The (De)X Files is my (sorta) daily aggregate of a few stories, essays, articles, an academic paper here and there, and (ugh) “think pieces” (only the awesome ones) from as wide a net as I can cast across the web. (The net is exceptionally wide, thanks to Inoreader.)
My selections are of the important, the surprising, the troubling, the enlightening, the inspiring, the amusing, the sublime, and the offending, along with some commentary, analysis, speculation, and prediction.
Have a story to discuss? Tweet it to me at @thinkdeadly or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On tap: mapping the dark web, those “damn emails,” weaponized A.I., Chilcot, digital bank heists, Arthur Ashe, China’s innovation economy, and fighting extremism …
1) “These Maps Show What the Dark Web Looks Like” | Motherboard | 07/05/16
The dark web is not as anarchic as was once assumed:
“(N)ew research maps out the relationships between a load of Tor hidden services, and shows that many dark web sites, rather than being isolated entities, are perhaps more intimately intertwined than commonly thought.”
This news destroys the myth of the dark web as a digital wild west. But it also demonstrates the ways in which even underground markets tend to eventually consolidate under the control of fewer and fewer parties. So, the next question is just who are these parties on the dark web? Both state and no-state actors, I imagine, skulking about in all sorts of network shenanigans: The Russians, The North Koreans, The Chinese, cartels, corporations, US intelligence services, Iran perhaps, organized crime and hacker groups of various stripes, etc.
So much more dangerous than it used to be it seems, but so much more boring, too.
I find myself wishing for an even darker web that would get back to what the Internet was like, say, in 1991. But that’s just the 21 year-old me talking. I’m never wrong when I tell that me to shut up.
2) “House Republicans Grill FBI Director Comey On Clinton Emails” | The Washington Post | 07/07/16
Having escaped indictment for mishandling classified emails in ways that landed others in jail, Hillary Clinton can still become President Of The United States, even though she could not get confirmed Secretary Of State or Defense under some other newly elected president.
But much more odd than this is how our culture has never had a “national conversation” about political dynasties in America. We’ve simply accepted them as if presidents from the same family running what’s supposed to be a democracy has always worked out well. It hasn’t. Just check the last time we tried it.
3) “British Inquiry Slams Ex-PM Blair For Catalog Of Failures Over Iraq War” | Reuters | 07/06/16
Of the heads of state, armchair warriors, and technocrats who should answer in some form or fashion for the Iraq War, thus far only Tony Blair is taking heat for the decision to muck up the Middle East on the basis of intelligence that a lot of people didn’t believe in the first place. Sadly, there will never be an American Chilcot for the major players in the Bush administration. Sadder still, these people still think that they did the right thing. Along with Blair, they consistently say the same thing with the same resolve: “Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator who brutalized his country and killed his own people.”
Too true, but notice that this is a statement, not an argument. Also notice that the strategy of repeating assertions with the conviction that’s only justified by sound reasoning and solid evidence is what we’ve come to know as “doubling down,” which is now a staple of post-truth politics.
4) “White House: We’re ‘Clear-Eyed’ About Weaponizing A.I.” | ZDNet | 07/05/16
I have grave doubts about the White House’s “clear eye” with regards to “weaponizing” artificial intelligence. My deeper suspicion, which I explore in some depth here, is that true artificial intelligence is always already weaponized—possessed with the ability to evolve itself once it’s reached a sufficient level of complexity. This, if true, in a theoretical sense means that artificial intelligence is already beyond our control, before we even flip the switch.
5) “2 Minutes On: SWIFT – Global Banking Under Attack” | SC Magazine UK | 07/05/16
Digital heists of banks over the SWIFT money transfer network have been pulled against Bangladesh, Ecuador, the Philippines and Vietnam. Most recently, a bank in The Ukraine was hit for $10 million. Hacker groups from North Korea (this story about Room 39 is really fascinating), Pakistan, and now Russia are suspected. The hackers who hit the bank in Bangladesh got away with $81 million, with the help of the New York Fed. So truly massive electronic bank heists are now a thing, not only because of the vulnerabilities of electronic banking, but also because of the possibility that—given the players—we could be looking at state sponsored financial warfare.
6) “On This Day In 1975, Arthur Ashe Becomes The First Black Man To Win Wimbledon” | The Undefeated | 07/05/16
I recently watched “O.J. Simpson, Made In America.” It both illuminates and obscures Simpson, makes him a black hole into which my efforts to understand him disappear, never to be seen again. Not so with Arthur. He won Wimbeldon in ’75 when I was six years old and retired in 1980, before I ever picked up a racket or became mesmerized by those epic Summer showdowns between Borg and McEnroe. My generation may have been too young to see Arthur Ashe athlete, but we were just the right age to understand and learn life-long lessons from Arthur Ashe the symbol of courage and resilience, especially when our friends and relatives began dying too soon, as he did.
7) “U.S. To Allocate $10 Million To Non-Profits, Colleges To Fight Extremism” | Reuters | 07/06/16
It’s easier and cheaper to fight extremism at home than it is to practice it abroad. Our country, our corner of the world, our way of life, benefits from a destabilized Middle East. So much so that that we’re willing to deal with all the consequences of an inhumanly chaotic but vital region than deal with the consequences of a Middle East that’s stable enough to call shots—as Saudi Arabia did in 1973 and 1979. Access to (still relatively cheap) oil and making sure that it’s always priced in dollars are the twin pillars of Mid-East policy. Compared to this, a few million to counter “extremist narratives” is gladly paid chump change.
8) “China’s Innovation Economy A Real Estate Bubble In Disguise?” | Reuters | 07/07/16
Stories like this make me wonder if post-industrial economies that need growth (either because of debt or population, or both) are inherently “bubble-prone.” By this I mean that bubbles may be part of this new economy in the way that prosperity was a part of the old—effects that can be produced simply by functioning normally. Extend this logic beyond first wave post-industrials like America and Europe (that are dealing stagnant wages, high debt levels, growing wealth disparity, and over-heated asset markets) to late-industrials like China, and you run into the possibility that what worked for us might not work too well for them.
For instance, this article questions whether the “build now, grow later” strategy that China pursued with infrastructure and real estate is as well-suited for a high-tech horizon.
Likewise, trying to transform peasants and students into entrepreneurs feels like Mao’s plan for villagers to produce steel for the nation instead of food. The results were disastrous.
One of the most important “real economy” stories on a global scale is about how China faces a challenge perhaps never seen before—transitioning from an labor intensive, industrial and manufacturing based economy to a knowledge, information, and services based post-industrial economy of a billion-plus citizens in 10 years.
Let that sink in as you consider that America’s transition took a generation, as well the risks of social unrest should things not work out as planned.
Check out these stories and more in my Kifi Library, The (De)X Files.