Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The best next thing

When you saw the notice that the last post was around - however it may have been - you immediately thought something. When that tweet, notification, RSS post or whatever means of letting you know that something new is afoot went afoot - you thought something.

Hopefully, you thought "YES! THERE'S A NEW WONDERFUL POST, I SHALL DEVOUR IT IMMEDIATELY!". More realistically, it was probably more something along the line of "hey, a new post, cool. Lemme get back to you about that."

I imagine there was at least some disappointment in seeing that it was, well, the post. Five lines of text without any pretense about anything - the last one wasn't even green! What a waste of a mouse click!

I also imagine at least someone else thinking that something else is up.

Good call.

A good portion of all communication is expecting the counterparts next move. This is pretty much universal, no matter what medium (new, social or otherwise) is used. Any given particular speech act includes in itself the possibility and promise of future speech acts of a similar nature. As anyone knows who has discovered a new favorite band and fervently listens through any and all things they've ever done, both the possibility and the promise are powerful things.

Especially when there's a new album on the horizon.

Blogs are not exempt from this. On the contrary - the decision to keep reading a particular blog is based pretty much exclusively on this expectation.

Is the next post going to be good?

One may do two things when confronted with this thought. The first is to get a bout of anxiety - being good is hard! The second is to think a bit further, and realize that the key word "good" is just as relative as any other relative term. And that it is very much in the eyes of the reader what "good" might be. Leaving us with the choice between being good and being "good".

I prefer "good". Less anxiety that way, and more responsiveness to boot. Less talking with abstract universalities and more talking with people.

Like all good things, it also leaves room for interpretation and ponderings. What do you think? What do you expect from the next post? And is it possible to help this expectation along somehow?

Monday, October 29, 2012

This is a text

This is the first sentence.

This is the second sentence.

This is the third paragraph.

The last one is a green.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The freedom that came and went

Let's say there are two countries, country A and country B.

Country A is a paragon of workers rights, with minimum wages, strong unions, maternity leave and the whole package. Any law, program or policy that one would care to mention in relation to worker's rights - they got 'em. And have even gotten around to work out the less obvious drawbacks that the implementation of anything and everything on a large scale brings with it.

Country B could give less of a shit about their workers, and are not in the least ashamed of the slave like conditions of their sweatshops.

Let's say country C is on the lookout for cheap imports. To which of these two countries does it turn to?

Most likely B. Workers are expensive, and giving them rights and welfare only serves to make them that much more expensive. And expensive is the opposite of cheap.

The point here is not that the free market does not like workers rights. Rather, the point is that the free market produces bad and irrational results when the actors are at radically different levels of development (socially, economically, technologically). If and when A and B are at similar levels, the results of freeing up trade is that things get done cheaper without any of the two having to part with too much of their hard won progress. If and when they are at radically different levels, however, the willingness of B to do what is unthinkable in A changes everything.

Not only in terms of the unthinkable becoming that much more thinkable, but also in terms of social cohesion and other tangible intangibles. The unavoidable unemployment that follows from B being brutally more brutal than A, has a wide range of consequences for the social fabric of A. Factories that have been around for generations are no longer around, which means that both the social and economic institutions that have been built around these disintegrate.

The extreme example of this is when a whole town suddenly ceases to have a reason for being. Everything was built around a factory, and when that's gone, everything else follows suit.

The waves of so called liberalization that has swept over the west in the recent decades - think Thatcherism - is not so much a result of ideological conviction as it is of the economic realities of a too free market, with a too large degree of free trade. Every A country has to compete with every de facto B country in existence, which means that the rights and welfares of everyone is under constant pressure.

Worse, every B country has to compete with every other B country in existence. Which means that when these countries actually manage to get some decent social infrastructure going, they are suddenly a new overexpensive A country. And the pattern repeats.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

If you are a proponent of freer markets and freer trade, then please do continue to be that. But, please, update your reference points. When Adam Smith and Ricardo were around, they wrote against the backdrop of their time. I won't insult you by pointing out that the king of France isn't the powerful figure that he once was, but I will however kindly suggest that you transpose your analysis from an eighteenth century context to a twenty-first century one.

After all. When competing with everyone else, it simply will not do to let your analysis be too free. It's a luxury that you will have to shed in order to be competitive, as it were. -

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tickets, please!

Imagine you're on a train. You are not going that far, and you're almost there. Just a couple of more stations, barely noticeable in the geography of both time and space. In fact, it is so barely noticeable that this very day you decided that it was too much effort to buy a ticket.

Or, as you thought at the station, having had to run to the train to actually get on it in time: it's either buying a ticket or actually being on it. No middle ground possible. And it is after all not that very far.

But we are not there yet. We are not even there soon. There's still enough travel time left to ponder things - more specifically, to ponder that you are on a train, without that ticket. And once those thought have set themselves in motion, they are hard to stop - they build themselves a feedback loop, straight into the fear center of your brain, and soon becomes all one can think about.

Is that the sound of a ticket inspector getting closer? Is it just imagination? Are we really not there yet? Can we please be there yet? I can't take this uncertainty anymore!

Many I know are actively unable to fare dodge because of this feeling of uncertainty. They break down, either while in motion or while contemplating the very action. Which is good for them, I suppose - a sign of virtue, if anything. But, the important point here is the mechanism at work here. The mechanism that makes the person without a ticket feel all that fear, anxiety and uncertainty.

You see, it doesn't really matter if a ticket inspector comes along or not. There doesn't even have to be one on the train in question. The mere possibility of there being one is enough to set the feedback loop of fear in motion. The sin is its own punishment. Or, rather, sin punishes the one who is attuned enough to feel himself a sinner.

This is normalization, in a very down to earth way. And it doesn't happen only on trains - it happens everywhere, in every aspect of our daily lives.

Foucault has a very fitting definition about what it is to be disciplined. To be disciplined is to be ready to be watched, at any moment. It doesn't matter if any one particular existing person happens to watch there and then; the mere possibility of someone watching is reason enough to keep up the act, to keep up the discipline.

The watcher may not come around this time, but in the case they should be one need to be ready. Terrible things happens otherwise - one gets exposed as the fraudulent actor one really is. So the show must on.

After a while, it becomes that much less of an effort to do what is expected. The discipline becomes part of one's personality, of one's being in the world. After a while, the need for ticket inspectors fade away: discipline happens anyway, automagically, without either threats, rewards or punishments.

As with people who cannot fare dodge. Or, less dramatically, who cannot jaywalk on a deserted street in the middle of the night. It is internalized so hard that it's impossible to separate discipline from personality - at least without a torturelike amount of anxiety. Some things just becomes unthinkable, pure and simple.

The biggest argument against ever more invasive surveillance laws has never really been that personal data happens into the wrong hands. It is to be sure still a valid argument, but it is not the main argument against being constantly surveilled. No, the biggest argument is that the very act of being surveilled changes you, disciplines you, makes you do things you would not do in a more relaxed setting.

There's always someone watching. Which probably isn't what Shakespeare meant when he said that all the world is a stage.

It does not really matter if anyone actually watches the data gathered about them. The mere possibility of anyone potentially watching is enough to make people act in different ways. Start to discipline themselves and their ways of life - to assume the life of an actor. The audience never sleeps, regardless of whether it actually exists or not.

For the powers that be, this is of course a good thing. Law-abiding and disciplined subjects are always good to the powers that be - it makes the powering and being that much easier.

For the subject, on the other hand, it's very much like being on a train set in perpetual motion. With the big difference that the clear cut difference between having a societal ticket and not having one is muddled by thousand different factors, where one never knows which factor one might be found lacking in. And before one knows it, that feedback loop of anxiety kicks in. Do I really have a ticket? Is it the right ticket? Am i on the right train? What happens when the ticket inspector (or any other watchman) comes? What does this stamp on my ticket mean? Am I there yet?

Some people can probably live with this feedback loop, or learn to bypass it. Some even get a rush out of dodging the system - ticket or no ticket. Most people get caught in that feedback loop, though, and the gods know that it is not a feeling that should be systematically set in motion. Yet it happens, thanks to the ever more pervasive surveillance laws - Panopticon made flesh.

One cannot say (as so many seem wont to do) that those who have nothing to hide don't have anything to fear. Since they actually have something to fear: that the ever vigilant watchers will discover that they are not the perfectly disciplined subjects that the State demands them to be, but imperfect human beings like everyone else. That their ticket is invalid, in some way. And since the ever vigilant watchmen of society might take a while to actually tell you that you are doing it wrong, they might in theory drop in at any time to tell you that you are indeed being it wrong. At any time, without warning, it might turn out that the criminal of the day is - you.

Living in this kind of fear is not healthy in the long run. Feeling watched is not a healthy state of being. Being watched does not help at all.

Originally published June 23, 2011

I languish in your lack of language

I've had the thought of a blog post floating in my mind for quite some time. You know how it is - you get a good idea, but never really get around to go through the motions of actually putting it to the text.

The dear Les got around to write this beauty of a blog post, leaving me without a choice in the matter. Peachy, I know.

So. Let's talk about violence, shall we?

No, not the one signified by the military, the state or any of those traditional institutions of violence. No. Something a bit closer to home. Something that happens in the home, as it were.

The violence of exclusion.

The violence that happens when a son, who for some time has hidden his homosexuality, decides to tell the family. The violence that happens in that silent moment afterwards, and the continued violence that is likely to happen as the image of the son fragments and reconstructs.

There is almost no need for violence of the physical kind. Even if that also has a tendency to happen.

Another example is when, at a family dinner, one of the more actively political youths makes a radical statement about something. Like, for instance, the unavoidable fact that she is appalled by the thought of eating dead meat, and that the very essence of her being recoils at the thought and sight of seeing those she loves eat and enjoy the vileness in her presence.

There is no small amount of violence in the statement "let's talk about something more pleasant, dear". Swatting aside all pain, agony and suffering with a swift discursive burst of polite unacknowledgement.

The examples can be made manifold. Like their anonymous victims, they are legion - and everywhere.

The general theme is that people cannot be themselves in their immediate community of peers. They have to hide, sacrifice, partition off parts of themselves in order to fit in. Regiment their thoughts and emotions in order to keep up the facade of being someone who belongs - the facade of being one of the included.

The upkeep of this facade comes in the form of violence towards one's own self. It takes quite a bit of discipline to keep that self in line, after all. One wrong move, one wrong word, and the show is over - and no one knows this more than the one who has to constantly monitor themselves in order to not be that wrong move.

We need language about this. Something that speaks for those who cannot be themselves. And, until we can remix such a language into being, people who can speak for these persons. Not only as they are, but also as they would like to be - as they would become, had they not have to hide away in the closet/corset of "let's talk about something more pleasant, dear".

Let's not do that. There's too much unpleasantness going on.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don't fear the cyberwar: If you do, you've already lost

I've never understood this newly minted fascination with cyberwarfare. The fascination with all things "cyber" I can get behind, but this "war" aspect confuses me.

Mostly, because it's the same old warfare it's always been. The addition of "cyber" doesn't change that.

Let's say there's a bridge of particular strategic importance somewhere. Keeping this bridge up, running and under control is paramount to any and all military ambitions in the area, and therefore extra effort is spent on keeping this bridge up, running and under control.

Nothing strange so far. What would be strange, however, is if politicians, policymakers and interested loudmouths suddenly began to bombast about how important it is that we channel ever more money into Bridge Security. And, moreover, that both terrorists and criminals alike use this particular bridge for nefarious purposes, which means that ever tougher measures are to be employed in all things regarding Bridge Security.

Make no mistake about this. Keeping that bridge secure would be part of any sane military strategy ever. It would be what any military worth anything would do anyway. Stating and overstating its importance doesn't change this in any way, shape or form.

Yet it is this very thing that happens to any and all things cyber. Cyberwar looms on the horizon, and if the fear mongers are to be believed we are all doomed if extraordinary steps are not taken immediately. Not to mention all the cybercriminals out there!

The notion that it would fall to the military and civil planners anyway to ensure the safety and continued operation of existing infrastructure, and that there's thus no need for any extra anything, does not seem to generate as much spectacular interest as one might think. For some reason.

The notion that the already existing criminal laws are also applicable to so called cybercriminals, also face the same lack of spectacularity. If someone pulls a fast one on you on the internet, then it is the same act of fraud as it ever was in the offline mode - and the same laws are applicable there as well. Crime is crime, regardless of whether the criminals happen to live now or in an earlier generation.

So when the politicians, policy makers and loudmouths start to yell about the importance of cybersecurity - tell them to go stuff it. They're not saying anything of any substance whatsoever, and are just trying to scare people with falsehoods and lies.

That's not to say that the changes these people are doing aren't real. To the contrary - they are very real expansions of the authority of the state, at your expense. Thanks to the threat of cybercriminals, more states than any sane person would assume now takes for granted that your private electronic correspondence is state property. And that any and all attempts by you and your friends to withhold this property from the state is a criminal offense, or even an act of terrorism.

And you know what happens to criminals and terrorists, don't you?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You were not born an internet user - you became one

I was alive when the Soviet Union existed.

This one fact alone does not mean anything. Being alive and being aware about what's going on is not the same thing, and the insights I could glean from the sudden collapse of Empire were somewhat limited by me being a mere two years of age.

Still. I was around, and can say I was around without lying too much.

By virtue of being born back in the days of global antagonistic superpowery, I was also around to see something else. Notably, the nineties. Which was the strangest of times, I might tell you. There were no cell phones, no easily used computers, no internet as we know it, and - most importantly - no escape.

If you were somewhere, that was where you were. Brutally.

Which is harder to explain than to contrast, so I'll do that instead. Think of any ordinary day and count all the times you communicate with someone who isn't there. Then remove all these instances (all the blogging, tweeting, texting, redditing, googling etc), and see what remains. I'd wager that it is very unlike the ordinary day you ordinarily celebrate, and that you'd get some interesting abstinence symptoms rather fast.

Such was the nineties. And I was there, alive and aware, and taking it for granted as the way things had always been.

It may sound strange to you, but the internet was introduced in my lifetime. I saw it happen, saw the transition from the Before to the Now.

The reason for me writing this is not only my coming to terms with the whole "getting older" thingy. It's also a more general theme that recurs in my thinking - how when you were born determines what you find natural, strange, relevant or irrelevant. If you were born ten years before me, hiding under a desk in a nuclear drill was a natural thing to do. If you were born ten years after me, the internet had never not been around.

I can't help but think that all those years of me going around being all offline has shaped me in some way. Some way that those who are born closer to now really can't understand, simply because they were not there. Some attunement to the brutal loneliness of being unconditionally offline that thankfully is not necessary any more.

I can't shake the feeling that I'm the last outpost of a generation. The last one out of the disconnected, and the first one to be plugged in. Not one or the other, but both - eternally on the generational fence.

I was alive when the Soviet Union existed. Soon, those who celebrate their first day in school won't remember a time when there was no Facebook.

These kinds of thoughts occupy my mind a lot. I certainly wasn't a born internet user, and I suspect many of you weren't either. But an ever larger number of people are, and they are not going to understand all the fuss that was necessary back in the olden days. They are going to do what comes naturally to them, and this is going to be one of the biggest remix projects the world has ever seen.

Let's hope it won't turn out that I'm too old before I even got around to be young. -

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The right answer, quick!

One of the allures of Twitter is all of the random conversations you happen to find yourself in. Not only those you partake of, but also those that happens around you, and that you help to create by being part of the inevitable process of subtweeting, inspiring and thought provoking. You never really know what you might be thinking in the next couple of minutes.

Recently, I happened upon this tweet. I say happened, because it just happened. And I've been thinking about it ever since.

A quick response team of philosophers and poets. What would that look like? What would they be quick to respond to?

And then I pondered it some more, and asked: why isn't there one?

There certainly is a wide range of everyday and extraordinary situations where there's a desperate need for philosophy and poetry. Where the magic, meaning and reason of the world seem to have disappeared, and where the services of that imaginary quick response team would be more than needed.

I dare say essential.

This merits further thinking.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Snow feelings

There are certain feelings that are very hard to translate or explain to someone who has never felt them. Such as the feeling that there's a snowfall just about to begin or in progress. It's a very specific feeling, and thus very hard to explain to those who don't live in snowy regions and for that reason isn't attuned to the snowier feelings.

I'm feeling it right now, that sense of half-expecting, half taking for granted that there will be snow when I look out the window. Even if I know that there probably won't be snow in another couple of weeks time.

This feeling always happens this time of year. Snow or no snow.

Life is full of these kinds of feelings. Moods. Sensations. They are very hard to explain or convey, yet very present in the lives and loves of just about everyone. And every attempt to describe them will undoubtedly fall short in some way.

This is not a reason for not trying. On the contrary, it is all the more reason for trying that much harder. To walk that extra discursive mile and explain what it is to have snow feelings.

There's no need to limit our range of discursively available feelings, moods, sentiments to those who happen to have words attached to them. There's not that many of them, after all. And there's too many other feelings going around and about being relevant to shove them off into the category of "ambivalent" or "other".

The world is made of language. So let's expand our world, shall we?

Friday, October 12, 2012

The post political political simulator

I'm watching the debate (or the aftermath of the debate) between the two remaining candidates of the ever present runup to the American elections. As always, I'm watching through the glass of my Janetter window - what I see is not the debate itself, but the ever flooding flood of tweets gushing by whenever anything worth mentioning happens.

That debate is evidently high up on things worth mentioning.

The thing that strikes me is that the quality of information that can be gathered from these debates is questionable, to say the least. It would seem that neither of the candidates are given the chance to expound their views and opinions in any amount of detail, and that the "debate" part of the debate consists of the participants saying demeaning things at each other rather than giving the audience any useful insight into what their respective platform actually consists of. Which is all very well and good for those watching the proceedings for the entertainment value, but for those of a more analytical bent it leaves something to be desired.

I'm not saying that we should replace these happenings with something else - they are, after all, evidently worth mentioning. But I'm thinking that those who are of a thinking sort might benefit from a complementary form of presentation from the candidates, which would lend itself closer to the careful analysis by any and all interested voters with any amount of spare time on their hands.

I am, of course, thinking that the candidates should stage a game of Civilization 5 in such a way that their play style reflects the general outline of their political platforms. If they, for example, are of the militarily enthusiastic kind, this would be reflected in the building and maintaining of a strong army, and by the enactment of policies benefitting the military in various ways. And, conversely, a stronger focus on developing the domestic economic infrastructure would be clearly visible to all who would watch the gameplay of a candidate playing with such a focus.

There is to my mind a strong chance that such a demonstration of a candidates political views would convey just as much - or even more - information to the voters than the methods in use today. Rather than being limited to judging the actions undertaken by a single individual in a single social situation, the voters would have access to a wealth of information about how the candidate would manage war, peace, diplomacy, domestic spending, the advance of science and a host of other political issues.

A slight variation upon this theme would be to use the classic game Alpha Centauri in the same manner. This would have the benefit of adding the selection of an ideological faction as a factor to the analysis - those who beeline for the militaristic Spartans take a different approach to everything than those who play the Gaians. (I myself would, of course, play the Data Angels. For obvious reasons.)

As we move into a newer world, it becomes ever more important to consider alternative ways of presenting complex information to the public. The debate format might be the ol' reliable when it comes to candidates showing the world how they stand in relation to each other, but as my reading of my Twitter feed shows, it does not convey the amount of clear information needed for the public to make an informed choice about their candidates. It rather makes people tired of the whole process, and more than one person has expressed a sincere tiredness about the whole ordeal. Which, in truth, is the opposite of wanting to think longer and harder about the issues at hand.

There are other ways. We have the technology to make it better.

Let's remix politics, shall we?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Context is king

The essence of reading is not the words you are reading. It is the spending of time in the presence of the ideas that is presented in and through the words - the words give you a very valid excuse indeed to ponder things that might otherwise never be excusable.

This is brought home to me very clearly while reading Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, an epic tale of some three thousand pages about the economic, social and cultural shifts of the world at the turn of the seventeenth century. The point of it all is not that interesting things happen - more often than not, nothing in particular happens as the text goes on and on. The interesting part is not what's happening, but the context in which the things that do happen happen in.

Which means that there's a lot of idle chatter about nothings, while the wider context of the world is laid out at length and in detail. A simple stroll along a river bank turns into an umpteen pages long rumination about the state of the global system of commerce at the times. On the surface, it's just two persons walking along a river talking about this and that; in and with context, there's a lot going on for those who takes the time to notice.

Which, of course, gives us as readers ample time and opportunity to spend time with the ideas of the times, with the added bonus of having all of these ideas put into context for us. The content serves as an excuse for the content. And a good one, at that.

The one thing we readers might find in short supply is patience. But like all epic endeavors, the reward for persevering through page after page of nothing happening is an understanding of where the world of today came from. 

This spending of time with an idea is not only something exclusive to what a reader does. It's also very present in what a writer or a blogger does - gives the readers a chance to spend time with the ideas in mind, and to get a sneak peek into the context of these same ideas. Regardless of what we have to say is new or not - the content is not the point, as it were.

This goes for everything we write. There's no "just saying it straight and simple" - everything we do brings along context, and the fact that we are doing it is cluing our readers in to exactly what the context of our thoughts might be.

Which is why I always tell people to write about anything that comes to mind. It does not matter what - your readers are more likely to be more interested in how you view things than in the things themselves.

If you happen to be a blogger, this applies very much to you. You may think you write about your day at work, but you are in fact writing very much more than that. And I encourage you to keep at it.

We all need those excuses to think every once and a while, after all.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tautologies as rhetorical devices

A tautology is a statement that states itself. For instance, that last statement is somewhat of a tautology, since a tautology is a tautology, ie a statement where one says that A is A.

For some reason, the one example everyone use to demonstrate what a tautology is, is that an unmarried man is a bachelor. One can clearly see that "an unmarried man" and "a bachelor" amounts to the same thing - A is A. Saying A twice does not amount to A being A twice as much as if it had only been said once - the relation between A and A remains identical, as it were.

Philosophers love these kinds of relations. They don't have to be proven empirically - they just follow from a proper understanding of definitions. It's neat, orderly and proper. One can depend on tautologies and the intricate relations of implicit definitions that follows from them.

Definitions are solid things. Once they are penned, they remain.

You know something that is not neat, orderly and proper? Rhetorical situations. They tend to be the opposite - messy, disorderly and improper. And, moreover, they tend to not give too much credence to what the implicit logic of grammar and language has to say behind the scenes - there's too much going on to really give the participants time to ponder exactly what makes "it" rain in the sentence "it is raining".

There is, in fact, enough going on in a single social moment to fill several descriptive pages of  descriptions. Just to mention a few factors going on: who's talking, to whom, about what, from what position, in what role, for what reason, with what credibility, with how much ethos, with - the list goes on for quite some time. And this is just for one singular moment - stretch it out in time, and it will become infinitely more messy and hard to relate.

This is important. This is the difference between philosophers and rhetoricians. The former act and perform in the eternalities of the good, true and beautiful. The latter act in the fleeting moment of the moment - and they act through speech acts.

Which brings us to tautologies. They don't add anything new semantically to the context - that bachelor is still unmarried, much to his chagrin. They do however add something social to the context - merely by the fact that the speaker speaks.

It does not matter what's being said. The fact that something is being said at all carries with it an enormous amount of implications - even if it's just stating the obvious.

It follows, then, that there is a wide array of uses for tautologies. An obvious one being that you mark yourself as a participant of the discussion - you are talking, and therefore take part of/in the interaction as a talker.

I'm not going to bore you with a list of specific situations. The point I'm trying to get across here is that there is a difference between what is semantic and what is social, and that the one sometimes has little or no bearing on the other. And that you will want to ponder this difference as you go about your daily life taking part of various social situations. Is it more important that you say the right specific thing, or that you're saying something in general in the right context?

A is A. And then it becomes an excuse to say something else.

I leave you to your own devices in determining what that 'something else' might be. -

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why I am annoyed with Anonymous

One would be charitable if one said that the relation between the Pirate movement and Anonymous is complicated. On the one hand, there is an unmistakably shared root - we could postpone the lengthy definition of this root by simply calling it "internet culture". On the other hand, there is a definite tendency on the part of the pirates to view Anon as that idiot relative who with random precision manages to do the most unexpected of stupid things at the worst possible moments.

Especially at those very moments.

Anons usually respond by saying that pirates are somewhat of a bore when these sentiments are aired. Which, in a sense, is true; planning and executing long term strategies for achieving realistic copyright and patent reform by feat of talking endlessly at the public opinion and with various interested parties - somehow includes less immediate gratification than doing random pointless overhyped DDoS attacks on arbitrarily chosen targets.


The reason I'm bringing this up right now is a piece of local developments. Rick wrote a summary of what happened, should you want the longer version; the long and the short of it is that a police raid took out a torrent site and generated a lot of political buzz of the good kind. The technical term for this is a "lucky break", and right about here Anonymous enters the picture.

You see, around the same time as this raid happened, some sort of unrelated technical jiffy over at the Pirate Bay took their site offline as well. Which was all manners of bad timing. Anonymous, not being the most patient and studious of non-organizations, immediately connected their paranoid dots and set out to revenge DDoS everything that moved.

I'm not sure what was accomplished by temporarily taking down the central bank of Sweden's website, but they nevertheless did it. And a couple of other seemingly random web sites that looked official, for good measure.

This in and of itself was no big deal. DDoS attacks happen to you just about every day once you reach a certain size or fame, and is to be expected by larger organizations. (Even the Pirate Party of Sweden has had its fair share of it at various times.) It happens, and then it doesn't happen anymore, and everything goes back to normal for everyone (except the computer security guys, who just might get those requests for bigger budgets approved a bit faster).

To give you a reference point: a DDoS attack is a computerized version of having a large number of people calling the same number over and over again until the phone system can't take the load any more. There's no real "hacking" involved in it, and the technical skill involved is akin to pressing the redial on a cell phone. No master hackery required.

What is a big deal is how this overhyped prank got picked up by the national news media. If I were a kind person, I'd say they had a momentary lapse of journalistic sensibility and bought into the hype in a moment of publishing frenzy. If I were a more impartial observer, I'd say they carried on as usual, and thus once again used the kind of language once reserved for such occasions as the reemergence of a fully communist Soviet Union with an unmistakable interest in annexing nearby territories.

If you are the kind of reader who trusts your morning paper, you suddenly "know" that the country of Sweden is under a brutal siege by a mysterious international hacker group by the name of Anonymous.

Remember what I said before about strategic long term reform efforts? This is not conducive to such efforts.

In fact, having the general public up in arms about the Dangerous Hackers could easily be called something very close to the opposite of conducive to such efforts. Which means that we of the political bent have to go from good buzz mode to crisis management mode, which is very much the opposite of a good time.

If this had only happened this one time, I might have shrugged it off as a onetime thing. But it has happened before. It. Has. Happened. Before. And the general pattern of it is that I and my fellow pirates are starting to become very annoyed at these random acts of unstrategic counterproductivity.

The charitable way to summarize the Pirate movement's attitude towards Anonymous is to say that it's complicated. The more honest way is to say there's a wish that these kids go play somewhere where they'll not make too much of a mess of things.

Dear Anonymous: we're expecting you. You are mentioned in our crisis management folders, several unforgettable times. So you'll have to forgive me when I say that you might want to rethink your approach to how to make the world a better place.

You're not doing it right now. You're not even doing it right, whatever it is you're doing.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Holy reminders

Remember that fence I talked about a couple of weeks ago? The one which had had a hole in it since time immemorial, and then suddenly one day had a fixed hole in it?

Turns out that the fix didn't last that long. And the fence now sports a brand new shiny absence of fence in just about the same place as before.

No one is less surprised than I am. But it does serve as a reminder that there are some problems that really don't need to be fixed, and that there is a certain wisdom in knowing when to mend and when to make amends.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sharing the fait accompli

I firmly believe that piracy will be a non-issue in about twenty years time. Not because of any massive political shifts, but because I and my fellow generational peers will be in our forties by then.

And, by feat of being somewhat contemporary, the internet.

I base this on the fact that piracy is a very hard issue to explain to kids who weren't around when the internet was a New and Strange thing. To those who were born only recently, it has always been there, just like electricity has always been there for us slightly older people. And just like there is an inbuilt absurdity to the claim that electricity is fatal to the candle industry, so the kids will view the claim that the internet is fatal to the culture industry.

To them, the internet is just a fact of nature. And the fact that just about any song or movie can be found, downloaded and shared on the internet comes as natural as the fact that birds migrate - one might marvel at the sight of it, but to question its political feasibility is a very odd thing to do.

And trying to stop it is an even stranger thing. Like trying to regulate the tides.

The very straightforward thing is that things can't be New and Strange forever. The internet might have been that ten years ago, but that was ten years ago. We now live ten years later, and have had ten years to incorporate it into our everyday lives. Which we have - irrevocably.

It's too late to say that the internet will change our lives. The bigger change at this point would be an attempt to remove the internet from the equation.

Candles did not disappear because of electricity, and culture will not disappear because of the internet. Why would it? There's more of it around than there has ever been! Available at our fingertips, just waiting for us to remember that we want to experience it again. And the only reason anyone calls it "piracy" is because that's what it was called when they were kids.

Today, this is called is to share things.

It would seem times are changing. Let's change with them, shall we?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Antispace, antitheory, antithesis

Consider the parking lot. Or parking space in general.

Parking space has two modes. Occupied or free. There is no middle ground - it's either in use or in potential use.

This is seen most clearly if and when the space is used for anything that is not the storage of cars. There is almost no need to explain this point - just imagine someone taking up space in a busy parking lot. If you are even a moderately invested car user, the anger you most likely feel at this stupid wastage is enough to make any theory somewhat overkill. And brutally irrelevant.

Wasting precious parking space is as close to a modern sin as one can get.

Yet unused parking space is just space. Antispace. The absence of everything else. The active non-usage of something that could potentially be anything.

It is possible to build a very intricate theoretical framework around the wasted space of the unused parking lot. It would probably be very interesting, too, were it not for that anger that any notion of there not being enough parking space instantly produces.

There is, after all, only theory and anti-theory. The middle ground seems to be as elusive as a somewhat occupied parking space. -