2020-03-29

Privaatheid tydens afsondering

Dis coronavirus-afsondering en almal kan sien hoe deurmekaar jou huis is. Terwyl ons links en regs deelneem aan video-konferensies en registreer vir aanlynkursusse, hou gerus in gedagte dat iemand moet geld maak uit al dié gratis dienste. Almal se gunsteling blyk Zoom te wees en ek stem saam dat die gebruikerservaring besonder goed is. Ongelukkig, soos elders, geld die beginsel dat indien jy nie betaal nie, is jý die produk. Ek het onlangs opgelet dat die skakel om 'n webinaar in my dagboek te plaas, behels het dat ek blykbaar vir Zoom toegang gee tot my gehele Google-dagboek. Dit was maklik genoeg om te omseil maar laat my nogal ongemaklik voel. Verder het Zoom 'n geskiedenis van privaatheid- en sekuriteitskwessies. Dink maar aan die volgende.
Ek sou aanhou om Zoom te gebruik maar neem aan die vlak van privaatheid is soos in 'n gesprek in 'n koffiewinkel.


2020-03-17

Solus – a good-looking operating system

I recently decided to try Solus, a Linux-based operating system with a nice, clean and fast desktop environment called Budgie. It installed easily on an older Dell laptop and the WiFi worked right from the start, which is not always the case on the particular machine.

Support for the Afrikaans language is not too bad and although I have not worked out which package manager it uses, the GUI Software Center is easy enough to use. It did hang on the installation of Sublime text editor though as did TeXworks and there is no obvious way to pause and/or restart the process. Synthing installed without trouble and I used it to copy about 40 GB of personal files from my OSX machine on the local network which was rather painless and fast!

Solus has a very pleasant appearance and I shall probably be using it for a while.

2020-01-18

Holiday reading, book 7: Goodbye to Berlin (Christopher Isherwood)

The last of 2019/20 summer holiday reading was a wonderful little book about which I have known for a long time but was prompted to read it by a friend having recently mentioned it recently. The writing is wonderful, the stories whimsical and sad (since everyone knows what is coming in the 1930s) but also sweet and amusing.

The book consists of more-or-less separate stories with interrelated characters and plots. My favourite character is probably Bernhard Landauer, ostensibly based on the real-life Wilfrid Israel. The Landauers in the book own a department store (like the Israels in reality) in Berlin and one of the poignant scenes is where the main character goes to the shop in search of Bernhard just as the SA starts the boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. He describes himself and others entering the huge shop as the men stand outside with the placards, just as in the picture shown here, outside the Israel shop in Berlin. The SA men look faintly ridiculous, almost bored and definitely very boring. And then all of the rest happened.

Delightful details of pre-wat Berlin pepper the book, such as paying tolls on the AVUS motorway to Grunewald. This first motorway, the construction of which was started prior to World War I, was completed by private investors and remained private until 1940. Some of these details are in the German but not the English entry on Wikipedia. One of the innovations of the road was that it horses would not be allowed.

Read this book on holiday or on a rainy Saturday! In case you did not know, Isherwood was a cousin of the other wonderful English writer, Graham Greene.

2020-01-14

Holiday reading, book 6: HATE – Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship (Nadine Strossen)

Nadine is a veteran president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and thoughtful and principled law professor whom I have had the good fortune to meet on a few occasions i.a. in New York at a reception in their beautiful apartment. Her stance on this topic is relatively well known but I am very pleased that she has written this book in which she brilliantly explains and champions the US view on "hate speech", based on the First Amendment. Over the past half a century, the ACLU has defended the free speech rights of some quite objectionable parties, for which they (and she) have my great respect.

She quotes former President Obama quite a few times and I am relieved to hear that he has such a solid comprehension of at least the First Amendment to the US constitution. Now, the statement that I have just made is an example of the kind of speech that would be absolutely protected in the USA but perhaps not in Singapore, the Soviet Union or either the South Africa of BJ Vorster or that of Nelson Mandela as I might be insulting the gentleman's dignity.

On several occasions the author refers to the abuse of hate speech (by which I assume she includes the abominable notion of crimen iniuria) in both old and new South Africa. She does not discuss this much further but what is interesting for me is that our special courts dealing with these issues now order perpetrators to actually pay compensation to the victims. Of course, the first order for compensation based mainly on the utterance of a specific word by a White person towards a Black one, was made in Ciliza v Minister of Police and Another in 1976 – on the basis of it constituting that very South African offense of crimen iniuria.

Fact is not a defense for crimen iniuria in SA but I learned from the book that several jurisdiction also disallow factuality as a defense in modern "hate speech" cases. In fact, in the Netherlands, there are verboten (I am, again, testing the boundaries) questions. Several other chilling examples from Europe make it into the book as does the somewhat silly (ditto) prosecution of poor Bob Dylan in France on the basis of a complaint by the Council of Croats in France in the same month that he was admitted to the légion d'honneur.

The dark history of "hate speech" restrictions is clearly illustrated in the book and the author points out that in Weimer Germany the prosecution of anti-semitic "hate speech" was in fact quite common. What I did not know is that in the past few years, US campus restrictions on speech have in fact frequently been used against racial minority groups.

In the US, it is clear that if the intention is imminent serious harm then the speech is not protected and furthermore restrictions should satisfy viewpoint neutrality. The book well explains the history of this in jurisprudence and for a lay reader like myself it is very convincing.

I loved the book but I have always been a fan of the US constitution and you have to be a bit legally inclined to make it through the book. It can easily be read in one day and would leave you ample time for other hobbies.

Image borrowed from somewhere – use here presumed to be allowed under SA copyright law.

2020-01-13

Vakansieleesstof, boek 5: Secondhand Time – The Last of the Soviets (Svetlana Alexievich)

Twyfelagtige leesstof vir 'n vakansie, het ek gevoel na 20 bladsye. Maar ek wou nie die boek in my bagasie hê nie en ek kon nie ophou lees nie. Alexievich is 'n letterkundige Nobel-pryswenner wat aan die hand van 'n hele paar dosyn vertellings (hoofsaaklike eerstehands) die geskiedenis van die Sowjetunie, sy verval, die harwarjare en die opkoms van die nuwe orde beskryf.

Daar is nie baie snaaks daarin nie, met die uitsondering van 'n paar juwele van die Russiese galgehumor. Sy is ook nie skaam om te beskryf wat vir haar en ander lekker was in die sosialistiese tyd nie, ook nie om weer te gee dat mense (jonk en oud eerder as middeljarig) 'n hunkering terug het na die Stalin-tyd nie. Eerstehandse vertellings van selfs sy slagoffers se heldeverering vir hom is treffend. Tog is dit nie net 'n boek oor politiek nie. Dit vertel ook van die alledaagse (soms mooi) en gewone menslike stories wat afspeel teen die agtergrond van die Sowjet-stelsel.

Die woord "salami" kom verbasend dikels in die boek voor – ek skat minstens op elke vyfde bladsy. Die ander kleinigheid wat my sal bybly is dat die Russiese weermag tot in die tweede dekade van die 21ste eeu "portjanki" (basies, voetdoeke) gedra het eerder as kouse.

Hierdie boek is vir die sterk leser wat 'n goed ontwikkelde belangstelling het in Rusland en die Sowjetunie. Of vir iemand wat nodig het om te hoor dit was elders erger. Baie erger. Ek leen 'n foto by die New York Times hiervoor (ietwat uitgeknip) omdat die outeur oulik en gaaf lyk, in teenstelling met haar onderwerp.