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On the Reasons Behind Putin’s Continued Popularity in Russia

February 4, 2016 11 comments

The previous 2-3 years have seen an interesting, but largely ignored, trend in the western media’s reporting about Russia. You might have noticed that almost every week, we keep seeing shoddily recycled “news” stories about socio-economic problems in Russia, musings about how Putin’s underlings are unhappy with him or how the Russian military intervention in Syria and Ukraine is “not working”. Such “news” stories are usually followed with jingoistic chest thumping by keyboard jockeys in the comment sections of said articles and wild speculation about how the USA would “win” against Russia.

Meanwhile in the real world- Putin’s popularity and approval rating in Russia remains extraordinarily high. Even more oddly for many in the west, he seems to be able to achieve all his stated objectives – whether it is destabilizing the west-backed leadership in Ukraine or helping the Alawites win the Syrian civil war with impunity. So what is going on? Why is Putin’s popularity so high? Why is his grasp on power so firm? And why is he able to achieve his objectives with far more success than his western counterparts?

Well.. it comes down to a few reasons.

Reason 1: Russians in 2016 have no illusions about life in the west, especially the USA.

In the pre-1991 era, very few Russians (as a percentage of the population) had ever interacted with people in the west (especially the USA) outside of settings that did not somehow involve diplomacy, trade or propaganda. Few in that country had personal experience with or insight into the worldview of people in the west. The repressive political climate, ugly architecture, sclerotic institutions and general lack of consumer culture that characterized day-to-day life in Russia in the 1970s and 1980s made them susceptible to western propaganda that life in the west was intrinsically better than in Russia. While it is certainly true that the mindset of sclerotic leader and institutions in Russia during those two decades made it an unpleasant place to live in, the appearance of general prosperity in the west during that period had more to do with prevailing socio-economic trends than anything fundamentally better about the western way.

Post-1991, many Russians were able to travel and live abroad for extended lengths of time. Consequently they were able to observe, first-hand, how things in the west (especially the USA) really worked. It is no secret that many were less than happy with what they saw and experienced. The mental image of the west as created by the minds of Russians in the pre-1991 era had little or no similarity to what they actually saw and experienced. The actual product was a shadow of what was promised in all those colorful advertisements. Living in the west also allowed them see and experience the less savory, and previously hidden, aspects of capitalist societies- such as poverty, economic insecurity, homelessness, high healthcare costs etc. In other words- the posed, lighted and photo-shopped images of the heavily madeup woman had little resemblance to what she looked like in real life.

Reason 2: Russians finally saw, for themselves, that the USA always wanted to marginalize them.

In the pre-1991 era, many Russians believed the hostility of USA towards them was based in ideology as opposed to a simple desire to marginalize, impoverish and destroy them as a people. However actions by the USA after 1991 such as the first Iraq war, expansion of NATO to include former eastern-bloc countries, support of Islamic terrorism in Russia and economic policies that caused the impoverishment of Russians in the 1990s have made most of them realize that the hostility of USA towards the USSR was based less in ideology that the simple desire to marginalize, impoverish and destroy Russians as a people. It is therefore not surprising that they would stand behind and support leaders who demonstrated their nationalistic credentials. A large part of Putin’s popularity is due to the fact that most Russians in 2016 know something that their counterparts in 1991 did not- namely that the USA will not stop until it has marginalized, impoverished and destroyed them.

Russians have also seen the USA has little or no interest in actually cooperating with Russia on solving any problems that affect both countries. For example- Russia had its own problems with Saudi-financed Islamic terrorism in Russia in the 1990s. After September 2001, many Russians thought that the USA might finally decide to work together with them against a common adversary. Well.. after what appeared to a promising start, the USA went back to its old ways and turned a blind eye to Saudi-funded Islamic terrorism in other countries- while simultaneously pursuing the doomed strategy of regime change and military invasions of countries in the middle-east. Perhaps more importantly, they kept trying to destabilize neighboring east-european countries and install puppet pro-USA regimes in them. In other words, most Russians have now come to the conclusion that the USA will always be a hostile country.

Reason 3: Russians can now see that the USA is not omnipotent or invincible.

As I have previously mentioned, many Russians in the pre-1991 era admired and envied the USA. They used to see the USA as a place where even the average person had an existence that was materially comfortable and relatively free from ideological conformity. While that was never more than partially true, the general belief that things in the USA were better created a halo of “competence” around all things from that country- from the military and institutions to its economy. Events in the first few years after 1991 such as the outcome of the first gulf war and rapid development of the internet appeared to support this generally favorable image of the abilities and capabilities of the USA. The inability of Russian leaders in the 1991-1999 era to stand up against economic abuse by the USA also helped prop up the idea that the USA was almost omnipotent and invincible.

Then reality intervened..

Sometime between 2000-2002, it slowly started becoming obvious to people in the rest of the world that the USA was not omnipotent nor invincible. The events of September 2001 and their aftermath- especially the reaction of american government and populace, was the beginning for the exposure of its actual abilities and capabilities. As it turned out- both were substantially inferior to what everyone, including people in the USA, had hitherto believed. The disastrous invasions and subsequent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan did not make things any better- to put it mildly. By 2005 it became obvious that the USA was incapable of winning against diffuse groups of poorly organised insurgencies in countries they had occupied for a few years- even after it spend trillions of dollars trying to do so. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina also exposed the inability of USA to competently address large problems in inside its own territory.

The economic crisis which began in 2008-2009 also exposed the complex and hitherto hidden masquerades that had allowed the USA to prop up its economic system. It is possible to make the argument that by 2010 many of the younger educated people in the rest of the world (including Russia) had come to the realization that the primacy of the USA in technology and economics was largely a good smoke-and-mirror show. Developments in the subsequent years have provided even more evidence that a lot of the supposed competencies of the USA- from civic institutions, higher education, scientific research, health care etc are based in complex scams which use proxy markers of function, progress and competence to cover up the appalling reality. Furthermore, almost every product associated with a materially comfortable and modern existence is now manufactured in countries such as Mexico and China.

To make a long story short- Russians now see the USA as a serial scam artist who does not actually posses most of the abilities or capabilities it pretends to possess.

To summarize, the continued high levels of public support for Putin in Russia are the result of a combination of factors including a much wider understanding of the reality of life in the west and the long-term agenda of USA towards Russia in combination with a much more objective assessment of the actual capabilities of that country.

What do you think? Comments?

Are the Majority of Famous Women Comedians Actually Funny?

February 3, 2016 6 comments

This post is one of the many I started writing about a year ago, but never managed to finish till today. I also predict that it will get more than a few comments- especially from thin-skinned SJWs. But then again, I am not known for being especially concerned about what others think of my professed beliefs. As many of you have seen or heard- a number of women comedians have suddenly become famous and rich in the last 2-4 years.

Now, this is not exactly a new trend as women comedians have been steadily gaining prominence in popular culture over the last two decades. Just to be clear- I am NOT claiming that women comedians are intrinsically inferior to their male counterparts. Nor am I claiming that any field of human endeavor, including comedy, is a meritocracy. This post is therefore about whether the majority of contemporary famous female comedians in the anglosphere are actually funny- as opposed to whether women can ever be funny. Let me also say that I do not believe that most famous male comedians are actually funny- but that is another entirely different issue.

So, why am I focusing on famous and in my opinion mediocre and hacky female comedians as opposed to their male counterparts? Well.. as you will see, the archetypes of famous female comedians and their material says a lot more about the people who promote them and celebrate them than the comics themselves. Let us now talk about the archetypes or categories of contemporary famous female comedians especially those who have come to prominence within the last five years.

Category 1: The ones that are actually funny.

While I might not agree with the material or views or these female comedians, it hard to deny that some women comedians are talented and actually funny. Curiously, they do not have much in common with each other- stylistically or otherwise. Examples include Aisha Tyler, Maria Bamford, Wanda Sykes, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. The ones in this category stand apart from the ones in the other groups because their comedy acts and characters have the ability to be somewhat introspective, less than perfect and relatable aka human.

Category 2: The ones whose acts are mostly about hating men, other women and casual racism.

It is interesting to note that almost every woman comedian in this category is a thin, harsh-faced white woman. Coincidence.. I think not. These women use the fact that they are thin, white and moderately attractive to basically trash men, other women, minorities.. basically everybody other than them. It is often hard to say whether people enjoy their comedy or the controversies surrounding their acts and personalities. Examples include Iliza Shlesinger, Whitney Cummings, Jen Kirkman, Natasha Leggero and Chelsea Handler.

Category 3: The ones whose acts center around their obesity, disability, race or personal tragedy.

A somewhat more diverse category than the previous one, it contains female comedians whose acts are mostly driven by some combination of rage, jealousy, humiliation, casual racism or reaction to racism. The default persona of most performers in this category is a fat loud woman who spends too much time talking their weight or men of other races. Alternatively it is a woman with marginal talent but who has survived some personal tragedy making the audience feel sorry for her. Examples include Margaret Cho, Tig Notaro, Lisa Lampanelli and Melissa McCarthy.

Category 4: The ones whose act is to be the girl next door who talks dirty and insults everybody.

Probably the most recent but prominent category containing some of most overexposed comedians. The default persona of comedians in this category is a reasonably OK looking woman whose claim to fame is based on saying “shocking” things and insulting other people and minorities. They differ from those in category 3 by not being obese or ugly. Examples include Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and some from category 2 such as Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler. They are similar to those in Category 2- but are far more focused on conventional success and fame.

Category 5: The ones whose acts are essentially exaggerated quirkiness.

This category includes women whose act is almost exclusively centered around their quirky looks and/or voice. In other words, their act would not be funny if it was done by somebody who did not look or sound quirky. This is basically the female counterpart of the retarded clown-type acts among male comedians. Examples include Kristen Schaal, Jenny Slate, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

Category 6: The ones whose looks make up for the quality of their comedy.

Female comedians in this category are largely known for their good looks. While some exhibit flashes of actual talent, their careers are highly dependent on their looks. In other words, most people would not pay money to see their acts if they looked average. Examples include Nikki Glaser, Anjelah Johnson, Kate McKinnon and ex-lookers such as Chelsea Handler (pre-2003) and Natasha Leggero (pre-2008).

Category 7: The ones whose fame is largely due to who they are dating or related to.

Well.. these are the ones who are incredibly bad at their craft but somehow keep on getting TV gigs and specials. One of the best example in this category is Chelsea Peretti- a “comedian” whose inexplicable success becomes more understandable once you realize that her brother is Jonah Peretti (one of the founders of Buzzfeed) and is currently dating Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele fame).

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Jan 27, 2016

January 27, 2016 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. Though they appear unrelated to each other, the articles are about the incompetence and maliciousness of all those supposedly “credentialed” and “trusted” experts- whether they are psychiatrists, nutritionists or administrators.

Link 1: The Vindicated Parents

The history of autism is not one in which expert opinion has covered itself in glory. Almost as soon as the condition was identified, psychiatry produced an explanation for it that was even more blithely indifferent to the need for proof than the anti-vaxxers have been: “Refrigerator mothers,” the medical establishment insisted—“mothers not loving their children enough”—are what turn children autistic. The main proponent of this theory, and the great villain of autism activism’s early years, was the sketchily credentialed Bruno Bettelheim, whose claim to the title of “doctor” resided in a degree in art history but who somehow managed to persuade the profession and the media that he was the foremost child psychologist in the land.

Autism parents, on top of coping with sometimes devastatingly disabled children—mute, seizing, self-harming, violent—were typically informed that this nightmare was all their own fault. The treatments recommended by Bettelheim and his followers ranged from ineffective (therapy to fix the mothers) to what we now realize is exactly the wrong approach: placing autistic kids in an unstructured and overstimulating environment to make up for the alleged deprivation and rigidity of their families of origin. All of this, cause and treatment, was decreed to parents with the force of categorical authority. It was largely autism parents, some of them medical professionals themselves, who in the course of the 1950s and 1960s would force the experts to change their minds- although Bettelheim fought hard against organic theories of autism’s origins to the bitter end.

Link 2: Why the calorie is broken

Measuring the calories in food itself relies on another modification of Lavoisier’s device. In 1848, an Irish chemist called Thomas Andrews realized that he could estimate calorie content by setting food on fire in a chamber and measuring the temperature change in the surrounding water. (Burning food is chemically similar to the ways in which our bodies break food down, despite being much faster and less controlled.) Versions of Andrews’s ‘bomb calorimeter’ are used to measure the calories in food today. At the Beltsville center, samples of the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and tomato juice have been incinerated in the lab’s bomb calorimeter. “We freeze-dry it, crush into a powder, and fire it,” says Baer. Humans are not bomb calorimeters, of course, and we don’t extract every calorie from the food we eat. This problem was addressed at the end of the 19th century, in one of the more epic experiments in the history of nutrition science.

There’s also the problem that no two people are identical. Differences in height, body fat, liver size, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and other factors influence the energy required to maintain the body’s basic functions. Between two people of the same sex, weight and age, this number may differ by up to 600 calories a day—over a quarter of the recommended intake for a moderately active woman. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the time at which we eat may affect how we process energy. In one recent study, researchers found that mice fed a high-fat diet between 9am and 5pm gained 28 per cent less weight than mice fed the exact same food across a 24-hour period. The researchers suggested that irregular feedings affect the circadian cycle of the liver and the way it metabolizes food, thus influencing overall energy balance. Such differences would not emerge under the feeding schedules in the Beltsville experiments.

Link 3: Dystopia: When Walmart Is Supplying Your City’s Water

Anything is better than drinking lead-poisoned water. But when Walmart, Coca Cola, and Nestlé are the only ones stepping up and offering alternatives, the future looks pretty grim. Today, a coalition of America’s largest companies announced that it would be putting together a trucklift for Flint, collectively donating water to meet the needs of the city’s 10,000 school children for the rest of the calendar year. The companies are also encouraging others to support the Flint community through the nonprofit website Good360. This is all very good news for the water-strapped citizens of Flint. But you know who else depends on the likes of Walmart for safe drinking water? People living in third world countries that lack basic sanitation. Seriously now. Where the hell is the government? Where are people that landed Flint in this horrible public health crisis in the first place? Walmart has been donating water to Flint since July of 2015, and six months on, the taps are still churning out industrial waste. As The Atlantic points out, water donations from the entire state of Michigan don’t come close to the amount of clean water Walmart, Coke, Nestlé, and Pepsi have agreed to shore up—the equivalent of 6.5 million bottles.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Jan 26, 2016

January 26, 2016 3 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the ongoing giant and potentially catastrophic clusterfuck called the “Internet of Things”.

Link 1: “Internet of Things” security is hilariously broken and getting worse

Shodan, a search engine for the Internet of Things (IoT), recently launched a new section that lets users easily browse vulnerable webcams. The feed includes images of marijuana plantations, back rooms of banks, children, kitchens, living rooms, garages, front gardens, back gardens, ski slopes, swimming pools, colleges and schools, laboratories, and cash register cameras in retail stores, according to Dan Tentler, a security researcher who has spent several years investigating webcam security. “It’s all over the place,” he told Ars Technica UK. “Practically everything you can think of.”

When Mudge announced his plan to form CITL back in June, security researcher Rob Graham went so far as to call the plan a “dumb idea”: It’s not the same quality problem. UL is about accidental failures in electronics. CyberUL would be about intentional attacks against software. These are unrelated issues. Stopping accidental failures is a solved problem in many fields. Stopping attacks is something nobody has solved in any field. In other words, the UL model of accidents is totally unrelated to the cyber problem of attacks. Graham affirmed his critique in a Twitter direct message to Ars. “UL doesn’t test systems for somebody deliberately trying to attack them,” he wrote. He also argued that CITL “adds a lot of bureaucracy for little value.” Mitigating risk is not the same as eliminating it. But until someone figures out to deal with deliberate attacks, the problem of insecure IoT devices looks set to get worse before it gets better.

Link 2: Nest Thermostat Glitch Leaves Users in the Cold

The Nest Learning Thermostat is dead to me, literally. Last week, my once-beloved “smart” thermostat suffered from a mysterious software bug that drained its battery and sent our home into a chill in the middle of the night. Although I had set the thermostat to 70 degrees overnight, my wife and I were woken by a crying baby at 4 a.m. The thermometer in his room read 64 degrees, and the Nest was off. This didn’t happen to just me. The problems with the much-hyped thermostat, which allows users to monitor and adjust their thermostats on their smartphones (Google purchased Nest Labs for $3.2 billion in 2014), affected an untold number of customers when the device went haywire across America. Users vented on the company’s online forums and on social media. The glitch also coincided with plunging temperatures throughout much of the country.

But this isn’t just about the Nest. This points to a larger problem with so-called smart devices that we are inviting into our lives: Small glitches can cause huge problems. We’ve seen this before, with wireless fobs for keyless cars. They are supposed to make life easier by letting us do away with car keys, but they also make it easier for thieves to break in (by using a simple radio amplifier). It also happened recently with Fitbit, the maker of wearable activity trackers. The company was hit with a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco asserting that the wristbands failed to “consistently and accurately record wearers’ heart rates,” which is vital for those with certain medical conditions.

I’ve heard dozens of other stories from people with connected homes who were locked out by malfunctioning door touch pads, or about newfangled security alarms going off in the middle of the night because a bug (one with wings, not a digital one) flew by. Making matters worse is the lack of recourse. Buried deep in Nest’s 8,000-word service agreement is a section called “Disputes and Arbitration,” which prohibits customers from suing the company or joining a class-action suit. Instead, disputes are settled through arbitration. As a 2015 investigative series in The New York Times illustrated, the use of arbitration clauses is becoming widespread. Nest’s terms of service “are inherently unfair to consumers,” said Sonia K. Gill, a lawyer for civil justice and consumer protection at Public Citizen, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The terms, she said, limit damages and specify that customers need to travel to San Francisco for arbitration. “Who can afford that?” she said.

Link 3: Police body cams found pre-installed with notorious Conficker worm

One of the world’s most prolific computer worms has been found infecting several police body cameras that were sent to security researchers, the researchers reported. According to a blog post published last week by security firm iPower, multiple police cams manufactured by Martel Electronics came pre-installed with Win32/Conficker.B!inf. When one such camera was attached to a computer in the iPower lab, it immediately triggered the PC’s antivirus program. When company researchers allowed the worm to infect the computer, the computer then attempted to spread the infection to other machines on the network. “iPower initiated a call and multiple emails to the camera manufacturer, Martel, on November 11th 2015,” the researchers wrote in the blog post. “Martel staff has yet to provide iPower with an official acknowledgement of the security vulnerability. iPower President, Jarrett Pavao, decided to take the story public due to the huge security implications of these cameras being shipped to government agencies and police departments all over the country.”

To this day, researchers aren’t sure what the purpose of the malware was. Remarkably, Conficker’s unknown operators were never observed using the worm to steal bank account credentials, passwords, or any other type of personal data from the PCs they infected. In 2009, Microsoft offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the menace. A report that police cameras are shipping with Conficker.B preinstalled is testament to the worm’s relentlessness. It’s also troubling because the cameras can be crucial in criminal trials. If an attorney can prove that a camera is infected with malware, it’s plausible that the vulnerability could be grounds for the video it generated to be thrown out of court, or at least to create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors. Infected cameras can also infect and badly bog down the networks of police forces, some of which still use outdated computers and ineffective security measures.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts on the Hillary Clinton Email Controversy

January 21, 2016 7 comments

As part of my decision to write more frequent posts on this blog, I am going to write more shorter (between 400-800 words) posts on contemporary events- as opposed to only writing less frequent and almost always delayed longer posts on more systemic issues. I used to do that a lot until early- 2014, when I tried to focus on longer posts. In retrospective, that was not a good idea as frequent shorter posts are necessary for longer posts and series. It did not help that I had a series of unexpected and unnecessary distractions in my life during the last year or two. Anyway, now that things look good enough I have decided to fix this issue. Also, I am going to be less of a perfectionist and change my style of writing- a bit.

So, let us talk about the Hillary Clinton email controversy. As many (or all) of you know by now- Hillary Clinton exclusively used her family’s private email server, rather than her official government email accounts maintained on government servers for official email communications when she served as United States Secretary of State. While this problem first came to public attention in March 2015, it was known to insiders as early as sometime in 2009. While she has consistently maintained that her choice to use a private email server was driven by a desire for convenience, it is no secret that almost nobody else is buying that explanation. Also, that issue refuses to die out.

Why would Hillary Clinton do something that was so blatantly stupid and which was almost guaranteed to haunt her later- especially if she was going to run for public office down the road?

The conventional popular explanation for her decision is a combination of hubris and a general unfamiliarity with technology. However I think that the real explanation is a bit more complex. To understand her decision, you have to first understand the time-line and circumstances surrounding her decision to use a private email server. Hillary accepted the job for Secretary of State in January 2009 under Obama, just a few months after he had defeated her in the race for the democratic presidential nomination. It was clear Hillary understood that she had no chance to pull of a repeat for 4.. maybe 8 more years. But have you ever wondered why she accepted that job in the first place? Was it for the salary? Was it for the experience and public visibility? Or.. was it something else?

It is clear that neither she nor her husband had any immediate need for money as they were already making tens of millions a year from “public speaking engagements” for large corporations. While her decision to work as the Secretary of State did give her more visibility and experience than sitting on the board of directors of multiple NGOs, it is at best part of the story. In my opinion, the main reason behind her decision to work as Secretary of State and host her official server on a private server are inextricably linked. It is also the main reason why she ran, and was elected as senator from New York before that.

It was mostly about repaying all those individuals and corporations who had previously “donated” money to her and her husbands “campaigns” with governmental favors.

While most people in the USA might believe that their country is nowhere as corrupt as those “other” countries where everyone and their dog takes bribes, the reality is rather different. See.. all those countries where everyone takes bribes are just more open about the reality of living in dysfunctional oligarchies. In any case, small-time bribery is about making enough money to live well rather than make tons more money- which brings us to the issue of large-scale governmental corruption. The biggest difference between large-scale corruption and its more ubiquitous small-scale version is the former is universal in its extent. Large-scale corruption occurs at almost identical levels in countries as diverse as Germany, Japan, India, China and the USA. Some of them just “legalize” it to make themselves look more honest (at least to themselves) than others.

In the USA large-scale corruption often involves compensating politicians by channeling money through “legal” schemes such as public speaking fees, consultation fees, campaign donations, positions on corporate boards etc. One consequence of this particular system of bribery is that politicians are required to indirectly repay these donations once they get in office by passing laws and regulations that favor their donors. Consequently, a politician cannot expect to keep on getting corporate money through “legal” schemes unless they are likely to win a future election or else somehow get into the government.

It is no secret that the Clintons made many tens of millions in such “legal” schemes after Bill left office in early-2001. So why would rich individuals and corporations keep on paying the Clintons after that? While it is possible that they may have done so to benefit from Bill’s familiarity with people who were still inside the government and/or Hillary’s position as a national senator from New York- it is far more likely that her donors were banking on Hillary wining the 2008 democratic presidential nomination and general election, which was especially likely after the two disastrous terms of Bush43. But things did not go as planned and Obama won both the nomination and election. At this stage, Hillary had no option but to take the highest governmental position she could get her hands on. Failing to do so would have resulted in a sharp curtailment of future lucrative “corporate speaking engagements” and other legalized bribery schemes which made her somewhat rich. After getting that job Hillary had to keep in touch with her corporate owners and return their favors BUT she also had to do it in a way that left few (if any) definitive records of such exchanges.

And that is why Hillary Clinton decided to use a private email server for handling all official email communications when she served as United States Secretary of State from 2009-2013.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Jan 14, 2016

January 14, 2016 6 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about the continued deceptive (and ultimately self-defeating behavior) of large software and hardware companies.

Link 1: You say advertising, I say block that malware

The real reason online advertising is doomed and adblockers thrive? Its malware epidemic is unacknowledged, and out of control. The Forbes 30 Under 30 list came out this week and it featured a prominent security researcher. Other researchers were pleased to see one of their own getting positive attention, and visited the site in droves to view the list. On arrival, like a growing number of websites, Forbes asked readers to turn off ad blockers in order to view the article. After doing so, visitors were immediately served with pop-under malware, primed to infect their computers, and likely silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information. Or, as is popular worldwide with these malware “exploit kits,” lock up their hard drives in exchange for Bitcoin ransom. One researcher commented on Twitter that the situation was “ironic” — and while it’s certainly another variant of hackenfreude, ironic isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe what happened.

Link 2: Get Windows 10′ Turns Itself On and Nags Win 7 and 8.1 Users Twice a Day

As you may recall, Microsoft has delivered KB3035583 as a ‘recommended update’ to users of Windows 7 and 8.1. What this update does is install GWX (“Get Windows 10”), a program which diagnoses the system to see if it is eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10, and if so, asks the user if they would like to upgrade (though recently, the option to decline has been removed). Some users have gotten around this by editing Windows Registry values for “AllowOSUpgrade”, “DisableOSUpgrade”, “DisableGWX”, and “ReservationsAllowed” in order to disable the prompt altogether. This advice was endorsed by Microsoft on their support forums. According to a report by Woody Leonhard at InfoWorld, the newest version of the KB3035583 update includes a background process which scans the system’s Windows Registry twice a day to see if the values for the four aforementioned registry inputs were manually edited to disable the upgrade prompt. If they were, the process will alter the values, silently re-download the Windows 10 installation files (about 6 GB in total), and prompt the user to upgrade.

Link 3: Juniper drops NSA-developed code following new backdoor revelations

Juniper Networks, which last month made the startling announcement its NetScreen line of firewalls contained unauthorized code that can surreptitiously decrypt traffic sent through virtual private networks, said it will remove a National Security Agency-developed function widely suspected of also containing a backdoor for eavesdropping. The networking company said in a blog post published Friday that it will ship product releases in the next six months that remove the Dual_EC_DRBG random number generator from NetScreen firewalls. Security researchers have known since 2007 that it contains a weakness that gives knowledgeable adversaries the ability to decrypt encrypted communications that rely on the function. Documents provided by former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden showed the weakness could be exploited by the US spy agency, The New York Times reported in 2013

Link 4: Et tu, Fortinet? Hard-coded password raises new backdoor eavesdropping fears

Less than a month after Juniper Network officials disclosed an unauthorized backdoor in the company’s NetScreen line of firewalls, researchers have uncovered highly suspicious code in older software from Juniper competitor Fortinet. The suspicious code contains a challenge-and-response authentication routine for logging into servers with the secure shell (SSH) protocol. Researchers were able to unearth a hard-coded password of “FGTAbc11*xy+Qqz27” (not including the quotation marks) after reviewing this exploit code posted online on Saturday. On Tuesday, a researcher posted this screenshot purporting to show someone using the exploit to gain remote access to a server running Fortinet’s FortiOS software. Ralf-Philipp Weinmann, a security researcher who helped uncover the innerworkings of the Juniper backdoor, took to Twitter on Tuesday and repeatedly referred to the custom SSH authentication as a “backdoor.” In one specific post, he confirmed he was able to make it work as reported on older versions of Fortinet’s FortiOS.

What do you think? Comments?

Public Morality and the Fundamental Human Desire to Harm Others: 1

December 25, 2015 15 comments

In a series of previous posts, I had made the claim that human beings are predominantly motivated by a seemingly unquenchable desire to hurt, abuse, enslave or kill others- even if they do not stand to gain from such actions. I also showed how my model of human motivations is a far more rational (if distinctly unpleasant) explanation for supposedly inexplicable human behaviors such as the desire to accumulate extremely large amounts of money, risk your life for fighting wars that enrich a few or exhibit strong belief in any religious ideology. I will now extend that particular line of thinking to show you how public morality is based in the fundamental human desire to harm others. To be clear, I am defining public morality as a set of beliefs or worldview forced by some people on others to achieve some supposedly positive goals, ranging from creating “stable” social systems or “improving” some aspect of the general state of humanity to “saving” the world. The short version of my theory is as follows:

All types and forms of public morality (religious or secular) are grounded in the human desire to hurt, abuse, enslave or kill other people.

Here are two examples of what I am talking about..

Example 1: The Caste (or more accurately Jati) system in India

Inspite of what of its defenders still say, practice of the caste (jati) in India was and still is the largest and best example of an entire region of the world systemically screwing itself for no rational gain. While we can debate about the role of Muslim and British rule in shaping certain aspects of system, especially as it appears today, it is clear that practice of caste (jati) had severely damaged civil society in India many centuries prior to the rise of non-indigenous rulers. Infact, I would argue that Muslim and British conquest of India was almost entirely possible because the system had inhibited development of functional societies which could support united action against external invaders.

There is a lot of historical evidence which suggests that Indians tried hard not to learn from either their military success or setbacks, let alone history. Nor did they want to be involved in doing anything that was considered “foreign”- and that included making quality guns, wearing tailored clothes, building better ships or using the printing press. It is no secret the considerations of caste (jati) and “ritual purity” were largely behind these and many other disastrous decisions made by the overwhelming majority of indians for many centuries. So, how do you rationally explain the enthusiastic willingness of hundreds of millions over a period of more than a thousand years to deliberately ignore the proverbial writing on the wall? Also, why would any non-retarded person buy into and enthusiastically defend a mindset and worldview that was plainly inadequate?

While traditionalist types have long argued that the caste system provided public morality goods such as “stability” and “order”, there is a lot of evidence which shows that system was almost never able to provide either as illustrated by the innumerable accounts of wanton murder and plunder by muslim and british rulers. So what did it really provide to its ardent believers and supporters? Well.. based on it worked in real life, it is clear that the system was consistently able to consistently provide just one product to its believers, namely a pre-made worldview which allowed them to justify horrendous levels of neglect, abuse and mistreatment of other people. Moreover, unlike classical racism (which makes it kinda hard to blatantly fuck over against someone in your own large group) the presence of a large number of castes, sub-castes and jatis make it possible for almost everyone to participate in the game of fucking over somebody else.

In other words, the caste (jati) system was incapable of providing its believers anything beyond a justification for the neglect, abuse and mistreatment of other people. We therefore have to seriously consider the possibility that extensive and long-lived social systems which impose significant negative costs on its believers can be kept alive and fueled almost entirely by the apparently widespread (but hidden) human desire to hurt, abuse, enslave and kill other people. As you will see, this phenomena is hardly restricted to one particular traditional belief system or region of the world.

Example 2 : Monotheism, especially its Judeo-Christian-Islamic version

As I previously mentioned- the human desire to hurt, abuse, enslave or kill others is hardly restricted to those who claim to believe in multiple “gods”. Infact, the history of monotheistic faiths provides some of the most compelling examples of religion being a force for evil. Just think of all the innumerable acts of personal violence, wars and genocides performed under the guise of supporting the “one true faith” and “one true god” who just so happens to be one the perpetrators of the said actions worship. But all this talk about the history of religion-inspired violence raises an important, but often ignored, class of questions.

Why did so many people who had no real hope of material gain from participating in such acts nevertheless enthusiastically participate in them? Why were so many desperately poor and deprived people so willing to fight against people they barely knew? Why were so many people willing to suffer serious injury or death for highly dubious causes? What did so many gain from participating as the enthusiastic cannon fodder?

The conventional explanation for the willing and enthusiastic participation of most people in such acts is that they were gullible idiots who were brainwashed by the “high IQ” elites into doing all those things. But was that ever the case? Were most people stupid enough to believe that a god unable to help them feed their chronically ill and hungry children was real? Were they stupid enough to believe that those who ruled them were actually good human beings? Were they incapable of observing that conflicts and wars always hurt people like them far more than the few who profited from them? I mean.. what did they really gain from all this bullshit?

My alternative explanation is that religion simply provided a cover for all those people to indulge their appetite for hurting, abusing, enslaving and killing other people. They kept on participating in such behavior and actions even when it caused them considerable personal losses. In other words, even a significant risk of personal hardship, losses or even death (in addition to the lack of personal material gain) is not enough to stop most people from indulging their appetite of hurting and killing other people.

Upcoming posts in this series will look at a number of everyday and supposedly “normal” examples of public morality- from why certain things are NSFW, what actually is behind the public support for the USA-led war on Drugs, why religious conservatives oppose abortion, why many men oppose prostitution to why those most negatively affected by capitalism and the nation-state are often their most enthusiastic supporters. I will also talk about how supposedly do-gooder movements such MADD, PETA etc and the whole panoply of movements to “stop” global climate change are actually driven by the need to screw over other people rather than help them.

What do you think? Comments?

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