» Mazower’s Opinions

Mark Mazower has, for some time now, been writing poignant and increasingly strongly worded opinion articles about the effects of the crisis, the social and political repercussions that few politicians and economists bother worrying about while trying, unsuccessfully, if not plain badly, to enforce a flawed economic policy throughout Europe. His articles are grounded, accurate with the facts and highly worrisome, a scarily intense forewarning of how things can go wrong; they demonstrate the kind of foresight you would expect but seldom find in the foolish, greedy and highly myopic politicians currently governing Europe.

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»  Tim Schafer’s History of Videogames Adventure

You may have heard of him. No? Well, sc**w you! Because, err, you should.

Tim Schafer’s video mini autobiography for Gamespot. Must see for all those that have enjoyed any/all of Day of the Tentacle, the original two Monkey Island games, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango or his later creations at Double Fine Productions.

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» Bletchley Park, by Google.

I’ve written before about Bletchley Park, when, in 2008, closure seemed imminent and the UK government seemed unable and unwilling to do much to keep it alive. Now Google has offered to help restore Bletchley Park — an admirable endeavour that is very welcome, given the site’s significance in World War II history. As a sidenote, it is a real shame that we have now come to depend on multinational corporations in order to preserve our monuments.

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» Willingly At the Forefront or Perpetual Testing Ground?

Mark Mazower is perhaps one of the most prominent historians of his generation, one that I respect and whose works I’ve have studied extensively over the past decade. This is his latest article on the NY Times and a good read; it may not be comprehensive — as no newspaper article could ever be — it may skim over a two thousand year period, in the process making an impossibly romantic, and if it weren’t for its author I’d dare call it naive, argument: that Greece has repeatedly throughout its history had a leading role in shaping world events by being a forerunner of (r)evolution. The argument is romantic and flattering, but it’s also flawed. It purposefully ignores that Greece has long lost its position as an enviable country (if it ever really had one) and nation, that it encompasses a society, a state and (a modern) culture admired by very few people that can discern between Classical Greece and Modern Greece. It hides the fact that since the founding of the modern Hellenic state in 1830, it is seldom Greece (the state) or its people that have chosen to shape the world, as Mazower puts it, but rather the world that has repeatedly coerced, if not forced, it to partake in its experiments, a guinea pig of sorts, the testing ground for change; whether for the imposition of western european monarchy on newly constituted nation-states in the 19th century, the fight against the Axis, the field testing of napalm in the 1940s, or the slow dismantling of the post-WWII status quo in Europe and the West that’s happening now. In that respect, Mazower’s article is unfounded and misleading; it makes the same mistake so many western historians, philhellenes and intellectuals have made over the past two hundred years: it flatters an intellectually, politically and economically corrupt state and an ignorant yet proud people by ignoring the very causes of their predicament, viewing the world through the stained rose tinted glasses of its long and glorious history and a form of nationalism, irrational as it always is. And that is the last thing that Greece needs, right now and — arguably — has ever needed.

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2010.11.20

Dismantling the EU

The past sixty years have been a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity in Europe. A continent devastated by two World Wars, empires undone in the span of a few decades, the formal subjugation of Europe under the United States in return for their assistance in winning World War II, in light of their superior industry, military and economic might. European prosperity, the extremely high quality of life enjoyed by so many states for so long cannot be attributed to anything, but the support of the United States in the decades after World War 2 and, perhaps, the creation of the European Union, a vast and complex organisation that has provided for much of the population of Europe, by smoothing out the differences between the economic output of the north with that of the south, supporting — perhaps excessively in some cases — agriculture, innovation and collaboration, but above all fostering cooperation and trade between European countries.

In 1945 Europe was a devastated continent in what was the end of an era. The three decades of tension and war, extreme economic boom and bust had begun the process of dismantling of the major European empires of old that had dominated the world in the previous several hundreds of years. Throughout this process of redefinition of old Europe under the auspices of the two new superpowers, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was founded. The ECSC, a precursor to the European Economic Commmunity and, later, the European Union, had only six members in 1951. The organisation’s gradual expansion, both in scope and in geography redefined its existence as the de facto governing body in Europe, an important institution in a globalised world. Despite the clear need for Europe to cooperate, to put aside centuries of pointless nationalistic drivel and rivalry and promote, in whatever way was possible, the European economy and European culture (the people of Europe share quite a lot of their culture, even if they won’t readily admit it), national pride has played a significant part of the evolution of the EU. From de Gaulle’s veto of British accession to the EU, the dominant Franco-German alliance, heavily promoting French and German interests and controlling the politics of the Union, to Thatcher’s British rebate in the 1980s and Poland’s alignment with Bush in the Iraq War of the mid-2000s, national interests have remained a crucial part of the Union.
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2009.11.12

Οπτικοακουστικό Αρχείο ΕΡΤ — Μέρος Δεύτερο

Τον Δεκέμβριο του 2007, έγραψα ένα άρθρο με τίτλο ‘Οπτικοακουστικό Αρχείο ΕΡΤ’. Ο λόγος ήταν η τεράστια σημασία του εγχειρήματος, τόσο για εμένα, όσο και για εκατομμύρια συμπολίτες μου αλλά και για την ευρύτερη σημασία της διάθεσης του αρχείου, μιας μοναδικής κληρονομιάς και μέρος της ιστορίας αυτού του τόπου.

Παρά τη θετική άποψή μου για την προσπάθεια αυτή όμως, και αγνοώντας — έστω προσωρινά — τις βασικότερες ανησυχίες μου σχετικά με την ιδιοκτησία ενός τόσο σημαντικού έργου από μια ιδιωτική, ως επι το πλείστον, επιχείρηση, βασικές μου ενστάσεις — και ο λόγος για τον οποίο το άρθρο αποτέλεσε σημαντικό εφόδιο στην κριτική του έργου από αρκετούς — αποτέλεσαν αφ’ενός η επιλογή ενός κλειστού φορμά διάθεσης του αρχείου στο κοινό (WMV) και ο αποκλεισμός λειτουργικών συστημάτων όπως το GNU/Linux και τα διάφορα BSDs από τον κατάλογο των υποστηριζόμενων συστημάτων χρήσης του αρχείου και αφ’ετέρου η διάθεση του υλικού σε ιδιαίτερα χαμηλή ποιότητα.

Reel To Reel RecorderΣήμερα, κι ενώ είχα για πολύ καιρό αποφύγει την επίσκεψη στον δικτυακό τόπο, επέστρεψα και διαπίστωσα πως το υλικό πλέον παρέχεται σε video κωδικοποιημένο με Sorenson (h.263), υπο μορφή αρχείου flv και μέσω flash player· η αλλαγή είναι σίγουρα ευπρόσδεκτη καθώς οι περισσότεροι φυλλομετρητές υποστηρίζουν flash. Αγνοώ γιατί δεν επελέχθη το h.264 καθώς παρέχει σαφώς καλύτερη απόδοση στο ίδιο εύρος ζώνης, αλλά επιπλέον γιατί η ποιότητα του υλικού παραμένει τραγική· φαντάζομαι πως βασικός λόγος δεν είναι το bandwidth ή το κόστος, αλλά κυρίως η αποτροπή “παράνομης” χρήσης του υλικού δίχως την άδεια της ΕΡΤ (παρά το γεγονός πως το λογότυπο της ΕΡΤ δεσπόζει, ως υδατογράφημα, στο αριστερό μέρος του κάδρου). Δυστυχώς το τελικό αποτέλεσμα κάνει την θέαση του υλικού δύσκολη και κουραστική και το εγχείρημα σαφώς λιγότερο επιτυχές.

Ελάχιστα φαίνεται να έχει κατανοήσει η ΕΡΤ, δύο σχεδόν χρόνια μετά την πρώτη παρουσία του αρχείου στο διαδίκτυο, τη σημασία της διάθεσης του υλικού αυτού. Ελάχιστα φαίνεται να έχει ασχοληθεί με διεθνείς αντίστοιχες προσπάθειες, όπως αυτές του βρετανικού BBC, του αμερικάνικου PBS, το Hulu και άλλες, που θέλουν το internet να αντικαθιστά τόσο την ψηφιακή επίγεια τηλεόραση όσο και — σε μεγάλο βαθμό — άλλα οπτικά μέσα αποθήκευσης video υψηλής ευκρίνειας. Μπορεί το βάρος της ευθύνης να μη πέφτει μόνον στην ΕΡΤ αλλά να σκιαγραφεί μια γενικότερη αστοχία της ελληνικής διαδικτυακής ‘κοινότητας’ (βλ. έλλειψη ενός γρηγορότερου εθνικού δικτύου, κακή διείσδυση ευρυζωνικών συνδέσεων, χαμηλή ποιότητα υπηρεσιών, χαμηλό ενδιαφέρον για νέες τεχνολογίες κ.ο.κ.), όμως ως ο φορέας υλοποίησης και ο αυτοδιορισμένος — λόγω κακής νομοθετικής ρύθμισης — ‘αρχειοφύλακας’ της σύγχρονης ελληνικής ιστορίας η ΕΡΤ φέρει μεγάλο μέρος της ευθύνης.

Reel recorder by William A. Franklin/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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»  Naïve Brilliance

If anything can be said in retrospect about Robert McNamara is not that he was hawkish, evil, corrupt or duplicitous, but that despite his sophistication, the statistical prowess and scientific rigour that he showed in his work, his all-around intellectual capacity (or perhaps, in a way just because of all these) he exemplified the naïve brilliance that often accompanies highly intelligent people that fail to take that macroscopic view and consider where they place their focus and energy and why they do so. His 2003 ‘apology’ film, the Errol Morris documentary ‘The Fog Of War’, as well as his 1995 ‘In Retrospect’ book, both indicate that wisdom came late to McNamara; a clear and very welcome difference, nevertheless, to most of his contemporaries.

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2008.05.30

Bletchley Park to close?

Bletchley Park

In 2000 I visited what is probably one of the most interesting attractions for geeky history buffs in the UK: Bletchley Park.

Even back when I visited it, the Park was in a dismal state, badly preserved, run down — definitely far from what it should be, given both the fact that sixty years ago it was a British Government secret installation and its immense importance in World War II — and all that in a country whose culture even today is still fundamentally affected (I’d dare say defined) by the two World Wars. Today, about 8 years since my visit to Bletchley Park, I read at Bruce Schneier’s blog that it may close in a few years due to lack of funds. Having grown up in Hellas, a country with a long history and thousands of ancient sites all over the country, I always thought that the dismal state of Hellenic antiquities was due to the country’s deeply rooted nepotism, corruption, stupidity, indifference and total incapacity for efficient, constructive work. While the British government has quite frequently showed that it’s not far from the Hellenic one, one would expect that they’d care more to preserve a small-ish park and a Victorian mansion.

If you appreciate 20th century history and/or cryptography and are visiting the UK (or, better yet, live there), pay a visit to Bletchley Park. The tour may be somewhat indifferent to many, the park itself may be run down, but you’d be seeing first hand the place where Enigma was systematically deciphered during the war and — through your purchase of a ticket and or other souvernirs or donations — will help preserve a piece of modern history. Finally for all those interesting in computing, Bletchley Park hosts a small, and seemingly uninteresting computer museum; this is nothing like some of its counterparts in the U.S.. Nevertheless it has a unique exhibit that’s bound to thrill every computer scientist, programmer, engineer or geek visiting it: a working replica of Colossus.

For more information about the Park go to their page here or visit its Wikipedia entry.

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