To joyfully watch the fumbling coalescence as a community becomes self-aware

April 29th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

He had the sense, at the moment, of groping for intellectual support, of casting about and dimly receiving a hint here, a hint there. Like a radio technician delicately picking signals out of background static, he’d learned to recognise voices worth listening to, voices that meant something distinct even when they ued hte same compulsory words as everyone else. Here and there, people were speaking with secret passion

— Francis Spufford, Red Plenty p.65

Tatu and the IWW

April 27th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Tatu are secretly Wobblies, aren’t they? All About Us hinges on a personalization of the great IWW slogan An injury to one is an injury to all, transmuted into obsessive romance:

If. They. Hurt. You. They. Hurt. Me. Too

So we’ll rise up won’t stop

And it’s all about

It’s all about

It’s all about us




It’s not just me feeling the solidarity. This group review returns to the theme time and time again, albeit with a point-missing tendency to link it to the USSR:

You can imagine those pounding war drums soundtracking the Bolshevik revolution – there’s certainly a similar sense of collective running through the lyrics, drawing strength from standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow revolutionaries. “If. They. Hurt. You. They. Hurt. ME. TOO.”: spine-tinglingly magnificent pop moment of the year.

And more generally, you can make a case that the value of TATU is fitting their various high-pitched emotional states into a grand narrative of love and rebellion:

If you listen across their ‘Best Of’ album, you can see it unfold: forbidden love and ensuing confusion as the girls, through their transgression, are thrust beyond the bounds of the normative (“All The Things She Said”‘); the forging of a new revolutionary ethics (“All About Us”, “They’re Not Gonna Get Us”); yet more confusion as one of the girls falls for a boy (“Loves Me Not”); a Thermidorian inquest into the motives and consequences of the betrayal (“Friend Or Foe”); then finally, the realisation that the only place this utopian society can exist is in space (“Cosmos”)

Policing Costs

April 24th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Does the cost of policing affect what laws are enforced?

I’d (naïvely?) imagined that there would be some kind of institutional firewall in place, analogous to the division between advertising and content in a newspaper, or the various Chinese Walls inside financial firms. That is, that decisions on which types of crime to pursue would be separate from decisions about how to pay for it.

Is that not the case? Brooke Magnanti (belle de jour) writes:

Another way in which opposing sex work brings financial benefit is through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Police know, for instance, that if a brothel owner is prosecuted, since running a brothel is illegal, any money and property retrieved from the ‘crime scene’ becomes theirs. When police resources are limited, does the temptation of profit possibly influence victimless crimes being prosecuted more vigourously than they otherwise would?

It’s impossible to know for certain, but one can imagine plenty of situations in which police – with restricted time and money – must make choices: unknown violent criminals who may be difficult and expensive to catch, or women technically breaking the law standing right in front of you, with cash assets?

Similarly, there’s a debate about the cost of evicting travellers from Dale Farm:

The cost of evicting travellers from Europe’s largest illegal camp could spiral to £18million, councillors have revealed.
The occupants of Dale Farm in Crays Hill, Essex, have threatened violence if bailiffs move in, pushing up the bill to remove them from £3.5million just 18 months ago.
Basildon Council has set aside £8million for the operation – almost a third of its annual budget – while Essex Police has a £10million ‘worst-case scenario’ fund.

Despite the huge cost, Tony Ball, leader of the council is determined to press ahead if the families choose not leave by their own accord.
Mr Ball said: ‘No one wants a forced clearance of this site and we have spent ten years asking the travellers to work with us to seek a peaceful resolution.
‘However, it is important the law is applied equally and fairly to all people and if we do not take action in this case, we would have little moral right as a planning authority to take action against future unauthorised developments.

So it sounds like the cost of enforcement is taken into account in policing decisions, whether at the level of the police themselves or their political masters. Is that the case? If I break the law in some way that’s expensive to identify, can I expect to get away with it?

April 22nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Cory Doctorow on the joys of writing for teenagers:

That’s one of the most wonderful things about writing for younger audiences — it matters. We all read for entertainment, no matter how old we are, but kids also read to find out how the world works. They pay keen attention, they argue back. There’s a consequentiality to writing for young people that makes it immensely satisfying. You see it when you run into them in person and find out that there are kids who read your book, googled every aspect of it, figured out how to replicate the best bits, and have turned your story into a hobby.

young people live in a world characterized by intense drama, by choices wise and foolish and always brave. This is a book-plotter’s dream. Once you realize that your characters are living in this state of heightened consequence, every plot-point acquires moment and import that keeps the pages turning.

April 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Next in the continuing saga of Rolling Stone printing surprisingly good long-format journalism: The Stoner Arms Dealers.

Packouz was baffled, stoned and way out of his league. “It was surreal,” he recalls. “Here I was dealing with matters of international security, and I was half-baked. I didn’t know anything about the situation in that part of the world. But I was a central player in the Afghan war… It was totally killing my buzz. There were all these shadowy forces, and I didn’t know what their motives were. But I had to get my shit together and put my best arms-dealer face on.”

The author, Guy Lawson, seems to have written a string of in-depth articles on international crime in Rolling Stone.

Although you suspect Rolling Stone is also dropping serious money on lawyers, to let them say things like:

The Albanians cut him out of the deal, informing AEY that the repackaging job would be completed instead by a friend of the prime minister’s son. What Trebicka had failed to grasp was that Thomet was paying a kickback to the Albanians from the large margin he was making on the deal. Getting rid of Thomet was impossible, because that was how the Albanians were being paid off the books.

I suspect part of the reason Rolling Stone can support this kind of journalism is that they force their writers to be entertaining. Not only does this mean people read and appreciate the long-form articles (and thus build demand for more of them), but it forces the writers to properly get to grips with their subject.

open matching in vim

April 18th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

To open in vim all files matching a regex:

$ grep -l foo ./* | xargs vim -p

Forced-labour asparagus

April 18th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Adrian Mogos describes the use of forced labour in Central European. They were producing food for Tesco, among other outlets:

Corina says they worked in the fields under Ukrainians carrying shotguns who hit anyone that dared ask about the wages they’d been promised or protested over the conditions and hours.
Around 400 hundred men and women were kept working around the clock, sleeping in a dormitory, and they were not allowed to leave the fields unless their Ukrainian bosses transferred them to constructions sites or slaughterhouses.

After two months of working for free under these armed guards, Corina knew she’d never get any money. When she and her husband protested, they threatened to sell her off to a pimp to work as a prostitute in Prague. Finally, she, her husband and one brother-in-law fled the camp by night in the summer of 2008.

vim outliner (snippet)

April 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Vim has a plugin for outlines, clearly described here. Create a file with the extension otl, and you’ll get some visual help in managing an outline.

Whitespace denotes indentation level, colons mark text content. It builds on the vim folding commands:

  • zc: collapse hierarchy
  • zo: expand hierarchy one level
  • zO: expand hierarchy all the way
  • [z: move to header (]z move to next header]

There are also some commands specific to vimoutliner. these are introduced with a double comma, and listed in the documentation

Finally, it’s possibe to get ascii checkbox functionality, a little like emacs org-mode. This requires installing a plugin-for-the-plugin, and I’ve not yet tried it. Details in :help vimoutliner

The real get out of my head command is this perfect incarnation of my own notation for marking tasks as done:


,,T normal Pre-pend timestamp (HH:MM:SS) to heading

HTTP authentication (snippet)

April 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

And the reason for that faff is to start using this blog more to keep track of snippets of code and config that I’m constantly re-using. That is, the things you have half inside your head anyway, but need to look up exactly what the command is.

One from today: setting up basic HTTP Authentication with Apache:


vps:/etc/apache2/sites-enabled# htpasswd -c /etc/apache2/anaad.passwd admin
New password:
Re-type new password:
Adding password for user admin

edit .htaccess:


AuthType Basic
AuthName "Anaad"
AuthUserFile /etc/apache2/anaad.password
Require valid-user

Syntax Highighting

April 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Whenever I try to put code snippets up here, I end up frustrated that they turn up deprived of any highlighting. So I’ve tried following these instructions to fix things. With luck, this post should be an example ;)

So this goes in <head>:

And for the highlighted text you have 2 options.

First is with <pre> tags:

or a slightly more longwinded version, which provides for escaping of html tags:


<script type="syntaxhighlighter" class="brush:html"><![CDATA[ <a href="http://exampe.com/blah">blah</a>]]</script>

This, alas, interacts badly with blogger’s pre-posting HTML validation. It’s easier to handle the escaping from the command-line beforehand:


$ xclip -o | perl -MHTML::Entities -ne 'print encode_entities($_)' | xclip

Barons of the cufflink trade

April 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve lately been poking around in the UN Comtrade database. This records international trade in detail that is mind-boggling, and I suspect not entirely reliable. So today I learned that:

The education scam

April 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh boy, I find myself agreeing with Peter Thiel:

Instead, for Thiel, the bubble that has taken the place of housing is the higher education bubble. “A true bubble is when something is over-valued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe. The excesses of both were always excused by a core national belief that no matter what happens in the world, these were the best investments you could make. Housing prices would always go up, and you will always make more money if you are college educated.

PR top tip: when the world thinks your workers are heroes, go along with it

April 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I thought the nuclear industry had the best PR money could buy. Maybe not in Japan. Here’s a spokesman of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, managing to make his employer sound as uncaring as possible. He’s talking about the workers inside fukishima, exposing themselves to high radiation levels:

Some people call them heroes. But we don’t think they are heroes. They are doing what they should do as TEPCO employees.

[via the BBC Global News podcast today, though the interview seems a few days older, and is also in the Economist]

Gambling in Azerbaijan

April 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

RFE/RL:

The ban on gambling dates back to a 1998 scandal involving the current president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. Media reports claimed that he lost up to $6 million to a Turkish businessman while gambling in a nearby country.
Aliyev’s father Heydar, then president of the oil-rich country, denied the charges and promptly banned casinos and gambling activity in a morality drive.

Sally Bowles wakes up screaming

April 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Sheila O’Malley is still one of the most powerful writers around:

And so when Liza Minnelli sings “Life is a cabaret, old chum,” there is a crazy hope behind those glittering scary eyes. The world is about to end. Everything is about to fall apart. Bowles has been in bed with the wrong people. The waking-up-screaming is coming, but until that day? She plants her legs wide apart on that empty stage, and wails out her life force, defiantly declaring her belief that the party was worth it. In a strange way, Minnelli’s version can be seen as a triumph. At least from Bowles’ perspective. That’s why it’s such a good performance. It’s complicated. There are no easy answers. Bowles launches herself, willfully, above the horror in that moment, and insists—she insists, all evidence to the contrary, that life IS a cabaret. She will not have it any other way. But when you think about the wider picture of what is happening in Europe at that time, that mindset becomes disgusting, soulless.

Exporting surveillance

April 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

MENA net filtering uses Western technology:

At least nine Middle Eastern and North African state censors use Western-built technologies to impede access to online content. ISPs in Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Sudan, and Tunisia use the Western-built automated filtering solutions to block mass content, such as websites that provide skeptical views of Islam, secular and atheist discourse, sex, GLBT, dating services, and proxy and anonymity tools. These lists of sites are maintained by the Western company vendors. The ISPs also use these tools to add their own selected URLs to the companies’ black lists.

I’m interested here that no Chinese technology is mentioned as being used. This was something I’d been expecting — as had Naomi Klein (kind of) — but which hasn’t come to pass.
As Erich Moechtel has pointed out, much of the European surveillance export industry is surprisingly open. This conference in Dubai in February was more concerned with bugging and individual surveillance, but the principle applies more broadly.
More on this from the TAZ:

Eines der bekannten europäischen Beispiele sei die Firma Nokia Siemens Networks, die beispielsweise Technik in den Iran geliefert habe. “Dort wird diese aktiv zur Repression der Bevölkerung genutzt”, kritisiert Kubieziel. Mittlerweile setzten Länder wie China aber auf selbst entwickelte Software zur Zensur, die sie auch an anderen Staaten weiter verkaufe.

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