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Politics21 Jan 2015 at 11:46 by Jean-Marc Liotier

This drawings say ‘The Coran/Charlie Hebdo is crap: it doesn’t stop bullets !’ – a 16 year old in Nantes has been arrested for publishing the one on the left with the comment ‘ironic’. The drawing on the right is the actual Charlie Hebdo cover it satirizes. I also find that the caricature is indeed ironic – I even laughed when it was published hours after the massacre. So here it is, published on my account – now arrest me: those twin pictures are a wonderful opportunity to explain that freedom of speech must apply equally to all. Streisand me !

Politics20 Jan 2015 at 0:06 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Of course, the righteous nations of the west would never assassinate journalists, except of course when they do – but, you know, it is different because they support an evil regime. In a statement of 8 April 1999, NATO indicated that the Radio Television of Serbia studios in Belgrad would be targeted unless they broadcast 6 hours per day of Western media reports: “If President Milosevic would provide equal time for Western news broadcasts in its programmes without censorship 3 hours a day between noon and 1800 and 3 hours a day between 1800 and midnight, then his TV could be an acceptable instrument of public information. The RTS station was bombed on 23/4/99 – sixteen employees died. Nobody was held accountable for the attack.

Yes, Milosevic was busy with war crimes. Yes, RTS was instrumental to propaganda supporting them.

So, to recapitulate: journalists who support a government that is criminal according to your laws are fair game – especially if your laws are universal laws that obviously apply to all humanity (such as the Universal Declaration of Human rights or the rulings of your favourite religious leaders). Oh noes you say – human rights are natural rights and supporting them is entirely different to any religious creed. Are you sure ? At the very least it makes for an interesting philosophical debate.

France and Politics11 Jan 2015 at 12:51 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Yes, Charlie would probably have loathed today’s gathering, but he isn’t why I’m going – I don’t really care about him, I never bought its paper and probably never will. However I do care about freedom of speech – I have been annoying people about it for the last twenty years and will keep doing it for at least twice that. I care even more that this is it about the practical exercise of freedom of speech in the country where I chose to live. Hypocritical politicians be damned, see you in Paris this afternoon so that we can count ourselves ! I’ll be silent, especially if someone attempts singing the Marseillaise – now is not the time for warlikeness and our interior minister is an idiot for calling ’war on terror’ : even the British government announced publicly eight years ago that it was abandoning the use of that phrase as they found it to be less than helpful… Anyway, let’s celebrate freedom of speech with Benjamin Netanyahu, Sergueï Lavrov, Ahmet Davutoglu, Ali Bongo and Viktor Orban to remind ourselves that it was all really about satire…

Politics12 Nov 2014 at 12:33 by Jean-Marc Liotier

On HN, Fermigier mentioned that 18 months ago, Genevieve Fioraso, French Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research said : “Given the high stakes – scientific, economic and societal – the French government reaffirms its support for the principle of open access to scientific information“. Nice – our government seems to get it.

Today, France signs a five-year national deal with Elsevier. How much more hypocritical can politics get ?

It is especially sad as the Dutch are meanwhile taking a stand by embracing open access.

Brain dump and France and Politics17 Oct 2014 at 0:07 by Jean-Marc Liotier

A nation of destitute street boys and peasants, gone bare-feet with old rifles to war against every one of their neighbors, led by visionaries with statements such as “terror is nothing else than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue“, stained with the blood of all the innocents they beheaded but strong with their belief in ideas that scare all the world’s governments. The French (circa 1793).

Nothing to do with the IS of course, though I  would love members of the IS to read my posts – they would be utterly outraged at being confused with people who fought in the name of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen !

Brain dump and Politics15 Oct 2014 at 11:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Queen of HeartsCitizen of a country whose current regime was founded on the corpses of 16594 beheaded people, during a period known as The Terror, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on terrorist beheadings.

Not that I usually need an excuse to open my big mouth, but lets not pass on this excellent one to indulge in some punditry !

Guess why Eugen Weidmann’s guillotine execution on the 17th June 1939 was the last one the French performed in public ? Unbeknownst to Parisian prison officials, a film camera had been set up in one of the apartments overlooking the scene

The public was scandalized by their own violence; the government embarrassed. In response France banned public executions. Weidmann went down in history as the last man in France to be guillotined for the entertainment of the awaiting crowd (a dubious distinction).

The government did not find fault in the grisly execution itself—of course it couldn’t have, that would have been an admission of justice’s guilt—rather it blamed the so-called unruly behavior of the savage crowd. The spectacle of bloodlust was, apparently, too powerful for film. Public guillotining was hidden behind the confines of the prison wall—privatized to conceal the spectacle.

Today, we still sentence to death, but we make sure the gore stays out of sight. As one HN commenter put it:

In some ways, the U.S. has done to executions and automated foreign assassinations what the supermarket has done to eating meat. We are distanced from the act so that we aren’t overly burdened thinking about about what is done in our names, both as citizens and voters. Hence, we do not oppose something that we normally would, were we only more aware of it.

Not having to wipe bloody bone shards and bits of blasted flesh from their tablet’s screen certainly is among the reasons why people outraged at the beheading of innocent on video still tolerate remote airborne executions of no less innocent people.

Michael Leuning sums it best:
Michael Leunig's Beheadings
So ? What do the French, the Saudi and the Queen of Hearts have in common ? They knows better than beheading people in public – it is just a basic matter of marketing communications management.

Military and Politics29 Jul 2014 at 21:36 by Jean-Marc Liotier

“And even if the Jews were to win the war, its end would find the unique possibilities and the unique achievements of Zionism in Palestine destroyed. The land that would come into being would be something quite other than the dream of world Jewry, Zionist and non-Zionist. The ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded into ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and activities. The growth of a Jewish culture would cease to be the concern of the whole people; social experiments would have to be discarded as impractical luxuries; political thought would center around military strategy…. And all this would be the fate of a nation that — no matter how many immigrants it could still absorb and how far it extended its boundaries (the whole of Palestine and Transjordan is the insane Revisionist demand)–would still remain a very small people greatly outnumbered by hostile neighbors.

Under such circumstances… the Palestinian Jews would degenerate into one of those small warrior tribes about whose possibilities and importance history has amply informed us since the days of Sparta. Their relations with world Jewry would become problematical, since their defense interests might clash at any moment with those of other countries where large number of Jews lived. Palestine Jewry would eventually separate itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation develop into an entirely new people”

The Jewish Writings‘ by Hannah Arendt is a book of collected works published in 2007 – in this extract she referred to the war of independence in 1948 but the moral degenerateness of living by the sword excluding any other mean is still fresh in the current context.

Free software and Politics and Technology29 May 2014 at 9:35 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I stumbled upon a cute potted guide to open source history and found this paragraph interesting:

Software writers in the 1980s liked to talk about how object technology would be the silver bullet that allowed re-use and composition of software systems, moving programming from a cottage industry where everyone makes everything from scratch to a production-line enterprise where standard parts fit together to provide a base for valuable products. It wasn’t; the sharing-required software license was.

I feel that the author is using object oriented software modeling as a strawman, but his point still stands: the critical enabler of modern software is not technical, it is political.

I would go even further and argue that the critical enabler of modern technology is not technical, it is political – intellectual property law is but one egregious example of how political trumps technical in terms of impact… Technical is essential, but though it may subvert a system, it does not overcome oppression on its own.

So political apathy as shown by staggering voter abstention in the latest European elections has immediate technological impact. Political involvement is not futile – it is actually required for technological progress… Get political  !

Design and Knowledge management and Politics and Security and Technology26 May 2014 at 14:07 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Skimming an entirely unrelated article, I stumbled upon this gem:

Recently, a number of schools have started using a program called CourseSmart, which uses e-book analytics to alert teachers if their students are studying the night before tests, rather than taking a long-haul approach to learning. In addition to test scores, the CourseSmart algorithm assigns each student an “engagement index” which can determine not just if a student is studying, but also if they’re studying properly. In theory, a person could receive a “satisfactory” C grade in a particular class, only to fail on “engagement

This immediately reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash where a government employee’s reading behavior has been thoroughly warped into simulacrum by a lifetime of overbearing surveillance:

Y.T.’s mom pulls up the new memo, checks the time, and starts reading it. The estimated reading time is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office at 9:00 P.M., she will see the name of each employee and next to it, the amount of time spent reading this memo, and her reaction, based on the time spent, will go something like this:
– Less than 10 min.: Time for an employee conference and possible attitude counseling.
– 10-14 min.: Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing slipshod attitude.
– 14-15.61 min.: Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss important details.
– Exactly 15.62 min.: Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
– 15.63-16 min.: Asswipe. Not to be trusted.
– 16-18 min.: Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung up on minor details.
– More than 18 min.: Check the security videotape, see just what this employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).

Y.T.’s mom decides to spend between fourteen and fifteen minutes reading the memo. It’s better for younger workers to spend too long, to show that they’re careful, not cocky. It’s better for older workers to go a little fast, to show good management potential. She’s pushing forty. She scans through the memo, hitting the Page Down button at reasonably regular intervals, occasionally paging back up to pretend to reread some earlier section. The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading. It’s a small thing, but over a decade or so this stuff really shows up on your work-habits summary.

Dystopian panoptical horrors were supposed to be cautionary tales – not specifications for new projects…

As one Hacker News commenter put it : in the future, you don’t read books; books read you !

Post-scriptum… Isn’t it funny that users don’t mind being spied upon by apps and pages but get outraged when e-books do ? It may be because in their minds, e-books are still books… But shouldn’t all documents and all communicated information be as respectful of their reader as books are ?

Politics17 Dec 2013 at 11:00 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Remember the « ce n’est pas illégal, c’est a-légal » episode ? That is what the French government is claiming that the surveillance laws being voted are about : no new surveillance powers – just giving a legal framework to the existing illegal ones… Which are implicitly confessed by the way. So thanks – I guess we should feel happy that open bar surveillance will soon be done entirely legally instead of illegally !

By the way, there was no question of judicial oversight : “in the context of the antiterror fight, day to day, it’s impossible”… Using the T word to steamroll objections never gets old it seems – and judicial oversight is such a drag on productivity that we should be thankful for the savings that foregoing it will bring to the French budget.

That claim by intelligence agencies that judicial oversight would slow them too much to catch the bad guys  comes up every time, but it is just as exaggerated as the terrorist thread, as the White House’s “Report and Recommendations of The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies” attests last week (page 104):

Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional section 215 orders.

Oh – and here is a picture of François Hollande expressing support to Brazil’s Dilma Roussef in her crusade against Internet surveillance. No, I don’t understand either.

When even the USians frame us as surveillance hypocrites, you know that some soul searching is long overdue.

Africa and Politics18 Nov 2013 at 11:25 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Stumbling upon Thorvaldur Gylfason’s Democracy in Africa at VoxEU, I found the two following graphs interesting…

First, the impact of the end of the Cold War on governance worldwide:

Global trends in governance, 1800-2012

Global trends in governance, 1800-2012. Source: Polity IV Project.

Then the same, but for Africa only and focused on the 1960-2012 span:

African Trends in Governance, 1960-2012

African Trends in Governance, 1960-2012. Source: Polity IV Project.

No longer propped up by the major powers, autocracies everywhere have fallen with the end of the Cold War. But whereas they have globally mostly given way to democracies, in Africa they have not : anocracy is the dominant form.

So that is the word of the day for me: anocracy – it feels good to have a word to label the sort of mafia cartels that seem to rule most of Africa.

Politics26 Sep 2013 at 11:34 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Extracts from “Facing the myth of Redemptive Violence” :

We have already seen how the myth of redemptive violence is played out in the structure of children’s cartoon shows (and is found as well in comics, video and computer games, and movies). But we also encounter it in the media, in sports, in nationalism, in militarism, in foreign policy, in televangelism, in the religious right, and in self-styled militia groups. What appears so innocuous in cartoons is, in fact, the mythic underpinnings of our violent society. The psychodynamics of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good.

[..] When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero”
Once children have been indoctrinated into the expectations of a dominator society, they may never outgrow the need to locate all evil outside themselves. Even as adults they tend to scapegoat others for all that is wrong in the world. They continue to depend on group identification and the upholding of social norms for a sense of well-being.
No other religious system has even remotely rivalled the myth of redemptive violence in its ability to catechise its young so totally. From the earliest age, children are awash in depictions of violence as the ultimate solution to human conflicts

Politics and Rumors23 Jul 2013 at 1:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Uptodatepronto posted the results of the July 2013 poll of r/SyrianCivilWar opinions in the Syrian conflicts. With only 333 samples, a huge unknown self-selection bias and who knows what ballot stuffing, this data must be taken as anecdotal.

There were three questions :

  1. Who do you support in the Syrian Civil War ?
  2. Do you believe there can be a political solution to the conflict ?
  3. Who, if anyone should the United States, France and Britain arm ?

The possible answers to the first question were quite sparse, so I decided to aggregate them to have large enough samples in each category… I’m sure that many will object to the mixed bag that I made of the ‘Government’ and ‘Rebels’ aggregates – did I mention that I’m a clueless foreign observer ?

Original answer Aggregate
None of the factions involved Neutral
FSA Rebel
Al Nusra
Islamic State of Iraq and Levant
SAA Government
Kurdish Kurdish


I consider the first and third questions to be redundant : while a majority rejects foreign injection of weapons into the conflict, there is a strong correlation between support for a given side and desire to see it armed… Though two government-side supporters want arms for the FSA and one government-side supporter wants them for ‘anyone who opposes the Assad regime’ – remember what I said about the data  ?

Who, if anyone should the United States, France and Britain arm ?
Who do you support in the Syrian Civil War ? No-one FSA through Supreme Military Council SAA Kurds Anyone who opposes the Assad regime
Government 108 2 9 1
Kurdish 17 4 5
Neutral 69 7 1 1
Rebel 49 53 1


Now, let’s perform the cross tabulation that I came here for :

Do you believe there can be a political solution to the conflict ?
Who do you support in the Syrian Civil War ? Certainly Very likely Likely Maybe Unlikely Very unlikely Impossible
Government 10 4 19 21 32 21 13
Neutral 8 4 7 12 20 20 8
Rebel 3 2 3 16 22 45 12
Kurdish 2 3 8 8 4


From that chart lets graph the proportion of supporters of each aggregate party for the total of each political solution likelihood answer class :

From this representation, I make the following observations:

  • Neutrals and supporters of factions aligned with the government are slightly more likely to believe in the likelihood of a political solution
  • Kurds and other rebels are more likely to find a political solution highly unlikely

Those could be interesting hypothesis to test in a wider and more disciplined survey… So, more than ever, the real conclusion is : moar data !

The worksheet I produced this from is available here but,  again I must emphasize how lacking the raw material is.

France and Military and Politics and Security05 Jul 2013 at 12:06 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Remember when I was writing about ‘hypocrisy all around‘ a few days ago ? This is what it was about… As if on cue, Le Monde revealed from unnamed sources that France operates its own mass interception infrastructure (for non-French speaking readers here is the Guardian’s paraphrasing of The World).

Le Monde’s article was of course published on the Fourth of July in honor of our American friends, thought leaders in mass surveillance.

That France had such capability at that scale had long been guessed by anyone with even a slight interest in surveillance technologies, especially since we make brisk business peddling that sort of stuff we to splendid chaps all around the world (no questions asked – don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards)… Now it is not just guesses and rumors anymore.

But, in spite of the amusingly conflicted public reactions, that is not where the real substance of Le Monde’s revelations lies : the problem with surveillance is not the capability but how it is used… And used it is : not only external intelligence but also internal intelligence and a host of other agencies who happily dip their fingers into the jam with an utter lack of adult supervision.

Is that so bad ? What about the children ? What about tax-evading Nazi terrorist pedophiles music sharers ?

Lets first remind ourselves about a basic principle : the distinct nature of external and internal intelligence. Like military and police, they handle different businesses : while the military exists to dominate designated external enemies by force, the role of  police is to keep our society in working order by enforcing the law. One is only subject to the law of the strongest and whatever can be gotten away with diplomatically, the other operates encumbered by strict rules that sacrifice efficiency and sometimes even the officer’s own security for the sake of lawfulness. Again, war and law enforcement are not the same – bad things happen when cops play soldiers, as the militarization of the police forces in the USA shows.

So spying is not the activity that requires attention – as long as we manage to get away with it diplomatically… Don’t get caught ! Spying on allies will certainly complicate relationships, but managing that is what diplomacy is for. Ignorance and hypocritical reactions will be plenty but the professionals will keep balancing themselves on the tightropes of international relations, in ways perfected during thousand of years of practice. This is not what I find disquieting – don’t let the cruel world of state to state relationships distract you from the actual scandal: mass surveillance of one’s own citizen in a democratic state.

We don’t yet know the extent of the communications surveillance apparatus revealed by Le Monde – but we already know what matters most : it operates outside of any legal framework. Some would say that it makes them illegal – but no law forbids it so an unnamed boss of a French intelligence agency declared them “a-légal” instead. Isn’t that cute ? Of course, nullum crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege poenali – but those activities may actually fall under existing law:

Code Pénal, Article 226-15 (official English translation) :

Maliciously opening, destroying, delaying or diverting of correspondence sent to a third party, whether or not it arrives at its destination, or fraudulently gaining knowledge of it, is punished by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.

The same penalty applies to the malicious interception, diversion, use or disclosure of correspondence sent, transmitted or received by means of telecommunication, or the setting up of a device designed to produce such interceptions.

Code Pénal, Article 226-18 (official English translation) :

The collection of personal data by fraudulent, unfair or unlawful means is punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of €300,000

Now, The French People vs. The French State – wouldn’t that make an interesting case ?

But anyway, whether past misdeeds are prosecuted or not is not the most important point. What is essential is that we now demand proper democratic oversight. The extraordinary privileges granted for security reasons require equally extraordinary control. Secrecy matters of course, but secrecy is no reason for lack of accountability. Secrecy is not even incompatible with a strong framework of laws and regulations consistent with human rights and ensuring adequate protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

The political divide about surveillance is about whether or not the ends justify the means. I believe they don’t, or rather that those who focus on the immediate benefits of surveillance are myopic to its other effects on society. Those people by the way are well meaning – always keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind : never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. What it means about surveillance is that we don’t need to have intent to create a fascist regime – we can just sleepwalk into it. Let’s wake up a few people !

Military and Politics and Security01 Jul 2013 at 11:24 by Jean-Marc Liotier

While I happily keep giving the USA the bashing they deserve about mass surveillance of citizens, you won’t hear me cast the first stone about industrial espionage – for well-known reasons.

While direct evidence of my own country’s industrial espionage activities rarely surfaces, we sometimes hear echoes of what goes on under the tables – take for example the testimony of Orbital High-Technology Bremen (OHB) CEO, Berry Smutny to the US Embassy in Berlin on 2009-11-20 :

Smutny frankly said “France is the evil empire stealing technology and Germany knows this”, but Germany´s decentralized government is not willing to do much about it. Going on at length of his despise of the French, Smutny said French IPR espionage is so bad that the total damage done to the German economy is greater the that inflicted by China or Russia.

Sure, this quote being in the context of sales by OHB to the US government, it is likely to be biased toward exaggeration – but such open expression of defiance from very close allies of France is nevertheless a strong hint that righteous outrage from French sources about industrial espionage is laughably hypocritical.

In addition, industrial espionage should be kept in perspective : it is not even comparable to mass surveillance – let’s not dilute the evil of mass surveillance by amalgamating them ! While corporate actors are strong enough to thrive on their own in a state of information warfare, citizens are not – they need political diligence toward a strong framework of laws and regulations consistent with human rights and ensuring adequate protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

Remember : the reason for rule of law is to protect the weak – the strong already take good care of themselves, though the European Union might want to upgrade its defense to a level more compatible with its international status


Economy and Free software and Politics17 Jun 2013 at 11:02 by Jean-Marc Liotier

On the 13th June, Fleur Pellerin (French Minister Delegate for Small and Medium Enterprises, Innovation, and the Digital Economy) gave a vibrant speech during the inauguration of the Mozilla Foundation’s new office in Paris.

I don’t recall any French politician at minister level so plainly taking side with free software :

Free software is a crucial asset for our economy, in more than one way. First, it enables the struggle against technological dependance upon actors who own our everyday computing tools – it is therefore a true guarantee of digital sovereignty. Furthermore, as we see today and contrary to popular myth, free and open source create jobs. Original business models have been invented and they are important factors in productivity and competitiveness for both private and public sectors who can in this way better control their holdings and concentrate their efforts on their specific value additions. Finally, free software undermines rent-seeking behaviours adverse to innovation, and therefore aids in the emergence of new economic champions.

Will the bold ideas instantly translate into action ? No one expects magic – but with policy laid out so clearly, there is reason to believe that the French government is headed in the right direction.

Let’s take note of those good intentions, keep an eye on the actions that should follow, spread the word that free software is a crucial economic asset and vote for those who understand that !

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