November 30th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Timothy Garton Ash

the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of… what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.

In fact, my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. .

We have an opportunity

November 30th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

K-punk on UK student protests:

the ruling class are counting on the street militancy fizzling out as suddenly as it flared up. We have an opportunity here, not only to bring down the government – which is eminently achievable, (keep reminding yourself: this government is very weak indeed) – but of winning a decisive hegemonic struggle whose effects can last for years. The analogy that keeps suggesting itself to me is 1978 – but it is the coaltion, not the left, which is in the position of the Callaghan government. This is an administration at the end of something, not the beginning, bereft of ideas and energy, crossing its fingers and hoping that, by some miracle, the old world can be brought back to life before anyone has really noticed that it has collapsed.

The name of Macedonia

November 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’d never realised the massive importance in Greece of the name of Macedonia. Wikileaks cable:

Regarding Macedonia, Errera said the GOM underestimates the seriousness of the name issue for Greece and that the U.S. should not make the same mistake. France will not pressure Greece on this issue. Furthermore, if Athens were to give in on the name issue, the Greek government could fall

Privacy and terrorism

November 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The terrorism threat in Germany has been being hyped recently, through warnings from the Interior Minister and a false alarm over a bomb on a plane in Namibia.

German politicians have been impressively willing to call bullshit on this, in some cases openly suggesting that it’s fearmongering as a political tactic.

In particular, the idea is already widespread that it’s an attempt to build public support for increased surveillance and for weakening of privacy laws.

This wikileaks cable from February gives more fuel to that view. It shows that the US links German support for privacy with the lack of terrorist attacks in Germany: “the German public and political class largely
tends to view terrorism abstractly given that it has been
decades since any successful terrorist attack has occurred on
German soil

Also, a little schadenfreude at the US saying that “ We need to also
demonstrate that the U.S. has strong data privacy measures in
place so that robust data sharing comes with robust data


November 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

take a large sample of text. Run it through NLT, looking for passages with multiple adjectives describing the same noun. or, to keep it simple, just passages like a *big*, *strong* man.

For each such coincidence, record a link between the two adjectives. big and strong go together

[my initial thought was to do this geometrically. imagine an n-dimensional space, where n is the number of adjectives in the english language. Place each word at 1 in its own dimension, and for every other dimension/word at the point given by some function of how often the two co-occur.

but that seems silly. It’s more like a standard regression data-mining kind of thing.

Anyway, a project for a rainy day. And there’s still need for some usable dictionary/thesaurus based on data-mining

Sentiment Spam

November 23rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Stock trading and the like have always been at the forefront of data-mining — though not often sharing their techniques, for obvious reasons.

The current trendy data-mining topic* is sentiment analysis based on social media — guessing what the world thinks about a topic by searching for positive or negative opinions about it on twitter &c. Roughly, searching for “I love X” versus “I hate X”, and interpreting that as a sign of general opinion.

There are surely traders basing decisions on sentiment analysis. It’s anybody’s guess how many, or how seriously, but it’s going to grow over time.

So when is the spam coming?

Go short on company X. Spam twitter with ‘X sucks’ messages. Wait for other traders to use sentiment analysis, see X is unpopular, and dump their shares. Buy cheap. Profit.

You maybe couldn’t affect a major company like this — the market isn’t *that* stupid. But suppose you know another trader is using sentiment analysis, and have a hunch that you can make her buy or sell by dumping enough positive or negative opinions online? Isn’t that a strong incentive to spam?

[this inspired by a post suggesting that you predict layoffs by seeing whose employees are updating their CVs on linkedin — an idea so sensible that it’s probably already being used by a dozen companies]

* or rather, trendy among in the world of starry-eyed startups — there’s somewhat less academic interest. Probably because it produces results which are (a) easy to interpret, and (b) utterly unreliable.

Taktisches Kriegsspiel

November 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Among their other achievements, the Prussian military apparently invented wargames. That’s wargames in the tabletop sense: turns, figurines, battles decided by dice, landscapes marked in squares, pen and paper and immensely convoluted rules. Warhammer without the orcs, basically. All this in 1812.

The “Tactical War-game” (Taktisches Kriegsspiel) was the work of a Prussian military advisor by the name of George Leopold von Reiswitz. He constructed the rules, and presented the king with an elaborate cabinet containing the (many) pieces needed to play. It went down well:

the King would usually command one side and Prince von Mecklenburg would command the other…In later life the King claimed that the games played at Potsdam often gave him ideas for the army manoeuvres which took place there.
The King’s interest in the game became well known, and it was as a direct result that the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia made visits in 1816 and 1817 and became a devotee himself. This lead to a visit to Moscow by Wilhelm in October 1817 during which time they improvised a game on a large scale by chalking out terrain on a number of green topped card tables which were put together.

After a few years the army got really serious about it, issuing a game set to each regiment. Makes sense, given that the alternative to gaming was to march real soldiers around in the mud by their thousands. It was replicated in a few places, and inspired H.G. Wells in the wargame he created a century later. But mostly it fell out of fashion, and seems to have been repeatedly reinvented (rather than copied) over the following 200 years.


November 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Is it true that neoliberalism and new forms of religious fundamentalism appeared simultaneously? If so, why? (cf. here)

It’s the economy of fear, stupid

November 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Al-Qaeda (Yemen) claims it’s sufficient for the West to disintegrate into paranoia — killings aren’t necessary:

“It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks,” the statement said.

“We are laying out for our enemies our plan in advance because as we stated earlier our objective is not maximum kill but to cause [damage] in the aviation industry, an industry that is so vital for trade and transportation between the US and Europe”.

AQAP said: “Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. We will continue with similar operations and we do not mind at all in this stage if they are intercepted.

“To bring down America we need not strike big.”

Granted, this is largely putting a good face on their inability to do more than mail parcels.


November 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Does anybody know the origin of the term ‘kettle‘ — i.e. the police tactic?

I ask because there’s an equivalent German word, which seems to be much older. So, is kettling in the UK a result of German police sharing their crowd-control expertise in one of the european/international police cooperation forums? Or is it just coincidence?

November 20th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Lemuel @CT on non-electoral activism:

More pacifically, I would like to see a National Debtor’s Union that would organize collective mortgage strikes, destigmatize bankruptcy, block evictions from foreclosed houses, etc. There is no reason for the banksters to agree to any meaningful financial reform, or any more stimulus, until there is a plausible alternative that looks much worse for them.


November 19th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Liz Phair writes an impressive review of Keith Richards’ autobiography.

A rant from Rhian:

I was born in the 1980s. I grew up to get away from them. The only good thing about getting older was, I fondly deluded myself, that at least it wouldn’t be the fucking, fucking 1980s anymore.
And now what have we got? A Tory Prime Minister, unemployment through the roof, pointless wars abroad, strikes, bankers still raking it in and now a fucking, fucking, fucking Royal Wedding that we’re all expected to take a blind bit of notice of because it’ll take our minds off how SHIT everything is. And we will, of course.

Sofie Buckland has apparently restarted blogging. Many years ago she wrote an excellent blog under the name of Volsunga — then removed it, and I’m possibly the only person left fondly remembering it, and hoping for a comeback. Maybe this time?

Be alert!

November 18th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The German interior minister has lately been warning of imminent terrorist attacks.

Berlin’s senator for the interior has built on this with an impromptu guide on how ‘we’ can spot the terrorists in our midst:

If you notice that 3 people have moved into the neighbourhood, looking a bit strange, keeping to themselves, only talking Arabic or another foreign language that you don’t understand, then you might want to think about notifying the authorities

Depressing, isn’t it? This bigoted idiocy is from a minister in Germany’s most liberal and broad-minded city. He’s even from an ostensibly centre-left party (the SPD, which admittedly has lately produced an impressive stream of high-profile racists).

Worst is, he’s just being unusually blunt in expressing the general logic of calls to public vigilence. Any non-specific call to report ‘suspicious behaviour’ will get people disproprtionately reporting people they already distrust. In the political climate of the past decade, that’ll often mean arabs. But more generally: is there any liklihood of getting warnings of genuine terrorist plots, rather than just a mass of paranoid fantasy?

[Things I’d love to read on this topic: the police on how much useful information they get from these campaigns, compared to time-wasters. Statistics on what things/people get reported. Memoirs of a Home Secretary or similar, explaining what the hell they were thinking — whether it was cynical political manipulation, or if they believed they were being useful]

ETA: not entirely convincing retraction here

November 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

dolboeb: Alcoholism is scarier than fascism. Survey asks Russians what issue most concerns them:

  • 56%: inflation
  • 53%: alcoholim and drug use
  • 46%: unemployment
  • 44%: standard of living
  • 15%: economic crisis
  • 13%: salary

November 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

There’s a commission in the US, investigating the BP oil spill. Last week, the chief counsel said:

To date, we have not found a single instance where human beings made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety,

I find this utterly bizarre. However angelic BP might be (?), surely it’s impossible to run an engineering project on this scale without trade-offs between cost and safety? Won’t there always be another layer of expensive and marginally-useful checks that you could add?

LJ/Kazakhstan: dirty deals edition

November 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Actually, it looks like I’ve misunderstood the LJ/Kazakhstan timeline. It’s more like this:

– Oct. 2008: Kazakhstan blocks livejournal
– 8. Nov 2010: Livejournal suspends the account of rakhataliev, a critic of the Kazakh president and ex-husband of his daughter
– 15. Nov 2010: Kazakhstan unblocks Livejournal

Which puts things in a very different light. It’s pretty hard to look at that timeline without suspecting some kind of tit-for-tat between LJ and the Kazakh authorities.

LJ unblocked in Kazakhstan

November 15th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I began a new Russian course a fortnight ago, which gives me a good excuse to spend more time reading Russian-language Livejournals.

The importance of LJ in the Russian-speaking world probably isn’t obvious from the English-speaking side. Pick any Russian journalist, writer or (non-corporate) public figure under 35, and there’s a decent chance they’ll have at least a nominal presence here*. LJ is home to independent journalism, to political discussion and organizing across the spectrum, to essays on art and culture, and generally to a large chunk of the Russian-speaking public sphere. That and the cat pictures, of course.

So it’s nice to read that LJ has just been unblocked in Kazakhstan. The block was imposed in 2008, apparently because the president’s estranged son-in-law rakhataliev, had been using it to criticize him. [LJ helpfully disabled the account in question, but apparently without any effect]

Now it’s been unblocked, apparently as a result of lobbying by the glitterati. Or so says e-grishkovets, Russian writer/actor/director Yevgeni Grishkovetz. He put on a play in the Kazakh capital last month. The president saw it, so the following day the political elite duly turned up en masse, all wanting to talk to him. Grishkovets knew what to do:

“I said that…I regret that many of my acquaintances, as well as Kazakh citizens I don’t know, are unable to take part in the life of LJ; that it is nonetheless a significant resource, whose users include not just me, but many other important and famous people, communication with whom is important for many people in Kazakhstan”

A month later, the Kazakh government has unblocked Livejournal. Quite possibly coincidence, of course, but in any case a Good Thing.

* Other Russian sites are comparable in volume of users, but IMO less politically important. Or maybe that’s just my pro-LJ bias speaking.

The Ukraine

November 14th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

place names and the article

November 14th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Liz Phair on Keith Richards’ autobiography

Pulled by the poppy and pushed by cocaine, Keith acquires a taste for working unholy hours in the studio that damn near kill his colleagues. He goes round the clock and considers it mutiny if anyone toiling with him leaves the deck. “I realized, I’m running on fuel and everybody else isn’t. They’re trying to keep up with me and I’m just burning. I can keep going because I’m on pure cocaine . . . I’m running on high octane, and if I feel I’m pushing it a little bit, need to relax it, have a little bump of smack.”

November 13th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


When someone writes the definitive essay on fandom – I mean, when someone sits down and explains the insanity of it, the way it is a black hole of time that means I sit here for long, long minutes trying not to grin so hard my face hurts and simultaneously cry like a child for no real reason, the way it can make total strangers loathe or adore each other in a way very few other things can, the fragmenting into groups, the shipping (WHY DO WE DO THIS. WHY. I was born doing it, and don’t understand), the giddiness, the stars in my stupid hopeless eyes, the conventions, the cosplay, the meta, the joy and pain it’s possible to experience through reading one sentence connected to one’s current whatever-it-is – when someone writes that, will you let me know, so I can read it, and understand?

Where am I?

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