Nov 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Kremlin Minutes at Spiegel

Spiegel Online has a series of Kremlin Minutes posted on their web site, such as this one: The Kremlin Minutes: “We Should Demolish the Wall Ourselves”.

Visit Spiegel Online for more. I am sure we won’t see much of this in US press since as Spiegel points out (last sentence):

In the fall of 1990, as Germany celebrated reunification, an enormous tragedy was taking shape in Moscow. The historical turning point can be reconstructed from previously undisclosed minutes of Politburo meetings published in Russia this month. And Mikhail Gorbachev may finally get the historical recognition he deserves.

We wouldn’t want to give up on the myth that a B-grade actor who couldn’t differentiate between his movie roles and reality was rather The Great Communicator who single-handedly brought the “cold war” to an end.

[ Link ]

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Nov 16th, 2006 by ravi
Obfuscations and Explanations

[via BoingBoing]

The Dead Sea Scrolls it seems contain specifications for construction of latrines:

The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Toilet evidence links Dead Sea Scrolls to sect

[…]

The Essenes are one of the few ancient groups whose toiletry practices were documented. The first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that members of the group normally went outside the city and dug a hole, where they buried their waste.

Two of the Dead Sea Scrolls note that the latrines should be situated northwest of the settlement, at a distance of 1,000 to 3,000 cubits — about 450 to 1,350 yards — and out of sight of the settlement.

Tabor and Joe Zias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on ancient latrines, went to the site and took samples.

Zias sent samples to anthropologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, who found preserved eggs and other remnants of roundworms, tapeworms and pinworms, all human intestinal parasites.

Samples from the surrounding areas contained no parasites. Had the waste been dumped on the surface, as is the practice of Bedouins in the area, the parasites quickly would have been killed by sunlight. Buried, they could persist for a year or longer, infecting anyone who walked through the soil.

The situation was made worse by the Essenes having to pass through an immersion cistern, or Miqvot, before returning to the settlement. The water would have served as a major breeding ground for the parasites.

“The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years,” Zias said. Fewer than 6 percent of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the males lived beyond age 40.

What impressed me about this bit of news was that the Bedouins will probably have a hard time explaining the reasons behind their practices, but even back at the relevant time, the Essenes probably had elaborate and sophisticated explanations for the superiority of their system as compared to the illiterate practices of the nomads.

My point? There are parallels to this sort of thing in the patronising dismissal of “primitivism” by the scientistic, but often, the lack of an explanation no more disqualifies a practice than the presence of an elaborate, detailed and systematic explanation (in itself) underwrites another.

[ Link ]

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Nov 14th, 2006 by ravi
Old and bloated!

Slashdot has a post today on the Web turning 16, which links to W3C’s history of the web page. Back in 1994 or 1995, shortly after my site was listed in a top 100 list (I think PC Computing Magazine?) some guy contacted me with a bit of interesting info: according to his records, my CERN HTTPD server was among the first 250 sites (I forget how he calculated that — perhaps based on the old Yahoo index?). Reading through the W3C history page I see:

1993

January: Around 50 known HTTP servers.
October: Over 200 known HTTP servers.

I started up my server in early February 1993 and shortly after sent information about it to the WWW mailing lists of the time. Depending on what is meant by “known” above, It seems quite possible that the guy was right about my making the first 250… maybe…

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Oct 23rd, 2006 by ravi
But for the French (part 2)

More information to supplement my previous post on French support for the American revolution:

The French Contribution to the American War of Independence

From the outbreak of armed rebellion in 1775, many in France sympathized with the colonists. Young, idealistic French officers like the Marquis de Lafayette volunteered their services and in many cases their personal wealth to help equip, train and lead the fledgling Continental army. The French government hoped to redress the balance of power that resulted from the French humiliation in the Seven Years Wars, which gave considerable economic and military advantages to Britain. While maintaining formal neutrality, France assisted in supplying arms, uniforms and other military supplies to the American colonists.

This clandestine assistance became open after the defeat of General Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777, which demonstrated the possibility of British defeat in the conflict and led to French recognition of the colonies in February 1778. As a result of the victory of the Continental forces at Saratoga, Benjamin Franklin, who had gone to Paris as ambassador in 1776, was able to negotiate a Treaty of Amity and Commerce and a Treaty of Alliance with France. From this point, French support became increasingly significant. The French extended considerable financial support to the Congressional forces. France also supplied vital military arms and supplies, and loaned money to pay for their purchase.

French military aid was also a decisive factor in the American victory. French land and sea forces fought on the side of the American colonists against the British.

[…]

From the perspective of the American Revolution, however, the high point of French support is the landing of five battalions of French infantry and artillery in Rhode Island in 1780. In 1781, these French troops under the command of Count Rochambeau marched south to Virginia where they joined Continental forces under Washington and Lafayette. Cornwallis, encamped on the Yorktown peninsula, hoped to be rescued by the British navy. A French fleet under the command of Admiral DeGrasse intercepted and, after a fierce battle lasting several days, defeated the British fleet and forced it to withdraw. This left the French navy to land heavy siege cannon and other supplies and trapped Cornwallis on the Yorktown peninsula.

[…]

George Woodbridge summed up the Yorktown campaign in the following words: “The strategy of the campaign was Rochambeau’s; the French fleet was there as a result of his arrangements; the tactics of the battle were his; the American army was present because he had lent money to Washington; in total naval and military participants the French outnumbered the Americans between three and four to one. Yorktown was Rochambeau’s victory.

[…]

In the end, these French soldiers became the hard anvil upon which the new American nation was forged and the chains of British imperial domination were finally broken.

[ Link ]

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Oct 23rd, 2006 by ravi
No black in the red, white and blue

There are a bunch of folks I like to think of as Ostrich Republicans (a bit unfair to Ostriches) — a group that includes naive libertarians, subconscious “End of History” believers, individualist types, and typically a combination of these traits (a hypothetical defence of the position: “Yes there were all sorts of bad things like racism, lack of women’s rights, etc. But that’s behind us now and if I do or did not believe in or participate in such things, I should be left alone and the government should get out of it”) — a textbook member is Clint Eastwood, who can strangely reconcile the slumming with bluesmen activities with his homegrown conservatism. What this leads to is the sort of schizophrenia that the following two news pieces bring out. On the one hand, he stands guilty of leaving out (and ignoring when reminded) black participation in WW2, in his new movie:

Guardian | Where have all the black soldiers gone?

Sadly, Sgt McPhatter’s experience is not mirrored in Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s big-budget, Oscar-tipped film of the battle for the Japanese island that opened on Friday in the US. While the film’s battle scenes show scores of young soldiers in combat, none of them are African-American. Yet almost 900 African-American troops took part in the battle of Iwo Jima, including Sgt McPhatter.

The film tells the story of the raising of the stars and stripes over Mount Suribachi at the tip of the island. The moment was captured in a photograph that became a symbol of the US war effort. Eastwood’s film follows the marines in the picture, including the Native American Ira Hayes, as they were removed from combat operations to promote the sale of government war bonds.

Mr McPhatter, who went on to serve in Vietnam and rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the US navy, even had a part in the raising of the flag. “The man who put the first flag up on Iwo Jima got a piece of pipe from me to put the flag up on,” he says. That, too, is absent from the film.

[…]

Yvonne Latty, a New York University professor and author of We Were There: Voices of African-American Veterans (2004), wrote to Eastwood and the film’s producers pleading with them to include the experience of black soldiers. HarperCollins, the book’s publishers, sent the director a copy, but never heard back.

“It would take only a couple of extras and everyone would be happy,” she said. “No one’s asking for them to be the stars of the movies, but at least show that they were there. This is the way a new generation will think about Iwo Jima. Once again it will be that African-American people did not serve, that we were absent. It’s a lie.”

The first chapter to James Bradley’s book Flags of Our Fathers, which forms the basis of the movie, opens with a quotation from president Harry Truman. “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” It would provide a fitting endnote to Eastwood’s film.

On the other, we have his fellow conservatives unhappy with his historical revisionism and bleeding-heart liberalism:

The Australian: Republican ragging for bleeding heart Clint

MORE than 50 years after he first appeared in Hollywood as a bright young Republican, Clint Eastwood has been attacked by his old allies as a bleeding heart liberal for his latest film, Flags of Our Fathers.

The $US75 million ($100 million) film, which opened in 1800 cinemas in the US at the weekend, focuses not only on the World War II battle of Iwo Jima but also on the fate of a Native American soldier who, Eastwood suggests, was maltreated by the military after the war.

The Australian article ends with a quote from Unforgiven that immediately came to my mind too:

“The best I can do is quote a line from my movie Unforgiven, where one character says, ‘Deserve’s got nothing to do with it’.”

[ Link ]

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Oct 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Billmon on Powell and McCain

Billmon has a great post (Whiskey Bar: Flunking History) at the Whiskey Bar (what better way to spend your Sunday evening!) that covers U.S mixed history of wars and occupations, Powell and McCain’s spin on them, and ends with a timely assessment of Mr. Straight Talk:

Whiskey Bar: Flunking History

That’s one of the reasons why I tend to regard McCain as the most dangerous man in America — even more so than Cheney and Rumsfeld. Not because he isn’t a “straight shooter” (he’s certainly devious enough about advancing his personal political ambitions) but because when it comes to the cult of self-righteous American power, I think he’s the straightest shooter in the bunch — literally.

Go read the whole thing: [ Link ]

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Oct 21st, 2006 by ravi
Speaking English if not for France?

Saving this for future searches… need to do some fact-checking. Below is part of an essay that lists the large debt owed to France for the success of the American Revolution (now, France was not helping the revolutionaries out for entirely altruistic motives, but then again, in modern political reductionism good deeds have to be justified as serving self-interest anyway!):

Am Rev Essays–Carp

[…]

Third, the American Revolution was also a world war. With the American victory at Saratoga in 1778, France entered the war on the American side. The French wanted to avenge its defeat in 1763 at the hands of the British in the Seven Years’ War. It had been secretly supplying the Americans with military supplies since 1775 awaiting an opportunity to side openly with the revolting Americans. By 1780, both Holland and Spain joined the French and Americans. (The Spanish, it is true, were a little hesitant to make war against another colonial power, but the possibility of destroying British trade hegemony was too powerful to resist. The Spanish monarchy would regret its decision in the nineteenth century when its own colonies would revolt citing the American example). With their seafaring fleets, America’s European allies attacked British possessions in the West Indies, Africa, and India, thus spreading the war over the face of the globe.

Historians also stress the importance of the direct assistance that the European allies gave to the Americans in their victory over the British. It is probably not going too far to say that America owes its independence to foreign intervention and aid, especially from France. The French monarchy sent arms, clothing, and ammunition to America; it also sent soldiers and the French Navy. Most importantly, the French kept the United States government solvent by lending it the money to keep the Revolution alive. The magnitude of French support of the American Revolution can be glimpsed at the battle of Yorktown. There, the majority of George Washington’s 15,000 man Continental Army were French soldiers. Washington’s men were clothed by the French, the rifles they used were French, and French gold paid their wages. Nor must we forget that it was the French Navy that trapped Cornwallis’s soldiers at Yorktown by preventing English ships sent from New York from rescuing the British army. Perhaps the final irony of the French monarchy’s assistance to America (and proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished) is that it led to the financial collapse of the French ancien regime. And the bankruptcy of Louis XVI was one of the major causes of the French Revolution.

[…]

[ Link ]

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Aug 18th, 2006 by ravi
BS on BSD

The big names at LinuxWorld seem to be getting a bit defensive about their baby, as they hold forth on why Linux “succeeded” where BSD “failed”. This “success” is attributed to everything from the sex appeal of Linus Torvalds to the purported development model. BSD’s “failure” is, naturally, a failure on these fronts (and perhaps unrelated to the AT&T lawsuits and ensuing qaugmire?).

Any rhetorical adventure that includes Eric Raymond at the forefront is (to me) to be taken with a good dose of salt, and that is surely true of this discussion. The premature news of BSD’s demise is ill-substantiated by the points offered nor is it empirically evident. Perhaps anticipating the MacOS X (built around BSD and Mach) issue, one of the speakers notes:

“If Mac and Windows didn’t suck, people would’ve used them,” DiBona said.

Eh, wot? This while predicting that Linux desktops “will” be in the 15% range in 5 years. Any guesses on what the Windows and MacOS X shares of the desktop market is, today?

At least one of them had enough decency to address what Richard Stallman has correctly insisted on for years:

For Hohndel three key factors that fostered the rise of Linux: […] the GNU toolchain, without which none of Linux would have happened.

I think it was last week that InformationWeek gave us their take on the greatest software ever written:

So there you have it: The single Greatest Piece of Software Ever, with the broadest impact on the world, was BSD 4.3. Other Unixes were bigger commercial successes. But as the cumulative accomplishment of the BSD systems, 4.3 represented an unmatched peak of innovation. BSD 4.3 represents the single biggest theoretical undergirder of the Internet. Moreover, the passion that surrounds Linux and open source code is a direct offshoot of the ideas that created BSD: a love for the power of computing and a belief that it should be a freely available extension of man’s intellectual powers–a force that changes his place in the universe.

Raymond is a smart guy, but I think the above (last sentence) is much more inspiring and (in the long run) sustaining than Raymond’s “whatever compromise is necessary”. The latter is nothing more than a “corporate lite” approach while Stallman (with all his faults) offers a higher vision.

Just my 2 cents.

[Link]

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Aug 15th, 2006 by ravi
More on Hezbollah

Writing on AlterNet, Stephen Zunes traces the history and evolution of Hezbollah and questions the motivation behind the U.S congressional attitude towards the organisation:

Was Hezbollah a Legitimate Target?

The Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress have gone on record defending Israel’s assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure as a means of attacking Hezbollah “terrorists.” Unlike the major Palestinian Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah forces haven’t killed any Israeli civilians for more than a decade. Indeed, a 2002 Congressional Research Service report noted, in its analysis of Hezbollah, that “no major terrorist attacks have been attributed to it since 1994.” The most recent State Department report on international terrorism also fails to note any acts of terrorism by Hezbollah since that time except for unsubstantiated claims that a Hezbollah member was a participant in a June 1996 attack on the U.S. Air Force dormitory at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

On Hezbollah action outside Lebanon:

In reality, other than a number of assassinations of political opponents in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, it is highly debatable whether Hezbollah has ever launched a terrorist attack outside of Lebanon. The United States alleges as one of its stronger cases that Hezbollah was involved in two major bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina: the Israeli embassy in 1993 and a Jewish community center in 1994, both resulting in scores of fatalities. Despite longstanding investigations by Argentine officials, including testimony by hundreds of eyewitnesses and two lengthy trials, no convincing evidence emerged that implicated Hezbollah. The more likely suspects are extreme right-wing elements of the Argentine military, which has a notorious history of anti-Semitism.

On the validity of congressional resolutions:

In March of last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution by an overwhelming 380-3 margin condemning “the continuous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah.” Despite contacting scores of Congressional offices asking them to cite any examples of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah at any time during the past decade, no one on Capitol Hill with whom I have communicated has been able to cite any.

On the history of U.S involvement in Lebanon and the creation of Hezbollah:

Hezbollah did not exist until four years after Israel first invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in 1978. The movement grew dramatically following Israel’s more extensive U.S.-backed invasion and occupation of the central part of the country in 1982 and the subsequent intervention by U.S. Marines to prop up a weak Israeli-installed government. In forcing the departure of the armed forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization and destroying the broad, left-leaning, secular Lebanese National Movement, the U.S. and Israeli interventions created a vacuum in which sectarian groups like Hezbollah could grow.

On Hezbollah attacks:

The Hezbollah also periodically fired shells into Israel proper, some of which killed and injured civilians. Virtually all these attacks, however, were in direct retaliation for large-scale Israeli attacks against Lebanese civilians.

[Link]

(As can be seen above, I have started adding an explicit [Link] to the original/source for quoted material, a la Boing Boing. The heading of the quoted text will continue to be linked to the original, also).

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Jun 5th, 2006 by ravi
Iran and the West

Below is an excerpt from the NYT about the history of Western meddling in Iran, with a sub-theme (reflected in the title) that is inessential to basic understanding of the politics and motivation of all parties.

The Persian Complex – New York Times
[…]

We tend to forget that Iran's insistence on its sovereign right to develop nuclear power is in effect a national pursuit for empowerment, a pursuit informed by at least two centuries of military aggression, domestic meddling, skullduggery and, not least, technological denial by the West. Every schoolchild in Iran knows about the C.I.A.-sponsored 1953 coup that toppled Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Even an Iranian with little interest in his or her past is conscious of how Iran throughout the 19th and 20th centuries served as a playground for the Great Game.

Iranians also know that, hard as it may be for latter-day Americans and Europeans to believe, from the 1870's to the 1920's Russia and Britain deprived Iran of even basic technology like the railroad, which was then a key to economic development. At various times, both powers jealously opposed a trans-Iranian railroad because they thought it would threaten their ever-expanding imperial frontiers. When it was finally built, the British, Russian (and American) occupying forces during the Second World War made full use of it (free of charge), calling Iran a "bridge of victory" over Nazi Germany. They did so, of course, after Winston Churchill forced the man who built the railroad, Reza Shah Pahlavi, to abdicate and unceremoniously kicked him out of the country.

Not long after, a similar Western denial of Iran's economic sovereignty resulted in a dramatic showdown that had fatal consequences for the country's fragile democracy and left lasting scars on its national consciousness. The oil nationalization movement of 1951 to 1953 under Mossadegh was opposed by Britain, and eventually by its partner in profit, the United States, with the same self-righteousness that today colors their views of the Iranian yearning for nuclear energy.

[…]

A few other worthwhile sources of information:

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