Freedom of speech has a number and it’s

Busy as I am at the approaching end of term, nothing could hold me away from spending 2 or 3 hours every morning reading freshly released cable dumps.

Say what you will, I am all for the Assange crew. Change is in the air, and this time it may be a real change – the end of belief in that the manager is the savior of everything. My country is all victim of this, adoring and deifying the corporate man, who will punish greed and restore justice all the way from Moscow White house to my university. Undereducated people with the philosophy of “I’m the boss, so you shut up” are lauded as ‘efficient managers’. Time will of course show how much they have abused the expectations and how really crude and distorted is the idea of ‘success above all’ and ‘victors are not to be judged’.

It’s amazing how people fail to see it’s the same style, everywhere across the suppressed societies. The Prime Minister remembering that have people have an opinion only when he needs a name for his new dog. The university, with classes cancelled because of heavy snowfall, fails to inform students & faculty via its official website, and when the information appears there, it’s in the form of another display of princely power – a scanned copy of the rector’s order, mostly dealing with who’s responsible for ‘controlling’ (?) the absense of students at class (!) The country, with one of the leaders directly ordering the attack on Google servers just because he finds some critical materials about himself (!!!) in his native tongue (!!!!) open for all people to see (!!!!!) Yes, Li Changchun, master of the discourse, you probably don’t like the sound of your name ringing all over the world.

We are witnessing a massive rollback from the openness of international community in the name of corporate success of a country or company. This totalist locking-in of societies will never do any good, as it stifles dissent and poisons minds with moral relativism of the sort that ‘everyone’s corrupt, so what can I do?’ Still, there is a certain distance between a king-size bed, a trip to Trinidad – and a cup of tea with polonium or a iceaxe in your skull. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s time to draw a line between those who accept accountability and free speech, and are thus ultimately ready to accept criticism, too, – and those prepared to stifle everything just to hide their abuses. The West now has a unique chance to prove its commitment to democracy and thus get impetus for another period of moral leadership – or join the rest in their ‘all-too-humanness’.

We cannot rely on time to show the wastefulness and vanity of our illusions. Things change so swiftly we may not be able to roll back. The grand edifice of ‘efficience’ will be shattered by people finding what they have been deprived of. As John Lennon reportedly said, when finally granted a green card, “Time wounds all heels”.

UPDATE: As the hour of Assange’s appearance at court is coming, I hope Hillary Rodham Clinton – whose hero Eleanor Roosevelt indeed did much to translate the ideas below into the Universal Declaration – I hope Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to stand by her words:

On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it.

This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to the Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.

And it’s not just about Assange. I’m wondering if 50 tons is enough for everyone to see and remember.

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Three Jeremiads, by Robert Darnton

A most profound piece by Robert Darnton has just been published by the New York Review of Books.

In a not-too-long article Darnton, as the Harvard University Library Director, makes a strong case for open access publishing, given that exorbitant price of journal subscriptions is draining library resources, diverting university funds from purchasing monographs. This managerial approach is blamed for creating the ‘publish or perish’ syndrome.

Darnton ends up by calling for the creation of National Digital Public Library, built on the success of Google:

Why not adapt its formula for success to the public good—a digital library composed of virtually all the books in our greatest research libraries available free of charge to the entire citizenry, in fact, to everyone in the world?

I especially admire the seemingly sudden expansion of the ‘entire citizenry’ to ‘everyone in the world’. This is a truly democratic view of a scholar, putting information availability ahead of copyright law, corporate profits or anything impeding the right for access to information.  Living in Russia, where most useful databases in the humanities are not available at all, I was more than relieved to read the ending:

Rather than better business plans (not that they don’t matter), we need a new ecology, one based on the public good instead of private gain. This may not be a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not an answer to the problem of sustainability. It’s an appeal to change the system.

Change the system indeed. Yes, it’s time political rhetoric should be put to a better use, to overcome the only real gap – the one in information access. We still remember these words —

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

Now do it in your own backyard. Tear down this wall.

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Renaissance and Reformation journal

Just discovered that Renaissance and Reformation journal, published by Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies, provides permanent free access to its archives from the first issue in 1964 to 2005 (i.e. a 5-year moving wall).  I think this is a very welcome move by one of the major journals in the field to offer access totally free and not part of any database.  As a begging scholar, I must confess I have a dream, which is to see all of the market leaders and trendsetters indexed in DOAJ someday.

The journal’s archive can be accessed here

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the Yukos scam

Today I received a spam advance-fee fraud letter usually associated with an African country. Well, nothing of note, as I  get dozens of suchlike offers every week at my Gmail account. This time, however, it was signed “Nikolay Sintsov” and was supposed to come from an ex-Yukos employee who admits to

have a profiling amount in an excess of Forty Million,Five Hundred Thousand USA
Dollars(US$40.5M), which I seek you to accommodate for me. You will be rewarded
with 40% of the total sum for your partnership. Can you handle this?

He also confesses that

As his personal assistant, I was authorized to transfer money of an American oil
merchant for his last oil deal with my boss  Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The bitterest irony is, of course, that this kind of scam was never supposed to bounce back to Russia, otherwise I would never have read the following:

I have decided to use this sum to relocate to your country as soon as the funds
are transfered to you and never to be connected to any of Mikhail Khodorkovsky
conglomerates. Presently I am in London in Europe,for a hide out.

Quick googling of Sintsov’s name both in English and in Russian produced nothing save for the replocations of the same text. Anyway, the letter gave a short but mostly correct summary of the case against Khodorkovsky and the reasons for his prosecution in Russia (read more at the website of the Khodorkovsky center). It was obviously written some time ago, as it links to the Yukos website, long down.

What this piece of spam did for me was to make me think of all the Nigerian persecution victims mentioned in such letters – are they also real? And is there genuine human suffering behind this moralizing scam? Even more importantly, given that most of the information on Yukos and Putin in the message is correct, can we use spam to generate or add to moral panic? Or learn some information which acts as a cover for criminal intention but is nevertheless true?

Menawhile the second trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev is nearing its end. Most saddeningly, it will end with another jail term, maybe as long as the 14 years suggested by the prosecution.  You can read Khodorkovsky’s last statement here (PDF).

UPDATE: about a week later another interesting piece of subversive spam was found filtered, this time supposedly from the Economic and Financial Crisis Commission (and the e-mail address from a Chinese provider, ha!) saying I have sent money via Western Union to known scammers (which I surely haven’t) and giving a communication address at A WHOIS search shows the domain to be owned by World Media Group, LLC, seemingly a domain name dealer. Now that we can disagree about domain name speculation, but a mail address registered for your domain in order to be used for spam is a different story. Meanwhile, it’s another brilliant example of subversive spam – spammers acting under the guise of anti-spammers, like serial killers taking part in the hunt after themselves. Whenever an attempt at institutionalization is made, it can immediately be cracked and subverted to serve an opposite interest.


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invisible college turns digital

just discovered a recent call by Robert Darnton to create a National Digital Library, published  in the New York Review of Books. This question is indeed “of vital importance for the cultural life of the country”, as its content should be freely and easily accessible for the general public (or, actually, anyone on the Web? would be most strange if we interpreted Jefferson’s “common property of mankind” as common property of a nation).

I view this as extremely significant when a leading scholar, himself very comfortable in the ivory tower, makes a public call for open-sourcing knowledge, and not just that in public domain. I find ‘common property of mankind’ a far more appealing message than any so-called copyright law. After all, the plea of the FOSS community is no more than re-igniting the Jeffersonian “receives light without darkening me” argument. “Despotism and priestcraft”, mentioned as the prime enemies of freedom of the print, have not vanished and are still firmly rooted everywhere, be it Iranian censorship or the elitism of  those striving for superprofits.

I have often heard complaints from my colleagues in Russia that humanities are rendered unnecessary at the business-minded university. With full understanding of the difference between the rotten tub of Russian academe, driven by ignorant bureaucracy snubbing anyone not in oil business, and Western institutions, there is some true ring in university capitulating to the corporate model too easily. At times it seems to me that a “wiki-ized university” as described by David Staley can bring back some of the collegiality and free-form of the earlier university model, with an obvious post-scarcity flavor.

Like never before, critical thinking in the humanities can help people anatomize the whole fabric of society (pardon the early modern wording) and make, finally, a big leap towards a fairer and kinder world, let alone a more technosavvy one. There is no lack of goodwill in people who are locked inside the academe under the double pressure of red tape and the scholarship’s own geekness. All the years of post-structuralist struggle, combined with the powerful democratic appeal of modern digital technologies can now visualize the invisible college. Sure it sounds high-pitched, but it’s probably an understatement, given the great prospect of the coming change.

An alliance between academics and knowledge technologists will bring about this change much faster.   I was always amazed by how close Samuel Hartlib was to the idea of Wikipedia in his “Office of address”. That time, the idea stood no chance as the required amount of work was too big. We are now again at the point where summarization and classification of knowledge seems necessary (in the plural now, and folksonomically). Without that, the future paradigms may never actually materialize.

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Vivarium – free online access

Brill kindly offers free online access to the full archive of Vivarium Journal until November 15, 2010, available here. (almost 50 volumes since 1963!) No registration is needed.

From Brill’s website:

Vivarium is an international journal dedicated to the history of philosophy and the history of ideas from the early Middle Ages to the early modern period. It takes a particular interest in the profane side of philosophy and its relationship with other areas of thought and learning from these periods…

More here

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it rhymed with ‘clucking bell’

this was a post on how I liked my short-lived administrative position.

now, to the elements









Now playing: Titus Andronicus – Four Score And Seven
via FoxyTunes

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watch the meerkat

The new version of Ubuntu, 10.10 Maverick Meerkat, has been released today (or, rather, yesterday).

I am reluctant to try it out so soon, but there are issues with Lucid on my EEEPC (shortened battery life, somewhat unstable wi-fi at times) that make me very impatient to try Maverick out. perhaps the coming week, as I get relieved from my short term as an administrator.

Wow, more time for research and tinkering!

UPDATE: upgrade done, as expected, WiFi works way better (looks like it was the kernel case, as the 2.6.35 version hasn’t arrived at Lucid yet). The signal strength is better now, and the nm-applet doesn’t accidentally just disappear. And yes, the connection works on AC power.

Ubuntu, I owe you a post on why I love thee.

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a more rational account of this Androides

To my great joy, Android Market has now made paid apps available in Russia.

I must say, I’ve emptied out my card account on the very first day, sending small sums to all makers of my favorite apps. This is truly great when you do not depend on the corporations and still can make money, showing once again that ‘free as in freedom’ shouldn’t necessarily be also ‘free as in beer’. Yes, I know some of these apps may not be open software. Nevertheless, I am quite thrilled by the microeconomics of the digital bazaar, offering an honest opportunity to reward people for making quality products.

Am dying to see the statistics of how well paid apps will do in Russia.

And yes, like everything cool, Android is sooooo seventeenth century!

Although the OED does not provide a citation earlier than the one from Chambers’ Cyclopedia, there’s a book available on EEBO by Gabriel Naude, a scholar and librarian for Cardinal Mazarin. His The history of magick by way of apology, for all the wise men who have unjustly been reputed magicians, from the Creation, to the present age, makes mention of Albertus’ android,

which hath given occasion to thousands of Fables and impertinencies frequent in Authors.

The ‘fables and impertinencies’ are the belief that the android could speak and was of flesh and bone, whereas Naude states it was probably made of copper. The aim of the chapter is to clear Albertus from  accusations of magic, instead depicting him as a rational and skilful mechanic, although the argumentative logic Gaude uses is still almost fully scholastic. He puts up propositions (could devils speak via the android? what kind of soul could it have if it was rational?) and then refutes them, to arrive at the following conclusion:

…my design is only to shew that he could not by the help of superstitious Magick, make a Statue that should give him answers in an intelligible and articulate voice, upon all the doubts and difficulties he propos’d thereto, as well of things present as to come…

No magic, just pure technology.

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because he hath no continuance

The Guardian has recently written on how humanities become “gentrified” in the modern university, with “children of senior managers” accounting for 31% degrees in history and philosophy.  Justin Bengry at the History Compass blog posted on how the feeling of insecurity about the future career path forced him to switch programs, getting torn between German, business and history.

In my country, the perceived ‘ease’ of getting a degree in humanities pushes thousands into these programs, very few of whom actually work in any related field. Of all my students at English for International Relations over the last 10 years, about 5% are working in anything like international business, let alone diplomacy. Now I do not mean it is so bad in itself, even if you view this as a terrible waste of money. Humanities, if taught correctly, encourage critical thinking and open the eyes to many injustices and shadow dealings going on around. Even though most of my graduates work as managers, I reckon a close look at the international system and business world, interconnected, didn’t do them harm.

More of a problem is the stagnation of teaching humanities in Russia. Salaries at universities are miserable and working there is additionally burdened with more and more routine chores. Mobility is critically low, and vertical hierarchies are strong, so it can well be years before a young scholar gets promotion. In this situation, more and more independent and critical-minded people quit academia altogether. ‘Business world’ lures them with flexibility and freedom, but also has its own swift ways of silencing free thought.

The result is that teaching positions are mostly occupied by ‘rich kids’ whose primary concern is keeping the status quo in society (at first, very pro-Western, but in the last decade, bordering on right-wing authoritarian) or “hereditary academics”, with probably 3 generations of their family in higher education, at the same university. The latter from their very childhood are enmeshed in all the petty rivalries the stagnating university can breed. If Dr.X for 20 years had had a feud with Dr.Y, you can only imagine how Dr.Y Jr. will be viewing his own progress at the department headed, say, by Dr.X’s wife or his former student.

The ongoing clericalization of academia, together with enhanced governmental control, pushes greyface seriousness of Russian education sky high. Even underpaid and exploited, professors can take illusory relief in the idea they are serving a ‘higher cause’ by brainwashing students about Russia’s special way, great traditions and the ensuing need of obedience and ‘normality’.

Given that professors have to pay to get published in many peer-review journals, you can get a good feel of who’s going to be promoted. Penniless and unable to get funding even for visiting a conference, chances are you won’t do a doctorate (7 peer-review publications are required, and at least one monograph, which you may also have to pay for). Able administrators with little scholarly abilities, science freaks, devil-may-care educators who earn 90% of their income outside the academia, self-professed geniuses – looks like the whole Russian academia is begging in this or that way. The self-styled middle class kids can do little in this atmosphere, save learn to pander, cheat and feign Abraham-men. Starting by asserting the values of hard work and independence, they crack under terrible pressure of the teaching load, dreaming of the ivory tower of an ideal academia where nothing would stand between them and the capital T Truth.

He is sometime inducted by a simple Patron, to some more simple Vicarage ; But his Tythes and Credit concluding in Harvest, he takes his flight with the Swallow : He cannot therefore thrive among the promoted begging Schollers, because he hath no continuance. (John Stevens, Characters, Bk.1., XXII – A Begging Scholler)

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