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Nice (blogging) distraction

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As if I had blogging time to spare, last week I started to blog at travaux manuel, Jackie’s new blog. She was kind enough to invite me and somehow it fits – it’s fun, far from business as usual and it’s something I can write about easily. It gets me blogging more often, which is one of my resolutions for the next year.

Decadent musings

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I Woke up in NYC 5.30 this morning, which is an hour that I am normally awake only if I haven’t gone to bed yet. I went for a run in Central Park, through an empty and foggy city. On the way back the fog lifted, streets were buzzing and I was reminded why I love New York. It is striking – the towering buildings with hi-tech displays and shops (grotty and smart) at the ground level. It is not a modern city in the sleekest sense but a smelly, grubby and packed conurbation.

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I love the design and architecture of New York – it reveals a powerful aspect of the country. The city was built in an era where the artistic mingles with the industrial, where mass produced has a hand-crafted look. It is also solid and proud. What it is not though is quirky and accidental that one often sees in Europe.

I imagine there was a similar tension between the Greeks and Romans in architecture, literature, plays, music. The Romans imitated the subjugated Greeks. And the Greeks were clinging to the last vestiges of their dominance, which was confined to culture. The only way to left to Greeks to humiliate the Romans was to critique their art and culture. This, I might add, did not stop the Roman culture coming whilst taking bits of Greek culture, evolving their own. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

I would take the parallel further. Greeks were considered ‘sophisticated’ and decadent. Not wishing to be left behind, the Roman decadence reached its own peak but in its brutality it could be called merely aspirational compared to the Greek debauchery. In its purest sense decadence is constraining. I do think decadence is mostly negative, although the other side of the coin of waste, chaos and lack of purpose, is redundancy, freedom and creative playfulness. But often, decadence is accompanied by irreverence. And there is a kind of effortless superiority that comes from mastering rules, principles and conventions and then disregarding them. So it is not decadence that that helps to give rise to the odd, playful and revolutionary but irreverence. Decadence often means disregard of purpose and seriousness, overridden by social pathologies such as hypocrisy, while irreverence has the potential to break the rules when they ought to be broken.

All this is a very long-winded way of nailing down the differences that I observe in different cultures across the Atlantic. What I do requires focus on long-term purpose, taking some things seriously enough to want to change and adjust, to make mental and other leaps. Decadence makes it hard to aspire, motivate and go boldly forward. Irreverence makes it is easier to break down the systems that are in the way of progress. So can we please have some irreverence, easy on the decadence…

Of course, this is just non-sense spouting from a jetlagged mind in an exhausted body. It’ll teach me to blog before I have had my morning coffee, or as I am in New York, my morning smoothie.

Four things

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I fell for the old fashioned, tag, you are it… Sorry. Here we go:

Four jobs I’ve had:

  • blogger
  • broker/analyst
  • management consultant
  • translator & interpreter

Four movies I can watch over and over (yeah, I am rather old fashioned in my tastes it seems):

Four places I’ve lived:

  • London
  • Oxford
  • New York
  • Bratislava

Four TV shows I love (a bit more modern, just):

Four places I’ve vacationed:

  • Maldives, Male
  • Sinai, Egypt
  • Brittany and Champagne area, France (on a motorbike)
  • Rome, Italy

Four of my favorite dishes:

  • Peking duck
  • Sushi
  • Steak
  • Crêpes

Four sites I visit daily:

Four places I would rather be right now:

  • on a beach
  • in a wine cellar
  • shooting
  • in New York

Four bloggers I am tagging (you’re it!):

Surprised that there four books that I like are not on the list… well you can see them in the right sidebar under the Reading stuff.

Banana past

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While hunting for a quick snack in the kitchen earlier today, I came across some overripe bananas overlooked in the haste of the last week. Their particular aroma brought memories of things I thought I had forgotten. When I was growing up bananas used to be rare (note: I grew up during communism not WWII to avoid confusion :-) ) – supplied to the shops occassionally and obtained by queueing for a long time unless you knew someone from the shop who would put some aside for you. This was buying under the counter, as we used to call the widespread practice of getting hold of both staples and luxury items, a rather dubious and fluid distinction due the vagaries of socialist economics (and economies).

The best time of year for bananas and other ‘exotic’ fruit was before Christmas and as children we would get a bunch of them on St Nicolas day. This holiday would not be known to the Anglosphere crowd – it is based on a Catholic saint St Nicolas and a particular tradition attaches to it. On the night of December 5 to 6 children put a boot on the window sill in their bedroom, which gets filled with gifts. We used to get chocolates, nuts and bananas, all of which rather precious and not to be eaten all at once. The trick was to make them last as close to Christmas as possible when the next batch of goodies was due. This can get rather tricky with bananas, as you can imagine. As a result, the smell of overripe bananas has strong association with something to be treasured and savoured. Strange, but true.

All this I have forgotten, or thought I had. I have spend the last decade or so trying to get away from it all, not by forgetting the limited and unfree world I was born into, but by building a better one of my own. The tiny joys found in the previous life, despite its twisted nature, were never enough to outweigh the damage done to people’s lives. And this should never be forgotten.

One of the reasons I find so hard visiting my native country is that I resent the fact that people back there carry on as if nothing happened. I bear a grudge against the easy forgiveness (or forgetfullness?), with which those who lived there in the past 50 years seem to treat the past.

Read the rest of this entry »

The truth markets

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Charles Cooper of CNET New.com has a great piece about Wikipedia’s recent brush with precisely the kind of issue that most people bring up as an objection to the concept of an open collaborative resource.

In an op-ed published Thursday in USA Today, Seigenthaler wrote about his anguish after learning about a false Wikipedia entry that listed him as having been briefly suspected of involvement in the assassinations of both John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. The 78-year-old Seigenthaler–a former assistant attorney general working under Bobby Kennedy–got Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to delete the defamatory information in October. Unfortunately, that was four months after the original posting.

One of the joys of arguing with people about the plausibility of online collective wisdom, the networked conversations and the peer review nature of the blogosphere is being able to point at Wikipedia as the living and breathing example that these things work. It is a very powerful example as there are many people who would otherwise offer very convincing and erudite arguments how such things cannot possibly work. Just like with anything that changes the parameters of what they know. Charles Cooper pins down the elusive evolution of the new landscape:

On your ride home today, try pondering a future where Wikipedia’s model of competing versions of the truth becomes the norm. Will the increasing influence of the wisdom of the crowd force us to rethink the nature of knowledge? With the proliferation of the Internet, more voices inevitably will become part of that conversation.

It’s the conversation meme again and rightly so. Interactions between individuals, for their own reasons and on their own terms, give rise to what Weinberger calls ‘multi-subjectivity’. The technology that enables us to collate, structure and retrieve those interactions and conversations gives ‘multi-subjectivity’ the clout that only objectivity used to be able to claim – it usually came on the back of a ‘certified’ medium or some worthy institution. But the ability to articulate, share and revise many opinions is just another way of getting to the truth. And a more realistic one, in my opinion. And that is why I agree with this:

You can argue that epistemological revisionism goes on all the time. As a kid, I remember thumbing through a 1920s encyclopedia when I found a discussion of different racial categories. Someone reading the entry decades later would have found the assertions in that article to be nonsensical, if not borderline racist. But when the book was published, the people who might have corrected the record had no power over the publishing company printing up the product line. With the Internet, anyone with an online connection can chime in.

We’re still settling into the new order, and the Seigenthaler episode highlights the challenge of fairly refereeing the debate. Ostensibly, the objective is truth. But questions about the nature of truth date back to Plato and Aristotle. It’s a vexing argument that continues to the present day.

Don’t ask…

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…just something that makes too much sense, lately.

I don’t believe in trouble
I don’t believe in pain
I don’t believe there’s nothing left
but running here again

I don’t believe in silence
cos silence seems so slow
I don’t believe in energy
the tension is too low

I don’t believe reality would be
the way it should
But I believe in fantasy
the future’s understood.

Sunny London

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On the way to a meeting I remembered why I like London.

Last summer day?

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Sunshine in Chelsea

Chinese panopticon courtesy of Cisco

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Rebecca MacKinnon blogs about her communication with Ethan Gutmann, author of Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal. One of the chapters is about Cisco’s business in China and the extent to which they actively supply Chinese law enforcement with censorship and surveillance technology. Cisco denies, Gutman responds by making available Cisco brochure from the China Information Infrastructure Expo 2002. There is also a very sound argument about why this matters and why Cisco (or anyone else) should not be allowed to get away with profiting from assisting the state to suppress freedom of individuals. That is the kind of ’social responsibility’ I can support.

As you know, the Chinese authorities don’t want to block the web. They want Chinese users to practice self-censorship. Surveillance, and the awareness of surveillance leads to self-censorship and that’s where Cisco comes in. Cisco has built the structure for the national PSB [Public Security Bureau] database, and as of June 2003, it is already resident in every province of China, except Sichuan. Police can access a suspect’s political history, imaging information, the lot, and read their email at will. Cisco calls it "Policenet".

This is the scary stuff of Panopticon. The real deal that the combination of totalitarian nature of the Chinese government and technology has made possible. The argument that if Cisco does not follow the ‘demand’ created by the Chinese authorities, someone else will, does not hold – it absolves business (and those individuals responsible for them) from physical and moral consequences of their actions.

via Instapundit and cross-posted on Samizdata.net

Central London disrupted… again

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Just passing Downing st. Some demo to do with more or less (couldn’t really tell) UN troops in Congo. Orange colour featured prominently – protesters are wearing orange headbands.

What’s on my wall…

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Marble passion

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