Saturday, November 26, 2005

Double standards

Category: [in English] [Lowland Politics] [Islamophobia] [Satire]

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Heaven will direct it.

It has been all over in the press, and chewed over later in the blogosphere (see for instance the BrusselsJournal).
That is, the 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish Journal Jyllands-Posten a while ago, by which the artists wanted to underline that freedom of speech overrides the Islamic ban on depicting the Prophet.

The paper wanted to know if it was possible to make jokes about the Prophet like Jesus has been in the middle of Western caricature and humor in the last decades.
Some people were not amused at all. Eleven ambassadors of Muslim states in Denmark wrote a letter to the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, asking for a meeting. They stated they felt deeply offended, calling the cartoons a smear campaign in the media against Islam and Muslims and requested an official apology for the cartoons.

Rasmussen denied, and said to the Copenhagen Post:
"This is a matter of principle. I won't meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so". He said that individuals who felt offended could take grievances to the courts.

"As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press - nor do I want such a power. It is a basic principle of our democracy that a prime minister cannot control the press.".

"Can Muslims take a joke?" wondered The Free West, while Hoegin (in Dutch) commented here, here and here.

How serious Muslims take the row is proven by it being on the agenda of the OIC (The Organization of The Islamic Conference) next month.

As such, the row hits a sore nerve on one the leading European questions today, which is how to handle the numerous Islamic immigrants in Western Europe. In popular perception, they are the main perpetrators of street crimes, they refuse to conform to European culture and habits, they are the darlings of the nanny state, and they want to impose Islam and Islamic Law (Sharia) all over Europe. It's hard to think of any other single issue where political leaders and grassroots diverge more.

Belgium, for instance, has adopted a set of laws (commonly known as the Anti-Racism laws) making critique on Muslims immigrants virtually illegal, and the largest Belgian (Flemish) party, the secessionist ultra-right party Vlaams Belang has been condemned last year on the basis of these laws, a fact applauded by the OIC, see (here, p.43).

The privileged status of Islam has also been stressed by the UN's secretary-general, Mr. Annan, when he called for an end of Islamophobia, but never mentioned Christianophobia in the Muslim world. The debate on Turkey's admission to the EU is just a symptom of this broad divide between leaders and voters, as were the NO-votes on the EU draft constitution in Holland and France earlier this year.

The Free West muses:
By accident, today I saw The Life of Brian again, one of Monty Python's masterpieces. I think it is one of the most realistic portrayals of the period in which Jesus lived. The Pythons are still around, alive and successful, and their film is still available. I rented it at a Blockbuster store.
When the film was released, Christians were upset by it. But now it is part of the central body of Western culture.

When Mel Gibson's almost reactionary film was released, a film which took the most orthodox gospel for historic, the very blasphemous The Da Vinci Code hit the bookstores which told an anarchistic version of the Jesus legend. It was possible to have these two extremes speaking to its audiences - it was a confirmation of the vital freedom of Western culture.

All of that seems impossible with the Mohammed legend. In Denmark ambassadors of Muslim countries, among them Turkey, want the Danish prime minister to interfere in Denmark's freedom of speech.

A Flemish playwright and muslim of Tunesian descent, Chokri Ben Chikha, wrote a play recently about Our Lady of Flanders. The play will be on stage soon, supported by state funding. On the flyers, the Virgin is mockingly depicted with nude breasts. As the BrusselsJournal remarks:
Contrary to what Ben Chikha says there are things that one had better not laugh at, such as Islamic religion for instance. Some time ago a Dutch artist showed the backs of naked women with verses from the Quran written on them. This was considered blasphemy. A Muslim extremist ritually slaughtered the artist, Theo van Gogh, in broad daylight.


It's very well possible that Muslims feel offended by the Muhammad cartoons, just like Christians were offended by Monty Python's Life of Brian a quarter of a century ago. In Western Europe, there were all kinds of blasphemy laws in vigor at that time and before, but they haven't been enforced for a long time, and often been abolished since.

It's very understandable that Muslim states have different views on free speech, blasphemy, secularism, and the equality of religions (even in "secular" Turkey, Christians are still discriminated in public life).

So Muslims and Islamic states should accept and understand equally well that Muslims can't impose their laws and customs in this matter on our Europe either. We didn't defeat fundamentalist Christianism over centuries with loads of blood, sweat and tears just to adopt another form of absolutist theocracy. I'm sorry guys, but we do it our way. And if you don't dig that, the southward exit door is still wide open. Call it Islamophobia, we call it pride.
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Monday, November 21, 2005

The unmaking of SONY.

Category: [in English] [Geeky & Tools]

"I've been around so long, I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin" goes one of my many favorite quotes of Groucho Marx. Back in the roaring eighties of last century, I found myself actually writing and tweaking operating systems and device drivers for all kinds of exotic processors, included the 8-bit 6502 and the Motorola 68000. Yes, in assembly (machine) language. There was a time I was even quite proficient in DOS internals. On a sidetrack, I remember designing an original copy protection scheme, based on some glitches in DOS, and selling it to Elsevier, making me some badly needed bucks. Windows got over my head, especially the first versions, which were nothing more than a layer over DOS, but could make a programmers life miserable. After that, I turned to applications, lately just programming in PHP and Javascript. But old geeks never die and I always kept a vivid interest in geeky issues and operation system internals, as well as an obsessive preference for US-qwerty keyboards. A sizeable intro to explain why this article on Geek News Central caught my attention. Sony is in deep legal and marketing trouble and it deserves it.
What happened?

In their fight against rampant piracy and online sharing of copyrighted music, the music industry has taken some drastic steps in the past. Suing naïve teens that offer music on P2P online networks and injecting Kazaa and other file-sharing networks with bogus music files is one of those. But P2P is hard to control so that's why some of the music labels turned to a DRM or digital rights management system, a euphemism for copy protection, also called TPM, technical protection measures. Most of the time it's a way to write CD's in a non-standard fashion, fooling some players. What it does to consumers is make their live complicated when they want to play a TPM-ed CD in their car or on their PC. The music industry has had a lot of critique doing so, for instance by consumer organizations.

But Sony took it a bit further. A bit too far as it turned out now. The ball started rolling when guru Mark Russinovich posted an article on his Sysinternals weblog, titled "Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far". Mark discovered that when playing a Sony CD on your PC, it installs software to prevent copying of the CD more than 3 times, and it needs a proprietary player. What's worse, it does so by using a poorly written Rootkit, a technique often used by the most malicious viruses. Sony CD's install this virus-like software without the users consent and without his knowledge, and it is uninstallable. A user that tries to remove the hidden files and folders ends up with a system that can't access the CD-drive any more.

Sony's malware (malicious software") replaces original Windows drivers, it modifies original Windows API tables, and it operates in stealth mode, consuming a large and unnecessary overhead on CPU resources. It even starts up in Windows safe mode, against all conventions that non-essential drivers shouldn't be loaded at that time. Its presence is hidden ("cloaking") from all system repair and maintenance tools since it fools the Windows API's to edit and inspect the registry and the file system: "Rootkits are cloaking technologies that hide files, registry keys, and other system objects from diagnostic and security software, and they are usually employed by malware attempting to keep their implementation hidden".

For Geeks with some sense for drama and suspense, Mark's story how he discovered Sony's virus reads like a great thriller. Highly recommended Geek-food. His story is complete with all the steps (including disassembly of some of Sony's software), screenshots, and some Google research that pointed to the original vendor, First4Internet, of the virus-like badly written TPM. "XPC, the true meaning of audio security" states its website. Yeah right, by installing a malicious virus.

Mark's story quickly hit the blogosphere and techsites like Slashdot and The Register, raising the whisper into a roaring noise. "My posting Monday on Sony's use of a rootkit as part of their Digital Rights Management (DRM) generated an outcry that's reached the mainstream media. As of this morning the story is being covered in newspapers and media sites around the world". Sony first denied, then confessed, but it was very reluctant to provide de-installation software. Things got worse when it turned out that Sony's poorly written TPM could be a piggyback for other malicious software like trojans. Moreover, it turned to be a phone home type of software, informing Sony of CD's played by users, how many times and when, their type of PC, etc. First4Internet denied this furiously, but this feature has been proved right.

For those interested in a good thriller that started as Geek-food but exploded into a wide debate about do's and don'ts by large companies, the unraveling of the story can be read in full on Sysinternals. It wouldn't be America if Sony wouldn't face a lawsuit soon, and the first one was filed by Himmelfarb (pun intended) in - of course - California. Many suits are to follow. Sony first published a "patch" on its website, which installed in effect a more dangerous version of its criticized TPM, then announced to stop to use the virus-like TPM scheme altogether. It later announced to recall all CD's carrying it and Amazon wants to refund Sony CD-buyers too. But the ghost may be well out of the jar as hackers eagerly started to exploit the flaws in Sony's TPM, which is undoubtedly installed on 100,000's of PC's worldwide.The woes for Sony are not over yet.

On BBCnews, Internet professor Michael Geist explains why Sony's rootkit problems have significant long-term implications for the industry (read here). There are the short-term woes, which may have a Perrier-effect on the Sony brand name: "the company also recalled millions of CDs, losing tens of millions in revenue and effectively acknowledging that the CD was a hazardous product. The recall was even bigger than anticipated as Sony disclosed that there were at least 52 affected CDs. Moreover, researchers estimated that the damaging program had infected at least 500,000 computers in 165 countries.".
But in the long term, Stewart Baker, the US Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary of policy, admonished the music industry, reminding them that "it's very important to remember that it's your intellectual property - it's not your computer".


Where does it leave us, humble consumers? We have to suffer from, and crank out money for keeping our systems clean from spam, trojans, viruses, trackers, browser hijacks that moronic companies try to dump on our disks all the time. It's difficult and time-consuming for our own PC's as it is. But having been in Asia for a couple of months again, I couldn't find a single Net café were PC's weren't infected with debilitating browser and info "organizers" that kicked me to idiot and loud bad looking porn sites with ugly obese women proudly showing off oversized tits.
For me personally, it is once bitten, twice shy. As a commenter on Mark Russinovich's weblog puts it: "Way to go, Sony. You've really made me want to legitimately purchase music, now that it includes worse viruses than I'll find on Kazaa".

First of all, I won't buy any Sony product again (the Perrier effect) and that includes their digital cameras. A dig cam has to be connected to your PC regularly, and why shouldn't Sony put in a neat little virus in its firmware too? Then, I really got nervous about DRM in general. My Windows Media Player has gone since long since I stumbled on that damned acronym, and moreover, I don't like phone home players like WMP and Realplayer. Anyways. Winamp is just great, it's free, and it's independent.

Of course, buying a CD, any music CD, is out of the question from now on. If Sony did this crap and tried to get away with it, won't every music label do it, and devise even more wicked schemes to hijack our PC's?

This is not a pledge for acquiring copyrighted music the illegal way whatsoever. But if I buy music, I want to buy music, not "bundled" software that takes over or controls my system in any way. Lean music without macro's, code, controls, management, that is.
Sony did a great marketing job for P2P. To end paraphrasing another Groucho Marx quote: "I never forget a brand name, but in Sony's case I'll be glad to make an exception."
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

About: racism

Category: [in English] [Lowlands Soul]

So the past days I found myself in reach of a satellite TV and even near a working Net café. That is, a place with Net-connected PC's, with not too much loud screaming kids playing online games (preferably with 5 on a single isalang chair) inside, that doesn’t time out on every second web page access, and where the power brownouts are spaced at least 5 minutes apart.

Paris brûle-t-il? (here)

Finding out on BBC World (Asian version) that Paris and later France all over was plagued by extremely violent riots by “youth”, I had a hard time imagining why the placid and well educated French lycéens and collégiens suddenly would restage May 1968.
But aware of the fashionable West European political correct newspeak that apparently also has infested the objective BBC, I figured that the neutral "youth" stood for something else. Being robbed and/or beaten up by immigrant Moroccans myself on the streets in Antwerp, Brussels and Amsterdam, it wasn't hard at all to guess the ethnicity of the "youth" in question.

It took BBC World several days to mention reluctantly that it were in fact "immigrants" that manned those violent gangs of casseurs. Of course, this redundant statement was immediately followed by a procession of sturdy looking experts, social workers and venerable professors explaining eloquently that it was all our fault.

Because, as everybody knows or at least should know, - we, the abject post-Christian Westerners (1st Law of Bart Croughs) are the racists.
Not them, the enlightened children of Allah (His name be praised), ça va de soi.
We keep them unemployed and in poor houses with less than 3 bathrooms and no jacuzzi. Imagines! We stubbornly refuse to assimilate into Eurabia's coming? Islamic culture and its Shari'a. Quite rightfully, one should burn a thousand cars per night for less. And so they did.

At least CNN (Asian version) was more straight and to the point. They spoke all the time about rioting gangs composed of youngsters of North-African descent. Who said American media were biased and European media were not?

Jungle sounds.

And then there was the "racism" incident in a Spanish soccer stadium where the crowd started to imitate monkey sounds when a black (sorry, a new European of sub-Sahara African descent) player scored a goal or did something wrong, whatever. The match was halted and the No Racism sign appeared in large characters on the scoreboard, as if an act of blasphemy was committed by those melanin deficient bastards. Gasp.

It might have escaped the stadium supervisors that by interpreting the joyful and original animal sounds uttered by the crowd as being "racist", - they themselves proved to have a racist mindset. In fact, they assumed that the black player stood closer to the ape than the white ones on a Darwinian evolutionary scale, and that the monkey sounds per se were addressed to the black guy.

Would the British soccer supporters that killed about 50 Italians in a Brussels stadium back in 1985 also have been racists? Imagine the turmoil if the victims were not pasta-eaters but Ghanese.

The White West is supposed to pay, to donate, to understand, to embrace, and to assimilate into all World cultures, on condition that they are not European and not US. Doing less would be racist indeed.
And we aren't racists of course, n’est-ce pas, monsieur Mugabe?

Posted in the Philippines. The Belgian anti-"racism" laws crippling free speech are not applicable here. Don't try this at home.
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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tingnan nalang natin

Category: [in English] [Travel] [Filipino Soul]

It has been quite a while since this blog has been updated. Neither writers fatigue nor lack of inspiration, but South-East Asian travel far from the Net and satellite TV is responsible for this gap.

On a motorbike through wonderful Mindanao, surfing the giant waves of Pacific Cloud 9, barely surviving the streets of ugly, unsafe, polluted and criminal Manila, fighting a bronchitis in General Luna, bitten all over by nasty tropical mosquitoes [I start a one man guerilla if those useless creatures ever enter the list of endangered species] - I had it all.

Time and energy permitting, I will post some stories and observations later about the circus "democracy" in the Philippines, about the pathetic political soap around its president Gloria, about the do's and the don'ts in Flanders' sister ex-Spanish colony, and about the biggest hoaxes of this idiosyncratic archipelago. GETSCREWEDphilippines: eventually, you learn to love to hate it.

Tingnan nalang natin, let’s just wait and see.






Photos all from Mindanao, October-November 2005.
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