George Orwell’s Blog

5 years of Orwell’s diaries are being serialised. This really is a wonderful idea and I have this instantly added to my ultra-exclusive daily feed list:

The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. From 9th August 2008, Orwell’s domestic and political diaries (from 9th August 1938 until October 1942) will be posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written.

Orwell’s ‘domestic’ diaries begin on 9th August 1938/2008; his ‘political’ diaries (which are further categorised as ‘Morocco’, ‘Pre-war’ and ‘Wartime’) begin on 7th September 1938/2008.

The diaries are exactly as Orwell wrote them. Where there are original spelling errors, they are indicated by a ° following the offending word.

We are extremely grateful to Peter Davison, whose footnotes (from the Complete Works) are used with his permission. Where the Orwell Prize has attached additional footnotes, they are clearly indicated.

Not only do we have 5 years of Orwellian goodness, but the “blog” is fully annotated with links to supporting materials, maps and media.

Serbia concerned over Georgian crisis

This is a new sinister building on Bulevar Despota Stefana (29th November). It looks like it was inspired by the Death Star and will be used an Orwellian ministry.

This is a new sinister building on Bulevar Despota Stefana (29th November). It looks like it was inspired by the Death Star and will be used an Orwellian ministry.

I have refrained from commenting about the Georgia situation because so often the first draft of history (the media’s) is bunk.

It is curious though to see all sides engaging in rank hypocrisy and the understandable extent to which both sides are using the Balkans and its rhetoric in this Caucasian crisis.

The Russians are accusing the Georgians of committing “genocide” in South Ossetia. Whilst this is obviously rubbish it is a testament to how degraded the word has become thanks to its abuse in the Balkans. The Georgians counter that they are being “Ethnically Cleansed” from South Ossetia [see this example BBC article for uses of both].

The Russians are using the rhetoric the West used in Kosovo to justify its actions in Georgia. The West, caught as it is in a trap of its own making, desperately rejects the Kosovo analogies with Georgia,  repeating the “unique case” plea, which is nonsense. There is outrage that Russia is redrawing borderers in Europe, some reporting for the first time since Stalin and Hitler, yet this is precisely what happened in Kosovo.

So what is being done to Georgia is as unjust and illegal as what happened  in Kosovo, and both situations stink.

Here are few things I believe:

  • The Russians have given up on Kosovo (and Serbia). There is no way they can offer even token support for Kosovo after their actions in Georgia and their recognition of the secessionists.
  • Russia is turning its attention away from the Balkans to its periphery (Baltics, Caucasus, the *stans and Ukraine) and it is using the Kosovo precedent to paralyse the West.
  • This new instability and sudden legitimacy for breakaway regions could ignite the Balkans if Republika Srpska decided to secede from Bosnia and join Serbia or Herzegovina decided to join Croatia.

let me leave you with an example of the sort of rubbish being touted in the papers:

“Kosovo is a unique case and cannot be compared to any other in the world,” Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu told Kosovo TV. “The status of Kosovo was solved through international mediation.”

Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after it launched a military campaign in the province against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian separatists. Slobodan Milosevic, president at the time, was forced to pull out of Kosovo after NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days in retaliation for its brutality to civilians in Kosovo.

The new pro-Western Serbian leadership, which came in after Milosevic was ousted in 2000, has refrained from using force in Kosovo but has refused to give up its claim on the territory it considers the cradle of its religion and statehood.”

The Kosovo situation is far from unique, it is commonplace. If 78 days of bombing is international mediation then what is gun-boat diplomacy?  Serbia was not bombed because of brutality but because of alleged brutality. The bombing was based on lies and gross exaggerations. There were no more mass murders of civilians s alleged in the causus belli than there were WMDs in Iraq. Since 2000 Serbia has had a fully democratic and liberal regime with not one single act of aggression. During that same period the government and authorities in Kosovo have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of up to 200,000 Serbs, Roma and Gorani from Kosovo. So who has refrained from violence then?

Serbia concerned over Georgian crisis – International Herald Tribune

Georgia and Kosovo: A Single Intertwined Crisis By George Friedman

In a brilliant article by Stratfor’s George Friedman, we have the most lucid argument I have seen so far for the direct link between Kosovo and Georgia:

GEORGIA AND KOSOVO: A SINGLE INTERTWINED CRISIS By George Friedman

Here are the first two paragraphs:

The Russo-Georgian war was rooted in broad geopolitical processes. In large part it was simply the result of the cyclical reassertion of Russian power. The Russian empire — czarist and Soviet — expanded to its borders in the 17th and 19th centuries. It collapsed in 1992. The Western powers wanted to make the disintegration permanent. It was inevitable that Russia would, in due course, want to reassert its claims. That it happened in Georgia was simply the result of circumstance.

There is, however, another context within which to view this, the context of Russian perceptions of U.S. and European intentions and of U.S. and European perceptions of Russian capabilities. This context shaped the policies that led to the Russo-Georgian war. And those attitudes can only be understood if we trace the question of Kosovo, because the Russo-Georgian war was forged over the last decade over the Kosovo question.

Please do yourselves a favour and go and read the article in full.

Georgia and Kosovo: A Single Intertwined Crisis By George Friedman

A detail from a recent BELEF streetart exhibition

A detail from a recent BELEF streetart exhibition

In a brilliant article by Stratfor’s George Friedman, we have the most lucid argument I have seen so far for the direct link between Kosovo and Georgia:

GEORGIA AND KOSOVO: A SINGLE INTERTWINED CRISIS By George Friedman

Here are the first two paragraphs:

The Russo-Georgian war was rooted in broad geopolitical processes. In large part it was simply the result of the cyclical reassertion of Russian power. The Russian empire — czarist and Soviet — expanded to its borders in the 17th and 19th centuries. It collapsed in 1992. The Western powers wanted to make the disintegration permanent. It was inevitable that Russia would, in due course, want to reassert its claims. That it happened in Georgia was simply the result of circumstance.

There is, however, another context within which to view this, the context of Russian perceptions of U.S. and European intentions and of U.S. and European perceptions of Russian capabilities. This context shaped the policies that led to the Russo-Georgian war. And those attitudes can only be understood if we trace the question of Kosovo, because the Russo-Georgian war was forged over the last decade over the Kosovo question.

Please do yourselves a favour and go and read the article in full.

The Generalist: CULT BOOKS: Robin Jenkins, David Wheldon, Andrew Martin, Chandler Brossard and Gerald Kersh

The Generalist (John May) covers one of my favourite authors, Gerald Kersh, as part of his Cult Books overview:

First published in 1938, this paperback edition of ‘Night and the City’ by Gerald Kersh (1911-1968) was produced by Braniac Books in 1993.

It features on the cover a still from a movie version of the book, starring Robert de Niro and Jessica Lange, directed by Irwin Winkler [who I had the pleasure of interviewing in California in 1979, when he was directing ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – another story to be told].

It had previously been filmed in 1950 by Jules Dassin with Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney and Herbert Lom, which is considered a film noir classic. Kersh got paid for the film rights but then discovered when he read the script that they had thrown away the whole story, retaining only the title.

According to Fantastic Fiction: ‘Gerald Kersh was born in Teddington-on-Thames, London and died penniless as an American citizen in Kingston, New York. He wrote over 1,000 articles, 400 short stories, and 19 novels. His account of infantry training They Die With Their Boots Clean (1941), became an instant best-seller during World War Two, and launched Kersh on a glittering career. ‘

According the biographical note in the above paperback, ‘Kersh’s life was as strange and varied as his writing. His many occupations included stints as a nightcoub bouncer, a short-order cook, a wrestler, a soldier.’

The entry in ‘The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction’ calls him ‘a 20th century Edgar Allen Poe’, a comparison and connection which I think would be hard to justify. It says he began writing novels on toilet paper in Soho bars and that Anthony Burgess considered his best-known work ‘Fowler’s End’ to be ‘one of the best comic novels of the century’, yet his versatility and wierdness counted against him. ‘His fiction included disguised army reminiscences, noirush underworld tales and short stories in which midgets fight for the love of a beautiful multiple amputee and a ventriloquist’s relationship with his dummy takes a strange turn.’

The best source of information on the web about Gerald Kersh is ‘The Nights and Cities of Gerald Kersh’, which is hosted by a site devoted to the SF writer and anthologist Harlan Ellison. Kersh was Ellison’s favourite writer. The Kersh material, assembled by Paul Duncan, has not been updated since 1999. It says that he is writing a biography of Kersh based on research assembled over the ‘last six years.’ I have sent him an e-mail to see what has happened.
[The Wikipedia entry on Kersh is drawn from the above.]

[From The Generalist: CULT BOOKS: Robin Jenkins, David Wheldon, Andrew Martin, Chandler Brossard and Gerald Kersh]

Computer Scientists Propose New Way to Build Datacenters

Interesting developments in the Data Center design. Data Centers and their efficiency – data and electrical – are rapidly coming to be the number on priority for IT design specialists:

Typically, computers are connected by a network architecture that consists of a “tree” of routing and switching elements regulated by specialized equipment, with expensive, non-commodity switches at the top of the hierarchy. But even with the highest-end IP switches and routers, the networks can only support a small fraction of the combined bandwidth available to end hosts. This limits the overall cluster size, while still incurring considerable costs. Application design is further complicated by non-uniform bandwidth among datacenter nodes, which limits overall system performance.

The UC San Diego researchers’ envision creating a datacenter that will have scalable interconnection bandwidth, making it possible for an arbitrary host in the datacenter to communicate with any other host in the network at the full bandwidth of its local network interface. Their approach requires no modifications to the end-host network interface, operating system or applications, and is fully backward compatible with Ethernet, IP and TCP. Ideally, the datacenter would also use inexpensive, off-the-shelf Ethernet switches as the basis for large-scale datacenter networks, thereby replacing high-end switches in much the way that commodity personal computers have displaced supercomputers for high-end computing environments.

[From HPCwire: Computer Scientists Propose New Way to Build Datacenters]

How to build and customize your own PBX with Asterisk

Geek.com have updated their classic tutorial on how to set up your own PBX (Private Branch Exchange) or switchboard phone system.

This article demonstrates how easy it is to roll your own PBX in about an hour or two. Provided that the instructions herein are followed carefully, you too should be able to set up your very own switchboard/PBX system and all for the cost of the target hardware of your choice.

[From Feature: How to build and customize your own PBX with Asterisk – UPDATED | Geek.com]

We have just fully virtualized our office using PBX in a Flash . Customers call local numbers and are routed invisibly to wherever our operation is awake at that time. We have every feature one would expect from a top of the range Switchboard system, but it is completely free.

We use Gradwell.com and Voipfone.co.uk as VoIP trunking providers that terminate calls to the PSTN (allow us to call and receive calls form ordinary phones).

Everything is hosted on a tiny and inexpensive Virtual Grid Server (VGS) , but could as easily be hosted on an ancient and unused old Pentium 2 with a decent internet connection.

[UPDATE: Jarvis Whyte alerted me to a superb looking application called CallButler, open source PBX built on .NET. If you are a windows house, this may well be perferct for you. Thanks Jarvis.]

Childhood’s End in the UK

Theordore Dalrymple dispatches another desperately bleak report from the UK, this time of the theme of how dreadful it is to be a child in Britain:

…in November 2007 [Fiona MacKeown] went on a six-month vacation to Goa, India, with her boyfriend and eight of her nine children by five different fathers, none of whom ever contributed financially for long to the children’s upkeep. (The child left behind—her eldest, at 19—was a drug addict.) She received $50,000 in welfare benefits a year, and doubtless decided—quite rationally, under the circumstances—that the money would go further, and that life would thus be more agreeable, in Goa than in her native Devon.

Reaching Goa, MacKeown soon decided to travel with seven of her children to Kerala, leaving behind one of them, 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling, to live with a tour guide ten years her elder, whom the mother had known for only a short time. Scarlett reportedly claimed to have had sex with this man only because she needed a roof over her head. According to a witness, she was constantly on drugs; and one night, she went to a bar where she drank a lot and took several different illicit drugs, including LSD, cocaine, and pot. She was seen leaving the bar late, almost certainly intoxicated.

The next morning, her body turned up on a beach. At first, the local police maintained that she had drowned while high, but further examination proved that someone had raped and then forcibly drowned her. So far, three people have been arrested in the investigation, which is continuing.

Childhood’s End by Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal Summer 2008

Email Prioritizer

First published on Combat Consulting

New gimmick or possibly useful plugin for Outlook 2007 (Exchange) users:  Email Prioritizer

Email Prioritizer is a plug-in for Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 (running on Exchange Server) that helps you manage email overload. This concept test provides a “do not disturb” button that temporarily pauses new email arrival, and prioritizes email with a 0-3 star rating system. We hope this prototype helps you focus on the emails that are most important to you.

Meanwhile, another toy from Microsoft labs is causing a stir: PhotoSynth

Imagine being able to share the places and things you love using the cinematic quality of a movie, the control of a video game, and the mind-blowing detail of the real world. With nothing more than a bunch of photos, Photosynth creates an amazing new experience.

It actually is pretty cool, but if unless you are running Windows XP or Vista on powerful hardware, don’t bother, it will not work.

Mac user? Only BootCamp runs it, it will not work on Parallels of VMWare.

Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett – religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas

The radio program and podcast Speaking of Faith from  American Public Media is one of my favourite podcasts. I am not even a believer in God, yet these programs feature magnificent people and are packed with wisdom and brilliance.

Below is a selection of some of my favourites:

 

The Spiritual Audacity of Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Joshua Heschel insisted that the opposite of good is not evil, it is indifference. Born into an esteemed Hasidic family in Poland in 1907, he was a mystic who wrote transcendent, poetic words about God. At the same time, he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and organized religious leadership against the war in Vietnam, embodying the social activism of the biblical prophets he studied. We explore Heschel’s teachings and his prophetic legacy — his "spiritual audacity" — for people in our time.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Forcibly exiled from his native country, Zen master and poet Thich Nhat Hanh recently visited Vietnam for the first time in nearly 40 years. In 2003, Speaking of Faith took a radio pilgrimage with the Buddhist monk at a Christian conference center in a lakeside setting of rural Wisconsin. Thich Nhat Hanh offers stark, gentle wisdom for living in a world of anger and violence. Here, he discusses the concepts of "engaged Buddhism," "being peace," and "mindfulness."

A History of Doubt

Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht says that as a scholar she always noticed the "shadow history" of doubt out of the corner of her eye. She shows how non-belief, skepticism, and doubt have paralleled and at times shaped the world’s great religious and secular belief systems. She suggests that only in modern time has doubt been narrowly equated with a complete rejection of faith, or a broader sense of mystery.

L’Arche

Forty years ago in France, philosopher Jean Vanier founded an international movement, L’Arche. The L’Arche community in Clinton, Iowa is part of this movement — people of faith living and worshipping alongside developmentally handicapped adults. There are now over 120 L’Arche communities in 18 countries. The community in Clinton is one of the oldest and most rural of the 14 American communities.

Moral man and Immoral Society: Rediscovering Reinhold Niebuhr

We explore the ideas and present-day relevance of 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, an influential, boundary-crossing voice in American public life. Niebuhr created the term "Christian realism:" a middle path between religious idealism and arrogance. Exploring his wide appeal, three distinctive voices describe Niebuhr’s legacy and ask what insights he brings to the political and religious dynamics of the early 21st century.

The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi

The 13th-century Muslim mystic and poet Rumi has long shaped Muslims around the world and has now become popular in the West. Rumi created a new language of love within the Islamic mystical tradition of Sufism. We hear his poetry as we delve into his world and listen for its echoes in our own.

Whale Songs and Elephant Loves

Trained as a musician, acoustic biologist Katy Payne was first to discover that humpback whales compose ever-changing song to communicate, and first to understand that elephants communicate with one another across long distances by infrasound. We hear what she has learned about life in this world from two of its largest and most mysterious creatures.

Reflections of a British Muslim Extremist

British activist Ed Husain was seduced, at the age of 16, by revolutionary Islamist ideals that flourished at the heart of educated British culture. Yet he later shrank back from radicalism after coming close to a murder and watching people he loved become suicide bombers. He dug deeper into Islamic spirituality, and now offers a fresh and daring perspective on the way forward.

Joe Carter and the Legacy of the African-American Spritual

The spiritual is celebrated in American culture and beyond. It is the source from which gospel, jazz, blues, and hip-hop evolved. It was born in the American South, created by slaves, bards whose names history never recorded. The organizing concept of this music is not the melody of Europe, but the rhythm of Africa. And the theology conveyed in these songs is a potent mix of African spirituality, Hebrew narrative, Christian doctrine, and an extreme experience of human suffering.

We celebrate the life of Joe Carter, who explored the meaning of the Negro spiritual in word and song — through its hidden meanings, as well as its beauty, lament, and hope.

The Inner Landscape of Beauty

John O’Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher beloved for his book Anam Cara — Gaelic for "soul friend" — and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. Before his untimely death this year, he spoke with Krista in our studios. And so this hour has become a remembrance of him. But John O’Donohue had a very Celtic, lifelong fascination with what he called "the invisible world." And he would also surely see this also as a serendipitous continuation of his life’s work — of bringing ancient Celtic wisdom to modern confusions and longings.