The Freedom Panopticon

This is the fourth post I’ve started on the pervasive, indiscriminate, uncontrolled surveillance of electronic communications by the ministries of state security of the North Atlantic world. I stopped writing each of the last three either because the rant got too paranoid, or further revelations showed that the rant was not yet too paranoid enough.

But the stream of new information seems to have dried up a bit, as the news cycle has distracted itself with something called a Miley Cyrus, whatever that is, so I’ve had a chance to catch up a bit. And as a researcher in network measurement who left a job funded by security-academic-industrial-complex money to move to Europe to work on a project seeking to apply technical privacy guarantees to network monitoring systems (which ironically was named PRISM, and which I must forevermore footnote on my CV as “no, not that PRISM“), I feel I should make some statement on all of this. So here it is, predictable and unoriginal though it may be:

Pervasive surveillance is anathema to a functioning democratic society, and nations which do not exercise effective civilian oversight of their state security apparati end up being controlled by them.

On Network Neutrality

The National Council of Switzerland1 is considering the addition of a guarantee of network neutrality into a forthcoming revision of Swiss telecommunications law. This is generally a Good Thing. We all like the Internet. This being Switzerland, we all like neutrality. So network neutrality must be great.

More seriously, the Internet has largely replaced the public switched telephone network and the postal system as the basic communications infrastructure of our society; just as with these systems, the “last mile” is a natural monopoly, so guaranteeing equal access to it is important. However, the results that legislation of network neutrality will lead to may vary widely based on how, precisely, it is defined.

Things I can’t explain to Europeans

I’ve learned, after something happens in America, to wait a few days, first for the inaccuracies inherent in the twenty-four-hour news cycle to be spun out, then for the inaccuracies introduced by the inevitable political spin to cancel each other out, then for the inaccuracies introduced both by textual and cultural translation into the German-language media to at least settle down to a consistent-if-subtly-incorrect picture of what, exactly, it was that just happened, before I try to discuss it here in Switzerland. This is different in America, I explain, or that in the English-speaking world, we don’t have a word for whatever, Prohibition this, Puritans that, let’s not even talk about how the Second World War began in 1941, and so on.

I can’t explain this.

Four more years… in Switzerland

I’m not voting in the 2012 Presidential election. From a pure-fandom point of view I suppose you could say I’m for Obama, and I’ll probably raise a glass to his victory should it come, but in the end that wasn’t compelling enough to jump though all the various hoops necessary to get an absentee ballot as an emigrant American.  And the only thing I’m sure I want four more years of is life in Switzerland.

Bagels, redux

Taipei for Distracted Beginners

It’s bad form to draw generalizations about a place and a people from a tiny little sample of experience. And my sample last week in Taipei, Taiwan, was particularly tiny: first, I was there for an IETF meeting which kept me inside the convention center for most of the week, which resembled nothing so much as every convention center I’ve ever been in. And the times I wasn’t kept in the convention center by work, I was kept inside otherwise by a persistent rain that wasn’t so much rain as simply dampness-as-atmosphere: I literally saw the sun for only fifteen minutes the entire week, and that while it was between the horizon and the cloud deck one morning. I stayed in bed.

That said, here are a few notes on observations that came to mind while I was there.

Bagels

[][1]Bagels boiling, Wallisellen, 7 November 2011 The problem with taking a week in New York and coming back to Zürich is that you miss the bagels. Bagels, however, are made by humans, and we are humans, so how hard can it be? Turns out, quite. Basing our recipe on one we found on an American cookbook written in German (the author’s blurb assurs us that her husband is a real, actual American from Bedford, Pennsylvania, of all places), the results of our first attempt are shown here.

The Light at the End

[][1]
Dupont Circle, Washington DC, 6 October 2011

Perhaps it is hasty to simply dismiss the swamps of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers as blighted by the pernicious lies spewing forth from the numerous bullshit factories lining their banks. There is beauty to be found there after all.

Ten years on

On December 7, 1951, the New York Times – then as now as close to a paper of record as you’ll find in America – devoted a relatively limited amount of space to the tenth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which drew the United States into the Second World War: an editorial noting the occasion, and an article noting that a ceremony would be held in Pearl Harbor to note the occasion.

Comic-Book Supervillainy

I opened the NZZ am Sonntag (the Sunday edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the paper of record for German-speaking Switzerland) today to read of yet another threat from Switzerland’s current favorite comic-book supervillain: Starker Franken.