Weekly Axis Of Easy #145
Last Week’s Quote was “The bulk of “misinformation” still comes from the class of people calling for censorship; they want their monopoly back” …by Matt Taibbi, nobody got it, but if came from his article “The Inevitable Coronavirus Censorship Crisis is Here“. I find I disagree with Taibbi on a few things, but he is bang on in this one.
This Week’s Quote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”…by ???
THE RULES: No searching up the answer, must be posted to the blog.
The Prize: First person to post the correct answer gets their next domain or hosting renewal on us.
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- CCP monitors foreign WeChat to tune domestic censorship
- Negative oil price triggers trading software bug, wipes out trader
- What to do about fake news when the gatekeepers are worse
- Open server triggers privacy fears around contact tracing apps
- Canada’s privacy commissioners issue statement on contact tracing apps
- Zoom acquires Keybase
- The dream is over: Google scuttles smart city plan for Toronto
- Facebook assembles 20-person “Supreme Court of Free Speech”
- GitHub takes down Popcorn Time BitTorrent client, again
- Youtube deletes David Ickes’ channel
- This week on the Axis:
- Software model behind global lockdown turns out to be garbage
- Jesse Hirsh on the acceleration of cybercrime
- AoE Salon #3: The Future is Inherently Political
Toronto’s CitizenLab has released a new report detailing how the Chinese government is conducting extensive surveillance on WeChat traffic on a level previously thought to be confined to domestic China-registered accounts.
Other key findings include that: “Documents and images transmitted entirely among non-China-registered accounts undergo content surveillance wherein these files are analyzed for content that is politically sensitive in China” and “files deemed politically sensitive are used to invisibly train and build up WeChat’s Chinese political censorship system”.
CitizenLab did not receive any response from WeChat’s parent company, Tencent, when asked how the company uses foreign user data to enable content blocking in China.
For the non-professional trader, dabbling in futures or FX contracts is generally a recipe for financial ruin. There’s so much leverage in those contracts that it doesn’t take much of a move against your position to get wiped out. When the underlying commodity does something weird, like say, flash crashing or something weirder (see below), all bets are off. The situation is exacerbated if the trading desk software isn’t equipped to handle such an unprecedented move.
Bloomberg reports the tale of Toronto-based Syed Shah, who normally trades stocks and currencies on his Interactive Brokers account. On April 20, Shah picked the absolute wrong day to try his hand at trading oil futures. That’s the day oil went negative for the first time in history, at one point printing a negative $37/barrel handle.
Shah waded into what he thought was an unsustainable discount on oil: spending $2,400 from his account on futures contracts at $3.30/barrel, $0.50/barrel, culminating in a tranche at the unbelievable price of one penny a barrel. Except not only did oil fall to 0.01/barrel, it kept going, below zero, negative and further negative – only Shah, and all of the other traders on Interactive Brokers system didn’t know that, because the platform wasn’t coded to handle negative oil prices. None of them knew the contracts they were buying were actually costing them money the further oil went below zero.
When the end-of-day settlement notices went out, Shah, who started the day out with a balance of $77,000 in his account, now owed the house $9,000,000.
Interactive Brokers has since acknowledged the negative price exposed bugs in their own system, and IB will be making all traders affected whole out of their own book. It’s estimated that will cost the brokerage around $113,000,000.
Charles Hugh Smith, Jesse Hirsh and I discussed this type of unprecedented signal distortion in our first AxisOfEasy Salon, available here.
A long time friend and easyDNS client sent me this article over the weekend, after witnessing a Facebook thread I started turn toxic and spin out of control ( by the end of it, another easyDNS client and 30+ year friend unfriended me). It’s by award winning journalist, and author of the excellent book “The Madness of Crowds”, Douglas Murray. In it he looks at the other side of the “fake news” coin, that of the “fake gatekeeper”.
“I am thinking of those people who present themselves as referees of the era: keepers of the narrative. People who weigh up stories and events and pronounce not just what is right and wrong, but what is discussable and what is not — who allow themselves to declare what is and is not off limits.”
Murray points out how gatekeeping at all is dangerous business. Something gatekeepers may deem as “misinformation” could embarrassingly turn out to be true, or something the gatekeepers put forth as “truth” turns out to be not so. Then the gatekeepers look like idiots and for some unfathomable reason, nobody trusts the press or the politicians anymore.
Even worse, “it diminishes the ability of wider society to determine what is true and false”. Something I’ve been complaining about recently because to be honest, I have no idea what to think about anything anymore. So much so that I’m suspicious of anybody who is bereft of radical uncertainty and to make it all worse, I routinely doubt my own sanity for thinking this way. Nevermind “being woke”. I’m hopelessly gaslit.
(In case you’re wondering what posted that triggered my Facebook friends, it was this clip of Tucker Carlson ranting about Big Tech censorship).
Bob Dianchenko strikes again. He’s the guy who keeps finding wide open servers and databases sitting out in the open on the internet. This time he found a server belonging to the NSO Group just sitting there… wide open, data free for the taking. NSO has also featured in these pages numerous times in the past, they’re the Israeli cyber-espionage company that national governments hire to hack into mobile communications of meddlesome journalists and dissidents (including the ill fated Jamal Koshoggi)
NSO was also under investigation by the FBI for possibly being behind the Jeff Bezos phone hack.
Looks like NSO has been awarded an Israeli government contract to handle Coronavirus contact tracing data and the server Dianchenko found was part of that contract for a system called “Fleming”.
“Fleming is designed to “pour” in confirmed coronavirus test data from the health authorities and phone location data from the cell networks to identify people who may have been exposed to a person with the virus. Anyone who came into close proximity to a person diagnosed with coronavirus would be notified.”
According to the company, it was only holding “test data”, so everything’s cool. But I do feel safer knowing that a company who’s core competence includes compromising the privacy of citizens being targeted by their own governments landed a contract to safeguard contact tracing data. Don’t you?
A joint statement from Canada’s Federal, Provincial and Territorial privacy commissioners has issued guidelines that should be followed by contact tracing apps. The commissioners observe that the coronavirus pandemic has spurred extraordinary measures and that
“Some of these measures will have significant implications for privacy and other fundamental rights. The choices that our governments make today about how to achieve both public health protection and respect for our fundamental Canadian values, including the right to privacy, will shape the future of our country.”
The principles outlined include: consent and trust, legal authority, necessity and proportionality, purpose limitation, de-identification, time limitation, transparency, accountability, and safeguards.
Hopefully the various levels of government pay attention to them.
Not much to add to the headline. Zoom’s buying Keybase, spawning at least a few “Keybase alternatives?” threads like in /r/Keybase on reddit and this one on Hackernews. Personally I have a Keybase account, but I also use Signal and Telegram (including a newly created AxisOfEasy telegram group)
This one kind of blindsided me. Google is pulling the plug on the planned “smart city” development in Toronto’s Harborfront area. Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs announced via a blog post by CEO Dan Docteroff:
“As unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world, and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community.”
So, that, as they say, will be that. Just seems odd however, citing Coronavirus and weak real estate prices. Sidewalk was given the half-billion dollar incentive in real estate price concessions and we’re supposed to have some V-shaped recovery as soon as all this is over….
I had research on Sidewalk Labs ahead of an eventual article or series of articles which now seems moot. One of my clippings was this long form piece Ten Reasons to say No: A Primer on Sidewalk Labs Plan for Toronto on The Bullet. Despite being written by self-professed socialists, it’s still a good primer nonetheless.
Last week Facebook announced their so-called “Supreme Court of Content Moderation”, a stand alone panel intending to function independently.
The “Supreme Court” label comes from a speech given by Zuck in 2018 in which he expressed the desire to form “some sort of structure, almost like a Supreme Court” to be the final arbiters over what is or isn’t allowed to be said on the social media platform. Doing so would thus absolve Facebook execs from “having to deal with this sh*t” (not an actual quote).
The 20 person tribunal is well represented across most liberal / progressive intersections and even contains a token conservative (Michael McConnell) and a libertarian specimen (John Samples of the CATO Institute). My prediction for the first 100 verdicts by the panel: 18-2, 18-2, 18-2, 18-2…. 18-2.
The Popcorn Time BitTorrent project came back online in March after being hounded offline by numerous court orders and take downs after it launched in 2014.
Popcorn Time launched version 4.0, free for download via a Github repository. GitHub has now taken down that repository receiving a DMCA notice from the MPA.
Youtube has taken David Ickes channel down for purportedly vioating policies against spreading Coronavirus misinformation (misinformation literally defined as “anything that goes against WHO or CDC directives”). Given that the WHO and CDC have been wrong, or late and even contradict each other, it seems a bit of a moving target to comply with the approved narrative.
The move came days after Facebook removed the David Icke page from Facebook. The last I checked, his Twitter, is still online (over/under for that – I give it until Friday the 15th until he’s gone from there too).
There was a concerted campaign by a group called Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) who was actively pushing the #DeplatformIcke hashtag.
Anyway Icke, who will no doubt blame it on the lizards, is gone, but as I say in Chapter 4 of Unassailable (which is now free for ebook download), all this is just marketing gold for the guy.
This week on the Axis:
We had a lot happening on the Axis this week:
An anonymous ex-Google engineer did a code review of the Imperial College software that modeled 2.5 million deaths in the US and 500K in the UK, it reportedly swung Boris Johnson from pursuing a Swedish style herd immunity approach toward the full lockdown that then went global. Turns out, the code is garbage.
I wrote a quick article about it on the site that I almost didn’t bother with, but it is now officially the most widely read and circulated thing I have ever written. It must have hit a nerve:
“If desperate times call for desperate measures, and many people remain in self-isolation, engaging in remote criminal work may be a convenient or desperate action for people to take.”
Where Charles looks at the nature of The Dao as it relates to 8 specific pivot points, or “reversals” he sees occurring over the next few years as the second order effects of the pandemic unfold.
This week we had all three of us back on hand: Charles Hugh Smith, Jesse Hirsh and myself to discuss the concept of “The Saviour State” and whether it’s possible to be a survivalist without any social capital.
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