Is Sam Bankman-Fried Playing ‘League of Legends’ While FTX Burns?

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 06:37

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire is in ruins and he says he’s in the Bahamas after early reports that he’d fled to Argentina. And while the crypto market crashes, a viral tweet claimed that Bankman-Fried was playing a few League of Legends games. “SBF is playing League of Legends while FTX crumbles around him and the authorities close in you could not make this up,” Parik Patel, a crypto parody account, said on Twitter. He posted a screenshot purporting to show Bankman-Fried in a League game.

But is that really SBF’s League of Legends account? And why would a man everyone is looking for taking time out of his busy schedule of avoiding repercussions to play a ranked League match on an account people know belongs to him?

For starters, the League account with the username SBF probably isn’t Bankman-Fried. There are lots of accounts across multiple servers with some variation and combination of the letters “SBF” and “FTX” and “TSM.” TSM is an esports company associated with Bankman-Fried. It’s common for a League player to have multiple accounts on different servers, but it’s impossible to know if any of them belong to Bankman-Fried. Shitposters are having fun with that ambiguity.

Some of these screenshots are from accounts probably not related to Bankman-Fried. Others, like the one from C207, are fake. But Bankman-Fried does play League of Legends. One of the legends people told about him was that he was playing a game during a big pitch meeting with Sequoia. According to reports, a partner walked over during the meeting and realized “the fucker was playing League of Legends through the entire meeting.”

Bankman-Fried also tweeted about League of Legends. “I play a lot more than you’d expect for someone who routinely trades off sleep vs work,” he said in 2021 on Twitter. “Why? Well there’s one answer, which is the obvious one. The single most universal thing about LoL is that everyone who plays it says they wish they didn’t.”

Bankman-Fried has revealed his account name before. In June of 2021, he joked that he was part of the TSM team and revealed the name of one of his accounts and his avatar. There is an account with that name and avatar on the Japanese servers, but it hasn’t played since September. An account with that name and a different avatar on the North American server is active. But again, there’s no reason to believe this is actually Bankman-Fried’s account.

If the North American TSM FTX SBF account is him, it means the FTX founder has a decent ranking in the game. He’s a platinum 1 in ranked solo and a diamond 2 in ranked flex. But this isn’t the account that’s being shared around. People want to believe some of these other accounts with lower rankings are Bankman-Fried.

“The silliest part of this whole thing is that SBF was pretty garbage at league,” delian, a venture capitalist Twitter Blue account, said on Twitter. “You’re worth $16b and play multiple hours a day, can afford world class coaching and still hard stuck on bronze 2? Yikes.” Below, delian posted screenshots from a North American league account with the name SAMBF.

Bankman-Fried has been gaming since the downfall of FTX, however. He told the New York Times he’s been playing Storybook Brawl, a card game that is also mentioned in a now-deleted article written by Sequoia Capital: “He has also found other ways to occupy his time in recent days, playing the video game Storybook Brawl, though less than he usually does,” the New York Times wrote. “‘It helps me unwind a bit,’ he said. ‘It clears my mind.’”

Categories: Tech News

Almost Twice as Many Republicans Died From COVID Before the Midterms Than Democrats

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 06:32

COVID-19 is killing more Republicans than Democrats, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study, titled Excess Death Rates for Republicans and Democrats During the COVID-19 Pandemic, used voter registration and death records to answer a question: is there a link between political affiliation and rates of COVID related death in the U.S.?

The short answer is yes. “In 2018 and the early parts of 2020, excess death rates for Republicans and Democrats are similar, and centered around zero,” the study said. “Both groups experienced a similar large spike in excess deaths in the winter of 2020-2021. However, in the summer of 2021—after vaccines were widely available—the Republican excess death rate rose to nearly double that of Democrats, and this gap widened further in the winter of 2021.”

The study attributes this to the vaccine uptake disparity between Republicans and Democrats, which has been widely documented as more Republicans refused to take the vaccine; the most vocal anti-vax voices were Republican politicians and some conservative news outlets: “The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available,” the study notes.

Is it possible that anti-vax Republicans dying from COVID affected the midterms? “If Republicans are dying in increased numbers relative to their Democratic colleagues in a political climate where there are so many close electoral contests, could that have been the decider in a particular particular race?” Jason L. Schwartz, an associate professor of Health Policy at the School of Public Health at Yale and one of the authors of the study, told Motherboard. “Our study can't answer that. But it certainly seems plausible given just how stark the differences in vaccination rates have been, among Democrats and Republicans.”

Philip Bump at the Washington Post looked at this same data and posits that COVID deaths did not affect the midterms and suggests that even asking the question is a “grotesque effort to score political points.” However, with so many House races still too close to call and voting margins razor-thin in many important races, it is worth trying to understand if COVID-19 and vaccine rates had any effect on the races.

Schwartz said that he and his colleagues wanted to look at something that hadn’t been carefully studied before. “Could we actually drill down at the level of individuals—in this case of individual death rates—and see whether or not politicization could be linked to mortality,” he said. “So far, it looks like there really is a signal here, particularly linked to the availability of vaccines.”

Schwartz and his colleagues started with voter registration data in Florida and Ohio from 2017. Then they looked at data from Datavent, an organization that provides privacy-preserving information linked to data from the Social Security Administration. The researchers connected all this data to information from funeral homes, newspapers and other resources to build a database of annual U.S. deaths.

The research discovered that excess deaths between Democrats and Republicans remained steady in the early part of the pandemic then began to separate after vaccines were widely available. Schwartz said the reasons why were beyond the remit of the study, but speculated that early COVID prevention measures were government-driven while the vaccine required someone to make a personal choice.

“If you think about the pre-vaccine period…those were times where a lot of measures in place to mitigate the virus were top-down government policy. “Schools closing, football games played in empty stadiums, or restrictions on large indoor gatherings. There were absolutely political divides about those policies,” he said. “But in some cases they were harder for the individual to avoid…once vaccines were on the scene, that really did shift things into that individual choice domain.”

The excess death rate difference isn’t small.  “In the summer of 2021—after vaccines were widely available—the Republican excess death rate rose to nearly double that of Democrats, and this gap widened further in the winter of 2021,” the study said. This rose to a 153% difference after all adults could take the vaccine in Florida and Ohio.

This data is part of an early study and doesn’t paint the whole picture. “Our study has several limitations. First, our mortality data, while detailed and recent, only includes approximately 80 percent of deaths in the US. However, excess death patterns in our data are similar to those in other reliable sources,” the study said. “Second, because we did not have information on an individual’s vaccination status, analyses of the association between vaccination rates and excess deaths relied on county-level vaccination rates. Third, our study is based on data from the only states where we could obtain voter registration information (Florida and Ohio); hence, our results may not generalize to other states.”

The pandemic also isn’t over. The vaccines have stopped a lot of people from getting COVID, but vaccine rates in deep red parts of the U.S. are still low. “If these differences in vaccination by political party affiliation persist, then the higher excess death rate among Republicans is likely to continue through the subsequent stages of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study said.

Categories: Tech News

Worried about your datacenter carbon footprint? Why not put it orbit?

The Register - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 06:05
No atmosphere to pollute, but who's going to go up and change that failed drive?

The European Commission is to carry out a feasibility study on putting datacenters into orbit as part of its wide-ranging Horizon Europe research program, and has now announced companies taking part in the project.…

Categories: Tech News

CYBER: Who Is Sam Bankman-Fried, the ‘Savior’ Who Crashed FTX?

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 06:00

Have you heard about Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX? FTX was the second largest crypto currency exchange in the world and Bankman-Fried was the guy who ran it. He was a young genius, people said. He practiced something called “effective altruism,” gave away money to people on the street, played video games, and was predicted to be the world’s first trillionaire.

Now he’s bankrupt, FTX is in ruins and large amounts of crypto seem to keep shifting around with no explanation. So who was Bankman-Fried? Why did everyone think he was a genius? And how did FTX seemingly make billions of dollars in wealth evaporate overnight.

On this episode of Cyber, Motherboard staff writer Edward Ongweso Jr. tries to answers those questions.

Stories discussed in this episode:

Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX Crypto Empire Is Officially Bankrupt

Sam Bankman-Fried Was Supposed to Be Different. He Wasn't.

FTX Founder: ‘I Fucked Up’

We’re recording CYBER live on Twitch and YouTube. Watch live during the week. Follow us there to get alerts when we go live. We take questions from the audience and yours might just end up on the show. 

Subscribe to CYBER on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Categories: Tech News

QAnon Is Not Very Happy With Trump’s 2024 Announcement

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 05:35

Donald Trump, the twice-impeached former president who tried to overturn the 2020 elections and inspired the violent attack on the Capitol after he lost, tried his best to woo the QAnon crowd during his 2024 campaign announcement speech on Tuesday night.

Not only did he invite QAnon influencers to attend the event at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida, Trump repeated several QAnon dog whistles during the 70-minute long speech, including multiple references to the storm, a well-known trope within the conspiracy movement. But while influential adherents to the movement were thrilled, most QAnon-ers posting on Telegram last night, in fact, reacted angrily to Trump’s announcement. This could be a worrying sign for Trump’s 2024 campaign, coupled with the growing resentment against the former president inside the Republican party after major GOP midterm election losses.

Certainly, the response among the major figures within QAnon, a group of influencers and grifters who have driven the movement in recent years, was almost universally positive. “Make NO mistake…President Trump is absolutely UNSHAKABLE,” an influencer known as QAnon John wrote on his popular Telegram channel, adding: “That’s WHY God picked him.”

 Jordan Sather, a QAnon influencer who uses his popularity within the movement to shill vitamin supplements, also hyped Trump’s return. Sather was actually in the Mar-a-Lago ballroom for the announcement and excitedly wrote on Telegram that during lunch earlier in the day Trump had passed his table and gave the group a thumbs up.

But for rank-and-file QAnon supporters, who have spent the last two years loudly voicing their anger at having the 2020 election stolen, the announcement was a bitter blow. The majority, who voiced their opinions on Telegram channels and fringe message boards, viewed Trump’s speech as a tacit admission that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen.

“Does he seriously think there will be anyone left to vote in two years, or better yet, that our country will even be viable?!!! We will NOT make it two more years! This is a flippin joke! I don't know about you guys but I'm pissed! The storm is coming…in two years,” one member of a popular QAnon forum wrote on Telegram after Trump’s speech.

“Patriots aren’t in control of anything, the cabal is,” another wrote.

Others were even less conciliatory: “I'm fucking done with this political shit show and WILL NEVER VOTE AGAIN! FUCK POLITICS AND THE NAZI REGIME,” one Telegram user wrote.

Some influencers tried to quell the concern. But after QAnon John suggested in a post  that Trump’s abandoning of the 2020 election denier claims was all part of the plan, one Telegram user responded,  “Trump pissed off a LOT of people tonight. Never thought my loyalty would be challenged by the Dems, but Instead from Trump himself. We will NOT wait until 2024. Trump conceded tonight. It's over. Trump being "one of them" seems much more plausible now.”

When one major QAnon group posted a message suggesting that Trump had prevented election fraud in 2016 when he was first voted into office and would do so again in 2024, a follower of the group angrily replied: “If they could've stopped the fraud, why didn't he in 2020 or 2022? Stop it.”

But of course, as always with QAnon, some members of the movement still tried to find hope in the former president’s announcement. 

One conspiracy that took hold in the hours after Trump’s speech was claimed he never mentioned 2024—though that isn’t true. 

“Everyone go rewatch his speech. Nowhere did he say 2024. Remember it's a movie we are watching,” one QAnon believer wrote. Another user who supported this baseless claim cited a conspiracy made popular by sovereign citizens, who believe that they are not subject to the laws of the United States because it’s a corporation rather than a republic.

“Patriots, sleep easy tonight,” the user wrote on Telegram. “Trump is looking for our vote in 2023, not 2024.  He never said 2024. A 2024 election belongs to the Corporation. It’s dead.”

Trump’s efforts to remain in the White House in 2020 have triggered multiple legal investigations. Earlier this year, the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago home in order to recover boxes of classified documents the former president allegedly illegally took with him when he left office.

Categories: Tech News

Investor tells Google: Cut costs now and stop paying staff so much

The Register - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 05:27
Also wants Alphabet to slash losses in Waymo division, buy back shares, lots of them

Activist investor TCI Fund Management is calling on Google's parent Alphabet to pursue aggressive cost cutting on the back of a hiring spree during the pandemic, claiming the business could be more efficiently run.…

Categories: Tech News

Spent Chinese Long 6A rocket spews over 50 pieces of space junk

The Register - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 04:30
Tiangong, ISS, and SpaceX satellites will not be affected, according to China's Foreign Ministry

The spent Long 6A rocket launching China's Yunhai-3 satellite has broken up, scattering over 50 different chunks into low-Earth orbit after it failed to disintegrate completely upon reentry in the atmosphere.…

Categories: Tech News

ISP deploys fiber service with a wrinkle—the users themselves own each network

ARS Technica - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 04:00
A man operates a piece of heavy machinery that installs fiber cables underground.

Enlarge / Horizontal boring equipment installing fiber in Los Altos Hills, California. (credit: Los Altos Hills Community Fiber)

Our recent article about Silicon Valley residents who formed a co-op Internet service provider might have people wondering what it would take to get the same thing in their hometowns. The most obvious obstacle is price—in Los Altos Hills, California, residents have had to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000 upfront for a fiber-to-the-home Internet connection.

But the company that built the Los Altos Hills network says its model isn't just for wealthy people. "This is not the 1 percent solution, as people derisively call it to my face," Next Level Networks CEO David Barron told Ars in a phone interview a few weeks ago. "Los Altos Hills was unique."

Los Altos Hills residents were the first to contract with Next Level Networks, and Barron said the company has "a fairly aggressive expansion plan to go into a number of markets throughout the United States in the next five years."

Read 53 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

Inside the Mexican City That Believes Underwater Aliens Protect It

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 04:00

MIRAMAR BEACH, Tamaulipas — As Tropical Storm Karl formed just a few hundred miles from the coastal cities of Madero and Tampico last month, Beatriz García, a 71-year-old local, wasn’t worried when she saw the news. “I immediately said, ‘they [aliens] are going to protect us.’ And this is what I believe and trust: that they exist, that there is a base,” said García.

Local legend has it that this area in Mexico has been protected from hurricanes and other dangerous storms for over 50 years by extraterrestrials who monitor Earth from an underwater base hidden a few miles off Miramar Beach called Amupac. And Garcia, like many others here, is a believer. While the rumors of underwater alien protectors are unproven, what’s certain is that Tropical Storm Karl took a sharp turn away from that part of the shoreline, and connected further south on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, causing floods in some places, and leading to one death.

Extreme weather events continue to miss these cities, feeding the legend and making Madero and Tampico the epicenter of alien culture in Mexico. Around Miramar Beach especially, the legend of Amupac has become an important driver of the economy and a principal reason some of the tourists flock to the area. Restaurants are named after martians and souvenir stands sell alien stuffed toys next to T-shirts with flying saucers and green men boasting of being the Playa Protegida — “Protected Beach.” And maybe it is.

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-1.jpgStreet stalls along Miramar Beach sell alien souvenirs as locals try to make a buck off the legend of Amupac. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

When García was a girl growing up in the southern tip of the border state of Tamaulipas, she lived through major hurricanes that laid waste to both cities in 1955 and 1966. But the hurricanes suddenly stopped ravaging her part of Mexico after a mysterious event that changed her life.

García said that she and a friend both saw several flying objects in “a formation in the sky,” one evening in 1967. She told her family afterward about it, who downplayed it and suggested that they were just airplanes. “But they couldn’t be planes because of how they manifested, and even the formation: [planes] don’t do that. They were slow and there were lots of them.”

But while her family didn’t see the odd flying objects moving in unison, many others did.

The next day, on August 7, 1967, the local El Sol de Tampico newspaper ran a story with the headline Platillos Voladores Sobre Tampico, or “Flying Saucers Over Tampico” in English. The article claimed that “thousands of inhabitants” witnessed the aerial phenomena and quoted the local airport’s control tower officer who reportedly counted “nine unidentified objects.”

“They came from over there, apparently heading to the sea,” said García, pointing from the direction of Tampico and Madero, over to the waters of Miramar Beach.

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-2.jpgMembers of AICOT and curious onlookers celebrate El Día Ovni Tamaulipas by hosting an informational event about the legend of aliens in the region. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

García was attending an event at the beach called El Día OVNI Tamaulipas on October 25, an unofficial holiday in the state, named after the Spanish acronym for Objeto Volador No Identificado—unidentified flying object. She was dressed in a tie-dye shirt adorned with a flying saucer and the word “believe” on the front. Her adult daughter accompanied her, wearing earrings shaped like little green alien heads. They didn’t seem out of place amid the group of alien enthusiasts.

The event was organized by a group of self-proclaimed alien investigators called the OVNI Scientific Investigation Association of Tamaulipas (AICOT for its Spanish acronym) and held in a small enclave off Miramar Beach’s promenade painted with a mural of the sea. The group placed several blown up images of OVNIs on easels and gave a series of short lectures on recent sightings, ancient Mesoamerican civilizations’ believed contact with extraterrestrials, and the legend of the underwater alien base, Amupac. Not everyone in the region believes AICOT’s claims or approves of their promotion of the existence of Amupac, but they’ve become an important reference point for alien enthusiasts in the area, and around Mexico. 

Juan Carlos Ramón López, the group’s founder and president, is a well-known figure in Mexico’s extraterrestrial scene. He told VICE World News that he visited Amupac nearly a decade ago, during a guided meditation on July 19, 2013, using what he called his “astral body,” which is distinct from the physical.

Amupac, he said, is “intraterrestrial” and “multidimensional,” seemingly made of crystal and some metals, and inhabited by nearly 10 feet tall, thin and light-skinned beings who had a more evolved “consciousness,” with “energy radiating throughout the place.”

“The information that I received in this place is that they are monitoring this stage of this planet,” said López. “And well, for me in particular I can deduce that they are psychologists, scientists who are connected in this reality, but they live in the space of no time.”

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-3b.jpgA sign at Miramar Beach points to various locations around the world, including the OVNI Base 13 kms into the sea. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

While López’s claims about astral travel may seem out there to many non-believers, the study of unidentified aerial phenomena has gained steam in recent years. The U.S. congress recently held its first congressional hearings into so-called UFO sightings in over 50 years after a series of New York Times articles revealed that the government had secretly been investigating unexplainable sightings for years by members of the U.S. armed forces.

Around 300 miles south of Texas in southern Tamaulipas, sightings are reportedly proliferating as well. 

Numerous people at the event claimed to have seen OVNIs or other unexplainable phenomena. One man claimed to have been abducted by aliens in 1992 and taken to a different alien civilization where he learned the secrets of the universe. Another, Juan Abraham Soto, who spent years working on offshore oil platforms in the waters off Miramar Beach and claimed to have seen OVNIs numerous times, hypothesized on why the beings in Amupac have allegedly protected the region from extreme weather.

“I believe that more than protecting us, it’s also that they are protecting themselves,” said Soto.

The unofficial holiday, El Día OVNI Tamaulipas, began essentially as a practical joke to mock the area’s burgeoning legend. A media personality from the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon organized an event called El Día del Marciano (Martian Day) in October 2013, and presented a homemade bust of a green alien head near Miramar Beach. He convinced a few people from the local municipal government to attend the made-up day. Photos of officials wearing government shirts in front of the alien statue went viral around Mexico, with people ridiculing what seemed like a real holiday. The local government distanced itself from the event, and the alien bust promptly disappeared.

But over the following years, López and AICOT have spearheaded a move to legitimize the holiday, and tweak it to reference OVNIs, pronounced as a single two syllable word like ov-knees, instead of Martians. And now, the movement has government support.

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-4.jpgJuan Carlos López, AICOT’s founder and president, claims to have visited Amupac on an astral voyage. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

“We’ve had everyone from children to the elderly that are interested in the subject,” said Nembra Carmen Jiménez, director of tourism for the state government of Tamaulipas, and a member of AICOT.

Jiménez is trying to get the celebratory day official recognition, and helped organize the first ever Holistic Ufological Congress in Tamaulipas in June that brought alien investigators from around the country together in Madero and Tampico.

“People come here exclusively to visit this area…to see these types of phenomenons,” said Jiménez, before correcting herself. “Well, we got rid of the word ‘phenomena’. This type of ‘reality’ that we have here.”

Like others at the event, Jiménez also claimed to have experienced the region’s extraterrestrial neighbors firsthand. “I believe in this. I have seen them since I was 5 years old, I have had contact with a spaceship,” she said. “We are not alone in the universe.”

But not everyone believes in Amupac.

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-map.jpgLegend has it that a secret underwater alien base called Amupac protects Southern Tamaulipas from Hurricanes. (Map: Cath Virginia for VICE World News.)

Javier Francisco Álvarez, the recently retired meteorological harbor master who tracked weather in the region for years, told VICE World News that he was “skeptical” that an underwater alien base steers storms away from southern Tamaulipas. Instead, he said that “the trajectories of these hydrometeorological phenomena are erratic, that is, they do not always hit the same part or in the same place, or enter through the same way, touch land through the same place.”

He mentioned that several other cities along the coast haven’t been hit directly by a hurricane in a long time, not just Madero and Tampico. Álvarez also reiterated another school of thought popular in the region: that the lack of large storms in the area is because the water near the coast of southern Tamaulipas is slightly cooler than further to the north and south in the Gulf of Mexico.

“As the sea water is one or two degrees colder, it manages to pull the mass of air and, consequently, causes the rejection of hurricanes. The air mass that enters through the gulf is diverted towards the coasts of the United States and towards the Isthmus of Tehuantepec [in Southern Mexico],” said Álvarez.

But Álvarez didn’t believe that the region's luck would continue forever.

“The explanation of the Martians has developed into a fun oral tradition that has begun to transcend several generations and create a tourist attraction,” he said. “However, it is important not to blind ourselves to reality by an urban legend and adopt protective measures in the event of the arrival of a hurricane.”

Over the years, the myth of Amupac has grown, especially after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 diverted from hitting Madero and Tampico after meteorologists projected the deadly storm would slam into the region. The storm killed over 300 people and caused billions of dollars in damage across the Caribbean, U.S. and Southern Mexico. By 2005, locals appeared at Miramar Beach holding signs asking for the aliens to protect them as Hurricane Katrina approached. Again, the hurricane connected elsewhere, especially around New Orleans, causing over 1,800 deaths. 

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-5.jpgA foodtruck in Tampico called Marcianito's Burger is one of many businesses inspired by the legend of Amupac. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

Carolina Infante, an official historian in Madero, posed a different theory. She said that in 1967, the same year of the mass OVNI sighting, the city also built a monument to the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. Many religious members of the community believe the protection comes from her, not aliens.

The combination of the two opposing sets of beliefs, she said, have created “something beyond an urban legend. It’s a social phenomenon where people are aware of and believe in superior beings.”

Along Miramar Beach, it's clear which of the two beliefs has become more popular.

“People invariably come to the beach to look for aliens. They also come to look for souvenirs, key chains, T-shirts, hats, bracelets, stuffed animals, anything that has to do with aliens,” said Infante. “Definitely the local people have tried to use this phenomenon to increase their sales.”

Street stalls along the road leading to the beach sell everything you could imagine with an alien theme. Around the two cities, everything from barber shops to restaurants have embraced the imagery. But it’s not just people looking to make a buck.

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-6.jpgTourists enjoy a meal at an alien-themed restaurant at Miramar Beach. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

Around three years ago, a group of graffiti artists began painting murals around the cities with alien heads and the name of their crew — WTA. The group's leader, who asked to only be referred to by his artist name DELO, said their name means “Transforming the World with Art.”

The group originally painted more traditional graffiti of the crew’s name and their tags, but after DELO and others in the crew saw something they couldn’t explain, they began to create alien imagery.

“We were out painting one night, then we saw a light. It was a flash, but it was glowing,” said DELO. “We looked up and then just like that, it completely disappeared.”

The murals, he said, have been received very positively by locals because the majority believe. “We're transforming [the world] now with the concept of aliens. We're turning the world into aliens,” he said.

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-7.jpgA member of the WTA Crew protects his identity with an alien mask while posing in front of a mural near Miramar Beach. (Photo: Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

And some people in Madero and Tampico are taking that idea very literally.

As the sun shone over the tourists on Miramar Beach on a recent October afternoon, many experienced an alien sighting. Sort of. A man and his nephew walked along the sand dressed in alien costumes. The man, known solely as El Marcianito, or The Little Martian in English, has become a staple here. El Marcianito, who asked that his real name not be used, takes photos with visitors, or will fetch and deliver orders from nearby stores and restaurants. Today he is teaching his eight-year-old nephew how to be a “Martian.”

El Marcianito slipped in and out of his alias, at times claiming to be an actual alien that had been expelled from Amupac for having contacts with humans after falling “in love with Miramar Beach.” He claimed that the money he saved up from taking photos with tourists would be used to fix his spaceship so that he could one day return to Amupac.

But at other moments, the man behind the mask acknowledged that he and his family live in a poor part of town, and get by selling fruits and vegetables at a local market. He said that he doesn’t have enough money to own a cell phone. Of one thing he was certain—that aliens exist.

mexico-underwater-aliens-amupac-8.jpgEl Marcianito and his nephew pose with a teenager girl celebrating her quinceañera at Miramar Beach. (Nathaniel Janowitz for VICE World News.)

He said that one night he made contact with aliens during a dream, and after that “I changed distinctly. I wasn’t the person I was before.” Soon after, he began appearing on the beach as El Marcianito, wearing the well-worn alien costume that is forever covered in sand.

Dressed in the oversized costume, El Marcianito reiterated over and over again that the inhabitants of Earth had nothing to fear from aliens: “They are good, they’re not bad.”

“There are many people who believe in us because we are real. We like to take care of this beautiful coast of Miramar, so that nothing enters that could destroy it,” he said. “We are protecting it.”

Categories: Tech News

tsoHost pulls plug on Gridhost service with just 45 days' notice

The Register - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 03:36
Company claims to have emailed customers repeatedly, but many say they didn't receive any

Exclusive  UK hosting outfit tsoHost has shut down its Gridhost platform amid stinging criticism from customers about the 45-day notice period and general way it was handled.…

Categories: Tech News

Colombia Wants ‘Total Peace’ With Cocaine Cartels. Americans Who Fought the Drug War Think It’s Doomed.

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 03:00

When Colombia’s newly elected president, Gustavo Petro, stood before the United Nations earlier this year, he reminded world leaders gathered where most of the actual battles have been fought since the United States launched the war on drugs over 40 years ago.

“There has been a genocide on my continent and in my country; millions of people have been sentenced to prison,” Petro said, linking U.S.-backed efforts to eradicate coca—the plant used to make cocaine—to destruction of the Amazon jungle and global warming, not to mention the narco-violence that has killed thousands.

“The war on drugs has failed, the fight against the climate crisis has failed,” Petro said. “I demand from here, from my wounded Latin America, to put an end to the irrational war on drugs. Reducing drug use does not need wars, it needs us all to build a better society.”

To end the drug war in Colombia, the 62-year-old Petro, an economist and former left-wing guerrilla, is pushing an audacious new initiative dubbed “Total Peace” that aims to bring all of the country's armed groups and criminal actors to the table to negotiate demobilization or surrender, thus ending decades of bloody, cocaine-fueled conflict. 

The devil is in the details, which remain vague, but a who’s who of the country’s most powerful mafias, paramilitaries, and cartels have expressed interest in taking deals to potentially limit prison time and prevent U.S. extradition. Colombia’s congress just approved legislation to formalize the process. At the same time, Petro officials are reaching out to impoverished coca farmers and seeking to rekindle efforts at crop substitution, the oft-hyped but chronically under-funded alternative of swapping coca plants for coffee and other high-value crops.

If this all sounds too good to be true, there are plenty of skeptics ready to say Petro’s plan is doomed to fail, including many Americans involved in fighting the drug war in Colombia. VICE News interviewed a range of sources—including a former ambassador, ex-DEA agents, and an ex-narcotics prosecutor, along with independent experts who favor progressive reforms. All expressed varying degrees of doubt about the viability of Total Peace.

While the jury is still out as Petro’s plan takes shape in the early stages of his presidency, the universal takeaway was that regardless of the outcome his efforts will have a ripple effect for years to come on the global cocaine trade, which shows no signs of slowing down. 

“I don't think these people are ever going to leave a lucrative business like the production and distribution of cocaine,” said Mike Vigil, a decorated former DEA agent who was stationed in Colombia during the Pablo Escobar era. “In a way, negotiating is a stalling tactic where they buy time. They’re able to generate more money and become more powerful.”

Colombia is pumping out more cocaine than ever before, with a record 204,000 hectares of coca under cultivation in 2021, according to the latest United Nations estimate, a stunning increase of 43 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, overdoses involving cocaine have soared to unprecedented levels in the U.S., although in large part due to fentanyl and synthetic opioids. 

The U.S. has poured billions of tax dollars into Colombia since the early 2000s in the form of security aid and counter-narcotics efforts, bankrolling the drug war while also helping to modernize the national police force and military, improving the overall security situation even as coca has proliferated in remote areas beyond government control.

Petro is already cleaning house among the top ranks of the national security forces. One former DEA official, who requested anonymity because they still work in the region, worried Colombia would “go down the route of Venezuela or Bolivia” and end anti-narcotics cooperation. 

“Most of the police officials I knew were fired, they got rid of all those generals,” the ex-DEA official said. “He’s trying to get rid of people who would give pushback or institutional knowledge of getting things done. Basically, he’s cut out the entire leadership of the military and police.”

GettyImages-1244809422.jpgThe President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, gives a press conference at the Palacio de Narino, in Bogota, Colombia, on November 15, 2022. The press conference was given to give a general state of the first 100 days of his government. (Photo by Colombian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The official warned the U.S. could “start tearing up trade agreements” if Petro does not keep some semblance of status quo. While that may sound extreme, the Trump administration was in fact close to decertifying Colombia as a partner in the drug war, a move that would have roiled geopolitics across the region and limited the flow of aid dollars.

I don’t know a single agent that thinks Petro is legit and won’t go the way of Maduro or Castro

Kevin Whitaker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2014 to 2019, told VICE News he had to push Trump officials not to move forward with decertification because the pre-Petro government was uncooperative about eradicating coca crops. The Biden administration has mostly been publicly supportive of Petro’s plans, but the U.S. ultimately does have significant leverage in the relationship.

Whitaker, who now leads a consulting firm, said he too had heard of “gutting” leadership changes in the top ranks of Colombian security forces, with DEA and other U.S. law enforcement agents “responding in a commendably loyal way to what they see as the throwing aside of the people they’ve been through the wars with.”

While Whitaker was positive about Petro's efforts to achieve “Total Peace,” he worried the country is not yet ready for such an ambitious goal. “Colombia is too big and the security forces are too limited,” he said. “The cultural strength of illegality is too strong, the infrastructure is too weak to implement significant effort at national level. Trying to do everything everywhere all at once is a recipe for failure and another failure is not what Colombia needs.”

The cynicism is widespread, in large part because previous efforts to make peace with groups like the FARC guerrillas have been only partial successes, with some dissident factions holding out and others returning to the cocaine trade after failing to find alternate livelihoods.

Bonnie Klapper, an ex-federal prosecutor in New York who helped dismantle Colombia’s Norte del Valle Cartel, told VICE News: “I don’t know a single agent that thinks Petro is legit and won’t go the way of Maduro or Castro,” referring to the leaders of Venezuela and Cuba.

But Klapper, now a defense attorney defending accused drug traffickers, cautioned it’s natural for drug warriors to bristle at change: “People who make a lot of money on the war on drugs are perfectly happy to have it continue,” she said. “It’s like the military industrial complex.”

One of the groups key to achieving Total Peace is the Gulf Clan, a narco-paramilitary organization involved in cocaine production, human smuggling, illicit gold mining, and other criminal enterprises in several regions. The group’s leader, known as Otoniel, was captured just before Petro took office and extradited to New York City, where he’s currently awaiting trial.

There has been skepticism that Otoniel’s successors at the top of the Gulf Clan will be willing to cut a deal with the government, but Klapper said she currently represents one member of the group in a U.S. case and thinks those lower down the food chain, who are often trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence, are eager to find a way out.

“There’s always going to be guys at top making a ton of money but the lower echelon, the support staff, they want a different life, and if Petro can offer that, maybe it’ll diminish the ability of groups like the Gulf Clan to recruit,” Klapper said. The hardest part, she added, might be handling factions that refuse to participate in the process. “Then you have to decide: What do I do? Send in the troops? Extradite? Do I fight them? Or do you take baby steps?”

While Petro officials have made it clear they do not intend to fully legalize cocaine, the president broadly supports drug decriminalization and has spoken often about supporting the needs of coca growers, who are often mired in poverty in remote areas controlled by armed groups.

Half of all coca crops are concentrated in just 12 of Colombia’s 1,122 municipalities, according to the UN, with hotspots near environmentally sensitive jungles, Indigenous reserves, national parks, and other protected areas. The UN report also found that growers in recent years have switched to more productive varieties of coca, optimizing yields and maximizing cocaine output to meet growing global demand, especially in Europe.

Some believe the UN report on record cocaine production in Colombia actually under-estimates the scale of the problem. Andrew Cunningham of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction noted that in 2019 global cocaine production was estimated to be just over 1,700 metric tons, but law enforcement seized over 1,400 tons that year, leaving a mere 300 tons available to all of the world’s consumers—math that simply does not add up.

“You get a situation where law enforcement seizures are more than is estimated to be produced globally, and that clearly can’t be true,” Cunningham said. “We’ve been saying for a while we’ve got problems with the figures.”

The international fixation on coca production and eradication is counter-productive for those who have long called for more holistic solutions to the underlying problems that drive Colombia’s poorest citizens into planting illicit crops. The legal alternatives are simply not viable in some places, either due to the presence of groups like Gulf Clan, or because the infrastructure does not exist to transport coffee, cacao, and other alternatives to market.

If this fails you’ll see higher levels of violence, you’ll see more cocaine production, you'll see the destruction of the Amazon jungle

For years, the U.S. supported “aerial fumigation” or spraying of herbicide to wipe out swathes of coca in remote areas. But amid growing concern that the herbicide causes illness, Colombia has backed away from spraying and switched to “manual eradication” or sending in teams of soldiers to rip out coca bushes by hand. While Petro initially said all eradication would end, he has since pivoted to anti-narcotics forces concentrating on taking out large plantations.

The fundamental problem, according to Adam Isaacson, director of the defense oversight program at the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO that advocates for human rights in the region, is that the Colombian government is still absent from huge chunks of the countryside. Rather than doing the hard work of developing infrastructure, the band-aid solution is to chop down as much coca as possible. 

“The people who are critics of Petro and want to start spraying again do not have an interest in solving this problem,” Isaacson said. “Maybe they think Colombia will never govern its territory so let’s just spray and mow the lawn and keep it manageable. It’s a short-term numbers game.”

Historians also see lessons in the mistakes of past negotiations with paramilitaries and guerrillas in Colombia from the 1980s to the 2000s. Andrei Gomez-Suarez, a Colombian expert on reconciliation and peace at the U.K.’s University of Winchester, said that in each instance previously, “The drug trade continues and just changes hands.” 

“You really need a holistic approach to engage all the actors that benefit from the drug industry,” Gomez-Suarez said. “But Petro is not naive and understands the only way that’s going to happen is if he finds a way to collaborate with the U.S.”

The stakes, he emphasized, are high: “If this fails you’ll see higher levels of violence, you’ll see more cocaine production, you'll see the destruction of the Amazon jungle.”

Petro has only been in office since August, and the Total Peace effort remains in the early stages, with government officials laying the groundwork for next steps. But Colombian presidents are limited to just one four-year term, so Petro faces urgency to move quickly. For some, just planting the idea that peace is possible is significant.

Sanho Tree, an expert on drug policy and coca production in Colombia at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C., compared the magnitude of the challenge facing Petro to efforts to end opium poppy cultivation in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Tree noted that the amount of ungoverned territory Colombia is bigger than Texas and California combined, and without the ability to police that land, coca will continue to proliferate.

“You can't talk about regulating if you don’t have regulators,” Tree said. “You can’t have regulation without rule of law. If your regulators come back headless, the regulations are moot.”

For his part, Petro seems to grasp that simply declaring an end to the drug war does not make it so. He’s also savvy enough to realize the cocaine trade will not simply evaporate without deep systemic changes on the global level. In his speech at the UN, he drew a connection between drug addiction and “the true addiction of this phase of human history: the addiction to irrational power, profit and money.”

“There will be no peace without social, economic and environmental justice,” Petro said. “We are at war with the planet too. Without peace with the planet, there will be no peace among nations.”

Categories: Tech News

NHS tech chief dismisses concerns over loss of statutory power to protect patient data

The Register - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 02:30
Outgoing CEO of NHS Digital says merger with NHS England is needed to 'provide clarity' in tech leadership

An outgoing NHS tech chief has defended the decision to merge his organization with a UK government-run unit, arguably diluting the statuary protection of patient data.…

Categories: Tech News

AI analysis of dinosaur tracks suggests 'predator' may have been a herbivore

The Register - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 01:30
Human scientists can't agree, but computers … uh … find a way

Palaeontologists believe they have shed new light on a debate over what kind of dinosaur may have created the ancient tracks at the Lark Quarry Conservation Park in Australia – by analyzing the footprints using AI.…

Categories: Tech News

NASA gets its mojo back with a stunning nighttime launch of the SLS rocket

ARS Technica - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 00:33
NASA's Space Launch System rocket lifts off on Wednesday morning from Kennedy Space Center.

Enlarge / NASA's Space Launch System rocket lifts off on Wednesday morning from Kennedy Space Center.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.—The skies were auspicious during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, as the Artemis I mission ticked down its final seconds until liftoff.

Ten, nine, eight seconds ...

Shining brightly, near the southern horizon, was the constellation Orion, namesake to NASA's new deep space vehicle.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

Swiss bankers warn: Three quarters of retail Bitcoin investors lose money

The Register - Wed, 11/16/2022 - 00:30
Little fish lured into the market help whales cash out

Somewhere between 73 and 81 percent of retail Bitcoin buyers are likely to have lost money on their investment, according to research published Monday by the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).…

Categories: Tech News

Croatian EV maker Rimac claims 412km/h speed record

The Register - Tue, 11/15/2022 - 23:30
You can go (nearly) that fast too, if you have a spare €2 million lying around

Croatian electric car maker Rimac says it has set a new EV speed record, and it's nothing to balk at. The Nevera, its second production vehicle, was just clocked in Germany going a blistering 412 kilometers per hour (258mph).…

Categories: Tech News

NASA’s Artemis mission finally launches after faulty Ethernet switch delayed countdown

The Register - Tue, 11/15/2022 - 23:11
Should’ve used Fibre Channel, although some leaky valves didn’t help either

NASA has successfully launched its first Artemis mission, after a faulty ethernet switch threatened the debut of the USA’s Space Launch System and return to Lunar exploration.…

Categories: Tech News

Arm hits Qualcomm's Snapdragon launch party with latest salvo in license war

The Register - Tue, 11/15/2022 - 22:02
Softbank-owned Brit chip designer tells court there is 'no uncertainty' that US giant is in the wrong

Arm sure picked its moment to fire a return salvo in its legal battle with Qualcomm: right in the middle of the latter's latest Snapdragon processor launch.…

Categories: Tech News

Trump Announces 2024 Presidential Bid Days After Costing GOP the Midterms

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 11/15/2022 - 18:24

Former President Donald Trump announced he’s running for president on Tuesday night, launching his 2024 comeback bid just days after his slate of election-denying candidates cost Republicans in races around the country and badly damaged his grip on the Republican Party.

“In order to make America great and glorious again I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump proclaimed to a crowd at his Mar-a-Lago home.

Trump’s campaign announcement marks not so much a return to politics as it does a continuation of his assault on democracy to further his personal political ambitions. The former president spent his years in office undercutting democratic institutions, before staging an attempted coup to remain in office. The House impeached him twice—the second time after he incited a riot where his supporters besieged the U.S. Capitol. His efforts to remain in office have triggered multiple legal investigations—not to mention an FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago home aimed at recovering boxes of classified documents he allegedly illegally took with him when he left office.

All that had done little to shake his firm grip on the GOP. But the shockingly poor results for the Republican Party in last week’s midterm elections—caused in large part by Trump-backed candidates losing winnable races up and down the ballot—have suddenly made Trump’s path to the 2024 GOP presidential nomination look much more uncertain.

Trump spent the past two years maintaining his viselike grip over the Republican Party, making sure that the slate of GOP candidates running for office in this year’s midterms overwhelmingly supported his lies about the election and, by extension, would help him continue to undercut democratic institutions to help his 2024 chances. Most of the candidates he endorsed for office won their primaries this year.

A majority of Republican nominees for Congress and statewide office in 2022 echoed Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election. But many of them lost last week, costing Republicans Senate control, a number of governorships in swing states, and leaving them with what appears likely to be the bare minimum of seats needed for House control.

But now Trump is getting blamed for his party’s disappointing midterm losses in battleground states—and his return to the campaign spotlight has further frustrated Republicans who wanted him to stay on the sidelines at least until Georgia’s Senate runoff election is decided in early December. 

Trump painted himself into a corner—after toying with the idea of launching his campaign right before the midterms, he announced last Monday that he’d make his “big announcement” on Tuesday, publicly locking in the date right before his party’s election flub. Now his stubborn refusal to ever admit that he’s wrong has forced him into announcing his 2024 campaign at the moment where he’s appeared weakest politically in at least two years.

Even during his announcement speech, Trump couldn’t help but push falsehoods about past elections, claiming that China meddled in the 2020 election to help defeat him. He claimed during his time in office the U.S. went “decades without a war” (he was there for four years). 

And he sought to push the blame on the GOP’s poor showing elsewhere—even as he insisted Republicans will do better next election.

“Much criticism is being placed on the fact that the Republican Party should have done better and frankly much of the blame is correct but the citizens of our country have not yet realized the full extent and gravity of the pain that our nation is going through. … I have no doubt that by 2024 it will sadly be much worse and they will see much more clearly what happened and what is happening to our country and the voting will be much different in 2024.

The GOP’s Trump-fueled midterm losses, combined with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ sweeping reelection victory, marked the first real split of Republicans from Trump since a brief moment in the immediate wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, with many Republicans publicly blaming Trump for their party’s setbacks and touting DeSantis as a viable alternative for 2024.

Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has turned hard against Trump in recent days: his tabloid New York Post ran covers portraying Trump as “Trumpty Dumpty” and DeSantis as “DeFuture,” Fox News spent a lot more time in recent days touting DeSantis’ victory than defending Trump, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has taken repeated shots at Trump in recent days, calling him “the Republican Party’s biggest loser” in one recent editorial.

The fiscally conservative Club for Growth, a one-time close Trump ally that broke with him over some primary endorsements over the past year, released post-midterms polling that showed DeSantis leading Trump by double-digit margins in head-to-head matchups in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire as well as in Georgia and Florida.

And multiple Republican lawmakers who were big Trump boosters have refused to say whether they’ll back Trump in 2024.

Trump has spent the week since the midterms raging falsely about stolen elections, attacking his GOP foes including DeSantis (he keeps trying to make the nickname “DeSanctimonious” stick) and Murdoch’s empire, rather than framing up a 2024 campaign message.

As he’s raged, other Republicans who have been gearing up for their own 2024 campaigns have moved forward with their plans. Former Vice President Mike Pence is about to launch his book tour in what’s long expected to be a curtain-raiser for a White House bid of his own, and told ABC News on Tuesday that Trump endangered him and his family during the Capitol Riot. Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is running ads in the early primary states. Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has toured those states as well.

This doesn’t mean Trump is cooked. There have been many points where the GOP establishment refused to back Trump before coming back into the fold when it became clear that base Republican voters were still firmly behind him—the 2016 primaries, after his “grab her by the pussy” remarks became public, after the Capitol riot. He retains a huge number of rabid supporters, and especially in a crowded primary field could win, just like he did in 2016. 

And Trump still has his own looming legal troubles to contend with. The Justice Department continues to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, has subpoenaed countless Trump 2020 hangers-on, and could still bring charges for the classified documents that Trump removed from the White House as he left office. He’s also facing an ongoing legal threat in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani WIllis is investigating potential crimes related to  his attempt to strong arm local officials into overturning his loss in that state.

Trump toyed for months with the idea of launching his 2024 campaign before the midterms, but advisers and other Republicans kept talking him out of it, worried that his presence could hurt other Republican candidates. The Republican National Committee said they’d stop paying his legal bills if he became a candidate and warned that he wouldn’t be able to touch much of the vast sums of money he’s raised with his post-presidential organization once he became an active candidate.

Trump may be down, but he’s shown before that he has enough die-hard supporters that he shouldn’t be counted out in a GOP primary. His name recognition is through the roof, he remains popular with base voters, and he’s a fundraising machine. 

And at least before the election he still looked like the prohibitive favorite: early polls showed him leading DeSantis and the rest of the potential field of candidates by a wide margin.

If Trump wins the primary, he’ll likely have a rematch against President Joe Biden who has strongly signaled he’ll run for reelection, setting up a likely rematch of two unpopular aging politicians.

Biden won the national popular vote by nearly 7 million votes in 2020, but he barely beat Trump in the Electoral College. Biden’s combined margin of victory was just 44,000 votes out of nearly 11.7 million cast in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, the three states that handed him the presidency. He carried each state by less than one percentage point and fell short of 50 percent of the vote in all three. Trump won the 2016 presidency by less than 80,000 combined votes in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

It’s far too early to say what the national political mood will look like in two years but, in a deeply polarized political climate and closely divided country, the next presidential race could well be as close as the last two have been.

And both Biden and Trump are rather unpopular. Biden’s job approval rating currently hovers around 40 percent in national polls—slightly worse than where Trump’s was heading into the midterms four years ago and the lowest of any president at this point in his presidency since WWII. Those numbers have been driven down by sky-high inflation and a darkening economic climate that has put Democrats in a bad position heading into the midterms.

Trump’s poll numbers aren’t any better. Early head-to-head surveys suggest that Biden and Trump would begin the 2024 race in a dead heat. But as the 2022 midterms indicate, voters seem to prefer Biden with all his economic baggage to Trump’s brand of chaos.

Categories: Tech News

After 47 years Microsoft issues first sexual harassment and gender report

The Register - Tue, 11/15/2022 - 17:36
Faint praise: Company tries to follow best practices and wants to improve

Microsoft on Tuesday published a 50-page transparency report on how the company handles complaints about sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, the first in its history.…

Categories: Tech News