Not an expert

I don’t claim any particular expertise on the subject of these posts
Categories: Modern, Not an expert
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Not an expert

I don’t claim any particular expertise on the subject of these posts. Caveat lector …

Some Thoughts on “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy”

A snowy field with construction cranes in the distant background beyond a fence

Violet Blue, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online (No Starch Press: San Francesco CA, 2015) Digita Publications

Writer and journalist Violet Blue is working on a new edition of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy. So even though its a little bit late for Data Protection Day on 28 January, I think its time to dust off my review. Her book has a clear and distinct vision of its audience, and avoids the traps which most writers on security and privacy fall in to.

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2019 Year-Ender

A crowd gathered in a rainy street in the medieval centre of Innsbruck
A rainy Christmas Eve concert in Innsbruck, 2019

Books are precious things, and Doctor Manning finally has time to read them for fun again (and to really read them, not just skim them looking for facts or quotes). At the end of this year and the start of another, as I sit in rainy Innsbruck, I would like to tell my gentle readers about some of the ones I read in 2019.

I read Victoria Corva’s very relatable young adult fantasy Books and Bone (self-published, 2019) about a town cartographer trying to follow a vocation which she can’t prove is more than a myth.
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I Don’t Understand Martin Gurri

A park in autumn with fallen yellow leaves, trees, and a sign on a lamp post telling dog owners to clean up their pet's poop
Living together always creates some tensions, like this passive-aggressive but very Austrian message to dog owners in Innsbruck: SEI NICHT GRAUSLIG! Hundekot gehört ins Sackerl und dann in den Mistkübel! DANKE! (“DON’T BE GROSS! Dog waste belongs in a bag and then in the wastebin! THANKS!”)

A few people have recommended Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium (second edition 2018, available on Bookfinder) but I don’t understand the author’s ideas as they are presented on his blog and in interviews. Granted that he writes his blog in a poetic style, where key concepts are never defined because you are supposed to roll them around and absorb the general meaning in terms that make sense to you.  I suspect that some times he says something he knows is not quite right because it will provoke readers or catch their attention. I would like to see how his book defines elite and why (to me, it seems like the period since 1990 has been hard for journalists and experts in bureaucracies, but great for the rich and academics). In 2017 he paraphrased José Ortega y Gasset that “The quality that sets elites apart – that imparts authority to their actions and expressions – isn’t power, or wealth, or education, or even persuasiveness. It’s integrity in life and work” but he also said that elites are those who “run the great institutions of the industrial age,” and I can’t reach from one definition to the other with a barge-pole made up of recycled Margaret Wente columns, Theranos stock certificates, and prospectuses for investors in Dalian, China.

I am confused by his prescription in ‘Has Government Failed?’ because that sounds like the response of the officeholding class, bureaucracy, and old-media commentators to critics in Canada: “you ask us to stop doing some evil thing, and we understand your idealism but that is just not practical for reasons which we can’t quite explain.  Yes, we told you we would do it if you elected us, and its a matter of a few thousand words of legislation or a few phone calls to officials and police departments, but its much too difficult, maybe if you re-elect us we can make time for it then?”  Contrarians in the United States often present climate change as a sinister plot to engineer society by distant intellectuals, and Gurri places such a scheme in the mouth of his ‘elite’, but in Canada it is grasasroots environmental organizations, small parties, and First Nations who push action and large business owners, the Liberal and Conservative party machines, and Old Media commentators who try to diffuse and delay. 
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I am Re-Reading

Robin Reich, “Historians have too Many Learning Objectives” (In the Anglo tradition) history as a field does not explicitly discuss our basic assumptions, methods, or theories and so what we as historians agree on we only pick up informally or through snippets and crumbs dropped by our advisers. In my undergrad curriculum at a small... Continue reading: I am Re-Reading


Democracies Ancient and Modern

A gathering of people with protest signs in the plaza outside of Innsbruck town hall
The Climate Strike in Innsbruck, September 2019

I had a couple of women, constituents, come to my office and say, ‘We fought so hard to get a seat around the table, and you got there and you gave it away.’ It kind of stunned me. My answer to them was, ‘We didn’t fight hard to get a seat at the table so that we [could] do things the way they’ve always been done and let the boys still run things the way the boys have been running things.’

– Jane Philpott, independent MP for Markham-Stouffville and former cabinet minister, interview with Jason McBride, “Can Jane Philpott Change Politics?” (2019) https://thewalrus.ca/can-jane-philpott-change-politics/

Remember when (the Prime Minister) was held in contempt of Parliament by majority of the members? And the Governor General let him get away with ignoring this and treating it as merely a partisan stunt? … Our elections seem to have been transformed into something like a plebiscite on who makes the best Prime Minister. … our 19th century institutions are in a shambles because we don’t remember the 19th century principles that made them effective, and we haven’t replaced them with more recent principles and institutions

– Steve Muhlberger, “Democracy in Trouble” (2013) https://smuhlberger.blogspot.com/2013/07/democracy-in-trouble.html

Perhaps we find it normal for voters to be told, in every election, that they cannot vote for the party they actually support, but must vote for a party they dislike to forestall the election of a party they detest. But in the vast majority of the world’s democracies that use some form of proportional representation the idea would seem absurd, not to say presumptuous. It is for voters to tell parties what to do, not the reverse. … there’s the obsession with the horse race: where the parties are in the polls, and what strategies they are likely to pursue in response … this is partly a phenomenon of first past the post, and the winner-take-all mentality that accompanies it. The point of an election is not just to find out who won, but what the public wants. And the point of election coverage is not just to report who’s winning, but what the winners would do with the mandate they seek.

– Andrew Coyne, “Shouldn’t every riding be a ‘battleground’? The problems with how we do elections” The National Post 13 September 2019

Formal democ­ra­cy, in such places, rides like a float­ing cork on an ocean of invis­i­ble influ­ences, tan­gled pow­er struc­tures and murky social forces.

– Phil Paine, “A New International Body” (2006) http://www.philpaine.com/?p=425

I am Canadian, and we have an election coming. The past four years have seen a managerial government in Ottawa which worked through some of its easier commitments– legalizing marijuana, providing drinkable water to some but not all First Nations communities, negotiating a not terrible revision of NAFTA with the current administration in Washington, taking a share of Syrian refugees- but avoided deep structural changes like electoral reform or accepting that unceeded land belongs to its inhabitants not the Crown. The three biggest parties have chosen to take vast areas of policy off the table this election: the staffers who run them all agree that we should have a mixed economy with a welfare state, that whoever the United States government defines as enemies are Canada’s enemies too, that their candidates should include men and women with all kinds of ancestry who repeat the same talking points. They dutifully talk about affordability, about “hard-working Canadians” or “the middle class” or “entrepreneurs,” and about cutting a public service here or creating a new one there. Where in some countries candidates spend most of their time calling potential donors and begging for money, in Canada they spend it knocking on doors looking for people to talk to. The new anti-immigration, climate-contrarian People’s Party is not expected to get more than 4% of the vote, and the other parties all talk about anthropogenic global warming even if some of their policies are more coherent than others. If you are outside Canada, it probably sounds comforting. But in Canada people who watch the system are worried that while the forms of parliamentary democracy remain, there is less and less substance underneath. Between writing job applications, I have been reading some excellent reports from the Samara Centre for Democracy based on interviews with former MPs.
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Was Hadrian’s Wall Proceeded by an Earth-and-Post Construction?

Hadrian’s wall across Britain has left complex traces in the forms of trenches, pits, scraps of stonework which were not salvaged by later farmers and road-builders, and of course inscriptions boasting of what the dedicator had accomplished. Geoff Carter, the archaeologist of Britain, is working on his theory that Hadrian’s Wall was first built as... Continue reading: Was Hadrian’s Wall Proceeded by an Earth-and-Post Construction?


Climbing Down Slowly

A playground with cycle trail, skateboard jumps, beach volleyball court and climbing gym.  The background is foggy mountains and a bright sky with clouds.
A playground on the edge of the new SportzentRUM on the left bank of the Inn

Early in my time in Innsbruck, they held a rock climbing world championship in the square outside the Markthalle. A few years later a new rock climbing centre opened near the railway arcade, and all the playgrounds sprouted climbing walls like potatoes kept too long in a heated room. At the beginning of May, there was a rock climbing European championship in Innsbruck. When you listen to interviews with officials, you can see that this all fits into a simple policy.

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