Mental Distractions

27 May 2022

2022-05-27 Links of the day

In the firing zone: evictions begin in West Bank villages after court ruling

Earlier this month, Israel’s supreme court finally ruled in a two-decade-old legal case over the area’s fate: the land can be repurposed for military use, upholding the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) argument that Palestinians living here could not prove they were resident before the firing zone was established in 1981. The decision – one of the most significant on expulsions since the occupation began in 1967 – paved the way for the eviction of everyone living here.

New evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces - CNN

Adds to similar conclusions by Bellingcat, the AP.

Tags: links
24 May 2022


Blog backlog up to date

I have successfully passed all of the home-spun html entries from recent months into org-static-blog, meaning that I now have a continuous archive for the last three years. The ones from before that time can be found on WordPress. I don't plan to move more of them.

A website should be more that a blog, however - I would like to add new features as time goes by. My biggest dilemma is whether to bother with adding some sort of fediverse or social networking to the site; it's somewhat of a distraction, and it isn't really possible to do it in basic html like the rest of the site. The simplest format is Bob Mottram's Epicyon, if I want to get that working. But it looks like it would be necessary to add NGINX to the server. That's possible too, it seems: one can have more than a single web servre protocol running on a server.

A Life Full of Holes, by Paul Bowles

I finished that today. It isn't really clear to me whether he wrote the book under a fictional pseudonym, or whether the Magrebi storyteller was for real. Anyway, it's a great book, written in a very original style. I could easily imagine a Bedouin shepherd relating the story. It's poignant and creates great sympathy for the narrator. Usually a book like this, written by a western writer would be suspect of disguised racism, condescension or orientalism, but it's not what I feel here. He doesn't paint a pretty picture of the westerners, "the Nazarenes", who appear in the book, and doesn't romanticize the locals - mainly you think that he's telling it like it is. I think it most reminded me of a Nectar in a Sieve, a book by the Indian writer Kamala Markandaya that I read years ago, though A Life Full of Holes is less tragic.

Bad News

The Guardian brings today terrible stories of Ukraine, of Uyghurs, of Sudan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. The world is full of sorrow. So let's party?

That wouldn't be for me to say, since troubles are more likely to make me turn inward. But either way, this is not the "Let's fix things" mentality that we probably need.

Tags: blogging books
20 May 2022


Modern travel

I decided to join D for part of her planned trip to Plum Village, so I'll be there for her "Lamp Transmission" ceremony. That meant booking flights. There are less options today, following the pandemic, and many trips to Bordeaux involve travel of 20 - 30 hours or more. I struggled for a couple of hours with Expedia, trying to find something cheap and convenient, but eventually gave up. D came to the rescue with E-Dreams, which, in this case, seemed to have more options with the cheapo companies like Veuling, Wiz and whatever. She was able to find a cheaper flight, which I eventually booked.

One thing I learned along the way is that it is much easier to book a flight to France than to order a rail ticket. (It's true that Air France offers rail arrangements sometimes instead of connecting flights.) I have previously had more success with the SNCF website (and previously have had their telephone app), but this time the experience was awful. First, in order to make any booking, one has to log in. For that to happen, after the password log-in they send a confirmation code by email. After that there's a CAPTCHA. That's already three kinds of verification. But a couple of minutes later, a message popped up telling me that I had been blocked, due to suspicious activity, so I simply had to give up. I was using an up-to-date Vivaldi browser, which uses the same rendering engine as Chrome and matches it for all other browsing features. I have Privacy Badger installed, but nothing that blocks ordinary javascript.

Travel is becoming quite a nightmare in our era. Booking rail tickets in France, India, and no doubt in many other countries, is a horrible experience dressed up in the guise of being sophisticatedly modern. Here in Israel we just had a foreign guest who took a bus from the local junction, only to discover that tickets can no longer be purchased on the bus itself. She managed to reach Jerusalem only due to the kindness of a passenger.

Plane, bus and rail companies, whether private or government-run are guilty of the worst form of ableism. Our modern pretenses against all kinds of discrimination against people with disabilities, are a complete sham. They challenge even mentally fit people with their byzantine arrangements, and only work very well if one is equipped with a smartphone full of surveillance apps. The situation is getting worse, not better. If all of this somehow helped to reduce carbon emissions, by making travel less popular, there might be an advantage, but the ones who travel most are not those who feel challenged by these difficulties. And the relative complexity and inconvenience of public ground transportation favors travel by planes and private cars.


I made good progress today, especially on the matter of file transfers. I discovered earlier that although WebDAV had seemed to work, it actually is only presenting the server folders in read-only format. I cannot change anything. The configuration there is too complex and I gave up on WebDAV just as I've given up on GIT, so it was back to FileZilla. Then I discovered Rsync, which, although I knew about it, had never actually used. It's powerful and amazing. It's also very quick (at least for what I need it for) and simple to use from the commandline, once you get the syntax right. Furthermore, it's something that I can execute from within Emacs (where I'm now composing this blog).

So now, for blog posts, I only need to a) save the file b) publish it locally and c) rsync it to the server. All of this happens within emacs itself. When I grow more proficient, I will probably set up a macro to handle these operations even more quickly. Update: done, easily enough. That's a nice thing about emacs, and probably the Lisp programming that underlies it - that it can be used on a simple level, but provides the opportunity to grow with it. When Stallman talks about the advantage in open source programs that the code is up-front and visible, people like me think that that's all well and good, but the majority of us are completely unable to read code. However when I look at Lisp code, understanding it seems within reach.

Browser colors

I noticed today that the colors in Vivaldi are brighter than those in SeaMonkey or Chrome. The blue color that I have been using in this blog appears purplish in Vivaldi. I tried to find something about this in the settings and it looks like there may be a configuration option for this, but I didn't succeed in changing anything.

Tags: software travel
18 May 2022

2022-05-18 Progress with the Server


Eventually I'm using an old EEEPC netbook for a new home server. It's many years old, but the battery life is still excellent, so it's less likely to suffer the kind of shocks that rendered my previous server disk unbootable.

I've been spending hours and days with this server project, but it's hard to remember what I've been doing. I tried for a long time to get Git to work, but eventually gave up. The explanation why would be too much trouble. I'll focus instead upon what's worked so far.

I was able to set up SSH. Uploading for now is via good old Filezilla, which is both easy and tiresome. Eventually I may try to set up an easier way through emacs or the command line.

Yesterday I searched for a simple web photo viewer. There are many, many of these on SourceForge, but the majority were developed years or decades ago, and development has stopped. The classic web platforms are, I think Coppermine, Lychee and Piwigo. I know Piwigo very well, but wanted something much simpler. I wanted to avoid databases and new programming frameworks where I would be dependent upon experts.

Eventually I settled on, a PHP program that renders directories as galleries without requiring a database. I've already set one up at

I think Novagallery will integrate nicely into my low tech site. It's lightweight and easily modifiable. Although it's free open source software I've purchased a license for it ($15) in order to support the developer.

Trip to the Galilee

That trip to the Lower Galilee shown in the photo album was nice. We went with Rosita from Italy and stayed the night in the Fawsy Inn in Nazareth. I should have taken some photos of that interesting building as well, but I felt rather lazy about photography on this trip.


The visit to the Tabor stream, at the bottom of a wadi that eventually empties into the Jordan river was amazing. We visited only a short stretch of it, descending from Kibbutz Gazit.

In the wadi grow various interesting flora. According to Wikipedia, one of these is asafoetida. But they mean the Ferula communis that grows everywhere in Israel/Palestine. It's a poisonous plant, that is sometimes mistakenly eaten by sheep - to their sorrow. True asafoetida (hing) is derived from other members of the Ferula family (again, according to Wikipedia). There was an interesting Guardian article this week about Sylphium, another long extinct Ferula (apparently), prized as herb in the Roman era, and growing only in one particular region of Eastern Libya.

Shireen Abu Akleh

I wrote a little about this earlier [1]. Eventually we have a statement [2] in English that is well-written and clear, and doesn't sound like propaganda. It represents my view well enough, but I needn't worry about that, since the village leadership take responsibility for it.

My own trivial conclusion from the killing of the journalist, and the violence against the pall bearers at the funeral, is that these are not just a reflection of the brutality and stupidity of Israel's security forces, but of deep-rooted attitudes in Israeli society.

The killing is not a one-off phenomenon but fits a pattern. It is the pattern, rather than the individual event, that demonstrates a complete disregard by Israelis demonstrate for Palestinian lives.

Israelis obsess about their own security but have been led to believe that this increases proportionally with the oppression of Palestinians. When a debacle like the Shireen Abu Akleh killing occurs, the government approaches it mainly as a public relations problem. First, spread doubt as to who fired the bullets, in the hope that the initial outcry will die down. Next, fake a willingness to call for an inquiry. In reality, almost all human rights violations and war crimes go unpunished. [update: now Israel says there is "no need" for an inquiry, and accepts the testimony of the army unit.]

Until basic attitudes change, Israel will continue to commit crimes that poison any hope for a reconciliation. That's not by chance. The Zionist project is not interested in reconciliation but only in dominance and the eventual elimination of Palestinians from their homeland. This is not a program that is ever going to succeed, but pursuing it serves short term political interests.

What most Israeli Jews want in their lives is peace and security, but they readily accept the lie that the best way to obtain these is the use of violence and force. In their world-view, the best defence is offence. Palestinians are primarily seen as a threat. They are grudgingly accepted by the state and into the family of humanity only when they serve in the army or stifle any signs of dissent. It's hard to be hopeful that this situation will ever change.

The Shireen Abu Akleh affair also highlighted the double-standards by which world media approaches such cases, as shown by Gawker's article [2]. But saying so risks drawing fire from right-wingers who will surely find opposing evidence that shows just the contrary. The Middle East conflict is just another arena for strengthening whatever political views you already hold.

As human beings we need to look at the way in which opinions become such an important facet of our identity.


[1] 2022-05-14 - Does my village have a right to express an opinion in my name?

[2]Statement regarding the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh - Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom

[3] The Media has a difficult time saying Israeli forces killed Shireen Abu Akleh

Tags: technology nature
15 May 2022

2022-05-15 - Server software

I've been looking at my various options regarding the home server; whether to try to restore my old Hubzilla installation, or something new. I have several old laptops lying around that could be used. I thought again to try to use Bob Mottram's freedombone/libreserver installation. It doesn't have Hubzilla, but does have another Zot/Nomad based platform called Roadhouse. But I instantly got stuck with that because his basic instruction for installation does not work, and the directions are unclear.

It may or may not be possible to restore the old installation, depending on how much damage there is to the disk. I'm afraid that I will plod through all the steps of using dd or ddrescue, only to find that it won't go anywhere.

I think the simplest will be to set up a new Debian system with Apache or other server software. For my needs, I don't even need MySQL or PHP, because I want to keep everything as simple as possible. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty with stuff but I feel tech-weary. And I'm also unwilling to follow someone's instructions to set up a system that I would never be capable of understanding myself.

When I was growing up there was a Sci-Fi TV series in which an alien civilization requires earthlings to create a machine of such complexity and advanced tech that no one understands what they are actually building. It could save the earth or destroy it. I don't think I watched the series to the end, but it was a great concept, and I often think of that when I'm attempting to do things that go way beyond my comprehension.

For my blog, working either with simple html or the Bastion Bechtold's emacs org-mode system I feel reasonably comfortable. (When I have the time, I would enjoy learning the basics of Lisp programming too.) For now, I know that the output is simple html files that I can save, serve and move almost anywhere, such as on my Fastmail cloud server. The same with photos and other features that I would like to include. But I would like also to add a simple social networking system too. The easiest seems to be Bob Mottram's Epicyon, which uses the ActivityPub protocol, but has no database or javascript. The last time I tried it, I couldn't get it to work properly; but maybe now it's more stable. I hope so.

I was going through my newsfeeds yesterday and read a fairly negative review of Genesis. I had a similar intuition regarding it. He claims that it is "solutionism" - whatever that means. But I think he is saying that it tries to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. We can choose to keep things simple if we want to: for ordinary html and CSS based websites we don't need fancy Javascript frameworks, web applications and all the wizardry that modern commercial sites use. We can dumb things down to the level that we feel comfortable with, and spend our time writing and creating beautiful websites that rely upon simple code, instead of either delving into multiple layers of technology or deploying platforms through scripts that work well but leave us floundering when something goes wrong.

Being dependent upon technology that is beyond our reasonable ability to understand it, without specialization, is as bad as depending upon platforms like Facebook, in that we surrender control to someone else. I want to be go my own way, and be independent both of the big companies and complex technologies.


L'Inde brûle déjà du réchauffement climatique - tousdehors

« vivre décemment » dans un monde qui devient de plus en plus inhabitable et intolérable ne peut signifier que vivre, prendre soin les uns des autres et du monde et lutter tout à la fois.

Tags: software
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