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Archive for June, 2011

The Greek parliament has yesterday and today voted to accept the so-called austerity measures enforced by EU and IMF, despite intense protests on the streets of Athens. What this means is that Greece will be granted the final installment of 12 billion euros of last year’s bailout loan plus probably a new loan, the sum of which is expected to climb to over 80 billion euros. The European elite seems to be still happily labouring under the notion that the debt crisis can be solved by even more debt. The roots of this line of thinking go further back into history than most people think. Consider the following passage from French Renaissance writer François Rabelais’ The Third Book of Pantagruel (1546), translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty and Peter Antony Motteux:

“On the contrary, be pleased to represent unto your fancy another world, wherein everyone lendeth and everyone oweth, all are debtors and all creditors. O how great will that harmony be, which shall thereby result from the regular motions of the heavens! Methinks I hear it every whit as well as ever Plato did. What sympathy will there be amongst the elements! O how delectable then unto nature will be our own works and productions! Whilst Ceres appeareth laden with corn, Bacchus with wines, Flora with flowers, Pomona with fruits, and Juno fair in a clear air, wholesome and pleasant. I lose myself in this high contemplation.

Then will among the race of mankind peace, love, benevolence, fidelity, tranquillity, rest, banquets, feastings, joy, gladness, gold, silver, single money, chains, rings, with other ware and chaffer of that nature be found to trot from hand to hand. No suits at law, no wars, no strife, debate, nor wrangling; none will be there a usurer, none will be there a pinch-penny, a scrape-good wretch, or churlish hard-hearted refuser. Good God! Will not this be the golden age in the reign of Saturn? the true idea of the Olympic regions, wherein all (other) virtues cease, charity alone ruleth, governeth, domineereth, and triumpheth? All will be fair and goodly people there, all just and virtuous.

O happy world! O people of that world most happy! Yea, thrice and four times blessed is that people! I think in very deed that I am amongst them, and swear to you, by my good forsooth, that if this glorious aforesaid world had a pope, abounding with cardinals, that so he might have the association of a sacred college, in the space of very few years you should be sure to see the saints much thicker in the roll, more numerous, wonder-working and mirific, more services, more vows, more staves and wax-candles than are all those in the nine bishoprics of Britany, St. Yves only excepted. Consider, sir, I pray you, how the noble Patelin, having a mind to deify and extol even to the third heavens the father of William Josseaulme, said no more but this, And he did lend his goods to those who were desirous of them.

O the fine saying! Now let our microcosm be fancied conform to this model in all its members; lending, borrowing, and owing, that is to say, according to its own nature. For nature hath not to any other end created man, but to owe, borrow, and lend; no greater is the harmony amongst the heavenly spheres than that which shall be found in its well-ordered policy. The intention of the founder of this microcosm is, to have a soul therein to be entertained, which is lodged there, as a guest with its host, (that) it may live there for a while. Life consisteth in blood, blood is the seat of the soul; therefore the chiefest work of the microcosm is, to be making blood continually.

At this forge are exercised all the members of the body; none is exempted from labour, each operates apart, and doth its proper office. And such is their heirarchy, that perpetually the one borrows from the other, the one lends the other, and the one is the other’s debtor.

[…]

Cops body, I sink, I drown, I perish, I wander astray, and quite fly out of myself when I enter into the consideration of the profound abyss of this world, thus lending, thus owing. Believe me, it is a divine thing to lend,—to owe, an heroic virtue. Yet is not this all. This little world thus lending, owing, and borrowing, is so good and charitable, that no sooner is the above-specified alimentation finished, but that it forthwith projecteth, and hath already forecast, how it shall lend to those who are not as yet born, and by that loan endeavour what it may to eternize itself, and multiply in images like the pattern, that is, children. To this end every member doth of the choicest and most precious of its nourishment pare and cut off a portion, then instantly despatcheth it downwards to that place where nature hath prepared for it very fit vessels and receptacles, through which descending to the genitories by long ambages, circuits, and flexuosities, it receiveth a competent form, and rooms apt enough both in man and woman for the future conservation and perpetuating of human kind. All this is done by loans and debts of the one unto the other; and hence have we this word, the debt of marriage. Nature doth reckon pain to the refuser, with a most grievous vexation to his members and an outrageous fury amidst his senses. But, on the other part, to the lender a set reward, accompanied with pleasure, joy, solace, mirth, and merry glee.”

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One of the major buzzwords in the tech world in recent years has been “cloud computing.” What this basically means is that software is being replaced by online services accessed via a Web browser and local data storage is being replaced with remote servers owned by a third party.

To me, cloud computing doesn’t look like progress at all, but rather an unfortunate harking back to the days of mainframes and dumb terminals. Cloud computing represents a tendency towards the centralization of data storage and services. As with the centralization of political power, this centralization also takes away means of control from the common people and gives them to a small elite, in this case the corporations that run the cloud services.

More and more people are now trusting their private data to these corporations and using services hosted on their servers instead of running applications on their own private computers. The price paid for portability is a serious deterioration of privacy and freedom to select which applications and which communication methods to use. Most cloud services are run by private corporations using proprietary software, so there’s very little a user can do to assess the integrity of the service provider. The user is forced to make herself vulnerable to systematic exploitation in order to gain access to these services. The service provider always reserves the right to pull off or change the terms of their services at will, as the case of the Amazon Kindle content removal attested.

The opposite of the cloud craze is the de-centralization of data and services using technologies like distributed computing and peer-to-peer networks. Any system where there is no central server to hold the data or services, but a network of independent and equal nodes is extremely difficult to keep under surveillance, manipulate or shut down by those entities who wish to control people’s activity on the Internet. And the more nodes there are, the more difficult it gets. Taking down individual nodes one by one does little to compromise the integrity of the network in any case where there is more than a handful of nodes. The continuing success of the BitTorrent protocol despite constant attacks from the copyright mafia is a testament to this fact. If there is to be any freedom on the Internet in the future, it is in the de-centralization, not the centralization of services.

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Google just recently announced that the US Federal Trade Commission has begun a review of their business. Possible anti-competitive activities aside, there are much bigger problems pertaining Google’s monopoly position in Web searches. It’s a well known fact that Google stores search requests for purposes of profiling its users. These profiles are mainly used for targeted advertising, but could also be used for far more sinister purposes such as extracting information on a user’s political views or sexual orientation. Google has openly stated that it is willing to share its data with the US authorities.

Another well known fact is that Google censors its search results, and not just in China. They have a history of co-operating with any government to uphold local censorship laws. Due to its monopoly position, Google is able to a great extent to determine what Web users are allowed to see and what they aren’t.

Naturally, anyone worried about their privacy and freedom will spread their searches over several search engines. However, all the major search engines are run by private companies using proprietary software. There’s little reason to trust companies like Microsoft or Yahoo any more than Google. How to search the Web without succumbing to the whims of major corporations?

One genuine alternative to proprietary search engines is YaCy. What makes YaCy different is that it doesn’t have a central server, but is fully decentralized into a network of nodes run on private computers all over the world using peer-to-peer technology. All search requests are distributed over the network (which doesn’t store them), which makes it extremely difficult to gather data for profiling purposes. Also, since the search index is also distributed, global filtering of search results is practically impossible. YaCy is Free software, so anyone cun run a node. The program runs in the background as a daemon, servicing search requests and crawling the Web to add URLs and search terms into the local database which is then shared to the network.

Naturally the problem with YaCy is it’s relative obscurity: there are only a couple of hundred active nodes at the moment. However, the size of the global search index is already over one billion URLs (the estimated size of Google’s index is a little under 50 billion URLs). I’d estimate that with no more than a few thousand nodes, YaCy could already prove a serious challenge to the proprietary search engines. Therefore, I warmly recommend anyone with some clock cycles and memory to spare to run their own node. The program is written in Java, so it should run on most operating systems.

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Time for outrage!

Time for Outrage! (Indignez-vous!) is a small booklet written by Stéphane Hessel, a veteran of the French Résistance. It became a surprise bestseller in France last year and has since spawned millions of copies in various languages. The booklet has been a major inspiration for the Indignant movement ongoing in several European countries. This is the english translation published by The Nation magazine in March.

[Mediafire]

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“The revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, and no name. He has broken all the bonds which tie him to the social order and the civilized world with all its laws, moralities, and customs, and with all its generally accepted conventions. The revolutionary despises all doctrines and refuses to accept the mundane sciences, leaving them for future generations. He knows only one science: the science of destruction.” – Sergey Nechayev, The Revolutionary Catechism (1869)

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