How a “Political Astroturfing” App Coordinates Pro-Israel Influence Operations

“…a pro-Israel smartphone app that seeds and amplifies pro-Israel messages
across social media — saw its first major test in May 2019. It offered a glimpse of the novel methods by which future influence campaigns will
be conducted and information wars won…[the app] assigns users a series of ‘missions’ — typically a comment, retweet, or ‘like’ — intended to boost pro-Israel content across multiple platforms. Through these missions, Act.IL claims to have
reached millions of people.”

—Emerson T. Brooking of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, “How a ‘Political Astroturfing’ App Coordinates Pro-Israel Influence Operations.” Medium.com. August 19, 2019.

Also:

“One of the most unique aspects in our activity is our “no-logo”
strategy. The no-logo strategy allows anyone to use our content, [sic]
and makes it easier than ever to reach audiences that aren’t necessarily pro Israel since they look at the content without a bias that is based on who created the content.”

—Act.IL internal documentation quoted in ibid.

Astroturf, pretending to be or hiding behind a third party to obscure identities and sources of information isn’t unique, it’s what defines Astroturf. It’s manipulative, jackass behavior that works only when it isn’t found out. When it is discovered, it reflects poorly both on its origin and the interests they are attempting to promote. Choosing this approach says a lot about someone’s character.

Fans Are Better Than Tech at Organizing Information Online | WIRED

“On [Archive of Our Own, a.k.a.] AO3, users can put in whatever tags they want. (Autocomplete is there to help, but they don’t have to use it.) Then behind the scenes, human volunteers look up any new tags that no one else has used before and match them with any applicable existing tags, a process known as tag wrangling.”

—Samantha Puc, “Fans Are Better Than Tech at Organizing Information Online.” Wired. June 11, 2019.

There’s been lots of discussion of the significance of AO3’s Hugo Award for Best Related Work.

Modest proposal? Use this process on new terms entered in the search box of a library’s online catalog to surface subject headings for users. It’s a logical extension of the catalogers work.

The Fashion Line Designed to Trick Surveillance Cameras | The Guardian

“But to an automatic license plate reader (ALPR) system, the shirt is a collection of license plates, and they will get added to the license plate reader’s database just like any others it sees. The intention is to make deploying that sort of surveillance less effective, more expensive, and harder to use without human oversight, in order to slow down the transition to what Rose calls ‘visual personally identifying data collection’.

‘It’s a highly invasive mass surveillance system that invades every part of our lives, collecting thousands of plates a minute. But if it’s able to be fooled by fabric, then maybe we shouldn’t have a system that hangs
things of great importance on it,’ she said.”

—Alex Hern, “The fashion line designed to trick surveillance cameras.” The Guardian. August 14, 2019.

Domestic War on Terror Is Not the Answer to White Supremacy

“At a time when the American system of government is already being sorely tested by a demagogue and would-be autocrat in the White House, it would be disastrous to grant more power to the Justice Department and the nation’s security services.”

—James Risen, ” To Fight White Supremacist Violence, Let’s Not Repeat the Mistakes of the War on Terror.” The Intercept. August 17, 2019.

Anytime you think the solution to a problem takes the form of “War on X” or “X War”, you probably need to think a little harder about it.

The War on Terror treats a symptom while acting as a catalyst for the underlying disease. Same goes for the “War on Drugs”. The moment marijuana was getting legalized, the criminal elements supplying it went to opiates. Further, one has to wonder how much longer “The Cold War” enabled communism to last by providing a facade the underlying structural problems could hide behind.

Also, this idea of, “At a time when…” is bogus. This kind of testing could happen at any time. If there is some capability you think the next Hitler shouldn’t have as head of government, then you have a good sense of what powers your government shouldn’t have, and you should use that line to have a principled discussion of the powers of state. Should one person be able to start a nuclear war? Should one person be able to start any war, via the War Powers Act? These are conversations that are overdue.

Wearable Robots | Science

“…it is realistic to think that we will witness, in the next several years, the development of robust human-robot interfaces to command wearable robotics based on the decoding of a representative part of the neural code of movement in humans. The need for wearable technologies that minimally alter human biomechanics will result in a transition from rigid wearable robots to soft exosuits such as the one reported by Kim et al., and, eventually, to implantable neuroprostheses that can influence or
assist human movement. The need for preserving human neuromechanics while using assistive technology will likely lead to implantable and networked recording and stimulation neuroprostheses. Such devices would implement effective interfaces to decode the wearer’s movement intent and influence it when necessary to enhance human performance (7).”

—José L. Pons, et al, ” Witnessing a wearables transition.” Science. 16 Aug 2019: Vol. 365, Issue 6454, pp. 636-637.

Practical applications to efforts like Elon Musk’s Neurolink weren’t immediately apparent to me. Ok, a neuro-implant as a human artificial intelligence interface may make sense a few decades off. However, a neuronal interface for a soft exosuit seems like it something that could be used today.

Bad Exercise Advice, Exhibit B

“Despite the apparent complexity of modern exercise programs, you really have only two options if you want to get fitter: you can train harder than you’re currently training, or you can train more. Those two variables, intensity and volume, are the basic levers that all training plans fiddle with in various ways. But let’s be honest: two variables is still too many. We all secretly want to know which one is really the master switch that controls our fitness.”

-Alex Hutchinson, “Is It More Important to Run Faster or Run Longer?Outside. August 14, 2019.

As covered in the discussion on adaptation response, there is no “master switch that controls our fitness.” If you want to be good at doing push-ups, do push-ups. If you want to swim the English Channel, then practice swimming miles at a time in cold water currents. If you want to be able to hold your breath for an extended time, then practice holding your breath. If you want to have six-pack abs, then you need to reduce your eating and increase your activity to the point that you can get your body fat below 10%. Everybody has six pack abs, it’s just that, for most of us, they are hidden behind a thick layer of fat.

Of course, goals tend to be more complex. If you want to run your first marathon, then you need to run more. You should work up to running 50 miles a week and be able to run for 20 miles straight a month before your race.

If you want to run faster than your last marathon, then you can increase your mileage up to 120 miles a week of elite runners and you can work in as much speed work as your body can handle at that volume, which will not be much unless you have been running that kind of volume for years and your body has adapted to it.

It is possible to run shorter distances fast and move up to the marathon. So, after years of adapting to a high volume of speed and middle distance running, you can start training for longer distances and increase mileage.

However, if your new to running, your goal is to run a marathon and you don’t have a decade time horizon to do it, then it’s probably easier to start with running more rather than a running program focused on running faster. Conversely, if your goal is to run a sub-20 minute 5k race, then running more than 50 miles a week will likely make you slower, not faster. Better to do intervals of 5k, a mile, a half-mile and a quarter mile with lower total mileage.

Your training has to reflect the activity you are training for. Sprinting is not the same as long distance running. Cycling isn’t the same leg exercise as doing squats and deadlifts. Our body (and mind) adapts to the training (or lack thereof) we give it.

The Population Bust: Demographic Decline and the End of Capitalism as We Know It

“The mismatch between expectations of a rapidly growing global population (and all the attendant effects on climate, capitalism, and geopolitics) and the reality of both slowing growth rates and absolute contraction is so great that it will pose a considerable threat in the decades
ahead. Governments worldwide have evolved to meet the challenge of managing more people, not fewer and not older. Capitalism as a system is particularly vulnerable to a world of less population expansion; a significant portion of the economic growth that has driven capitalism over the past several centuries may have been simply a derivative of more people and younger people consuming
more stuff. If the world ahead has fewer people, will there be any real economic growth? We are not only unprepared to answer that question; we are not even starting to ask it.”

—Zachary Karabell, “The Population Bust Demographic Decline and the End of Capitalism as We Know It.” Foreign Affairs. September/October 2019.

Take that, Karl! Workers end up destroying capitalism by not reproducing themselves. There’s no extracting surplus value from people that don’t exist!

The Green Gang — The California Sunday Magazine

“‘You need to call the Green Gang.’ The Green Gang. It was a strange, frightening phrase. Rajput had never heard of the group before. When she began asking about it in local villages, the details seemed too fantastical to be true. It was a gang of hundreds — no, thousands — of women, almost all of them poor and low-caste. It was said that they took on anyone who dared to hurt a woman, including violent in-laws, philandering husbands, domestic abusers, land-grabbers, bootleggers, molesters, and rapists. Sometimes, they beat sense into aggressors, and other times, they scared them into submission.”

—Elizabeth Flock, “The Green Gang.” California Sunday. August 1, 2019.

Solein Because Soylent Was Already Taken | World Economic Forum

Everything the body needs.

“…a new protein powder, Solein, made out of CO₂, water and electricity. It’s a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50 percent protein content, 5–10 percent fat, and 20–25 percent carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour, and could become an ingredient in a wide variety of food products after its initial launch in 2021.”

—Robbie Berman, “NASA worked out how to make food out of thin air – and it could feed billions.” World Economic Forum. August 5, 2019.

Finally, a viable solution to climate change: we’ll sequester CO2 in our bodies, eat our way out of disaster and solve world hunger all in one shot.

Exceptional Access to Encrypted Communications

Bob Barr has recently added his voice to the ongoing call of law enforcement to provide exceptional access to encrypted communications. Here’s why that’s not going to work.

“Exceptional access — as governments propose — is the problem of making a system selectively secure. I can tell you, it’s hard enough to make a secure system. It’s vastly harder to make a system secure except for governments, and only available to governments that consist of ‘democratically elected representatives and [a] judiciary’ as the GCHQ authors imagine.”

—Jon Callas, “The ‘Ghost User’ Ploy to Break Encryption Won’t Work.” DavisVanguard.org. July 24,2019.

Is being able to access the encrypted communications of everyone enough? Between the drone’s Gorgon Stare above, the Ring camera on every other front door for police to access, televisions tracking every show being watched, phones and digital assistants listening in on conversations, fitness trackers as evidence in court cases, Stringray and other technology for phone tracking, license plate readers to track vehicle movement over time, surveillance balloons and so on, it feels to me like the police and military are a little under-powered these days.

I was promised a camera in my television watching my every move, a Room 101 for not sufficiently toeing the line and a boot stomping on a face of humanity forever. Was Uncle Orwell lying to me?