Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 10th, 2020

A Biostatistician Uses Crochet to Visualize the Infection Rates of the Coronavirus

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From an Open Culture post

UPDATE: And after watching the video, look at this page, which shows the current R value by state, from Wyoming (0.9) to Arizona (1.1). Almost all states have R > 1.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Health, Medical, Science, Video

The End of the Facebook Crime Spree

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

The Government Asks to Break Up Facebook

Today, 48 state attorneys general, plus Trump’s Federal Trade Commission, filed antitrust suits against Facebook.

There are two complaints, one from the states and one from the FTC. The state AG complaint is stronger, but both tell the same story. Facebook bought Instagram and WhatsApp to stop nascent competitors from challenging its monopoly power in social networking. It also used a variety of other tactics to foreclose competitors it could not buy from entering the market and challenging its dominance. Then, after it became a monopoly, it increased prices or downgraded user experiences to profit from the conspiracy it had arranged.

The narrative comes from legal scholar and former ad executive Dina Srinivasan’s remarkable 2019 paper on Facebook. In her analysis, Srinivasan showed that Facebook actually beat out MySpace by offering users a product differentiated with better privacy guarantees. But after monopolizing the market and killing its competitors, Facebook immediately started degrading the quality of the product with intrusive surveillance of its users, contra their wishes.

The complaints from enforcers mirror her argument. They claim Facebook’s anti-competitive tactics made the product worse, not just by spying on people when they wanted a product that protected their privacy, but also by increasing the number of ads people had to wade through to get to content they sought. Advertisers were harmed as well, not just with higher prices but also because Facebook putting their ads next to offensive content.

“It is better to buy than compete.”

The enforcers proved their case with internal emails showing that the company deliberately and routinely engaged in acquisitions to eliminate competition, and then eroded user privacy when users had nowhere else to go. The FTC starts off its case with one email in 2008 from Zuckerberg in which he writes, “it is better to buy than compete.”

And it’s true. These mergers were harmful to competition, intended to fortify Facebook’s control of the social media market. Here’s another example, but again, the complaints are chock full of these (as is the Antitrust Subcommittee report):

In January 2012, just three months before Facebook acquired Instagram, Facebook’s Business Development Manager Amin Zoufonoun told his colleagues that gaining better functionality in photos was “one of the most important ways we can make 15 switching costs very high for users – if we are where all users’ photos reside because the uploading (mobile and web), editing, organizing, and sharing features are best in class, will be very tough for a user to switch if they can’t take those photos and associated data/comments with them.”

Facebook was locking in its users.

And the corporation understood the value of locking in its customers, even going so far as to stop forms of intrusive surveillance when users could flee to a different product (as indeed they had fled to Facebook from MySpace). One Facebook official warned that the company should not violate user privacy while under competitive threat from Google Plus. “IF ever there was a time to AVOID controversy, it would be when the world is comparing our offerings to G+.” He then recommended that Facebook save any controversial changes “until the direct competitive comparisons begin to die down.”

The goal, in other words, was to stop users from switching by locking them into Facebook products by eliminating competitors and raising switching costs. Then, the company would show them more ads and spy on them more, in the process making the user experience worse, reducing investment and innovation in social media, and raising prices on advertisers. That’s illegal. And fortunately for the FTC and 48 state AGs, Zuckerberg and company helpfully wrote it all down in email.

Facebook’s main defense is that the government allowed these mergers in the first place. That’s true and certainly embarrassing to the enforcers who let the mergers through, though it is irrelevant to whether the mergers were illegal. (The company was also gracious enough to thank the two FTC Commissioners, Republicans Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, who voted against bringing the case. That will become important, but I won’t go into why in this issue.)

The important part of this case is that it’s a statement by policymakers that what Facebook did was illegal. The Sherman Act is a criminal statute as well as a civil statute, and while this case is civil, monopolization is criminal behavior. It’s a form of theft, of economic violence. And Facebook makes a lot of money from engaging in crimes of various forms, monopolization being only one of them.

Scams are rampant on its properties, with fake military romances being a tragic and routine route for con artists to prey on lonely people. I noted how the shoe company Rothy’s is routinely robbed by counterfeiters who pay money to Facebook for the privilege of stealing. Tens of thousands of journalists have been laid off because Facebook and Google redirected ad revenue to themselves, through monopolization or just fraud. Here’s one satisfied customer making the point:

[And click that link at the date shown and read the thread. It’s stunning. – LG]

And yet, despite this harm, for years, policymakers and a small guild of technocratic antitrust ‘experts’ refused to take any monopolization law seriously. The cases against Facebook filed today are an indictment of that guild, which staffed the FTC when it approved these mergers. This antitrust bar and antitrust economists endorsed and lobbied for lawlessness and corruption, and the result of this lawlessness was, among other things, a massive collapse in the financing for news-gathering, as well as social dysfunction, violent ethnic conflict, and political manipulation all over the world.

So what changed?. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s interesting.

See also this Wired article about the smoking gun in the case: Facebook emails.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 3:24 pm

Trump Is Growing the GOP’s ‘Anti–Rule of Law’ Wing

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

The American right has always been home to factions that demand “law and order,” while declaring themselves — and not the federal government — the arbiters of legality. The roots of this anarchic conservatism run deep into the foundation of the Republic. Andrew Jackson, who is hailed as a great democratizer by mainstream U.S. history, was a great champion of settlers who defied federal restrictions on their liberty to kill indigenous people and confiscate their lands. The (solid-red) South has, of course, always had a complicated relationship with the concept of federal sovereignty. And the Christian right, once it abandoned that whole “render unto Caesar” tripe, has insisted that God’s law comes before man’s (and the Constitution, as interpreted by the Christian right, is God’s law).

This tendency made itself felt during the Obama years through the armed standoff between right-wing militias and federal agents at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada. And it gained new institutional form through the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group of active law-enforcement officials who believe the U.S. Constitution gives local government primacy over the state and federal governments, at least on the subject of firearm regulations.

All this is to say: Donald Trump did not import this tendency into the Republican Party. But by using the bully pulpit to encourage far-right groups’ violations of COVID-19 public-health restrictions, to preach conspiracies about Democratic plots to foment “invasions” of the U.S. by criminal migrants, and to contest the legitimacy of his defeat in the 2020 election, the president has helped grow the Republican Party’s “anti–rule of law” wing considerably.

In recent weeks, Republican elected officials, activists, and law-enforcement agents have made the contingency of their support for lawful government more widely felt.

Only 26 of 249 Republican members of Congress were willing to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, when asked by the Washington Post this week. Meanwhile, at the president’s urging, 64 Republicans in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation urging them to disenfranchise their own constituents — and subvert democratic government in the United States — by voting to “reject the state’s Electoral College votes for Mr. Biden.”

One Pennsylvania Republican offered some insight into her colleagues’ motives in an interview with the New York Times:

Kim Ward, the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate, said the president had called her to declare there was fraud in the voting. But she said she had not been shown the letter to Congress, which was pulled together hastily, before its release.

Asked if she would have signed it, she indicated that the Republican base expected party leaders to back up Mr. Trump’s claims — or to face its wrath.

“If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’” she said about signing the letter, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

Ward was almost certainly being hyperbolic. The primary threat constraining her colleagues’ behavior was that of primary challenges, not violence. But there’s reason to think that the latter threat is exerting some influence on elected officials’ behavior. After Michigan representative Cynthia A. Johnson criticized her Republican colleagues for inviting Rudy Giuliani to hold a hearing on spurious voter fraud allegations last week, Johnson found herself inundated with racist death threats.

Trump cannot claim full credit for the broader radicalization that many conservatives are undergoing across the United States. The traumas and tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to have been instrumental. For some paranoid, petty, small-government conservatives, the imposition of government lockdown orders was experienced as the confirmation of their darkest fears. In certain instances, these state orders really did threaten their livelihoods and personal property (while in others, it threatened their shallower “right” to enter public spaces without a mask in the middle of a public-health crisis).

In Politico, Ciara O’Rourke reports on an “Oath Keeper” named John Shirley who was elected constable of Hood County, Texas, in 2018. The Oath Keepers self-describe as a nonpartisan association of “tens of thousands of current and former military, police, and first responders who pledge to defend the Constitution and refuse to obey orders they consider unconstitutional.” In practice, they are nonpartisan only in the sense of having as much contempt for RINOs as they do for Democrats.

O’Rourke relays an instance earlier this year in which Shirley’s group curried favor with the locals:

The coronavirus pandemic had hobbled communities across the state and Governor Greg Abbott had ordered gyms, among other businesses, to shut down. Lift the Bar Fitness in Granbury followed that direction, at least for a while. By April, David Todd Hebert, who owns the gym with his wife, had grown impatient with what he considered an unconstitutional mandate from ”King Abbott.” They decided to reopen the gym even if it meant going to jail.

The gym announced on Facebook that members could finally come back even though Abbott’s executive order was still in effect. Someone commented that the police better “bring a lot of guns” if they were planning to stop them, Hood County News reported.

When Lift the Bar Fitness opened on April 28, about 10 Oath Keepers turned up “to make sure that we stayed open,” Hebert told me. They were friendly, he said, and they’d heard he was going to get arrested. They wanted to document any violations of his constitutional rights.

Notably, the local Oath Keepers’ commitment to protecting citizens’ civil liberties against law enforcement — even in cases where those citizens’ are running afoul of the law — is highly dependent on context:

Oath Keepers showed up to Black Lives Matter protests at the courthouse the following month. The events, held on June 6-7 in spite of some reported threats directed at one of the demonstration’s teenage organizers, were peaceful. But from their perch in the impressive limestone building that anchors the county’s charming downtown square, Shirley and two other constables asked Sheriff Roger Deeds whether the county had any riot shields, Deeds said.

It didn’t, perhaps because the county of about 60,000 people didn’t need them. But a couple weeks later the commissioners court accepted a donation of eight riot shields to be used by the sheriff’s office, Shirley and another constable, Chad Jordan.

Meanwhile, Shirley has spent his time in official office (1) calling for the execution of the Democratic mayor of Portland, (2) warning that if Democrats stole the election, there would be “open conflict,” and (3) after November 3, calling on patriots to rise up and fight against Bill Gates — the “master manipulator of the [election] heist” — and all his accomplices.

Shirley is not the only Republican public official who has expressed support for the nullification of public-health laws and presidential elections this year. In Michigan, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf infamously defended a thwarted plot to kidnap Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer on the grounds that “a lot of people are angry with the governor, and they want her arrested,” and so perhaps they were merely planning to make a citizen’s arrest of the head of the state. Leaf remained in his position as an agent of law enforcement following his endorsement of a coup against the governor. And this week, he filed a federal lawsuit alleging mass voter fraud in his state.

Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, on Tuesday night, public-health officials had to cancel a meeting after hundreds of anti-mask protestors assembled outside their buildings and personal homes. (This week, hospital officials in Idaho warned that  they may soon be forced to implement “crisis standards of care.”) Such protesters in Idaho and around the country enjoy the backing of a myriad of county sheriffs who have encouraged their constituents not to be “sheep” by following public-health laws. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 3:09 pm

Asparagus stir-fry

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Good stir-fries can generally be made from what’s on hand — here’s an example. i had bought a bunch of asparagus and was wondering what to do withit (steam? roast?) and decided to use it in a stir-fry. The result was terrific: easy, fast, and tasty, with a good amount left over. It’s one of those recipes where I just make it up as I go along, on the theory that if you cook together foods you like, you’ll probably like the result.

As always, prepare the garlic first so that it can rest before cooking. I used my 12″ Stargazer cast-iron skillet for this, a skillet I find myself often using. Heat the skillet, then add:

about 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or avocado oil)
12 large callionse, sliced
1 orange bell pepper, orange, chopped
1 medium  arrot, cut on quarter turn
diced extra-firm tofu (or diced tempeh)
thinly sliced cloves from 1 head of garlic
about 1″ fresh ginger root, thinly sliced (the garlic mandoline works great for this)
8 large or 10 medium crimini mushrooms, halved then cut into slabs
1 bunch asparagus cut into 1″ pieces
3 thick slices Daikon radish, diced
1/3 head red cabbage, shredded
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon freshlhy ground black pepper

Sauté over medium high heat, stirring often. After the mushrooms have released their water — that is, when the cooking is essentially done, the vegetables being as tender or al dente as you want — add:

splash of rice vinegar
splash of tamari or soy saucce

I used a highly rated oyster sauce on this as a finishing touch, but I might skip it next time. It did seem very salty. However, I don’t salt my food, so I’m probably extra-sensitive to the presence of salt.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 2:47 pm

Why blue tigers went extinct early in the 20th century

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Christie Wilcox writes in Quanta:

If you had braved the jungles of China’s Fujian province in the early 20th century, various accounts say you could have witnessed a stunningly unexpected animal: a blue tiger. These tigers were described as “marvelously beautiful” with bodies “a deep shade of Maltese, changing into almost deep blue on the under parts.” As late as the 1950s, hunters reported spotting their blue hairs alongside the traditional orange fur of other South China tigers on trails.

Then the blue tigers disappeared. The last reported sighting was in 1953, and blue tigers were soon the stuff of legends, with not so much as a preserved hide to prove they ever existed.

It is tempting to think the cats’ blueness was tied to some flaw that left them unable to compete with their bright orange kin. But it’s more likely their bizarre coats had nothing to do with their extinction; it was simply bad luck that the color arose in a small population that continued to shrink.

This kind of chance evolution is the purview of neutral theory, the historically controversial idea that “survival of the fittest” isn’t the only, or even the most common, way that species change, split or disappear. Simple as the proposition sounds, its consequences for genetics, evolution, ecology and even disciplines outside of biology have been sweeping.

Not So Neutral Theory

The random rise or fall of gene variants in a population is known as genetic drift. Today it’s accepted as a key driver of evolution and diversity, but that wasn’t always the case. Until the 1960s, biologists generally ascribed all variation to selective forces: Deleterious traits hampered an individual’s reproduction, ensuring that over time, the traits would disappear (negative or purifying selection). Conversely, helpful traits bolstered the number of offspring an individual had and raised their own prevalence (positive selection) — all as predicted by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace’s principle of natural selection.

Then sequencing studies on proteins revealed much more genetic variation within populations than expected. The idea that selection was acting on all those genes at once, weighing their effects and picking which ones should stay or go, didn’t sit right with some scientists.

In 1968, the renowned geneticist Motoo Kimura proposed an alternative explanation, now called neutral theory. Kimura posited that most of the variation between organisms is neither advantageous nor disadvantageous. Consequently, most of the variety we see isn’t a product of the hidden hand of selection but rather of luck. “All you need is some input of variation, and random forces will do the rest,” said Armand Leroi, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College London.

Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution sparked debate because it seemed to water down the influence of selection. But the genomics revolution of the late 20th century and widespread DNA sequencing confirmed that Kimura was right; swapping out one letter for another in a gene’s code usually has little effect.

Ever since, neutral theory has been the default assumption (or null hypothesis) in genetics. “If you want to show that a given variant in a DNA sequence is under selection, you first have to really show that it can’t be just explained by neutrality,” Leroi said.

(Population) Size Matters

Some continue to fight the idea that neutral forces drive diversity at the molecular level, but Parul Johri, a population geneticist at Arizona State University, largely chalks that up to a misunderstanding of its role in evolution. “Kimura never said everything is neutral,” she said. What matters is how much neutral forces have shaped biodiversity. And that depends largely on the size of the group you’re looking at.

Imagine a population of 10 birds: one red, one green and all the rest brown. These colors aren’t harmful or helpful, so all the birds have the same chance of reproducing. Then a tornado kills six of the brown birds, purely by chance. Now half the population is brown, a quarter is red and a quarter is green. A random event caused a major shift in diversity. That’s genetic drift.

If there had been 98 brown birds and the same lone red and green ones, however, the catastrophe wouldn’t have mattered as much. Even if . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Evolution, Math, Science

Unusual TV ad (an understatement)

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Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 1:22 pm

Hiroshima gingko

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The Wife just saw this:

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Daily life

Why rulers and leaders don’t seem to see the right decisions so clearly as you and I

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Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 1:00 pm

Which Brands and Sources of Rice Have the Least Arsenic?

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So the question is, “How much arsenic do you want with your rice today?” Arsenic, like many metals (e..g., lead, mercury) accumulates in the body, so even a little each day will over time do damage. This finding is one reason I don’t eat rice. (Another is that rice, like potatoes, sends my blood glucose shooting up,  but I was wary of rice even before I got diabetes.)

Dr. Greger blogs (and the video to which he links is worth watching):

Arsenic levels were tested in 5,800 rice samples from 25 countries.The arsenic found in five servings of rice a week poses a hundred times the acceptable cancer risk. What did the rice industry have to say about that? When the story first broke in the media that U.S. rice had some of the highest arsenic levels in the world, the USA Rice Federation said, “Enough nonsense about arsenic already!” in the August 9, 2005, issue of USA Rice Daily, its daily newsletter. The study, in its mind, was “not only inaccurate in the highest degree, but also maliciously untrue.” One of the researchers responded, “By not addressing this problem [of arsenic] that has been ignored for decades, the U.S. cotton-belt rice industry is doing itself an injustice. “Had the problem been addressed in the past, given that it is well known that arsenic in paddy soils was a problem in the U.S….safe soils would have been identified and low grain arsenic rice varieties developed.” Instead, arsenic-resistant varieties have been developed that build up excessive levels of arsenic without dying themselves. I discuss arsenic levels in rice in my video Which Brands and Sources of Rice Have the Least Arsenic?.

Not all rice producers have been so dismissive, though. After a subsequent Consumer Reports exposé, one rice company detailed “how it is taking matters into its own hands.” Lundberg Farms started testing hundreds of samples of its rice to share the results with the FDA. “We’re committed to providing safe food,” said the CEO, “to really listening to our consumers, and dealing with this problem very openly….” Lundberg Farms isn’t just sharing its results with the FDA, but with everyone.

If you visit its website or go to 1:37 in my video, you can see it apparently followed through on its testing promise for its brown rice. Lundberg Farms use parts per million (ppm) instead of parts per billion (ppb) to make it look better than it is, but compared with the average U.S. brown rice level of 154 ppb, Lundberg does do better. In fact, at 80 ppb, its aromatic brown rice, presumably its brown basmati and brown jasmine, averages less than national white rice levels, as do, apparently, Lundberg’s red and black rices, at 90 ppb. In fact, none of its samples even reached the average U.S. brown rice level.

Consumer Reports found most other brands to be pretty comparable to the U.S. average arsenic levels in brown rice, as you can see at 2:15 in my video, including Uncle Ben’s and Walmart’s Great Value brand. Whole Foods, however, scored the worst with its 365 Everyday Value long grain brown rice, about a third higher than these others and exceeding the national average.

In the largest review to date, based on 5,800 rice samples from 25 countries, the highest total arsenic average came from the United States. U.S. studies averaged overall about double that of rice out of Asia, with the high levels in the United States blamed on “the heavy [historical] use of arsenic-based pesticides.” But arsenic levels were not the same across the United States. Yes, U.S. rice averages twice the arsenic of Asian rice and nearly all rice samples tested in upstate New York that were imported from India or Pakistan had arsenic levels lower than 95 percent of domestically produced rice. But, “[r]ice grown in the U.S. showed the widest overall range…and the largest number of outliers,” due primarily to where it was grown, as you can see at 3:01 in my video. There is significantly more arsenic in Texas and Arkansas rice than rice from California. California rice is comparable to rice produced around the rest of the world. These are presumably some of the data that led Consumer Reports to suggest brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan might be among the safer rice choices.If the arsenic is from pesticides, would organic rice have less than conventionally grown rice? No, because arsenic pesticides were banned about 30 years ago. It’s just that 30,000 tons of arsenic chemicals had already been dumped onto cotton fields in the southern United States, “so it is understandable that arsenic residues still remain in the environment” even if you don’t add an ounce of new pesticides. That’s why the industry specifically selects for arsenic-resistant varieties of rice plants in the South. If only there were arsenic-resistant humans.

What about other brands of rice? That was the subject of Which Rice Has Less Arsenic: Black, Brown, Red, White, or Wild?

For even more background, see: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 11:17 am

Hey Rosalie!! That old song and dance.

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How many do you recognize, and how many of the movies have you seen from which clips were taken?

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 11:05 am

Posted in Movies & TV, Music

Russia’s long-term disinformation campaign against the US

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David Troy has a lengthy Facebook post on Russia’s disinformation war against the US, a war that has successfully enlisted support from a great number on the Right, who participate and amplify the disinformation without understanding on whose behalf they are working nor the impact on the US.

He writes:

Russia’s current disinformation attacks on the west accelerated in late 2012, consisting of three phases:

1) amplify leaked intelligence harmful to US, EU, and NATO,
2) identify and exacerbate real existing divisions in US society,
3) recruit and amplify Americans and other westerners to drive conflict.

Phase 1 involved Assange, Snowden, Manning and others; one can argue about whether and when they became witting vs. unwitting accomplices, and it doesn’t matter for this discussion. Phase 2 involved IRA planting content and driving conflicts. Phase 3 ran parallel to the entire operation but is now the principal driver. Russia need do nothing now but amplify western voices to advance its geopolitical agenda.

Even today people misunderstand what happened. The “interference” that occurred in 2016 was not a discrete event with a beginning and end, and it wasn’t limited to 2016. They began in 2012 with people like Christine Assange, Roseanne Barr, Caitlin Johnstone and Cassandra Fairbanks, planting seeds that would grow later. Several dozen others were seeded, to grow audiences and cultivate “points of view.”

By 2016 they had a mighty circus underway, with angry opposing voices, along with slogans and chants. To the public, including the media, this seemed home grown. “America is built on original sin, and this is just payback time,” we thought. “We are not the country we pretend to be,” we thought. In fact we are looking at ourselves through a funhouse mirror, grotesquely amplifying our least flattering features.

Those of us studying disinformation networks and cults in detail know what has actually occurred. And most likely, you won’t read about it in the papers soon. That’s not for lack of trying on our part. It’s because these manipulations are difficult to report, even as it’s possible to understand them from an intelligence and analysis point of view. Some of them are so complex and arcane as to defy both imagination and comprehension.

The case of Alger Hiss is instructive. He stood accused of espionage in 1948, for activities he had undertaken in the decade prior. The statute of limitations had run out for an espionage conviction, however, but he was convicted of perjury in 1950 for lying under oath in his testimony. He served three and a half years in jail. For decades, the debate over Hiss’ guilt or innocence raged. Hardcore leftists accused Richard Nixon of manufacturing a typewriter to frame Hiss.

In fact, an intelligence program called VENONA had captured information that could have proved Hiss’ guilt. But it was not revealed at that time because it would have exposed the fact that Russia’s (weak) encryption practices had been broken. So its existence, along with information that would have implicated Hiss’ entire spy cell, was kept secret until 1995 — fifteen years after the program was terminated.

Many a political debate in the 1970’s could have been quashed had the VENONA information been known at that time. As it turned out, the information eventually released showed Hiss to most likely be codename ALES, an active Soviet GRU agent. But even today, there are some who have alternative explanations for the identity of ALES. Most people believe he was Hiss.

So here we sit 80 years after the fact and still not totally certain about the facts of a GRU operation. I am here to tell you in very certain terms that we are living through this again now. There are active GRU operations happening in our country now that are leading us into pointless political debates, that make us think less of ourselves and of our country — and we may not learn about them in any detail for a long time.

Will it take 55 years, as it did with VENONA? Maybe. I hope not. Imagine in 2070 finally learning more of the actual truth about what happened in 2015 or 2020. That will be a reckoning, no? For my part I’ll be 99 years old, or most likely dead. Many of you will be long passed as well.
Imagine, spending the rest of your life battling manufactured demons and engineered information operations designed to outlast our ability to detect and report on them. I’m sad to report that is the reality we inhabit.

The last four years have felt like a war. This is because we are in one. We even have 300,000 dead to show for it. It is tempting to think that we have voted our way out of this war. I don’t think that’s the case.

Much has been made of the threat posed by disinformation. Less has been said about the war. What we will find next year is that we are no less exhausted and exasperated, because the war, which was undeclared, has not ended. It hasn’t even been articulated. It just is. We are in a forever war with ourselves, driven by powers who wish to keep it that way.

So what is to be done? We must close the gap between intelligence gathering and journalistic reporting. 55 years is too long to learn of the existence of intelligence operations. Indeed, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said the same when he successfully argued for the VENONA disclosures in 1995. Why *does* it take us so long to report on intelligence matters?

We have, for decades, over-relied on secrecy, which Moynihan argued has made us more prone to belief in conspiracy theories and distrust in government. He was right. We shouldn’t be keeping secrets forever, and we should have a schedule and a process that leans towards disclosure. It should not be possible for a government bureaucrat to hide things away inside the walls of secret databases to protect themselves or crony political interests.

Secondly, journalism is suffering from a perfect storm of exploitable failures. “News” is now expected to make a profit. That has led editors to prefer bite-sized, click bait stories that are easier to report and monetize on a regular basis. Harder, investigative work is all but impossible in this climate, and often only happens in partnership with research groups who have other funding or motivations.

Modern intelligence operations are also impossibly complex, involving shady characters, shell corporations, cutouts, LARPs, covert communications, sock puppet accounts — and cults. We have found that cults are being weaponized at every level. Human intelligence, more than data, is the bedrock of any analysis effort.

Decoding these networks requires time and skills journalists simply don’t have and aren’t usually interested in developing. And importantly, no one is paying them to develop such skills.

The end result is that complex information operations from 10-15 years ago are *still* effectively unreported. When, if ever now, in this era of underfunded journalism manned with inexperienced reporters, will we learn about the operations taking place today?

Or will we live our lives having pointless debates about engineered conflicts? I think this is likely right now. While I do think history will eventually reckon with the truth of this era — that it was a time of manufactured conflict, rooted in an abuse of secrecy, exploited by cynical actors on a hopelessly naïve public — we must also be careful not to lurch too far in the other direction.

There are voices on the “right” (I use quotes because there is so much god-damn play acting) are shouting “declassify!”, which actually means: “release information that damages my political enemies.”
And some on the “left” (same caveat) say we should have no secrets at all, yada yada. Neither of these positions is sane. We have operational capacity that must be protected to maintain peace and stability in the world. We can find balance.

But we need not protect execrable bad faith play actors and cults. In fact, we need urgently to expose these people and deplatform them. People acting in good faith have a right to be heard. Those acting in bad faith do not. Those harming people should be stopped urgently and brought to justice.

Beyond that, we must make it unproductive to wage harmful information attacks. There are ways we can strengthen our population which I will cover another time, but journalists can play a role by learning to work more like intelligence gatherers. Some are rising to this challenge, but it is slow work, wedged between other projects that pay the bills.

While much has been made of the relative “security” of the 2020 election, the fact is that Russia interfered in 2016, 2018, and 2020 by permanently altering the social structure of American society. This is the legacy of this round of information operations and we will need to pursue a course of healing — in addition to exposing and banishing ongoing information operations.

So how long will it be before we learn the truth about the fake debates we are having now, at the hands of information operations? A while longer, I’m afraid. But we can probably do better than 55 years.

Perhaps if we muster all our will we can cut it down to 5 years, but this is the immunization we all desperately need and it can’t come a moment too soon. In the meantime, please be aware of all we don’t know, and love your neighbors — all of them; it’s the only antidote.

He notes in passing:

Interestingly, the GRU has been the GRU since Soviet times. Unlike the KGB which was reconstituted into FSB and had some different components mixed in, GRU has by comparison had the same tasking and culture since its inception in 1918.

See this Wikipedia article on the GRU.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 10:58 am

A premium shave-soap sequence, including some catching up

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I now have my new computer, and along with today’s shave, you see below a gallery of the shaves of previous days. You will note that I am lingering with some of my premium soaps — today’s Barrister & Mann Reserve, previously Declaration Grooming’s Milksteak (After the Rain), Phoenix Artisan’s CK-6 (Cavendish and Dapper Doc’s), and Wholly Kaw’s Donkey Milk formulation (Monaco Royale).  These soaps provide abundant lather with intriguing fragrances and leave one’s skin feeling refreshed and soft.

As to today’s shave, I used a synthetic brush, as is recommended for the Reserve soaps, and with the redoubtable Maggard V3A achieved a very fine result. A splash of D.R. Harris’s Old English Lavender Water finished the shave.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 10:18 am

Posted in Shaving

Useful page: Test password strength

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As I mentioned, I could not for the life of me remember my LastPass master password (which I had stored on my computer, which had become inoperative and inaccessible). Once I had my new computer and the backup was restored, I could get it and log into LastPass, but lesson learned: change the password to something still secure but also able to be remembered.

I created a password that looked secure and used a method I could remember, but was it secure. I found LastPass had a page to test password strength — useful to know — and it is indeed secure.

I thought I’d pass along the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2020 at 6:47 am

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