Populism rules

The Austrian presidential election is going to a lap of (dis-)honor. The highest court decided to repeat the run-off ballot, which was narrowly won by the green party’s candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, a former economy professor. The loser in this election was the vice chairman of the right-wing populist party Norbert Hofer. Hofer and his party sued against the validity of the election. Even though there was no hint, that any vote was counted incorrectly, some of the election laws were violated (opening of the outer envelop of the postal votes too early, not all election-observer were present at all times, …). However, the highest court ruled, that the possibility for voter fraud is already enough to revoke the election.

Now the Austrian people have to pay for another election. Much worse is the chance to get an illiterate populist as a president. What a shame for Austria, if Norbert Hofer makes it.

Recently some reporters asked him, if he would have sued against the result of the election, even if he was the winner. Of course he would, Norbert replied. Obviously he didn’t expect the follow-up questions: The election in question was already the second round. In the first round with six candidates, Norbert Hofer got the majority of votes, which qualified him and the runner-up Alexander Van der Betten to the run-off ballot.

In the first round of the election exactly the same violations were observed, which eventually led to the annulment of the second round of the election.

The question to Norbert Hofer was: Why didn’t you sue against the result of the first round? But Norbert lied: I didn’t know about the violation of the election regulations at that time point.

Let me offer some options for an honest answer:

  1. I won. Why should I do anything against it?
  2. My interpretation of law is flexible, dependent on my advantage.
  3. I am used to defend my version of the truth. Why should I act differently this time?
  4. I do anything to win. Since I was the winner, there was no reason to act.
  5. There was a certain risk to upset the public, which would have reduced my chances in the run-off ballot.
  6. My advisers told me to keep calm about the violations of the law. I do what my advisers tell me to do.
  7. Everything happened behind my back. I have no idea, what’s going on.

There is probably some truth in each of these answers, even though none of them was selected by Norbert Hofer.

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Conspiracy competitors

Recently I saw the first episode of the latest season of X-Files. They blamed their government to be ill-disposed against their own people. As examples they mentioned the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and Henrietta Lacks (Here is a link to the transcript). I did not know about the syphilis experiments but I read a book about the latter.

Henrietta Lacks is the donor of the first cancer cell line called HeLa, which could grow and divide outside of a human body in cell culture medium. This was the start of a new era in cancer research, because the effects of cancer drugs on human cancer cells could be tested in a petri dish. They didn’t ask for Henrietta’s or her relatives permission to take her cells and didn’t inform her family well about the detailed circumstances. Henrietta died but her family believed she became a kind of zombie, because a small part of her, the cells in culture, was still alive. You can still purchase these cells here.

If you read some of my blog posts and in particular my blog title you might get the impression I believe in a bigger plan behind the conspiracy I am writing about. I strongly reject that, but I do believe that main drivers of conspiracy, the effects of capitalism and neo-liberalism are not good for average people. Like during all times of human history a few win and the majority loose until the next revolution, when people request their share of wealth.

However, my tiny blog is not changing much. Currently I have about 400 readers per month. Other pages on the net with similar goals are more powerful and influential. For a moment, I would like to refer to these well written news-sites, the professional blog pages and my conspiracy blog as “us”.

The parties in this fight

There is no doubt that some of our critical statements are not well taken by some parties. The US and other governments, large corporations in general and specific companies in particular are frequent targets of our critics. Of course we are the opponents.

The weapons

How are the recipients fight against these attacks? Since this is an information war, it’s all about the public image and opinion. I would like to stress a citation of Mahatma Gandhi: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Let’s focus on steps one to three, because the outcome is fairly unclear.

The strategy

Ignoring the drone papers and trying to to sweep the NSA affair under the carpet belongs to step one (they ignore you), X-files is the proof, that we are already at least in step two (they laugh at you) of the battle against us. The production company Twenty Century Fox (Rupert Murdoch) is surely a big player in the American entertainment business. They produced and published X-Files by making a joke about us. Exposing conspiracy became entertainment. The connections X-Files make in this TV format have some references to the real world but are ridiculous, unrealistic, and are surely no reason for concerns. X-files is a cartoon magazine.

Perhaps we already reached step three (they fight you) because they try to undermine our serious concerns and make a fool out of us by damaging the public image of conspiracy warnings in an entertainment program called X-Files.

The outcome

In X-Files we have a serious competitor with a huge public attention and audience. It’s a only tiny needle, which fulfills people’s need for a dose of conspiracy. We did not even get a glimpse idea of the real power of our competitor.

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Popular outrage

Why we should not tolerate US remote executions by drones.

The drone papers were already published three month ago. They describe how American drones kill more than a thousand people in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The victims and their friends and relatives had no voice to make this terrible injustice public, until the brave journalists of the intercept got the respective files from a whistle-blower and published them. But nobody cares. After a few lines on several important news channels, the whole story was forgotten. Why such a scandal does not lead to popular outrage?

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” wrote Gerald Seymour 40 years ago. These crimes were mainly committed to protect American interests and officially to defend values of western civilization, which are democracy, freedom and civic rights.

drone with missiles

MQ-9 Reaper, Source Wikipedia

By killing so many mostly innocent people by drones or by shooting a missile into a wedding party we spurn the achievements of western civilization. One important corner stone of civic rights is a transparent legal system, which gives everybody the opportunity to defend himself in front of a court. Independent judges or juries come to fair court orders. If we let politicians and armies circumvent legislative authority, we risk to loose this right for ourselves and indirectly support tremendous injustice. In addition we maintain a ridiculous and immoral image, which we already have in many parts of the world.

Even for the US and their NATO partners difficult times are ahead. The army of enemies of the western world is ready to commit terror attacks. The secret services around the word are spending billions to observe everybody. As a result freedom and privacy are sacrificed as a global collateral damage. The eerie feeling, that soon the whole world is falling apart is getting stronger.

Here is my action plan:

  • Push the president and government of your country to stand up against the described double-moral. (When the Austrian president visits a dictatorship, the question weather he should mention human-rights in the respective country is always discussed. Strange enough, the double moral question is never mentioned, when one of the powerful western countries is being visited)
  • Express your opposition against breaking the international law.
  • Get inspired by “Time for outrage” by Stéphane Hessel.

I am part of the western civilization’s mind-set. I really like to live in Austria. It’s a nice and save place. Please help to restore our common ethics and morality.

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Knowledge is key

In the last couple of days I attended a clinical cancer conference. I learned a lot about the clinical practice for this terrible disease and also about careless data protection habits. As we learned from our tweeting hero, the connection data are the low hanging fruits. And this is not different in conference business.

When entering the meeting-room of every scientific session of the conference, all participant’s conference badges were scanned (there was a convenient barcode on every id). Officially this measure was taken to print a list of attended lectures on everybody’s certificate of participation. (Who needs such a document?)

There was no conference booklet with a list of talks but an unstable android (and iOS) app available. Fortunately I selected most of my sessions beforehand by using a web-browser in my office. I assume this sounds paranoid, when I mention the easier tracking of my scientific interests, when I use an electronic device.

However, the interesting part was a little USB stick with presumably all abstracts (short summaries) of the conference presentations including scientific posters. It became a habit that sponsors are mentioned for a specific conference service like WiFi or public transport. In this case  every attendant got a little voucher for a USB stick to pick up at the booth of a pharma company. It’s a nice little, blue device with an USB plug, which looks like a memory stick.

I tried this USB stick with my private Linux laptop. Apparently nothing happened. No pop-up window appeared, informing me about a new storage device. When I looked into the list of USB devices, I made an interesting discovery: The new device identified itself as an Apple, Inc. Pro Keyboard [Mitsumi, A1048/US layout] (ID 05ac:020b).

An old article on heise security about keyboard emulation to crack a computer came to my mind. Even though I spend a couple of hours (using Wireshark on my USB hub), I could not find out all about my new blue friend. I just realized that the stick, dependent on the operating system of the computer, types some commands. One of these commands starts a web browser and connects to this link. (It works at least, if you are using an English keyboard layout). I could not find any data on this device but a lot of warnings (e.g. 1, 2) on the internet.

I feel a little uncomfortable when I let somebody type on my computer and open all opportunities to do nasty or intruding things. I assume this USB device is harmless and just connects me to the conference poster download page. Instead of the expected memory stick I got a hidden keyboard, I am supposed to plug into my computer. And I doubt, that this terrible data security image fits to the pharma company, which provided the device.

The conference posters are hosted on a web-site called poster-submission.com. The domain name is registered by Johann Woringer, the CEO of Wiz-Team and Co-Founder of Além Labs, a company that provides “Accommodation, transportation, accreditations and ticketing data management systems for the International Olympic Committee” for the last six Olympic games (from Athens 2004 until Sotchi 2014).

The rest are just speculations: Connection data from health-care and pharmaceutical companies e.g. who is interested in which drug or drug target is a valuable data set, helping to discover the hot topics in cancer research and research pipelines of participating (billion-Euro/Francs/Dollar) companies a bit earlier. Mr. Woringer is probably well connected to politics and industry.

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No conflict of interest

The discussion about net-neutrality is currently in its hot phase. It looks like net-neutrality lost and it’s even unclear, if this decision has been make some time ago as a deal between the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the Council of the European Union (to name discussion partners, which are relevant for my world).

At first sight it looks like a conflict of interest for my ISP, because he wants to improve his services to keep me happy as a customer, rather than make big complications and sophisticated price models. Even from a technical point of view, keeping net neutrality is much easier and simpler.

But from a economical perspective it makes a lot of sense to work against net neutrality. Different price models based on speed and transmission preference might give ISPs additional profit. Diversification makes products from different vendors difficult to compare and leads to higher prices due to lack of competition. Certain services, like video on demand, might be excluded from cheaper offers, while the expensive ones give their customers the preference over others.

I hope other infrastructure providers (for e.g power suppliers) won’t copy this ideas. Imagine how their cheaper offers might look like: Electricity or water is only available for me during off-rush hours. If my richer neighbour wants to take a shower, I have to wait. And after my late night bath, I can empty my bath tube not before 3am. I can drive our car only when nobody else is on the road, unless I want to pay a high toll.

If I follow all these guidelines will be supervised via my net connection. Hopefully at least for these services there will be net neutrality.

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Achievements of Civilisation

Living in peace in my country is a privilege, I can not appreciate enough. Civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and several other places in the world, are horrible. Cruelty of the soldiers involved and the terrible consequences of their activities are beyond my imagination. These countries are drowing in chaos and rational thinking and acting in a humanitarian way is presumably rare.

But here in Austria we live in peace for seven decades. It’s time to think about, what I like most on our stable society. For me the most important achievements of our civilisation are rules we agreed on and division of labour.

With “rules we agreed on” I am firstly referring to our legal system and secondly to our social rules. Irrational behavior and loosing control are considered as properties of a weak personality. Even in an argument in public most people stay calm and focused on the desired outcome, rather than let their emotions flow and break every bone in their oponent’s body. We developed cooperation, as Martin Nowak pointed out. The animal in us is properly domesticated, even though the driving forces behind, the social bundaries, are getting weaker in particular in larger cities.

The division of labour was stressed by my friend and colleague Manfred during an after-lunch coffee break. I am not referring to cultural achievements like specialization, economic systems, and monetarism. I would like to point out one small but important topic: There are state officials taking care of our security demands. We have police, which is called, if the agreed rules are not respected. For international situations we have an (presumably not too powerful) army. I am so glad, I don’t need to enforce my (well defined) rights with a pistol in my hand, which might bring me into dangerous situations with other armed citizens. The general absence of weapons in everyday’s life, gives me a feeling of security. And this feeling is supported by crime statistics.

In the United States of America, this very convenient division of labour leading to low crime rates is not among the highest goals of civilisation. A strong and powerful lobby acting ower almost 150 years, placed the strong belief into american brains, that a weapon at home – no, let me rephrase – doing the dirty work of taking care of one’s personal security is a cultural achievement and a citizen’s duty. I hereby invite everybody to listen to reason and end this gigantic lobbing campaign headed by Allan D. Cors (who took a rifle to school, when he was a boy) and co-workers against the interests of the population.

Even if the whole american population follows my appeal straight away, it takes many years until weapons are extinguished from peoples minds. Maybe it even helps curing the schizophrenic US-politics, that is abusing heroic terms like freedom and justice to bring instability and war over the world in order to serve economic interests of a few thousand financial leaders.

I wish there was somebody taking care of my digital security. I am most worried about financial transactions via swift, intrusion into privacy, and attacks on infrastructure like electricity and transport.

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No excuses

At my birthday last week, I got a fantastic new laptop. It’s a Lenovo Yoga 3 pro. To be honest it was originally a Macbook pro, but I could replace it with the mentioned model. The main reason, why I want a Windows laptop is the fact that I can (easily) replace the operating system (OS) with Linux.

After trying out Windows 8.1 for a couple of hours, I realized that Microsoft made a lot of progress with their latest OS version. The interface looks clean and tidy and everything seems to work as expected. Only the Microsoft Service Agreement is unacceptable. However, I don’t have the impression, that my new laptop is under my control. So I switched to Fedora 21. Turning off UEFI was not strait forward, but as soon as the Linux live image booted, I could overwrite Windows on my disk.

Now I synchronize my home directory with our home server, where it resided in the last couple of years. Autofs is connecting the server shares when requested. Wireless internet is provided by our blackhawk router. To make a long story short. I am really happy, how well my computer infrastructure works. Thanks to my lovely wife, who (together with my parents) provided silicon luxury for me.

Since I have now fantastic tools, there is no excuse, not to start or continue my other projects.

  • Make digital music easily accessible to everybody in the household. (Btw. did you see the Nuimo). I am thinking about pulse audio and a few satellite mini computers connected to speakers in different rooms.
  • Work on home automation (heating). Security is gold. I will never connect door locks to this system. Not only because of high-tech burglars but also not to be trapped in case of fire.
  • Write more frequently for this blog.

I am determined to report about progress I could make. My technological vein is recovering. Suggestions welcomed.

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Simple minds

Recently I got a request from the business contacts platform linkedin, asking if I might share all my email addresses and passwords with them. They want automatically go through my mail account’s address books to find new contacts for me. They promise, that my passwords are save with them and they will use them entirely for the described purpose.

A year ago they asked me to change my linkedin password, because they became the victim of large scale data theft and my login was stolen. I think linkedin is testing, if I am completely crazy and exclude me automatically from head-hunter activities.

They should make sure that people, who are willing to share their passwords with them, let’s call them the simple minds, stay away from positions with responsibility. Rating agencies could fine tune their ratings of companies and countries based on the enrichment of simple minds in management or political positions.

On the other hand, the US watchlist could be cleared from false positives by the intersection with simple minds. The likelihood of founding a labour union is inversely correlated with the rate of simple minds among the employees. Political parties and marketing agencies should adapt their campaigns to simple minds, because this is a growing subgroup in the population. They are receptive for stupid ideas as long as you have an explanation for it and it is much easier to steer and control them.

As soon as you are successful with such a request like linkedin, you could consider to go down on an even lower level. You could ask them about their personal relationships, about the food that they like, their holiday destinations, and lots of other private stuff.

Oh wait, this idea is not really new. Seems like, I am living in the wrong century.

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The world is changing

It has been a while since my last post in January this year. In the meantime lots of things changed in the online world. The naive part of the population (including me) realized, that the secret services around the world do more sophisticated spying, than opening hand-written letters with steam. A brave young man, Edward Snowden, was willing to give up his normal, comfortable life, to inform the world about the spying program of the NSA and GCHQ. There is a house in Vienna (18., Pötzleinsdorferstrasse 126 – 128) that belongs to the US embassy. There are rumours, that this house is used by the NSA. According to a newspaper, there is a direct connection to the back-bone of Austria’s internet in this house, capable of transmitting up to 70% of Austria’s telecommunication traffic. I assume that my country is not an exception and similar houses exist all over the world.

Since I know about these details, I don’t feel save anymore. It feels like, all my online activities are monitored. The Austrian Computer Association postulate the required actions in an open letter to the government. The cornerstones are:

  • transparency and democratic control of all surveillance activities
  • disclosure of all contracts with the USA and other countries regarding data transmission
  • data protection according to European law (in particular regarding the safe-harbour contracts)
  • definition of human rights for online activities
  • European companies should be founded that provide computer cloud services to break US monopolies
  • Security evaluation of software used in the government
  • Diplomatic steps to stop the spying programs (also economic espionage)
  • Freedom of press (see my last post) in particular for journalists and others reporting about this topic

The president of Brazil made a brave step ahead. I hope others will follow.

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Free press – required in 2013 ?

In the 17th and 18th century, the Age of enlightenment, intellectual interchange of topics of public interest, like social developments and science, became an important achievement. Throughout the centuries, people were fighting for its preservation and broadening to other fields. The driving forces were opposition to “superstition, intolerance and some abuses by church and state” (Wikipedia). Let me update this list and add “abuses by (online) corporations” , to make it more current. The Freedom of the press as well as the Freedom of speech are crucial measures to keep this achievement.

The rise of the Internet fits perfectly into this concept. Potentially everybody can reach a huge audience. But it quickly turned out, that professional journalists can do the job much better, than average people (like me). Skillful writing abilities, careful investigtion of the background, and statements based on facts are required to inform the public properly, in order e.g. to cause the dismissal of corrupt members of parliament or ministers, report about environmental hazards, or provide information about wrong developments. We need these journalists more urgent than ever and we must pay them properly. I have subscriptions of two Austrian quality newspapers, even though I don’t have enough time to read most of their articles.

News aggregators like Google news are taking articles from online newspapers, without paying for the content, shifting online traffic from newspapers to Google. Protests came from Brazil, Great Britain, and others. Imagine what happens to a single newspaper, if Google reacts on its protest and kicks it out of its search engine results. At least it’s online appearance becomes virtually invisible. If most newspapers from a region join together, like the ones from Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers, they could undermine Google’s divide and conquer strategy.

Many news publishers around the world sell their newspapers via a specific App for Apple or Android phones and tablet computers, some of them like newspaperdirect for many newspapers in parallel. Apple and Google are just involved in the distribution of the App and content is taken directly from the publisher’s servers.

But there are more and more publishers, who devote their online content entirely to Apple and sell it directly via Apple’s iTunes. Plans for that exist for several years and since October 2011 there is a new Apple iOS application (impossible to un-install) called Newsstand. It seems to be a big success. Apple takes a 30 percent cut on all newspaper sales.

If this distribution model takes over a significant share of the newspaper market, this is the end of free press. Then the online giant Apple can not only control distribution and earn much money, they can put pressure on the content of the publication. There is a conflict of interest: Free speech (customers) and making money (Apple). Critical journalists won’t survive long, when the Apple guidelines apply, making them changing their opinions. There is a history of Apple regarding other iTunes content, which I call censorship.

The online giants, including Facebook and Twitter, live on the input of people. Their assets are entirely produced by their users. They provide a fantastic and very expensive infrastructure apparently for free, but cannibalize your content and abuse it for their own interests. At least institutions payed by the taxpayer should be forced, not to produce value for them. This happened to the Austrian National Broadcasting (ORF). I support this prohibition of social media activities, but several shortsighted politicians do not (Brosz, Cap).

So what is the solution for this online dilemma? Firstly, publish online on servers under your control. This applies equally to people and institutions. Secondly, create standards and rules for online publications, that guarantee freedom of speech and fair payments for journalists and control it by independent institutions.

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