The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Madam, I'm February 2nd

Today is 2020-02-02, which is 02/02/2020 in the U.S. and 02.02.2020 in Europe. There's a thing going around the Internet today that this is the first time in 909 years that both ways of representing dates have been palindromes on the same date. They put the previous instance as 01/01/1010.

Unfortunately that's not true. This has never happened before, for a few reasons:

  • Representing dates as a string of numbers only started, as far as I can tell, in the mid-19th century.
  • As recently as the middle of the 20th Century much of Europe would have written the month as a Roman number, e.g. 2.II.2020.
  • In the year 1010, the year began sometime in the spring (possibly March 25th under the Julian calendar). So the entire concept of numbering months would have made no sense.
  • The United States didn't exist in 1010.

So this is an example of someone noticing a numeric pattern that only makes sense in the modern world and extrapolating that ad absurdam.

If you like palindromes and absolutes that actually do have the same meaning when representing dates in the 11th century as today, you should look at 27 February 2019, which was Julian day number 2458542.

Is Alexandra Petri single?

(Asking for a friend.)

Because today she flayed Alan Dershowitz's laughable argument about presidential power by laughing at it:

The will of the voters found its highest and best expression in the election of President Trump, and anything that seems likely to remove him from power or even just inconvenience him a little goes against their will. If the Founders had wanted it to be possible to legitimately remove from office a president the people had selected, they would have made three equal branches of government and devised a specific mechanism for this to occur by a two-thirds vote, or something!

This is why the prospect of another election fills me with so much alarm. We know the voters want Donald J. Trump! They said so, resoundingly, with a minority of their votes, in 2016. Dare we risk overturning that election by holding another? Suppose he were not to win it! That would certainly go against the will of the voters. It would be just as much an overturning of 2016′s results as this impeachment is — perhaps more so, because Mike Pence would not immediately get to become president afterward.

The argument gets even sillier under scrutiny.

(No, she's not, by the way.)

Britain leaves the EU

At midnight Central European Time about five hours from now (23:00 UTC), the United Kingdom will no longer be a European Union member state.

It will take years to learn whether the bare-majority of voters in the UK who wanted this were right or wrong. My guess: a bit of both, but more wrong than right.

It will also take years to fully understand why the developed world collectively decided to throw out the institutions that brought us the longest period of peace and economic growth in the history of the planet.

It might be like how an airplane actually flies. Until recently, people understood the Bernoulli effect as the mechanism for lift. New research (sub. req.) suggests that lift actually has four different components that work together to keep 200-tonne airplanes airborne.

Increasing wealth inequality, the apex of political power for the Baby Boomer generation (possibly the most selfish and whiny generation in American history), psychological warfare of unprecedented sophistication designed specifically to fracture Western politics...they all go together. And those of us who believe that democratic, liberal government is the best force for making the world a better place despair a little more every day.

Mild winters in Chicago have a depressing side effect

We conclude January 2020 in Chicago having 16 out of 31 days (including today) with no visible sun, tying the all-time record of 9 consecutive days without sun set on 9 January 1992. We've had only 24% of possible sunlight this month, making this the third-gloomiest January on record after 1998 (20%) and 2011 (23%).

But this is really just a consequence of our unusually mild winter. Since December 1st, we've had 46 out of 60 days above freezing, and only 6 days below -10°C. And mercifully, the forecast for tomorrow and Sunday calls for warmth (11°C on Sunday, fully 9°C above normal) and sunshine (20% predicted for tomorrow, and 90% predicted for Sunday).

So, all right, I can live with more than a week of gloomy skies in exchange for unseasonably mild weather in January.

Things of interest when I have the time to spend on them

Not just articles today, but also a whole HBO mini-series:

For yet another thing to worry about today, after this post and the one before it, the New Yorker has started a series about the last time democracy almost died. (Hint: it got better.)

In case you didn't have enough to worry about

Via Bruce Schneier, two Harvard undergraduates have demonstrated that the volume of easily-obtainable information from multiple, large-scale data breaches makes targeting people for cybercrime easier than you could have guessed:

The students found a dataset from a breach of credit reporting company Experian, which didn’t get much news coverage when it occurred in 2015. It contained personal information on six million individuals. The dataset was divided by state, so [students Dasha] Metropolitansky and [Kian] Attari decided to focus on Washington D.C. The data included 69 variables—everything from a person’s home address and phone number to their credit score, history of political donations, and even how many children they have.

But this was data from just one leak in isolation. Metropolitansky and Attari wondered if they could identify an individual across all other leaks that have occurred, combining stolen personal information from perhaps hundreds of sources.

There are sites on the dark web that archive data leaks, allowing an individual to enter an email and view all leaks in which the email appears. Attari built a tool that performs this look-up at scale.

“We also showed that a cyber criminal doesn’t have to have a specific victim in mind. They can now search for victims who meet a certain set of criteria,” Metropolitansky said.

For example, in less than 10 seconds she produced a dataset with more than 1,000 people who have high net worth, are married, have children, and also have a username or password on a cheating website. Another query pulled up a list of senior-level politicians, revealing the credit scores, phone numbers, and addresses of three U.S. senators, three U.S. representatives, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and a Cabinet member.

"We're two college students. If someone really wanted to do some damage, I'm sure they could use these same techniques to do something horrible," [Metropolitansky said].

As Schneier points out, "you can be sure that the world's major intelligence organizations have already done all of this."

This is also why we need government regulation or stricter liability laws around data breaches. Experian's sloppiness imperiled six million people, and has probably resulted in crime already. But they have no incentive to fix their issues. In fact, they didn't even reveal the breach for years.

Why transparency matters

Yesterday I bemoaned not only our depression-inducing lack of sunlight (predicted return of the sun: Sunday, maybe), but also Senate Republicans' efforts to hide or ignore information relevant to the impeachment trial now underway.

Another story about how a lack of transparency causes damage has come to light. The Washington Post reports that the Saudi attack on Post owner Jeff Bezos' phone was helped to great extent by Apple's refusal to report security defects:

A security report last week alleged that Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, received a WhatsApp message laden with code that secretly snatched reams of personal data from his iPhone X. The message allegedly came from Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Security researchers say Bezos probably fell victim to the iPhone’s Achilles’ heel: Its defenses are so difficult to penetrate that once sophisticated attackers are in, they can go largely undetected.

That is in part because Apple employs a secretive approach to finding and fixing security flaws, researchers say, something that has generated debate in the security community.

Security researchers say iPhones and Androids have different approaches to security. They say they generally believe there are more bugs and vulnerabilities in Android. That may be because there are so many different versions, or “forks,” of Android. Google allows its myriad handset makers and others to customize the operating system.

That results in two security philosophies. In Android’s case, the researchers said, the more people who look for bugs, the more secure a system becomes. But Apple’s strategy follows the idea that less visibility into the software means fewer bugs will be discovered in the first place, making the overall operating system more secure. It takes skill, resources or both to find those bugs, which means hackers will typically use them sparingly to protect them from discovery.

Bruce Schneier has argued in favor of transparency for years. This is why. And why I only use Android devices.

Occlusion

In Chicago this week, a persistent temperature inversion has kept us under a layer of stratus clouds that have obscured the sun for the past 5 days. Instead of the normal 42% of possible sunshine we get in January, this year we've only gotten 28%. It's a little depressing.

The only silver lining, so to speak, is that the cloud layer has kept temperatures a lot warmer than normal, especially overnight. So we've gotten temperatures a degree or two above freezing and a degree or two below freezing, which we like tons better than the insanity of this time last year.

In other news of persistent fogginess and concealment, Senate Republicans claim that John Bolton's book has "blindsided" them—even though Bolton's revelations are precisely what the Republicans wanted to avoid hearing in the Trump Impeachment Trial:

What’s morbidly amusing about this is that it’s actually self-incriminating. It’s deeply revealing about the true nature of the GOP coverup.

[T]his will not be a real trial unless we hear from those people, who include Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. It cannot by definition be anything other than an effort to carry through Trump’s own coverup to completion.

What actually blindsided Senate Republicans was that the details of Bolton’s account leaked before they could carry out their preordained vote to acquit. They were blindsided by this terribly inconvenient timing, which upended their coverup.

So: how much will voters actually care about this? I hope just enough to give the Democratic nominee more than 271 electoral votes this fall.

Takei slams the new US Space Force

The Star Trek actor likens the Space Force under President Trump to the Starfleet of the "Mirror, Mirror" universe:

In this terrifying version of reality, violence and cruelty have displaced peace and diplomacy as the hallmarks of governance.

The “evil” version of my own character, Sulu, plots to kill both Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock so that he can take command of the ship. In classic “Star Trek” style, the script for this episode carried loaded meaning. The writers were issuing a warning: A free and democratic society can flip in the blink of an ion storm, and all that we take for granted about the rule of law, the chain of command and the civilized functions of government can be gone in an instant.

I thought of “Mirror, Mirror” after seeing the Trump administration’s new Space Force logo, which the president tweeted out Friday with a characteristically awkward nod to our “Great Military Leaders” of the “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” (caps and punctuation his). Within minutes, the logo was lampooned widely for appearing to rip off the logo for Starfleet Command from “Star Trek.” Indeed, with the two logos placed side by side, the resemblance is so remarkable that I had to wonder whether Melania Trump was part of the design committee:

Takei's suggestion for an alternative Space Force logo elicited nervous chuckles from The Daily Parker...

100% agreement with one of my favorites

Author John Scalzi (The Old Man's WarAndroid's Dream, the Interdependency Trilogy) posted this morning a summary of his political beliefs. I agree completely with everything he said:

1. The president is the worst president of my lifetime, who is ignorant, bigoted, incurious, corrupt, has almost certainly engaged in criminal conduct before and after he was in office, is either a complicit or unwitting tool for the Russian government and its goals, never should have been in a position to become president, and now that he is president, should be removed from the office, whether through a Senate trial or simply by losing the popular (again) and electoral vote later this year.

2. Per the previous, the president amply deserved to be impeached by the House of Representatives, and amply deserves to be removed from the office he holds by the Senate. That he will not be removed, and that the vote for removal will not be anywhere near to close, is proof that the current iteration of the Republican party is complicit in the president’s criminality and has become little better than a criminal enterprise in itself.

It's nice to find new reasons to admire someone I already admired.

Unlike Scalzi, I post so often about politics that I doubt any readers have questions for me. That said, later this week, I'll post a list of the media outlets I get my news and opinion from and financially support.