Integrity of identity: Audre Lorde and danah boyd

October 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

[tldr: inconclusive and poorly-explained ramble on identity and roleplaying]

I’m belatedly discovering Audre Lorde, reading my way through her collection “I am your sister. It’s touching and inspiring, and I agree with most of it. But here’s one aspect I’m struggling with.

Emotional consistency is supremely important to Lorde. You should be the same person with your family, with your friends, at work, with your lover or before the police:

In order to make integrated life choices, we must open the sluice gates in our lives, create emotional consistency. This is not to say that we act the same way, or do not change and grow, but that there is an underlying integrity that asserts itself in all of our actions.
None of us is perfect, or born with that integrity, but we can work toward it as a goal.

In Lorde’s life, that integrity was what allowed her to be unapologetically herself. She was fighting against silence — the silence that comes from subduing your identity to fit into society, and the silence of fear and self-censorship that stops you trying to break through it:

The women who sustained me through that period were Black and white, old and young, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual, and we all shared a war against the tyrannies of silence…
What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say?
What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself—a Black woman warrior poet doing my work—come to ask you, are you doing yours?
And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger.

Everything we are should permeate everything we do. Lorde condemns — albeit with gentleness and sympathy — anything that puts part of our life into a box. This comes up, for instance, in her discussion of BDSM (something I hope to return to another time):

I feel that we work toward making integrated life decisions about the networks of our lives, and those decisions lead us to other decisions and commitments—certain ways of viewing the world, looking for change. If they don’t lead us toward growth and change, we have nothing to build upon, no future.

Through all this the question I’m struggling with is: must we have only one identity, at least as the ideal state of self-actualisation? I would like to declare “I am large, I contain multitudes“. I’d like to play different roles without needing to merge them into one identity.

And — politically speaking — I believe there is value to this. The “world of work” is now breaking it’s 9-to-5 bounds, asking us to blend our employers’ needs into every moment of life. Increasingly, our work is also “affective”; requiring not just our minds and muscles, but our hearts as well. On the internet, social networks threaten to achieve Lorde’s aims by force — giving us an integrated identity whether we want one or not.

So now, if we behave with “integrity”, it means letting the areas where we are not free dictate our behaviour even when we are free. If I must be non-threatening at work, I must be non-threatening everywhere; for in this world without boundaries, my behaviour anywhere will be linked back to my work. Every compromise or self-denial we make in one context becomes expanded.

The excape from this is to divide our identities. danah boyd has been tracking this for a decade, looking particularly at teenagers. She and her subjects regard “collapsing contexts” — visibly connecting different facets of an identity — as a threat to wellbeing, perhaps even an act of violence against chosen identities.

Because when, for example, Google links a youtube profile to a real name, it performs a kind of outing. Whatever identity has been growing in the shadows is exposed to the full force of external scorn.

So Lorde’s prescription of consistency seems at odds with the human need for gradual, fallible self-discovery. Proclaiming her identity was an act of courage then, as it would be now. But perhaps we also need more space for people to develop and discover their identities, without immediately needing to justify them to everybody they know.

Clay Shirky on Chinese hardware hackers

October 6th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Clay Shirky talks about hardware hacking in China, particularly in comparison to the US “Maker movement”.

The maker movement is akin to the idolisation of the countryside which followed urbanisation. Consciously or not, it’s recreation of a culture which has been lost. In this case, the “hardware hacking” culture has been destroyed by a few decades of cheap imports and complicated devices. By contrast, stereotypically “female” making has not been interrupted, so there is no need to rediscover it in the same way.

Maker culture is largely male culture in part because men are celebrating our triumphant return to a set of practices women never let go of in the first place. One of the reasons Craft never found an audience is that that audience had never been lost; Ravelry and Pinterest and Etsy do a good chunk of what Craft was meant to do, and without any of the “We here in the Maker movement could not be more pleased with ourselves” vibe.

So, tangent managed, here’s the analogy. Hardware hacking in the US vs. China is a bit like Maker culture between men and women. Hardware hacking hasn’t become a hot new thing in China because it never stopped being a regular old thing.

There’s much more of interest in the article; I think it’s also the first worthwhile thing I’ve found on ello.


September 29th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

The Scottish independence campaign was, and is, a massive popular movement.
But the post-referendum devolution wrangling is a depressing case of gerrymandering writ large.

So the tories want “English votes for English laws”, because they reckon they can get a majority in England more often than not. Labour want regional devolution, to stop the Tory South-East imposing itself on the rest of the country. Meanwhile the (non-Scottish) voters don’t care — and who can blame them, given the way all parties treat them?

Also: Alex on how this will get decided in a back-room deal during wash-up

Linus on welcoming small patches

September 25th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Somebody asks whether it’s worth submitting trivial patches to the Linux kernel, considering that it makes work for somebody else to merge them. Linus’ response is perfect:

To me, the biggest thing with small patches is not necessarily the patch itself. I think that much more important than the patch is the fact that people get used to the notion that they can change the kernel – not just on an intellectual level (“I understand that the GPL means that I have the right to change my kernel”), but on a more practical level (“Hey, I did that small change”).

So please don’t stop. Yes, those trivial patches _are_ a bother. Damn, they are _horrible_. But at the same time, the devil is in the detail, and they are needed in the long run. Both the patches themselves, and the people that grew up on them.

Brackets and codpieces

September 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Another good bit from the Etymologicon [previously]. This time, why brackets are named after codpieces. The ever-more-elaborate codpieces in medieval armour were called braguettes.

A Braguette

Then came an architect fixated on groins

What do you call the bit of stone that bulges out from a pillar to support a balcony or a roo? Until the sixteenth century nobody had been certain what to call them; but one day somebody must have been gazing at a cathedral wall and, in a moment of sudden clarity, realised that the architectural supports looked like nothing so much as Henry VIII’s groin.

So the supports became known as braguettes, which first became brackets in a dictionary compiled by Pocahontas’ lover. Then, because a double bracket looks a bit like [, the word was transferred onwards to name a piece of punctuation

Those never-admitted European ransom payments

September 4th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

The Anglophone media has recently been making
noises about European governments making ransom payments to kidnappers.

It’s interesting that this has taken on the status of accepted fact — while, as far as I can tell, no European government has officially confirmed it. On the one hand I’m pleased that the media has the courage to report government actions without a press release. On the other, I’m a little nervous about how much this seems down to co-ordinated briefing by American officials. True it may be, but it’s apparently a truth only reported when it suits the powerful.

At the very least I’d hope that European journalists would browbeat officials into either confirming or denying the American (and British) official claims of ransom payments.

ETA: This New York Times article on the topic is pretty impressive, though, and obviously based on a lot of research.

KRG oil in Texas

September 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

The slow progress of oil tankers makes for a nice change from the jackhammer pace of news. Disputes about Kurdish oil exports have been pottering along for months, following the movement of a few tankers around the world.

So we have the SCF Altai, which has apparently been running oil between Ceyhan and Israel since June.

And across the Atlantic there’s the United Kalavrta, which has been loitering off Texas while Iraq and Kurdistan slug out ownership rights in court. Once the court ruled against Iraq, the tanker promptly turned off its tracking beacon, and is now presumably unloading as quietly as possible.

ISIS’s new German-made missiles

September 1st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Germany has, after much soul-searching, decided to supply weapons to Kurds fighting against ISIS.

It must be slightly awkward, then, to discover that ISIS already have German weapons


Eliot Higgins identifies these as  HOT anti-tank missiles, made by a Franco-German consortium called Euromissile. 1000 of them were sold to Syria in the late 70s — officially by France, though Germany was deeply involved in the manufacture, and would have been consulted about the sale.

Embarrassingly, these HOT missiles are close cousins of the MILAN missiles, which Germany will now be giving to the Kurds. So Germany, usually one of the better-behaved arms exporters, gets the cachet of arming both sides with more-or-less the same weapons. Oops.

In fact, selling these to Syria was controversial  at the time in Germany. Not only did it break Germany’s rules on not arming “areas of conflict” — but since the conflict in question was between Syria and Israel, it caused strong protests from Israel. The German excuse was that, despite their German components, these were a French responsibility:

Government sources said missile exports to France were legal, provided the necessary government export permit was obtained, but once the items were in France, there was no ban on the re-export of the items to third countries.

This fit into an ongoing pattern by which Germany used France as the scapegoat for its weapons sales:

In a government agreementconcluded in 1972 Bonn and Paris agreed to interpretand apply their countries’ weapons export law “in the spirit of German-French cooperation.”

A little after this sale, Germany went even further in sidestepping responsibility:

Under SPD [Social Democratic Party of Germany] Chancellor Helmut Schmidt the Federal Government stipulated in 1982 that German parts for “Roland,” “Hot,” and”Milan” that were incorporated in the weapon in France “will be treated as goods of French origin.” They simply turned into French parts that are not subject to German export control. Thus, German consciousness remained unburdened.

[based partly on research by Charles Lister and Brown Moses]

Market Basket

August 28th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Jacobin on industrial action at supermarket chain Market Basket, as workers demand the reinstatement of a CEO who treated them well:

25,000 store employees are still showing up for work, while at the same time asking customers to boycott Market Basket. They are demanding the reinstatement of their recently fired CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, deposed by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. Arthur T. is an atypically benevolent corporate head.

Market Basket workers are doing what is generally unthinkable in the precarious service economy: exerting their power as workers and risking their paychecks for their pride, good benefits and pay, and vision of how their workplace should operate — without the encouragement or protection of a union.

So Kanno

August 2nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Last night I was blown away by the work of So Kanno, a Japanese electronic artist based in Berlin. He was presenting at the Creative Coding Stammtisch, a digital artist meetup which — judging by my one and only visit — has an exceedingly high level of knowledge.

One of his neat ideas is the graffiti robot. Exploiting the chaotic motion of a double pendulum, this spray-paints quasi-random tags onto a wall. It’s not just fun to watch robot vandalism, but the results come out looking uncannily similar to plenty of human graffiti.

He also showed some very, very cool work with automatic 3D modelling, clothing manufacture and celebrity photos — but since he seems not to have written about it yet, I’d better keep schtum.

Trust in the UK

July 29th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

Alex at TYR discovers that we have become more trusting since the ’80s.

He’s taken a bunch of polls on which professions are trusted, and compared those for ’83-93 against those for ’03-’13. Trade Unionists are now much more trusted, presumably becuase they have been entirely defanged. Likewise civil servants, although they’re still trucking along more-or-less as they were.

Overall, though, it seems we now have a lot more faith in our institutions. So much for the idea that the center is falling apart, and society is fragmenting into mutually-suspicious subcultures.

Crooks and thieves, LDPR carding edition

July 23rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

An alleged Russian credit-card hacker has been extradited to the US after being arrested in the Maldives, says Kenneth Rijock. To complicate matters, his dad is a Duma deputy, and a member of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party)

Looking at the indictment, what surprises me is how manual the entire carding operation is.

Could tax inversion work for tech companies?

July 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

‘Tax inversion’ mergers are an increasingly-popular way for multinationals to dodge their tax bills, by arranging to be taken over by a corporation in a lower-tax jurisdiction. Fruit of the Loom, for example, used this dodge to move to the Cayman Islands back in 1998.

In the current wave, a string of companies are queuing up to move to Ireland through tax inversions, with pharmaceutical companies being the largest among them. Here the FT looks at a current example, Abbvie (US) planning to merge with Shire (UK/Ireland)

Reading the FT’s commentary makes it painfully clear that there is little business logic to a deal like this, beyond the massive extra profits to be had from dodging tax. And despite the political unpopularity, the IRS hasn’t yet found a way to crack down on them.

All this makes me look at the tech sector in a new light. Companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are hoarding huge piles of cash in their non-US subsidiaries. They’ll be liable for a massive tax bill once they bring it back to the US — which they will need in order to pay it out as shareholder dividends.

The general assumption is that they are waiting for some kind of tax break — if not a permanent change in the law, at least a one-off amnesty which will let them bring the money home. I’m now wondering, though, whether some of them are also contemplating a tax inversion. Move out of the US, then finally claim your profits and pay out dividends at a lower tax rate. This analysis suggests it’s likely, but has found no tech companies even hinting that they are contemplating it.

Searching overseas servers

July 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Did you ever worry which jurisdiction a server was in? No longer. The US and UK have both decided they can demand access to data regardless of where in the world it is, writes Marcy Wheeler.

The UK version comes courtesy of DRIP, the surveillance bill being rushed through parliament to avoid awkward questions. The government’s defense, bizarrely, is that they have been doing this all along:

The home secretary told the Commons home affairs committee that it had always been assumed “in government circles” that the requirement on overseas companies to comply with British intercept warrants was included in the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

In the US, the government has won a case forcing Microsoft to turn over data from Ireland:

the U.S. feels free to demand data from U.S. companies no matter where that data is stored. So while Microsoft’s challenge largely serves to make its legal obligations visible to the rest of the world, the legal case may have real consequences, both legally and economically.

So, in brief: wherever in the world your data is, it isn’t safe from hte UK or the US

770 migrants died this year, trying to reach the EU

July 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

So far this year, 770 migrants have died trying to reach Europe, or trying to stay here.

That’s an underestimate.

The Migrants Files contains the details. It’s an attempt to track all the deaths associated with migration in(to) Europe. The details make for sobering reading:

  • 25 migrants were locked up in a cold store by their traffickers in Libya. 13 died.
  • The 27 survivors of a shipwreck said there were an additional 75 persons on board.
  • A migrant was shot at Calais. No other details were provided by the police.
  • Stowaway fell from the wheelbay on a plane to Zürich.

It goes on, and on — 2780 incidents stretching back to 2000. 25,000 dead.

And, aside from the occasional media fuss, we don’t care. We don’t even know the names of most of the victims, let alone the circumstances which drove them to risk their lives in transit. The deaths aren’t being tracked officially — this is a database put together by journalists, mianly from news reports.


July 1st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve not tried this, but I like the concept. Quietnet connects two computers using their speakers, turning a text chat session into ultrasonic communication:

run python in one terminal window and python in another. Text you input into the window should appear (after a delay) in the window.

Warning: May annoy some animals and humans.

Education of a prince

June 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m enjoying The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark’s history of the start of the First World War. I may well not make it through all 700-odd pages, but so far he has an eye for the comically grotesque in early 20th century Europe.

So there’s the story of how a military officer nicknamed Apis, veteran of several regicidal plots, was trusted to look after the crown prince:

when King Petar looked in the winter of 1905 for a companion to accompany his son, Crown Prince Djordje, on a journey across Europe, he should choose none other than Apis, fresh from a long convalescence and still carrying three of the bullets that had entered his body on the night of the assassinations. The chief architect of the regicide was thus charged with seeing the next Karadjordjevic king through to the end of his education as prince. In the event, Djordje never became king; he disqualified himself from the Serbian succession in 1909 by kicking his valet to death

Hiding from the public

June 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Good Yorkshire Rant on issues where the UK political parties are in agreement, and a majority of the population disagrees with them all.

It has been true, as long as there has been a privatised railway, that any British politician could do better in the polls by attacking it and by promising to reverse the privatisation….There is even a simple policy option available to make it happen: stop issuing franchises and just let them all revert. Yet no-one with any power has been willing to take the step of making this option available on the ballot. The political system’s role as a mechanism for limiting the agenda has rarely been more clear.

The parties doing well, UKIP and the SNP, are the ones breaking out of this consensus to avoid certain issues

Pool: a game all about stoning chickens

June 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

The Etymologicon is a wonderful book on English word origins. I thought I’d share one particularly hilarious bit: the origin of pool:

It starts with French gamblers. Apparently they would place bets on who was able to hit a chicken (poule) with a rock. Then:

The term got transferred to other things. At card games, the pot of money in the middle of the table came to be known as the poule. English gamblers picked the term up and brought it back with them in the seventeenth century. They changed the spelling to pool, but htey still had a pool of money in the middle of the table.

When billiards became a popular sport, people started to gamble on it, and this variation was known as pool, hence shooting pool.

Crystal meth in Tehran

June 1st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Crystal meth is increasingly popular in Iran, reports the Guardian

Meth production in the country has been expanding at an astonishing rate
Research carried out by the State Welfare Organisation shows that over half a million Tehranis between the ages of 15 and 45 have used it at least once.

Meth is apparently less socially constrained than other drugs. Cocaine is for the rich, ecstasy is for teenagers, opium is for the elderly — but crystal meth is for everyone.