Mourning the silencing of normblog

Tuesday, 22 October, 2013 0 Comments

On 21 August this year, Norman Geras posted a blog entry titled “Jack Geras 1912—2013,” and wrote: “My father died this afternoon. Out of respect for his memory I will be observing a brief silence here over the coming days.” He completed the entry by reposting a tribute he had written in 2012 on the occasion of his father’s hundredth birthday. Last Friday, 18 October, Jenny Geras (Norman’s daughter) posted an entry titled “Norman Geras: 1943—2013,” and wrote: “I am very sad to announce that Norm died in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge in the early hours of this morning. Writing this blog, and communicating with all his readers, has brought him an enormous amount of pleasure in the last ten years. I know that since writing here about his illness earlier in the year he received a lot of support from many of you, and that has meant a great deal to him, and to us, his family. The blog and all its archives will remain online.”

The news stunned an international community of people who had come to admire his integrity and activity over the years. “Norman Geras — professor emeritus of government at Manchester University, philosopher, cricket fan, country music lover, Marxist, liberal socialist, democrat, political blogger behind the influential Normblog — has died of cancer aged 70,” began the obituary in the Guardian. To her credit, Eva Garrard added this:

“From his perspective, the response to the events of 11 September 2001 was appalling. He found the readiness of many to blame the US for bringing the terrorist attack down on its own head to be intellectually feeble and morally contemptible. He argued that this section of the left was betraying its own values by offering warm understanding to terrorists and cold neglect to their victims. He detested the drawing of an unsupported and insupportable moral equivalence between western democracies and real or proposed theocratic tyrannies in which liberty of thought and speech, and the protection of human rights, would play no part. Norm wanted to engage in this debate and not just with academics. So he went online, to provide himself with a space in which he could express these and other views, and Normblog was born.”

Rainy Day did not share Norm’s Marxist views, but we did agree wholeheartedly with his courageous defence of the West, his staunch support for Israel and his energetic condemnation of the cowardice of the liberal media in the face of Islamist barbarism. “Much of the so-called antiwar movement seems only to protest against wars waged by the US, Britain and Israel; wars waged by dictatorial regimes, whether externally, or internally against sections of their own population, don’t spur it to the same oppositional passion or mobilization,” wrote Norm, calling out the hypocrites with the inimitable clarity that we’ll sorely miss in the troubling times to come.

Over the years, Norm wrote hundreds of profiles of people he found to be of interest. We were greatly honoured when, on 18 March 2005, normblog profile 78 was devoted to Eamonn Fitzgerald. Norm’s generosity was a measure of the man. His loss is our loss.

Norman Geras

Fighting comment spam with the help of Askimet

Wednesday, 4 September, 2013 1 Comment

The pleasures of self-hosting a blog are too many to enumerate here, but there is a downside, and it has a name: comment spam. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of spam comments are submitted daily to Rainy Day. The latest wave is dominated by upmarket fashion brands, especially expensive handbags, ugly sheepskin boots and sports gear. The old reliables — pharmaceutical treatments for sexual dysfunction — are still there, but what’s new is misspellings of well-known product names, such as “Adobe Acrabat”. On top of this, there’s been a huge upsurge in comments filled with punctuation marks, behind which malicious URLs hide. Here’s an example from today’s harvest:

watsinseo???????????????????????????????????????? ????????????
tory burch ??
, ????? ???
, ?????? ???

Cd?Dvd???????????????????? ?????????????????????????? $20 ???????????????????? $150 ?????????????????4 ???500 ??????????????? 37 ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? €™ s ????
?????? ???
, ?????? iphone
, ?????? ???

???????????????????????? ??????????????????WPP ?????????????????????????????? WPP ??????????????????????????????????????????????WPP ?????????????????????????
?????? iphone
, ?????? ???
rnrnSecond???????????????? web ?????????????????????????? web ???????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????????? ????? ??? ?
??????????????????????????? 100 ??????????????????????????????????????

No blogger can cope with the current onslaught and the perverse economics of spamming mean that it costs almost zero to add more targets to the list. What’s worse, spammers are increasingly using people to type and post comments directly. These tend to be low-paid workers in internet cafes, schools and factories. The spammers don’t pay a price for their hit-and-miss strategy, but the poor blogger has to deal with consequences that range from loss of time to bloated backups. Thank God, therefore, for Askimet, which from now on will automatically detect and bin comment spam here.

Kimberly Anne within the iframe

Saturday, 1 December, 2012 0 Comments

Without getting too technical here, it has to be said that the WordPress blogging platform which powers Rainy Day is a thing of wonder for it combines computer code with that most redeeming human trait: sharing. This is manifested in the proliferation of “plugins”, those nifty community-created software components that enhance the whole. A case in point is iframe, an elegant plugin that makes embedding clips from Vimeo such a snap. That said, let’s now enjoy “Bury It There” by the South London singer-songwriter Kimberly Anne.

[iframe src=”″ width=”100%” height=”480″]