Interesting. In the past I would have been flattered that someone from Redmond, Washington was systematically working their way through my blog. At least that's what it seems since they have been reading since I cleared the blockage, yesterday.
Now I wonder why my old postings are so interesting to the spymasters. You can see who is on the blog in the LiveFeed on the left.
Perhaps the reader will identify themselves, if they are innocent.
As everyone will have noticed, I haven't been updating for quite a bit. Largely because I didn't have much to say, or perhaps there was not enough going on, though there was certainly plenty going on in my head.
I also just noticed that with the demise of one of my widgets, the site was blocked by a domain-name site so nobody could read it.
Anyway, that is now fixed.
The LibraryThing widget for "currently reading" was stuck on the reading I did for my master's dissertation. It had the pretentious title "Popular genealogy: living with the ancestors or render-vous with the self". Still it got me a distinction. Now it seems to have updated. But Goodreads has what I am currently reading, for those who care.
There are plans for a new blog in the autumn. Watch this space.
I'm in the middle of reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature. It's a big book and I stop and start. But today's reading seemed rather appropriate (though it's mostly quotes from other people). In the chapter, the New Peace, he is looking at why since the 90s, there have been so few wars and so few killed (OK it's a controversial book, with a lot of statistics).
His major argument is that democracy inhibits war (well, you can argue, but I won't here). So a little democracy must be better than none, ie autocracy? These semi-democratic administrations or crappy governments, (the term he prefers to anocracies) don't do anything well. Unlike autocratic states they don't intimidate their populations into quiescence, but nor do they have more-or-less fair systems of law enforcement of a decent democracy. They retain the kleptocratic habits of autocracies, from which they evolved, doling out tax revenues and patronage jobs to their clansmen, who then extort bribes for police protection, favourable verdicts in court, or access to the endless permits needed to get anything done. When governments are periodically up for control in a "democratic" election, the stakes are very high. Clans, tribes and ethnic groups try to intimidate each other away from the ballot box and then fight to overturn a result they don't like.
Pinker quotes the "Global Report on Conflict, Governance and State Fragility" as saying that anocracies are "about six times more likely than democracies and two and one-half times as likely as autocracies to experience new outbreaks of societal wars" such as ethnic civil wars, revolutionary wars and coups d'etat.
So far so bad for Ukraine as it tries to improve its democratic system! A further Pinker quote is from Mueller's The Remnants of War: "new wars" are more nearly opportunistic predation by packs of criminals, bandits and thugs, applying ethnic, nationalist rhetoric. The damage can be extensive particularly to the citizens who are their chief prey, since the gangs are just drunken hooligans.
Some of the so-called self-defence bands being formed in Eastern Ukraine sound pretty much like they have swallowed Putin's anti-Nazi and anti-fascist "defenders of Russia" rhetoric but in fact are just gangs of titushki, being used by the Party of Regions to intimidate people.
Let's hope the real democrats are tough enough to cope. And that the EU manages to provide help in more ways than just finance with conditions. (more on that later I think).
I wrote this yesterday. A bit worrying that already an unidentified armed paramilitary group is operating openly in the Crimea.
So Ukraine is back to the 2004 Constitution and the Prime Minister will have more power?
But Parliament won't be re-elected till 2017. So Ukrainians have to depend on these very biddable MPs who are suddenly all for democracy whereas before they were for the Party of the Regions? And judging from their appearance on TV recently, they seem little better than titushki, with their scruffy clothes and brawling habits. Someone should tell them to watch Parliamentary debates elsewhere and learn something. Surely they could at least spend part of their bribes on a decent suit to wear?
Is the 2004 Constitution such a bargain? The President can no longer choose or dismiss the Prime Minister, but he still has considerable powers. A useful one is the right to dissolve Parliament and presumably call new elections, according to the Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe 2013 (via Wikipedia). I guess the new President could do that after May.
Does any of this matter while there is no conflict of interest being a lawmaker and a "biznesmen"? In any case,it is still the oligarchs who decide things behind the scenes. They are marginally in favour of being big fishes in the small(ish) pool of Ukraine compared with small fish in an enlarged Russia. They are marginally in favour of property rights now they have got something themselves to protect. Yanukovych was however just the most brutish of the lot. So the oligarchs will still be ruling how the lawmakers will vote, and probably even now the current lawmakers are going to the highest bidder, after their sudden flush of conscience about the killings of protestors.
Would a fresh election for Parliament a good idea? If a clean sweep is needed of all the old lawmakers (an oxymoron in Ukraine where there is no rule of law), where will the new ones come from? I guess since no one has much experience of operating a Parliament properly, let alone governing the country democratically, there is not much institutional memory lost in a clean sweep. But we are talking about a major behaviour change here, not just a change of personalities.
A long way to go before Maidan gets the Parliament it deserves.
Back to being a student, or as my new course on ethnography puts it, learning the difference between "deep hanging out" and the more shallow hanging out which is the stuff of everyday life (or Facebook). I wait for further enlightenment, and will have to look up the Geertz quotation.
A planchette (pron.: /plænˈʃɛt/ plan-SHET), from the French for "little plank", is a small, usually heart-shaped flat piece of wood that one moves around on a board to spell out messages or answer questions. Paranormal advocates believe that the planchette is moved by some form of subtle energy. The motion is allegedly due to the ideomotor effect. In occult usage, a pencil would be attached to the planchette, writing letters or other designs on paper to be later interpreted by a medium.
The most common use of the planchette is with a Ouija or spirit board. In this instance, it is sometimes referred to as an "indicator" or "pointer" to show where something is etc., like a Dowsing board. Used since the beginning of the Spiritualism movement of the mid-nineteenth century, planchettes predate the invention of spirit boards.
But in Lithuanian a tablet computer has become a planšetinius kompiuterius. Do they know something we don't?
Somehow this paper found its way onto my computer: At the Center of the Table: The Rise and Fall of the Olivier Salad by Anna Kustova. It's quite long, but a treasure trove of nostalgia, as it indeed is intended to be, although it's a really serious and long anthropology paper in its academic guise (53 pages, including 10 pages of footnotes).
In the course of the life of the salad, you are treated to the class relations of the salad, the role of hunter-gatherer (or ordinary shopper) under developed socialism, the social life of peas, the rehabilitation of the chicken, the gender bias of sausage, the one-and-only rich, hearty, Soviet Provençal-style mayonnaise, (plenty of scope for a further paper on mayonnaise as substance: "cosmetic; it joins, covers, restores"), commensality in the Soviet home, Nourriture de Passage: The Olivier Salad as a Ritual Dish in Soviet Cuisine; its status as the “magic of the beginning”; and the place of the Olivier Salad in the gastro-cognitive map.
In fact all human life, and a variety of anthropological themes, are there.
Some time ago, I noticed the scroll bars on the mailbox window of Apple Mail had disappeared. One moment they were there and the next, so it seemed they weren't. Sometimes they came back for a few moments and if you were quick with the mouse or the trackpad, you could grab them. But sometimes they resisted appearing completely. Now I have a lot of mailboxes in that window, collecting mail filtered by lots of rules. It's supposed to make me read only the ones that relate to work, and leave the fun ones for distraction later.
But I never had time to search to find out what had changed, since it wasn't me. Today, in my traditional New Year effort to fix all the computer things that are irritating me, I finally googled and found the solution. It seems that the scroll bars have vanished on all the apps, because Apple decided we didn't need them all the time. It's a setting in System Preferences under General. If you set the scrolling to "always" they don't disappear.
But it seems Apple has decided we don't need arrows on the scroll bar. I can live with that.
One of the problems of going back to be a student is adjusting to the fact that your time is not your own. Working for yourself and being boss of a team of younger team means that what you do each day is largely set by yourself, as long as you are meeting deadlines, delivering the goods etc.
All of a sudden I was plunged back into a rigid weekly timetable of lectures, and readings that had to be done before the lectures. At first sight, three 2 hour lectures a week plus one tutorial, combined with a reading list for each of about 6 papers, only one or two needing to be read, doesn't seem too much hard work, does it? So why did the week disappear so quickly, with not much reading done? Surely I didn't have a problem with time management? I wasnt spending hours chatting either. It seems we all found the reading hard and slow, so didn't achieve much. Hopefully it will be better this term, or I will have learnt to read faster.
Of course when you are reading Marx and Foucault, then you realise that this is part of the state's disciplining you to fit you for intellectual wage labour, under capitalism, to fit you in with its defnition of normal, starting with school, the army, prisons and the clinic. Thank God I found a profession and a job where there are few rules and practically no bosses, and my eccentricity is generally admired, and helps me to get the job done.
I needed exercise so decided to walk into the centre, and go to the Museum of Modern Art for my first bit of Scottish culture (yes really, it's a hard life being a student).
Thanks to Google Maps I saw that in fact I could walk all the way along the side of the grandly named Water of Leith, so imagining I would be walking down a sort of towpath, I set out prepared for mud.
My flat is in Leith not far from the Shore, where there are lots of trendy bars and restaurants, most of which I haven't had time to visit. I had done a preliminary explore along the water in December, when the weather was better, and the swans were out, so here are some photos from then.
What was promised as a 21/2 mile stroll, turned into more of an obstacle race, as sections of the path disappeared into landslips or flood prevention works. I'm used to walking along English canal towpaths which, like railways, still show the backs of industrial buildings, so what you end up with is a view of towns you don't normally see, and an idea of what it must have been like when water was the main method of transport. Although that has changed, somehow there is still an air of industrial archeology about a walk along the river near the port of Leith, as this old water tower shows.
After about 15 mins, the way was barred completely, with not a clue where to go next. So I was on the point of looking for a bus into town, but then I realised with Google Maps I could probably guess how to get back onto the river. So after a big detour round this Waste Removal Station, I managed to get back to the river and quite a pleasant route.
But huge concrete walls appeared to keep the floodwater from the smart gardens with conservatories, which you can just see over the wall. Or perhaps it is to give privacy to the private gardens from all the gongoozlers* walking along the river.
Then I came to a strange set of narrow low terraces, which though small, were rather smart. A noticeboard explained that these were "The Colonies". When flat hunting, I had seen a mention of these, but never went to see them.
Thanks to Wikipedia we can find out that they are artisans cottages built in several places in Edinburgh between 1850 and 1910 as homes for artisans and skilled working-class families by philanthropic model dwellings companies. In Stockbridge they look very gentrified now.
On these walks you never know what you will come across just round the corner. Here's a strange building looking rather Spanish among the Edinburgh granite. And a (metal) bird has landed in the middle of the river. By now we are right in the middle of the city, but well below the streets, as you can see.
Then even the river develops two levels, with this weir, and an old mill at Dean Village.
By now, I was almost at the Museum, though I had to climb back up from the river, and Google Maps does not show it in the right place. I think the best exhibits are outside: the Charles Jencks "Landform", (which looked great for toboganning and skating, though I doubt it was intended for that) and the neon sign over the museum entrance saying "Everything is going to be all right". My feet were too sore to do the whole museum, but I saw the cafe led onto a walled garden, so a good place to visit in the summer.
*gongoozlers is the name from people who stand and gawp at narrow boats on the canals, see more here