... in security

We behave like bitches

27 Aug 2006 | 446 words | terrorism london airtravel stupidity security

So i am back at London heathrow, waiting for my connecting flight to Amsterdam. To get from my arrival gate to the departure hall i had to clear a third(!!) security check since arriving at the airport in Delhi. (the first one being the standard delhi airport one and the second a special one by BA just before boarding the plane because they are obviously not trusting the Indian authorities). Now they must be selling explosives and machine guns on board of planes these days otherwise searching everyone after leaving a plane is a rather silly exercise…

Anyway, this time they apparently found something in my carry-on baggage so a young screener started removing items one-by-one from my bag. As she had told me that i probably had something liquid in my bag (and i was sure i had not) i was starting to take the piss out of her commenting every item she removed with a description of it and the addition that it was solid/not-liquid. however the last thing she pulled from my bag was a half empty 20ml tube of sunscreen which either had not been considered to be liquid before or they had not seen the pervious two times. This made me look rather stupid in any case.

After finishing my search her shift had ended and she left which is why we ended up next to each other on a escalator a little bit further in the terminal building. I told her that my behavior hadn’t been meant personal. surprisingly she thanked me and immediately started to complain about her job which she said she ‘hated’ because she had to take away stuff from people that was clearly not dangerous, like taking away perfume from old ladies and such. she then went on to say:

i dont want to curse, but me and my colleagues we behave like bitches

Apparently she was only on the job for four days (which means that either she picked a bad time to start or that they are hiring lots of new staff at Heathrow to cope with the mess they have created for themselves (and do not do very intensive security screenings of their new screeners) and absolutely hated it because most of the stuff she had to do made no sense whatsoever.

I for my part will try to avoid both British airports as well as British Airways in the future. Kind of hope that both BA and the BAA go bankrupt because nobody will want to use their services anymore. If i was them i would really start pressuring the government to stop acting silly and focus their energy on useful things.

Argentinean technicians

I almost missed my flight today. First air france offered me €150 and Hotel costs if i would consider flying the next day as the flight was overbooked. Given that it was sunny 30C in BsAs and snowy -2C in Berlin i immediately accepted their proposal. i was given a voucher for €150 and asked to wait for half an hour in case they would have place on the plane. unfortunately they had, but they told me to keep the €150 as a reward for my flexibility (my first ever experience of this capitalist mantra for more flexibility (of the workforce) producing tangible results!

Ironically AF’s computer system seems to be much less flexible than me: in Paris it took them about 40 minutes to turn the voucher into cash as the procedures involved where too complicated for all 8 employees present). The whole procedure (the one in BsAs not the one in Paris) had taken so much time that i had about 40 minutes left to get to the gate (through immigration and security check). Normally this is not a problem unless one is confronted with invisible argentinean technicians causing a 30 minute queue in front of the immigration control booths:

excuse the nuisances

The whole sign makes me wonder of Indian technicians or German engineers would be able to upgrade their systems in a way that ensures faster throughput during the operation. I highly doubt this, as – at least in my case – the procedure was really efficient: take the passport, scan it, enter the date of departure in the computer system, stamp the passport in about 15 seconds. Can’t really see how they want to optimize this procedure. Given that the old implementation of the migration control system was supplied by the US it might take out that one particular second required to send the data to the CIA….

Please do take luggage from strangers

16 Dec 2005 | 367 words | airtravel traffic india security

One of the most remarkable things about India is the way traffic flows. traffic adjusts itself to conditions around it in a very organic way and in general there are very little rules that are actually followed (or enforced).

The rule that vehicles (and this includes busses, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, cycles, push-carts, donkey-carts, and various species of animals) drive on the left side of the road only applies in a relative fashion: one drives left of the right most vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. This enables traffic to find an equilibrium (although it looks far from that) that distributes the total available width of the road according to the traffic volume in both directions (except when there are dividers in the middle of the road like in most of New Delhi). The whole thing works rather smoothly, is a pleasure to observe and a joy to participate in…

Now today i am about to take my first low-budget flight in India (from Delhi to Bombay) and while checking in i noticed the same sort of collective balancing taking place. Low-cost airlines have opened up the possibility of air travel for less prosperous people and you see a lot of families traveling on these airlines. On my flight about one quarter of the passengers seem to be families and the rest individuals traveling for business.

Now if traveling with family Indians must take along excessive amounts of luggage and of course this does not vibe at all with the 15 kg baggage allowment of Air Deccan. As a result the check-in queues at the airport becomes one big distribution mechanism where travelers with over-baggage pair up with travelers that only travel with carry-on baggage in order to check-in their baggage in their name. This creates quite an amount of chaos at check-in as people constantly jump the queue in order to assemble their baggage sharing party, but in the end it seems to work out really well and almost nobody pays for overweight. This process of applied solidarity is even more remarkable if one remembers the constant reminders not to accept luggage from strangers that one is subject to at airports in the rest of the world.

Back in Europe

So i am back in Europe for four days and today the whole concept of Europe (and its sick permutations) has been omnipresent wherever i went. In the afternoon i went to the dutch pre WSIS event ‘fill the gap 3’ organized by a couple of Dutch development NGOs in an apparent attempt to get some kind of public backing for their presence at the upcoming summit in Tunis. The whole event was dominated by a discussion around ICT, human rights and related to that the fact that the summit will take place in a country with a rather poor human rights record. Consequently one of the questions posed to the members of the final panel was something to the extend of if Europeans can demand compliance with human rights from developing countries at a time when human rights are curtailed in the same European countries.

To illustrate this the moderator pointed at the data-retention directive, that the EU council wants to get adopted in order to more effectively combat terrorism. Now is respect the work edri and its members are doing to fight this (and i am both donor to bits of freedom and a signatory of the petition against this stupid piece of legislation) but this is hardly the most drastic human rights violation (if at all) that Europe is capable of. It is something that mainly effects european citizens who at least on paper can influence this through democratic processes (and lets not forget that most people are stupid or paranoid (or both) enough to find this a perfectly fine instrument in the ‘global war on terror’).

Real human rights violation look a lot different if you ask me. How about looking up people who have done nothing wrong that coming to europe in fire unsafe cells and the threaten to shoot them when the express the desire to help their co-detainees who are burning to death in their looked cells, as reported in yesterdays volkskrant:

“We wanted to save others, but we were not permitted to do so. They pulled out guns and pointed them at us” said Afghan Momen Nouri, who had been released from cell 8 in wing K. “I heard ‘Help, Help’! A policeman replied : ‘I shoot you’.” “Then we were sitting in wing J and six or seven policemen arrived, who pointed guns at us, handcuffed us and locked us up in a cage”, said Algerian Mohammed Tahir from cell 2 in wing K. “The fire came nearer and nearer, and we heard screaming and yelling.” […] A fireman who arrived at the shift change around six o’clock, couldn’t believe his eyes. “There was a fascist atmosphere. Heavily armed men surrounded the poor bastards. It looked like Guantanamo Bay.”

Or even more cowardly getting so-called safe third countries so far that their security forces are willing to shoot people who are desperately trying to enter europe in the back. apparently this is more or less a prerequisite to receive European development help or to become a member of the European union (as seen in a less publicized incident involving turkish forces).

And then i am not even talking about yesterdays washington post report that claims that eastern European countries allow the CIA to run sekr!t torture prisons for ‘terrorists’ on their soil.

Data retention might be a troublesome and stupid thing (and during the discussion someone made the very valid point that once the necessary software is written it will probably find its best customers in authoritarian regimes outside of the Europe) but it hardly is the most drastic human rights violation going on in Europe right now.

But back to the beginning of the post. The other thing that made me think of europe was the premiere of the theater piece Europe an alien by andcompany&co in the gasthuis in Amsterdam. the piece itself is quite interesting (although the first half could be a bit more dense or faster or both if you ask me) and the sound-design is really amazing (it is still running on friday and saturday night) but more importantly it made me remember a text the ‘temporary association everyone is an expert’ published as a call to the noborder camp in Strasbourg back in 2002: ‘Let’s talk about Europe

I still think that this is one of the best texts that we have ever published and given the situation described above it has lost none of its importance.

When i am dead....

…i want to be buried here:

razor wire graveyard wall

Walked past the catholic (this might constitute a ideological problem) graveyard on Consolação today and to my immense joy realized the paranoid citizens of this fine city have had the ingenious idea to put razor wire on top of the sky blue walls that surround it. Until now i have never really known where i would want to be buried but now i am sure (other places i have briefly considered can be seen here and here). I will feel much safer here than on any other graveyard once i am dead.

Also i feel a bit sad that i have to leave as well. São Paulo has been really great. I must come here more often. I spend the last 2 hours at an amazing place: Prestes Maia 911. it is 23 story building in downtown that has been squatted by 458 families associated with the roofless movement (they do not say homeless because what they are missing is a roof or a dwelling and not a home with all its non material implications). It is a very organized place with an incredibly warm and friendly atmosphere. In fact it is the only squat i have ever been to that smells good (i was there around dinner time and the smell of all the different families cooking is absolutely mouth watering. The families live in separate little rooms that are made from wood and other discarded materials. in a way it is pretty much 23 favelas (by lack of a better word for collections of tiny makeshift housing units) stacked on top of each other. The whole place embodies the anarchic, organic chaos of the city on a miniature scale. Being there and talking to some of the inhabitants has been quite an experience. unfortunately it looks like the place is going to be evicted pretty soon.

Thanks to everybody who invited me into their ‘apartments’ and thanks to Fabiene for taking me there.

Guard in a box

26 Oct 2005 | 139 words | brazil sao paulo banking security

Did i mention that the people over here are paranoid (or to put it more mildly: security obsessed)? I have never seen so many armed security guards in my life. and then there are the (electrical) fences around apartment buildings in the better-off neighborhoods and zillions of police agents who drive around in their cars with their guns on their laps (i have been too scared to snap a picture of this particular behavior until now). Anyway i went to the bank today and there they had a security guard in a box with just his head sticking out. no idea what the purpose of this is (is he supposed to be hidden but this particular guard was too tall? or is the box bullet-proof and supposed to protect him in case of a shoot-out?):

guard in a box

Good news

16 Sep 2005 | 67 words | banking netherlands security afghanistan

Good news coming from the mysterious world of online banking. According to my bank (Rabobank in the Netherlands) it is again safe enough to transfer money to Afghanistan. Don’t really know what they were worrying about before? Me giving osama a little bit of pocket money? Or them war lords hijacking my transactions? In any case this is an important step towards fully computerized opium ordering…


New Orleans, Mogadishu

10 Sep 2005 | 671 words | united states security cities war media mogadishu

Been following the coverage about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina for the last couple of days and the whole thing has brought a lot of issues to the surface. (Boing boing has been an incredibly valuable source of information, jamie has written a nice summary mid last week and i also have rediscovered tomdispatch (they should fix their rss feed though). Now it seems that the situation is loosening up a bit, and it looks like there will be much less casualties than feared earlier (the total will stay well under 1000 if you ask me).

To me the most insane aspect of the whole story is the incredibly militarized reaction to this catastrophe. While there have been countless reports of armed gangs that supposedly have been looting killing and raping i have yet to see something that convinces me that these things have actually taken place on a larger scale than ususal: most of the stories have been based on hearsay and i have not come across one report that presented actual victims. Would be interesting to know if there are statistics about fire-arms-related casualties and injuries. Given the fact that almost every official involved in the rescue operation now seems to wear a kevlar vest and an assault rifle and half of them seem to be riding around in armoured personal carriers, one might assume that there must have been heavy losses among the rescue crews in the first 4 or 5 days which forced them to rund around as if they wehere in an actual war. But given the fact that there haven been no dead-hero stories about killed rescue workers i guess it is safe to assume that none of them got hurt, which makes the whole assault rifle carrying business pretty hard to understand (unless one assumes that rescue crews are mainly white and are just scared to to venture into a city populated by impoverished Africans Americans).

The insanity of this situation was best captured in a picture i saw a couple of days ago (i tried to find it back but image search on the net is still a pretty hopeless affair): a bunch of white males in civilian clothes with assault rifles, body armor and ridiculous sun glasses on the back of a pickup truck riding through a submerged street. the caption said something like ‘Police officers patrolling in New Orleans’. If the their vests would not have had ‘police’ and ‘sheriff’ written all over them one might have taken them for private contractors a.k.a mercenaries. The whole scene reminded me of Mogadishu during the height of the civil(?) war in the early nineties. the imagery of that conflict was more or less dominated by technicals: modified pickup trucks with groups of armed – in this case black – males on them. Back then the technicals were the most visible symbol of the ‘failed state’ in Somalia. It is rather ironic that the same configuration is supposed to be ensuring law and order in the US now.

Update (11.09.05): internet image search might be a hopeless affair, but nevertheless it can unearth little gems: there seems to be a plastic model set to build your own technical in 1/35.

Update (31.09.05): Todays International Herald Tribune runs a story (‘Rumors fueled tales of looting in New Orleans’) that seems to support both my assumptions made in this post. according to the article the total number of casualties stands at 845 and

a review of available evidence shows that some, though not all , of the most alarming stories where figments of frightened imagination […]. During six days when the Superdome was used as a shelter, the chief of the New Orleans Police Department’s sex crime unit, Lieutenant David Benelli sai he and his officers lived inside the dome and investigated every rumor of rape or atrocity. In the end they made two arrests for attempted sexual assault and concluded that the other attacks had not happened. “I think it was urban myth” Benelli said.

R.I.P Samir Kassir

03 Jun 2005 | 485 words | beirut lebanon security drone wars politics syria

Today i am back in Beirut. In the morning we met with the Hezbollah (i was still getting SMS straight from the ‘zionist entity’ while sitting in their press room), but talking to them did not make them any more sympathetic. The guy got himself in rage about Israel and how they had every right to defend themselves against Israeli aggressions, but instead of stopping there he then started to explain us how we (the Germans) were also victims of them as ‘they (Israelis) made us (Germans) responsible for the holocaust which has never happend’. when told that we did not see this this way he referred to ‘a book by an French professor’ that he had read but whose name he had ‘unfortunatly’ forgotten that would prove that the ‘holocaust never happend or at least was much smaller than they say’. yuk! This contributed to the resentment that had been growing in me after yesterdays visit to the south (Hezbollah country) where the mood was really depressing which at least for me was largely the result of the excessive presence of bearded men on all kinds of posters and billboards. (something that at first had appeared as a welcome change of scenery compared to the visual Hariri onslaught in the rest of the country. (between Nabatiye and Sour i did not spot a single Hariri poster). It does however seem that the posters help winning the elections in Beirut Hariri won all 19 seats and in the south Hezbollah and Amal are projected to win almost all 23 seats on stake in Sundays election round.

The unfortunate encounter with political Islam was soon pushed to the background when the news broke that Samir Kassir had been assassinated when a bomb detonated under his car seat just after leaving his apartment in Ashrafiye in east Beirut earlier that morning.

On June 2, 2005 Lebanon’s prominent journalist and historian Samir Kassir was assassinated. Kassir was a dedicated, vehement and eloquent critic of Syria’s presence in Lebanon, its security apparatuses and its Lebanese collaborators. from indymedia beirut

While i had not heard of him before suddenly everybody (ok i guess minus the Hezbollah) who we had met had connections with him ranging from personal friendships to working relations (the ladies from ‘un mémoire pour le avenir whom we had met on Tuesday evening were apparently some of the last persons to meet him on Wednesday). The somehow ironic fact that Samir who – as everybody was telling me – had been a very vocal critic of the Syrian role in Lebanon for quite a while had been assassinated by the Syrians (at least that is what everybody thinks) after they had left the country has had quite a devastating effect to everybody i spoke to during the day. Most people were wondering if ‘this was ever going to end’ end seemed extraordinary disillusioned by what had happend.

How to email the Hezbollah?

01 Jun 2005 | 158 words | lebanon social media politics religion security

Before meeting with a PLO representative who runs a youth center in Shabra. we had to send scans of our passports to Hezbollah so they could run a background check on us before our visit with one of their media representatives on thursday. After having had our passport scanned at an internet cafe in Beirut’s hamra district we were supposed to send them to a given @yahoo.com email adress. But how do yo write an email to hezbullah, how do you start? ‘inshallah’? ‘grüss gott’? in the end we settled for ‘to whom it may concern’ still asking ourselves if it would be wise to send this email via my work smtp server to an Hezbollah email adress that is registered with an US provider. In the end i never send the email as the uplink was way to slow for sending 9 passport scans and a journalist friend offered to send the files from his home instead.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: