January 26, 2022 / by 

 

Enjoy A Valentine’s Day Sampler

Made just for you via cryptogram.com

Made just for you via cryptogram.com

It’s difficult lately for me to sit down and spend time on a blogpost. I manage a handful of minutes here and there to do reading or research. An email may take hours to draft.

But there’s too much juicy stuff floating around deserving more attention. I’m going to gather content as I see it and aggregate it into a post when I have time, rather than let them slip by. Perhaps you can make more of them than I can.

•  MIT Technology Review acknowledges the dawn of a new age in Welcome to the Malware-Industrial Complex. I’m rather surprised at the tone of this piece; it’s not au courant, rather a bit behind the times since the MIC launched more than a handful of years ago. Two important points emerge: 1) Zero-day exploits are being traded like weaponry–think very hard about the source of these exploits and ask yourself why they are tolerated in government computing environments, let alone any other production environment; 2) This new age is the military face of the paradigm shift from the industrial to the information age. Weapons are information; they are no longer separate from the weapons themselves. With this in mind, the last two grafs of this article display the already-anachronistic thinking of the author and his sources.

•  Syracuse University MA/PhD student Seth Long performs a rather fascinating analysis on alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner’s manifesto. But equally fascinating is his earlier analysis on Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber manifesto. Compare the two assessments, and then ask yourself what any blogger’s online writings might say about them if Long’s analytical process is eventually automated with algorithms. Scary, hmm?

•  Really great long read at Bloomberg Businessweek on the unmasking of a Chinese hacker by a Dell Computers malware expert. This is a snapshot of asymmetric warfare in progress; it’s not as if China has not told us rather candidly (and more than a decade ago) they would engage us in this manner as well as in other non-internet battlefields. Any surprise on the part of U.S. government officials at this point is utterly ridiculous–it’s either feigned or it’s should-get-another-day-job stupidity.

•  I’m so annoyed by this long read in Aeon Magazine–a really great mag, by the way–that I may yet muster the time to write something longer. Author Damien Walter is rather specious in his identification of a new “creator culture” and its necessity to society’s continued success. The problem isn’t that we need to adopt and nurture a new creator culture; it’s that we killed the one we had quite willingly over the last 25-35 years by offshoring production and the subsequent commodification of goods. We allowed corporations and their one-percenter shareholders to tell us that getting our hands dirty through craftsmanship and in manufacturing was bad (mostly bad for their profit margins). We’ve become a culture that doesn’t fix anything; we buy replacements made overseas in third world countries. We’ve lost our can-do spirit along with this shift, and only recently have both the economic crisis and a new hipster-hobbyist ethos encouraged a resurgence of the do-it-yourself handyperson. Unless we’re conscious of our role in killing creativity, nurturing it again through supporting Etsy and Maker Faires is merely temporary relief from the crush of profit-driven consumerism.

•  But perhaps all of this will be moot tomorrow if the cosmos decides to make a bank shot with asteroid 2012 DA14. This “small” asteroid will fly within 17,200 miles of earth tomorrow afternoon. This is awfully bloody close–close enough that scientists say disruption of cellphone and other satellite service is not impossible, but unlikely. That’s a whisker’s breadth, in cosmic scale. Best to check in tomorrow afternoon after 3:00 pm CST to see if we’re still here. See you then.


Hypothetically Speaking: Immigration Reform and the Threat to Citizenship

Photo: Wong Kim Ark, via Wikimedia

Photo: Wong Kim Ark, via Wikimedia

President Obama once again asked for immigration reform in last night’s State of the Union address:

… Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.
Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.
And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.
In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away. …

Compare last night’s words to those on immigration reform in last year’s State of the Union address:

… I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.

But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away. …

Right away then, right away now. Don’t hold your breath.

The truth is no real traction on immigration reform has been made over the last year at federal level, even after an election. The far right, however, has been steadily working for the last three years at state level toward the denial of U.S. citizenship to undocumented immigrants, using Arizona SB 1070 as its initial stake in the sand. In theory, SB 1070 is the baseline model legislation from which this nationwide effort start. The long-term implications are far more complicated than they appear.

Here’s a quasi-hypothetical question, a thought experiment about U.S. citizenship by birth. Let’s assume these conditions in this case:

•  Antecedant immigrates from China to Hawaii in 1898, marries a Hawaiian citizen, acquires Hawaiian property–during the same year in which the sovereign nation of Hawaii is annexed without the consent of Hawaiians.

•  Antecedant has multiple children; the youngest is born in early 1930s while Hawaii is still a territory.

•  Youngest child goes to school on mainland while Hawaii is still a territory. Meets and marries a U.S. citizen only months after Hawaii became a state.

•  They have several children while living on the mainland after marriage.

If the far right manages to undermine United States v. Wong Kim Ark–the 1898 decision under which U.S. citizenship by birth was acknowledged–which of the people in the above scenario remain U.S. citizens?

If citizenship by birth can be denied, can they also be retroactively denied both citizenship as well as the right to own property? A number of states enacted Alien Land Laws during the early 1900s barring non-citizens from owning property. Though all but one state’s laws have been repealed, under Florida law non-citizens may yet be barred from ownership. Assuming the anti-immigration cohort undermines U.S. citizenship by birth, were the children of Chinese and Hawaiian citizens naturalized? Or can their naturalization be contested, along with rights to property ownership in Florida? Would states consider revisiting Alien Land Laws to discourage citizenship if Florida’s law remains in place?

By now you’re thinking this is all quite an unlikely set of scenarios. Let me challenge you one more time: what if all the above described my great-grandfather, grandfather, father, my natural siblings, and me? Should I take my family’s citizenship for granted?

Though President Clinton and Congress apologized in 1993 for the overthrow of the sovereign Hawaiian nation, there’s been little acknowledgment of the persistent abuse of Asian Americans rights, and Hawaiian sovereignty has been swept under the rug. If far right anti-immigrant bigots have their way at undermining the 14th Amendment and United States v. Wong Kim Ark, it’s going to take a lot more than an apology to make this mess right.

Unless it is established upfront that anyone currently recognized as a U.S. citizen will continue to maintain that status, the White House should not ask for just any immigration reform bill–especially given the GOP-heavy House of Representatives now in office.

This little exercise hasn’t begun to scratch the surface of the potential challenge. My grandfather appears to have immigrated from Canada as an infant in the early 1900s; his arrival in the states may not have been fully documented. Was he ever a truly naturalized citizen? Is my mother a U.S. citizen?

And what about your own family–when and how did they arrive in the U.S.? Will the zealous overreach of immigration reform question your own citizenship?

What’s your status? Where are your papers?

Let’s hope the threat to the citizenship status of white, English-speaking conservatives like my mother who’ve lived their entire lives in the U.S. gives xenophobic anti-immigration proponents pause.


Yet Another Edition of “You Were Warned”

Dear unnamed power company/ies: Thank you for providing me an opportunity to post one of my favorite videos.

AGAIN.

You were warned about the possibility of security threats to your systems. Repeatedly–the video above is just one such warning. What’s it take to get through to you–a clue-by-four alongside the head? A massive, lengthy power outage you can’t resolve for days or weeks, with consumers calling for managements’ heads on pikes? A complete tank of your company’s stock value? The Department of Energy on your doorstep, taking possession of your site as it investigates you?

I love this part at 32:28 into the video where Ralf Langer says,

“…many things we thought about cyberwarfare earlier just were proven wrong. …”

Everything you thought you knew about infosec/cybersecurity needs to be revisited. The assumptions you’ve been using are clearly wrong.

Now get a frigging clue and revisit your security policies. STAT. You can start with checking these:

— No USB or other external media which have not been deeply screened for infection.

— External network connections to production equipment are to be avoided at all costs. Connections between corporate business and the power grid should be closed, dedicated network. Revisiting appropriateness of traditional isolation of production networks might be worthwhile.

— No third-party contractors permitted on site that do not comply completely with power company security policies, including spot inspections. (You do spot inspections, right? Contractors are screened coming in and out of facilities, right?)

What are you doing here, reading this? Get to work. RUN.

Dear U.S. Department of Energy: Um, hello? Did your brains’ functions suffer irreparable damage from exposure to BP’s dispersants?

It’s the only excuse I can think of as to why security measures and subsequent audits of the nation’s power grid for infections and intrusions from network and external devices haven’t removed these threats.

By the way, this 2009 document making suggestions to power companies about security measures is now out of date and needs to be revisited, in light of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s authorization of cyber weapon deployment and subsequent blowback risk, let alone the case of USB devices laden with crimeware.

Dear Fellow Americans: I really hate feeling like Cassandra. I’d love to see the power industry and our government prove me wrong by preventing outages related to security breaches about which they’ve been warned. At the rate they’re going, you’re going to end up on the short end of the stick, without electricity to read my anticipated future post which I expect to entitle, “I told you so.”

You might want to contact your government representatives and ask them what they know about power grid security and if they’ve actually done anything to investigate the safety of power in their district. If their understanding is shaped by the Department of Energy’s latency, they need to be brought up to speed and pronto. Don’t wait until you don’t have the juice to read my next post on this topic.


Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: the Real Cyber Attack on the Truth [UPDATE]

[photo: cdrummbks via Flickr]

[UPDATE – see end of article.]

One weaselly senator–with long-identified agendas and a pathetically thin understanding of technology–takes to the microphone. Suddenly, by virtue of wrapping his senatorial lips around a few scary words on topics about which he knows little, we citizens are supposed to quake in fear and plead for salvation.

Screw that noise. This is textbook  “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” — more commonly referred to as FUD in the information technology industry.

Since the 1970s, FUD tactics have used to suppress competition in the computer marketplace, targeting both hardware and software. Roger Irwin explained,

…It is a marketing technique used when a competitor launches a product that is both better than yours and costs less, i.e. your product is no longer competitive. Unable to respond with hard facts, scare-mongering is used via ‘gossip channels’ to cast a shadow of doubt over the competitors offerings and make people think twice before using it.In general it is used by companies with a large market share, and the overall message is ‘Hey, it could be risky going down that road, stick with us and you are with the crowd. Our next soon-to-be-released version will be better than that anyway’. …

FUD has non-technology applications as well; one need only look at product and service brands that encourage doubts about using any product other than their own, in lieu of actually promoting the advantages their product or service might have.

So what’s the FUD about? Senator Joe Lieberman spouted off about cyber attacks in September last year, claiming Iran was behind disruptive efforts targeting U.S. banks.

Right. Uh-huh. Predictable, yes?

But FUD is used in situations where there is competition, one might point out. Yes, exactly; in September 2012, the case for support of unilateral attacks against Iran was up against the news cycle crush, powered by the post-Benghazi fallout and the drive toward the November general election, followed by the terror that was the “fiscal cliff.” That’s a lot of powerful, compelling competition for both attention, votes, and tax dollars, when members of a reliable but lame duck Congress could be mounting up a pre-emptive cyber war without the headwind of public awareness and resistance, or the too-inquisitive pushback from newbies in the next seated Congress.

The pressure was on; our intrepid weaselly senator speedily whipped out some FUD!
The problem, though, is that no respectable consultant in the IT security industry picked up the flaming bag of smelly FUD. Take a gander through Kaspersky or Langner websites and look for panicked reports of DDoS assaults on banking–you won’t find them. RSA’s blog never mentions Iran last year at all; F-Secure makes an oblique comment about nation-state cyberwarfare, implicitly critical of U.S. with regard to its deployment of cyberweapons. Kaspersky mentions Iran exactly once, in relation to the “Ma(h)di incident” last year, and not at all in a forecast of 2013. Langner mentions the difficulty of providing adequate cybersecurity, noting Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s October 11 speech–again, no reference to Iran.

Intentionally or otherwise, Panetta furthered the FUD with his speech in a way that the mainstream media easily distorted:

…Let me give you some examples of the kinds of attacks that we have already experienced.

In recent weeks, as many of you know, some large U.S. financial institutions were hit by so-called Distributed Denial of Service attacks.  These attacks delayed or disrupted services on customer websites.  While this kind of tactic isn’t new, the scale and speed with which it happened was unprecedented.

But even more alarming is an attack that happened two months ago when a very sophisticated virus called Shamoon infected computers in the Saudi Arabian State Oil Company Aramco.  Shamoon included a routine called a ‘wiper’, coded to self-execute.  This routine replaced crucial systems files with an image of a burning U.S. flag.  But it also put additional garbage data that overwrote all the real data on the machine.  More than 30,000 computers that it infected were rendered useless and had to be replaced.  It virtually destroyed 30,000 computers.

Then just days after this incident, there was a similar attack on RasGas of Qatar, a major energy company in the region.  All told, the Shamoon virus was probably the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date.

Imagine the impact an attack like that would have on your company or your business.

These attacks mark a significant escalation of the cyber threat and they have renewed concerns about still more destructive scenarios that could unfold. …

Notice Panetta never actually says U.S. banks suffered Iranian-based DDoS attacks? He segues over to attacks on Saudi machines that might affect oil production, never mentioning what entity was likely responsible. Panetta mentions Iran exactly once–approximately 2184 words after beginning his 3898 word speech–and 861 words after the excerpt above, quite a distance from the examples he cited.

In contrast, he mentions Russia and China in a sentence directly ahead of the mention of Iran; he notes Russia once, and China three times in the same speech.

How are we supposed to infer from this speech that cyber attacks using DDoS on banks were imminent, if not already underway? Mainstream media solved that problem for us, by repeatedly claiming Panetta said in his speech that Iran was a cyber threat to banks.

It didn’t help that Panetta was preoccupied and didn’t step up to demand corrections about reporting on his speech.

Less-than-happy journalism has been too common on this topic. The September 21 Washington Post article that spawned Lieberman’s FUD refers to “U.S. officials.”

…“I don’t believe these were just hackers who were skilled enough to cause disruption of the Web sites,” said Lieberman in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program. “I think this was done by Iran and the Quds Force, which has its own developing cyberattack capability.” The Quds Force is a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the military.

Lieberman said he believed the efforts were in response to “the increasingly strong economic sanctions that the United States and our European allies have put on Iranian financial institutions.”

U.S. officials suspect Iran was behind similar cyberattacks on U.S. and other Western businesses here and in the Middle East, some dating as far back as December. A conservative Web site, the Washington Free Beacon, reported that the intelligence arm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an analysis Sept. 14 that the cyberattacks on financial institutions are part of a larger covert war being carried out by Tehran. …

[emphasis mine–R.]

Gee, why not name them? Is this just our favorite weaselly senator again, and a mouse in his pocket? Or perhaps these nameless officials were Senators Lieberman, Collins, Rockefeller, and Feinstein, who sponsored the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, up for a vote less than ten days after the election?

Or are these “U.S. officials” part of another government group airing these suspicions without offering any substantive support? Why is the WaPo quoting the cyber attacks claim made by a tiny, little conservative outlet like the Washington Free Beacon? The outlet stated a secret report by “intelligence arm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” revealed Iran’s anticipated DDoS assault on U.S. banking. Why would anybody affiliated with J-2 disclose anything at all from a secret report to a puny right-wing rag?

It appears there’ve been a number of folks who are allegedly close to the issue and unauthorized to speak to media who’ve been chattering away. Um, why wasn’t Senator Feinstein puling about intelligence leaks, especially when a bill she’s co-sponsored may be directly affected?

It all smells like old fashioned FUD; there’s a lot of fear being pushed, but nothing to remove uncertainty and doubt. Others have criticized the FUD as well as proliferation through distortion and inaccuracies. Computerworld reports experts are not all in agreement about attacks’ origins; see also this excerpt from Digital Dao’s Sept. 28 post, pushing back at Lieberman and media alike:

Bloomberg: “The initial planning for the assault pre-dated the video controversy, making it less likely that it inspired the attacks, according to (Dmitri) Alperovitch and (Rodney) Joffe, both of whom have been tracking the incidents. A significant amount of planning and preparation went into the attacks, they said. “The ground work was done to infect systems and produce an infrastructure capable of launching an attack when it was needed,” Joffe said.”

CNN: “To get hold of all the servers necessary to launch such huge attacks, the organizers needed to plan for months, Alperovitch said. The servers had to be compromised and linked together into a network called a “botnet.”

FALSE. This attack did not take months to plan for two reasons: 1) This was a crowd-sourced opt-in botnet commonly used in social activism (aka hacktivist) attacks, and 2) No one needs to create a botnet from scratch anymore. You can find them to rent on pretty much any hacker forum world-wide.

While all scaremongering proliferates–without any credible information documenting the claims that a nation-state is behind DDoS attacks on banks–more realistic threats to U.S. banking emerged nearly in tandem with the allegations about Iran’s cyber assault. Note the stories published by information security journalist Brian Krebs, FastCompany, and other IT news outlets about Project Blitzkrieg, a criminal program targeting 30 U.S. banks with the intent to steal money while tying up the banks’ systems with DDoS attacks. How does the public not know that trojans and viruses launched in late summer/early autumn weren’t proof-of-concept efforts in advance of real attacks? Skype in particular experienced a widespread virus spread within its community in late September–oddly enough, just before news reports about Project Blitzkrieg–and reporting to date on Project Blitzkrieg indicates that Skype will be a component of the attack.

There’s more than one issue that could underpin concerted FUD using the mythos of Iranian cyberwarfare, including the conflicts between the U.S. and the E.U. on surveillance, or tensions over the puzzling inadequate response by the U.S. banking system with regard to their persistent laxity on authentication standards compared to EU banks. (The U.S. has used a single factor while the EU has relied on a two-factor standard. While the EU is more secure, both are inadequate according to security expert Bruce Schneier.)

Whatever the truth, whatever drives the FUD, know this:

— The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 died in November, though it may be resurrected under the newly seated Congress, or the White House could choose to implement all desired features through an executive order;

— Don’t let the FUD distort your perceptions. “…Some in (IT) industry say DDoS attacks are pretty common. …” They are. They are not the exclusive domain of cyberwarfare, are far more frequently generated by criminal or hacktivist activity.

— Lastly, practice safe computing and safe banking. 1) Run antivirus and anti-malware applications frequently, using more than one antivirus package; 2) Don’t assume Mac OS and iOS are immune, as criminals go where there’s money, not operating systems; 3) If you bank online, use Linux–see Brian Krebs for an overview.

UPDATE — 8:10 PM EST — Check out this interesting report from ProPublica just today, How a Government Report Spread a Questionable Claim About Iran, by Justin Elliott. Notice anything familiar in this article? Looks like a classic dispersion of FUD and at least one familiar outlet. Huh.


Future Forecast: Shocking?! Not

[photo: adapted from Shock by Jeremy Brooks via Flickr]

In advance of the new year, I’ve been looking at futurism and forecasting over the last several days. Actually, I’ve been looking at futurism for a decade; at one point in time I seriously considered a degree program in Future Studies. There were only two schools in the U.S. that offered such a program, and a third one offered a handful of courses in the subject.

For this reason you can bet most future predictions are not made by folks with degrees in Future Studies. Not only are there few courses and fewer programs in this field, but there are very few jobs for graduates. Many grads will end up in think tanks, assuming they don’t have a dual degree in finance, economics, or business, with which they end up getting a corporate sector job.

As small and obscure as this field is, one might wonder how much practical experience many of these Future Studies experts have with regard to how things work.

Apart from climate and weather forecasts, this means the public is subjected to forecasts and predictions by few true futurists, and likely “sheltered” ones at that.

It’s no surprise, then, that we end up with posts like this one via the World Future Society’s The Futurist magazine: Eight Shocking Quotes from 2012 that will Redefine Our Future.

Are these truly shocking? Hardly; while quotes by Richard Florida and Chris Anderson are noteworthy and truly predictive, the rest are filler.

(Note also that none of the eight SHOCKING! quotes are by women. Apparently estrogen prevents those of us born with double XX chromosomes from saying anything that might sharply detour you from the future as you’ve believed it will be.)

Let’s look at a couple examples, starting with this quote by former Microsoft CEO and progenitor, Bill Gates:

“When you come to the end of the innovations that business and government are willing to invest in, you still find a vast, unexplored space of innovation where the returns can be fantastic. This space is a fertile area for what I call ‘Catalytic Philanthropy.’”

What a crock. The Futurist contributor, Thomas Frey, believes this to be a stop-in-your-tracks remark. This ranks among the finest examples of naivete and the obtuse, combined with hypocrisy that I’ve ever read.

Apparently Frey is either unaware or has forgotten that Bill Gates’ organization led the effort to squash independent innovation that business and government wouldn’t fund, in the form of open source software. See the 1998 Halloween Documents as evidence. It’s utter hypocrisy that Gates makes such a declaration as if he’s never run into innovation in the wild, unfettered by corporate and government reins.

Is Gates right about the returns? Hell yes — that’s why his corporation worked for nearly a decade to beat down the under-funded, coder community-based competition. Just look at the amount of open source Linux-based Android software and applications in the marketplace today, along with the hardware they support. Beaucoup returns based on an open source software. Oh, and philanthropically funded, albeit with self-interest, by Google in the form of Summer of Code projects combined with infrastructure support for open source software projects and organizations.

Philanthropy and future redefining, my ass. This is profit in the present, and Gates once again lives in the past as he did in 1998.

Another doozy of a quote offered up was by Netscape browser’s creator, Marc Andreessen:

“Software is eating the world.”

Where have both Andreessen and Frey been living — under a rock? The very reason cellphones have outsold personal computers for the last handful of years has been software, combined with increasingly cheap, miniaturized hardware, and the increasing reach of network connected to cheap servers and storage. The amount of applications exploded with the release of the first smartphones, particularly the iPhone; the middleware environment kept pace to service the data created by applications. Tablet hardware now takes the place of even more PCs, using many of the same software applications that smartphones use.

It’s not shocking at all that Andreessen, of all people, would believe that “software is eating world” — software is his life’s blood, his raison d’être. (Hello, Netscape?)  His remark is hardly a redefinition of the future, but a description of the present and near-term past.

The flimsiness of these quotes with regard to their impact on our future should give us all pause when presented with predictions and forecasts. Perhaps you can do a better job of forecasting without credentials in future studies, simply by using solid analytical thinking and a careful examination of the past and present.

(Disclosure: I have consulted in competitive intelligence related to open source software–me and my double XX chromosomes.)


Future Forecast: Roundup of Scattered Probabilities

[The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, c. 1902]

While thinking about forecasting the future, I collected a few short-term predictions for the year ahead worth kicking around a bit. After gazing deeply into my crystal ball, I added a few predictions of my own.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center at NOAA forecasts below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest along with higher than average temperatures in the Southwest through Summer 2013. Looks like rainfall across areas stricken by drought in 2012 might be normal, but this will not overcome the soil moisture deficit.

My prediction: Beef, pork, and milk prices will remain high or increase — and that’s before any weirdness in pricing due to changes in federal regulations after the so-called “fiscal cliff.” And the U.S. government, both White House and Congress, will continue to do even less than the public expects when it comes to climate change.

The European Commission predicted the UK will lead economic recovery in the EU with a meager 0.9% growth rate anticipated in 2013. The southern portion of the EU is expected to continue to struggle while the rest of the EU stagnates.

My prediction: More mumbling about breaking up the EU, with just enough growth to keep at bay any action to that effect. Silvio Berlusconi will continue to provide both embarrassment and comedic relief to Italy and the EU. (What are they putting in that old freak’s pasta? Or are they doping his hair color?)

In September, the Federal Reserve Bank forecast slowish growth in the U.S. through 2013. Did they take into account the lame duck status of an already lethargic and incompetent Congress in this prediction? Did the Fed Reserve base this forecast on a Romney or an Obama win? This forecast seems oddly optimistic before November’s election.

My prediction: All bets are off now, since the over-long backbiting and quibbling over the so-called fiscal cliff has eroded public sentiment. Given the likelihood of increased food prices due to the 2012 global drought, the public will feel more pain in their wallet no matter the outcome of fiscal cliff negotiations, negatively affecting consumer sentiment. The only saving grace has been stable to lower gasoline prices due to lower heating oil demand–the only positive outcome of a rather warm winter to date.

An analyst forecast Apple sales of iPads will equate nearly 60 percent of the total tablet market in 2013. As an owner of AAPL stock, I rather liked this. Unfortunately, that prediction was made in October, before the release of the iPad Mini. The stock market had something entirely different to say about the forecast–more like a bitchslap to the tune of nearly $200 decline per share between October and year-end. *Ouch!* Not all of that was based on the market’s rejection of the forecast on iPad Mini sales, though; much of that fall was related to the gross failure of Apple’s map application launched alongside the iPhone 5.

My prediction: I will continue to bemoan the failure to sell some AAPL stock in September 2012, while many of you will continue to buy Apple products. I thank you buyers in advance for trying so hard to boost my spirits and bolster my kids’ college fund in the coming year. Oh, and Google Maps will continue to eat at market share; it’s going to be a while before Apple recovers from its epic map failures. Conveniently, there’s GOOG stock in the kids’ college fund, too.

What about you? Are any of these predictions worth the pixels with which they’re presented?  What do you predict for the year ahead? Do tell.


Future Forecast: Ignoring Half the Picture Yields Surprisingly Poor Results

[adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

[Adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

It’s that time of year when we not only take a look backward, but a look forward to the future. Unfortunately in doing so, we rely heavily on so-called experts, whose vision suffers from two fundamental limitations:

  • They’re overwhelmingly male; their viewpoints are published more frequently than those of women;
  • They depend frequently on male-dominated science and technology in constructing their forecasts, rather than looking at shifts in human conditions.

Once a upon a time in my career, I rubbed shoulders with futurists, both in corporate visioning and in business intelligence. They made a few eye-opening predictions that I pooh-poohed at the time. In 1999 one futurist told me that fuel cell technology wouldn’t be commercialized for more than 10 or 15 years. Another report circa 2000 predicted the U.S. would become a rogue nation because of its hegemonic power.

I laughed off both of those forecasts at the time. You’ll note, however, none of our government’s unilaterally killing drones use fuel cells as power sources.

In spite of the occasional spot-on prediction, many of the forecasts I’ve read or seen made as part of scenario planning have not come to pass. They remain years and decades away if they haven’t already become impossible or irrelevant. Why are future outcomes so notoriously nebulous?

During the dozen-plus years since I first worked with futurists and participated in scenario planning sessions, I’ve wised up and learned a few things, key to understanding the lameness of most futurists’ forecasts.

1) It’s really difficult for most organizations to see outside their own self-constructed silos built on the expertise of their products and services. They hire and promote subject-matter experts and look to them for forecasts. Because of internal feedback loops, organizations become blind to barriers so that their members really can’t see with specificity beyond 2-5 years. Asking folks in formal organizations to make forecasts about their own work, even with well-trained facilitators, is extremely difficult. Barriers within their own organizations may be invisible to them as well, ex. internal politics, or other activities deliberately hidden from view.

2) Organizations are often blind to their own social capital. If members within groups are uniformly unchallenged by barriers within and without their business lives, they may not see bumps in the road that thwart everybody else outside their group.

3) Outsiders who speculate on future activities of organizations while relying on publicly available information from within these groups may suffer from the same siloed and blinkered vision.

4) Predictions tend to follow the quantifiable, where the money as well as expectation exist—in science and technology. Unfortunately, scientists are loathe to make guarantees; they give percentages and odds, but not absolute assurances. Forecasts are only as good as the current understanding of science and technology, within some margin of error. Futurists often round up, encouraging excessive optimism.

These factors may explain why futurists’ predictions may ignore realities that grip nearly half of the humans on earth, while rendering so many of their forecasts inert.

Even factoring in the biases that shape forecasts, the future imagined can be far too tidy, . The gritty truths of the human condition and all its volatility are too neatly removed, parceled off outside the field of speculation.

As I type this, the passing of a female Indian gang rape victim is mourned and her country’s “woman problem” is noted. This is not a little thing; we’re talking about a lynchpin event affecting the political opinions within and without of the second most populous countries on earth—a country with 3.84 times the population of the U.S. In fact, at approximately 581,000,000 women, the total number of female residents of India outnumbers the entire population of the U.S. regardless of gender.

The “woman problem” India experiences isn’t limited to that country. Women are treated consistently and persistently as second-class citizens in a majority of countries, including the U.S., their rights to equity in education, health care, autonomy routinely undermined, and their representation inadequate. See the U.N. report, The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics[PDF] for specifics; here are a few:

  • 74% of the world’s illiterates are women; 54% of the 72 million primary school-aged children not in school are girls;
  • A gender pay gap persists globally, to the detriment of women;
  • On average, women hold only 17 percent of seats in national parliaments as well as 17 percent of government minister positions. Of 150 elected heads of state, only seven are women; of 192 heads of government, only 11 are women. Only 13 of the 500 largest corporations in the world have a female chief executive officer;
  • Violence against women is still deeply embedded as a norm in many cultures; in some parts of the world, women as well as men may yet believe being beaten by male family members is acceptable.

There are 3.51 women of 7.06 billion total humans on this planet, most of whom are  ignored or denied in far too many forecasts of a future that cannot exist without them.

If this is the reality from which our common future starts—a reality in which nearly half of humanity is denied in so many ways—how can any prediction made by predominantly male futurists be accurate?

If we were to ask a substantive number of representatives from within that 3.51 billion humans, what would they forecast about our collective human future?


While You Were Munching

North Kenya: “This is the last of my food…”  (photo: Giro555 via Flickr)

You’ve given thanks for today’s grub, and now you’re dopey from the soporific effects of holiday gluttony. You’ve scraped the plates into the garbage disposal and kvetched about fitting all the leftovers in the fridge, or moaned about loosening your belt.

Shopped, cooked, eaten, stowed. Check, check, check, check.

Now add another item to your check list: a much-needed guilt trip.

•  Climate change may have contributed to instability in these strife-filled locations: Libya, Mali and the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, Syria.

•  Climate change has been and is killing people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, even as I type this due to starvation rising from persistent drought and resulting famine.

•  Climate change caused the two-day black out for 670 million Indians — that’s 1.5 times the population of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico combined without power for two days. Mind-fricking-boggling.

•  Climate change effects from 2012 will result in increased food insecurity [PDF] for hundreds of millions of people for the next year and longer. If India didn’t have enough water for its crops, where will it buy food for its population? From the U.S. and Canada, which suffered huge crop losses? Even fisheries are negatively impacted.

There, guilt trip. Check.

On Monday after the turkey has worn off and the leftovers are gone, perhaps you’ll contact your Congress critter and demand immediate, proactive, and effective policy on climate change right after the turkey doldrums wear off.

Wish you and yours much to give thanks about this holiday.


A New Home for the Holiday

Marcy is probably up to her eyeballs in boxes both empty and full right now. I picture McCaffrey the MilleniaLab wandering lost if excited among them, wearing a loose doggy grin as his nails tick-tack across the new floor. Mr. Emptywheel may likewise be wandering between boxes while muttering in an Irish accent under his breath about a well-deserved beer.

Ah, but they’re home for the holiday. What a great memory this will be in years to come. Congrats to Mr. and Mrs. Emptywheel on their new digs!

Most of us have memories of home on this holiday–many good, some bad, but enough decent ones to compel us to go home to give thanks with others. Many of you are preparing for a harried road trip, or an even more hectic trip by air. I wish you safe and secure between here and wherever it is you need to be. Watch out for deer if you’re driving.

A number of my own best/worst Thanksgiving memories involve travel. Like the time I flew from Detroit to Omaha to see my folks and kid brother; it was like landing in another world, a movie set replete with All-American high school football stars and cheerleaders. We drove from the airport past the Platte River, where sandhill cranes amassed by the thousands along the banks in nearby fields. I made my dad stop the car to hear the roar they made as these dinosaur-ish creatures chattered at one another.

Or another year when I drove hundreds of miles to volunteer with my nurse-mom at a convent. Well, more like a nursing home for nuns; I helped with bedpans, walkers, visited and served dinner, attended an utterly silent prayer service. Absolutely insane experience, all the elderly women patting me on the cheek like I was the one who needed care. I will never forget the tiny, frail 80-something sister who sat next to me during their turkey dinner; she clutched my hand, then patted it, and rasped, “This’ll be one Thanksgiving you’ll never forget.” She fricking winked at me and smirked, and then tried to recruit me to take vows in their order.

Hell yes, sister, I still think of it and you every year. Sorry about those vows, though. I know you meant well. I’ve never been nun material.

When I was growing up, nearly every T-Day holiday my family took in a new movie. We don’t do that anymore, but we do watch oldies but goodies at home. They’ve become part the rituals that my kids will remember in the future as they think back on their Thanksgiving holidays past. Like watching my personal favorite, Home for the Holidays, while we bake something yeasty for tomorrow’s feast at the in-laws. There’s nothing quite like Home for the Holidays to brace one’s self for visiting the extended dysfunction that is family. Tomorrow we’ll watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles while we cuddle up on our couch, lolling about in our overfed discomfort,and enjoy a fire in the fireplace.

What about you? What are your favorite Thanksgiving Day memories? Are you traveling? And what about holiday movies–is there one you’d share or enjoy every year?


Redirecting the Redirected: Returning Attention to Climate Change Policy and Planning

Corporate interests with strong ties to conservative politics have undermined American’s awareness and understanding about climate change. Record profits from fossil fuel businesses have been threatened by talk of reducing consumption. Rather than change their business model, these entities went on the offensive against knowledge; facts were stretched until barely recognizable, bolstered with easy untruths, and fed to the public alongside infotainment through co-opted media.

The same fossil fuel interests bought politicians who are easily led by cash infusions or manipulated through electoral scaremongering by increasingly ignorant, easily acquired political factions (hello, Tea Party).

Presto: Americans are the least likely to believe in anthropomorphic climate change, and they’re likely to vote for candidates who mirror their own tractability.

But the truth has a nasty way of bitchslapping consumers and voters until their attention is returned to the facts. Hurricane Sandy, following this past summer’s wretched Dust Bowl-like drought, delivered a one-two punch to the public’s consciousness. Americans are ripe right-the-hell NOW for corrective action in the form of education and effective policy.

Therein lies the problem: there is no ongoing nationwide sustained discussion on climate change reaching a critical mass of the American public, and they in turn are not demanding better, effective, and immediate policy. There’s lots of hand-wringing over the damages caused by the drought and hurricane. There’s discussion about improvements to emergency response (tactical), and chatter about building dikes a la Netherlands to protect New York City from future hurricanes (tactical).

Yet there’s only tactical discussion–no society-wide dialog about strategic approaches to climate change.

The challenge to the educated and aware is to change this scenario and fast. The longer it takes for the tractable to become engaged and aware, the more time fossil fuel interests have to re-poison the minds of the public before the next truth-borne bitchslapping.

One of the key threats to this process is the stickiness of misinformation. (Ugh–let’s be frank, it’s the persistence of the stupid.) Fossil fuel’s misinfo takes two forms: deny anthropomorphic component to climate change, and corrupt understanding of climate cycles. These are not mutually exclusive, either.

The first is easy to rebut, however it takes clarity and simplicity scientists generally avoid, and media has ignored when produced.

Take a look at this chart:

The relationship between plant productivity and CO2 is graphed here–note that the CO2 is inverse, though. Increased CO2 levels and subsequent related effects no longer improve plant output; it decreases it (read: decreased food outputs). Humans are the largest controllable variable when looking at global CO2 levels; we can make it or reduce it at will.

And then this chart — note, for example, the area on South American continent where rain forests are under attack.

Red represents area with substantive plant growth & productivity declines; green represents increases in the same. Keep in mind that plant growth in sub-alpine, alpine, and desert areas will not offset losses of more dense plant growth in tropical, sub-tropical, and moderate areas.

CO2, a by-product of fossil fuel combustion, now increases and decreases in tandem with plant growth. Humans control the amount of plants grown or harvested–period. We plant and harvest crops around the entire world, from edible commodities to lumber. If we plant less than we harvest (ex. rain forests cut down and replaced by a lesser amount of crops), it’s anticipated that CO2 level will reflect this change based on the current trend graphed above. (One might reasonably expect a similar shift in O2 levels as well, modifying the percentage of atmospheric CO2.) With adequate reversal of plant loss combined with reduction of anthropomorphic CO2 generation, CO2 to plant productivity may revert to a more positive relationship seen from 1982-1999.

This is simple evidence of man’s impact on the planet, and specifically on climate change-inducing greenhouse gas CO2.

Let’s now refer to past history, to address the issue of climate cycles. Talking heads and think tanks funded by fossil fuel and conservative interests often push back at anthropomorphic roots of climate change by pointing to climate cycles [PDF]. In short, they ignore climate change altogether because it’s natural. (Yeah, don’t worry about those potato chips. They’re all natural.)

But humans have seen the results of oh-so-natural climate change by cycle. In his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Professor Jared Diamond looked at several societies that crashed, as well as possible causes:

Careful analysis of the frequency of droughts in the Maya area shows a tendency for them to recur at intervals of about 208 years. Those drought cycles may result from small variations in the sun’s radiation, possibly made more severe in the Maya area as a result of the rainfall gradient in the Yucatan (drier in the north, wetter in the south) shifting southwards. One might expect those changes in the sun’s radiation to affect not just the Maya region but, to varying degrees, the whole world. In fact, climatologists have noted that some other famous collapses of prehistoric civilizations far from the Maya realm appear to coincide with the peaks of those drought cycles, such as the collapse of the world’s first empire (the Akkadian Empire of Mesopotamia) around 2170 B.C., the collapse of the Moche IV civilization on the Peruvian coast around A.D. 600, and the collapse of the Tiwanaku civilization in the Andes around A.D. 1100.

Diamond’s suspicions about the Mayans’ collapse were recently validated. You’ll note the recent news about the Mayans’ societal collapse–climate change did them in. They abandoned their agrarian-centric way of life and moved to the beach after drought-driven downsizing and rapid de-urbanization.

(Unfortunately for us, it’s not certain if there will be a recognizable beach after the loss of polar ice and the subsequent rise of ocean levels. There certainly won’t be enough beach for all of us, either, assuming more folks will flee the drought-plagued heartland. And who will grow crops for us while we shift around on the beach for a new way of life?)

If Diamond was also correct that the Mayans’ collapse was tied to a cyclical climate change, why aren’t we talking about this cycle and what our response should be? This same 208-year cycle coincides with the de Vries-Suess solar cycle, implicated in other past climate change effects.

Do the math, it’s pretty simple.

Moche IV collapse ~600 A.D.
Classic Maya drought and collapse ~600-800 A.D.
—–
Tiwanaku collapse ~1100 A.D.
—–
Great Famine, Late Middle Ages, Europe 1315-1317 A.D.
—–
30-year drought, Texas-Mexico 1450-1489 A.D.
Spanish famine 1504 A.D.
—–
Worst documented drought, Texas-Mexico 1697-1716 A.D.
Mongolian drought and intense volatility 1723-1778 A.D.
—–
Dust Bowl and drought 1934-1940 A.D.

 

Note these societal collapses and later major climate events occur in clusters at roughly 208-year cycles. There are other solar cycles [PDF] as well, each of which may result in climate change.

We can see these naturally occurring cycles. We can see the link between CO2 production and human activity. They are not mutually exclusive, and frankly, the former may greatly intensify the effects of the latter. How much of the Mayans’ collapse was due not only to drought, but poor resource management, overpopulation, and slow response to conditions that exacerbated the effects of drought?

At a minimum we should begin a national and global dialog about climate cycles and how we anticipate responding to their effects instead of allowing climate change denialists to use cycles as an excuse to avoid any discussion. Clearly even cycles represent catastrophic risks–we should not ignore them.

A far better approach would be a conversation conducted with a degree of urgency about climate change regardless of its natural or anthropomorphic causes. Sticking our heads in the sand will only result in drowning as hurricanes make landfall and ocean levels rise.

Let’s look at the math again: based on the 208-year de Vries-Suess cycle, the next peak should occur about 2130 A.D with conditions worsening for decades in advance as the peak approaches. If this past handful of years is any indication–and by my guess we are only half the way into the current de Vries-Suess cycle–2130 will be beyond ugly if we do not start our dialog now.

Moche-Mayan-Tiwanaku collapse ugly.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/author/rayne/page/66/