Pluralistic: 11 Jan 2021

Today's links

DC's security theater panned (permalink)

After the 9/11 attacks, airlines and public buildings adopted a flurry of "security" measures, like taking away pen-knives from fliers or requiring visitors to office buildings to be photographed or present a driver's license.

Bruce Schneier's seminal 2003 "Beyond Fear" called these measures: "Security Theater."

Schneier pointed out that these measures would be easy to circumvent, and were thus providing only the comforting appearance of security – not security itself.

Security theater is worse than nothing. Security theater gives people the false impression that their risks have been mitigated, when actually things are just as dangerous.

After all, if you know that danger exists, you can take some steps to mitigate or avoid it.

But if you have the false impression that you've been made safer, you might unwittingly engage in risky behavior.

Like, if you know your car's brakes are flaky, you might nurse the car along to the mechanic at low speed on side-streets.

But if you don't know about the brakes, you're apt to discover their flaws at 75mph on the freeway.

Despite the harms of security theater, it became a bipartisan consensus. Every attack begat more theater – taking off shoes, surrendering liquids, subjecting ourselves to facial recognition at the gate.

Not just airports, of course. Public buildings were increasingly turned into a kind of state-run Broadway, with every employee a performer in a longrunning, terrible epic play called "Security Theater."

Nowhere was this more apparent than in Washington DC, where you can't go out for a pint of milk without passing a dozen high-security government buildings, each under the directorship of a different auteur hoping to score a security theater Tony Award.

As Brian McEntee writes in Slate, Washingtonians have been the involuntary audience at ground zero for security theater's participatory drama show, living in "the most overtly armored public spaces in the world."

20 years of shouting at bike-commuters, threatening to arrest people for sledding down Capitol Hill and barking orders at lost tourists did not, in fact, make the nation's capitol secure from an actual terror threat.

If history is any guide, the response will be more security theater, from "unscalable fences" (cheered on by the same people who told trumpists, "show me a 20-foot wall and I'll show you a 21 foot-ladder"), more forever-closed streets, more ID checks and facial recognition.

(Image: Lars Di Scenza, CC BY-SA, modified)

Weaponing and monetizing apophenia (permalink)

In 2003's Pattern Recognition, William Gibson discusses the role of "apophenia" – finding patterns where none exist – in paranoid thinking. We are a pattern-matching animal, prone to seeing faces in clouds and hearing speech in static.

Apophenia is omnipresent and weird. It's why 5G conspiracy theorists started circulating a guitar-pedal circuit diagram as a leaked 5G cancer-microchip design (the diagram has a segment labeled "5G frequency").

But this kind of hilarious idiocy doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's got a business model. Companies like Devon's Energydots prey on people who've been sucked in by their own apophenic misfirings to sell them "Smartdots" – stickers to protect them from "radiation."

It will not surprise you to learn that Smartdots don't work. Indeed, they don't do anything, except, perhaps, produce a hard-to-remove gummy residue.

Energydots claims that their stickers are programmed with "scalar energy" – a study by the University of Surrey's 6th Generation Innovation Centre, commissioned by the BBC, was unable to detect "scalar energy".

Energydots is a good case-study in how predators exploit apophenia. Its victims' brains have misfired, and it seizes on the opportunity to part them with their money, first, by making outlandish claims, and then by lying about outside validation for those claims.

In Nov 2020, Energydots announced a partnership with the NHS to install "brand new engagement units" in two London hospitals. They quickly walked the claim back, saying it was just one hospital. Then they deleted the press release. They say it was a "misunderstanding."

We are literally beset by unhinged people who believe fantastical things that cause them to engage in irrational, dangerous and sometimes murderous behavior. They bear some responsibility for that conduct.

But as we rush to blame the spread of that conduct on the "user engagement" business-model of Big Tech, which is said to blindly encourage these beliefs as click-generating activity, we pay short shrift to the fraudsters who set out to exploit these beliefs.

If we're concerned that the tech platforms' business model incidentally encourages conspiracies as an emergent property of algorithmic amplification, let us also spare a thought for people who manufacture and sell fraudulent goods at fantastic markups.

People whose sales rely on repeating and amplifying conspiratorial nonsense and falsifying confirmation of their lies from respected public health authorities.

Awful voting-machine demands silence (permalink)

One of the great ironies of the "stop the steal" conspiratorial fraud and its focus on Dominion's voting machines is that voting machines are, in fact, flaming garbage.

For decades – since Bush v Gore and before – security researchers have been ringing the alarm about voting machine security and the terrible, bullying, incompetent, indifferent companies that make them.

Every year, the Defcon Voting Village folks demonstrate the myriad ways in which voting machines are untrustworthy and not fit for purpose. Their landmark 2019 report is required reading.

But not all voting machines are equally terrible. Dominion's machines share all the information security problems common to electronic voting, but they use human-readable paper ballots that can be hand counted to verify their tallies.

There are other machines that do not have this safeguard: many all-in-one and ballot-marking devices do not produce these paper trails that can be audited during contested elections.

One of the leading manufacturers of these extraordinarily bad machines is Election Systems and Software (ESS), America's vote-tech monopolist.

ESS is a garbage company, notorious for making bad systems and stonewalling when asked about them.

ESS sucks at making voting machines, but it excels at selling them to local officials, and part of that grift is a keen nose for opportunities to silence its critics.

Dominion is suing a parade of trumpy conspiracists for knowingly making provably false statements about its machines. Progressives and other members of the reality-based community have been popcorn-eating-gif about it, all schadenfraudey to see these rotten people get theirs.

Most people cheering on Dominion don't know much about voting machines, because most people don't know much about voting machines period. ESS is exploiting that gap by suing ITS critics, implying that anyone who criticizes voting machines is a trumpist insurrectionist.

They've gone after the leaders of SMART Elections, a nonprofit that has been warning New York State about its insecure, unauditable ESS voting machines.

ESS calls SMART's critiques "false, defamatory, and disparaging."

Among the sentiments they wish to prohibit people from uttering: "ESS's ExpressVote XL is a bad machine."

Remember when Trump trolls created fake news sites and we publicized the link between trumpism and fake news, only to have Trump start calling his critics "fake news?"

It's happening again, but in reverse. The outrage at Trump's baseless conspiracy claims about Dominion is being hijacked to discredit real election security advocates by a powerful, corrupt monopolist.

Don't be taken in.

Someone Comes to Town Part 27 (permalink)

This week on my podcast: part 27 of my serialized reading of "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," my 2006 novel that Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read." It's my last podcast of 2020!

You can catch up on the other installments here:

and subscribe to my podcast feed here:

Here's a direct link to the MP3 (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive; they'll host your stuff for free, forever, too!):

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Hollywood’s MP denounces “users,” “EFF members” — video

#15yrsago #15yrsago Correcting the Record: Wikipedia vs The Register

#5yrsago HOWTO make a motorcycle out of cigarette lighters

#5yrsago Chelsea Manning reviews book of Aaron Swartz’s writing Chelsea Manning reviews book of Aaron Swartz’s writing

#5yrsago NSA says it will take four years to answer questions about its kids’ coloring book

#1yrago William Gibson talks about scrapping and rewriting a novel after the 2016 Trump election

#1yrago Wireheading: when machine learning systems jolt their reward centers by cheating

#1yrago America’s most popular governor: the lavishly corrupt Larry Hogan [R-MD]

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Hackaday (, Utopian Encyclopedia (, Boing Boing (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 539 words (97342 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 26)

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla