Spyware demo shows how spooks hack mobile phones

August 12th, 2015

Intelligence agencies’ secretive techniques for spying on mobile phones are seldom made public.

But a UK security firm has shown the BBC how one tool, sold around the world to spooks, actually works.

It allows spies to take secret pictures with a phone’s camera and record conversations with the microphone, without the phone owner knowing.

Hacking Team’s software was recently stolen from the company by hackers and published on the web.

Almost any data on a phone, tablet or PC can be accessed by the tool and it is fascinating how much it can do.

When Joe Greenwood, of cybersecurity firm 4Armed, saw that source code for the program had been dumped online by hackers, he couldn’t resist experimenting with it.

Although he had to fiddle with the code to make it work, it only took a day before he had it up and running.

The software consists of the surveillance console, which displays data retrieved from a hacked device, and malware planted on the target device itself.

4Armed was careful to note that using it to spy on someone without their consent would be against the law.

Listening in

After testing the software on his own PC, Mr Greenwood soon realised the scope of its capabilities.

“You can download files, record microphones, webcam images, websites visited, see what programs are running, intercept Skype calls,” he told the BBC.

The software even has some in-built features to track Bitcoin payments, which can be difficult to associate with individuals without additional data about when and how transactions were performed.

In a live demonstration of the system, Mr Greenwood showed how an infected phone could be made to record audio from the microphone, even when the device was locked, and use the phone’s camera without its owner knowing.

“We can actually take photos without them realising.

“So the camera in the background is running, taking photos every number of seconds,” explained Mr Greenwood.

It was also possible to listen in on phone calls, access the list of contacts stored on the device and track what websites the phone user was visiting.

 

Both Mr Greenwood and 4Armed’s technical director, Marc Wickenden, said they were surprised by the sleekness of the interface.

Both point out, though, that customers could be paying upwards of £1m for the software and would expect it to be user-friendly, especially if it was intended for use by law enforcers on the beat.

For the tracked user, though, there are very few ways of finding out that they are being watched.

One red flag, according to Mr Greenwood, is a sudden spike in network data usage, indicating that information is being sent somewhere in the background. Experienced spies, however, would be careful to minimise this in order to remain incognito.

At present, spy software like this is only likely to be secretly deployed on the phones and computers of people who are key targets for an intelligence agency.

Spy catcher

The version of the spyware distributed online is now likely to be more easily detected by anti-virus programs because companies analysing the source code are in the process of updating their systems to recognise it.

Security expert Graham Cluley said it should be as easy to detect as malware.

“The danger will be that malicious hackers could take that code and augment it or change it so it no longer looks like Hacking Team’s versions, which might avoid detection,” he added.

The best course of action, said Mr Cluley, is to keep operating systems and software as up to date as possible.

In a statement, a spokesman for Hacking Team said it advised its customers not to use the software once the breach was discovered.

“As soon as the event was discovered, Hacking Team immediately advised all clients to discontinue the use of that version of the software, and the company provided a patch to assure that client surveillance data and other information stored on client systems was secure.

“From the beginning Hacking Team has assumed that the code that has been released is compromised,” he said.

The spokesman added that the software would be operated by clients of Hacking Team, not Hacking Team itself, and therefore no sensitive data relating to ongoing investigations had been compromised in the breach.

“Of course, there are many who would use for their own purposes the information released by the criminals who attacked Hacking Team.

“This was apparently not a concern of the attackers who recklessly published the material for all online.

“Compiling the software would take considerable technical skill, so not just anyone could do that, but that is not to say it is impossible,” he said.

– To the original:  

 

HOW COVERT AGENTS INFILTRATE THE INTERNET TO MANIPULATE, DECEIVE, AND DESTROY REPUTATIONS

August 11th, 2015

– This piece was written by Glenn Greewald on 24 Feb 2014 but it is still relevent.

– dennis

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One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance. Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the latest GCHQ document we’re publishing today:

– This article continues and you will do best to read it in its original form as it has many graphic elements.

– to see the original, click here:

 

Websites can track us by the way we type

July 31st, 2015

– Here’s an article explaining how websites can identify who is typing by watching patterns in how we touch the keys.  I.e., how long you hold particular keys down and how much time elapses between different keystrokes.

– And the article describes a Google Chrome add-on that will mask this for you so you can become anonymous again.

– It is getting harder and harder to move about in the world anonymously.  There are some who would say, “If you are not doing anything wrong, why would you care?”  I don’t subscribe to that.  We are, by common social agreement and oftentimes by the rule of law, innocent until proved guilty.

– The people that hold and use these tools may be benign towards us today but there’s no guarantee that they will remain so in the future.  So, it seems obvious to me that if someone wants to exert greater control over us in the future, they will already have all the tools they need to win the battle to control us before a shot is fired.

– dennis

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Meet KeyboardPrivacy: a proof-of-concept Google Chrome extension that masks how long your fingers linger on each key you depress as you type and how much of a time lag there is between each of your key presses.

And just why would you need to disguise these typing traits – also known as periodicity – which are as unique to individuals as fingerprints?

Because there’s technology out there that can measure our typing characteristics, on the scale of millisecond-long delays and key presses, and use the data to profile us with such a high degree of accuracy that – Tor or no Tor – you won’t stay anonymous when browsing online.

Examples include profiling technology from a Swedish company called BehavioSec that can identify site visitors, based on their typing habits, with a session score of 99% and a confidence rate of 80%.

That type of success comes after the technology has been trained on a mere 44 input characters.

The extension, designed to obfuscate our typing patterns, comes from security researchers Per Thorsheim and Paul Moore.

On Tuesday, Moore said on his blog that UK banks are rumored to be actively trialing such technology to try to detect and minimize the risk of fraud.

That rumor is backed up by news reports mentioning that, as of March 2013, BehavioSec counted Sweden’s top ten national banks – along with Samsung – among its clients.

Why would the researchers want to fight off banks’ efforts to detect fraudulent activity on our accounts?

And why would bank customers want to reduce security by throwing a monkey wrench – or, really, in this case, it’s more like introducing the technical equivalent of a highly accurate cat walking across our keyboards – into banks’ efforts?

Because as it is, we’re trading privacy for security, Moore said.

…More:

 

Advice to the Guardian

July 19th, 2015

– Recently, the Guardian Newspaper, which I read, asked its readership what it should be doing.  The occasion of asking was the posting of a new editor-in-chief there.  I wrote them the following:

– dennis

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What’s missing in today’s news is a sense that it is unbiased. The very fact that the Guardian seems to report a number of stories that fly in the face of how the powers that be would like to see the world explained to the average man, speaks well of the paper’s independence.

But left open are still the questions of (1) whether or not you are simply recognizing an under-served part of the market and serving it. (2) whether you are focusing on a type of sensationalism that works because it goes against the grain or (3) you are actually trying to report the news in an unbiased manner because that is what best serves all of us.

Many of us perceive your reporting as arising from motive (3). If that is so, you need to recognize that this is what makes you special and you need to accentuate it, defend it and promote it. But most of all, you need to really do it by walking your talk in everything you do. Build your brand on it.

In a world where the reader can trust nothing they read in the media because it all seems to be shrouded in spin serving various factions, the reader will simply give up and society’s self-awareness will fragment and dim.

Humanity does have a right to clear, unambiguous information about the state of the world. And we have this right whether or not is it codified anywhere. People who speak the truth, in spite of the peril it costs them, know this instinctively. And those of us who align ourselves with the good of all, rather than the personal good of the few, recognize such truth-speaking as heroism and as being the best of us.

Be that paper and be it with a vengeance.

Spiritual Marriage – Mukti’s awakening

July 18th, 2015

– This in an interview with Mukti, wife of Adyashanti, about her awakening experience.  It reminds me of some lines in Dylan’s song, ‘Tangled Up in Blue‘.

Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

– There was a time, a few years ago now, when I meditated daily, and sometimes deeply.  

– One of my most memorable experiences took me to the place Mukti described here.  I characterized it as ‘stopping time’ but I recognize it now as the same place she’s talking about.  Movement ceases, is’ness is all there is, and the sense of being a timeless and empty mirror is complete.

– Something always stayed with me from that time. And, someday, I will return to that place and drink of it again.

– dennis

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~Spiritual Marriage~

Q. Tell me something about your background and your understanding of spiritual marriage.

MUKTI: That which is awake was calling since I was very, very young. I was raised Irish Catholic and felt that a love of God and Christ was foundational to my life. There was a tremendous yearning to know God. When I was seven, my parents found the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, and, with that, new perspectives opened up for me. As a young adult, I heard a talk by one of Yogananda’s disciples, Brother Anandamoy, on spiritual marriage. I must have listened to this talk on tape dozens and dozens of times. And the one line that deeply penetrated me was, “The purpose of spiritual marriage is to find that the One in me and the One in my husband or wife is the same One in all of life.” I knew this was my deepest yearning.

Later, soon after I was married to Stephen Gray, now Adyashanti, we attended a satsang (teaching) with a teacher named Gangaji. Right away Adya got up and spoke with her from his perspective. I could see that the dialogue that ensued was from a shared, awakened perspective of knowing Oneness, and that it was a dialogue in which I was not able to participate. As I witnessed their exchange, something came fiercely alive inside me, saying, “In order to have a true spiritual marriage, a true meeting of Adya, I must know this perspective.” And my seeing this didn’t come from a place of jealousy. It just came from a knowing that this must be—it was as though within myself, without literal words, my Being was saying, “This must come to pass. So that I too can meet my husband from this perspective.”

This knowing kicked off a real fire within me. In the past, I’d come from traditions of faith and trusting in the guidance of a savior or guru. But this was different. I think it was the first moment when something in me knew that it was time for me to be truly serious, to truly engage the issue of realization for myself.

Q: To become what you were witnessing in them…

MUKTI: Become that and to no longer waste time. It was as though something just clicked inside me that took me out of a sense of “Whatever God wills” to an intense inquiry: “What is God? What is this?” Before that, when I had a savior or a guru, I would place my trust in their wisdom, their divinity.

Q: Their enlightenment.

MUKTI: Their enlightenment. I believed that if I emulated them as best I could or followed the teachings that they’d set out, then maybe I would come to know what they know. But in this moment, what happened was it went from following the teacher to “this must be.” There was just something inside me that made not knowing no longer an option, and in that sense it was as though time had run out. Sharing Adya’s perspective had to be in order for this marriage to be what it must be for me, the only thing that will be satisfying for me.

It shifted from wanting to know God to seeing God in these two people interacting, to seeing that they looked out of those eyes of God. And my saying to myself, “I will not be satisfied unless this is my perspective,” changed something. It no longer was about wanting to know God (as an object). I wanted to be that. So this inquiry began…“What is that? What is that perspective?” And the word that Gangaji and Adya were using for the One was “Truth.” So, it ignited something new. As opposed to wanting to know love or bliss or the joy of union with God, the movement came to wanting to know the truth of that perspective, of Oneness.

And so, this became my inquiry, a very, very alive inquiry for months. And I had to do it for myself. The outward, more routine spiritual activities I did, such as attending services or meditations, became arenas where I would dive into these questions. I think it’s important to emphasize that something shifted inside me where I had to know. It’s not something that I can take credit for. Something in me just turned.

And yet, one of the distinguishing features of that moment was that the marriage itself became part of the motivation to say, “I can’t stop here. I’ve got to go where I can meet this being where he is.”

If I’m going to be a married person in this world, I have got to know what true marriage is. That conviction was fierce within me. It just had to be. So, that was the drive. Then, after maybe five months passed, I attended my very first silent retreat, which was also Adya’s first retreat teaching as a teacher, in July 1997. I was the retreat leader in charge of the logistics of the event. A few days into the retreat he gave a talk on “stillness.” I knew that he was speaking from a perspective of stillness that I didn’t know. My mind had an idea of stillness, but I could tell it wasn’t matching up with how he was speaking of it. And the way he was speaking of it was mysterious to me. It was unfamiliar but intriguing.

When the day ended and people had gone on to bed, I stayed in the hall to meditate and really dove into that question “What is stillness?” “What is it?” And that was the inquiry that brought me into direct experience of stillness, which flowered into a knowledge that that is Self. That is the nature of Self. Although stillness moves as form, it is the one constant. It is the One. Stillness is the perspective of permanence, of that which does not come and go, even as it comes and goes as form. I think, part of the inquiry that may be of interest to people was that I truly didn’t know what Stillness was. I had completely set aside any ideas that I had about it. And with all of my senses I followed the sense of stillness in my body, and really traced all movements within my body as I was sitting, until my body became more still than I’d ever known. And then my attention went to the outer world, and I sensed what Stillness was in the outer world.

Q: Tracing outer form back to whatever was behind it, which was non-form, the non-movement behind movement. In that inquiry—this is just more of a personal question—did you feel guided by any kind of inner voice or not—how did that tracing phenomenon happen? Was something telling you how to do this or was there just a settling in and of itself?

MUKTI: I did not hear a voice. I guess it just seemed the most obvious place to start…to sense stillness as I was sitting in meditation. Perhaps because some of my main teachers had come from traditions of meditation and had had some of their innermost dialogues with the Divine in meditation, I was drawn to meditate. When I wanted to know something of this order, I would sit and meditate. That was my training. And so, when I went to sit, I sat in meditation posture, as was part of that training.

So, the outer body, of course. was still.

It was still, but I always had experiences of really not truly being still inside. But on this evening, it just seemed obvious that the first place to look was “Is stillness here? Even in the midst of activity of mind and body?”

Including breath, heartbeat, thought, feeling, sensation—all that moves, changes.

Yes. So it was not an inner voice but a natural curiosity to start with, a curiosity about “What is most immediate in my own direct experience of stillness of body-mind?” And the inquiry itself invited a dropping of that question into my Being, not posing it to my mind.

Q: The question, “What is Stillness?”

MUKTI: Yes. “What is Stillness?” I dropped the question “What is stillness?” into my being, into my innermost being, down into my gut. Then I began to sink into a sense of stillness in my body, and all the movement within my own form began to settle and become quieter and quieter, and there remained a very quiet, still watching of all this settling.

Q: And then, there is still another leap beyond the perspective of the watching?

MUKTI: Yes. As my energies were withdrawn from movement, that which is aware of movement became prominent and was experienced as stillness. It also became clear that there was no perceivable difference between that which was aware of movement and all that was in motion. One could say that subject and object were experienced as one.

At the time, this did not register as an insight of oneness, it simply was what I experienced that evening…at which point I decided that any more efforting to inquire would be the antithesis of stillness, and so I went to bed. I was fully aware of all of the sounds of the outer world, and I went into deep sleep which later, when I reflected back upon it, was unlike any other sleep I’d had in that I was completely unaware of the world of form at a certain point. I don’t recall even moving. Then I heard the morning wakeup bell, and I went about my functions of the day. I don’t remember much of them to speak of, other than that I fulfilled my duties—but without a sense of self-consciousness, without any sense of self-reflecting. I’m using both of those terms to say that I was not aware of a sense of “me.” Then, after breakfast a woman bowed in “namaste” to me. In fact, she did a complete prostration before me and that was when a sense of the awareness that was looking out of my eyes at the world of form recognized itself as emptiness. And the laughter! I felt utter delight at this magic trick of what is completely empty and without form appearing before my eyes as form and appearing specifically as the form of a woman who was bowing to me as if I was something.

Q: I remember you said that her ” namaste” was no more significant than if she had bowed to a blank place in the room.

Right, or bowed to a toilet! It was amazing that she actually believed that there was someone in front of her. I mean, it would be as funny as one hair on your head jumping up and bowing to another hair on your head and dancing back and forth, bowing, worshiping each other. It was just delightful and humorous although ultimately those words fall short.

In the moment of the bow, in the moment of somebody in front of me interacting with me as though I were a something, all of a sudden the heightened awareness popped in that I’m not a something; I’m emptiness looking out of this form. And in that moment emptiness was born as an experience. What I am, what life is, what you are, what everything is, was seen as all that is, the one reality. All of this is being perceived from emptiness and clearly there was no “me” in this experience—this experience of myself as no-self or emptiness. And then, as the day went on, that experience opened, registering in my human consciousness as if to say, “This emptiness is this fullness that I’m looking at. This formlessness behind my eyes is what’s looking and is what’s looking back at me. This formlessness is this form, and it’s all arising as one thing. That which is perceiving, that which is sensing life, and the movement of life, the forms—all of them—are arising simultaneously.”

Q: How about after this experience of awakening out of identification with form—how were you different?

MUKTI: Some of the conditioned mind, concepts that separate or cause a sense of a “me,” that create a center or position in relation to life—some of this returned. But a lot of it just mysteriously dissolved. It’s the seeing that has the power to dissolve conditioning.

Q: In the work that I do with people, sometimes insight alone is enough for a pattern to dissolve. More often, however, insight is not enough. Without the experience of awakening, patterns have much more tenacity. I would imagine that, after the experience of awakening, when conditioned mind arises, there is a new perspective that lets you know “this isn’t real”?

Yes.

MUKTI: So, the conditioned thoughts and beliefs have a much shorter lifespan.

It’s more efficient. I guess what I was really left with was a sense that “me” lives only in thoughts that are believed.

Q: So, in a sense, having awakened to the reality that what you are does not depend on believing the thoughts you have about yourself, those beliefs can drop away more quickly. Prior to awakening, we might investigate a defensive behavior pattern (for example, avoiding intimacy) and find the beliefs on which it is based (for example, a belief that “If I let someone close to me, I’ll be rejected”), but there is still a tendency to justify the belief because of an underlying assumption that the “me” has substance and can be hurt by others. Whereas once you’ve had an experience that who you really are doesn’t depend on a “me,” and that who you really are cannot be hurt by anyone, then, when the feeling of “me” being threatened arises, we can question it from a whole different perspective, which allows it to dissolve more quickly.

MUKTI: Yes, it does. And, there’s no desire—at least I don’t experience a desire—to make it go any faster. When there’s a dawning that it’s all yourself—even the illusion—it’s not something that needs be rooted out. But there’s a natural curiosity to see what the illusion is. There’s this whole fundamental aspect of consciousness—meaning life, reality—that moves to know itself in form, even if that form is a belief or a feeling of threat or suffering. There also seems, from everything that I’ve seen, to be inherent in all of experience a movement towards freedom. So if there’s, let’s say, a painful emotion; that emotion responds. It moves to be seen, felt, heard, experienced. In a sense it’s born to be experienced, and once it’s seen and experienced directly, not suppressed and not embellished, but seen in its exquisite suchness, just as it is, it has served its own life’s function, and it dissolves. You could say it’s been freed.

There is a felt sense that life is living itself, and it’s showing up as feelings. It’s showing up as everything, which includes feelings and beliefs; those are directly experienced, and then life goes on. I’m free to experience these things as they arise. It’s showing up for the whole thing, as all of it. Sometimes people are kind of in a hurry to be free of things, and they miss the freedom of being a human being, of getting to experience the miracle that anything can even occur out of nothing. I want to add as a reminder that everybody’s totally unique. Some people may experience some of the things I’ve shared that happened to me after awakening, such as a greater capacity to see personal beliefs and patterns which cause suffering; yet many people see such patterns long before awakening. There are those common questions “How does awakening unfold? or What does it look like?” Well, it can look all sorts of ways—from a more gradual dawning of what’s real to a sudden dawning of what’s real.

Perhaps there’s seeing an object and knowing oneself as that object, or as another person, or as all of life, or as nothingness. Perhaps there is a dis-identification from the sense of “me,” or perhaps the “me” is seen to not exist at all. In the absence of “me” one may know what they are not. This knowledge can exist with or without the knowledge of what one is. In other words, there are all kinds of awakenings and seeings, my story is just one. There are no two alike.

Q: Can you tell me anything more about what has changed in your relationship with Adya?

MUKTI: I think the biggest thing that this shift of perspective affected, certainly initially, was how I heard things and how I communicated. A lot of my life’s experience had been that of wanting to be understood and of defending how I acted in the world. For example, feeling like I needed to justify why I did what I did or to explain why I was having the experience that I was having, so that I could be understood or accepted. And a lot of that fell away, so I was able to also listen in a way that wasn’t listening through that defensiveness. That was a huge change. At the time of the awakening I was in a program studying Chinese medicine. As I student I thought I had every ailment that I studied! But because the fundamental fear of death fell away with the awakening, it changed my whole relationship to health. As a result, a lot of the conversations I would have with Adya about my health just stopped. This freed up a lot in terms of energy and time that Adya and I spent together.

I’ve always had this sense of Adya, especially when he was a new teacher; he always felt like a real maverick to me. It wasn’t too long after that movie Top Gun came out, and in that movie there were these people who fly fighter planes and they just respond like this (snapping her fingers). They possess some internal navigational skills that are highly instinctual and intuitive. And Adya felt very much like that; he’d respond immediately to what life offered, and easily reverse direction. Now, within myself I feel that the more this awakening is deepening and unfolding, the more I have a sense of suppleness and ability to shift more quickly. Life is turning this way, “Okay,” and then you turn this way. And then comes its next curve or turn, and it feels a little bit more like somehow the whole ride is being ridden.

Q: You said that the point of spiritual marriage, is for the One in you to recognize the One in the other and together to come to the knowledge of the Oneness that we are. Is this now more available to you?

MUKTI: Yes, to see that the One in me and the One in my husband, in this case, is the same One in all of life. So, it’s not that we need to see that together. But I think the recognition that that’s the same One in all of life came at the exact same time as seeing that it’s the same One in my husband.

Q: Do you think you serve the same function for Adya?

MUKTI: Everything serves that, absolutely.

Spiritual Marriage: An Interview with Mukti
By Susan Thesenga

To the original:  

 

Climate change threat must be taken as seriously as nuclear war – UK minister

July 15th, 2015

In foreword to Foreign Office report, Baroness Joyce Anelay highlights holistic risks of global warming, including food security, terrorism and lethal heat levels

The threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation, according to a UK foreign minister.

Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, said the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding. She issued the warning in a foreword to a new report on the risks of climate change led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King.

The report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, and written by experts from the UK, US, China and India, is stark in its assessment of the wide-ranging dangers posed by unchecked global warming, including:

  • very large risks to global food security, including a tripling of food prices
  • unprecedented migration overwhelming international assistance
  • increased risk of terrorism as states fail
  • lethal heat even for people resting in shade

The world’s nations are preparing for a crunch UN summit in Paris in December, at which they must agree a deal to combat climate change.

Monday’s report states that existing plans to curb carbon emissions would heighten the chances of the climate passing tipping points “beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable”. In 2004, King, then the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that climate change is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

“Assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics,” said Anelay. “The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.”

The report sets out the direct risks of climate change. “Humans have limited tolerance for heat stress,” it states. “In the current climate, safe climatic conditions for work are already exceeded frequently for short periods in hot countries, and heatwaves already cause fatalities. In future, climatic conditions could exceed potentially lethal limits of heat stress even for individuals resting in the shade.”

It notes that “the number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by mid century due to population growth alone. Climate change could increase the risk in some regions.”

In the worst case, what is today a once-in-30-year flood could happen every three years in the highly populated river basins of the Yellow, Ganges and Indus rivers, the report said. Without dramatic cuts to carbon emissions, extreme drought affecting farmland could double around the world, with impacts in southern Africa, the US and south Asia.

Areas affected by the knock-on or systemic risks of global warming include global security with extreme droughts and competition for farmland causing conflicts. “Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale,” the report says. “It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed.”

“The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable,” says the report. “The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism.”

The report also assesses the systemic risk to global food supply, saying that rising extreme weather events could mean shocks to global food prices previously expected once a century could come every 30 years. “A plausible worst-case scenario could produce unprecedented price spikes on the global market, with a trebling of the prices of the worst-affected grains,” the report concludes.

The greatest risks are tipping points, the report finds, where the climate shifts rapidly into a new, dangerous phase state. But the report also states that political leadership, technology and investment patterns can also change abruptly too.

The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realised, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.”

– to the original article:

 

Some personal communications

July 15th, 2015

I was talking with some friends of mine, recently, on-line about whether or not Representative Democracies are the best option we have to deal with the world’s increasingly critical problems.

One of them said said:

“Frankly, I think representative democracy is the best tool available to deal with modern 21st Century social and public policy given that democracy is very imperfect form of government but the all the alternatives are far less desirable. Of course, I am all ears if political theorists and politicians can conceive and implement a new form of governance than those over the last several millennia.”

And I agreed with that assertion, though I found it disappointing when juxtaposed with something else that he said (and to which I also agreed). He said:

“Regardless of governance type, I unable to imagine how public policy at the international level needed for global problems, such as climate change, can be addressed rapidly and effectively. The problem is simply too complex, the decisional bodies involved too diverse, and the combined resources required too enormous to do so.”

Earlier in the exchange, this friend had written a detailed discussion of how Representative Democracies work, and in that he referred to the fact that the actors at all levels in such Democracies are all (or almost all) making their choices based on their self interests. This includes the voters on the street, the elected officials and the lobbyists who represent special interests.

From this, I get that Representative Democracies are a method of governance in which competing self-interests have achieved a state of relatively stable balance.

But, self-interests are not the only possible inputs to governance.

Common interests could, and should, be valid inputs as well.

Indeed, we as a species are failing to come to grips with the problems we are facing globally because we haven’t been able to find a way to transcend our self-interests to work for our common good.

Of course the following criticisms of the common good idea could be raised at once:

1. It is extremely unlikely that any group or groups focused on common interests could wrest the power to set governmental policy away from the intrenched self-interests.

2. And hasn’t this been tried before? And wasn’t it called, in its purest form, Communism?

I haven’t any answer for the first criticism. Though I would love to hear some good ideas.

I do note that within our current Representative Democratic systems, there are many NGOs operating. And many of those are focused on issues concerning our common good. But I also note that while they are sincere, and while they do good work, they are nowhere near to wresting control away from the forces that focus on self-interests.

On the second point, I would assert that Communism is not the only system we can formulate that holds our common interests as its highest goal.

A system of governance could be conceived in which there was a Prime Directive (i.e., the highest priority) of governance. And that Prime Directive would be to maximize the quality of life for all of us; both for now and into the indefinite future.

That would certainly be in our global common interest. Singapore, is perhaps the one place I’ve seen that seems to have a glimmer of this.

But beyond the primacy of the Prime Directive, we would all be free to do as we pleased; each in accordance with his or her own special interests.

So, for example, if someone wanted to form a company to go out cut trees for wood, the government would allow them to do so – so long as they did not cut trees faster than they could grow back and so long as nothing they did resulted in a net degradation of the environment we all share.

Capitalists could still be Capitalists.

But their possible activities would be constrained by the Prime Directive if those activities came into conflict with the Prime Directive.

In other words, the common good would always trump self-interest. But, so long as the common good was not threatened, the freedom to do as you like would be guaranteed (Probably as the Second Directive).

I think you can all see the basic idea here which is that what we lack with our current Representative Democracies is any meaningful acknowledgement of our common interests.

And the lack of this puts us in a very untenable place indeed when you consider my friend’s two quotes, above.

—–

Postscript:

After I wrote this, another friend pointed out to me an idea that’s been known and discussed in academia and elsewhere for some time.  It is called “The Tragedy of the Commons” (see Here).  And, his comment was that this idea correlated, quite significantly with the ideas I’ve been exploring here.

So, I went and read the Wikipedia article on The Tragedy of the Common and I quite agreed – there’s a good match.

Privacy groups walk out of US talks on facial recognition guidelines

July 6th, 2015

– Yes, I have a problem with systems that require us to ‘opt out’ before we can avoid them.

– In New Zealand, recently, one of the airlines was selling its passengers insurance that they specifically had to opt out of if they didn’t want to buy it.

– This one, having to do with facial recognition, is outrageous. It is a simple case of what’s good for the average Joe vs. what’s good for the corporations. And IMHO, the balance should always come down to favoring the average Joe and not the corporations.

– Look at how blatant the corporations are: “Not a single industry representative would agree on the most basic premise: that targets of facial recognition should opt in before companies identify them.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

A 16-month effort to set guidelines for use of facial recognition technology that satisfy consumers’ expectations of privacy and meet existing state laws went up in flames on Tuesday.

That’s when all nine civil liberties and consumer advocate groups participating in talks with trade associations on a voluntary code of conduct for US businesses to use facial recognition walked away from the table.

Their reason?

Not a single industry representative would agree on the most basic premise: that targets of facial recognition should opt in before companies identify them.

They’d been at it since February 2014, when the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) brought together industry representatives and privacy advocates to come up with voluntary guidelines.

The nine pro-privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Digital Democracy and other consumer advocates, put up a joint statementexplaining their move.

From the statement:

At this point, we do not believe that the NTIA process is likely to yield a set of privacy rules that offer adequate protections for the use of facial recognition technology. We are convinced that in many contexts, facial recognition of consumers should only occur when an individual has affirmatively decided to allow it to occur. In recent NTIA meetings, however, industry stakeholders were unable to agree on any concrete scenario where companies should employ facial recognition only with a consumer's permission.

According to The Washington Post, the camel’s back broke last Thursday, at the NTIA’s 12th meeting on the issue.

Insiders told the newspaper that this is how it went down:

First, Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Law, asked if companies could agree to making opt-in for facial recognition technology the default for when identifying people - meaning that if companies wanted to use someone's face to name them, the person would have to agree to it. No companies or trade associations would commit to that, according to multiple attendees at the meeting.

That’s right: not a single company would agree that consumers should have the say-so in facial recognition.

But while this industry/advocates collaboration on voluntary guidelines has fallen apart, the images companies are collecting without any federal direction haven’t gone anywhere.

Face-slurping companies include tech giants Facebook, Google and Apple.

For its part, Facebook is facing a class action lawsuit over facial recognition, started by an Illinois man who claims the social network violated state privacy laws by not providing him with written notification that his biometric data was being collected or stored.

Also in the mix are retailers, such as Wal-Mart, which love to spot who’s looking at what and for how long inside their stores.

In the UK, things are very similar: Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, in 2013 announced it was to install facial recognition technology in all 450 of its petrol station forecourts – all the better to target-market at you, my pretty.

The companies trying to hammer out guidelines in the US have turned away not only from the basic premise of opt-in, but also from a specific, concrete scenario of opt-in that was offered up by Justin Brookman, the director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s consumer privacy project.

According to The Washington Post, Brookman sketched out the concrete scenario like so:

What if a company set up a camera on a public street and surreptitiously used it [to] identify people by name? Could companies agree to opt-in consent there?

The results were the same: not a single company went for opt-in, even under such specific circumstances.

Privacy advocates have said that their withdrawals from the multi-stakeholder process will be a fatal blow to the perceived legitimacy of the NTIA’s efforts, now that it’s just the foxes – as in, the companies implementing facial recognition – guarding the hen house (the hens being all us being surveilled).

But the NTIA says the talks will go on.

An agency spokesperson said this to The Washington Post:

NTIA is disappointed that some stakeholders have chosen to stop participating in our multi-stakeholder engagement process regarding privacy and commercial facial recognition technology. A substantial number of stakeholders want to continue the process and are establishing a working group that will tackle some of the thorniest privacy topics concerning facial recognition technology. The process is the strongest when all interested parties participate and are willing to engage on all issues.

The privacy advocates said in their letter that the barest minimum privacy expectation should be that we can simply walk down the street without our every movement being tracked and without then being identified by name, all thanks to the ever-more-sophisticated technology of facial recognition.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise. The position that companies never need to ask permission to use biometric identification is at odds with consumer expectations, current industry practices, as well as existing state law.

It might look good, at least on the surface, that the industry representatives are apparently playing ball by not walking away from the official guidelines-setting process.

But it’s hard to imagine anything privacy-positive coming out of that process now that the privacy advocates have walked away.

And without any guidelines, these companies will continue to use facial recognition in an unregulated environment.

– To the original:  

 

Afghanistan: No Country for Women

July 5th, 2015

In war-torn Afghanistan it is not the Taliban that poses the greatest threat to women – it is their own families.

Thirteen years after the fall of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan continue to suffer oppression and abuse.

Research by Global Rights estimates that almost nine out of 10 Afghan women face physical, sexual or psychological violence, or are forced into marriage.

In the majority of cases the abuse is committed by the people they love and trust the most – their families.

While shelters are trying to provide protection and legal help to some, many women return to abusive homes because there is no alternative. Unable to escape their circumstances, some are turning to drastic measures like self-immolation to end their suffering.

…More:  

 

Something almost changed my life today

June 22nd, 2015

Backdrop

Guns and violence, as they seem to appear daily on the American stage, are anathema to civil societies.  Indeed, America is mocked and ridiculed among all the advanced nations for the degree of gun violence that unfolds there so frequently.  Witness the Dylann Roof story that’s unfolded in just the last day.

I get it.  I really do.

But I also find some logic in the idea that citizens have the right to be armed in defense of themselves; whether it be against their government – or their peers.

Unfortunately, the way that logic of the Second Amendment works out in practice in America makes a mockery of the idea.  I think many of the people with access to guns in America are simply too stupid, opinionated and volatile  to understand the purpose and sense of the Amendment and have perverted it into something else entirely.

All of this came to mind for me today because of something that happened that could have changed my life in a moment.

A premonition

We were coming up from the Crémazie Metro Station on our way to catch the bus to the Rockland shopping centre when we heard a commotion behind us.  There were loud out of control voices, -bully-boy voices.  As we were moving up the escalators, Colette looked back to see what was going on and said that she hoped all what ever it was wasn’t coming our way.  I thought the same thing.

When we got to the top, where the ticket turnstiles are, I thought I’d go over and mention to the ticket agent inside the secure office (bullet proof glass and etc.) that there was some sort of a commotion below and that they might want to alert security.  But, just as I was approaching, a woman stepped up to talk with the agent and I didn’t want to wait or butt in.  And Colette was already moving up the next escalator to the street level becausee she hadn’t seen me turn aside.

We got outside and walked to the bus stop and got into a line that was forming there.  We both glanced behind us but nothing was happening so we forgot it.

In a few minutes, the bus arrived and we all got on.  But, once everyone was on, the driver waited.  Apparently he waits to leave on a specific schedule.

Reality finds us

We bagan to hear the commotion again now behind the bus and approaching.  And, in a minute, a very large and solidly built man with short hair and a mean look appeared.  With him was a second fellow that looked like an a animated scarecrow.  Both of them were, apparently, seriously blown away on drugs of some sort. And ‘P’ or Meth, as some people know it, was the drug I would suspect.

The bigger one was simply belligerent to  everyone.  The scarecrow just followed him and clapped his hands with some sort of demented glee at everything the other one did.  But I could see that under the scarecrow’s performance, that he was somehow the vassal of the larger man and that he was terrified of him.

It was clear, that the larger man was looking for anyone to stand up to him or defy him.  He wanted a violent confrontation.  His body language and eyes were full of it.

He walked to the side of our bus, where the front entry door was still open, and stood just outside and began to address the driver.  Colette told me that he also addressed a older black man who was in the seat immediately behind the driver.  He mocked and insulted both of them verbally and with hand and body motions.  He was partially talking to them and insulting them and holding a conversation with himself as to whether he was going to get on and ride the bus or simply walk.

I think he wanted to driver to tell him not to get on and then he would have come aboard and bashed the driver.  As I was looking at this fellow, I had no doubt that that’s what was potentially playing out.

The driver didn’t say anything.  Colette and I were two seats back from the front of the bus on the right side.  From there I couldn’t see the driver’s face because of the barrier behind him so I couldn’t sees how he was reacting to the threat; whether he was making eye contact with the man outside or not.

On the bus

Everyone on the bus was riveted and terrorized – wondering if this madman was going to come aboard.  Surely, if he did it, was going to be deeply unpleasant for all of us and possibly violent, if anyone attempted to put up any sort of resistance or make any comment.

He kept talking to the driver and abusing him verbally while the scarecrow kept dancing, clapping his hands and laughing with each new volley.

Cut to the chase

Now, let’s cut to the chase, as they say, and reveal what actually happened.

The man debated with himself and then after abusing the driver and the black man a bit more as his partner clapped and danced, he turned and walked on.  And the driver, cool as ice, so far as I could see, shut the bus door and we simply drove on asthe man hurled more abuse at us as we passed him.

That was a good outcome and I’m extremely happy that it worked out that way.  But that’s not why I’m writing this piece.  Here, I want to explore the other pathways; the ones that  almost happened.

Meanwhile, down the other path

As the man raved outside, my mind worked through several scenarios about what might happen if he came aboard.  Colette and I were very near the front so I thought it highly likely that we’d get tangled in it if thing got violent.

In one scenario, I thought of standing up and asking all the able-bodied men on board to help me repel this guy.  But it occurred to me that most people will reman passive and I might end up standing there alone after having declared myself an opponent.  That didn’t seem smart.

I also considered just remaining passive, like the driver, in hopes that things could be kept at a level below violence.  So what if a few of us were insulted?  It would rankle but no one would get hurt.

But it was a volatile situation and there was definetly another path events could follow and that was that he would board and violence would ensue.

Options and the law

At this point, I want to refer you back to the beginning of this piece where I’m talking about citizens having weapons for self-defense.  There can be valid reasons to have weapons for self-defense and I was looking at one right in front of me.

As I’ve indicated, I’m torn about this issue because I think the proliferation of weapons in America to mentally unqualified people has made the country’s Second Amendment a thing of mockery to the rest of the world.

But, personally, I  feel that I have the right to defend myself and I really don’t care what anyone else thinks about it.  The right is simply mine, granted to me or not. I’m taking is as an absolute given because this is my life and no one else cares about it like I do.

The laws we have can make it difficult to be both a legal law-abiding citizen and to defend yourself effectively.

For example, the law says that you can defend yourself, if someone assaults you first.

And it also asserts that you can use reasonable force to defend yourself.

I suppose in many situations, in a civil society, these two rules make sense.  After all, most of us understand why we have laws for the common good and most of us try to play nice.

But I found it all this to be slim comfort sitting in the bus waiting to see if this madman was coming aboard and wondering what I was going to do, if anything.

If push comes to shove

This fellow looked like he was on something like ‘P’ and I’ve read, multiple times, that people on such drugs can be tasered with little effect. And it can take several strong men to physically take them down and control them; powered by the drug and by unreasoning rage as they are.

Parts of this ran through my head as I watched him abusing the driver and debating with himself if he was going to come on the bus.

I was hoping that, perhaps, he’d move on.

Or hoping, that if he came onboard, he’d just be content to just abuse everyone verbally.  The experience would undoubtedly grate on our nerves and egos, but we’d survive that.

But it was the case that he’d come onto the bus and begin bashing people that I was really worried about and thinking about – because the other scenarios would, essentially, take care of themselves.

And this is where we get back to the right to self-defense because I could see that this might shape up to be an extreme case.

This could become a case where someone puts you into a corner where either you had to submit to a beating (or watching someone else get beaten) or resist.

And it could be that there was going to be precious little room to maneuver outside of those two possibilities.

Consider, as well, that the man was very probably raging on a powerful drug. Nothing about a confrontation with him was going to be subtle.

What to do?

So, should one wait to be struck first before considering that one could engage in self-defense?

Should one’s response to being struck be a measured response so that you didn’t respond, according to the niceties of the law, with an unreasonable amount of force?

Well, dear readers, I’ll confess to you that I wasn’t thinking much about any of that.  Most of that sort of stuff was after the fact thinking.

I’m not going there…

I was thinking to myself at that moment that any response to this fellow was going to have to be violent, sudden and it was going to either have to severely disable him or kill him.

Anything less, given his state, might put me and others in a spot wherein some of us were going to be severely beaten, crippled or killed. And don’t forget, that Colette was sitting just beside me.

As I alluded to a moment ago, much of this description of my thinking, which I’m laying out here, was actually after the fact thinking.

As the fellow was on the brink of coming on the bus, I was working out these possibilities, including the most extreme and violent ones, in a very immediate and visceral way.  It was like seeing several futures unfold in front of me all in a moment. And knowing what I’d be doing in each of them.

I wrote a poem many years ago that, perhaps, gives some of the sense of the moment:

Balance, the poised and easy flexing
to meet experience as it comes
Tai Chi on the high seas
while the lightening rips.

No fear to act, none to wait,
each as appropriate.

Will to avoid the ocean of error
least you never hear
the thunder’s laughter.

gallagher
28 Nov 84

How it was going to be

I knew several thing, intuitively:

If he began bashing, I wasn’t going to wait to be bashed.

If I went against him, it wasn’t going to be a measured response.

And, if at all possible, I wasn’t going to allow myself to get trapped in my seat with him over me in the aisle.

I also instinctively knew that if I was standing in front of him in the aisle and the game was on, how I was going to take him down.

Unpleasant images ahead

My apologies, dear readers, if this is graphic but I want you to remember that in this scenario this man is younger than me (I’m 67 now and he’s probably in his 30’s) and heavier than me and he’s very probably in an unreasoning drug induced rage.

I carry a Leatherman tool on my belt. It’s a multipurpose tool with, among other things, two separate knife blades; one standard and one serrated; both just under three inches long.

If it came to it, I was going to take him down violently and probably fatally.

Knife handle in the left hand with the blade facing to the left.  Left hand sweeps up and to the right in a tight arc, right hand comes and cups the base of the knife’s handle and then a short, sharp and violent drive into the left side of his neck driven by my right arm and then driving left to right across his neck.  The object being to cut through the front of his neck and windpipe and one sudden violent move.

He might stand and lash out for a few moments after that but he’d be on his way to the floor soon.

Something almost changed my life changed today

Afterwards?  Well, that would have been a life changer.

I would have waited for the police and I would have been hoping that the other folks on the bus were going to back my account of the events.

I would have been sure that the next few months, and maybe more, were going to be a nightmare for me as the Canadian authorities worked out their opinions of what had happened on the bus and if I was culpable for defending myself and the others on the bus.  The issues of self defense and unreasonable force would not have failed to come up.

The remaining part of our vacation to Vancouver for July and August would have been blown as well as our trip to the U.S. West Coast in September and, in all likelihood, Colette would have to return home while I worked things out.

Summary

I was a bit quiet over the next few hours, after that bus ride, just thinking about all that might have followed, if things had gone just slightly differently.

I would have deeply regretted the end of our vacation and the ensuing chaos in our lives.

It could have had a bad effect on our relationship.  I have no idea how Colette might have absorbed the idea of me killing someone right in front of her; regardless of my justifications.

As for the guy on drugs who was out of control. I have to say I’d have had no regrets.  I think when people step beyond certain bounds and force others into extreme acts of self defense, that they have abrogated their own rights.  All things considered, I think the world would be far better off with one less of the type who would permit themselves to trod that path.

Post-script

I want to say that in my three months in Montreal, I’ve never encountered a ‘hardcase’, other than this one fellow.

This story is not meant in anyway to deminish my admiration for Montreal. It is a peaceful, lovely, and law-abiding place which I have come to love.

Idiots, like this hardcase, can occur anywhere.

It is nice, because we live in civil law-abiding societies, that the half-life of people like this on the street, is generally pretty short.