Umberto Eco died today. Over the years he’d entertained and bemused me in unequal measures. It always felt as though he was on a perpetual search in his works of fictions for the appropriate follow up to Name of the Rose. A case of ‘peaking too early’ perhaps?
His more scholarly, but entertaining nonetheless, writings existed in a tradition of european intellectualism that was not always accessible to me – the layers of meaning, playful exploration of ideas across languages, epochs, civilisations… i’ll miss the erudition he so obviously enjoyed displaying.
Today is a good day to remind small-minded england of the great european tradition of intellectualism, of thinking, and of the “european experiment” which has sought to bring peace to so many people. Here is an extract from Eco’s essay on Ur, or eternal, Fascism:
7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the U.S., a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.
Fuck your special pleading. Fuck your culture of entitlement and greed. Fuck your appeals to xenophobic instincts. Fuck your attempts to enshrine diminished empathy in law. And most obviously: fuck you dishface.
Had an interesting conversation with one of my german co-workers today. Having had a brief conversation in German, he remarked that he didn’t know my german level. He probably assumed that i was completely incompetent (where as the reality is that i’m simply mostly incompetent…)
Which is all very interesting, but contrast starkly with my experience in japanese, where i was absolutely comfortable making a fool of myself. The expectation that a foreigner could never hold a conversation in japanese, even at the level of a five year old, made everything easy. Zero expectations.
In europe, where i nominally identify, it’s much harder to be european (english… yes, ok, but i’m trying…) and talking a european language like a five year old. That feels much harder.
Some of this is english being a lingua franca for europe these days (also true in japan but if i’m a five year old in japanese…), but mostly it’s not wanting to make a fool of myself relative to my “native” language ability. It’s really something i want to get over – it’s the only way i’ll increase the rate that i’m picking up german.
Too old for all this.
It’s not really my thing voting. As best as i can recall the first (and last…) time i voted was in an EU election. It would have been around the time that i became eligible. Since then, nothing. Which isn’t entirely surprising – a few years latter i fled that sceptic isle and have never returned.
The recent rise is idiots such as UKIP, and subsequent push for an ‘in-out’ referendum on Europe have made me wonder if voting might become necessary. After all, the last thing that i need is to be forced to move back (maybe the Scottish would take me in?)
Well, it turns out that i’m no longer eligible to vote in UK elections. In order to register to vote you must have a lived at a UK address in the last 15 years. Nope, haven’t done that. And therefore no voting. Seems a little odd as a citizen, who would be effected by the outcome of any referendum, not to be able to vote. Still, i’m the last last person who would pretend that democracy is perfect… or that the UK is particularly democratic!
In theory it’ll only be a another five years until i can apply for citizenship here in Germany. In practice, i’m not sure how that will work out. Oh, and i can vote in EU elections as a resident of Germany, but somehow the machinery here seems to have neglected to register me… maybe they know?
This really rings true for me:
It is Mr Rottenberg’s view that the current vogue for the “pursuit of happiness” may perversely push certain people towards depression. Happiness, he argues, is the result of achieving a goal, rather than a goal itself. He cites recent evidence suggesting that depression or low mood can be triggered by setting unobtainable goals. Rather than becoming depressed because of underachievement, he suggests that perhaps depression is an overcommitment to goals that cannot be reached.
To the point that i don’t really want to discuss the details.
I’m leery of reading books with titles like “The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic”, but perhaps Mr. Rottenberg will bring some clarity to episodes that i don’t really feel equipped to comprehend in any detail…
Over at Wired they’re blistering their lips again:
The Heartbleed bug crushed our faith in the secure web, but a world without the encryption software that Heartbleed exploited would be even worse. In fact, it’s time for the web to take a good hard look at a new idea: encryption everywhere.
Followed by an article (i’m almost reluctant to link to it…) that goes on:
Most major websites use either the SSL or TLS protocol to protect your password or credit card information as it travels between your browser and their servers. Whenever you see that a site is using HTTPS, as opposed to HTTP, you know that SSL/TLS is being used. But only a few sites — like Facebook and Gmail — actually use HTTPS to protect all of their traffic as opposed to just passwords and payment details.
Which is such unmitigated bollocks that it’s hard to know where to start. Do they really not understand this? The likes of Facebook and Google make their money from flogging the relationships between the personal data that they collect on their cannon fodder. For Google this business amount to something like 97% of revenue, all the fluff about making knowledge available to humanity is just that: fluff. The real goal is monetising mass data collection by selling it to advertisers. Consumer cannon fodder, pure and simple. Facebook? Don’t know the numbers, but presumably equivalent or worse. The silicon valley business model is pure poison for privacy.
If they were interested in privacy they’d be serious about encryption of data at rest, they’d set themselves up to be cryptographically unable to access your data. Until they do that they are willing victims to any government that orders them to “bend and brace”. That they are not even making an effort to fight for this level of protection for their “product” tells you everything that you need to know.
This post was bought to you by The Swans track Raping a Slave (irony overdose as i link to a google property that you probably don’t even ad block…)
(via Jim Grisanzio)
[Don’t watch that if you have any form of new year blues / uncertainty about the future. It is dark. Very, very dark. Really.]
Hard to work past the doom, and follow up on the feedback loops. Looking into just one of them is daunting. Methane levels are indeed rising, but finding evidence that would indicate a massive outgassing (from either the arctic or the siberian permafrost) is difficult.
My sense is that the truth lies somewhere between “extinction by mid-century” and “if we recycle and change the lightbulbs it’ll be fine!” To me collapse still seems inevitable, and i say that because the scale of climate change is going to make recovering from each disaster increasingly difficult.
Obviously we can’t continue to exceed carrying capacity, with the resource depletion that that entails, but given everything that we’ve “locked-in” in terms of changing the composition of the atmosphere, a simple collapse of capitalism isn’t going to magically push the planet into recovery… and may in fact make things worse for a while. Managing the decline of nuclear is a good example of that. We’d better hope that all the plants can be peacefully brought to an idle in the absence of external infrastructure. The Fukushima experience doesn’t really indicate that is a realistic expectation.
Edit: sourcing for a lot of the claims in the above talk can be found here.
[Back to reading fiction again. The world must be getting ridiculous, and i’m seeking escape… or it’s the days getting shorter.]
No idea why i picked up this and bought it. The last Eggers book that i read with ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Beauty Genius‘ which, despite the title, didn’t really do much for me. Don’t remember hating but have it filed with other somewhat lightweight, and self-obsessed easy reading of the time… if i knew where my copy was i’d re-read it to find out if that’s accurate.
A Hologram for the King is a fun little parable about the decline of american power, and it increasing impotence in the face of re-aligning world. The allegory gets laid on pretty thick, you’d be hard pressed to missing the underlying meaning of an american being invited to a wolf hunt by a group of saudi arabians, and nearly shooting a shepherd boy trying to save a lamb…
And maybe that’s the problem with the book, it’s not much of a challenge, and comes nowhere near saying anything unsurprising about america’s relationship with the world. It’s even hard to imagine it being considered a challenged to a patriotic american book buying public. The choir has already heard the sermon, and it’s getting kind of stale.