Tag Archives: violence

Intimate Partner Threat

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/intimate_partne.html

Princeton’s Karen Levy has a good article computer security and the intimate partner threat:

When you learn that your privacy has been compromised, the common advice is to prevent additional access — delete your insecure account, open a new one, change your password. This advice is such standard protocol for personal security that it’s almost a no-brainer. But in abusive romantic relationships, disconnection can be extremely fraught. For one, it can put the victim at risk of physical harm: If abusers expect digital access and that access is suddenly closed off, it can lead them to become more violent or intrusive in other ways. It may seem cathartic to delete abusive material, like alarming text messages — but if you don’t preserve that kind of evidence, it can make prosecution more difficult. And closing some kinds of accounts, like social networks, to hide from a determined abuser can cut off social support that survivors desperately need. In some cases, maintaining a digital connection to the abuser may even be legally required (for instance, if the abuser and survivor share joint custody of children).

Threats from intimate partners also change the nature of what it means to be authenticated online. In most contexts, access credentials­ — like passwords and security questions — are intended to insulate your accounts against access from an adversary. But those mechanisms are often completely ineffective for security in intimate contexts: The abuser can compel disclosure of your password through threats of violence and has access to your devices because you’re in the same physical space. In many cases, the abuser might even own your phone — or might have access to your communications data because you share a family plan. Things like security questions are unlikely to be effective tools for protecting your security, because the abuser knows or can guess at intimate details about your life — where you were born, what your first job was, the name of your pet.

Game night 1: Lisa, Lisa, MOOP

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/12/05/game-night-1-lisa-lisa-moop/

For the last few weeks, glip (my partner) and I have spent a couple hours most nights playing indie games together. We started out intending to play a short list of games that had been recommended to glip, but this turns out to be a nice way to wind down, so we’ve been keeping it up and clicking on whatever looks interesting in the itch app.

Most of the games are small and made by one or two people, so they tend to be pretty tightly scoped and focus on a few particular kinds of details. I’ve found myself having brain thoughts about all that, so I thought I’d write some of them down.

I also know that some people (cough) tend not to play games they’ve never heard of, even if they want something new to play. If that’s you, feel free to play some of these, now that you’ve heard of them!

Also, I’m still figuring the format out here, so let me know if this is interesting or if you hope I never do it again!

First up:

  • Lisa: The Painful
  • Lisa: The Joyful
  • MOOP

These are impressions, not reviews. I try to avoid major/ending spoilers, but big plot points do tend to leave impressions.

Lisa: The Painful

long · classic rpg · dec 2014 · lin/mac/win · $10 on itch or steam · website

(cw: basically everything??)

Lisa: The Painful is true to its name. I hesitate to describe it as fun, exactly, but I’m glad we played it.

Everything about the game is dark. It’s a (somewhat loose) sequel to another game called Lisa, whose titular character ultimately commits suicide; her body hanging from a noose is the title screen for this game.

Ah, but don’t worry, it gets worse. This game takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where every female human — women, children, babies — is dead. You play as Brad (Lisa’s brother), who has discovered the lone exception: a baby girl he names Buddy and raises like a daughter. Now, Buddy has been kidnapped, and you have to go rescue her, presumably from being raped.

Ah, but don’t worry, it gets worse.


I’ve had a hard time putting my thoughts in order here, because so much of what stuck with me is the way the game entangles the plot with the mechanics.

I love that kind of thing, but it’s so hard to do well. I can’t really explain why, but I feel like most attempts to do it fall flat — they have a glimmer of an idea, but they don’t integrate it well enough, or they don’t run nearly as far as they could have. I often get the same feeling as, say, a hyped-up big moral choice that turns out to be picking “yes” or “no” from a menu. The idea is there, but the execution is so flimsy that it leaves no impact on me at all.

An obvious recent success here is Undertale, where the entire story is about violence and whether you choose to engage or avoid it (and whether you can do that). If you choose to eschew violence, not only does the game become more difficult, it arguably becomes a different game entirely. Granted, the contrast is lost if you (like me) tried to play as a pacifist from the very beginning. I do feel that you could go further with the idea than Undertale, but Undertale itself doesn’t feel incomplete.

Christ, I’m not even talking about the right game any more.

Okay, so: this game is a “classic” RPG, by which I mean, it was made with RPG Maker. (It’s kinda funny that RPG Maker was designed to emulate a very popular battle style, and now the only games that use that style are… made with RPG Maker.) The main loop, on the surface, is standard RPG fare: you walk around various places, talk to people, solve puzzles, recruit party members, and get into turn-based fights.

Now, Brad is addicted to a drug called Joy. He will regularly go into withdrawal, which manifests in the game as a status effect that cuts his stats (even his max HP!) dramatically.

It is really, really, incredibly inconvenient. And therein lies the genius here. The game could have simply told me that Brad is an addict, and I don’t think I would’ve cared too much. An addiction to a fantasy drug in a wasteland doesn’t mean anything to me, especially about this tiny sprite man I just met, so I would’ve filed this away as a sterile fact and forgotten about it. By making his addiction affect me, I’m now invested in it. I wish Brad weren’t addicted, even if only because it’s annoying. I found a party member once who turned out to have the same addiction, and I felt dread just from seeing the icon for the status effect. I’ve been looped into the events of this story through the medium I use to interact with it: the game.

It’s a really good use of games as a medium. Even before I’m invested in the characters, I’m invested in what’s happening to them, because it impacts the game!

Incidentally, you can get Joy as an item, which will temporarily cure your withdrawal… but you mostly find it by looting the corpses of grotesque mutant flesh horrors you encounter. I don’t think the game would have the player abruptly mutate out of nowhere, but I wasn’t about to find out, either. We never took any.


Virtually every staple of the RPG genre has been played with in some way to tie it into the theme/setting. I love it, and I think it works so well precisely because it plays with expectations of how RPGs usually work.

Most obviously, the game is a sidescroller, not top-down. You can’t jump freely, but you can hop onto one-tile-high boxes and climb ropes. You can also drop off off ledges… but your entire party will take fall damage, which gets rapidly more severe the further you fall.

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, except that healing is hard to come by for most of the game. Several hub areas have campfires you can sleep next to to restore all your health and MP, but when you wake up, something will have happened to you. Maybe just a weird cutscene, or maybe one of your party members has decided to leave permanently.

Okay, so use healing items instead? Good luck; money is also hard to come by, and honestly so are shops, and many of the healing items are woefully underpowered.

Grind for money? Good luck there, too! While the game has plenty of battles, virtually every enemy is a unique overworld human who only appears once, and then is dead, because you killed him. Only a handful of places have unlimited random encounters, and grinding is not especially pleasant.

The “best” way to get a reliable heal is to savescum — save the game, sleep by the campfire, and reload if you don’t like what you wake up to.

In a similar vein, there’s a part of the game where you’re forced to play Russian Roulette. You choose a party member; he and an opponent will take turns shooting themselves in the head until someone finds a loaded chamber. If your party member loses, he is dead. And you have to keep playing until you win three times, so there’s no upper limit on how many people you might lose. I couldn’t find any way to influence who won, so I just had to savescum for a good half hour until I made it through with minimal losses.

It was maddening, but also a really good idea. Games don’t often incorporate the existence of saves into the gameplay, and when they do, they usually break the fourth wall and get all meta about it. Saves are never acknowledged in-universe here (aside from the existence of save points), but surely these parts of the game were designed knowing that the best way through them is by reloading. It’s rarely done, it can easily feel unfair, and it drove me up the wall — but it was certainly painful, as intended, and I kinda love that.

(Naturally, I’m told there’s a hard mode, where you can only use each save point once.)

The game also drives home the finality of death much better than most. It’s not hard to overlook the death of a redshirt, a character with a bit part who simply doesn’t appear any more. This game permanently kills your party members. Russian Roulette isn’t even the only way you can lose them! Multiple cutscenes force you to choose between losing a life or some other drastic consequence. (Even better, you can try to fight the person forcing this choice on you, and he will decimate you.) As the game progresses, you start to encounter enemies who can simply one-shot murder your party members.

It’s such a great angle. Just like with Brad’s withdrawal, you don’t want to avoid their deaths because it’d be emotional — there are dozens of party members you can recruit (though we only found a fraction of them), and most of them you only know a paragraph about — but because it would inconvenience you personally. Chances are, you have your strongest dudes in your party at any given time, so losing one of them sucks. And with few random encounters, you can’t just grind someone else up to an appropriate level; it feels like there’s a finite amount of XP in the game, and if someone high-level dies, you’ve lost all the XP that went into them.


The battles themselves are fairly straightforward. You can attack normally or use a special move that costs MP. SP? Some kind of points.

Two things in particular stand out. One I mentioned above: the vast majority of the encounters are one-time affairs against distinct named NPCs, who you then never see again, because they are dead, because you killed them.

The other is the somewhat unusual set of status effects. The staples like poison and sleep are here, but don’t show up all that often; more frequent are statuses like weird, drunk, stink, or cool. If you do take Joy (which also cures depression), you become joyed for a short time.

The game plays with these in a few neat ways, besides just Brad’s withdrawal. Some party members have a status like stink or cool permanently. Some battles are against people who don’t want to fight at all — and so they’ll spend most of the battle crying, purely for flavor impact. Seeing that for the first time hit me pretty hard; until then we’d only seen crying as a mechanical side effect of having sand kicked in one’s face.


The game does drag on a bit. I think we poured 10 in-game hours into it, which doesn’t count time spent reloading. It doesn’t help that you walk not super fast.

My biggest problem was with getting my bearings; I’m sure we spent a lot of that time wandering around accomplishing nothing. Most of the world is focused around one of a few hub areas, and once you’ve completed one hub, you can move onto the next one. That’s fine. Trouble is, you can go any of a dozen different directions from each hub, and most of those directions will lead you to very similar-looking hills built out of the same tiny handful of tiles. The connections between places are mostly cave entrances, which also largely look the same. Combine that with needing to backtrack for puzzle or progression reasons, and it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you need to go next.

I don’t know that the game is wrong here; the aesthetic and world layout are fantastic at conveying a desolate wasteland. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the navigation were deliberately designed this way. (On the other hand, assuming every annoyance in a despair-ridden game is deliberate might be giving it too much credit.) But damn it’s still frustrating.

I felt a little lost in the battle system, too. Towards the end of the game, Brad in particular had over a dozen skills he could use, but I still couldn’t confidently tell you which were the strongest. New skills sometimes appear in the middle of the list or cost less than previous skills, and the game doesn’t outright tell you how much damage any of them do. I know this is the “classic RPG” style, and I don’t think it was hugely inconvenient, but it feels weird to barely know how my own skills work. I think this puts me off getting into new RPGs, just generally; there’s a whole new set of things I have to learn about, and games in this style often won’t just tell me anything, so there’s this whole separate meta-puzzle to figure out before I can play the actual game effectively.

Also, the sound could use a little bit of… mastering? Some music and sound effects are significantly louder and screechier than others. Painful, you could say.


The world is full of side characters with their own stuff going on, which is also something I love seeing in games; too often, the whole world feels like an obstacle course specifically designed for you.

Also, many of those characters are, well, not great people. Really, most of the game is kinda fucked up. Consider: the weird status effect is most commonly inflicted by the “Grope” skill. It makes you feel weird, you see. Oh, and the currency is porn magazines.

And then there are the gangs, the various spins on sex clubs, the forceful drug kingpins, and the overall violence that permeates everything (you stumble upon an alarming number of corpses). The game neither condones nor condemns any of this; it simply offers some ideas of how people might behave at the end of the world. It’s certainly the grittiest interpretation I’ve seen.

I don’t usually like post-apocalypses, because they try to have these very hopeful stories, but then at the end the world is still a blighted hellscape so what was the point of any of that? I like this game much better for being a blighted hellscape throughout. The story is worth following to see where it goes, not just because you expect everything wrapped up neatly at the end.

…I realize I’ve made this game sound monumentally depressing throughout, but it manages to pack in a lot of funny moments as well, from the subtle to the overt. In retrospect, it’s actually really good at balancing the mood so it doesn’t get too depressing. If nothing else, it’s hilarious to watch this gruff, solemn, battle-scarred, middle-aged man pedal around on a kid’s bike he found.


An obvious theme of the game is despair, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if ambiguity is a theme as well. It certainly fits the confusing geography.

Even the premise is a little ambiguous. Is/was Olathe a city, a country, a whole planet? Did the apocalypse affect only Olathe, or the whole world? Does it matter in an RPG, where the only world that exists is the one mapped out within the game?

Towards the end of the game, you catch up with Buddy, but she rejects you, apparently resentful that you kept her hidden away for her entire life. Brad presses on anyway, insisting on protecting her.

At that point I wasn’t sure I was still on Brad’s side. But he’s not wrong, either. Is he? Maybe it depends on how old Buddy is — but the game never tells us. Her sprite is a bit smaller than the men’s, but it’s hard to gauge much from small exaggerated sprites, and she might just be shorter. In the beginning of the game, she was doing kid-like drawings, but we don’t know how much time passed after that. Everyone seems to take for granted that she’s capable of bearing children, and she talks like an adult. So is she old enough to be making this decision, or young enough for parent figure Brad to overrule her? What is the appropriate age of agency, anyway, when you’re the last girl/woman left more than a decade after the end of the world?

Can you repopulate a species with only one woman, anyway?


Well, that went on a bit longer than I intended. This game has a lot of small touches that stood out to me, and they all wove together very well.

Should you play it? I have absolutely no idea.

FINAL SCORE: 1 out of 6 chambers

Lisa: The Joyful

fairly short · classic rpg · aug 2015 · lin/mac/win · $5 on itch or steam

Surprise! There’s a third game to round out this trilogy.

Lisa: The Joyful is much shorter, maybe three hours long — enough to be played in a night rather than over the better part of a week.

This one picks up immediately after the end of Painful, with you now playing as Buddy. It takes a drastic turn early on: Buddy decides that, rather than hide from the world, she must conquer it. She sets out to murder all the big bosses and become queen.

The battle system has been inherited from the previous game, but battles are much more straightforward this time around. You can’t recruit any party members; for much of the game, it’s just you and a sword.

There is a catch! Of course.

The catch is that you do not have enough health to survive most boss battles without healing. With no party members, you cannot heal via skills. I don’t think you could buy healing items anywhere, either. You have a few when the game begins, but once you run out, that’s it.

Except… you also have… some Joy. Which restores you to full health and also makes you crit with every hit. And drops off of several enemies.

We didn’t even recognize Joy as a healing item at first, since we never used it in Painful; it’s description simply says that it makes you feel nothing, and we’d assumed the whole point of it was to stave off withdrawal, which Buddy doesn’t experience. Luckily, the game provided a hint in the form of an NPC who offers to switch on easy mode:

What’s that? Bad guys too tough? Not enough jerky? You don’t want to take Joy!? Say no more, you’ve come to the right place!

So the game is aware that it’s unfairly difficult, and it’s deliberately forcing you to take Joy, and it is in fact entirely constructed around this concept. I guess the title is a pretty good hint, too.

I don’t feel quite as strongly about Joyful as I do about Painful. (Admittedly, I was really tired and starting to doze off towards the end of Joyful.) Once you get that the gimmick is to force you to use Joy, the game basically reduces to a moderate-difficulty boss rush. Other than that, the only thing that stood out to me mechanically was that Buddy learns a skill where she lifts her shirt to inflict flustered as a status effect — kind of a lingering echo of how outrageous the previous game could be.

You do get a healthy serving of plot, which is nice and ties a few things together. I wouldn’t say it exactly wraps up the story, but it doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything either; it’s exactly as murky as you’d expect.

I think it’s worth playing Joyful if you’ve played Painful. It just didn’t have the same impact on me. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t like Buddy as a person. She seems cold, violent, and cruel. Appropriate for the world and a product of her environment, I suppose.

FINAL SCORE: 300 Mags

MOOP

fairly short · inventory game · nov 2017 · win · free on itch

Finally, as something of a palate cleanser, we have MOOP: a delightful and charming little inventory game.

I don’t think “inventory game” is a real genre, but I mean the kind of game where you go around collecting items and using them in the right place. Puzzle-driven, but with “puzzles” that can largely be solved by simply trying everything everywhere. I’d put a lot of point and click adventures in the same category, despite having a radically different interface. Is that fair? Yes, because it’s my blog.

MOOP was almost certainly also made in RPG Maker, but it breaks the mold in a very different way by not being an RPG. There are no battles whatsoever, only interactions on the overworld; you progress solely via dialogue and puzzle-solving. Examining something gives you a short menu of verbs — use, talk, get — reminiscent of interactive fiction, or perhaps the graphical “adventure” games that took inspiration from interactive fiction. (God, “adventure game” is the worst phrase. Every game is an adventure! It doesn’t mean anything!)

Everything about the game is extremely chill. I love the monochrome aesthetic combined with a large screen resolution; it feels like I’m peeking into an alternate universe where the Game Boy got bigger but never gained color. I played halfway through the game before realizing that the protagonist (Moop) doesn’t have a walk animation; they simply slide around. Somehow, it works.

The puzzles are a little clever, yet low-pressure; the world is small enough that you can examine everything again if you get stuck, and there’s no way to lose or be set back. The music is lovely, too. It just feels good to wander around in a world that manages to make sepia look very pretty.

The story manages to pack a lot into a very short time. It’s… gosh, I don’t know. It has a very distinct texture to it that I’m not sure I’ve seen before. The plot weaves through several major events that each have very different moods, and it moves very quickly — but it’s well-written and doesn’t feel rushed or disjoint. It’s lighthearted, but takes itself seriously enough for me to get invested. It’s fucking witchcraft.

I think there was even a non-binary character! Just kinda nonchalantly in there. Awesome.

What a happy, charming game. Play if you would like to be happy and charmed.

FINAL SCORE: 1 waxing moon

What We’re Thankful For

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/what-were-thankful-for/

All of us at Backblaze hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you can enjoy it with family and friends. We asked everyone at Backblaze to express what they are thankful for. Here are their responses.

Fall leaves

What We’re Thankful For

Aside from friends, family, hobbies, health, etc. I’m thankful for my home. It’s not much, but it’s mine, and allows me to indulge in everything listed above. Or not, if I so choose. And coffee.

— Tony

I’m thankful for my wife Jen, and my other friends. I’m thankful that I like my coworkers and can call them friends too. I’m thankful for my health. I’m thankful that I was born into a middle class family in the US and that I have been very, very lucky because of that.

— Adam

Besides the most important things which are being thankful for my family, my health and my friends, I am very thankful for Backblaze. This is the first job I’ve ever had where I truly feel like I have a great work/life balance. With having 3 kids ages 8, 6 and 4, a husband that works crazy hours and my tennis career on the rise (kidding but I am on 4 teams) it’s really nice to feel like I have balance in my life. So cheers to Backblaze – where a girl can have it all!

— Shelby

I am thankful to work at a high-tech company that recognizes the contributions of engineers in their 40s and 50s.

— Jeannine

I am thankful for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thankful for all the joy they’re bringing. Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty? What would life be? Without a song or a dance what are we? So I say thank you for the music. For giving it to me!

— Yev

I’m thankful that I don’t look anything like the portrait my son draws of me…seriously.

— Natalie

I am thankful to work for a company that puts its people and product ahead of profits.

— James

I am thankful that even in the middle of disasters, turmoil, and violence, there are always people who commit amazing acts of generosity, courage, and kindness that restore my faith in mankind.

— Roderick

The future.

— Ahin

The Future

I am thankful for the current state of modern inexpensive broadband networking that allows me to stay in touch with friends and family that are far away, allows Backblaze to exist and pay my salary so I can live comfortably, and allows me to watch cat videos for free. The internet makes this an amazing time to be alive.

— Brian

Other than being thankful for family & good health, I’m quite thankful through the years I’ve avoided losing any of my 12+TB photo archive. 20 years of photoshoots, family photos and cell phone photos kept safe through changing storage media (floppy drives, flopticals, ZIP, JAZ, DVD-RAM, CD, DVD and hard drives), not to mention various technology/software solutions. It’s a data minefield out there, especially in the long run with changing media formats.

— Jim

I am thankful for non-profit organizations and their volunteers, such as IMAlive. Possibly the greatest gift you can give someone is empowerment, and an opportunity for them to recognize their own resilience and strength.

— Emily

I am thankful for my loving family, friends who make me laugh, a cool company to work for, talented co-workers who make me a better engineer, and beautiful Fall days in Wisconsin!

— Marjorie

Marjorie Wisconsin

I’m thankful for preschool drawings about thankfulness.

— Adam

I am thankful for new friends and working for a company that allows us to be ourselves.

— Annalisa

I’m thankful for my dog as I always find a reason to smile at him everyday. Yes, he still smells from his skunkin’ last week and he tracks mud in my house, but he came from the San Quentin puppy-prisoner program and I’m thankful I found him and that he found me! My vet is thankful as well.

— Terry

I’m thankful that my colleagues are also my friends outside of the office and that the rain season has started in California.

— Aaron

I’m thankful for family, friends, and beer. Mostly for family and friends, but beer is really nice too!

— Ken

There are so many amazing blessings that make up my daily life that I thank God for, so here I go – my basic needs of food, water and shelter, my husband and 2 daughters and the rest of the family (here and abroad) — their love, support, health, and safety, waking up to a new day every day, friends, music, my job, funny things, hugs and more hugs (who does not like hugs?).

— Cecilia

I am thankful to be blessed with a close-knit extended family, and for everything they do for my new, growing family. With a toddler and a second child on the way, it helps having so many extra sets of hands around to help with the kids!

— Zack

I’m thankful for family and friends, the opportunities my parents gave me by moving the U.S., and that all of us together at Backblaze have built a place to be proud of.

— Gleb

Aside for being thankful for family and friends, I am also thankful I live in a place with such natural beauty. Being so close to mountains and the ocean, and everything in between, is something that I don’t take for granted!

— Sona

I’m thankful for my wonderful wife, family, friends, and co-workers. I’m thankful for having a happy and healthy son, and the chance to watch him grow on a daily basis.

— Ariel

I am thankful for a dog-friendly workplace.

— LeAnn

I’m thankful for my amazing new wife and that she’s as much of a nerd as I am.

— Troy

I am thankful for every reunion with my siblings and families.

— Cecilia

I am thankful for my funny, strong-willed, happy daughter, my awesome husband, my family, and amazing friends. I am also thankful for the USA and all the opportunities that come with living here. Finally, I am thankful for Backblaze, a truly great place to work and for all of my co-workers/friends here.

— Natasha

I am thankful that I do not need to hunt and gather everyday to put food on the table but at the same time I feel that I don’t appreciate the food the sits before me as much as I should. So I use Thanksgiving to think about the people and the animals that put food on my family’s table.

— KC

I am thankful for my cat, Catnip. She’s been with me for 18 years and seen me through so many ups and downs. She’s been along my side through two long-term relationships, several moves, and one marriage. I know we don’t have much time together and feel blessed every day she’s here.

— JC

I am thankful for imperfection and misshapen candies. The imperceptible romance of sunsets through bus windows. The dream that family, friends, co-workers, and strangers are connected by love. I am thankful to my ancestors for enduring so much hardship so that I could be here enjoying Bay Area burritos.

— Damon

Autumn leaves

The post What We’re Thankful For appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Spooky Halloween Video Contest

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/spooky-halloween-video-contest/

Would You LIke to Play a Game? Let's make a scary movie or at least a silly one.

Think you can create a really spooky Halloween video?

We’re giving out $100 Visa gift cards just in time for the holidays. Want a chance to win? You’ll need to make a spooky 30-second Halloween-themed video. We had a lot of fun with this the last time we did it a few years back so we’re doing it again this year.

Here’s How to Enter

  1. Prepare a short, 30 seconds or less, video recreating your favorite horror movie scene using your computer or hard drive as the victim — or make something original!
  2. Insert the following image at the end of the video (right-click and save as):
    Backblaze cloud backup
  3. Upload your video to YouTube
  4. Post a link to your video on the Backblaze Facebook wall or on Twitter with the hashtag #Backblaze so we can see it and enter it into the contest. Or, link to it in the comments below!
  5. Share your video with friends

Common Questions
Q: How many people can be in the video?
A: However many you need in order to recreate the scene!
Q: Can I make it longer than 30 seconds?
A: Maybe 32 seconds, but that’s it. If you want to make a longer “director’s cut,” we’d love to see it, but the contest video should be close to 30 seconds. Please keep it short and spooky.
Q: Can I record it on an iPhone, Android, iPad, Camera, etc?
A: You can use whatever device you wish to record your video.
Q: Can I submit multiple videos?
A: If you have multiple favorite scenes, make a vignette! But please submit only one video.
Q: How many winners will there be?
A: We will select up to three winners total.

Contest Rules

  • To upload the video to YouTube, you must have a valid YouTube account and comply with all YouTube rules for age, content, copyright, etc.
  • To post a link to your video on the Backblaze Facebook wall, you must use a valid Facebook account and comply with all Facebook rules for age, content, copyrights, etc.
  • We reserve the right to remove and/or not consider as a valid entry, any videos which we deem inappropriate. We reserve the exclusive right to determine what is inappropriate.
  • Backblaze reserves the right to use your video for promotional purposes.
  • The contest will end on October 29, 2017 at 11:59:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time. The winners (up to three) will be selected by Backblaze and will be announced on October 31, 2017.
  • We will be giving away gift cards to the top winners. The prize will be mailed to the winner in a timely manner.
  • Please keep the content of the post PG rated — no cursing or extreme gore/violence.
  • By submitting a video you agree to all of these rules.

Need an example?

The post Spooky Halloween Video Contest appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Your Personal Bodycam

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/08/your_personal_b.html

Shonin is a personal bodycam up on Kickstarter.

There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding bodycams — for example, it’s obvious that police bodycams reduce violence — but the one thing everyone is certain about is that they will proliferate. I’m not sure society is fully ready for the ramifications of this level of recording.

Nazis, are bad

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/08/13/nazis-are-bad/

Anonymous asks:

Could you talk about something related to the management/moderation and growth of online communities? IOW your thoughts on online community management, if any.

I think you’ve tweeted about this stuff in the past so I suspect you have thoughts on this, but if not, again, feel free to just blog about … anything 🙂

Oh, I think I have some stuff to say about community management, in light of recent events. None of it hasn’t already been said elsewhere, but I have to get this out.

Hopefully the content warning is implicit in the title.


I am frustrated.

I’ve gone on before about a particularly bothersome phenomenon that hurts a lot of small online communities: often, people are willing to tolerate the misery of others in a community, but then get up in arms when someone pushes back. Someone makes a lot of off-hand, off-color comments about women? Uses a lot of dog-whistle terms? Eh, they’re not bothering anyone, or at least not bothering me. Someone else gets tired of it and tells them to knock it off? Whoa there! Now we have the appearance of conflict, which is unacceptable, and people will turn on the person who’s pissed off — even though they’ve been at the butt end of an invisible conflict for who knows how long. The appearance of peace is paramount, even if it means a large chunk of the population is quietly miserable.

Okay, so now, imagine that on a vastly larger scale, and also those annoying people who know how to skirt the rules are Nazis.


The label “Nazi” gets thrown around a lot lately, probably far too easily. But when I see a group of people doing the Hitler salute, waving large Nazi flags, wearing Nazi armbands styled after the SS, well… if the shoe fits, right? I suppose they might have flown across the country to join a torch-bearing mob ironically, but if so, the joke is going way over my head. (Was the murder ironic, too?) Maybe they’re not Nazis in the sense that the original party doesn’t exist any more, but for ease of writing, let’s refer to “someone who espouses Nazi ideology and deliberately bears a number of Nazi symbols” as, well, “a Nazi”.

This isn’t a new thing, either; I’ve stumbled upon any number of Twitter accounts that are decorated in Nazi regalia. I suppose the trouble arises when perfectly innocent members of the alt-right get unfairly labelled as Nazis.

But hang on; this march was called “Unite the Right” and was intended to bring together various far right sub-groups. So what does their choice of aesthetic say about those sub-groups? I haven’t heard, say, alt-right coiner Richard Spencer denounce the use of Nazi symbology — extra notable since he was fucking there and apparently didn’t care to discourage it.


And so begins the rule-skirting. “Nazi” is definitely overused, but even using it to describe white supremacists who make not-so-subtle nods to Hitler is likely to earn you some sarcastic derailment. A Nazi? Oh, so is everyone you don’t like and who wants to establish a white ethno state a Nazi?

Calling someone a Nazi — or even a white supremacist — is an attack, you see. Merely expressing the desire that people of color not exist is perfectly peaceful, but identifying the sentiment for what it is causes visible discord, which is unacceptable.

These clowns even know this sort of thing and strategize around it. Or, try, at least. Maybe it wasn’t that successful this weekend — though flicking through Charlottesville headlines now, they seem to be relatively tame in how they refer to the ralliers.

I’m reminded of a group of furries — the alt-furries — who have been espousing white supremacy and wearing red armbands with a white circle containing a black… pawprint. Ah, yes, that’s completely different.


So, what to do about this?

Ignore them” is a popular option, often espoused to bullied children by parents who have never been bullied, shortly before they resume complaining about passive-aggressive office politics. The trouble with ignoring them is that, just like in smaller communitiest, they have a tendency to fester. They take over large chunks of influential Internet surface area like 4chan and Reddit; they help get an inept buffoon elected; and then they start to have torch-bearing rallies and run people over with cars.

4chan illustrates a kind of corollary here. Anyone who’s steeped in Internet Culture™ is surely familiar with 4chan; I was never a regular visitor, but it had enough influence that I was still aware of it and some of its culture. It was always thick with irony, which grew into a sort of ironic detachment — perhaps one of the major sources of the recurring online trope that having feelings is bad — which proceeded into ironic racism.

And now the ironic racism is indistinguishable from actual racism, as tends to be the case. Do they “actually” “mean it”, or are they just trying to get a rise out of people? What the hell is unironic racism if not trying to get a rise out of people? What difference is there to onlookers, especially as they move to become increasingly involved with politics?

It’s just a joke” and “it was just a thoughtless comment” are exceptionally common defenses made by people desperate to preserve the illusion of harmony, but the strain of overt white supremacy currently running rampant through the US was built on those excuses.


The other favored option is to debate them, to defeat their ideas with better ideas.

Well, hang on. What are their ideas, again? I hear they were chanting stuff like “go back to Africa” and “fuck you, faggots”. Given that this was an overtly political rally (and again, the Nazi fucking regalia), I don’t think it’s a far cry to describe their ideas as “let’s get rid of black people and queer folks”.

This is an underlying proposition: that white supremacy is inherently violent. After all, if the alt-right seized total political power, what would they do with it? If I asked the same question of Democrats or Republicans, I’d imagine answers like “universal health care” or “screw over poor people”. But people whose primary goal is to have a country full of only white folks? What are they going to do, politely ask everyone else to leave? They’re invoking the memory of people who committed genocide and also tried to take over the fucking world. They are outright saying, these are the people we look up to, this is who we think had a great idea.

How, precisely, does one defeat these ideas with rational debate?

Because the underlying core philosophy beneath all this is: “it would be good for me if everything were about me”. And that’s true! (Well, it probably wouldn’t work out how they imagine in practice, but it’s true enough.) Consider that slavery is probably fantastic if you’re the one with the slaves; the issue is that it’s reprehensible, not that the very notion contains some kind of 101-level logical fallacy. That’s probably why we had a fucking war over it instead of hashing it out over brunch.

…except we did hash it out over brunch once, and the result was that slavery was still allowed but slaves only counted as 60% of a person for the sake of counting how much political power states got. So that’s how rational debate worked out. I’m sure the slaves were thrilled with that progress.


That really only leaves pushing back, which raises the question of how to push back.

And, I don’t know. Pushing back is much harder in spaces you don’t control, spaces you’re already struggling to justify your own presence in. For most people, that’s most spaces. It’s made all the harder by that tendency to preserve illusory peace; even the tamest request that someone knock off some odious behavior can be met by pushback, even by third parties.

At the same time, I’m aware that white supremacists prey on disillusioned young white dudes who feel like they don’t fit in, who were promised the world and inherited kind of a mess. Does criticism drive them further away? The alt-right also opposes “political correctness”, i.e. “not being a fucking asshole”.

God knows we all suck at this kind of behavior correction, even within our own in-groups. Fandoms have become almost ridiculously vicious as platforms like Twitter and Tumblr amplify individual anger to deafening levels. It probably doesn’t help that we’re all just exhausted, that every new fuck-up feels like it bears the same weight as the last hundred combined.

This is the part where I admit I don’t know anything about people and don’t have any easy answers. Surprise!


The other alternative is, well, punching Nazis.

That meme kind of haunts me. It raises really fucking complicated questions about when violence is acceptable, in a culture that’s completely incapable of answering them.

America’s relationship to violence is so bizarre and two-faced as to be almost incomprehensible. We worship it. We have the biggest military in the world by an almost comical margin. It’s fairly mainstream to own deadly weapons for the express stated purpose of armed revolution against the government, should that become necessary, where “necessary” is left ominously undefined. Our movies are about explosions and beating up bad guys; our video games are about explosions and shooting bad guys. We fantasize about solving foreign policy problems by nuking someone — hell, our talking heads are currently in polite discussion about whether we should nuke North Korea and annihilate up to twenty-five million people, as punishment for daring to have the bomb that only we’re allowed to have.

But… violence is bad.

That’s about as far as the other side of the coin gets. It’s bad. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Also, guess who we bombed today?

I observe that the one time Nazis were a serious threat, America was happy to let them try to take over the world until their allies finally showed up on our back porch.

Maybe I don’t understand what “violence” means. In a quest to find out why people are talking about “leftist violence” lately, I found a National Review article from May that twice suggests blocking traffic is a form of violence. Anarchists have smashed some windows and set a couple fires at protests this year — and, hey, please knock that crap off? — which is called violence against, I guess, Starbucks. Black Lives Matter could be throwing a birthday party and Twitter would still be abuzz with people calling them thugs.

Meanwhile, there’s a trend of murderers with increasingly overt links to the alt-right, and everyone is still handling them with kid gloves. First it was murders by people repeating their talking points; now it’s the culmination of a torches-and-pitchforks mob. (Ah, sorry, not pitchforks; assault rifles.) And we still get this incredibly bizarre both-sides-ism, a White House that refers to the people who didn’t murder anyone as “just as violent if not more so“.


Should you punch Nazis? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m extremely dissatisfied with discourse that’s extremely alarmed by hypothetical punches — far more mundane than what you’d see after a sporting event — but treats a push for ethnic cleansing as a mere difference of opinion.

The equivalent to a punch in an online space is probably banning, which is almost laughable in comparison. It doesn’t cause physical harm, but it is a use of concrete force. Doesn’t pose quite the same moral quandary, though.

Somewhere in the middle is the currently popular pastime of doxxing (doxxxxxxing) people spotted at the rally in an attempt to get them fired or whatever. Frankly, that skeeves me out, though apparently not enough that I’m directly chastizing anyone for it.


We aren’t really equipped, as a society, to deal with memetic threats. We aren’t even equipped to determine what they are. We had a fucking world war over this, and now people are outright saying “hey I’m like those people we went and killed a lot in that world war” and we give them interviews and compliment their fashion sense.

A looming question is always, what if they then do it to you? What if people try to get you fired, to punch you for your beliefs?

I think about that a lot, and then I remember that it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay in half the country. (Courts are currently wrangling whether Title VII forbids this, but with the current administration, I’m not optimistic.) I know people who’ve been fired for coming out as trans. I doubt I’d have to look very far to find someone who’s been punched for either reason.

And these aren’t even beliefs; they’re just properties of a person. You can stop being a white supremacist, one of those people yelling “fuck you, faggots”.

So I have to recuse myself from this asinine question, because I can’t fairly judge the risk of retaliation when it already happens to people I care about.

Meanwhile, if a white supremacist does get punched, I absolutely still want my tax dollars to pay for their universal healthcare.


The same wrinkle comes up with free speech, which is paramount.

The ACLU reminds us that the First Amendment “protects vile, hateful, and ignorant speech”. I think they’ve forgotten that that’s a side effect, not the goal. No one sat down and suggested that protecting vile speech was some kind of noble cause, yet that’s how we seem to be treating it.

The point was to avoid a situation where the government is arbitrarily deciding what qualifies as vile, hateful, and ignorant, and was using that power to eliminate ideas distasteful to politicians. You know, like, hypothetically, if they interrogated and jailed a bunch of people for supporting the wrong economic system. Or convicted someone under the Espionage Act for opposing the draft. (Hey, that’s where the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” line comes from.)

But these are ideas that are already in the government. Bannon, a man who was chair of a news organization he himself called “the platform for the alt-right”, has the President’s ear! How much more mainstream can you get?

So again I’m having a little trouble balancing “we need to defend the free speech of white supremacists or risk losing it for everyone” against “we fairly recently were ferreting out communists and the lingering public perception is that communists are scary, not that the government is”.


This isn’t to say that freedom of speech is bad, only that the way we talk about it has become fanatical to the point of absurdity. We love it so much that we turn around and try to apply it to corporations, to platforms, to communities, to interpersonal relationships.

Look at 4chan. It’s completely public and anonymous; you only get banned for putting the functioning of the site itself in jeopardy. Nothing is stopping a larger group of people from joining its politics board and tilting sentiment the other way — except that the current population is so odious that no one wants to be around them. Everyone else has evaporated away, as tends to happen.

Free speech is great for a government, to prevent quashing politics that threaten the status quo (except it’s a joke and they’ll do it anyway). People can’t very readily just bail when the government doesn’t like them, anyway. It’s also nice to keep in mind to some degree for ubiquitous platforms. But the smaller you go, the easier it is for people to evaporate away, and the faster pure free speech will turn the place to crap. You’ll be left only with people who care about nothing.


At the very least, it seems clear that the goal of white supremacists is some form of destabilization, of disruption to the fabric of a community for purely selfish purposes. And those are the kinds of people you want to get rid of as quickly as possible.

Usually this is hard, because they act just nicely enough to create some plausible deniability. But damn, if someone is outright telling you they love Hitler, maybe skip the principled hand-wringing and eject them.

Book Review: Twitter and Tear Gas, by Zeynep Tufekci

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/07/book_review_twi.html

There are two opposing models of how the Internet has changed protest movements. The first is that the Internet has made protesters mightier than ever. This comes from the successful revolutions in Tunisia (2010-11), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine (2013). The second is that it has made them more ineffectual. Derided as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism,” the ease of action without commitment can result in movements like Occupy petering out in the US without any obvious effects. Of course, the reality is more nuanced, and Zeynep Tufekci teases that out in her new book Twitter and Tear Gas.

Tufekci is a rare interdisciplinary figure. As a sociologist, programmer, and ethnographer, she studies how technology shapes society and drives social change. She has a dual appointment in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Her regular New York Times column on the social impacts of technology is a must-read.

Modern Internet-fueled protest movements are the subjects of Twitter and Tear Gas. As an observer, writer, and participant, Tufekci examines how modern protest movements have been changed by the Internet­ — and what that means for protests going forward. Her book combines her own ethnographic research and her usual deft analysis, with the research of others and some big data analysis from social media outlets. The result is a book that is both insightful and entertaining, and whose lessons are much broader than the book’s central topic.

“The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest” is the book’s subtitle. The power of the Internet as a tool for protest is obvious: it gives people newfound abilities to quickly organize and scale. But, according to Tufekci, it’s a mistake to judge modern protests using the same criteria we used to judge pre-Internet protests. The 1963 March on Washington might have culminated in hundreds of thousands of people listening to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, but it was the culmination of a multi-year protest effort and the result of six months of careful planning made possible by that sustained effort. The 2011 protests in Cairo came together in mere days because they could be loosely coordinated on Facebook and Twitter.

That’s the power. Tufekci describes the fragility by analogy. Nepalese Sherpas assist Mt. Everest climbers by carrying supplies, laying out ropes and ladders, and so on. This means that people with limited training and experience can make the ascent, which is no less dangerous — to sometimes disastrous results. Says Tufekci: “The Internet similarly allows networked movements to grow dramatically and rapidly, but without prior building of formal or informal organizational and other collective capacities that could prepare them for the inevitable challenges they will face and give them the ability to respond to what comes next.” That makes them less able to respond to government counters, change their tactics­ — a phenomenon Tufekci calls “tactical freeze” — make movement-wide decisions, and survive over the long haul.

Tufekci isn’t arguing that modern protests are necessarily less effective, but that they’re different. Effective movements need to understand these differences, and leverage these new advantages while minimizing the disadvantages.

To that end, she develops a taxonomy for talking about social movements. Protests are an example of a “signal” that corresponds to one of several underlying “capacities.” There’s narrative capacity: the ability to change the conversation, as Black Lives Matter did with police violence and Occupy did with wealth inequality. There’s disruptive capacity: the ability to stop business as usual. An early Internet example is the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. And finally, there’s electoral or institutional capacity: the ability to vote, lobby, fund raise, and so on. Because of various “affordances” of modern Internet technologies, particularly social media, the same signal — a protest of a given size — reflects different underlying capacities.

This taxonomy also informs government reactions to protest movements. Smart responses target attention as a resource. The Chinese government responded to 2015 protesters in Hong Kong by not engaging with them at all, denying them camera-phone videos that would go viral and attract the world’s attention. Instead, they pulled their police back and waited for the movement to die from lack of attention.

If this all sounds dry and academic, it’s not. Twitter and Tear Gasis infused with a richness of detail stemming from her personal participation in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, as well as personal on-the-ground interviews with protesters throughout the Middle East — particularly Egypt and her native Turkey — Zapatistas in Mexico, WTO protesters in Seattle, Occupy participants worldwide, and others. Tufekci writes with a warmth and respect for the humans that are part of these powerful social movements, gently intertwining her own story with the stories of others, big data, and theory. She is adept at writing for a general audience, and­despite being published by the intimidating Yale University Press — her book is more mass-market than academic. What rigor is there is presented in a way that carries readers along rather than distracting.

The synthesist in me wishes Tufekci would take some additional steps, taking the trends she describes outside of the narrow world of political protest and applying them more broadly to social change. Her taxonomy is an important contribution to the more-general discussion of how the Internet affects society. Furthermore, her insights on the networked public sphere has applications for understanding technology-driven social change in general. These are hard conversations for society to have. We largely prefer to allow technology to blindly steer society or — in some ways worse — leave it to unfettered for-profit corporations. When you’re reading Twitter and Tear Gas, keep current and near-term future technological issues such as ubiquitous surveillance, algorithmic discrimination, and automation and employment in mind. You’ll come away with new insights.

Tufekci twice quotes historian Melvin Kranzberg from 1985: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” This foreshadows her central message. For better or worse, the technologies that power the networked public sphere have changed the nature of political protest as well as government reactions to and suppressions of such protest.

I have long characterized our technological future as a battle between the quick and the strong. The quick — dissidents, hackers, criminals, marginalized groups — are the first to make use of a new technology to magnify their power. The strong are slower, but have more raw power to magnify. So while protesters are the first to use Facebook to organize, the governments eventually figure out how to use Facebook to track protesters. It’s still an open question who will gain the upper hand in the long term, but Tufekci’s book helps us understand the dynamics at work.

This essay originally appeared on Vice Motherboard.

The book on Amazon.com.

I want to talk for a moment about tolerance

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/05/i-want-to-talk-for-moment-about.html

This post is in response to this Twitter thread. I was going to do a series of tweets in response, but as the number grew, I thought it’d better be done in a blog.

She thinks we are fighting for the rights of Nazis. We aren’t — indeed, the fact that she thinks we are is exactly the problem. They aren’t Nazis.

The issue is not about a slippery slope that first Nazi’s lose free speech, then other groups start losing their speech as well. The issue is that it’s a slippery slope that more and more people get labeled a Nazi. And we are already far down that slope.

The “alt-right” is a diverse group. Like any group. Vilifying the entire alt-right by calling them Nazi’s is like lumping all Muslims in with ISIS or Al Qaeda. We really don’t have Nazi’s in America. Even White Nationalists don’t fit the bill. Nazism was about totalitarianism, real desire to exterminate Jews, lebensraum, and Aryan superiority. Sure, some of these people exist, but they are a fringe, even among the alt-right.

It’s at this point we need to discuss words like “tolerance”. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

The idea of tolerance is that reasonable people can disagree. You still believe you are right, and the other person is wrong, but you accept that they are nonetheless a reasonable person with good intentions, and that they don’t need to be punished for holding the wrong opinion.

Gay rights is a good example. I agree with you that there is only one right answer to this. Having spent nights holding my crying gay college roommate, because his father hated gays, has filled me with enormous hatred and contempt for people like his father. I’ve done my fair share shouting at people for anti-gay slurs.

Yet on the other hand, progressive icons like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have had evolving positions on gay rights issues, such as having opposed gay marriage at one time.

Tolerance means accepting that a person is reasonable, intelligent, and well-meaning — even if they oppose gay marriage. It means accepting that Hillary and Obama were reasonable people, even when they were vocally opposing gay marriage.

I’m libertarian. Like most libertarians, I support wide open borders, letting any immigrant across the border for any reason. To me, Hillary’s and Obama’s immigration policies are almost as racist as Trump’s. I have to either believe all you people supporting Hillary/Obama are irredeemably racist — or that well-meaning, good people can disagree about immigration.

I could go through a long list of issues that separate the progressive left and alt-right, and my point would always be the same. While people disagree on issues, and I have my own opinions about which side is right, there are reasonable people on both sides. If there are issues that divide our country down the middle, then by definition, both sides are equally reasonable. The problem with the progressive left is that they do not tolerate this. They see the world as being between one half who hold the correct opinions, and the other half who are unreasonable.

What defines the “alt-right” is not Nazism or White Nationalism, but the reaction of many on the right to intolerance of many on the left. Every time somebody is punished and vilified for uttering what is in fact a reasonable difference of opinion, they join the “alt-right”.

The issue at stake here, the issue that the ACLU is defending, is after that violent attack on the Portland train by an extremist, the city is denying all “alt-right” protesters the right to march. It’s blaming all those of the “alt-right” for the actions of one of their member. It’s similar to cities blocking Muslims from building a mosque because of extremists like ISIS and Al Qaeda, or disturbed individuals who carry out violent attacks in the name of Islam.

This is not just a violation of the First Amendment rights, it’s an obvious one. As the Volokh Conspiracy documents, the courts have ruled many times on this issue. There is no doubt that the “alt-right” has the right to march, and that the city’s efforts to deny them this right is a blatant violation of the constitution.

What we are defending here is not the rights of actual Nazi’s to march (as the courts famous ruled was still legitimate speech in Skokie, Illinois), but the rights of non-Nazi’s to march, most who have legitimate, reasonable (albeit often wrong) grievances to express. This speech is clearly being suppressed by gun wielding thugs in Portland, Oregon.

Those like Jillian see this as dealing with unreasonable speech, we see this as a problem of tolerably wrong speech. Those like Jillian York aren’t defending the right to free speech because, in their minds, they’ve vilified the people they disagree with. But that’s that’s exactly when, and only when, free speech needs our protection, when those speaking out have been vilified, and their repression seems just. Look at how Russia suppresses supporters of gay rights, with exactly this sort of vilification, whereby the majority of the populace sees the violence and policing as a legitimate response to speech that should not be free.

We aren’t fighting a slippery slope here, by defending Nazis. We’ve already slid down that slope, where reasonable people’s rights are being violated. We are fighting to get back up top.

–> –>

Houston we have a problem!

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/05/houston-we-have-problem.html

Of the many undesirable results of the Space Program is the fetishization of the “mission control center”, with it’s rows of workstations facing a common central screen. Ever since, anybody with any sort of mission now has a similar control center.

It’s a pain for us in the cybersecurity community because every organization wants a “security operations center” laid out the same way. The point of he room isn’t to create something that’s efficient for working, but one that will impress visitors. The things done to impress customers can often make an already difficult job even more difficult.

I point this out because of the “glowing globe” picture from President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. It’s supposed to celebrate the opening of the “Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology” (http://etidal.org). Zoom the camera out a bit, and you can see it’s the mission control center from hell.

Manually counting, I see three sides, each with slightly more than 100 workstations/employees, or more than 300 in total. I don’t know if they intend all three sections to focus on the same sets of problems, or if they are split into three different tasks (e.g. broadcast TV vs. Internet content). Their brochure is unclear. I suspect in the long it’ll be full of third country nations from a broad swath of Muslim nations who can speak the local languages and dialects, working in a sweat-shop manner.

In any case, it’s clear that the desire for show/spectacle has far outstripped any practical use.

The more I read about this, the more Orwellian it seems. Rather than opposing ISIS’s violence, it seems more intent on promoting a Saudi ideology. The whole spectacle seems intent on tricking the Trump administration into supporting something it really should be opposing.

Are We Becoming More Moral Faster Than We’re Becoming More Dangerous?

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/01/are_we_becoming.html

In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker convincingly makes the point that by pretty much every measure you can think of, violence has declined on our planet over the long term. More generally, “the world continues to improve in just about every way.” He’s right, but there are two important caveats.

One, he is talking about the long term. The trend lines are uniformly positive across the centuries and mostly positive across the decades, but go up and down year to year. While this is an important development for our species, most of us care about changes year to year — and we can’t make any predictions about whether this year will be better or worse than last year in any individual measurement.

The second caveat is both more subtle and more important. In 2013, I wrote about how technology empowers attackers. By this measure, the world is getting more dangerous:

Because the damage attackers can cause becomes greater as technology becomes more powerful. Guns become more harmful, explosions become bigger, malware becomes more pernicious… and so on. A single attacker, or small group of attackers, can cause more destruction than ever before.

This is exactly why the whole post-9/11 weapons-of-mass-destruction debate was so overwrought: Terrorists are scary, terrorists flying airplanes into buildings are even scarier, and the thought of a terrorist with a nuclear bomb is absolutely terrifying.

Pinker’s trends are based both on increased societal morality and better technology, and both are based on averages: the average person with the average technology. My increased attack capability trend is based on those two trends as well, but on the outliers: the most extreme person with the most extreme technology. Pinker’s trends are noisy, but over the long term they’re strongly linear. Mine seem to be exponential.

When Pinker expresses optimism that the overall trends he identifies will continue into the future, he’s making a bet. He’s betting that his trend lines and my trend lines won’t cross. That is, that our society’s gradual improvement in overall morality will continue to outpace the potentially exponentially increasing ability of the extreme few to destroy everything. I am less optimistic:

But the problem isn’t that these security measures won’t work — even as they shred our freedoms and liberties — it’s that no security is perfect.

Because sooner or later, the technology will exist for a hobbyist to explode a nuclear weapon, print a lethal virus from a bio-printer, or turn our electronic infrastructure into a vehicle for large-scale murder. We’ll have the technology eventually to annihilate ourselves in great numbers, and sometime after, that technology will become cheap enough to be easy.

As it gets easier for one member of a group to destroy the entire group, and the group size gets larger, the odds of someone in the group doing it approaches certainty. Our global interconnectedness means that our group size encompasses everyone on the planet, and since government hasn’t kept up, we have to worry about the weakest-controlled member of the weakest-controlled country. Is this a fundamental limitation of technological advancement, one that could end civilization? First our fears grip us so strongly that, thinking about the short term, we willingly embrace a police state in a desperate attempt to keep us safe; then, someone goes off and destroys us anyway?

Clearly we’re not at the point yet where any of these disaster scenarios have come to pass, and Pinker rightly expresses skepticism when he says that historical doomsday scenarios have so far never come to pass. But that’s the thing about exponential curves; it’s hard to predict the future from the past. So either I have discovered a fundamental problem with any intelligent individualistic species and have therefore explained the Fermi Paradox, or there is some other factor in play that will ensure that the two trend lines won’t cross.

A bit more on firearms in the US

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-bit-more-on-firearms-in-us.html

This is the fifth article in a short series about Poland, Europe, and the United States. To explore the entire series, start here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my previous blog post sparked several interesting discussions with my Polish friends who took a more decisive view of the social costs of firearm ownership, or who saw the Second Amendment as a barbaric construct with no place in today’s world. Their opinions reminded me of my own attitude some ten years ago; in this brief follow-up, I wanted to share several data points that convinced me to take a more measured stance.

Let’s start with the basics: most estimates place the number of guns in the United States at 300 to 350 million – that’s roughly one firearm per every single resident. In Gallup polls, some 40-50% of all households report having a gun, frequently more than one. The demographics of firearm ownership are more uniform than stereotypes may imply; there is some variance across regions, political affiliations, and genders – but for most part, it tends to fall within fairly narrow bands.

An overwhelming majority of gun owners cite personal safety as the leading motive for purchasing a firearm; hunting and recreation activities come strong second. The defensive aspect of firearm ownership is of special note, because it can potentially provide a very compelling argument for protecting the right to bear arms even if it’s a socially unwelcome practice, or if it comes at an elevated cost to the nation as a whole.

The self-defense argument is sometimes dismissed as pure fantasy, with many eminent pundits citing one questionable statistic to support this view: the fairly low number of justifiable homicides in the country. Despite its strong appeal to ideologues, the metric does not stand up to scrutiny: all available data implies that most encounters where a gun is pulled by a would-be victim will not end with the assailant getting killed; it’s overwhelmingly more likely that the bad guy would hastily retreat, be detained at gunpoint, or suffer non-fatal injuries. In fact, even in the unlikely case that a firearm is actually discharged with the intent to kill or maim, somewhere around 70-80% of victims survive.

In reality, we have no single, elegant, and reliable source of data about the frequency with which firearms are used to deter threats; the results of scientific polls probably offer the most comprehensive view, but are open to interpretation and their results vary significantly depending on sampling methods and questions asked. That said, a recent meta-analysis from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided some general bounds:


“Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.”

An earlier but probably similarly unbiased estimate from US Dept of Justice puts the number at approximately 1.5 million uses a year.

The CDC study also goes on to say:


“A different issue is whether defensive uses of guns, however numerous or rare they may be, are effective in preventing injury to the gun-wielding crime victim. Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

An argument can be made that the availability of firearms translates to higher rates of violent crime, thus elevating the likelihood of encounters where a defensive firearm would be useful – feeding into an endless cycle of escalating violence. That said, such an effect does not seem to be particularly evident. For example, the United States comes out reasonably well in statistics related to assault, rape, and robbery; on these fronts, America looks less violent than the UK or a bunch of other OECD countries with low firearm ownership rates.

But there is an exception: one area where the United States clearly falls behind other highly developed nations are homicides. The per-capita figures are almost three times as high as in much of the European Union. And indeed, the bulk of intentional homicides – some 11 thousand deaths a year – trace back to firearms.

We tend to instinctively draw a connection to guns, but the origins of this tragic situation may be more elusive than they appear. For one, non-gun-related homicides happen in the US at a higher rate than in many other countries, too; Americans just seem to be generally more keen on killing each other than people in places such as Europe, Australia, or Canada. In addition, no convincing pattern emerges when comparing overall homicide rates across states with permissive and restrictive gun ownership laws. Some of the lowest per-capita homicide figures can be found in extremely gun-friendly states such as Idaho, Utah, or Vermont; whereas highly-regulated Washington D.C., Maryland, Illinois, and California all rank pretty high. There is, however, fairly strong correlation between gun and non-gun homicide rates across the country – suggesting that common factors such as population density, urban poverty, and drug-related gang activities play a far more significant role in violent crime than the ease of legally acquiring a firearm. It’s tragic but worth noting that a strikingly disproportionate percentage of homicides involves both victims and perpetrators that belong to socially disadvantaged and impoverished minorities. Another striking pattern is that up to about a half of all gun murders are related to or committed under the influence of illicit drugs.

Now, international comparisons show general correlation between gun ownership and some types of crime, but it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from that: there are countless other ways to explain why crime rates may be low in the wealthy European states, and high in Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, or South Africa; compensating for these factors is theoretically possible, but requires making far-fetched assumptions that are hopelessly vulnerable to researcher bias. Comparing European countries is easier, but yields inconclusive results: gun ownership in Poland is almost twenty times lower than in neighboring Germany and ten times lower than in Czech Republic – but you certainly wouldn’t able to tell that from national crime stats.

When it comes to gun control, one CDC study on the topic concluded with:


“The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”

This does not imply that such approaches are necessarily ineffective; for example, it seems pretty reasonable to assume that well-designed background checks or modest waiting periods do save lives. Similarly, safe storage requirements would likely prevent dozens of child deaths every year, at the cost of rendering firearms less available for home defense. But for the hundreds of sometimes far-fetched gun control proposals introduced every year on federal and state level, emotions often take place of real data, poisoning the debate around gun laws and ultimately bringing little or no public benefit. The heated assault weapon debate is one such red herring: although modern semi-automatic rifles look sinister, they are far more common in movies than on the streets; in reality, all kinds of rifles account only for somewhere around 4% of firearm homicides, and AR-15s are only a tiny fraction of that – likely claiming about as many lives as hammers, ladders, or swimming pools. The efforts to close the “gun show loophole” seem fairly sensible at the surface, too, but are of similarly uncertain merit; instead of gun shows, criminals depend on friends, family, and on more than 200,000 guns that stolen from their rightful owners every year. When breaking into a random home yields a 40-50% chance of scoring a firearm, it’s not hard to see why.

Another oddball example of simplistic legislative zeal are the attempts to mandate costly gun owner liability insurance, based on drawing an impassioned but flawed parallel between firearms and cars; what undermines this argument is that car accidents are commonplace, while gun handling mishaps – especially ones that injure others – are rare. We also have proposals to institute $100 ammunition purchase permits, to prohibit ammo sales over the Internet, or to impose a hefty per-bullet tax. Many critics feel that such laws seem to be geared not toward addressing any specific dangers, but toward making firearms more expensive and burdensome to own – slowly eroding the constitutional rights of the less wealthy folks. They also see hypocrisy in the common practice of making retired police officers and many high-ranking government officials exempt from said laws.

Regardless of individual merits of the regulations, it’s certainly true that with countless pieces of sometimes obtuse and poorly-written federal, state, and municipal statutes introduced every year, it’s increasingly easy for people to unintentionally run afoul of the rules. In California, the law as written today implies that any legal permanent resident in good standing can own a gun, but that only US citizens can transport it by car. Given that Californians are also generally barred from carrying firearms on foot in many populated areas, non-citizen residents are seemingly expected to teleport between the gun store, their home, and the shooting range. With many laws hastily drafted in the days after mass shootings and other tragedies, such gems are commonplace. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act imposes special restrictions on gun ownership within 1,000 feet of a school and slaps harsh penalties for as little carrying it in an unlocked container from one’s home to a car parked in the driveway. In many urban areas, a lot of people either live within such a school zone or can’t conceivably avoid it when going about their business; GFSZA violations are almost certainly common and are policed only selectively.

Meanwhile, with sharp declines in crime continuing for the past 20 years, the public opinion is increasingly in favor of broad, reasonably policed gun ownership; for example, more than 70% respondents to one Gallup poll are against the restrictive handgun bans of the sort attempted in Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington D.C.; and in a recent Rasmussen poll, only 22% say that they would feel safer in a neighborhood where people are not allowed to keep guns. In fact, responding to the media’s undue obsession with random of acts of violence against law-abiding citizens, and worried about the historically very anti-gun views of the sitting president, Americans are buying a lot more firearms than ever before. Even the National Rifle Association – a staunchly conservative organization vilified by gun control advocates and mainstream pundits – enjoys a pretty reasonable approval rating across many demographics: 58% overall and 78% in households with a gun.

And here’s the kicker: despite its reputation for being a political arm of firearm manufacturers, the NRA is funded largely through individual memberships, small-scale donations, and purchase round-ups; organizational donations add up to about 5% of their budget – and if you throw in advertising income, the total still stays under 15%. That makes it quite unlike most of the other large-scale lobbying groups that Democrats aren’t as keen on naming-and-shaming on the campaign trail. The NRA’s financial muscle is also frequently overstated; it doesn’t even make it onto the list of top 100 lobbyists in Washington – and gun control advocacy groups, backed by activist billionaires such as Michael Bloomberg, now frequently outspend the pro-gun crowd. Of course, it would be better for the association’s socially conservative and unnecessarily polarizing rhetoric – sometimes veering onto the topics of abortion or video games – to be offset by the voice of other, more liberal groups. But ironically, organizations such as American Civil Liberties Union – well-known for fearlessly defending controversial speech – prefer to avoid the Second Amendment; they do so not because the latter concept has lesser constitutional standing, but because supporting it would not sit well with their own, progressive support base.

America’s attitude toward guns is a choice, not a necessity. It is also true that gun violence is a devastating problem; and that the emotional horror and lasting social impact of incidents such as school shootings can’t be possibly captured in any cold, dry statistic alone. But there is also nuance and reason to the gun control debate that can be hard to see for newcomers from more firearm-averse parts of the world.

For the next article in the series, click here. Alternatively, if you prefer to keep reading about firearms, go here for an overview of the gun control debate in the US.