Monk Saki

whining and poor writing. technology, history, data.

New Digs


‘Operation Legacy’ and the British Colonial Drawdown

I want to highlight a couple of recent articles about the British Empire, the first about ‘Operation Legacy,’ and the draw-down of the colonies, the second about the British historical treatment of empire – what is included, what is not included, and why.

The first article details ‘Operation Legacy’, the methodical destruction of colonial documents as the British withdrew from their holdings in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  As a side note, the forced declassification of the documents is an interesting bit of fallout from the legal proceedings stemming from British use of torture during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. It’s a glimpse at Empire-as-criminal-enterprise, images of British colonial officials holding document-fed bonfires, incinerating evidence that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” or reveal racial prejudice on their part. More interesting, in my opinion, is that British officials in the homeland created an ad hoc classification system for the documents, restricting access based on ethnicity – certain documents available only to members of the ‘Old Commonwealth’ (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada), other (presumably more sensitive) documents restricted to “British officers of European descent only”.  Documents were divided into several categories: those to be destroyed immediately, those to be handed over to the new authorities, and those to be transported back to the homeland. Others were to be “packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast”. That last sentence, drawn from the documents, feels exceptionally weighted to me, as if it’s a glimpse at some often hidden action of a collective psyche – a glimpse at how a state as a whole turns away from committed atrocities. Anyway, thanks to Ian Cobain and the Guardian for the piece.

The second article, ‘Britain’s Noxious History of Imperial Warfare’ by John Newsinger, deals with British historiography surrounding the empire. As the author notes, the more popular histories of empire – likely directed toward a mass market or of the type you may see on bestseller lists – give short or no treatment to the common use of torture by colonial officials, as well as the Bengal Famine of 1943, an event in which 3.5 – 5 million people died. During the latter, the British continued to export food from the area – had they stopped, “perhaps 2 million lives could have been saved.” It’s a great article, and reminds me again hidden actions I refer to above. On another note, (and perhaps I’m being too broad), but I would argue that this is one of several different mechanisms we in the West use to interpret current events, a “benign interpretation” to borrow from the article. Viewing the current state of affairs – globalization, the lowering of trade barriers, the pervasive free market – as a positive requires no small measure of revisionism. The idea that a free market, rather than reinforcing existing inequality, provides an opportunity for any actor (individual or state) to compete on a level field, passes over the fact that any post-colonial power must overcome the barriers of a global economy built by and for Western powers and overcome histories of plunder and social reorganization at odds with individual stability. I’m not stating anything new here, but it’s worth noting. I’m also hung over so my writing is a bit rubbish.

Inflate Monk Saki’s Sense of Self-Importance: Send Me Secret Messages

Here’s my public PGP key. Send me neat secret messages, I will decrypt them. I will feel much cooler. Help a young gentleman out.

Oh, and I am working on a post about surveillance in India: how does it work? What forms does it take? How prevalent is it? Does it have a chilling effect on public discourse, or appear to change users’ habits around communicaton? If so, what kind of users change their behavior? SEE, I HAVE ALL SORTS OF QUESTIONS.

This is quite an old article, I’ve been wondering about these questions since I read it a while ago. *leans back, looking cool as hell* I also travelled in India a bit so y’know, personal interest and all. But of course, for the random user that comes across my shabby blog, if this is a subject that interests you or that you know about, send me a message – encrypted or otherwise.

What is a Monk Saki?

A monk saki is a New-World monkey, pictured below. As you can probably see, its name refers to its ‘haircut’, similar to a monk’s tonsure. I like primates, and New-World monkeys are an interesting branch of that family tree. All New-World monkeys have prehensile tails, different (one could say simpler) vision than Old-World monkeys, and a different dental formula from other primates. Y’know, just some fun facts from your ol’ pal Monk Saki.


P.S. I am not, in fact, a New-World monkey.

Data Wranglin’: The Beginning

This is my first post, and I will be using it to write about something I’ve been working on, some skills I’ve been trying to gain, other skills I’ve been trying to refine, all centering around one thing: data. Mind-blowing, right? It’s like no one is even talking about data these days. Ok, I know, so let’s refine and personalize this a bit further.

In the Dark Time after my graduation – hat tip to Colt 45 in the 40 ounce glass bottles – I worked for a large technology company. There, I picked up some computer skills, mostly dealing with networking. Just a solid, generalized base to work from. I know what computers are, more or less how they work, how to build and repair them, and how they prefer to talk to one another.

Now imagine if you will, David Brent slowly lacing his fingers together while biting this lip. The left hand represents my love of history and anthropology, and the right my (often reluctant) experience with technology.


And the union? Again, data. We all know there’s lots of it, and we all know that computers love the stuff. But for me, datasets grant a way to explore questions I care about and appeal to my preference for primary source material, I just have to learn how to use them properly. The best part, of course, is that the internet is full of free resources to learn these skills. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, a brief aside. Although the uses are endless, this stuff is exciting to me because data sets, public data, public documents – all of it, really – can renew the legitimacy and rigor of fields like journalism and international development. To state a blunt opinion, in our time I believe the majority of public discourse and language is disingenuous and ultimately self-serving, if not serving the speaker directly, serving the power structures they may represent. I am reminded of a quote from Susan Sontag, and I hope I am not twisting its meaning: “As the prestige of language falls, that of silence rises.” (A Susan Sontag Reader (New York, 1982) p. 195) Reliable data can be a form of silence – it’s transparent, it’s available, and anyone can assess it on their own. Now, it may seem strange to group journalism and international development, but I believe they can derive the same benefits from the transparent, well-documented use of data sets – as in, here are the conclusions we’ve drawn from the information we have, here is the data we’ve used, here are the steps we took to analyze that data. If we’re wrong, use these resources to show us why.

As for working with data, we all know computers can do it, but it’s a matter of bridging the gap between what you want the computer to do, and how to tell the computer how to do it. These resources should help. Also, if my points or thoughts are still vague or shoddily put together, recall I’m returning to writing after a long hiatus. Bear with me. Also, quick shout out to – I attended a talk by one of their employees, and that’s where I learned of these resources.

1.  Google Fusion Tables and Spreadsheets. Fusion Table help here.

2. Tabula. Wonderful tool to extract data from uncooperative PDF files.

3. Datawrapper.Open source tool to create robust, visually clean, embeddable charts.

4. School of Data Courses. These are fantastic. Tons of modules divided into 6 courses. Each one I’ve completed so far has been very helpful.

5. The Data Journalism Handbook. It’s free. Why not?

6. Tableau Public. I haven’t messed about with it yet, but I hear good things.

7. Internews’ Datadredger. A ton of information, maps, visualizations, and stories utilizing data.

So, that’s a start. I’ll be working through these resources over the next few months. Also, I’ve compiled a decent list of data sources, so I’ll put together a post with links once I have them all together. Enjoy.

Oh, and image source for the grainy Mr. David Brent above.