Zoom is Doom: Total System Compromise

Source: Original Doom artwork from John Romero on Gamespot.

For months I’ve been warning people that using a Zoom client means a system should be treated as completely compromised.

TechCrunch in April 2020 reported it as “Zoom Doom

If you care about your security and privacy, perhaps stop using Zoom

My position has been clear, as I’ve written multiple times on this blog. Now this:

…they were able to take over the remote system running the Zoom client without any involvement from the victim; the exploit didn’t require the victim to click any links or open any attachments…

Here we are a year after Zoom Doom and it’s worse. See also the final order from the FTC, still not implemented by Zoom as of early April.

  • November 9, 2020 — FTC Requires Zoom to Enhance its Security Practices as Part of Settlement
  • February 1, 2021 — FTC Gives Final Approval to Settlement with Zoom over Allegations the Company Misled Consumers about Its Data Security Practices

I can not emphasize enough just how broken the security culture of Zoom was that after harsh criticism of security they brought in the infamously disgraced CSO (biggest undisclosed breaches in history) to handle PR.

KGB Spy in 1961 Used X-Ray to Crack U.S. Top-Secret Lock

In 1961 the U.S. had a top spy in Moscow delivering extensive details of the Soviet nuclear program:

In tandem with the CIA, MI6 were in the midst of running their most successful espionage operation to date. A colonel in Soviet military intelligence, Oleg Penkovsky, was working for them as an agent-in-place, photographing thousands of top-secret documents with a miniature camera, and delivering the resulting microfilm in disguised packs of cigarettes and boxes of sweets to Chisholm’s wife Janet, at cocktail parties, parks and other locations around the city.

Some describe these massive disclosures from deep within the Soviet military (by a man who turned on his country after being denied a promotion) as a primary explanation for averting disaster in the Cuban missile crisis:

The CIA’s chief analyst during the crisis, Ray Cline, later told historian Christopher Andrew that Penkovsky’s intelligence was vital to its resolution, as it allowed the agency to “follow the progress of Soviet missile emplacement in Cuba by the hour.”

Just as the crisis ended on October 22, 1961 Penkovsky was arrested by the KGB.

The next chapter to this story isn’t what you might think.

It actually becomes how the Soviets at that time had established a top spy in Paris, who was delivering extensive details of the U.S. nuclear program in Europe. In October 1961, as Penkovsky was shut down, the Soviets pushed an American mole for deeper access.

In late 1961 [Robert Lee Johnson] received the top-secret clearance and was admitted into the vault as a clerk. At long last the KGB was in. […] Over the following weeks the infiltration began in earnest as he successfully copied the vault keys using clay molds supplied by KGB operatives. In October of 1961 he received a specially manufactured X-ray device from Moscow that he was instructed to place over the final lock in the vault; KGB technicians could then deduce what combination unlocked the vault by studying the cogs inside the locking mechanism.

This spy was from within the U.S. military; “an embittered bureaucrat with a grossly inflated sense of self-worth”, and like Penkovsky a man who turned on his country after being denied a promotion (not to mention being named after a traitor in the military who defected and fought to destroy the U.S. — Robert Lee).

On 15 December 1962, Johnson accessed the vault for the first time and looted its contents. The operation, extensively rehearsed beforehand, went exactly as planned and by 03:15 the following morning some of America’s most sensitive cryptographic and military information⁠—some of it classified higher than top secret⁠—was on its way to Moscow. The treasure trove of information proved so valuable that the KGB decided to reward Johnson with a bonus of $2,000 and the rank of honorary Major in the Red Army. The information⁠—rumored to include the numbers and locations of US nuclear warheads in Europe⁠—was deemed so important that it was presented to Comrade Khrushchev himself.

While there are plenty of stories of Johnson using a vaguely described radioactive device, I’ve found so far almost no documentation or details. Explanations of the Soviet portable X-ray design that cracked a top-secret lock seems obscure, and probably intentionally.

Allegedly the first lock was cracked by making a wax impression of the key, the second lock had a combination written on paper that someone left in a trash can. These are routine weaknesses. The development in October 1961 of an X-ray to crack the third and final lock for U.S. top-secret files is by far the most interesting, especially given the timing, and yet very little record at all has been made available.

BBC Claims Americans Think of Presidents as Demigods

I’m really struggling to get through a BBC article called “Who truly was the most dishonest president?”

This section in particular is really hard to read.

Once upon a time Americans placed an almost childlike trust in their commanders-in-chief. They were venerated as demigods. When did it change? Many historians date this rupture to Lyndon Baines Johnson, though he was far from the first president to deceive.

That seems so backwards as to be completely laughable. Which historians?

To begin with, LBJ became president when JFK was assassinated.

Would assassination count as a rupture? I mean saying public change in trust dates to LBJ as president kind of misses at least one big prior rupture event, no?

I would think JFK immediately disproves such a theory of American public rupture and distrust dating to LBJ. And on that note there were assassinations and attempted assassinations long before JFK.

Consider the 1881 assassination of Garfield, for just one obvious example:

Like most presidents up to that point, he was not accompanied by bodyguards or a security detail. As Garfield’s carriage pulled up outside the Baltimore and Potomac, Charles Guiteau paced the waiting room inside, ready to fulfill what he believed was a mission from God. […] In his pocket Guiteau carried a letter addressed to the White House. “The president’s tragic death was a sad necessity,” it read, “but it will unite the Republican Party and save the Republic. Life is a fleeting dream, and it matters little when one goes.”

The whole point of the American system used to be that President would be a citizen and not someone “venerated as demigods” or dare I say someone… monarchical.

Garfield literally ran for office on the premise of being a plain farmer who would roll his sleeves up to cut the “weeds” of “calumny, falsehood, fraud, venom, hatred, defamation and malice”.

“Farmer Garfield: Cutting a swath to the White House” 1880. Source: Library of Congress

The bar is low to become a President, with many running on the premise of being common, so on what basis would anyone mistakenly shift that in their mind to a high one?

Who was venerated? Who was given childlike trust?

The author should perhaps prove these assertions, or at least detail them, first before ironically waxing on about deception.

Why Charity Water Wells May Be Worse For Women Than Long Walks With Cans

Women had been carrying important information over private networks for centuries if not longer. It was so effective that to outsiders only the water was seen.
Part four in a three part series

I told myself I wouldn’t treat this lightly and so it ended up being delayed a long while.

In a nutshell when a “water charity” would roll into villages in Africa they believed dropping a well directly outside homes would liberate women and children from the burden of long walks with heavy loads.

These wells in fact undermined a core network and fabric of social order and thus dangerously unbalanced power — women no longer had private time in shared chores away from the home at their “workplaces” and overall safety/security of the region was significantly undermined.

This is not conjecture. I was working with a huge global tech firm that was pushing a water charity donation pledge. When I started to question the ethics of the charity, the head of it came to meet with me in person.

At first it was cordial and he said things like “happy to answer your questions” though soon he seemed a bit frustrated, even deflated as if I had unmasked him. I had asked straight questions like “exactly how many villages had security issues after a well was dug”.

To his credit he told me could confirm exactly 15 examples (at that time). I appreciated the transparency, yet he seemed disturbed by having to admit to the fact an utterly simplistic solution (get donations, drive in, dig a well, leave) to a complex problem was in fact making lives worse.

In other words I was told by the head of a major charity that in more than a dozen cases soon after the new well was established armed rebels were known to target it, seize control and force all residents into refugee camps. That was fascinating, and still didn’t go deep enough for me as it focused on militant action more than the subtle process of cultural devaluation and collapse (e.g. Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart“). He admitted the lost villages were never reported, despite his transparency with me.

He also tried to muster some of the usual “big picture is we’re helping a lot of people” chaff. When I dug into his actual data (at that time) even it was questionable, suffering from big data integrity issues like obvious copy/paste numbers for a map of the wells scattered across an entire continent.

Finally, when I broached this subject with regional conflict experts they confirmed that the resource charity model was typically flawed from the start, and conditions worsened without analysis. They knew of the problems, and again said none of it was ever reported. More to the point, they confirmed they knew how introduction of wells (or similar technology shifts for that matter, such as men on bicycles fetching water) destroyed a traditional model of safety and power for women.

While perhaps counter-intuitive that reducing a burden creates far worse burdens, it lays bare the kind of false assumptions someone can make when they look at ways to “fix” networks and markets they observe only as “do good” outsiders.

If we think only about carrying water as hard we risk projecting that mindset into other communities and look for ways to remove that specific pain point. Instead we should think about how hard life becomes for people if they don’t have the opportunity to carry water on long isolated paths (removal of private time/place to communicate translates directly to loss of power).

The water charity seemed to be attempting what Fela had written about in the mid 1970s, in a song called “Water no get enemy“.

Water probably calculated at first as the safest possible bet for large and sticky donations — nobody could hate something as useful as this, and detractors were expected to only look wrong. However someone seriously underestimated wider risk management related to resources.

To be blunt, the water charity appeared to be started by a man who felt guilt for being an awful person and decided “white savior” of black people by delivering water meant nobody would question him, probably including himself. Unfortunately things are not so easy, and the fact he was searching for such trivial criticism-proof answers to the wicked complexity of real life just circles back onto how he ended up disliking himself in the first place.

The security processes and procedures around assets and political power, not to mention the privacy and safety of women and children, all were tragically disrupted by a simple failure to threat model water distribution. Hubris proved even water could get an enemy.

Facebook VP Tries to Justify Colonialism

“…the pith helmet is so quintessentially colonial…” Poster by Faustino Pérez (OSPAAAL), 1970; image courtesy Carina Ray via AHA

A new thought-piece from a powerful British government lobbyist (Vice President of Global Affairs, Facebook. Former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, leader of the Liberal Democrats, member of Parliament) was introduced to me by Bryan Lee rather blankly as…

Facebook VP explains it’s your fault you’re fat, if you didn’t dress like that they wouldn’t say those things, and if you want to quit smoking stop buying cigarettes.

Of course such a framing of the argument had me hooked and off I went to read the entire piece.

It was a cringe worthy work of total tone-deafness.

However, it was even worse than buying cigarettes. This was tobacco plantation language.

Someone has taken time to write what amounts to a justification of colonialism as a partnership, where the subjugated love oppression as a new form of freedom.

Facebook seems to steal management values from colonialism, so maybe I should have called this post “taking the pith”.

Unfortunately this is not a hyperbole. Such nonsense is not unheard of in Britain, and this feels like someone on track towards repeating some of the worst mistakes in history.

As I’ve written here before, I spent a bit as an academic in the British archives reading actual memos from Foreign Office and Colonial Office staff. These arguments and their tone are very familiar, so perhaps I’m keying into that history and glaringly obvious signs that others haven’t studied or seen before.

There are moments as a historian when you open a dusty folder and stare at the hand written memo from Churchill, taking in the flow of every pen stroke and thinking about the power in his words. I might call those some of the highlights.

Crawshay-Williams (a former assistant private secretary to Churchill) sent a letter in 1940 to plead with the prime minister for a surrender to Hitler. Churchill responded in his classic direct tone: “I am ashamed of you for writing such a letter. I return it to you — to burn & forget”. Source: Christie’s Auction

Then there are moments when some unknown chap in a pith helmet has telegraphed a racist screed about his vision to treat humans like animals and deny them freedoms because that is what they think another human deserves… leaving a knot in your gut as you can’t peel your eyes away from the historic relevance of disgusting cognitive blindness. Those are NOT some of the highlights.

This “Facebook VP…member of Parliament” very strongly invokes the latter.

I’ve also written here before about this colonialism topic in tech and why it’s a quagmire to avoid; so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised Facebook has a VP gleefully crossing the bright line.

Who else sees themselves in such a privileged power position as to say awful things about humanity without any real sense of responsibility?

Let’s break down a few examples.

1) You can’t kick the British Empire out of its colonies

Even if Facebook ceased to exist, social media won’t be — can’t be — uninvented. The human impulse to use the internet for social connection is profound.

Classic colonialism says you can’t just have the oppressors leave. They’re baked into targeted society by cruel design so they very often say it would be impossible for their victims to ever reach true independence.

Note here also how an “impulse…for social connection” is made falsely equivalent to social media. We don’t need social medial for social connections. That’s a logical fallacy to fit right into such proto-colonialism.

2) You owe the British Empire your good lives under colonial oppression

Personalized digital advertising not only allows billions of people to use social media for free, it is also more useful to consumers than untargeted, low-relevance advertising.

This is just so obviously and patently false, I could write long blog posts on it alone. First, advertising doesn’t make things free it obfuscates taxation without representation. Second, repeated studies have shown that targeting is garbage economics and totally fails to achieve its claimed goals. Third, about the only thing targeting is actually able to do is inflame bias and conflict. Fourth, the privacy loss and freedom-destruction of targeting systms is a ridiculously high price to pay. And the list goes on, as explained succinctly the Atlantic

The eBay study suggested that people who click most ads aren’t being influenced. The Facebook study suggested that people who are being influenced aren’t actually clicking ads. It makes you wonder whether clicks matter, at all.

Given how Facebook systems currently are being run by unaccountable and immoral leadership, we easily can prove that an un-targeted, low-relevance experience is essentially a safer happier world for everyone.

3) The British Empire is your friend who prevents you from being a primitive savage

Turning the clock back to some false sepia-tinted yesteryear — before personalized advertising, before algorithmic content ranking, before the grassroots freedoms of the internet challenged the powers that be — would forfeit so many benefits to society.

A world before personalized advertising isn’t false. That really existed and still does exist. But it’s especially toxic here to see “grassroots freedoms” invoked completely opposite to actual events.

Again massively unfair fallacy, as it uses false equivalence to list individual freedom brought about on the Internet as something just like the surveillance used by giant centralized powers to track you everywhere. Apples are not bananas.

Pure propagandist nonsense.

I’m reminded of British colonialists who argued that Africans turning back the clock to sovereignty would lose their freedoms. Imagine a sentence like “some false yesteryear before British rule, before ships landed and men with guns invaded your homes, before men challenged the powers that be — would forfeit the benefits of being in a colony.” It sounds totally contradictory because it is.

4) The British Empire is the future because it controls the future. There is only one queen.

This is the magic of social media, the thing that differentiates it from older forms of media. There is no editor dictating the frontpage headline millions will read on Facebook. …it is of course the case that these systems are designed by people. It is Facebook’s decision makers who ultimately decide what content is acceptable…

Notice the doublespeak here? Magic and differentiation comes from having no editor, other than decision makers who ultimately are just… editors.

Older forms of media had decision makers who ultimately decided what content is acceptable. It is not hard to see there is no magic, no differentiation on that front.

The shame here is pretending an editor is not an editor to control the entire dialogue; evade laws and common decency in order to peddle basic oppression as some kind of exceptional “magic”.

5) You will find no better colony than under the British Empire. Floggings set to continue until morale improves.

And it is entirely reasonable to argue that private companies shouldn’t be making so many big decisions about what content is acceptable on their own. It would clearly be better if these decisions were made according to frameworks agreed by democratically accountable lawmakers. But in the absence of such laws, there are decisions that need to be made in real time. […] But of course, you don’t see the algorithm at work, and you have limited insight into why and how the content that appears was selected and what, if anything, you could do to alter it. And it is in this gap in understanding that assumptions, half-truths, and misrepresentations about how Facebook works can take root.

The logical fallacy here is no true Scotsman. He is pleading for “democratically accountable lawmakers” to deliver magical new frameworks (when plenty relevant ones already exist — Facebook has repeatedly violated basic safety and privacy).

Realize instead that lawmakers don’t have to lift a finger for everyone to already see that “you don’t see the algorithm” is a completely planned failure.

Nobody wrote a law telling Facebook they had to give users limited insights. There was no law that Facebook had to deliver gaps in understanding, Facebook wasn’t legally required to leave people with half-truths.

Facebook chose all that awful destiny for their users. They built a torture box and put people in it, then started selling tickets to see it and saying “we shouldn’t be doing this and it would be better if someone could tell us to stop, but in the meantime this person’s obvious lack of freedom for our profit is just their opinion”.

Consider the absolutely tone-deaf irony here. On a platform claiming to provide a fantastical modern world of intelligent algorithms to figure out the right fit of information to keep you informed, they also say if you’re uninformed from the giant gaps in their platform that’s entirely your fault.

The gaps they say are your fault are the exact things that Facebook has the most control over. They claim to be able to close all the gaps in knowledge about some random person’s day scooping ice cream, despite having nothing to do with it other than surveillance, but simultaneously claim they can’t close the gaps that would explain how their own work is done.

Shall I go on?

Let me instead turn to an Indian opinion piece from 2020 that clearly warned us about Clegg repeating the worst mistakes of history.

The attempt by Clegg, presently on the payrolls of the global leader in social media, to push for free flow of data is really a part of the larger concerted attempt by digital giants to protect their monopolistic business from potential competition from firms in emerging developing countries, including India. In a narrative reminiscent of the colonial times when the EIC was attempting to get a foothold in India, Clegg cleverly camouflaged the business interests of his principals and instead, projected free flow of data as being democratic and also in India’s interest.

The EIC is a reference to East India Company.

The company’s transition from trade to conquest has preoccupied historians ever since Edmund Burke famously attacked it as a “state in the disguise of a merchant”. […] This story needs to be told… because imperialism persists, yet “it is not obviously apparent how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess”. And it needs to be read to beat back the willfully ignorant imperial nostalgia gaining ground in Britain…

Indeed. Clegg seems willfully ignorant as he lays out the colonialism thickly. Clearly he is at risk of using his position within a merchant to operate it as a state just so it may achieve ill-gotten corporate excess (of which he is a direct beneficiary).

If nothing else, this is all food for thought given Facebook has created a C-level role for blockchain yet keeps its ethics buried at the Director level (reporting through government relations).

There’s probably a very simple reason Facebook neither understands human rights and ethics at the C-suite, nor makes room at that level for someone who does.

Such a person surely would have blocked Clegg’s completely tone-deaf messaging that Facebook can justify its colonialist mindset.

American Distrust in Press: Deadly 1830s Cancel Culture

As I read current news from the press about America losing trust in news, I am reminded of the long history of this issue.

One of the more tragic stories is this one from 1837:

Elijah Lovejoy was a reverend and printer in Alton, Illinois, in the 1830s. He was the editor for the Alton Observer, a religious newspaper with a pro-abolition stance. His journey to Alton was not a smooth one. He had three printing presses destroyed before he settled in Alton—all three times the vandalism was in response to abolitionist editorials in his newspaper. On November 7th, 1837, a mob gathered outside of the warehouse that held his printing press. After exchanging gunfire with the crowd, Lovejoy was killed and his press was destroyed a fourth and final time. He was buried on November 9th, what would have been his 35th birthday.

Americans destroyed Lovejoy’s press four times in deadly “cancel culture” mobs, murdering him in the last attack.

Lovejoy had been forced to Move to Alton, Illinois after his paper in 1836 dared to publish a drawing and describe a lynching in St. Louis, Missouri. A white mob had chained a free black man to a stake and then threw stones at him as they burned him alive.

Leaders of the Missouri city objected to anyone reporting these events as fact. Lovejoy not only reported it in detail, also he asserted that while a man may deserve to die only savages would dance around their victim while the fire did the work. For this Lovejoy’s press was destroyed by the men he labeled savages, and he was forced out of Missouri.

Elijah Lovejoy’s building in Alton, Illinois. Source: Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Lovejoy had prepared himself with nearly 20 defenders in an Alton, Illinois building made of stone, just across the river from St. Louis. His new press was guarded with guns (as explicitly authorized by the Mayor), yet an angry white nationalist mob swarmed in to shoot him dead.

“Burn ’em out,” someone outside shouted. “Shoot every damned abolitionist as he leaves.” When men with torches climbed onto the roof, defenders of the press opened fire, killing one rioter and forcing others to retreat. In the eerie quiet, editor Elijah P. Lovejoy stepped outside for a look. Five shots [from attackers hiding in a wood pile nearby] riddled him. “Oh God, I am shot,” he said as he fell.

The press of liberty and freedom was so hated by the lawless mob it set about to destroy the heavy machinery by dumping it into a river instead of just printing something else.

The mob reportedly threw his press, which weighed nearly half a ton, into the river near the warehouse where the Ardent Mills flour mill is located today.

You might have gathered the police didn’t intervene. You might also have figured out also that nobody, not a single attacker, was held responsible. Officials in Illinois and even newspapers went mostly quiet.

There was one very notable exception by a twenty-eight year old representative of the state who spoke out against lawlessness destroying freedom of speech — vigorously denouncing mobs that “throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors”.

His name was Abraham Lincoln.

Twenty years later in 1857 Lincoln also would write in a private letter how significant this event was for American history.

Lovejoy’s tragic death for freedom in every sense marked his sad ending as the most important single event that ever happened in the new world.

Thus 1837 seems crucial to study and understand. The violent mob tactics in 1830s mirror behavior of extremist white nationalist groups today who attack modern liberty movements (e.g. BLM) and who try to undermine trust in the press.

Irregular Tech for Irregular Warfare: AWD Motorcycles

War on the Rocks has published a superb article on Irregular Warfare under an image of a Christini 300 AWD motorcycle.

Christini 300 in the field. Source: WOR

I suppose you could call a motorcycle 2WD, yet that doesn’t do the concept justice. The wheels aren’t just both being powered at the same time to turn simultaneously. AWD means ensuring every wheel can be engaged with power as authorized.

The image serves as a great analogy, solving the “missing half” of power, which becomes the whole theme of the article:

…United States does not have the luxury of ignoring how China and Russia are advancing their interests in the gray zone short of armed conflict. Irregular warfare accounts for the missing half of strategic competition — information warfare, ambiguous or denied proxy operations, and subversion.

The list of five recommendations are excellent:

  1. Beyond “Center of Gravity” to “Strategic Levers”
  2. Elevate “Simultaneity” to “Concurrent Effects”
  3. Adding “Narrative,” or Shaping Information to Attain Influence
  4. Enabling with “Empowerment,” or the Right Tools to Wield Influence
  5. An Irregular Upgrade for 21st-Century Strategic Competition

For example, just to keep the Christini AWD motorcycle analogy going as long as possible, “simultaneity” means having 2WD instead of AWD. All the wheels turning at the same time in 2WD (or 4WD for that matter) is easier to engineer yet gives much worse actual traction versus all wheels with traction being authorized the power needed to turn. How’s that for narrative?

My only complaint is while they emphasize the way forward as an evolution instead of revolution, they start from Operational Design in 2010 instead of OSS lessons from WWII (“birth of modern American information warfare”). Earlier references might help point to an American capability for irregular power that is faster than and better executed than both allies and enemies.

Is Tesla an Elaborate Scam?

More and more experts are joining to denounce Tesla’s marketing as dangerously misleading.

In that vein this might be one of my favorite denunciation paragraphs so far:

…the guy in the passenger seat is such a constant and unflappable apologist, to the point where if the Tesla attacked and mowed down a litter of kittens he’d praise it for its excellent ability to track a small target.

That comment is based on a “beta” video of Tesla’s “autopilot”, captured here by a mini documentary about alleged market-leading statements made by the CEO:

Here’s another view on the problem, from a drone setup by a human guinea pig trying unsuccessfully to get across an intersection in a “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) Tesla.

Notice the truck in a completely different position on the sensor view versus where the drone has it placed at the exact same time.

And in this scene, the guinea pig has to slam the brakes on several different attempts as he finally ends up saying “stop, STOP! Aaagghh… I couldn’t let it go…” as Tesla engineering was about to launch him directly into oncoming cars it didn’t see including a large truck towing a boat.

Perhaps insurance companies will mandate all Tesla guinea pigs fly a safety drone for evidence of fault collection that is real, versus the obvious low integrity of a Tesla.

Decoding “The Big Revival”: Nazi Themes in Country Music

Have you seen this comedy video about hidden meanings in country music?

It’s pretty funny but also sad how true this is.

For example while I was relaxing on an airplane trying to sleep with the country channel on, a song called “The Big Revival” woke me straight up. It almost immediately reminded me of the kind of racial trigger words I used to hear in rural Kansas.

A quick check of its history revealed its author was a reclusive Dennis Linde, originally from Texas.

He was the quintessential mystery man of Nashville because he didn’t go to all the functions,” Scott Siman, an artist manager who had known Linde since the 1970s, told The Tennessean newspaper. “If you ever saw Dennis Linde it was amazing, because you didn’t get that opportunity very often.

A mystery man. Interesting. You may have read some of my earlier posts on encoding messages in songs (e.g. Kumbaya and Atilla).

Also see “Ten Factors that Encourage Extremism

…extremist tendencies are able to develop codes of communication that are difficult for outsiders to understand…

This song seems like another case of encoding, but it’s very vague and I don’t know if I can achieve the comedy genius of Key & Peele in explaining what I hear.

Get ready for the big revival
Get ready for the big revival

Get ready for the big revival
Everybody get in the van
There’s a little church on Eagle Mountain
It’s called The Blood of the Blessed Land
If your faith ain’t strong enough, child, you might wind up dead
Praise the Lord and pass me a Copperhead

Now Reverend Jones, he struts and dances
While the guitar plays Amazing Grace
He testifies in tongues of fire
With tears of joy running down his face
He ain’t sure and we ain’t sure exactly what he said
But praise the Lord and pass me a Copperhead

You won’t find many hypocrites that’ll take the chance on getting bit
But a true believer can survive rattlesnakes and cyanide

Now when you hold that deadly viper
Keep the holy spirit in your mind
Do not lose your concentration
That serpent’s surely bound to strike
Either way you won’t forget the first time that you said
Praise the Lord and pass me a Copperhead
Praise the Lord and pass me a Copperhead

Here are the clues I started picking at, which as I said reminded me of triggers I heard in rural Kansas:

  • little church on Eagle Mountain
  • It’s called The Blood of the Blessed Land
  • faith ain’t strong enough, child, you might wind up dead
  • pass me a Copperhead
  • testifies in tongues of fire
  • ain’t sure exactly what he said
  • hypocrites that’ll take the chance on getting bit
  • But a true believer can survive rattlesnakes and cyanide
  • hold that deadly viper

“little church on Eagle Mountain”

There’s really no reference or context for an eagle in this song perhaps other than to evoke patriotism and pride. Unfortunately mountain, as the modifier, doesn’t seem like it would come from some innocent place like a bald eagle on purple mountain (far better phrasing if you ask me). The next line talking about blood really cements it for me as German and therefore classic encoding. Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest) is the house on top of a mountain in Bavaria where Hitler entertained guests.

“It’s called The Blood of the Blessed Land”

Blut and boden (blood and soil) is how white supremacists make claim to be more connected to the land than any other races. So an eagle mountain church called blood of the blessed land is quite literally the very common symbolism invoked by white supremacists based on Nazi history.

“faith ain’t strong enough, child, you might wind up dead”

The penalty for being unfaithful to the cause is execution. Capitol punishment has and continues to be very clearly racist.

“pass me a Copperhead”

My first thought here was the old copperhead balls that we used to shoot in the empty spaces around Fort Riley, yet that seemed too obscure while also maybe from the same deeper reference.

Rummaging through history I quickly realized pro-slavery Democrats in the 1860s who opposed American Civil War and wanted immediate truce with a Confederate South, were called a Copperhead.

Copperhead, also called Peace Democrat, during the American Civil War, pejoratively, any citizen in the North who opposed the war policy and advocated restoration of the Union through a negotiated settlement with the South. The word Copperhead was first so used by the New York Tribune on July 20, 1861, in reference to the snake that sneaks and strikes without warning.

That sounds a lot like Americans who sided with Nazi Germany in WWII and demanded peace be negotiated as quickly as possible with Hitler (calling themselves “America First“), or a lot like the Americans who sided with Germany in WWI and demanded non-intervention (calling themselves “America First”). In case that isn’t obvious, “America First” meant KKK before 1929 and Nazism/KKK after — Copperhead predates them all.

The key here is that the Copperhead platform opposed Republican president Lincoln because of what they termed “an unconstitutional war against slavery”. Moreover, Lincoln called Copperheads a grave threat.

In January 1863, Abraham Lincoln made a remarkable confession. He was, he told a senator, more worried about “the fire in the rear” than he was about the Confederates to his front.

Remember tongues of fire (it’s coming next)?! Fire in the rear were Copperheads.

It turns out a Democratic Congressman of Ohio named Clement L. Vallandigham became known for his anti-federal Copperhead speeches of 1863 where he falsely alleged Republicans had gone to war to enslave the whites. Sounds crazy, right?

Commander of the Ohio military, General Ambrose Burnside, arrested Vallandigham on fairly obvious grounds of treasonous behavior (“declaring sympathies for the enemy”).

This might be a good moment to also point out Vallandigham accidentally shot himself while trying to prove that someone could not accidentally shoot themselves. He was… an idiot.

If that vignette doesn’t explain how crazy a Copperhead was with their tongues of fire, and how it ended up so connected in this song with wackos who obsess about the eagle mountain blood and soil, I’m not sure what does.

Moreover white supremacists today refer to themselves as “Constitutionalists” or similar to Copperheads, so this period in history could come to mind. The Copperheads argued the South could never be conquered and ran slogans like “The Union as it was, Constitution as it is”.

Here are the exact words from a 1863 Copperhead speech by the Hon. C.L. Vallandigham where you can see him tell the absurd lie that America would enslave whites if they didn’t enslave blacks.


“Pass me a Copperhead” is surely the flag of white insecurity.

“testifies in tongues of fire”

As I said above, this seems to be validation it’s about Valladigham attacking President Lincoln. Just before the fire comes Amazing Grace, an historic “revival” song used for background and a setup to the fire. These combinations of phrases and words have powerful association to tragedy in the 1800s.

‘Amazing Grace’ would have spoken to [slave] desire for an experience of freedom, of one day seeing God face-to-face, of one day being with him for all of eternity, and no longer subjected to the type of cruel treatment they experienced during slavery.

“ain’t sure exactly what he said”

Oath of silence and vagueness to the fiery events. No one can testify to what happened. This even gets to the point of “Know Nothings” (before 1855 calling themselves the Native American Party, American Party after) — an extremist “nativism” political party by white immigrants that used secret society (e.g. KKK “hidden empire”) to oppose immigration of other races.

“hypocrites that’ll take the chance on getting bit”

Again emphasizing you’re either in the group, a follower, or you are dead.

“But a true believer can survive rattlesnakes and cyanide”

This line really cements the Nazism. While an eagle mountain of blood and soil may seem the most obvious call-outs to Nazism, cyanide is completely over the top. Why cyanide? No way it is random. Of all the things to put into a song about revival… in the 1920s cyanide was used to kill Americans using gas chamber.

Washington, Arizona, and Oregon in 1919-20 reinstated the death penalty. In 1924, the first execution by cyanide gas took place in Nevada… a special “gas chamber” was hastily built.

Those three states in 1919 saw a HUGE rise in KKK activity. It was not a coincidence, as I said above about the racism of capitol punishment, that KKK were taking control of a state and using cyanide gas chambers to kill non-whites.

Most people however, if they study history at all, probably recognize a “gas chamber” of cyanide more in terms of who copied the KKK — Nazis in 1940s used cyanide to murder 1 million people (Zyklon B).

Again, we have a song here saying eagle mountain, blood and soil, and believers survive cyanide. It’s a trifecta of Nazism on top of the odious Copperhead background. How is this song not titled “Get Ready for the Fourth Reich”?

“hold that deadly viper”

This reinforces for me that the danger of a copperhead is being used in the context of a particular purpose, leveraged even, as a necessary evil to test true faith. As hard as I tried to flip the whole story and see some kind of positive story of surviving against threats of generic danger, the words just don’t add up that way for me and instead sound like a celebration of Nazism (which, let’s be honest, was ideologically similar to Copperheads).

Maybe you’ll have more luck and can decode it further or more accurately. To me, we have a popular song in America basically trying to invoke white nationalism.

To test my theory I listened to many versions of this song. Here’s a 2008 release:

On the airline radio I first heard it played by Kenny Chesney:

That’s an awfully strange looking bus in the image for a white nationalist tune.

Suddenly I felt like maybe I had the song wrong. Peace symbols? This guy looks like he’s into love and happiness (to be fair that’s exactly the disinformation Nazis broadcast on radio telling their targets to drop their arms… right before invasion).

So I went and found the video featuring that bus. It’s in a song called American Kids… that talks about America coast to coast etc as if representing all the kids while having only whites in the video.

Only whites.

You can’t make this stuff up. The cast is so white, so painfully not like America, I had to watch it twice just to be sure there was absolutely no other race but whites represented in a video claiming to be for all the “American Kids”.

It’s actually creepy how the video also seems to suggest American Kids worship that singer.

And just by way of comparison, I have to throw out a positive example of a “snake” video that shows what something purporting to represent “American Kids” could have done; a bus can be so much more with crowds dancing and singing around each other in a distributed manner (note this internationally diverse video is the 20th most watched on YouTube with over 3 billion views).

As I said at the start Key & Peele do a far better job at laying out the obvious racism in country music than I have done here.

But I can tell you as someone who has spent a lot of time studying triggers and encoding, as well as KKK history, when I was half-asleep listening to the radio these rather peculiar song lyrics woke me straight up.

“The Big Revival” had me immediately wondering who would write out such known white supremacist imagery under a title invoking things like rise of the KKK and rebellion against the United States. And on that note, the most curious part might be that it was written by a guy who wrote what other people wanted, remaining hidden and reclusive.

Ship Blocking Suez Canal Had History of Losing Control

Were nautical engineers in denial (pun intended) when they created a massively massive ship that has the grace of a drunken sailor on ice?

All the fresh reports of a ship named Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal seem to underplay the most important point. This ship built in 2018 was in a similar accident in 2019:

…the cargo ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe river in the German port city of Hamburg. Authorities at the time blamed strong wind for the collision…

It wasn’t a small ferry that was hit. This ship is massively massive at 400 meters long and 59 meters wide. Everything is small compared to that. Do you know how wide the massive Suez Canal is? Only 286 meters.

The prior crash suggests it’s a known design flaw in handling wind (and by that I’m including bridge comms) that should have been fixed long ago. Here’s analysis from 2011 saying wind is a major factor in container ship engineering only getting worse:

…the amount of hours with troubling winds and loss of productivity on a container terminal due to wind will double. Increase of wind pressure The increase in world sea trade causes an increase in port equipment and vessel size. For example, the 9500 TEU container vessel commissioned in 2005 is almost ten times the capacity of the first generation container vessels of 1962. This also affects the size of the cranes. The effect of wind increases due to larger wind surfaces of cranes and vessels, but the effect is also augmented because of the extra wind speed at higher altitudes.

And here’s a graphic from analysis in 2013 that modeled steerage loss in rivers due to even light winds.

The effect of the beam wind force for different superstructures. Source: THE SIMULATED EFFECT OF THE WIND ON A 13.300 TEU CONTAINER SHIP, Naval Academy Press 2013

In other words, the ship itself is too tall to avoid thinking of itself as a sail and then stacking containers on top literally becomes an act of creating a permanent sail with predictable effects in wind (e.g. as demonstrated in 2012 wind tunnel experiments).

Source: “Wind Forces on Container Ships” by Ingrid Marie Vincent Andersen. DTU Department of Mechanical Engineering Fluid Mechanics, Coastal and Maritime Engineering

The winds in the 2019 Germany crash were reported as force seven with gusts of force eight (30 knots with gusts to 40 knots). That’s a bit strong (25 knots is the top end of most sailors’ comfort level) but more importantly it was a foreshadowing.

Zum Zeitpunkt der Kollision herrschte Windstärke sieben vor Blankenese – bei Böen der Stärke acht!

The sort of obvious problem is that engineers have come up with designs so tall that in just 30 knot winds (which seems to be the same wind force in Egypt 2021 as in Germany 2019), despite traveling at a blazing 12.8 knots, it couldn’t steer a reliable path.

WindFinder forecasts like this one for the Suez Canal show how a ship’s bridge would be well aware of risks.

That’s why I say their ship operated like a drunken sailor on ice, twice!

Vessel Head to Wind with Headway. Source: Knowledge of Sea

This is a metaphor for engineering mismanagement by not thinking ahead about design decisions relative to the very well known natural environment.

Bigger is not better. Also patches need to happen faster. Lack of planning and a failure to respond to earlier warnings leads to… bigger disasters.

Some reports include the point that the ship experienced a power outage when it lost steerage. Others dispute this. Power loss maybe complicates matters but the ship should still have had fine steerage (let alone ability to drop anchor).

Some reports include the point that the wind caused visibility issues because of sand. This doesn’t sound right to me as the ship ran aground precisely on 23 March 05:45am and sunrise on this day was 05:50am. Visibility before sunrise?

It comes back to the ship was so wide, tall and long it lacked an ability to stay pointed at 12.8 knots of momentum in flat water. I mean 30 knot winds would be unusually strong for the canal (let alone gusts to 50 knots), which reportedly sees 5-10 knots year round, but it’s something that engineers should have planned for especially after the 2019 crash.

Steerage in constrained space is a major problem for nautical engineers, such as a river where the ship moves too fast for micro course corrections and too slow for major course corrections (and of course lacks brakes). For a ship this size 30 knot winds wouldn’t mean a thing in open water, but in a river underway in-between slow and fast controls it’s a recipe for disaster.

This is how the drift looked, tracked in a VesselFinder video:

The ship starts to slide to port and compensates with over steering towards starboard. Its stern then spins towards port, which maybe is expected from wind pressure changing, driving the bow increasingly starboard into the canal bank.

Also let’s be honest, 12.8 knots sounds unusually high for a ship in this canal. What was it thinking? That decision rendered her bow thrusters and low-speed controls useless (as speed increases thrusters become less effective and rudders become more effective) meaning it was going so fast it needed lightning speed reaction times of complex geometry by human pilots to course correct.

Perhaps that’s the real investigation here? (Not saying automated pilots would do better, but calculations of known factors like wind speed, direction and rudder/engine adjustments can be made faster by machines)

Now for the opposite perspective. People say they didn’t see such a looming disaster coming.

Images showed the ship’s bow was touching the eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against the western wall – an extraordinary event that experts said they had never heard of happening before in the canal’s 150-year history.

Nobody has heard of a ship going sideways so far that it touches both banks? This ship is so big it had very little time before it was touching both. Many ships have certainly run aground (e.g. 2017 another very new massive ship was stuck in the Suez).

I guess you put those two facts together and the past could have easily predicted the present.

Source: Airbus Pleiades intelligence satellite

Note the unlimited fetch (unobstructed path) for wind along the canal in the images where the ship is stuck. A 30 knot wind is a much more solid force when there are no trees or buildings, as disturbances in flow significantly reduce power.

A couple more interesting points here.

Being aground as she is, all the way up on the eastern bank, and she’s listing to port, it’s very hard to be able to pull her off. They’re in a very dangerous, precarious position too, with both ends of the vessel on the beach there’s a potential for the vessel to sag in the middle. If they cannot get her off that position with the tugs, they’re going to have to start removing fuel out of her, and then containers, but the difficulty with getting the containers off her is she’s so high, so tall, that it would be very difficult to get the correct size cranes in there.

The ship being so tall also impacts the ability to off-load it to get it off the ground. Cranes afloat probably will not be tall enough (because if they were tall enough they also might be blown over by winds).

And the ship being so long means it could end up sagging with both ends aground but the middle in deep canal water.

Pressing tugs against the middle of the ship while the bow and stern are stuck on land could be a structural nightmare. Did engineers think about that too? I would bet not.

This story has many lessons and insights about engineering that hopefully will be studied in great detail to change the future in terms of ethical product management. It is almost exactly a repeat of the kind of thing meant to be avoided by studying the 1940 collapse of a bridge during high wind.

Just four months after Galloping Gertie failed, a professor of civil engineering at Columbia University, J. K. Finch, published an article in Engineering News-Record that summarized over a century of suspension bridge failures. Finch declared, ‘These long-forgotten difficulties with early suspension bridges clearly show that while to modern engineers, the gyrations of the Tacoma bridge constituted something entirely new and strange, they were not new — they had simply been forgotten.’ … An entire generation of suspension-bridge designer-engineers forgot the lessons of the 19th century.

The lessons forgotten here are obviously related to how a boat on water with a giant sail (fixed or otherwise) tends to sail like a sailboat when the wind blows. The solutions, pun intended, will be found in improved bridge resource management.

the poetry of information security