New Boots

For some days, the news cycle stretched to 24 hours. Things kept happening through the night. Stepping away for a moment meant missing something. But at some point, exhaustion must have stepped in. Nothing happens overnight now.

The days, however, are still moving rapidly. A joke goes around, ‘it’s the most astonishing day in British politics since yesterday.’ An American newspaper responds to speculation about the country breaking up with a portmanteau for a new country made up of just England and Wales: ‘Wangland’. It seems apt. Perhaps citizens could be called ‘wangkers’.

On Wednesday, a piece of music I’ve written is in a concert at a conference. I go despite not having signed up. The piece crashes, but it’s not my fault. One of the performers is stressed by it and tells me later that he was unable to regain his composure. The music is the kind of fast, chaotic, noisy music I usually like and it’s very well played, but I have trouble concentrating on it. The non-stressed performer is pleased by how everything went. Some people have taken good pictures of her playing and she wants to post them to facebook. She looks at everything else going by and feels guilty. ‘How can I post about my good concert when the world is burning?’

We go to the pub. I’ve been trying to cease drinking entirely, but I order a pint anyway. It’s not very good. I bicycle for half an hour to meet my wife in Brighton. We go to the Vegetarian Shoes shop. I had been planning to get new trainers, but I also get steel capped boots. I say I may need them. My wife thinks I am being silly. I don’t know.

One of the PM candidates is a long-standing opponent of both immigration and human rights. I feel like a time may be coming shortly where I have very little to lose. I can’t tell if I’m being overly dramatic. Things are starting to feel quotidian again, as if Real Life has returned, but of course it hasn’t. I don’t have permanent residency in this country.

My wife and I go to the beach to stare out across the water towards France, but neither of us is able to put our phones down. My wife is instagramming the weather and I hit update on Twitter over and over. She seems unconcerned. I find her optimism unnerving in it’s rootlessness.

A decade ago, the day I learned my mother was dying, I assured her things would be ‘OK’. I felt it strongly as I said it, despite being unable to know what I meant. When I’m feeling uncharitable towards myself, I think I must have meant that things would be ok for me. She would die, but I would carry on. Now I wonder if it was the certainty that I found so reassuring.

Since the referendum again

Tuesday, I have meetings, with friends and colleagues. All anyone speaks of is brexit, their voices animated with despair. Attempts to broach other topics are ponderous and difficult. Nothing stays on topic. We take turns to rant.

Some of my neighbours voted leave. I have avoided them for days, afraid of what we’ll say to reach other. I no longer wish to know them.

Everyone I speak to is exhausted. Other migrants talk about where they’ll move. I have been arguing with my wife about Canada. She doesn’t want to go. And truthfully, I don’t either. It suddenly feels like I’ve spent the last decade of my life avoiding Canada.

I hit reload on Twitter compulsively. Sometimes great masses of news tumble out at once, sometimes a trickle. A Muslim business bombed. A hate chant in Camden. We’re all to wear safety pins to show we support migrants with subtle plausible deniability.

I feel free floating anger at all the political parties. All the institutions have failed us as we lurch leaderless through the crisis. The country seems certain to break up. I tweet a name jokingly for a new country, but then see something very similar on an serious proposed map.

I saw tweeted newspaper covers that expressed sadness at the football, but joy at the breakup of the country. I want to do something, but can’t think what. I day dream about stomping a fascist to make myself feel better.

I do not go to the protest because I’ve taken the train to the countryside, to a place that mostly voted leave. I hear the foreign twang in my voice and speak louder than I should when in public. It is a beautiful day. I consciously try not to overhear what others are talking about.

The parties tear themselves apart. No confidence in the Labour leader. I go to my home and all the pictures I brought from America are leaning against the walls. After months of living here, we’re finally hanging them up.

Since the referendum

I stay up all night Thursday night. Friday, I am in daze of exhaustion and disbelief. Saturday is pride.

I decided to go this year after the massacre in Orlando. It felt important. It’s also the first planned protest since the vote. Almost all LGBT rights come from EU law. I search for something coherent to put on a sign, but draw a blank. On the way out of the house, I pause to get my pink Union Jack flag, but then don’t, in anger. Looking around the march I see that most others have made the same choice.

My dog’s tail has been dyed rainbow this week. There is a university LGBT staff and student group marching behind us. Some of the students come up to pet my dog. Their university has lost more than 60% of it’s research funding overnight. I let them put a sticker on my dog’s collar.

After the march, we go to the pub. Everyone is speaking about the referendum and the air force’s planned flyover. The person seated next to me is an EU national who doesn’t meet the extremely narrow requirements to be prescribed hormones in their home country. They’ve lived here for 2 years and will have two more years after the shoe drops. It takes 5 years to get permanent residency. I want to say something reassuring, but I can’t think of anything.

The Red Arrows streak overhead, blowing coloured smoke behind them, in the colours of the trans flag. This is unexpected. Most people at the pub cheer, but I don’t. This is coming from the same government that made transphobic clauses in the new marriage law. The same government who put migrant humanity up for a vote. A large public display of trans inclusion from their military fills me with mixed emotions. For a moment, I fear I may cry.

This has been the first year we’ve been cheered at pride. My first year, the crowds were openly hostile and have gradually become more welcoming. This year, we are one of them. It is North Carolina and Orlando that have made this true. The deaths of Americans over there have brought LGBT togetherness over here.

I spend the rest of Saturday drunk. I go to a friend’s house where the others are drinking chocolate milk. I drink all of their beer and come home and drink whiskey, looking at Twitter through the night. Reports of racist attacks are trickling in. I wait for a political leader to do something decisive, but no one on the national stage does. It becomes apparent that nobody in the country has made contingency plans. Everyone expected this to fail. We are in recession and leaderless.

On Sunday, my choir is singing in a festival dedicated to Minimalism, but I am not singing with them. I have missed all of the festival until Sunday evening, and drag myself to the venue, hungover and exhausted. I am enlisted to sell CDs.

They sing Pauline Oliveros’s Lullaby for Daisy Pauline. I have sung it with them many times, but never been in the audience for it before. Their slow movements are mesmerising. The piece is transformative. The magic of the piece is in the changes, as the choir slowly moves through the sections. Change in music is so beautiful, but change in life is so painful.

Afterwards, the festival director interviews the composer. He forgets what he’s talking about for a moment and says the piece made him feel high. He talks of Deep Listening as a source of hope and empathy almost mystically. But Pauline is from America, where no shoes have yet dropped. ‘We’re in a dangerous time’ she says. Listening is how you sense danger.

She leads us in a listening meditation. The entire audience, breathing, listening and singing together. The sound comes in waves, as people sing for one complete breath and pause to listen. By some spontaneous consensus, the piece stops, as everyone independently decides it was the right length.

The choir returns to the stage to sing pieces by Meredith Monk, which are about the Holocaust. The programme seems starkly timely. We return to the present- to the real from the possible.

I go to the bar afterwards. I’ve promised myself not to drink more, but I do anyway. The choir director says their last rehearsal had been Thursday. The music had changed completely in the mean time. Everything seems to carry more weight. I cycle home wondering what minimalism meant in the 1960s. Then I return to twitter, as if my following of news might change something.

On Monday, I struggle to pay attention to my to do list. The pound falls further. I have a rehearsal that I need to fix a piece for. I am still hungover. In the evening, we go to my mother-in-law’s house for dinner. Her father was born in Ireland, which means my wife and her sisters can apply for Irish citizenship. Their mother has the needed documents. She’s made fish pie, but I was not expected. We stop by a Polish shop to get extra food on the way in. There are reports of anti-polish violence around the country, but none in London yet. I stand outside with the dog and everything is completely normal.

While my sister-in-law eats, I hold the baby. She did not register before he was born, so his only nationality is British.

We’ve been talking about moving to Ireland, but my wife asks me if I’d like to buy her mother’s house. We come home and argue about moving to Canada. My Spanish friend has said she may go to Spain. Most of my friends are migrants and I wonder how many will leave.

The document liberation project

The project: they believe documents and contents belong to their creators, not software vendors. Open and free standards are required to achieve long term accessibility of data. Until vendors support open standards, open source must support closed formats.

Their mission is to figure out how to extract data from closed formats. They will read closed files, but not generate them. The are part of the open document format ecosystem.

These guys have a lot of libraries for parsing. And some generator libraries. They generate text files and some image files. And some introspection tools.

American fuzzy lop prevents the system from crashing on badly formatted files.

Updates on the project: more formats are supported. Many more formats.

They deal with a very wide variety of types of formats.

They are accepting code. Or you can try to decipher formats. Or you can generate documents.

Questions:

What about DRM?

They scrupulously follow the law

What about stitching projects?

Sort of.

Color hug plus

He makes something called the color hug, which is a device that does a spectrograph.

Displays are now very different to each other. Mobile phones show advertising really well, but are crap with your photos.

Other devices are either closed source or unsuitable for displays.

The color hug plus is the third version. It will illuminate stuff, so you can measure paper.

This is a hobby for him.

The hardware and software are both open source.

Teaching design libre in the global south

By Renata Ribero

She is located at a university on the countryside in Brazil. Universities moved to rural areas to promote sustainable development. Many of the students are from large cities on Brazil. 10%are African.

The uni was founded in 2006. She is on the digital design course, which is new. They are doing Moodle development.

They use free software for student projects. Work is hosted on the uni website.

The students went on a visit at the local hacker space for a project showcase. Students are collaborating with the hacker space now. This have the students ideas as well.

The kids prefer free software now.

Students decided their projects should reflect the community. Some of their work was about how they might do startups. Now they are working on websites and branding.

Only a tiny minority thought unis should only free software, but the vast majority more think floss is really important. More than 70%think it’s important to contribute to floss development.

They want to learn concepts more than tools.

Questions:

Will this experiment continue? Was language an issue in tutorials and documentation?

The language barrier is an issue. They all want to learn English, bit it’s not taught in state schools, so they’re just starting. Students are also z seeking a regional identity when joining user communities. They are now doing peer learning groups, which is helpful.

Participatory Design & Floss: How can co-design work with libre graphics

By Paula Graham and Lisa Haskell

Fossbox is more about participatory design than libre graphics.

Fossbox seeks to change the world through technology. They ran Flossie, which taught a lot about working with diversity, which is important working with end users.

Ux design is core for teaching end users. It’s important to work with end users to discover what they need. If code is poetry, interface is interactive art.

Fossbox stated out doing floss advocacy with NGOs and community groups. They found that free software and arts groups get on well, but diverse groups had some political friction. This is partly a clash between libertarian floss and socialist NGOs.

Some political decisions undertaken by developers are not well communicated to end users, who may disagree with them.

You must meet users on their own terms. Flexibility is important. Compromise is necessary. This may mean, say, recording to non-free formats.

Users may expect undeliverable things, so that has to be communicated.

Be prepared to shift your paradigm.

Developers must collaborate with designers.

Working with a community is a project. Be aware of scope creep.

Questions:

Why is ‘agile’ too techy?

Fossbox collaborated over 3 years with a disability organisation in East London. Most workers do front line work.  Agile methods of users stories and springs didn’t help communicate with users. The users were support busy and they approached them on their own terms.

Q: I don’t think floss is a libertarian monoculture!

Globally, floss is extremely diverse. In Anglo-American it is libertarian. Floss developers have free time and education and are privileged in every culture. In Anglo-American culture, this means white men. Floss is profoundly  homosocial and in order to include women, changes must be made.

Q: Don’t put me in a box!

Owning the means of production, is good. People should own the technology that shaped their lives. But ai algorithms are enormously complex. To own that technology, is need a lot of kit and skill, unless we change our understanding of ownership to one of democracy. How do we deal with citizen, user control of enormously complex systems otherwise?

Trump and the American Nuclear Arsenal

In 1983, the ABC Television Network aired a film, The Day After, which broke all kinds of records for viewership. It’s subject was the aftermath of nuclear war. It’s plot follows a few individuals near Kansas City who survive the initial blast and the next several days after that. The film is fairly well done and so affected Ronald Reagan when he saw it, that he slowed down US nuclear expansion and instead signed some treaties aimed, theoretically, at eventual disarmament.

The backdrops of the film are the familiar landscapes used in post-nuclear war films. However, by the time it was aired, they were already known to be wrong. Scientists interested in mass extinction events, climate change and space had started running simulations on super computers in their spare time to model what might happen if all of the major cities in the west caught on fire all at once. A lot of particulate matter would get into the stratosphere.

Getting particulate matter into the upper atmosphere is now discussed as something we might do on purpose, called geo engineering. These particles would change the colour of the sky, but they also reflect sunlight. This is proposed as an emergency measure against global warming. The reflected sunlight never gets a chance to warm the earth, everything gets slightly colder and darker, but we can burn as much oil as we want.

However, in the case of nuclear war, there would be quite a lot of smoke in the upper atmosphere – enough to make it dark at mid day. And it might stay that way for week or months. Eight days after a full assault, enough sunlight would be blotted out that temperatures would be well below freezing. The cold temperatures and the lack of light would kill most plants within a few weeks – thus depriving animals of food and oxygen.

Fictional depictions of nuclear war, like the film that so effected the president, imagine a war that some might survive, influenced by the testimony of atomic bomb survivors after World War 2. But modern nuclear warheads are so much more powerful than the WWII bombs, that they use those bombs as triggers to start the main explosions. A nuclear war would be an extinction level event on the order of what killed the dinosaurs. Albert Einstein famously said, ‘I do not know with what weapons World War 3 will be fought, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.’ This may be true, but it won’t be humans holding the sticks and stones millions of years from now. A nuclear war would end human life.

This existential threat was the subject of much activism through the 1980’s, but after the Cold War ended, many people lost interest. The bombs, however, are still around. Russia and China are modernising theirs. Indeed, Putin is rather proud of the updated weapons, warning people not to mess with Russia.

Not to be outdone, the US is doing a major upgrade of its own nuclear arsenal, significantly enhancing it’s ability to end all human life on earth at a cost of $23 billion last year. The project will cost $1 trillion overall. This endeavour – to enhance the ability of the US to end all life on earth several times over – has been ramped up significantly under Obama. Despite this new increase in existential peril, there has not been much in the way of public discussion on the advisability of being able to kill all humans within a few minutes.

If the moderate Nobel Laureate Obama increased nuclear funding by 55% more than George W Bush’s spending, it’s hard to imagine what the more hawkish Clinton might do. This escalation is not only moving away from disarmament, but is also causing instability. By contrast, the prospect of Trump having the launch codes is even more alarming.

Of course, Putin’s remarks are worrying and mark a major revival in nuclear posturing. This kind of rhetoric is, unfortunately, typical for authoritarians. As a part of Bob Altemeyer’s research on this personality type, he had them play a massive board game called The Global Change Game. This didactic game simulates diplomacy and trade with regard to challenges such as climate change, famine and war.

When Altemeyer organised a game with all authoritarian leadership and players, they escalated conflicts until they reached nuclear war. The facilitators then reset them back 50 years previous to give them another chance, but they quickly escalated back to the brink of nuclear war again when they ran out of time to play.

Domestically, the US has always defended it’s ability to kill all of it’s citizens through American Exceptionalism. Other countries might be unstable, but for unexplained reasons, the US is immune to fascism. Alas, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the US is not as exceptional as it might hope. It can happen here and, indeed, might do so within a few months. We are heading for a scenario where the majority of the world’s nuclear arsenal is held by authoritarian leaders. Given that Trump openly admires Putin, would the two operate on a mutual respect level and abstain from murdering all humans, or will they get into a dick measuring contest and kill us all?

Last year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists nudged the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight, citing climate change and ‘modernisation’ programs, warning that we might be entering a new nuclear age. This new age requires new activism. It is vital that, rather than modernise their nukes, the US move as quickly as possible to disarm them. While there is no elected leader who can be trusted with the keys to extinguish all human life, putting them into the hands of fascists is a completely unacceptable risk. Whatever threat that the US would face were it to unilaterally disarm, is minor when compared to the threat of ending all human life.

We cannot continue to rely on the restrain of elected leaders. Even if the US resists fascism in this election, there will always be, like in any country, the risk of electing a government intent on waging war. There is no way to guarantee the safe handling of nuclear weapons, so long as they exist.

Questions not to the finance minister

The stock market is completely divorced from the economy and is run by machines.

Everything seems to carry on as normal, as if we are not on the brink of systemic collapse because of manufactured ignorance.

Corbynomics: Osborn is doing loads of cuts. Corbynomics is a resistance to class-based austerity/cuts.

Labour is learning how to deal with systemic economic issues. This is not a direction they’ve had historically, but they have good advisors. Democracy has moved the labour party away from  Blairism.

How should we address the crisis? Nationalising the RBS has not helped because politicians are treating it as if it were still private. Politicians must treat this as a political problem. Limits on capital mobility may help deal with the interconnectedness of international banks.

The creation of credit and interest rates must be regulated, which requires measures to prevent flight of capital.

[Missed a bit going to the loo].

Institutions have a lot of freedom. Technocrats should not have the last say over policy.  This is not a way to deal with bad politicians.

Islamic banking is what mutual savings accounts used to be like. It’s hard to manage this because the bank must have capital. The western model is more profitable, which disadvantages Islamic banks.

Osborne is very political and doors not necessarily understand economics. If he delegates cuts to councils, they get the flak.

Corbyn is very popular in the labour party, but less so in the general public. He cannot be or saviour. We must make the case to the general public regarding labour policies. We must speak outside our bubble.

We must come up with a simple ask to organise a global movement.

Faith groups must work against manufactured ignorance.

We need a system based on values. Or system is detached from ethical values. The concept of usury must return.

‘Moderation in spending is half of livelihood.’ The problem with the GDP is that it measures only spending.

Corbyn should re-frame the debate. Osborn has moved away from the city of London to the public sector. We still talk more about the public sector rather than banks. The problem is not the public sector. The finance industry’s dominance threatens all of our security.

Questions

Britain is an example of why austerity can’t work. When they tried austerity, the recovery halted. So they backed off.

Greeks have had so much austerity that they lost a third of their income.

Austerity is a code word on Britain for class conflict. It’s cutting services for non rich people.

Democracy has never been given. It has always been seized in struggle.

‘Democracy cannot be allowed to change the economic policies of your country’

He says that Britain must stay in the EU, to fight for democracy.

If the UK is going to print pounds, instead of buying mortgages, why not issue bonds to build infrastructure?