Saturday, September 9, 2023

Monday, May 2, 2022

“Vladimir, I’m calling about your car’s warranty.”

This is worthy of a cosmic karma chuckle.

For more than a decade, U.S. cybersecurity experts have warned about Russian hacking that increasingly uses the labor power of financially motivated criminal gangs to achieve political goals, such as strategically leaking campaign emails.

Prolific ransomware groups in the last year and a half have shut down pandemic-battered hospitals, the key fuel conduit Colonial Pipeline and schools; published sensitive documents from corporate victims; and, in one case, pledged to step up attacks on American infrastructure if Russian technology was hobbled in retribution for the invasion of Ukraine.

Yet the third month of war finds Russia, not the United States, struggling under an unprecedented hacking wave that entwines government activity, political voluntarism and criminal action.

Digital assailants have plundered the country’s personal financial data, defaced websites and handed decades of government emails to anti-secrecy activists abroad. One recent survey showed more passwords and other sensitive data from Russia were dumped onto the open Web in March than information from any other country.


The broadcasting cache and some of the other notable spoils were obtained by a small hacktivist group formed as the war began looking inevitable, called Network Battalion 65.

“Federation government: your lack of honor and blatant war crimes have earned you a special prize,” read one note left on a victim’s network. “This bank is hacked, ransomed and soon to have sensitive data dumped on the Internet.”

In its first in-depth interview, the group told The Washington Post via encrypted chat that it gets no direction or assistance from government officials in Ukraine or elsewhere.

“We pay for our own infrastructure and dedicate our time outside of jobs and familial obligations to this,” an unnamed spokesperson said in English. “We ask nothing in return. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin is trying to figure out why the garage door keeps opening and closing all by itself.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Hack Job On The Whack Jobs

This is hilarious.

Epik long has been the favorite Internet company of the far-right, providing domain services to QAnon theorists, Proud Boys and other instigators of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — allowing them to broadcast hateful messages from behind a veil of anonymity.

But that veil abruptly vanished last week when a huge breach by the hacker group Anonymous dumped into public view more than 150 gigabytes of previously private data — including user names, passwords and other identifying information of Epik’s customers.

Extremism researchers and political opponents have treated the leak as a Rosetta Stone to the far-right, helping them to decode who has been doing what with whom over several years. Initial revelations have spilled out steadily across Twitter since news of the hack broke last week, often under the hashtag #epikfail, but those studying the material say they will need months and perhaps years to dig through all of it.

“It’s massive. It may be the biggest domain-style leak I’ve seen and, as an extremism researcher, it’s certainly the most interesting,” said Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who studies right-wing extremism. “It’s an embarrassment of riches — stress on the embarrassment.”

Epik, based in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, has made its name in the Internet world by providing critical Web services to sites that have run afoul of other companies’ policies against hate speech, misinformation and advocating violence. Its client list is a roll-call of sites known for permitting extreme posts and that have been rejected by other companies for their failure to moderate what their users post.

Online records show those sites have included 8chan, which was dropped by its providers after hosting the manifesto of a gunman who killed 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019; Gab, which was dropped for hosting the antisemitic rants of a gunman who killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018; and Parler, which was dropped due to lax moderation related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The right-wing nutsery lives on the web — dark or otherwise — so kicking over the rock and exposing the wriggling bugs is the price you pay for lax security and the hubris of thinking that using their cat’s birthday as their password would keep them safe.


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

First Flight

From the New York Times:

A small robotic helicopter named Ingenuity made space exploration history on Monday when it lifted off the surface of Mars and hovered in the wispy air of the red planet. It was the first machine from Earth ever to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on another world.

The achievement extends NASA’s long, exceptional record of firsts on Mars.

“We together flew at Mars,” MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, said to her team during the celebration. “And we together now have this Wright brothers moment.”

Like the first flight of an airplane by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903, the flight did not go far or last long, but it showed what could be done. Flying in the thin atmosphere of Mars was a particularly tricky technical endeavor, on the edge of impossible because there is almost no air to push against. NASA engineers employed ultralight materials, fast-spinning blades and high-powered computer processing to get Ingenuity off the ground and keep it from veering off and crashing.

Several headlines in the media proclaimed that Ingenuity was the first flight ever on another planet. They should have qualified that as the first known flight, since there are a lot of other planets in the universe and no one really knows who’s doing what somewhere else.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Reading

They’re Not Listening — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

Each day this week, when the Senate impeachment trial of Donald John Trump has convened at 1 P.M., the proceedings have opened with a prayer by the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, pitched to the tenor of the day. On Wednesday, responding to the ill-tempered partisan exchanges that marked the trial’s contentious first afternoon and evening, Black urged senators to “remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle.” On Thursday, he practically begged senators to take their role seriously, cautioning them against “fatigue or cynicism,” and insisting that “listening is often more than hearing.” Black warned against jeopardizing friendships of many years in the heat of the impeachment moment, and, on Friday, he returned to the theme of “civility and respect” and implored senators to maintain their ability to “distinguish between facts and opinions without lambasting the messengers.”

I came to look forward to these homilies, but only because they seemed like pleas to a country and a Senate that no longer exist. If anything, the chaplain was pleading with senators to do the exact opposite of what we all know they are doing. In Trump’s exhausted, jaded capital, there is some listening, but certainly no hearing. Civility is as often as not a dirty word, a synonym for moral compromise and not a prescription for practical politics. In days of watching the trial, I have observed only a handful of instances of Republicans and Democrats interacting with each other in any way. The Senate of the United States in 2020 is not a place where meaningful talking across the aisle is possible. It is not a place where facts are mutually accepted and individuals of good will can look at them and come to opposite but equally valid conclusions. The distance is too vast, the gulf unbridgeable.

We already knew this, of course, before Trump was impeached by the Democratic House of Representatives and put on trial by the Republican Senate, a trial that has been fast-tracked toward his inevitable acquittal. But what a sad and powerful demonstration of the phenomenon we are witnessing. On Thursday night, at the start of one of his most passionate—and ultimately partisan—speeches, the lead House manager, Adam Schiff, began by making an overture to the senators, going on at great length about their fairness and thanking them for keeping “an open mind.” To say this was aspirational would be a stretch. Schiff knew there were few, if any, open minds in the Senate, where, in the course of twenty-four hours spread across three days, he and his fellow House managers made their opening arguments.

The House team’s approach to the problem of having an essentially unpersuadable audience was to veer between lengthy and at times repetitive PowerPoint-enabled recitations of the evidence against Trump—which was plentiful—and impassioned appeals to the Senate to do something about it. As the week built toward the House managers’ Friday-evening close, the level of passion seemed to rise, along with every senatorial tweet and TV interview confirming that their eloquence was largely lost on their audience.

On Friday afternoon, Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, offered an impressive recap of the lengths to which the White House went to keep Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign secret. He cited names and dates for the cover-up. At the end of his presentation, his tone changed. “There’s a toxic mess at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Jeffries, who is often pegged as a future Speaker of the House, said. “I humbly suggest that it’s our collective job on behalf of the American people to try to clean it up.” A few hours later, Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and another of the managers, went further. After outlining Trump’s assertion of essentially unlimited executive privilege and pointing out that Trump is the first President to categorically refuse to provide a single witness or document in response to a congressional impeachment inquiry, Nadler compared Trump to a would-be king. Trump is “the first and only President ever to declare himself unaccountable,” Nadler said. If he is left unchecked by Congress, Nadler concluded, “He is a dictator. This must not stand.”

In his own closing, Schiff hit many of the same themes. He ran through a litany of Trump’s obstructive acts. “That has been proved,” he said, over and over again, as he checked off each item on his list. His disdain for the President was palpable. (“For a man who loves to mock others, he does not like to be mocked,” Schiff, a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, said.) And then he ended with an homage to “moral courage” and the real political bravery needed in “disagreeing with our friends—and our party.” It was a moving speech, as Schiff’s usually are, and it sought to acknowledge that Republicans would have to do something very brave indeed: listen to his case and truly hear it. He even proposed that Republicans merely punt the remaining question of whether to call witnesses in the trial to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate proceeding. “Give America a fair trial,” he implored. “She’s worth it.” But, of course, it was not to be. Indeed, a riff in Schiff’s speech citing a CBS story that Trump associates had reportedly threatened that any Republican who dared to vote against Trump would end up with his or her “head on a pike” soon had G.O.P. senators claiming to be offended and outraged by Schiff’s words. As Schiff was speaking, the Associated Press tweeted out a news story that captured the moment. It said, “Democrats do not appear close to getting the 4 GOP votes needed for witnesses to appear in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.” The game is all but over.

Who, in the end, were they speaking to? And to what end? Jeffries and Nadler and Schiff spoke of Trump as a liar running a dangerously dysfunctional Administration—which counts as an incontrovertible truth in their world but clearly does not in that of the Republican senators. Those senators, after all, have been Trump’s enablers and supporters for three years now, no matter how initially reluctant they were to back him. They have voted almost entirely in lockstep with his priorities, even those that diverged from the Party’s previously held orthodoxies or the senators’ own longstanding beliefs. If Trump’s Washington is the toxic hot mess that Jeffries spoke of, these folks cannot conduct the cleanup. They voted for the pollution.

There are two observations from the Senate floor that stick with me after three long days of hearing the House present its case. These observations speak to how essentially impossible the task of addressing the jury was for Schiff and his fellow-prosecutors. The Republican John Kennedy, a canny Rhodes Scholar from Louisiana who is nonetheless known for his folksy observations, told a reporter, as he headed into the arguments on Friday morning, that the managers had made a mistake in reading their audience. “Very few souls are saved after the first twenty minutes of the sermon,” he said. Less charitable was the view of Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, who said that she had been watching her Republican colleagues squirm in their chairs and understood that nobody likes to be forced to listen to something that they disagree with. “Most of us get restless when we are presented with information we don’t want to hear,” Hirono said, and of course she was right. Imagine doing that for twelve hours or more a day, confined to a hard wooden seat, with no food and every bathroom break you take scrutinized by reporters as proof that you are not taking your job seriously. That, roughly, is the predicament in which the Senate Republican members found themselves this week. It is no surprise that they looked unhappy.

But, still, if the goal of the House managers was to sway any votes, then it is hard not to see their presentation of the case as a failure. On Thursday night, the Republican Rob Portman, of Ohio, spoke to CNN’s Manu Raju outside the chamber and made what counts these days as a concession of sorts to the Democrats. Portman acknowledged that Trump’s withholding of millions in military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine, as he sought politically motivated investigations, was problematic behavior. “Some of the things that were done were not appropriate,” Portman said. “I’ve used the word ‘wrong’ and ‘inappropriate.’ That’s a very different question than removing someone from office who was duly elected, in the middle of a Presidential election.”

This, in effect, is what I would have expected Republican senators to say in defense of Trump in a previous, less polarized era. It is a modified, updated, Trumpified version of the defense that Democratic senators used twenty-one years ago in voting to acquit Bill Clinton on charges of lying under oath about an extramarital affair: Wrong, bad, inexcusable, but does not rise to the level of impeachment and removal from office.

Had Senate Republicans adopted this argument en masse, the trial would still have the same partisan outcome, but at least it would have taken place in the world of shared facts and expectations. But Portman is no longer the mainstream of the G.O.P.; the center has not held. On Friday afternoon, Judy Woodruff, of PBS, asked Portman’s colleague Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, whether she at least accepted “their premise” that Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate his 2020 political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden. “I don’t,” Fischer said. This is remarkable stuff. What must the Senate chaplain make of such willful defiance of the facts? The demand from Trump to investigate Biden—by name, no less!—is right in the summary of his July 25th call with the Ukrainian President—the “perfect” phone call, as Trump calls it. The President has tweeted dozens of times since September urging Americans to “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” How is it possible that one of the hundred senators is so disdainful of her duty that she has not bothered to do so or, if she has, is so willing to ignore what it so plainly says?

This is not a serious defense of Trump, of course, but it is amazingly revealing. The Senate trial of twenty-one years ago was for the Rob Portmans; the Senate trial of today is for the Deb Fischers. There is no audience for Adam Schiff, or if there is it has shrunk to a small handful of Republicans who may or may not vote next week to keep the trial going with witnesses and further evidence. For the rest of the Republicans and the forty per cent or so of America that has unflinchingly supported Trump through his Presidency, there will be another show, produced personally by the showman-in-chief.

That starts on Saturday, when the Trump legal team begins its opening arguments. Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, a Harvard Law School graduate who was the solicitor general of Texas before he became a senator, told the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, in an interview on Friday morning, that he was actively advising the Trump legal team after hours of sitting on the Senate floor each day. He said that he told the President’s lawyers, “No. 1, focus on substance more and process less.”

Don’t expect much substance. On Thursday morning, Trump gave a clear indication of the kind of defense he wants and where his mind is as he directs his lawyers. After “having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew,” Trump tweeted, “looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.” Later, Trump’s private lawyer for the impeachment, Jay Sekulow, elaborated, in the language of show business preferred by the reality-TV star in the White House. Saturday’s presentation by the Trump legal team will be like a “trailer,” Sekulow told reporters, during a break on Friday—a preview of “coming attractions.” The show, for a few more days at least, will go on.

Tick-Tock — Erin Blankemore in the Washington Post on really knowing what time it is.

If you tune a shortwave radio to 2.5, 5, 10 or 15 MHz, you can hear a little part of radio history — and the output of some of the most accurate time devices on Earth.

Depending on where you are in the United States, those frequencies will bring you to WWV and WWVH, two extremely accurate time signal stations.

Developed before commercial radio existed, WWV recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. It’s the oldest continually operating radio station in the United States.

Both stations are overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal agency that governs standards for weights and measures and helps define the world’s official time.

That time can be heard on shortwave radio 24/7.

Early on, WWV focused on experimental broadcasts (think Victrola concerts that wowed early radio users). Beginning in 1945, it began broadcasting time, too. In 1948, it was joined by a sister station in Hawaii for better Pacific Coast coverage. Unlike its Pacific counterpart, WWV also broadcasts at 20 MHz.

The format is bare-bones: Ticktock-like tones mark each second. Every minute, a voice announces Coordinated Universal Time, also known as UTC, which corresponds with Greenwich Mean Time. The stations also broadcast marine storm warnings, Department of Defense messages and updates on the status of GPS satellites and solar activity.

The information is provided by cesium atomic clocks and is accurate within less than 0.0001 milliseconds. The signal takes a tiny bit of time to travel to radio listeners, but is accurate within 10 milliseconds in most places within the United States. The stations are most recognizable to shortwave radio fans, and they are used to calibrate stopwatches, synchronize clocks for scientific and industrial applications, and even to tune pianos and time astronomical observations.

But another sister station, WWVB, is less familiar and arguably more widely used.

It doesn’t broadcast voices, just digital time codes over a ­low-frequency carrier. In North America, millions of radio-controlled watches and alarm clocks sync up with WWVB.

Don’t have a shortwave radio, but want to listen in? Call 303-499-7111 for WWV or 808-335-4363 for WWVH, and listen to up to two minutes of the oddly comforting broadcasts.

Doonesbury — Priorities

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Sunday, October 13, 2019

And We’re Back

I had a new solid-state memory and additional RAM put in my 10-year-old Toshiba, and it’s like I have a new computer.

This is the place: Flat Rate Geek of Miami, owned and operated by Jesus Perez.  He came highly recommended, and it’s like putting a 427 V8 under the hood of a 1965 Mustang.

Thank you, Jesus.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sunday Reading

Writing On Writers — Anthony Lane in The New Yorker reviews two films about those ink-stained wretches.

Having earned his spurs directing and acting in movies of “Henry V” (1989), “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993), “Hamlet” (1996), “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (2000), and “As You Like It” (2006), Kenneth Branagh is at liberty to make of Shakespeare what he will. Had he offered a souped-up “Twelfth Night,” set in the hot-rod capital of Illyria, with Dwayne Johnson as Malvolio and Vin Diesel as Sir Toby Belch, I would have been the first to line up. Instead, Branagh has gone for a quieter option, by giving us “All Is True.”

The title is a clever thing, i’faith. For a start, it is the alternative title of “Henry VIII,” the play that was being performed at the Globe on June 29, 1613, when a cannon shot, designed to beef up the regal show, set fire to the roof. The entire theatre burned down. (It is surely a cause for regret that this chastening tradition—of major dramatic endeavors being abruptly terminated by too many special effects—has not survived to the present day.) Moreover, to call any movie “All Is True” is a sly provocation, hinting that what follows may not be wholly reliable. Compare the legendary film, set in South America and laced with documentary footage, that was conjured up by Orson Welles in the nineteen-forties but left unfinished. The title? “It’s All True.”

Branagh’s movie is not, for once, an adaptation of a play. Written by Ben Elton, it’s all about Shakespeare: not the Maytime of his youth, or the glorious summer of his prime, but his withdrawal—the period after the conflagration at the Globe, when he quit London and went home to Stratford-upon-Avon with his memories, his dirty laundry, and his 401(k). What occurred between his return and his death, in April, 1616, is as open to rash conjecture as every other patch of Shakespeare’s life. We can, with some certainty, attest that he played very little golf with former dentists, but that’s about it. Even the assumption that he stayed put for the rest of his days doesn’t quite bear scrutiny, since a friend reported meeting him in London in November, 1614. The received wisdom, according to the Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate, is that “the dramatist ‘retired’ to Stratford, settled down to property dealing, minor litigation, and the life of the complacent country gentleman. This is a myth.” But movies, like history plays, take no pleasure in verification. Why puncture a myth when you can pump it up?

The part of Shakespeare in “All Is True” is taken by Branagh himself, or by as much of him as can be discerned behind a wig, a false beard, and an even falser nose. How to account for this late-blooming interest in personal camouflage? First came his Hercule Poirot, in “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017), when it seemed that Birnam Wood had bypassed Dunsinane and parked on Branagh’s upper lip, and now we have his Bard. To make things worse, he is often viewed from the side, allowing us to gauge the precise angle at which the beard, short and sharp, has been glued on. It looks like some sort of digging tool, and, indeed, much of the movie is spent in Shakespeare’s garden. Maybe we are meant to suppose that, ever the innovator, he was the first Englishman to plant sweet damask roses with his chin.

Also resident at New Place, the swell joint that he bought in 1597, are his wife, Anne (Judi Dench), and his daughter Judith (Kathryn Wilder). It has been ungallantly pointed out that, though Anne was William’s senior by eight years, the age gap between Dench and Branagh is almost twenty years wider; on the other hand, no chance to see her on film should be disdained. She finds in Anne the mordant fatigue of someone who has long since resigned herself to being ignored. Weary of her husband’s reputation, she asks, “Have you even once considered mine?,” a jibe that is all the more piquant for being a perfectly scannable, if unwitting, line of Shakespearean verse.

Judith is more blatant in her wrath. Her twin brother, Hamnet, died in 1596, and the movie contends that, whereas he was the apple of his father’s eye, she is regarded—or so she believes—as “a useless, pointless girl.” She and her mother sit and stew in the shadows, bent over their needlework (neither of them can read), and, after one fracas with her father, Judith storms out of the room. You can hardly blame her, given the bondage of the times. “A woman is put upon this earth for one reason,” she exclaims. It is a matter of record that, in 1616, she married a vintner named Thomas Quiney (who really was useless, not least at keeping his pants on), and the film shows Shakespeare rising at the wedding feast and assuring his guests that “family is everything.” Ah, yes. Look at the Lears.

The challenge, of course, is to veer off the record in style. “Cursed be he that moves my bones,” we are cautioned by the epitaph on Shakespeare’s tomb, but that has not deterred us from rearranging the skeletal outlines of his life and cladding them in speculative flesh. In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf gives him an imaginary sister, “wonderfully gifted,” who, after being flogged for refusing marriage, escapes to London with dreams of becoming an actor. (They are foiled, and she kills herself.) Germaine Greer, meanwhile, has suggested that Judith became a maidservant in the Quiney household, before marrying Thomas to save his family from scandal. All power to Branagh and Elton, then, as they devise a peculiar plot about Judith and her lost brother, even supplying a whiff of spicy whodunnit. “How did Hamnet die?” his father inquires. For a while, I wondered if Branagh might be morphing back into Poirot.

The problem is not that this film plays fast and loose. Nor that it slides into anachronism, with Shakespeare crowing over “my vast, complex, and spectacularly successful business,” as if he were in shipping or aerospace. At a pinch, I can even take the preëmptive puffery of the script, whereby lesser characters keep lauding his omniscient genius. (Serious bardolatry didn’t get into its stride until the eighteenth century.) No, what’s dismaying about “All Is True” is that it plays so slow and loose. The action seizes up. The mood is chronically autumnal. The women suffer under hats the size of fire hydrants. The music is mostly scored for piano and mush. And our attention is drawn, at inordinate length, to landscapes that look too fanciful to be rooted in the real. The falling leaves that swirl around our hero are clearly being driven by somebody just off camera, gunning his leaf blower to the max.

And yet, if you skip the movie, you’ll miss out. For ten minutes, it holds you in its thrall. The occasion is a visit by the Earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare, early in his career, dedicated two long poems. He is played by Ian McKellen, who immediately strikes the right balance of gravity and sport. The two men sit by the hearth, warmed by its glow as Falstaff and Shallow were in Welles’s “Chimes at Midnight” (1965). The Earl credits his host with “the finest, the most _com_plete, that most beautiful mind, I’ll warrant, that ever existed in this world” (no one but McKellen would think to stress that syllable), only to gaze upon him and ask, “Why are you such a little man?” Talk about lordly. They trade recitations of Sonnet 29—Branagh with a half-angry admission of love, McKellen with amused and flirtatious hauteur. To watch these fine actors, with Shakespeare in their marrow, forgo the toil of modern dialogue for the gracious ease of verse, enfolded in firelight, feels like a privilege. Such an encounter, like most of the events in this movie, probably never took place, but the flame of the words requires no invention. It’s all true.

Why do people keep making films about writers? And why do people watch them? It’s not as if writers do anything of interest. Unless you’re Byron or Stendhal, a successful day is one in which you don’t fall asleep with your head on the space bar. An honest film about a writer would be an inaction-packed six-hour trudge, a one-person epic of mooch and mumblecore, the highlights being an overflowing bath, the reheating of cold coffee, and a pageant of aimless curses that are melted into air, into thin air. As Martin Amis observed of writers, in “The Information,” his winningly defeatist novel of 1995, “Most alive when alone, they make living hard to do for those around them.”

All of which is unfair to J. R. R. Tolkien, who was a good and kindly man, with friends possess’d. Much of the time, nonetheless, he dwelt in the hobbit-hole of his brain, a richly furnished refuge, and his creative exertions, seen from outside, entailed little more than the refilling of his pipe. One of his biographers claims that, from 1925 until his death, in 1973, “nothing really happened,” so it makes sense that “Tolkien”—a new film, directed by Dome Karukoski—should draw us back to his earlier years. Things happened then.

We find Tolkien as a child (Harry Gilby), already fatherless, living in rural bliss with his brother and mother. Paradise is lost when they move to the murk of Birmingham; there he attends a formidable school, declaiming Chaucer by heart and growing close to a trio of like-minded students. Tolkien, now played by Nicholas Hoult, lodges in a house whose décor, overstuffed and precious, with a surfeit of William Morris wallpapers, makes it seem like a cozy jungle. He falls in love with Edith (Lily Collins), and they kiss backstage during a performance of Wagner’s “Rheingold.” (In fact, Tolkien scorned the “Ring” cycle, as he did any attempt to link it with “The Lord of the Rings.” In his judgment, “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased.”) He goes to Oxford, where his lambent gift of tongues is recognized and encouraged, and then to war, where everything he values is laid waste.

The movie, as embarrassed by religion as “The Lord of the Rings” is by sex, averts its gaze from the Catholic faith by which Tolkien was sustained; in all other respects, however, Karukoski is determined to map Middle-earth onto the life of its creator. Thus, the club of school comrades foretells the brotherhood of Frodo and his fellow-hobbits; flamethrowers, in the trenches, turn to dragons in Tolkien’s fevered eyes; mustard gas slithers and drifts like the Ringwraiths. The question, though, is not whether the psychobiographical dots can be joined in this way, but whether they ought to be; as a prominent Elf says to Frodo, “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” You have been warned.

The Most Powerful Man In The World? — Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic on Mark Zuckerberg.

The Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes made a personal, riveting case for breaking up Facebook in a new essay published in The New York Times today. His argument hinges on the idea that Mark Zuckerberg is a “good, kind person” but one whose “power is unprecedented and un-American” and whose “influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government.”

A major, if not the, reason to break up Facebook is that, as the philosopher Kanye West once put it: “No one man should have all that power.” What makes the situation complicated, however, is that the type of power Mark Zuckerberg holds is what’s actually unprecedented.

In the terms of traditional power, Facebook and its CEO are not overwhelming by historical or contemporary standards. Militarily, of course, Facebook is a nonentity. Zuckerberg commands no world-class army, which ranks him significantly below Chinese, American, and Russian leaders. Politically, Zuckerberg has no base, and despite being very famous, is quite unpopular. Culturally, Zuckerberg does not have the mystique of Steve Jobs, nor has his philanthropy turned him into a wise nobleman like Bill Gates (not yet, anyway). Financially, his personal fortune is among the world’s top 10, but there are a lot of other billionaires with comparable fortunes, from the space enthusiast Jeff Bezos to the many children of very successful businesspeople.

Even Zuckerberg’s company, measured by traditional means, is merely strong. Facebook is not among the top 75 revenue-generating companies. It has roughly as many employees as the Arizona mining company Freeport-McMoran and the steelmaker Nucor, or roughly 0.01 percent as many as Walmart. Facebook’s profits land it in the top 15 companies, and its market value is in the top 10 on its perceived potential for growth. Taken as a whole in the context of the global economy, Facebook looks like a very profitable, high-potential company, but it does not stand out on any one metric. (The Saudi oil company Aramco, for example, generated $224 billion in profits in 2018.)

But few companies are as tightly controlled by one person as Facebook is. The company came of age during an era of Silicon Valley in which founders retained remarkable control over their enterprises. By creating different classes of shares with different voting power, Zuckerberg has retained operational control while still selling shares of his company. “Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares,” Hughes notes in the essay. Even the Ford family, which famously created an unusual dual-class share structure in the 1930s, only holds 40 percent voting control of the company. When it comes to Walmart, another unusually closely held operation, the Walton family owns fewer than 50 percent. And these are families, with their own conflicts and competing interests. Zuckerberg is both the chief executive and holds the majority of voting shares. There is no institutional check on Zuckerberg.

Yet his power is great. Hughes is correct that we’ve never seen anything like it. Mark Zuckerberg controls Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp—three of the five most popular communication tools on the planet, alongside Alphabet’s YouTube and Tencent’s WeChat. In many countries, Zuckerberg’s products are the internet. They are the media for information dispersal—like a newspaper or television channel—as well as for peer-to-peer communications, like an old-school telecom network. They are also a crucial ligature for small businesses, as internet home, customer-service desk, and advertising platform, and for direct sales through tools such as Facebook Marketplace.

Who is Zuckerberg like? The best parallels might be the newspaper barons, such as William Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdoch. But it’s more like if all three broadcast-television networks of the 20th century were owned by the same person, in one corporation that he completely controlled, and that also was the central venue for political speech and finding an electrician. Or maybe, as we’ve argued, he’ll be this generation’s Bob Moses, who, in his quest to remake New York, first acquired power through building, and then by any means necessary.

As Max Read has pointed out, no one can quite figure out what Facebook is, and by extension, no one really knows what Zuckerberg’s power could do. While Zuckerberg has been driven to dominate his corporate rivals, he has yet to use the power that he holds to do anything other than compete (that we know of, at least).

What could an evil Zuckerberg do?

Because Facebook Inc. has developed the most sophisticated tools for predicting human behavior that the world has ever seen, and because its user bases are the largest in the world, the company could exert more persuasive power over more people than has ever been possible.

Facebook gets people to use its products, and it uses the actions that people take to manufacture more useful data about their tendencies, as Shoshana Zuboff has laid out in her book Surveillance Capitalism. That is to say, all the things we control about interactions with the empire—the friends we have, the photos we post, the text we write—are not the information that Facebook is after. These are the raw material for the machine-learning processes that generate Facebook’s real power: their ability to forecast what you’ll do when faced with a set of choices.

And that power is growing with both the data in the system and the development of the artificial intelligences that feed on it.

Even if Mark Zuckerberg has never used this power for anything other than getting me to buy sneakers, it probably is not a great idea for one person to have so much predictive capacity about the citizens of the world. That Zuckerberg has not done so might be the best argument for breaking up Facebook now—because it’s not too late.

Breaking up the company probably would not (immediately) solve the problems we’ve come to associate with the internet. Who knows, it could even exacerbate them. But it would take one major, underappreciated risk out of the future: that Mark Zuckerberg decides to wield the tremendous power he has so far eschewed.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Tech Support — Can You See This?

I got an e-mail from a loyal reader who said the blog was stuck on Tuesday, September 11.

That was the day we migrated BBWW to a new server and added site security, which is why you now see a little green padlock and an “s” in the https:// in the URL.  But it also means that we’ve had a technical issue that effected some users.  We think we’ve fixed it, but if you missed the last month of posts, please comment below with a note, and perhaps what operating system (Windows, Mac, etc) and what browser (Firefox, Chrome, IE, Edge, Safari, etc). and I’ll turn it over to our crack team of experts.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

And We’re Back

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a heartfelt thank you to CLW, with help from MPW, for all the time, sweat, and energy he put in over the weekend to get this site and a bunch of others moved from one server to another.  I got a small taste of what it was like last night when I had to go in from this end and do some elementary changes that made it finally stick, and I know that was only one small part of it.  I learned a lot about the quirks and foibles of how the internet works, and my hat is off to those who make it their living and their calling; it’s complicated.

So, we are now on a new server that is far more reliable, faster, and secure.  The sad thing is that it probably won’t improve my writing.  That no amount of coding will help.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Friday, November 3, 2017

File Not Found


Trump’s Twitter account was briefly deactivated Thursday night by a departing Twitter employee, the company said, raising serious questions about the security of a tool the president wields to set major policy agendas, connect with his voter base and lash out at his adversaries.

The company has suspended other high-profile accounts in the past for violating its terms and conditions.

But there has not been a case where an employee has acted alone to take down the account of a well-known person, seemingly on their own.


Trump’s account initially disappeared at around 7 p.m. ET Thursday, with visitors to the page met with the message, “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!” For about an hour, the Twitter-sphere joked about the short-lived window of history without @realDonaldTrump.

But then at 8:05 p.m. ET, Twitter posted a statement saying Trump’s “account was inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee.”

“The account was down for 11 minutes, and has since been restored,” the statement read. “We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again.”

However, two hours later, Twitter admitted that the deactivation wasn’t an accident at all. A preliminary investigation showed that Trump’s account was taken offline “by a Twitter customer support employee who did this on the employee’s last day.”

Whoever that employee was, they were livin’ the dream.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Hack Job

David Corn reports in Mother Jones that Russian hackers broke into the Trump cyber network.

Four years ago, the Trump Organization experienced a major cyber breach that could have allowed the perpetrator (or perpetrators) to mount malware attacks from the company’s web domains and may have enabled the intruders to gain access to the company’s computer network. Up until this week, this penetration had gone undetected by President Donald Trump’s company, according to several internet security researchers.

In 2013, a hacker (or hackers) apparently obtained access to the Trump Organization’s domain registration account and created at least 250 website subdomains that cybersecurity experts refer to as “shadow” subdomains. Each one of these shadow Trump subdomains pointed to a Russian IP address, meaning that they were hosted at these Russian addresses. (Every website domain is associated with one or more IP addresses. These addresses allow the internet to find the server that hosts the website. Authentic Trump Organization domains point to IP addresses that are hosted in the United States or countries where the company operates.) The creation of these shadow subdomains within the Trump Organization network was visible in the publicly available records of the company’s domains.

There’s much more in the article itself, but the first thing that occurs to me is blackmail.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017