TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label George Orwell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Orwell. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Defend the Right to Repair


Image Source: LA Times (Hat tip: The Outer Light).

The tech giants have moved one step closer toward criminalizing anyone who refurbishes or recycles old electronics. The hypocrisy of Silicon Valley companies came into sharp relief as a US federal appeals court in Miami ruled to imprison a tech waste e-cycler on 11 April 2018.



HLN LIVE Recycler Eric Lundgren - Stands Up For Repair and Recycling! (2 May 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Time and Politics 24: Kiwis on the Cutting Edge


L & P Stubbies Ad (NZ) (30 August 2006). Video Source: Youtube.

A hat tip goes to Ed at The Outer Light on Youtube for sharing a funny Kiwi ad for the famous New Zealand soft drink L&P (Lemon and Paeroa) featuring the equally famous Stubbies, "short shorts ... for informal wear" favoured by Aussie and Kiwi men since 1972. The ad reminded me of my earlier post on Canadian humour, here.

CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, Kim Dotcom & Suzie Dawson - 2nd #AntiSpyBill event (20 August 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

If the Kiwis were on the cutting edge of men's fashion in the 1970s, they're on the cutting edge of political fashion now. This was Ed's segue, not mine! The point he was making, I think, is that the world used to be more trusting, naive, and less oppressive. People hung out, had parties, drank soda, and wore tight pants. Ed's Outer Light videos often express nostalgia for the lost, pre-Internet past, when everyday people did not worry about global crime and mass surveillance, and they felt they could trust their governments.

One of the Internet Party's supporters and spokespeople is Barrett Brown. For more on him, go here. Image Source: Facebook.

If citizens did not worry about mass surveillance then, they certainly do now. The New Zealand Internet Party held another worldwide roundtable meeting on 20 August 2017 to continue to develop a bill against government spying on citizens:
"Acclaimed CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou and other special guests will join tech entrepreneur and Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom on the panel of the next #AntiSpyBill live event this Sunday night.

This comes hot on the heels of several major American publications reporting on technical evidence recently presented by the group Veteran Intelligence Professionals For Sanity (VIPS), of which Kiriakou is a member, to the White House regarding the DNC leaks of 2016, The event will be held online between 8pm and 11pm on Sunday the 20th of August, 2017, NZST (UTC+12) and follows on from the Internet Party’s flagship #AntiSpyBill event which featured appearances by Dotcom, award-winning journalist Barrett Brown, hacktivist Lauri Love and comedian Lee Camp. ...

The Internet Party is inviting the public to join the roundtable event, which as well as discussing contemporary issues of the day, will continue its effort to draft crowdsourced legislation to counter government spying."
The Internet Party is headed by ex-Occupy-Auckland citizen journalist, Suzie Dawson, a New Zealand political refugee living in Moscow, Russia (she has applied for temporary asylum); she made a documentary about her experiences in the Occupy movement and the events which led her to seek asylum, here.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Crisis in a Box


This image circulates on truther sites. I have not confirmed its origin or supposed associated terror event. Image Sources: here and here.

This summer's blog posts assess how weaponized propaganda in the media and on the Internet is affecting behaviour and perception. I have never seen so much chaotic, dangerous and disturbing information and disinformation.

The problem has arisen in an already uncertain environment. The Internet is culturally anti-statist, an attitude reinforced by leaks, hacks and whistle-blowing. Although leaks and whistle-blowing were and are intended to make the establishment more transparent and less corrupt, revelations also destabilize society. Some quarters now exploit the credibility of whistle-blown information, so that 'real truths' become vectors of disinformation. As a result, no one knows what to believe.

In a climate of disillusionment, everything, including real facts, is disbelieved. On the Internet, all authorities are suspect. Truth in international affairs has become a question of atomized subjective belief, confirmation bias, and personal preference. Trust, rather than rationalism, drives the information sphere. The mainstream and alt-media compete for credibility and dominance in the fight to win the public's trust.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Freedom of the Internet in Virtual and Real Jurisdictions


Image Source: Freedom House.

Today, The Independent reported that the Tories' electoral manifesto promises to allow the UK government to censor the Internet. Part of this is in the name of decency, to control hate speech, terrorism and child pornography. Of course, there is a lot of leeway around how the Tories will define decency. Buzzfeed:
"'Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet,' ... [the manifesto] states. 'We disagree.'

When the manifesto was unveiled by Theresa May in Halifax[, UK] on Thursday morning [18 May 2017], news bulletins understandably focused on the party's taxation policy and Brexit plans rather than the technology section at the end.

But the relatively oblique language hides a major change that will affect the vast majority of Britons who spend hours of their day on the internet: May's party feels it's time to stop treating the internet as an anarchic free-for-all.

... In particular, Conservative advisers suggested to BuzzFeed News that a future Tory government would be keen to rein in the growing power of Google and Facebook, two companies that dominate the flow of information on the internet but have a habit of strongly resisting regulation – as the government found out when it attempted to force Facebook-owned WhatsApp to weaken its encryption after the Westminster terror attack.

Pull the various tech-related manifesto pledges together and – if the polls are correct and May wins a majority in next month's election – the Conservatives could have a mandate from the British public for a significant extension of internet regulation, all based on the idea that a government's duty to protect citizens exists just as much on the internet as it does in the real world.

Legislation would be introduced to protect the public from abuse and offensive material online, while everyone would have the right to wipe material that was posted when they were under 18. Internet companies would also be asked to help promote counter-extremism narratives – potentially echoing the government's Prevent programme. There would be new rules requiring companies to make it ever harder for people to access pornography and violent images, with all content creators forced to justify their policies to the government.

Labour's manifesto covers some of the same ground – it pledges to keep children safe, tackles online abuse, and also allows content posted by under-18s to be wiped. But it stops short of setting out a comprehensive vision of how online culture should look and feel – and what role the government should have in enforcing these moral judgments. The Conservative manifesto has no such qualms.

Ultimately it all comes back to the idea that, after 20 years of widespread internet usage in the UK, the Conservative leadership feels the internet is having such an enormous effect on society that it cannot be left alone.

'Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline,' the Conservative manifesto says, giving its justification for a new level of regulation.

'It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically.'

New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: 'We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law.'

A levy on tech companies – similar to that charged on gambling companies – would also be used to 'support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms'. The Conservatives even see this model going further, announcing their desire to work with other countries develop a global set of internet regulation standards similar to those 'we have for so long benefited from in other areas like banking and trade'.

May's manifesto also raises concerns about online news, warning it is willing to 'take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy', while pledging to 'ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online'.

One Tory source told BuzzFeed News this final comment relates to Google and Facebook's growing dominance of the advertising market, which the newspaper industry believes is crushing its business model. The source suggested that if the web giants failed to act voluntarily then they could be forced by legislation to find ways to financially compensate traditional news producers."
Wow. This shows the degree to which the MSM, an increasingly outmoded form of media, are having trouble competing with social media and the alt-media. This statement ties the MSM to the old form of nation-state authority and implies that governments will prop up and enforce the MSM's continued dominance of public discourse and the legacy media's competitiveness, at the expense of innovation and diversity of opinion. There are several problems here. The vast majority of citizens accept the need to curb child pornography and hate speech. Unfortunately, those legitimate imperatives are smokescreens, employed to quell free speech and to reinforce crumbling frameworks of authority. Ultimately, these imperatives will shape how netizens in certain jurisdictions perceive reality. If the Tories have their way, those controls will be global and defined by Britain, not the EU or the USA.

The Brexiteers' view, from a conservative, politically incorrect cartoonist. Click to enlarge. Image Source: Ben Garrison.

This is a complex topic, which also embraces the economy. In an earlier post, I argued that Brexit indicated that Britain was shifting its economic focus, from Euro-Britain to Silicon Britain. Beneath the politicized racists-against-multiculturalists uproar, this was Brexit's true concern. Thus, it is critical to understand how the Tories intend to build Silicon Britain. Perfidious Albion - at least her Little England portion - has the Germans gnashing their teeth. But this is all about business and the never-ending quest for upward mobility. The Brits who know this do not care whom they offend or what values they betray:
"Britain’s future prosperity will be built on our technical capability and creative flair. Through our modern industrial strategy and digital strategy, we will help digital companies at every stage of their growth. We will help innovators and startups, by encouraging early stage investment and considering further incentives under our worldleading Enterprise Investment Scheme and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme. We will help digital businesses to scale up and grow, with an ambition for many more to list here in the UK, and open new offices of the British Business Bank in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester and Newport, specialising in the local sector. As we set out in chapter one, we will ensure digital businesses have access to the best talent from overseas to compete with anywhere in the world. This will be complemented by at least one new institute of technology in the UK, dedicated to world-leading digital skills and developed and run in partnership with the tech industry. When we leave the European Union, we will fund the British Business Bank with the repatriated funds from the European Investment Fund."
It's all onwards, then, into the future. And if you work in the tech sector or the open source underground, never fear, because they will deprive you of your corporate masters and your crowd-funding. Then they will place honey pots before you, to draw you into the service of HM government:
"We will incubate more digital services within government and introduce digital transformation fellowships, so that hundreds of leaders from the world of tech can come into government to help deliver better public services."
You can read the Tories' manifesto, Forward, Together, here. The final part of the manifesto "Prosperity and Security in a Digital Age," starts on page 75 (page 77 in the whole PDF).


Aside from the Tories' moral and qualitative language, their veiled online imperialism, and the free speech issue, there are three interesting jurisdictional and philosophical questions evident in Forward, Together: alt-globalism; corporations' challenges to nation-states; and the cyber body politic.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

You Can't Go Home Again: DC Judas Contract Review


Still from Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017) © DC/Warner. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use. Image Source: The Good Men Project.

Some of the most popular posts I ever wrote on this blog took me back to the summer before I left home for the first time to go away to school. I was 14. In that period before first independence, I read DC Comics' The Judas Contract. This is a story about a 16-year-old girl, Tara Markov, who tries to kill her boyfriend and friends to please a much older man with whom she is having sex. When she fails, she kills herself.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

WikiLeaks: Vault 7 Tests the CIA


Image Source: The Intercept.

This morning at 9 a.m. Eastern, WikiLeaks released the biggest intelligence information dump in history (here). The dump of 8,761 documents, dating from 2013 to 2016, and entitled 'Vault 7' reveals how the US Central Intelligence Agency spies on citizens through almost all consumer technology. The CIA hacks, and can control, modern cars and trucks, iPhones, iPads, and Android phones.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2016: Disasters, Miracles and the Mandela Effect


The wildest so-called 'whistle-blower' of 2016 is the 4chan boards 'CERN scientist,' who insisted the Mandela effect was real on 21 August 2016. (Click to enlarge.) Image Source.

In 2015, astrologer Liz Greene summarized the spirit of our times (her extended comment on the subject is here): 
"The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once wrote that nothing is certain except change. In the last two decades we have been forced to acknowledge this ancient truth, for many of our time-honoured and reliable religious, economic and social structures and definitions of reality have undergone major upheavals. Because human beings instinctively fear change, we imagine global disasters as we move into the future, or global redemption through the miracles of technology or some extraordinary new spiritual or political revolution. We are filled with both anxiety and hope. Is this really a time of great opportunity, spiritually and materially? Or does it seem so merely because we believe it to be so?"
In the spirit of understanding the power of perception over rationality and belief, I sometimes cover strange material on this blog. I discuss this material with reservations, and save the weirdest stories for the Hallowe'en countdown.

This summer, a deranged rumour on the Internet combined disasters with miracles. It is called the 'Mandela effect,' a meme which asserts that "large groups of people have alternate memories about past events." The effect is likely a jarring dyslexia of shared memory in the era of kinetic information. The Mandela effect is the creepiest meme I have ever encountered (even creepier than this one). It made me think of the line from David Lynch's 1997 neo-noir horror film, Lost Highway: "I like to remember things my own way. ... How I remember them. Not necessarily the way they happened."

The Mandela effect resembles Lynch's plot structures, especially in Mulholland Drive (2001) and Inland Empire (2006), where characters and incidents repeat, transform, and overlap in new contexts. In Lynch's most recent work, the characters share a basic story. This is the 'highway' of everyday experience, the type of historical story we all know, expect and recognize. It follows a linear chronology. Radical variations in this kind of story are almost always rationally comprehensible. They may involve one character missing a critical piece of information; or big differences in opinion or perspective between characters; or a character's tragic flaw forcing him to act in a way he should not. A larger fate, god, or mystery can play a role in these stories, but the linear highway of the narrative remains predominant, even if the characters take an off-ramp.

From the Lost Highway soundtrack. I'm Deranged. LP: Outside (25 September 1995) © David Bowie/Brian Eno/RCA. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

But in the Lynchian universe, that main highway chronology is overlaid with other narratives which follow the separate stories of symbols (or archetypes), of the individual subconscious (possibly the soul), and of a larger, collective unconscious (perhaps the group soul). Those other, eerie narratives are non-linear and have different shapes. In Lost Highway, the plot relating to death symbols was constructed like a Möbius strip. Some of those unconventional narratives may have no shape at all and may be quantum, popping in and out of the linear narrative of conventional sanity, and co-existing in many times and realities. This allows Lynch's characters to disappear and reappear, sometimes with new identities, for no apparent linear reason. It is easy to dismiss these films as crazy, but Lynch's aim seems rather to tell the complete story of reality. The characters' behaviour and the events in these films would only make sense if you could map all the different narratives at play, and understand how they were interacting.

The Mandela effect also reminds me of Dark City (1998); the time travel and tangent universe of Donnie Darko (2001); and the Matrix films (1999-2003). In these movies, anomalies are explained as the products of manipulation by higher, outside actors. This is all fine, if you are a film critic or a post-Postmodern novelist. The only problem is, believers think the Mandela effect is real.

Clip from Lost Highway (1997) © October Films. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

Clip from Dark City (1998) © New Line Cinema. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

Clip from The Matrix (1999) © Warner/Roadshow Entertainment. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

Inland Empire (2006) official trailer. Video Source: Youtube.

As to the source of the Mandela effect, one woman found discussions on the effect as far back as 2005. But the effect was defined by a Wiccan paranormal researcher and blogger named Fiona Broome, during a conversation at the 2010 comic book convention DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. The conversation involved a collective belief that Nelson Mandela had died in prison on 23 July 1991, and then reappeared alive and well, and became President of South Africa and died in 2013. This led to Broome's conviction that people were dividing between those who remembered alternate histories - and those who did not.

Interview with the Vampire (1994) contains one example of the supposed Mandela effect. The film is © Warner, reproduced under Fair Use. Image Source: Goodreads

Friday, August 5, 2016

Drone Precedents: Point and Click


The unmanned drone MQ-9 Reaper, made by General Atomics, designed in 2001, first introduced into use by the US Air Force in 2007. This photo is from Afghanistan. Image Source: US Air Force via Defense Update.

This is the third in three posts on discrepancies between declared meaning and hard reality and the problems those gaps cause in emerging Millennial history. Today's post focuses on warfare. The 2014 documentary Drone, directed by Norwegian director Tonje Hessen Schei, summarized the change from a critical perspective. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom reviewed the film in 2015:
"The international community has stressed that drone strikes involve killings without due process that are violating international law and human rights, most importantly the right to life. There have been strong concerns that drone operations do not gather sufficient information to establish legal targets, resulting in indiscriminate killings. The precision of drones, so fondly asserted by their supporters, is a myth.

Someone who knows all about this crude reality is Brandon Bryant, a former US Air Force drone operator diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who is now speaking out to the world on what he experienced during his time flying drones. In the documentary, he describes the light-hearted, often nonchalant, atmosphere in the control room, half a world away from the people they were targeting, and how he himself grew more and more jaded for each strike."
The documentary (available at time of writing, here) sounds an alarm on drone development; the film regards drones as an international, not purely American, problem; and it criticizes the Republicans and especially the Democrats for their endorsement of the drone programme. The narration opens with an interview with Brandon Bryant, as he reflected on how drone operation dehumanized him:
"I didn't really understand what it meant to kill at first. It was horrible. Sometimes it plays itself over and over again in your head, so much that you, you just imagine who these people were. We sat in a box for nearly twelve hour shifts. I [was] typically on the night shift. It was quieter. All the lights were usually off, except for the light coming from the monitors. It was so weird just being able to watch people's lives. ... I remember watching a wedding. I mean, these were people enjoying themselves. These were people celebrating, like, a wedding. You know? Like - but someone in that wedding was a bad person, and at that moment, they were celebrating. It's just weird, like, I'm watching this person, and this person has no clue. We're the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate Peeping Toms. No one's going to catch us, and we're getting orders to take these people's lives. It was just - point and click."
Bryant claimed most of his fellow drone pilots did not view their operations that way, and some threatened him when he came forward to criticize drones. At the other end of engagement, civilians sitting under drone attacks regard them as despicable and illegal. Lawyers in Pakistan have taken drone attack cases before their courts as criminal extrajudicial killings. But the paper trail disappears when it reaches the American government's doorstep, due to the confidentiality of unidentified authorities and top secret status of intelligence officers. In 2015, The Guardian called "Obama's drone panopticon" a "secret machine with no accountability." In the old military system, information can pinpoint those who violate military laws and court martial them. In the new military system, information disappears.




The verdict on conventional warfare from 2001 to 2008: Abu Ghraib prison torture in 2003 Image Source: Progressive Charlestown. The Senate committee report on torture was published on 30 December 2014. Image Source: Christian Science Monitor. Wife at the grave of an American soldier. Image Source: The Daily Call. Approximately half of veterans (over 1 million former military personnel) returned home to suffer PTSD, drug problems, convoluted governmental support, unemployment in the Great Recession, and other difficulties. A homeless veteran in Houston, Texas. Image Source: IFTBQP. Wiki: "In 2013, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were committing suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes."

Barack Obama's drone programme grew out of a catastrophic evaluation of George W. Bush's conventional wars. The Americans faced huge criticism and problems over their handling of the War in Afghanistan (2001-2014) and the Iraq War (2003-present). Abu Ghraib prison, torture, and Guantanamo Bay became ugly mirrors which the big media held up to show a proud nation its shameful inhumanity. The media and experts challenged the justifications and WMD premises for the war. Bush's conventional war was also astronomically expensive. In 2004, Osama bin Laden stated that one of al-Qaeda's aims was to provoke the USA into military conflict to the point of bankruptcy. He almost succeeded. Critics blamed the 2008 meltdown partly on the cost of war. In 2013, Reuters reported that the Iraq War and its related aftermath could cost USD $6 trillion over the next four decades, including interest.

Enter the drone, a comparatively cheap, recessionary weapon. In 2015, The Daily Dot reported that Obama requested roughly USD $561 billion in defense spending for the following year, with a growing portion devoted to drones or drone research, to around USD $5 billion by 2016. This was the projected cost of 'soft defense' with a 'small footprint': "While controversial for a variety of reasons, the drone program was supposed to usher in the era of a slimmer, smarter military for the U.S." Bard College has a Center for the Study of the Drone, which broke down America's annual drone budget for 2016 (here) and 2017 (here). According to one PBS opinion piece, the Democrats paid for the drones by printing money, as part of recessionary quantitative easing.

So, Obama declared: war is peace. Drone technology effectively continued Bush's Middle Eastern military policy in a different style. Single, targeted drone attacks became more widespread, akin to drone bombing. The Intercept dug through leaked classified drone papers, especially those for Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan in 2012-2013, and found large numbers of civilian casualties. For all the earlier concerns in Iraq and Afghanistan, this was a troubling shift in operational perspective. The Democrats' policy obscured reality, and was conceptually, politically and philosophically dislocated from the reality it created. This war continued mostly out of the public eye, behind a façade of peace. The film Drone maintains that the sympathetic Democratic rhetoric of humanitarianism and frugal economy held the moral high ground over the sabre-rattling of hawkish Republicans. However, the Democrats' withdrawal of troops and peaceable rhetoric cynically, strategically - and progressively - continued the war with drone technology and mercenaries, who replaced American soldiers on the ground.


Blackwater gained public attention when four of their mercenaries were ambushed, killed and burned on a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq, on 31 March 2004. It took two military battles for the Americans to take the city. After the victory in December 2004, the Marines signed the bridge with their Latin motto. In the photo above, 3/5 is the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment of the Marines, also known as the Darkhorse. From 2005 to 2011, investigative reports linked birth defects in Fallujah to the US Army's use of white phosphorous. The incident showed how unconventional mercenaries and weapons overlapped with conventional forces and the media. Images Sources: Mount Holyoke University; flickr.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton condemned the Bush State Department's employment of the military contractor Blackwater. But a 2014 HuffPo investigation found that shortly thereafter, Clinton's State Department stepped up hiring of private armies; her office promised Blackwater (now known as Academi) USD $500 million in mercenary contracts. In 2010, Wired reported that Clinton's State Department signed a five-year contract worth over USD $10 billion with a mercenary umbrella group called, 'International Development Solutions,' which included Academi-formerly-known-as-Blackwater. In 2014, there were rumours that Academi and an affiliated, Barbados-based company, Greystone, were active in the Ukraine. Other Blackwater shell companies, like Paravant, have grimly ironic names (a paravent is a portable bedroom privacy screen). According to Wired, here are a few other names Blackwater, its subsidiaries, or related merc companies have taken on to shed baggage:
  • Total Intelligence Solutions
  • Technical Defense Inc.
  • Apex Management Solutions LLC
  • Aviation Worldwide Services LLC
  • Air Quest Inc.
  • Presidential Airways Inc.
  • EP Aviation LLC
  • Backup Training LLC
  • Terrorism Research Center
  • Xe Services LLC
  • Worldwide Protective Services
  • AAR Corp.
The employer-reviews Website, Glassdoor, has employees' reviews of International Development Solutions; one reads: "Great pay. Travel is awesome. [But y]ou're away from home quite often." Darker parts of the story emerged in 2016 about an embryonic private air force (here and here), while ex-Blackwater CEO Erik Prince aided in China's quiet imperial conquest of Africa. One blog devoted to overseas military contractors calls them "the best kept secret of the wars." Contractors and drones allowed war to disappear (largely) from the media; conflict faded into the background behind the term, 'deniability.' Regardless of the winner in the American presidential race, this approach will continue. The current foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump is Joseph Schmitz, a former Blackwater executive.

Even more than before, politicians separated cause from effect and meaning from reality. This policy created two contemporary historical narratives, the politicized metahistory, and the factual course of events. The misleading image of a kinder, gentler government became easier to cultivate, because warfare was conducted through several degrees of separation and obscured political responsibility. Drone argues that Obama disapproved of Guantanamo Bay, so he solved that problem by killing suspects with drones, thereby avoiding the public relations mess of capturing, incarcerating them and facing scrutiny over that process. Critics in Drone maintain that this policy by-passed international and national legal systems (as opposed to violating them, as the Bush administration had). Other critics assert that the same policy encouraged the rise of ISIS. Drones are one of the reasons why ISIS are so keen to provoke the Americans back into boots-on-the ground, hand-to-hand combat in the Middle East. In their eyes, a bloody human clash is the true contest between societies, and remote-piloted drones are the weapons of cowards.

Purported drone killing (12 November 2015) of 'Jihadi John' aka Mohammed Emwazi (born Muhammad Jassim Abdulkarim Olayan al-Dhafiri), a Londoner who beheaded several high-profile western captives for ISIS, including American journalist James Foley on 19 August 2014 (see my post on Foley's beheading here). ISIS confirmed Emwazi's death in January 2016. The gamer who posted this video on 13 November 2015 rejoices in the killing. This is likely the wrong footage, revealing public difficulty in confirming the details of drone warfare. According to the Daily Mail, Emwazi was killed on a street while talking on his cell phone. Video Source: Youtube

The psychological orientation of drone battle is different from conventional warfare. One army sits, thousands of miles away from the arena of action. Their engagement is virtual, disconnected from direct combat, and they target enemies dispersed among a civilian population. The documentary observes that human operators of drones will soon be replaced by computer algorithms, thus making the targeting of undesirable individuals in the world nearly fully automated. Proponents of algorithmic pilots argue that an algorithm is more objective than human drone operators. At present, the human decision to assassinate an individual or group depends on intelligence analysis and a chain of command. The intelligence is gathered through governmental monitoring of private citizens' information, combined with international intelligence tips - including, the film asserts - from the European Union, whose governments have not criticized Obama's policy on drones.

In DroneColonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, remarked that the advent of drones changes the legal connotations of war, and positions the soldier as more murderer than defender of his or her society. Drone operations demand a different kind of recruit, from soldiers who are physically, organizationally and strategically trained for combat, to soldiers who are computer gamers. The US military has developed unmanned airplane computer games to ferret out and attract drone pilot recruits at as early an age as possible. From Wilkerson in Drone:
"It's a very different youth group that we're dealing with, that we're forcing into this environment of killing. And it's a very different form of killing, when you're in Nevada and the people you're killing are ten thousand miles away. We have something in the armed forces that we call the 'warrior ethos.' You destroy that when you go out and kill people and you're totally invulnerable. I think the drone business, the distance imposed, amplifies this a hundredfold. And the distinction between killing for state purposes under just war theory and killing for state purposes with no vulnerability is, I think, the difference between killing in a way that is recognized and legalized, even, and murder. How did we get to the point where we're no longer warriors, we're murderers for the state?"

Friday, May 6, 2016

Infosec and the Totalitarian Principle


The Intercept: "New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear and Self-Censorship" (28 April 2016). Image Source: The Intercept (Hat tip: Edward Snowden).

On 26 April 2016, the political commentator Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's main foreign affairs programme, GPS, debated ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden for NYU Wagner's Debates of the Century, on whether the American government should have access to privately-held technology and private data. Debates of the Century:
"Some people believe the recent dispute between the FBI and Apple over a locked iPhone marks the return of what privacy advocates called the 'crypto wars' of the 1990s, when federal authorities tried and failed to mandate government access to most forms of electronic communication. Although the FBI managed to decrypt the iPhone at issue without the company’s help, Apple and others are racing to build devices and messaging services that no one but their owners can unlock. The legal question remains unresolved in Congress, where competing bills have been introduced, and in dozens of cases pending in state and federal courts.

Law enforcement agencies believe their vital mission requires compulsory access, under valid court order, to any device or communications stream. Leading technology companies (backed by some other U.S. government voices) say they cannot meet law enforcement demands without undermining customer security and privacy against hackers and foreign adversaries. Edward Snowden and Fareed Zakaria disagree on which course better serves society at large. Should companies be required to break into their own encrypted products, and should they be allowed to sell encryption that no one can break?" 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Permanent Web 1: History, IPFS, and Ethereum


Nineteen Eighty-Four (Signet Books ed., 1954). Image Source: Flavor Wire.

This blog asks how we can record and write history in the new Millennium, given the volume of information, the ephemeral nature of the World Wide Web (evident in link rot and dead Websites), and the problem that data and authorship can be changed. There is an additional problem of interpretation of data. From my blog's statement of intention:
"This blog is an experiment in writing real-time history, which deals with the impact of digital communications on our understanding of history. There are serious problems emerging in social media, in which opinions are confused with facts, data and sources are available but potentially manipulated, and historical interpretive authority derives from hit counts and technical algorithms determining audience traffic. These problems demand an ongoing and increasingly rigorous reappraisal of historical method and historiography, to take into account the impacts of online behaviour and virtual perception."
As the Internet evolves, a disturbing trend has emerged which confirms the worst predictions of author George Orwell. The impermanent Web, as it now exists, enables manipulations of centralized information which effectively destroy history, common values, societal stability and our whole grasp of reality. With Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell understood that the stability of history, and of our ability to write verified history, depends on - and further shapes - a society's underlying structural organization, its politics, and the degree to which an individual within that system can form autonomous thoughts and emotions. Nineteen Eighty-Four's political horror hinges on a love story and asks whether love can blossom and endure against a pure, anti-historical tyranny, or whether it will be crushed as sexcrime.

Peter Cushing played Winston and Yvonne Mitchell played Julia in the 1953-1954 BBC dramatization of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Watch it here. Image Source: Speaker to Animals.

Orwell promised that the destruction of history, information impermanence and propaganda manipulation rely on and reinforce two conditions: first, psychological authoritarianism, a precondition for real world totalitarianism; and second, the centralization of information. Orwell's protagonist, Winston Smith, addresses his secret diary to any reader who is free from the past or future: "To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone — to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone."

If there is no correction in the current state of affairs, our impermanent Web threatens to become aggressively anti-historical and ensure frightening Orwellian outcomes. This is why open source coders, hackers and independent designers are trying to think about the Web in a new way. They want to redevelop it to create two results: first, they want to build a permanent Web, where all files and information are perpetually recorded, maintained, encrypted, public, and protected; second, they want to decentralize, and then distribute, big data power. That would allow future generations to question any information presented as historical facts. With a permanent, decentralized Web, anyone in the future will be able to check the archived data for themselves, no matter who they are, and no matter where they are.

This new possibility is appearing in the cryptocurrency and peer-to-peer technology spheres, through mergers of cryptocurrency technology with a collaborative information protocol called Interplanetary File System, also known by its acronym IPFS. (IPFS is not to be confused with Google's Interplanetary Internet Protocols, which are being designed at NASA for Mars colonization; I first blogged about InterPlaNet in 2011, here.)

I want to thank Chris Ellis for bringing IPFS to my attention. Ellis is a great, original thinker in the Bitcoin industry and founder of ProTip and the Fullnode Project. His technical and philosophical meditations on the combination of a new Web network protocol with cryptocurrencies enabled me to think of their broader implications in historical terms. You can see my 2014 interview with Ellis here; my earlier discussion on Bitcoin crowdfunding of creative and intellectual projects with Protip is here.

After talking to Ellis, I wondered if a distributed, permanent historic archive heralds as big a shift as did the historic separation of church and state. Over the past decade, the Internet has shaken nation-states to their foundations. There are many examples of mass protests sparked by social media, notably in 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt (see related posts here and here). Anti-corruption activists such as Alexey Navalny test the weak spots in the authority and apparatus of the Russian state with live online broadcasts to a global community of real-time witnesses. For a recent example, see Navalny's crowdfunding campaign to develop live camera feeds at intersections and prevent roadside police intimidation, here. Global communications naturally erode nation-state divisions.

However, we have entered a new stage in this trend. It is fascinating to consider that the manner in which information is organized and communicated determines its durability, and its political and governmental impact, over time. Our current Web is impermanent and builds addresses associated with nation-states or centralized organizations. IPFS builds cryptographic addresses associated with the information at the address. It is 'content-addressed,' not nationally-, corporately- or institutionally-addressed. That change builds a distributed information network, which might decouple the nation from the state, and remake states into entities with no geopolitical identities. The alternative is 'techno-community-states' of various types.


Images Source: Altcoin Today.

For an example, see the Twitter hashtag #BlockchainsNotBorders, dominated by the project, BitNation: "Welcome to Governance 2.0: Borderless Decentralized Voluntary." On 19 February 2016, BitNation released the world’s first 'virtual nation' constitution on top of the blockchain of the cryptocurrency Ethereum. Altcoin Today sampled the anarcho-capitalist libertarian rhetoric associated with this project's separation of nation and state:
By using borderless technology in the form of smart contracts, BitNation wants to remove geographical apartheid of individual nation states. Doing so will lead to governance services that are more transparent, cheaper, and overall better for the end user.

The concept of do-it-yourself governance may seem strange to some people, but the BitNation team is very confident in what they are trying to accomplish. While there is still a lot of work to be done before DIY governance becomes a mainstream trend, the team is currently focusing on security and dispute resolution. Ethereum smart contracts will play a big role in his department, according to BitNation founder Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof.

What makes these Ethereum smart contracts useful is how they bring a new layer of decentralization to the world. Unlike most services being used today, such as social media and email, BitNation’s governance 2.0 will not involve central authorities or governments. Needless to say, this model of governance is completely different to the centralized system of representative democracy most of the Western world is accustomed to.

Tempelhof feels that democracy is a massive failure, and the concept is – according to her – fundamentally flawed. Democracy as most people know it means governments give residents a variety of choices to vote on, without them having a say in the matter of what choices are offered. BitNation wants to change this by introducing democratic autonomous organizations (DAOs).

This concept needs some further explaining, however, as these Democratic Autonomous Organizations exist entirely on the Ethereum blockchain. From a governance point of view, decisions will be made by a group of parties who can decide on contracting people to do work, distributing assets, and even appointing shares. Two significant examples of a DAO can be found in Slock.it and DigixDAO. ... Tempelhof explained it as follows:
‘Decentralized’ means there is no single point of failure, like there is no central bank. If you look at Uber for example, they have got into trouble in Europe, they have been banned in France – but if Uber had been a DAO there would have been no bank accounts to freeze, nothing for regulators to ban. Decentralized also means personal autonomy. We decide what we do. Nobody tells us. And being borderless means that we are not confined by a passport to live in an area of war or famine. That’s as wrong as judging people on the color of their skin or sexual preference.
Another 'Governance 2.0' report from last year was entitled, Bitnation, Horizon and Blocknet join forces to deliver the world’s first platform for do-it-yourself governance services to 2.5 billion people across developing markets, using Bitcoin 2.0 technology (13 March 2015):
Bitnation, which is known mostly for its groundbreaking pilots including organizing the world’s first Blockchain Marriage and the world’s first World Citizenship ID on the blockchain, which has drawn attention from, amongst others, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, TechCrunch, Wired, and The New York Times. Bitnation aims to provide governance services in frontier and emerging markets, where it is needed the most. There are 2.5 billion unbanked in the world, the “System D” economy – the grey, unregulated markets – is a 10 trillion dollar economy, and 80% of the world’s population currently live in developing markets. Bitnation’s Founder and CEO, Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, worked for 7 years in challenging frontier environments, like Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and other countries, primarily with assessing people’s perception and experience of governance.
After the BitNation announcement that you can 'Create Your Own Nation in 140 Lines of Code,' performed in an online live event from an Irish pub in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 15 February 2016, one could step back and consider Orwell again.

Nineteen Eighty-Four asked how the individual's heart and soul could survive inside a totalitarian state. Orwell also pondered how information systems helped to construct, and were thereby reflected in, the governmental structure employed by political authority. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the two questions are intimately related. It is through systems of emotions, morality, thought and communications that we bind mentalities to power. This is why where once religion dominated the God-sourced monarchical state, the disciplines of history, philosophy and politics replaced religion in the era of the secular nation-state.

Of those three modern disciplines, aspiring technocrats have fixated on politics to develop their visions of  'techno-community-states.' But when history and philosophy are absent or only superficially considered, politics fares poorly in shotgun weddings with technology. We need all three disciplines together, and the help of other fields, to understand how tech-communities might be defined and connected to statehood, if at all. Chris Ellis, in conversation, preferred not to label the new permanent Web politically. His priority is to put "the technology into people's hands so that they get to have a say. Everyone gets their own narrative now. [And] it will be irrefutable that someone said [what they said]." He believes that it is better to allow time to tell whose narrative ends up being correct, rather than forcing older political theories onto the current evolution of the technosphere and its unprecedented circumstances and possibilities.

That is only partly true, because future truths don't spontaneously manifest themselves. There are always present-day conflicts to find a dominant narrative, and future corrections can be very difficult. Future historians will be actors who will help to decide which narrative ends up being 'correct' - in the sense of being the closest reflection of our Millennial reality, while also being relevant to future considerations - and for how long. But what is at least promised now, is that there actually will be future historians to make those analyses, as opposed to Winston Smiths, working in the Records Department of a future Ministry of Information. These are the overarching questions to the technical overview that follows; those questions will be explored in subsequent posts in this series on the Permanent Web.

The explanation on Ethereum starts at 2:25; the discussion on IPFS starts at 4:26; from The Daily Decrypt interview with Ethereum Director of Integration Taylor Gerring (26 January 2016). Gerring emphasized that Ethereum allows users to develop applications which sit on the cryptocurrency's blockchain. Video Source: Youtube.

In the January 2016 video above, The Daily Decrypt interviewed Ethereum cryptocurrency dev Taylor Gerring to explain what Ethereum is and how it might be combined with IPFS to build and incentivize a permanent Web. All data on IPFS are perpetually recorded online by means of peer-to-peer network distribution; and every single subsequent change to a given file is also permanently recorded by means of the amended file acquiring a new encrypted addresses, which can be indexed by a blockchain. This IPFS combination with cryptocurrency technology would establish a standing historical archive of online information. The encrypted addresses for any piece of information would ensure that that information could not be manipulated without the manipulation being noted in another encrypted process. Proponents in the open source coding community claim that this combination will build a new Web to function as the Web should have, from the start.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Watchers


Garuda (G-Box) Fixed Wing Geo-Location (Manned):"The G-Box is used as a GSM airborne geo-location system to replicate a GSM network Base Station. They operate by attracting and registering handsets operating on the local commercial network. Each handset's IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) or IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) is compared against the 's target watch list. When a targeted handset is identified and registered to the box, a geo-location solution is calculated. G-Box was specifically designed and built for geo-location missions in fixed wing aircraft (manned/ unmanned). Garuda received a software upgrade that modified the algorithm software, which allows the system to take 1000 entries." The vendor is reported as Maryland's KeyW. Image Source: The Intercept.

The Intercept claims to have obtained a secret catalogue of government surveillance hardware, developed for the military, now used increasingly by law enforcement in the United States and presumably anyone else to whom the manufacturers will sell their products. The report was published on 17 December 2015 (here). Their commentary on this leak opens as follows:
The Intercept has obtained a secret, internal U.S. government catalogue of dozens of cellphone surveillance devices used by the military and by intelligence agencies. The document, thick with previously undisclosed information, also offers rare insight into the spying capabilities of federal law enforcement and local police inside the United States.

The catalogue includes details on the Stingray, a well-known brand of surveillance gear, as well as Boeing “dirt boxes” and dozens of more obscure devices that can be mounted on vehicles, drones, and piloted aircraft. Some are designed to be used at static locations, while others can be discreetly carried by an individual. They have names like Cyberhawk, Yellowstone, Blackfin, Maximus, Cyclone, and Spartacus. Within the catalogue, the NSA is listed as the vendor of one device, while another was developed for use by the CIA, and another was developed for a special forces requirement. Nearly a third of the entries focus on equipment that seems to have never been described in public before.

The Intercept obtained the catalogue from a source within the intelligence community concerned about the militarization of domestic law enforcement. ...

A few of the devices can house a “target list” of as many as 10,000 unique phone identifiers. Most can be used to geolocate people, but the documents indicate that some have more advanced capabilities, like eavesdropping on calls and spying on SMS messages. Two systems, apparently designed for use on captured phones, are touted as having the ability to extract media files, address books, and notes, and one can retrieve deleted text messages.

Above all, the catalogue represents a trove of details on surveillance devices developed for military and intelligence purposes but increasingly used by law enforcement agencies to spy on people and convict them of crimes.
Graphics from the catalogue are here, which lists the device vendors. I have not attempted to cross-reference the report.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The New Age of William Butler Yeats


W. B. Yeats by John Singer Sargent.

Today is the sesquicentennial 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Many modern poets have captured the spirit of our times. But Yeats stands out as a Romantic Modernist whose work most clearly described the great transition of our times, from one age to another. In his works, he depicted periods of time as sharply-dermarcated sections of human experience during which certain symbolic, spiritual, moral, occult or magical ideas gained total dominance. Thus the passage of time and the turn of ages was imagined by the poet as a violent, ongoing battle between contending philosophies and ways of being. Yeats equated the passage of time with millennia-long developments in collective human psychology. To understand how and why Yeats depicted the current Millennial transition so rarely and perfectly, we need to travel backward through his life, from the end of his days when his visions of the future were most pronounced, to the influences of his early childhood (Thanks to -C.).

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Perspectives and Milestones


Paul Stankard's handblown glass pieces look impossible to create. In Beauty Beyond Nature, he discusses the craft. Image Source: Paul Stankard via boing boing.

This blog has just passed 2 million hits! Welcome to the 1359th post and the end of the blog's fifth year. Thank you to everyone who has stopped here. Your time is precious and comments are always appreciated. Thank you to every interviewee who has been kind enough to discuss your work. And thank you to other bloggers I have met along the way, who have shown me the value of real-time publishing. These bloggers are all amazing people, intelligent and gifted mavericks (you know who you are), who know what to read on a desert island, and how to walk the line.

This blog was partly inspired by a site called The Strip, and partly by the late Mac Tonnies, whose blog (now in paperback on Amazon here) was published from 2003 until his untimely death in 2009. Tonnies' Posthuman Blues remains a landmark. Sometimes I revisit his blog, and I am still amazed by his ideas and vision, his uncanny ability to pin down the Zeitgeist, to channel the new Millennium's collective unconscious, to decrypt and encrypt a cultural environment of changing symbols, to describe the future.

Blogs remain relevant because some are still independent. Media independence? Political neutrality? What's that? Although media outlets co-opt blogs to make them branded social media products, some blogs remain artistic life statements and authentic testimonies. Readers follow a blogger on a personal journey as he or she tries to make sense of the exploding world of communications. So, Histories of Things to Come is based on a true story.