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On Turkey, Twitter and SSL

Today, an attack on a peace rally (a peace rally!) in Ankara, Turkey left close to 100 people dead and many others injured. ‘Tragedy’ doesn’t even begin to describe what happened.

The Turkish government responded by banning the media from reporting on the issue. There were also rumours of Twitter being hard to reach from within Turkey, which wasn’t surprising given previous efforts by the Turkish government to ban the service.

Nicholas Weaver asked people to investigate what was going on. Using Hide My Ass, a VPN service, I was able to confirm I could reach Twitter from various Turkish IP addresses.

But then I noticed something odd. When using curl, I got an “Unknown SSL protocol error in connection to www.twitter.com:443” error. I got this error only when accessing Twitter from a Turkish VPN — I tried various Hide My Ass VPNs in difference countries — and only when accessing www.twitter.com, which normally redirects to twitter.com.

I don’t get the error in Firefox (Debian), but I do get the same error in the text browser w3m (which could use the same libraries). I’ve not been able to detect any difference between the server information and I get the same error when using curl -k, suggesting it is not a certificate issue. In verbose mode, curl gives the error right after reporting the sending of the client’s hello message.

I suspect this is entirely innocent — I assume Mozilla is doing a lot more to detect SSL/TLS shenanigans than curl, and they think everything’s fine — but I wanted to share this information, just in case.

NB As I only control the client side of the VPN connection, I’ve not been able to take useful PCAPs. There might be a way around this though. Suggestions are welcome.

Elections, again

Tonight, I found myself on Syntagma square where, unbeknownst to me, SYRIZA was about to hold an election rally.

Despite the elections being held on Sunday, election fever seems to have skipped Greece this time. There are quite a few election posters to be seen, mostly from the far left parties, but then, there are always posters from the far left parties everywhere, as there’s always some important protest march that ended disastrously to be remembered, or something the 1% needs to convince the 99% is the right way of seeing things. Other than that, it seems that whatever political enthusiasm was left in Greece was used up during July’s referendum and its aftermath.

Still, thousands of people had turned up to see speeches from the outgoing (technically: former) prime minister and his support act, four foreign politicians who are on his side in this apparent struggle against the institutions. Someone from Germany’s Die Linke was speaking excitedly, for he too didn’t like Merkel and Schäuble and it would be such a blow to these two if the Greeks were to reelect Tsipras. Another German, a lady from the Green Party, went on in fluent English about the environment and the refugee crisis, two important topics, yet also two topics which I’m not sure Tsipras has shown a great deal of concern about. (Though later tonight on Twitter he rather oddly blamed Schäuble’s home state Bavaria for not taking in enough refugees.)

A French communist member of the European parliament thought this struggle was mostly about ‘travail’ – as he would – and I don’t know what Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos said, but the audience liked him best. But then, he’s been a Tsipras-supporter from well before the latter even thought about becoming a prime minister.

I left shortly after Tsipras started to speak, promising myself to work a little harder on memorizing Greek words and phrases. By the looks of it, Tsipras will pull off a narrow win, but will have to co-operate with one or more of those parties that helped him get the new memorandum through parliament, but whom he has been rallying against all the time since – apparently because they actually believed what they voted for, rather than just did so following blackmail by Europe.

I too am spending nowhere near as much time following the elections as I had done following the referendum. I guess my appetite for these things – and I’ve always been a bit of an election geek – isn’t limitless either. And of course, recent events in Europe hav put the Greek crisis into a perspective that maybe it needed.

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Go Set a Watchman

Spoiler alert: some of the book’s main themes are discussed below. I don’t think there’s anything that would spoil the story.

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanWhen I first read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird eight years ago, I was surprised by how much of it wasn’t about race. It’s a novel about judging people — including, but not limited to, judging people based on their race — and about growing up in general, and growing up in the 1930s Deep South in particular.

Of course, the most famous part of the book is the defence, by the protagonist’s father Atticus Finch, of a black man who was unjustly accused of raping a white girl. It’s part of what makes the book great and part of why I think it’s one of the best books ever written. When it comes to heroism in literature, it is hard to outdo Atticus Finch.

Or at least it was, until first-draft-turned-second-novel Go Set a Watchman was published last month and it turned out that Atticus did hold some views that can only be described as plain racist.

If you find this shocking, and it seems many people did, you may actually want to read the book: this shock is one of its main themes.

I don’t think the Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman is any different from the character in To Kill a Mockingbird though. It’s just that twenty years later (this novel is set in the early 1950s) we see a different side of him.

To me, it seems clear that if he were again to be appointed to defend a black man (as he was that of Tom Robinson; perhaps crucially, he didn’t choose to take on the defence) he would do so just as passionately and with as much reverence for the law and for justice as he had done twenty years previously. But now we know that he also did think blacks were inferior to whites and that the federal government shouldn’t force the southern states to desegregate for that reason.

Atticus’s views were wrong, but they were also very common in his time, even among intelligent people. One of the most famous quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird is that “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them”. Given that I never walked in the shoes of Atticus’s contemporaries, I shouldn’t really pretend that, had I lived in his time, my views would have been different.

That realisation makes me glad I live today and that the percentage of people who hold such views has significantly decreased (even if we all know too well it hasn’t enough). That’s progress. Just as it’s progress that I now hold some views that future generations will find despicable. And I hope that people of that generation “hold ground for what [they think] is right — stand up to me first of all” as Atticus tells his daughter in the book’s closing scene.

I still feel a bit uncomfortable about whether Harper Lee meant for this book to be published. I guess we’ll never really know whether she did. But now that it did get published, I’m very glad I read it. And it made me admire her as a writer even more.

Fire

Temperatures in Athens have been hitting the mid 30s for weeks. Today, a fairly strong wind was blowing through Southern Greece. These two combined make ideal conditions for wildfires. Indeed, and unfortunately, at several places around Athens, as well as in the southern Peloponnese, wildfires did appear.

The images of the fires on the hills surrounding Athens looked both impressive and scary when I saw them on the Internet. Even from our house, miles away from those hills, we could see thick clouds of smoke. Two water-dropping planes were constantly taking water from the Saronic Gulf in an attempt to battle the blaze. When I got a clearer view of the main fire early in the evening, it did look like they had at least had some success.

In the meantime, Greece has been given a little over seven billion euros in bridge financing from our friends in Europe — or, as the Greek government used to call them until recently: terrorists! criminals! Nazis! There’s no reason to get too excited about that just yet as most of this money will be used to pay bills that have arrived in recent weeks, but that the government had wisely left unopened. But more help is on its way, some of which is explicitly meant to kick-start the economy. Banks will open too, but it’s not yet clear whether this will happen on Monday as had initially been announced. Lifting capital controls is much, much harder than imposing them.

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