Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Secure Communications

by ThatBritGuy Wed Aug 14th, 2013 at 01:46:34 PM EST

A few random thoughts about this.

     1. The most secure comms are the ones where it's not obvious communication is happening at all. This pretty much eliminates email, IRC, and everything that has 'this is a 1-1 communication channel' in its job spec.

However, you can still do things like:

a. Bury content in spam, and send it to millions of people, only one of whom needs to know how to decode it.
b. Bury content in pictures with steganography on popular websites, including Tumblr and Wordpress blogs.
c. Torrent content, and include some 'spammy' pics with content buried in them.

And so on.

This isn't even thinking about custom protocols which do the same job as email but without the standard headers/tell-tales. Using something like Tor it would be pretty hard to keep track of who was sending what to whom, even if you could decrypt the content.

I would be surprised if state- and security-level comms weren't already using these techniques.

     2. Single VPNs are probably overrated. No - well, almost no - VPN co admits to keeping traffic records. In reality - it's probably not a good idea to trust them too far, because including a backdoor and/or traffic copy isn't the same as keeping records, but it's just as effective.

Some people are claiming that chaining VPNs makes them more secure. It probably does up to a point. But it doesn't allow for traffic tracking, where you can try to match traffic events to see if they correlate in time, without having to know what the content is. (This is very intensive, but statistical analysis of traffic patterns has been standard issue for the spooks for at least a couple of decades now.)

     3. The weakest link in any encryption system is key management. If your hardware, OS, or network has a back door, assume content can be read in the clear, no matter how secure it is while it's getting to you. Linux is the only secure-ish OS. But unless you lock down your network with your own hand-rolled software and hardware, you're going to be vulnerable.

Problem is, the hand-rolled hardware and software are getting cheaper and more accessible. It's possible to run a low-traffic industrial-strength firewall on a £30 Raspberry Pi. The hassle factor is still higher than most people want, but the costs are not going to increase.

     4. Conclusion - the NSA has only been successful because hardly anyone has been paying attention to security.

After Snowden, this is going to change. People and corps are going to start inventing workable, secure systems. Open source versions of these systems will be public and easy to use.

Some of these systems will be based on spamming/high traffic & low content obfuscation, which is a much harder problem than simple decryption, because you don't know where the important traffic is, so you have to try to decrypt all of it.

Bottom line - the spooks are actually fucked, or will be soon. The only way to run state-level surveillance is going to be to assume all traffic on the Internet is of interest - only without knowing whether it is or not, or who it's for if it is, or how you can tell, or how you decrypt it, or how you make sense of the content if you do decrypt it.

Interesting times.

Comments >> (68 comments)

'Reform' in the UK

by ThatBritGuy Mon Dec 17th, 2012 at 04:19:15 AM EST

From BBC Wales

Ms Adams, who lives in Milton Keynes, said a website for first-time escorts run by one of her close friends had seen interest soar, especially from students.

"There are so many young women entering the business (sex industry) now that supply is outstripping demand," said Ms Adams, who set up an escort agency with two friends.

"With the financial pressures of student loans it's becoming far more acceptable for young people to turn to sex work to see them through their education."

Well done, Margaret, Tony, Nick and David.

front-paged by afew

Comments >> (18 comments)

Conservatives - How to Win at Politics, and Fail at Reality

by ThatBritGuy Sun May 8th, 2011 at 07:47:19 AM EST

[Originally posted at the Big Orange - where it sank without trace - so this is somewhat simplified compared to an ET diary.]

Many readers will remember Colbert's classic 'Reality has a well-known liberal bias' quote.

Like all the best jesters, Colbert was using truth-through-humor to make a valid point -  which is that conservative talking points may dominate the media, but conservatives are frequently and objectively wrong.

The wrongness isn't a matter of partisan opinion - it's a verifiable fact that can be quantified and tested scientifically.

The basis of science is accurate modelling and prediction. If you make a prediction in science and engineering and it turns out to be wrong, you lose authority.

If you make a lot of wrong predictions, you're considered incompetent and potentially dangerous, and it's very likely you'll be out of a job. Mistakes mean that bridges fall down, planes fall out of the sky, and essential services fail. There may be explosions, death, and people getting hurt.

Bizarrely, the pundit business works the opposite way. The more often you're demonstrably wrong, and the more nonsense you spout, the more likely you are to have a prime media spot.

for your Sunday discussion - Nomad

Read more... (17 comments, 1565 words in story)

Yes - who *is* Gene Sharp?

by ThatBritGuy Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 05:38:45 AM EST

Since we were having rather more silliness than content in the other diary, here's a spin off.

Let's start from the original claim in the NYT that Sharp is a meek, humble intellectual living in modest circumstances - whose books have nonetheless sparked revolutions all over the world.

I described this as "any old nonsense" because that's exactly what it is.

To understand why, some background is needed.

Firstly, the concept while NYT piece painted Sharp as an 'humble unassuming follower of Gandhi and Einstein, dedicated to something oxymoronic called "non-violent conflict", living a modest existence in a cheap part of town - etc, etc.

Not even the basic facts are true. Sharp certainly isn't lacking cash or connections. He may not choose to spend the money on bling, but even if he earns "only" $100k a year - plus expenses - that's more than US workers earn. And the annual reports of the Albert Einstein Institution show that it has received multi-million dollar donations. (Conveniently, the sources aren't named, but Sourcewatch has some of them.)

It's also used as a funding conduit, as happened with OTPOR. And here's another terminological inexactitude - even though the NYT implies that Sharp's methods are elegant and can be decisively successful, the reality is that it still cost the US more than $40 million dollars, funnelled through various sources and fronts, to fund and organise a supposedly bottom-up campaign against an unpopular dictator in charge of a relatively mild security police state with a working electoral system.

The U.S. democracy-building effort in Serbia was a curious mixture of secrecy and openness. In principle, it was an overt operation, funded by congressional appropriations of around $10 million for fiscal 1999 and $31 million for 2000.

Some Americans involved in the anti-Milosevic effort said they were aware of CIA activity at the fringes of the campaign, but had trouble finding out what the agency was up to. Whatever it was, they concluded it was not particularly effective. The lead role was taken by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government's foreign assistance agency, which channeled the funds through commercial contractors and nonprofit groups such as NDI and its Republican counterpart, the International Republican Institute (IRI).

While NDI worked closely with Serbian opposition parties, IRI focused its attention on Otpor, which served as the revolution's ideological and organizational backbone. In March, IRI paid for two dozen Otpor leaders to attend a seminar on nonviolent resistance at the Hilton Hotel in Budapest, a few hundreds yards along the Danube from the NDI-favored Marriott.

During the seminar, the Serbian students received training in such matters as how to organize a strike, how to communicate with symbols, how to overcome fear and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime. The principal lecturer was retired U.S. Army Col. Robert Helvey...

Read more... (18 comments, 1621 words in story)

Malleable social reality

by ThatBritGuy Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 12:16:41 PM EST

Ted Welch's Rawls diary was running out of space so I'm pulling this into a new diary.

Here's the seed exchange:


That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable


On the contrary. There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable. If you exit your apartment by the window on the twenty-second floor, you are not going to make it to work that day. This is not a social convention, it is an empirical reality. On the other hand, there is also a reality of social convention, which is malleable.

Read more... (26 comments, 1169 words in story)

The Corporate Death Penalty

by ThatBritGuy Fri May 21st, 2010 at 12:00:43 PM EST

... is something we don't have yet, but which could influence policy in a positive way. I'd suggest a formal international agreement to dismember rogue corporations in cases of egregious social and physical harm to individuals and ecosystems, with total shareholder loss and no compensation.

If corporations can be treated as individuals for their own benefit, they should certainly be treated as individuals where punishment and restitution are required.

Currently BP is the most obvious candidate, but there's every reason to enshrine this in law as a general principle.

What's powerful about the idea isn't the immediate likelihood of legal change - it certainly won't happen yet, and it may not happen ever - but the framing, and the implication that corporations can be held accountable, and that populations have a legal right to retract the legal privileges under which corporations operate.

While I don't support the death penalty for individuals on both humanitarian and legal grounds, corporate wrong-doing is often so spectacularly damaging and murderous that it reliably overshadows simple homicide cases.

And yet - there's no accountability for corporate crime. Currently it's almost impossible to prove individual culpability at board level, and corporations are rarely punished with more than a fine and a slap on the wrist.

The threat of formal dissolution could do more to concentrate the minds of shareholders and executives than any other legal instrument.

Potentially, this could be an immensely powerful and useful progressive instrument - and it could be time to push for it, and to get the meme circulating more widely.

Comments >> (44 comments)

UK Election Results Thread 2

by ThatBritGuy Thu May 6th, 2010 at 09:11:59 PM EST


Comments >> (152 comments)

TribExt for FF 3.9

by ThatBritGuy Fri Mar 12th, 2010 at 03:44:39 PM EST

I've attempted to hack TribExt so it has a chance of working with versions of FF up to 3.9 - which don't exist yet, but extra-special Magic Prescient ET MetaTechnology™ (#) makes it possible to create an instantiation of TribExt that may continue to be compatible with them.

It's working here on 3.6, but some further testing could be useful.

The extension is here for the moment, but it's not guaranteed a permanent home there.

If people want to try it out and/or a gnome wants to park it on the main TribExt page, that might be a good thing.

(#) aka changing the supported version number in the installer manifest.

Comments >> (14 comments)

The Magical iPad

by ThatBritGuy Tue Feb 2nd, 2010 at 08:02:34 AM EST

Does the world need another iPad mini-review? Probably not. But because I'm waiting for something to download before I can do any real work, here are some quick thoughts anyway - without further anthropological speculations about the nature of magical thinking in marketing, which will be back in a separate diary. (Probably.)

Read more... (70 comments, 1723 words in story)

Very Lazy WWII Photo Diary

by ThatBritGuy Tue Aug 25th, 2009 at 09:04:08 AM EST

Life magazine has published some remarkable, vividly creepy German WWII photos from its collection. They're very much worth a visit.

Adolf Hitler: Up Close - Photo Gallery, 17 Pictures - LIFE

Hugo Jaeger, one of Hitler's personal photographers, in 1970. Jaeger's story -- and the story of how LIFE came to own his photographs of Hitler -- is nothing short of astonishing. In 1945, when the Allies were making their final push toward Munich, Jaeger found himself face to face with six American soldiers in a small town west of the city. During a search of the house where Jaeger was staying, the Americans found a leather suitcase in which Jaeger had hidden thousands of color photo transparencies. He knew he would be arrested (or worse) if the Americans discovered his film and his close connection to Hitler. He could never have imagined what happened next.

The American soldiers threw open the suitcase that held the Hitler images. Inside, they found a bottle of cognac that Jaeger had placed atop the transparencies. Elated, the soldiers proceeded to share the bottle with Jaeger and the owner of the house.

The suitcase was forgotten.

More here on an independent site and on Life's original site.

Comments >> (22 comments)

VLQD - Bulldozing America

by ThatBritGuy Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 01:40:48 PM EST

This remarkable story courtesy of the Torygraph.

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive - Telegraph

Dozens of US cities may have entire neighbourhoods bulldozed as part of drastic "shrink to survive" proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline.

The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.


"The real question is not whether these cities shrink - we're all shrinking - but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way," said Mr Kildee. "Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity."

Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective programme at the University of California, Berkeley, said there was "both a cultural and political taboo" about admitting decline in America.

"Places like Flint have hit rock bottom. They're at the point where it's better to start knocking a lot of buildings down," she said.

Read more... (52 comments, 488 words in story)

A 36 Year Media Failure

by ThatBritGuy Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 11:38:41 AM EST

After the EU elections - what happens now?


Firstly, Brown has to resign soon. It would be unheard of for a party leader to continue after this much of a kicking.

This will be interesting to watch. Brown is famously stubborn, and won't go quietly. So it's likely that he'll either be deposed by his cabinet, or humiliated in public with a vote of no confidence. Either way, it's over for Brown.

Secondly, an election will have to be called soon. Brown - or his caretaker successor - may decide to hang on until next year, on the not unreasonable grounds that Labour has nothing left to lose. Replacing Brown won't change much. Even though he's loathed, a replacement will still carry the New Lab stigma. This might bring back some of the faithful, but it won't change the result.

More interesting - but not necessarily more depressing - are the implications of what Labour's final disastrous term means for UK politics, and also for Europe.

diary rescue by whataboutbob

Read more... (177 comments, 982 words in story)

LQD - The BBC vs George Bush

by ThatBritGuy Wed Jan 14th, 2009 at 05:40:02 PM EST

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | How does the Bush presidency rate?

I suppose the underlying question here is whether George W Bush has been one of the worst US presidents.

Many people have already made up their minds.

For them, the invasion of Iraq was enough to put Mr Bush high on the list. And that was compounded by his lack of action elsewhere - with global warming and Hurricane Katrina as examples.

Others will want to wait a bit and see what history decides. History can improve the image of a presidency.

It's strange and unexpected, but with the curtain crashing to the stage around the remains of the so-called Bush presidency, the BBC has decided that - well, he wasn't so bad after all. Not one, not two, but four entire web features appeared on BBC News making the point that knee-jerk reactions to the torturer, bungler, kleptomaniac and buffoon-in-chief simply wouldn't be serious.

Read more... (13 comments, 1567 words in story)

Economics Pt 1 - Marketing for Dummies

by ThatBritGuy Mon Jan 12th, 2009 at 05:00:18 AM EST

Stereophile Magazine is notorious for its reviews of achingly expensive hifi. Exhibit A for would-be owners of sonic exotica is the ClearAudio Statement turntable. For a mere $125,000 you can buy a precision-machined 770 pound contraption, bolted together from wood, ceramic and aluminium, which you can use to play your favourite warped and crackly vinyl. It uses the same motors as the Mars Rovers, which presumably makes it useful for anyone who wants to play their music in a low density atmosphere.

As conspicuous consumption goes, the name isn't even trying to be ironic. But it's not really about the money. Stereophile's reviews follow a fixed format: "I was unconvinced that Very Expensive Product X would do anything at all, but having tried it the results are truly astonishing. Although I still have one or two lingering criticisms (which are so trivial I honestly hesitate to mention them, even in passing, although of course in the interests of journalistic integrity nonetheless I find myself forced to) the music pouring from my vinyl now sounds so very much better than it used to that I don't believe I'll be able to listen to anything inferior ever again."

too good not to be straight on the front page - afew

Read more... (73 comments, 2686 words in story)

Meteorological Darwinism

by ThatBritGuy Fri Sep 12th, 2008 at 07:36:26 PM EST

I'm currently watching live Ike coverage on a stream from ABC13. It's not reassuring. In spite of a NOAA public advisory literally guaranteeing certain death for people who don't evacuate, the roving journalists are interviewing people who are fooling around in the wind by the coast, their flimsy wooden beach-front houses behind them.

Read more... (31 comments, 604 words in story)

VLQD: George Lakoff in New Scientist

by ThatBritGuy Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 12:52:29 PM EST

A New Scientist reviewer was less than complimentary about Lakoff's new book The Political Mind. He sent a reply which is worth quoting...

Read more... (17 comments, 311 words in story)

LQD - A new definition of 'affordable'

by ThatBritGuy Wed May 28th, 2008 at 08:09:27 AM EST

According to the BBC:

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Nuclear clean-up costs 'to soar'

The cost of cleaning up the UK's ageing nuclear facilities, including some described as "dangerous", looks set to rise above £73bn, the BBC has learned.

A senior official at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said the bill would rise by billions of pounds.

Nineteen sites across the country, some dating from the 1950s, are due to be dismantled in the coming decades.

A spokesman for the Department for Business said it was ready for an adjustment in the clean-up costs.

In January, the National Audit Office said that the cost of decommissioning ageing power sites had risen from £12bn to £73bn.

Read more... (17 comments, 515 words in story)

How Obama won the election

by ThatBritGuy Wed Mar 19th, 2008 at 09:41:55 AM EST

The consensus is that Obama's speech yesterday was about race. He certainly talked about race a lot, but I'm not quite convinced that race was the main message, or necessarily the main intent. Let's pick apart the themes and see how this is an election winning speech which will do more to eliminate both Hillary and McCain than any number of primary wins.

Theme 1: The Patriot

Google 'Obama speech', and you'll see this is his regular backdrop. It's been used time and again, with the number of flags apparently increasing directly with the intended importance of the speech.  

Last night (first photo) there were at least four flags, and probably more out of shot - an impressive display, which I don't think even Bush has equalled on camera.

Read more... (51 comments, 2343 words in story)

LQD: "The Real Economy"

by ThatBritGuy Tue Mar 18th, 2008 at 11:24:15 AM EST

A slippery little gem from Paulson, being interviewed on a round of US breakfast shows and quoted by the BBC.

BBC NEWS | Business | US admits economy is in downturn

"We know we're in a sharp downclimb and there's no doubt that the American people know that the economy has turned down," he said.

He said that policy was focused on calming the financial markets.

"The big focus on the part of all policy makers is to minimise the spillover to the real economy," he added.

Comments >> (9 comments)

Bending and shaking: Live Earthquake Blogging

by ThatBritGuy Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:39:29 PM EST

The UK has just had a relatively small one, which I felt - barely - some 150 miles away.

After an ambiguous creak, the giveaway was realising that my inner ear was telling me I'd just been moved - which is not usually something you expect to feel indoors, especially not when the house is moving around you, and which was a queasy experience I'd prefer not to repeat.

The magnitude was around 5.3 or so, epicentre near Market Rasen, which is about fifteen miles north of Lincoln - a bit less than half way up the UK, near the eastern coast.

There's likely to be some light structural damage around the area, possibly including lost power, which won't be revealed until daylight tomorrow, but it doesn't sound as if there are any casualties.

So - quite the non-event, almost...

Read more... (28 comments, 277 words in story)
Next 20 >>

News and Views

 July 2024

by Oui - Jun 30, 168 comments

Your take on today's news media

 June 2024

by Oui - Jun 1, 192 comments

Your take on today's news media

Occasional Series
Click for full list