…are we there yet? [DOT 25/8/22]

wherever there's supposed to be...

…anyone else feeling that groundhog day effect?

For several years, Brian Stelter’s Sunday show on CNN, Reliable Sources, has been a reliable source of intelligent criticism of Fox News, rightwing media in general, Trumpism, and the increasingly authoritarian lurch of the Republican party.

Last week, CNN abruptly canceled the show and effectively fired Stelter and his staff.

Why? The show was commercially successful. Its ratings have suffered somewhat lately but it was doing better than several of CNN’s primetime shows.

[…] there appears to be more to it than Stelter’s style. Licht has told CNN staff they should stop referring to Donald Trump’s “big lie” because the phrase sounds like a Democratic party talking point. Licht also wants more “straight news reporting”, along with more conservative guests.

What’s motivating Licht? Follow the money.

CNN’s new corporate overseer is Warner Brothers Discovery Inc, which now owns what used to be Time Warner, including CNN. The CEO of Warner Brothers Discovery is David Zaslav.
So what’s motivating Zaslav? Keep following the money.

The leading shareholder in Warner Brothers Discovery is John Malone, a multibillionaire cable magnate. (Malone was a chief architect in the merger of Discovery and CNN.)

Malone describes himself as a “libertarian” although he travels in rightwing Republican circles. In 2005, he held 32% of the shares of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. He is on the board of directors of the Cato Institute. In 2017, he donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration.

Malone has said he wants CNN to be more like Fox News because, in his view, Fox News because, in his view, Fox News has “actual journalism”. Malone also wants the “news” portion of CNN to be “more centrist”.
When you follow the money behind deeply irresponsible decisions at the power centers of America today, the road often leads to rightwing billionaires.

Last Sunday, on his last show, Stelter said:

“It’s not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue. It’s not partisan to stand up to demagogues. It’s required. It’s patriotic. We must make sure we don’t give platforms to those who are lying to our faces.”
Sadly, there are still many in America – and not just billionaires like Malone – who believe that holding Trump accountable for what he has done (and continues to do) to this country is a form of partisanship, and that such partisanship has no place in so-called “balanced journalism”.

This view is itself dangerous.

…dangerous…like…irresponsible actions, dangerous?

[Emily Maitlis t]he former Newsnight presenter highlighted the role of Sir Robbie Gibb, who previously worked as Theresa May’s director of communications and helped to found the rightwing GB News channel.

Last year he was appointed to the BBC’s board by Boris Johnson’s government and has since influenced a series of ongoing reviews of the broadcaster’s editorial output.
The presenter said the corporation’s bosses panicked after Maitlis told Newsnight viewers in 2020 that Johnson’s former aide had “broken the rules” and “the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot”.
She added: “It was only the next morning that the wheels fell off. A phone call of complaint was made from Downing Street to the BBC News management. This, for context, is not unusual.

“What was not foreseen was the speed with which the BBC sought to pacify the complainant. Within hours, a very public apology was made, the programme was accused of a failure of impartiality, the recording disappeared from iPlayer, and there were paparazzi outside my front door.

“Why had the BBC immediately and publicly sought to confirm the government spokesman’s opinion? Without any kind of due process? It makes no sense for an organisation that is admirably, famously rigorous about procedure – unless it was perhaps sending a message of reassurance directly to the government itself?

“Put this in the context of the BBC Board, where another active agent of the Conservative party – former Downing Street spin doctor, and former adviser to BBC rival GB News – now sits, acting as the arbiter of BBC impartiality.”
Reflecting on her time at the BBC, Maitlis said the corporation often slipped into a “both-sides-ism” approach to impartiality that gave a platform to individuals that did not deserve airtime.

She recalled how during the 2016 EU referendum the BBC would create a false equivalence by putting one pro-Brexit economist on air to debate with one anti-Brexit economist, even though the overwhelming majority of economists felt Brexit was a bad idea.
Maitlis warned that the traditional media is becoming increasingly afraid to stand up for itself in an era where “facts are getting lost, constitutional norms trashed, claims frequently unchallenged”.
She added: “And yet every day that we sidestep these issues with glaring omissions feels like a conspiracy against the British people; we are pushing the public further away. Why should our viewers, our listeners, come to us to interpret and explain what is going on when they can see our own reluctance to do so?”
She concluded: “Our job is to make sense of what we are seeing and anticipate the next move. It’s the moment, in other words, the frog should be leaping out of the boiling water and phoning all its friends to warn them. But by then we are so far along the path of passivity, we’re cooked.”

…or…like hatefully dangerous?

A federal judge in Texas has blocked a Biden administration guidance that required hospitals to provide emergency abortions, even in states like Texas, which prohibits the practice following the supreme court’s overturning of Roe v Wade.

The legal effort by the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, a stalwart Republican, represents the latest attempt to stop the federal government from influencing the reproductive access landscape in the aftermath of the supreme court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned longstanding constitutional protections on abortion.

Such preventions on abortion access could have devastating financial and health consequences on women, especially Black, Latino and Indigenous women who already disproportionately suffer from deaths during childbirth.
In his decision, Judge James Wesley Hendrix, who was appointed by Donald Trump, concluded that the US Department of Health and Human Services overreached in its guidance interpreting the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a 1986 law that requires people receive emergency medical care regardless of their ability to pay.

Hendrix stopped short of blocking the guidance nationally, keeping the prohibition in Texas. The decision sets the stage for another anticipated ruling in a justice department lawsuit against a recent abortion ban in Idaho that involves the same federal law at the heart of the Texas case, Reuters reported. That ruling is expected on Wednesday.

“That guidance goes well beyond EMTALA’s text, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict,” Hendrix wrote.

Hendrix’s decision came just one day before a so-called “trigger law” barring nearly all abortions went into effect on Wednesday. The law, passed by the Texas legislature in 2021, increases the criminal and civil penalties on those involved with abortions except the pregnant patient, the Texas Tribune reported. Since the Dobbs decision, clinics have stopped offering services, forcing people to travel to other states to seek out abortions.

…I mean…come-the-fuck-on texas…you managed to produce people like bill hicks & joe r landsdale…we know you aren’t literally all bad…but those big-ass dinosaurs…not the revelatory discovery you seem to think

Prints mostly left by the Acrocanthosaurus — a theropod that stood 15 feet, weighed 7 tons and roamed the area 113 million years ago — have emerged in recent weeks as the Paluxy River has dried up almost entirely in most parts of Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, a spokeswoman with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said in an email.
A video posted last week by a nonprofit organization that supports the park shows close-ups of the triangle-shaped tracks and claw marks pressed into the parched riverbed.
Hundreds of theropod tracks were discovered in the area, southwest of Dallas, roughly a century ago. The first distinct tracks of a far larger dinosaur — the Sauroposeidon — were also found in the area, according to the park.
Under normal conditions, the recently discovered prints are filled in with sediment — a condition that helps protect them from natural weathering and erosion, Garcia said.

The drought, at least for now, has changed that. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Somervell County, the county home to the park, is suffering from an “exceptional” drought.

The monitor, a partnership between the federal government and University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that category — the most devastating in its classification system — includes everything from historically low water levels and shortages to widespread tree death and crop loss.

…or repeated-so-often-it-starts-to-resemble-gaslighting dangerous, maybe?

As the nation’s largest reservoir has dipped to record low levels amid a worsening drought, Lake Mead’s receding waters have revealed a grim series of discoveries — several sets of human remains.

They’ve all been spotted since May, at all times of day in three parts of the sprawling lake’s western corner, along a stretch of lakefront less than an hour from Las Vegas.

But nearly everything else about them is a mystery. One case is being investigated as a homicide; the manner and cause of death in the others are unknown.

“In an ideal world, the climate turns around, all the waters rise and we don’t see them again,” said Michael Green, a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said of the remains. “But the chances are not good.”
On Thursday afternoon, authorities said they’d been alerted to another unsettling find — a gun located near where the body was found in the barrel.

On Twitter, Las Vegas police said a journalist discovered the weapon. Firearms are often found at the lake, a police spokesman said, and it wasn’t clear if the gun is connected to the remains found on May 1.
Multiple sets of remains found in receding Lake Mead. Here’s a timeline of the discoveries. [NBC]

…or just all-around shit-that-threatens-life-as-we-know-it dangerous?

Rising food prices are causing widespread suffering in developing countries, and even in the rich world the combination of high food and fuel prices threatens hardship for millions.

Food prices have surged by about 20% this year and about 345 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity, compared with 135 million before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alex Maitland of Oxfam told the Guardian the current crisis was “the latest in a long series of failures in the global food system”, which has been made even more fragile recently owing to extreme weather and the impacts of the climate crisis, economic upheaval and the pandemic.
The Guardian revealed this week that the ABCD companies (Archer-Daniels-Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus) – which control 70-90% of the global grain trade – have been making a record bonanza as food prices have soared in the wake of the Ukraine war. It appears that some have also been increasing their profit margins, further putting the squeeze on consumers.

Campaigners are concerned that seeds and agricultural chemicals are similarly controlled by a handful of companies, with just three multinationals – Bayer-Monsanto, Dupont-Dow and Chem-China Syngenta – controlling 60% of the trade. Among retailers there has also been consolidation, with only 10 grocery businesses accounting for half of all food sales in the EU.

Consumers are not the only victims: farmers, too, struggle to make a living when big companies abuse their dominance. Maitland said: “The people who produce and buy food are the ones who suffer from a system that puts shareholder profits over people. Half of the world’s undernourished are smallholder farmers and their families. The poorest spend far more of their income on food than the richest.”
[Vicki Hird, head of sustainable farming at Sustain, a coalition of civil society groups in the UK] added: “The current food crisis is not a new one, just accelerated due to the Ukraine invasion, and unless governments recognise this and act to tackle the real causes – the corporate profits at the expense of farmer incomes, workers’ wages, consumers and the environment – we will just lurch from this crisis to the next.”
Tim Lang, emeritus professor of food policy at City, University of London, said both developed and developing countries were seeing the impacts of years of increasing distortion in food markets. “We are not giving enough attention to food – there’s a lot of attention on the energy markets, but not so much on food,” he said.

The concentration of power in the hands of a few secretive companies made for a less transparent market, so it was hard to judge whether or where profiteering or dangerous speculation was happening. But this was just one aspect of a food system that was not working in the interests of consumers or farmers, he said.

“We need to rethink the food system. People can’t afford a healthy diet, and this is a very serious problem. A lot of people are making a huge amount of money out of food, but food producers get about 8% of the £250bn a year we spend on food,” he said.

…if that groundhog day feeling is this strong for me…I gotta wonder how bad that gets for the tens of thousands of folks grinding it out in solitary

Almost 50,000 men and women are being held in prolonged solitary confinement in US prisons, in breach of minimum standards laid down by the United Nations which considers such isolation a form of torture.

In a new report spearheaded by Yale Law School, the number of prisoners subjected to “restrictive housing”, as solitary is officially known, stood at between 41,000 and 48,000 in the summer of 2021. They were being held alone in cells the size of parking spaces, for 22 hours a day on average and for at least 15 days.

Within that number, more than 6,000 prisoners have been held in isolation for over a year. They include almost a thousand people who have been held on their own in potentially damaging confined spaces for a decade or longer.
The Yale report highlights several areas of ongoing concern. More than 1,000 people with “serious mental illness” are still being held in isolation.

Black women are also disproportionately targeted. Some 30% of those in restrictive housing in women’s prisons are African American compared with 20% of the overall prison population.

“Isolation is used less frequently in women’s prisons, but the women who suffer the most are Black women,” Resnik said.

…& yet somehow nobody seems to have figured out how to add one over-sized lump of rancid lard in a poorly-fitting suit with some wig-looking thing on top to the list of incarcerated individuals…despite the increasingly long list of things he seems on the face of things to have publicly admitted to that are…well…what some people…many lawyers & judges among them…like to call…crimes

Donald Trump appeared to concede in his court filing over the seizure of materials from his Florida resort that he unlawfully retained official government documents […]

But the argument from Trump that the documents are subject to executive privilege protections suggests those documents are official records – which he is not authorized to keep and should have turned over to the National Archives at the end of the administration.

The motion, in that regard, appeared to concede that Trump violated one of the criminal statutes listed on the warrant used by the FBI to search the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort – 18 USC 2071 – concerning the unlawful removal of government records.

“If he’s acknowledging that he’s in possession of documents that would have any colorable claim of executive privilege, those are by definition presidential records and belong at the National Archives,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent and former associate dean at Yale Law School.

“And so it’s not clear that executive privilege would even be relevant to the particular crime he’s being investigated for and yet in this filing, he basically admits that he is in possession of them, which is what the government is trying to establish,” Rangappa said.
Still, if Trump successfully argues the materials are protected by executive privilege, then he also successfully argues that he was in unlawful possession of official records. If he is unsuccessful, then executive privilege would not be a valid basis to seek a special master.
But Trump’s motion could throw up additional challenges for the former president, with additional passages in the filing laying out a months-long battle by the justice department to recover certain records in a pattern of interactions that could be construed as obstruction of justice.

The search warrant for Mar-a-Lago listed obstruction for the statutes potentially violated, though it was not clear whether that was obstruction of the investigation into the very retrieval of government documents from Mar-a-Lago or for another, separate investigation.
That subpoena for security tapes, as well as a subsequent subpoena for CCTV footage of that area from just before the FBI search on 8 August, suggests the justice department did not think Trump was being entirely truthful or forthcoming in his interactions with the investigation.

Those suspicions were well-founded: when the government retrieved materials from Mar-a-Lago on that second collection in June, Trump’s custodian of records attested they had given back documents responsive to the subpoena – only for the FBI to retrieve more boxes of classified materials.

Separately, apart from late filing of the motion two weeks after the FBI search took place, the brief itself appears to be procedurally problematic.

The motion was not filed in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the warrant was approved. Instead, it was filed in Fort Pierce, where the judge has no knowledge of the underlying affidavit – and could rule in such a way to reveal to Trump if he or his lawyers are suspects for obstruction.

…I mean…it bears repeating in the sense that a lot of this stuff is the kind of shit it’s important to see to the end & not just get bored of & ignore it until it goes away & the assholes responsible waddle off with their pockets full of ill-gotten gains…but…

The threat to democracy metastasizing from former president Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat stretches beyond elections and into federal agencies and their employees.
Vitriol by GOP members of Congress — including comparing the federal government to “the Gestapo” of Nazi Germany and proposing to “defund the FBI” — is just the latest example of boiling aggression that extends across the government. Trump fanned that flame when he shared on social media an article titled “The Fascist Bureau of Investigation” — an incredible act by a former president.

But the right-wing anger goes past the law enforcement agency to include scorning feds generally, hitting the Education Department for curriculums it doesn’t control and efforts to improve tax collection.
The civil service is designed to protect not just public servants, but also the public from a politicized bureaucracy that plays partisan favorites. “Imagine if scientific reports, food safety inspection results or common financial reporting regulations could be swept aside because they were politically inconvenient,” said Teresa W. Gerton, president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration, a congressionally chartered nonpartisan think tank. “How much further would trust fall?”

Trump elevated state and local culture wars to the federal level when he proposed killing the Education Department. “We need to implement strict prohibitions on teaching inappropriate racial, sexual and political material to America’s schoolchildren in any form whatsoever,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference this month, “and if federal bureaucrats are going to push this radicalism, we should abolish the Department of Education.”

…as long as I live I will never fully understand what could motivate people to throw in their lot with a man who is so clearly born to be the posterchild for the cautionary adage “would you buy a used car from this man?”

“As the Department of Justice’s National Security Division explained to you on April 29, 2022: ‘There are important national security interests in the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community getting access to these materials. According to NARA, among the materials in the boxes are over 100 documents with classification markings, comprising more than 700 pages. Some include the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) materials,’” [Acting Archivist Debra] Steidel Wall wrote[ in][a letter released by the Archives on Tuesday].
The FBI removed an additional 20 boxes of items from the Mar-a-Lago Club earlier this month, including four sets of top-secret documents and seven other sets of classified information, according to a written inventory of the items seized in the high-profile search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
“The question in this case is not a close one,” Steidel Wall wrote. “The Executive Branch here is seeking access to records belonging to, and in the custody of, the Federal Government itself, not only in order to investigate whether those records were handled in an unlawful manner but also, as the National Security Division explained, to ‘conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps.’”

[…] The court filing, which accused the FBI of a “shockingly aggressive” and politically motivated search, also demanded that the Justice Department provide a more thorough explanation of why the search was warranted.

…why it was warranted? …do mean “warranted” in the sense of “the search is backed up by a warrant” or in the sense of justified? …because any which way you turn that around it seems like even the magic 8-ball is coming back with “…asked & answered…motherfucker”

…see…I knew there was a reason I liked that guy

…anyway…when it comes to six-part questions that deserve thorough answers…well…it’s easy not to like the answers

The research published Monday suggests a major destabilization of seafloor methane off the coast of Africa around 125,000 years ago, after a global shift in currents warmed the middle depths of the ocean there by 6.8 degrees Celsius, or 12.2 degrees Fahrenheit — a massive rise.

Several scientists who reviewed the study said they weren’t ready to raise major alarms about the planet’s ample stores of subsea methane in the form of what are called hydrates. While most experts agree that this methane could cause tremendous warming if it somehow hits the atmosphere, many say that the gas would be unleashed only slowly as the planet warms, and that the ocean itself would protect us by absorbing most methane before it can escape to the air.

Still, the new findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underscore how little we still know about how the planet will respond to our uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions — and how unpredictable that response may be.
The new research suggests another Eemian climate cascade. It would have begun with large pulses of meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet, which slowed down the circulation of the North Atlantic Ocean — a change that would have reverberated around the globe. As the ocean’s so-called conveyor belt slowed and less cold water made its way into its middle depths, the paper’s authors contend, the continental shelf of the Gulf of Guinea along the coast of Africa was bathed in sudden, strong warmth. This, in turn, destabilized methane that had previously been suspended beneath the seafloor.
Methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere. And current emissions of methane from fossil fuel leakage, cattle and landfills, among other sources, are driving a major part of the Earth’s warming.

But there are also enormous quantities of natural methane locked away in the form of hydrates, buried in the mud of the Earth’s continental shelves. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that, at the low end, the amount of methane contained in hydrates around the globe is “more than 4000 times the amount of natural gas consumed in the USA in 2010.” Scientists and policymakers have begun eyeing hydrates not only because of climate change concerns, but also because they might be tapped as an energy source.
Carolyn Ruppel, chief scientist of the Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey, called the new work “a very provocative study” and praised it for containing “very elegant data.”
But “I don’t think that on average, it changes our perspective,” Ruppel continued.
Even if these hydrates do come apart, the methane might not enter the atmosphere because of the protective layer of the ocean. The gas would still have to travel upward through waters half a mile or more deep. There are reasons to think that some or all of it may fuse with oxygen within the water column and lose its warming potency.
In the end, the study presents worrying evidence, but also leaves many unresolved questions. And the chain of causes that it posits — Greenland melts, oceans shift, newfound heat reaches the African coast thousands of miles away, and suddenly methane is mobile — may not play out in the same way today, even if it did all happen that way in the past. The Eemian is only an analogue — one of the closest we have for where we are now heading, but still imperfect.

Still, the newest theory about how the climate dominoes may fall underscores what the late Columbia University geoscientist Wallace Broecker famously observed as he studied the global ocean currents’ response to burning fossil fuels: “The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”

…which is certainly one way of putting it…but does rather imply it might be bad time to quit asking the questions

FIve 1,000-year rain events have struck the U.S. in five weeks. Why? [WaPo]

A surprising amount of dry lightning strikes California, study says [WaPo]

…well…some of them, anyway

Facebook and Twitter disrupted a web of accounts that were covertly seeking to influence users in the Middle East and Asia with pro-western perspectives about international politics, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a new report from social media analytics firm Graphika and Stanford University.

The covert influence operation used accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media giants to promote narratives supporting the interests of the United States and its allies while opposing countries, including Russia, China, and Iran, according to the report.

…yadda, yadda…both sides…yadda yadda

Covert influence campaigns run out of Russia and Iran have repeatedly have been targeted by social media platforms over the years. This crackdown is the rare instance in which a U.S-sponsored campaign targeting foreign audiences was found to violate the companies’ rules.

The accounts are being taken down at a time when social media giants have been trying to crack down on disinformation campaigns about the war in Ukraine. But much of that work has been focused on fighting efforts by Russian authorities to promote propaganda about the war, including false claims about Ukrainian military aggression in the region or blaming Western nations’ complicity in the war.

Margarita Franklin, a spokeswoman for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, confirmed in a statement that the company a recently removed a network of accounts that originated in the United States for violating the platforms’ rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior. Franklin said it’s the first time the company has removed a foreign-focused influence network promoting the United States’ position.

Twitter declined to comment.
The accounts shared news articles from U.S. government-funded media outlets, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and linked to websites sponsored by the U.S. military to criticize the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. The campaigns promoted the narrative that Russia was responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and other atrocities just so it could pursue its “imperial ambitions,” the report said.

The campaign often mimicked the strategies deployed by other countries such as Russia when seeking to influence the public perception of world events. For instance, the campaign created fake personas with digitally-created photos, posed as independent media outlets and attempted to start hashtag campaigns, the report said.

…&…I dunno…imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…or whatever…but as I recall there’s something in a book about a mote & a beam?

The social media analytics firm Graphika and Stanford Internet Observatory Stanford University, which produced the report, noted the covert campaigns didn’t always garner much engagement or traction online.

“Importantly, the data also shows the limitations of using inauthentic tactics to generate engagement and build influence online,” the researchers noted. “The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a handful of likes or retweets.”

[…] Traffic to Russian government-backed media channels on social media spiked in the early days of the invasion and then plummeted as the companies cracked down, according to a March Washington Post analysis.

Since then, Ukrainian officials have flagged thousands of tweets, YouTube videos and other social media posts as Russian propaganda or anti-Ukrainian hate speech but many of the companies have failed to keep up, according to a recent report.

…when exactly did being a private company get to include an expectation of privacy that would be unrealistic for a private individual?

What’s infuriating is the idea that carrying around the most sophisticated tracking and monitoring device ever forged by the hand of man is consistent with any understanding of privacy. It’s not. At least not with any conception of privacy our species had pre-iPhone.

Reconciling the idea of privacy with our digital world demands embracing a profound cognitive dissonance. To exist in 2022 is to be surveilled, tracked, tagged and monitored — most often for profit. Short of going off the grid, there’s no way around it.

Consider just last week: Apple released a surprise software update for its iPhones, iPads and Macs meant to remove vulnerabilities the company says may have been exploited by sophisticated hackers. The week before that, a former Google engineer discovered that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, was using a piece of code to track users of the Facebook and Instagram apps across the internet without their knowledge. In Greece the prime minister and his government have been consumed by a widening scandal in which they are accused of spying on the smartphones of an opposition leader and a journalist.

And this month Amazon announced that it was creating a show called “Ring Nation” — a sort of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” made up of footage recorded by the company’s Ring doorbells. These video doorbells, sold by Amazon and other companies, are now watching millions of American homes, and they are often used by police departments as, effectively, surveillance networks. All in the name of fighting crime, of course.
That reality is becoming clearer to Americans after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, which eliminated the federal right to abortion. They now understand that their phone location data, internet searches and purchase history are all fair game for the police — especially in states that do not protect abortion rights and where women can be hunted down for their health care choices. If the courts once defended the right to have an abortion as part of a broader right to privacy, by vaporizing that right, the Roberts court shattered many of Americans’ conceptions of privacy as well.

In 2019, Times Opinion investigated the location tracking industry. Whistleblowers gave us a data set that included millions of pings from individual cellphones around daily commutes, churches and mosques, abortion clinics, the Pentagon, even the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. “If the government ordered Americans to continuously provide such precise, real-time information about themselves, there would be a revolt,” the editorial board wrote.

…oh, really…the editorial board? …because those are so smart?

Biden’s student loan announcement is a regressive, expensive mistake [courtesy of the WaPo editorial board]

…or maybe because the rye humor of slotting that in right above this one is supposed to be the news equivalent of a wink & a nudge…I don’t fucking know

Biden’s new student loan forgiveness plan is a good start [WaPo]

…either way…to get back to that NYT thing

Yet despite years of talk, Congress is no closer to passing robust privacy legislation than it was two decades ago when the idea first came up. Even its baby steps aren’t encouraging. Two bills in the current session aim to roll back some of this mass monitoring around abortion and reproductive health in particular, although neither one is likely to pass.

One, the Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act, would prevent law enforcement and other government agencies from purchasing location data and other sensitive information from data brokers. Another, the My Body, My Data Act, would forbid tech companies to keep, use or share some personal health information absent written consent. Neither bill would prevent police officers with a court order from getting such information.
But even if those bills pass and some tech companies take more steps, there are simply too many tech companies, government entities, data brokers, internet service providers and others tracking everything we do.

Protecting digital privacy is not in the interest of the government, and voters don’t seem to care much about privacy at all. Nor is it in the interest of tech companies, which sell users’ private data for a profit to advertisers. There are too many cameras, cell towers and inscrutable artificial intelligence engines in operation to live an unobserved life.

…not for nothing but among the last things the UK parliament did before it broke up for the holidays…& the first things it aims to finishing barrelling into law when it gets back…very much has to do with saying it has every right to make extremely lucrative use of it’s world-envied mass of personal health data…oddly enough nary a one of the arguments I’ve heard about the benefits potentially to be derived from the study of that data in an anonymized fashion explain why the opt-out they’ve been doing all they can to dissuade people from exercising so as not to threaten all that stuff manages to give me the first inkling as to why that should be applicable if…as it does…said opt-out only applies to aspects of that data which amount to “personally identifying data”…but it’s alarmingly clear that’s where the money is & the tories want their slice of that action…but I digress

For years, privacy advocates, who foresaw the contours of the surveilled world we now live in, warned that privacy was a necessary prerequisite for democracy, human rights and a flourishing of the human spirit. We’re about to find out what happens when that privacy has all but vanished.
We’re About to Find Out What Happens When Privacy Is All but Gone [NYT]

…maybe we’d have been better off using the phrase “artificial intelligence” to describe things that are basically epic stupidity masquerading as something clever?

Over the past 10 years — a period some A.I. researchers have begun referring to as a “golden decade” — there’s been a wave of progress in many areas of A.I. research, fueled by the rise of techniques like deep learning and the advent of specialized hardware for running huge, computationally intensive A.I. models.

Some of that progress has been slow and steady — bigger models with more data and processing power behind them yielding slightly better results.

But other times, it feels more like the flick of a switch — impossible acts of magic suddenly becoming possible.
In fact, many experts will tell you that A.I. is getting better at lots of things these days — even in areas, such as language and reasoning, where it once seemed that humans had the upper hand.

“It feels like we’re going from spring to summer,” said Jack Clark, a co-chair of Stanford University’s annual A.I. Index Report. “In spring, you have these vague suggestions of progress, and little green shoots everywhere. Now, everything’s in bloom.”

In the past, A.I. progress was mostly obvious only to insiders who kept up with the latest research papers and conference presentations. But recently, Mr. Clark said, even laypeople can sense the difference.
Ajeya Cotra, a senior analyst with Open Philanthropy who studies A.I. risk, estimated two years ago that there was a 15 percent chance of “transformational A.I.” — which she and others have defined as A.I. that is good enough to usher in large-scale economic and societal changes, such as eliminating most white-collar knowledge jobs — emerging by 2036.

But in a recent post, Ms. Cotra raised that to a 35 percent chance, citing the rapid improvement of systems like GPT-3.

“A.I. systems can go from adorable and useless toys to very powerful products in a surprisingly short period of time,” Ms. Cotra told me. “People should take more seriously that A.I. could change things soon, and that could be really scary.”
I’m not asking you to take a side in this debate. All I’m saying is: You should be paying closer attention to the real, tangible developments that are fueling it.

After all, A.I. that works doesn’t stay in a lab. It gets built into the social media apps we use every day, in the form of Facebook feed-ranking algorithms, YouTube recommendations and TikTok “For You” pages. It makes its way into weapons used by the military and software used by children in their classrooms. Banks use A.I. to determine who’s eligible for loans, and police departments use it to investigate crimes.
It’s a cliché, in the A.I. world, to say things like “we need to have a societal conversation about A.I. risk.” There are already plenty of Davos panels, TED talks, think tanks and A.I. ethics committees out there, sketching out contingency plans for a dystopian future.

What’s missing is a shared, value-neutral way of talking about what today’s A.I. systems are actually capable of doing, and what specific risks and opportunities those capabilities present.
Otherwise, we could end up with a repeat of what happened with social media companies after the 2016 election — a collision of Silicon Valley power and Washington ignorance, which resulted in nothing but gridlock and testy hearings.
Downplaying A.I. risks to avoid backlash may be a smart short-term strategy, but tech companies won’t survive long term if they’re seen as having a hidden A.I. agenda that’s at odds with the public interest. And if these companies won’t open up voluntarily, A.I. engineers should go around their bosses and talk directly to policymakers and journalists themselves.
In a broad sense, most people think about A.I. narrowly as it relates to us — Will it take my job? Is it better or worse than me at Skill X or Task Y? — rather than trying to understand all of the ways A.I. is evolving, and what that might mean for our future.


Google Finds ‘Inoculating’ People Against Misinformation Helps Blunt Its Power [NYT]

…fucking no shit, sherlock…is that somehow news to you?

[…sorry…running late…tunes may be a while turning up]



  1. Allow me 3 minutes to hop upon my soapbox and say: While cable news is the worst, all TV news is inherently bad.

    Leaving aside the politics, TV news is bad because:

    • TV is built for people with short attention spans and built for 1-minute blocks, but good coverage requires nuance and good explanations and there’s rarely time for either (something like “60 Minutes” being an exception that proves the rule)
    • TV is inherently visual so no matter what people are saying, most viewers are not focused on the right thing
    •  TV is focused on ratings above all other things. Good news coverage is not nearly as exciting as car chases or explosions or, in recent years, talking heads arguing about things.
    • The pay structure on TV is warped because talking heads and known faces make a ton of money but far, far less is spent on reporting and reporters. This then pushes TV stations to put their valuable properties on air as much as possible.

    Lastly, even if you don’t want to take my word for it, look what’s happened on the Internet. For years, Facebook et al. were pushing that video Video!! VIIIIDEEEOOOOO!!!!!! would soon rule everything, but it didn’t take. Most people, it turns out, prefer to read to learn — as they likely grew up doing — rather than watching splashy videos. Now, I like to learn stuff from YouTube as much as the next guy, but when I do, I often watch and rewatch and pause and make it much more tactile than just passively watching it once and moving on. News is like that too!

    Anyway, in short, CNN is already terrible and no matter if they get a new Murdoch or not, it will continue to be terrible.

  2. This may be eccentric and Luddite of me, but why does everyone bring their phones with them everywhere? I almost never do when I leave the apartment. Why would I? “What if something happens?” Like what? I get hit by a car? As I lay bleeding out on the pavement should I…call someone about this, before I lapse into unconsciousness? Should I place a call while being mugged, because that’s what people do? It’s very strange.

    “Well, you know the subway service is so bad nowadays you’re either going to be very early or very late when you arrive…” If I’m very early I’m not going to call someone and command them to appear before me immediately. If I’m very late I’m going to do what I did pre-cellphone and arrive and say, “I’m sorry but my subway line is a mess right now.” [Plus the subway tunnels don’t have cell service, not yet anyway.]

    This drives Better Half crazy. As we head out the door: “Did you remember to bring your phone?” “Why? We’re going to be together, aren’t we? At the [meal] table it won’t be necessary to call each other will it, since we’ll be sitting across from each other?”

    So in sum, the data brokers really have no idea where my wanderings bring me because I almost never have my tracking device on me. And oddly enough I survive somehow. Just like I did in the last century.

    • Oh, Matthew, you’re such a New Yorker. I’m old too (my childhood phone had a rotary dial and we had a party line), and I NEVER leave the house without my phone. Why?

      1. Emergencies. Both on my part and that of my family. My wife and daughter have called me because they had car accidents. I have had car accidents and needed to summon the local constabulary. These are not situations where I want to rely on the kindness of strangers.

      2. Documentation. If you have a car accident, you damn sure better take pictures. My insurance company demands them. If you see a crime occurring, it’s a good idea to be able to record it or any evidence. My next-door neighbors were fortunate enough that someone snapped a picture of the license plate of a drunk driver that hit them. This is very helpful to the local constabulary, and subsequently in court. Remember, we’d never know about 98 percent of police brutality without phones.

      3. Non-emergency assistance. Neither my wife nor daughter are physically capable of changing a tire. While we have roadside assistance, you can sit for hours waiting. I’d rather they just called me, but either way, someone needs to be called. And while I’m still capable of changing tires, in about 10 years give or take I’m going to need help with that. So I’ll be calling and waiting on AAA.

      4. Research. Shopping, addresses, information, all of that. Yes, I remember stopping at phone booths and trying to find addresses in the tattered phone books hanging therein. Thanks, I’ll take my phone over that any day.

      5. Music. My phone connects to my car and I can play my music when it suits me.

      6. Reading. I don’t like reading on my phone, but I keep several eBooks on there in case I’m unlucky enough to get stuck somewhere and Twitter doesn’t cut it.

      7. Gaming. See 6. It helps pass the time when I need it — used to do a lot on lunch hours.

      Now, one area on which I do not compromise is sleep. The phone goes on “Do Not Disturb” when I’m sleeping. My immediate family is typically secure at that point, and if siblings or extended family called there’s very little I could do before morning. Pissed my sister off that way, but nope. Not going to take calls and texts all night. I’m not IHOP and I’m not open 24 hours.

      • Yup yup yup. Me too. I will add to that list having a text enabled device for the folks who want to contact me but deign to call me on the “house phone” or on the “office phone”.

        Re older phones: do you remember the excitement over a wall-mounted rotary Trimline phone? Then on to the push button? My mother had the extended cord for the wall-mount so that she could cook dinner and drink her martini while on the phone.

        • I had no idea that my childhood phone was *sooooo fancy*!😉😄🤣

          That #200, in Goldenrod–just like the one in the first picture of all the various models–was the exact type our 1972 trailer house had built into the wall!😆

          I had no idea that they were once special💖

        • Ellie, I’m with you & Bryan!

          I never leave the house without my phone anymore, and will even go back to get it, if I forget it…

          But I use it for SO much, alllll day long, which is why I’ll go back to get it, if need be.

          It’s my primary computer, in addition to being a phone & texting tool. I check my work, personal, and college email accounts on it. It’s the way I clock in & out at the district where I work, *and* it’s how I submit my upcoming absences.

          I check Dad’s Dr. Appointments and his lab results.

          I use it to check *my* medical stuff, talk with my medical care team, etc.

          I check for deals & coupons before I buy stuff at Target or the grocery stores I’m shopping at.

          It’s my alarm clock.

          I read the news & weather on it.

          I sometimes use it like I did on the way to our field-trip location today–when a little guy i work with asked, “What’s the difference between crickets and grasshoppers?”

          I told him, “I don’t know, but we can look it up and find out!” Annnnnd we did!😉

          It’s great for showing kids how to learn stuff they’re curious about, and how to verify information in real-time😁💖

          I’ll freely admit that I also play games on it every evening & weekend, and I have newspaper, magazine, & book apps, too!

          And the thing I’ve really used this summer is the timer setting in my Android clock app!

          It looks something like this and that “disappearing circle” feature has been SO useful, to help *all* of my “2nd-graders & youngers” to understand the concept of “How much time is left?!???” Whether we’re on a field trip, in a classroom, waiting for lunch/snack/etc., *or* if the child has to “sit out” for a bit because they were misbehaving.

          Time is such a slippery concept for kids to*really* understand, and that little disappearing circle makes all the difference!

          Because once I punch in how much time we have left &start it, I show the kids our remaining time…

          Then, a short time later (seconds, if it’s set for  *under* 10 minutes, a minute or two, for longer times), i show them again & say “look how much of the circle is gone,” and use that to help them grok that we’re going to have a ,*lot* of time to wait, or a *little* time to wait.

          They may or *may not* know their numbers, and that there are 60–not 100–seconds in a minute & minutes per hour…

          But all my kids grasp the disappearing circle concept!😉😁💖

    • I’ve literally been followed by creepy men and have called a friend like “hi I’m walking across the parking lot at Target now please stay with me there’s a guy behind me who is wearing ___”

      I totally get that if someone is set on hurting another person that the presence of a phone wouldn’t stop them, but the opportunistic weirdos take note of them.

      • Oh, that’s true, a lot of my friends (used to) do that, especially women alone: the minute they leave the subway, they get on their phones and either make a phone call or pretend to be on a phone call, to ward off whatever nuttiness might try to approach them. Unfortunately, like a lot of places, the nuttiness has increased exponentially so the few who haven’t left New York only take Ubers so there is no longer a walk from the subway, and they no longer feel comfortable displaying a phone in public in any case.

      • That’s one thing I didn’t think of because clueless male, but yeah, I insisted my daughter carry a phone from middle school onward. I didn’t have to argue with her.

    • It’s probably mostly New York. If we’re going somewhere specific I look up the address and often my reaction will be, “Oh, X used to live on that block” or “Oh, I wonder if that restaurant Y is still on that block?” Even Greenwich Village, which is notoriously unnavigable, I can usually get within “Now, it’s either this left or the next one, let’s see” because it’s Greenwich Village and why not take a little look around?

      Plus I don’t have kids. My friends who do have their phones charged and ready to go at all times and are always ready to answer the phone, like Suzy the Time-Life operator. Often, the kids just want to chat which, on the one hand, that’s nice, to have a close relationship with your parents, but on the other hand, maybe you’re 24 and should get a life and apologize for interrupting my fascinating story?

      There is the entertainment aspect too. I spend far too much time migrating from one specialist and/or follow-up to another, and I don’t make Better Half come with me, and I don’t want to be late, so I take an Uber or something and they’re always running late, so I read on my phone in the waiting rooms. And again, I’m not on social media, so no Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, whatever, just old-fashioned non-paywalled websites. So I guess any data broker would clearly see that I never leave the apartment except to visit medical facilities so I’m on death’s doorstep and am not worth dealing with.

  3. AIs have already been used to replace managers and supervisors in some companies.

    I don’t know what to think as unless the AI has been programmed to be an insecure weak shithead, the AI would be the better manager for someone like me.

    Not many inherent biases.

    No questions about what are you doing?

    No comments about “I don’t understand what you are doing.”

    No constant micromanaging.

    What a wonderful world this would be… (maybe.)

    • …it’s maybe a case of the ship already having sailed but I still think AI is often the term used but not really the thing meant

      …what a lot of people think of as “AI” in the sense they’ve come across in movies is what some call “artificial general intelligence” which is where your actual human-equivalent-or-better “mind” would turn up…& that isn’t really on the cards yet…even if that guy at google wanted to claim otherwise none of these things seem like they’ve got past the chinese room fakeout in terms of the turing test

      …most times they’re talking about machine learning that’s more a function of big data sets & a lot of iterations…which is plenty clever to be able to build & undoubtedly has the potential for some genuinely neat shit that might even be pretty useful

      …but it also gets into black box territory that makes for some unintentional issues when it turns out your data sampling bakes in bias or you can’t tell why something’s getting weighting it shouldn’t be

      …either way I think the piece that made the point that the people with legislative influence fully didn’t “get” the internet stuff well enough to have been able to see the way things went with social media coming or how to protect individual privacy from the parasitic desire to monetize every detail they could deduce from/about their users…& they understand machine learning & evolutionary coding & the potential ramifications of AI even less…that struck a chord for me for sure?

  4. Convo with a friend:

    Everyone is Big Mad about this student loan forgiveness

    Friend: They are gonna be pissed regardless, so he should go fucking HAM on it and cancel it all

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