Eclectic Spacewalk — 06/23/17

Here is a sampling of the best content I consumed this past week. Enjoy scratching your brain’s curiosity itch!





Top 5 Favorite articles and essays: Inequality of world wealth, CIA infecting Wi-Fi routers for the last decade, Amazon’s conglomeration, Protest that works, & How an artist faces threat of total paralysis —
Last year it was 8 men, then it was down to 6 and now it’s almost 5.
While Americans fixate on Trump, the super-rich are absconding with our wealth, and the plague of inequality continues to grow. An analysis of 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth. As of 06/08/17, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people…
American billionaires all made their money because of the research and innovation and infrastructure that make up the foundation of our modern technologies. They have taken credit, along with their massive fortunes, for successes that derive from society rather than from a few individuals. It should not be any one person’s decision about the proper use of that wealth. Instead a significant portion of annual national wealth gains should be promised to education, housing, health research and infrastructure. That is what Americans and their parents and grandparents have earned after a half-century of hard work and productivity.
“Home routers from 10 manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infect connected devices. That’s according to secret documents posted Thursday by WikiLeaks.”
“The model begins like this: A company that is successful in one area turns itself into a conglomerate by using its free cash flow to finance the development or acquisition of businesses in other areas — at first, ones that are similar to their current business, and later often ones that are farther afield. And then the company does this again and again…
When such an economic machine works, it works extraordinarily well. But when any one of the major levers in the machine breaks or even stalls, the entire enterprise comes under pressure. Shareholders start complaining that the sum of the parts would be worth more separately than together.
“Yesterday I wrote on the definition of globalism and the danger of the increasing power of centralized, gigantic businesses in the modern technology-driven economy. Some readers expressed skepticism about my thesis, not as to the prevalence of gigantism so much as to the power of these businesses to impact the way we live. This didn’t seem to me a point in need of proof in an era in which ten percent of the world’s public companies generate eighty percent of all profits, in which we’ve seen the number of publicly listed companies halve since 1997, and the number of startups is lower than we’ve seen in nearly forty years…
In an environment in which everything’s political, the ability of corporate brands to skirt these types of pressures becomes nearly impossible. And the impact that such boycotts could have on media is enormous. The only way to blow past them is to have a product that generates such loyalty and consumer buy-in as to be immune to the steady attacks from those in political disagreement.”
“So she has tried to turn to what is concrete — what she is sure of right now.
She knows that the disorder guided her to her birth country, to California, into the arms of her husband. It gave vision to her art, gratitude for her mind, ignited her need for adventure. It deepened friendships and enriched experiences. It made her more reflective, more compassionate, more sure of what lies within.
All of which doesn’t balance out the terribleness of what continues to happen.
But it has forced Redlawsk to see how perspective can help make a bit of sense out of an unexpected life.

US government’s own reports contradict their at most hostile and at least knowingly untruthful views on Manning leaks & Post Snowden security tightening —
“In all, the report concluded, while the post-Snowden initiative — called “Secure the Net” by the N.S.A. — had some successes, it “did not fully meet the intent of decreasing the risk of insider threats to N.S.A. operations and the ability of insiders to exfiltrate data.”
In the seven years since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of classified documents in history, the federal government has said they caused enormous damage to national security.
But a secret, 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and newly obtained by BuzzFeed News, tells a starkly different story: It says the disclosures were largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to US interests.”

Data & Privacy —
Without an expectation of privacy in such information, the government may collect it without having to satisfy the Fourth Amendment — even if, in some cases, it must nevertheless satisfy more modest statutory requirements that Congress has imposed. Thus, although Edward Snowden’s 2013 disclosure of the bulk telephone metadata collection prompted substantial public debate over the constitutionality of such surveillance, it is difficult to see the argument that it was unconstitutional, thanks to the third-party doctrine (the Second Circuit instead invalidated it on narrower, statutory grounds)…
This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers.
Not only has technology changed both the quality and quantity of the data we voluntarily provide to third parties (and, perhaps, the extent to which such actions really are “voluntary”); it has also dramatically increased the government’s ability to collect larger percentages of such data, to aggregate the collected data from different sources, and to mine the aggregated data for pre-determined selectors, including specific individuals, types of transactions, or other physical or transactional patterns.”
What UpGuard appears to have discovered, sitting on an Amazon cloud storage drive with no password or username required for access by anyone on the internet, was terabytes of the data used to map the voter proclivities and demographics key to finding voters in those buckets. Beyond personal information like religion, age, and probable ethnicity, certain database files among those made public include individual scores for nearly 50 different beliefs, according to UpGuard’s analysis…
Most Americans would likely be disturbed that this kind of information was generated about them in the first place, to say nothing of the fact that it was accidentally made public by the very companies being paid by the Republican Party to make it, with essentially zero security precautions of any kind taken with how it was stored in the cloud.”
It’s the online privacy nightmare come true: a company you’ve never heard of scraping up your data trails and online bread crumbs in order to mine some of the most sensitive information about you. Acurian may try to justify the intrusion by saying it’s in the public interest to develop new drugs to treat illnesses. But tell that to the person shocked to get a letter in the mail about their irritable bowels…
This is the hidden underside of the browsing experience. When you’re surfing the web, sitting alone at your computer or with your smartphone clutched in your hand, it feels private and ephemeral. You feel freed to look for the things that you’re too embarrassed or ashamed to ask another person. But increasingly, there is digital machinery at work turning your fleeting search whims into hard data trails.
The mining of secrets for profit is done invisibly, shrouded in the mystery of “confidential partnerships,” “big data,” and “proprietary technology.” People in databases don’t know that dossiers are being compiled on them, let alone have the chance to correct any mistakes in them.

Threats to Refugees —
War and conflict are no longer the primary drivers of displacement and humanitarian crises. More extreme weather and other climate change impacts are increasingly playing a role. In 2016 alone, 24 million people were forced from their homes by weather-related disasters, far more than were displaced by conflict…
Invariably, it is the poorest and those who bear least responsibility for the climate crisis who are impacted the most. Yet those most in need of protection are least able to access it. Problematically, the UN Refugees Convention does not protect those forced to flee their countries due to natural disasters or climate change effects. In the wake of hurricanes, floods, and other disasters, those displaced within their own countries (including in the United States) often receive the least assistance and are discriminated against the most.”
“For the organizations helping threatened scholars, the goal is more than saving lives. Countries in political upheaval risk losing their intellectual capital when researchers disappear. “They are the future of higher education in their countries. If they are killed or displaced, ruined societies can’t be rebuilt,” says Stephen Wordsworth, executive director of the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) in London.
And the number of researchers in peril is skyrocketing: in the past two years, Cara has seen applications for support climb from 3–4 per week to 15–20. The organization is supporting record numbers, says Wordsworth: “The highest since our early years in the 1930s.””

Transparency or lack thereof for that matter —
If you want to read the official laws of the state of Georgia, it will cost you more than $1,000.
Open-records activist Carl Malamud bought a hard copy, and it cost him $1,207.02 after shipping and taxes. A copy on CD was $1,259.41. The “good” news for Georgia residents is that they’ll only have to pay $385.94 to buy a printed set from LexisNexis.
Journalists may regard the case for transparency in government as self-evident, but the case can and should be made anew. The Trump era provides an opportunity to go back to first principles and remind the public why the freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment. Don’t take it for granted that the public has connected all of those dots.

Honorable Mentions —
“In the 19th and early 20th centuries, education saw itself as a civilising discipline, imposing physical stasis and mental focus on pupils who would otherwise be running wild. In the 21st century, an age more sedentary than any that has come before, the mission of taming wild young minds is a colonial anachronism — and yet more emphasis than ever is put on unmoving intellectual absorption…
Education in the 21st century, Floridi notes, isn’t just about preaching certainties. It “should teach us to be careful about what we think we know, and hence the art of doubting and being critical even of the seemingly certain. We are all fallible, it is how we handle our degree of fallibility that makes a difference.” Behavioural economics and cognitive science offer some of the best insights yet into handling fallibility — into offsetting the predictable irrationalities that are the stuff of bodies and minds. Yet we sometimes seem to be retreating ever further from the implications of such self-knowledge.”
Greater policing of the Internet will therefore not be enough, and al-Muhajiroun are perhaps the best modern example of how extremists can radicalize individuals while remaining (somewhat) within both the law and the terms of service of mainstream social media platforms. While both of these restrict them from calling for and glorifying terrorism, neither can stop a preacher from arguing that it is the duty of Muslims to establish Shariah law in Europe and support likeminded groups abroad. Nor does one necessarily break the law when they preach either the legitimacy of jihad or intolerance and hatred of non-Muslims.
If done carefully, most of the ideological pillars of Salafi-jihadism can be expressed while remaining within the letter of the law. This is understandably difficult for many to accept, but in free societies no idea can be completely stamped out, and total security cannot be guaranteed. Realizing this may be the first step towards truly understanding what our options are when seeking to confront the ideology and its most effective communicators.
“For the media companies that wield them, non-compete agreements are a risk-free insurance policy against a competitive labor market. For the reporters who sign them, they’re just another barrier to job mobility in an increasingly precarious industry. These contracts keep beat reporters from the few jobs they are most qualified for and have the best chance of getting. They effectively ask reporters to commit to six months of unemployment to change jobs within their profession…
Journalists and journalism both benefit when reporters and editors can change jobs and gain exposure to different news-gathering and writing styles across publications. We shouldn’t need to hire lawyers to do so.”

Short Film/TED Talks —



If your thirst for eclectic content is not quenched then check out last week’s Content Roundup — 06/16/17:



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