Weekly Axis Of Easy #212
Last Week’s Quote was “History suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition.”…was Milton Friedman and nobody got it.
This Week’s Quote: “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”
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:
- The Lancet publishes stunning rebuke to Wuhan lab origin denialists
- Facebook: We’re all equal, but some are more equal than others
- Instagram is toxic to teenage girls and Facebook knew it
- Three US intelligence agents fined for hacking on behalf of UAE gov
- Domain registrar Epik hacked, data breached
- Canadian gov trying to move ahead “online harms” bill during snap election
- CIRA Needs your HELP, please vote in this year’s AGM
- RIP: Sir Clive Sinclair, personal computing pioneer
The Lancet publishes stunning rebuke to Wuhan lab origin denialists
Since the pandemic began there has been a widespread dynamic of marginalization against scientists and journalists who even looked at the possibility that the COVID-19 virus escaped from a lab, most likely in Wuhan (where they have a lab that researches…. Coronaviruses). Big Tech deplatformed outlets who ran stories about it, and those posting articles on social media found themselves being “fact checked” into irrelevance.
The institutional underpinning that canonized any lab leak as “conspiracy theory” were a pair of letters published in The Lancet medical journal in Feb 2020 and reiterated on July 5, 2021 which called on the medical community and the world at large to summarily dismiss all talk of a possible lab leak origin as “misinformation” and “conspiracy theory.”
Of course, since then, the mainstream media, the WHO and policy makers have had to (perhaps grudgingly) admit that the possibility of lab origin could not be ruled out and that it was just as possible, probable or likely as a zoonotic transfer. Further, Chinese authorities have actively stonewalled investigations further obfuscating the truth.
It also turned out that nearly every signatory to the July 5th Lancet letter had undisclosed conflicts of interest, including Peter Dazsak, whose Ecohealth Alliance turned out to have received funding from the (Anthony Fauci led) NIH that was then directed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for gain-of-function research (we also reported on all this and how Fauci lied to congress and the senate about it).
On Friday (Sept 17), The Lancet ran a stunning opinion piece authored and signed by 16 eminent medical professionals titled “An appeal for an objective, open, and transparent scientific debate about the origin of SARS-CoV-2” which flat out says:
“There is no direct support for the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, and a laboratory-related accident is plausible.”
The letter notes that the reasoning proferred in the letters dismissing lab origin (“suggestions of a laboratory leak source of the pandemic remain without scientifically validated evidence that directly supports it in peer-reviewed scientific journals”) could “literally be reversed” and applied to natural origin. (As I have pointed out in previous writings, pointing to lack of evidence as proof of something is actually a recognized logical fallacy, one that doesn’t seem to be taught in journalism school).
As per this new Lancet letter:
“There is so far no scientifically validated evidence that directly supports a natural origin….Among the references cited in the two letters by Calisher and colleagues, all but one simply show that SARS-CoV-2 is phylogenetically related to other betacoronaviruses. The fact that the causative agent of COVID-19 descends from a natural virus is widely accepted, but this does not explain how it came to infect humans. The question of the proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2—ie, the final virus and host before passage to humans—was expressly addressed in only one highly cited opinion piece, which supports the natural origin hypothesis, but suffers from a logical fallacy:
it opposes two hypotheses—laboratory engineering versus zoonosis—wrongly implying that there are no other possible scenarios.” (Emphasis added)
I could quote the letter at length, or you could just go read it. While there is some medical / biological jargon in there, it is overall accessible to the layman and the upshot is that there are numerous avenues in the practices of virology research that have already in the past, and could have in this case, resulted in an escape or leak. The Wuhan lab is biosafety level 2, which they observe, is appropriate for coronavirus research, but not for gain-of-function research – which it now looks like what was happening there (and both Fauci and Daszak knew it).
Facebook: We’re all equal, but some are more equal than others
“We’re not actually doing what we say we do publicly.”
“Facebook routinely makes exception for powerful actors.”
“This problem is pervasive touching almost every area of the company.”
So begins a Wall Street Journal exposé into the two-tiered system that is Facebook’s so-called “community standards.” Documents reviewed by the WSJ show that not only does Facebook apply the rules differently for the plebes than they do members of elite society, they’ve even built out internal systems and mechanisms to make it more manageable.
“The program, known as “cross check” or “XCheck,” was initially intended as a quality-control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, including celebrities, politicians and journalists. Today, it shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process, the documents show. Some users are “whitelisted”—rendered immune from enforcement actions—while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.”
At times, the documents show, XCheck has protected public figures whose posts contain harassment or incitement to violence, violations that would typically lead to sanctions for regular users.”
In 2019 Facebook undertook an internal review of their whitelisting which was marked confidential (attorney-client privileged) and the process found the practice of institutionalized favouritism to be widespread and “not publicly defensible.”
Experience tells me that Facebook isn’t the exception. It’s a microcosm.
Instagram is toxic to teenage girls and Facebook knew it
Speaking of internal Facebook documents that they were hoping would never come to light, WSJ does it again surfacing details around another internal initiative around Facebook’s study of its subsidiary Instagram. This piece, also by Jeff Horowitz who wrote the preceding WSJ article, co-authorted by Georgia Wells & Deepa Seetharaman reveals that Facebook knew that teenage girls spending hours a day on Instagram worshipping the outwardly idyllic lives (and bodies) of “influencers” was excaberating mental health issues around body image and self-esteem.
Over the past three years Facebook has been studying how the photo sharing platform impacts female teens and repeatedly found the same thing, captured succinctly in a slide from a 2019 deck: “We make body issues worse for one in three teenage girls.” Another said “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” The same presentation warned that the findings were unprompted and consistent across all age groups.
Anastasia Vlasova, featured in the article, developed an eating disorder. Among teens having entertained thoughts of suicide, 13% in the UK and 6% in America “traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.”
Further, echoing the above story, this isn’t what Facebook is saying publicly. In May of this year Instragram’s head Adam Mosseri told reporters that the research showed deleterious effects on teens to be “quite small.” Zuckerberg said (which a straight face): “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” in a congressional hearing in March.
But hey, when you’re the CEO of a surveillance capitalism monopoly like Facebook you’re allowed to lie to congress. Only the plebes have to worry about having their careers and lives destroyed if they say the wrong thing or like the wrong social media post.
Three US intelligence agents fined for hacking on behalf of UAE gov
Came across this DoJ release on how three ex-military intelligence operatives from the US were fined $1.6M USD to settle charges that they violated export controls when they worked as private consultants for the United Arab Emirates government between 2016 and 2019. In their activities there they undertook hacking activities on behalf of the UAE gov, using exploits like 0-click to hack people targeted by the UAE government. My guess is they were using NSO Group Pegasus to target dissident journalists and activists.
Domain registrar Epik hacked, data breached
Epik.com the registrar known for taking on domains where even we fear to tread has been hacked. On Sept 8 the #EpikFail tag began circulating on Twitter and the website EpikFail.win posted a declaration, ostensibly from the Anonymous hacking collective, about the gory details, and a torrent to a dump of over 138 GB of data.
The motivation for the attack seemed to have been Gab’s brief re-platforming of the Texan based Right to Life that Godaddy took down a few weeks ago because it was doxxing abortion clinic personnel. By the time the hack hit, Epik had already taken it down for violating their AUP against doxxing as well.
While the media generally characterizes Epik as “a far right platform,” my take on CEO Rob Monster has always been that he is neither a Nazi nor a far-right personality, but a free speech absolutist trying hard to live by his religious ideals, albeit one who is prone to making “unforced errors” to use the baseball colloquialism. Uploading the video of the Christchurch shooting spree to IPFS comes to mind. However, Epik is consistently described as “having platformed DailyStormer” (a website we refused to service), but that is an unfair characterization. Epik inherited DS when they acquired BitMitigate, a DDoS mitigation provider, and DailyStormer was one of their clients, and Epik terminated them when they realized that. (We once canceled a sizeable and lucrative DNS deal with a DDOS provider when we saw Westboro Baptist Church domains in the client list. DDoS providers by their very nature attract the scum of the earth. Cloudflare has thousands of such sites but largely get a pass for being a member in good standing of the Silicon Valley in-group).
Knowing full well how hard it is to advocate for free speech in this era of hysterical cancel-culture, I have a certain respect for Rob. He’s taken a lot of grief and marginalization for his stance. In a bizarre, three-hour open meeting Monster hosted to address questions about the hack, attended by a multiplicity of stakeholders, the notorious neo-Nazi Weev showed up (sporting a huge swastika tattoo on his chest, like wtf) and a tangental, ideological debate between them ensued. One side espousing coveture (the accrual of a woman’s rights to her husband upon marrying), restoration of slavery and expulsion of Jews (Weev) vs the virtues of universal love, tolerance, harmony and connecting to one’s higher self (Rob). It was surreal. (I don’t know if Weev was there because he has domains with Epik or just showed up to stir up trouble).
Monster took down a couple of websites that were doxxing Antifa members during the call (not that Antifa ever doxxes anyone, but they’re allowed to, I guess).
It’s a horrible fate, being hacked like that. I know big, billion dollar companies simply blame the Russians and watch their stock price wobble for a few weeks. But for a small business it can be the end. I lose sleep pondering that possibility and I wouldn’t wish that fate on my worst enemy.
What everybody seems to forget is this: whoever hacked Epik is a criminal. You don’t get exemptions for committing crimes against people on the other side of the political spectrum, and in case anybody didn’t know, Epik has hundreds of thousands of customers who are just normal, everyday people who are not far-right or fringe. They’ve all been doxxed now too.
Watching the pile-on via Twitter was gruesome. Someday, somebody is going to get canceled and while blue-check Twitter is busy high-fiving themselves that person is going to commit suicide or otherwise self-harm. Every single retweeter and gloater is going to share moral culpability when it happens.
Open Web call: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ9MFts28XI&t=5256s (Socratic dialog with Weev starts around 1:04:52)
We are now getting reports from people being notified by various services that their emails were leaked in the Epik hack, even though they had no account with Epik. In fact I got such a notice myself from HaveIBeenPwned. We’re looking into it.
Canadian gov trying to move ahead “online harms” bill during snap election
I have been remiss in not covering Canada’s proposed “online harms” bill which takes the worst elements of previous initiatives, ranging from Bell’s horrendous “Lawful Access” proposal to the now paused Bill C-11. The online harms act seeks to impose a draconian regime on “Online Communications Services” (not really defined anywhere), requiring them to remove harmful content within 24 hours of it being reported to them, not to mention to provide automated mechanisms for enabling such reporting. They will also be required to automate content scanning to locate and remote harmful content (defined as “the five harms” – child expoitation, terrorism – not really defined, incitement to violence, sharing intimate images without consent and hate speech).
The proposal further provides for “content blocking” in cases of non-compliance – also not defined.
The Internet Society Canada Chapter (of which I’m a director) drafted a detailed response to the public consultation which seems almost designed to be an under-the-radar rubber stamp that overlaps a snap election call. One wonders if this was intentional and the hope was for a majority government which could simply pass this after the election (I’m writing this the day before the election and you’ll receive it the day after, so you know more than I how realistic this is).
If that’s posted before this goes out I’ll link it here. The Open Media foundation made a quite reasonable request that this should be parked until after the election.
In the meantime I’ll link to an overview by Michael Geist from earlier in the summer.
The proposal: https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/harmful-online-content.html
CIRA Needs your HELP, please vote in this year’s AGM
If you’re a Canadian .CA holder and CIRA member, the AGM is this week on September 23rd at 1pm ET.
One CIRA member, Alex Beraskow of Ottawa, has submitted eight member proposals, which if adopted would radically restructure the CIRA board and, in my opinion, disqualify the people most capable of providing oversight from ever serving on the CIRA board or the nominating committee that curates board aspirants.
As some of you may know, I served on the CIRA board from 2001-2003 and while I have had the occasional criticism of CIRA over the years, I find the oversight of the .CA namespace to be effective and world class. It has successfully stewarded over the namespace as “a key public resource” as declared in the original spirit and form of the founding documents.
Were the Beraskow proposals to pass, people like me, people who run registrars because they eat, sleep, live and breathe domain names and DNS, we wouldn’t be able to serve as directors. While there is a legitimate concern that a board seated overwhelmingly with registrars runs the risk of board capture, numerous reforms over the years have made that unlikely in the extreme and passing such a bylaw would create an irrevocable barrier precluding those most involved, experienced and knowledgeable of naming and domains from lending their expertise to oversight of the space.
CIRA has also posted their take on the member proposals, stating that they feel they stem from a profound misunderstanding of CIRA’s structures and core principles.
Read that here: https://member.cira.ca/Events/Events/CanadiansConnected/CIRA_Response_to_the_Member_Proposals.aspx
If you have a .CA domain, take a few minutes, make sure your CIRA membership is active, and vote in this AGM.
RIP: Sir Clive Sinclair, personal computing pioneer
Sir Clive Sinclair, home computing visionary and pioneer died in the UK at age 81. Sir Sinclair occupies a fond place in my heart as the inventor of the ZX81, which I knew as the “Timex Sinclair,” my very first computer.
It was a Christmas gift when I was 14 and I had it connected to my black and white, 10” portable TV. I was about 3 days into punching in some dice game code, programmed in BASIC, when somebody flicked a light switch in our hallway and that fried the motherboard. Christmas was officially over.