On vaccines and a brave new (old?) world of polio, measels and whopping cough

Between 2008 and 2014 there has been a 6000% percentage increase in vaccine preventable deaths. Why? Because parents no longer give their kids the vaccines of the standard vaccination program due to ideas of vaccines being harmful.

Out of 12000 annual whooping cough cases worldwide, 5000 are in California [1]. Worldwide in the last 6 years there have been over 1.2 million deaths that would have been prevented fi they’d been given vaccines [2].

In Oregon and West Virgina, vaccine coverage has dropped below herd immunity [3,4]. Loosing herd immunity leads to deaths among both unvaccinated individuals (who might want to vaccines but can’t get them due to cost, immigration status, access and many other reasons) as well as vaccinated individuals for whom the vaccine isn’t 100% effective [5].

So, supposedly “informed” and “conscious” parents opt out of vaccines, ensuring that people with either poor immunity, poor vaccine cover or lack of access to vaccines die from “their” choices.

And on the basis of what? Often things like that study about vaccines and autism is quoted… well that one could never be repeated by anyone else and was recently retracted as complete and utter bullshit (“study leader Andrew Wakefield, MD, and two colleagues acted ‘dishonestly’ and ‘irresponsibly’ in conducting their research”) [6].

Here’s an interactive map to illustrate the extent of our problems with vaccine preventable death (notice those clusters, like the one in the middle of Sweden? That’s how vaccines spread, they infect groups or clusters of people and that’s why herd immunity is so important):

But yeah, a world with smallpox, measels, polio, spanish flu etc. would be a much better world wouldn’t it? A more natural one I’d say…

  1. http://magazine.good.is/articles/vaccination-preventable-disease-map
  2. http://www.cfr.org/interactives/GH_Vaccine_Map/index.html
  3. http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/08/low-state-vaccine-rates
  4. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/too-many-children-go-unvaccinated/
  5. http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/08/26/vaccine-exemptions-in-california-threate/
  6. http://www.webmd.com/children/vaccines/news/20100202/study-linking-autism-to-vaccine-retracted

If only the original inhabitants had had an ad-agency like that

It’s remarkable that states – especially those which have sprung up as a result of migration – takes this kind of stance, with this type of communication. I could, perhaps, understand “there are legal and safe routes to migrate to Australia, please don’t get on a boat”. But: “No matter who you are or where you are from, you will not make Australia your home”?

If you want to enjoy the full nastiness of their ad-campaign click through here.

Peace prizes are given to those who fit in with the narrative

Obama and Malala are both together against the ‘medieval’ Taliban.

While not diminishing anything about the bravery of a girl taking a bullet to the head for her wish to go to school, lets make sure it doesn’t create blind-spots.

The prizes, attention and celebration is – whether they intend to be or not – a part of a very specific narrative and alternative ones are certainly possible – on the other side of the Taliban stands a violent force as well.

Malala and Nabila: worlds apart

What does Hamas want?

Can’t say much about the veracity of these, but supposedly they are coming from Hamas sources and have been given to Egyptian negotiators. They are requirements for the signing of a 10 year peace.

The ten conditions were translated by The Electronic Intifada from an Arabic version published by Ma’an News Agency:

  1. Mutual cessation of the war and withdrawal of tanks to previous locations and the return of farmers to work their land in the agricultural border areas.

  2. Release of all the Palestinians detained since 23 June 2014 and improvement of the conditions of Palestinian prisoners, especially the prisoners from Jerusalem, Gaza and Palestinians of the interior [present-day Israel].

  3. Total lifting of the siege of Gaza and opening the border crossings to goods and people and allowing in all food and industrial supplies and construction of a power plant sufficient to supply all of Gaza.

  4. Construction of an international seaport and an international airport supervised by the UN and non-biased countries.

  5. Expansion of the maritime fishing zone to 10 kms and supplying fishermen with larger fishing and cargo vessels.

  6. Converting the Rafah crossing into an international crossing under supervision of the UN and Arab and friendly countries.

  7. Signing a 10-year truce agreement and deployment of international monitors to the borders.

  8. A commitment by the occupation government not to violate Palestinian airspace and easing of conditions for worshipers in al-Aqsa mosque.

  9. The occupation will not interfere in the affairs of the Palestinian government and will not hinder national reconciliation.

  10. Restoration of the border industrial areas and their protection and development.

via Palestinian factions reportedly set 10 conditions for 10-year truce with Israel | The Electronic Intifada.

Israeli PM: There can be no state for Palestinians

Netanyahu has stressed often in the past that he doesn’t want Israel to become a binational state — implying that he favors some kind of accommodation with and separation from the Palestinians. But on Friday he made explicit that this could not extend to full Palestinian sovereignty. Why? Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.The priority right now, Netanyahu stressed, was to “take care of Hamas.” But the wider lesson of the current escalation was that Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria.”

 

Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”Earlier this spring, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sparked a storm in Israel-US ties when he told a private gathering that the US-Kerry-Allen security proposals weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Netanyahu on Friday said the same, and more, in publicNot relinquishing security control west of the Jordan, it should be emphasized, means not giving a Palestinian entity full sovereignty there. It means not acceding to Mahmoud Abbas’s demands, to Barack Obama’s demands, to the international community’s demands.

 

This is not merely demanding a demilitarized Palestine; it is insisting upon ongoing Israeli security oversight inside and at the borders of the West Bank. That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state. A less-than-sovereign entity? Maybe, though this will never satisfy the Palestinians or the international community. A fully sovereign Palestine? Out of the question.He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible.

 

This was not a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance.Naming both US Secretary of State John Kerry and his security adviser Gen. John Allen — who was charged by the secretary to draw up security proposals that the US argued could enable Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley — Netanyahu hammered home the point: Never mind what the naive outsiders recommend, “I told John Kerry and General Allen, the Americans’ expert, ‘We live here, I live here, I know what we need to ensure the security of Israel’s people.’”

via Netanyahu finally speaks his mind | The Times of Israel.

Who’s the aggressor?

The chart below depicts a few things; Israeli cease-fire violations, Palestinian projectile launches and Palestinian casualties that resulted from Israeli cease-fire violations week by week of the cease-fire through January 2014. A few notes on the data; first, we refer to “projectiles” because there are different types of projectiles that are deployed, not all are “rockets” and thus “rockets” alone, the preferred parlance of the Israeli state, isn’t an accurate descriptor. Additionally, we are not focusing on each individual piece of ordinance but rather on events. So if one projectile is launched or two are launched together, these are the same event. Likewise, we don’t count each individual piece of ordinance Israel deploys in an airstrike wherein it routinely drops several bombs in a singular event. If we did, the number of Israeli violations would surely be much, much higher. For example, the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, citing the Israeli Shin Bet, notes that nearly 14,000 projectiles were fired from Gaza from 2005 to 2013. UN OCHA noted that Israel fired about the same number of artillery shells into Gaza……in 2006 alone. Lastly, the Shin Bet keeps numbers on Palestinian fire from Gaza but does not differentiate between fire at Israeli targets that have entered Gaza vs. those outside it. Also, it does not have data available at the week level, only the month level. Even using their numbers for Palestinian fire though, Israeli violations outnumber them nearly two to one.

There really is no comparison between Israel’s capacity to destroy and the combined capacity of all the factions in Gaza. The point here is to understand how the events relate to each other, what leads to escalation, and how this effects the durability of the cease-fire agreement.

Dynamics of Ceasefire

As you can see from the chart, Israeli cease-fire violations have been persistent throughout and have routinely resulted in Palestinian injuries and deaths. Palestinian launches have been rare and sporadic and occurred almost always after successive instances of Israeli cease-fire violations. You can see a steady escalation from around week 48 and onward. This corresponds with mid-December during which Israel committed several cease-fire violations resulting in multiple Palestinian casualties. There was no Palestinian projectile fire in the two weeks prior to these Israeli violations which inflicted high causalities. This means that this week was the escalation point and it was Israel doing the escalating. You can see that the following weeks continue to feature exchanges that included high Palestinian casualties. You may wonder why you don’t see Israeli casualties from Palestinian projectile fire depicted on this chart, that is because as afar as I can tell, there weren’t any during this period.

via Permission to Narrate: Israel/Gaza Cease-Fire Dynamics Breakdown.

This is not a situation of two equal parties

The latest increase in violence between Israel and Gaza, which has lasted for more than a week now, seems to have caused its first Israeli casualty [Jerusalem Post]. A rabbi hit by shrapnel from an Hamas rocket, fired at a Israeli Defence Force location at the Erez Crossing. One of the few crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel [Interactive Map, B’tselem]. A place which can hardly been considered civilian by any means [images.google.com].

Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, 172 Palestinians have been killed. 34 of them (that’s about 20%) minors [B’tselem] (178 deaths according to UNOCHA). As of yesterday, 72 schools, 7 health facilities and over 1200 homes had been destroyed. 17,000 have taken shelter in UNRWA schools. 77% of deaths (all – bar one – who were Palestinian) have been civilian. [UNOCHA].

Meanwhile, some Israelis are feeling safe enough to engage in Sderot cinema. Eating popcorn while watching kids being bombed to pieces [Allan Sørensen, Twitter].

There can be absolutely no question of it. This is not a question of two equal parties that need to negotiate and sort out there differences. This is a question of one militarily supremely superior state, using its force to kill and repress another. While “light injuries” and stress is, I am sure, affecting citizens of Tel Aviv right now, the numbers alone show how this no comparison to what is going in Gaza. Eyewitness accounts bears this out [Gurdian].

Gaza Tel

“War on drugs”

After the SWAT team broke down the door, they threw a flashbang grenade inside. It landed in my son’s crib.Flashbang grenades were created for soldiers to use during battle. When they explode, the noise is so loud and the flash is so bright that anyone close by is temporarily blinded and deafened. It’s been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby, and he’s still covered in burns.There’s still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs. At least that’s what I’ve been told; I’m afraid to look.My husband’s nephew, the one they were looking for, wasn’t there. He doesn’t even live in that house. After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers – armed with M16s – filed through the house like they were playing war. They searched for drugs and never found any.I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.

via A SWAT team blew a hole in my 2-year-old son – Salon.com.

Who do you need to worry about?

Recently, I heard that information security had been the topic of discussion at a meeting of political activists here in Kolkata. This should not surprise anyone – with all the publicity that information security has got in the past year – mainly thanks to Snowden’s leaked documents – the awareness that information security might be an issue has now reached “the general public”. Of course, among information technology people it has been clear that this is an important topic for a very long time – most famously there were the “cryptowars” of the 1990s1.

Unfortunately, a lot of the public debate about information security post-Snowden tends to take the route of fear-mongering and knee-jerk responses. This can happen either out of lack of knowledge (not knowing the threat, tools or other responses available), good intentions (IT professionals have been struggling for decades to explain and ensure that people use the information security tools available to them: the current climate of “fear” might be deemed helpful in such activism) or out of less-than-good-intentions (IT professionals spot an opportunity to sell consultancy and/or software).

In the end, the revelations by Snowden doesn’t mean very much for the average computer user or activist. In fact, the needle hasn’t moved very far in terms of the capabilities that corporations, internet providers, governments or “National Security Agencies” are presumed/known to have. Certainly, Snowden’s documents did provide confirmation of things that many people have long suspected, and the scope and reach of the monitoring programs stipulated in them were definitely astounding. However, the programs and systems that came to light from these documents should primarily serve as an eye opener and perhaps a motivator to engage with information security practices that every campaigner, NGO or activist (or even regular old computer user) should already have begun to learn about.

Thus, before we begin, let’s take a deep breath and realise that in the “post-Snowden era” not that much have changed for you, likely to be an average computer user. The things you need to take into account, and the behaviours you need to adopt are not that different now than they were two years ago. Certainly, your awareness that something “needs to be done” might have changed – but the basic strategies for “what” needs to be done are broadly the same. The upside of this is that the knowledge and the tools of how to respond to the information security threats you face are already available within the IT community.

So, if you are in the position where you don’t know so much in depth about computers or information technology, but you rely on them on a daily basis to undertake research, activism or even just spreading opinions online what are you to do?

First option is to ignore this and state that the Snowden revelations and information security has little to do with you. As explained above, there is some truth to this as nothing much has changed in terms of the threats you are facing. However, even two years ago any information technology professional could have told you that you probably ought to learn more about and understand better ways in which you are managing and protecting your information. So, using this new situation as a motivator to act, you can respond in two broad ways.

A second option is to radically reduce who, when and what you communicate online or what activities you use your computer for. This would involve not only limiting your usage of any Internet communication, but also any digital storage whether on your laptop, external hard drives, USB memories or CDs. That certainly will limit your and your organisation’s exposure, but at the same time that also puts limitations both to the reach of your work in terms of audience, but also your ability to organise yourself and others as well as work effectively. In some cases, this might not hamper your cause much, in which case it might be an appropriate approach to take, but in many cases I believe that computers and the Internet is massively helpful in spreading knowledge and opinions as well as organising people, materials and work.

So, the second option is to apply a reasonable approach to information security. Now, there are many, many, details to this, and I’ll attempt at summarising some items here on this blog in a few blog entries over the next couple of weeks, however the first important realisation is: there is no perfect information security.

Basically, our assumption should be that a sufficiently motivated adversary (more on this shortly) will be able to access your digital materials in some way or the other. This might not be by means of accessing your digital content without you being aware (via some massive computer monitoring network). It could equally well be reached by legal means, say through court orders, or even simply by forcing/tricking/asking you to give up the information voluntarily. That there is the second important realisation: many threats to the security of your information will not come from technological means. They will come from behavioural or legal threats. Case in point: a virus that successfully attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges originally infected the control computers (which weren’t attached to the Internet) via surprisingly simple technology – USB memories2.

With this in mind, in order to develop a strategy to protect our information, the first thing we have to understand is who do we want to protect our information from?  Some examples:

  1. Other NGOs or organisations
  2. Corporates
  3. The US government and NSA
  4. Our government
  5. Our state government
  6. Local police officers
  7. Staff or other people in connection with our work
  8. Our employer
  9. Newspapers or media
  10. Random “hackers” who enjoy finding secret information and sharing it / exploiting it
  11. Automated attack tools (viruses, trojan horses, etc.) that can steal your passwords, use your accounts to post spam or similar

Then, we need to decide: what do we want to protect? This goes for both “what content” (my Facebook posts, emails, emails to a specific group of people, documents stored on my hard drive, my website or blog, etc.) as well as “what type of protection” (more on that below). Some examples of what we might want to protect:

  1. The very fact that we are communicating with a person or a group at all (called “metadata” – think of it as the sender/recipient of email, the subject lines, and maybe the dates and times)
  2. What webpages we visited
  3. The content of such communication, for example an actual email or content of a group post or blog post
  4. That the blog posts or Facebook posts we send are really sent from us and hasn’t been changed by anybody – that is it’s fine if anybody reads it, but we want to ensure it isn’t changed and that it was really sent by
  5. The accessibility of information, that is that the data or information we have published or have stored is always accessible to everybody who needs it.
  6. The list of members of a mailing list or Facebook group
  7. Registers, excel sheets or notes on our hard drive

Finally, when it comes to “what type of protection” in information security terms we speak about authenticity, confidentiality, integrity, availability and anonymity. In simple terms: authenticity means being able to prove that the data, document, message or other information really came from the source it claims to have come, confidentiality that only the people who have the right to read it actually does, accessibility that the information is always accessible to the people who needs it at all times and anonymity that the source (e.g publisher, sender, location of person sending it, etc.) of the information is kept unknown.

As you can see, some of these can be difficult to combine. For example, it might be hard to ensure both authenticity and anonymity at the same time (in that case we often talk about “pseudonymity”).

The questions above need to be fully considered before you even decide what tools or behaviours to adopt. The easiest way is to make a list or table of “what content”, “what protection”, “from whom”. Then, you can think about what the “default rule” should be. For example, content which I don’t feel a need to explicitly protect, I still don’t want random people accessing in any which way they like. Thus, I need to protect all data with at least a minimum level of protection. This can be stated as simple as “I don’t want my internet service provider to be able to read any of my internet traffic” or “I want the contents of my USB pen drive to be readable by me only” or “anything on my blog can be read by anyone, but I want to ensure no one can post to it” or “I want to make it hard enough for a random person in the office to not be able to read it”.

Certainly, if the NSA are willing to expend some resources to read a message to my sister about how the monsoon is progressing that might not be such a big problem. At least it’s not a big enough problem for me to expend any active energy to hide it. However, I still wouldn’t want my neighbour to be able to read it.

In the next post, I will start discussing simple tools and behaviours (tools are not all!) to ensure authenticity, confidentiality and integrity of your information. I will focus on local actors, that is other people in your vicinity (whether “virtual vicinity” or physically close to you), your employer or organisation or perhaps even local government, police or other state actors. Now, beware that in order to beat “government” type resources, you will need to adopt a) stringent behavioural changes and b) relatively complex technological tools. If these are your requirements, you probably need external help and consultancy. Additionally, if you are trying to protect yourself against serious government attention and effort, probably your protection will lie more in legal means than in information security ones. In many countries, law enforcement have the right to get you to give up passwords or keys rendering many technical modes of protection useless.

Most likely, it is not active interest from government (as some of the most surprising revelations by Snoweden touched on) you are protecting yourself against but rather the continuous, and often “passive”, erosion of privacy by all levels of government, corporations or even individuals. When it comes to active (actively targeting you) adversaries they are much more likely to be local and exploit the very real truth that much of your digital data and communication is currently unprotected, both from unauthorised access, modification, publication or deletion by anybody with minimal resources.

This is the first post in a series I plan to write. I am mostly writing this to have something to refer to when it comes up for discussion, and I hope it will be useful for anybody with the energy to read through it all.

1 Where the US government attempted to maintain capacity to decrypt foreign communications by establishing export restrictions on software which implemented such encryption.

2 USB memories were dropped by spys in the parking lots of the nuclear facilities, with the expectation that the people working in these facilities would do what most of us would, pick them up, plug them in our computers and check the contents to see if we can return them to their owners.
 

Foreign-funded NGOs stalling development

NEW DELHI: An Intelligence Bureau report has accused “foreign-funded” NGOs such as Greenpeace, Cordaid, Amnesty and ActionAid of “serving as tools for foreign policy interests of western governments” by sponsoring agitations against nuclear and coal-fired power plants across the country.

The NGOs, said to be working through a network of local organizations such as PUCL and Narmada Bachao Andolan, have negatively impacted GDP growth by 2-3%, claims the IB report sent to the PMO and other government agencies.

via Foreign-funded NGOs stalling development: IB report – The Times of India.

With the newly elected government in place, the Shining Path of Development has begun to make its way forward. Apparently NGOs have received letters putting in question their FCRA status (whether or not they are allowed to take funds from abroad or not), so that we can ensure that they do no such thing as oppose environmental destruction or other critical development projects such as SEZ, nuclear power plants or hydropower dams.