Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

BaseX 9.0 – The Spring Edition – 229 Days to US Mid-Term Elections

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Christian Grün writes:

We are very happy to announce the release of BaseX 9.0!

The new version of our XML database system and XQuery 3.1 processor includes some great new features and a vast number of minor improvements and optimizations. It’s both the usage of BaseX in productive environments as well as the valuable feedback of our open source users that make BaseX better and better, and that allow and motivate us to keep going. Thanks to all of you!

Along with the new release, we invite you to visit our relaunched homepage: http://basex.org/.

Java 8 is now required to run BaseX. The most prominent features of Version 9.0 are:

Sorry! No spoilers here! Grab a copy of BaseX 9.0 and read Christian’s post for the details.

Take 229 days until the US mid-term elections (November 6, 2018) as fair warning that email leaks are possible (likely?) between now and election day.

The better your skills with BaseX, the better change you have to interfere with, sorry, participate in the 2018 election cycle.

Good luck to us all!

Phishing, The 43% Option

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

How’s that for a motivational poster?

You can, and some do, spend hours plumbing in the depths of code or chip design for vulnerabilities.

Or, you can look behind door #2, the phishing door, and find 43% of data breaches start with phishing.

Phishing doesn’t have the glamor or prestige of finding a Meltdown or Spectre bug.

But, on the other hand, do you want to breach a congressional email account for the 2018 mid-term election, or for the 2038 election?

Just so you know, no rumors of breached congressional email accounts have surfaced, at least not yet.

Ping me if you see any such news.

PS: The tweet points to: https://qz.com/998949/can-you-outwit-a-hacker/, an ad for AT&T.

Spreading “Fake News,” Science Says It Wasn’t Russian Bots

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

The spread of true and false news online by Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, and Sinan Aral. (Science 09 Mar 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6380, pp. 1146-1151 DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9559)

Abstract:

We investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times. We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications. Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.

Real data science. The team had access to all the Twitter data and not a cherry-picked selection, which of course can’t be shared due to Twitter rules, or so say ISIS propaganda scholars.

The paper merits a slow read but highlights for the impatient:

  1. Don’t invest in bots or high-profile Twitter users for the 2018 mid-term elections.
  2. Craft messages with a high novelty factor that disfavor your candidates opponents.
  3. Your messages should inspire fear, disgust and surprise.

Democrats working hard to lose the 2018 mid-terms will cry you a river about issues, true facts, engagement on the issues and a host of other ideas used to explain losses to losers.

There’s still time to elect a progressive Congress in 2018.

Are you game?

#7 Believing that information leads to action (Myth of Liberals)

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Top 10 Mistakes in Behavior Change

Slides from Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab, http://captology.stanford.edu.

A great resource whether you are promoting a product, service or trying to “interfere” with an already purchased election.

I have a special fondness for mistake #7 on the slides:

Believing that information leads to action

If you want to lose the 2018 mid-terms or even worse, the presidential election in 2020, you keep believing in “educating” voters.

Ping me if you want to be a winning liberal.

The EFF, Privilege, Revolution

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

The Revolution and Slack by Gennie Gebhart and Cindy Cohn.

From the post:

The revolution will not be televised, but it may be hosted on Slack. Community groups, activists, and workers in the United States are increasingly gravitating toward the popular collaboration tool to communicate and coordinate efforts. But many of the people using Slack for political organizing and activism are not fully aware of the ways Slack falls short in serving their security needs. Slack has yet to support this community in its default settings or in its ongoing design.

We urge Slack to recognize the community organizers and activists using its platform and take more steps to protect them. In the meantime, this post provides context and things to consider when choosing a platform for political organizing, as well as some tips about how to set Slack up to best protect your community.

Great security advice for organizers and activists who choose to use Slack.

But let’s be realistic about “revolution.” The EFF, community organizers and activists who would use Slack, are by definition, not revolutionaries.

How else would you explain the pantheon of legal cases pursued by the EFF? When the EFF lost, did it seek remedies by other means? Did it take illegal action to protect/avenge injured innocents?

Privilege is what enables people to say, “I’m using the law to oppose to X,” while other people are suffering the consequences of X.

Privilege holders != revolutionaries.

FYI any potential revolutionaries: If “on the Internet, no one knows your a dog,” it’s also true “no one knows you are a government agent.”

Russian Influence! Russian Influence! Get Your Russian Influence Here!

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Twitter deleted 200,000 Russian troll tweets. Read them here. by Ben Popken (NBC News)

From the post:

NBC News is publishing its database of more than 200,000 tweets that Twitter has tied to “malicious activity” from Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

These accounts, working in concert as part of large networks, pushed hundreds of thousands of inflammatory tweets, from fictitious tales of Democrats practicing witchcraft to hardline posts from users masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists. Investigators have traced the accounts to a Kremlin-linked propaganda outfit founded in 2013 known as the Internet Research Association (IRA). The organization has been assessed by the U.S. Intelligence Community to be part of a Russian state-run effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. And they’re not done.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.

Wow!

What’s really amazing is that NBC keeps up the narrative of “Russian influence” while publishing data to the contrary!

No, I confess I haven’t read all 200K tweets but then neither has NBC, if they read any of them at all.

Download tweets.csv. (NBC link) (Don’t worry, I’ve stored a copy elsewhere should that one disappear.)

On Unix, try this: head -100 tweets.csv | awk -F "," '{ print $8 }' > 100-tweets.txt

The eight field of the csv file containing the text in each tweet.

Walk with me through the shadow of Russian influence and see how you feel:

  1. “RT @LibertyBritt: He’s the brilliant guy who shoots himself in the foot to spite his face. And tries to convince us to do it too. https:/…”
  2. “RT @K1erry: The Marco Rubio knockdown of Elizabeth Warren no liberal media outlet will cover https://t.co/Rh391fEXe3”
  3. “Obama on Trump winning: ‘Anything’s possible’ https://t.co/MjVMZ5TR8Y #politics”
  4. “RT @bgg2wl: Walmart
  5. “it’s impossible! #TexasJihad”
  6. “RT @LibsNoFun: Who will wave the flag? #DayWithoutImmigrants https://t.co/Cn6JKqzE6X”
  7. “Bewaffnete attackieren Bus mit koptischen Christen #Islamisten #ISIS
  8. “”
  9. “The bright example of our failing education https://t.co/DgboGgkgVj”
  10. “@sendavidperdue How are they gonna protect us if they just let a bunch of terrorist walk the cities of our city? #StopIslam #IslamKills”

Only ten “Russian influence” tweets and I’m already thinking about vodka. You?

Let’s try another ten:

  1. “FC Barcelonas youth academy! La Masia doin work! Double tap for these little guys! https://t.co/eo1qIvLjgS”
  2. “When I remember it’s #Friyay https://t.co/yjBTsaFaR2”
  3. “RT @Ladydiann2: Remove these Anti Americans from America enough is enough abuse American freedoms how dare you low lives https://t.co/G44E6…”
  4. “RT @BreitbartNews: This week’s “”Sweden incident.”” https://t.co/EINMeA9R2T”
  5. “RT @alisajoy331: Prayer sent Never stop fighting💔 https://t.co/B9Tno5REjm”
  6. “RT @RossMoorhouse: #ItsRiskyTo
  7. “”
  8. “RT @RedState: The KKK Says A&E Producers Tried to Stage Fake Scenes for Cancelled Documentary https://t.co/HwaebG2rdI”
  9. “RT @hldb73: Bryan or Ryan Adams #whenthestarsgoblue #RejectedDebateTopics @WorldOfHashtags @TheRyanAdams @bryanadams https://t.co/wFBdne8K…”
  10. “RT @WorldTruthTV: #mutual #respect https://t.co/auIjJ2RdBU”

Well comrade. Do you feel any different about the motherland? I don’t. Let’s read some more of her tweets!

  1. “tired of kids how to get rid #SearchesGoogleIsAshamedOf”
  2. “RT @crookedwren: “”Praise be to the Lord
  3. “RT @deepscreenshots: https://t.co/1IuHuiAIJB”
  4. “Kareem Abdul Jabber #OneLetterOffSports @midnight #HashtagWars”
  5. “#God can be realized through all paths. All #religions…”
  6. “RT @RawStory: ‘Star Wars’ Han Solo movie to begin production in January https://t.co/bkZq7F7IkD”
  7. “RT @KStreetHipster: Hamner-Brown is already on its way here. It’s been on it’s way for billions of years. #KSHBC https://t.co/TQh86xN3pJ”
  8. “RT @TrumpSuperPAC: Obama’s a Muslim & this video from @FoxNews proves it! Even @CNN admits Obama’s training protesters/jihadists! #MAGA htt…”
  9. “RT @schotziejlk: .@greta Who is your #SuperBowl favorite?”
  10. “RT @LefLaneLivin: @trueblackpower As Black People we need to Support

I’m going to change my middle name to Putin out of respect for our glorious leader!

Is it respectful to get a Putin tatoo on your hiney?

(Recovers from Russian influence)

This is NBC’s damning proof of Russian influence. Like I said at the beginning, Wow!

As in Wow! how dumb.

OK, to be fair, any tweet set will have a lot of trash in it and grepping for Clinton/clinton and Trump/trump returns 20,893 for Clinton and 49,669 for Trump.

I haven’t checked but liberals talking about Clinton/Trump pre-election ran about 2 1/2 times more mentions of Trump than Clinton. (Odd way to run a campaign.)

So, the usual grep/head, etc. and the first ten “Clinton” tweets are:

  1. “Clinton: Trump should’ve apologized more
  2. “RT @thomassfl: Wikileaks E-Mails:  Hillary Clinton Blackmailed Bernie Sanders https://t.co/l9X32FegV6.”
  3. “Clinton’s VP Choice: More Harm Than Good https://t.co/iGnLChFHeP”
  4. “Hillary Clinton vows to fight
  5. “RT @Rammer_Jammer84: I don’t know about Hilary Clinton having a body double but it’s super weird that she came out by herself considering s…”
  6. “RT @Darren32895836: After Hillary Clinton Caught 4attempting 2take advantage of Americans hardships &tears changes Strat #PrayForFlorida ht…”
  7. “RT @steph93065: Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump’s Veterans Press Conference ‘Disgraceful’ – Breitbart https://t.co/CVvBOrTJBX”
  8. “RT @DianeRainie1: Hey @HillaryClinton this message is for you. Pack it up & go home Hillary
  9. “”
  10. “”RejectedDebateTopics””

and the first ten “Trump” tweets are:

  1. “Clinton: Trump should’ve apologized more
  2. “RT @AriaWilsonGOP: 3 Women Face Charges After Being Caught Stealing Dozens Of Trump Signs https://t.co/JjlZxaW3JN https://t.co/qW2Ok9ROxH”
  3. “RT @America_1st_: CW: “”The thing that impressed me was that Trump is always comfortable in own skin
  4. “Dave Chappelle: “”Black Lives Matter”” is the worst slogan I’ve ever heard! How about “”enough is enough””? VotingTrump! https://t.co/5okvmoQhcj”
  5. “Obama on Trump winning: ‘Anything’s possible’ https://t.co/MjVMZ5TR8Y #politics”
  6. “RT @TrumpSuperPAC: Obama’s a Muslim & this video from @FoxNews proves it! Even @CNN admits Obama’s training protesters/jihadists! #MAGA htt…”
  7. “Deceitful Media caught on act when trying to drive the “”Donald Trump is racist”” rhetoric.
  8. “”
  9. “RT @Veteran4Trump: A picture you will never see on @CNN or @MSNBC #BlacksForTrump Thumbs up for Trump 👍#MakeAmericaGreatAgain #Blacks4Trump…”
  10. “RT @steph93065: Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump’s Veterans Press Conference ‘Disgraceful’ – Breitbart https://t.co/CVvBOrTJBX”

That’s a small part of NBC’s smoking gun on Russian influence?

Does it stand to reason that the CIA, NSA, etc., have similar cap-gun evidence?

Several options present themselves:

  • Intelligence operatives and their leaders have been caught lying, again. That is spinning tales any reasonable reading of the evidence doesn’t support.
  • Intelligence operatives are believing one more impossible thing before breakfast and ignoring the evidence.
  • Journalists have chosen to not investigate whether intelligence operatives are lying or believing impossible things and report/defend intelligence conclusions.

Perhaps all three?

In any event, before crediting any “Russian influence” story, do take the time to review at least some of the 200,000 pieces of “evidence” NBC has collected on that topic.

You will be left amazed that you ever believed NBC News on any topic.

Reducing the Emotional Toll of Debating Bigots, Fascists and Misogynists

Monday, February 12th, 2018

Victims of bigots, fascists and misogynists on social media can (and many have) recounted the emotional toll of engaging with them.

How would you like to reduce your emotional toll and consume minutes if not hours of their time?

I thought you might be interested. 😉

Follow the link to DeepPavlov. (Ignore the irony of the name considering the use case I’m outlining.)

From the webpage:

An open source library for building end-to-end dialog systems and training chatbots.

We are in a really early Alfa release. You have to be ready for hard adventures.

An open-source conversational AI library, built on TensorFlow and Keras, and designed for

  • NLP and dialog systems research
  • implementation and evaluation of complex conversational systems

Our goal is to provide researchers with:

  • a framework for implementing and testing their own dialog models with subsequent sharing of that models
  • set of predefined NLP models / dialog system components (ML/DL/Rule-based) and pipeline templates
  • benchmarking environment for conversational models and systematized access to relevant datasets

and AI-application developers with:

  • framework for building conversational software
  • tools for application integration with adjacent infrastructure (messengers, helpdesk software etc.)

… (emphasis in the original)

Only one component for a social media engagement bot to debate bigots, fascists and misogynists but a very important one. A trained AI can take the emotional strain off of victims/users and at least in some cases, inflict that toll on your opponents.

For OpSec reasons, don’t announce the accounts used by such an AI backed system.

PS: AI ethics debaters. This use of an AI isn’t a meaningful interchange of ideas online. My goals are: reduce the emotional toll on victims, waste the time of their attackers. Disclosing you aren’t hurting someone on the other side (the bot) isn’t a requirement in my view.

Are You Smarter Than A 15 Year Old?

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

15-Year-Old Schoolboy Posed as CIA Chief to Hack Highly Sensitive Information by Mohit Kumar.

From the post:

A notorious pro-Palestinian hacking group behind a series of embarrassing hacks against United States intelligence officials and leaked the personal details of 20,000 FBI agents, 9,000 Department of Homeland Security officers, and some number of DoJ staffers in 2015.

Believe or not, the leader of this hacking group was just 15-years-old when he used “social engineering” to impersonate CIA director and unauthorisedly access highly sensitive information from his Leicestershire home, revealed during a court hearing on Tuesday.

Kane Gamble, now 18-year-old, the British teenager hacker targeted then CIA director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, FBI deputy director Mark Giuliano, as well as other senior FBI figures.

Between June 2015 and February 2016, Gamble posed as Brennan and tricked call centre and helpline staff into giving away broadband and cable passwords, using which the team also gained access to plans for intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iran.

Gamble said he targeted the US government because he was “getting more and more annoyed about how corrupt and cold-blooded the US Government” was and “decided to do something about it.”

Your questions:

1. Are You Smarter Than A 15 Year Old?

2. Are You Annoyed by a Corrupt and Cold-blooded Government?

3. Have You Decided to do Something about It?

Yeses for #1 and #2 number in the hundreds of millions.

The lack of governments hemorrhaging data worldwide is silent proof that #3 is a very small number.

What’s your answer to #3? (Don’t post it in the comments.)

Launch of DECLASSIFIED

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Launch of DECLASSIFIED by Mark Curtis.

From the post:

I am about to publish on this site hundreds of UK declassified documents and articles on British foreign policy towards various countries. This will be the first time such a collection has been brought together online.

The declassified documents, mainly from the UK’s National Archives, reveal British policy-makers actual concerns and priorities from the 1940s until the present day, from the ‘horse’s mouth’, as it were: these files are often revelatory and provide an antidote to the often misleading and false mainstream media (and academic) coverage of Britain’s past and present foreign policies.

The documents include my collections of files, accumulated over many years and used as a basis for several books, on episodes such as the UK’s covert war in Yemen in the 1960s, the UK’s support for the Pinochet coup in Chile, the UK’s ‘constitutional coup’ in Guyana, the covert wars in Indonesia in the 1950s, the UK’s backing for wars against the Iraqi Kurds in the 1960s, the coup in Oman in 1970, support for the Idi Amin takeover in Uganda and many others policies since 1945.

But the collection also brings together many other declassified documents by listing dozens of media articles that have been written on the release of declassified files over the years. It also points to some US document releases from the US National Security Archive.

A new resource for those of you tracking the antics of the small and the silly through the 20th and into the 21st century.

I say the “small and the silly” because there’s no doubt that similar machinations have been part and parcel of government toady lives so long as there have been governments. Despite the exaggerated sense of their own importance and the history making importance of their efforts, almost none of their names survive in the ancient historical record.

With the progress of time, the same fate awaits the most recent and current crop of government familiars. While we wait for them to pass into obscurity, you can amuse yourself by outing them and tracking their activities.

This new archive may assist you in your efforts.

Be sure to keep topic maps in mind for mapping between disjoint vocabularies and collections of documents as well as accounts of events.

Bait Avoidance, Congress, Kaspersky Lab

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Should you use that USB key you found? by Jeffrey Esposito.

Here is a scenario for you: You are walking around, catching Pokémon, getting fresh air, people-watching, taking Fido out to do his business, when something catches your eye. It’s a USB stick, and it’s just sitting there in the middle of the sidewalk.

Jackpot! Christmas morning! (A very small) lottery win! So, now the question is, what is on the device? Spring Break photos? Evil plans to rule the world? Some college kid’s homework? You can’t know unless…

Esposito details an experiement leaving USB keys about at University of Illinois resulted in 48% of them being plugged into computers.

Reports like this from Kaspersky Lab, given the interest in Kaspersky by Congress, could lead to what the pest control industry calls “bait avoidance.”

Imagine members of Congress or their staffs not stuffing random USB keys into their computers. This warning from Kaspersky could poison the well for everyone.

For what it’s worth, salting the halls and offices of Congress with new release music and movies on USB keys, may help develop and maintain insecure USB practices. Countering bait avoidance is everyone’s responsibility.

AI-Assisted Fake Porn Is Here… [Endless Possibilities]

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

AI-Assisted Fake Porn Is Here and We’re All Fucked by Samantha Cole.

From the post:

Someone used an algorithm to paste the face of ‘Wonder Woman’ star Gal Gadot onto a porn video, and the implications are terrifying.

There’s a video of Gal Gadot having sex with her stepbrother on the internet. But it’s not really Gadot’s body, and it’s barely her own face. It’s an approximation, face-swapped to look like she’s performing in an existing incest-themed porn video.

The video was created with a machine learning algorithm, using easily accessible materials and open-source code that anyone with a working knowledge of deep learning algorithms could put together.

It’s not going to fool anyone who looks closely. Sometimes the face doesn’t track correctly and there’s an uncanny valley effect at play, but at a glance it seems believable. It’s especially striking considering that it’s allegedly the work of one person—a Redditor who goes by the name ‘deepfakes’—not a big special effects studio that can digitally recreate a young Princess Leia in Rogue One using CGI. Instead, deepfakes uses open-source machine learning tools like TensorFlow, which Google makes freely available to researchers, graduate students, and anyone with an interest in machine learning.
… (emphasis in original)

Posts and tweets lamenting “fake porn” abound but where others see terrifying implications, I see boundless potential.

Spoiler: The nay-sayers are on the wrong side of history – The Erotic Engine: How Pornography has Powered Mass Communication, from Gutenberg to Google Paperback by Patchen Barss.

or,


“The industry has convincingly demonstrated that consumers are willing to shop online and are willing to use credit cards to make purchases,” said Frederick Lane in “Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age.” “In the process, the porn industry has served as a model for a variety of online sales mechanisms, including monthly site fees, the provision of extensive free material as a lure to site visitors, and the concept of upselling (selling related services to people once they have joined a site). In myriad ways, large and small, the porn industry has blazed a commercial path that other industries are hastening to follow.”
… (PORN: The Hidden Engine That Drives Innovation In Tech)

Enough time remains before the 2018 mid-terms for you to learn the technology used by ‘deepfakes’ to produce campaign imagery.

Paul Ryan, current Speaker of the House, isn’t going to (voluntarily) participate in a video where he steals food from children or steps on their hands as they grab for bread crusts in the street.

The same techniques that produce fake porn could be used to produce viral videos of those very scenes and more.

Some people, well-intentioned no doubt, will protest that isn’t informing the electorate and debating the issues. For them I have only one question: Why do you like losing so much?

I would wager one good viral video against 100,000 pages of position papers, unread by anyone other than the tiresome drones who produce them.

If you insist on total authenticity, then take Ryan film clips on why medical care can’t be provided for children and run it split-screen with close up death rattles of dying children. 100% truthful. See how that plays in your local TV market.

Follow ‘deepfakes’ on Reddit and start experimenting today!

Champing at the Cyberbit [Shouldn’t that be: Chomping on Cyberbit?]

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Champing at the Cyberbit: Ethiopian Dissidents Targeted with New Commercial Spyware by Bill Marczak, Geoffrey Alexander, Sarah McKune, John Scott-Railton, and Ron Deibert.

From the post:

Key Findings

  • This report describes how Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. Targets include a US-based Ethiopian diaspora media outlet, the Oromia Media Network (OMN), a PhD student, and a lawyer. During the course of our investigation, one of the authors of this report was also targeted.
  • We found a public logfile on the spyware’s command and control server and monitored this logfile over the course of more than a year. We saw the spyware’s operators connecting from Ethiopia, and infected computers connecting from IP addresses in 20 countries, including IP addresses we traced to Eritrean companies and government agencies.
  • Our analysis of the spyware indicates it is a product known as PC Surveillance System (PSS), a commercial spyware product with a novel exploit-free architecture. PSS is offered by Cyberbit — an Israel-based cyber security company that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems — and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
  • We conducted Internet scanning to find other servers associated with PSS and found several servers that appear to be operated by Cyberbit themselves. The public logfiles on these servers seem to have tracked Cyberbit employees as they carried infected laptops around the world, apparently providing demonstrations of PSS to the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan’s National Security Service, Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Centre, the Philippine President’s Malacañang Palace, ISS World Europe 2017 in Prague, and Milipol 2017 in Paris. Cyberbit also appears to have provided other demos of PSS in France, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Serbia, and Nigeria.

Detailed research and reporting, the like of which is absent in reporting about election year “hacks” in the United States.

Despite the excellence of reporting in this post, I find it disappointing that Citizen Lab sees this as an occasion for raising legal and regulatory issues. Especially in light of the last substantive paragraph noting:

As we explore in a separate analysis, while lawful access and intercept tools have legitimate uses, the significant insecurities and illegitimate targeting we have documented that arise from their abuse cannot be ignored. In the absence of stronger norms and incentives to induce state restraint, as well as more robust regulation of spyware companies, we expect that authoritarian and other politically corrupt leaders will continue to obtain and use spyware to covertly surveil and invisibly sabotage the individuals and institutions that hold them to account.

Exposing the abuse of peaceful citizens by their governments is a powerful tool but for me, it falls far short of holding them to account. I have always thought of being “held to account” meant there were negative consequences associated with undesirable behavior.

Do you know of any examples of governments holding Cyberbit or similar entities accountable?

I am aware that the U.S. Congress has from time to time passed legislation “regulating the CIA” and other agencies, all of which was ignored by the regulated agencies. That doesn’t sound like accountability to me.

You?

PS: Despite my disagreement on the call for action, this is a great example of how to provide credible details about malicious cyberactivity. Would that members of the IC would read it and take it to heart.

Why “Russian Troll” is NOT a Useful Category/Class

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Caitlin Johnstone makes a great case in Accusing someone of being a ‘Russian troll’ is admitting you have no argument.

From the post:


Bottom line: when a stranger on the internet accuses you of being a Kremlin agent, of being a “useful idiot”, of “regurgitating Kremlin talking points”, this is simply their way of informing you that they have no argument for the actual thing that you are saying. If you’re using hard facts to point out the gaping plot holes in the Russiagate narrative, for example, and all they can do is call your argument Russian propaganda, this means that they have no counter-argument for the hard facts that you are presenting. They are deliberately shutting down the possibility of any dialogue with you because the cognitive dissonance you are causing them is making them uncomfortable.

Yes, paid shills for governments all over the world do indeed exist. But the odds are much greater that the stranger you are interacting with online is simply a normal person who isn’t convinced by the arguments that have been presented by the position you espouse. If your position is defensible you should be able to argue for it normally, regardless of whom you are speaking to.
… (emphasis in original)

Johnstone’s: Russian Troll accusation = No meaningful argument, postulate is a compelling one.

However, as the examples in Johnstone’s post also demonstrate, there is no common set of attributes that trigger its use.

“Russian Troll” is a brimful container of arbitrary whims, caprices and prejudices, which vary from user to user.

Arbitrary usage means it is unsuitable for use as a category or class, since any use is one off and unique.

I would not treat “Russian Troll” as a topic subject to merging but only as a string. Hopefully the 434K instances of it as a string (today, with quotes) will put users on notice of its lack of meaningful usage.

DHS Algorithms – Putting Discrimination Beyond Discussion

Friday, November 17th, 2017

Coalition of 100+ tech groups and leaders warn the DHS that “extreme vetting” software will be a worse-than-useless, discriminatory nightmare by Cory Doctorow.

From the post:

In a pair of open letters to Letter to The Honorable Elaine C. Duke, Acting Secretary of Homeland, a coalition of more than 100 tech liberties groups and leading technology experts urged the DHS to abandon its plan to develop a black-box algorithmic system for predicting whether foreigners coming to the USA to visit or live are likely to be positive contributors or risks to the nation.

The letters warn that algorithmic assessment tools will be prone to religious and racial bias, in which programmers get to decide, without evidence, debate or transparency, what kind of person should be an American — which jobs, attitudes, skills and family types are “American” and which ones are “undesirable.”

Further, the system for predicting terrorist proclivities will draw from an infinitesimal data-set of known terrorists, whose common characteristics will be impossible to divide between correlative and coincidental.

If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needed confirmation it’s on the right track, then Doctorow and “the 100 tech liberties groups and leading technology experts” have provided that confirmation.


The letters warn that algorithmic assessment tools will be prone to religious and racial bias, in which programmers get to decide, without evidence, debate or transparency, what kind of person should be an American — which jobs, attitudes, skills and family types are “American” and which ones are “undesirable.”

To discriminate “…without evidence, debate or transparency…” is an obvious, if unstated, goal of the DHS “black-box algorithmic system.”

The claim by Doctorow and others the system will be ineffectual:

…the system for predicting terrorist proclivities will draw from an infinitesimal data-set of known terrorists, whose common characteristics will be impossible to divide between correlative and coincidental

imposes a requirement of effectiveness that has never been applied to the DHS.

Examples aren’t hard to find but consider that since late 2001, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has not caught a single terrorist. Let me repeat that: Since late 2001, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has not caught a single terrorist. But visit any airport and the non-terrorist catching TSA is in full force.

Since the Naturalization Act of 1790 forward, granting naturalization to “…free white person[s]…,” US immigration policy has been, is and likely will always be, a seething cauldron of discrimination.

That the DNS wants to formalize whim, caprice and discrimination into algorithms “…without evidence, debate or transparency…” comes as no surprise.

That Doctorow and others think pointing out discrimination to those with a history, habit and intent to discriminate is meaningful is surprising.

I’m doubtful that educating present members of Congress about the ineffective and discriminatory impact of the DHS plan will be useful as well. Congress is the source of the current discriminatory laws governing travel and immigration so I don’t sense a favorable reception there either.

Perhaps new members of Congress or glitches in DHS algorithms/operations that lead to unforeseen consequences?

Why You Should Follow Caitlin Johnstone

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Why Everyone Should Do What WikiLeaks Did

From the post:


WikiLeaks did exactly what I would do, and so should you. We should all be shamelessly attacking the unelected power structure which keeps our planet locked in endless war while promoting ecocidal corporate interests which threaten the very ecosystemic context in which our species evolved. And we should be willing to use any tools at our disposal to do that.

I’ve been quite shameless about the fact that I’m happy to have my ideas advanced by people all across the political spectrum, from far left to far right. I will never have the ear of the US President’s eldest son, but if I did I wouldn’t hesitate to try and use that advantage if I thought I could get him to put our stuff out there. This wouldn’t mean that I support the US president, it would mean that I saw an opening to throw an anti-establishment idea over the censorship fence into mainstream consciousness, and I exploited the partisan self-interest of a mainstream figure to do that.

We should all be willing to do this. We should all get very clear that America’s unelected power establishment is the enemy, and we should shamelessly attack it with any weapons we’ve got. I took a lot of heat for expressing my willingness to have my ideas shared by high profile individuals on the far right, and I see the same outrage converging upon Assange. Assange isn’t going to stop attacking the establishment death machine with every tool at his disposal because of this outrage, though, and neither am I. The more people we have attacking the elites free from any burden of partisan or ideological nonsense, the better.

What she said.

Tools you suggest I should cover?

Caitlin Johnstone at:

Facebook

Medium

Twitter

How-Keep A Secret, Well, Secret (Brill)

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Top Secret History of America’s Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Warfare Programs and Their Deployment Overseas, edited by Matthew M. Aid, is described as:

At its peak in 1967, the U.S. nuclear arsenal consisted of 31,255 nuclear weapons with an aggregate destructive power of 12,786 megatons – more than sufficient to wipe out all of humanity several hundred times over. Much less known is that hidden away in earth-covered bunkers spread throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan, over 40,000 tons of American chemical weapons were stored, as well as thousands of specially designed bombs that could be filled with even deadlier biological warfare agents.

The American WMD programs remain cloaked in secrecy, yet a substantial number of revealing documents have been quietly declassified since the late 1970s. Put together, they tell the story of how America secretly built up the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The documents explain the role these weapons played in a series of world crises, how they shaped U.S. and NATO defense and foreign policy during the Cold War, and what incidents and nearly averted disasters happened. Moreover, they shed a light on the dreadful human and ecological legacy left by decades of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons manufacturing and testing in the U.S. and overseas.

This collection contains more than 2,300 formerly classified U.S. government documents, most of them classified Top Secret or higher. Covering the period from the end of World War II to the present day, it provides unique access to previously unpublished reports, memoranda, cables, intelligence briefs, classified articles, PowerPoint presentations, military manuals and directives, and other declassified documents. Following years of archival research and careful selection, they were brought together from the U.S. National Archives, ten U.S. presidential libraries, the NATO Archives in Brussels, the National Archives of the UK, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Archives of the Netherlands. In addition, a sizeable number of documents in this collection were obtained from the U.S. government and the Pentagon using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests.

This collection comes with several auxiliary aids, including a chronology and a historiographical essay with links to the documents themselves, providing context and allowing for easy navigation for both students and scholars.

It’s an online resource of about 21,212 pages.

Although the editor, Aid and/or Brill did a considerable amount of work assembling these document, the outright purchase price: €4.066,00, $4,886.00 or the daily access price: $39.95/day, effectively keeps these once secret documents secret.

Of particular interest to historians and arms control experts, I expect those identifying recurrent patterns of criminal misconduct in governments will find the data of interest as well.

It does occur to me that when you look at the Contents tab, http://primarysources.brillonline.com/browse/weapons-of-mass-destruction#content-tab, each year lists the documents in the archive. Lists that could be parsed for recovery of the documents from other sources on the Internet.

You would still have to index (did I hear someone say topic map?) the documents, etc., but as a long term asset for the research community, it would be quite nice.

If you doubt the need for such a project, toss “USAF, Cable, CINCUSAFE to CSAF, May 6, 1954, Top Secret, NARA” into your nearest search engine.

How do you feel about Brill being the arbiter of 20th century history, for a price?

Me too.

Scope and Bracketing Public Officials – Schedules for Heads of Agencies

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Detailed Calendars/Schedules for Heads of Agencies by Russ Kirk

From the post:

One of the most important things we can know about high-level officials is their detailed scheduled. Who is the head of the EPA meeting with? Who’s been calling the chair of the Federal Reserve? Where has the Secretary of Education been traveling? What groups has the Attorney General been making speeches to?

Problem is, these crucial documents are almost never readily available. They’re released only due to FOIA requests, and sometimes not even then. I’ve filed requests with dozens of agencies for the daily schedules of their leaders covering the first half of 2017. I’ll be posting all the results here, as well as collecting the few calendars (usually from previous administrations) that are posted in the FOIA sections of some agencies’ websites. Keep checking back.

For an example of the important things that these calendars tell us, check out “E.P.A. Chief’s Calendar: A Stream of Industry Meetings and Trips Home” from the NYTimes.

Agency time servers will waive the “scope and bracketing” language in the title as justification for their secrecy but that’s not why they meet in secret.

Their secrets and alliances are too trivial for anyone to care about, save for the fact they are non-democratic and corrupt. No sane person spends $millions for a public office that has a starting salary less than a New York law firm.

Not without expecting non-salary compensation in the form of influencing federal agencies.

The information that Russ Kirk is gathering here is one clue in a larger puzzle of influence.

Enjoy!

US Senate Vermin List

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

The US Senate recently voted to approve a budget granting large tax cuts, paid for by cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

On the Concurrent Resolution: H. Con. Res. 71 As Amended; A concurrent resolution establishing the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2018 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2019 through 2027.

The “US Senate” is an identity concealing and accountability avoiding fiction.

H. Con. Res. 71 As Amended was approved by fifty-one (51) members of the Senate, all of who have names and websites.

You may find the following list helpful:

  1. Alexander (R-TN)
  2. Barrasso (R-WY)
  3. Blunt (R-MO)
  4. Boozman (R-AR)
  5. Burr (R-NC)
  6. Capito (R-WV)
  7. Cassidy (R-LA)
  8. Cochran (R-MS)
  9. Collins (R-ME)
  10. Corker (R-TN)
  11. Cornyn (R-TX)
  12. Cotton (R-AR)
  13. Crapo (R-ID)
  14. Cruz (R-TX)
  15. Daines (R-MT)
  16. Enzi (R-WY)
  17. Ernst (R-IA)
  18. Fischer (R-NE)
  19. Flake (R-AZ)
  20. Gardner (R-CO)
  21. Graham (R-SC)
  22. Grassley (R-IA)
  23. Hatch (R-UT)
  24. Heller (R-NV)
  25. Hoeven (R-ND)
  26. Inhofe (R-OK)
  27. Isakson (R-GA)
  28. Johnson (R-WI)
  29. Kennedy (R-LA)
  30. Lankford (R-OK)
  31. Lee (R-UT)
  32. McCain (R-AZ)
  33. McConnell (R-KY)
  34. Moran (R-KS)
  35. Murkowski (R-AK)
  36. Perdue (R-GA)
  37. Portman (R-OH)
  38. Risch (R-ID)
  39. Roberts (R-KS)
  40. Rounds (R-SD)
  41. Rubio (R-FL)
  42. Sasse (R-NE)
  43. Scott (R-SC)
  44. Shelby (R-AL)
  45. Strange (R-AL)
  46. Sullivan (R-AK)
  47. Thune (R-SD)
  48. Tillis (R-NC)
  49. Toomey (R-PA)
  50. Wicker (R-MS)
  51. Young (R-IN)

Where would you take this list from here?

Comparative Presidential Corruption

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Reporters wanting to add a historical flavor to their accounts of corruption and investigations of corruption in the Trump regime, will be glad to see: Papers of Ulysses S. Grant Now Online.

From the post:

The Library of Congress has put the papers of Ulysses S. Grant online for the first time in their original format at https://www.loc.gov/collections/ulysses-s-grant-papers/about-this-collection/.

The Library holds a treasure trove of documents from the Civil War commander and 18th president of the United States, including personal correspondence, “headquarters records” created during the Civil War and the original handwritten manuscript of Grant’s memoir— regarded as one of the best in history—among other items. The collection totals approximately 50,000 items dating from 1819-1974, with the bulk falling in the period 1843-1885.

The collection includes general and family correspondence, speeches, reports, messages, military records, financial and legal records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memorabilia and other papers. The collection relates to Grant’s service in the Mexican War and Civil War, his pre-Civil War career, and his postwar service as U.S. secretary of war ad interim under President Andrew Johnson, his 1868 presidential campaign and two-term presidency, his unsuccessful 1880 presidential bid, his extensive international travels and the financial difficulties late in life that spurred the writing of his memoir, which he completed just days before his death from tongue cancer in July 1885.

If you think the IRS has an unsavory reputation now, one tax collector (liquor taxes) was hired with a 50% commission on his collections. The Sanborn incident.

There have been a number of deeply corrupt American presidencies but this collection crossed my desk recently.

Enjoy!

Lauren Duca Declares War!

Friday, October 6th, 2017

The latest assault on women’s health, which impacts women, men and children, is covered by Jessie Hellmann in: Trump officials roll back birth-control mandate.

Lauren is right, this is war. It is a war on behalf of women, men and children. Women are more physically impacted by reproduction issues but there are direct impacts on men and children as well. When the reproductive health of women suffers, the women, men in their lives and children suffer as well. The reproductive health of women is everyone’s concern.

For OpSec reasons, don’t post your answer, but have you picked a specific target for this war?

I ask because diffuse targets, Congress for example, leads to diffuse results.

Specific targets, now former representative Tim Murphy for example, can have specific results.

PS: Follow and support Lauren Duca, @laurenduca!

Printer Exploitation Toolkit: PRET [398 Days to Congressional MidTerm Elections]

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Printer Exploitation Toolkit: PRET

From the post:

PRET is a new tool for printer security testing developed in the scope of a Master’s Thesis at Ruhr University Bochum. PRET connects to a device via network or USB and exploits the features of a given printer language. Currently PostScript, PJL and PCL are supported which are spoken by most laser printers today. This allows PRET to do cool stuff like capturing or manipulating print jobs, accessing the printer’s file system and memory or even causing physical damage to the device. All attacks are documented in detail in the Hacking Printers Wiki.

The main idea of PRET is to facilitate the communication between the end-user and a printer. Thus, after entering a UNIX-like command, PRET translates it to PostScript, PJL or PCL, sends it to the printer, evaluates the result and translates it back to a user-friendly format. PRET offers a whole bunch of commands useful for printer attacks and fuzzing.

Billed in the post as:

The tool that made dumpster diving obsolete (emphasis in original)

I would not go that far, after all, there are primitives without networked printers, or so I have heard. For those cases, dumpster diving remains a needed skill.

Reading Exploiting Network Printers – A Survey of Security Flaws in Laser Printers and Multi-Function Devices (the master’s thesis) isn’t required, but it may help extend this work.

Abstract:

Over the last decades printers have evolved from mechanic devices with microchips to full blown computer systems. From a security point of view these machines remained unstudied for a long time. This work is a survey of weaknesses in the standards and various proprietary extensions of two popular printing languages: PostScript and PJL. Based on tests with twenty laser printer models from various vendors practical attacks were systematically performed and evaluated including denial of service, resetting the device to factory defaults, bypassing accounting systems, obtaining and manipulating print jobs, accessing the printers’ file system and memory as well as code execution through malicious firmware updates and software packages. A generic way to capture PostScript print jobs was discovered. Even weak attacker models like a web attacker are capable of performing the attacks using advanced cross-site printing techniques.

As of July of 2016, Appendix A.1 offers a complete list of printer CVEs. (CVE = Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures.)

The author encountered a mapping issue when attempting to use vFeed to map between CVEs to CWE (CWE = Common Weakness Enumeration).


Too many CWE identifier however match a single CVE identifier. To keep things clear, we instead grouped vulnerabilities into nine categories of attack vectors as shown in Table 3.2. It is remarkable that half of the identified security flaws are web-related while only one twelfth are caused by actual printing languages like PostScript or PJL.
… (page 11 of master’s thesis)

I haven’t examined the mapping problem but welcome suggestions from those of you who do. Printer exploitation is a real growth area in cybersecurity.

I mentioned the 398 Days to Congressional MidTerm Elections in anticipation that some bright lasses and lads will arrange for printers to print not only at a local location but remote one as well.

Think of printers as truthful but not loyal campaign staffers.

Enjoy!

DACA: 180 Days to Save 800,000 : Whose Begging Bowl to Choose? (Alternative)

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Trump administration ending DACA program, which protected 800,000 children of immigrants by Jacob Pramuk | @jacobpramuk.

From the post:

  • President Trump is ending DACA, the Obama-era program that protects hundreds of thousands of “dreamers.”
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions says there will be a six-month delay in terminating it to give Congress time to act.
  • Sessions says the immigration program was an unlawful overreach by Obama that cannot be defended.

Check out Pramuk’s post if you are interested in Attorney General Sessions’ “reasoning” on this issue. I refuse to repeat it from fear of making anyone who reads it dumber.

Numerous groups have whipped out their begging bowls and more are on the way. All promising opposition, not success, but opposition to ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Every group has its own expenses, lobbyists, etc., before any of your money goes to persuading Congress to save all 800,000 children of immigrants protected by the DACA.

Why not create:

  • low-over head fund
  • separate funds for house and senate
  • divided and contributed to the campaigns* of all representatives and senators who vote for replacement to DACA within 180 days
  • where replacement for DACA protects everyone now protected
  • and where replacement DACA becomes law (may have to override veto)

*The contribution to a campaign, as opposed to the senator or representative themselves, is important as it avoids the contributions being a “gratuity” for passage of the legislation, which is illegal. 2041. Bribery Of Public Officials.

Such funds would avoid the overhead of ongoing organizations and enable donors to see the results of their donations more directly.

I’m not qualified to setup such funds but would contribute to both.

You?

PS: You do the math. If some wealthy donor contributed 6 $million to the Senate fund, then sixty (60) senatorial campaigns would each get $600,000 in cash. Nothing to sneeze at.

DOJ Wanted To Hunt Down DisruptJ20.org Visitors

Friday, August 25th, 2017

National Public Radio (NPR) details the Department of Justice (DOJ) request for web records from DisruptJ20.org, which organized protests against the coronation of the current U.S. president, in Government Can Search Inauguration Protest Website Records, With Safeguards and Justice Department Narrows Request For Visitor Logs To Inauguration Protest Website. (The second story has the specifics on the demand.)

The narrowed DOJ request excludes:

f. DreamHost shall not disclose records that constitute HTTP requests and error logs.

A win for casual visitors this time, but no guarantees for next time.

The NPR stories detail this latest governmental over-reaching but the better question is:

How to avoid being scooped up if such a request were granted?

One word answer: Tor!

What is Tor?

Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.

Why Anonymity Matters

Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.

What’s your default browser?

If your answer is anything but Tor, you are putting yourself and others at risk.

If You Believe in Parliaments

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

If you believe in parliaments, other than as examples of how governments don’t “get it,” then the The Law Library of Congress, Global Legal Research Center has a treat for you!

Fifty (50) countries and seventy websites surveyed in: Features of (70)Parliamentary Websites in Selected Jurisdictions.

From the summary:

In recent years, parliaments around the world have enhanced their websites in order to improve access to legislative information and other parliamentary resources. Innovative features allow constituents and researchers to locate and utilize detailed information on laws and lawmaking in various ways. These include tracking tools and alerts, apps, the use of open data technology, and different search functions. In order to demonstrate some of the developments in this area, staff from the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress surveyed the official parliamentary websites of fifty countries from all regions of the world, plus the website of the European Parliament. In some cases, information on more than one website is provided where separate sites have been established for different chambers of the national parliament, bringing the total number of individual websites surveyed to seventy.

While the information on the parliamentary websites is primarily in the national language of the particular country, around forty of the individual websites surveyed were found to provide at least limited information in one or more other languages. The European Parliament website can be translated into any of the twenty-four official languages of the members of the European Union.

All of the parliamentary websites included in the survey have at least basic browse tools that allow users to view legislation in a list format, and that may allow for viewing in, for example, date or title order. All of the substantive websites also enable searching, often providing a general search box for the whole site at the top of each page as well as more advanced search options for different types of documents. Some sites provide various facets that can be used to further narrow searches.

Around thirty-nine of the individual websites surveyed provide users with some form of tracking or alert function to receive updates on certain documents (including proposed legislation), parliamentary news, committee activities, or other aspects of the website. This includes the ability to subscribe to different RSS feeds and/or email alerts.

The ability to watch live or recorded proceedings of different parliaments, including debates within the relevant chamber as well as committee hearings, is a common feature of the parliamentary websites surveyed. Fifty-eight of the websites surveyed featured some form of video, including links to dedicated YouTube channels, specific pages where users can browse and search for embedded videos, and separate video services or portals that are linked to or viewable from the main site. Some countries also make videos available on dedicated mobile-friendly sites or apps, including Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

In total, apps containing parliamentary information are provided in just fourteen of the countries surveyed. In comparison, the parliamentary websites of thirty countries are available in mobile-friendly formats, enabling easy access to information and different functionalities using smartphones and tablets.

The table also provides information on some of the additional special features available on the surveyed websites. Examples include dedicated sites or pages that provide educational information about the parliament for children (Argentina, El Salvador, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey); calendar functions, including those that allow users to save information to their personal calendars or otherwise view information about different types of proceedings or events (available on at least twenty websites); and open data portals or other features that allow information to be downloaded in bulk for reuse or analysis, including through the use of APIs (application programming interfaces) (at least six countries).

With differing legal vocabularies and local personification of multi-nationals, this is a starting point for transparency based upon topic maps.

I first saw this in a tweet by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).

Locate Your Representative/Senator In Hell

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Mapping Dante’s Inferno, One Circle of Hell at a Time by Anika Burgess.

From the post:

I found myself, in truth, on the brink of the valley of the sad abyss that gathers the thunder of an infinite howling. It was so dark, and deep, and clouded, that I could see nothing by staring into its depths.”

This is the vision that greets the author and narrator upon entry the first circle of Hell—Limbo, home to honorable pagans—in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first part of his 14th-century epic poem, Divine Comedy. Before Dante and his guide, the classical poet Virgil, encounter Purgatorio and Paradiso, they must first journey through a multilayered hellscape of sinners—from the lustful and gluttonous of the early circles to the heretics and traitors that dwell below. This first leg of their journey culminates, at Earth’s very core, with Satan, encased in ice up to his waist, eternally gnawing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (traitors to God) in his three mouths. In addition to being among the greatest Italian literary works, Divine Comedy also heralded a craze for “infernal cartography,” or mapping the Hell that Dante had created.
… (emphasis in original)

Burgess has collected seven (7) traditional maps of the Inferno. I take them to be early essays in the art of visualization. They are by no means, individually or collectively, the definitive visualizations of the Inferno.

The chief deficit of all seven, to me, is the narrowness of the circles/ledges. As I read the Inferno, Dante and Virgil are not pressed for space. Expanding and populating the circles more realistically is one starting point.

The Inferno has no shortage of characters in each circle, Dante predicting the fate of Pope Boniface VIII, to place him in the eight circle of Hell (simoniacs A subclass of fraud.). (Use the online Britannica with caution. It’s entry for Boniface VIII doesn’t even mention the Inferno. (As of July 13, 2017.)

I would like to think being condemned to Hell by no less than Dante would rate at least a mention in my biography!

Sadly, Dante is no longer around to add to the populace of the Inferno but new visualizations could take the opportunity to update the resident list for Hell!

It’s an exercise in visualization, mapping, 14th century literature, and, an excuse to learn the name of your representative and senators.

Enjoy!

New York Times, Fact Checking and Dacosta’s First OpEd

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Cutbacks on editors/fact-checking at the New York Times came at an unfortunate time for Marc Dacosta‘s first OpEd, The President Wants to Keep Us in the Dark (New York Times, 28 June 2017).

DaCosta decries the lack of TV cameras at several recent White House press briefings. Any proof the lack of TV cameras altered the information available to reporters covering the briefings? Here’s DaCosta on that point:


But the truth is that the decision to prevent the press secretary’s comments on the day’s most pressing matters from being televised is an affront to the spirit of an open and participatory government. It’s especially chilling in a country governed by a Constitution whose very First Amendment protects the freedom of the press.

Unfortunately, the slow death of the daily press briefing is only part of a larger assault by the Trump administration on a precious public resource: information.

DaCosta’s implied answer is no, a lack of TV cameras resulted in no diminishing of information from the press conference. But, his hyperbole gland kicks in, then he cites disjointed events claimed to diminish public access to information.

For example, Trump’s non-publication of visitor records:


Immediately after Mr. Trump took office, the administration stopped publishing daily White House visitor records, reversing a practice established by President Obama detailing the six million appointments he and administration officials took at the White House during his eight years in office. Who is Mr. Trump meeting with today? What about Mr. Bannon? Good luck finding out.

Really? Mark J. Rozell summarizes the “detailing the six million appointments he and administration officials took…” this way:


Obama’s action clearly violated his own pledge of transparency and an outpouring of criticism of his action somewhat made a difference. He later reversed his position when he announced that indeed the White House visitor logs would be made public after all.

Unfortunately, the president decided only to release lengthy lists of names, with no mention of the purpose of White House visits or even differentiation between tourists and people consulted on policy development.

This action enabled the Obama White House to appear to be promoting openness while providing no substantively useful information. If the visitor log listed “Michael Jordan,” there was no way to tell if the basketball great or a same-named industry lobbyist was the person at the White House that day and the layers of inquiry required to get that information were onerous. But largely because the president had appeared to have reversed himself in reaction to criticism for lack of transparency, the controversy died down, though it should not have.

Much of the current reaction to President Trump’s decision has contrasted that with the action of his predecessor, and claimed that Obama had set the proper standard by opening the books. The reality is different though, as Obama’s action set no standard at all for transparency.
…(Trump should open White House visitor logs, but don’t flatter Obama, The Hill, 18 April 2017)

That last line on White House visitor records under Obama is worth repeating:

The reality is different though, as Obama’s action set no standard at all for transparency.

Obama-style opaqueness would not answer the questions:

Who is Mr. Trump meeting with today? What about Mr. Bannon? [Questions by DaCosta.]

A fact-checker and/or editor at the New York Times knew that answer (hint to NYT management).

Even more disappointing is the failure of DaCosta, as the co-founder of Engima, to bring any data to a claim that White House press briefings are of value.

One way to test the value of White House press briefings is to extract the “facts” announced during the briefing and compare those to media reports in the prior twenty-four hours.

If DaCosta thought of such a test, the reason it went unperformed isn’t hard to guess:


The Senate had just released details of a health care plan that would deprive 22 million Americans of health insurance, and President Trump announced that he did not, as he had previously hinted, surreptitiously record his conversations with James Comey, the former F.B.I. director.
… (DaCosta)

First, a presidential press briefing isn’t an organ for the US Senate and second, Trump had already tweeted the news about not recording his conversations with James Comey. None of those “facts” broke at the presidential press briefing.

DaCosta is 0 for 2 for new facts at that press conference.

I offer no defense for the current administration’s lack of transparency, but fact-free and factually wrong claims against it don’t advance DaCosta’s cause:


Differences of belief and opinion are inseparable from the democratic process, but when the facts are in dispute or, worse, erased altogether, public debate risks breaking down. To have a free and democratic society we all need a common and shared context of facts to draw from. Facts or data will themselves never solve any problem. But without them, finding solutions to our common problems is impossible.

We should all expect better of President Trump, the New York Times and Marc DaCosta (@marc_dacosta).

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget.

In the best pay-to-play tradition, the Government Printing Office (GPO) has these volumes for sale:

America First: A Budget Blueprint To Make America Great Again By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00719-9 ISBN: 9780160937620. Price: $10.00.

Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 (Paperback Book) By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00723-7 ISBN: 9780160939228. Price: $38.00.

Appendix, Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget GPO Stock # 041-001-00720-2 ISBN: 9780160939334. Price: $79.00.

Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 (CD-ROM) By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget GPO Stock # 041-001-00722-9 ISBN: 9780160939358. Price: $29.00.

Analytical Perspectives, Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00721-1 ISBN: 9780160939341. Price: $56.00.

Major Savings and Reforms: Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2018 By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00724-5 ISBN: 9780160939457. Price: $35.00.

If someone doesn’t beat me to it (very likely), I will be either uploading the CD-ROM and/or pointing you to a location with the contents of the CD-ROM.

As citizens, whether you voted or not, you should have the opportunity to verify news accounts, charges and counter-charges with regard to the budget.

Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics by Knight Center.

From the webpage:

Data journalists are the newest rock stars of the newsroom. Using computer programming and data journalism techniques, they have the power to cull through big data to find original and important stories.

Learn these techniques and some savvy computer programming to produce your own bombshell investigations in the latest massive open online course (MOOC) from the Knight Center, “Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics.”

Instructor Ben Welsh, editor of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk and co-founder of the California Civic Data Coalition, will show students how to turn big data into great journalism with speed and veracity. The course takes place from June 12 to July 9, 2017, so register now.

A high priority for your summer because:

  1. You will learn techniques for data analysis
  2. Learning #1 enables you to perform data analysis
  3. Learning #1 enables you to better question data analysis

I skimmed the post and did not see any coverage of obtaining concealed information.

Perhaps that will be the subject of a wholly anonymous MOOC. 😉

Do register! This looks like useful and fun!

PS: Developing a relationship with a credit bureau or bank staffer should be an early career goal. No one is capable of obtaining “extra” money and just sitting on it forever.

March 25th – Anniversary Of Triangle Fire – The Names Map

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

The Names Map

From the website:

The Names Map displays the name, home address, likely age, country of origin, and final resting place of all known Triangle Fire victims.

(map and list of 146 victims)

The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition connects individuals and organizations with the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire — one of the pivotal events in US history and a turning point in labor’s struggle to achieve fair wages, dignity at work and safe working conditions. Outrage at the deaths of 146 mostly young, female immigrants inspired the union movement and helped to institute worker protections and fire safety laws. Today, basic rights and benefits in the workplace are not a guarantee in the United States or across the world. We believe it is more vital than ever that these issues are defended.

The “not guilty” verdict on all counts of manslaughter for Triangle Factory owners Max Blanck and Issac Harris:

is often overlooked in anniversary celebrations. (Image from Cornell University, ILR School, Kheel Center’s Remembering The 1911 Triangle Factory Fire, Transcript of Criminal Trial)

That verdict is a forerunner to the present day decisions to not prosecute police shootings/abuse of unarmed civilians.

Celebrate the progress made since the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire while mindful exploitation and abuse continue to this very day.

The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition has assembled a large number of resources, many of which are collections of other resources, including primary materials.

Politics For Your Twitter Feed

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Hungry for more political tweets?

GovTrack created the Members of Congress Twitter list.

Barometer of congressional mood?

Enjoy!