…by any other name [DOT 12/2/22]

something smells off...

…I probably ought to be able to remember this…but maybe my mind is too cluttered

There’s a paradox in memory science: Empirical evidence and life experience both suggest older adults have more knowledge of the world. However, in laboratory settings, they generally perform worse on memory tests than younger adults. What can explain the disparity?

The answer might be “clutter,” according to a review of memory studies published Friday in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science.
“A great deal of everyday forgetting is not necessarily because we cannot form new memories, but rather, we can’t find what we want when we need it,” Ranganath [a professor at the University of California, Davis Center for Neuroscience] said.
“We often think of distractions as coming from the outside, but there are distractions of internal origin,” Fenton [a professor of neural science at New York University] said. “I would argue that internal distraction is far greater and always more challenging than external distraction.”
More research is needed to understand why reduced cognitive control can result in cluttering. One proposed explanation links back to the hippocampus, the complex brain structure that plays a significant role in learning and memory. It’s possible the hippocampus might be “indiscriminately forming these extra associations between all these pieces of information,” Amer [a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia and Harvard Universities and the review’s first author] said.
Meanwhile, memory cluttering isn’t entirely bad. While “cluttered” is the favored phrase in the paper, its authors write that the word could be substituted for “enriched” or “elaborated.” While the clutter of irrelevant information can make it more difficult to remember a specific detail, excessive knowledge can also help an individual in certain situations — such as when there’s a need to be creative, make a decision, or learn something new. These moments benefit from comprehensive knowledge.

[…]Cognitive ability isn’t necessarily declining with age; it depends on the context.


…anyway…whether or not its origins ever aired in the US…there’s an expression that’s basically about the virtues of being direct & both saying what you mean & meaning what you say…although even the folks at ronseal are prepared to admit that’s easier said than done these days

…still…life would certainly be a damn sight easier to navigate if everything did what it said on the tin…if not necessarily safer

A Republican Senate primary candidate in Arizona has been condemned for a “disgusting” campaign ad in which he shoots at lookalike actors portraying Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and the incumbent Arizona senator Mark Kelly.

Jim Lamon, an energy executive, shared the ad on Twitter, saying it would be aired at this year’s Super Bowl.
Kelly is the husband of the former Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot in the head in 2011 while greeting constituents outside of a local grocery store.
Criticism towards the ad has been swift, with many people pointing out other recent instances of violent imagery used by members of the Republican party. Last November, Paul Gosar, Republican representative for Arizona, was officially censured by the House after sharing an animated video depicting him killing the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Biden.


…but it often seems like more frequently the point is to co-opt a term to provide cover for a less defensible agenda

The city of Ottawa announced on Friday it too would seek an injunction to remove protesters from the nation’s capital amid an occupation that has lasted 15 days shows little sign of easing.

The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, have also blocked two smaller US crossings.

The protests have inspired similar convoys and plans in France, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, whose Department of Homeland Security is working to ensure that a “Freedom Convoy” event due in early March in Washington DC., “does not disrupt lawful trade”.


…leaving aside the fact that it looks questionable that the canadian truckers themselves are genuinely the point of origin for these shennanigans…who exactly is convinced that not supporting shutting down a major element of freight during what is fairly frequently referred to as a supply chain crisis for the sake of the rights of a minority to refuse to undergo a free treatment that radically lowers your chances of dying from a highly transmissible pathogen currently causing a worldwide pandemic that’s been going on for a good couple of years is actually equivalent to declaring oneself to be “against freedom”?

The far right “trucker convoy” that has paralysed Ottawa might be singularly shocking, but what disturbs the most is it’s not unique.

“Freedom” protests similar in form and simultaneously nebulous in broadly anti-vax/anti-mandate political goals have materialised in Britain, France and New Zealand. A convoy claiming to originate from across Europe is making its way towards Brussels. An ongoing gathering that locals alternately describe as “Spring Break for QAnon” or “Camp Covid” is encamped outside Australian Parliament House in Canberra.

Across these countries, protestors appear as a wild herd of “sovcit”, anti-vaxxer, QAnonner and more nefarious fellow travellers, alongside some more ordinary people. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether social media content about these events has been gathered by extremism monitors, or comedians.
In Canada, protestors have used their vehicles to blockade entire Ottawa neighbourhoods, erecting jumping castles and even saunas. Participants stiffly stage ceremonies to anoint one another faux powers of police. Amid the carnival of crank it all reads like character-based black comedy … but this investment in a parallel reality is not satire. It’s not performance. It’s complete. It’s terrifying.

Wherever this “freedom movement” manifests, a similar cast of characters emerges. Light-in-the-eyes zealots holler conspiracy theories. Grifters solicit to camera like a roll of tabloid clickbait. Burly, closed-mouth types appear to be handling secretive logistics. Around them are impassioned, often inarticulate – and poorly-costumed – clowns.
But the relevant historical lesson is that the threat to democracy doesn’t come from the proportion of the people these groups can claim to represent. It’s about the size of the damage they are willing to do. Writing off Canberra’s buffoon insurgency just as a loud thing blocking the carpark is a mistake.

What was learned from last year’s United States Capitol attack of 6 January and Melbourne’s violent anti-lockdown protests was that people don’t have to be able to comprehend the politics of the movement they’re in to be weaponised by them. The swastikas, confederate flags and other sly hate symbols that appeared at protests go wilfully unheeded by the wellness-influenced anti-vaxxers and others literally marching beside them. William Saletan recently made the frightening point that those Americans who have become the greatest threat to their republic are those who’ve been convinced by propaganda lies that they’re saving it.

Canadian researchers claim what’s now happening in Ottowa is both driven by the cultural narratives of the American right and simultaneously serving a propaganda function as a proxy battlefront for it. The “trucker protest” has been sustained by American money pouring into it by the millions. The likes of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are making positive talking points of the actions as “standing up for freedom”, perpetuating the same kind of myths Cruz and others made last year insisting pro-vax Australia had descended into some sort of totalitarian dictatorship.

Different countries’ protests may claim they’re just “inspired” by one another, but a chilling tactical similarity to the protests suggests a deeper level of international coordination. Last year, the Logically group revealed Melbourne’s protests occurred among worldwide action devised and organised by extremists from Germany. Supposedly local organisers in Canada and Australia have been tracked to foreign servers, operating hacked accounts. Observe now how the same behaviours – from shared language, icons and slogans to their direct organising tactics on the ground – are common across the protests. Note that their political targets are consistently the apparatus of democratic government itself.

The Museum of Australian Democracy was recently set on fire; it’s time to face we are in the era of Brownshirts Without Borders. Unless we can formulate international tactics for dealing with them, it’s not just Ottawa that’s under siege. It’s democracy in the west.


…& honestly it sounds faintly crazy to suggest that the people who brought us to the precipice of potential global conflict over the fate of Ukraine

US president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will speak on Saturday as Western nations warned that a war in Ukraine could ignite at any moment.
“If Russia is genuinely interested in resolving this crisis of its own making through diplomacy and dialogue, we’re prepared to do that,” [US secretary of state Antony Blinken] said.

“This is a pivotal moment. We’re prepared for whatever should happen,” he said.
Late on Friday the Russian foreign ministry accused Western countries of spreading false information with help from the media, in order to distract attention from their own aggressive actions.
The head of the foreign affairs committee in the Bundestag, Michael Roth, a former minister, said on Twitter: “Russia has effectively annexed Belarus militarily. What are being called “exercises” is really the encirclement of Ukraine, and a concrete threat to Poland and the Baltic States. The situation remains dangerous.”


…might also be the root of the pro-covid clownshow

The $1.9 million in pandemic aid would have gone a long way in Cochise County, a rural borderland where a winter of infections swamped hospitals. There was money for tracking cases. Testing in remote ranching towns. Funds fortifying the Arizona county’s strained health department.

But the county’s Republican-controlled board of supervisors stunned many residents and health care workers by voting last month to reject the federal money, becoming one of the rare places in America to turn down Covid-19 assistance from Washington.

“We’re done,” said Peggy Judd, one of two Republican supervisors who voted against accepting the money. “We’re treating it like the common cold.”
To conservatives, rejecting the money felt like a high-desert declaration of independence, even if their rural county does rely on a host of other federal spending and jobs provided by the Fort Huachuca Army base.
“It’s insanity,” said Dr. Cristian Laguillo, who has been treating a crush of Covid-19 patients at Copper Queen Community Hospital in the old copper-mining town of Bisbee. “It was a decision made without thought, without care. That’s maddening.”
Some tiny towns say they have no use for the coronavirus relief as the pandemic trudges into a third year. And other conservative rural officials are turning down the money as a public repudiation of vaccine mandates, the $30 trillion national debt and a persistent pandemic that is killing 2,500 people each day even as new cases ebb and Democratic states lift pandemic restrictions like mask rules.
The Cochise supervisors who voted against the $1.9 million have raised doubts about the safety and reliability of the vaccines, despite no evidence. Ms. Judd said she and her family had recovered from Covid-19 in November after drinking orange juice spiked with ivermectin, a drug commonly used to treat animal parasites that has become a go-to remedy for vaccine opponents. She said she and her family remain unvaccinated.

“We’re those people,” she said in a telephone interview, coughing occasionally — a lingering sign of the infection.
Thirteen mostly Republican-led states sued the Biden administration over restrictions in the coronavirus relief law that would have prevented them from using federal money to offset tax cuts. The Treasury Department has also fought with Republican governors in Florida and Arizona who have sought to deny federal funds to schools with mask mandates.

Two dozen states cut off expanded unemployment benefits last summer, saying the extra money from the federal government was deterring unemployed Americans from seeking work. And a handful such as Idaho and Iowa have rejected or not spent millions in pandemic aid for school testing and rental assistance.
The other Cochise supervisor who voted against the money, Tom Crosby, compared Covid-19 vaccines to Agent Orange, the cancer-causing herbicide that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands during the Vietnam War. He said he wanted “to get the county out of the vaccine business.”
The county’s Republican Party chairman was one of 11 Republicans who falsely claimed to be the state’s true electors despite President Biden’s win in the state. And Ms. Judd and her family traveled to Washington in January 2021 to join the rally against certifying the presidential election. (She later told The Tucson Sentinel that she never entered the Capitol building and posted a statement on Facebook condemning the rioters and violence.)

Why an Arizona County Turned Down $1.9 Million in Covid Relief [NYT]

…but…well…it does seem like there’s one answer that crops up in both contexts when you pose the age old question…cui bono?

“It’s not like we’re dealing with a terrorist organization. We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It’s a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly,” [President Joe Biden] said.

Holt asked Biden what scenario could prompt him to send troops to rescue Americans fleeing the country. Biden replied: “There’s not. That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.”

“We’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been,” he added.


…& we might be, at that…but from a ukranian point of view…perhaps not as different as all that


…I guess you could say a lot comes down to a matter of context and perspective

Under the Earn It Act, tech companies would lose some long-standing protections they enjoy under a legal shield called Section 230, opening them up to more lawsuits over posts of child sexual abuse material on their platforms. The bill, which was first introduced in 2020, would also create a national commission of law enforcement, abuse survivors and industry experts to develop best practices to address child abuse online.

The bill is “calibrated to really stop the most detestable and despicable kinds of child abuse involving really horrific pornographic images that follow these kids all their lives,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). The bill has been backed by lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as groups representing law enforcement and sexual exploitation survivors.

But unlike some recent antitrust bills that have won the backing of some technologists, the bill’s revival has reignited a battle over the future of Internet regulation and online speech. Prominent technologists, industry groups, civil liberties advocates and LGBTQ interest groups have aggressively campaigned against it, warning that the proposal threatens to erode consumers’ privacy and could have a chilling effect on free expression online.
“Proponents want to frame this as protecting children versus the Internet,” said India McKinney, director of federal affairs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit focused on digital civil liberties. “The way we see it as this bill still won’t protect children against really horrible things, and will hurt additional groups of people.”

Technologists and advocates have warned that the bill could be used to harm strong encryption, security technology that shields the contents of communications from the platform hosting the messages. While law enforcement officials suggest the technology is a boon to criminals, including child predators, who can use it to evade detection, privacy advocates argue it’s a crucial protection for users online.
It will “pave the way for 50 state attorneys general to go after encryption,” [Riana] Pfefferkorn [a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory] said. “The goal of this is to make sure that companies can be punished at the state level for providing encryption.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will weigh the Earn It Act after moving two competition bills targeting the tech sector on bipartisan votes. Lawmakers on the committee are increasingly seeking to move legislation that can appeal to members of both parties that are worried about the power and influence of tech giants.

Though the parties are largely polarized when it comes to online speech, child safety has emerged as an area on which they’ve been willing to work together. In 2020, the Earn It Act advanced through the same committee but was never passed by the full Senate. It remains unclear whether the legislation has the support needed to become law, as Democrats have a flurry of competing priorities they want to advance before the midterm elections. Blumenthal said he plans to seek support from the Justice Department and White House once it clears the committee.


…not that those things are always difficult to parse

On its face, Trump’s “complete and total endorsement” of Vernon Jones in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District looked like another case of the former president rewarding “an ‘America First’ fighter.” Jones, a former Democrat and former state legislator, spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention officially nominating Trump.

But Jones earned his endorsement in another way, as well: Two days earlier, he dropped out of Georgia’s high-stakes GOP race for governor — making it easier for Trump’s preferred candidate, former Sen. David Perdue, to beat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a one-on-one primary matchup.
The race for the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Jody Hice, who is challenging Republican and Trump foe Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, already featured 11 candidates before Jones jumped in. Most were running as Trump Republicans in the heavily conservative district in eastern Georgia.
The poll suggested that one of Jones’ 11 Republican opponents, Mike Collins, was the early front-runner, pulling more than a third of the vote, three times more than the second-place candidate. But that poll was taken before Jones made his announcement and secured Trump’s endorsement, Cahaly told NBC News.
The day before Trump’s endorsement, Collins unleashed a website full of opposition research called realvernonjones.com and unloaded on him in a brutal online ad that called Jones “a conman, a carpetbagger and a Democrat with a rap sheet.”

If no candidate can get more than 50 percent of the vote in Georgia, the top two vote-getters have a runoff race. The state also has open primaries, which could allow Democrats and independents to vote in GOP primaries.

That combination of factors, Cahaly said, probably won’t affect the congressional race because the district is so heavily Republican, but it could have had major implications in the May 24 gubernatorial primary if Jones had stayed in the race and forced a Kemp-Perdue runoff.


…all the same…some perspectives really ought to be incompatible with certain contexts

A Republican deputy attorney general in Virginia resigned from her position Thursday after Facebook posts surfaced showing she had applauded Jan. 6 rioters and falsely claimed that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.

The Virginia attorney general’s office became aware of these posts by Monique Miles Thursday when The Washington Post shared screenshots it obtained of her previous comments. Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jason Miyares, told NBC News that Miles has resigned.
The Facebook posts in question aren’t accessible to the public, but one screenshot obtained by the Post read: “News Flash: Patriots have stormed the Capitol. No surprise. The deep state has awoken the sleeping giant. Patriots are not taking this lying down. We are awake, ready and will fight for our rights by any means necessary.”
The Democratic Attorneys General Association, which supports about two dozen Democratic attorneys general, highlighted the Post’s reporting in a statement.

“Jason Miyares needs to come clean: is he lying or incompetent?” said Geoff Burgan, the association’s communications director. “This raises even more questions about Republican AGs’ dangerous embrace of debunked conspiracy theories.”


…& some contexts maybe shouldn’t be available to certain perspectives

The CIA has a secret, undisclosed data repository that includes information collected about Americans, two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday. While neither the agency nor lawmakers would disclose specifics about the data, the senators alleged the CIA had long hidden details about the program from the public and Congress.

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a letter to top intelligence officials calling for more details about the program to be declassified. Large parts of the letter, which was sent in April 2021 and declassified Thursday, and documents released by the CIA were blacked out. Wyden and Heinrich said the program operated “outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection.”

There have long been concerns about what information the intelligence community collects domestically, driven in part by previous violations of Americans’ civil liberties. The CIA and National Security Agency have a foreign mission and are generally barred from investigating Americans or U.S. businesses. But the spy agencies’ sprawling collection of foreign communications often snares Americans’ messages and data incidentally.
The CIA released a series of redacted recommendations about the program issued by an oversight panel known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. According to the document, a pop-up box warns CIA analysts using the program that seeking any information about U.S. citizens or others covered by privacy laws requires a foreign intelligence purpose.

“However, analysts are not required to memorialize the justification for their queries,” the board said.
“These reports raise serious questions about the kinds of information the CIA is vacuuming up in bulk and how the agency exploits that information to spy on Americans,” Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The CIA conducts these sweeping surveillance activities without any court approval, and with few, if any, safeguards imposed by Congress.”


…particularly when you recognize that mistakes will inevitably be made

Every journalist knows the feeling. Your story — or the story you’ve edited — has been published, maybe on a tight deadline, and you realize too late that it contains a mistake. Cue the stages of grief: Defensive disbelief. Horror. Resignation. Self-flagellation. And finally, a humiliating correction notice permanently branded on your work.
Or it could be worse: a catastrophe in the making. That was the case with then-New York Times opinion editor James Bennet’s work on an editorial in 2017, which introduced errors that prompted Sarah Palin to sue the paper for defamation. The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate’s lawsuit is being litigated this week in a Manhattan courtroom — a high-profile trial that could have consequences not only for Palin and the Times but for press rights in the United States.
As Seth Stevenson wrote in Slate: “For anyone who’s ever worked in the media, it’s an eminently relatable disaster.” And he makes a salient point in observing that, at its heart, the case is “about a journalist on deadline, desperately searching for a hot take.”

That’s troubling. It means that in this competitive, fast-paced digital era of rushing stories out ASAP, we’re likely to get more mistakes like this. It’s hard to slow down when your competitors are publishing right now.
There was no real need — no journalistic imperative — to write an editorial on a tight deadline. No one was breathlessly awaiting the Times editorial page’s immediate wisdom on the precipitating event, horrendous as it was: a mass shooting targeting members of Congress and Capitol workers at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.
There are also internal power dynamics at work here. The big boss (Bennet, in this case) decides to “improve” a subordinate’s work, and she basically yields to his judgment. The subordinate in this case was editorial writer Elizabeth Williamson; in something of an understatement, she testified that she wishes she had read over Bennet’s revisions more carefully.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve been a sometimes tough critic of the New York Times. From 2012 to 2016, I was the paper’s public editor. My job, as internal critic and reader representative, was to investigate complaints about or problems with Times journalism, and write about them. The paper eliminated the position about a year after I left.

Since 2016, I’ve been the media columnist at The Washington Post, and, in that role, I have written both critically and admiringly about my former employer.
Human beings mess up. Sometimes badly. When journalists are rushing, when they are under pressure — including self-imposed pressure — to make something more pointed, the likelihood of messing up increases exponentially.

It’s impossible for me to believe that James Bennet inserted mistakes on purpose when he made that fatefully aggressive rewrite.

But it’s all too possible to understand, with nightmarish clarity and dread, exactly how and why it happened.

The existential dread of journalists watching the Sarah Palin trial [WaPo]

From our jaundiced view of covering Washington for more than three decades, we thought we understood what was going on. We were struck by the fact that the official Department of Health and Human Services statement was more carefully worded than the sharp White House comment. We figured a sub-agency was chugging along with a new program and confirmed its plans to a reporter. When the story exploded, the White House reacted, the top brass at the main agency responded and suddenly a more specific policy was created.

But it’s more complicated than that. The Free Beacon and HHS shared their email exchanges with the Fact Checker, so we can show readers how this story came about.
Patrick Hauf, the Free Beacon reporter, on the morning of Feb. 2 emailed the media office at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an arm of HHS.

He wrote that he had watched a webinar about a $30 million harm reduction grant program that seeks to minimize the risks associated with drug use. He asked: “One of the listed types of equipment qualified to be purchased with grant money is ‘safe smoking kits/supplies.’ Could you please specify what these kits are and how they can help with harm reduction in communities?”

After several hours, a SAMHSA spokesman, Christopher Garrett, responded with a statement, which he said could be attributed to him by name.
Unsafe smoking practices can lead to open sores, burns and cuts on the lips, and can increase the risk of infection among people who smoke drugs. Safe smoking kits have been identified to reduce the spread of disease. The proposal of using grant funds to purchase supplies for safe smoking kits must be justified by Harm Reduction Program applicants as to how they contribute to preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases in the Harm Reduction Grant application. Harm reduction programs that use federal funding must adhere to federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and other requirements related to such programs or services.

SAMHSA does not specify the kits’ elements, only the parameters.
Note that Garrett’s answer avoided saying what might be in the kits — he said that SAMHSA just sets the parameters — but he added that “federal funding must adhere to federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and other requirements related to such programs or services.”
Hauf then turned Garrett’s more nuanced statement into something blunter, without using his name: “A spokesman for the agency told the Washington Free Beacon that these kits will provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and ‘any illicit substance.’ ”
Jorge Silva, HHS deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, said in a phone interview that Hauf jumped to a conclusion that was not warranted. He noted that Garrett’s statement made clear the kits would need to follow federal, state and local laws — a sentence that did not make it into the article.

“He never asked, and we never confirmed,” Silva said. “I honestly don’t know how that would have been answered.” He said that if Hauf had asked about funding pipes, Garrett would have checked with the SAMHSA legal department to see if an answer could be provided. But instead, Hauf “misrepresented that a spokesman confirmed that.”
After the White House and HHS made clear that pipes would not be funded, the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that seeks alternatives to tough drug laws, issued a blistering statement headlined “Health Policy Must be Driven by Evidence, Not Dictated by Clickbait.” The statement accused the administration of “backtracking on providing critical evidence-based resources that could greatly improve the health of people who consume drugs through smoking.”

That would suggest the administration reversed course.

But Matt Sutton, a Drug Policy Alliance spokesman, could not say whether SAMHSA officials had ever indicated privately that glass stems could be funded with the grants. He noted, however, that some groups that had been planning to apply for grants had assumed that was the case.

“That was the intention,” he said in a phone interview. “It would seem pointless to distribute these kits without” pipes, which he said “are the main part of the smoking kit to prevent the transmission of disease.”

But not all safe smoking kits include a glass stem. The Free Beacon article, for instance, linked to a description of safe smoker kits offered by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition that included a mouthpiece designed to fit on a glass stem, but not the stem itself. That kit also included rubber bands to prevent lip burns, screens, antibiotic ointment for sores and alcohol wipes for cleaning.

Moreover, there are indications that SAMHSA might not have approved a request to include glass stems in safe smoking kits.
After this article was published, Sarah Lovenheim, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, sent The Fact Checker the following statement: “The Biden-Harris Administration has never authorized the use of federal funding for smoke pipes and will not in the future. We have not yet approved any harm reduction grants and no money for the program has gone out.”


…I guess when it comes to the chances of reduction it helps to know the answer to the question “what’s the harm?” in a whole collection of related contexts…some of which are overlapping…but more often appear to be overlooked

A private company that government agencies have used to verify the identities of millions of Americans through facial recognition used a variety of other data techniques to screen users, including collecting people’s phone location records and using software from the data-mining company Palantir to assess whether they have ties to “organized crime.”

But despite the scale of the data gathering by the company, ID.me, revealed in newly released records, the system has been exploited by scammers. Federal prosecutors last month said a New Jersey man was able to verify fake driver’s licenses through an ID.me system in California as part of a $2.5 million unemployment-fraud scheme.

ID.me has pointed to the scam as an example of how well its systems work, noting that it referred the case to federal law enforcement after an internal investigation.

…yup…the line they took was literally “this example of our systems being exploited is an excellent example of how well protected our system is against exploitation”…which a charitable interpretation of that specific example might even allow for…were it the only example

But the criminal complaint in the case shows that ID.me’s identification systems did not detect bogus accounts created around the same day that included fake driver’s licenses with photos of the suspect’s face in a curly wig.

The revelations raise new questions about the McLean, Va.-based contractor, which saw its business explode during the pandemic: 10 federal agencies, 30 states and more than 500 companies now pay ID.me to confirm the identities of Americans seeking services such as unemployment insurance or online tax records. The company last year was valued at $1.5 billion, and its government contracts have totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In a statement, ID.me CEO Blake Hall said that the company is “deeply committed to access, equity, security and privacy” and that it had worked “to advance a consumer-centric model of identity verification where individuals — not data brokers or credit bureaus — get to decide how their data is shared.”

But the company uses other controversial technologies for what it calls “identity proofing, authentication and group affiliation verification,” leading privacy and civil rights advocates to voice concerns over how that data could be misused.

This level of data collection “raises a lot of questions not only on the privacy front but in the dimension of what roles are appropriate for private companies,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.

It also suggests the company could be “morphing from a privatized identity-verification investigator into a privatized FBI,” Stanley said — and without public oversight or federal guidelines like the Privacy Act, which constrains how government agencies store personal data.

A company spokesman said its data gathering and analysis techniques are standard industry practice.
In an email revealed as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, which the ACLU shared with The Post, an ID.me manager last spring sent a “threat intelligence memo” to officials with the Oregon Employment Department touting that the company’s security team had identified new “threat vectors” for fraud.

Included in that memo, the manager wrote, were details of how the company had worked with the private contractor Palantir for “data analytics and trend analysis.” The software, he said, could help government clients assess whether a single Internet Protocol address “tied to multiple verified accounts is, say, a homeless shelter or social service agency, or an organized crime ring.”
Palantir, named for a mysterious orb from “Lord of the Rings” and co-founded by the billionaire investor Peter Thiel, has built software to map connections between pieces of data, such as phone and Internet records, that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have used to track down undocumented immigrants. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Olga Akselrod, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the software risked potentially blocking people from government services if they were falsely linked to crime. She said there could be many reasons different people might be using the same IP address, including people who use public computers or seek assistance from legal services, members of the same family, people who share a home and those who share devices because they can’t afford their own.


…& I guess when it comes to keeping things in perspective….I’d probably note that despite the earnest “think of the children” rhetoric wheeled out to support stuff like that Earn It Act thing…when it comes to the internet child-proofing works about as well as it does with keeping lids on things

In theory, kids aren’t allowed in the game. The new virtual-reality app Horizon Worlds, the first foray into the much-hyped “metaverse” for Facebook parent company Meta, is limited to adults 18 and older.

In practice, however, very young kids appear to be among its earliest adopters. The person I met that day, who told me they were 9 and using their parents’ Oculus VR headset, was one of many apparent children I encountered in several weeks on the app. And reviews of Horizon Worlds include dozens of complaints about youngsters, some of them foulmouthed and rude, gleefully ruining the experience for the grown-ups.

But experts say the presence of children in Meta’s fledgling metaverse raises a graver concern: that by mixing children with adult strangers in a largely self-moderated virtual world, the company is inadvertently creating a hunting ground for sexual predators.

When new online forums arise that attract kids, sexual predators “are often among the first to arrive,” said Sarah Gardner, vice president of external affairs at Thorn, a tech nonprofit that focuses on protecting children from online sexual abuse. “They see an environment that is not well protected and does not have clear systems of reporting. They’ll go there first to take advantage of the fact that it is a safe ground for them to abuse or groom kids.”

[…]It’s a problem that has been documented on social apps such as Instagram and Discord along with games such as “Fortnite” and “Minecraft,” many of which have taken steps to address it.

Meta appears to have done little to address the possibility of child-grooming specifically, despite throwing huge amounts of resources into the development of the metaverse, even changing its corporate name from Facebook in October to reflect a new emphasis on virtual reality.
Meta did not respond to a question about whether it had received any reports of child exploitation or grooming in Horizon Worlds. It also declined to say whether it had taken any measures aimed at protecting children from those threats.

It’s impossible to know with certainty that an avatar is a child, but judging by their voices and actions, they’re hard to miss. For a company that is building what it hopes is the future of online interaction, the failure to enforce an age limit — one of its most basic rules — in Horizon Worlds would seem to be an ominous sign.

[…]Horizon Worlds is ostensibly adults-only, at least for now. As a result, it lacks the parental controls and guardrails for younger users, such as disabling chat functions, that “Minecraft” and “Roblox” have implemented. Instead, it focuses on empowering users to control their own experience by muting, blocking or reporting bad actors.
“Age verification does not eliminate children using those technologies,” said Eliza McCoy, executive director for outreach, training and prevention at the nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, a U.S. government-sanctioned clearinghouse for reports of child exploitation by online service providers. “We know that two populations get around those [restrictions].” One is “kids who are trying to get on there even though they know they’re not allowed, because it’s interesting and engaging and fun.” The other: “adults who are looking to offend against children,” sometimes by pretending to be kids themselves.
Children aren’t the only ones at risk if Meta doesn’t get moderation right. Bloomberg News’s Parmy Olson wrote in December that she found Horizon Worlds to be male-dominated, populated with trolls (including kids), and “deeply uncomfortable at times” for a woman because of unwanted advances that bordered on harassment. In November, a beta tester reported being virtually groped in the app, MIT Technology Review reported; an internal review by Meta found that the user didn’t deploy the “safe zone” feature.
Jeff Haynes, senior video games editor for the nonprofit Common Sense Media, which reviews entertainment with an eye to age appropriateness, said he has found the pervasiveness of kids in Horizon Worlds “alarming,” encountering youngsters 10 and younger every time he has used it.
Meta’s age policies, Haynes said, are a “paper tiger.” While there are some age barriers to setting up the headset, once it’s tied to an adult’s Facebook account, anyone who puts it on can access all the same apps and experiences, regardless of their age rating. Horizon Worlds is free to download and requires no additional age verification.

Congress has been exploring ways to better protect children and teens online, partly in response to concerns over young people’s use of Meta-owned Instagram. A 1998 law designed to protect kids’ privacy online limits the data that companies can collect from those younger than 13, which helps to explain why many online platforms require users to be 13 or older.

“It’s not anything to do with age appropriateness or child development,” the NCMEC’s McCoy said of the under-13 cutoff. “It’s just that they can’t collect data on those users, so why bother?”
“We’ve been playing catch-up against Web 2 for 10 years, cleaning up the fact that we didn’t have child safety in our minds” when it was built, Gardner said, referring to the generation of Internet platforms that includes social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. “That will happen again with Web 3 unless we push the creators of those environments to do it differently.”

Haynes said he is hopeful that Meta will rethink its approach, prioritize either keeping kids out of the app or keeping them safe within it, and invest much more heavily in moderation. But he said it needs to happen soon, given the company’s grand ambitions for the metaverse. Until then, Haynes said, “it’s really open season for anybody that happens to have these devices.”


…whatever else you might think about them…the thing about the biggest players is that it’s hard to deny that the moves they make don’t define the game to some extent

The Defense Department has a vast footprint: It accounts for 56 percent of the federal government’s carbon footprint and 52 percent of its electricity use. So when it does anything, it creates huge ripples. And the Army is the largest military service. It also means that most efforts to address emissions related to the federal government are minor compared with the Pentagon’s.
“Looking at the federal government, there’s just no way around it. You have to have DOD front and center” if the government is going to work on climate change, said Sharon Burke, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration who works on climate security issues.

“There are things about that that kind of boggle your mind. It has the country’s single largest day-care system. It just has a ton of scale,” Burke said.

The U.S. Army has released its first-ever climate strategy. Here’s what that means. [WaPo]

…still…russia’s online pot-stirring efforts notwithstanding…getting more out of something than you put into it…that’s a complicated & expensive business

If researchers can harness nuclear fusion — the process that powers the Sun — it promises to provide a near-limitless source of clean energy. But so far, no experiment has generated more energy than has been put in. JET’s results do not change that, but they suggest that a follow-up fusion-reactor project that uses the same technology and fuel mixture — the ambitious US$22-billion ITER, scheduled to begin fusion experiments in 2025 — should eventually be able to reach this goal.
To break the energy record, JET used a fuel made of equal parts tritium and deuterium — the same mixture that will power ITER, which is being built in southern France. Tritium is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen; when it fuses with the isotope deuterium, the reactions produce many more neutrons than do reactions between deuterium particles alone. That ramps up the energy output, but JET had to undergo more than two years of renovation to prepare the machine for the onslaught. Tritium was last used by a tokamak fusion experiment when JET set its previous record in 1997.
JET’s latest experiment sustained a Q of 0.33 for 5 seconds, says Rimini. JET is a scaled-down version of ITER, at one-tenth of the volume — a bathtub compared to a swimming pool, says Proll. It loses heat more easily than ITER, so it was never expected to hit breakeven. If engineers applied the same conditions and physics approach to ITER as to JET, she says, it would probably reach its goal of a Q of 10, producing ten times the energy put in.

Nuclear-fusion reactor smashes energy record [Nature]

…still…until they manage to crack that the natural order of things still seems to heavily favor the forces of entropy…which may or may not provide the reason why the couch seems to exert a greater gravitational pull at the weekend…but we carry on regardless…more or less…so at some point I’ll get as far as some tunes…& we’ll all be able to greet the arrival of the brain drain with a sigh of relief?




    “It’s best described in my mind as a child when I’d wake

    And just knew that school today would be too much to take

    Sweaty palms praying, Father, please, I’d much rather play

    And in that instant of wishing, realize it’s Saturday”


  2. I think it all comes back to Gamergate and the Sad Puppies. I think someone realized they could mobilize isolated communities of angry (mostly white males) and deeply ignorant/lacking in education/limited in scope educated (ie: might have advanced degrees but know nothing outside their fields) folks.

    Flash mob, but not benign.

    This is classic asymmetrical warfare as I understand it.

    There are no real leaders except some vague goals while using the aforementioned group’s rage and ignorance.  When done, they break up till the next fight.

    The powers that be (especially those with a LW slant) are helpless as the mob stays within grey areas that if the organization overreacts, makes the powers that be look like they’re oppressing them.

    They’re looking for a fight, hoping to be martyrs for the cause.


  3. The CIA has a secret, undisclosed data repository that includes information collected about Americans, two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday. While neither the agency nor lawmakers would disclose specifics about the data, the senators alleged the CIA had long hidden details about the program from the public and Congress.

    Fuckity-fuck-fuck-fuck. When real life starts sounding like a Jason Bourne movie (The Bourne Redundancy?)…

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