Good timing

University of Washington professor Kate Starbird and several of her colleagues just published “Repeat Spreaders & Election Delegitimization,” featuring an analysis of their 2020 Election Misinformation dataset, “including 307 false, misleading, exaggerated and/or unsubstantiated claims that sowed doubt in [the 2022 United States presidential] election procedures/results.” Helpful reading to accompany the House of Representatives Select Committee’s hearings examining the January 6 insurrection.

Here’s Starbird’s brief summary of the paper’s contents.

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Stanford University’s “Writing Matters”

My former haunt, Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, has taken down its old Resources page. Happily, though, you can still find online its wonderful “Writing Matters” series, interviews with Stanford professors and students describing “writing’s connection with academic and personal success.” Below Margot Gerritsen, Professor of Energy Resources Engineering, explains that “Writing stories is absolutely pivotal. If I can’t write a good story, sell what I’m doing, make cases and arguments for continued funding, I’m nowhere.”

Here’s a link to the professors’ videos, and to the students’.

And here is the new Writing Resources page.

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What could go wrong?

No Contest friend Chester Wisniewski provides the clearest précis I’ve read regarding the extravagant promises made on behalf of “decentralized blockchains,” in The Gospel of Crypto: A Solution in Search of a Problem. It’s concise, illuminating, and persuasive.

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Prime Yourself


There needs to be two of you: you and “you prime.” The latter is an heuristic entity brought into being by you for the purpose of protecting and orienting you.

Your “you prime” makes the hard decisions – saying no to friends, curtailing vampiric commitments, enforcing skeptical habits of mind, and keeping you safe – when you are, for any reason, disinclined to do so.

This little bit of as-if – this guardian phantasm, this editor – is a nifty trick, I have found, and good mental hygiene.

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I’m keeping in abeyance any decision I might make on maintaining my presence on Twitter. I’ve been tweeting away since 2008, though I have never been especially prolific. (That said, this platform completely redefined “prolific”!) The place had a few good years – people were helpful and tended, on balance, to be interesting – before it became the dreadful scene we have today.

I’ve bored witless the people I love with my complaints about Elon Musk, so I shall forbear here, dear reader (just don’t bring up the topic of self-driving cars!). I don’t expect he will make Twitter better. I can see how he might make it worse, though: Bringing back the 45th president would be the main way, probably.

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When I finally consented, two decades ago, to using the necessary phrase “passive aggressive,” I felt awful, and beaten, like I had fallen off the wagon.

But I am clean again! A dear friend employed the phrase defensive envenomater this fine afternoon to describe a snake that doesn’t seek to introduce sickening venom into its prey but nonetheless will when forced into a particularly vulnerable posture.

Defensive envenomater is better than “passive aggressive person” for many reasons (I won’t be pedantic and spell them all out), though I know it replaces only some of the latter phrase’s meanings.

I also prefer the noun phrase to an adjective phrase; I like a person to blame.

(h/t MH)

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It’s actually easy

… not to do this.

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Not included.

Sometimes you have to read a story two or three times to make sure you’re reading it right. As in:

A PhD candidate is hoping the University of Alberta changes its practice on publishing theses after hers was rejected for spelling her [Urdu] name in Arabic script.

Sarah Shakil, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences and ecology, successfully defended her thesis in January — the culmination of years of hard work and the final hurdle for getting her PhD. The next step was to deposit the thesis through an online system, after which it would be published and forwarded to various Canadian theses collections.

But the document previously reviewed by her supervisor and multiple examiners was rejected for including her name in Arabic script on the title page, with her name in Roman script in a smaller font just below. …

Shakil petitioned administration to do so but was told the university needed to follow institutional policy and the title page as-is was divergent from formatting regulations.

The minimum thesis formatting requirements guide makes no mention of language script requirements. It says matters of style are for candidates to decide, subject to certain rules. (from the CBC)

Shakil told the CBC: “It suggests that everybody else who’s not a European identity is not welcome or they have to set aside their cultural background and conform to that university culture.”

This is what the name on the title page looked like:

Several days after the CBC report, Shakil tweeted that the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, Brooke Milne, wrote a three-page letter to her denying her request to use her Urdu name in Arabic script on the title page. You can read the whole letter via Shakil’s tweet. I went on a long walk this afternoon attempting to summon sufficient Canadian politesse to compose a courteous account of the Dean’s letter.

I failed utterly.

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Information warfare

Chester Wisniewski, longtime friend of this blog and principal research scientist at Sophos, has been studying Russian cyber aggression for a very long time. In a new piece he describes the kind of threats we can expect from Russia as that country looks to attack Ukraine: distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, digital defacement and spam, disinformation and isolation, the paralysis of power supplies, email hacking, false flags, supply chain attacks, and malware attacks on supply chains.

Russia’s official “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation” from 2010 states: “the prior implementation of measures of information warfare in order to achieve political objectives without the utilization of military force and, subsequently, in the interest of shaping a favourable response from the world community to the utilization of military force.”

Information warfare is how the Kremlin can try to control the rest of the world’s response to actions in Ukraine or any other target of attack. …

The United States and United Kingdom are trying to preempt some of the misinformation campaigns, and this could limit their effectiveness. However, we shouldn’t assume the attackers will stop trying, so we need to remain prepared and vigilant. …

From a global perspective, we should expect a range of “patriotic” freelancers in Russia, by which I mean ransomware criminals, phish writers and botnet operators, to lash out with even more fervor than normal at targets perceived to be against the Motherland.

While defense-in-depth security should be the normal thing to strive for at the best of times, it is especially important if we can expect an increase in the frequency and severity of attacks. 

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The other Spotify scandal

Esteemed recording engineer Steve Albini explains in a recent twitter thread that there’s “an important thread of continuity over time about the exploitation of bands by record labels that deserves a closer look, re the current Spotify debate.” It is a detailed, really instructive discussion. Please read the whole thread. Albini concludes:

It is egregious that these services pay so little [less than half a cent per stream], another manifestation of the greed of predicate labels and the practices of a corrupt industry that predates them. 

It gives me peace thinking that the streaming model is unsustainable and will collapse eventually, but in the interim remember that the music business that fucked mainstream bands always had in parallel the contrasting independent scene which was more fair then and remains so.

Jacobin Magazine writer Charlie Bird argues that we need a “Socialist Spotify.”

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