Prime time in diversity theatre

Around the Web
Issue No. 015

Another attack on queer spaces, diversity theatre, border regimes, maps of the world, and cows surviving a hurricane.

Welcome to Around the Web. This newsletter is decidedly pro-trans.

If you are a TERF, this newsletter is not for you. Bugger off and never come back. Last weekend saw another attack on a space where LGBTQ+ people were trying to feel safer. If you are still trying to divide between LGB and the rest, you are an asshole, and your cowardice will not protect you.

"A bass amplifier on stage, surrounded by some other gear. Pink tape runs across the surface. Written on this are the words «Transphobes eat shit and die alone."
Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s bass amp; via Janus Rose.

Besides a lot of venting (by me), this issue features some incredible writing (by others). So grab a cup of tea, make yourself comfortable, and let’s get linking.

The politics of hate & the theatre of diversity

Last weekend, a homophobe decided to go into a queer safe space and murder people. On the eve of Trans Day of Remembrance, a gunman entered Club Q in Colorado Springs. The evening ended with five people dead and twenty-five in hospital. The names of the dead are Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump, and Raymond Green Vallace.

It was up to the patrons of Club Q to overpower the attacker, preventing a far worse outcome. The police, always the heroes, arrested the guest who knocked the attacker out. Fuck them.

The attack comes amidst a political climate, where homo- and transphobia are equipped with a facade of respectability. It hasn’t been the first attack on queer bar, it won’t be the last. It is, as James Greig, writes in Dazed, no surprise that these attacks happen. And the do not only take the form of gun violence. Too many queers still in their closets, too many bullied in school, spit at in the streets.

These politicians and their voters aim at making queer life invisible, forcing anyone who does not comply with their petty vision of the heterosexual family. They haven’t succeeded so far. They may never succeed. But they are able to cause unmeasurable suffering for those they declare their enemies.

The resilience of the queer community may be inspiring, but we shouldn’t look too hard for hidden positives in a situation where five people have died. There is no upside for the victims, their grieving loved ones, or the people who survived. The LGBTQ+ community will show, once again, its capacity for solidarity and endurance, but it shouldn’t have to.

We switch to our culture reporting, live from football’s diversity theatre.

This week also saw the start of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Some European clubs wanted to do something about diversity, but not really. So, they decided to start with One Love armbands. Whatever happens, they said, we will start wearing them.

Then FIFA did FIFA things. They threatened any player who dared to wear the armband with a yellow card.

That's too much for the masters of diversity theatre. The armbands, useless as they were in the first place, were off.

The colourful armband was supposed to make football fans feel good, a symbolic handkerchief to console them over the unignorable performative contradictions of this World Cup. And this armband would, of course, have been just one of the most colourful publicity stunts of the year; a swallow in the penalty-free space that was supposed to show the public that in this game, which could only be made possible by human rights violations in the first place, at least everyone involved in the game is actually naturally in favour of human rights.

Samira El Ouassil – Sehen, hören, aber nichts sagen

The German team have come up with an even more pointless act of symbolism: Before kicking off their first game, they hold their mouths shut.

It’s a great gesture – in the sense that nobody knows what it means. Is it forbidden to speak? They are just spineless cretins, afraid of the slightest consequence. Or does it mean, as El Ouassil suggests, that they prefer to keep their mouths shut, once they meet the slightest resistance.

Who knows.

Who needs the theatre, while terrorists with guns storm into queer spaces and shoot us up? Who needs theatre when the media treats those who deny trans youth the right to live as just another opinion? Who needs theatre when Pride means a police stand, when the same police will never protect the community?

Until they take their «allyship» seriously – which means more than a few flags in June and shying away from even the bare minimum – every company, football team and media outlet can shut right up.

Allyship is not wearing an armband, if FIFA says it's ok. Allyship is not taking up space at the bar. Allyship is not a hashtag. Allyship is not branding your chainstore window. Allyship is pistolwhipping the gunman until he lapses into unconsciousness and a trans woman can stomp him out.

Huw Lemmey – Give Homophobia and Transphobia the Yellow Card

This ain’t intelligence

The current state of machine learning feels like a remake of Groundhog Day. So, in this issue’s version, we have Facebook publishing Galactica. A model with a grand name, and a grand vision: Parroting scientific papers. And Cicero. A Large Language Model that's designed to manipulate people.

There’s one problem, though: even if Large Language Models have the grandest name, they have no idea what’s true. That’s a problem in itself. But even more so if you market your model as a fact machine.

It didn’t take long for Galactica to be exposed as «the AI knowledge base that makes stuff up». Nuclear reactors made of cheese? Sure. The benefits of suicide and eating glass? No problem.

While confidently inventing cheesy nuclear power, the model has a «safety filter» which prevented it from answering questions related to queer theory, racism, or AIDS.

It only took three days for the public demonstration to be shut down.

Yann LeCun, Facebook’s head of AI, continued to rant for days afterwards. Piling on the researchers and journalists who do Facebook’s work. To just about every valid criticism and vector of harm the model causes, he responded with «GALACTICA DOES NO HARM YOU LIAAARRRR». It is incredibly painful to watch.

Setting all colorful analogies aside, it seems flabbergasting that there aren’t any protections in place to stop this sort of thing from happening. Meta’s AI told me to eat glass and kill myself. It told me that queers and Jewish people were evil. And, as far as I can see, there are no consequences.

Tristan Greene – Meta takes new AI system offline because Twitter users are mean

Again and again the same few companies burn their money into models which ethical is torn apart when even looking sternly. So again and again it’s important to remember that such products, the appplication of Machine Learning is not inevitable. It’s possible to build community, not profit, focussed ML systems, as Dylan Barker and Alex Hanna detail.

The Distributed AI Research Institute, to which Barker and Hanna belong, is celebrating their first anniversary. That’s reason for a big yay. Information on the event can be found at Eventbrite.

This disaster has almost made Facebook’s sacking of its AI infrastructure team all but forgotten. Following the axing of Twitter’s ethical AI team, this is the second high-profile team to lose their jobs in as many weeks. A radical turn of events in a job market that seemed safe.

Elsewhere in bullshit, highly sexualised AI output is supposed to be AI «mastering the female form». Stable Diffusion has mastered the reproduction of specific art forms.

Stable Diffusion version 2 has been released. By default, it removes nude images and images of children from its dataset, which should prevent the creation of NSFW and CSAM content. It’s also supposed to make it harder to copy the style of human artists. Users weren’t amused when their porn was taken away from them. But since Stable Diffusion is open source, it will only be a matter of time before a new porn fork appears.

Better control of input data is desperately needed, as no one really knows what kind of data is in the datasets used to train generative AI models.

Despite the pending lawsuit. GitHub is moving forward with marketing Copilot. If you are thinking of using it beyond tinkering, be warned it’s probably not worth the risk.

A story I’ve been meaning to link for a while, but somehow it slipped through the cracks: Found in Translation. It tells the fascinating story of a large-scale project to collect data from all the languages spoken in India.

What does the future of Machine Learning look like? If it is larger and larger datasets, it definitely seems like that the hunt for more data might come to its limits.

In robotics, Boston Dynamics plans to study «robot-human interactions» by having its robodogs roam college campuses. It’s a good time to remember how to turn them off.

A brief look at Twitter’s state

At first there were glorious sides (Eli Lilly never forget [Side note: Eli Lilly's CEO made some kind of weird statement admitting that the insulin price might somehow be too high]).

Meanwhile, the state of Twitter is pure chaos, with a foundation of fascism.If you are super curious, Twitter Is Going Great has all the updates. Here’s the one minute redux:

Over the past few weeks, Musk has moved closer and closer to the right-wing pundits. He has echoed their claims and conspiracy theories, using a rhetoric that is becoming more and more reminiscent of QAnon. Twitter 2.0, as he calls it, must be extremely hardcore. His staff said «no thanks». Remaining are those who are either Musk fans or need the job to stay in the U.S. Barring future acts of cruelty, as the pre-thanksgiving layoffs. Earning applause from the fascist government in Italy, while at it. Currently, it seems he’s not so much speeding running the content moderation learning curve, as doing the opposite. Almost all the banned accounts are being reinstated. Left-wing accounts such as CrimethInc. are being removed. Nazis are circulating a list of 5,000 «antifa accounts» – including the CIA, Britney Spears and Libs of TikTok. NPR reports that 50% of Twitter's biggest advertisers have left the platform. Musk, meanwhile, eager to please his right-wing heroes, said he might start a phone company if iOS and Google deplatform Twitter. If this reminds anyone of the Freedom Phone, yes, I never again heard anything from them either. Twitter’s Brussels office has been completely disbanded. Showing Musk’s total disregard for anything beyond the US. If someone asks you to spell this: T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

While the situation is dire, Twitter is – in theory – too important to die. Here are some quick tips on how to stay safe on Twitter.

We need to get over the idea that any of these tech billionaires and self-proclaimed innovators have anything apart from preserving their wealth in mind.

This is nothing new, as Rose Eveleth, looking back at the Futurist movement and its fascist links in Italy, explains.

This love of disruption and progress at all costs led Marinetti and his fellow artists to construct what some call a “a church of speed and violence.” They embraced fascism, pushed aside the idea of morality, and argued that innovation must never, for any reason, be hindered. Marinetti and his movement cheered, for example, when Italy invaded Northern Africa.

Prevailing surveillance

Back to the FIFA World Cup, albeit briefly and without football: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism published an in-depth investigation of hackers targeting European journalists and politicians critical of Qatar’s World Cup bid. A companion piece details the global hack-for-hire industry.

The Minderoo Centre for Technology & Democracy has examined the use of facial recognition by police forces in England and Wales. The Centre looked at the programmes from an ethical and legal perspective. Unsurprisingly, none of the cases they looked at passed the audit.

Police in Israel are using a completely opaque facial recognition algorithm. The system is supposed to detect drug smugglers trying to enter the country through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. It acts without any judicial oversight.

Facebook has been hit by another lawsuit targeting its data collection practices.

Hot on the heels of the announcement that Alexa could respond to search queries with ads, Amazon, the poster child for home surveillance, is reported to be losing $10 billion this year alone. The global Make Amazon Pay campaign organised protests in 40 countries on Black Friday. And in Leipzig, Germany, a worker died of natural causes during their shift at a warehouse. The corpse was hidden behind cardboard while work continued more or less normally. A story so grotesque that even Amazon can’t come up with an excuse.

"The Amazon Tower in Berlin by night. A powerful projector projects «The wrong Amazon is burning» on its side."
Greetings to Jeff Bezos. Protest on the Amazon Tower in Berlin during the Make Amazon Pay action days. via Reddit.

Have you ever wondered why so few mobile apps have implemented cookie banners? The answer is not that they don’t have to, or that they don’t track you. They just don’t care, and recent reports have found that up to 90% of all apps are in breach of Europe's GDPR.

In other news from the Captain Obvious Department of Stating the Obvious, researchers found that companies in America tend to report data breaches while other news dominate the news cycle.

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Borders & maps

The way we look at our world is shaped by maps. And those maps are segregated by borders. While it easy to look at these borders as purely physical demarkations, the reality is far more complex.

Borders are not fixed lines demarcating territory. They are elastic; bordering regimes can be enforced anywhere. Subjected to surveillance and disciplinary mechanisms within the nation-state, undocumented migrants endure the omnipresent threat of immigration enforcement, dangerous and low-wage work, and barriers to accessing public services. The production and policing of the border becomes a quotidian workplace ritual as law enforcement, doctors, teachers, landlords, and social workers regularly report migrants to border agencies.

Harsha Walia – There Is No “Migrant Crisis”

The whole piece is excellent, tracing the border regime of modern states and the construction of the scapegoat «migrant» around the world.

With an increase in global conflicts, and more and more areas of the world becoming inhabitable thanks to the climate catastrophe, the global north is taking immense efforts to wall itself off. It should be noted here, that the even those cocooned parts of the world will become large uninhabitable wastelands if the increase in temperature continues.

Europe’s walling is the Mediterranean Sea, the deadliest border of the world. Medicins Sans Frontieres found refugees handcuffed and injured on the Greek island of Lesvos. According to their reporting, a group approached them, saying they were doctors, beating them up immediately. The group flew when MSF approached the scene.

Upcoming and related: The Disruption Network Lab hosts a panel on Algorithms of Violence: Border Management, Migration & Enforced Discrimination. It’s on Friday, 2nd December at 5pm CET. Tickets are available.

When imagining maps, it’s easy to fall for misconceptions, shaped by map projections and ideological images of the world.

But what happens if we take our old looks of earth and turn them inside out. That’s a question answered by the Spilhaus Projection. It maps the world by its oceans, and it is beautiful.

"A map of the world, center on the north pole. The design is centered on the oceans, emphasising that the the oceans are one giant mass of water rather than multiple divided entity."

How do the most spoken languages of the world look like visualised? Like this.

Earth’s land mass can be arranged to look like a chicken. Terrific work.

The continents can be arranged to look like a chicken

Image from Tweet

EOL of humanity

An unholy coalition in Germany’s public opinion is fantasising about a green Rote Armee Fraktion because climate activist are fed up by their bullshit.

Meanwhile, billionaires responsible for million times more emissions than average person, Oxfam report finds. Tax. Them. Out. Of. Existence. Or be like Winky, the owl that trashes fancy houses.

Elizabeth Holmes, fraudster of Theranos fame, has been sentenced to eleven years in prison. It should be noted here that a) no male CEO has ever faced a similar sentence (which does not imply that Holmes shouldn’t), b) this sentence is for defrauding investors not the public. The only way to be hold accountable is, as we’ve seen with Bernie Madoff, if you fuck around with rich people.

The FTX-induced crypto collapse is continuing, meanwhile. And while it’s easy to blame Sam Bankman-Fried, the media spent months writing him into the heavens.

BuzzFeed! What fun we had, fun number seven will surprise you. Not more than a shell of its former glory, BuzzFeed is still chugging along, kind of. Mia Sato wrote The unbearable lightness of BuzzFeed looking at the past decade of a changing media environment.

Nature is healing. A massive sinkhole threatens to swallow West Virginia police department.

The UK treasury tried something fancy, created a read-only Discord and users still found a way to troll the heck out of them.

Let’s close this issue of with two wide-ranging essays.

Looking back at something old, Huw Lemmey links the Dutch art style Pronkstilleven with the Instagram selfie, and what the desire to picture earthly pleasures say of our fear of death: Soon You Will Die: A History of the Culinary Selfie.

True Grit is a wonderful story of survival, and facts about cows you didn’t know you needed. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever linked in Around the Web. Now go read.

Finally, here’s a thread of Ryan Gosling looking like butterflies (check out season 2, Machine Learning researchers looking like moths, while you are at it).

Ryan Gosling as butterflies: a 🧵

White AdmiralC

Image from Tweet

That’s it for this issue. Stay sane, hug your friends, and have if you have a TERF friend, now it’s the time for your friendship to end.