Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Arab Spring, Western Fail

Books I Will Very Probably Neither Read Nor Write II... the Reflux!



Eurabia If You Want To!

"But... but...!" spluttered curvaceous, blonde, adorably liberal ace reporter Lola Langsam, wondering in a treacherous corner of her mind how this infuriating bigot could possibly look so hunksome at half past arsed o'clock into the sadcase shift at the Turk's Head. "The Arab peoples are rising up at last, and seizing democracy, freedom, and equality for themselves! What's not to like?"

"Indeed... Ms... Langsam." He allowed a flash of martial amusement to cross his saturnine countenance. Damn, but these leather-jacketed beer-connoisseur polymaths old enough to be my father are hot! Concentrate, Lola, damn you! You're not a woman tonight, you're a professional! "And have you ever considered... who they're seizing it from? And why they might want to do that?"

"W-why," she stammered uncertainly, "from the dictators, surely...?"

"Come, come, you know better than that. They don't have those things - they couldn't, and still boss their rackets. Cut the PC, girl - think!"

The truth detonated in her brain like an incontinent suicide bomber. "From - from us?!?"

"Yes, Ms Langsam. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Once we've exported all our values to North Africa - where, by the way," he waved his hand jovially, "history says they don't work - we won't have any left for ourselves! That's when their fifth column here will go to work, and at that point - " He smiled his cocky (stop that!), infuriating, mercurial smile, " - it's game over for us, nice civilization you had there, see you Dhimmi! Still," he added, with an openly venereal flash of his eyes, whose precise effect on Lola was unprintable even in a modern and realistic techno-thriller, "I'm sure you'd look charming in harem pants!"

"Knickers to that!" she flared spiritedly, but quickly sobered. "But, Mr... Dick... if they can do that... however can we beat them?"

"That's the hard part," said Richard Large, rising, and tossing off the remains of his Mangold's Old Weaselwaxer with nonchalant ease. "A few places - like this - are still safe. The volatilized ethanol repels them. But we haven't got much time, and there's only one way to stop the flood. What we've got here is a plain old case of Intellectual Property Theft, and there's only ever been one answer to that!"

"You mean - " She faltered, but set her jaw and willed herself to accept the starkly inevitable. "Lawyers?!"

"Nope," he said. "Good old-fashioned DRM. And that's where you come in... Lola!"

"But... but... Dick, you know that only works pre-release, on digital media you already control!" She struggled to contain her tempestuous disappointment. "Even then, it's trivially breakable! As everybody knows, back in the Noughties, when Sony - "

"Teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Lol!" he cracked. "That's true in classical computing. What we need here is nonlocal effects - lock down one copy of an idea, lock all. And that means - "

"Quantum computing!" she shot back, with unerring womanly intuition. "But that means - !" she added, with the quick Celtic insight of her exotic Galician grandmother - !

His grin was mad, bad, and dangerous to know. "Got it in one, doll," he gloated, his Wylfa-mutated Holyhead dialect breaking through his mask of urbane manly cosmopolitanism and all those jobses. "Professor Layla Ali, your old - friend - from college." Lola felt herself blush a charming scarlet. And those Roger Moore eyebrows of his, don't get me started! "If anything can do the job, it's her QT69I Entanglatron - and if anybody in this rotten can of beans can find her, it's you. We've got seventy-two hours before critical moral field collapse in Paris. Are you... in with me?"

"Yes," she breathed, almost breathlessly. "Dick, Dick, Dick, I'd rather die than live in some horrid patriarchy! And Layla can't have changed so - she isn't like the others - we'll both be in with you, all the way, I know it!" He channelled Roger Moore again. She wondered if she could ever, ever get tired of that. "No!" she warned spunkily. "Don't even think about it!"

But her vivid memories of mysterious, perverse, hot-blooded Layla, and that quick Celtic second sight again, were thrilling wicked premonitions across her nerves, like the sort of dream it would be deeply inappropriate to even admit to having - let alone seeing pp236-249, thereafter passim.

Ignoring temptation, all business now, she click-clacked on her D4X5 hyperresilin-tipped Jimmy Choos to the back exit, ahead of the wolfish Welshman. Outside in the Official Dirty Nasty Smoking Losers' dustbin alley, they paused. The odour of discarded kebab, now redolent of a new and sinister spectrum of terrors, rose up to challenge her proudly flaring nostrils.

"We'll skewer 'em yet!" she quipped. "Let's takedown some Barbary IP Pirate!"

Friday, 24 June 2011

Not That Old Gag Again!

Subjects ought to be overseen and not heard.  Le Silence, by Antoine-Augustin Préault, photographed by Nrswanson @ Wikimedia Commons - public domainFrank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, has been lambasting
the ways in which States are increasingly censoring information online, namely through: arbitrary blocking or filtering of content; criminalization of legitimate expression; imposition of intermediary liability; disconnecting users from Internet access, including on the basis of intellectual property rights law; cyberattacks; and inadequate protection of the right to privacy and data protection.

- UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

My emphasis and in-text links. The disconnection agenda, in particular, is being chiefly promoted by politicians and IP-owner groups in nominally free countries - unless we count its recent shotgun implementation by certain genocidal tyrants tottering in the wind of the Arab Spring.

The BBC reports the following knee-jerk response from the UK Government to the appearance of its own Digital Enclosure Economy Act in Mr La Rue's sights:
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that "there are counter-balancing rights, including to Intellectual Property, and Government must set the balance in a fair and proportionate way", pointing out that another basic right - the right to own property - is being flouted when copyrights are broken in this way.

Pointing out, my pointy end!

If I have a right not to be libelled in a newspaper, it does not follow that I have the right to take away their access to printing presses by accusing them of writing naughtiness. If I have a right to walk down the street without some wanker following me and screaming "Wanker!" at me, it does not follow that I have the right to demand that the nearest copper padlock a gag over anybody's mouth. Nor does any noise a Government makes about 'defending my rights' give them any business at all to start the press-smashers or gob-stoppers rolling.

The Government that asserts its sovereign right to shut its people up on the say-so of its cronies, is the Government that's telling its people that the time for talking is past.

As President "Democracy is Governments conquering the Internetz lol!" Sarkozy himself sees very clearly where the beam is not in his own eye, that's bound to end up well for everybody!

I think it is going to be better for everybody if we Just Keep Talking. Mr La Rue's report is a timely reminder to the members of the Masters' Club who commissioned it - and none so bad a point of departure, for the rest of us who want to deliver our own.

And lest we forget, some of the goodies in this tussle:

UK: Open Rights Group
USA (and international): Electronic Frontier Foundation

As a Brit, and sort of a computer guy into the bargain, it's probably past time I did something useful for the former. Let this be the occasion!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Billy Boy Rocks: Farai Chansoneta Nueva

Oh, wow! H/t Dr Richard Scott Nokes at Unlocked Wordhoard:

Attributed to the early troubadour Guilhèm de Peitieus, that is Guillaume de Poitiers or Duke Guillame IX d'Aquitaine - though it is alleged to represent such a change of direction towards courtly love from his previous fratboy spirit, that its authenticity has been questioned.

Is this good, or what?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

To a Mistress Dying

This one has always sent cold thrills running down my spine since I first met it.

To a Mistress Dying

by Sir William Davenant

YOUR beauty, ripe and calm and fresh
As eastern summers are,
Must now, forsaking time and flesh,
Add light to some small star.

Whilst she yet lives, were stars decay'd,
Their light by hers relief might find;
But Death will lead her to a shade
Where Love is cold and Beauty blind.

Lovers, whose priests all poets are,
Think every mistress, when she dies,
Is changed at least into a star:
And who dares doubt the poets wise?

But ask not bodies doom'd to die
To what abode they go;
Since Knowledge is but Sorrow's spy,
It is not safe to know.

Sir William Davenant (~1606 - 1668) was a poet, playwright, and theatrical producer of much colour and adventure. The actual godson and tenuously rumoured natural son of Shakespeare, he became Poet Laureate in 1638; got into all the political trouble you could shake a ramrod at through his activities in the king's cause during the Civil War; staged purportedly the first English opera, The Siege of Rhodes, in his house during the height of the Puritan ascendancy; and was still writing and producing in full spate shortly before his death. John Dryden collaborated with him, and later succeeded him as Laureate, for whatever that particular bay may be worth.

It seems to me that there is a lot going on in this poem, beneath its conventionally morbid surface, and the more often I read it, the more humane ironies and sinister ambiguities I find myself reading into it.

Is it really the lover, or the philosopher, who is nearer feeling the woman's death as a catastrophe just like his own?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Of Necessary Words, and Words Needless

Fred Clark, the excellent liberal Christian blogger and hellhound-shooer who writes at Slacktivist, has posted a particularly fine article on the uses and abuses of evangelism, Use Words If Necessary. It has plenty to say that holds just as good even for readers who, like me, are no flavour of Christian at all, and dislike being 'evangelized' quite a lot. A taster, from the sub-sections:

1. Evangelism is hospitality.
"Hospitality means opening up your life to share it with others..."

2. Evangelism requires relationship.
"Without relationship, it’s not really evangelism, merely sales..."

3. Listen.
"Like improv, evangelism is usually more about listening than it is about talking..."

4. Your story is not an argument.
"...the only way to tell a better story and still have it be your story is to start living a better story..."

5. Disciples, not merely converts
"'Therefore go and convert all nations,' Jesus did not say... He spent three years working to make 12 disciples and, for all that, he still only had a success rate of 91.6 percent..."

Pure brilliance. Really worth reading, for anybody who ever feels the urge to convince anybody else on any of the Big Questions at all.

And I fancy these rules might apply to political enthusiasms, no less than to religious ones.

Yes, there is an obvious problem with this. Since politics is ultimately about dominance structures and who gets - or doesn't get - to coerce whom, there are clear issues with making oneself as vulnerable on that territory as Clarkian evangelism would seem to require. And there is undoubtably something squicky about the idea of treating politics more like a religion than it tends to get treated already.

But might that instinct not just be putting the cart before the horse?

Might the very problems Clark tilts at in Use Words not be better described as, "Religion's getting a pass for treating itself far too much like politics, already?"

Welcome. Community. Listening. Honesty. - And that final special quality which I find hard to put one word to, but which cares more to kindle a kind of agency, than to foster a kind of compliance. Aren't these fair starting-points for trying to spread ideas about how fellow-humans might, in fact, successfully live together?

I'm a libertarian, for Pete's sake! I partake in a movement which is supposed to be all about agency, persuasion, diversity of mind, and humility of method. And then I read an article like this, and I think about the approaches I see and hear used to promote my ideals. Or some of those I've employed myself.

I measure the one against the other, and find the comparison just the tiniest bit sobering.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Last Chant of Black Mchachi

A Kateverse poem rather than a song, in that there is no melody associated with it. This one has a very definite author: the Melandran mercenary champion known to Luke as Black Mchachi, who fought and fell beside him and El Alegroso at the fatal battle of Dazaama Beach. There's a suggestion in Killer-Kate that he knew her before this - not necessarily from conflicts in which they were on the same side.

One very cartoony way to look at the Dazaama backstory is as follows: Don Quixote leads a Spanish/Moorish alliance against the Satanist slavers of Carthage, but is betrayed by his countrymen in his hour of victory, and goes down fighting at impossible odds at the head of a small loyal following, led by a really dodgy Ivanhoe and a legendary sub-Saharan Amazon. That isn't any too close, but it's about as close as we're going to get without telling the full story - something I have no present plans to do. It's one of Luke's defining experiences during his long exile, however.

This is Mchachi's last chant before that battle - or rather, a second-hand translation of the 'Southron' she spoke it in, which is also not her native tongue. Several things emerge even through this filter. Firstly, as per my previous suspicions, not only is 'Black' just something unimaginative alt-Mediterranean types call her, but so is 'Mchachi' itself. Secondly, the subsequent ratfinkery of the allied Dons seems... not to have been something capable of surprising her. Thirdly, she's bringing a set of seriously foreign assumptions to the party, and some of the words used here plainly do not mean what we usually think they mean in English.

The Last Chant of Black Mchachi

"Big Black Girl," they call me, ohoú! ohoú!
Because I will not spill my name and my soul and my making
Like water over a dirty threshing-room floor.

I am the lioness who shakes off the dust.
My spear-arm bears up fifty muses.
My mind is a myriad knives.
By our blades are men's nations divided.

"Their death-wound," they call me, ohoú! ohoú!
Whenever I scrawl some red culture
On some hide that shall never be cured.

Last year I was stronger and swifter.
I have braided my hair with iron wires.
I will go with the greybeard against tiresome pawn-takers,
Before we have too much in common!

Drink my soul to the dregs, when you hear me.
I am – [you cannot say this] – bare-backed, shield-fronted, laughing last below Tanash,
Come to slake these hot sands of Dazaama.

"Big Black Girl," they called me, ohoú!
"Their death-wound," they call me, ohoú! ohoú!
"Dead," they will call me, ohoú! ohoú!
When I am the breath on the tongue of a spear.
- Let’s give them something to sing of.

'Melandra' is an almost content-free Northern geographical term meaning, more or less, 'Blackmansland'. The word here rendered as 'culture' could almost as well have been translated either 'inspiration' or 'civilization'. I still know only a very little about the particular civilization/inspiration/culture from which she hails, and practically nothing about its neighbours. Also, I am much too ignorant about several important real-world matters to yet see it save through the foggiest of airs, around the edges of my main story. It does have to be seen, though.

A last possible implication of the chant, which I quite like, is that one thing the champion prefers her actual intimates to call her is a close equivalent of 'Dusty'.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

"Up Bill! Up Scythe!"

The Battle of Carrowglaze and its aftermath is finished, and with it the Rising Arc of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland.

This was a hard and horrid chapter to write. The book's rock bottom came in the middle of it, and only after crawling down to that could I race towards the ending. Light dawned this morning on the stricken field, and I and my heroes have seen all we and Katy have wrought.

Langdale is freed, and the heart of the lords' power there shattered forever. Indeed, the high farms of Langdalehead and the ragged margins of the mid-dale are almost Katy's country already. But Langdale was weakest as well as worst of the great Northdale lordships - and there has been such a price for it, in so many kinds of coin! Nobody but all folk's enemy can afford another such victory as this one.

So the Bonfire Arc begins, and the final triumph over both lordship and cavorting, ravening curse must be sought by means other than war. Stirring as the campaign has been, I think I shall not very much miss it.

Nor even shall trumpet-voiced blood-spattered Kate, who greets a new day unhoped-for with the first and last love of her life; and, for very ruth and pity, weeps her fill at last.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Ballad of Clare the Crafty

Niccolò Machiavelli - by Santi di Tito, 16th century - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sort of a Kateverse folksong, though it bears all the hallmarks of politically-aware courtly origins. Princess Clare the Crafty is Luke's brilliant diplomatist sister from The Deed of Katy Elflocks - a witty machiavel so sharp that whole careers have been based on waiting for her to cut herself, though few of them very long ones. This tells of the events about twenty years before Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland, which led to our heroes' separate downfalls back when they were rather more villainous than they are now. It is a terse, formalized, and highly romantic account of the scamathon/quest which led to Clare's being styled The Rescuer of Realms in later literature, and which I have utterly failed to get into story form ever. Her whereabouts at the time of the current tale are not known.

The Ballad of Clare the Crafty

I am a princess swift and keen
And unto you apply.
My brother’s bride is cast from court,
Since he was done to die.
And if that you will lend your aid,
Your curse I'll soon decay.
"O I will ward your tender friend,
But you must ride away!"

I am a princess bold and wise
And do your grace beseech.
Your daughter's suitors waste your lands
And do your substance leech.
So if to them you'll set my quest,
Their passions soon I'll spend.
"O first you must the wildfire tame
Before we call you friend!"

I am a princess sere with care
And cindered to my soul.
The dragon flies before my host –
My love, he lies a coal.
And I have set three peoples free,
And all their might I bring
To scour the witch from out our land,
And crown your son our King!

"The grocer's daughter I was born:
The Green Rose I will be,
And crown the King beneath my heart
With deeds deserving thee!
O Clare, as clear as morning air,
What sister such has been?
So royally hast thou sacrificed,
That men should call me Queen!"

Aye, royally Clare hath spilled her cup,
For Caroline our Queen!

Neither Clare nor Caro talk or think like this, but that's politics and praise-songs for you. The real Clare's most salient characteristic is probably her ability to checkmate you at chess, while you still think you are playing poker.