20 July 2021

We are living in a dystopian hellscape where democratic freedoms, institutions, politicians, governments, civil society and basic infrastructure are all under unremitting attack. A kind of high-tech warfare is being waged by state actors both against other nations and their own citizens. No one is safe. Off-gridders seem to be right: the less dependence we have on technology, infrastructure and systems of distribution, the better. But Edward Snowden is even more right in saying that the problems cannot be solved at an individual level. If we want something to change, people need to get together and take action.

National governments, leaders and ruling parties, when censured, try to deflect criticism by denial, claims of partisanism, or foreign bias. Thus, the BJP in India, says that Amnesty International, which conducted the forensic analysis of phones for Pegasus spyware, is "anti-Indian", and that the Congress Party is angry because they are losing. China and Russia angrily deny being responsible for cyber-attacks. Israel denies conducting diplomacy through cyber-weapon sales.

As citizens of the planet, we have to recognize that the issues we are facing are common to all of us. Our adversaries are not particular parties, polities or nations, but the misuse of power, by any group, in order to undermine democratic freedoms, civil society, and the systems upon which we rely. We need to oppose the misuse of power even when it is not our own group that is under attack, because there can only be democracy when the rights of all citizens are respected and protected. There can only be peace between nations when the welfare of all nations is our common goal.

Links

The Guardian view on spyware sales: the proliferation risks are real - The Guardian

Revealed: murdered journalist’s number selected by Mexican NSO client - The Guardian

India

Pegasus spyware used to ‘snoop’ on Indian journalists, activists - The Hindu

17 media groups across world collaborated to expose secret surveillance via victims’ phones
Indian ministers, government officials and opposition leaders also figure in the list of people whose phones may have been compromised by the spyware, The Wire, which conducted the investigation along with international partners, claimed.

Modi accused of treason by opposition over India spyware disclosures - The Guardian

“This is clearly treason and total abdication of national security by the Modi government, more so when the foreign company could possibly have access to this data,” said the Congress statement, which labelled Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government as the “Bharatiya Jasoos [spy] party”.

“This is an unforgivable sacrilege and negation of constitutional oath by the home minister and the prime minister,” it added.

“Pegasus is a cyber-weapon, a controlled defence export from Israel under 2007 Act as per Wassenaar [Arrangement], with strict EUMA,” said Sushant Singh, an Indian journalist whose phone was examined by Amnesty’s Security Lab, the technical partner to the project.
It found proof that his phone had been compromised using Pegasus. “That [weapon] has been used in India against its own citizens,” he said. “Imagine if a fighter jet or missile of same category was used against Indians similarly. That’s it.”

Prashant Kishor Hacked by Pegasus, Mamata’s Nephew Also Selected as Potential Snoop Target

This is the first iron-clad piece of evidence that the deadly spyware is being used in India by an as yet unidentified agency to gather political information from rivals of the ruling BJP.

Leaked Snoop List Suggests Surveillance May Have Played Role in Toppling of Karnataka Govt in 2019 - The Wire

Regional Newspapers Have More Detailed Coverage of Pegasus Than National, Business Dailies - The Wire

Most English newspapers, including Hindustan Times and Mint covered the news report as a single column on their front pages. The Economic Times – India’s largest business daily – published the report on page 3. The Times of India, The Financial Express and Indian Express carried the story as the lead on their front flap/pages. The Telegraph carried it as lead on page 2, headlined “Judge and ministers on ‘hack wish list'”. Business Standard has not carried the report, but they have published a PTI copy on their website. The Hindu decided not to give it space on the front page, and carried the story on page 8 in a double column.
Most of the news stories didn’t have any infographics. When covering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcements or other government-related reports, they usually do use graphics and other visual aids.

Sedition and the Supreme Court: Justice Delayed, but Not Justice Denied - The Wire

The almost simultaneous entertainment by three benches of the Supreme Court of petitions seeking declarations that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional indicates that the apex court finally realises that sedition is a draconian provision and needs to be done away with.

It is welcome because if the petitions succeed, a colonial provision designed to crush nonviolent social movements against the British Crown, which is now being used to suppress democratic dissent in an independent country, will go, making prosecutions for free speech difficult. Thousands, including the CAA protestors and the tribal supporters of the Patthalgadi movement, journalists, artists, farmers, trade unionists, students and others will have the yoke of this oppressive provision lifted.

Let us hope that the Supreme Court will now take up with alacrity the other provisions of law such as criminal defamation and the infamous Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which deserve to be put in the dustbin of history. Before that is done, however, judges have to introspect on the tolerance of tyranny, which is so prevalent in our country.

'Similarities Between Hitler's Third Reich and Modi's India Growing Everyday': Avay Shukla - The Wire

India's working women: It has taken a pandemic and remote work to crack the glass ceiling - CNN

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have given an unexpected boost to a small — but influential — cohort of India's working women.

Coronavirus live news: 4 million excess deaths in India, study suggests, as official Covid toll passes 414,000 - The Guardian

China

China drafts new cyber-security industry plan - The Hindu

US condemns China for ‘malicious’ cyberattacks, including Microsoft hack - The Guardian

Blinken added in a statement that China’s “Ministry of State Security (MSS) has fostered an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain”.

UK

How a proposed secrecy law would recast journalism as spying | Duncan Campbell and Duncan Campbell - The Guardian

Priti Patel seems to be at the heart of so many bad news stories

Israel - Palestine

Pegasus project turns spotlight on spyware firm NSO’s ties to Israeli state - The Guardian

A recent transparency report released by NSO Group acknowledged the company was “closely regulated” by export control authorities in Israel. The Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA) within the Israeli defence ministry “strictly restricts” the licensing of some surveillance products based on its own analysis of potential customers from a human rights perspective, the company said, and had rejected NSO requests for export licences “in quite a few cases”.

Moreover, NSO was also subject to an “in-depth” regulatory review by Israel on top of its own “robust internal framework”.

Within NSO, the process Israel uses to assess whether countries can be sold the technology is considered a “state secret”. A person familiar with the process said officials in both Israel’s national security council and prime minister’s office had been known to give their input.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, sources familiar with the matter said the kingdom was temporarily cut off from using Pegasus in 2018, for several months, following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but was allowed to begin using the spyware again in 2019 following the intervention of the Israeli government.

the 10 countries that the forensic analysis for the Pegasus project suggests have actually been abusing the technology all enjoy trade relations with Israel or have diplomatic ties with the country that have been improving markedly in recent years.

In two NSO client countries, India and Hungary, it appears governments began using the company’s technology as or after their respective prime ministers met the then Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in high-profile encounters intended to boost trade and security cooperation. It is understood no countries that are considered enemies of Israel – such as Turkey – have been allowed to buy NSO’s wares.

What remains unclear is whether Israel’s intelligence agencies might have special privileges with NSO, such as access to surveillance material gathered using its spyware. One person close to the company, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was a frequent topic of speculation. Asked whether Israel could access intelligence gathered by NSO clients, they replied: “The Americans think so.”

That view was supported by current and former US intelligence officials, who told the Washington Post, a partner in the Pegasus project, that there was a presumption that Israel had some access – via a “backdoor” – to intelligence unearthed via such surveillance tools.

For Israel, few clients whom it has approved to use Pegasus have been as problematic as Saudi. Weeks ago, NSO cut the kingdom off once more, following allegations that Saudi had used Pegasus to hack dozens of Al Jazeera journalists.

I'm thinking that journalists and activities in countries that Israel didn't agree to sell to, like Turkey, have a lot to be thankful for.

Ben & Jerry’s to stop sales in occupied Palestinian territories - The Guardian

Vermont-based company says sales in the occupied lands were ‘inconsistent with our values’

Why did Netanyahu vote against a law he wholly embraces? - Al Jazeera

Those who cannot carry out crimes of apartheid including the separation of spouses and children from their parents are, in his perverse world, unworthy of remaining in power.

Surveillance capitalists

WhatsApp

The updated multi-device experience allows people to use the messaging service on up to four devices, excluding their smartphone, simultaneously and without requiring a constant connection with the phone. This means, even if their phone is switched off, users will be able to connect over WhatsApp, using the devices linked to their account.

Google has introduced a new ‘quick delete’ option

in its app that allows users to erase the last 15 minutes of saved Search history with the single tap of a button. Users can access the feature from the Google account menu, just below Search

Jeff Bezos to donate $200 million to Smithsonian

Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos will donate $200 million to the Smithsonian. It is the largest gift to the Smithsonian since the Institution’s founding gift

The Hindu'

Google Meet to limit time on group calls for free accounts - The Hindu
Google didn't manage to eradicate Zoom by offering the same service for free

Microsoft announces Windows 365, a computer that runs on its cloud - The Hindu

Facebook often removes evidence of rights atrocities – but we can preserve it - Scroll

We need a decentralised platform, without gatekeepers or potential single points of failure, to gather incriminating material.

18 July 2021

Affairs of the day

Apart from getting a puncture fixed in the morning, I spent the day mostly reading. In the afternoon I had to film two people for a short video that I will handle tomorrow. I also spent time fixing a CSS problem on one of the websites I handle.

This summer seems hotter than usual. Summer is usually the time I go to South India, where it is even hotter, and muggier, and I live without A/C. But I manage that mainly because I don't really do very much. Summers in Palestine are hot and dry; the evenings are a little more bearable. But lately, we have often been keeping the A/C on even at night.

The Life of Palestinians under the Citizenship Law

In the village today, we had an important evening highlighting the issue of thousands of stateless Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who are married to Israeli citizens and live here without papers of basic rights. They are unable to drive, open a bank account, purchase health insurance, etc. The law - an emergency regulation that has to be periodically renewed - was recently the subject of a political crisis when the ruling coalition did not obtain enough votes to renew it. This presents something of a window of opportunity for many couples; but it might be shortlived.

Links

I was reading about Automattic, the owner of WordPress, which, over the last couple of years, has been acquiring various other companies like Tumblr, and now a journaling App, Day One. The only ethical consolation I can get from using WordPress, is that it is a free open source product that doesn't need my support. They seem to be doing just fine.

Matt Mullenweg: Collaboration Is Key - FS

I believe all proprietary software to be an evolutionary dead end. Maybe it’ll take 50 or 100 years, but what happens, just like what happened fairly quickly with Encyclopedia Britannica and other encyclopedias and Wikipedia is that the thing which is open to all and gets everyone working together if it truly gets that humanity working together on the same shared resource, you get the opposite of the tragedy of the commons, versus the field being overrun, each person operating in their own self-interest kills the environment or kills the shared thing, and in digital world, we can do that because we have economics of abundancy versus economics of scarcity. That’s why open source will eventually win every market it’s in.
-- Matt Mullenweb (co-founder of WordPress)

The Guardian's scoop on NSO's Pegasus

A couple of days ago, there was the report about the notorious Israeli spyware company Candiru. This is all about it's bigger and better-known Israeli sister NSO and yet another despicable spyware product. The buyers of these products are mainly governments who are eager to spy on journalists, critics and dissidents.

Revealed: leak uncovers global abuse of cyber-surveillance weapon| The Guardian

Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation into a massive data leak.
The investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media organisations suggests widespread and continuing abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus, which the company insists is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists

FT editor among 180 journalists identified by clients of spyware firm - The Guardian

Other journalists who were selected as possible candidates for surveillance by NSO’s clients work for some of the world’s most prestigious media organisations. They include the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America.

This is creating a lot of interest in India, which, unlike many of the countries on the NSO's client list, is traditionally regarded to be a democratic country. The situation has been worsening under Modi.

List of Indian journalists, activists allegedly put on surveillance using Pegasus - The Print

Pegasus Project: How Phones of Journalists, Ministers, Activists May Have Been Used to Spy On Them The Wire


Meanwhile in America

Man Jailed for Traffic Ticket Dies in Cell After 17 Days of Torture. Officers Watched It HappenReason.com

David Stojcevski, a 32-year-old resident of Roseville, Michigan, was arrested for failing to pay a $772 fine stemming from careless driving. A court ordered him to spend a month in the Macomb County jail.

Denied clothing, denied treatment for his drug addiction, died in agony while under bright lights and surveillance cameras intended to prevent self-injury.

July 5, 2021

Darktable

Darktable 3.6 has some improvements, and I'm slowly managing to use it a little more successfully, thanks to the excellent documentation
Many of the photos I receive in my work on updating the village websites are really poor. If I can improve them a little without too much fuss, I'm happy. Here is an example:
Before:

After:

Admittedly not great, but better, without too much fuss.
The story and the photos are here.

Multiposting

Every item like, if handled fully, entails a baker's dozen posts:
3 posts on the original website (Hebrew, Arabic, English)
3 redirects from the village website (Hebrew, Arabic, English)
1 post + 1 crosspost on Facebook
1 post + 1 retweet on Twitter
1 post on Instagram
1 post on LinkedIn
1 post on our photo albums site.

Links

The Guardian keeps its promise about highlighting climate news stories, and I don't always read them. The story that made an impression on me today, was by a doctor in Karachi. It really brings home the horror of living in a city that is growing hotter and hotter.

In Karachi, hot weather is normal … but 44C feels like you’re going to die The Guardian

There's also a CNN story summarized concisely in Slashdot:
CNN Reports 'Unprecedented Heat, Hundreds Dead' as Climate Change Hits the Northern Hemisphere - Slashdot

I'm enjoying my email subscription to Cory Doctorow's blog; he's a consistently interesting writer. Today he writes about "conspirationalism".
Pluralistic: 05 Jul 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

When we talk about conspiratorialism, we tend to focus (naturally) on the content of the conspiracy. Not only are those stories entertainingly outlandish – they're also the point of contact between conspiracists and the world.
If your mom is shouting about "Hollywood pedos," it's natural that you'll end up discussing the relationship of this belief to observable reality. But while the content of conspiratorial beliefs gets lots of attention, we tend to neglect the significance of those beliefs.
To the extent that we consider why the beliefs exist and proliferate, the discussion rarely gets further than "irrational people have irrational beliefs." This is a mistake. The stories we tell one another are a kind of Ouija board, with all our fingertips on the planchette.
The messages it spells out don't describe external reality but they do reveal our internal, unspoken anxieties and aspirations.This is why we should read science fiction: not because it predicts the future, but because it diagnoses the present.

He also quotes his new book on "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism and provides a link to the full version, which appears on Medium:

How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, a New Book by Cory Doctorow | OneZero

Cheapskate that I am, I downloaded the complete text and turned it into an .epub so that I can read on my phone (It's 40+ pages of letter sized paper single spaced). I discovered in the process that although LibreOffice offers to export to .epub, Calibre still does a much better job of that.

Back to Karachi

That story about Karachi made my realize how fortunate I am living in a place that is not too hot and not too cold (admittedly very subjective definitions). Although the weather here gets up to about 32 degrees everyday for several months a year, it rarely exceeds 35-36 degrees, and it's a dryish heat, unlike the Eastern U.S. or Southern India, say. When I go to S. India, I manage without A/C, but only because I'm basically just hanging out, and not doing very much. As I've grown older, I prefer warm summers to cold winters and would not want to live further north than here.

Nations

In the conversation we had with Y, the other day, one of the things I said was that all nations basically suck. It doesn't matter whether it's Israel, India, the UK, the EU or the US. Today I was reminded of this by Dave Winer's blog:

America is not great#

I was taught as a youngster that the US was the greatest country ever, both at home and in school. I imagine this is the same education kids in every terrible country ever got. And my parents were biased, they were immigrants who would have died for sure in Europe during WW II if the US hadn't taken them in. #
Over time they came to see the reality that the US is a seriously flawed country. But nothing would have prepared them for what we've seen in the last five years. My mom died in February 2018, so she did live to see Trump elected, but did not see the January 6 insurrection, and all the looney tunes that followed. She also missed out on the 1619 Project which was, for me a real head-turner. #
I knew slavery was part of our legacy, but I didn't know that it was pretty much our whole legacy. We fought and won a Civil War to purge ourselves of slavery, but that wasn't enough, Jim Crow undid a lot of the good that was done in post-Civil War America. The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 and re-authorized in 2006, has now been gutted by the Supreme Court. And the Republican-run states are rapidly moving to deprive citizens of color their voting rights. #
The fact is the US is an awful fucked up country. It doesn't live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution for a huge portion of the population, and that means it doesn't mean shit for the rest of us. #
I am an American, nothing is going to change that, but if you asked me do I feel this is the greatest country ever, I'd say that's an idea we have to purge from our minds, the US is the opposite, it's a fat, lazy, spoiled, ridiculous excuse for a country. If we want to amount to anything we need to take a 180 degree turn now. #

What I said in that conversation with Y was that "all nations basically suck... all we can do is look for tiny pearls" in them - by which I meant, perhaps, idealistic communities, or places like Brockwood Park (which she had just visited).

But that's not entirely true: you can't take the "suckiness" out of the world; anymore than you can take the "suchness" out of it (a Buddhist term) - if it exists in nations, it exists also in idyllic islands, to a smaller degree - because we carry it with us in our natures. We have to deal with it, whereever we are.

Lately, I feel less idealistic and more pessimistic. I don't know if Palestine will ever be free, if slavery will be abolished, if capitalism defeated, or the world will be able to prevent environmental disaster. But that doesn't mean we need to hunker down and live selfishly. There are a lot of small things we can do to make the world a better place, and if we are "fortunate" we can share some of what we have. I learned that lesson when I first traveled in the east, and found that poor Afghani village people would always share what they had with their fellow travellers. If they had an orange, they would give some to everyone.

28 September 2020

The US, Nations

It's funny that Trump is being criticized for not being a very successful capitalist. But it's wholly depressing what the US has become. I am so glad I decided not to remain in that country like my poor brother. My gladness is only exceeded by my embarrassment about living where I do. But when I begin to think along these lines, I remember how difficult it is to like any nation state at all. They are all hideous, corrupt and rotten to the core. Small communities (of one kind or another) are something that I can relate to. None are perfect, and they do not scale. The greater their size, the more corrupt. Size seems to magnify the defects of any conglomeration of humans. Nations take the taxes gleaned from their hard working citizens and squander these on munitions, colonialist projects, or simply to support the extravagant lifestyles of useless elites.

I've never had the right to vote in any of the countries where I've lived and, as an alien, I'm not much of an activist. I believe in creating alternatives more than in protest. I think it's better to live in the way that we would like the larger society to be. It's not much, but it's something.

Interview

In the morning I interviewed Roi, the new director of the School for Peace, via Zoom. He and his wife and daughter will be coming to live in the village, in the next stage of the expansion. In the meantime, their plans are being held up a bit because the plot has an ancient wine press on it, requiring an archeological dig. That can be expensive, but the antiquities authority has agreed to arrange a community dig, which will apparently be quicker and cheaper. The hillside is dotted with such features, from various historical eras.

Meditation

In the late afternoon we had a meditation session, in the olive grove on the ancient terrace below the spiritual center. A surprising number of people showed up for that, though all of them Jews - on this Yom Kippur. I was seeing many of them for the first time - the village is growing, and there are lots of people renting now. NM led a sitting meditation. D. read a text about the "Beginning Anew" practice of Plum Village. There was also a walking meditation and another based on the idea of forgiveness. However, as usual in meditation sessions, I didn't pay much attention to what was being said. I haven't been attending such activities at all lately, and I attended this one only because it was held outdoors.

Meditation and other spiritual practices are much more main stream nowadays than they were a generation ago. This morning, one online mindfulness session arranged by Maty Lieblich and her mother Amia, to which 400 people registered; though they had to limit participation to 300. D. had planned to participate, but it was already full.

Hubzilla photo rendering

For some reason, when I view jpegs in the photo software of my computer (nomacs) they are superior to the same photos uploaded to hubzilla and viewed in my browser. The file sizes are the same. Must be something about the way they are rendered. Here is a screenshot of the jpeg in hubzilla (left) side by side with the same photo viewed in nomacs. But I have saved the screenshot in a png. The colors are more natural in the photo on the right, and perhaps the image is clearer. (Perhaps I should prefer .png to .jpg for hubzilla, or maybe its a deficiency in my server setup?)

Image/photo

Thoughts about immigration and adopted identities

Having lived most of my life outside the country of my birth I often have thoughts about this.  For many people, group identity is a matter of importance.  Here in Israel/Palestine I have seen many newcomers go to great lengths to integrate into one or the other society.  Some people also seem to see a deficiency in their original identity, and try to adopt a new identity even without really needing to on a practical level. For example, they have converted to Judaism, taken on something of the national ethos, but then gone back to their own countries.  Or they have taken up the Palestinian cause, and sometimes converted to Islam, and continued in this while living elsewhere.

Different types of newcomers:

There are some immigrants who spend long years painstakingly adopting and perfecting a new national, linguistic, tribal or religious identity (these sometimes go together).

There are some who are natural chamelions and quickly adjust; without necessarily taking any new group identity to heart.  They would just as easily adapt to living in a third country.

There are some who live in a new country but staunchly resist its influence, asserting their foreigness and maintaining their love for their former country (sometimes without realizing that they have been subtly changed by their adopted country, and probably would not be able to live again easily "back home".  I think this has been true of my parents.

There are some who live a double life - pretending to "belong" when they are dealing with citizens of the new country, but privately living and keeping up the attitudes and prejudices of the former country.

There are some for whom group identities are unimportant.  They take the trouble to understand the outlook of people in their adopted country: their red lines, hangups, prejudices, and the things that make them happy, proud, or provoke favourable responses.  But they don't go out of their way to change themselves.  They don't feel a need to take on a new identity package because of this, or feel any need to abandon a former national, linguistic, tribal or religious identity.

I think  I am closest to the last category.  Group identities or membership in them are not so important to me.  I have no doubt gradually accrued certain traits from the places I have lived.  This is not so much a conscious process, but happens all the same.  There is no particular country where I feel entirely at home, and whereever I go I feel something of a foreigner.  But this doesn't really affect me.