Monday, September 29, 2003

Reality Macedonia on Atrios

Eschaton (Atrios), one of the most popular blogs on the web (currently with 33959 visits per day according to The Truth Laid Bear) posted a link to Reality Macedonia article "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt" by Umberto Eco (originally published in the Utne Reader, November 1995).

According to the independent web counter SiteMeter, this provided for additional several thousands visitors to come to the site over the last weekend.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Predicting Away

Thought Viper posed an interesting question in the post from Sept 1, 2003, inspired by the Telegraph article "Astrologers fail to predict proof they are wrong." Excerpt:
If you wrote a sci-fi novel set in a world where astrology actually worked, you'd come up with a world far different than the one we live in. Astrology would be a priority project for the Pentagon, and NASA would be the most heavily-funded government agency of all. Apollo wouldn't have been about landing a man on the Moon, it would've been about building the ultimate deep-space telescope on the Dark Side.
Besides horoscopes, psychohistory is another aledged future-predicting method to be examined on its own terms.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Toward a Weblogging Empire

According to this Wired News article, Jason Calacanis (also known as "some dude") is attempting to build a blog-based business venture.
"Weblogs are sort of reinventing the space that I was part of, the class of 1995 publishers," Calacanis says.

Ditto, man. I hear you. (Link via #seir topic by Deckard.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

MP3s? Tip of the Iceberg
The global AIDS crisis has reached epidemic proportions in the Republic of South Africa, where nearly 1 in 10 citizens are HIV positive. While patients in the West enjoy widely accessible treatments that allow them to live longer, fuller lives, treatment in Africa is practically non-existent. The drugs, manufactured by U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies with exclusive patents, are priced far out of the range that even Africa's most developed nations - including South Africa - can afford.

more >>>

Monday, September 22, 2003

Applying the Lessons of Macedonian War

The recent article by Robert Fisk on American tactics of appeasing its guerilla adversaries poses interesting moral questions. Reporting on the content of the letter by Major General David Petraeus to suspected Iraqi war criminal General Sultan Ahmed who afterwards surrendered to the occupator, Fisk writes:
In his quite extraordinary letter to General Ahmed the US officer says that "although we find ourselves on different sides of this war, we do share common traits. As military men, we follow the orders of our superiors. We may not necessarily agree with the politics and bureaucracy, but we understand unity of command and supporting our leaders [sic] in a common and just cause." Thus far have the Americans now gone in appeasing the men who may have influence over the Iraqi guerrillas now killing US soldiers.

What is presumably supposed to be seen as a gesture of compromise is much more likely to be understood as a sign of military weakness - which it clearly is. Historians will also have to ruminate upon the implications of the meaning of "supporting our leaders in a common and just cause". Are Saddam and Mr Bush supposed to be these "leaders"?


Sunday, September 21, 2003

Online Music Issue, Explained

Keith Knight, an artist who does both comics and music, candidly and conciselly explains the current predicament of the music industry. The comics is on Salon.com, so you will need to let it show you through an commercial to get a "day pass" to read it.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Ecoterrorism?

Ted Rall writes:
The environmental crisis is, hands down, the most important matter facing humanity today. Who cares about peace in the Middle East if the region is under water, stricken by famine or choked by dust storms? Weather systems are becoming increasingly violent and unpredictable, species are going extinct and virgin-growth forests are vanishing at an alarming rate. While smog has diminished somewhat in places like Denver and Los Angeles, air pollution is getting worse nationally. Ohio's EPA, for example, announced that 2002 was the most toxic summer on record in 14 years.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Non-Review: Dune Messiah

The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other. Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy. Elaborate euphemisms may conceal your intent to kill, but behind any use of power over another the ultimate assumption remains: "I feed on your energy." (p.183-184)

ChaniI read the book Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert last week. It chronicles the time after the events described in the colorful movie by David Lynch, which coincidently aired on a local TV station few days before I picked this tattered volume. Of course, the movie served as a reminder to the early strategy game by Cryo - ah, sweet memories.

Truth suffers from too much analysis.
- Ancient Fremen Saying (p.79)

Instead of writing about how I feel about this story of Paul's struggle to break away from the jihad he started, court intrigue and conspiracy--all very good read--and how it all relates to our life, universe and everything, I decided to offer several quotations.

Empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation. It is when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague ritual. (p.54)

 

Monday, September 15, 2003

Cyber-what?

Among many an interesting information item in the new Wired article by Bruce Sterling “The Growth Market in Walls,” dealing with some globalizing aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (forwarded by Deckard by way of #seir, again), this particularly attracted my attention:
Soon, thanks to the Wall, Sides I and P really will be two different sides, physically and permanently. They won't even be able to see each other; suddenly, the enemy will become little more than a blank concrete slab. Humanizing interaction will become impossible, except for email - but even that medium has found the two sides at odds: In 2001, Mona Awana, a bright and pretty young Side P activist and journalist, used her cyberchat skills to lure a 16-year-old Side I boy named Ofir Nahum into a deadly Kalashnikov ambush.
This sounds like a pretty significant story, and the only excuse I got for missing it at the time, was that I was too busy absorbing domestic news of war in 2001.

When you don’t get results, you get excuses and fries with that. Anyway, here’s a Reuters photo of Mona and Ofir, from some Hungarian site:

NewsFactor cited several possible motives in their article about the case: nationalism, robbery, and:

Still another possibility, according to one Palestinian source, was that Rahum's murder might have been an "honor killing" because relations between Palestinian women and Israeli men are prohibited and seen as a blight on the family name. It's possible, the source continued, that Awana might have offered up Rahum in exchange for her own life.

In addition, this really unmade my day:

Whatever the motive, Rahum's bereaved parents told an Israeli newspaper that children "should not use the Internet because the Internet kills. The killers attracted" their son through the Internet "and took him to where they wanted to kill him."
Most recent piece I found about Mona is Jerusalem Post article from some January 23 (year unknown) informing that she “petitioned the High Court of Justice yesterday, demanding the right to meet with a lawyer.”
People Are Products

SinFest, it's understandable.
Poland Enables Localization Of Domain Names

Starting September 11, NASK, the Polish national Internet domains registry, introduced domain names with national characters for common use as the first in Europe and among of the first in the world. During the summer, they also launched a huge drive do lower the prices of registering, resulting in whooping increase of new domains. (Full article in English, Polish, and Macedonian language.)

Localized (for instance, Cyrillic) domain names have already been enabled elsewhere. For instance, Russia. According to ICT expert Yevgeny I. Korneev, a similar attempt made a few years ago "had not proved to be successful, as many users found it cumbersome," but nevertheless VeriSign launched a new, plug-in based scheme this August.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Architectural Abomination

Here's a little story for you. Over the course of a few years, some Austrian corporation, represented by certain Dragisha, managed to convince members of two successive, mutually opposing, governmental administrations and got a permit to raise a new building on the main square of Skopje, my home town and a capital of Republic of Macedonia. Ok, so some public officials were fired after signing some deals with Dragisha about this, but still, his right to build on former public land (which he paid dirt cheap) was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Naturally, nobody does anything about this until one day the citizens of Skopje wake up to a giant crater in its heart, right next to the location of the house where Mother Theresa was born (a plaque and markers on the pavement designate the place). The current Government officials (who run the first of the two afore-mentioned administrations) cry foul, some media raise havoc, and even a group of concerned citizens decided to present awards "Golden Piccolomini" to the people responsible for this mess.

A solution? To bribe back the perpetrator with taxpayers' money.

PS
Piccolomini was an Austrian general who burned Skopje to the ground in 1689, as a side-show while inciting a rebellion of Orthodox Christian Serbs and Macedonians against the Ottoman Empire. (Something along the lines of US support of Shiite rebellion against Saddam after Gulf War I.) Austrians then abandoned their indigenous allies, and the Ottoman reprisals resulted in depopulating of vast areas in Kosovo and Northern Macedonia, latter to be settled by Muslim colonists (Albanians, Turks).

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Virus (Alert) Expected

According to Slashdot, Microsoft Identifies, Patches Another Critical RPC Hole. This means that you've got some time before some virus maker decides to exploit this in order to release some new worm/spam/whatever virus thingy, attacking Windows NT/2K/XP machines. Do the patching!

PS
If you really feel like it, explore the DOS-oriented mind of a certain Macedonian virus maker.
Invisible Naked Protesters

Many agencies reported that anti-evil-globalization protesters in Cancun spelled the words "No to WTO" in Spanish with their naked bodies. But, most of the news (I tried to track via Google and Google News, and checked about 20 sites from about dozen countries) lacked pictures from this event.

Finally I managed to find a meager AP photo in the article published by The Topeka Capital-Journal, featuring just several protesters, and not the whole arrangement. A microscopic version of the same photo appeared on CNN also. I presume the event just wasn't photogenic enough to receive sufficient editorial attention.


Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Naomi Disagrees With Empire-Building Explanation

In her article "September 11’s Legacy: War as Franchise", refering to the concept of "War on Terror" (WoT™), Naomi Kline says:
Many have argued that the war on terror is the United States government’s thinly veiled excuse for constructing a classic Empire, in the model of Rome or Britain. Two years into the crusade, it’s clear that this is a mistake: the Bush gang doesn’t have the stick-to-it-ness to successfully occupy one country, let alone a dozen.

Bush and the gang do, however, have the hustle of good marketers, and they know how to contract-out. What Bush has created in the WoT™ is less a “doctrine” for world domination than an easy to assemble tool kit for any mini-empire looking to get rid of the opposition and expand its power.


The Scourge of Militarism

Rome and America - Chalmers Johnson provides a comparative analysis of the (ancient) Roman and American militarism, imperialism, and how republican system of government gives way to military dictatorship. (TomDispatch.com)

Johnson scored high credibility with his invaluable volume Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which mainly focuses on Asian examples.

Read also:

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

A Copyright Classic

The Hugo-winning story "Melancholy Elephants" by SF writer Spider Robinson is a must-read for anyone interested in the issues of intellectual property. Available at the site dedicated to his book By Any Other Name.

The League of Un-Copyrighted Gentry

I just enjoyed watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (includes a woman), a comics-based tale of adventure and action, whose wonderfully rendered computer effects often have visual sensibility reminiscent of the best days of ID Software.

The movie is worth watching, in spite of heavy propagandistic shading & displayed misogyny. The story revolves around a group of 1899 ragtag characters who attempt to stop some arms merchants from 'promoting increased return of investment' by starting a world war. So far, progressive enough.

Sadly, the movie also glorifies imperialism, both British and American (its 'heir'), endorsing the idea that even though an individual person might not like an empire (disenchantment allowed for family reasons) s/he has to support it, since the interest of the (current) world empire coincides with the best interests of humanity and world peace. The movie portrays colonialism as benevolent and protective, especially in Africa (!); totally ignores the contemporary Balkan situation; and avoids considering the fact that, just as Washington warned, empire/alliance-building was the primal reason for the World War I.

Of course, the really extraordinary feature of this movie is that all characters come from works of art & entertainment with expired copyright, and are now in public domain. In order to fully understand the significance of this fact, here's a short excerpt from the site of the U.S. Copyright Office, from the document "Copyright Basics":

A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author's life plus an additional 70 years after the author's death. In the case of "a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire," the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Similar conditions refer to works created before the stated date. In short: the copyright (the privilege  to prevent free use of certain product) may be extended up to 70 years after the death of the individual author, or up to 95 years since the publication if the copyright holder is a corporation.

This cute and fun movie would have been much poorer without the ability to re-use the characters and plot ideas ("raw materials"). League's success provides excellent proof for the need to revise the current, oppressive, legislature on intellectual property.

The movie also has educational value, providing a cross-section of some of the most important early SF & F works. Here's a handy list of (some of) the characters and authors featured in the League:

In addition, an inquisitive question from Deckard:

Do the authors of the movie have the copyright on their new universe? Do I have the right to use the same characters and write a sequel of the movie?

Monday, September 08, 2003

C|Net Comfirms Their Credibility

I got a word back from C|Net: the link I mentioned yesterday was a mistake, and they removed it from the article, because there's no further info on raised security concerns over Microsoft's software at the ASEAN summit on their site.

Well... anyone can err, but only the cool persons admit it, and the admirable do something to improve on it. Best of luck to C|Net.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Asian Linux: Big News, Small Controversy

Slashdot published links to two C|Net/Reuters articles about Microsoft’s displeasure with the development of their own Linux-based OS by China, Japan, and [South?] Korea.

I found it interesting that the link in the following quote, from the second article “Asia Linux: Some keen, others cool,” by Reuters goes to an article which does not mention security concerns or the ASEAN conference.

But Japan's trade minister, Takeo Hiranuma, took a different tack at the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) economics ministers meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh by raising security concerns over Microsoft's software.
IMHO, it’s probably due to an honest error, not an intentional misleading. Unfortunately I didn’t find the appropriate article using Google, so I sent a letter to C|Net’s editor with an inquiry. Results: pending.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

The First Hungarian Flash Mob

Other languages:
македонски, српски

Flash mobs are sudden gatherings of people at a predetermined location at a predetermined time. People in flash mobs usually perform according to a written script, then disperse quickly. Flash mobs can be for many purposes but most groups stick to having fun.
- definition from the site flashmob.com

The term flash mob comes from the words "mob", meaning crowd or mafia, and "flash," relating to sudden and short occurrences, such as the flash of the photo-camera, or public exhibitionism ('flashing' by raising the skirt or showing breast).

When on August 26 a congenial local student approached our group during a session of the ICT Training Programme, taking place at CEU in Budapest, offering to take part in the first Hungarian flash mob, I got the same fuzzy feeling I got after reading the Salon.com's July 24 flash mob article.

Distraction - a classic story about the crazy and the confusedThis also involved an interesting coincidence: few days before, I finished reading the science fiction novel by Bruce Sterling Distraction (first published in 1998), describing an intelligent mob which extremely efficiently destroys a bank. The book proceeds to use that event as a symptom of creating of new world order, instigated by digitally conscious (and enabled) marginalized layers, who redefine the concepts of intellectual property, the structure of government and the society as a whole.

Even if the global phenomena of flesh mobs remains "just" an another form of l'art pour l'art public performance, I reckon it's worthy of attention (and participation), at least due to the contagious feeling of joy which accompanies the baby steps of a new kind of human communication.

(It must be noted that the Hungarians make good organizers of public spectacles. In the preceding week they provided the people in Budapest with several splendid examples, such as the St. Ishtvan Day fireworks (Hungarian National Day - the unification of the kingdom), the lusty Budapest Love Parade and the Formula 1 Grand Prix.)

The plan for the flash mob called for gathering of the participants at Deak Ter (ter = square), at 7 pm the next day, and listen to church bells under open umbrellas. Except by word of mouth, the spontaneous coordination (pleonasm?!) took place via web sites and SMSs.

Deak Ferenz Ter is an area in the centre of Budapest, which contains a key metro (subway) station, several little squares, crossroads, and churches.

The following (hot summer) day, lead by our cordial host Henrik, we passed through the biggest DFT square (consisting of a park and a fountain) where only several persons played with their respective dogs, and we avoided the (umbrella less) crowd standing on the traffic light next to it. Using the principle of elimination, we found the right spot - a circular open space next to a smaller church (if you compare it with the big cathedral nearby).

Braving the "innate" non-Western relaxed perception of time, our little team got where it should several minutes before the deadline. Many dozens (up to a hundred or more, even) people were already there, some of them carrying umbrellas. Standing in groups of apparent acquaintances, everybody waited, acting aloof, trying not to glance around.

When the church bells started tolling, the people started opening their umbrellas with great gladness, assuming dignified and attentive positions. The sole bigger exception were the considerably numerous representatives of the local media (and us), who tried to take as many pictures as possible. In the meantime, the faces of the participants radiated pleasure, while the passersby and the resident beggars tried to realize what's going on.

But, a moment after, a surprising aberration from the usual flash mob scheme occurred. Several young men suddenly burst from the edge of the square, spraying water with plastic pistols. They moved through the crowd from one end to the other, leaving behind them wet and smiling people. This amusement also got side wing support, and resulted in burst of good sentiment.

Soon after the bells went silent, and the crowd closed the umbrellas and cleared the square. Several small groups remained, delayed by the reporters' inquires, or in order to waste some time. Most of the just inaugurated flash mob veterans, such as Eman & Resu, stated that they found out about the even through a certain blog, or one of the two leading Hungarian forum sites, and that there's no special reason for their involvement.

Talking to these people I got the deja vu feeling, reminding me of the time of the early modem-meetings1 in Skopje. These happenings also had an implicit goal of connecting the cyberspace and the tactile reality2. It turned out that all the interviewed groups, such as the one on the photo bellow (Bori, Màtè, Zsòfi and Miki) consisted of local computer-people who invited their (analog) friends or romantic partners to join them (in an effort to bridge the digital divide?). As a rule, the later claimed that they do not speak English (nor Macedonian), which is not unusual in Hungary3

All who were asked about it said that they have no idea who are the organizers of the event, even those who were interviewed by the local TV stations as alleged organizers.

Fingering the presence of the media, the lad in a suit who uses the nick Hackler2 said that it all got "a little bad," because of the lack of the element of surprise.

In conclusion, even with the nonstandard elements, the general impression about the creation of the first Hungarian flash mob is favorable. Considerable number of diverse people used the digital media to organize, and do something together, in spite of the atomization forced upon all of us by the modern society. Their success had no political or economic background: they did it simply because they could.

The moral of the story? Use self-service for that one.

---

Notes:

  1. Modem-meetings took place every Saturday, gathering the members of the first Macedonian BBSs, such as Dzunica, Izvor, InForma, and SunLine. The BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) were a form of decentralized digital communication used up to the late nineties, at the time when Internet access in Macedonia was hampered by infrastructural, institutional and economic barriers. A BBS member would use his/her modem to connect directly to the modem of the server, leaving messages (written mainly off line) and collecting what the other users left in between calls. Some of those systems were home based. Adding additional phone lines to the bigger BBSs (such as InForma EIS), which provided for direct online chat of several persons created sensations. Besides opportunity for friendly socializing and courtship, the modem-meetings provided creative energy for positive developments in various areas, from ICT, via boza appreciation, to development of the Macedonian electronic music, grounded in tracker-parties.
  2. Tactile reality - analogous, and complementary to virtual reality. Term designating the world outside cyberspace, which some people call quite inappropriately "the real life." For example, IRC users use the acronym IRL (In Real Life) for meetings face to face. The need to create this term comes from the fact that the world of digital communications remains an integral part of the real life. The basic meaning of the word "tactile" concerns the sense of touch.
  3. According to László Drajkó, the CEO of the Hungarian ISP Axelero, only 10% of the population speaks a foreign language. That's why his company invests a lot in creation of content in the local language. Axelero is a counterpart of the Macedonian ISP MT.net, and is part of the Mátav group, owner of the Macedonian Telecom.