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Posts Tagged ‘Information Technology

The hackers strike back

In a world, incredibly the Western world, where freedom seems to be under ever greater threat than before – due less to government than to people apparently not rating it as much as they used to – it’s nice to see an example of a fightback.

In this case the story is especially meaningful because there has been much coverage in recent years of how Information Technology (IT) is now enabling The Powers That Be to spy on us in ever more detailed ways. The old East German Stasi would have given up their first-born sons for the sort of spying tech that China’s security services are employing – and likely those of the West as well.

Belarus is one such country, never having recovered from its Communist culture when it found itself a new and separate nation after the collapse of the USSR (it having been of those “Republics”). Former communist bigwig Alyaksandr Lukashenka quickly figured out how to get on top and stay there in this new world, with all his totalitarian, authoritarian instincts born of a communist life having ameliorated not one bit. He’s been the leader of the nation since the early 1990’s, complete with the usual sham elections.

Naturally one of his tools was the internal security services, former KGB types, but now with extra computer power allowing huge centralised databases containing untold amounts of personal information on ordinary people.

Of course, while you can have such centralisation of data nowadays thanks to IT, you can’t actually centralise the IT itself. The very nature of modern IT systems is that they are distributed; the amount of computer power available to ordinary people is also vast, and increasing everyday, which means these ordinary people can do things that only nations could do – like finding ICBM sites from private satellite photos.

And so…

While refraining from naming an exact number of files, the hackers claim to have obtained classified passport records for the Belarusian security forces’ leadership, members of Lukashenka’s inner circle, plus State Security Committee (KGB) employees, including intelligence officers operating in the European Union.

On July 26, the group’s Telegram channel teased passport data for KGB Chairman Ivan Tertel;

Each individual’s dossier, the hackers claim, contains passport photos and data; his or her residence permit; the name of the government body or military unit for which the person works; the names of family members, “and so on.”

“Will many KGB agents be ready to operate abroad, knowing that data about them has already leaked?” one of the hackers asked rhetorically in a bot-assisted Telegram chat with Current Time.

Aside from passport data, the Cyberpartisans claim to have accessed the records of the Belarusian traffic police, which the hackers say include information on registered cars for the KGB, the anti-corruption police, and tsikhary (“silent men”), masked muscle men in plainclothes known for brutally rounding up suspected protesters.

It’s a great example of the lack of culture change since 1991 that Belarus still has an actual KGB, they didn’t even bother changing the name, so much in love with their totalitarian past are they.

The cyber hack is yet to be confirmed, but as the article points out:

To verify the Cyberpartisans’ claim of having hacked Belarus’ passport database, Current Time submitted to the hackers the names and dates of birth of two Belarusian citizens, who agreed to the information’s release.

After a few minutes’ search in their alleged data trove, the Cyberpartisans sent the two Belarusians’ complete passport details, their official places of residence and work, and also technical information — for example, that one passport no longer has the space to affix visas.

Seems like confirmation to me. The logo below is that of the hacker group.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 13, 2021 at 10:20 am

Well, this is depressing

No need for this level of complexity

Specifically the news that the race is on to build killer robot armies.

They won’t look anything like James Cameron’s famous images from his dystopian hell of The Terminator movies.

(By the way, watch only the first two of the series. After the 1991 sequel they’re totally derivative crap designed only to pull money from your wallet, a warning from friends that I had already guessed at as I avoided them.)

Blonde and here to kill you.

Still less is it going to look like the Cylons in Battlestar Gallactica (BSG) such as “Six”, more’s the pity.

No, as is often the way of reality vs fantasy they’ll look a lot more mundane, probably not too different to the sort of drones you can buy off-the shelf nowadays.

And that’s what really frightening about them. Unlike nuclear weapons it doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure or resources to build large numbers of these things.

Also, don’t imagine that an “AI killer robot” is going to have some sort of human-level intelligence, or need to.

That’s not what Artificial Intelligence is really about, despite decades of SF stories like BSG.

The “AI” in this case will amount to little more than the ability to do the following:

  • Recognise a human target, which could be just any human or perhaps using facial or body recognition (or your cellphone)
  • Control flight and/or other movements towards the target.
  • Trigger a lethal munition to kill the target. Lethal meaning something as small as a single bullet.

It should be noted that all these capabilities are here now.

The temptation to open Pandora’s Box is irresistible. In early March, the U.S. National Security Commission (NSC) on Artificial Intelligence completed its two-year inquiry, publishing its findings in a dense 750-page report. Its members unanimously concluded that the United States has a “moral imperative” to pursue the use of lethal autonomous weapons, a.k.a. “killer robots.” Otherwise, we risk bringing a rusty knife to a superhuman gunfight.

Citing the threat of China or Russia leading the global artificial intelligence (AI) arms race, the commission’s chairman, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, urged President Biden to reject a proposed international ban on AI-controlled weapons. Schmidt rightly suspects our major rivals won’t abide by such a treaty, warning U.S. leaders, “This is the tough reality we must face.”

If other superpowers are going to unleash demonic drone swarms on the world, the logic goes, the United States should be the first to open the gates of Hell.

Of course we already have things like the General Atomic Predator drones (“General Atomic”, how 1950’s is that?) and others which have been launching missiles at people for over a decade now. But they have humans in the decision loop and they’re still big and relatively expensive, although much cheaper than a human-piloted fighter bomber.

The attack drones currently on the market are plenty dangerous as is. A good example is the KARGU Loitering Munitions System, currently deployed by Turkish forces. This lightweight quadcopter “can be effectively used against static or moving targets through its … real-time image processing capabilities and machine learning algorithms.”

KARGU’s mode of attack is full-on kamikaze. It hovers high in the air as the operator searches for victims. When one is located, the drone dive-bombs its target and explodes. If the concussion doesn’t kill them, the shrapnel will. Just imagine what a thousand could do.

That last is the future. What we’re talking about here is a swarm of such machines and again – not like SF – these don’t need any centrally organised intelligence, human or AI, to operate. For twenty years now computer simulations have mimicked the swarming movements of schools of fish and flocks of birds with just three rules.

Once you get into such swarms we’re no longer talking about just picking off a few selected targets:


To raise awareness of this imminent threat, the Future of Life Institute produced the alarming, if poorly acted film Slaughterbots. The finale shows dissident college students having their brains blown out by bird-sized quadcopters.

In a 2018 study conducted for the US Air Force, drone specialist Zachary Kallenborn correctly argued that lethal drone swarms should be declared weapons of mass destruction.

Cheap weapons of mass destruction, too.

Even without that miserable conclusion from the USNSC I would have found it hard to believe that various nations could be held back from pursuing development of these things.

In the future how tempted would a POTUS be by the idea that the entire North Korean nuclear team, military and scientists, could be taken out in one hit by such a swarm, leaving nobody to launch a nuclear counter-strike? Or imagine an Israeli leader looking at the Iranian nuclear group? And that’s in democratic nations. What brakes might there be on the likes of Xi Jinping, Putin and Erdogan?

Of course every weapon system has been countered sooner or later. In this case it may be that in future we’ll each be guarded by a small swarm of counter-drones, starting with the wealthy members of society like Eric Schmidt:

In 2019, PAX published a list of the global corporations most likely to develop lethal autonomous weapon systems. Among the U.S. companies ranked as “high risk” are Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle, as well as Intel, Palantir, Neurala, Corenova, and Heron Systems. It’s worth noting that the top members of the National Security Commission on AI—all of whom support using these murder machines—include chiefs from Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 15, 2021 at 8:13 am

The Age of Men is over. The Time of The Orc has come.

This will not be news for people who play Dungeons and Dragons, the now almost fifty year old, role-playing game beloved by generations of nerds.

Dungeons and Dragons goes woke.

Well shit! What hasn’t been going woke recently? From the article a bit of background for non D&D’rs.

The science-fiction fantasy game was created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Players pretend to be fantasy characters who are guided through adventures and scenarios by a dungeon master. 

By the early 1980’s, thanks to some insane and talented coders, I was playing a crude version of it with mates on our university’s computer system: the Digital Equipment Manufacturer (DEC) VAX 11/780, a 32-bit “minicomputer” that was far more attractive to learn on than the more common but huge IBM mainframes with their clunking batch-processing oriented architecture. Naturally we had to play the game in the wee small hours of the morning because 128Mb of RAM only goes so far even with a superb time-sharing OS. Typically for the times, nobody thought of commercialising it. After all, what computers could run such a thing from the comfort of your home?

🤣🤣🤣🤣

Anyhoo, I stopped playing it, whether on computers or in the traditional board version, as soon as I graduated. I thought it had been left behind with the world of nerds. It’s therefore been with baffled amusement that I’ve seen the Millennial and Gen Z generations glom on to it in recent years, with huge online viewing of D&D games on things like the live-streaming site, Twitch. (9 million viewers for one game in 2017: eat that TVNZ).

Because we lived in a vastly less inter-connected world, we weren’t aware for some years that D&D had played a significant role in the great 1980’s Satanic Panic bullshit, all because of one dickhead private “dick” hired by a family to find their missing 15-year old boy genius in 1979 – who just happened to be totally into D&D. There were others:

The panic continued into 1982 when Virginian high school student Irving Lee Pulling II killed himself. Patricia A. Pulling, his mother, claimed the game was responsible and founded ‘Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons.’ In 1984, Missouri teenager, Mary C. Towey, was strangled to death by Ronald G. Adcox and Darren Lee Molitor. What connected both cases? They all played D&D.

As you can imagine, by the time I and other nerds heard about this panic some years later it was merely good for uproarious laughter, scorn and ridicule of the moralising idiots pushing all the panic. It’s probably not surprising that sales went from from thousands per year to millions.

Which brings us to the moralising dickheads of today:

‘Throughout the 50-year history of D&D, some of the peoples in the game — orcs and drow being two of the prime examples — have been characterized as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated,’ the statement reads. ‘That’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in.

Oh FFS! What a complete and total load of crap. But it also ties in so well with other such developments, such as the drive to pervert the works of that dreaded Catholic Conservative, J.R.R. Tolkien (from which D&D took much inspiration), with a new Lord Of The Rings spinoff that’s going to employ all that hot and saucy Game of Thrones stuff, no doubt with really cool Elvish sex action among other things.

Ok. Let me think about that last a bit more.

Anyway, the problem with trying to pull this with D&D is that the gamers themselves will subvert it just as thoroughly as they did the “Satanic” bullshit.

‘The beauty of D&D is that players can ignore the official storylines, narratives, maps and characters if they find them ridiculous,’ radio host and D&D junkie Larry O’Connor told The Spectator. ‘So this entire exercise is performative to get attention but the actual players will just look the other way and laugh.’

They already are.

Even that isn’t new. Way back in 2003 McSweeney’s Quarterly took a witheringly precise slice at a supposedly “unused audio of a discussion between Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky”:

CHOMSKY: The film opens with Galadriel speaking. “The world has changed,” she tells us, “I can feel it in the water.” She’s actually stealing a line from the non-human Treebeard. He says this to Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers, the novel. Already we can see who is going to be privileged by this narrative and who is not.

ZINN: Of course. “The world has changed.” I would argue that the main thing one learns when one watches this film is that the world hasn’t changed. Not at all.

CHOMSKY: We should examine carefully what’s being established here in the prologue. For one, the point is clearly made that the “master ring,” the so-called “one ring to rule them all,” is actually a rather elaborate justification for preemptive war on Mordor.

ZINN: I think that’s correct. Tolkien makes no attempt to hide the fact that rings are wielded by every other ethnic enclave in Middle Earth. The Dwarves have seven rings, the Elves have three. The race of Man has nine rings, for God’s sake. There are at least 19 rings floating around out there in Middle Earth, and yet Sauron’s ring is supposedly so terrible that no one can be allowed to wield it. Why?

CHOMSKY: Notice too that the “war” being waged here is, evidently, in the land of Mordor itself — at the very base of Mount Doom. These terrible armies of Sauron, these dreadful demonized Orcs, have not proved very successful at conquering the neighboring realms — if that is even what Sauron was seeking to do. It seems fairly far-fetched.

Nowhere to run to, baby. Nowhere to hide.

There have been many times in history where a technology has built up capability over many years but has not really made its effects obvious until some outside emergency crashes in to revolutionise its impact. Things like radar, liquid-fuel rockets, jet engines and nuclear weapons and power were being glimpsed or actually being tested just before WWII and would have emerged into the public world eventually, but the war advanced them by decades.

Similarly there has been much discussion in the IT world of the eventual impact on work/life-styles of steadily increasing telecom bandwidths for the Internet. Even a decade ago it was possible for some IT folk to work from home with powerful, data-sucking applications, although serious money had to be spent to buy the comms capacity. But we could all the see the trends and the only question was what the tipping point would be?

The answer was the appearance of the Chinese Sinus AIDS pandemic in 2020, which caused companies to reach for the emergency measures of software like Zoom so that people could work from home. Everybody can tell you of the glitches and the frustrations, but the truth is that if your life revolves around electronic documents – and most jobs do nowadays, electronic-paper-pushing – then it can be made to work. And in fact people have turned this temporary measure of working from home into a permanent feature.

The Thistle, Wellington

I’ve seen complaints from people in Wellington about the effects this is having on that CBD’s shops and cafes and certainly my friends in the bureaucracies there have told me of the changes in life-style of many of their associates, who turn up physically perhaps only for two days a week. Enjoying some beers with a couple of them at The Thistle in Wellington recently (beautiful pub BTW), they pointed out to me that although the place was packed at 4pm on a Friday it was very much emptier by just 7pm, something I could not recall from my days of living in that city thirty years ago. And drink-driving laws cannot be the reason in a place where public transport is a working feature (excepting the bus scheduling catastrophe of the past year).

The next question that will arise is whether people will even bother living in densely packed cities for much longer. Telecoms capability in rural and far-suburban areas is increasing fast as well. Could this, as well as the credit creation of NZ’s government and Reserve Bank, be another reason for the recent onslaught of Auckland buyers of lifestyle blocs in Waikato and Northland? As just one example of the possible impact, it puts more questions around the sinkhole of the multi-billion dollar, over-budget Auckland train loop development, even before you walk through the light, bright and airy streets and shopping places of Albany and Newmarket rather than the dirty, stinking sewer that is now Queen Street where the trains will take you.

As usual it’s a matter of statistical movement; there will always be people who want or have to live in such places. But many will see no need, and they will be especially likely to leave if the reasons for staying – the busy, packed joys of city life – begin to vanish as cafes and the like shut down. There are also the companies they work for, already asking why they’re paying huge rents and rates for CBD locations they no longer need and which no longer have any symbolic meaning.

And as usual the USA is leading with these trends, to the detriment mainly of their Democrat-controlled cities. And states.

But also to the detriment of states like Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, which have been slowly turned from rock-solid Republican states to, at best, “purple” areas where Democrats are being elected.

Key exit quote here:

“Because so many people from California, and they’re turning it into northern California. So that’s the one thing: If you’re moving here from out of state, the reason you’re moving here is why people love it here, so don’t change it. People like it the way it is and they don’t like to be told what to do, and they’re willing to let you do the same thing. Just don’t push where you came from onto the people here, and you’ll get along just fine.”

Why Yes. They are Captain Sparrow, because they’re Johnny Depps.

Sadly for him and his fellow Montanans, I don’t think that’s going to be the case. These Democrat voters can’t bear the pain of the policies they’ve inflicted on themselves in California and so are escaping, but incredibly the pain is not enough to have caused them to change their minds on such policies or the sort of politicians who propose them and implement them, so they simply start re-creating the same crap in their new abodes. As the man notes, the “big city” of Bozeman, Montana now has so many California refugees that it’s referred to as BozeAngeles.

And in honour of the title of this post here’s the awesomely talented and sexy Martha and the Vandellas with their 1965 hit…

Written by Tom Hunter

December 21, 2020 at 9:29 am

Big Toys for Old Boys

Attentive readers of this blog – especially our TDS-infused Lefties – will have noticed that I haven’t been posting as much as normal, even as an important US election has been playing out.

There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s based on something I spotted some months ago via our linked blog, Home Paddock.

With the border closures in early 2020 every agricultural contractor found themselves in trouble because they had come to rely upon a flow of young English and Irish guys who knew how to drive combine harvesters, side-dressers, planters and the rest of the complex, computerised machinery that is the basis of modern farming. Think of them as the harvesting version of snow bums who follow Winter around the world’s skifields.

As a result of this, contractors have been forced to call on guys like me; old bastards who last drove tractors decades ago. But the call had gone out, so in the manner of the British call for all hands on deck in 1939, I decided to give it a crack.

The following photo is a good example of what this has involved. On one customer’s farm I discovered, sitting beside the cow shed (sorry, “Dairy Parlour“) and still in working order, the classic farming tractor of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Massey Ferguson MF 135. All 45Hp of it. My baby from the age of 13 until I quit at 21, with years of earmuffs, mask and goggles as some protection against dust and pollen.

Beside it is one of the beasts I drive now. A John Deere 6145, (145Hp) loaded up with a 1Tonne fert hopper with remote-controlled release and a 3Tonne tray on the back with water, chemicals and so forth. It has an insulated, roll-proof, fully enclosed cab with air-conditioning, USB and Bluetooth connected systems. It can even be over-pressurised to exclude dust, like a silicon chip factory.

You will notice that the back tyres of the MF135 are smaller than the front tyres of the JD 6145! Thus has the world advanced. I’m worried less about getting injured in an accident than that I may end up squashing some poor bugger in his toy car.

Driving one of these things is like driving a child’s bouncy castle. It’s not just the seat but the entire hydraulic system. It’s as if there is no physical connection of cogs and gears between the wheels and the engine – and really there isn’t.

Then there’s the computers in the middle. In the 1970’s the F-16 fighter plane introduced the concept of fly-by-wire, where the pilot’s “joy stick” is connected to a computer rather than wires, cables and hydraulics. Same here.

Driving on highways involves not a foot on the accelerator pedal but a hand on an aircraft-like joystick with multiple buttons and a dial where each thumb-click up or down is a 1km/h difference. It’s a strange way to drive any machine on the road, but you get used to it. Even when you have to pull over seven times between Hamilton and Te Awamutu to allow the traffic to pass.

The larger tractors have an additional tank for something called Adblue, which is a nitrogen-based compound used in diesel engines to reduce emissions. Run out of Adblue and the computer in the tractor will instantly cut power to just 20% of capacity., effectively ending the day’s work. At one point one of our planters broke down somewhere around Te Kuiti – and the solution was a ute that headed South with a USB stick. Plugged into the system the problem was solved. Physically there wasn’t a damned thing wrong with the machine.

But physical work is still involved. After days of hauling 20-30kg bags of seed into a planter’s hopper I found that even after twenty minutes in the shower I could not scrub out the dirt ingrained into the skin of my hands. Not to mention the back pains of unused muscles. One can see where Oxycontin subscriptions come from.

The days are long: 15-16 hour days are not uncommon and it’s Monday-Saturday, limited only by the rain. A few weeks ago, having collected my paycheck of 117 hours for the two-week period, I saw one driver grumbling with humor about how he’d only hit 172 hours, while an English lad on the sprayers chided him with his 224 hours. Two hundred hours a fortnight is not uncommon during planting and harvesting and one of the Irish guys said that he felt things were slow this season. They are young men and women – and they know exactly what they’re doing. Winter will be when they rest.

After some laughs from my mates about running into airline pilots that’s exactly what happened: an Air NZ Boeing 777 pilot in his forties who’s been doing the Auckland-SF/LA/Houston run for several years. He said it does feel strange to be driving a 10tonne rig at 40km/h (max road speed allowed) rather than 300 tonnes at 800km/hr. He was recently called back to his flying job.

But there are plenty of other even older guys than me around. A trucker who is 75 and sharp in exactly the way Joe Biden is not. The planter whom I supported for several weeks: sixty four years old and working hours his body can’t cash because, as he puts it, “I can’t afford to retire next year without more money”. And that was simply a continuation of a recent past:

“Forty years ago I was able to raise a family on my wage, doing fencing and general farm stuff. But my wages haven’t improved in all that time. Fact is they haven’t gone up as fast as most of the costs have gone up. Cars and TV’s are cheaper but overall it’s worse. I haven’t seen anything I care about improve in my life. But what really worries me is my kids.

My daughter did a specialist nurses diploma. But when she finished, Key’s government reduced the programs, so that was that. Even at the graduation, the head of the program said there’d be no jobs for them.”

That’s a hell of thing to hear from a fellow New Zealander, especially when he merely sounds matter-of-fact in his description rather than angry or bitter. There are more like him that I’ve met. Too many.

There was one other thing I found that threw me. A few weeks ago we were planting maize on a 50Ha block. It was a so-called “run-off”; 50Ha purchased by a large dairy operation owned by a rich family with perhaps 2000 cows. We were parked near the old cow shed, which had clearly been the centre of that 50Ha dairy farm, and during a break I took a look at it.

It was like the Mary Celeste. Everything was there intact; rusted equipment, rusted tools on the floor, even the smocks worn in the pit, all covered in birdshit. A tractor and more in similar shape. Whoever owned this place did not sell willingly. I can only imagine that the bank told them that a deal had been made and they just walked off, owing no debt to cleaning up.

We planted the 50Ha in maize as stock food input for the new high capacity, rotary-shed owners and departed late at night. I knew I had seen not just the present but the future of New Zealand farming and it felt melancholy.

I doubt I’ll be doing this work again next season. By the southern Spring of 2021 the borders should be open and things will be back to normal with contractors able to once again use their young, foreign, expert labour.

But there are more days behind me than before me and every experience life has to offer should be grabbed with both hands, as this one has been.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 29, 2020 at 7:00 pm

The Trouble With Big Tech

I’ve often said that in a Web world dominated by the Social Media sites that have emerged over the last decade, the world of internet blogs that pre-dated Facebook, Twitter and other such sites, should be prepared to support eachother.

I’ve long concluded that it was a mistake for any political groups to abandon the free-wheeling world of the Web, circa 2000-2010, for these corporate walled gardens and I hope to see a reversal over time. Right now in the USA the Left, despite some grumbling, continues to play ball with FaceTwit Inc., but that’s only because they appear to be all in on the Democrat side in this election. That will not always be the case.

The time to hit back seems more appropriate than ever in the wake of Twitter and company trying to crack down and restrict the New York Post’s detailed reports on Hunter Biden’s corruption and the links with his father. While it’s nice to know that the Streisand Effect has taken off, with the story now exploding across the non-MSM world, it’s a pointer to an Nineteen Eighty Four future, albeit not precisely the one imagined by Orwell.

To that end there was an article written the other day by Tennessee law professor, Glenn Reynolds, that addressed these Social Media companies, what they have been doing and what may happen as a consequence. Reynolds is the author of Instapundit, one of the oldest blogs, and his latest article merely referenced the Hunter Biden scandal. However, that was enough for the newspaper USA Today to refuse to print it, after years of publishing his thoughtful pieces. So to that end, here it is in full. The original, complete with links I’ve not included here, can be found at here at Instapundit.

BIG TECH BURNED BY BIDEN BLUNDER

by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

In my 2019 book, The Social Media Upheaval, I warned that the Big Tech companies — especially social media giants like Facebook and Twitter — had grown into powerful monopolists, who were using their power over the national conversation to not only sell ads, but also to promote a political agenda. That was pretty obvious last year, but it was even more obvious last week, when Facebook and Twitter tried to black out the New York Post’s blockbuster report about emails found on a laptop abandoned by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

The emails, some of which have been confirmed as genuine with their recipients, show substantial evidence that Hunter Biden used his position as Vice President Joe Biden’s son to extract substantial payments from “clients” in other countries. There are also photos of Hunter with a crack pipe, and engaging in various other unsavory activities. And they demolished the elder Biden’s claim that he never discussed business with his son.

That’s a big election-year news story. Some people doubted its genuineness, and of course it’s always fair to question a big election-year news story, especially one that comes out shortly before the election. (Remember CBS newsman Dan Rather’s promotion of what turned out to be forged memos about George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service?)

But the way you debate whether a story is accurate or not is by debating. (In the case of the Rather memos, it turned out the font was from Microsoft Word, which of course didn’t exist back during the Vietnam War era.) Big Tech could have tried an approach that fostered such a debate. But instead of debate, they went for a blackout: Both services actually blocked links to the New York Post story. That’s right: They blocked readers from discussing a major news story by a major paper, one so old that it was founded by none other than Alexander Hamilton.

I wasn’t advising them — they tend not to ask me for my opinion — but I would have advised against such a blackout. There’s a longstanding Internet term called “the Streisand effect,” going back to when Barbara Streisand demanded that people stop sharing pictures of her beach house. Unsurprisingly, the result was a massive increase in the number of people posting pictures of her beach house. The Big Tech Blackout produced the same result: Now even people who didn’t care so much about Hunter Biden’s racket nonetheless became angry, and started talking about the story.

As lefty journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Intercept, Twitter and Facebook crossed a line far more dangerous than what they censored. Greenwald writes: “Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was ‘reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform’: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: ‘I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.’”

“Twitter’s suppression efforts went far beyond Facebook’s. They banned entirely all users’ ability to share the Post article — not just on their public timeline but even using the platform’s private Direct Messaging feature.”

“Early in the day, users who attempted to link to the New York Post story either publicly or privately received a cryptic message rejecting the attempt as an ‘error.’ Later in the afternoon, Twitter changed the message, advising users that they could not post that link because the company judged its contents to be ‘potentially harmful.’ Even more astonishing still, Twitter locked the account of the New York Post, banning the paper from posting any content all day and, evidently, into Thursday morning.”

This went badly. The heads Facebook and of Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, are now facing Senate subpoenas, the RNC has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, arguing that Twitter’s action in blacking out a damaging story constituted an illegal in-kind donation to the Biden Campaign, and most significantly, everyone is talking about the story now, with many understandably assuming that if the story were false, it would have been debunked rather than blacked out.

CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted: ”Congrats to Twitter on its Streisand Effect award!!!” Big Tech shot itself in the foot, and it didn’t stop the signal.

Regardless of who wins in November, it’s likely that there will be substantial efforts to rein in Big Tech. As Greenwald writes, “State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats.

“Would anyone encounter difficulty understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want? To ask that question is to answer it.”

“To begin with, Twitter and particularly Facebook are no ordinary companies. Facebook, as the owner not just of its massive social media platform but also other key communication services it has gobbled up such as Instagram and WhatsApp, is one of the most powerful companies ever to exist, if not the most powerful.”

He’s right. And while this heavyhanded censorship effort failed, there’s no reason to assume that other such efforts won’t work in the future. Not many stories are as hard to squash as a major newspaper’s front page expose during an presidential election.

As I wrote in The Social Media Upheaval, the best solution is probably to apply antitrust law to break up these monopolies: Competing companies would police each other, and if they colluded could be prosecuted under antitrust law. There are also moves to strip them of their immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects them from being sued for things posted or linked on their sites on the theory that they are platforms, not publishers who make publication decisions. And Justice Clarence Thomas has recently called for the Supreme Court to revisit the lower courts’ interpretation of Section 230, which he argues has been overbroad. A decade ago there would have been much more resistance to such proposals, but Big Tech has tarnished its own image since then.

Had Facebook and Twitter approached this story neutrally, as they would have a decade ago, it would probably already be old news to a degree — as Greenwald notes, Hunter’s pay-for-play efforts were already well known, if not in such detail — but instead the story is still hot. More importantly, their heavy handed action has brought home just how much power they wield, and how crudely they’re willing to wield it. They shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 21, 2020 at 6:22 am

Technology: Good and Bad

Being a Science Fiction nerd I’ve always had a great interest in technology, the more advanced the better.

And if it’s silly as well then that’s even better (Douglas Adam’s be praised). And Gary Larson too.

Well guess what?

The frigging thing actually flies!

And then there’s shit technology, as represented by Google, Facebook and Twitter, who have apparently decided to go all in on the 2020 US election.

I can’t help thinking that the IT geniuses of Silicon Valley are so filled with hubris about their brains, skills and vast wealth that they have forgotten what can happen to companies, even in a democracy, when you so blatantly take a political side.

Over at Liberal law professor Ann Althouse’s blog, she’s had a gutsful, I’ve discontinued Google AdSense ads:

Email received today from Google was the last straw for me – In the last 24 hours:

New violations were detected. As a result, ad serving has been restricted or disabled on pages where these violations of the AdSense Program Policies were found. 

As she goes on to comment, these violations – labeled “Dangerous or derogatory content” by Google – were applied to comments in her blog either by here or by her readers quoting the following:

  • NYT columnist Charles Blow
  • Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic
  • An article by lawprof Sanford V. Levinson,

As she puts it:

I’m tired of checking to see what’s supposedly a violation. I get so many of these and they’re often posts that are nothing but a quote from a commentator in the NYT. But to see that the review didn’t okay these pages… it’s just mind-bending. I can’t waste my energy dealing with this bullshit.

And so say all of us.

Over one hundred years ago a Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, went after the likes of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company with so-called Trust-busting acts the broke the companies up. Those laws are still on the books – and that’s assuming the European Union does not act first, as it has repeatedly against Microsoft over the years.

First in line defending American companies who were under such attacks have been Republican politicians. How much longer is that going to last in the face of this crap? At a minimum the thing that has protected the likes of Google and company as mere carriers of information – section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – may be on the chopping block.

Finally an exercise in genetics, the surface of which has only been scratched by our technology:

That’s a mashup photo of a grandmother (left side) with her grand daughter (right side). Incredible.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 15, 2020 at 10:49 am

It would not have been possible…

… in my youthful years for a song from 1934 to suddenly land in a #1 chart spot in 1977, even for a day.

It would have been incomprehensible. The laughter and scoffing from my peers, and the radio DJ’s and record shop owners, would have been more than sufficient to prevent such a thing.

Yet the equivalent happened just the other day when the single Dreams, a huge hit for Fleetwood Mac in 1977, hit #1 on the US iTunes daily streaming chart:

‘Dreams’ has been streamed a whopping 8.47 million times in the US in the last week alone, which beats the previous high of 3.83 million in September. The song returned to the UK charts last week and was sitting at Number 85.

And it helped to also surge the monster album, Rumours, from which the single originally came:

The band’s legendary Rumours album reentered the US Top 40 for the first time since 2013 and was sitting at Number 27, while in the UK it was at Number 22.

Even more extraordinary was what was driving this; a TikTok compiled by one Nathan Apodaca, (aka Doggface208) who videoed himself skateboarding with just a phone while swigging from a bottle of cranberry juice and apparently just enjoying life. He must have been singing the song and then decided to add the music before uploading it for the usual ultra-short TikTok video.

It’s hard to say why this took off. As one commentator said, “This is a whole vibe“. There have already been parodies, including a Canadian guy chugging from a bottle of Maple Syrup.

And to make it truly strange, this is all happening while vinyl records make their comeback as well, as I wrote about here with, Our Retro Future. But obviously it’s not just the old technology that’s retro with new music but modern technology that has pulled the music of the past into the present.

Yet is it just the technology? This song and album predate iPods and MP3 players, let alone the world of iTunes and Spotify streaming. It’s from the tape and vinyl era, so there has to be something cultural about this as well, otherwise we would have already seen songs from the 1930’s, originally pressed in little vinyl singles, also getting streamed, and we’re not.

Perhaps it’s just that the people of that time did not have the technology to retain and then constantly play the music of their era around the house in the presence of their children, as parents like me have done from the start. My kids have hoovered up a ton of “my” music from the 1980’s into their playlists: it’s a little strange to pass one of their bedrooms and hear the booming, clashing, sounds of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, with the dulcet tones of Ian Curtis, as well as countless other tunes from a time before they were born.

Admittedly I’ve also used iTunes to access a past my parents may have known about but never passed on to me, as I enjoy Frank Sinatra, Elle Fitzgerald, The Andrews Sisters and others from the 40’s that I would never have listened to as a teenager.

But to my Millennial and Gen Z kids this great cultural and generational mashup is all perfectly normal, as two of them told me:

We’re culturally vibrant 😉. I choose to see this as the beginnings of a cultural reawakening.

And…

Listen, that song is a banger, as my peers would say. I would just like you to know that the Tik Toks have that song because people my age love it, not the other way around

Turns out that Mr Apodaca lives in a RV that can’t move and which has no running water. And yet he’s living the dream and the makers of that juice gave him a new truck the other day, while strangers on the Internet rang up thousands of dollars of fundraising for him on PayPal.

It underscores the notion that Stevieness is accessible to us all.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 10, 2020 at 4:42 pm

USA: Riots, Lockdowns and the Damage Done

While it’s the bigger cities like Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis and Chicago that have been the focus of the Burn Loot Murder crowd, smaller places have been hit. The worst being the town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, just a little further up the Western shores of Lake Michigan from Chicago.

But there have been plenty of much smaller places that also got some of the same treatment without the media attention, and the following link is to a guy who decided to travel through some of those places to see the damage. It’s a sad journey.

To take just a small sampling: Atlantic City, NJ, Fort Wayne, IN, Green Bay, WI, and Olympia, WA all underwent significant riots, at least per the normal expectations of life in these relatively low-key cities. Did you hear anything about them? Because I hadn’t, and I’m abnormally attuned to daily media coverage. Only because I personally visited did I learn of the damage.

The “article” is long but worth your time to read as he tours through these forgotten places and talks to forgotten people like Flora Westbrooks, whose salon was burned to the ground in Minneapolis, and Long Her, whose clothing store was looted.

Long Her (L) and Flora Westbrooks (R)

In almost every case these people are not White. Many of them are immigrants from places like Mexico, India, Ethiopia, Somalia…

Maybe the media commentators who reflexively glamorized these riots don’t know or don’t care, but the primary victims — meaning those who feared for their safety, suffered severe material losses, and whose lives were upended — are themselves minorities, and were targeted by activist whites.

He finishes on a sombre note, which is also a poor reflection on the MSM:

The man, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, said the following: “I grew up in a war zone, and I’ve never seen anything like it.” What does it say that these kinds of experiences have barely impinged on the national consciousness? Despite the incredible amount of destruction that I’ve personally witnessed, it’s only a tiny fraction. If I hadn’t made a point to spend six weeks traveling around the country, I never would’ve gotten this information.

Then there is this link to a substack article (these are becoming more common for journalists), Tales from America’s COVID college campuses, which contains a long list of testimonials about the insane conditions of American universities as they open for the start of their year. Here are just a three.

Southern Methodist University: “Students must wear masks outside dorm rooms, cannot visit another dorm, etc. Threatened with draconian honor code violations if they violate the rules and orientation was declared all virtual at the last minute.  Yet today, the athletes, with permission of and active participation by the University, were permitted to organize a BLM march through campus.”

Colorado State University: “My daughter … was there not even 24 hours and was sent to quarantine because she ‘might’ have come into contact with someone who was in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. They made the students leave their own rooms and moved them into a room and they couldn’t bring their own bedding. The food they drop off is a frozen sandwich, orange, chips and soda. They have to stay there for 14 days and won’t even test them. No outside testing is even allowed. The admin don’t know what they’re doing nor do they let them outside. They make the locks not work.”

Boston College: “This is a horrible way to go to college.  [Daughter] was in tears last night about the prospect of the mandatory immediate quarantine while waiting for the test,… As far as why parents would send their kids back, my daughter has a really good scholarship – [most] of her tuition is paid.  We can’t risk losing it because we don’t have the means to pay for college without good financial aid. What we are doing to this generation of kids is awful … common sense has been missing from this debate for months.”

And in every case classes are being conducted via the now ubiquitous Zoom, even as the students get hit with all the normal charges. I can’t see how they will get away with this for much longer and it is no surprise to see predictions that half of all American universities may close in the next decade.

As awful as the stories about student conditions in 2020 are, the virus has been merely the tipping point for a system whose traditional business model had already broken and which is facing declining numbers of 18 year olds eager to rack up $100,000+ debts for increasingly useless degrees. Like radar and rockets, the disruptive technology of online learning was already here and merely needed a “war” to take off.

Finally there’s this article, A Nation Falling Apart, whose points I fear should be taken note of, even by American optimists like me, although the author seems to be maintaining a sense of humour about it all:

First they came for the toilet paper and kitchen towels, then they came for flour and now they are taking your coins. Yes, the American public sitting out the COVID-19 virus is now having to deal with what is referred as a “small change shortage.”caused apparently by hoarding…

The Federal Reserve has created a U.S. Coin Task Force to address the problem.

Cops have figured out that they have no one on their side and are best served by doing as little as possible when the shooting starts. Policemen have, in fact, been on the receiving end of much of the recent violence.

Predictably as the cops withdraw, whether by choice or by order, gun sales in the USA are through the roof, with millions of them being first-time owners, and with big increases among woman and Blacks.

I knew how to shoot from my time in the Army and CIA but have not actually fired a weapon since 1978 … The first thing we learned was that it was hard to get an appointment with a trainer at a licensed range. It took us weeks to make an appointment and we only got one when there was a cancellation.

And then there’s the booze problem:

I live in Virginia and our state store is constantly running out of everything. A cashier told me that they are selling 300% more booze than normal for this time of year.

If you’re well-stocked on booze and ammo you only need one more thing:

Finally, a family member owns a construction company. He recently said that business is unexpectedly booming, in part because people are building panic rooms, safe havens and even 1960s style fallout shelters in and behind their houses. Most of the construction work is being done as unobtrusively as possible because the clients don’t want their neighbors to know how scared they are.

I don’t think it’s nuclear war they’re scared of!

Panoptigoogle

While reading an article about the decline of LA earlier today I came upon a comment about Google’s HQ – specifically their parking buildng.


Here’s a photo of it.

Seriously!

It’s like they just really want to rub your face in the fact that they’re tracking the living shit out of you in every aspect of your life 24/7, to a degree that the NSA could only dream of. And like Bentham’s concept, nobody really knows they’re being watched, or worse yet they don’t care if they are. Worst of all, they crave to be so.

And of course by contrast this building has all the private security you could want in the world:

Private security guards wander round as a handful of employees returning after lockdown drive into the complex in their Teslas, Porsches and Range Rovers.

Charity worker Robert (he declined to give his last name) mans two portable toilets opposite the Google HQ. Recently released from jail, this menial job is the only work he can get. He says two people have overdosed in the toilets in the past two weeks.

Why isn’t Antifa, BLM and every other communist in the USA protesting and rioting outside of these assholes HQ every fucking day? Hell, even I might join them – if I was stupid enough to live in LA in the first place.

You know the answer as to why they don’t. Of course.

In fact I’d guess that Google knows more about almost every individual in the world than the NSA does.

NSA HQ, Fort Meade, Maryland

Classy building though. Reminds me of something else, although there are fewer worshippers and public displays of affection are definitely not encouraged.

Given their technology capabilities, wealth and the fact that 90% of their staff donate to and 99% support the Democrat Party I think Google should have gone for the whole holographic version of this…

.. because there’s really no reason for them to bother with their shit motto any longer:

Written by Tom Hunter

August 17, 2020 at 6:45 pm