Tony Blair is the EU’s most important diplomat to Egypt. We choose the single former leader who invaded a Middle East country as ‘peace envoy’. Was that supposed to be ironic? A large proportion of the population doubtless sees him as some sort of latter-day Crusader. He mentioned his fears of the Muslim Brotherhood exploiting the situation two or three times. He mentioned democracy, freedom from oppression, and self-determination… about not at all.

Something else I note from the news – Though Ireland is technically not in recession because our GDP is going up, our Gross National Product is  ‘growing’ at a rate of -0.3%. GNP is similar to GDP but represents Irish owned business only, leaving out foreign investment. How can foreign business here be profitable but local ruined? I would suggest it’s because while almost all foreign invest here is in export industries, too much Irish-owned business is about servicing other parts of the Irish-owned economy (in which I include the state sector), making it a house of cards. We need more indigenous export industry.

But you know, that was kind of obvious.

Money CartoonMeanwhile back on the political pitch, Micheál Martin is naming his front bench. Wait, what? Yes – the leader of Fianna Fáil has his own shadow cabinet, even though Fianna Fáil under Brian Cowen is still in government until tomorrow… The party is its own opposition. I mean, officially now. That’s not the way Micheál Martin sees it himself of course. A few days ago he came out with an extraordinary offer: To support a Fine Gael government. He thinks he can actually refuse to go into opposition. Clearly the party is just too used to being in power.

Oh, and stop press: Senator Ivor Callelly has been awarded €17,000 for loss of earnings while suspended from his Senate seat. Reason for suspension? Because the bastard was corrupt. He should be on all the opposition parties’ election posters. This is Fianna Fáil. This is the face of a party that is farming the people of this country like cattle.

Dammit Fianna Fáil, you are going to go into opposition, and you are going to stay there.

More Art, More Science, More Egypt

The Science Gallery
It's This Shape On The Inside Too

I worried I was unfair to Dublin’s Science Gallery so I went back. I’m glad I did, because I was. There is actually a second floor to the place, it was closed because the exhibition was not completely mounted when I wandered in.

I do have my questions about the art on display in the ‘Visceral‘ exhibition, but that’s no bad thing by any means. I urge you to see it for yourself, there’s thought-provoking stuff there. Thought-provoking as in machines guided by rat neurons and bacterial colonies growing into pictures, so it’s well worth arguing over whether it is art, science, or a load of toss. But I’m glad it exists.

But Back To Egypt

Just a couple of hours ago, Egypt swore in the head of the intelligence services as Vice-President. That hardly seems like a move towards a more democratic government, but it may be a way to transition from Mubarak’s rule with the minimum possible fuss.

It could also be seen as the introduction of military dictatorship in all but appearance, with the army’s man rather than a general in uniform taking the helm. It’s inevitable that the military will be power brokers here; just about everything depends on whether they accept the legitimacy of Mubarak’s orders. The next question is whether the military will then support a transition to democracy. There is the possibility that they would simply create a new dictatorship, and tell the people and the rest of the world that we have to support it or the Islamists will take over.

If we accepted that, we’d be betraying the people of Egypt. This is not an uprising in favour of Islamic rule – and certainly, not of military rule. It’s a rejection of oppression, and it’s up to us in democratic countries to demonstrate to the Egyptians that we too are against oppression.

We are, aren’t we?