Category: Politics


Stop TTIP

Here is why (short propaganda version):

Sign the petition here.

If you want more info about the campaign, watch this talk @ 31C3.

http://media.ccc.de/browse/congress/2014/31c3_-_6342_-_de_-_saal_1_-_201412291600_-_deine_rechte_sind_in_diesen_freihandelsabkommen_nicht_verfugbar_-_katharina_nocun/oembed.html

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The Imitation Game

Here just some random thoughts I can’t keep to myself about this movie. Contains spoilers.

Just a quick statement: Though I am not a mathematician, I’ve had this odd fascination with Turing and ciphers. E.g. I adore the ‘Cryptonomicon’ by Neal Stephenson, but for the most part I feel about the technicalities like William Gibson once said about computers in an interview: „My ignorance had allowed me to romanticize them.“* So I won’t go into criticizing the romantic depiction of ‘this is how science works’, others have done that.

I wasn’t expecting a scientifically or historically accurate movie at all. While there are tons of things you could say about inaccuracies, I don’t think it matters much because it’s not supposed to be an accurate documentary. It’s a story based on and inspired by Turing’s life which was truly remarkable. But the movie doesn’t really work so well as a story. I want to focus on two things that piqued me in particular: what I will call nerd tropes and the sexuality issue.**

Franchise audience pleasing

Let’s put Tywin Lannister and Sherlock Holmes in a room and see what happens. And yes, that scene is funny, but what does it achieve? Bringing together two actors who are so clearly known for previous roles. There doesn’t have to be a nod in their direction all the time, and in my opinion it damages the integrity for the performance of the characters at hand.

It could have helped if Turing wouldn’t have been portrayed as painfully shy and narcissistic at once – just pick one. I wouldn’t say that Cumberbatch can’t play a different character than Sherlock. He’s clearly too good an actor for that and his interpretation of Turing living somewhere on the scale of autism is at times convincing. But that interference breaks the integrity of the character in several scenes, not just the one with Charles Dance.

Nerd tropes

But why does the script not stick to that particular interpretation, but throws in all other types of ‘this is what we expect someone intelligent to do’-tropes in there? OCD („carrots and peas mustn’t touch“), arrogance („I’m a genius and I know it“), stuttering, isolation, mobbing victim, not eating („I don’t like sandwiches“… hello Sherlock), trying to tell a joke but failing („I don’t get why people never say what they really mean“… hello Sheldon). Another really good example for this is another Cumberbatch performance in ‘The last enemy’: Also a mathematical genius, also highly intelligent, also has quirks. In one of the opening scenes of the series the character, Stephen Ezzard, is seen frantically washing his hands on an airplane. The purpose of the scene is to establish his status as ‘that quirky guy’. OCD is never relevant to the plot, it can be turned off and on again at will (that would be so convenient in real life). It’s a best of nerd tropes without thinking about that many of these traits cancel each other out. It becomes annoying, and it makes all these characters kind of look the same. So, dear script writers, make a choice which quirks your genius has and stick with it, don’t just pile them all on. Next:

The gay thing

How does the movie deal with that? Some reviewers said could imagine two approaches:

There are two ways, I think, that one could go about making a story of Alan Turing and his key role in inventing the computer as a means of cracking a Nazi code during the Second World War. One way would be to go all-in on the psychological aspect, and take it for granted that Turing’s closeted homosexuality was haunting him and driving him in his quest to uncover the secrets of his nation’s enemies, thus making his eventual punishment by the British government for his “gross indecency” even more ironically cruel. The other would be to discard personal matters altogether, and make a purely process-driven story, in which Turing and his colleagues are nothing but the human vessels for acts of research and insight, and the act of breaking the code is itself the protagonist, with all the people reduced to the status of window dressing.

The actual Turing biopic that exists in the world, The Imitation Game, tries to combine these methods in a hybrid that does not work much at all. (http://antagonie.blogspot.de/2014/12/ever-read-cryptonomicon-you-should.html)

Combining these two approaches would have been possible, but I agree that they do not work together very well in this movie. Making the movie without adressing the ‘problem’** would not have been right because they’d get all kinds of shitstorms about that, and rightly so. It wouldn’t have been ok, it would have seemed like they tried to cover it up. Some people say you shouldn’t focus on Turings sexuality because his work was more important. In 2015 that might be a valid opinion, but mid-last-century that was not a option. Though the investigation of his suicide remains shrouded in myth, it was a horrible time to openly be anything but heteronormative and people fucked up his life badly. So it definitely needs to be dealt with in a biography.

But is it just me, or is the movie avoiding this? The flashbacks to the boy love are a bit like bad fan fiction: „Yes, I loved only once and then he died.“ And the romantic Christopher/Bombe naming thing never happened. Bit much, isn’t it? My point is: The movie puts the issue of portrayal of same-sex affection conveniently in the past and the ‘future’. When the issue comes up in the present storyline, it’s focused on marrying Joan and the „hmm I’m afraid I can’t deliver“-speech or on blackmailing (for dramatization and liberties taken with that Cairncross story-line see here). While everyone at Bletchley probably worked a lot and there was no time for office romances, it’s weird that neither of the timelines ever shows anything sexual. In 1951 (it was actually 1952) there is a shot of his unnamed lover sitting in the police station, and we hear the word penis spoken out loud, and that’s it.

Is it just a really clever statement of the implications of being gay in a time where you had to stay in the closet or be prosecuted that you never see anything physical? Or is it so as not to offend any homophobics in the cinema, because noone can be suffered to see men having sex on screen? It’s not supposed to be ‘Brokeback Mountain’, but still, it felt off to me.

In conclusion

Great theme and lots of capable actors not put to very good use.

On the plus side: It was a nice idea to make the main theme the Turing test. While all this constructed heroism around Turing is sort of over the top, it’s good to get a perspective at how crappy people who achieved tons when it mattered can be treated and cast off. Pardons issued decades later can’t make up for past injustice, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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* „On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I’m interested in the hows and whys of memory, the ways it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision. When I was writing Neuromancer, it was wonderful to be able to tie a lot of these interests into the computer metaphor. It wasn’t until I could finally afford a computer of my own that I found out there’s a drive mechanism inside — this little thing that spins around. I’d been expecting an exotic crystalline thing, a cyberspace deck or something, and what I got was a little piece of a Victorian engine that made noises like a scratchy old record player. That noise took away some of the mystique for me; it made computers less sexy. My ignorance had allowed me to romanticize them.“

(Interview with Larry McCaffery in Storming the Reality Studio : A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction, Duke University Press (December 1991) http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Gibson)

** Disclaimer: I use the words ‘problem’ and ‘issue’ not because I think homosexuality is a problem, but it is problematic insofar as some people unfortunately still think it is and the movie industry still has its own problems in dealing with their audience’s problems. Wow, I really used the word problem a lot in that sentence. Anyway, go LGBTOW.

Update: Congratulations to Graham Moore! Stay weird, stay different.

Bletchley Park dismisses volunteers

The new management “fires” long-term volunteers who have taken care of the museum over the years. But now everything’s changing because they got new funding… It’s a shame!

Via Cory.

Papers, please: A political game

“Papers, Please” is a “Dystopian Document Thriller” by Lucas Pope. I played it yesterday and it really gives you a sort of feeling what it must be like to live in totalitarian state. Here’s the description from Pope’s page:
The communist state of Arstotzka has ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.
Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists. Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission’s primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.
You are basically a hardcore TSA Agent. Also, you have a family to care for, rent to pay, food to buy and heat your apartment. Your income is dependent on how many people you process in a day’s time. And I must say, working under pressure and being faced with the decision to help a total stranger while thinking about what the government might do to you family in return… Whoa. The family members are displayed as mere icons. If there were pictures … it’s not even necessary.
No matter what you try to do, even if you know what the right thing to do is, you start thinking twice about it and it’s terrifying to watch yourself make these decisions.

30C3 Impressions

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Hacker Jeopardy with Cocktails

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3D printing demonstration at Assembly Hall

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Oh noes weapons were produced with 3 D printers. I’m trembling with fear.

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3D printed objects

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Lounge decor

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Lounge decor

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Thias trying out Oculus Rift

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LED Art

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My busy schedule

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I leave you with the visuals for now. Text will follow.

Seeing the Secret State @ 30C3

I am still overwhelmed by all he amazing input I got at the Chaos Communication Congress. It’s really hard to sum up all the interesting talks, things, projects and people I met and saw, so I’ll be writing about them bit by bit. One fascinating talk by Trevor Paglen in particular I’d like to share because it is just so unbelievably absurd but true.

Here’s the talk’s description:

Although people around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the United States’ global geography of surveillance, covert action, and other secret programs, much of this landscape is invisible in our everyday lives.

The drone war, for example, seems to happen “somewhere else” while surveillance programs take place among the (largely) invisible infrastructures and digital protocols of the internet and other communications networks. Moreover, the state agencies responsible for secret programs strive to make them as invisible as possible.

In this talk, artist Trevor Paglen discusses his work attempting to “see” the various aspects of the secret state. In examples ranging from tracking spy satellites to foraging through the bureaucratic refuse of CIA front companies, Paglen will discuss methods used to identify and exploit structural contradictions in classified programs which render them visible, and comment on the aesthetics and politics of attempting to “see” secrecy.

He has made it a point to make visible the secret infrastructure that institutions like the CIA have and followed the paper trail. Very American military: of course, the squadrons and military personnel that work at these secret bases need patches for their uniforms! I was just baffled. You couldn’t make this up.

headbugz @ 30C3

We’re finally going to attend the Chaos Computer Clubs’s 30th anniversary congress. We wanted to go last year, but the universe had other plans. Now we are very excited to get a lot of fascinating input this year. We’ll update you on talks and such as much as we can. Stay tuned!

Here are some lectures given @29c3 that I have watched (many more to come!) and found noteworthy – so far.

The keynote “Not my department” by Jacob Applebaum

Security nightmares “Damit Sie auch morgen schlecht von Ihrem Computer träumen” by  Frank Rieger and Ron (in German).

Also, Everycook. As one member of the audience put it: “Shut up and take my money!”

More selective bits will follow.

 

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Just a quick reminder: Chaos Computer Club hosts its annual conference, Chaos Communication Congress, for the 29th time this year, from 27th to 30th December for the first time in Hamburg @CCH. Sadly I couldn’t go, but you can stream the talks and lectures in various formats or watch them later online.

Here is the schedule, watch for updates!

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Fatigued with the Feed

As Spider Jerusalem would say, “I feel a column coming on”, when, after having shot himself skyhigh with multiple drugs, he locks himself in the bathroom and starts hacking away on his keyboard.*

Maybe reading “Transmetropolitan” by Warren Ellis has had a queer influence on me. Let me tell you something about my news consumption in the last two years. Roughly last year around this time I was very absorbed in the news. For example Wikileaks was happening, many things seemed interesting and worth reading up on. There was an event I co-direted about media and democracy. I read a newspaper from politics to local flavor each day and my blog routine.

The only thing that I really thouroughly followed through news-wise this year was the presidential election, and mainly because I organized an event for a political organization that dealt with it. I even researched where Romney got money from, that was interesting.

But at the end of this year, I find myself sick with news. It’s not that nothing noteworthy is happening, but I feel like my “filter” is broken. The filter that you have to activate in order to sort all the bullshit out, having given up the notion of ever discovering The Truth. Call it evaluating perspectives, maybe. I am just too tired. I still get newspapers on the weekends, but hardly ever do more than skip through them superficially.

When I sit in the tube and see what people read, it makes me sick. “Hamburger Abendblatt“, “Bild”, “Morgenpost” (all rather less or more German tabloids) with headlines that exploit your deepest fears and lusts. Killer viruses and tits. There is a TV feed in the tube (pretty futuristic, right?) that gives blurbs of 2-3 garbled sentences of news; it is horrific.

Maybe trying to evade the epheremal news is impossible. It still affects you on a subconscious level. But right now I don’t have the energy to keep up a healthy, steady and reflected newsfeed. And for maintaining that, for digesting news, reading up on things, you need a fuckload of energy.

Now all this is not exactly news to you; you know this already if you have half brain. Why am I writing about it again, while so many people such as e.g. (my very distant relative) Böll have already covered it?

Because it makes me angry. I feel sorry for all the people who unreflectively swallow the lies laced into layers of triviality. I feel sorry for all those who are afraid of the terrible killer wasps that are going to obliterate your family or, as Martin Robins tells below in his righteous rant about The Daily Mail, his grandpa who kept his windows closed because of the rabid foxes. I also feel sorry for all the investigative journalists who try to produce serious news but whose audience is shrinking continually. And feeling sorry is not going to help anyone, so maybe anger is the way to go.

When Spider Jerusalem can’t cope with the city he writes the column “I hate it here” about anymore, he flees to a mountain and assumes the lifestyle of a hermit. (Before, he just finished a book about a presidential campaign that ‘broke’ him.) This is not an option now.

Fuck you, Daily Mail. Yes, I know his rhetoric is basic and rather tacky, but I get why he feels this way.

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* Just for the records, I do not approve of his methods. But his general cynicism is dead-on.

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