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“I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously”

America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Many passages in Between the World and Me are worth quoting, but this one really hit home. Coates also brands this “patriotism à la carte” in his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations” (see below).

This blind national pride has been particularly painful to many people recently with the wildly inadequate pandemic response, the killing of George Floyd, unmarked federal officers’ violence in Portland, and so many more recent events.

I’d forgotten about how very pervasive it is until I got back to the US in early June. It’s insidious, sad and borderline delusional. And it’s not just a right / conservative thing.

It’s all well and good to be proud of your accomplishments, but if you can’t identify and work to rectify your failings then what the hell is the point?


I’ve been speaking with some friends about this book, they mentioned a few resources I’d like to follow up on.

And I’m still working through my previous list.


I just finished “The Case for Reparations” and learned so much.

Coates weaves together individual and collective experiences, history, and data to connect the dots between the Jim Crow South, the Great Migration, redlining by the Federal Housing Association following the New Deal, the efforts of the Contract Buyers League, Belinda Royall’s early and successful petition for reparations in 1783, John Conyers’s HR 40 bill, the early history of slavery in the US, the failure of Reconstruction, the levelling of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and its subsequent suppression in law and the media, the myth of fatherhood as the antidote to Black poverty, the fuzziness of affirmative action, the “gulag of the Mississippi” Parchman Farm, the impact of Germany’s post-WWII reparations on Israel and the evolution of contemporary Germany, the prevalence of subprime lenders preying on Black home buyers in the run up to the 2008 crisis, and so much more.

He argues for the cooperation of every aspect of society in a real discussion and debate about reparations to “reject the intoxication of hubris” and bring about “a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history”.

HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans “to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies”, has progressed since Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations” in 2014. Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is now first sponsor of HR 40 having taken over from John Conyers in 2018. There has been some progress with the bill, but a vote has not been set.

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“You are a nesting doll. All the people you have been before are still inside you.”

You are a nesting doll. All the people you have been before are still inside you. Some yelling, still needing to be understood about the big shit that happened to them.

– – –

The Quaker clearness committee is a small group of people you take a personal issue to. They are prohibited from offering “fixes” or advice. For 3 hours they pose honest, open questions to help you discover you truth.

– – –

Mimetic theory is a concept developed and advocated for by René Girard, 20th-century French anthropologist. Mimetic theory’s key insight is that human desire is not an autonomous process, but a collective one. We want things because other people want them.

As more and more people want something and that object remains scarce, there is a conflict.

This began as a natural phenomenon: animals and humans learn by imitating other members of their groups, but neither humans nor animals are able to differentiate between good, non-acquisitive mimesis (learning skills from others in your group) from bad, acquisitive mimesis (desiring scarce objects – money, fame, power, someone else’s mate, etc.)

Girard believed that historically human societies managed mimetic conflict through the scapegoat mechanism. If the conflict over a scarce object became too intense, the community subconsciously choose a scapegoat which was sacrificed (literally or metaphorically).

– – –

I don’t believe believe the world is made of quarks or electromagnetic waves, or stars, or planets, or any of these things. I believe the world is made of language.

Terence McKenna

From a particularly good Kleroteria I received today. The writer decided not to include any personal identifiers so I’ll leave it unattributed.

More on mimetic theory here.

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You are your environment

SF has felt like a tech monoculture for the past 10 years. It’s one of the big reasons we were originally planning to be in / around NYC instead.

I’m sure there’s more to it, but it’s kinda hard to find in the current situation, especially in our neighborhood. The worst thing is the possibility of slipping in to it personally, becoming one-dimensional.

Been on my mind since a lot of the indoor things I usually love doing (reading and cooking are two of the biggies) aren’t ticking the boxes at the moment. It might not be the city, it’s probably more related to the move or the pandemic. Maybe I need to check out Oakland? I guess time will tell, I’ll try harder in the meantime. You are your environment.

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“Notes from No Man’s Land”

To read: Notes from No Man’s Land, a book of essays by Eula Biss. Published in the US by Graywolf Press and in the UK by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

A note by Rebecca Solnit:

Two of the qualities that make Eula Biss’s essays in Notes from No Man’s Land compelling and beautiful are precision and independence—independence from orthodoxies of the right and left and the conventions of literary essays and their displays of sensibility and sensitivity. And whatever topic she takes up she dissects and analyzes with startling insight that comes from deep reading and original thinking. She’s important to this moment, important to the opening up of what essays can be, important for setting a standard of integrity and insight, and she’s also a joy to read.

Thanks Bec for the ref!

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To read: “The Ego and Its Own” by Max Stirner

To read: The Ego and Its Own by Max Stirner. Via a black-crowned night heron in a midnight pond:

stirner’s whole schtick was being against ideology in general. […] behaving a certain way in the name of an Idea is therefore completely illogical, because, it’s not real! what’s real is your own happiness and comfort in the world.

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Ikigai 生き甲斐

Ikigai 生き甲斐 = the ideal reason to get up in the morning. There are web articles aplenty on this topic but it doesn’t need much explaining, it’s just a more structured way of thinking about things you already have knocking around in your head. Worth keeping in mind.

                         . . . . . . .
                    .                     .
                 .         FOR               .
               .                LOVE           .
              .                                 .
             . . . . . . .           . . . . . . .
          . .               .     .               . .
      .     .   PA            . .        MI       .     .
   .        .    SS        .       .      SS      .        .
  .         .     IO      .         .      IO     .         .
 .           .      N    . . . . . . .       N   .  FOR      .
.   FOR       .     .   .             .   .     .             .
.              . .      .             .      . .    CO        .
.   TA         . .      .      🌱     .      . .     MM       .
.    LE       .     .   .             .   .     .     UN      .
 .    NT     .  PR       . . . . . . .           .     IT    .
  .         .    OF       .         .   VO        .      Y  .
   .        .     ES       .       .     CA       .        .
      .     .      SI         . .         TI      .     .
          . .       ON      .     .        ON     . .
             . . . . . . .           . . . . . . .
              .                                 .
               .          FOR                  .
                 .             MONEY         .
                    .                     .
                         . . . . . . .

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Preventing email spoofing

Been getting a bunch of targeted phishing emails recently. They’re pretending to be my domain registrar, saying that payment is overdue and they’re going to delete my domain permanently. I’ve received similar things before, but this one of the more convincing and aggressive attempts I’ve seen.

This reminded me about a task on my backlog of TODOs, sorting out my domain’s SPF and DKIM. Both are email authentication methods designed to detect forged sender addresses in emails, a.k.a. email spoofing. SPF + DKIM won’t prevent inbound phishing emails, but they do help prevent my own domain from being spoofed in shady outbound emails.

I’d forgotten to add a SPF record so sorted that out. I made sure to add include values for both my email provider and my web host since the web host is responsible for sending things such as password reset emails from the CMS. Unfortunately, my email host Gandi doesn’t support DKIM. 🙁 So that’s a non-starter.

I’ve been considering switching to Proton though, and happily they offer SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. Maybe I’ll make the switch a bigger priority. Gandi has mentioned that they’re working on implementing DKIM though, so maybe I’ll just check back later this year

Eventually I’ll look in to a DMARC policy, but that’s going to come a little later.

A few links that may be useful:


Edit 21.02.20 – Added link to EasyEngine tutorial b/c I previously was using ?all and received a spoofed email from my domain on another email address I have. *facepalm*

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TODOs: automation, films, pens, reading, etc.

This week has been absolute chaos. Good though! A few things to remember, and to follow up on.


I keep coming across Automate the Boring Stuff, and keep forgetting to look in to it. Python was the first language I learned back in college with Prof. Maxwell, so would be nice to revisit it.

Same thing with films like Idiocracy and The Skeleton Twins. Made a mental note to see them years ago and then promptly forgot, so I’m noting them here as an ever-so-slightly more effective reminder. Idiocracy seems particularly weird, on paper it should have been a huge hit but it got absolutely sidelined by Fox and was screened in the bare-minimum of theaters. The reviews are crazy mixed. Still, I’d like to see it.

Something I *have* watched recently on SB’s recommendation is the BBC’s Ghosts. It’s hilarious and completely charming, a lot of the same faces as the original Horrible Histories but a completely different format. I’d watch the whole thing again, hope they do another series.

Last weekend was Offprint book fair in the Turbine Hall at the Tate, and probably my last event with OP. It was nice to see a few familiar faces including the guys at Here Press. Richard Hollis did a talk to a full house on his newest book about Henry van de Velde followed by a book signing at OP’s table. It was nice to see him again. He was using a blue Uni-ball Air for the signing. I’m going to keep my eye out for that one in the stationery shops, it’s a ball point that writes like a fountain pen (line thickness varies with pressure, but very little risk of leaks). The price seems super reasonable, the web’s retail giant offers a three-pack for just under £5.

GC recommended The Mushroom at the End of the World, and if there’s anyone I trust to give me great book recommendations, it’s her. I’m just hoping it leans towards the glass-half-full end of things, I’m not sure I can take more pessimism right now.

I might have a little bit of downtime while travelling over the next few weeks. If I do, I’m hoping to spend a little time looking in to Commotion, “a free, open-source communication tool that uses wireless devices to create decentralized mesh networks”. Could use SiteSucker to grab all of the docs before I leave for offline reading. I came across Commotion for the first time via a link to Learn Networking Basics from Measurement Lab’s learning resources.

Big data? No thanks

Gandi published a long blog post titled “Mass manipulation and platform privacy: where we’re at”. It’s summarises some talks and Gandi’s perspective following a conference on “democracy in the face of cybersecurity threats”. I’d like to follow up on a few of the points from the post. I’d also like to find out what public educational efforts are under way. Surely someone is working on PSA-style messaging about the dangers of misinformation and how to identify it. It’s easy to be skeptical about that sort of thing, but it can stick. What’s the cyber-awareness version of “Only you can prevent forest fires” or “A slip of the lip will sink a ship”? James Bridle’s “Big data? No thanks” is related, but the version I’m talking about is more personal, about confronting your own confirmation bias. But not too ominous, also catchy and friendly? Tall order.

Every time I sit down on the tube I wonder about what other people see when they look at me, what they perceive about me precisely because they are *not* me. There is this slippery divide when it comes to understanding yourself. There are elements of yourself that you can never understand since it’s impossible to get outside your own head (one of the reasons that talking to someone else about a problem can be so helpful). There are other things about yourself that only you can ever understand, no matter how much time you spend attempting to express that thing. I have trouble articulating why this feels like a catch, but surely someone out there has tried. Just need to find them.

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Could NemID exist in other countries? And should it?

Front of a NemID card

Last Monday, I met with some friends at the Cock in Hackney. One of them had just returned from Copenhagen and mentioned having to sort out something related to his NemID. I’d never heard of it before.

Apparently NemID is a common login tool that Danish residents use to access online banking and services offered by public institutions. It’s a little credit card-sized booklet of 148 key pairs that you use alongside a user ID and a password. It’s like an analogue version of two-factor authentication. Each time you log in to something with NemID, the key pair you use is invalidated and is never used again. When you’ve used up all of your key pairs, you’re sent a new NemID booklet.

It seems like a great system. Unlike biometric data, it would be easy to replace if it were compromised. Unlike most other two-factor authentication methods, it doesn’t require an additional (usually smart) device of some sort.

There are downsides though. NemID is administered by a single organisation, Nets DanID A/S, and all of the data seems to be held in one place. This was a problem in 2013 when a DDoS attack knocked it offline temporarily. The oversight also seems pretty iffy, see this January 2016 blog article: “NemID is not cryptologically secure – and the authorities do not care”.

It’s also hard to say how this could be rolled out in countries with larger populations… Denmark’s population is around 5.7 million. That’s a bit more manageable than the UK (~ 66 million), Brazil (~ 209 million), or India (~ 1.3 billion).

Apparently NemID is going to be replaced by MitID in the next few years, so it will be interesting to see if the Danish government forces any changes to make the system less centralised.

And it makes me wonder (again) if something like Dark Crystal could ever work on a national scale.