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Wednesday: Heat of Passion

Crazy stuff happens when there’s a full moon like last night’s. Crazier stuff happens under heat and pressure. Brace yourselves as the heat dome slides from the southwest to Midwest and east this week.

Hot wheels

  • A look at the whys behind Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal (DailyBeast) — Interesting read in which German and VW culture loom large as contributing factors behind the fraud that is ‘Clean Diesel’.
  • New York, Maryland, Massachusetts each file lawsuits against VW (Reuters) — Filings accuse VW of violating states’ enviromental laws. The suits claim VW’s executives knew ‘clean diesel’ technology would not meet states’ environmental standards, and that former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn knew about this failure since 2006. The suits also claim VW employees willfully tampered with evidence after they were told an order to freeze documents was impending. A DOJ criminal investigation is still underway.
  • VW set aside another $2.4B (BBC) — In addition to the previous $15.3B, the additional amount was set aside to address “further legal risks predominately arising in North America.” Hmm…was that about the states’ environmental lawsuits now popping up?
  • And yet VW’s stock price popped up because profits (TheStreet) — Uh-huh. Short-term churn, unsustainable, because VW hasn’t yet seen half of its legal exposures given the number of states’ lawsuits so far, let alone other countries’ claims. VW expects sales to lag over last year, too, not to mention all the other factors increasing market instability.
  • EU Competition Commission busts European truck cartel with $3.2B fine (Bloomberg) — Interesting push-pull inside this story: Scania AB, a Swedish truckmaker owned by Volkswagen, has been penalized after MAN SE, another Volkswagen subsidiary, squealed to the EU and got its $1.2B fine waived. Wonder if VW execs did the math on that in advance? Another interesting tidbit is Volvo’s reduction in production here in North America and abroad, blamed on stagnant market; this says something about consumption.
  • Mercedes’ self-driving buses pass 20-kilometer trip test (The Verge) — IMO, self-driving mass transport should have priority over passenger cars; there’s not much difference between a semi-autonomous bus on a scheduled route and a streetcar on a track like those in New Orleans or San Francisco, and we know they are successful. This distance test could mean a lot to cities the size of Detroit; now will U.S. transportation companies meet Mercedes’ challenge?

Miscellany

  • Feds seizing assets related to Malaysian theft, including Wolf of Wall Street (THR) — DOJ tracking down the $1B stolen from Malaysia; destinations of cash may suffer asset forfeiture including rights to artworks like recent pop music and films. Background on the 1MDb scandal here (not to be confused with Amazon’s subsidiary IMDb.com).
  • Oil bidness, part 1 — UK edition: Oil price crash plus Brexit accelerates capping of North Sea well heads (Bloomberg) — The uncertainty of UK’s future plans makes the country a good opportunity especially when the pound is low to shut down wells. It’ll only cost more to do the same when UK comes out of its funk, and the well heads must close eventually due to falling demand and a long-term glut expected. Oh, and Scotland. Don’t forget the risk of costly transition between a UK pound, the euro, and a possible Scottish pound in the future.
  • Oil bidness, part 2 — Russian edition: Oil price below $40/BBL will help Russia (Bloomberg) — Okay, this one made me laugh my butt off. Uh-huh, less cash is exactly what Putin wants in order to make Russia great again. Right. The real crux is and has been Russia’s access to cash for their defense (offense?), and it’s not Russia who wants less cash spent on that.
  • BEFORE meeting with UK’s PM May, Scotland’s FM Sturgeon suggested another indy ref vote next year (The Scotsman) — I think this is the match-up we’ll want to watch, the volley of words between Sturgeon and May as they jockey for best position. Sturgeon has the upper hand, period; she’d already had a chat with the EU about remaining in the community before May was named PM, though Spain was a sticking point (because of their own potential breakaway state, Catalonia).
  • Student researching WiFi brings center of Brussels to a screeching halt (Le Soir) — Good news, bad news story: Security took note of the young man wearing too long a coat for the day’s heat and halted traffic in the city’s center as counterterror teams were dispatched. Turns out the guy was just studying the city’s WiFi. Good that security wasn’t goofing off, bad that even looking odd while researching can stop a major city.

Stay cool — I’m considering popcorn for dinner at the local cineplex this evening until the sun sets and the temperature drops outside. Dinner tomorrow and Friday might be Jujubes and Good-and-Plenty.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Monday Morning: Scattered

That’s how I feel this morning — my head feels like a bunch of scattered pictures lying on my bedroom floor. Can’t tell how much of this sensation is work hangover from a too-busy weekend, or a result of a themeless news morning.

Often as I browse my feeds I find narratives emerge on their own, bubbling up on their own. Today? Not so much. There are too many topics in flight, too many major stories juggled, too many balls in the air, everything’s a blur.

The biggest stories adrift and muddled are those in which elections are central:

  • U.S. primary season wrap-up and the general election ahead — and I’m not going to touch this topic with a 20-foot pole. Imma’ let better writers and statisticians handle it without me piling on.
  • The Philippines election — the leading candidate is alleged to encourage urban vigilante death squads to reduce crime.
  • Brexit — Britain votes on a referendum next month on whether to exit the EU. Brexit played a role in the election last week of London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, who also happens to be London’s first Muslim mayor.
  • Australia’s double-dissolution election — PM Malcolm Turnbull last week announced both the House of Representatives and the Senate would be dissolved and replaced in an election on July 2nd. Turnbull faces replacement depending on which party amasses the most power during the election. There have only been seven double dissolutions since Australia’s federation under its constitution in 1901.

Anyhoo…here’s some miscellaneous flotsam that caught my eye in today’s debris field.

  • Number of unique mobile device users: 5 BILLION (Tomi Ahonen) — Do read this blog post, the numbers are mind-boggling. And intelligence agencies want to map and store ALL of the communications generated by these numbers?
  • Browser company Opera just went after iOS market with VPN offering (PC World) — Opera already announced a free VPN to Windows and Linux users; today it targeted Apple users with a VPN for iOS (do note the limited country availability). Don’t feel left out, Android users, you’ll get a VPN offering from Opera soon.
  • Swarm of earthquakes detected at Mount St. Helens (KOMO) — The eight-week-long swarm has been likened to those in 2013 and 2014 due to fault slippage. An eruption may not be imminent.
  • Jihadi Gang Warfare (@thegruq at Medium) — A really good read about the Islamic militant gang in Brussels and how their amateurishness prevented even greater bloodshed in both Paris and Brussels. Unfortunately a primer on how not to do urban terror.
  • Google isn’t just feeding romance novels to its AI to teach it language (Le Monde) — ZOMG, it’s using them to teach it morals, too! That’s what Le Monde reported that Buzzfeed didn’t.

    Valeurs morales

    Deux chercheurs de Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl et Brent Harrison, vont encore plus loin. Selon eux, la littérature peut inculquer des valeurs morales à des programmes d’intelligence artificielle. « Nous n’avons pas de manuel rassemblant toutes les valeurs d’une culture, mais nous avons des collections d’histoires issues de ces différentes cultures », expliquent-ils dans leur article de recherche publié en février.

    «Les histoires encodent de nombreuses formes de connaissances implicites. Les fables et les contes ont fait passer de génération en génération des valeurs et des exemples de bons comportements. (…) Donner aux intelligences artificielles la capacité de lire et de comprendre des histoires pourrait être la façon la plus efficace de les acculturer afin qu’elles s’intègrent mieux dans les sociétés humaines et contribuent à notre bien-être.»

    Moral values

    Two researchers from Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl and Brent Harrison, go even further. They believe literature can inculcate moral values in artificial intelligence programs. “We have no manual containing all the values of a culture, but we have collections of stories from different cultures,” they explain in their research article published in February.

    “The stories encode many forms of implicit knowledge. Fables and tales were passing generation to generation the values and examples of good behavior. (…) Giving artificial intelligence the ability to read and understand stories may be the most effective way to acculturate them so they can better integrate into human society and contribute to our well-being.”

    Gods help us, I hope they didn’t feed the AI that POS Fifty Shades of freaking Grey. Though I’d rather 90% of romance novels for morals over Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale, because romance’s depiction of right and wrong is much more straightforward than in literary fiction, even the very best of it.

That’s quite enough trouble to kick off our week, even if it’s not particularly coherent. Catch you tomorrow morning!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Tuesday Morning: Été Frappé

[graphic: Map of Belgian attacks 22MAR2016 for Le Monde via Eric Beziat]

[graphic: Map of Belgian attacks 22MAR2016 for Le Monde via Eric Beziat]

Whatever I was going to write today has been beaten into submission by current events.

Woke up to news about alleged terror attacks in Belgium — social media was a mess, a deluge of information with little organization. Best I can tell from French language news outlets including Le Monde, the first attack was at 8:00 a.m. local time at the Zaventem Airport just outside Brussels. The second attack occurred at the metro station Maelbeek at 9:11 a.m. Both attacks appeared use bombs, unlike the Paris attack this past year — two at the airport, one at the metro. Reports indicate 15 deaths and 55 seriously injured so far.

A third explosion reported in the city at a different location in the city of Brussels has been attributed to the controlled detonation of a suspicious package after the second attack.

In the time gap between the two attacks, one might suppose many law enforcement and military would have gone to the airport to respond to the first attack. Was there synchronization by planned schedule, or was there coordination by communication?

However, communications may have been difficult as telecom networks were quickly flooded. How soon were the telecom networks overloaded? Or were the networks throttled for observation? We may not ever know.

It’s worth reexamining what Marcy wrote about the communications found after Paris attack (here and here). It may be relevant if the same practices were used by the attackers in Brussels.

Important to note that Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam was arrested March 18 in a raid in Brussels. He is believed to have transported several of the attackers to the Stade de France just before the November 13 attack. Abdeslam may have been one of several suspects who fled from another earlier raid during which another suspect was killed.

Still working on the order issued late yesterday vacating today’s planned hearing on #AppleVsFBI. The order is here.

UPDATE — 9:30 a.m. EST — Marcy will be posting in a bit about the #AppleVsFBI hearing that wasn’t.

Another interesting story that broke in France today: French Supreme Court affirmed a previous lower court decision which ruled legal the wiretapping of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has been under investigation for various forms of influence peddling since 2010, including receipt of campaign funds from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2007.

UPDATE — 1:00 p.m. EST/5:00 p.m. London/6:00 p.m. Brussels, Paris —

Now into the post-emergency recovery stage — all manner of political functionaries and talking heads have offered their two bits on this morning’s attacks. Three days of mourning have been declared in Belgium. Pictures of the alleged bombers at the airport taken by security video camera have now been published. The airport attackers detonated their weapons in the pre-security check-in area. 34 deaths have now been reported as a result of the attacks for which ISIS has now claimed responsibility. Across the Channel, the UK remains on alert for multiple attacks after last week’s raid in Brussels; UK travelers have been discouraged from traveling to Brussels.

Timeline (via Agence France-Presse)

22 mars Peu après 09h00/22 March Shortly after 9:00 a.m.
Explosion dans la station de métro Maelbeek.
Explosion in the Maelbeek metro station.

22 mars 08h00/22 March 8:00 a.m.
Deux explosions a l’aeroport. Possible kamikaze.
Two explosions at the airport. Possible suicide bomber.

21 mars/21 March
[Suspect] Najim Laachraoui, dont l’ADN a été retrouvé sur des explosifs, identifié et activement recherché.
Najim Laachraoui, whose DNA was found on explosives, identified and actively sought.

18 mars/18 March
Salah Abdeslam arête à Molenbeek.
Abdeslam Salah arrested in Molenbeek.

15 mars/15 March
Fusillade, quartier Forest – Mohammed Belkaid, lié aux auteurs de attentats de Paris du 13 novembre est tué. Empreintes de Salah Abdeslam retrouvées.
Shooting, Forest district – Mohamed Belkaid, linked to Paris attack planners of November 13, killed. Footprints of Salah Abdeslam found.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Reagan? No, Regin — Yet Another [GCHQ] Intelligence Malware

Recently, computer security firm Symantec reported discovery of another intelligence-gathering malware, dubbing  it “Regin.”

What’s particularly interesting about this malware is its targets:

  • It infected computers in Afghanistan, Austria, Belgium, India, Iran, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Saudia Arabia;
  • At 48% of total infections, the largest group of targets were private individuals and small businesses.

Please do read Symantec’s blog post and its technical paper on Regin to understand how it works as well as its targets. Many news outlets either do not understand malware and cybersecurity, or they get facts wrong whenever major malware attacks are reported. Symantec’s revelation about Regin is no different in this respect.

Independent.ie offers a particularly exceptional example distorting Symantec’s report, claiming “Ireland is one of the countries worst hit globally by a dangerous new computer virus that spies on governments and companies, according to a leading technology firm.”

If by “worst hit,” they mean among the top four countries targeted by this malware? Sure. But only 9% of the infections affected Irish-based computers, versus 28% of infections aimed at Russian machines, and 24% affecting Saudi machines. The Independent.ie’s piece reads like clickbait hyperbole, or fearmongering, take your pick.

What wasn’t addressed by the Independent.ie and numerous other outlets, including those covering the tech sector are some fundamental questions:

  • What assets or activities might the targeted countries have in common that would make them targets of a single intelligence operation organized by one or more nation-states?
  • What are so many private individuals and small businesses targeted by this malware, in contrast to other malware-based intelligence-collection operations seen to date?

The Guardian came closest to examining these issues, having interviewed researchers at computer security firm F-Secure to ask the origins of the malware. As of 24-NOV-2014, the firm’s Mikko Hypponen speculated that the US, UK, and/or Israel were behind Regin’s development and deployment.

As of the video embedded above, Hypponen firmly says the UK’s intelligence entity GCHQ is behind Regin, in particular the malware’s invasion of a Belgian telecom network (see video at 07:20). Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.