Weekly Axis Of Easy #210
Last Week’s Quote was “Not that you lied, but that I no longer believe you, has shaken me,” was Friedrich Nietzsche, winner was Nick Kryptr.
This Week’s Quote: “Today, with many things that are printed and sent around the world, one would not do well to ask: What does this person mean? – but rather: In whose service does he stand? Who is paying for this or that opinion?” … by???
THE RULES: No searching up the answer, must be posted to the blog – the place to post the answer is at the bottom of the post, in the comments section.
The Prize: First person to post the correct answer gets their next domain or hosting renewal is on us.
In this issue:
- FTC refiles anti-trust case against Facebook
- Government of Bahrain hacking dissident phones with NSO Pegasus
- Study: Canada’s contact tracing app saved about 100 lives
- Vaccine passports coming to Ontario
- Alex Berenson permanently banned from Twitter over Israeli vaccine study
- OnlyFans reverses adult content ban
- Three awesome software tools for thinking
- Free Thought Project: We traded our Freedoms for safety from Covid, and got neither
FTC refiles anti-trust case against Facebook
Overlooked last week, I had it in my notes but forgot to include that the US Federal Trade Commission has refiled a new anti-trust case after an earlier one was thrown out by the courts in June.
The amended complaint alleges that after failing to innovate in the mobile device space, Facebook resorted to a scheme the FTC refers to as “buy or bury,” where they would either acquire rising competitors who could help them dominate the space.
FTC acting director Holly Vedova saying:
“Facebook lacked the business acumen and technical talent to survive the transition to mobile. After failing to compete with new innovators, Facebook illegally bought or buried them when their popularity became an existential threat.”
The complaint accuses Facebook of being incapable of dealing with the emergence of the smart phone phenomenon and recognizing it as a major weakness that could result in the platform being eclipsed by new, mobile focused competitors and cites Facebook’s about face on opening up their platform to third-party app development.
Government of Bahrain hacking dissident phones with NSO Pegasus
Toronto’s CitizenLab continues to monitor the activities of governments employing Israeli firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. State actors using multiple methods of infection, including two iMessage 0-day exploits, the Kismet exploit from 2020 and a new exploit dubbed ‘FORCEDENTRY’ hacked at least 12 Bahrainian political activists’ phones.
What is also novel about these attacks is that previously the Bahrainian state threat actor known as LULU confined their activities to Bahrain, at least two of the victims are living in exile in London, UK.
Bahrain is nominally a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament where one chamber is appointed by the king and the other constituted in a way where the opposition parties will never win. After a brief period of increased liberalization in the early 00’s, they were gradually rolled back by 2010. The government now actively suppresses political dissent, engages in active information warfare and espionage activities against its
The CitizenLab report is yet another deep dive into both the technical aspects of these attacks and the historical context of Bahrain within which they occurred.
h/t Ian P.
Study: Canada’s contact tracing app saved about 100 lives
A team from McGill University led by biostatistics professor Erica Moodie endeavoured to quantify the impact Canada’s COVID contact tracking app had on mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus. We covered this app back in Axis Of Easy 142.
Our conclusions at the time were that the app was done with adequate transparency and privacy safeguards and our recommendation was to install it. I have it installed myself.
Alas, uptake was not that great and had some limitations: only 6.6 million users downloaded it, and those in BC, Alberta, Nunavut and the Yukon were not able to actually report infections through it (for some reason).
All told, the team put the lives saved at somewhere between 57 and 101.
Vaccine passports coming to Ontario
Reports began coming out over the weekend that mere weeks after Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he didn’t want to create a split society through the introduction of vaccine passports, they are on the way nonetheless:
“Pressure has mounted on Premier Doug Ford’s government in recent weeks to institute some sort of vaccine passport as the province navigates a fourth wave of the pandemic driven by the delta variant.”
Pressure from where exactly? Could it be the media itself which has been promulgating the “fourth wave” narrative regardless of the actual fatalities and hospitalization load?
Personally I’ve been following the COVID numbers from the very beginning and I find it hard to rationalize where we are now as “a fourth wave,” notwithstanding the additional contagiousness (albeit reduced fatality rate) of Delta.
The Ontario hospital capacity is well below cautionary levels and with vaccination rates on an inexorable climb higher, it bothers me how the media continues to sell fear and hysteria to the public.
A good find on Twitter is @golden_pup, who has been compiling the official provincial numbers on a daily basis for a few months now and breaking them out in a coherent and understandable manner.
For instance, when the media says this:
What does that headline make you think? To me it seems to indicate that on Sunday “740 people got the ‘rona’.”
What does it actually mean? Turns out what it really means is “On Sunday, Ontario tabulated reports of 740 additional cases dating as far back as August 2nd.
A majority of that number of cases (561) are actually considered ‘resolved’ which means by the time the new numbers are reported an amount equal to 2/3 of the number are already considered ‘resolved.’ 7 cases were added without a positive test. 76 were attributed to localized outbreaks. Two deaths were reported, one fatality in their 90’s another in their 70’s.
“Based on the age distribution of the cases reported today, and using their case fatality rates from wave 3, 99.59% of the cases announced today would be expected to survive.”
This sort of context should be reported by the media. If it were, then looking at graph like this:
And repeatedly hammering the public with the “fourth wave” mantra might seem a tad alarmist.
At any rate, Doug Ford has been cowed into instituting vaccine passports, let’s see if it sticks.
Meanwhile in New South Wales, Australia, which has been on extreme lockdown measures where citizens are only allowed to leave their homes for one hour of exercise per day, the government has added an additional “freedom hour” per day, for fully vaccinated citizens… starting in a couple of weeks from now.
OpenTable to integrate vaccination status into reservations app
If the governments don’t do it, Silicon Valley will. OpenTable quietly announced last week that they would be adding easy vaccination status integration to their app so that restaurant owners can enforce vaccine passport mandates.
“Restaurants can now tag diners as “Verified for Entry” once requirements are met, in addition to listing “Proof of Vaccination” as a safety precaution on their profiles and communicating directly with diners through direct messaging.”
Brave new world.
Meanwhile anti-mandatory vaccine protests continue across Europe and elsewhere, turning violent in Greece on Sunday as police there had to use tear gas and water cannons on protestors there ahead of a compulsory vaccination mandate taking effect there on September 1st. “We are not against vaccines, we are against fascism” one protestor was quoted as saying.
Alex Berenson permanently banned from Twitter over Israeli vaccine study
We mentioned former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson last summer when Amazon dropped his book about misleading Covid statistical reporting and the inefficacy of lockdowns from their platform. Amazon restated it after a backlash, fueled largely by a tweet from Elon Musk.
Berenson has been a constant source of dissident reporting since then, and what finally did it this time seems to be that he cited an Israeli study that concluded natural immunity to COVID was 13X more efficacious than being vaccinated. He pinned a tweet to his profile that said the vaccines were at best a therapeutic intervention and not an inoculation and that it was “insanity” to be mandating their use.
Twitter, ever the all-knowing arbiter of Truth, deemed it COVID misinformation and suspended him.
Reminder that so far at least one US intelligence agency investigating COVID origins as directed to by President Biden has concluded with “moderate confidence” that it was an unintentional lab leak from Wuhan. This was another topic that Twitter was eager to ban people over just a few short months ago.
OnlyFans reverses adult content ban
In last week’s edition we covered how the content creator platform OnlyFans announced a ban on explicit adult content (arguably their core business niche) after coming under pressure from their banking and payment partners to do so. The larger story covered was that banks and the credit card duopoly (VISA and Mastercard) had outsized control over public discourse.
Days later, OnlyFans announced the reversal of that plan, stating that they had “received adequate assurances from their banking partners” that they could continue their activities without being de-banked.
This isn’t really good news. It only accentuates the power that banks and payment systems exercise over the public.
The Guardian wrote an op-ed that the only “scandal” around OnlyFans was the “unaccountable power of platforms and banks” while Coindesk’s Nic Carter wrote up an excellent backgrounder on policymakers using their influence within the financial network to project ideological preferences on the public. He called it “The Weaponization of the Financial System” and traces its origins as far back as a “Operation Choke Point” under the Obama administration.
The upside to what has happened, according to Carter, is that those who were all too eager to abide by deplatforming when they were on the “right side of it” may have caught a glimpse of what it would look like to be on the wrong side of it. It isn’t pretty.
“If there’s a silver lining in the OnlyFans episode, it’s the reminder that it can happen to you, too. The OnlyFans deplatforming is an exception in that, for once, it was a liberal cause that was threatened with bank exclusion. The current anti-sex worker agenda – despite a solidly blue administration – is simply a reminder that censorship, once normalized, always strays from its initial confines. If Choke Point continues its unacknowledged revival under Biden, the progressives who by and large support selective financial exclusion (just witness the jubilation when rightist platforms like Gab and Parler have their payment relationships stripped) should consider what a similar program might look like under a President Cotton, DeSantis or Hawley.
The bottom line is that platforms like OnlyFans shouldn’t be marginalized via an opaque process involving extra-legal guidance emanating from unaccountable bureaucrats and regulators. We are still nominally a nation of laws and constitutional constraints. Instead of petitioning the state to ban one’s ideological enemies from financial infrastructure, and being taken by surprise when the political pendulum swings back, we ought to embrace neutral, apolitical financial infrastructure. OnlyFans is a potent reminder: You simply never know when you’ll be on the receiving end of the stick.”
Three awesome software tools for thinking
Via Hacknernews I found a blog article by “web dude” Julien Desrosiers about the software tools he uses for thinking and some of these look quite interesting.
Being a big fan of mindmaps and wikipads I was happy to learn of Kinopio and Joplin, the latter especially because I’ve been missing a local app wikipad since Wikipad more or less went defunct. I used to use WikiPad religiously.
I like the idea of Kinopio a lot because I also use mindmaps heavily but find the hierarchical structure of most mindmap applications to be a limitation. Kinopio seems more lateral. The only problem is it’s hosted and I would love something like this in an app, that may not bother some.
In the Hackernews thread I also learned of Obsidian, which looks really interesting as a kind of combined wikipad that uses markdown scripting and a mindmap. It’s also a downloadable app, putting the data on your own device and sync-able across your devices.
HN Thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28292225
Free Thought Project: We traded our Freedoms for safety from Covid, and got neither
As I review this week’s issue it looks pretty heavily laden with covid material. That wasn’t intentional, however since we cover technology related threats to privacy and free speech, the overwhelming barrage overreach from government policy makers, unelected bureaucrats and billionaire philanthropists who deign to reimagine everybody else’s lives, it sometimes crowds out everything else.
Hopefully in a few years we will be able to look back on this era as a kind of fleeting, albeit hysterical contagion and remark: “Wow, that was one cray-zee Fourth Turning.” Hopefully by then society will have adapted to a new technocratic age and found its moorings within it. A modernized foundation that rediscovers and preserves the Enlightenment ideals that set humanity off on this parabolic arc of technological advancement, personal freedom and economic prosperity.
But on the other side of the coin we all know that “there is no such thing as a temporary government measure.” (For example: August 15th celebrated the 50th anniversary of “The Nixon Shock,” when the US temporarily suspended USD convertibility into gold marking the end of the Bretton Woods era.) That implies that all of these temporary suspensions of the freedoms and liberties we took for granted less than two years ago may be gone for as long as the current system holds together.
Aldous Huxley once wrote (can’t find specifically where, but it may have been in Brave New World Revisited) that a descent into a technologically driven dictatorship would be one-way and permanent. I hope he was wrong about that.
This week the Free Thought Project put out a fairly blunt accounting of the last couple of years:
“On March 16, 2020, the Trump administration released a 15-day plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the US. That was 528 days ago.
Over the last year and a half, one of the largest power grabs in the history of the world has taken place as fearful citizens willingly surrendered their rights to the state for the promise of safety. But that safety never came and it never will.
What did come, however, was a slew of arbitrary and often ridiculous mandates and decrees from politicians who think that government force can stop a pandemic. Despite the economically devastating draconian lockdowns that killed countless small businesses, vaccine passports, and mask mandates, COVID-19 returned.”
The piece goes on to enumerate a litany of countermanding, if not inconvenient data points indicating how the policy response to Covid was ham-fisted, politicized and ineffective.
“As John Locke famously stated in A Letter Concerning Toleration, “It is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties. This the civil power alone has a right to do; to the other good-will is authority enough.””
Their piece observes “good ideas do not require force,” I will extrapolate from that and add that a truly existential, civilization ending pandemic would not require mandates of any kind to persuade the populace to take mitigating actions. I’ve written before, when COVID hit, I took the R0, the CFR and the case doubling rate and plugged into a spreadsheet which indicated that by August 2019, Toronto would be devastated, suffering 884,000 cases and at least 17,600 fatalities. Two years later, Toronto’s cumulative count is 173K with 3,619 fatalities. There are currently 9 ICU hospitalizations in Toronto with COVID.
In other words, COVID proceeded under its own trajectory regardless of any lockdowns or mask mandates, and we aren’t even allowed to talk about other measures that could have actually had an effect like Vitamin D, Zinc and, god forbid, Ivermectin or Hydroxychloroquine. That was because, as Matt Tiabbi observed, the entire mainstream media machine “committed itself to a regime of simplified insta-takes made opposite to Donald Trump’s comments.”
Because of that, the government response was a shit-show. Because of that, we traded our freedoms away for nothing.
And because of that no amount of dissent or contrary opinion can ever be allowed in mainstream public discourse ever again.
Also, because of that, I don’t think the wider public will ever trust a damn thing the mainstream media ever tells it, ever again.