Nov 172011
 

About a third of my readers is from the US. This is for you.

By pure accident I made this image on Sunday. I was not sure about the symbolism and what to make of it, how to spin it and how to join it with a song, but sometimes international events help along.

Wednesday, November 16 is now technically yesterday for me and for everybody but the folks in Hawaii, but then, this is the post for Wednesday and it’s not too late for you to stand up for your rights anyway. November 16 was AMERICAN CENSORSHIP DAY. Big Hollywood didn’t get some of the censorship laws they had written lately, and every time they try it again, they try it with something more outrageous, something more frivolous.

This time a site would be classified as infringing when it contains “infringing links”. Like the links to music videos on my site. I’m sure some of them are dubious from a copyright point of view. And that all changes. Google has contracts with some music majors that cover usage of their content, but not necessarily in all regions. Some things that I link to may be OK in Europe but not in the US. Some may be OK today but not tomorrow. No way to check for me.

But it’s worse. I would be made responsible for links in comments, even in SPAM that slips through!

Yes, if this bill passes, you may not be able to see my site any more, or if I want to avoid that, I better remove all music links and give up the “Song of the Day” business, just to be safe.

My site is hosted in the US, but even if it were not so, I wouldn’t want to lose a third of my readers and a host of friends.

If this is all so absurd, if this is all so badly thought out, if the collateral damage of the proposed bills is so all-encompassing, how could that ever be proposed?

Well, you know, this is the illusion industry. Their business is to show you things that are not, and to make you believe they are. Technically this is not different from lying, it’s only a matter of intention. As a lobby, the entertainment industry is probably the most dangerous in the world. They are synonymous for glamour, and because glamour is so desirable for those who can afford it, the entertainment industry is particularly well connected with politics and Big Money. Add to that the character of their profession and the fact that they own all the channels with exception of the Internet, and then you know what it means when they strike.

They strike NOW and NOW is the time to say NO. Don’t let them keep you quiet, don’t let them shut down the Internet as we know it, don’t let them turn it into another one of THEIR channels.

Please head over to http://americancensorship.org/ or to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and read more about why the Great Firewall of America is a bad idea, not only from the human rights point of view but from every point of view (with the exception of that of the entertainment industry). Inform yourself and please act. Thank you.

The Song of the Day is “Quiet” by Ian Dury & The Blockheads. Hear it on YouTube (another site endangered by the legislation introduced).

Aug 062009
 

One of the most wide-spread misconceptions about democracy is, that it, once given, perfects itself, in other words, progresses towards an ideal of justice.

The problem is, democracy is only an abstract concept, not an actor. It does not do anything on its own, it does not even exist as an independent entity in the first place.

It is we who have to act, or better, because “we” is a weak concept as well, it is I and it is you who have to act. To demand moral behavior from a government is futile. A government is nothing but a compromise between concurrent forces within a society. Those forces are not driven by ideals, they are driven by egoistic interests. A government is a mirror of the balance between these forces.

But “government” is also a weak concept. A government consists of actual persons and they represent egoistic groups on the one hand and their own egoistic interests on the other hand. When you think of that, it’s a miracle that they even get anything done at all.

Democracy is a weak concept, it does not exist as an actor, it does not exist as an entity, and therefore it does not have any force of its own. Democracy does not perfect itself, it does not progress, it is a weak, unstable configuration of political forces, and that we have enjoyed it for so long, does not mean that we will be able to do it perpetually.

At the moment we see a decline. It is world-wide. Democracy is strongly coupled to freedom, but freedom does not mean a thing to those who are free. People don’t value freedom, they value security. People may have their problems with what is, but they fear to change it. People are inherently conservative.

In the moment, governments all over the world use lies and deceit to erect walls around us, to take away our freedom, and they do that under the pretense of conserving our security. The problem is, and that is what most people don’t get, the most secure of all places is a prison, and that’s exactly where the decline of our democracy leads us.

Why should governments do that? Well, it is because they consist of politicians, and although politicians represent the forces of society, they normally don’t represent all forces. They represent the wealthy, the well educated, the elite. It does not matter what party, it does not matter what political program, the political actors are normally representative of only a small part of the society, and therefore democracies naturally tend to decline towards oligarchy.

The pet enemy of most politicians seems to be the Internet. The more naive among them regard it only as a new mass medium that they can’t control, mostly because of its international structure. And even if some of them understand what the Internet is, a universal, ever changing communication infrastructure, pure anarchic power, raw democracy, the most concentrated political force of all times, the universal memory of mankind, the voice of voices, the ultimate negation of political lies – it naturally scares them.

No, it is no coincidence that so-called democratic governments throughout the world, along with openly undemocratic governments, use the fear of terrorism and the phantom of child pornography to erect walls, to circle us in, to keep our voices down.

Don’t let them get away with it.

Most of the time the lyrics of the Song of the Day don’t have any connection with either image or text, but today I find them well matched: The song from the 1990 James album “Gold Mother” is all about breaking down “Government Walls“. Hear it on YouTube.

Jul 212009
 

These are the images of Monday. I was back in Vienna and Vienna behaved: it was sunny and hot.

Remember that stupidly big battery from “990 – Oh Yes, Take Another Guess“? Guess what, it’s still here, and these are the cables that run from it down into the Underground station. Snake-like, huh?

Well, I really can’t imagine how those artists, oh, sorry, “Artists”, with style, manage to keep being interested in what they are doing. Why? Because I change mine all the time! Remember all those B&W images toned orange/brown? It really fascinated me, but with today’s two B&W images it could be nothing but pure black and pure white.

For the cables image B&W was an option, for the Image of the Day it was a necessity. The eye belongs to an image on an advertising column, and the receding left side of the column had strong reflections in a color that was completely alien to the color of the poster. Regardless of what I tried, in color the image looked terrible.

What you see here is a high-contrast blue filter for the column and a different B&W filter for the background. Furthermore I have adapted local contrasts with Topaz Adjust and several contrast layers with masks. I guess the result works pretty well and in any case a thousand times better than in color.

The final image is one more in a series that was so central to my SoFoBoMo book “Urban Dreams II“, another animal graffiti against a blurred background, another two-halves composition.

On a side-note: You may remember my rants against the trend towards Internet censorship. Well, I’m beginning to actually do something against it. I am now an official member of the Pirate Party of Austria, which means I have finally paid my membership fee 🙂

The Pirates can be best described as “Computer Literates Against Stupid Populism”, aka CLASP, and their mission is to act against all kinds of populism-induced restrictions of human rights. They call themselves Pirates for two reasons: They sprang from a movement in Sweden, culminating in the Torrent tracker site “The Pirate Bay“, and in general, they oppose the notion that copying (for example for personal backups) is piracy.

The content industry is enormously inventive in coming up with ever new business models that basically can be subsumed under “Selling The Same Sh*t Over And Again”. They even manage to get support from hardware and software producers for their broken schemes (DRM, HDCP). At the same time they seem to increasingly influence legislators to weaken consumer rights. For instance it may be legal to make backup copies for your programs or data, but it is made frequently illegal to circumvent copy protection schemes. Thus, installing such a scheme enables the content industry to legally make one of your legal consumer rights ineffective.

The list is much longer, but in any case, the Pirates are a party that tries to educate the public AND our politicians, in order to keep the content industry from controlling what’s left of democracy in our Western World. Actually, the name “Pirates” is a little unfortunate, but the idea is, that when the industry tries to make us all pirates, why not give it a positive swing and make a party.

Really: nobody but some kids are interested in copyright infringement. In earlier times those kids have shared music cassettes in the school yards, now they use P2P networks. The industry claims enormous losses due to that behavior, but we believe that it is as much advertising for new music as it is loss. In the end all those kids will become consumers and will pay for their music, just as it was ever before, just as I paid for my more than 3000 music CDs, despite my sympathies for the Pirates 🙂

The weapons are very unevenly distributed in this war that the industry wages against their own customers. It is time now to stand up and to fight for our rights. After all, we must not forget, that communication and the making up of illusions (soft lies?) is the core business of that industry. Small wonder that they are so incredibly much more successful at influencing politics, than their comparatively small contribution to the GDP would suggest.

The problem is, that in their greed to maximize profits, they bribe or convince (or both) law makers to take away more and more of our constitutional rights. One thing must be clear: they are corporations with one singular goal: to maximize their profits. Such a corporation has neither conscience nor responsibility, at least to nobody but its share holders. Thus they are immoral by definition. Let them have their way, and your worst nightmares will come true. It is our job as citizens to stand up and fight for our rights, fight for a world of free and uncensored communication. The case of Iran shows how vitally important that can be.

In the true spirit of its time, the Song of the Day begins with the words “Take a little dope / And walk out in the air / The stars are all connected to the brain”. Ladies and gentlemen, this is “Naked Eye” from the 1971 album “Who’s Next” by The Who. See them at the Isle of Wight 1970 on YouTube, and the pleasure will come falling down like rain 🙂

923 – The Future

 Nikon 24/2.8 AF  Comments Off on 923 – The Future
Apr 242009
 

Since yesterday I’ve had a cursory look on the proposed text to that German censorship law, and as far as I could see, there is no obvious cancellation of the presumption of innocence. It was quoted as having been said by Attorney General Brigitte Zypries on the press conference together with Ursula von der Leyen, but according to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, there was much open disagreement between the two about the actual consequences of the law and of how it should work in practice.

Unfortunately there seems to be no video of the press conference (how’s that in our digital age?). Zypries is quoted more than once, but all quotes link back to my original source, the news site of heise.de. At least someone from Heise, Germany’s most prestigious technical news publishing house, has obviously been present, as they are on the forefront of resistance against censorship. There is at least a chance that they may have got the quote wrong, I doubt it though.

Anyway. That’s how it looks today. The problem is, that this in itself is only a piece of a puzzle. There are strong forces lobbying for a regulated Internet, modeled after the regulations imposed upon broadcast media like TV. How about having certain violent or sexually explicit content available only at certain times of day? As stupid as it seems in a net spanning a whole planet: It was proposed and is actively pursued by some law making initiatives. Oh my, stupidity is boundless!

The Song of the Day is “The Future” by Leonard Cohen. The censorship in the original video was intentional, and it works so well here. See it on YouTube.

Apr 232009
 

It’s funny: sometimes everything works like a charm, sometimes everything is hard and finally does not satisfy you at all.

Today’s attempts are the meager result of a long walk all through Vienna. I was fetching some printing material, ink and paper from a shop that’s pretty far from work, and I decided to go all the way. Weather was sunny and warm, everything should have been perfect … and nothing was.

OK, I was probably not really in the mood. I was fuming, to be precise. It’s that censorship thing in Germany again. It is so incredibly obscene how those politicians lie, I simply don’t understand how anybody could possibly get away with it.

Remember the “Stop” page that I told you about? Remember that there is a secret list of websites, ostensibly containing child porn or links leading to child porn, a list of sites that you are not allowed to see, a list that you can not check for correctness without committing a crime?

OK. The last time, I guess two days ago, they said that the IP addresses of people hitting the stop page would not be logged. It is even in the text on the draft of the stop sign.

Today the draft of the law was presented, that currently is thrown together to get the remaining Internet service providers on board. And, lo and behold, suddenly the IP addresses must be logged by the providers and the police has the right to access them online. Just so.

Pretty dangerous to surf these days, because you don’t know where a link ultimately will lead you, and not only don’t you know what the secret list contains, you are not even allowed to know it.

Even more dangerous, because many people let their mail readers display images by default. Each of these images is an access to the web server containing it. Get a SPAM mail, BANG! You hit the list, because the mail reader tried to access the image.

Of course you won’t see it, because instead of an image, the mail reader would have got another page, the stop page. A page is not an image, thus your mail reader will gracefully ignore it. Your access will count though. See where this dangerous nonsense leads?

Now imagine people sending you carefully prepared emails of exactly that kind. You may ask why they should want to do that? Well, as an attack? To ruin your reputation? The get you and your business out of their way? It has happened. How are you going to defend yourself?

But, but, in any civilized legal system there is the presumption of innocence, right?

Nope. In an elegant move they have taken away with that as well. Criminal liability is constituted the moment that the user cannot prove that it was a mistake or an automatic redirection. Not they prove that you have committed a crime, you have to prove that you didn’t! How would you do that when the access was made by your mail reader on behalf of a SPAM mail that you have deleted since?

OK, that’s why I was fuming. That’s why my results were rather poor today. I just couldn’t relax and can’t even now. This is obscene. This is the worst attack on the foundations of the German legal system since the Nazis were defeated. This is the setup for a witch hunt, and at the same time it is the perfect means to get rid of critics. Welcome to the Middle Ages.

I have no idea why I originally chose “On The Sentimental Side” by Billie Holiday as Song of the Day. Must be something in the images.

Anyway. I just got a 10 CD box for 10€ from a bargain bin. 10 CDs of great recordings by Billie Holiday. You won’t get it outside of Austria or maybe Germany, thus I link to a collection that also contains the song. Deezer has it as well.

Apr 182009
 

Yesterday was a sad day. We have experienced a terrible blow to democracy.

I am Austrian, not German, but I can’t say that I’m unaffected by what happens in Germany. Normally everything repeats here as well – with a little delay, but it certainly does.

What has happened, you ask? I tell you what has happened: Germany has joined China, Iran, Burma and Saudi Arabia, that has happened.

Yesterday one of the currently worst German populist politicians, Ursula von der Leyen, has finally got her will. Five of the biggest German Internet providers, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone/Arcor, Hansenet/Alice, Telefonica/O2 and Kabel Deutschland, have signed an agreement to block child pornography on the Internet. The others have refused to sign, because there is no legal foundation for such a system.

Huh? What’s bad about that?? I tell you what’s bad. The badness happens on several levels:

Technically, the proposed “solution”, manipulation of the Domain Name Service (DNS), is very simple to circumvent. If you want to get around it, you simply can use a different DNS server. Thus, the “solution” solves nothing. It may probably keep unsuspecting surfers from stumbling upon child porn accidentally.

But can you stumble upon child porn accidentally? I use the Internet since 1990. I have been in quite some of its shady and its glimmering places, but I have never stumbled upon child porn. Well, I have, once, maybe about 1991. There was such an image in a binary newsgroup. As far as I remember, it showed a naked girl that was clearly pre-teen, along with a boy of the same age who had an erection. It was a B&W image that looked old, like scanned from an old image. I can’t remember any details. I forgot. This was a time when you could buy nudist magazines on every newsstand. No erections there, but certainly lots of pre-teen girls. Since then, awareness of sexual exploitation of children has heightened, the magazines have vanished.

Since then: nothing. Nothing at all. I did not stumble upon anything. I strongly suggest that you will have a hard time trying to stumble upon child porn. Child porn is completely taboo on the Internet, even and especially on porn sites.

I suggest you try to look for yourself. You may not like porn, you may find it even disgusting, but you will easily find it. It’s a healthy exercise and it gives you a handle in discussions with those who brazenly lie into your face, just like Ursula von der Leyen, when she claims that there is big business with child porn on thousands of web sites.

There is not. There may be child porn and there may be some specialized business, but that must happen in closed circles. Nothing to stumble upon. Nothing that would be even remotely affected by the “safety” filters. That’s for the lie on the surface.

I can’t tell you how mad I am about those populists that lie to take our rights away, those idiots who destroy our democracy for a cheap victory in the next elections. Even if they do it only for selfish reasons, they prepare the way into a totalitarian society.

But Germany is a democracy, it sure has checks and balances, has it? Nope! With child porn, the proponents of censorship have finally found the ultimate vehicle to reach their goals. It goes like this:

The Internet providers have agreed to block certain domains as soon as they get notice from the German police. The requests are redirected to a page showing a stop sign (yes, a traffic sign) with text that tells the user that the address is blocked because it is associated with child porn. It further says that the search for child porn and the securing of evidence is exclusively job of the police. In other words: you can’t check. They say that they don’t store your IP address, but this is most certainly a lie as well. If they don’t do it now, they will in the future, just like they said they would not use road charge data for any other purpose than road charges. It’s the old thing: wait a while and someone will say “Now that we have the data, it is immoral not to use it”.

Now to checks and balances. In constitutional proceedings if someone is charged, there is a way to defend oneself. Charges are open and can therefore be contradicted. Not here. The list of blocked addresses is top secret. You can’t check its rightfulness, because you are not even allowed to know it! There is no control against arbitrariness and abuse whatsoever! They can put on the list whatever they want. This is not protection against child pornography, this is the Great Wall of Germany. This is completely undemocratic and unworthy of a constitutional state that respects its citizens. This is a totalitarian instrument of control … and I dare say they will abuse it like that.

If you’ve made it down here: try to defend your rights. If you are German, change to an Internet provider that does not censor. Make use of your right to terminate your contract on grounds that your provider has breached it. In fact that is what actually happens, and maybe financial loss may make them reconsider. Money changes everything.

Apart from that: help spread the message. Make sure that children are not abused for political reasons. Make sure that the people who have died for democracy and constitutional rights have not died in vain.

The Song of the Day is “Take Care Of All Of My Children” from the 2006 Tom Waits masterpiece “Orphans”. Hear it on YouTube – as long as YouTube is not blocked.