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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

I was wondering: should I install the belgian Coronalert app to help me know whether or not I have been in contact with COVID-19 contaminators? Many solutions to such “contact tracing” apps from all over the world have been found to be guilty of privacy invasions. I like to be on the side of the maximum privacy camp, so I went looking for serious discussions about the Belgian app. Sorry to say so, but the only valid discussion I could find was the report of the official security assessment, on the website of the application:

https://coronalert.be/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Report-Coronalert-Application-Security-Assessment-Public-Report_vFINAL.pdf

The report seems to be well done, and the conclusions in it are encouraging: there seem to be no serious issues when it comes to the security of the app and its data. I would have loved to see an independent review by one or more security researchers… But in the meantime it won’t hurt to install this; let’s just hope it does not drain the battery too much!

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Democracy only dies if a majority believe it no longer exists, or deem it not worth the effort to keep it alive. Dictators become dictators by puffing up their chests and talking tougher than they can walk. Mussolini marched on Rome with a mere 30,000 men; the authorities believed him when he said he had 300,000, so they gave in. “Give them faith that mountains can be moved,” Mussolini said, “they will accept that mountains are moveable. Thus an illusion may become reality.”

The article “The Strongman Con: How to stop worrying about Trump stealing the election” where this quote comes from is worth reading from start to finish!

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Nihil Novum Sub Sole

You might think that I’m using a biblical reference to write about how special these Corona times are (technically, we should call that SARS-CoV-2 times, but it’s too late to change what we hear and read more than once every day in 2020). The opposite is true: this is not the first pandemic in human history, and it may not be the last one either, unless humanity finally smartens up and decides to figure out how to avoid them in the future.

In the seventeenth century, the bubonic plague ravaged Europe. In those days, Tuscany’s wine merchants used “sportelle“, or “buchette del vino” as they were named later, to sell wine in a manner that protected as best as possible from contagion: through a small window in the wall or a door, separate from the normal shop. Merchants collected the payment for the wine in metal recipients, so that they could disinfect the coins with vinegar…

A picture from the buchettedelvino.org website: “A cup of ice cream is passed through the Wine Window of the Vivoli ice cream parlor in Via delle Stinche” (Click on the image to go to the website)

Some of the remaining buchette are put to good use again in 2020, in order to sell ice cream, coffee and drinks!

The website of the cultural association “Buchette del Vino” has more to tell about these little windows, and I will admit that it is quite intriguing to learn about such a tangible remnant of the cultural changes caused by a pandemic. I wonder: will the year 2020 also produce  tangible cultural changes lasting centuries?

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You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.

John Robert Lewis (February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020), in the New York Times of July 30, 2020

Ignoring the history you don’t like is not a victimless act, and a history of America that ignores white supremacy is a white supremacist’s history of America. Which matters, because while it might seem obvious history isn’t over yet. It’s still being written.

John Oliver, on in the video “Last Week Tonight” of August 2, 2020 on YouTube

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The Virus Plays A Sad Song

Composer James Beckwith has been at work with the COVID-19 infection and mortality numbers. You could say that he lets the virus play a tune – and it’s not a pretty melody. Let this be a warning to all those who think that the epidemic is gone, or the virus weakened: the numbers are not getting better after June (even if that might seem to be the case in your little corner of the world)!

I hope James can provide one or more updated versions in the future.

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There are many reasons to do away a with cash money in modern society. One of those reasons has been reinforced in these Corona times: paper bills and metal coins can be a transmission vector for infectious diseases. The discussion about pros and cons is certainly not yet over, as evidenced on Wikipedia.

Let me add another reason not to throw out coins right away. Many older photo cameras will demand that you use a coin to open and close their battery compartment:

So yes, cash – even those small almost worthless coins – can be more than just money: they are a very useful tool ;-)

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May 1st: Labour Day!

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Yesterday, I have been informed that one of my best friends has been found dead in his appartement. I have known him almost all my life, and we have done many things together: we went to school together, sitting in the same class for twelve years; we went together on holidays and trips, first with our parents, and later with friends or just the two of us; we talked about books and people and movies and literature and art and … life. He was smart, he had a phenomenal memory, he was able to see through fake reasoning and irrelevant propositions in a debate, he fiercely defended a rational and scientific approach to anything, and he always strived to make the world a better place for all people.

Making the world a better place was very important to him. How ironic then, that the Corona pandemic and the measures to fight it played a part in his dead. No, he was not infected. But he was a “loner”, in more than one meaning of the word. He had no partner, no children, no living parents, no siblings, and just a few friends… He was more of an observer of crowds than someone to voluntarily mingle and interact with people. Something from his past – we’ll never know what – weighed heavily on him, rendering him moody and depressed. But he still loved a good talk, and we had many, if not always in person.

Not being able to retreat to his caravan during the weekend and his days off work, in the woods and calm of the countryside, during the last weeks was very hard on him – he told me as much 14 days ago. Not being able to visit his friends for the weekly dinner probably downed his spirits as well.

The so-called “social distancing” we all have to practice to counter the pandemic is without any doubt required if we want to limit the stress the disease can put on our lives and the economy. But it is so badly named: we don’t need “social” distancing, we need “physical distancing”! Man is a social animal, and in times like these meaningful social contacts are essential to fight the limitations that the war on the virus induces in our mind and spirit. If we can’t hug our family and friends in person, then at least we have to call them, write letters and emails, interact with them to let them know we care, to tell them that soon things will be better. Not just once, but often. Because if we fail to do that, I fear my friend won’t be the last one to die alone, while feeling abandoned and desperate…

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M*A*S*H Always Has An Answer ;-)

I was a fan when the series was aired here in Belgium, and I’m happy to see that M*A*S*H still is relevant today!

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The Guardian writes up the story: “Ukraine’s lost photos: restored images reveal Soviet-era lives“. There are some more rescued photographs from what were probably happier days in Ukraine on the website of the man who found them: Samuel Eder. I hope he continues to expand the collection shown on his site, if only because it gives a glimpse into life in a region and period that is not very known to us.

Click on the image to go to Samuel Eder’s website for more rescued treasures

 

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Resistance Is Not Futile

The name ‘Calmeyer’ sounds strangely familiar to my ears, but I can’t remember why. Have I heard about Hans Calmeyer before? Possibly, but that’s no reason not to be interested in the publication of a book about this man: “Seattleite, 92, finally tells story of German who saved more Jews during the Holocaust than Schindler“.

I have not (yet) read the book “Shedding Our Stars: The Story of Hans Calmeyer and How He Saved Thousands of Families Like Mine“, which is the subject of the article, or a biography of Calmeyer. But I don’t need to read such books to know that Calmeyer, like Schindler and many others, were living proof of the fact that the evils of racism and dictatorship (and so much worse) were visible to contemporaries of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Better yet: people not just knew, but also resisted and fought that evil in one way or another. That does not make them heroes – or perhaps it does: will you have the courage to do the same if the time comes?

(Thanks for the pointer, BoingBoing)

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Of course I endorse the “Contract for the Web” – head over to https://contractfortheweb.org/ to do the same!

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Image of a blog post from Dave Winer

(Click on the image to see more of Dave Winer’s blog)

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The past few days I have been repeatedly called by criminals posing as “technical support people”, mainly for Microsoft – one said they called from my internet provider, but couldn’t explain why he spoke English although my provider should do its business with me in Dutch. I do wonder though: why is it that my home number is targeted just this week, after being ignored for many years? The callers all spoke English with an accent that I associate with India and Pakistan. I guess someone out there must have picked up a phone list from the past and said: hey, let’s try these numbers again.

Anyway, I had to think immediately of the solution to this problem that I read about in BoingBoing’s “Vacation scammer telemarketer spends 15 minutes talking to a bot”. The recording in that post is hilarious: it’s not just a Jolly Roger Phone Company bot replying to the caller, the bot takes the lead in the conversation while all kinds of interruptions are going on in the background.

Checking other samples from the other bots offered by the company shows that these are just as good (and just as funny). Too bad the Jolly Roger Phone Company service isn’t available here in Belgium!

By the way: isn’t it strange that phone companies are in no way responsible for helping these criminals?

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