Moonster died

Tiny cat Moonster came to stay for a weekend in 2004, not long after I had started this blog, and due to all kinds of circumstances she never moved out. Even when I moved in the interim, she moved along with me. Last Monday, four years and five days later, she had to be put to sleep at the age of 21.

Moonster, very small and light-weight for a Norwegian forest cat, was scared of a lot of things, not the least other cats. But she could also be very stubborn, and I felt that she enjoyed life and lived it on her own terms. I doubt she would have left it so soon voluntarily, but her body started to desert her. Recently she had developed kidney and thyroid gland problems, for which she received medication every day. The last two weeks she gradually lost the ability to walk, and on Monday she could no longer get her own food or go to the litter box. We carried her to the vet where she received a shot with an overdose of sleeping medication. I miss her.

Don’t smile, don’t panic

I’m working on this project to get more street photos into Wikipedia, and for some reason I let myself actually be scared by the questionable politics of leftist blogs like BoingBoing and Making Light. When it comes to politics these sites are the left’s alternative to the right wing letters to the editor and e-mail forwards that TNH herself talks about. They both have the effect of painting a skewed picture of the world.

And according to these mantras on my side of the political spectrum the post-9/11 world is filled with Nazis on every street corner who will stop you from every constitutional right you have, including the right to take photos.

One of the first things I did while planning this thing was therefore to try and imagine every legal road block I might come across, to see what could and what should be avoided. That makes sense for copyright, because copyright lasts so long. But should I worry about other things than the right to publish? After a few days I realized a person can get too paranoid. Look at the evidence. The world abounds with photos taken on the street; would this really be possible if the streets were patrolled day and night by the cronies of the authoritarian set?

One way to get in trouble though, I imagined, would be to look like you’re doing something wrong while taking pictures. If you sneak around like a spy or a pervert, people are going to treat you like one. And I imagined that it would be best to be the friendly photographer, to smile and make eye contact with the people you are going to photograph. Once again I let fear do the reasoning for me. As it turns out, being in the subject’s face is good enough. I should have remembered Wikipedia’s mantra: be bold!

Brooklyn photographer Bruce Gilden actually tries to capture the expression of dismay or surprise or disdain that people get when they realize he’s going to take their picture. He considers a photo spoiled if a smile is his response.


Screenshots from the WNYC piece on Gilden.

Update: one of the commenters at the WNYC blog said it even better: be yourself. (Unless you are a spy or a pervert.)

Ads from 1985 computer magazine Your 64

“A school for scandal?” asked the Telegraph.
“All very pukkah,” assured BBC TV News.
“Bizarre!” shrieked the Sun.

Lately, people have been mentioning St. Trinians, a comic strip about a public school for very bad girls, which made me remember Your 64. Reading this dayglo magazine for teenage boy owners of a Commodore 64 at a time when I was indeed a teenage boy (mid nineties) helped my English grades shoot through the roof. It also featured two slightly naughty ads.

The British computer mags at the time regularly ran an ad titled St. O’Trinians! for a game called The Secret of St. Brides. In it you see a teenage girl in school uniform, and you get to look up her skirt!

And a school friend and I could recite entire lines from the Albert Battersby ad!

(These were by far the raunchiest ads run in the magazine’s short life. It’s in the nature of boys to remember only these.)

I never knew until two weeks ago what St. Trinians referred to, although it was obvious that the ad for St. Brides referred to some knowledge the Brits or perhaps even all Anglos shared. Then I read the BoingBoing story about the comic and saw a BBC bit about the movies, and I knew.

And what was it the ad talked about? The internet will just not shut up, and so now I know that St. Brides was an early theater weekend mansion slash software house. As the ad says, St. Brides is where grown women go to play public school girls from the Roaring Twenties. When the owners first saw a computer, they decided that they wanted to write games too. So they got a copy of the Quill, and wrote a text adventure set at their “school.”

The ZX “Speccy” Spectrum version of the game is now available at Baf’s.

Yesterday’s harvest

Loads of people don’t feel like taking their unsold goods back home at the end of Queen’s Day, so they leave them behind for the garbage man. Dumpster diving! The stack of five on the right comes from going through the garbage, the stack on the left I bought, paying the sum of 2.80 euro for ten items. My best finds: part 3 of Pratchett’s Discworld series (they’re quite expensive and pretty hard to find; two years ago I managed to buy part 1 second hand), and a collection of short stories by Philip K. Dick (also hard to find).

Queen’s Day accidents

Happy discoveries on Queen’s Eve and Queen’s Day. Thanks to Natasha for pointing out the latter two.

On Queen’s Eve I was at bar Festina Lente where The Lovers from Sheffield, UK, were playing. The bar has a bench outside with a bronze statue of a faithful regular guest.

After the nation-wide Queen’s Day flee market, a lot of the wares on sale are left as garbage, such as these two copies of The Mark & Clark Band’s Double Take.

A book among shards of pottery titled The Arrangement.

Dutch press systematically under-reports Palestinian woes, still

In 2002 Jacqueline de Bruijn, a political scientist from Amsterdam, studied the way news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was reported in the Dutch press, and found out that the MSM tend to exaggerate the evil of the Palestinians’ violence, and play down the Israelis’ violence. I remember from that time that the press had a field day with her report, in that they attacked her and her methodology. Not a word about their own responsibility though.

This year De Bruijn repeated her study, and came up with the same results: the MSM paint the Palestinians as evil ogres and the Israelis as innocent victims, even though it is the Israelis that are the aggressors in the conflict and the ones that are turning the occupied country into an Apartheid state. Again, De Bruijn was attacked for her findings and her person, and the MSM whined that they did nothing wrong.

Some of the criticisms given by De Bruijn are:

  • the press under-reports Israeli attacks on Palestinians, even when there are dozens of victims, but it reports on every Palestinian attack on Israelis, even when there are no victims;
  • as a result, the few times Israeli aggression is reported on, this makes it seem that the supposedly rare Israeli attack is a response to a continuous stream of Palestinian aggression

As one person cynically noted: dead Palestinians are not news, simply because there are so many of them. Israel’s state propaganda makes handy use of this fact by continuously stressing that its attacks are merely responses to Palestinian aggression (a tactic Israel also uses with the PR for its attacks on Lebanon). What makes the whole matter worse is that Israel’s heavy handed violence against the occupied population is actually beneficial for this PR strategy. There’s no reason for Israel to tone down the murderousness of its regime.

There is a popular (but iditiotic) notion among some leftists that the MSM are mere puppets of “the man” (whoever that is)—the cynical observation that dead Palestinians are simply no longer news is probably more of an indicator why violence against Palestinians is underreported. Palestinians have become faceless, and are therefore not as interesting to report about.

For the press to combat this bias, it first has to recognize that it does have a problem. Everybody can see that De Bruijn’s qualitative statements are correct simply by opening the newspaper and observing the loaded language, regardless of the merits of De Bruijn’s methodology and quantitative statements. Next, the press has to figure out how to attack this problem.

De Bruijn presented her findings during a meeting in which the press were present. Also there was essayist Mohammed Benzakour who came with an equally interesting observation: several of the major Dutch newspapers have correspondents in Israel who are allied with the Zionist cause. The correspondent for Algemeen Dagblad and broadcaster EO (evangelists) is former chairman of the Nederlandse Zionisten Bond and has a daughter who works as press spokes person for the Israeli army, and the correspondent of the Volkskrant organizes trips to Jerusalem for Cidi. That does not necessarily invalidate their reporting (for all I know they take great care to remain as objective as possible), but it does signal a clear conflict of interest, which should in turn alert news consumers. Then again, why should I consume news from a suspect source?

The solution, it seems, is simple. Media bias is not going to go away, but the media could at least try and recognize their bias, and from time to time publish “the other story.” With regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if the Dutch MSM don’t just want to write what Israel is happy to have them write, it will have to have correspondents in the dangerous Palestinian slums, rather than just the four star hotels of a relatively safe Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. And if the Palestians want to stimulate such a process, they will have to do something very counter-intuitive: no more stringers. No more Palestinian reporters who will take the risk of being shot at in exchange for delivering news that won’t be published anyway. Let the West duck bullets to come and get the news themselves. I am sure that way reporters won’t have any difficulty at all to tell an interesting story.

PHP generator for SVG pie charts

Wikipedia uses more and more SVG graphics, the “open” “Flash” developed by the W3C. Somebody asked in a forum how to make a generator for SVG pie charts. I thought that probably would not be too hard, and tried coding one. And then I figured I might as well share the resulting code with the rest of the world. Here it is.

Getting a little bit back from Elsevier

The British-Dutch mega-publisher Reed Elsevier spent more than 3 million dollars in bribes lobbying fees in the US last year. What the publisher hopes to get back for this money? It probably won’t be a more balanced and more honest form of copyright. The US politicians that were bolstered by this “support” have been bullying most of the rest of the world into accepting always stronger and more bizarre forms of copyright. Those countries unwilling to participate are threatened with economic sanctions.

On January 1 of this year ‘t was more than 70 years ago that son of Elsevier founder Jacob G. Robbers died. In our current climate copyrights last insanely long, but not for ever. To be precise, in the Netherlands copyrights last until 70 full calendar years after the death of the author. On January 1 of this year I uploaded Herman Robbers’ De Vreemde Plant (The Strange Plant) to The Internet Archive. Please consider that a tiny remuneration from Elsevier for whatever copyright hell it’s going to loose on Dutch citizens.

(Lobbying story via Teleread.)

The news is back

As you may know, I blog at a couple of other places too. One of them is 24 Oranges: off-beat news about the Netherlands in English. Somewhere around February, we hit a dry spot in the news. Nothing would come our way. I’d Skype Orangemaster, my co-conspirator, and ask: “And?” And she’d say: “Nothing.” And I’d go: “I am scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but am coming up blank.”

And then, last week, it was like the floodgates opened. I suddenly could pick from 3 or 4 interesting stories each day. What had happened last week that made the press turn around? I mean, apart from the country’s favourite talking toilet brush releasing his hate film (yawn)… wait! Noooo….

A Portrait of the Artist as an Artist

This is from way back. Or, if you want a more definite indication: waaaay back. The bar was called De Pijp, and the time was around Carnival.