Encyclopedia salesman on vacation

am using LibreOffice on my Ubuntu netbook now – and was astonished to see that autocorrection of two capitals at the start of the world has been enabled by default! Together with me finally being able to make Russian spellchecking work – wow, the Document Foundation, I’m fully your man now! I can not haz ur macros and tables, am just a chimp typing the complete works of Shakespeare, or at least comments on it, so a good processing power for a wall of words is all I probably need. Funny that they didn’t enable several very simple things before, neither during the Sun years or at Oracle.
Must needs go on with the translation, though. History beckons.

update: Also tried Firefox 4.0 today. Works very fast indeed, am waiting for a tab to freeze to check if they are really sandboxed separately. 3/4 of my addons don’t work, though, but I hope it’s just a matter of time. But ah, the great great feeling of an early adopter (well, within the first coupla millions I reckon) and an occasional click to report to Mozilla, and a word occasionally dropped in that I was there before you were there… Why yes, a titillating position so low on the curve, expecting the tide will rise high and the select company of technogeeks will ride the tide.
I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.

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survive another year

couldn’t resist the temptation

(original at http://www.explosm.net/comics/2281/)

happy new let’s just survive the year, everyone!



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Log in to continue reading

The Foreign Affairs magazine has reluctanly joined the recent uproar against WikiLeaks by republishing an article by Monteagle Stearns (an ambassador under Nixon and Reagan, Wikipedia tells us) with a short note prefaced saying,

The recent publication of purloined State Department cables was a strike against not only American foreign policy, but against diplomacy itself.

I use ForAff pretty often with my IR students due to exceedingly good English and somewhat interesting expert opinions, so after getting an email update I duly headed to the site only to find that the article is subscription-only.

Besides the obvious fact that it’s an interesting strategy of joining the fray when you republish a 37-year old piece (or maybe Stearns refers to the Ellsberg case there?), the very choice of form is symbolic. An article billed as defending diplomatic secrecy is itself not available to the interested reader until he pays for it. This is a curious mix of traditional diplonacy, traditional business, traditional journalism and everything traditional thrown together.

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

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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 post.com. 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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