Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Liberating the world, block by block

From the Guardian:

Ayman Abdullah, a 43-year-old teacher, said he regards [Tahrir] Square as liberated territory.

"This is the first piece of the new Egypt. Mubarak does not rule here anymore. Suleiman does not rule here. We will rule here and will rule all of Egypt," he said.

Which reminded me of the Temporary Autonomous Zone:

Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom? Are we reduced either to nostalgia for the past or nostalgia for the future? Must we wait until the entire world is freed of political control before even one of us can claim to know freedom? Logic and emotion unite to condemn such a supposition. Reason demands that one cannot struggle for what one does not know; and the heart revolts at a universe so cruel as to visit such injustices on our generation alone of humankind.


Let us admit that we have attended parties where for one brief night a republic of gratified desires was attained. Shall we not confess that the politics of that night have more reality and force for us than those of, say, the entire U.S. Government? Some of the "parties" we've mentioned lasted for two or three years. Is this something worth imagining, worth fighting for? Let us study invisibility, webworking, psychic nomadism--and who knows what we might attain?

And from Ken MacLeod:
In Tahrir Square last week thousands of people stood up to a counter-revolutionary mob and fought it back, yard by yard over a long day and night, with sticks and stones. In those few hours they proved in practice that the human being's conscious will can change history. They brought the human subject and human emancipation back into politics. Whatever the immediate outcome in Egypt, this consciousness will not go away. We can all go back to being human. That doesn't mean we will all love each other. It means we can fight each other for good reasons.

As someone said on Twitter: 'Yesterday we were all Tunisians. Today we are all Egyptians. Tomorrow we will all be free.'

Monday, February 7, 2011

Can we just shoot Javascript and pretend it never happened?

The Gizmodo/Io9/etc. complex has switched to a new design which is astonishingly, stupidly unusable. And slow. It's like it was designed by some sort of idiot savant who had to invent scrollbars from scratch because he'd never heard of them. For comparison, they still have a variation on the old, sane interface.

I'm sure it works adequately on an iPad though, and that's what really matters, right?

Update: A coworker with an iPad tested it for me, and I was wrong, it's completely broken there.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

King in Council

Some of the best classes I took at the Harvard Extension School were the World History series with Prof. Ostrowski. Two points he emphasized have stuck with me. The first, the importance of a sufficiently high threshold of evidence. For example, there is no contemporary evidence that Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door, nor is it ever mentioned in his own extensive writings. Somehow, everyone has still heard this apparently fictional story.

The other point was that a ruler is very seldom an unrestrained, all-powerful dictator. Instead, a much more common model is the King in Council, where the ruler is the balance point between various factions of the elite, who advise him and constrain his actions.

"On the Durability of King and Council: The Continuum Between Dictatorship and Democracy" is quite possibly the academic paper he was inspired by. Certainly it seems like a good discussion of the subject:
Abstract. In practice one rarely observes pure forms of dictatorship that lack a council, or pure forms of parliament that lack an executive. Generally government policies emerge from organizations that combine an executive branch of government, ``the king,'' with a cabinet or parliamentary branch, ``the council.'' This paper provides an explanation for this regularity, and also provides an evolutionary model of the emergence of democracy that does not require a revolution. The analysis demonstrates that the bipolar ``king and council'' constitutional template has a number of properties that gives it great practical efficiency as a method of information processing and as a very flexible institutional arrangement for making collective decisions.