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On Donald Trump’s Campaign for the Republican Nomination: 1

August 31, 2015 7 comments

The decision by Donald Trump, a few weeks ago, to enter the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination was initially seen by many as just another short-lived publicity stunt to drum up ratings for the 15th season of his reality show or perhaps a future replacement for that show. This particular assessment was largely based on his rather long and extensive history of using declarations of intent to run for political office to get tons of free publicity. It is also no secret that he has always loved public attention and consequently has been involved in the promotion of various sport competitions and beauty pageants.

As many of you know- there is no shortage of opinions, articles and posts about his campaign for getting the republican nomination. Some say that his campaign is a plant by the Clintons to derail the process of choosing an electable republican candidate, and that might be true. In any case, his entry in the race has certainly sucked the oxygen out of the competing campaign of many republican contenders such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. His posturing on issues such as illegal immigration has also made many of his republican competitors try to adopt similar postures- something they will regret if they ever have to actually run against any democratic candidate for president.

But there is one aspect of his campaign that has puzzled many observers- from republican and democrat insiders to presstitues. How can a guy who has insulted almost every republican holy cow from John McCain (veterans), Megyn Kelly (photogenic white women), Jeb Bush and other “serious” contenders (insiders in the republican insiders) and Fox News (right-wing mass media) still be a viable candidate, let alone possess a commanding lead, for the republican nomination? Why have all those negative articles and hit pieces by main stream media pundits (in print, television and on the internet) had no worthwhile impact on his ascendancy?

There are those who ascribe this apparent invulnerability to his past experience in business negotiations and reality television shows. Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has recently written a few posts about how Trump is using language tricks to get his way-Link 1, Link 2, Link 3 and Link 4. While I certainly don’t deny that he has far more experience with being in the media’s spotlight and dealing with them than his competitors, it cannot explain his remarkable ascendancy for reasons I will explain now.

So, here is the question you should ask yourself.. Given that rich people with Trump’s personality and media savvy have always existed in the USA, why weren’t they ever serious front-runners for the presidential nomination in either party? Sure, we have had many memorable third-part candidates (especially in the 19th century) and who can forget the impact of Ross Perot on the result of the 1992 election. But that still does not answer the question- How could somebody with the background and personality of Donald Trump be a serious contender for the presidential nomination for one of the two major political parties in USA?

I believe that the answer to that particular question lies in something far deeper than open demagoguery and being especially adept at handling presstitutes. In my opinion, the ability of Trump to dominate the process for presidential nomination by one of the two main parties in USA is a symptom of an ongoing slow-motion failure of the modern nation-state.

To comprehend what I am talking about, you have to first understand the concept of a ‘modern nation state’ and why this type of institution was so successful for over a hundred years. Modern nation states are a product of the 2nd wave of the industrial revolution and it is no coincidence that many of them came into existence at about the same time (mid-1800s- early 1900s) as the areas they are situated in starting industrializing on a large scale. While they differed from previous kingdoms and nations in many ways, the most important (and relevant) difference between them and their predecessors arises from one specific arrangement between the government and people of such entities.

Modern nation states, unlike any of their predecessors, explicitly promised and largely delivered a very significant increase in the living standards of their general populace. In return for this prosperity (often gained through war and hard or soft colonialism) the average person living in such political entities was expected to be unquestioningly loyal towards the “nation” and do whatever he or she was told to do. While this bargain did result in some of the most horrific wars in history (various late 19th century colonial wars, WW1 and WW2) it worked pretty well for most people living in modern nation states.

The modern nation state model did, however, have a series of systemic structural flaws- many of which took decades (and a series of technological advances) to fully manifest themselves. Principal among this series of inter-linked flaws was the problem of maintaining an image of governmental authority and competence. But why would that be a problem? Aren’t people selected, elected or promoted to high offices of governance in modern nation states supposed to be very competent at their jobs?

Well.. not really.

See, here is the problem. The actual difference in mental capacity and competence between those who are supposed to be the “best and brightest” and the “rest” is, in reality, rather insignificant. Furthermore opaque hierarchical systems that protect insiders from the consequences of their actions tend to select and promote people who are good at lying, stealing, scamming and generally playing politics. Simply put, members of the ruling class of modern nation states are not particularly competent at their supposed jobs. Their lack of competence was, however, not that obvious in previous eras for two reasons. Firstly, the ability to steal resources from other parts of the world, often without serious opposition, made it easy for the ruling class to throw a few extra crumbs at the proles who did their dirty work. Secondly, the ability to control the flow of information via control of the mass media in the pre-internet era meant that it was actually possible to cover up many of the otherwise obvious failings (personal and professional) of members of the ruling class.

Sadly for them, both avenues for maintaining that facade of competence and authority have now disappeared. Politicians throughout the world now have a public image that has more in common with that of a used-car salesman than anything remotely suggestive of actual competence. While this process has been going on since the 1970s, the political class as a whole was able to retain their grasp on power by forming an ever closer (and subservient alliance) with rich people. The campaign of Donald Trump should therefore be seen as an attempt by a rich person to just get rid of the middleman (professional politician) who no longer commands public respect or authority.

Will write more about this topic in upcoming posts.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Aug 20, 2015

August 20, 2015 5 comments

Here are links to a few interesting news articles I came across recently. They are about preliminary revelations from analyzing the first two data dumps from the Ashley Madison site hack.

Link 1: Ashley Madison subscribers include hundreds of government workers

The latest face-palm-worthy revelation from the Ashley Maddison hack comes courtesy of the Associated Press, which is reporting that hundreds of government employees—some with sensitive jobs in the White House, Congress, and law enforcement agencies—used Internet connections in their federal offices to pay membership fees for and use the dating website for cheating. The news organization pored over a massive trove of data the hackers made available earlier this week. By tracing the IP addresses of people who visited the site over more than five years, AP reporters determined the visitors included two assistant U.S. attorneys; an information technology administrator in the Executive Office of the President; a division chief, an investigator, and a trial attorney in the Justice Department; a government hacker at the Homeland Security Department; and another DHS employee who indicated he worked on an US counterterrorism response team.

Many federal customers appeared to use non-government email addresses with handles such as “sexlessmarriage,” ”soontobesingle” or “latinlovers.” Some Justice Department employees appeared to use pre-paid credit cards to help preserve their anonymity but connected to the service from their office computers. “I was doing some things I shouldn’t have been doing,” a Justice Department investigator told the AP. Asked about the threat of blackmail, the investigator said if prompted he would reveal his actions to his family and employer to prevent it. “I’ve worked too hard all my life to be a victim of blackmail. That wouldn’t happen,” he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was deeply embarrassed and not authorized by the government to speak to reporters using his name. The AP’s analysis also found hundreds of transactions associated with Department of Defense networks, either at the Pentagon or from armed services connections elsewhere.

Link 2: Who Are The Lawyers, Law Profs, And Judges That Were Revealed In The Ashley Madison Hack?

Without further ado, here is a list of users who appear to be prestigious legal professionals:

At least 10 clerks and/or judges of federal district courts;
At least one federal appellate judge;
At least 10 Department of Justice employees;
At least three V10 partners, including one Cravath partner;
At least 10 Biglaw associates, including multiple attorneys at Baker & McKenzie; and
At least one law professor at an elite T14 law school.

Link 3: Family Values Activist Josh Duggar Had a Paid Ashley Madison Account

But data released online in the wake of the hack on Ashley Madison’s servers certainly seems to show otherwise. Someone using a credit card belonging to a Joshua J. Duggar, with a billing address that matches the home in Fayetteville, Arkansas owned by his grandmother Mary—a home that was consistently shown on their now-cancelled TV show, and in which Anna Duggar gave birth to her first child—paid a total of $986.76 for two different monthly Ashley Madison subscriptions from February of 2013 until May of 2015.

In July 2014*, he seems to have started a second account that was linked to his home in Oxon Hill, Maryland, where he spent his time lobbying against causes like same-sex marriage. The birthday listed in the data for Duggar’s first account is February 3, 1988, one month off Duggar’s actual birthday of March 3, 1988. The birthday listed for the second account is March 2, 1988. The two accounts overlap by a period of a few months. When he launched the second account, Duggar paid an initial fee of $250 that appears to have gone toward the purchase of an “affair guarantee”:Customers who buy 1,000 credits for $250 receive a money-back “affair guarantee,” if they don’t have an affair within three months. The second account, which was registered in July of 2014, was paid on a monthly basis until May of 2015. We’ve reached out to TLC, the Family Research Council, and a spokesman for the Duggar family for comment and will update if we hear back.

Link 4: Josh Duggar’s Apology: “I Have Been the Biggest Hypocrite Ever” [Updated]

The Duggar family just released a statement from Josh on their personal website in which Josh not only confirms the fact that he has been “unfaithful” to his wife, but he also confesses to having developed a “secret addiction” to pornography over the past several years. We already had evidence that Josh had at least been seeking out some sort of extramarital affair, but this is the first time we’ve head any mention of Josh’s porn habit.

Update 2:57 p.m.: Looks like Josh Duggar may have been a little hasty in his apology. The general idea is still there, but the letter itself has gone through several revisions since going up less than two hours ago. The first instance, as mentioned above, removed a reference to Satan, while the second revision removed any mention of pornography altogether. It’s hard to imagine that the letter wasn’t vetted by anyone before the Duggars put it up on their website—but given the few typos in the original, it’s certainly possible. Either way, Josh of all people should know by now that the internet never forgets. You can see all the changes made to the apology thus far below.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Aug 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 4 comments

Here are links to a few interesting news articles I came across today. They are about the extremely intrusive and almost inevitably exploitable features built into Window 10.

Link 1: The real price of Windows 10 is your privacy

Windows 10 is more closely tied to a Microsoft account than any previous version of the OS. This allows Microsoft to assign an ID number to users that can then be used to track them across different devices, services, and apps. This in turn can be used to deliver closely targeted ads to people. Microsoft has been pushing the mobile first, cloud first philosophy for some time now, and it becomes clear with Windows 10 that the love of the cloud is as much to do with the ability it gives Microsoft to gather useful data as it is about convenience for users.

Without wanting to venture into FUD territory, if you want an idea of just how Windows 10 can be used to gather data about you, take a trip to Privacy in Settings. The number of settings listed here is really quite lengthy — and just about all of them are enabled by default. The data is almost certain to be anonymized, but the setting labelled “Send Microsoft info about how I write to help us improve typing and writing in the future” will be of particular concern to anyone using their computer to conduct sensitive work. Then there is location data, the ability of apps to use your camera and microphone, and Cortana’s access to your contacts, calendar, and anything else you might care to mention. If this concerns you, go to the Speech, inking, & typing section of Privacy and hit the Stop getting to know me button.

Link 2: Windows 10- Microsoft under attack over privacy

Many of the complaints relate to the new personalised adverts embedded in Windows 10. When the OS is installed, Microsoft assigns the user a unique advertising ID, which it ties to the email address registered with the company. That email address is also associated with a raft of other services, such as the company’s productivity and communication programs, as well as app downloads and cloud-storage uploads. Using that information, Microsoft is able to personalise ads to the user, during both web surfing and, for newer apps downloaded from the Windows Store, app usage. Microsoft itself is leading the way on that front, even turning the in-built version of Solitaire (the card game that has been a staple of Windows installations since 1990’s Windows 3.0) into a freemium game, complete with unskippable video adverts.

Elsewhere, Windows 10 also harvests user information in order to teach the built-in personal digital assistant Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri. To enable Cortana, the company says, it “collects and uses various types of data, such as your device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you interact with them on your device”. Users are given the option to opt out of most of the data collection, but critics say that isn’t enough. Alec Meer, of gaming website Rock Paper Shotgun, says: “Microsoft simply aren’t making it clear enough that they’re doing this, how it might affect you and how to opt out – despite chest-thumping, we’re-all-chums-here talk about how ‘real transparency starts with straightforward terms and policies that people can clearly understand’.

Link 3: Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do – here’s how to opt out

Actually, here’s one excerpt from Microsoft’s privacy statement that everyone can understand: Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to: 1.comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies; 2.protect our customers, for example to prevent spam or attempts to defraud users of the services, or to help prevent the loss of life or serious injury of anyone; 3.operate and maintain the security of our services, including to prevent or stop an attack on our computer systems or networks; or 4.protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services – however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement.

Link 4: Windows 10’s default privacy settings and controls leave much to be desired

My problem with these elements of Windows 10 boils down to this: It feels, once again, as if Microsoft has taken the seed of a good idea, like providing users with security updates automatically, and shoved the throttle to maximum. This new information opacity is present at so many levels, it feels more like a deliberate design decision than an accidental omission. Want to know what specific KB updates do? You’ll have to look them up manually. Want some information on how Windows Defender works in Windows 10? You won’t find much on Microsoft’s official pages for the operating system. Taken as a whole, it’s harder to configure many of these settings in the way you might want them, information is harder to come by, and Microsoft is sucking down more user data than ever. Despite the tone of this article, there are plenty of things I like about Windows 10 and I’m going to talk about them in future stories. Metro/Universal apps now play much nicer with Desktop applications. The Windows Store has been overhauled and has a better layout. DirectX 12 is a huge step forward for gaming, and an undoubted high point of the launch. There are a lot of things to like about this operating system, and I want to talk about them in turn. But as far as user privacy, intrusive settings, and the need to crawl under the hood to optimize settings that Microsoft used to give you options for? This, in my opinion, is where Windows 10 stumbles, and stumbles badly.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: July 30, 2015

July 30, 2015 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting news articles I came across today. They all show that problems with the “law and order” system in the USA are too deep-rooted and systemic to fix via any sort of reform.

Link 1: The Drug War Is Creating Problems Too Big To Fix

David Colarusso, a public defender turned data scientist, has a fascinating post at Law Technology Today describing the many issues arising from the abusive activities of a single chemist at the Massachusetts state drug lab. The starting point of his post — and his problems — trace back a few years.In 2012, it was discovered that a chemist working at the Massachusetts state drug lab in Jamaica Plain had been falsifying drug tests (e.g., claiming that samples contained narcotics without testing them and even adding cocaine to samples to get a positive result when prior testing came back negative). She had worked at the lab for nearly a decade, and these revelations called into question the outcomes in tens of thousands of cases.

Obviously, this sort of tampering means there are convictions waiting to be overturned. But two years later, little progress has been made. It isn’t that the state is obstructing efforts to make the falsely-convicted whole again (there may be some of that, but Colarusso’s post doesn’t indicate there is), but that nearly a decade’s-worth of bogus lab work potentially infects thousands of convictions. Narrowing down this list to those directly affected is an enormous task, one that Colarusso was tasked with making more manageable. Narrowing down “The List” to a single link in the evidence chain — the drug receipt — still returned far too many potential matches to be of use. Additional restrictions trimmed the possible matches a bit more, but still left far too many potential victims of the chemist’s work.

Link 2: Number of people killed by police hits 664 in U.S. this year

The number of police-related fatalities in the U.S reached 664 in 2015, making the country’s police force one of the deadliest in the developed world, according to data from The Guardian, a British newspaper. In the first five months of this year, 19 unarmed black men were shot and killed by the police in the U.S. The Guardian compares that with Germany, where 15 citizens of any race were fatally shot in the two years from 2010 to 2011. California led the nation in the number of victims. So far this year, 107 people died in police-involved incidents in the state, significantly more than Texas, which came in second with 67 deaths. Florida was the third most deadly with 46. Per capita, Oklahoma tops the list with 29 deaths.

Link 3: Officers at Sam DuBose scene involved in death of another unarmed black man

Two police officers who corroborated a seemingly false account of the fatal shooting of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati were previously implicated in the death of an unarmed, hospitalised and mentally ill black man who died after he was “rushed” by a group of seven University of Cincinnati police officers. Kelly Brinson, a 45-year-old mental health patient at Cincinnati’s University hospital, suffered a psychotic episode on 20 January 2010 and was placed inside a seclusion room at the hospital by UC officers. He was then shocked with a Taser three times by an officer and placed in restraints. The father of one – son Kelly Jr – then suffered a respiratory cardiac arrest and died three days later. In court documents obtained by the Guardian and filed by Brinson’s family in a civil suit against UC police and the hospital, all seven officers are accused of using excessive force and “acted with deliberate indifference to the serious medical and security needs of Mr Brinson”.

The officers involved in his brother’s death were “supposed to be fired”, Brinson said. “But what happened was because we had an out-of-court settlement, they had immunity and they couldn’t be prosecuted. “Everybody … associated with this case was supposed to be terminated,” he said. “And they didn’t – they didn’t terminate them.” Brinson’s family settled a federal civil court case with the hospital and the police department for $638,000. All University of Cincinnati campus police officers were also removed from patrolling the psychiatric wards at the hospital after Brinson’s death.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Futility of Attempts at Gun Control in the USA: July 26, 2015

July 26, 2015 3 comments

The act of publicly bemoaning a lack of “effective” gun control laws upon hearing news of yet another mass shooting is one of the most popular LIEbral ritual in USA. For reasons that I will get into a bit later in this post, most LIEbrals believe (or at least want to believe) that severe restrictions or outright bans on private ownership of guns will somehow magically translate into an almost total elimination of mass shootings and other incidents of firearm related “violence”. They will also tell you that the much lower rates of suicide (or homicide) by firearms in other developed countries with draconian regulation of private gun ownership support their beliefs. But is that really so?

Well.. the short answer is “no”. But the longer answer is far more interesting and provides some intriguing insight into their mindset and worldview.

FYI, this is not my first blog post expressing strong skepticism about the effectiveness of passing more gun control laws in the USA. I have previously pointed out that most mass or spree shootings in the USA are the end result of somewhat unique and systemic social problems. Also, people who commit such acts frequently have no suspicion-invoking history of violent behavior. Furthermore, trying to suppress one manifestation of a much deeper set of problems almost guarantees that they will manifest themselves in another, and even more problematic, manner. It is also no secret that those clamoring the loudest for more gun control are doing so to maintain their power and social status.

There is however something else that I have alluded to, but not discussed at length, in my previous posts on this topic. I am now going to talk about one of the core issues that underlies discussion on gun control laws but is seldom mentioned- especially in public forums.

Some of my previous posts on other topics talk about factors that influence (positively or negatively) the perceived legitimacy of any given system of government. Now, many of you might think that opinions of citizens about the degree of legitimacy of the government system they live under are largely a non-issue in “developed” countries with democratically elected governments. As I will show you in the next paragraph- perceptions and opinions about the legitimacy of government systems are far more important for policies on gun control than most LIEbrals want to believe. It really comes down to two inter-linked issues..

Firstly- even a brief reading of the previous 150 years of global history show a rather disconcerting, yet seldom talked about, pattern for violent deaths. Governments of countries (as opposed to individuals) have been responsible for the vast majority of violent deaths in populations governed by them. If you don’t believe me just add the body count of all major inter- and intra-state wars, genocides and consequences of war (such as the influenza pandemic of 1918) which have occurred in the last century and half. My point is that the vast majority (way over 99%) of violent deaths (around 150-200 million) in that time span were state sanctioned and therefore technically “legal”. Furthermore, the number of violent deaths caused by recent or ongoing conflicts such as those caused by american meddling in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan within the last decade are still many tens of times higher than a sum of the body count caused by individual mass or spree shooters in the same time span. Even the police in USA kill many times more unarmed people than mass shooters in the same calendar year. To put it another way, governments of nation states (and their subsidiaries) are by far the biggest cause of violent deaths- including those by guns. I fail to see how passing more gun control laws would have change that fact.

And this brings us to the second issue- namely, that a significant minority of people do not perceive the current government system as being legitimate. But why does that matter? Don’t people in other developed countries have similar views about their governments? Well.. it does matter, because people in other developed countries do perceive their governments to be significantly more legitimate than people in the USA see their own. But why? What makes people in Japan, Germany or even the U.K feel that their government is legitimate? The simple answer is that the perceived legitimacy of a government is directly proportional to the consistency and effectiveness of its efforts to maintain the quality of life for the median citizen.

It is therefore no surprise that gun control measures seem to work in countries where the government directly or indirectly intervenes in favor of the median citizen. I should also point out countries with such government systems always had very low rates of deaths by individual acts of violence- especially in the post-WW2 era. In contrast to that, countries in which governments routinely and overtly abuse the majority to benefit the rich minority always had rather high rates of non-state sanctioned homicides. That is why certain countries such as Mexico, Brazil and South Africa have rather high rates of non-state sanctioned homicides despite highly restrictive gun ownership laws. My point is that the USA has always been more like Mexico, Brazil and South Africa than Japan, Germany or the U.K.

LIEbrals push for more gun control laws because they do not want to acknowledge that the USA has always been an affluent third-world country and that they have tremendously benefited from this apparent contradiction.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Here are a few interesting links that I came across in the last few days. They are new stories about the contents of the hacked internal emails and documentation of a corporation that supplies spyware and malware to law enforcement known as the “Hacking Team”.

Link 1: Hacking Team and Boeing Subsidiary Envisioned Drones Deploying Spyware

There are lots of ways that government spies can attack your computer, but a U.S. drone company is scheming to offer them one more. Boeing subsidiary Insitu would like to be able to deliver spyware via drone. The plan is described in internal emails from the Italian company Hacking Team, which makes off-the-shelf software that can remotely infect a suspect’s computer or smartphone, accessing files and recording calls, chats, emails and more. A hacker attacked the Milan-based firm earlier this month and released hundreds of gigabytes of company information online. Among the emails is a recap of a meeting in June of this year, which gives a “roadmap” of projects that Hacking Team’s engineers have underway.

On the list: Develop a way to infect computers via drone. One engineer is assigned the task of developing a “mini” infection device, which could be “ruggedized” and “transportable by drone (!)” the write-up notes enthusiastically in Italian. The request appears to have originated with a query from the Washington-based Insitu, which makes a range of unmanned systems, including the small ScanEagle surveillance drone, which has long been used by the militaries of the U.S. and other countries. Insitu also markets its drones for law enforcement.

Link 2: How Hacking Team Created Spyware that Allowed the FBI to Monitor TOR Browser

In July of 2012, FBI contractor Pradeep Lal contacted the customer support department of the Italian company Hacking Team, a maker of spyware for law enforcement and intelligence agencies worldwide. Lal needed help; he had used Hacking Team software to break into and monitor an investigative target’s computer, but the monitoring wasn’t working as well as Lal expected. It reported what addresses his target visited in normal web browsers, but not when his target used Tor Browser, software designed to mask sensitive web surfing. Lal described his problem succinctly, complaining on Hacking Team’s customer website that the company’s “URL collector does not collect web traffic on TOR browser,” according to a large trove of emails and other documents recently obtained by one or more computer hackers.

When a user opens Tor Browser, their computer starts the Tor program in the background, and in the foreground it opens up a modified version of Firefox that’s configured to force all its traffic to go through the Tor program. The solution was to modify Tor Browser on a hacked computer to force all of its traffic to go through an outside server that the attacker controls, rather than the one provided by the Tor program. When the hacked user loads a website in Tor Browser, the malware is then able to spy on the traffic before it gets handed off to the Tor network to be anonymized. Last week the Tor Project published their own brief analysis of this capability. But Hacking Team had no capability against the Tor network itself; it could only spy on people if their computer was already infected by Hacking Team spyware.

What do you think? Comments?

An Excellent Satire on the Silicon Valley Social Media Business Model

July 16, 2015 1 comment

Many of you might have heard about all the drama and bullshit going on at reddit.com. Well.. it was all very predictable, as this 3-year old clip will explain you.

Also, substituting the word “Chinese Government” with “Multinational Corporation”, “USA”, “NSA”, “FBI” or “GCHQ” improves the accuracy of this satire.

What do you think? Comments?

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