Thursday 18 June, 2020

Quote of the day

“Our bodies process so much context, so much information, in encounters, that meeting on video is being a weird kind of blindfolded. We sense too little and can’t imagine enough.”

  • Gianpiero Petriglieri, INSEAD

Which is one reason why video-conferencing is so tiring.

John Bolton tells all… maybe

Bolton’s book about his time as Trump’s sidekick is out. (Well, publication date is next week but it’s already #1 on Various newspapers have had a copy, and are all busily extracting juicy bits from it. Here for example, is a chunk from the New York Times.

While other books by journalists, lower-level former aides and even an anonymous senior official have revealed much about the Trump White House, Mr. Bolton’s volume is the first tell-all memoir by such a high-ranking official who participated in major foreign policy events and has a lifetime of conservative credentials. It is a withering portrait of a president ignorant of even basic facts about the world, susceptible to transparent flattery by authoritarian leaders manipulating him and prone to false statements, foul-mouthed eruptions and snap decisions that aides try to manage or reverse.

Mr. Trump did not seem to know, for example, that Britain was a nuclear power and asked if Finland was a part of Russia, Mr. Bolton writes. The president never tired of assailing allied leaders and came closer to withdrawing the United States from NATO than previously known. He said it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela.

At times, Mr. Trump seemed to almost mimic the authoritarian leaders he appeared to admire. “These people should be executed,” Mr. Trump once said of journalists. “They are scumbags.” When Mr. Xi explained why he was building concentration camps in China, the book says, Mr. Trump “said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.” He repeatedly badgered Mr. Barr to prosecute former Secretary of State John F. Kerry for talking with Iran in what he insisted was a violation of the Logan Act.

In the face of such behavior, even top advisers who position themselves as unswervingly loyal mock Mr. Trump behind his back. During the president’s 2018 meeting with North Korea’s leader, according to the book, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped Mr. Bolton a note disparaging the president, saying, “He is so full of shit.” A month later, Mr. Bolton writes, Mr. Pompeo dismissed the president’s North Korea diplomacy, declaring that there was “zero probability of success.”

Three observations about this…

  1. So what’s new here? The number of people who didn’t know that Trump was a pig-ignorant, narcissistic, authoritarian creep must by now be vanishingly small. So Bolton’s USP (expressed in the title of his tome) is that he “Was There” — right there in the room with the crybaby-in-chief.

  2. On the scumbag scale, Bolton ranks pretty high. Even Trump thought so — although, according to Michael Wolf (I think) that was initially because he didn’t like Bolton’s moustache. This may be the first time I’ve ever agreed with Trump. He was, as Daniel Lazare observed, “a hawk’s hawk, a militarist who never saw a U.S. war of aggression he didn’t like”.

  3. As Anne Applebaum observed on Twitter:

“He could have spoken to Robert Mueller. He could have given evidence in the House. >He could have convened Republican Senators — they would have listened to him — to tell them how dangerous the president is. Instead he stayed silent…”

“All of his life he thought he was pushing America’s interests around the world. But when he had the opportunity to do something truly important for America — to torpedo this disastrous presidency — he failed.”

I’m not sure that if Bolton had testified it would have made that much difference. After the House of Representatives voted to impeach him, he was apparently willing to testify to the Senate if subpoenaed. But Republican senators blocked that. Bolton may have been relieved by that, given that not testifying would guarantee bigger sales for his book.

Does Trump Want to Fight for a Second Term? His Self-Sabotage Worries Aides

This NYT story might just be an outbreak of wishful thinking.

In a recent meeting with his top political advisers, President Trump was impatient as they warned him that he was on a path to defeat in November if he continued his incendiary behavior in public and on Twitter.

Days earlier, Mr. Trump had sparked alarm by responding to protests over police brutality with a threat that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Mr. Trump pushed back against his aides. “I have to be myself,” he replied, according to three people familiar with the meeting. A few hours later, he posted on Twitter a letter from his former personal lawyer describing some of the protesters as “terrorists.”

In those moments, and in repeated ones since then, the president’s customary defiance has been suffused with a heightened sense of agitation as he confronts a series of external crises he has failed to contain, or has exacerbated, according to people close to him. They say his repeated acts of political self-sabotage — a widely denounced photo-op at a church for which peaceful protesters were forcibly removed, a threat to use the American military to quell protests — have significantly damaged his re-election prospects, and yet he appears mostly unable, or unwilling, to curtail them.

Personally, I wouldn’t count any of those chickens.

Zoom decided to extend end-to-end encryption to non-paying users

From the Verge:

Zoom says it will begin allowing users of its videoconferencing software to enable end-to-end encryption of calls starting with a beta next month, the company announced on Wednesday. The feature won’t be restricted to paid enterprise users, either. It’s coming to both free and paid users, Zoom says, and it will be a toggle switch any call admin can turn on or disable, in the event they want to allow traditional phone lines or older conference room phones to join.

The company said as recently as early June that it might not be able to enable end-to-end encryption for free users out of concern that the app could be used for unlawful activity. Strong encryption would make it difficult for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to access the data on free calls.

And this from the Zoom blog:

Today, Zoom released an updated E2EE design on GitHub. We are also pleased to share that we have identified a path forward that balances the legitimate right of all users to privacy and the safety of users on our platform. This will enable us to offer E2EE as an advanced add-on feature for all of our users around the globe – free and paid – while maintaining the ability to prevent and fight abuse on our platform.

To make this possible, Free/Basic users seeking access to E2EE will participate in a one-time process that will prompt the user for additional pieces of information, such as verifying a phone number via a text message. Many leading companies perform similar steps on account creation to reduce the mass creation of abusive accounts. We are confident that by implementing risk-based authentication, in combination with our current mix of tools — including our Report a User function — we can continue to prevent and fight abuse.

Smart move. Interesting to see how the company responds to pressure from users. Unlike some tech giants.

When/if the current crisis is over, Zoom will have a commanding position in the online-conferencing space. Which means that one of the tech giants will try to acquire them. At which point we will see if governments are serious in reining in tech monopolies.

Quarantine diary — Day 89


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