Cost of storage
My dad inherited my old computer, and I recently upgraded the storage from a 60GB SSD to a 1TB SSD. It’s such a leap and yet it doesn’t feel all that long ago that I built this computer. For comparison a 64GB SanDisk flash drive now goes for £9 on amazon. For another comparison, the first three volumes of Marx’s Capital take up 2.5MB as EPUB files, so one of those £9 USB sticks could hold 25,600 copies of these books. There’s a reflection on how far file storage has come in the last… eight years, and how come you don’t see more people walking around with twenty-five thousand ebooks on cheap flash drives. 🤔
In the meantime I’ve gone and put all my remaining drives into my main computer. One of my motivations for building a big tower PC last year was to fill it up with hard drives, and, I have now (almost) done that. I’ve also installed Windows on another new NVMe drive.
New desk setup
I finally got a big 4K monitor, so I’m on a three-monitor setup now.
The screen to the left has a Chromecast hooked up to it.
I’m really leaning into the 2021 world of the future vibe; where you wake up to the news on the radio and the sunlight pouring through the windows, wander over to the desk and mumble “ok google what’s on my calendar today?” and when it works, it feels extremely cool.
Now that the campus is cautiously reopening, I’ve been easing back into a library routine. And just while students are slowly coming back, the university management is committed to cutting the library budget and making threats of redundancies. Anyone can see that things are not going well at the university at the moment. It’s difficult to tell how much of this is the effect of coronavirus, and how much was already predetermined before 2020.
I’m still trying (with limited success) to write a literature review and I miss all of this campus infrastructure. It’s like trying to learn without seminars, without lectures, without informal discussion, all in a field where most of the key authors are frustratingly reluctant to set out clear arguments.
New scans for the Marxists Internet Archive
I got a scanner, ordered some more old documents, and although I don’t have much spare time, I’ve managed to get a few documents online already. I particularly like this pamphlet with anecdotes about women in the old Communist Party.
I’ve also got a fairly enthusiastic new collaborator, a student in Southampton called Kate. Proof-reading scanned text is so much effort and it makes a big difference to have someone else working on it at the same time.
I’m keeping up with ongoing tinkering and bicycle maintenance. I’ve got a freestanding workstand now and brought my bike indoors a few times to tinker with it for long periods.
I’ve replaced the front gears from the pedals all the way to the gear shifter. The only original part remaining is the derailleur, and I’ve already got a new one of those ready to be fitted. Also, I took apart the chain on the wrong link, and then the chain snapped suddenly while I was cycling in town. I’m still learning.
Last weekend I took apart the bottom bracket, and for my own future reference, the total length is 125mm and around 50mm between the bearings.
I still miss having access to a workshop, for advice, specialist tools, and small parts which you can’t just easily buy on a one-off basis. Leicester city council and the university obviously went to great effort to build professional indoor cycle parking facilities (although I still don’t see the advantage over outdoor cycle racks). For all the investment in cycling infrastructure, it shouldn’t be that difficult to just get a shed with some tools where people can go to get their bikes fixed.
There’s always a gap in the market for things like ball bearings. You don’t need more than about 18 ball bearings for one bike, but you can only buy them in the hundreds online.
In the meantime I’m still acquiring useful tools myself, here’s a multi-sized 30-40mm wrench.
It’s got a lot of heft, it feels almost unreal, like a film prop which has been enlarged for dramatic effect.
I’m still involved in local election activity; since we’ve started knocking on doors I’ve been trying out a slow canvassing style. We’ve got the time and the liberty to push past the typical ‘will you vote for x’ questions, leaving more space for the kind of ‘what is your life like’ line of questioning. That occasionally opens up lots of really revealing conversations, which I feel are far more valuable than the standard stuff you can record on a clipboard.
From the start I’m trying not to take things too seriously. Everyone went into the campaign with an intention to use it as an opportunity to talk to people, and putting aside the actual electoral results, I already feel this effort has been successful on its own terms. The campaign gets me walking around areas of the city I don’t usually visit, it allows me to learn about the frustrations and desires people hold.
I went to take a look around the factories near Spinney Hills. Here’s the inside of the old Imperial Typewriters building.
I’ve been trying to think through the role of election activity as a way to ‘build bases in the community’. All the while I’m wary of sounding like some of the starry-eyed gurus you find on the left, always ready to remind everyone about the importance of ‘organising’ and ‘going out into your communities’. I prefer to think of it as one tentative step on the long road to a winning socialist strategy.
I listened to this talk by Vladimir Gligorov at the Communist Corresponding Society.
The society typically only keeps the talks online for a week, I don’t know how they feel about me keeping this one.
Gligorov’s argument is that fact-checking moved from a ‘mundane and unobjectionable’ part of news reporting, to holding powerful people to account, to making claims about bias and motivation.
I deeply dislike the tendency to use allegations of misinformation as a regular feature of debate. It blends political positions into ‘trusted’ and ‘untrusted’ news, serving more or less as an angle to discredit any attempts to question the narrative pushed by the establishment press.
The non-existent Iraqi WMDs are a good historical test of this. When you see the fact-checking melts of today, would they have investigated the claims made by the state, or would they have attacked the likes of the Morning Star, The Canary, and Russia Today for ‘spreading fake news’? It’s not difficult to find examples of where our most neutral and objective news sources have been shown up as uncritical and unquestioning. You don’t even have to go back as far as Iraq, just see how the BBC covered the death of Prince Phillip earlier this month.
There’s more to say here about the difference between rhetoric and intentional speech. You can imagine a Tory politician saying something along the lines of ‘Labour will not keep you safe from crime’ - you could argue that it’s wrong, but it’s not a factual claim. Politicians have otherwise been caught breaking promises, or lying, which is as much a test of factual accuracy as it is about belief and trust. Another variation of this is when someone makes an accusation or a form of spoken testimony in front of a legal process. Finally, arguments in the real world don’t sound like a debate club, you can’t claim victory by catching someone out on a technicality. Fact-checkers who try to verify political speech don’t seem to understand this, that whether or not a statement is objectively true, what matters is whether or not you agree with it.
They call it criminal justice
On the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, I’ve been listening to the Communardes Communards remix album by dubamix. It’s available to download free here.
Tomorrow the men of the police
will bloom again on the pavement,
proud of their record of service,
and with pistols in their holsters.
Without bread, without work, and without weapons,
we will be governed,
by spies and soldiers,
traitors and priests.
There have been weekly protests in Leicester against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. As with elections, it’s good to be out in the street once more.
It was demoralising to see the distinction between the reopening of general retail and people reclaiming the space for protest. There are these two groups mixing in the town centre, and you see that actually when most people come out in public, the first thing they want to do is go shopping.
The worrying outcome of the Bill is that the state won’t come out and completely ban all protests, they’ll just throw up more obstacles. The Bill gives the police a greater ability to discriminate and determine what kinds of disruption are acceptable, and anything which goes too far will get weighed down with conditions and potentially harsh sanctions. It’s the very gradual wearing down of democratic rights, what would have been fashionably named ‘illiberal democracy’ a few years ago.
It’s also worth underlining specifically who is out there defending the right to protest. The people you see at these protests are the left, in all variety of trotskyist, socialist, communist, and anarchist groups; these are the people willing to go out in the streets to defend basic civil liberties. Who is notably absent? The people you don’t see here are the enlightened centrists, the most ardent proponents of liberal democratic society. And that’s a common theme, in all sorts of contexts you often find that the most staunch supporters of the parliamentary institutions are the communists.
I’ve gradually run out of fun side-projects and places to visit. I don’t have much to write about, and beyond being constantly stressed about my PhD, I don’t have all those brief half-hour moments of free time to quickly work on something.
I’ve got a growing collecition of unfinished drafts and notes on interesting things, and maybe I’ll revisit them in future. For now though, I’m aware that I’ve been neglecting this blog, I’m just too busy not doing other things, if that makes sense.
I’m looking forward to next week, the excitement of polling day, and I’m hoping to go to Chesterfield for May Day.