... in war

The future of copyright will most likely not be determined by a cost benefit analysis

29 Jul 2012 | 238 words | copyright economics economy future review war books

So i finally managed to start reading the ‘Future of Copyright‘ anthology that contains the winning essays from a contest organised by the Modern Poland Foundation. So far (i have not read them all) my favourite essay is ‘Give‘ by Togi, which i read as powerful argument that systemic change (and not just reform) is not only much needed but also possible. While his overall line of argument is pretty convincing (to me), i have a bit of trouble following one of his (her?) central arguments (Mike Linksvayer makes a very similar point in his review of the anthology):

At the point where government profit from copyright/IP is negated by the cost of its enforcement (both in monetary terms and in terms of public goodwill), free culture will be permitted.

While this would be the logical thing for governments to do, there is ample evidence that governments don’t work like this. This seems to be especially true in conflicts that are rhetorically packaged as ‘wars’. The ‘war on drugs’ is the best example of this (if this does not make sense to you listen to the last point bought forward in this episode of the planet money podcast), but it is also true for the ‘war on terror’. Given this i think it is rather naive to expect (as Togi does) governments to succumb to rational economic thinking when it comes to the war on piracy sharing.

The latest skill required in the war on terror? direct messaging

14 Apr 2011 | 361 words | afghanistan drones war

The Los Angeles times has a terrifyingfascinating reconstruction of a US airstrike that killed 23 (or 16 if you believe the US military) afghan civilians on 21 february 2010. The reconstruction focusses on the role played by the pilot and camera operator of a predator drone that observed three ‘suspicious’ vehicles whose passengers had the misfortune crossing paths with a team of US special operators early on February the 21st.

MQ-9 Reaper in flight

The article documents how the drone operators (in Nevada), the the commander of the Special operations team (on the ground in Afghanistan) and a team of video screeners (in Florida) interacted in falsely determining that the Afghanis were armed insurgents (in reality they were unarmed villagers). One of the most intresting aspects of the article is the insight it provides into the communication patterns between the different actors involved on the US side:

The Predator’s two-man team — a pilot and a camera operator — was one of the Air Force’s most-experienced. […] Also stationed at Creech were the Predator’s mission intelligence coordinator and a safety observer. In addition, a team of “screeners” — enlisted personnel trained in video analysis — was on duty at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Fla. They sat in a large room with high-definition televisions showing live feeds from drones flying over Afghanistan. The screeners were sending instant messages to the drone crew, observations that were then relayed by radio to the A-Team. On the ground, the A-Team was led by an Army captain, a veteran of multiple tours in Afghanistan. Under U.S. military rules, the captain, as the ground force commander, was responsible for deciding whether to order an airstrike.

So you have a ground commander who cant see the the target who is in radio contact with the drone operator who gets most of the image analysis provided by screeners in another state who provide their assessments via direct messages and emails containing image stills) but without having access to the radio traffic with the ground commander.

As it turns out this is about as much a recipe for disaster as it sounds… [read the full article here]

How to carry a shark through the streets of Mogadishu

01 Jan 2011 | 38 words | fish food mogadishu photos somalia war

Just found this picture in the ‘the year 2010 in 100 pictures’ issue of the NRC magazine.

Probably my favorite picture from 2010. the NRC magazine shows a tiny little version, click on the image above for high-res.


31 Dec 2010 | 224 words | afghanistan documentary review war movies film

Just finished watching the award winning war documentary restrepo. hard not to be impressed with this documentary (gives a whole new meaning to embedded journalism) and hard not to feel empathy with the soldiers who served more than a year at the end of the world (or as they themselves refer to it, ‘the valley of death’)

Village elders and solider at shura

Aside from the firefights and the portraits of the (extremely young) soldiers restrepo perfectly illustrates the futility of the US-led war in Afghanistan. the whole film shows that that there is absolutely no reason why the US should be in Afghanistan in the first place, their presence there simply makes no sense at all. It appears that the heavily armed twenty-somethings and the red-bearded, toothless village elders inhabit parallel universes. unfortunately for the red bearded, toothless village elders they are getting shot at (and their cows get killed) from the other universe, without there being any meaningful means of recourse for them.

Fortunately for the village elders the US retreated from the Korengal Valley in april 2010. If restrepo serves as an indicator the US would be wise to retreat from the rest of the country as well (before they are forced to do so)

p.s. this picture pretty much makes the same point:

Donkey collapsed under weight of election materials

Kabul tourist guide

The city of Kabul (and Afghanistan in general) is still pretty high on my list of places i want to visit. Unfortunately, the closest place to Kabul that i got to so far is Delhi. Fortunately, however, there is the fabulous internet where Safi Airways ‘the international airline of Afghanistan’ is publishing PDF versions of it’s fabulous in-flight magazine. Browsing through the three available issues only reinforces my desire to go and visit the place.

As far as the standards of such publications are concerned the Safi Airways in-flight magazine boasts a number of rather unconventional topics (dog fighting, opium addiction) and a somewhat chaotic layout (a story about ‘man eating lions’ is run right next to an article about Kabul’s christian cemetery). Among the quirky stories and hidden in-between a fair amount of ads for armored cars are some real gems like this one about a olympic-size swimming pool on a hill overlooking Kabul that was never filled with water ‘due to the difficulties of pumping water uphill’:

Some of the parts of the magazine are outright amusing. This is especially true for the section of the publication that serves as a city guide for Kabul. The (apparently expat) copywriters seem to have inherited a certain casualness from their work in Kabul which readily expresses itself in the descriptions given in shopping section that covers everything from shopping malls:

Kabul city center is Afghanistan’s first modern style indoor shopping mall that opened in 2005. it is approximately 9 stories tall and is located in downtown Kabul

… to open air bazars offering counterfeit entertainment products …

Chicken street is famed for it’s tourist fare (carpets, carvings knifes etc) and pirated CD/DVD’s

… to sellers of misappropriated goods:

Karimi Supermarket […] make sure to head upstairs for some great stuff that’s fallen off some PX trucks.

Another area where the copywriters really shine are directions to restaurants and shops that are provided alongside these descriptions: The ‘Red Hot & Sizzling” restaurant can be found after making …

… a left at the next traffic circle. slow down, the first gate to the right used to have a red chili pepper hanging up on a pole. Not easy to find.

And in order to get to the ‘Corner Pizzeria’ you have to …

… head down the barricaded street to almost the end. You’ll see big misspelled banners showing you the way.

Update (6 sept): Spiegel online has an interview (in German) with the editor in chief off the in-flight magazine. turns out that the whole thing is intended to be ‘honest’ (as opposed to all other in flight magazines out there).

Annick van Hardefeld memorial race

05 May 2010 | 970 words | alleycat amsterdam war

Yesterday i raced in the 11th edition of the annual Anniek van Hardeveld memorial race (see my pervious reports here and here). this race is held annually on the 4th of may in remembrance of Annick van Hardeveld, a 21 year old courier for the dutch resistance who was shot dead on the 4th of may 1945, which happened to be the last day of the german occupation. she is probably the last member of the resistance to have been killed by the germans.

Turns out that this little tradition of ours slowly gets noticed by those formally in charge of the 4/5 may festivities: The race is featured as an ‘official’ event on the 4/5 may website and Marjan Schwegman, the director of the dutch institute for war documentation (NIOD) describes it as an example of a new remembrance culture her a recent speech (pdf) on the occasion of the presentation of a book documenting the memory of the second world war (sorry for the dutch):

Als ik van het NIOD naar het Centraal Station loop, kom ik op het Hekelveld altijd een klein, onopvallend monument tegen. Het is gewijd aan Annick van Hardeveld, die daar op 21 jarige leeftijd als ‘de laatste koerierster uit het verzet’, zoals de tekst op het monument vermeldt, op 4 mei 1945 werd neergeschoten door de Duitse Bezetter. Omdat ik mezelf nooit de tijd gunde om haar naam goed te noteren aangezien ik altijd een trein moest halen, heeft het tot het uitkomen van de bundel Plaatsen van Herinnering geduurd voordat ik me in de geschiedenis van Annick van Hardeveld en het aan haar gewijde monument heb verdiept.

Wat ontdekte ik? In de eerste plaats een paar fragmentjes uit de levensgeschiedenis van Annick van Hardeveld. Zij was opgeleid als Rode Kruis verpleegster en naast haar werk als medisch analiste in het Wilhelmina Gasthuis koerierster van de BS. In die hoedanigheid vervoerde ze bonkaarten, wapens, valse papieren en begeleidde ze onderduikers. Op de avond van de 4e mei 1945 was ze op weg van Amsterdam Zuid naar Amsterdam Noord. Ze had opdracht de leden van de Verzetsgsroep MAX III te laten weten dat zij naar een geheime wapenopslag plaats moesten komen die zich in het Vossius Gymnasium bevond. Opgetogen door de radio berichten over de naderende Duits capitulatie, had ze zich gehuld in een Nederlandse vlag, die ze over haar Rode Kruis uniform had aangetrokken. Deze opvallende kledij was voor de Grune Polizei aanleiding om haar op het Hekelveld vanuit een overvalwagen neer te schieten. Haar broer Yann, die niet had geweten dat zijn zus actief was in het verzet, was 1 van degenen die het initiatief nam voor het monument dat op 4 mei 1985 werd onthuld.

Ik kwam ook nog iets anders te weten: het monument is sinds 1998 het middelpunt van een intrigerend ritueel: de Annick van Hardeveld Memorial Alleycat. Voor de niet ingewijden onder ons: een Alleycat is een straatrace voor en door fietskoeriers. In dit geval gaat om een race die op 4 mei om 7 uur ‘s avonds begint op het Koerierstersplein en die de koeriers naar verschillende posten bij oorlogsmonumenten voert, waar ze bliksemsnel een bloem moeten ‘ophalen’ die ze heelhuids naar het Hekelveld moeten brengen en op het monument moeten leggen. Degene die daar als eerste in slaagt is winnaar. Vervolgens vormen de fietskoeriers om 8 uur een halve cirkel om het monument en gedenken Annick van Hardeveld met 2 minuten stilte.

Dit ritueel op deze plaats is in mijn ogen een mooie illustratie van datgene wat Madelon de Keizer en Marije Plomp in de inleiding van de bundel schrijven: plaatsen van herinnering zijn niet slechts plaatsen die verwijzen naar het verleden, maar ontlenen hun zeggingskracht aan de betekenis die in het hier en nu aan die plaatsen wordt gegeven. De bundel die wij hier vandaag ten doop houden biedt dus een kijk op de hedendaagse Nederlandse herinneringscultuur van de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Met name sinds de val van de Muur, die, zo schrijven De Keizer en Plomp, de herinnering aan WOII ‘ontdooide’, zijn herinneringsplaatsen onderhevig aan een onophoudelijke herstructurering. Herinneren is een actief proces dat nooit af is, en dat zich aan steeds nieuwe

rituelen hecht. Dat geldt bij uitstek voor de Tweede Wereldoorlog. De herinnering aan die periode is, zo wordt in de bundel gesteld, een open zenuw in de Nederlandse samenleving.

De Annick van Hardeveld Memorial Cat laat ook zien dat herinneringsculturen strijd kunnen uitdrukken. Het ‘ophalen’ van bloemen bij andere monumenten wijst daar bijvoorbeeld op. Dat ‘ophalen’ past goed bij de flitsende, tegendraadse cultuur van de tegenwoordige fietskoeriers, die, anders dan in 1945, bijna allemaal van het mannelijk geslacht zijn. Een van hen merkte na de race op: ‘Bij de begraafplaats waar we de bloem moesten halen, stonden de mensen wel vreemd te kijken: wat komen zij als idioten aangereden?’ Dat het herdenkingsritueel van de koeriers de schijn wekt een rebelse voetnoot te zijn bij de nationale herdenking op de Dam is iets waarvan de koeriers zich bewust zijn, ook al zegt 1 van hen: ‘We doen het niet om ons tegen de massa af te zetten door driehonderd meter van de Dam te gaan staan. Het is gewoon onze manier van herdenken.’

In deze eigentijdse manier van herdenken valt op dat het juist de subversieve elementen zijn die het verleden levend houden. De vereniging van fietskoeriers die de Memorial Cat organiseert verwijst met haar naam Fuccit naar de vrijheid die fietskoeriers essentieel achten voor de uitoefening van hun beroep. De neergeschoten koerierster symboliseert voor hen die vrijheid. In de oproep om mee te doen aan de Annick van Hardeveld Alleycat stellen zij in internet engels: ‘So this is not you ‘normal’ alleycat but a way to show our respect and gratitude to all those who gave their life for our freedom.’ […]

REMINDER: the CIA were the good guys when we were kids

20 Nov 2009 | 340 words | cinema propaganda review war

So the opening evening of IDFA 2009 was a bit of a disappointment (if you do not count new insights regarding the size of mice living in Tuschinski and the esthetic co-dependancies between skimpy dresses and high heels). For some rather dubious reason (must be the general obsession with the fact that the berlin wall came down 20 years ago) ‘War Games And The Man Who Stopped Them‘ was chosen as an opening film.

This turned out an really self congratulatory cold-war warrior biopic about a polish colonel who (with a little help from his friends at the CIA) claimed to have more or less singlehandedly brought the entire Warsaw pact to it’s knees. If we are to believe the movie he did this by providing the CIA with over 40.000 documents detailing russian strategy for attacking Western Europe. Conveniently not a single of these 40.000 documents was shown during the course of this ‘documentary’.

Instead we got to see lots of former CIA agents saying nice things about the CIA and the Polish colonel, and lots of former Warsaw pact military and intelligence officials saying nice things about the Warsaw pact and not so nice things about the Polish colonel. As far as the sources are concerned i can hardly imagine less selection than relying exclusively on (ex)intelligence officers.

Throw in lots of shots of the widow of the Polish colonel browsing through photographs of the Polish colonel when he was looking good being young-and-in-uniform plus lots of unrelated shots of sail boats and you have a perfectly meaningless film.

If this is not bad enough, i would not be surprised if the entire film was commissioned by the CIA. If i was part of their public relations department this kind of cold-war-porn would be very welcome in order to distract from the fact that since they have brought down the wall (with the help of the Polish colonel) the CIA has mainly been busy using these newly freed countries to run torture prisons in upscale horseback riding schools.

Free Gaza footage from Al Jazeera

13 Jan 2009 | 258 words | gaza media propaganda war censorship

Al Jazeera has launched the AL Jazeera Creative Commons repository that hosts TV quality Al Jazeera footage from Gaza under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This effectively allows all uses of the footage (even by other TV networks) as long as attribution is given to Al Jazeera. As far as i can tell (and they also boast about this in their press release) this is the first time that a major broadcast organization is making it’s own footage under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

This is especially relevant as Al Jazeera is one of the very few foreign news organizations that has camera teams and correspondents inside the Gaza strip as Israel is currently denying access to foreign journalists. Or as the International herald Tribune puts it:

In a conflict where the Western news media have been largely prevented from reporting from Gaza because of restrictions imposed by the Israeli military, Al Jazeera has had a distinct advantage. It was already there.

Screenshot from Gaza Zeitoun / War on Gaza day 18.

Given that the licensing terms allow other broadcasters (commercial and public) to rebroadcast the footage provided by Al Jazeera it is interesting to see if they will indeed make use of this opportunity and start offering a view of the conflict that relies less on the propaganda videos provided by the Israeli military. Personally i doubt that there will be many takers but i would love to be proven otherwise….

In the meanwhile congratulations to Joi, Mohamed, Donatella and everybody else involved to make this happen…

Cyclorama vs. Reality

09 Jan 2009 | 434 words | egypt israel propaganda war

During my recent trip to Cairo, in we visited [on suggestion of the my barbarian crew] the 6 october (a.k.a yom kippur) war memorial that is situated in Heliopolis just off the road to the international Airport.

The memorial consists of a large circular building housing a 360 degree rotating cyclorama surrounded an open-air display off tanks, fighter-jets, artillery pieces and anti-aircraft missiles [mainly those used by the Egyptian army during the war but also a few ones captured from the Israeli army].

Apparently the memorial has been designed by North Koreans after Kim Jong Il suggested to President Mubarak that he should build a memorial commemorating the 6 october/yom kippur war between Egypt and Israel. The memorial was completed in 1989 has been open to the public ever since. It seems that it is mostly visited by Egyptian university and high-school students on mandatory excursions but it is also open to ordinary tourists. A sign at the ticket office (£E20 per person) welcomes you with the following words:

Welcome to 1973 october war panorama, enjoy spending a good time by watching 1973 october war panorama accompanied by the sound effects and music program. special shows for tourist in different languages [see the sign on flickr]

We did not get a special show and the only language available (via IR headphones) was crappy English but the the 360 degree rotating cyclorama (a cylindrical panorama is rotated around cinema style seats that are installed in the middle of the the round room) is quite impressive indeed.

The cyclorama (and the accompanying narrative) narrate the first 48 (or so hours) of the 6 october war when the Egyptian army managed to cross the Suez canal, breach the Israeli sand fortification on the Sinai side of the canal (known as the bar-lev line) and established two small bridge-heads on the Sinai peninsula that had been occupied by Israel since the 6 day war in 1968. Both the visuals and the narrative give the impression that the Egyptian Army effortlessly overcame the Israeli defenses. By conveniently focussing on the initial 2 days of the war and ignoring the rest, the memorial gives the impression (much to the delight of the egyptian visitors) that Egypt had actually won the war and defeated Israel once and for all. Meanwhile, as we were leaving the cyclorama, the ‘defeated’ Israeli air force was busy bombing the shit out of the once Egyptian-controlled Gaza strip, while the ‘victorious’ Egyptian army was busy turning away [at gunpoint] wounded Palestinians from seeking treatment in Egypt.

Scene from the 6 october war cyclorama by Sara Kolster

'Terrorist' watch list... (weekend reading list)

18 Oct 2008 | 221 words | war religion islamofobia terrorism afghanistan

So the Atlantic has another well written article (‘The Things He Carried‘ by Jeffrey Goldberg) that shows the absurdity of the security theater that we endure at the airports (note that the situation in europe is a bit different, as they do check your boarding pass against ID at the boarding gate), which among other things illustrates that no-fly lists are a rather dumb instrument if you want to catch Terrorists.

So if the ‘terrorists’ are not on the no-fly watch list, where are they then? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that they are in Afghanistan hanging out with the Taliban. Nir Rosen (who apparently has in inclination for hanging out in and reporting from dangerous places) has hung out with them as well and documented his trip into the Taliban controlled province of Ghazni for the Rolling Stone (‘How we lost the war we won‘). Along his trip he also managed to take some beautiful photos:

Taliban fighters in the Andar district , photo Nir Rosen/Roling Stone

Now of course the Taliban do not really qualify as ‘terrorists’ either but that does not deter both US presidential candidates from making plans for sending more troops to Afghanistan [and possibly Pakistan]. If you want to understand why this is a rather dumb idea, Rosen’s article is a good place to start…

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: